Is There Food?

by Daniel Woolstencroft
  1. It’s interesting to me that people write posts like this about the iPhone:

    The iPhone is the most useful computer in the world.

    Everything quoted is possible on an Android device, or some other smartphone, but it’s the Apple guys, the iPhone and iPad users, that seem to tap into the emotional aspects of owning such a powerful device.

    I’ve been using an Android device for a few days now, and while I like some of the power-user (read: geek) functionality you can tap into, I don’t feel an emotional attachment like I did my iPhone.

    I’ve been meaning to write something expressing the wonder of carrying such a powerful device around with you, but Chuck Skoda pretty much sums it up perfectly. Albeit with a focus on the wonder of Apple.

    Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll be waxing lyrical about my Nexus S. Somehow I doubt it.

  2. Lately I’m detecting a bit of a shift in the way people are using the Internet to communicate their ideas. Certainly from the perspective of individual, personalised blogging.

    Chris Shiflett writes that “We need a blog revival”. He talks about an “Ideas of March” concept that’s intended to rejuvenate blogging. Frank Chimero responds to that with a brilliantly written post, culminating in the advice/instruction “Go write”. This is very much in keeping with the Bring Back Blogging BBB idea I posted about a while back, coined by someone I chat with on Twitter.

    Combined with that, there’s been a lot of discussion on various sites to do with Baked Blogging - that is, a blogging system that’s resilient enough to handle a massive uptick in traffic.  The long story short is this: WordPress, gloriously flexible as it is, can be made to fall over on an average cheap webhost quite easily if not tuned correctly. That’s because WordPress is dynamic, it’s database driven. If you look at the address of this post, you’ll see it’s not an html page - akin to a text file on your computer - but a php page. It’s been built out of lots of little bits of data that have been extracted from a database (think big, complicated spreadsheet).

    A “baked” system would create html files, that can be delivered to a browser without the server doing a lot of heavy lifting, and survive that spike in traffic. You could argue that it’s more environmentally friendly this way too, there are less wasted CPU cycles to generate the text you’re reading. That’s the practical advantage.

    Marco Arment, on the Build and Analyze podcast, suggests another reason for this kind of system: you own your content. If you’re publishing to the web via text files on your computer, you’ve still got those text files after you’ve posted. It doesn’t matter if the server explodes, you forget your password, or you want to publish somewhere else. You’ve got the data on your computer or DropBox.

    Another thing that Marco talks about, and something that I’ve noticed lately, is that there isn’t a fantastic way to post your writing using an iOS or Android device. There’s a WordPress app, but it doesn’t feel all that brilliant and I’ve had reliability problems with it in the past. Everyone speaks very highly about Mars Edit for the Mac, and it doesn’t feel to me like we’ve got a Mars Edit level application for mobile devices yet.

    And so, I suggest to you that we need not just a blogging revival: we need a blogging reinvention. Blogging 2.0 would be an unpleasantly lazy way of expressing it.

    There’s a certain type of person who’s moving away from Twitter, and recognises that some or all of their creative energies are being sapped by that platform. They want to express their ideas in greater details than Twitter allows. They want to create content on whatever platform they like, and be unconstrained by the particular software that they’re using. Like Twitter, this new kind of blogging should allow and encourage any kind of client.

    The cost of entry should be low. It should be personalised, single user focused, and transparent enough to allow the writing to be the key area of focus. Like recent apps OmmWriter, IA Writer, and others, it would be nice to have a blogging platform that’s enjoyable and inspiring to use. WordPress seem to recognise this, and a focus of the next release is claimed to be a more zen-like posting interface that reduces the huge number of checkboxes, menus, and input fields clamouring for your attention.

    That gives us 4 core elements:

    • Enjoyable to use

    • resilient enough to survive traffic spikes (and require a low cost of ownership in terms of hosting)

    • Place the ownership of raw content in the hands of the user, not the back-end system

    • Allow content creation and posting from any device you chose

    Who’s with me? And perhaps more importantly, who’s going to build it?!?

  3. “It’s just, well, kind of nice”.

    Pretty sure I said that coming out of Battle LA.

    Ian (who, along with my father, is my regular cinema-going compatriot) laughed hysterically at that. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was referring to the sentiment. If, hypothetically speaking, you were to jump out of a helicopter, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where your mates jump out with you? Wouldnt it be nice to live in a world where the simple knowledge that a) you are awesome, b) your country is awesome, and c) you’re a God damn hero God damn it, is enough to instill the confidence to take down an alien horde?

    That’s kind of what you get with Battle: Los Angeles. And…it’s kind of nice.

    Don’t get me wrong, the film has an absolutely terrible script and isn’t going to win any awards. Characters frequently state the bleedin’ obvious (or explain obvious plot developments for the slow people in the audience). Each marine in the film’s squad fits neatly into a classic stereotype or cliché (he’s getting married, his wife’s pregnant, he’s a rookie virgin, he’s suffering from post traumatic stress, etc). And there are moments of absolute, golden, unintentional hilarity.

