Category Archives: Movies ‘n’ Stuff

friday_006

F006

I watched a film this week. In this film, a Nazi spider-robot from the future anally raped an American soldier who had been sent back in time to 50,000 BC to kill a dinosaur-lion thing and investigate an alien flying saucer that had crash-landed there.

Yeah, my brain hurts, too.

This piece of sheer majestic greatness was The 25th Reich; an Australian comedy(?), sci-fi, action, horror…thing from deepest, darkest 2012. I’d discovered this film by accident, having been pounding the streets of Southampton looking for new contenders for my semi-regular B-movie horror gatherings. Yet lo and behold! What should shine out from amongst the standard Hollywood schlock and grime but a sparkling DVD case proclaiming the words: “5 men, 25 dimensions, 1 reality”; adorned with a picture of some US soldiers stood in front of some Nazi spaceships and a sticker saying “£0.75”. Before my brain could even compute what was happening, I found myself at the cashier’s register with the movie in my hand and my wallet 75 pence lighter than it was; suddenly questioning whether what I had just done was a good idea.

Well, what I had just done was cheaper than a cup of coffee and would only eat up 81 minutes of my precious life, so what was the worst that could happen? [Oh yeah, a Nazi spider-robot from the future anally raping an American solider, yada yada yada].

Alas, I’m not going to tell you. Y’see, such is the sheer, intense rage and amusement that The 25th Reich managed to instil in me, I’m going to take some time to really delve into the film; dissect it, poke fun at it and, if absolutely necessary, watch the bloody thing again. I tried my best to formulate my thoughts on it with enough turnaround as to post it here in time for today, but I can only deal with so much madness in one go; so, instead, I’ll post it in a fully-formed, uh, form hopefully sometime soon. I think it’d actually be rather interesting to go through the process for other, similarly-terrible B-movies as well; perhaps as a sort of series, I don’t know. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be fun to revisit the madness again one more time. Maybe.

Okay then, so what good things have I watched recently?

Well, I’ve recently tried to semi-resurrect my commitment to #Project500, my personal goal to try and watch all the of the 500 films ranked as ‘The Greatest Movies of All-Time’ as part of a poll in Empire magazine in 2008. As of today, I’ve managed to check off about 370 of them (to be fair, when I started, I had already seen almost half of the list); in the process, discovering a number of films that would now rank as some of my favourites. The last couple of years have seen a bit of a drop in the tick-off rate, so with the passing of the New Year I decided to sharpen my film-slaying sword and head off back into the #Project500 battle:

From Here to Eternity was a fairly pleasant, romantic drama focussing on a company in the US army stationed at Pearl Harbour just before the infamous attack; The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a tedious horror/psycho-thriller from Dario Argento that, despite the original film being in English, I somehow managed to watch dubbed into Italian with English subtitles; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was monotonous drudge with some appalling plotlines, rueful acting and some terrible songs; Topsy-Turvy was an entertaining, light-hearted biopic of Gilbert & Sullivan’s struggles to put on The Mikado; and A Man Escaped was a sort of slow-but-tense, black-and-white film by Robert Bresson, cataloguing one man’s efforts to escape prison after being arrested by the Nazis for being a part of the French Resistance. So yeah, films.

In between the #Project500 adventuring, I’ve also returned to my journey through The X-Files: after a bit of a break, I’ve recommenced at the beginning of season two, where the noticeable step up in quality (of both writing and visual effects) is already apparent. I love that the series perfectly combines my three, separate passions for paranormal conspiracy theories, B-movie special effects and detective drama. Also, if I was gay, I would totally try to it on David Duchovny. I’m not, but it’s good to have a Plan B just in case the whole ‘heterosexual’ thing doesn’t work out.

I’m not a person that really goes in for long-running TV series, and I totally shy away from the modern obsession with ‘box set’ TV unless it’s Game of Thrones. It’s like a constantly-repeating mantra that I feel like I have to repeat to everyone: no, I haven’t watched Breaking Bad. I don’t care how ‘good’ people might say it is; I’m just yet to be convinced by the ‘format’ of long-running drama series – I prefer “cinema” as a concept, where drama and storytelling are communicated concisely and character development is progressed more in a way that I enjoy. I’d rather spend 2-3 hours with a brilliantly concise, well-shot piece of celluloid drama than feel like I have to persevere with a bulldozer of a box set in order to eventually receive the payoff about a hundred hours later. In short: Breaking Bad may well be brilliant for its hundred-odd hours, but 2001: A Space Odyssey manages the catalogue the whole of human existence (from prehistory to a science-fiction future) in just two hours.

Speaking of time-consuming television, I’m once again romping through the whole of The Thick of It with gay abandon and unstoppable laughter. TToI is one of the (albeit, very few) television programmes that I could watch over and over and over again, and I’m once again revelling in the monolithic brilliance that is Malcom F. Tucker. [the other programmes that I could watch endlessly being Peep Show, Green Wing, Blackadder, I’m Alan Partridge, Black Books, Father Ted and The IT Crowd]. There’s just something endlessly cathartic about Tucker’s constant swearing and way with words; as if his expletive-filled rants somehow have a emotional connection to the soul and directly expel everything ‘bad’ from the world. He’s possibly the greatest comedy character ever created, and one which I will never tire of listening to.

Three words: Tim. In. Ruislip.

[Zinar7]

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friday_003

F003

On Wednesday, I resurrected an old friend and restarted the bi-weekly (ish) ritual of sitting down with a few friends and watching some crappy, cheesy, low-budget horror films. This used to a regular thing that we did a few years ago and many good times were had but, in more recent years, life sort of got in the way and we kind of forgot about it. Anyway, with the turn of the New Year, I felt it was time to shamble down to cemetary again and dig up the corpse of the magnificent ScareFest such that we may, once again, marvel at unconvincing acting, horrendous special “effects” and terrible storylines in the company of snacks, drinks and good friends.

