Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Some musical mini-reviews

As the year draws to a close, I thought I'd provide you with a selection of mini-reviews, summarising my thoughts on a few of the albums I've purchased recently.

As I Lay Dying - Shadows Are Security

The second album from the USA's premier Christian metalcore band, charting their evolution from the raw brutality of their debut album, 'Frail Words Collapse', to a more refined and crafted sonic assault. Although some of the tracks are a little repetitive, AILD still retain their relentless aggression and passion, making this record an effective link in the band's musical progression.

Must-hear tracks: Confined, Empty Hearts
Rating: 3/5

Hurts - Happiness

If melodramatic 80's-inspired electro-pop is what you're after, then this duo from the UK is for you. Hurts debut album features incredibly catchy tunes, crisply recorded instrumentation and innovative yet vintage synths and beats. Pop princess Kylie Minogue also features on the record, giving the experience the authenticity it deserves.

Must-hear tracks: Wonderful Life, Better Than Love
Rating: 5/5

As I Lay Dying - The Powerless Rise

AILD's most recent release, featuring more piercing guitar harmonies, pummeling riffage, unforgiving drum beats and questioning lyrics. Although there are some great melodic sections to be sampled here, the solos let this album down, feeling unoriginal and bland for the most part. Not a bad record overall, but a step back from the perfection of 'An Ocean Between Us'.

Must-hear tracks: The Plague, Upside Down Kingdom
Rating: 4/5

Gypsy and the Cat - Gilgamesh

Another electro-pop duo for you now, but this time hailing from Australia. Possibly too sickly-sweet for some, but hitting the spot for others, this record features the great combination of lyrical ballads and programmed rhythms and tones. Some of the songs point to the band's influences a tad too overtly, but on the whole this a soulful and original album; I challenge you not to sing along.

Must-hear tracks: Time To Wander, The Piper's Song
Rating: 4/5

Demon Hunter - The World Is A Thorn

Christianity and heavy metal may not be a natural combination for some, but for US industrial-thrash veterans Demon Hunter, it's a way of life. This, the band's latest album, continues their no-holds-barred musical rampage, using epic riffs, rapid-fire drums and soaring vocals to spread their uncompromising message. As close to perfection as you can get outside of Heaven.

Must-hear tracks: Collapsing, Tie This Around Your Neck
Rating: 5/5

DJ Fresh - Kryptonite

And finally, some British drum and bass. This album features a mix of straight and swung tracks, as well as some dubstep beats for good measure. Although some of the songs aren't particularly special, there are a few absolute gems to be found here, utilising grimy synth tones, deep bass lines and high-speed drums alongside brilliant vocal performances.

Must-hear tracks: Talkbox, Golddust
Rating: 3/5

That's all for now, have a great New Year!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Birthday presents, video games, movies and rediscovering the joy of four strings

I intended to get a post in before my birthday, but other commitments have sadly drawn my attention away. So I'm going to condense all my recent thoughts/experiences into this post, as I can't say whether I'll get to write again before Christmas!

My birthday has come and gone once again, leaving me a year older but blessed with some really cool presents. Lauren covered all the bases by getting me Enslaved: Odyssey to the West on PS3, a Adidas/Star Wars T-shirt and the Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary! If you can't be a kid on your birthday then what's the point of having a birthday? As we both had the day off, we went out and bought a Christmas tree, which was an interesting experience to say the least. When we got the tree out of the netting, we realised it's a little too big for our flat, and had to rearrange our furniture to accommodate it! It looks nice now it's decorated though, so I have no regrets.

I haven't played much of Enslaved yet, but my initial experience has been very enjoyable. Although to start with it seemed to lack risk (impossible to fall off ledges, low damage in battles), the difficultly/danger jumps up quite quickly after the tutorial sections are done, forcing you to use all of Monkey's agility and power, alongside Trip's intelligence and technical skill. The game's visuals are absolutely stunning, with vibrant colours and crisp detail. On the subject of striking visuals, I recently purchased Inception on Blu-ray. What a film. Like The Dark Knight, I think I'll be repeatedly watching Christopher Nolan's latest masterpiece, as its concept generates so much debate and split opinions. Is it all a dream? Does Cobb get back to his family? Am I dreaming right now? Of course not. I got out of the Matrix ages ago...

