Friday

Petty hates

You know what I hate? Stations named after streets, and vice versa.

Take 'st James st station'. Aside from featuring the abbreviation 'st' three times for different words, it's a station named after the street named after st James. Here's an idea - just call it 'st James station'. Everyone will still know where it is.

Likewise, I've just been past a bus stop called 'higham station avenue'. I'm not suggesting this stop is renamed 'higham station' when it might not actually be that close to it. Better, we rename the avenue 'higham avenue' and then the busstop can be 'higham avenue' as well, because bus stops are often enough to be named after the actual roads.

I hope this makes you think a bit - I mean, why not Tottenham court station instead of Tottenham court road station?

The only thing I can think of to contradict this is Liverpool street, which would before confusingly called 'Liverpool', but that should be called after bishopsgate ot 'spital fields, or bedlam, anyway.

So yeah. Reclaim the street and station names!



Saturday

So DID Prometheus kill ATMOM?

This post has massive spoilers about Prometheus and At The Mountains of Madness.

You probably haven't read ATMOM. But because I am good to you, and in the spirit of the old internet of blogging something and writing about it, rather than just tweeting a link to it, here is the Ladbroke/Richard Coyle (who also did last week's 'Shadow over Innsmouth') production:



So before you read this post, listen to that. It's only 2.5 hours, which is a lot less than it'll take to read the novella, which will distract you with the surprisingly tough, verbose language. Also, go to their bandcamp and gaze in wonder at the number of well-produced, free-streaming, excellent books, and maybe even buy some of them.

Post begins:

Guillermo del Toro was working on a movie of ATMOM. Loads of pre-production was happening, and then the studio said 'you can't do a multimillion dollar R rated film.' Then, along came prometheus, which was exactly that. It looked like maybe, if Scott could pull it off, then so could Del Toro; the time is exactly right for Lovecraft to spill over into the mainstream, even through the relatively cthulhu-free ATMOM.

Then Prometheus actually came out and Del Toro said: "Prometheus started filming a while ago- right at the time we were in preproduction on PACIFIC RIM. The title itself gave me pause - knowing that ALIEN was heavily influenced by Lovecraft and his novella.

This time, decades later with the budget and place Ridley Scott occupied, I assumed the Greek metaphor alluded at the creation aspects of the HPL book. I believe I am right and if so, as a fan, I am delighted to see a new RS science fiction film, but this will probably mark a long pause -if not the demise- of ATMOM."

When questioned further he added: "Same premise. Scenes that would be almost identical."

It's taken me a while, but after listening to ATMOM while ill in bed, and having chanced upon a free night to watch Prometheus, I feel in a position to make some sort of judgement as to whether or not the similarities between the two are too much to bare. If they are, of course, surely the people who own the rights to ATMOM should be in a position to sue for copyright infringement?



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First then, a few notes on Prometheus, that I don't think I've seen addressed anywhere:

The cast, on paper, is excellent. But in the film, they're made useless by having to be 'characters' instead of acting. Everything about them is a straightforward, lazy approach to characterisation that relies on stereotypes to get us to 'know' the characters super fast. TBH, I was surprised this film clocked in at only two hours; given the tendency of big-box-office films by Jackson, Lucas, and Nolan &c. to be over two hours, I thought a little more time might be spent on more effective character development. e.g. why is Idris Elba having to put on an American accent? we have sleezy truckers too. I shouldn't complain, I just hate it when people needlessly have to fit a the pointless details of a scripted character.

When will film makers stop making prequels that look more advanced than the films ostensibly set after them?

Ancient civs with nothing to do with each other; such as the Sumerians, Mesopotamians, and Babylonians. Is it just me, or did they all live in the same square mile? Oh, and that star configuration: I'm pretty sure, that if you have the entire star map available to you, you will be able to find five stars that sit in that pattern *especially* if they are invisible to the naked eye.

This mission costs 1 trillion dollars. What's that worth in real terms? That might be nothing by 2093. Would a C14 reader work in space? Radiocarbon dating only works on earth because of the particular proportion of C14 created in the Ionosphere on this particular planet. Who's to say it would still apply on a different one?

At this point, on top of the 'dna match' controversy, and the 'let's give it a shot to convince the head that it's still alive' nonsense, it is enough to force the conclusion that this is not a sci-fi film. Alien never had any of this rubbish; it had just enough to get you into space, then no hand-wavey gadgets. This pulls out shortcut after shortcut and it just grates until you decide to stop caring about it and write off any plausability, so you then categorise it with Doctor Who instead of Alien.

So then they land on the planet and are faced with a design recycled from the original attempt to adapt dune:



It totally breaks the suspension of disbelief to see a recycled art asset like that. I mean, if Radiohead come on stage and started playing a 'brand new song' that incorporated a sample from a junked demo that everyone in the audience knew but had never had an official release... People would love it. But here, in terms of story telling, it kills it, because it shows up the laziness. You feel like you're getting the cast-offs from other projects.

Lastly, I've got one word for the film as a whole: scattershot. Every threat in this film is a different thing. We have the penis-snake, the zombie, the virus that kills the man so he has to be burned, the squid, the engineer. Every scene is a different creature and that's not good storytelling because you can't build up any suspense. It smacks of making things up as you go along with no end in sight (I'm looking at you, Lost-scriptwriter-man). The film feels like it was put together by a crew behaving like the characters in the film: running around chaotically with no aim, no structure, no one in charge, getting lost, and ultimately, crashing the vehicle into an alien space ship because they've ran out of other options.

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So, with all that said, just how similar are these two stories? It's hard to say, because I'm still not exactly sure what the actual plot of Prometheus was. But I'll take this as far as it will go.

If justice was done, this song would play over the credits of ATMOM. Click play and read on:

iLiKETRAiNS - TERRA NOVA from Ashley Dean on Vimeo.


Stylistically, they are both about teams of academics going to the edges of known space and discovering that life on earth was created by beings from beyond. P achieves this with a great deal of faith, and not in the way that was intended; they assume *right from the start* that they are going to meet the aliens who created humans, on no evidence at all. This wild supposition turns out to be right because 'the DNA matches', luckily.

In another similarity, it turns out in both stories that the aliens were killed by their creations; the slave-race of shoggoths in ATMOM, and -whatever the hell was going on- in P.



In another twist, both the aliens turn out to be Men (capital to distinguish the gender from the race). But in different ways; ATMOM has the most exquisitely described monstrous creatures who attack the humans upon waking, but as the story progresses, are sympathised with more and more until the narrator declares that spiritually, they are human (decades before pk dick said 'human is'). On the other hand, P has aliens that beneath the helmets are clearly human, before even the DNA match, but who attack the humans upon waking.



Here's my bugbear, though. Writing in the early 20th Century, Lovecraft's story placed a mythical creation of the earth in keeping with the current science of the time (and even now) by claiming his Elder Things created the essence of life on earth, and then let it evolve, perhaps with the occasional 'hello'. Scott, on the other hand, either has his aliens riding rough-shod over evolution and creating humans sometime fairly recently, or creating life way back in time which then somehow, inevitably turns out to be exactly like the engineers. Or maybe you think they seeded the earth with life, then turned up every now and again to push life in the right direction, but then you're wrong, because there's no hint of that and the movie you're thinking of is called '2001'.

So why is a story from 100 years ago more respectful of science than a story from this year? The only piece of sci-fi in ATMOM is a new boring device (that's not even a pun). Even more so, Lovecraft used the story as an opportunity to de-mythologise his world, so that rather than gods, Cthulhu and his ilk were just aliens beyond ken. On the other hand, P is full of made-up crap and careless innacuracies.

So yeah, Prometheus is just At The Mountains of Madness, but IN SPACE; minus everything that was good about ATMOM and plus a load of crap, but still, the story line is ATMOM in all the places that matters (ok, I'll admit it, I thought David was quite good. And I have to say, I loved the panicky menu navigation on the operation machine). 'Cause even if you did adapt ATMOM, you'd have to change the story telling techniques in some ways so that it's not all about two guys reading some incredibly detailed statues for half an hour. I mean to say, not a lot really happens in ATMOM. The narrator is only alive at the end because he always misses all the action and tells you what has happened before they got there; the whole story builds up to a single *glimpse* of a living monster.

But you know what, I'd just be happy if they released a book of the unused concept art for GDT's ATMOM. That would be easily better than waiting for the film to never come out.