    On top of that, the pacing is totally out of whack, with an amazing ability to kill any and all momentum after each set piece.

    But it’s the set pieces, for me, that really make the film. They’re tense, loud, brilliantly put together, and full of frantic energy. The aliens, too, are pretty cool. There are some nice touches and attention to detail that were lacking from last year’s craptastic Skyline. While on the subject, Skyline lacked hilarity of any kind, intended or otherwise too.

    Aaron Eckhart reads every terrible line of dialogue like he’s going for the Oscar. It’s almost like he doesn’t know he’s making Independence Day meets Modern Warfare 2, he’s going for it, he loves his country just as much as his character and by God, he’s going to make the best God Damn recruitment video he’s ever made. It’s like he thinks he’s making a Hurt Locker sequel or something. He’s all stoic,macho, and troubled. But he can hug a child when he needs to. Oh yes.

    The rest of the marines are fairly anonymous. Even Michelle Rodriguez fails to bring much to her character, likeable as she is. Fans of True Blood will be happy to see Hoyt get a big screen role, but disappointed that he gets to do very, very little. There’s also a massively wasted opportunity for a facial joke at Rodriguez’s expense. So many jokes, I thought, so little time.

    It’s the lack of definitive personality that’ll probably put most people off Battle: LA. That said, I can see a certain demographic eating this up like apple pie, and cheering and “boo-yah”ing in all the right places.

    But I really enjoyed it, despite its problems. It’s got great action, cool aliens, stuff to laugh at, and - if you’ll allow yourself to be swept along with it - a brothers-in-arms, we shall overcome attitude that, for one night at least, I found reassuring rather than nauseating.

    I’m sure I’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

  4. I’ve totally lost track of the numbers of times I’ve changed the theme on this site. A lot. More than 5. Who knows.

    What I do know is that lately, as in “for the last couple of years”, I’ve not written a great deal here. That’s not to say I’ve stopped writing entirely - I’ve posted things elsewhere - but I think I’ve lost track of what I started trying to do here, and what I was actually doing it for.

    I noticed when I set this new theme up that there’s a tag cloud, by default. Usually I’d take them off, but this caught my attention. Why? Because the main tags were/are: Blog, Film, Games, Horror, Review, Technology, Zombies. The tags, for anyone that doesn’t know, will have been generated since the start of this blog, and it struck me: I’m so far away from where I used to. I need to get back on track.

    So, from now on I’m reining everything in. To hell with splitting content depending on where it’s going, worrying about upsetting readers by posting things they might not be interested (it’s not like a blog that’s laid pretty much dormant for so long can have that many regular readers anyway). I’m just going to throw everything on here and see where it takes me.

    I’m still going to post film reviews (still?), I’m going to write about technology, and I’m probably going to write about apps. Apologies if I post something that you’re not interested in, skip it and read the stuff you like. I can’t believe I’m the only guy in the world with a deep love of film and technology, so hopefully this won’t be too jarring a mix for people.

    Final note: the new theme Wu Wei by Jeff Ngan (with a few tweaks by me to add the movie posters in). Jeff’s done a great job on it, and I wanted something that would make me try to focus on my writing as opposed to tweaking bits and pieces in the sidebar, or the header, or blah blah CONCENTRATE ON YOUR WRITING, DAMN IT!

    Moving on then…

  5. John Carpenter and me go way back. Further back than any other horror director. As my dad is fond of reminding me, when I was very, very small I watched The Thing (or parts of it) on TV. I don’t remember it, my long term memory is pretty useless at the best of times, but from that day Carpenter and I were close through most of my youth.

    Halloween was a favourite of both my sister and mine ever since we were old enough to be allowed to watch it. Come to think of it, probably slightly before. They Live was on constant rotation in my teenage years. In The Mouth of Madness cemented an interest in Lovecraft. The Thing would these days rate incredibly highly in my all time list of favourite films, and those golden age Carpenter films will always have a place in my heart.

    But then it seems in my adult life, Carpenter has gone badly off the boil. It’s not just him - Argento and Romero suffered the same fate. Past glories dancing out of reach for all of them. But it’s Carpenter, really, that my teenage self would really like to see bounce back. Vampires, Ghosts of Mars, Children of the Damned. They’re all massively below par for someone who has been described as a master of the horror genre.

    Which brings us nicely to The Ward. Sorry, “John Carpenter’s The Ward”, to give it the full title treatment. I bloody hope Carpenter isn’t so proud of what he’s done here that he insists on adding his name to the title. But then, Alan Smithee’s The Ward doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

    Maybe suggesting that Carpenter attribute this to that famous alias man is a bit strong, but the more shit that the guy makes, the more distant that memory of Kurt Russel and Keith David seems.