Over the past few weeks I've got back into playing the bass guitar, as my friend's bass was recently fixed, allowing us to use it for music at church. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to play the bass; it's been great to brush up on my Rage Against The Machine riffs! Having the bass for church has been very useful, because when I've played electric guitar recently its not worked very well with the other instruments (treading on the toes of the piano and acoustic guitar), where as the bass has really added some power and definition. Don't worry though, I'm not abandoning my six-string roots! Got a load of Christmas carols to learn for Sunday, so I'll leave it there. If I don't write again before the 25th, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One - Review

Directed by David Yates, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, written by Steve Kloves.

Dark times are coming. All across the land of Britain, men and women huddle in shadowy corners, whispering to one another of the inevitable fate that none of us can elude. Every second draws us closer, ticking away the remaining time before the ominous fear will become reality...when we reach the end of the Harry Potter movie saga!

OK, so that was a bit of a dramatic intro, but it truly is a shame when great film series reaches its conclusion. Think of how you felt when the Lord of the Rings films came to an end (bad example: Return of the King had about fifteen endings); it's a difficult thing to come to terms with. Although the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows does bring with it the beginning of the end, it is nonetheless a thrilling and effective adaptation of J.K. Rowling's insanely popular novel.

HP 7: Part One depicts the outbreak of civil war in the wizarding community, forcing Harry, Ron and Hermione to abandon their studies at Hogwarts as they go on the run, Voldemort's Death Eaters hot on their trail. Harry must follow his task of destroying the seven horcruxes, dark magical items created by Voldemort in a bid to gain immortality. This challenge, given to Harry by Professor Dumbledore before his death, will not be an easy one. As they embark upon their quest, confronting the mystery of the Deathly Hallows along the way, the trio will face all kinds of dangers and trials, threatening their lives as well as their friendships.

After re-watching the entire Harry Potter series so far, it's amazing to see how much the three main actors have grown in their skill and ability. I'm guessing that by now they are pretty much best friends in real life anyway, and so it isn't much of a stretch to portray this on screen. However, this doesn't tarnish the performances of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson in anyway, as they draw you into the fraying relationship between Harry and his best friends. However, it's hard to highlight the three leads in this movie as giving the best performances, when the entire cast is a role-call of the cream of British thespians. If I was going to pick one person who shone brightest for me, it would be Jason Issacs, playing disgraced Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. His portrayal of a broken man who knows he has lost his former status and power is chillingly believable, making you almost pity him.

No doubt there will be those who will cry sacrilege at the choices made by screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates when adapting this novel to the screen, but I agree with their decisions for the most part. I especially liked their choice of where to split the book in two, leaving my taste-buds tingling for the next installment. There were a couple of instances where I felt that tricks had been missed and events mishandled, the blunt addressing of Mad-Eye Moody's death being one example. I felt that the pacing of the narrative work really well however, the drawn-out bleak sections of the story having exciting action sequences interspersed at the appropriate points. I my opinion, this is a very faithful adaptation, with some interesting and effective changes made here and there to made the story suitable for the visual medium. For a more detailed summary of my views on book-to-film adaptations, click here.

Visually, HP 7: Part One is spell-binding (I'm really sorry, I had to use it somewhere!). From start to finish you are sucked into the magical world of Rowling's books, with a mixture of incredible visual/special effects and artistic cinematography. Some of the most beautiful moments of the movie are those set in the wild countryside of Britain, which would feel as much at home in an indie arthouse film as in a fantasy blockbuster. Also worth mentioning are the totalitarian themes and imagery used to depict the Ministry of Magic, now infiltrated and controlled by Voldemort's minions, invoking hints of distopian films such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) and Brazil (1985).