Friday

Male orphans, ceebeebies, And the death of post feminzm

Another cultural trend-spotting, behind the zeitgeist post here. Kind of in two parts, but there's enough crossover in context for me to not stretch it out to two posts.

I've watched exactly three films in the last... However many months. I think all the films I've watched have necessarily been at the cinema, because if we don't make time to go out and see a film, we don't watch one. I saw batman alone, dredd with bruv, and bond with the long-suffering. And what an interesting clutch of overlapping characters they are.

There's so much you could say about each one; Batman 3 was the first ever Christopher Nolan film you had to switch OFF your brain to enjoy; Dredd was great for the first act while it built the world, and was then just people shooting each other for 50 minutes; bond was just as heroically ludicrous and camp as Roger Moore at his banalist.

It's so weird how similar the three lead characters are. They're all orphan superheroes without a secret identity. I mean, technically batman is Bruce Wayne, but really he's just batman. 007 is James Bond, but who even is that? And as for dredd, well he's just a mask. Who knows what's underneath?

And all of them riff on being orphans. Dredd and Bond were targeted and raised in their roles from a young age, hence having such a deep loyalty and deep inhabitance of their role. Batman had a similar trauma but I think spent more time making himself than being molded.

I was worried about bond, you know. My overriding memory of the last brosnan film was of my absolute lack of desire at the prospect of watching it, met by the sheer joy of the crazy-stupid antics on screen. Oh, my heart bled at the idea of a 'dark and edgy reboot'. Why not just make a different spy story? Dark and edgy works with batman, another character with a similar flip-flopping between carry-on and po-faced pout. And yet in nu-bond 3, the po-facedness is done to a level that is itself camp. It has come full circle. Handing bond a gun (albeit a dredd-alike personalised one) and radio instead of a fancy secret gadget pack has become just as silly.

But by the end of the brosnan-era bond, they had rigid enough cliches to take risks in other areas. For instance, strong female characters. Dame Dench was M from the get-go of the 90s reboot of bond, but Die another day struck me because of the egalitarianism of the sex in it. Bond bedded exactly two women - both of whom were also spies. Halle Berry's character 'jinx' was so well received that a well-deserved spin off was planned (sadly junked by MGM in favour of the reboot). My point is bond was portrayed on a par with the ladies he was associated with, in opposition to the 'sexual conquest' style of previous iterations. And that's kind of gone.

Spoilers....

Roll on 2012 and, oh dear. Dench is killed off and replaced with Leonard Rossiter lookalike Fiennes, which wouldn't be a retrograde step if there wasn't a paucity of other females in the film. The only others were the Chinese girl, an utter victim who only exists in order to get shagged and then shot in cold blood, and miss moneypenny, who can't hack it in the field and takes a desk job. What a miserable bunch of characters.

There's not much to say about the other two films here, except that only dredd satisfyingly passes the bechdel test.

This is the death of pop-feminizm. This is what happens when people think that women were just something you needed to have around while people were actively complaining about representation of women, and then you can go back to business as usual and jobs for the boys.

Take CBBees, at the other end of the scale, a channel I have spent a lot more time with. Consider, CBBies shows where the only female role is a puppet:
Rhyme Rocket
Andy's Wild Adventures
Justin's House (on top of which, the puppet is mute. There used to be a minor live action female regular, who was ditched after the 1st series)

And consider the many other shows with a single male actor and several puppets/animations; Mr Bloom's Nursary, Kerwizz, Iconicles.
Other shows are just males: mostly Justin Fletcher's other two (one-man) shows, something special and Gigglebiz, but also Mr Maker.

Aside from the one-woman 'I Can Cook' (which suggests there'll soon be a 'I can do the household chores' aimed at girls too), all the other female-led or centric shows are SCOTCH. Nina and the Neurones, Wolly and Tig, Me Too, and Balamoray are all Scots shows. What a strange correlation.

I've missed out the pure cartoons here, but if you're not familiar with CBBies' output, this is pretty much it, these programmes on a loop every day forever. Women marginalised or substituted for puppets, children raised to see women around them but not on telly.

Anyway this has been sitting around for a couple of weeks and I'm done with it now.


Tuesday

More thoughts about story telling in video games!

Yes! I asked for it: more of my thoughts on narrative structure in computer games!

I have been loving rogue-likes for some time now. I was all set to write up glorious praise for the purest game mechanics I have come across. Doom RL, FTL, desktop dungeons, even trying my hand at Nethack; these are games that keep plot minimal and give you the time to explore them fully. Their randomised levels, perma-death, and lack of quick save, mean you can't learn a route through them or play them by muscle memory; you've go to play them as games, accept you'll probably die somewhere along the short playthrough, but along the way you might unlock something else about the game on the way.

But something happened the other night; I was looking at the ftl wiki page, and I just got a bit bored of the ludicrously unlikely unlockables, as rewarding and enjoyable as they are. I've enjoyed ftl, in the casual way, but in order to really play it, I'd need to invest hours in it, same as a more serious game; rogue-likes are like casual games for hardcore gamers. And I can't claim to be that, anymore.

So instead i fired up Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the World. A complete avant-face which has done me wonders. I have utterly refound my love of narrative.

But before Cthulhu, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I finished playing it a bit of time ago having racked up far more hours playing it than necessary. It is a game, in many ways. A very simple mechanic ('hide') gets you from the start to the end of what is basically a three-act story.

When i finished Amnesia: The Dark Descent, my biggest thought at the end was "does that castle make physical sense?" It's more than a moot point. There's a lift that seems to plunge floor after floor, then in the dungeon you find yourself in, the sun streams in through from what looks like only two floors above. There are guest rooms which clearly occupy the same space. And in the depths of the castle there appears to be a cathedral, with infinitely deep floors and ceilings. Maybe it's meant to be a magic castle like the sword level in thief. But while these things break you out of the game, like grammatical errors in a novel, they don't affect the plot. I might explore these ideas later in another piece on architecture in video games.

The story is shuffled up, as the game begins at the start of act three: Daniel decides to kill Alexander and erases his memory as to why (this is not a spoiler, it's the setup). During the course of the game, the first two acts are related to us through the random notes and the pages of Daniel's diary he has for some reason scattered throughout the castle in chronological order. Plot aside, the game forgoes almost all interaction; it's really a variation of a first person adventure game, with very simple puzzles separated by intense fear. It, and Dark Corners... are both what I have come to think of as 'unteractive' games.

Unteractive games, like Dear Esther and Thirty Flights of Loving, are like promenade theatre. The action happens around you, envelopes you, although you don't do anything yourself to further it. In fact, a huge amount of games are already like this, they just hide the fact with fake interaction.

By fake interaction, I mean that you're not really physically engaging with the game. Your Portals and your Half-Lifes, just to stick to first person games, are interactive. Unless you do something, the game doesn't go anywhere. Thirty Flights and Esther are games that you don't do anything in, not that that's a criticism. But all you control is the pace the information is relaid to you at. It's a style of storytelling that has only previously existed in promenade theatre, as I say, in that that involves a journey, and a feeling of involvement for the audience that is really an illusion. Most games dress their lack of interaction by asking you to do something repetitive and meaningless while they feed you narrative. I'm glad some games have had the bravery to do away with that, and just present the narrative more directly, and calmly.

That said, I think more games could do with stripping out the interactive elements and going unteractive. That underwater shock game (whatever it was called) would have been much better if it had removed all the sleepwalking combat with the crazed survivors and just left you to explore a totally dead city, with the occasional and surprisingly violent encounter with a big daddy and little sister.

Amnesia and Dark Corners have a smattering of interaction, of the puzzle solving, graphic adventure type. But the puzzles virtually solve themselves and what really you have is a story that is being presented like a second person text; the puzzles just give you the impetus to explore the world more fully.

Thief was the first game I remember that presented stories as fragments scattered around an area, that you piece together in your mind. Actually that's not true, Looking Glass games used the technique throughout their career, and from the deserted magic school in Ultimate Underworld 2, to the logs left behind in System Shock, it is an excellent way to tell a tragedy. Most memorably, the live logs you receive as you rush to save some survivors, only to find a cortex reaver looming over their fresh corpses. So the part in Amnesia where you enter the wine cellar, to find the diaries of poisoned militia, is nothing new in style. It's part of a grand tradition of games that are like looking glass games.

