Sunday, 28 June 2009

Introduction to 'The Landmark Reviews'

The Landmark Reviews will highlight classic films, books and video games that have stood the test of time and made advancing changes to their medium. It gives me a chance to share what I consider to be the best of the best, the stuff that has influenced and enthused me over the years.

These reviews will also allow me to look at some older products, meaning I won't have to be constantly spending money on new dvds and cds! I don't have a next-gen console so all my favourite video games are a little bit retro (but not Space Invaders retro). Enjoy!

The Prince and the Bridge - Chapter 2 of 6

When the handsome prince did not return home to the palace, the King sent out search parties all over the land, charging his knights and servants with the task of locating his lost son. They searched across the wide green fields, but they could not find him. They searched in the dark forests and caves, but they could not find him. They searched all the way to the top of the highest snow-capped mountain, but still they could not find him. Many times the king’s men crossed the bridge the prince had become, and he would try with all his might to cry out. But how ever hard he tried, the only sound the prince could now make with a pitiful creak.

Many months passed, and with great sadness, the King and Queen accepted that their son must be dead. A grand but solemn funeral was held for the lost prince. Everyone in the kingdom mourned and wept, and black flags flew from all the towers and spires across the land. Thousands of wreaths of flowers lined the palace courtyards, as the solid gold coffin was carried down the steps and out to the royal mausoleum in the hills, carrying the prince’s armour, shield and sword. As the procession crossed over the bridge the prince screamed at the top of his lungs, furiously trying to alert his family and subjects to his plight. But the feeble groans of his new wooden form were lost in the midst of the cries and shudders of the grieving crowds. For a long time a sombre mood covered the kingdom like a thundercloud, blotting out any thought of happiness.

However, there was one person who did not mourn the prince’s supposed death. Bitter little Cecil watched with glee as the panic began, and revelled in the despair he had caused. This fun was short-lived however, as soon the little creep began to fear that his dastardly actions would be discovered, and punishment would then ensue. So he and crooked mother fled the kingdom, their exit unnoticed in the frantic search to find the prince. They travelled far, across icy mountain ranges and arid hazy deserts, their paranoia driving them like frightened sheep.

Although Cecil had played his devious trick upon the prince, it did not quench his thirst for retribution against his former master. Whenever he crossed a bridge, Cecil burned with hatred against the prince, and would stamp his feet upon the wood or stone that lay beneath him.

"How d’you like that!?" He raged. "Not so tough and handsome now!"

One day, as Cecil and his mother travelled, they came to a deep gorge that barred their path. A rickety old rope bridge spanned the chasm, which Cecil and his mother began to cross. The old anger and jealousy stirred within the ugly wicked creature and he began to stomp his feet harder and harder upon the fragile planks.

"Stop it you fool, you’ll kill us both!" Cried Cecil’s mother, clinging to the frayed ropes, but Cecil did not listen. As his foot came down the bridge snapped, sending Cecil and his crone mother plunging to their doom, taking with them all of Cecil’s hatred and the dark secret of the prince’s betrayal.

Busy, busy, busy

Hey y'all! Sorry I haven't written anything for a little while. Been quite busy at work and with other stuff. Plus my parent's computer is sloooow at doing anything and we don't have wireless boardband, so posting an update generally involves 10 to 15 minutes for windows to load and then another 10 to 15 minutes for the anti-virus software to stop hogging all the memory and allow the internet to be barely useable. Oh well, could be worse. Could be dial-up.

Dial-up internet was amazing! Of course at the time you didn't have anything compare it with, so you were just happy to have a webpage load, even if it did take an hour. Who can forget the sound of the modem firing up? It was like artoo deetoo having a fit! And then there was the wonderful situation when someone was on the phone and you'd hear them speaking mystically from the back of your computer saying, "yeah... NNNNGHGH yeah, someone's KKKKFGG just turned the flippin' GFHHHJH internet on." Those were the days.

Anyway, steering frantically back on course, here's some stuff I've been up to instead of writing my blog. On Thursday I went back down to Portsmouth for the day to give my student house a final clean before leaving my keys. I severely underestimated how long it would take us. We were there for about 6 hours in total, but we left it spotless. The 'we' I am refering to here is my girlfriend Lauren (we're actually engaged but I always call her my girlfriend, might get in trouble for that), her grandma and myself. Now I know what you're thinking; how could I press-gang a poor elderly woman in cleaning my house? Firstly, she's fairly young and secondly, she offered to help, so... The job would have taken twice as long if she hadn't come, she is a master at cleaning, bless her. Anyway, the job is done now and I'm glad of it.

Yesterday, which was Saturday, I had a band practice with some guys from my church and my job at a certain frozen foods supermarket to take up my time. I decided to organise some music events over the summer with the help of Lauren, because there are a few people who can play well at my church, it's just a case of getting us organised. The practice went really well, considering we only played for an hour and a half, and for the first time in 3 or 4 months! Work wasn't too bad, I do the home delivery driving when they need me to, which gets me out of the shop and into the ghettos! It's not all bad though, I can listen to the tennis in the van, so every cloud...

