Monday, August 31, 2009

Make Mine Disney?

At time of writing, I've received 15 messages, texts, E-mails and phone calls from people in a blind panic. This is much bigger news than the death of that black or white child molesting freak during the summer!!! This is real big.

Disney have just bought Marvel Comics for $4bn.

It's not hard to see why. Disney have everything from Cinderella in Animation, High School Musical on film, Hanna Montana on TV and toys that appeal to kids of all ages - but I daresay most of them girls. Yes, it's all girls crap! Disney are a company who must plunder both genders of children but apart from Toy Story, Cars and most recently G-Force almost everything else is spurned by the mighty male. Action was required to corner the entire male demographic in one fell swoop and they've done it. Marvel Entertainment, bastion of testosterone in the form of Hulk, Wolverine and The Punisher to name but a few of their some 5000 characters are all to be owned by the House of Mouse.

All sorts of things could come from this, some are good and some are bad. On the plus side, we have Disney's Pixar, masters of CG animation; imagine what would happen if they turned their attention away from their usual nonsense [Dreamworks are beginning to pwn them on that level anyway] and create a load of awesome Marvel Comics productions. Whatever they are I'm sure they'll look a damn sight more impressive than the animation Marvel is producing at the moment.

On the downside, well, I thought of this image on my way home today and I've just recreated it for you...
More when I know it.

Zombies: "Hit them hard and hit them often" says report

It appears that the BBC is finally taking the Zombie threat more seriously than most. Researches in Canada published a scientific paper within a book entitled Infectious Diseases Modelling Research Progress. There, they theorise a zombie "plague" resembles a lethal, rapidly spreading infection. The researchers say the exercise could help scientists model the spread of unfamiliar diseases through human populations. They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the zombies and conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often". They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."

"This is exactly the advice that governments should be getting", said Colonel "Whopper" Creedon of UNETIDA [the United Nations Extra Terrestrial Invasion Defence Agency]. "The analysis contained in this book reveals that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies or some other namby-pamby wishy-washy nonsense would only put off the inevitable - that we must eradicate the threat instantly, without any form of consensus or consultation with scientists or government. The military should have a mandate to neutralise this threat decisively as soon as it manifests itself without any civilian oversight - after all is it not those civilians who could be turned into Zombies themselves..."

Creedon went on to say UNPASID [the United Nations Paranormal and Supernatural Interdiction Directorate] of which counter-zombie defence is part of it's mission, has barely 20% of the funding that UNETIDA has "yet it's arguably just as likely that the planet will find itself under threat from the Zompocalypse than an Extra-Terrestrial invasion." He concluded by pleading that "funding must be addressed to equip world forces for issues pertaining to the undead."

Be sure to read the BBC's full report here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Kennedy Era is over - Edward Kennedy 1932-2009

For over a generation there has been a Kennedy at the forefront of of US Politics but sadly yesterday that era came to an end with the passing of Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy 77, from a brain tumour.

Like many conservatives, I regarded most* of his political views with utter disdain, and so I find it hard to discuss my true feelings about the "Liberal Lion" of the Senate. That said; despite his backward views, a multitude of personal tragedies and questionable transgressions, I recognise his status as a political icon. I'm positive that he will be missed and remembered not only in the US but here in Ireland too.

In 2006, Time magazine named him as one of America's "Ten Best Senators", saying that he had "amassed a titanic record of legislation affecting the lives of virtually every man, woman and child in the country" but as far as this island goes he will be remembered as both the madman who staunchly supported Irish Republicanism in the 70's, once calling for British troops to leave Northern Ireland, but more recently, one of the political heroes of the peace process leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

[Left: Bertie Anern and Ted Kennedy, Capitol Hill March 15th 2007]

One of our own prominent politicians Micheál Martin TD said today: "He knew and loved Ireland - it's people, it's music and its culture. As the embodiment of the Irish immigrant story, his special dedication to the peace process was unrivalled and deeply held." Tributes were also seen and heard from An Taoiseach Brian Cowan, former foreign affairs minister Peter Barry and Ambassador Dan Rooney but it was the words of our greatest living former leader Bertie Ahern that resonate most: "it is Ted Kennedy’s great achievement that his own life transcended tragedy and not only emulated but surpassed the achievement of his brothers who he revered. The causes, for which he stood, civil rights, health care, immigrant workers and Ireland, are all immensely endowed because of the decades of unstinting effort, political skill and campaigning zeal which he dedicated his life to."