So I'd consider an unteractive game to be one where your actions have no consequence to the plot, and the game is honest about that. Compare with interactive fiction, where the story actually changes depending on your decisions. Games like Torment and Deus Ex are about halfway between, because even if the overarching plot is the same, characters have different arcs and the details of the plot are different in different playthroughs.

I like unteractive games now. Suddenly, more than rogue likes. I've rediscovered stories and I love them; and I love this style of being fed a story.

Return to the Fulfillment Centre

I've been very quiet on here since... before summer. Which is weird, because school hols are usually the only time i get to blog. i haven't even started many unfinished posts recently. I'm quite active on twitter over on the right hand side though, so while i'm not writing anything here you can catch up with anything less thought through.

In other news, I'd like to announce that I'm currently building up tracks for 'Return to the Fulfilment Centre', my 2nd collection of remixes, follow up to 2010's 'The Page You Made'.



It might never happen, but I've currently got a list of 5 remixes to complete, some of which are currently part-baked. But 5 remixes does not an album make. So it begs the question: have you got any songs you'd like me to work on? I'm open to suggestions although I can't guarantee that any song in particular will grab me and make me want to paste drum loops over an 8 second sample of it.

Sunday

Boil a Kettle, Chop an Onion: Smoked Halloumi

Previously on BAK,CAO:
http://grilly.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/boil-kettle-chop-onion-veggie-carbonara.html
http://grilly.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/boil-kettle-chop-onion-melinzana-and.html

Halloumi is often considered a veggie treat, akin to bacon. So I've been playing around with my (birthday present) smoker on and off this year

So I've been a bit experimental this morning; I've tried to smoke halloumi a few times, and it's just not been as delicious as it was in my head. So today I thought I'd try a couple of variations to see if i could get the balance right.

Usually, I would dry fry halloumi in a pre-heated pan until browned, to get it just so tasty and chewy. When I've smoked halloumi in the past, the smoking cooks it, but hasn't got the texture right. So this time, I took a large piece of halloumi (225g cypressa), and cut it in half. One half went in the (stove-top) smoker sliced and the other went in whole. I smoked it for about 10 minutes with 2 spoonfuls of hickory chips.

When it came out it looked like this:
Untitled

The large piece seemed to have a different look to the sliced pieces.

Untitled

At this point, I tried the pre-sliced halloumi, and I don't know what I did differently, but it was already very nice. Maybe I'd just got the timing right for the quantity of material in the smoker; the guidelines seem to suggest about 25 minutes for 500g, so perhaps I'd just overdone it in the past.

Untitled

Slicing open the large block of H, I was delighted to find it as I expected: a lovely coating of smokyness, which permeated the flavour, edible, but still really uncooked in the middle. So I got a frying pan going, and threw a couple of slices in. I also put in the pre-sliced H, just for comparison.

Untitled

They both cooked nicely, the coated H gaining it's usual patchy brown pattern, and the pre-sliced H going an even darker colour.

Untitled

The end result is that briefly smoking the whole block of H and then pan frying it as per usual just adds the lovely delicate smokiness without being overpowering or too different to how it should be. But actually, I think I've finally got the balance right for smoking it pre-sliced too, because that was very nice in it's own way.

So in future I think I'll more readily throw whole foods into the smoker, then slice them up and cook them as normal. An extra stage to add for special occasions. I guess experimentation is key. I've probably been over-smoking everything, leading to tough food that tastes like bonfire night.

Tuesday

Idea for a game: The Terminator

I know there have been terminator games in the past. Loads of different attempts to bring the films to life, mostly where you play someone fighting a terminator (if it's faithful) or lots of terminators (if it's taking liberties). The best games, like Future Shock, don't try to adept the film literally and are set in spin-off universes. The worst, like the Virgin Sega game, have you being Kyle Reese, repeatedly and futilely trying to stop the machine.

The problem is that having one indestructible foe for a whole game does not work as a fun game mechanic. What would be good, IMHO, is a rogue-like sand-box cityscape, with you as the terminator, tele-porting back to 1984 and being charged with the assination of: [insert name here].

That's pretty much it. All you know is a name, and you've got a whole city to explore. You could just kill everyone, you're bound to get the right person eventually. Track down your target - unlike Hitman, they'll probably be entirely unguarded - and kill them with one shot. A lot of rogue-likes aim for spectacular failure. What about one where you're almost guaranteed to win, but the time loop paradox succeeding generates means you just get sent back to the start? See, it even makes sense.

The City and its inhabitants are randomised, as are the stats of the soldier sent back from the future to stop you. He'll fail of course; he's only human. But he might give you a run for your money, provoking you into epic car chases, fire-fights with increasingly desperate authorities, fun, emergent gameplay that's all ripped off GTA. The Kyle Reese character exists only to put the challenge in, to be the spanner in your works, that leads to all sorts of madcap schemes. And if he gets the target on the back of a motorbike and rides off into the night, how will you find him? With detective skills and by any means necessary.

I think this has got legs. Anyone fancy making it?


Wednesday

A critic's other job and real job

Surely, then, a critic's other job is to look for the good in everything, and identify who a film would be enjoyed by?

A critic's real job is to accurately review cultural artefacts. But past a certain point, this doesn't just mean saying whether they're good or not, but having an insightful dissection of the material. Quality judgements - 'buyer beware' type things, essentially - only seem to be needed in mass media, where works of art might actually utterly fail to say what an artist or team of artists intended. For a review to work effectively, both the reader and writer must have already had the experience.

So picture this: Empire magazine having two review sections: one assessing this month's releases, in terms of how affecting they are and whether you (depending on who you are) should go and see them; and the other literally reviewing last months releases, for a full on, spoiler packed, critical debate for the informed reader who wants extra mileage out of the film they've invested the time in. Then imagine that replicated in whatever strand of culture you're into. What do you think?


Friday

In case of emergence: Good news, Bad news



ICOE is now available on CD.

In case of emergence by grillygrillbo
In case of emergence, a photo by grillygrillbo on Flickr.


I've still got ludicrously self-indulgent 'making of' blog posts coming, or maybe i'll just save them for the pub, monologuing to your bored face about what it all means and how hard it was to make. But before I do that, there's an important annoucement:

I printed off 50 copies of this myself, assembled them, did the cover with laurence and ed. There are now 25 left, 10 of which are already allocated for people I know about (i.e. friends, family, and me).

That leaves 15 for people to ask me for.

I don't know how I gave away 25 already. I know some of the first half of the batch went to people leaving school as a going away/stay in touch thing. I could in theory burn off more, but I'm loathe to go through the process again. I'm not gigging at the moment so there doesn't seem much point in getting 250 or so printed to lie around the flat forever.

If you want a real, official copy of the album that looks lovely, ask me for one now.

Thursday

Grave of the Minidiscs

NB, I'll be using 'walkman' (no capital) here as a generic term for a pocket sized personal stereo such as ipod, jukebox, and mp3 as a generic name for digital audio file such as wma, flac, &c.

The crux of this, is the upgrade has reduced functionality, as it sometimes does. I'm not happy about it.

Mp3s have lost something compared to minidiscs. And I suppose I'm thinking of this as an archive format. MDs were the high point for me, I think. MDs were fluid in a way that virtual (in the as opposed to tangible) media aren't.

The advantages of MDs were numerous; encased in a cartridge, they were sturdy and kept the data away from grubby fingers, a move abandoned for god knows why when DVDs came out, which were very expensive and needlessly fragile. They were better than tapes because they were better quality. They were better than CDs because they were smaller, and instantly writable. And as I look back back, they're better than mp3s because they're instantly editable.

It seems like you've got a lot of control over mp3s, and in certain areas you have; shove them on the Internet, move them around your computer, edit their metadata, stock your entire music collection on your walkman, all great. But I'm someone who records audio from a variety of sources, not just CDs. I rip vinyl and listen to it on the move, because it sounds better. I record broadcasts and concerts. Do you know how hard this is with mp3s?