To finish, just a small mention of the recent passing of Michael Jackson. I'll be brief because I don't have anything too valuable to add what others have already said. I hope his family can find peace at this difficult time and that we will remember him for the music and not the controversy. I wasn't the biggest fan but I still respect him as one of the greatest musicians and performers of our time.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The Prince and the Bridge - Chapter 1 of 6

Once upon a time there lived a handsome prince. His hair was dusky brown, thick and lively, his face was chiselled like a precious stone, his body muscular and fit, and his eyes were oceanic blue, one glance reducing women to swooning fits. Everyone wanted to be his friend, laugh at his jokes or blush at his romantic advances.

Everyone, that is, except for ugly little Cecil the servant. Imagine the complete opposite of the handsome prince and you would get an idea of what Cecil looked like. His back crooked, his eyes squinting, his face like a squashed potato, he would boil with jealousy towards the prince as he did his chores around the palace. Sometimes, when the prince was showing off to his sycophant friends, he would force Cecil to the ground and use him as a footstool, his band of followers falling about in fits of laughter.

When Cecil went home, tired and hurt, he told his mother of his humiliating day. His mother, who happened to be a rather powerful witch, concocted a plan to get revenge on the prince, the boil on the end of her nose twitching with delight. With her cauldron boiling on the fire, shadows and fumes fluttering madly, she prepared a magic potion, cackling as she outlined her vengeful scheme to her sniggering son.

The next morning Cecil sidled into the prince’s ornate bedchamber, groaning under the weight of a huge cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, black pudding and fried bread.

"Lovely day, my liege," he said, grinning a mischievous grin as he swept back the purple velvet curtains.

"Oh, is it?" Yawned the prince, squinting in the bright sunlight.

"Oh yes, sir," replied little Cecil. "It’s so nice outside you can see a perfect reflection of yourself in the river. Oh, it would be marvellous to see a face as handsome as yours glistening in the water." The cogs began to turn in the vain prince’s mind.

"Do you know what? I think I’m going to have a walk down by the river this morning, as it’s such a lovely day."

"I though you might have that idea," said Cecil, trying his hardest not to giggle. After washing and dressing, the prince strode out of the palace and down to the river, Cecil scuttling after him.

"Look how handsome I make this river look," said the prince his chest puffed out with pride as he gazed at his reflection in the sparkling water. He did not notice Cecil creeping up behind him. With all his might, Cecil shoved the prince off the riverbank. As his master fell, Cecil opened the flask containing his mother’s potion and threw the contents down after him. With a puff of acrid smoke the prince began to change. His arms and legs stretched out across the river, grasping the muddy verges. His back arched up high. His whole body stiffened, turning to stone and wood. Where the prince once was, there was now a bridge!

"Ah ha!" Cried Cecil with glee. "Now we’ll see who walks on who!" With that, he stamped triumphantly across the prince and ran off to tell his mother of his success, leaving the young man stuck in mute, unmoving rage.

One more thing...

I forgot to mention this in the Common Dreads review but Enter Shikari were one of the main influences on a band that my old housemate Tom and I set up a couple of years ago. It didn't really get off the ground but we did manage to record some tracks which can be found on our myspace page. We were called 'Helvetica Outbreak' and we played a fusion of drum and bass/trance/metal, so not surprising that Enter Shikari were an influence.

Anyway, the band is very much moribund now as Tom as finished uni and gone home, but you can have a listen and see what you think. Click here to get to the myspace page.

Coming soon on 'The Musings of Samuelj' is another short story, a fairy tale I wrote for my university course called 'The Prince and the Bridge'. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Enter Shikari - Common Dreads - Review

Music by Rou Reynolds, Rory Clewlow, Chris Batten and Rob Rolfe, lyrics by Rou Reynolds, produced by Andy Gray & Enter Shikari and published by Universal Music.

Returning with their new album Common Dreads, the quartet of mates that make up Enter Shikari have continued their brutal sonic attack on conformity. Despite its imperfections the band’s second record pushes the boundaries, a valiant effort worthy of praise.

Hailing from St Albans Enter Shikari were causing a stir in the underground music scene long before they effectively broke through into the mainstream with their first studio album Take To The Skies in 2007. Their innovative brand of electro-hardcore and high-energy performances has brought them a loyal fan-base in Britain and across the globe, blazing the trail for dance and drum ‘n’ bass influenced rock along with other acts such as Pendulum and Innerpartysystem.

Two years have passed since Take To The Skies and Enter Shikari have definitely been busy. As well as touring around the UK and beyond its borders the four lads have been working on their second album, Common Dreads. The process of recording the album could be viewed as a series of videos posted on the band’s website, a testament to how well Enter Shikari have embraced the digital advances and changes that are effecting every area of the entertainment industry. And it is good to see that the boys haven’t just stuck with the tried and tested formula, moving on from the success of their first album and trying new ground for the second.

One of the band’s strongest elements is that they deal in interlocking themes, not isolated ideas. Some of the vocal sections from Common Dreads will be strikingly familiar to fans of band, rousing these followers like a heart-stirring battle cry. Other sections will introduce new themes as the band confronts issues such as war, poverty, social responsibility and the death of community. Rou Reynolds’ lyrics flirt with the boundary between artful poetry and gritty dialect, tossing references to wordsmiths such as William Blake into his charming melodies and guttural screams.