    The Ward involves a haunted psychiatric institute (situated in the US town of North Bend, prompting bad “round the bend” jokes to worm their way into my head every time we see the sign, which is a lot). The titular ward refers to a specially closed off area of the hospital, within which reside several teenage female stereotypes, and a homicidal phantom. All presided over by the sneering hospital staff.

    Amber Heard arrives at North Bend’s finest within a few minutes of the film’s start (right after she burns down a building mysteriously) so we’re given precious little time to build up any kind of relationship before we being asked to give a shit about her. And I’d be willing to bet you probably won’t. But, before you can say “where’s she getting all that makeup in a loony bin” young Amber is off sticking her nose in, trying to work out why the asylum’s resident spook is bumping off inmates. Oh, and trying to escape. There is just so much mystery here, Scooby. And the film really wants you to know that.

    In order to inject The Ward with all manner of classic terror and atmosphere, Carpenter reaches into his bag of cinematic horror tricks and produces…very little. It seems that his only two remaining cinematic horror techniques are 1) something I like to call “quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD NOISE!” while 2) is “look over there, look over there, FOOLED YOU; SCARY’S OVER HERE!”. These “tricks” are used over and over, and you can predict when the latter is going to happen with almost surgical precision. Whenever it looks like something creepy is about to happen and the camera goes wandering off to the left of a character’s perspective, you can be almost certain old ghost face will pop up on the right, just after we centre back on the original camera position.

    It’s embarrassing to see Carpenter falling back on such cliched horror tropes when he was capable of such subtlety and greatness back in his day. I always used to consider Carpenter the master of things happening in the background. Those things you thought you saw, but that might never have been there. All of which makes the use of loud noises to elicit jumps and scares incredibly juvenile and lazy for a “master”.

    For some bizarre reason, the film finds itself set in the 60s, and I can’t quite work out why. It elicits a kind of Shutter Island-lite vibe that distracts more than it enhances. Amber’s stylish 60’s jeans, for example, or the way the girls decide to bust out some funky period moves when someone activates a record player (one of the film’s more horrific moments, actually).

    Proceedings aren’t helped by a pretty terrible script. At one point, during an escape attempt, after narrowly avoiding an orderly, one of the girls says something like “He’s really angry”. If it’s an attempt at humour, it falls way short, and is probably the only time the film cracks a smile - it takes itself incredibly seriously. If it’s not, well…

    There’s a soundtrack that sounds like one of those cheap cover albums trying to do Suspiria, all tinkly and mysterious but very, very shit. At least if Carpenter and Howarth did the soundtracks for these films then there might be something to enjoy.But surely there are some decent kills, right?

    Wrong. Despite the involvement of gore maestros Berger and Nicotero, there are only a handful of actual kills, and none of them are original or well done. There’s not a great deal of gore at all on offer really. Admittedly Carpenter has never really been about explicit gore, but you’d expect something more imaginative than what’s on offer here. All the kills are carried out by an antagonist that’s so over exposed in the final reel that it starts to look completely rubbish. There’s also a physicality to the thing later in the film that becomes almost laughable. Finally, there’s an ending that will leave you cursing the last 90 minutes and wishing John Carpenter had retired a long time ago. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I hated it. It actually made me feel worse about the rest of the film, which is perhaps the most remarkable thing about the film.

    If this really is the best that the once great director can manage, then he needs to stop embarrassing himself. I’d love to know whether he thinks this is some noble mystery tale that needs to be told, or some classic horror- mongering that deserves to be seen. Because, despite wanting to recapture the brilliant Carpenter moments of my youth, The Ward is nothing more than tired, unimaginative, straight-to-dvd horror. And there’s quite enough of that already.

    I do look forward to the sequel though. It’s about an ex-TV superhero who is haunted by visions of Adam West. I don’t know about you, but I think “John Carpenter’s Burt Ward” could be amazing.

  6. I wrote four blog posts in 2010. Look:

    Four. Bloody useless. What good is a blog with four posts in a year?

    2011 is the year of rebooting the blog. Writing stuff that might actually be enjoyable for people to read. Broadening horizons and writing about more than just horror stuff. Maybe linking to - and reacting to - other articles. Blogging used to be about meaningful topics, trackbacks and community. Now it’s often an excuse to preach to thin air and murder the English language.

    What I want this place to become is something like Daring Fireball. Not in terms of traffic or popularity - that’ll never happen. Almost certainly not in terms of the quality of the writing either. But a combination of enjoyable bits and pieces to read, and links and comments to other content on this great big Internet we call home.

    I’m not going to commit to one a day. Partly because the initiative passed me by until several days into the year, and partly because, well, four posts last year…need I say more?