The one button that makes MDs better than mp3s is 'track mark'. Recording audio into a computer is easy enough, it's what you do with it then, the software, that's the trouble. I can't just take an mp3 of a performance, and just split it up into its constituent parts; I have I cut and paste it into several windows of audacity or whatever, then render each one to a separate file, then edit the metadata of each one. On MDs it was as simple as pressing 'track mark'. Even without a keyboard, md players seemed so much more user friendly, even before you take into account what they crammed into a device the size of a phone; line in and out, mic in, headphone out, optical in and out. Whatever you were recording or editing was a cinch. Give me a solid state mp3 player/recorder with the same controls and connectivity, plus a USB out (instead of eject, I suppose), and I'd be a happy nerd.

Sunday

More on critics

So, I'm reading a bit of frank, I mean, mark kermode's new book. The opening is fairly disastrous rambling about how we enjoyed cinema more when there was a risk of burning to death, frustrating laptops, and his hatred of Brando; there's a lot of petty score settling. So I skipped a chapter to his more coherent writings about he lack of possibility of a film failing, if it had a big enough budget (and a star and explosions).

And we all think, aha mark, doesn't John Carter prove your theory wrong? That's the biggest disaster in film history? And he of course can reply, no, he put that caveat about not having a big name draw attached, so the theory holds.

Except, it doesn't have to. Despite the huge news stories that bounced around the mainstream news for days after its opening week, carter in fact made its money back. It says so on the wiki; currently at cost $250M, took $280M. Not much of a profit, but definitely not a loss.

Where was the retraction? When did the media come crawling back to tell us that story they'd sold us was a lie based on insufficient data? A prejudice? That they'd ignored international box offices - apparently, it was a big hit in the former communist CIS, making you wonder about those theories about the 50s 'red menace' - which is exactly the sort of argument dr K makes for a big film never losing money. Rather than being dismissed by Carter, he's been entirely vindicated.

And while the success or failure of a film is trivial, I'm sick of the media over-hyping controversy and then ignoring the more sensible follow up. Exactly like the mmr-autism swindle, and every other case of sensationalistic reporting ignoring the facts for a narrative.

Saturday

A critic's job

Surely, then, a critic's job is to explain to both the new generation of consumers and the older generation how the current generation of media fits into the established canon, building a bridge between the two, so that the young appreciate cultural history and the old don't get stuck in a rut?


Friday

Is this how it feels?

One thing I've been really, really 'noid about on the last month is the double bank holiday. Not because of the bloody queen, not in particular, more the fact that we've been on half term and didn't get a bonus bank holiday. I mean, we didn't get to enjoy the extra time off.

It's not nice for everyone else to have days off during our school holidays. It stops it being special when everyone else gets to enjoy it. Last year was great, we had Easter holidays and then the week we came back was the royal wedding and only a three day week. Of course, all the time gets made up in the long run, but Wednesday was great because Everyone else had to go back to work and we were still on hols.

And as I consider this line of thought, sardonically, it occurs to me that this is exactly how those weirdos who oppose gay marriage must feel. Other people having holidays doesn't affect my time off work in the slightest, on much he same way as gay marriage does not remotely affect the union of anyone who's not gay. But that feeling of being undermined by everyone else enjoying what you normally have an exclusive right to; I don't know, I've never before empathised so strongly with a group of people I've disagreed with so strongly, even if I recognise the stupidity of that feeling myself.

Consider c4m.org.uk - not one sentence makes a relevant or connected point. There's words there, yes, but they're not going to convince anyone who doesn't already believe in the vaguely-hinted-at claptrap because they don't build on anything to arrive at a point. It's a well built argument Fo nothing more than to teach logic in schools.

On the plus side, it's a great opportunity to
http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2012/rhetological-fallacies/
Which lets you fisk an article extra thoroughly. The glyphs, each representing a easy-to-spot argumentative sleight of hand, are great fun.

Anyway, on with the show.

Sunday

Dear GLaDOS


This is an acoustic indie mix playing non-violent source-engine-powered deathmatch against an ambient/dub mix, with britpop refugees, archive folk, and soundtracks from Dear Esther and Portal 2. good for Sunday nights towards the end of the school year.

Saturday

Abortion/over-population

I've started reading the newspaper again in the mornings. This remarkable innovation is mostly due to the i, a paper I came across in a restaurant and is readable, cheap, and short. I still love my grauniad, but I never get through it and I wouldn't buy it for the journey to or from work.

One thing about reading the paper most days is a beautiful (if, possibly, illusory) feeling of 'being informed'. I feel... In the loop. You see stories develop over time. You get behind the headlines. You have things to think and talk about that aren't just off your favourite websites.

Friday's issue was very upsetting for two reasons. What struck me first was the story of the Chinese woman whose 7 month old foetus was aborted by the authorities for being an illegal second child. More specifically, the story was about how a photo of her abortion had been circulating china and causing a stir. The authorities stance is that the abortion shouldn't have taken place since they have a 6 month limit; hence this story shouldn't be used to criticise china as a whole, but rather the individual officials who broke the law by ordering and carrying it out (although I'm sure the staff involved must have been under duress too).

It's a horrific image to conjure up, as the abortion debate never really calls into question terminations *that* late. The quibbles about how many weeks is acceptable, or the right of women to control their own bodies at all, never needs to consider events that far down the line.

In other news, a senator was silenced for saying 'vagina' during a debate on abortion, although none of the debate around that talks about how she actually said 'my vagina' which is an entirely different thing to ask someone to picture.

anyway, back to the original point of the Chinese story, and the root cause is their one-child-per-family rule. In the same issue was a story about over-population, and how some parts of the world will even see their populations triple in the coming decades. This, while we're trying to make our resources for the current 7 billion something approaching sustainable. Even if we achieve it now, how on earth will we maintain it when that population increases further?

Over-population really has been the elephant in the room around the environmental debate, but I think it's finally going overground. The thing about it is, there will always be an upwards pressure on population, no matter what our supply of resources is. So I suggest: we do not consider trying to think about supporting any more people, or even the current population.
No matter where we set the bar, as long as people are over-fertile, and over-consuming, then there will be 'over-population'. That's how we define it. Even If we found ways of sustainably meeting the needs of the current population, by next year it would no longer suffice.

Because there will always be this upwards pressure, setting the global population limits, like food production or amount of habitable space, low will actually reduce the number of deaths, simply by the fact that the numbers can't go so high.

What I'm saying sounds barbaric, but for two points: firstly, doing this would actually mean overall less deaths than allowing the population to grow really huge and then crash; secondly, yes it does sound barbaric, but the only alternative is to modify people's behaviour so that we remove that upward pressure. Which brings us back to china, and a one-child-per-couple rule, where parents who can't pay the fine are forced into abortions.

I'm not saying any of this is morally right, just logically right. What do you think?

Tuesday

London fields

Walking down broadway market this morning, there was police tape around the road works. I thought, eh, hipsters, I bet that's like 'ironic shoreditch bunting'. But actually, it was because of the previous night's stabbings. sigh.

Sunday

Baku 2012


I think this takes a little bit of explaining.

Eurovision this year had a bit of a dampener put on it by being held in Azerbaijan, as bravely investigated by the bbc themselves on panorama earlier in the week.



The images of the city, the Orwellian surveillance, the Despotism, really reminded me of Syndicate Wars, so I decided to put in a track from that soundtrack and a couple of other tense-ambient tracks with an air of menace and suspense: Zan Lyons' Desolate and the theme from the thing (which was tricky to find, since despite sounding like a John Carpenter self-composition it's actually by Morricone).

Fall of Efrafa were a concept band exploring themes from Watership Down, in particular the rebellion against Dystopian governments and their ideologies. I loved one track they did, then bought two albums on the basis of it, which disappointed me slightly as they just seemed to plough the Salvation-era Cult of Luna trough a little too efficiently. Aborym and Cradle of Filth (what is it with these 'of' bands?) are just bloody good angry songs.

That all said, there are three eurovision-themed songs here: Rambo Amadeus' incredible 'Euro Neuro', which opened the first semi-final and just left everybody utterly baffled at it's jazz funk rap idiocy. I think it's brilliant.

Then we have the entry that Armenia would have put in, had they not pulled out in fear after the president of Azerbaijan called them "the enemy". For the Eurovision Company to them fine Armenia and insist they still broadcast it... ugh. So i'm happy to have found it, and i quite like it. lastly is Jamal Ali, the singer who was interviewed in Panorama claiming to have been beaten and exiled from Azerbaijan after criticising the regime. This is his song about the homes that were demolished to make way for the eurovision stadium, it's a bit indie schmindie but here's the video which might make more sense:



It's a good sunday morning mix.