One thing I will admit about this, the latest in the Harry Potter saga, is that the film is definitely intended for those devoted to the previous books and films. There isn't much point watching this movie if you haven't seen those that precede it. I would even go as far as saying that you won't completely understand the plot if you haven't read all the books. Some elements of the story, such as the importance of the wizard Gellert Grindelwald, are included with the assumption that the viewer doesn't require a thorough introduction, which may confuse those less familiar with the series. I don't necessarily think this is a flaw however, because this is the seventh installment of the story, meaning there is a little bit too much to recap at this point. Another small disclaimer; don't take young children to see this movie. It is quite scary at points and contains suggestive and adult themes that are unsuitable for younger viewers.

So, to conclude, my high expectations were very much met by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. The first section of Rowling's epic teen fantasy has been cleverly and lovingly brought to life on the screen, with a wealth of excellent performances and beautiful imagery. I can't wait for the finale, although I feel a tinge of sadness that the end is nigh. However, there has to be a conclusion, even for the Boy Who Lived.

If you liked this, then try: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Narnia saga, the Star Wars saga and the Twilight saga.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Adapting books to the screen: a brief consideration

With the seventh installment in the Harry Potter film saga being released in the cinema this week, the subject of 'book-to-film' adaptations has been on my mind. It's a topic that is very easily seen in polemic terms, with one camp stating that the book is always superior to the film, and those at the other end of the spectrum saying the exact opposite. However, I think a little more consideration needs to be taken before any judgements can be made.

It is short-sighted to judge the film adaption of a novel by the same criteria as the original text. I get really annoyed when I hear a movie being criticised for 'leaving out' parts of the book; if a literal adaptation of a novel was ever attempted, it would be an extremely tedious and dull experience for the viewer, not to mention the longest film ever made. The director's job when making a screen version of a written work is to put across the essence of the story, using the elements of the book that are most relevant to the visual medium. With some books this task is quite simple. For example, Cormac McCarthy's novels read very much like screenplays and embody a cinematic tone, meaning that the film adaptations of No Country For Old Men (2007) and The Road (2009) easily retain the qualities that made the books so enjoyable. With longer fantasy-based novel's like Harry Potter, the director's retelling has to be much more subjective.

This leads me onto my next point: the role of a film adaptation isn't to provide a carbon copy of the original. Like it or not, but the director has a duty to present their own interpretation of the story, not just regurgitate the author's views and sentiments. When Katsuhiro Otomo adapted his own manga classic Akira (1988) to the screen, he made drastic alterations to the narrative, presenting the version of his story that works best for film. I will admit that I haven't always agreed with the choices a director/screenwriter has made during the adaptive process, but I'll defend to the death their right to make those choices. In a way, the activity of adapting a novel to the screen is just a continuation of the tradition of oral storytelling. As the narrative is passed on by one teller to the next, it is warped and contorted, gradually leaving behind many of the elements that made up its original form. In this case the director becomes just another link in the storytelling chain, passing on their version of the tale.

Don't get me wrong however; I'm not saying that cinematic retellings of novels should replace the original written document. Both are equally valid versions of the story, as long as they told with skill, imagination and integrity. Although I don't like people automatically attacking an adaptation movie, I also detest it when someone states that they won't read a book because they can just watch the film version. This attitude ignores the fact that all films start out as a written document; a screenplay. Without reading, and the imaginative processes it generates, there wouldn't be any films.

There is one situation where I do oppose the adaptation of books into films, and that is when 'Hollywood' gets involved. By this I mean, when studio execs look at a literature masterpiece and only see dollar signs. When this happens all the truth of a text is lost, replaced with the shallow goal of generating the biggest box office success. My example for this phenomenon would be I Am Legend (2007). Richard Matherson's original novel is a horror classic, chilling and inventive, with a really powerful if bleak conclusion. Director Francis Lawrence's adaptation removes almost all of the tension, replacing it with off-the-shelf jumps and scares, and reduces the vampires (yes, they are vampires, not weird zombie things) to unrealistic CGI ghouls. And the altered ending; don't get me started! Without wanting to spoil the story, the film's conclusion has no meaning at all, it says nothing new. But who cares when the film took $585 million worldwide? Isn't that what filmmaking is really about? I'm not so sure.