As Enter Shikari are a crossover act in essence there are many influences that can be seen within Common Dreads. The rising anthemic beats and keyboards of trance can be found in tracks like ‘Hectic’ and ‘Gap In The Fence’. Grimy drum ‘n’ bass hooks and rhythms resound throughout the ‘Havoc’ instrumental tracks and also within the song ‘Wall’. Over these styles the pummelling riffs of punk and metal carve out their crunching destruction, setting Enter Shikari apart as an aggressive musical force. Also thrown into the mix are some quirky swung sections in ‘Zzzonked’ and ‘The Jester’, shaking up the format and showing the group as striving for originality.

The main flaw that can be found in Common Dreads however is that the focus seems to have been placed on the electronic side of the band’s sound, leaving the real instruments feeling slightly weak. Although the synth parts and processed beats have obviously been honed to perfection, its seems that this has been at the expense of the other musical elements. Rory Clewlows’ guitars are sometimes lost in the mix, not quite hammering through like they did on Take To The Skies, and the accompanying kick-drum rhythms don’t punch as crisply as they could. However, the fact that the band’s sound has changed since the last album is definitely a good thing. Although in my opinion some of the inherent power has been lost in Enter Shikari’s newest offering, it would be unforgivable if they hadn’t changed at all.

This imperfection does not however spoil the overall effect that Common Dreads has. The whole album flows together well, with each song strengthening those that follow and precede it. Creating anthems that contain brutality counter pointed with the ethereal is what Enter Shikari do best, shown in the albums strongest tracks; the thundering single ‘Juggernauts’ and the catchy breakneck tune that is ‘No Sleep Tonight’. It is obvious that the band has enjoyed themselves immensely in forging this new collection for their avid followers.

Aside from the slight lack of strength and definition earlier identified, Common Dreads is an album that works very well and is a formidable companion to Enter Shikari’s previous album. The artwork and presentation of the CD is well-honed and adds to the sense of connection and conviction that runs throughout energetic assault of Common Dreads. The four members of Enter Shikari have faced the horrific ‘dread’ of the second album, and they have fared incredibly well where others and fallen and failed.

If you like this, then try: DJ Hype, Faithless, High Contrast, Incubus, Innerpartysystem, Killswitch Engage, Linkin Park, The Mad Capsule Markets, Muse, The Prodigy, Pendulum, Shy Child.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Why I hate Transformers: the Movie

Whenever I talk to people about the films coming out this summer I'm often met with the same response; aren't you looking forward to Transformers 2?

The answer: completely and unequivocally no. The first movie was one the most soul-destroying wastes of time and money I have ever experienced. Let me list a few issues I had with Michael 'all I can do is blow stuff up' Bay's molestation of my childhood.

Firstly, the plot. Or lack of. If I remember rightly it was something to do with a cube that was for some reason important. I don't know why and I don't think any of the characters did either. The event that sums up the film's attempt to coherently string together lots of fights with big robots was when the special ops soldier decides that the best place to take the 'cube of ambiguous importance' is to the middle of a city. With lots of people. Smart thinking.

Next, the transformer's stupid voices. How do you make a huge robot that can turn into a hotrod articulated truck undeniably uncool? Give him, and his cohorts, the worst voices possible, making these colossal automatons sound like idiots.

Possibly the most annoying aspect of the film was the infuriating little deceptacon made of bread knives. The robot equivalent of Jar-Jar Binks, this must have been Bay's idea of comedy genius. Surprising that a robot made of blades did hardly any collateral damage throughout the whole film. May it was designed to annoy people to death.

This leads me nicely to my next point. In a film with giant metal creatures equipped with immensely powerful weaponry, a very small amount of people actually got hurt. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting Hostel with robots. But maybe just a little bit of gore, for realism's sake.

And lastly, any film that ends with the limp whining tones of Linkin Park deserves to be locked in a safe and thrown into the ocean tied to a few anvils.
There's so much more I could say, and I expect I could find so much more to hate if I watched the film again. But I'd probably gouge my eyes out with a plastic spork afterwards. So in short, no, I'm not looking forward to Transformers 2.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Alone with the Bodies - Part 4 of 4

The scientists rushed out of the airlock, bouncing along in their bubble suits, entering Lobert’s dome.

"What have you done now Stein?" Raged Findus. "You better not have-" He stopped, struck speechless by the sight of his colleague, standing on the alien soil, wearing no projective suit.

"What have you, what…" Findus tried again, but words failed him. The four scientists with him were also dumbfounded.

"I’ve done it, I’ve made the atmosphere breathable," Lobert exclaimed excitedly. "I don’t know how, but I’ve done it." The scientists looked at him in shock.

"Look, watch me." Lobert took a deep breath and theatrically exhaled. The scientists cried out in unison, joyfully rushing to Lobert’s side to shake his hand and clap him on the back, his uncovered flesh clasped in the plastic of their gloves. Even Findus congratulated him serenely, making Lobert swell with pride.