The original idea was to establish a night dedicated to watching pairs of horror B-movies: one properly in the realm of Z-movie horror with crappy budgets; one relatively good one with a moderately bigger budget and fair critical acclaim. Such fun was kicked off on Wednesday with ScareFest #01: Dolls and Dogs, which married the low-budget Doll Graveyard with the minorly-higher-budget-but-still-not-a-huge-budget Dog Soliders. It turns out that both performed pretty much as expected; with much commentary on low-budget actors trying to ‘do’ the ‘acting’ thing, confusion as to why the back of the DVD box for Doll Graveyard recounts a completely different premise for the film than the one shown onscreen, and excitement at the appearance of Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones as a Special Forces Captain in Dog Soliders.

Anyway, the proposed schedule for ScareFest: Season One is thus:

ScareFest #01: Dolls and Dogs
Doll Graveyard (Charles Band, 2005) and Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002)

ScareFest #02: Creaturezoids
Creepozoids (David DeCoteau, 1987) and Feast (John Gulager, 2005)

ScareFest #03: Biohazard Detected
Spiders (Gary Jones, 2000) and The Rage (Robert Kurtzman, 2007)

ScareFest #04: You Had Me in Stitches
Skinned Deep (Gabriel Bartalos, 2004) and Stitches (Conor McMahon, 2012)

ScareFest #05: Cradle of Flesh
Cradle of Fear (Alex Chandon, 2001) and MindFlesh (Robert Pratten, 2008)

If you would like to join in the horror movie fun, then you are very welcome to – give me a shout or something and I’ll add you to the next event! Also, if you have any crappy B-movie suggestions then I’ll add them to the rota 😀

Anyway, onto less horror-film climes: today marks the start of #SotonGameJam, which is part of the Global Game Jam 2015; an initiative to have a whole bunch of people, scattered across the planet, to design a game (digital or tabletop) in 48 hours. The Southampton portion of #GGJ15 is being co-organised by a few people I know, and the jam itself will be happening all weekend in one of the computing labs at the University of Southampton. I don’t really know what my game will end up being about, but thinking about it has already sparked some ideas about designing some kind of card game that revolves about binary numbers and bit patterns – Of course, maybe that’ll go completely out the window when we learn the (as-yet unannounced) theme of #SotonGameJam, but it’s still exciting stuff and I’m mega looking forward to getting involved.

Whilst I’m clearly already getting excited about my next board game design project, it’s notable that I still haven’t gotten much further with my other game-design opus, Penny Black, since I last blogged about it – largely, I’m too scared to play-test it and discover its flaws, lest it shake my confidence in what my creative juices can help to lubricate. Like many artists, I’m often too much of a perfectionist to fully relinquish control of what creative output(s) I manage to spew forth and, likewise, am very sensitive to criticism (even If it’s constructive). I suppose that I should just fucking do it and set up a playtest night with a few friends to give it a try with four players, and see what happens. I’m not sure what I’m really scared of (perhaps it’s finding something game-breaking or fundamentally wrong with what I’ve dreamed up), but I trust the opinions – and compassion – of my tabletop friends not to completely slam it, so I really should just roll the dice, deal the cards and see what happens. Hey, who knows, maybe it’ll be really good? And hey, if it’s not, then the feedback will be constructive and make the game better and, maybe, somewhere along the line, something awesome might happen with it. You never know ‘til you try, do you?

On the subject of game dev that I’m totally taking undue credit for, this week Citizens of Earth came out on Steam and pretty much every console ever, and towards which I very minorly contributing by doing some beta-testing way back in 2014. I’ve not played the most recent build and haven’t played it all the way through (I was involving in bug-testing of the very early section of the story and in combat and stuff), but from what I was involved in, it looked exactly my kind of turn-based (J)RPG-type game and I’m heavily looking forward to actually giving it a bash. I didn’t delve into any code and I was mainly looking at playtesting and usability and in-game bugs/crashes, but it’s nice to feel like I helped to make it better in some way. I considered making a proper video game for #SotonGameJam, but my coding skills are totally not in prime physical fitness for making anything other than a very simple, turn-based/logical strategy-game-thing, and I figured that I could have more fun doing the same sort of thing in the physical realm (with cardboard tokens! And wooden cubes! And 3D-printed Cthulhu meeples!) anyway.

Anyway, I’d better get shiftin’; I’ve got game-jamming to do. Let’s get to it.

[Zinar7]

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Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

Scary
Since tomorrow is the 2014 edition of the Capitalism-fest that is Hallowe’en and the “scary things” closet has already been opened once again and a whole bunch of horror media sent barrelling our way, I thought I’d consider the role that video games play in our annual celebration of creepiness. Hurrah!

I’m a sucker for horror movies: creepy ones, silly ones, gory ones; you name it, I’ll devour it. Horror video games, on the other hand, can GET THE FUCKING HELL AWAY FROM ME.

Joel Cuddles

Largely, horror films completely fail to give me the creeps: perhaps it’s the knowledge that it’s all just a big scam, and the girl being chased by the guy with the big axe isn’t really being chased, and the guy with the big axe doesn’t really want to examine the girl’s internal organs in minute detail and with the complete opposite of surgical precision. Like everything in the movies, it’s just a big ol’ fake and there’s really nothing to be scared about at all.

At best, a surprise set-piece will give a brief shock, but never nightmares: the only things in recent memory to actually, properly, scare me were the Spanish original of [.REC] (which, incidentally, I will never ever watch again; not because it was too scary, but because the next time I see it will be a disappointment and I want to maintain it as one of my favourite horror films of all time) and pretty much all of The Descent (which was largely an hour and a half of Scary Things Jumping Out at You in the Dark™). Aside from that, I’m pretty unshakeable even in the face of maddening terror. When it comes to horror video games though, then you can rewrite all the rule books and Consequences Will Never Be the Same.

It’s here that I should probably define what I mean when I say “horror game”:

Horror Game [hawr-er geym]

n.  A video game whose predominant function is to scare, or thrill, above and beyond a regular ‘action’ game.