Thursday

Old school Star wars

Two related thoughts:

You see more Lego Star Wars merchandise than Star Wars merchandise these days. LSW t shirts are everywhere. When did you last see anything else, even clone wars related?

I was very dubious about Men In Black 3, which has needlessly added time travel into a universe that already has a consistent feel and technology. Shoving time travel in needlessly betrays the original concept, and MIB2 got such awful reviews I never bothered with it. But this time the reviews are good, and one nugget in the av club review (granting it a b) made me even want to see it: creature design by Rick Baker.

Which leads me into another thought: Ben Burt's wilhelm scream. This turned up in the Helms Deep battle of LOTR, and utterly broke my suspension of disbelief. Snapped it so that I felt it break. I didn't realise I had a suspension of disbelief until that stock sample cut through the film. It's really daft, investing emotionally in fantasy orcs and elves is hard enough without ironic sign posts that this is a construct.

Sigh.


Tuesday

The Album

So the happy easter holidays came and went, and, no blogging. that's unusual because weeks off school has become the most usual time for me to do this. Instead, I was doing this:


so there it is.

I'm going to write a lot about this over the coming weeks, regarding choices I made while making it. Overall, I'm happy with it, but if I'm honest it was a botched, rushed job. More coming soon.


Monday

Dear Estpasser first draft

I plaid through the Dear Esther game fairly recently, like most other artful, posery, pseudo-intellectual pc gamers. I really enjoyed it at the time, but on reflection found it quite an empty experience. I didn't like how the control was taken away from you at the end; it didn't seem in the spirit of the game, which was taking Half Life style immersion to another level. Half life style because it was totally fixed perspective yet ultimately, totally linear. So what did the perspective, and illusion of choice, add to the ghost story? You didn't have to go into all the nooks and crannies, picking up all the little hints (the first being the chemical formula for alcohol daubed onto the wall of the hut you start outside), but there's not really anything else to do. Surprisingly, there's not even any puzzle elements; graphic adventures have long been the most direct way to tell a barely interactive story and keep it fun.



In retrospect, Esther feels like literature, reminding me a little of 'whistle and I'll come' with its wistful, windswept atmosphere. I can almost hear the narrative in my head, the select quotes from the game interspersed with comments on the angle of the path, the vegetation, the weather, all of which in reality is communicated visually. In these terms, it was very effective as an experience, and one that was worth what I paid for it. I'm glad I plaid it, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the only comparable game I can think, terry cavanagh's Judith.



As a game, what it reminds me most of is Trespasser, Where you arrive on a deserted island, free to wander about it as you please, while hearing voices from previous inhabitants. That island was of course Jurassic Park, and hence it was covered in dinosaurs. That island could be roamed more freely, in fact I found the freedom quite dizzying. I think that game is now regarded as a flawed gem, an ambitious failure. It was too innovative, with an attempt at user control that game engineers have shied away from and Amnesia has more recently streamlined and refined. Trespasser strived for realism and ended up feeling more like QWOP.



But the experience of Esther raises two questions in me: would it be improved by adding interactive elements, and would other games be improved by removing them?

It makes me think of two games from a couple of years ago; bioshock and psychonauts. Both were highly imaginative games that had standard game elements thrown into the mix, y'know, just because you needed something to hang the story on.

Let me play with my hand open here. I think that by using genre tropes, you can tell pretty expansive stories. Use a pulp detective novel as a vehicle, stick in all the things people expect to see in there, and you're free to hang whatever social commentary off it you like. A bog standard pot-boiler plot is the perfect mode to comment on the human condition. Likewise, these two games, one ostensibly a platformer, the other an FPS, use really standard gaming sections to bulk out fantastic stories. But Dear Esther rejects that, takes out the de rigour, leaves you with only what it wants to impart to you.



I've not played either through to completion, but I played enough of bio shock to be thoroughly unimpressed by the combat. I just felt it got in the way. Make it more Like dear Esther -a dead world where you can walk around and read people's diaries- it would have been great. Better still, take the cue from Shadow of the Collosus (a game that takes the rejection of unnecessary gaming tropes to an art form) and strip it down to boss fights. Would SotC have been better with random encounters? Or if those black misty men had been dotted around the world map, posing a minor annoyance to be ridden around or dispatched without much thought? No, not if it's just generic combat that you can just 'take as read'.



Bear in mind the original System Shock, with its options at the start that let you set how much plot, action, and puzzle you wanted in your game. In contrast, games like doom or mario are all about their game mechanic, which is implemented successfully enough that further artfulness isn't necessary. Or maybe those were just more naive times? Let's remember that doom and half life have the same plot and game mechanics, only half life distinguished itself from the glut of FPSs by its storytelling and interactions with other characters. Maybe this was because the technology allowed it, maybe it was a logical next step in the game features arms race.

So on the other hand, would DE be improved by adding something to do in it? Enemies to be jumped on or shot? No, they'd ruin the atmosphere. Puzzles to be solved before you can progress? Sounds a bit 7th Guest. Objects to pick up? No, you wouldn't want to have to back track. Things to click on? Well that would stop you thinking about them. It would kill the mystery. So, I don't really think that the experience can be improved on its own terms.



As a statement, Esther is great. It lies on and defines the other boundary of games - the one that doesn't get explored as often, the borderlands between games and stories. Let's be fair, it's not a game, it's gone past that boundary; it's a short story implemented in the source engine. But what it tells us is that there really is a sliding scale between games and other art forms, and it's up to the authors of the game where on that spectrum they put themselves.

Sunday

Sunday morning emails

There are four:

Just eat, asking how my meal was.
A labour party report.
38 degrees about energy prices.
And spam from someone I used to know, whose account must have been hacked.

Internet, what happened to you? Where did you go?

Tuesday

London fields station

There's a man with a plastic bag on his head to keep the rain off, drinking white ace.

And I think to myself, did he buy the ace just to get the bag? Because it's cheaper than a newspaper?

And Then I think, he should have bought a newspaper too, and lined the plastic bag with it for extra insulation. Because the paper always gets wet through on its own, and the bag's cold and manky on its own. But together they'd be great. And he wouldn't have had to buy the can of ace, because he could have got a bag with the paper.

He should have just asked me for advice.

Monday

Tolkien and Racial Supremecy



It occurs to me that Tolkien is a massive... Nazi. Let me explain why I use that word instead of 'fascist'. because he's not a fascist, but there are uncomfortable notes in the books that are exacerbated in the films. Okay, maybe an inverse-Nazi. The films have hatred poured down on humans, in comparison to the eldar siblings. Aragorn, a numenorean (the wise, long-lived homo superiors) , is told he can't leave the throne of humanity to themselves by gandalf (himself not a human but a Maiar, think along the lines of arch-angels) , as they will screw the world up. He can't marry Eowyn, because she is a low-born normal human, not of his bloodline. Instead, he is more along the lines of the Elf Arwen (and yes, i get the names confused too, thank you tolkien with your saurons and sarumans and your morgoths and youir gothmogs). Of course, the humans still make great cannon-fodder for fighting evil beings and corrupted humans.

It's so cruel to us humans, not only to be so hard on us about our failings, our corruptibility, and our weaknesses, and not only to create the 'perfect' race of elves - the first-born children of Iluvatar (read any freudian subtext here that you will, beraing in mind JRR was himself the eldest sibling to another child), but create a race of 'blessed' humans who have long lives, wisdom and strength. There's an air of defeatism and self-loathing about it. This is closer to Nazism that Nietzsche got, because his concept of the uber-mensch was a personal one, not a race-based one (if i've absorbed the cultural information accurately). Lord of the Rings is really about the hand over of power from the elves to the humans; the elves have their one last attempt to kick evil out of the world, then leave it to the humans, who coudln't even manage that on their own. That the film's hatred of humans is so deep-rooted is another reason I can't understand it's popularity. It's like legions of people around the world went to the cinema to be told that they're useless and untrustworthy.

But to be honest, while I don't like the comparison to a fictional ideal race, I  broadly agree that humans are useless. Consider the 'boot room' anecdote from Ian McEwan's 'Solar'; a room of the brightest minds from around the world, investigating the climate-change damage to the Arctic, can't even organise a tidy boot room (said to be directly inspired by McEwan's own experience of the same). Humanity is utterly doomed.