So in conclusion: not all novel-to-film adaptations are bad, in fact some books feel like they were written to be converted. I think I'm right in saying that Chuck Palahnuik actually acknowledged that he considers David Fincher's version of Fight Club (1999) to be superior to his novel. However, that doesn't mean that reading should now be obsolete; film cannot exist without the written word. I'll let you know what my assessment of the latest Potter adaptation in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, keep reading AND watching!

Friday, 12 November 2010

'This Dark World' - sample chapter

Paul pushed open the glass doors, exiting the building onto the angular concrete steps. The evening had a chilly edge, but was dry and still, darkness beginning to settle in the clear sky. Warm light illuminated the interior of the church building, groups of people visible within, chatting amiably and drinking cups of tea and coffee. Paul stood on the steps, looking down onto the street that passed by in front of the church.

Why did it feel so pointless? He'd been doing this ever since he was a kid, but now it just seemed like empty words and meaningless actions. Where was the blind belief he'd professed as a five-year-old? He turned back and looked at the people within the building. It meant something to all of them. He just felt hollow, wishing he had the guts to stand up to his parents, to say he wasn't going anymore. An even bigger part of him, a gnawing emptiness within, just wanted to know the truth.

God,” he began quietly, his words resonant against the hushed atmosphere of his surroundings. “If this is real, if you are real, then show me. Not in words or pictures, actually show me. Or, I don't think I can carry on with this. I don't think I can believe unless...”

Paul stopped. A young man, possibly in his early twenties, was leaning against the railings next to the church's wrought iron gate. He was wearing an immaculate grey pinstripe suit, which seemed to shimmer in the darkness. His jet-black hair was slicked back, giving him the appearance of an eight-ball with a handsome chiselled face. His eyes stared at Paul, who felt like he was being consumed in their gaze. The man smiled, breaking the tension.

Hey, how's it goin'?”

Alright I guess.”

Paul walked down the steps, hoping the stranger hadn't overheard him talking earlier.

I'm off to a party,” the man informed him. “It's 'gangster' themed. You think I look good?”

Um, yeah.”

Paul was about to open the gate and get away from this quite possibly drunk man, when he noticed something in his hand. He walked away from the gate, transfixed by the object. The man smiled from the other side of the railing, the corners of his mouth curving wickedly.

You want some?” he asked, holding out the greasy hamburger.

Paul looked at the fast-food snack. For some reason he couldn't comprehend, the burger looked like the best item of food he had ever laid eyes upon. His stomach twisted longingly, consumed with hunger. He felt as if all would be right with the world as long as he could sink his teeth into that soft white bread and fill himself with the rich meatiness of the flame-grilled beef within.

His hand reached out.

The stranger's grin widened.

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The voice seemed to be simultaneously the softest whisper in Paul's ear and also a clap of thunder. The man's smile faded instantly, replaced by a look of inhuman rage. He threw the hamburger to the ground, stamping on it aggressively. Paul looked down at the trampled object. It didn't look so appetising anymore. He could see bits of green mould on the bun, and the meat wasn't even cooked in places. When he looked back up, the man was smiling again, his teeth perfectly aligned and plastically white.

Wanna see something cool?”

Paul nodded, intrigued. The man raised his hand high above the his head, then brought it swiftly down onto one of the pointed ridges on the railings, the metal tearing through his hand. Paul jumped back in shock, his colour sucked from his face at the sight of the blood gushing out of the man's hand.

What are doing? Are you mental?”

The man slowly removed his hand from the raised metal that had skewered it, making Paul feel faint and nauseous.

Look,” he commanded, holding his palm up to Paul.

The youth studied it incredulously. There wasn't even a mark. The flesh was clear and unharmed.

You can do that too.”


Yeah. You're protected. Nothing's gonna happen to you.” The man pointed up into the sky.

The big guy's got you covered.” He smiled his toothy grin. “Give it a try.”

Paul looked at the metal tips of the railing. Could he?

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Oh come on!” shouted the stranger angrily, striding out into the road in frustration. “I nearly had him with that one.”

Paul looked at him with confusion. What on earth was going on? He noticed a blotch on the man's suit trousers. His hand was bleeding, the drops staining the cloth a rich scarlet.

Hey,” shouted the man, walking back over to the railing. Paul looked at him. His face appeared youthful, but on closer inspection the skin seemed stretched and mottled, the bones of his cheeks a little too sharp, his eyes a little too dark.

