Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Movie Mini-Reviews - 27-03-12

Underworld: Awakening

No need for any kind of elaboration here:

Kate Bekinsale dons her tight leather and reprises her role as Selene after her absence in the lacklustre prequel previous to this installment. There was excellent use of 3D much like it was in Resident Evil 4 and the gore quotient increased exponentially this time round securing a future place in my Blue Ray collection.


Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2


NBC’s Heroes [more importantly its first season] dealt with how some ordinary people discovered some extraordinary powers after a solar eclipse. It was well written, directed, acted and produced and lasted four years because of it.

Chronicle is the result of someone watching Heroes and thinking: “How do I make this into a movie for the Youtube-obsessed crowd? – I know we’ll get three unknown [but very good] actors that we can pay in peanuts and shoot them in a dizzyingly distracting way focussing on how they deal with tremendous power while leaving the question of who/why they get their powers unanswered”.

Many went to see it but only the Youtube crowd could enjoy it. Ironic that the word "Chronic" is in the title.
Colonel Creedon Rating: *1/2

Safe House

Low-ranking CIA agent Matt Weston [Ryan Reynolds] wishes for a promotion out of his dead-end posting to Cape Town, but his mentor Barlow [Brendan Gleeson] is happy to keep him there a little while longer. When notorious ex-CIA double agent Tobin Frost [Denzel Washington], on the run from some nefarious individuals, surrenders himself to the US Embassy – he is sent to Weston's “Safe House” a secure facility where Frost can be held and waterboarded before he enters the US judicial system. Agent Linklater [Vera Farmiga] sends a CIA team to protect Frost led by Kiefer [Robert Patrick] which fails to prevent an attack by the people who really want him and so young agent Weston grabs his “house guest” and flees.

What follows is a well paced action/chase thriller with some excellent performances from it's star-studded cast including a surprise appearance from Ruben Blades as the counterfeiter Villar and Sam Shephard in an equally rare appearance as CIA director Whitford. The action is tight and was realistic right up until the last 5-10 minutes when the characters seem to adopt a level of Hollywood invincibility in an ending that has me suspect that it wasn’t filmed as originally written but it thankfully does not detract too much from the value production as a whole.
Colonel Creedon Rating: ****


Mark Whalberg, Ben Foster and Kate Bekinsale [no leather this time] star in this by-the-numbers thriller which while is exciting at times - is so utterly predictable it takes some of the cine-magic away. More entertaining than the baseline bog-standard but not as good as Wahlberg’s previous movie in this vein – The Italian Job. Worth watching for J.K. Simmons’ performance as the antagonising freighter captain.
Colonel Creedon Rating: ***

Armageddon One test successful

UNETIDA have revealed to the UN Security Council that their test of the most powerful tactical nuclear strike device has been successful on the surface of Mars. "Normally we blow stuff up on the far side of the moon but this was going to be so big we had to put it out further" said Dr. "Quantum" Pataal, Director of UNETIDA Research and Development.

The Armageddon One warhead delivery platform entered orbit of Mars earlier in the month and launched the most powerful nuclear device ever conceived at the surface of the Red Planet. "This was one of UNETIDA's greatest achievements" Pataal said as nuclear scientists from the U.S., India and China came together "to create something of such raw destructive power - it can only be described as beautiful."

Amateur astronomers had been wondering about a "towering cloud" this week captured in a photograph by Wayne Jaeschke who knew it was something unusual. He posted the photo on the site Cloudy Nights, explaining that sources had suggested it was a high-altitude water-ice cloud over Mars' Acidalia region.

Colonel "Whopper" Creedon, Acting Director of Intelligence of UNETIDA offered that the sources Mr. Jaeschke referred to were under UNETIDA control. "We obviously have to cover this up," he reported to the council "and it's easy when you have a back door into the operations of NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter." Creedon outlined that any images from Thermal Emission Imaging System, or THEMIS, which is one of the instruments on the orbiter can be "doctored" in almost real-time to give the impression of a naturally occurring phenomena to the observers at The Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University.

Despite some setbacks of Soyuz launches in 2011, Russia accepted responsibility for propelling Armageddon One to Mars and the rocket "Спокойствие" [Tranquility] was understood to have been launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in late September.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Earth assaulted by a solar storm...

…but hey how come we’re all still using the Internet!!!