I don't want to get all Chris Packham and say 'everything was great until we turned up, then we ruined everything'; I think that's an oversimplification. I just wonder, you know..? I think there's pretty fundamental things we need to sort out before we go any further. We're in serious trouble as a planet, and making comparisons between us and some fictional race he pulled out his germanic-mythalogical arse is not going to help.

Sunday

more on spacechem.

So i just finished a spacechem level that has taken me at least 6 months; as in, i got stuck on it, and have up. Occasionally I came back to it, only to be frustrated from being out of the loops.

Then I was in the bath tonigt, and the answer finally broke in my head.

The problem was a level where you're given h2o, and have to output h2, o2, and plutonium. The problem is, plutonium has an atomic weight of 94, and oxygen has an atomic weight of 8. 8 doesn't go into 94, which only has two factors both prime: 2 and 47. I couldn't figure out how to take these two atoms, h and o, into a one huge nucleus (the level also has a fairly tight limit on the number of factories you can build to transform your matter).

So there in the bath it occurred to me, I would just have to glue 94 hydrogen atoms together. Except that would take too much space. So, glue two h together to give an he, and stick 47 of them together, which you can just about get away with in the space of one factory.

It occurs to me that if weren't a maths teacher, with a good knowledge of prime factors, would this have been easier or harder?

The educational potential of this game is immense.

Saturday

On the Rings of Power and the Third Age

As I've been sketching out this post, it seems to be swelling to about 5 interconnected themes (much like the music of the valar) So this might turn into a bit of a mega post. I'll try to breakit up with some nice pictures.

So while my family was away for two weeks, I tried to do some recording. Honestly I did.



But I got confused, and I decided a better use of my time would be to watch the extended version of The Lord of the Rings (I will be referring to is as a single film throughout, since none of the chapters stand alone as independent films).



Aside from anything else, this has got to be the gayest film ever. Never mind from all the macho posturing, camping and scouting for boys, the incredible lack of female characters, which has all been discussed elsewhere, consider lines from the film like this:
"all his thought is bent on it"
"his gaze is distracted"
See? it's written into the dialogue. Sauron's orcs are his gays, and his thought is bent.

For a film with barely three speaking female characters in 12 hours, I'm surprised that it manages to just scrape through the Bechedel test based on a conversation between Eowyn and a girl called Freda who rode into town with her brother. I can't remember her name from the film, but apparently it is in there. The film uses utterly retrograde shorthands for evil, such as race and disfigurement. I won't dwell on these points since they're made well across the internet, although I disagree that This was a missed opportunity to use little people actors, because I find that utterly patronising when every film is an opportunity to use little people. I'm glad this didn't turn out to be like willow (although it's painfully obvious when they do use little people stand-ins, whenever a hobbit is walking away from the camera next to a human).

I know the script a lot better than I thought I did. I found myself quoting along lines in a 12-hour film I've only ever seen once, of a huge book I've only ever read once. Clearly it all had an impact. But I'm still at an absolute loss as to what I think of these films.

Let me explain (wtf does 'I' get capitalised, but not 'me'?). When I saw the films, when they first came out, I could tell they were fairly faithful adaptations, as they'd have to be for such a popular book. That's what reassures me, but also confuses me. I find it hard to understand how it's so popular; the 6th highest grossing film series of all time. I can understand that Harry Potter films top that list, because Harry Potter is dumb. But how can something I like - something good - be so popular? Watching the films, I found them genuinely moving (mostly the relationship between sam and frodo), and genuinely funny (Gimli), and I know that I like it, but honestly, is it any good? or both to my tastes, and popular? It doesn't make sense to me that a large proportion of people would be able to emotionally engage with characters in a fantasy world. Like, a total fantasy world, not like harry potter or james bond - fantasy worlds just beneath the skin of our own.

For instance, I found myself playing 'cast-a-long-a-lord-of-the-rings' - you know, guessing what spells are being silently cast throughout the film by the characters. Gandalf worldessly casts push, Arwen dramatically casts flood and we are left in with no ambiguity to the magic nature of the wave that sweeps away, the Witch-King of Angmar casts staff break. But mostly I found the explicit magic in the film a little disappointing; Saruman casting a fireball at Gandalf just makes you wonder why that stuff doesn't happen more often. in the Silmarillion, magic is like oxygen; most non-human characters just live and breathe it unconsciously. I've written about this before.

I found I couldn't play one of my other hobbies - the act-change drinking game. I've become really good at spotting the change of acts in films, and often it's right on the button of 30 minutes and hour. just watch the time display next time there's the end of a big scene or a tonal shift in a film you're watching. Great fun, but not possible with a 12-hour film. The rambling self-importance of LOTR is another reason I find it hard to believe it's popular. It's really the opposite to star wars which sets itself up as a fun adventure filled with peril. Humour works perfectly in the star wars universe, but it feels a little out of place in the otherwise ultra-serious world of LOTR. Maybe it's because of the chopping up of the source material into bits that don't fit. Maybe, I don't know.

Also, as a side note, I think the term 'live action' needs to be really, really well defined now. Live Action should mean no computer generation at all, not merely 'featuring real humans sometimes'. Any use of green screen or cgi stops the film from being live action, it just means that contains some live action.

And DM OF THE RINGS is utterly genius. I say that as part of a rather unique group of people who a) love roleplaying and b) love LOTR and c) love affectionately taking the piss out of things we love.



While you might say 'surely everyone who love RPGS loves LOTR, and might be broadly right, the specificness of the humour in DMOTR is pretty niche. While the concept is good, the execution is simply brilliant; How the author manages to make the Tolkien's narrative decisions into the gamers' or the masters' errors is brilliant. take this example.

Hmmm. can't help notice that the last four posts i've done are all 'this piece of culture sucks in all these ways but I still really like it, which just goes to show how good I am.'

Thursday

What became of the knives

So, yeah, we used to have these two really good knives that I bought when I moved into the flat in manchester and needed my own cooking gear. Just two very good knives is all I bought. but over the last couple of years they've both gone missing. How can you lose two perfectly good knives in a flat?

I think I have the answer. You see, we sometimes order take-away pizza. I did that tonight, and as I walked to the kitchen with the empty box, there was a sound and weight coming from the inside. The knife I had used to cut the delicious pizza was there. In the box. On it's way to the recycling bin. I wondered... what if I hadn't noticed..?

It's possible.

warcraft

I've been playing a bit of the old warcraft 2 again, despite it's archaic and in-the-way interface. I won't go into too much detail, but blimey:

why didn't blizzard just give up and call starcraft 'warcraft 40,000'?

peons and peasants are really shat upon in the game. They're cheap, and characterised as idiotic, yet they possess an enormous skill set, able to build everything from oil refineries to temples. As comfortable down the mine as performing maintenance on literally any structure. They should cost 8000 gold each, not the 400 they go for.

Tuesday

Sluts for Zeit

So, more affectionate moans about the BBC and a couple of their new shows and general trends you can extrapolate &c.

I say new, but room 101 has been knocking around for a while in various formats; first with nick hancock, in it's early, garish, phase, then more measured, hosted by paul merton. Back on those days, you had a two person conversation that let you get to know slebs for better (in the case of stephen fry) or worse (in the case of gordon ramsey, who came across as utterly misogynistic).



I'm glad they've brought it back, but what's happened to it is... telling. We're with frank skinner now, but rather than an indulgent half hour with a popular sleb, we now have 3 separate slebs, competing in categories of annoying things to get their chosen annoyance cast in. It's been turned into a panel game, and people who wouldn't have usually been justified with a half hour to themselves are cropping up: danny baker, fern something, personality free sports presenters who somehow put 'everyone who doesn't share my obsession' in.

Yeah, back in the day, you had some pretty idiotic types turning up, vaccuous actors of the minute without an interesting thing to say about themselves or the world, whose views were poorly thought through at best. But at least they were given the chance over half an hour. And they had a free choice; Now you have to have two categories and a wildcard. So if I wanted to put both energy drinks and categorisation of music genres into room 101 I couldn't, because one isn't an animal or a celebrity.

I'm not saying the show is now terrible, change it back, argh; last week's one with alice cooper (great, if straight laced), Chris Packham, (weird and excellent), and chris tarrant (rubbish) was really enjoyable. But only when you get past the frustration at it being molded into something so... predictable. Formatty. more like a rdaio four program, really.