“I played this horror game last night and it was so scary that I accidentally vomited out my internal organs.”

It’s not a necessary prerequisitive for horror-games to be action-based, but most fall under the well-trodden banner of ‘survival horror’: your Resident Evils, your Silent Hills and your Alone in the Darks. These (almost universally) place you in the scope of some city-wide outbreak of nasties keen to chew on your face; away from which you must navigate your way (from fixed camera angles) in a third-person manner whilst simultaneously trying to find your wife/daughter/dog and understand what the hell’s gone wrong with the world. Even so, there are plenty of other horror-filled titles that meander away from the standard ‘shoot at and run away from the monster things chasing you’ to encompass psychological horrors, as well as the physical ones. I can categorically say that I will never, ever ever ever play Amnesia: The Dark Descent: I may own it on Steam, thanks in some manner to some Humble Indie Bundle somewhere along the line, but I’ll never install it.

Broadly, I watch horror films to be amused (usually by their shocking production values, hilariously bad dialogue and entertaining special effects), not to sit on the edge of my seat. but I can at least appreciate that some find horror films “scary” in some way. Horror video games, on the other hand, require direct input and often an emotional attachment (likely with the main character or perhaps for a “damsel” in “distress” that provides the key focal point for the story slash action) which amplifies the terror through your desire to see them survive the ordeal.

With a horror film, you know everything’s on rails and that the horror will progress without your direct involvement; you’re just along for the ride until the credits roll. If you do get scared, the action will progress regardless and you’re safe in the knowledge that, in 1-2 hours’ time, it’ll be over; no matter how much (or little) you engage with the scares. Where horror movies largely stick to the same sort of tropes (meaning you can largely predict how and when the scares are going to take place, who’s going to die, when something’s going to jump out, yada yada), proper horror games don’t have the same heritage and traditions and are tend to be far more innovative and inventive with how they give you the creeps. Aside from the more direct input that the player has on the action in a horror game than horror movie, this might also arise because of the relative infancy in which horror games inhabit, at least when compared to the 100-odd-year history of cinema.

Around this time last year, Naughty Dog unleashed one of the defining games of the PS3 generation in the form of The Last of Us; a survival-horror (ish) adventure game combining tension, emotion and zombie-ish things into a snowball of praise and Game of the Year (GotY) nominations from gaming critics. A year on (and with its recent re-release on PS4 in the form of a ‘remastered’ edition), many critics still view it as the high point of the previous console generation, drawing comparison with some of the ‘greats’ of cinema and banding around nicknames like “the Citizen Kane of games”. Still, given that the first, proper, piece of horror cinema is almost a century old now (widely accepted to be the creepy, unsettling The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), it’s unsurprising that video game developers have caught on to the main tricks of making a survival-horror game scare both physically and psychologically, becoming genuinely innovative with its horror engagement and leaving much of cinema’s generic horror output writhing in the dust.

LastOfUs

Given the immense (and almost universal) acclaim in which it is still held, I kind of feel I should play The Last of Us, but it just doesn’t grab me enough to give it a go (pun very much intended). I don’t go overboard for survival horror, and never have been: I think one reason why I dislike survival horror is that it takes itself so darned seriously (that Silent Hill dog ending aside), whereas all my favourite horror films (The Evil Dead, Saw, The Happiness of the KatakurisZombieland) are those ones that blow things over the top and deploy entertainment and/or comedy to complement the terror. The slow, tense styles of most survival horror titles hold no sway: the prospect of having to tensely save ammo/health and be frightened to death around every corner is often not the greatest motivator.

Instead, I prefer to be far more ‘gung-ho’ in my gaming style: it’s much more enjoyable to be charging around levels at full-tilt, full unloading clips of ammo in every available direction and trying to have as much fun (and cause as much chaos) as possible; preferably to a soundtrack delivered by Andrew W.K. or Turbonegro or something equally mental. This does, however,tend to make me a bit rubbish at stealth-based games like Thief and Hitman, let alone standard survival-horror games where you’re encouraged to save every last bullet and avoid alerting the entire zombie horde by careering around throwing grenades at the scenery. For shoot ’em ups of every colour and creed, I far prefer those that distribute copious amounts of ammunition and supply copious hordes of ghoulies/baddies to use it on; such as the glorious Bulletstorm or the masterpiece of Halo. “Saving some ammo for later” just isn’t in my dictionary, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I do stray into the darkened realms of horror gaming, I tend to to fall back on my love for zombies and zombie movies as a crucial pivot and gossamer connection to the world I know and love. And, even then, I like my zombie games to be entertaining struggles rather than bleak journeys of mere survival based on scavenging for crumbs of survival; the likes of Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead providing far more amusement than any number of repetitive, po-faced Resident Evils. I’ve recently been playing through Organ Trail (Director’s Cut) once again; clocking ever more hours into its cheesy, tongue-in-cheek conversion of the classic Oregon Trail into a homage-filled zombie survival adventure and enjoying every minute of it. And even then, if Plants vs. Zombies still isn’t the best zombie game ever made, then I’m a giant heron.

Okay, so enough about full-on ‘horror’ games; what about scary monsters and nice sprites in mainstream gaming at large? There’s an increasing trope for so-called ‘regular’ (non-scary, or mainly non-horror-based) games to artificially use ‘scary’ sequences to add to the drama or tension of a regular ‘action’ game, particularly in first-person person shooters, to varying degrees of success. Half-Life 2‘s superlative Ravenholm sequence is still one of the scariest (and most memorable) sequence in a modern first-person shooter, whilst the Sander Cohen section from BioShock – with all of its weeping angel-style mannequin-splicers and haunted theatre props – is one of gaming’s most expertly-executed creep-fests. Whilst Treyarch’s Call of Duty titles – with their schlocky zombies and undead Nazi footsoldiers – just feel like a tired resurrection of the same old trope of taking a standard game and trying to shoehorn some shocks into it, Red Dead Dedemption‘s glorious DLC/story expansion ‘Undead Nightmare‘ managed to implement a superlative zombie mode with infinite more care and grace.