Many consider the events of the past few of days to have been blown out of proportion by the media as much as they did with the Y2K bug in 1999 when we were given visions of aircraft suddenly falling out of the sky and nuclear reactor cooling towers going offline. Solar flares expending from the Sun last week triggered a storm of charged particles known as a coronal mass ejection which on Thursday battered the Earth’s magnetic field which protects the planet from harmful solar radiation. Scientists warned that this could have disrupted power grids, satellite navigation and plane routes but there was no significant impact other than the NOAA declaring a R3 level radio blackout and some aircraft routes diverted from the polar regions.

So why wasn’t there significant power surges or major disruptions to worldwide communications? Could it be that the storms above our atmosphere weren’t powerful enough to significantly shake our magnetic field or had the boffins just been over-cautious in their analysis? In truth it was neither and in a closed session of the UN General Assembly in NYC on Saturday morning, the truth was revealed…

“Worse case scenario was of course that the storm could have depolarised the magnetic field and irradiated every living thing on the planet” warned Dr. “Cloudburst” Hunt, UNETIDA's representative to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I’m sure that’s one way that the universe will reset the balance between man and nature but the magnitude of current solar activity is only threatening to unleash the same devastation as a planet wide EMP pulse.” Hunt added that while losing all our technological achievements since the invention of electricity would be a devastating blow to modern civilisation - it wasn’t as if we had no warning or were powerless to stop it.

“We always have a plan!” said Dr. “Quantum” Paatal, Director of UNETIDA Research and Development. “It just sometimes depends if we have the technology to implement it.” Pataal explained that within the past five years UNETIDA researchers discovered that a race of powerful aliens visited the Mediterranean Basin some 5000 years ago and "influenced" the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations throughout their history. "We discovered that the 'keys' to our own survival had been given to us in the hope we would work together and combine them to protect ourselves from the Sun. "Sadly" said Pataal "The world does not work like that and with time running out we had to violate a few conventions."

"The Earth is not going down on my watch!" bellowed Colonel "Whopper" Creedon, Acting Director of Intelligence for UNETIDA. The Colonel revealed that he released powerful Extra-Terrestrial technology to thwart the Sun's plans influence the course of our existence. "It's all very complicated and no one will understand, let alone believe me if I explained"  he said. Creedon informed the assembly that last year he recovered an ancient Egyptian key, "liberated" from a plundered museum during Arab Spring and that last month he had dispatched UNETIDA Special Operators posing as thieves to retrieve a similar artifact from Greece's Ancient Olympia museum. The Colonel stopped sort of detailing what form the keys themselves took - for reasons of planetary security - but he did say that they were placed in a type of lock that was recently unearthed at excavations at Palatine Hill in Rome, one of the earliest sites of Roman civilisation.

“I must stress that while the timing of Arab Spring and the collapse of the Greek Economy were fortunate to have occurred at the most opportune times for our retrieval operations," continued Creedon. "I must make it abundantly clear that UNETIDA categorically denies involvement in suspected engineering of those events, we only used them as cover for our clandestine operations necessary to protect member states from threats outside the boundaries of international law in accordance with our mandate.” The was said presumably because Russia currently suspects that Arab Spring was started by the United States and Europe in an attempt to exert more control in the region.

A member of the UN assembly asked the UNETIDA contingent if the alien technology deployment that saved the planet was a permanent solution to our woes from solar storms in the future. Neither Dr. Pataal or Dr. Hunt could affirmatively reassure the delagate it was so. Creedon only offered: "We are not gods! - But we're the closest thing you have!"

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

SETI is crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing [basically getting a whole load of enthusiastic interested people to do your testing for you] as a method of obtaining data has proved to be a very useful tool for scientists in a range of disciplines. For years the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence has been using the computers of willing participants to analyse their information, but now they are looking for a more active "human" element.

At the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Los Angeles last week, SETI announced that they will begin streaming radio frequencies that are transmitted from the Allen Telescope Array through a new website Setilive.org. Users of the site will be asked to search for signs of unusual activity within the frequencies as it is hoped that the human brain can discover something the automated system may not catch.