All the scientists, technicians and other assorted staff were summoned to the dome to witness the extraordinary event. Lobert saw Xan smiling at him amongst the assembled people, from military officers to the cleaners. Lobert felt guilty. It was obviously Xan’s input that had brought about the change. He looked back into the scientist’s eyes, trying to impart his feelings. Xan seemed to understand, raising a hand as if to tell Lobert not to worry. When they all had arrived Findus quietened the buzzing crowd, whose gaze was fastened on Lobert. The head scientist raised his hands to bring them to silence.

"My comrades," he began. "Today we stand on the brink of a new era for Taurus Delta. Today, we are indebted to Doctor Stein, for reaching out and grasping a new home for the human race!" The crowd clapped and cheered, Lobert flushed with embarrassment. "Now," continued Findus, hushing the men and women, "let us join in tasting the air of this, our new conquest." In unison, all fifty-seven of the dwellers on the planet removed their helmets and took a deep breath.

Horrified dread rushed over Lobert Stein as he watched his gathered colleagues scrabbling frantically at their throats, their faces turning blue and then purple, as they fell to the ground. Their heads shrunk grotesquely, and with a chorus of wet, squelching pops, their brains were crushed by the noxious gases clamping down on their skulls. Lobert screamed as he staggered backwards, shouting to the central computer.

"What seems to be the problem Doctor Stein?" The computer’s voice dripped like honey into his ears from the dome’s internal speakers.
"They’re all dead" he cried.

"Yes, it seems they couldn’t breath the air, the fatal reaction causing-"

"Why didn’t you stop them?" Lobert interrupted.

"I assumed it was part of your experiment," the computer replied, placidly. "A controlled test, so to speak."

"What d’you mean, controlled test? Hang on a second, why can I breath the air?" Lobert manically questioned.

"Because of your success in melding the properties of the alien creature with those of your own. I assumed that was your reason for keeping the creature in such close proximity."

"Melding properties? What the hell are you talking about?"

"By spending time with the creature you have entered its evolutionary pattern, absorbing it’s ability to breath in this harsh environment." Lobert felt his neck and recoiled in shock as his fingers ran across the gill-like flaps on his neck. How had he not noticed them before? "I assumed," the computer continued mockingly, "that you were aware of this change."

"But why didn’t you stop them from killing themselves when you knew they couldn’t breath?"

"As I have already related to you, I assumed this was part of your experiment, using a control group to show the difference from your personal reaction." The computer continued tiredly.

"Obviously from a human point of view, the loss is tragic. But you must see Doctor Stein, that you have made a breakthrough. Mankind is in your debt."

Lobert stood bewildered, staring down at the bodies of his fallen comrades. Philip watched him silently from his rock. It was then that as Lobert clapped his hands to his head in desolation, he felt six small lumps growing out of his forehead, just big enough to be noticed. Philip watched him beadily; glad to have a new friend to share his planet. He and Lobert walked out into the dusty wilderness, leaving the computer alone with the bodies.

The End

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The tube strike is evil!!!

Argh! Why did the tube strike have to happen while I'm in London? Couldn't they have waited till I'd gone home? Oh well, at least I don't have to deal with it on a regular basis.

I left the house at 7.20 this morning and managed to get a bus at 8.00, but not the actual one I wanted. This took me the distance covered by a 3 minute tube journey in an hour. So I got off, promptly got lost, and asked lots of people what way to go. They all said to get on a bus. Sod that! 

After feverishly consulting my London street atlas (thanks mum, an inspired Christmas present) I managed to trail-blaze my way to Oxford Street in an hour and a quarter. What a pilgrim! Only 15 minutes late for work.

It seemed like another long day, but it was brightened by one of the agents at my work experience taking me out for coffee and discussing my writing with me. She had some really useful advice which I will be putting into action for certain.

I'm dreading my travels tomorrow but at least I'll know what to expect. Wish me luck, or even better, pray for me!

Alone with the Bodies - Part 3 of 4

A yawn forced its way out of Lobert’s mouth as he stretched his arms, filling up his lungs with recycled air. He had dimmed the lights in the laboratory, the roof panels emitting a weak glow. Normally the piercing lights gave him a headache, but the gloom was just making him sleepy. In the near darkness the glass and metal of assorted scientific equipment glimmered on the racks around the walls, reflecting the calm blue light that emanated from his workstation. In cages sedated animals slept, unaware of Lobert and his dust monkey, who walked up and down the cages, peering in at the captives with curiosity. It was late evening on Taurus Delta, and the laboratory was deserted apart from Lobert. His antisocial tendencies led him use the lab in his free time, so as to avoid human contact. His experiment was frustrating him; nothing seemed to be working the way it should. He pushed the tubes and flasks into the auto cleaner, wiping his tech-slate clear of scrawled calculations and messy notes. A noise broke the silence, making him jump. He turned to see a figure silhouetted in the harsh light of the corridor. The dust monkey crept into a gap between the cages watching the visitor.

“ Who’s there?” He asked the figure. The person walked into the room, the lab door sliding closed, returning the room to its darkened state.