Aside from traditional survival-horror games, there’s still a whole bunch of originality to be found within the ‘horror’ genre; resisting the mainstream horror genre’s tropes of endless wandering through endless dark, tight, grey corridors shooting zombies and collecting herbs. The likes of Project Zero (multi-platform, 2001-), Eternal Darkness (GameCube, 2002) and Cursed Mountain (Wii, 2009) come critically acclaimed by those in the know, demonstrating that there’s innovation to be found if players wander off the beaten survival-horror path, and the indie community also seems to be leading the charge in horror gaming of late; with particular successes such as the aforementioned Amnesia series, Penumbra: Black Plague and, this Hallowe’en’s breakout hit, Five Nights at Freddy’s. The equally-fascinating and terrifying Slender: The Eight Pages (which I have played; although not for long) demonstrate that terror can be inflicted without a bullet ever being fired.

So, despite the fact that I’m active only in the fringes of horror gaming, I’d wager that the genre is in fair health; so long as you steer clear of the kind of trash that The Evil Within appears to be peddling. With the growing success of Oculus Rift and true-VR gaming, I can only imagine that the successes of immersive, truly scary video games will also go interstellar. Schlocky, jumpscare games might not be my exact cup of tea, but I’m fully in favour of the injection of psychological, unsettling horrors into video gaming as a whole and engaging stories that place less emphasis on shooting space marines and more on tapping into the brain’s psychological fears. Game designers, take note plz.

Anyway, since this post has mainly been about scary things and personal gripes, I thought I’d leave you with a wonderful scene of beauty and harmony and everything that is ‘right’ with the world; don’t have nightmares.

MemeCenter_1375716630592_653

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Sevens: Resolutions 2014

 

Sevens_1

Right, it’s that time of year; that time when people reflect on the past and vow to make positive changes for the future. A day late and a dollar short, I don’t usually go in for New Year’s resolutions; but since I managed to nudge The Thesis into touch at the end of 2013 and I’m keen to put in place a robust post-Thesis regime, I’m determined to make the start to 2014 a positive one and this means that it’s time for some challenges.

So, in the spirit of coming up with a bunch of things I’ve like to get done in 2014, here I’ve come up with a short, seven-heavy shortlist of the major challenges I’d like to overcome in the coming year. Let’s do this!

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1. Get Fit.

The importance of this first resolution cannot be underestimated. It’s not so much about getting fit per se, but at least getting my mis-shapen body back to something resembling slimness: I’ve got a ton of clothes that my tummy has grown too large to fit in properly (including an awesome assassin/pirate coat) that I would like to wear more often, which therefore means application of the following sub-resolutions:

1 (a). Go out inline skating more often.
1 (b). Do more skanking to ska-punk songs (skankercise).
1 (c). Eat less crap.

Of course, these remain fairly vague and without any particular time constraints or individual goals, so I will qualify my resolution by aiming to do each of them at least once a week, with a more permanent focus on maintaining resolution (c) at something approximating 100 % of the time. Looking at the wider picture, I’d like to be able to fit (and look good in, though that’s a far more ambitious/impossible task) my new assassin/pirate coat by, say, March, and to still be able to wear it on Xmas Day 2014 without it feeling very much like a whale that’s been squeezed into a corset. Game on.

2. Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

and

3. Read More Books (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

By no means a surprise, Resolutions Two and Three are a natural response to the sudden increase in free time (and motivation) that I anticipate will come my way now that I don’t spend every waking – and unwaking – moment either fretting about The Thesis or busily doing it. When I first realised that I couldn’t do all the leisure activities I wanted to do when I entered the world of academia, ‘books’ and ‘point-and-click adventure games’ were among the first things to be abandoned, much to my sadness. As such, the number of books I’ve not read, and adventure games I’ve not played, have been steadily increasing and the time to stop the tide is now.

To guarantee my commitment to both causes, I’m vowing to write reviews and thoughts about both here: an adventure game review once per month, and a bi-monthly post describing my thoughts on two books. Even if no-one reads them, I hope they’ll encourage me to look at storytelling media in a more academic light and to contribute my own thoughts to literature and video game criticism.

4. Make a Gordon Freeman Costume.

This. This is happening.

There’s no particular reason why; only that I’ve kept meaning to do it for years and years and years, and that I’ve got the right beard and the right glasses to justify cosplaying as video games’ most famous silent protagonist. Since there’s no better motivator for making a costume than needing a costume for a convention, I’m also resolving to have it ready and made by May in order to head to either to the London Film and Comic Con or the MCM London Comic Con dressed in Dr. Freeman’s HEV suit from Half-Life; made even more poignant given that (hopefully) I will also be a fully-qualified PhD scientist by that point as well. It’s ambitious and achievable, and my enthusiasm for getting this done is remarkably high right now. To the workshop!

5. Properly Give up Coffee and Alcohol.

I think most people now are aware that I don’t drink alcohol because of the bad effects it seems to have on my body (specifically bad effects meaning ‘having an intolerance to digesting/assimilating it’ bad effects, not ‘holy shit I drank so much last night’ bad effects) but, disappointingly, I appear to be developing similar problems with respect to drinking highly-caffeinated beverages as well. So, in the interests of trying to keep myself just about as healthy and not making myself really ill from just one cup of coffee or one pint of cider, I’m hitting the nail on the head and removing them from my diet (and conscience) altogether. I’d love to inbibe both, but it’s just a sad fact that my body won’t handle it anymore so I have to stop 😦