Seti Live is the latest stage SETI's quest "to empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company". Dr Jillian Tarter, Director of the SETI Institute's Center for SETI Research has devoted her career to the search and is head of the new initiative. "There are frequencies that our automated signal detection systems now ignore, because there are too many signals there," she said. "Most are created by Earth's communication and entertainment technologies, but buried within this noise there may be a signal from a distant technology. I'm hoping that an army of volunteers can help us deal with these crowded frequency bands that confuse our machines. By doing this in real time, we will have an opportunity to follow up immediately on what our volunteers discover."

Colonel "Whopper" Creedon, Acting Director of Intelligence for UNETIDA, condemned SETI's work as a "nuisance" and called Seti Live "dangerous and irresponsible" as he warned that the program participants may inadvertently hasten an attempted invasion by an almost certainly belligerent alien race that could cause unprecedented damage to our way of life. It is believed that the Colonel will have UNETIDA Information & Communications introduce a "rogue" signal into the Allen Array to keep Seti Live enthusiasts baffled and out of his hair for years.

Monday, March 05, 2012

R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie 1929 - 2012

Legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, credited with creating the look of many Star Wars characters, planets and spacecraft for George Lucas has died at his home in Berkeley, California aged 82.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man," Lucas said in a statement at the weekend. "Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'" In fact, the Samurai-inspired black helmet and caped-outfit worn by arch nemesis Darth Vader was McQuarrie's work. It was his idea to put a breathing apparatus on Vader’s mask, so that he could survive in the vacuum of space and which led to the villain’s raspy voice in the films.

Even after the unprecedented success of American Graffiti, United Artists and Universal Pictures made the greatest mistakes in the history of errors when they each rejected the science fiction idea of a young George Lucas in the early ‘70’s, dismissing it as box office poison. Had the fledgling deity walked into his early meetings with 20th Century Fox in 1975 without what he did bring to explain his fantastical and ingenious imaginings, it may never have happened that Star Wars would become the phenomenon, religion and way of life it is today. Lucas enlisted Ralph McQuarrie to show Fox executives his story. Using Lucas’ visionary script for inspiration, McQuarrie drew scenes of epic space battles and warriors brandishing swords made of laser light. Armed with some two dozen such images, Lucas won funding from Fox and thusly McQuarrie is widely credited with shaping Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.

The original Star Wars characters: Han Solo, Starkiller Hero, Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2

Born Ralph Angus McQuarrie on June 13, 1929, in Gary, Indiana, he grew up on a farm outside Billings, Montana. As a youngster he constructed model aircraft and was fascinated by space exploration throughout his life. He saw combat with the U.S. Army in Korea and survived a bullet to the head. The round punctured his helmet, bloodying his skull. After the war he attended what is now known as the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He began worked as an illustrator for a dental business drawing teeth and dentist’s tools before becoming a technical artist for Boeing in the ‘60’s and drew diagrams for the 747 construction manual. Later he was an illustrator for CBS and created animation sequences of the Apollo missions. Following his work for CBS he came into contact with Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, who had worked with Lucas on THX-1138, about designing a science fiction film. Through their work Lucas met with McQuarrie and asked him to design what ultimately became Star Wars.

McQuarrie served as an artist for all three episodes of the original Star Wars trilogy, and many of the illustrations which served as a base for what would evolve into the final character or spacecraft of the saga are known and revered by both casual and dedicated fans alike. Star Wars prequel illustrator Iain McCaig, called McQuarrie a pioneer of film conceptual art and before him, few directors called on artists to help visualize their projects. “He didn’t just draw a picture of Darth standing in a neutral pose,” McCaig said, “he did a scene of Darth lashing out at Luke Skywalker. You could feel the power and the pathos going on in that moment. He did more than just design costumes - He helped capture the the story-telling moments in really dazzling pictures.”
In The Empire Strikes Back, McQuarrie makes a cameo appearance in a scene inside the hanger during the Battle of Hoth. As part of Hasbro’s efforts to reproduce each and every character who has ever appeared in the saga: his character General Pharl McQuarrie was released as an action figure during the 30th Anniversary celebration of the movie. McQuarrie’s vibrant artwork also brought dramatic scenery and lifelike characters to realisation in such classics as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. He was part of a team that won the 1985 Academy Award for best visual effects for his work on Cocoon. He also worked on the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, Back to the Future, Total Recall and the project that was to become Star Trek:The Motion Picture. His survivors include Joan, his wife of 29 years.