“It’s me, Xan.” As his eyes adjusted, Lobert recognised the man’s Asian face and sleek dark hair. Xan perched on the bench near Lobert’s. “Working late again?” Lobert nodded. Xan Attol was the only person on the base that ever talked to him like he was a human. However, Xan wasn’t his friend. He treated Lobert like a child that needed help, which made him feel even more pathetic than the insults Findus and the others heaped upon him. He tried to look busy, fiddling with the equipment on the bench. “Anyway”, Xan continued, “I wanted to show you this.” He reached into his pocket and produced a memory film, which he handed to Lobert, who pressed the slip of material onto the tech-slate. Files and information flashed up on the screen. Lobert studied the symbols with mild interest.

“What is it?”

“It’s a code I came up with today, it should recalibrate our equipment by 0.00127 degrees of efficiency in relation to the atmospheric differential of Taurus Delta.” Xan smiled proudly.

“Why are you showing me? You should take this to Skiller.”

“Well I was going to but, well, I know you’ve hit a dead end and I thought you might like to use it a bit before I upload it on the central computer.” Lobert turned away so Xan wouldn’t see his annoyance. He hated being pitied.
“Yeah it will probably help my work’, he muttered.
“Well, you keep hold of that film, I’ll hand the code in formally in a couple of weeks. Glad I could give you a hand.” He left Lobert alone in the laboratory.
The dust monkey, sensing he could come out, trotted across the floor and jump up onto the work surface, sitting opposite Lobert. The scientist scowled at the screen. As much as it angered him, he needed any help he could get.
The days passed a little more easily now that Lobert had the dust monkey to keep his company, which he had named Philip. He had managed to persuade the computer that he needed the monkey for his work, but she wasn’t one hundred per cent satisfied, and let him know this at regular intervals. All specimens from the planet’s surface were to be kept in quarantine in the laboratories by the rules of the UEAD, so Philip had to be carefully kept a secret. Stein added Xan’s code to his work, but it didn’t seem to do much good. His results were more detailed than before, but he still hadn’t made much progress. Everything carried on as normal, with Philip living off scraps of food Lobert smuggled out of the dining hall. Everything was normal, that is, until the day of the accident.
Lobert was walking out in the dome, checking his plants. It had been almost a week since Xan gave him his breakthrough code and he still had nothing to show for it. Philip sat on a rock, watching him in the milky sunlight, his eight eyes blinking in a hypnotic fashion. Lobert turned to check his creepers and as he did, he tripped on a boulder. As he hit the ground two things happened. Firstly, the helmet of his bubble suit cracked and split in half, the fragility of the headpiece caused by a Mister Herbert Edgar, the engineer at Cyron Astro-Industries responsible for safety testing the helmet. Mister Edgar had gone on his tea break three minutes too early on the day the helmet was being tested, thus resulting in the hairline fracture in the glass going unnoticed until the very moment it struck the ground. The second thing to happen was that Lobert took a deep choking breath of the planet’s air as a rock directly beneath his chest knocked the wind out of him.
This is it, thought Lobert, awaiting the oncoming implosion of his skull, caused by the toxic gases and lack of oxygen. Lobert stein, your time is up, he concluded.
But his seemingly inevitable death did not come. He breathed out. And then in again. Realisation slowly leaked into his mind, a glass slowly filling. Somehow, he had done it. He was breathing the planet’s air.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

What a day...

I'm shattered! It's been a long day today. Stupid phrase, every day is the same length. What I should say is, "my perception is this day has led me to feel that it as been longer than usual." But that's just a bit of a mouthful isn't it?

My work experience is still going really well but things were hectic in the office today, so I had to work extra hard to keep up. Plus the tube strikes start tonight (God bless you TFL) so my journey home was sweaty, confined and uncomfortable. And there was a massive beast of an insect (it looked like a moth) that kept threatening to fly in my face on the train, and being crammed in I couldn't do anything to stop in buzzing at me! Oh well.

So tomorrow morning I shall be up at 6.30ish and getting the bus at 7.30, which will make its way slowly to Oxford Circus. Gonna take my laptop with me and continue a story I'm writing for a competition if I get there super-early. Going to a book launch after work, lets hope it's fun!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Slumdog Millionaire - DVD Review (single disc)

Directed by Danny Boyle, starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto, written by Simon Beaufoy.

It has been said before, and will be seen by some as only a quotation, but let me say it anyway. In the words of film critics and regular Joe cinema-goers alike, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a masterpiece.

Based on the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, the film tells the story of three children growing up in the ever-changing metropolis of Mumbai, India. The narrative of Slumdog Millionaire operates on many different levels, showing us Jamel’s (Dev Patel) awe-inspiring struggle to find his destined love, the beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), the tortured relationship between him and his forceful brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), the jealous attempts of quiz-show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) to thwart Jamel’s chance to win twenty million rupees, and also the growth and transformation of Mumbai as a city, over the past decade.