    Some are doing, and good luck to them. In particular those nice Twitter folks Rachel Jackson and Evrim Ersoy. Not to sound defeatist, but there’s no chance in hell I’d manage one post a day so I take my hat off to them.

    The final thought for today is from another Twitter acquaintance, Mysobscura:

    #BBB really blogging = thoughts themed on yourself and interests, meaningful muses, comments, views - in proper sentences!

    BBB is Bring Back Blogging. That’s the plan folks. That’s the plan.

  7. It’s always nice to be surprised. Maybe I should rephrase that: it’s always nice to be surprised by a film. These days there’s an awful lot of tired generic crap out there. Cinema with no soul, no bite, no passion.

    Every now and then you get low budget little movies that pop up and blow you away. You get a body-blow of refreshment and inspiration when someone gets it so very right and it appears with no fanfare at all.

    And that’s the case with The Disappearance of Alice Creed. It’s got some positive press in the UK (perhaps gaining extra attention because of a certain rising British star’s nudity, more on that later) but it’s not been trumpeted as a “must see”. But it is: if you like your films intelligent and well made this is definitely a must see.

    It’s kind of a dark caper movie. There are twists and turns and you’re never really sure how it’s going to end up. It’s impossible to discuss at any length without giving something away, but it’s enough to say that it’s satisfying in its serpentine shenanigans.

    The three cast members - for that’s all there is - are each brilliant in their own way. They’re playing well developed, believable characters. Special praise goes to Gemma Arterton for being something of a revelation after Bond, Clash of the Titans, and Prince of Persia. It’s evident that she can actually act, can pull off pathos when required, and can manage to avoid becoming an irritation over the film’s duration. Yes, there’s nudity, but it’s not for titillation. It actually happens in one of the films most uncomfortable moments, and in classic “I’ll get my kit off if the script is right” fashion, it fits perfectly with the plot and I can see why Arterton agreed to do it.

    Deserving of even more praise than Arterton is writer director J Blakeson (he’s on Twitter folks). While there’s no real flashy direction beyond the excellent opening sequence - you could almost pull the whole thing off on stage if you set things up right - it’s all handled confidently and effectively. The writing is spot on, and the plot reminded me of classic caper movies like Deathtrap or Sleuth but dragged into the 21st century and given a suitable layer of grit. There are twists, ladies and gentlemen, and while you might be able to guess where things are going, you won’t know for sure until you get there.

    You should see it. There’s a good chance Alice Creed has disappeared from British cinemas by now (see what I did there?) but there should be a dvd release soon; Blakeson recorded his DVD commentary the other day. I urge you to go and pick it up when it comes out.

  8. Predators is, in a nutshell, a 106 minute love letter to John McTiernan’s ‘87 original. That’s a good thing and a bad thing.

    It’s a good thing because, frankly, everything since the original has been a waste of good celluloid. It’s a bad thing because I get the distinct impression that everyone involved could have turned in something really top notch if only they’d had the courage to stand on their own a little.

    For fans of the original the doe-eyed reverence makes for some fun reference spotting. It certainly makes Predators feel like a comfortable sequel to a 23 year old film. It even goes as far as to directly describe the events of the original film. In terms of quality, entertainment, and thrills it’s far more memorable than anything else that’s carried the Predator brand since Arnie first shook hands with Carl Weathers all those years ago.

    The music features large chunks of the original movie’s score (which is great, I love the original score), there’s dialog repeated (I even noticed a couple of Aliens quotes in there too), and the old mini gun and mud smearing make an appearance. There’s so much familiarity that at times it feels more like a remake than a sequel. Rodriguez and co have been careful to sell this as a sequel, but in this modern age of “re-imaginings” it wouldn’t have been surprising to see this described as a remake.

    I like the cast too. It’s nice to see Walton Goggins on the big screen after enjoying him in Justified. And I really don’t have a problem with Adrian Brody. I found him to be more entertaining in this than King Kong, at least.

    The letdown for me was the Predators themselves. In the original, the Predator gets quite a bit of screen time on his own. Whether fixing up wounds, cleaning trophies, preparing for war, or lurking in trees, there’s a hunter/hunted relationship developed throughout the film, leading up to the final confrontation. You don’t really get that in Predators. There’s the occasional human-less scene, but what’s there doesn’t serve to form any sort of attachment or bond with the adversary. Part of this might also be the way the creatures move. Kevin Peter Hall really nailed his performance, moving superbly in every scene. The Predators here aren’t bad, but they lack a certain elegance and attention to detail that existed before.

    Despite that, it’s all good fun. Really, it is. If you’re a fan of the original I suspect you’ll probably enjoy this. Just don’t expect too much. Don’t expect the original. What we have here is a solid B-movie with villains you’re already familiar with. Go in with low expectations, buy yourself some popcorn, and switch off your brain for a bit. Hopefully you’ll have a good time.