Sen. Kennedy will lie in repose Thursday and Friday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and will be buried Saturday near his brothers at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington Va.

*Despite his opposition to the war, I agreed with for example: his 2005 legislation that sped up production and procurement of uparmored Humvees

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not off the hook yet!

After months of consideration, Attorney General Eric Holder plans to appoint a special prosecutor to examine allegations that terror suspects were abused at the hands of their CIA interrogators. The decision, comes as the Department of Justice releases a 2004 report from the CIA's inspector general detailing allegations of harsh interrogation practices. The report includes claims that interrogators threatened at least one prisoner with a power drill and also conducted mock executions to scare detainees.

The move would reverse the policy of the Bush administration and could expose CIA employees and agency contractors to criminal prosecution for the alleged mistreatment of terror suspects in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. President Obama signed off on setting up a special interrogation team that would be placed at the FBI but report directly to the White House-based National Security Council.

Though such work typically falls to the CIA, one senior U.S. official told FOX News that the CIA did not want to house the new initiative. "They're glad to be out of the long-term detention business," the official said. The unit's structure would depart significantly from such work under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning Al Qaeda suspects.

Hrrrmph! I thought that Obama said that he wanted this issue left in the past? Now I have to get rid of perfectly good power tools...

Source: Fox News

Friday, August 21, 2009

So THIS is what Cameron's been up to:

James Cameron is one of my favourite directors, he made some pretty good stuff since carving his name indelibly into cinematic history with The Terminator in 1984. Following that success, he delivered a new flawless 5-Star movie every 2 or 3 years with Aliens ['86], The Abyss ['89], Terminator 2: Judgement Day ['91] and completed his phenomenal run with True Lies ['94]. Like many other directors he's been "off the rails" for a few years - following the nonsensical yet commercially successful Titanic in '97 Cameron went all Jacques Cousteau with an IMAX camera and made some documentaries. So basically for the past 15 years Cameron has put nothing worthwhile on the silver screen.

But if this is anything to go by, I think the man may have finally returned...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unglorious Basterds

No, that's not a spelling error, it's just my incredibly clever way of saying that this movie fell a bit short of the mark. Now I don't consider myself to be a true Quentin Tarantino fan. I like Pulp Fiction very much [it’s on my DVD shelf behind me] but not really Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown, not bad movies, just not “me”. The man is arguably a better writer when he's not directing as I love True Romance and From Dusk Till Dawn [both also on my DVD shelf behind me]. However Tarantino’s contribution to cinema has been less then stellar this decade. 2003’s Kill Bill Vol.1, superior to its 2nd half the following year was his last truly great work. Following that, he wasted time directing episodes of ER, a scene in Robert Rodriguez Sin City and produced the irredeemably shit Death Proof. A lot of hope was therefore pinned on the Inglorious Basterds.

In development for what seemed like an eternity, Inglorious Basterds conjured up images of an modernly ultra-violent Dirty Dozen remake filled with Tarantino’s dark humour and snappy dialog and the Basterds themselves fighting and killing thousands of Nazis in pitched battles on their way to their glory – basically better than Viagra for war-nuts. Well that’s not what we got… The movie opened with what should be heralded as one of the greatest war-movie scenes in history. It’s a simple conversation between a French dairy farmer and SS Colonel Hans Landa over glasses of milk concerning the whereabouts of the farmer’s Jewish neighbours. The raw tension of this 20 minute scene is stunning and the dialog is superior to any of Tarantino’s “café” scenes in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs where the characters are in deep philosophical conversation. Sadly as soon as this is over, the whole fuckin’ thing falls completely apart and degenerates into something ultimately unworthy of it’s magnificent opening.

I will say at times, the dialog is sharp and as witty as Tarantino usually produces. The humour and violence he infuses into his movies is present here but sadly not in the abundance we’ve come to expect from the man. There are sparsely few genuinely amusing moments involving the Basterds' attempts at Italian but Mike Myers' General Fenech would have been more at home in an Austin Powers piss-take movie [yes I don’t mean even a real Austin movie – they’re actually good] where he plays all of the characters alongside multiple Eddie Murphy’s or some equally stupid crap – here it’s just stupid.