6. Watch at Least 52 Movies from my Project 500 list (one for each week of 2014).

A few of you may be aware of my ongoing Project 500 film challenge to watch every one of the five-hundred greatest movies as selected by Empire magazine in a special feature that they published a few years back. 2011 and 2012 were prolific years for film-watching, but 2013 was comparatively fruitless and little progress was made. For 2014, I’d like to kick that back into gear by watching at least as many ‘great’ movies as there are weeks in the year: I’m currently on 360/500, so I’m aiming for 52 more movies from the list which will take me to 412/500. Of course, I’m still not closing in my 500 target just yet, but hopefully the process will once again reveal more of cinema’s treasures that I’ve managed to miss in my film-watching career thus far; it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

7. Be Happy 100% of the Time, No Compromises.

This is an obvious one, really. Too often in 2013 was I feeling down, depressed or lonely; feeling adrift in the world and yet not making positive steps to change that. Well, I’m aiming for 2014 to be one of happiness, contentment and satisfaction, and not one of regret or self-pity: no dwelling on mistakes, no having regrets, no moping around; just a positive outlook and a willingness to make changes in areas I’m not happy. It sounds like a small thing, but to me it’s a big thing; probably the most challenging thing on this list altogether.

In many ways, Resolution Seven is just a commitment to Be Better At Stuff and Not Being Sad. It’s essentially the ultimate trump card, but also the easiest pitfall to fall down and the simplest resolution to dismiss or break. Hence, by writing it down here I therefore commit myself to keeping it through a written contract and through the rule of New Year’s resolutions that if other people know about them then it’s harder to just ignore them and pretend you never made them in the first place. So, with that in mind, I wish both you and I a happy, prosperous and glory-filled 2014; may we all be carried upon the backs of soaring dragons to a magical world of merriment, success and inexhaustable supplies of Toblerone. Godspeed!

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews: Best of 2013

2013

As the new year approaches and 2013 draws to a close, it’s just about time for my annual review of the good, bad and ugly things from the past year (for reference, here’s my one from last year).

It’s been an eventful year: from finally finishing The Thesis and handing in the beast to partying hard at the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Knife Party; from jetting all around Europe on various work-related shenanigans, to gallivanting up and down the country to visit family, friends and loved ones; from finding gainful employment in academic research, to presenting that research at various important conferences and meetings including the UK Space Conference and the European Conference on Space Debris; from all of the good times with spent with the ones I love, to the lessons learned and the personal growth. 2013 has been spectacular, like a bright star in the night’s sky.

There’s a lot to wrap up so, without further ado, let’s boogie:

Mov

Best Movie ~ RUSH. Ron Howard, you did F1 proud.
Runners-Up ~ Wreck-It Ralph,  Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The World’s End.
‘Didn’t Think Would be Good but was Actually Brilliant’ of the Year ~ Robot and Frank.
Movie Performance of the Year ~ Daniel Brühl getting Niki Lauda’s mannerisms down to a tea. Well played, Brühl.
Runner-Up ~ Tim Key as the flawless Sidekick Simon in Alpha Papa. “I think I handled it pretty well.”
Most Disappointing Movie of 2013 ~ I don’t think I went to see any bad movies in 2013. Sure, The Great Gatsby could’ve done with a few more car chases and buildings blowing up, but it was still pretty damned good.
Unnecessary Movie Sequel of the Year ~ A Good Day to Die Hard.
Debatable Physics of the Year ~ Gravity. Great film, but even the most die-hard fan must admit that the science is a little, well, shaky.
Best TV Show ~  Game of Thrones season three. That show just keeps getting better and better
Runners-Up ~ Top GearWeekly Wipe, The Ambassadors, QI.
TV Moment of the Year ~ Game of Thrones‘ Red Wedding. Nothing can ever compare. So many feels.

Review_Games

‘Didn’t Get To Play But Really Want To’ of 2013 ~ Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Tales of Xillia, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Stanley Parable, Broken Sword: the Serpent’s Curse, Gone Home, The Cave, Puppeteer.

Best Mainstream Game ~ Grand  Theft Auto V. So ambitious, so entertaining, so perfect.
Runners-Up ~ Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Bioshock Infinite.

Best Downloadable Game ~ Papers, Please.
Runners-Up ~  Organ Trail: Director’s Cut, DLC Quest, Lilly Looking Through, Anodyne.

Disappointment of 2013DuckTales: Remastered. It promised so much, but couldn’t deliver.

Video Game Character of 2013 ~ Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V). Unhinged, uncompromising, unbelievable.
Runner-Up – Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite).
The 2013 ‘Development Hell’ Award ~ Team Ico’s The Last Guardian. Perhaps the rise of the PlayStation 4 will finally give us a release date to get excited about.
The 2013 ‘Hidden Gem’ Award ~  Lilly Looking Through: a delightful (but short) point-and-click adventure game, funded through Kickstarter and brought to life by Geeta Games.

Review_Music

Best Gig ~ Iron Maiden (London O2 Arena).
Runners-Up ~ Karnivool (Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms), The Ataris (Southampton Joiners), [spunge] (Southampton Cellar), Knife Party [Haunted House] (London Brixton Academy), Black Sabbath (London O2 Arena).
Best (Rock/Metal) Album ~ Turisas – Turisas2013.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – Burials, Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork, Biffy Clyro – Opposites, Karnivool – Asymmetry.
Best (Electronic/Dance) Album ~ Daft Punk – Random Access Memories.
Runners-Up ~ Kavinsky – OutRun, How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion, Anamanaguchi – Endless Fantasy, Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks, Chipzel – Spectra.
Disappointment of 2013 ~ Alkaline Trio – My Shame is True. Not bad, just disappointing.
Mash-Up of the Year ~ Isosine – ‘Little Sickness’ [Disturbed & Of Monsters and Men] (video link).
Song of the Year ~ Daft Punk – ‘Get Lucky’, VERY CLOSELY beating Turisas’ equally superb ‘For Your Own Good’.
Runners-Up ~ AFI – ’17 Crimes’, Sound City Players – ‘Mantra’, Nine Inch Nails – ‘Copy of A’.
Best Cover Art of 2013 ~ Kavinsky – OutRun (link).
Comeback of 2013 ~ Black Sabbath. The heavy metal Gods return, and what a return it is; a superb album (13) and an even more superb live show, the Sabbath once again prove why they’re not only the inventors of heavy metal, but also it’s saviours.
Steampunk Anthem of the Year ~ The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – ‘The Gin Song’ (link)
‘Why Won’t it Go Away?’ of 2013 ~ Bloody Robin bloody Thicke’s bloody ‘Blurred Lines’.
Music Video of 2013 ~ Peter Serafinowicz’s glorious version of ‘Get Lucky’ (video link).

