Monday, 9 November 2009

Catching Up

Hi all

It's been a while.

I've been a bad blogger . Moreover, I've largely been a bad friend. Many of you haven't heard from me in a long while and whilst I could cite the excuses of massive amounts of work (both in Waterstone's and of the University variety) it's largely just excuses as I've still found the time to re-start Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, find all 100 gang tags and complete the Pimp and Taxi side-mission (currently working on the Vigilante and Fireman).

This blog, which I'm well aware no one really reads, is probably not the best method of reconnecting with all my loved and distant friends, but it is a step in the right direction. Promise.

So, what have I been up to?

Well, depending how far back you need me to go - I finished my MA in Science Fiction Studies, no final grade as of yet but I handed my Dissertation in on time and was relatively happy with it so I'm confident I've at least passed the thing.

I applied for, and was accepted onto, a PhD in English Literature at the University of Liverpool. I've since converted this PhD into a part-time course which saves me money (which is very tight at the moment) but means I'll be working on it for around 6 years. My University Library Card now expires in 2015!

In non-Uni related stuff, I'm happy at work in Waterstone's in the Liverpool One shopping complex, and have finally been given the responsibility of running the Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror / Graphic Novels / Manga section, which is at times a frustrating job, but massively appeals to by inner-Geek (which let's face it is also an outer-Geek). As part of this I have also inherited a Science Fiction and Fantasy Bookclub which meet once a month and I have created a Blog for (already more successful than this one).

Things are going well with me and Anna, who I now live with, though our current home suffers from single-glazed windows and so can come to resemble a freezer at some times in the night. The fact is compounded by our stubbornness to live there as cheaply as possible and so not switch the heating on.

We have a hamster, her name is Puck. I chose the name (before even seeing the hamster) because I did my Undergraduate Dissertation on Fairies and Shakespeare.

Ummm.... what else.... My radio show starts again online on Friday 13th November, but if you're on Facebook you probably know that already. Listen to in on ICON radio. I've also got some other radio things in the pipeline but I'm not disclosing them just yet.

I'm going back to fencing in January, after an 18 month hiatus.

Went to see Muse live the other night. That was awesome. Slightly less awesome (and thus disapointing really) was Eddie Izzard who I saw on Halloween, it was good - don't get me wrong - but it wasn't as good as some of the other stuff I've seen him do.

I also saw Jonathan Pryce star in the Caretaker at the Everyman, that was good.

Oh, and I've had the flu. But I suspect it was normal flu rather than the swine variety. Either that or all the people who've complained about swine flu's effects (and not died) are hypochondriacs.

So that's kind of my life for the last few months.

How are you?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Public Enemies - A Review

Dir: Michael Mann
Star: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

Comparisons with 1995's Heat are inevitable with this film. One of Michael Mann's most acclaimed films, a crime saga with two big A-list actors playing big characters on opposite sides of the law who only actually meet in one scene. All of that still applies, including hopefully the acclaim, however Public Enemies is also a lot more.

Set in 1933, Public Enemies is set in the midst of the great crime sprees that precipitated the formation of the FBI. It's a true story adapted from a book by Bryan Burroughs and amongst all the cops, agents, gangsters and bank robbers, it follows John Dillinger (Depp) as the man who stood out the most. Dillinger was suave, cool and played on it all.

He was a media icon and a bank robber. He watched his headlines and played up to the press. Remember this was in the Depression, everybody was angry with the fat cat bankers and then, as now, the capitalist temple of the bank was seen as ripe for defilement.

Dillinger was a poster boy of crime, seen as an almost Robin Hood kind of figure and Depp is the perfect man to play him. I can't think of any other actor who combines the same sense of "live-for-the-moment" fun, with suave self-assured cool in quite the way Depp, and indeed Dillinger, does.

Melvin Purvis is the F.B.I agent who heads the task force to bring in Dillinger who, by this time, is Public Enemy #1. Played by Bale, the character doesn't have as much to do as Dillinger and although Bale handles it well, bringing across an air of confidence, sometime frustration and calm (also it’s nice to see him acting without the Bat-voice for change - it really was too much in Terminator), he never gets the emotional sweep that Depp is able to provide.

Depp is a brilliant actor, even without mascara and a funny hat, and films like this one prove it. If he's not up for some awards for this film then there better be some damned good movies still to come before the next award season.

The 1930's setting is well carried off and Mann's techniques, though jarring slightly with the aesthetic of the film and creating a sense of anachronism (the shaky-cam in shoot outs and cool electric guitar music over the bank robbery entrances spring to mind) they only add to the film, emphasising the sense of showman ship and cool. The shootouts in particular look reminiscent of footage taken on real shootouts in urban Iraq, very raw footage and sound, with a low slightly wavering camera, like a journalist who's cowering from the bullets.