Of huge disappointment is that only 50% of the movie is focused on Lt. Aldo Raine [Brad Pitt] and his men – the other half is a completely unconnected but nonetheless intense revenge tale with Mélanie Laurent’s character Shosanna, who is determined to kill the Nazis who murdered her family. Now in the hands of a ‘serious’ director, this story of ultimate revenge would be outstanding, a film in itself; I think I’d even be happy with Tarantino directing it himself provided he’d film it like the aforementioned first 20 minutes of this movie. Sadly this is completely wasted here as part of Tarantino’s WW2 wet-dream with Mike Myers' over-acting, stereotypical hammy villains and other such inappropriate elements which don’t meld.

The characters in this movie were a mixed bag of either excellence or “why have this character even in this movie?” Til King Arthur, The Replacement Killers Schweiger’s Sgt. Stiglitz [pictured right] character would be in the former group and easily my favourite Basterd. A defector from the Nazis he joined the lads in country after they saved him from a death sentence. The aforementioned villain Col. Landa "The Jew Hunter” began as a sublimely evil and reprehensible SS officer, but he soon degenerated from a cold calculating detective into a parody of himself and finished the movie as a sad excuse for a hammy sub-standard Bond villain. Don’t get me started on Rod Taylor’s appearance as Winston Churchill: Why? Dear sweet Lucas why?

A mention must be paid however to Eli Roth, director of Hostel as Sgt. Donny Donowitz “The Bear Jew.” His was a wonderful performance and was the highlight of two of the movie's most intensely blood-soaked scenes: one where he beats a Nazi’s head to a pulp with a baseball bat and later empties an MP40 sub-machine gun into another’s face. Which brings me to the point that the instances of violence here earned this movie a full star. Other than Roth’s scenes, we see some splendid throat slitting, swastikas being carved into foreheads and some Native American style scalping which was really quite exquisite. Sadly, these brief albeit beautifully filmed moments of violence are too infrequent and spread out over the movie’s over-long running time resulting in unnecessary boredom on the part of the audience, without even so much as the tension of the opening scene to punctuate them.

Tarantino pretentiously doesn’t believe that anyone can score one of his movies because it's like someone "interfering with his vision", or so he says, which is why he chooses pre-existing music and songs when putting a soundtrack to his movies. Inglorious Basterds is no different, the soundtrack here consists of many cues written by veteran composer Ennio Morricone which were in fact written for now long-forgotten Spaghetti Westerns and also bizarrely mixed in is a track by David Bowie. The former does work somewhat with the visuals on screen, the latter however is a harsh reminder that you’re watching a total fucking mess anyway, so why not Bowie in WW2? Wibble!

If I was to excavate for a meaning to this movie, I'd have to say that Tarantino was trying to tell us how dangerous film can be - not just the old nitrate film which we discover [through misplaced narration by Samuel L. Jackson, before witnessing for ourselves] is highly flammable - but the medium of film itself is dangerous as witnessed through the disastrous consequences, both physically and emotionally that Basterds' premier of Nazi propaganda movie "A Nation's Pride" had. Of such ironic pity however is the fact that Tarantino did not take his own advice and has made a movie that will no doubt be loved by the increasingly underdeveloped minds of the worlds youth who will believe that this is - if not "based on a true story" will believe that it's completely true. Sigh, I can just imagine the history essays now...

Final Verdict: Was I expecting too much from this? I think not, I wanted something from the man who made Pulp Fiction, even the man who wrote True Romance. But what I got was the latest movie from the director of Death Proof. Alas Basterds is not the comeback movie everyone hoped it would be and Tarantino ends this decade with nothing more than a feint whimpering homage to his Spaghetti Western and War movie collection which is likely to offend those that survived the harrowing conflict of World War II. Nice one Quentin!

Colonel Creedon Rating: **

Friday, August 14, 2009

May The Course Be With You!

There is one good reason why Westerners we should eat Asian food with chopsticks; if you do so you'll actually taste the food! Part of our problem is that we spend far too much time rushing and not enjoying what we eat. Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese food is something I enjoy but if I was to eat the same meal with chopsticks the day after I ate it with a fork I know I'd enjoy the second meal more. This is due to the fact that while I'm proficient in their use as eating utensils, they only allow the transfer of a fraction of the amount of food that you'd shovel onto a spoon or fork thus allowing you to appreciate the taste of what you're eating much more.

It's not easy to get nice chopsticks in this part of the world, most people are just not "zen" enough to take the time to learn or use them properly. I did see somewhere online some time ago where someone was making silver ones with the Arashikage ninja clan symbol on them but I can't find it now that I can afford them. But something just came into my inbox that makes that search redundant. Kotobukia, famous for it's splendid but expensive Star Wars statuettes, is producing a series of Star Wars Lightsaber Chopsticks in time for Xmas this year. You get blue and red long ones modelled after Luke's [pictured] and Vader's and shorter green ones with Yoda's hilt.