Review_Motosport

F1 Driver of the Year ~ How can it not be Sebastian Vettel? The man was flawless from lights to flag, and fully deserved to take his fourth consecutive title.
F1 Best Race ~ Monaco. It’s not often  that Monte-Carlo offers excitement and the spectacle, but this year it really nailed it.

F1 Overtake of the Year ~
Fernando Alonso’s stunning start in the Spanish GP. Shows what “home advantage” can do.
“Should’ve  Gone to Specsavers” of the Year ~ Hamilton stopping at the wrong (McLaren) pit box in Malaysia. LOLOLOLOLOL.
Most Improved of the Year – Romain Grosjean. The boy’s come of age, finally.
Team Orders of the Year ~ Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia. “Multi-21, Seb. Multi-21!”
Crash of the Year ~ Kamui Kobayashi on an empty circuit in Moscow :S (video link).
EverythingElse

Best Purchase ~ It’s a toss-up between my LEGO Sopwith Camel and my GeekyJerseys ‘Rogue Squadron’ hockey shirt. I love them both 😀

Best Book ~ Kaja & Phil Foglio – Agatha H and the Airship City // Davey Havok – Pop Kids // Toby Frost – Space Captain Smith: A Game of Battleships

Best Internet Video ~ BirgirPall’s superb I Broke Star Trek (video link). SPAK LET ME IN. HLEP ME KIRK.

Best Photo of 2013 ~ Bill Murray from ‘Reasons my Son is Crying’ (link).

Most Apt Phrase to Sum Up 2013 ~ “Pope Francis and the Chelyabinsk meteor totally came in like a wrecking ball but then the badgers moved the goalposts in one of their drunken stupors.”

Person of 2013 ~ Andrew W.K. The man is a complete god. He tweeted to me for my birthday, for crying out loud.

Looking Forward to in 2014 ~ Season four of Game of Thrones. Less Than Jake & Reel Big Fish at Portsmouth Pyramids. Turisas at Southampton Talking Heads. The Hobbit: There and Back Again.  (Hopefully) passing my PhD viva and becoming a proper Doctor of Philosophy and shit. Final Fantasy XV. Formula One getting shaken up to its core. Watch Dogs. The LEGO Movie. Porsche’s return to Le Mans and endurance racing. The Grand Budapest Hotel.

BEST MOMENTS (no order)

New Year’s fun and frolics in Southampton; The SUMMER Party; BTCC action at Thruxton; WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone; LEGOland wizardry for Ben’s stag do; Jorge Cham (PhD Comics)’s seminar at Southampton University on the ‘Power of Procrastination’; birthdaying in London and the QI Christmas special; #Ockfest frolics; weddings for Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; #IronSunday and #BlackTuesday with Maiden and Sabbath at The O2; adventures in London for Knife Party’s ‘Haunted House’ and the game of #GetTheHeckOutOfBrixton at 4am; Andrew O’Neill is Easily Distracted at The Art House; not-crashing the weddings of Alice & Ben and Ben & Sarah; emitting Eurovision-based LOLz at Shez’s place; THE SUMMER PARTY in sunny Lugwardine; work trips to Darmstadt, Friedrichshafen, Glasgow, Toulouse; gigs for [spunge], The Ataris and Karnivool; Many #TabletopNight meeple action with the usual crowd; and plenty more besides.

Everyone, you’ve been awesome.
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And, to finalise, here’s a delightful electronic/punk rock playlist to celebrate December and calibrate 2014. It’s called 013/12 – The Long Road to Redemption.

Playlist_01312

2013 is dead. Long live 2014. 

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews: Best of 2012

2012

As the new year approaches and 2012 draws to a close, it’s just about time for my annual review of the good, bad and ugly things from the past year (for reference, here’s my one from last year).

So, without further ado, let’s boogie:

MOVIES & TV

Best Movie ~ The Dark Knight Rises
Runners-Up ~ The Raid, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
‘Didn’t Think Would be Good but was Actually Brilliant’ of the Year ~ Sightseers. A masterpiece in British black comedy.
Movie Performance of the Year ~ Tom Hardy as Bane, The Dark Knight Rises. He can’t beat Ledger’s Joker, but still a chilling portrayal of the muscled maniac.
Most Disappointing Movie of 2012Skyfall. Just remarkably… average. Bond deserves better.
Unnecessary Movie Sequel of the Year ~ Taken 2. 
Crowdfunding Achievement of the Year ~ Iron SkyWhat a film. Glorious.
Best TV Show ~ Sherlock
Runners-Up ~ The Thick of It (series four), Game of Thrones (season two), Peep Show (series eight)
TV Moment of the Year ~ Sherlock‘s stunning misdirection and sleight-of-hand at the climax of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’.

VIDEO GAMES

I totally haven’t played many ‘new’ video games in 2012, so this section is looking rather bleak. Oh well, here’s to 2013!