Evidence b is 'the magicians', and never has a purely zeitgeistily opportunistic show been so.. Crummy. You can tell magic's zeitgeisty, because there was a channel 5 talking heads list show about it earlier this year. Last year saw the launch of both 'The Magicians' and itv's 'penn and teller: fool us' where the genuinely astonishing duo judge amateur and semi-pro magic acts on single tricks, and try to guess them out. Penn and Teller's schtick is of course, that they're not magicians. They tell you how they do tricks, making you feel clever, then they go one better and do something that's completely unbelievable, despite (or even because of? all magic is misdirection) the new information they've given you. It was hosted by disgraced social chameleon jon ross, with no other sleb guests (other than when paul daniels managed to stick his oar in). Every show, p&t would perform one trick to close. The quality was mixed, as you'd expect from a show with a variety of acts. But it was excellent saturday night prime time telly.

So BBC1 decided they needed a saturday night prime time telly magic show, too. But what they've brought to the formula is shite.

For starters, its hosted by an utter non entity. Now I'm not down wit de yoof, but I've no idea why this person is presenting a live show; he's a sort of nothingness at the centre. He's competent and the right side of OTT, but last series was hosted by Lenny Henry, one of the most famous faces in telly.



Other than him, we've 3 magic acts who are all very good at what they do, but have to perform 4 tricks every week (lets see if I can remember them): close up magic, grand illusion... um, I can't tell the others, but a bit of research says they're street magic (so, close up magic on location) and location grand illusion (right, I now see why I didn't remember these. they're the same as the others). The trouble with this is, that these acts are all specialists, so getting them to do a variety of tricks is like having the same three bands on top of the pops every week, playing everybody's songs. What they end up being is session magicians, able to perform any trick that they've been told to do this week whether its escapology, mind reading, or the inevitable deck switch. So it feels to me, anyway.

Then there's the guest magician spot, which have been, in general, utterly shit. The less said the better.

The last two pieces of the show go together: slebs and (new for this series) phone votes. Each act has a sleb assistant for the week, and is voted for by the public with the losing couple performing a forfeit. The fact that the utterly missable forfeit section is apparently unrehearsed only underlines its lack of danger.

The slebs usually add nothing to the act, normally hanging on to the side and maybe coaxing the public into a trick; except for craig off of strictly, who, being a dancer, made an excellent magician's assistant and really got involv'd. And the phone voting, It's just a needless obsession. The show is like a formulaic mind map on a plate, and whatever's written in the middle of it doesn't matter; it was bound to have 'slebs', 'phone ins', 'regular performers', and 'guest spot' written around it whever it was dancing, magic, carpentry, or palaeontology. WE@RE SO GOOD AT TELEVISION.



It stinks of keeping up with the joneses in a pathetic way. Like that awful post-shaft 007 film, Madonna sampling abba, kid's performers who do sweary university tours, or korn going dubstep (although tbf that does make some sense), it's the sadness of watching a tired old performer desperately trying to impress the new generation.



On the other hand, good magic tricks are great, so I still love watching it. I guess my point with both the programs is that the content is good, but the form sucks. I want a magic show, not The Magicians Entertainment Program Experience Product.

What would be quite good would be to make it more like Later, where an experienced, possibly semi-retired magician (NOT DANIELS) hosts a compendium of turn-taking magicians.


Monday

more thoughts on characters

Something that's come out of my previous post on Rebecca is something that sounds a bit paradoxical at first: If characters are well drawn, I don't care *what* happens to them. I mean, I care, right, but I'll follow them to wherever they end up going. I won't throw the book down or switch off the box in frustration because 'that character would never do that'. the story arc can be a massively disappointing tragedy, but that's fine if I believe in the characters.

Take any character in The Wire, but in this case, Bubbles. I believe in that world and that character so much that however his story turned out, it would have been excellent and true to itself. By contrast, if you've got shit characters, you bloody well better have a gripping plot (so you don't notice the hollow characters) or a feel-good ending (so at least you get _something_ out of the experience). And strangely enough, shit characters and feel good endings have a large correlation. of course, rich characters and happy endings are a great combination, but when you've got such great material, happiness doesn't have to be the only outcome. Tragic endings for a pile of broken dickhearts is a risky, rubbish, recipe for a story.

as a final example, take 'no country for old men'. Pretty much everything is ruined for everyone at the end, but again, it's ok for us as an audience because it's engaging. But then that's also part of the Coen brother's oft-used theme of the vagaries of fate and the inconsequence of our actions. Oh, and great characters.

Maybe the point is that 2d characters, we project more of ourselves onto - so we don't want to see them come a cropper? whilst 3d characters are believable, so it's okay for us to watch them crash and burn? just a thought.

Sunday

I Killed Rebecca (total utter spoilers)

Hi.
(I tried to find a video to stick in here of 'I killed Rebecca' by Ephel Duath, but there isn't one online. I must be doing something right. Here's a really difficult to follow live performance of it, from when they were a three-piece:



Also, the song is nothing to do with the story, and I have that on authority. But still.)

I've just finished reading Daphne Du Maurier's 'Rebecca', and well, boy do I have opinions on that one. Massive spoilers from here on in, so, I'm assuming you've read it (or have watched an adaptation and know the differences from the book). I just want to add something to the discussion about it that I think is a half-original thought.

I picked this book up off the shelf on reputation; I only know Maurier as the author of 'The Birds' and 'Don't Look Know', both of which I've only seen as films. I'd absolutely no idea of what the plot was or anything, and I was quite happy about that so I didn't even read the blurb on the back. I like not knowing. I like going into a work of fiction, and not only being ignorant of the story arc, but even the genre. We learn that Maxim's first wife died at sea; is this going to be a ghost story? A romance? Both, or neither?




It turns out the story is something else entirely. Pure tragedy, really, but a deeply ironic one. If you're reading this, you'll know the details; The Second Mrs de Winter lollops about in a frustratingly unconfident way for the first two acts, her lack of self-worth and monosyllabic answers to any question making the book almost unreadable at times. Then in the third act, the twist in the tale leads to a complete re-evaluation of everything you've been reading, and a linear progression of events that leads to an unhappy ending.

After I finished reading, I went back to the informative introduction, which clarified many plot points. But I'm slightly unsatisfied (in a pleasant way) with the third act, and it goes a little something like this:

The twist is, we find out that Maxim never loved Rebecca, and hasn't been mourning her all this time, but in fact hated her. That's fine, because it means everyone can get on with their lives, and The Second Mrs de Winter can stop being such a misery and find her feet, except that two sentences later we are told that he in fact murdered her, and will probably be going to prison for a long time. So much for their happiness.




I found this twist really frustrating. It meant that the whole novel had been a complete wild goose chase, all The Second Mrs de Winter's angst was over some bullshit. I mean, I liked where it went, and the meta-twist at the end was great in context, but it just didn't fit with the rest of the story. Yeah, I'd picked up that Rebecca was really evil from the couple of hints dropped, but the plot just seemed to drop everything that was building up and go off in a completely different direction. Danvers never gets her comeuppance for tormenting The Second Mrs de Winter, Maxim wandering off all night after the fancy-dress ball turns out to be nothing, Frank's concerns seem to get lost in the ship wreck; the whole thing just seems to be brushed under the carpet (if you don't know what I'm talking about, this must sound quite weird, but you would probably have stopped way back there). It's like the advent of the ship wreck just off the coast seems to stop everything in it's tracks and turn the novel into a completely different one; rather than being a jane-eyre style romangst, it becomes a hitchcockian 'will the (justified) murderer and his accomplice-after-the-fact get away with it?'.

This reminds me of one of the points about fiction in Hoftstadter's 'Godel Escher Bach': how to end a book so that the readers don't see the end coming, and can't use their knowledge about the size of the book to predict how close they are to the end. He posits the idea - and experiments with it himself - that something utterly strange and beyond belief should occur in the plot, to signify that the story has actually finished.



That's what it feels like happens in the story to me. The story has built up to a climax: after the disastrous fancy dress party, Maxim is nowhere to be found, and Danvers is trying to convince The Second Mrs de Winter to jump out of the window of Rebecca's bedroom. The Second Mrs de Winter is actually being convinced, and if it's not for the rockets let off by the breached ship, we don't know if she would have jumped. She has vulnerably low self-esteem, she's in thrall to the spirit of Rebecca, and let's face it, she's daft. The rest of the story after this point has so little to do with the lead up that I'm inclined to think it's the fantasy of a still-throbbing brain dashed out on the patio, thinking it's way to a resolution as happy as possible. Or even just a signal to us that we should stop reading.