And before you ask: Yes of course I am! :)

Source: The Whitehouse

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Cobra Has Risen

Part of me did not originally have any faith in this movie. G.I.Joe was my favourite childhood toy above Transformers, He-Man and even Lego. Because of this I was very apprehensive about accepting a movie based on this franchise especially in the wake of some pretty good recent adaptations of sacred material like Transformers, Star Trek and Watchmen. Law of averages dictate that we’ll get a dud of something – something which disrespects the source or bears no resemblance to it other than the name – soon enough. Well thankfully there were many sighs of relief that G.I.Joe: Rise Of Cobra is not one of those and it takes its place as a more than adequate adaptation of both an action figure line and a popular comic book [leaving Wolverine as the only true dud this year].

Ideally, with a subtitle like Rise Of Cobra, we could have had the story of a disgruntled Gulf-War vet who through his powers of persuasion as a successful used-car salesman, using the floundering economy as an excuse to win fellow malcontents in the fields of finance, military and politics to form a uniformed KKK/Neo-Nazi-like underground organisation who could build up power both inside the government and the military and become Cobra Commander. But that wouldn’t sell too many action figures to kids, so instead we got a movie that is G.I.Joe vs. Destro with plasma-weapon battles, voice activated aircraft and undersea bases. It’s incredibly silly, but it’s incredible fun and stays true to the very ideals that the franchise was based on.

It’s obvious that both Sommers and his crew had immersed themselves in their source materiel, while the whole plot, character origins and design bear little resemblance to any previous interpretation; there are obvious nods to the action figures, TV show and comic books – and obvious signs that the European incarnation - Action Force - was plundered for some vital aspects including the idea that some of the Joes were of international origin and not just US special operators. There are no doubt people who demand the perfect word-for-word translation and identical characterisation as done with Watchmen, who will be disappointed with Sommers interpretation as they were with Bay’s Transformers. They don’t understand that something with as such sprawling scope and 25 years of history can’t be condensed into one movie maintaining a realistic continuity. Liberties have to be taken and changes have to be made in order to create a credible stand alone adventure.

But it’s not all completely different from G.I.Joe as you know it – the Joes are of course led by General Hawk [Dennis Quaid] who is protective and confident of the abilities of his team. It’s fair to say it’s not Quaid’s juiciest role as he’s only got some expositionary dialog and a few ‘command lines’ like “Good Luck Joes” and “Launch the Sharcs”, but the movie is better for having someone recognisable in the role. Duke is already an experienced operator, played by Channing Tatum who convincingly played a soldier in Stop Loss and repeats his efforts here. Tatum’s Duke is a captain making a bit more realistic sense as opposed to the “real” Duke who remained an NCO despite commanding the unit in the field.

Scarlett is the hot redhead played by Rachel Nichols and she has her trademark [albeit a tad more futuristic] crossbow but I’m stumped why they chose to make her the team’s egghead. Still it’s not as radical a departure as this movie’s Ripcord is. Getting one of the infamous Wayans brothers to play Ripcord was immediately frowned upon and served as a rallying cry for nay-sayers of this movie. But despite having more the personality characteristics of Clutch, Shipwreck or Airtight as opposed to Ripcord, the character works very well in this ensemble although his whole concept of a grunt wanting to fly seems original.

Ray Park is once again denied his voice on screen as he was with Darth Maul as the ever-silent Snake-Eyes, but he makes up for it with his extraordinary acrobatics and swordplay with Byung-hun Lee’s excellent Storm Shadow. Their rivalry has been the stuff of G.I.Joe legend since the beginning and this movie is no different, giving their oft-told origin a new take; suitably explaining how they seem to be so well matched and know each others moves so well.

In these movies, often the bad guys turn out to be the more memorable characters, and although Chris Eccleston delivers a suitably smarmy performance as Destro doing pretty much what you’d expect for the worlds greatest arms manufacturer; it is astonishingly Sienna Miller’s Baroness that steals the whole show as the bespectacled leather clad villainess hands down and without her I’d have dropped a star from this movie altogether.