Hey,” the stranger repeated, snapping his fingers in front of Paul's face, causing the youth to jump. The man laughed, a hollow rasping sound.

What do you want?” asked Paul, his voice quavering nervously.

What do I want?” the man echoed him, chuckling. “I want to give you everything. I have the power. You want money? I'll give it to you. You want women?” The man laughed again. “What a stupid question. What teenage boy doesn't? Well, they'll be queuing up for you. I can do that. You want respect? Power? I can give you all these things.”

What's the catch?'

Catch? There is no catch.”

The man turned away, whistling tunelessly to himself. Paul pondered his words. Money. Power. Satisfaction. Who didn't want these things? The stranger turned back to Paul, smiling his unnerving grin.

There is one, tiny, insignificant thing you'd have to do for me in return.”

What is it?”

I would need you to bow down to me. It's just an ego thing, it wouldn't mean anything really – ”

Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

This time the words were like a shock-wave slamming into the ground, causing Paul to tremble, fully aware of the terrible power the utterance contained. The man howled in agony, his hands clawing at his ears. He fell down onto the tarmac, writhing in pain. Paul watched as the stranger began rise. Terror gripped him, rooting him to the floor. The man seemed gloriously handsome, but his beauty was at the same time the most horrific thing Paul had ever seen. The angles of his bone structure, the arch of his back, the density of his shining hair. It wasn't human.

OK, OK,” the stranger said, his voice grinding, his breathing heavy. “I guess you must really want this one.” He looked at Paul, his eyes glinting viciously. “I've got one more thing to show you,” addressing the young boy. He clicked his fingers.

Everything changed. Paul looked about him in panic. The buildings of the street seemed to be crumbling and shifting, but somehow managing to stay standing. The sky had morphed into a dense black shadow, a sunless expanse, the complete absence of light.

Something grabbed at his leg.

Paul turned to see what was clutching at his ankle, his eyes widening with absolute terror.

A creature, a bony humanoid, its bulbous head vacant of features except for a gaping maw, was crawling towards him, its jagged hand scrabbling at him. Paul kicked out at the monster, knocking it away. The creature reeled back, but continued to advance. The youth turned to run but was surrounded by more foul ragged bodies, some shuffling awkwardly towards him, others dragging themselves along the ground, all attracted to him, sightlessly searching for him.

Get back! Get away!” he screamed, kicking and punching frenziedly.

Cold hands latched onto his limbs, pulling at him, relentless against his strength. He was dragged down, pulled to the ground.

The man watched, grinning hatefully at Paul.

You're hopeless. Lost. A failure. He isn't going to save you this time. It's too much. You're done for.”

Darkness was almost upon him. He could feel the dank fetid breath of rotten mouths upon his skin, could feel razor-sharp teeth preparing to sink into his flesh.

Help me.”

The darkness was nearly complete.

Save me. Jesus, save me.”

Light. Unadulterated light. A supernova of whiteness. The creatures burst apart, disintegrating into dust, blasted into nothing. The man screamed with rage and was gone, disappearing in a flash of dark energy. Paul felt peace lap over him, the fear instantly replaced by calm. He eyes were closed, but he could sense the light surrounding him like a blanket of pure power. A voice spoke to him, the words falling into his mind without sound.

You are forgiven.

You are clean.

You are a new creation.

In your weakness, you doubted me.

I will turn your weakness into strength.

You asked me to show you...I will allow you to see.

Your sight will glorify me.

Paul awoke with a start, sitting up in bed. He was sweating, breathing heavily. His bedroom was cloaked in darkness, the bluish hues of early morning feeding in through the curtains. He lay back, catching his breath.

What on earth had happened? The man, the creatures, the voice? His mind felt foggy. He seemed to remember coming home, reading for a little while, and then going to bed. Was it all a dream? Something he had made up in his head? The memory of it didn't seem like a dream, but at the same time it didn't feel tangible, like some kind of disturbingly realistic illusion.