‘Didn’t Get To Play But Really Want To’ of 2012 ~ Assassin’s Creed 3, The Walking Dead, ZombiU, LEGO Lord of the Rings, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, Black Mesa, Dishonoured, Fez, Journey

Best Mainstream Game ~ The Last Story (Wii)
Runners-Up ~ Pandora’s Tower (Wii), Dear Esther (PC)

Best Indie Game ~ Retro City Rampage (PC)
Runners-Up ~ Dustforce, Ticket to Ride, Botanicula (all PC)

Video Game Character of 2012 ~ The Slenderman (video link)
Crowdfunding Achievement of 2012 ~Double Fine Adventure (web link)
Best Non-Game Game of 2012 ~ Dear Esther (PC)

MUSIC

Best Gig ~ Andrew WK (HMV Forum, London). Best gig ever.
Runners-Up ~ Justice (Bestival, Isle of Wight), Alestorm (The Cellar, Southampton), 2:54 (The Jericho, Oxford)
Best (non-power metal) Album ~ Rush – Clockwork Angels
Runners-Up ~ Blaqk Audio – Bright Black Heaven, 2:54 – s/t, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – This May Be The Reason Why The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing Cannot Be Killed By Conventional Weapons
Best (power metal) AlbumSabaton – Carolus Rex
Runners-Up ~ Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Ascending to Infinity, Ascension – Far Beyond the Stars, Ensiferum – Unsung Heroes
Disappointment of 2012 ~ Yet another year passing by without a Daft Punk album (although I hear we might get one in 2013, fingers crossed)
Music Video of the Year ~ PSY – ‘Gangnam Style’ (video link)
Song of the Year~ Chairlift – ‘I Belong in Your Arms’ (video link)
Runners-Up ~ Blaqk Audio – ‘Fade to White’ (video link), Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – ‘Dark Fate of Atlantis’ (video link), Rush – ‘Headlong Flight’ (video link)
Most Stealthy Penis-Laden Cover Art ~ Tenacious D – Rize of the Fenix (web link)
Breakthrough Band of 2012 ~ 2:54
Steampunk Anthem of the Year ~ The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – ‘Brunel’ (video link)
‘Why Won’t it Go Away?’ of 2012 ~ Gotye – ‘Somebody that I Used to Know’ (video link)
‘Not Guilty At All’ Pleasure of 2012 ~ Ke$ha – Warrior
Mash-Up of the Year ~ Ke$ha vs. Lamb of God – ‘Tik Tok Redneck’ (by Isosine, video link)

MOTORSPORT

F1 Driver of the Year ~ Fernando Alonso. Drove the balls off that Ferrari, but just didn’t quite make the championship
Runners-Up ~ Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Hulkenberg, Sebastian Vettel
F1 Best Race ~ The final race in Brazil. What a spectacular close to the season.

F1 Overtake of the Year ~
Hulkenberg on Grosjean/Hamilton in Korea. The Hulk: You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
First-Lap Madness of the Year – Spa-Francorchamps and Grosjean’s Falcon Punch into most of the field. Earned him a one-race ban, but what a way to do it.
Crash of the Year ~ Antony Davidson at LM24 (video link)
Video ~ Gymkhana 5 (video link)
Nine-Times World Champion of the Year ~ Sebastian Loeb. What a driver, the likes of which may never be seen again in the World Rally Championship.

PROJECT 500

(see Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies of All TimeProgress: 350/500

Best Movies (I hadn’t seen) ~ The Bourne Identity, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Dog Day Afternoon, Zodiac, Schindler’s List, Paris Texas

New Discoveries ~ Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network),

Disappointments ~ Killer of Sheep, Russian Ark, Andrei Rublev

Best Car Chase ~ The Bourne Identity

Most Out-of-Place Car Chase ~ Blow Out

Most in Need of a Car Chase ~ The Leopard

EVERYTHING ELSE

Best Purchase ~ Andrew W.K. bobblehead (web link). Just amazing.

Best Book ~ Yahtzee Croshaw – Jam

Best Internet Video ~ Counting Song (video link)
Runners-Up ~ Batman Maybe (video link), Vincent Van Dominogh – Starry Night (video link), C-Bomb – Bowl Date (video link)

Best Reaction Video of 2012 ~ Kermode’s and Transformers 4 (video link)

Tweet of the Year ~ Jim Howick: ‘I’ve lost my eggs and I can’t ring them because they’re on silent.’ (link)

Most Apt Phrase to Sum Up 2012 ~ “It’s a Gangnam Style world, we’re just living in it” – Josh Groban

Best Discovered Drink – Guinness Punch

Word of 2012 ~ ‘Pleb’. A welcome return for one of my favourite put-downs.

Man of 2012 ~ Andrew W.K. The man is a complete god.

Looking Forward to in 2013 ~ Potentially becoming a doctor (again, copy paste last year); Django Unchained; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; another thrilling F1 season; Daft Punk’s 4th album and potentially playing live shows (!!!); a new Karnivool album (hopefully); and a whole bunch more.

Best Moments (no order) ~
Autosport International at Birmingham NEC; Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World; Alestorm at The Cellar; Andrew WK at London HMV Forum; Kayaking on the Wye; OckFest 2012; World Endurance Championship at Silverstone; Tim Key’s Masterslut at the Nuffield Theatre; the Bestival experience with the University of Southampton Roadshow (and being officially in the Bestival programme, no jokes); more awesome movies than you can shake a stick at; the November ‘Apocalypse’ weekend of 2:54 in Oxford followed by Hereford shenanigans; Charlie & Jade’s wedding and awesomeness; Farnborough Air Show; Goodwood Festival of Speed; Nuremberg, Freiberg, Devon; the list goes on…
Everyone, you’ve been awesome.

2012 is dead. Long live 2013. 

[Zinar7]

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Project 500

I know, I know, I don’t update this blog often enough. Too often I figure I have stuff to write here, but then for one reason or another, I never get around to it. Well, I hope that’s going to change from here on in.

But first, I thought I’d inform those not in know, of the movie project that I’ve been running with some friends for around twelve months or so, entitled Project 500.

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Sinister Reviews: Best of 2011

2011

A few days late I know, but here’s my round-up of my favourite stuff from 2011. Enjoy!