Hats off to Production Designer Ed Verreaux and the Visual and Special Effects masters who made the whole undersea base and destruction of the Eiffel Tower seem so convincing [man I love to see that thing being destroyed by Hollywood every few years]. Kudos to Maestro Alan Silvestri, who can add his new G.I.Joe theme to his list with Back to the Future, Predator and Delta Force among many others. Deep Rising, The Mummy and Van Helsing [yes I like that] are previous triumphs of Steven Sommers, but it’s this movie that is without a doubt his crowning achievement and will be remembered until the inevitable sequel G.I.Joe: The Mask of Zartan [no I just made that up].
Final Verdict: This isn’t exactly like the G.I.Joe you know, but it’s spirit and ethos is firmly intact. This is hopefully the flagship for a new G.I.Joe vs. Cobra that will propel the legend another 25 years.

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2

Friday, August 07, 2009

LucasArts: A New Hope?

I’ve no problem with admitting that the fire of originality and creativity left God's own video game publishing house, LucasArts at the turn of the century. During the hay days of the 1990s they were arguably the greatest developer / publisher in the Western world. Despite a host of games based on Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, they also had many just as successful unique IPs in the form of graphic adventure games such as Monkey Island and Full Throttle. But alas things went a bit awry come Y2K and LucasArts lost their mojo. Most blame the Star Wars prequels which led the developers to produce a deluge of incredibly rushed and substandard games based on the new movies. Others say the migration of players away from the point and click adventure and space simulator to the ever growing FPS, RTS and RPG genres is to blame and LucasArts didn't adapt quickly enough.

The only saving grace that has kept LucasArts on the gaming map in the past ten years was their collaborative efforts with other developers who have proven themselves in their respective fields. These included Hexen and Soldier Of Fortune developers Raven Software who created a sequel to Jedi Knight; Everquest developer Sony Online Entertainment who developed Star Wars: Galaxies and most importantly Bioware of Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights fame who created what is generally accepted as one of the best Star Wars games of all time: Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. The latter collaboration will continue into the next decade with the MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now longtime readers around here will know that my favourite game is LucasArts X-Wing [and the other elements of that gaming franchise such as TIE Fighter and Alliance]. They were superb action flight simulators that immersed you in the epic Star Wars conflict between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire.

Ahhh Gouraud shading! Behold the incredible graphics of 1994 [seriously in 1994 these were incredible!]

It's been more than a decade since the last game, X-Wing: Alliance was released in February of 1999 and I took the day off to stand outside Game at 08:30 on release day waiting for it to open. The space sim genre that was established by those games [and Origin's Wing Commander series] then began to fade for various reasons but fans, including myself have longed for a continuation of the X-Wing franchise since then.

However, there is now a glimmer of hope in the future for those with layers of dust on their Wingman Extreme joysticks. There's now a new president at LucasArts, one Darrel Rodriguez, and he seems intent on revisiting the company's past glories in an effort to update the best of what has been before rather than continue on the failed path of recent years. In the past few months, LucasArts has begun to release its library on Valve's superb game-on-demand downloading store Steam. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for PC and Xbox 360 was released in the past couple of weeks, a remake of the classic adventure game with improved graphics. Now G4 recently asked Rodriguez about the possibility of X-Wing and TIE Fighter returning. His answer: "We don't have any announcements now, but stay tuned. We will soon."

X-Wing and TIE Fighter were updated with the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter graphics engine in 1998

For those of you who've not experience the games and read this all the way down here: you're probably thinking "That's it? - Not even an announcement?" But for those of you who have sat behind the control stick of an X-Wing or a TIE Defender: this could be the greatest gaming quote of the decade. More as soon as I get it.

Source: IGN

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What is G.I.Joe?

G.I.Joe: Rise Of Cobra opens this weekend and I'm pretty excited about seeing what Steven Sommers has crafted.

What some people in this part of the world may not realise is that G.I.Joe is really what they used to call Action Force. When Palitoy launched their Action Force brand - basically reducing the size and cost of Action Man from 12" to 3.75" to mirror the change made to G.I.Joe in the US, they used some of the G.I.Joe figures to supplement their line, albiet in different colours and with different names. So when Hasbro began marketing G.I.Joe here they were released under the 'Action Force' title, since the term 'G.I.' was not in common use on this side of the atlantic. The figures now had the same appearance and codenames as the American G.I. Joes, but their identities and histories were international rather than purely American. The range was later renamed G.I. Joe to bring it into line with international markets.

So for all you folk who only know Action Force, here's a video presentation of the U.S. G.I.Joe experience from 1964 to present day from IGN:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ryanair: Not Spy Friendly

Just a word of warning when travelling on Ryanair, they may print and thus reveal to all who it is you're contracted to when doing a "job" wherever you're going...