He let his body sag back into the covers, rolling over to find a comfortable position. Something did feel different. He felt...encouraged. Regenerated. Like he actually wanted to get up and face the dreary Monday that awaited him in a few hours time. He rolled over again, shrugging off these thoughts. It was just some wacky dream his over-active imagination had conjured up, probably from some comic or film he'd seen. However, as sleep seeped back over him, the words still echoed around his mind – “you asked me to show you...I will allow you to see.”

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Writer's block, RPG fun, and the first definitive test of whether a person is good or evil!

You may have noticed that after devoting an entire post to the topic of my current writing project, 'This Dark World', I haven't mentioned my novel idea for a while. The reason for this is that I am suffering the dreaded writer's block. Everytime I try to sit down and devote some time to my creative endevour I seem to hit a mental brick wall. All inspiration and motivation drains out of my mind, leaving me an ineffective husk of a man. That might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.

However, I think I've discovered the root of my writing issues. After reworking the fantasy concept of my story, I went through my draft and cut out everything that definitely wasn't useful anymore, leaving the parts that could possibly be cannibalised into the new form of my story. I don't think I went far enough in my purging actions. I'm getting caught up in reworking my old draft and combining it with my latest work, and making no progress. I am therefore turning a new page and starting over. I'm keeping my first six chapters because these aren't causing me any problems, but the rest are gone.I have kept hold of all my old drafts, but only as a reference of my progress. I'll let you know how my fresh start goes, but I think it's safe to assume I won't be finished by Christmas!

As a result of my writer's block, I've been doing a fair bit of gaming recently; role-playing games in particular have been my source of solace. I finally completed the main story quest of Fallout 3 the other day, after getting bored with the myriad side missions. There were some really interesting twists and turns in the narrative, getting you caught up in some awesome battles and interesting puzzles before the end. I'm playing through the Operation: Anchorage DLC now, which focuses on the FPS aspects of the game, offering the player a high-paced, guns-blazing version of the Fallout 3's action.

I also, to my shame, recently downloaded a ten-day trial of World of Warcraft. In my defence, I wanted to give the game an objective look, rather than dismissing it out of hand, and I have to admit; it's actually quite fun. I found it very easy to pick up as a beginner, although the demo did limit me to the basic quests, which all boil down to the same process - run to an area, kill a certain amount of enemies and loot their corpses, then return to the quest-giver. However, the landscape of the game is pretty in a cartoonish way, but also very involving and deep, allowing you to get lost in the world. The character customisation options are also extensive, allowing players to craft an unique avatar with specific skills and traits. It's fun to be playing alongside other human players as well, although I can see how the game can be a time-drain if you commit to questing with other people. I don't think I can justify getting into a game that requires me to pay subscription fees, and so although I have enjoyed my brief experience of World of Warcraft, it will remain a game that I don't regularly play.

Finally, here is a video that will separate those whose souls are filled with darkness from those who cling to purity and virtue. It shows two kittens who have 'fainting goat syndrome', meaning that they go rigid if they hear a loud noise or are shocked. Watch the clip; if you laugh, you are evil. If you cry, you are good. It's as simple as that. Enjoy!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Movie music magic!

Have you ever been watching a film, and a song kicks in that is so perfect for that moment in the story, that it sends a shiver down your spine? I was considering this phenomenon recently, and these were the three examples that instantly popped into my head, defining that special instant when what you hear and what you see couldn't be more faultlessly aligned.

"Omen" by Prodigy, featured in Kick-ass (2010)

As Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), dressed as his green-suited alter-ego 'Kick-ass', watches three gang members lay into an unlucky rival, the eerie synth loop starts to play. Lizewski tries to stop the fight but is pushed back. "It's none of your business," shouts one of the men. "Yes it is," replies the youth, loosing his iconic green batons from their holsters on his back. He joins the fray, the song's main electronic riff screaming into life, the bass-heavy drum track resounding as Kick-ass lashes out wildly, taking hit after hit. This Prodigy track works fantastically with this episode in the movie, drawing you into the action as the have-a-go hero tries to do something right.