MOVIES & TV

Best Movie ~ Senna
Runners-Up ~ Black Swan, The King’s Speech, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, True Grit, Hanna
‘Didn’t Think Would be Good but was Actually Brilliant’ of the Year ~ Attack the Block
Movie Performance of the Year ~ Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector (Hugo)
Runner-Up ~ Saoirse Ronan as Hanna (Hanna)
Most Disappointing Movie of 2011 ~ Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Unnecessary Movie Sequel of the Year ~ The Hangover Part II
Best TV Show ~ Horrible Histories
Runners-Up ~ Life’s Too Short, Angry Boys, QI series I, Come Fly With Me
TV Moment of the Year ~ Eddie Jordan thrown into the pool at the Monaco F1 Forum (video link)
Runner-Up ~ Brian Butterfield on Shooting Stars (video link)

VIDEO GAMES

Best Mainstream Game ~ The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
Runners-Up ~ Portal 2 (PC) , Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (DS)
Best Indie Game ~ Bastion
Runners-Up ~ Limbo (on PC), Terraria, The Binding of Isaac, Sequence
Best Social Network Game ~ Triple Town (Facebook, Google Chrome)
Video Game Character of 2011 ~ Wheatley (Portal 2)
‘Didn’t Finish’ of 2011 ~ The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Bastion, Portal 2Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
‘Better Never than Late’ of 2011 ~ Duke Nukem Forever
Best Soundtrack ~ Portal 2, mainly for Turret Opera (video link) and ‘Want You Gone’ (video link)

MUSIC

 

Best Gig ~ Turisas (Southampton University Garden Court)
Runners-Up ~ Sonata Arctica (Reading Sub 89), Tom Morelllo (supporting Rise Against, Soton Guildhall), Devin Townsend (Southampton University Garden Court)
Best Album ~ Foo Fighters – Wasting Light
Runners-Up ~ Turisas – Stand Up and Fight; Funeral for a Friend- Welcome Home Armageddon; Rhapsody of Fire – From Chaos to Eternity; Rival Schools – Pedals
Duke Nukem Forever/Chinese Democracy Award for ‘Will it Ever Get Released’? of the Year ~ Blaqk Audio – Bright Black Heaven
Unnecessary Collaboration of the Year ~ Lou Reed/Metallica – Lulu
Best Song ~ Swede Mason – Masterchef Synesthesia (video link)
Runners-Up ~ Rush – ‘Caravan’; Foo Fighters – ‘Rope’; Turisas – ‘Stand Up and Fight’; Alestorm – ‘You Are a Pirate’
‘Why Won’t it Go Away?’ of the 2011 ~ Rebecca Black – ‘Friday’ (video link)
Music-Based Game of 2011 ~ ‘Ke$ha or Katy Perry?’

MOTORSPORT

F1 Driver of the Year ~ Sebastian Vettel
Runners-Up ~ Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen
F1 Best Race ~ Montreal, and JB’s storm to victory from the back of the pack

F1 Overtake of the Year ~
Webber on Alonso through Eau Rouge at Spa-Francorchamps
Crash of the Year ~ Allan McNish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (video link)
Video ~ Ken Block’s Gymkhana 4 (video link)
Sorely Missed of the Year ~ Dan Wheldon cut down in his prime Indycar at Vegas

PROJECT 500

(see Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies of All TimeProgress: 314/500

Best Movies (I hadn’t seen) ~ The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, Bad TasteRatatouille,  Duck Soup

New Discoveries ~ Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder

Disappointments ~ Mulholland Drive, Danger: Diabolik, Spirit of the Beehive, The 400 Blows

EVERYTHING ELSE

Best Purchase ~ My delightful Kisai Seven [aka. 7RON] watch (link)

Best Book ~ Mark Kermode – The Good, The Bad & The Multiplex

Best Internet Video ~ Masterchef Synesthesia (video link)
Runners-Up ~ Psychosocial Baby (video link), Nyan Cat (video link), Benton/Fenton (video link)

Tweet of the Year (me) ~ “Bryony just got so annoyed about boxing, she headbutted CIDER” (link)
Tweet of the Year (someone else) ~ Peter Serafinowicz: “Trying to achieve the perfect erection. How hard could it be?” (link)

Most Apt Phrase to Sum Up 2011 ~ “I used to [insert appropriate phrase here], but then I took an arrow to the knee.” – Skyrimlolz.

Word of 2011 ~ ‘Superinjunction’.

Quote of 2011 ~”Just goes to show, people with brain damage are the real heroes.” – Wheatley

Looking Forward to in 2012 ~ The Dark Knight Rises;  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ; Wii U ; Alestorm at the Cellar (Southampton) ; drinking in a whole load more motorsport; actually finishing Portal 2 ; Gyakuten Saiban (the movie) ; potentially becoming a Doctor of Philosophy ; Stewart Lee on Jan 15th (London).

Best Moments (no order) ~
Celebrating four years with Bryface; moving house (again); sprinting onto the track at the end of the 79th 24 Hours of Le Mans to get beneath the winners’ podium; successfully upgrading to the PhD programme by passing the MPhil/PhD Transfer; winning a place at the Autosport Awards 2011 and meeting Martin Whitmarsh, Tiff Needell, James Thompson and others; getting sprayed with mud by Sebby Loeb, Ken Block at al. at Hafren on the WRC Wales Rally GB; Shock Treatment, Richard O’Brien and Mark Kermode (and The Dodge Brothers) at the New Forest Film Festival; Pumpkin-carving at Diamond Cottage; Ockfest 2011; Wilton House Supercar Day; Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein LIVE; RockSoc shenanigans and pubcrawls aplenty; and aboslutely anything and everything that I’ve forgotten to include here.
Everyone, you’ve been awesome.
2011 is dead. Long live 2012. 

[Zinar7]

To Infinity and Beyond

So, it’s 9pm and I’m at work (ish) in the office while watching F1 videos on YouTube. It’s becoming a pretty standard feeling of late, especially since we don’t have any int4rwebs hooked up in our new flat yet, so coming to the office of an evening to catch up online whilst gently shunting paper around my desk is one way to get my daily fill of random crap on the net.

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