Slumdog Millionaire is one of those films that defies the rules and becomes both critically acclaimed and a box office hit. With eight Academy Awards under its belt and grossing an impressive $352 million worldwide (even more impressive considering it almost went straight to DVD), it is a film that has obvious universal appeal. It is hard to pin down what it is that makes Slumdog so popular, because all the elements of this film of so skilfully crafted. Superb casting, flawless cinematography, breathtaking locations, expert writing and an emotive musical score all work in unison and could all be claimed as the key to its success. Or it could just be that deep down everyone wants the underdog to get the girl.

As already mentioned, the casting of Slumdog Millionaire is a masterstroke. With the main characters being shown at three different periods of their lives, each actor chosen needs to not only perform superbly, which all do, but physically resemble each other. The likeness between the nine individuals who take on the different forms of Jamel, Salim and Latika is so striking that you really feel you’ve been there for the whole of their epic journey, that you’ve grown with them as they do on the screen. Dev Patel in particular stands out in his first headline feature film role, oozing charisma and intensity, only looking nervous when his character sits on the hot seat with the chance of winning millions.

Being a Western viewer, I felt that Slumdog Millionaire opened up a new world to me in the form of Mumbai. I do not see myself as an insular or Eurocentric person, but I did feel challenged by Boyle’s vision of modern India, through the almost biopic film of its capital. Stunning images dripping with colour and life are suddenly replaced by ones of horror, cruelty and pain. We see the Taj Mahal in all its splendour, but also the landfills of waste that people scavenge through for a living. Despite what may be said about this film, it is not ‘feel-good’ for the most part, unless you happen to enjoy torture and mutilation. However, at no point does the film fall into the trap of becoming overly moralistic and avoids preaching to the audience. We see India and Mumbai as are, flawed but also beautiful.

Being an avid music lover, I find that often the composition for a film can be its making or breaking point. With this in mind I can safely say that A.R. Rahman’s score did not disappoint in the slightest. When listening to the songs and instrumentals used within the film, the themes and emotions pour directly into your ears, flooding you with the strange, thriving majesty of Mumbai, the danger of Jamel and Salim’s journey, and most importantly the yearning that fills the protagonist’s heart to be with his true love. The musical highlight of the film is obviously the triumphant and anthemic Jai Ho, along with the dance finale that accompanies it, paying tribute to the Bollywood film industry that the film owes much to.

If there is a tiny flaw in Slumdog Millionaire, and I am clutching at straws, it is that the subtitles seemed rather disjointed. Random lines of dialogue would suddenly be accompanied by a visual translation; where as other sections in Hindi were left untouched. In some cases a thickly accented phrase in English would be subtitled. This may have been the cause of editing issues or possibly an attempt to include those who would not be familiar enough with the accents shown in the film. However, in using the indigenous tongue of the film’s location Slumdog Millionaire retains its believability, regardless of subtitling issues. 

As well as the main feature, the single disc version of Slumdog Millionaire includes some interesting extras, such as a making-of documentary, some commentaries by cast and crew, and a few deleted scenes for good measure, making it a respectable package for the price of a single disc release.

Regardless of my personal need to go against the flow, I conceded this time to agree with the majority, and join in the praises of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Heart-achingly powerful and incredibly uplifting, this film will most likely be my favourite one of the year. The bar has been set.

Shopping = Tiring!

Oh my goodness, I am all shopped out! My girlfriend Lauren came down to London to see me this weekend, and other than meet up with some friends, eat lots of tasty food, and watch a man juggle chain-saws whilst wearing only pink boxer-shorts, all we've done is shop!

Not that it was a waste of time, I made some good (but bank-balance damaging) purchases. I got a cool jacket for £10, it's a thin water-proof affair, perfect for summer. I also got two t-shirts, probably against my better judgement, as I have a weakness for t-shirts and over-flowing drawers as a result. Maybe I should do a t-shirt amnesty.

Anyway, steering back to the issue at hand, the first t-shirt has a picture of an AT-AT walker from Star Wars on it, but in the style of of a Haynes manual, and the second one has a load of cool Gundam Wing robots on it. Both very cool, but I may need to purge my collection when I arrive home.

Couldn't find a picture of the Star Wars T-shirt, but click here for a picture of the Gundam T-shirt.

But however cool these purchases were, it doesn't remove the fact that I've spent the best part of 7 hours in shops this weekend. I was very well behaved though, and only whined a couple of times, which I think is an achievement!

Note to all the guys in relationships out there: if you wanna win some boyfriend/fiance/husband points, let her go in as many shops as possible, always have an opinion on her choices, and at all costs don't look at the other women in the shop! For anyone going for the bonus points, make suggestions about what might look good on her. Beware however, this could backfire terribly if you lack taste, so tread carefully!

Also anyone looking to get a girlfriend, all these tips apply, but remember you're setting the standard for the future. If you stop using any of this tips, it will be noticed and dealt with ever so severely by the fairer sex. You have been warned!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Alone with the Bodies - Part 2 of 4

The airlock swished open efficiently, opening the way for Stein to step out onto the reddish-brown soil. Above him the glass dome of his work-garden swept up and over, encasing him almost completely, except for the gap directly opposite the door. This semi-circle gap, like a giant archway, allowed the planet’s atmosphere and plant life to seep into the dome, where Lobert could study it for the good of the human race. His shining white bubble suit bulged around his midriff, protecting him from the toxic oxygen-deficient environment. The bulbous helmet surrounded his head and upper body, making him feel like an over-sized goldfish.