"Sabotage" by Beastie Boys, featured in Star Trek (2009)

What band's music would best suit a young rebel without a cause, set adrift in the twenty-third century? A frustrated youth who doesn't play by the rules, but has the potential within him to save the citizens of entire planets - what song would define him best? The answer blasts out of the speakers as a young James Tiberius Kirk (Jimmy Bennett), joy-riding in his step-father's classic sportscar, thunders along an empty desert road. His adolencent roar mixes with the screaming vocal of the song's intro, the distorted guitars, pounding drum beat and dj-scratches spewing anarchy into the viewers ears; the only aural accompaniment fit for this scene.

"Extreme Ways" by Moby, featured in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)


Although this track features in each episode of the Bourne trilogy, it is definitely used most effectively in the last installment of the series. In the final minutes of the film a news reporter's voice reveals that the body of the story's possibly deceased hero has not yet been discovered. As a smile creeps over the face of Bourne's companion Nicky Parsons, played by Julia Stiles, the siren-like strings of the song pierce the tranquility. Cut to Bourne's body as it continues to sink under the water, the keys and electric guitar joining the fray. Suddenly he moves, still alive against all odds. As Bourne swims away into the darkness, disappearing from view, a snare-drum fill cracks like a machinegun, ushering in the song's verse as the credits roll. Absolute perfection.

These are only a few of many examples that I could have chosen, so let me know what movie music gets your spine tingling!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Another Square-Enix disappointment...

I was actually quite excited about the release of this game, but it seems that I got my hopes up for nothing. Seriously, the Final Fantasy series is turning into the debacle that Star Wars has become. I guess I'll just have to accept that they'll never achieve the greatness of VII again.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Top tips for video game widows

As a fairly avid gamer (I wouldn't call myself 'hardcore', but that's another debate entirely), I have witnessed the annoyance and anguish that my video game interest can generate in my other half. I know it can be hard for my wife to comprehend when I ask her to wait until this essential boss-battle is over before she can receive any hugs and kisses. I have therefore decided to compile some key hints and tips for the 'wives and girlfriends' of video game fanatics, so that the fairer sex can learn to deal with their partner's obsession a little more effectively.

DISCLAIMER: I completely and totally accept that gaming is not a strictly masculine activity. Maybe you're a guy reading this who has a gamer girlfriend, and you're the one in need of some coping mechanisms. If so, MAN UP! However, whilst I don't wish to be sexist, my experience has been that it is more often the woman moaning at the man to turn the flipping console off and pay them some attention.

1. Know how his game 'saves'

A common excuse for a guy to continue gaming after you've asked him to stop is that he just needs to save the game and then he'll be done. Find out how the save function on his current game of choice works. Can he save at any moment or does he need to reach a save point? If the former is the truth, then what your partner might mean is, 'I could save now, but I want to make sure I've equipped all my best items and organised my inventory before I do'. Ask him to clarify this with you, so as to receive a more accurate finishing time. If he needs to reach a certain point to save his progress, ask for regular updates as to the location of this point in the game. You don't want to miss a prime opportunity to drag his attention away. Finally, be aware of whether or not a game as an 'auto-saving' function. If it does, then your partner has no excuse in regards to ending his gaming abruptly, because little or no progress will be lost.

2. Beware of multiplayer, online and off

Multiplayer gaming can be the biggest time-sink for your gamer-man, and can be very detrimental to chances of you and him spending any 'quality' time together. You have to bear in mind that in most cases, once an online multiplayer game has begun it cannot be be paused or ended prematurely without the player incurring losses or being ejected from the game. You may have to wait patiently for a match to finish, but be prepared to jump into action as soon as it does. Otherwise he may start another game, thus prolonging your wait for affection and attention. Offline multiplayer is also a danger for which you should be ready. If your boyfriend/husband is surrounded by his friends, he is much less likely to heed to your demands for an activity that you can also enjoy, valuing his couple of hours of FIFA 11 as a worthy prize for enduring the wrath you plan to pour upon him as soon as his mates are out of the door. However, there is an upside to offline multiplayer - the opportunity to create a bartering system. If you allow him an evening of Halo death-matches one weekend, then you can trade this in for an evening of manicures and Sex and the City another weekend. If he protests, then entice him with the prospect of allowing more gaming in the future, but only if the barter system is fair and its laws are upheld by both parties.