It's a long film but I don't think it feels like it, nothing seems superfluous, the plot is very tight and though I wouldn't rely on it for a history test (the chronology of certain events - notably the deaths - is a little off) it creates a genuine seeming experience and pushes all the right buttons at all the right times. Well directed and well acted, superbly in Depp's case. In a summer of sequels, remakes and reboots this is an original film that far from being a Heat 2 is a brilliant piece of cinema and highly recommended.


Thursday, 25 June 2009

Transformers: Revence of the Fallen - Review

Dir: Michael Bay
Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving.

I just want to point out that I'm a fan of the first movie. Normally I hate Michael Bay and have never subscribed to "awesomeness = tits and blowing shit up" that seems to be his cinematic philosophy but the first film had just the right balance of crazy action sequences (this was a movie about giant transforming robots beating the crap out of each other remember so I EXPECT action), light hearted comedic relief and intrigue. This film had none of that.

No, that's not right, it had all of it (well except the intrigue) but just not in the right proportions. There's more action, more "comic" relief, more robots, more explosions, a grander scope with more locations. So why was it so dull?! The pacing was terrible. The action sequences were instantly forgettable (a possible exception being an Optimus Prime with two swords versus the entire Deceptacon force in a wood - that was quite good), the finale was a mixture of dragged out pointless moments and rushed important bits.

The coolest characters are sidelined for the annoyingly unfunny comic relief ones (the Twins, oh GOD the Twins - racial stereotype ghetto robots!). There's no sense that anyone is ever in danger (too many people come back from the dead in this film!). The Geography is questionable, the history is laughable (I can accept alien influence inspiring the Pyramids of whatever but what this film suggests in inside them - and that nobody noticed...?), the dodgy British accents, the many MANY pointless characters who could have been cut altogether without impacting the film AT ALL! (that includes the titular Fallen).
Megan Fox looks terrible throughout and the rest of the cast fail to make be believe even a moment of it. Too many Baywatch-style slow mo moment (slow-mo is useful in the robot on robot fights as it lets you admire the admirable work ILM have done - I'll be fair the robots DO look amazing and you do almost forget that the best actors and characters in this film aren't even real and were never on set).

No this film is too long, incomprehensibly shot, woodenly acted and just plain stupid but its greatest sin is that it's BORING! The first film was anything but.

I normally advise people go see mediocre sequels just on the off chance they like it more than I do, or just to get closure or whatever, but this film does nothing, is nothing and offers nothing. It's a waste of time and money, ours and the people who made it.

SCORE: 2/10

Friday, 6 March 2009

Doesn't Do Her Justice

Ever since my summer re-engagement with watercolours (which lasted all of one painting) I've been determined to reclaim art as a subject. It's something I always loved and would practice just for fun frequently (the only other thing that has that distinction is writing), yet after GCSE it fell by the wayside and never really recovered. I did some good GCSE stuff, none of it survives, or at least very little (my sketch books went missing and were never returned to me - I loved those books too :-( ). I've already posted doodles and sketches on here, along with the summer watercolour so here to add to it is the first portrait I've done in a ve-ery long time, not including the rough sketch of me from a few weeks ago.

It's based on a photo - the real model being unavailable to me at this time - and maybe you can tell who its supposed to be (you need not be a genius to guess), needless to say it doesnt do her justice at all but I thought it was quite good for a first attempt. It was drawn with a 0.5mm mechanical pencil and took me about an hour.

I hate drawing faces, I think part of the problem here is that I spent so much time focusing on the face that I neglected the rest of the picture. In the end the face doesnt look anything like her but I think its quite a good generic face nonetheless. It's also disproportionate with the head being far too large for the body.

Anyhoo there you go.

NB: The stripey lines and discolouration are a product of my "on its last legs" camera, I don't own a scanner and so have taken photos of my pctures to get them on here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Spring is here

Spring is definitely here, for those who would doubt it - simply open your eyes! All over the University campus the colours of the season are springing up, the grass is greener and the yellow, blue, purple, white, red flowers are in full bloom.

The first clusters caught my eye on Thursday and I was gutted that I didn't have my camera with me, but when I returned today I was happy to find the flowers still there (not having fallen under student feet) and that they had multiplied in their tens, even hundreds.

I cut a peculiar picture lying down on the grass to take some (I think) pretty photographs of the plants, and certainly got some funny looks from passing students. Part of me attributes this to the fact the majority of these pictures were taken around the Physics and Chemistry buildings and the funny looks are because scientists have no true appreciation of art. In truth though I probably received the majority of those looks because a man, looking more than slightly like a tramp, was lying on the grass in the University campus...

Anyway, here's a sample photo from the ones I took, the others can be found in the Facebook Album here. Enjoy.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Happy Saint David's Day

Happy Saint David's Day to everyone, even you non-Welshies: I spread the love.

Just nipping in before midnight, in the last minutes of my National Day (original Blog post time not Facebook import time) to post a picture I just drew of the two fictional creatures that represent the places that have defined me and shaped me most thus far in my life: Liverpool and Wales, the Dragon and the Liverbird.

Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Tired Man

I'm so tired!!!

In no small part that's due to that fact that last night I went back to fencing for the first time in approximately ten months.

I'd forgotten how tiring it was, it's not that I'm unfit now, it's just that fencing uses muscle sets that don't normally get worked in the library or Waterstone's. I got good number of hours sleep but I still woke up tired, it didn't get any better from there.

I've done a doodle of my current state as I imagine I look.

Go to bed then! I hear you cry, but you see - I can't. As I reported yesterday, I lost a story I was working on when my PC died and I've had a small spark of inspiration about how to rewrite what I'd lost so I can't rest until I've drained all the energy from that spark, otherwise it might not still be there when I wake up.

Anyway, this is a minor divergence, I'm going to go make some squash and then carry on with this story. Somewhere along the line I have to get cracking with the books for next week too: Katherine Burdekin's Swastika Night and Ursula LeGuin's Birthday of the World.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Ghost in the Machine is now simply a Ghost

Yesterday my computer died.

Those more attentive to my increasingly rare status changes on my Facebook page may have noticed that a number of days previous I had reportedly "broken" Microsoft Word. Inexplicably this key programme had failed to operate, it failed to ever open.

It seems this was the first symptom of a wider more general problem. Yesterday morning before leaving for work I tried to switch on my computer only to be confronted with a blue screen of death. Something I haven't seen since the old days when I used to mess around on my Mum's computers in school which were running Windows 98. Anyway, this message said that I was experiencing "Unmountable Boot Volume". Restarting numerous times didn't help and today Rob confirmed my fear that the problem may be the physical mechanical failure of my hard drive rather than any sort of system error or software corruption. This means its unlikely I'll be able to recover any of my files, though I hold out hope an expert may manage it.

Most of what was on my PC was backed up onto either my USB stick or my External Hard Drive. Only some photos from the last couple of weeks, some of my newer music and some random jottings would be lost. One thing that I'm grateful isn't is my PhD proposal which has been saved purely by virtue of the fact I recently e-mailed it to some members of staff and can extract it from the sent e-mail still in my hotmail account.

One of the things that HAS been lost (though maybe it can yet be saved) is a story I was working on. This is particularly annoying as I'd written some 5,000 words of it and it was the first creative project I've embarked on in some time that I honestly believed had legs. (Most of my creative projects fizzle out after the initial boom, I either get bored, realise it's rubbish or forget about it).

I'm going to start again because I think it was genuinely a good concept for a short novella and would like to take a stab at writing it in full - something I've not attempted in earnest since I shelved my dystopian science fiction epic XY which I began writing in Year 11 and reached some 50,000 words before realising most of it was tripe and I'd come back to the good bits when I knew a little bit more about literature.

Who knows whether this one will go anywhere, it's not gotten off to the most auspicious of starts but who knows, maybe this will be the one. Not the big one that makes me famous, but the one I actually finish.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Eye eye

So I've been procrastinating again. Last week I watched a brilliant documentary presented by the legend that is Sir David Attenborough, it was about Darwin and the "Tree of Life". Now obviously Darwin crystallised the idea that we now think of as the theory of evolution, but one of the prime arguments against that theory is the eye.

The eye is an incredibly complex organ and if just one thing is slightly wrong then it just won't work. Anti-evolutionists argue that this is evidence that the eye was designed and put onto Earth in its current form rather than evolving. Attenborough however showed several intermediary stages that could actually have led to the evolution of the eye and some creatures that are alive today that still exhibit these "primordial eyes". At the end of the segment there was a quick montage of eyes in the animal kingdom. Only about four different eyes, I can't remember which ones (the red eyed tree frog was definitely in there) and it was a beautifully done piece.

Basically it reminded me of the beauty of eyes, it's something I've always been amazed by since I was very small. The changes in colour, shape, pattern. In the human eye alone these are remarkable, but take in the whole animal kingdom and its terrific.

So below I've created a collage of photos of eyes, there are sharks, eagles, lions, cats, frogs, geckos, humans and so many more. Hope you like it. I'm going to get it printed and put it on my wall. Lovely.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Behold! I procrastinate anew

Hi all, today I unveiled my latest method of procrastination which is in fact an old form given rebirth. I have once again taken to lifting my paint brush. My first real focus for this new way of avoiding doing anything official was to pain Kate's 21st Birthday present - a picture of the stunning view from her old room in our old house - it took longer than I thought it would as it's been five years since I last did a watercolour, however today I mounted and framed the painting and presented it as a late birthday gift.

For those of you who don't have the honour of owning the original, a photograph is shown here:-

I plan to begin a campaign of regular paintings mostly for procrastination, self enjoyment and decoration.

Whilst I hold no pretensions to greatness (I recognise my skill is mediocre at best and certainly below many of my artistically talented friends) I'm looking forward to honing a new skill, or rather to brushing up on an old one. (pardon the pun).

I'd appreciate you're opinions on my first official piece...