He trudged out, making his daily checks on the plants growing in the dome. The creepers were creeping away, as they did, trying to cover any and every surface they could. Little black flowers twinkled in the hazy sunlight. Stein made notes on the touch-screen built into the wrist of his suit, trying to make the checks last as long as possible. He didn’t enjoy this part of his job anymore than being stuck in the view tower, but at least it got him away from the other scientists. Lobert scowled, remembering his run-in the previous day with the head of the UEAD scientific section of the base, Skiller Findus.

“How’s the research going?” smirked the tall spindly man as they passed in the corridor, two technicians reverently following, their royal blue overalls in contrast with the gleaming white of the scientist’s billowing cloak.

“Fine,” replied Lobert tersely.

“Any progress lately?”

“I’m still working on… lots of calculations… controlling variables…” Lobert muttered, frustrated.

“Well you keep up the good work,” said Findus smugly, stooping down to Lobert’s eye level, his face a contortion of pride and derision. “Luckily for the human race, there are some people here who produce results. But don’t you worry about that, we’ll let you get on with whatever you’re doing.” With that he swept away, the two technicians sniggering in his wake.

Lobert reddened with embarrassment and anger recalling the event, standing in his dome with his plants. He knew Skiller couldn’t fire him because he was a voluntary colonist, giving him a permanent position as long as he kept to UEAD regulations. But Skiller could still make his life hell if he wanted to.

He was about to turn and stomp back into the airlock when he noticed something rustling amongst the leathery creepers. Carefully, he pulled back the plant’s leaves, revealing a small furry creature. Lobert had seen them before, they were one of the first indigenous life forms to be classified on the planet, along with the skittish flat snakes that floated above the ground, rushing away as soon as they detected a presence, and the vicious bear-like predators with eyeless faces and giant fanged maws. They were known as ‘dust monkeys’, little bundles of brown fur that closely resembled the primates of Earth, except for their eight arachnid eyes, which gave them a rather creepy look, especially for those with arachnophobia. They were fairly friendly, as this one proved, staring at Lobert, unafraid.

As he looked down at the tiny animal, Lobert had a crazy idea. Without really knowing why, he coaxed the dust monkey onto his hand, and made his way to the airlock. He punched in the codes to close the door and change the room’s atmosphere. The dust monkey sat calmly on his hand. Lobert knew the little creature could cope with the atmospheric change because of the tiny gills they had discovered on the necks of the species, allowing them to breath in almost any environment. Not really knowing why, he furtively carried his new friend back to the view tower, entering the circular lift and speeding upwards into the office above.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Terminator Salvation Review

Directed by McG, starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris.

Although one may want dismiss the latest in the Terminator series purely on the grounds of its director’s stupid name (who on earth is called McG?), I urge you strongly to reconsider. Rising from the mediocrity of T3, Terminator Salvation is a heart-pumping, immensely enjoyable action thriller, returning the terrifying scarlet glow of the terminator’s moribund eyes to the big screen with gusto and glee.

Terminator Salvation begins by introducing us to the matured, chiselled and battle-hardened John Conner (Christian Bale), who is an officer in the Resistance, a rag-tag band of human survivors fighting against the relentless force of the Skynet, a self-aware military defence network intent on the extinction of the human race through the use of metallic endoskeletons known as ‘terminators’. Conner is a messiah to many who believe he is humankind’s only hope, his quest at present to discover the location of Kyle Reece (Anton Yelchin), a teenager who will grow up to become Conner’s father through time manipulation. However, the mysterious resurrection of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a former death-row prisoner from years earlier, holds dark meaning for both Conner and Reece, and of course, the whole of mankind.

The latest in this summer’s group of franchise reboots, along with the dismal X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the surprisingly good Star Trek, Terminator Salvation has a vast universe to draw from, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. With the inherent time-travel story that runs through the Terminator narrative there are always theoretical issues for any nerd to pick up on. For example, if humans eventually can travel back in time, why do we show so much restraint in only using this technology to save John Conner, and not to go back and eliminate Hitler?

However, Terminator Salvation succeeds in bringing out the elements that make the Terminator series so popular. The visual style of the film is reminiscent of its predecessors, drawn from a very bleak pallet and using gargantuan industrial and technological environments as the backdrop for the film’s action. The evil mecha-beasts that are terminators appear in familiar forms, such as the towering humanoid T-600, but also include some new additions to their ranks, like the massive, steam-belching robots with shoulder-mounted cannons that snatch humans up to be experimented on, and the eel-like hydrobots that lurk in lakes and rivers, waiting for an unwitting human to munch upon.