But it's a great book, and I've never been so reticent to watch an adaptation of a book as with this one. The characters were so fully fleshed out in my mind that I could see it so clearly in my head and didn't want to see anybody else's vision of it. Having watched the very good and certainly lavish ITV adaptation, it's frustrating that Maxim isn't dark and wiry enough, Beatrice isn't Honoria Glossop enough, Jack isn't a flabby pathetic drunk enough, and Danvers isn't literally a grim reaper. Next, onto the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation. I'll let you know how it compares.

ta.

Wednesday

Moffat Toffees ("spoilers")

This has been simmering for a while, but I've really got a bone to pick with Steven Moffat. This started with what went atrociously wrong with the last series of Dr Who, but extends into similar things that have crept into Sherlock. The two series are so similar I regularly call them the wrong way round, and finished a series in the last year with the main character faking their death to their companions.



I jumped onto the Dr Who revival only when Moffat took over with Matt Smith as The Doctor. I hadn't taken to Tennent or the other one, but something about this incarnation got me going, and despite its hit-and-missity, I really enjoy it. Mostly the concurrent plot line with River Song and her tragi-romantic relationship with The Doctor. However, the last series really disappointed with the revelations, and I'd have let this slide if Moffat and his team weren't making the same mistakes with Sherlock.



Series 6 of The Who promised so much and fell so flat. It had a great set-up, that The Doctor is seen being killed by someone in a space suit who just walked out of a lake: the eponymous 'impossible astronaut'. Over the first couple of episodes we establish that the occupant of the space suit is a little girl timelord - what could be more exciting? Rubbish episodes (like the stupid piratey one, the not-scary-at-all-for-the-most-part child's bedroom one, and the didn't-need-to-be-a-double flesh one) aside, the mid-season-should-have-been-a-double-episode cliffhanger - River is Amy's daughter, bred and conditioned to kill The Doctor, meaning that he *is* the one she is in prison for killing, but is now lost in time - was tremendous. And it was very nearly ruined by the follow-up Let's Kill Hitler, which commited the unbelivable crime of 'making up a new character who everyone is supposed to have known for years but never mentioned'. This was shamefully done, on a par with Curb your Enthusiasm, except that that is a lean, episodic sitcom, and this is a drama with every opportunity to put some mention of the character Mel in at some previous point. They had a series and a half to introduce some reference to her, but her appearance was a total shock. Also, naming her Melody is a causal paradox and The Who is supposed to avoid those.



So Mel, still reeling from her childhood brainwashing, kisses the dr with a deadly poison. She is identied as is killer by a third party. Then she dies and regenerates as River Song.



The reason that i'm going over all this garbage in so much detail is because, at the end, it doesn't add up. She's already tried to kill him. Then she over-rides her programming and saves him by using up all her regenerations (with absolutely no foreshadowing that this was possible). Then, later in her life, she gets kidnapped by the whoever and put inside a space suit again, against her will, and apparently the space suit is in control? So she's not even particpating in the killing of The Doctor? Which renders her whole part in it pointless.



This isn't the way it was meant to be. We've already seen the little girl (who we now know is River) in the spacesuit. We know that River kills the doctor. What needed to happen was that it would be the young River Song who killed him, who then went on to meet him and grow to love him, knowing all along that one day (in her past) she will kill him. What a fantastic tragedy it would be, only possible in a time-travelling sci-fi.



And then there's the fact that leading up to the season finale, we had two perfect get out clauses built for the doctor: The flesh and the perfect impersonating robot. Both of these things fill the same function in the plot, a thing that can look like anyone. Why would Moffat need a choice of body doubles? It's the most superfluous mcguffin in existence; and it's made even worse by the fact that he's probably plaid the same trick again in Sherlock since, for all intents and purposes, Watson saw Holmes throw himself off a roof and got a good look at his bloody body on the floor? It's going to be a body double, again, isn't it? And again, we've got a superfuidity of options because a) we know that Holmes can make convincing corpse dopplegangers, Since he got one supposed to be Adler past Mycroft in 'scandle' and b) we know that Moriarty had a sherlock mask or something because the girl screamed when she saw him. Same escapement, same problem of not knowing which mcguffin was used.



Without going into theories of how Shelock avoided his death, I wanted to talk broaderer about the similar failings in the two shows. And succsesses; They're both superbly acted and engaging. But Sherlock can be a complete ramble. Take the Irene Adler episode; There wasn't even a crime that had been comitted, just some photos with no ransom note. Adler had no apparent agenda, motives, or demands. This might make for a gripping character study in literature, but at 9 o'clock on bbc 1 on a sunday night, I want a body, dammit, I want an apparently unsolvable mystery, and at most I want a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Anything else is just noise. There were times in 'Scandle', when I wasn't even sure who was meant to be in the room. And even with all that, it was a great watch.



The same with The Who; it's become too much revelation and not enough story. Too many plots are constructed entirely out of ideas and feel paper-thin. I like philosophy, I like allegorical sci-fi, but sometimes The Who strays *too far* into timey-wimey hand-wavey stuff, to the point of their being no actual action or anything happening, just a monster made of tears that only exists in their minds or something. The main problem here was put to me (and the world) on twitter by Rob Florence, along the lines of: 'my daughter doesn't get Dr Who anymore, it's over for us.' He also said "When you can barely explain the story of Doctor Who to your daughter, it's time to find something else until it straightens out." but I'm sure that wasn't the original quote.



Convoluted is the word. It feels in Dr WHO that they're sometimes building episode plot lines around revelation and nothing else. In the golden age of the X Files, I remember episodes that seemed completely stand-alone until the last ten minutes when you spotted someone or somehow it related back to another episode and you went 'ah!' In sherlock, with shorter serieses, it's a different but related problem; playing mind games with the Ultimate Villian seem to take up about a third of the series.

I just want my prime-time family friendly dramas to be... I don't know. what am i trying to say again?

Oh yeah and moffat also has wierd views on women. But that's another story.

Tuesday

a quick tought

should the amount of people you're emailing affect the number of Xs? do they get divvied up between the recipients, or is the amount you put in an average of what you would normally send to the recipients?

Friday

songs of 2011


So I did the above mix, and then realised I'd left out a track off the portal 2 soundtrack. I don't know how that happened, but I began to realise there was a whole bunch of stuff that I hadn't put on from this year.

So what's the story of my music this year?

First off, we've got the usual characters popping up as always: Euros Childs, Half Man Half Biscuit, 65DaysofStatic; you can pretty much take those as read. Network-related artists always turn up: Girls Girls Girls, Marmaduke Dando (my next door neighbour knows him), Muddy Suzuki (FOAF via two routes), Blue Bambinos (Justin from work's band, who sadly left at xmas), Aaron, and a whopping 3 tracks from myself: two from the forthcoming album and a not-entirely-successful demo for something I want to do after that. I'd include Cats In Paris in that list, but I don't think they were around long enough to become an utterly predictable choice for me to include (didn't stop me [putting them on almost every mix in the last 4 years)

What's new is, I think, a shift towards black metal (as oppose to math metal or spazz) and synthesisers. In fact some of the tracklisting started out as a synth-based mix tape that got subsumed by the 2011 goblin. Profanum represent the bottom of the black metal barrel I think, a sign of how bad things have got when you're listening to nothing more than drums, screaming, and simple MIDI orchestration. Anaal Nathrakh represent a deeper, more intense barrel bottom. I first heard 'hyperblast' on their website around 2005, but that mp3 was utterly distorted. Sounded brilliant, but I've waited until now to mix it since it came up on a UK black metal compilation I got for xmas.

I finally bought Orbital's 'Insides', after a wait of about 13 years. It's really good, and the 12 minute cut of 'the box' is superb. There's some real John Carpenter vibes around my head atm. Also the track sounds massively like radiohead's 'where bluebirds fly'. I've found myself listening to more and more ludicrous music like Igorrr on Ad Noiseam, whose label samplers are always a joy.

Anyway, time to move on and see what 2012 brings. Have fun with these.