3. The pros and cons of 'seemingly endless' games

Some might say that it is best for your man to be playing short games that he will complete within a week or so, as this provides less chance for serious obsession to set in. I disagree with this thinking, as short games mean more money spent on new products, and the constant use of the excuse, 'but I've only just bought it, I've hardly played it yet'. However, there are negative aspects to having games that either take a long time to complete or can continue infinitely. You should be very concerned if your partner is a fan of role-playing games, as these titles can have an all-consuming effect. If you hear the names, 'Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft or Fallout', alarm bells should start to ring, as these games will become your man's new adulterous lover if you aren't careful. However, there are positives to lengthy games. You can always use an uncompleted game as a reason for why a new game shouldn't be purchased. A key phrase to remember in this situation is, 'well if [insert game title] is too hard for you to complete, I guess you should buy an easier one'. Not many gamers will be able to shrug off this barbed comment.

4. Encourage him to play what is most enjoyable for you

Unless you are some kind of tyrant hag who has her partner firmly wedged under her thumb (if you are... please don't kill me), there will be times when you have to relent and allow your man some gaming time. However, this doesn't have to be a completely arduous process. Try to find out which of your partner's games are most enjoyable to watch him play. A good tip is to stay well clear of Football Manager, which is about as fun as watching someone make a spreadsheet on Excel. Cinematic games with a good story-line and high quality voice acting are ones to search for, which will hopefully alleviate your boredom a little bit. Some examples that have worked well in my experience are Uncharted 2 on the Playstation 3, and also Resident Evil 4 on the Wii. These games are exciting to watch, and will provide you with a marginally better backseat experience during your boyfriend/husband's gaming time.

Hopefully these tips will aid you in making life bearable with your video game-obsessed partner. Let me know if you have any tips of your own, or what your experiences are of putting these pieces of advice into action.

Saturday, 25 September 2010


You may remember that earlier this year, a certain video game was the subject of quite a few of my posts. Well, it's been a few months since the release of Final Fantasy XIII, and I think it's time for my verdict so far.

The fact that I haven't made any comments on FF XIII since purchasing it pretty much sums up the state of play. To be honest, I'm finding it a little boring, to the point where I haven't actually played it since I bought it. Only the other day did I realise that I had misplaced it during the move to the flat, which demonstrates my lack of interest. The game looks absolutely beautiful, continuing the Final Fantasy tradition of pushing graphics to the cutting edge, and the story is complex and original. However, these elements don't really make up for the dull combat system, which consists of telling your characters to 'auto-battle' over and over, the changing of their fighting style being the only useful action to be taken. Also the character evolution mechanics are equally bland, offering the player only linear paths and little choice. The weapon upgrade system seems to be based completely on chance, with no skill involved.

The word 'linear' sums up my experience of FF XIII so far. It doesn't matter how pretty it is, if it has the complexity of a 4-piece puzzle. I am going to give it another shot, when I eventually find it, but I'm not keeping my hopes up.
Whilst contemporary gaming has been a little bit of a disappointment to me recently, going back to the classics has been a rewarding experience. I dug out my copy of Pokemon Fire Red the other day, and have been enjoying some mindless leveling for the last few weeks. Where as Pokemon's story-line is fairly non-existent, it's gameplay is absolutely flawless. After the dreary experience of FF XIII, Pokemon's simple yet open-ended gameplay style has been a breath of fresh air. I've been leveling all my creatures up to level 20 at the moment, which has actually been less repetitive than playing the latest FF game!

I also recently downloaded a Playstation One classic the other day; Metal Gear Solid. This game is one of my all-time favourites. The stealth-focused gameplay is innovative and addictive, with all-out gun battles off the menu, replaced by careful sneak tactics. At the time, the graphics were cutting edge, taking the PS1's capabilities to the limit. The story is extremely complex, playing out in an incredibly cinematic style, which touches on every emotion as you travel through the game. The music, sound effects and voice acting are all equally unforgettable, making the story even more effective. I don't know how many times I've played through this game, but I have to say it never gets boring!

Let me know if there are any unforgettable classic games you're always returning to, or if a recent game has been a real let down.