A very good choice made by the writers of Terminator Salvation (John Brancato and Michael Ferris) is to avoid the folly of T3 and not dole another chase story, ground already majestically covered, and possibly exhausted, by the first two Terminator films. Although there are elements of this concept in Terminator Salvation (unstoppable machine pursues, frail human outwits it, machine rises up again, pursuit continues) the overall story is very enjoyable, if not exactly original or completely unpredictable. The familiar Terminator characters fit well into the almost Saving Private Ryan style war story and fans of the series will be delighted to finally be seeing the day after judgement day, the devastating war only shown briefly in the first and second films.

The elements that make up Terminator Salvation are all strong within their own rights. Bale is no stranger to gruff, rough and tough characters, but does not take a backseat in rejuvenating John Conner as a commanding by troubled man. Worthington fails to shine particularly brightly but does give a solid performance, in contrast to Anton Yelchin, the boyish Chekov in Star Trek, who presents us with a powerful and energetic vision of the young Kyle Reece. Also worth mentioning is Helena Bonham Carter's well played, small but crucial role in the film, which I will not discuss in detail so as to avoid spoiling plot points.  The music is dark and pounding, with the trademark metallic clashing familiar from the earlier films, supported by ear-splitting and floor-rumbling sound effects. The dialogue isn’t anything to shout about in particular, but when you insert the “I’ll be back” and the “come with me if you want to live” in the right places, there’s not much you have to do.

Cut from the same cloth as its predecessors, but forging its own path, McG’s Terminator Salvation is an incredibly fun cinematic experience, with explosive action, a thrilling plot, effective performances and the obvious possibility of sequels to come. Let’s hope the Terminator reboot can continue as strongly as it has started.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Alone with the Bodies - Part 1 of 4

Lobert Stein sat in his swivelling egg-chair, the sterile white computer consoles surrounding him like a giant mouth. The panoramic windows of his view tower gave him a constant unchanging outlook over the alien landscape of Taurus Delta, a dull brown desert pock-marked with boulders and sinewy plant-life, stretching off into all distances. The sky was an overcast cloak, always cloud-filled, misty like a blinded eye. Lobert repositioned himself, slouching in the impossibly uncomfortable chair, knowing that his lazy rest would be destroyed any second.

“Doctor Stein,” chirped the complex’s central computer in a juicy feminine singsong. “You haven’t touched your console for five minutes. Why is this?” Lobert cleared his throat. He’d always found the concept of talking to a machine a little strange. Shameful pathetic memories welled up in him, sitting in the classroom as a child back on Earth, unable to answer the tutor-bot, his classmates laughing away. The robot stood in front of his desk, its expressionless metallic face terrifying him. It felt so… unnatural.

“I was, uhh, contemplating,” he replied, scratching his balding scalp guiltily.

“Contemplation is good,” sang the computer piously, “but hard work is better. I suggest you return to your project.” Stein sluggishly obeyed, leaning forward and touching the console. His graphs and tables jumped back into existence, hovering in front of his disinterested eyes. He picked up his old-fashioned glass spectacles, wiped the lenses and propped them on his potato-shaped nose.

“That’s better,” the computer cooed patronisingly. “Remember, your work is integral to the future of the human race.” Lobert didn’t feel that encouraged. He was at a dead end. The aim of the scientist’s project was to prepare the Taurus Delta for colonisation by terra-forming the atmosphere, converting the atmosphere to human living conditions. The other scientists seemed to be constantly making breakthroughs, mapping the properties of this atom, classifying the molecules in that plant, while he sat in the chair, fruitlessly tapping away inside his pristine technological cage of an office.

It had all seemed so promising in the beginning, when he first saw the United Earth Aerospace Division billboards and video adverts, flashing with colour and intrigue. Colonising the universe. A fresh start. If he had thought about it, he would easily have come to the conclusion that all he was doing was picking up his socially inept and unsuccessful baggage and plonking it down on a different planet. One a bit dustier and a little less inhabitable. He sighed as he looked past his work, out into the endless rocky wilderness. Would he ever truly get away?

End of my second day at work experience

Well I'm sat in my cousin's room (thanks Tim for letting me stay here!) after quite a long day. It was my second day on my work experience placement today, at a literary agency in London. And it has been hard work, but very insightful and definitely will be useful in the future.

I'm learning so much about how books get published, and have picked up some massively helpful tips for any writer trying to get his/her work off the home PC and onto the book shelves.

For example, if the agency you submit your work to as a requested format for the work to arrive in, e.g. double-spaced, times new roman, font size 10, then send your work in that format! Clipart and crazy fonts just look amateur, not original.
Also put all the requested information on your submission. What is it's genre? Who is it aimed at? How long is it? The synopsis only needs to be brief, just cover the basics.

And finally, if the agency asks for submissions to be addressed 'submissions', don't address your letter to a specific agent. It will not get to them! All the post is opened by the admin staff who most likely will send the writing to an outside reader to look over. Therefore, your writing will only reach the agent if it gets past the first hurdles, not by some loophole because you addressed your submission to a certain person.

Anyway, I'm starting to sound a bit big for my boots! I'm going to be one of these poor people sending submissions soon, and I'm sure I'll be receiving some nice rejection letters like the ones I was doling out today! I guess the most important thing is to stay positive and keep working on things, regardless of any setbacks. Onwards to the future (rousing music, cheering)!!!