Sources: CNN, BBC, The Washington Post

Saturday, March 03, 2012

WOW past its prime

On Wednesday Blizzard Entertainment announced it was to axe 600 staff worldwide from their Internet game development unit, primarily World of Warcraft. The blinker-wearing idiots that wouldn't admit that WOW was on a never-ending spiralling downfall will hopefully understand the true implications of these job losses, 200 of which will be in their Cork facility.

Blizzard opened its complex in Cork, Ireland as a European customer support centre in '07 and employment soared from an initial projection of just 100 jobs. Supported by the IDA in '09 then-Taoiseach Brian Cowen launched a massive 500 job expansion bringing the total Irish employment to almost 900. Over 12 million people worldwide subscribed to World of Warcraft - their largest game - and the Cork centre was able to provide support, advice and product information in 25 European languages.

Wednesday's news shocked both the Government and the IDA given that the computer games industry is globally enjoying booming sales. Blizzard claims that about 10% of these redundancies will come directly from game development, while the majority of redundancies affecting other areas of the business. "Constant evaluation of teams and processes is necessary for the long-term health of any business," Blizzard chief executive and co-founder Mike Morhaime said.

“Their subscriber base for World of Warcraft is getting smaller, so they are adjusting their cost structure for that decline” said Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia although I do believe some of the blame can be laid squarely at my own feet. Despite enjoying the RTS WarCraft series, I never endorsed World of Warcraft myself, dismissing it as too "gaudy" for a fantasy setting and that its animation was much to "stylised" for my liking, throwing my hat in with Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online instead. My non-public shunning of StarCraft 2's piecemeal release and my equally unvoiced declaration that - while I loved the Diablo series - I would not support Diablo 3 as it does not feature a Paladin [or any kind of divine-powered heavily armoured large sword-wielding hero archetype] may also account for Blizzard's decline if someone got wind of it.

Chances are, they'll need to hire again when the mindless sheep flock to this TITAN!

Friday, March 02, 2012

The 84th Academy Awards

Never before have I had so little invested in the Oscars. A phenomenally poor line up of overrated nonsense was being praised by the world’s most self-congratulatory group of attention-seekers. My interest was only piqued when Meryl Streep once again added to her collection for her portrayal of the great Margaret Thatcher. Naturally I frowned in disgust as Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s most deserving technical awards were shunned in favour of something unworthy. Best Picture went to an oh-so-original black and white silent movie and I think in an age of THX and Real 3D it was if the Academy was declaring a big “Fuck You!” to the world's audiences – pathetic. Kudos though to the wonderful Christopher Plummer, who is almost as old as Oscar, for Best Supporting Actor and the legendary James Earl Jones who received an honorary award.

There were a few interesting presentations to say the least, Ben Stiller played it straight for once against Emma Stone’s overly enthusiastic “new girl” while Will Farrell caused some racket with Zach Galifianakis they bashed cymbals together with their trademark brand of humorous antics. Sadly however Angelina Jolie proved that no matter how much leg she showed on stage, she’ll never upstage the delicate elegance of Natalie Portman who was by far the most resplendent of the evening even in her understated  gown. I was also surprised to have missed the memo where it was declared that Chris Rock would no longer be funny as he crashed and burned with some lame attempts at humour but Robert Downey Jr. didn’t disappoint by having his own personal camera crew with him filming a “Live Documentary” as he presented with Iron Man co-star Gwyneth Paltrow.

Despite the vacuously boring subject matter nominated this year, the production as a whole was saved by two major entertaining elements. These were the magnificent compositions of the prince of film composition himself - Hans Zimmer who scored the event splendidly and composed the greatest theme ever for any awards ceremony of all time and the hilarious presentation from Billy Crystal whose performance makes you wonder what muppet decides on giving the job to the likes of Anne Hathaway and James Franco. All I can say was thanks be to Lucas that Brett Ratner is a bigot and his antics caused the has-been Eddie Murphy to bow out gracefully. I won’t go so far as to say that it was Crystal’s best performance yet, but he stole the show with his trademark jokes without descending into Ricky Gervais territory, because Crystal doesn’t need to: “And now may I present a reoccurring fantasy of mine, Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz!” – and when introducting Christian Bale he warned the audience to "stay out of his eyeline!" - gold.

More next year.