Saturday, 19 November 2011

Twiathlon - From Twilight to Breaking Dawn Part 1 - My Thoughts

On Thursday night I took part in the first ever Twiathlon. A series of screenings, running worldwide in the lead up to the release of the penultimate film in the Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 1- the preceding 3 films were screened back to back before we got to see the new movie at midnight.

Writing as someone who enjoyed the first three books - utterly hating Breaking Dawn for reasons I will get into later - and having a some what mild opinion of the films to date, I decided that the best way to see the new movie was to do it with real fans, the kind of people who would sit for 10 hours straight and watch the quadrilogy unfold.

I did this for two reasons: firstly, that I wanted to see exactly how the “Twi-hard” fan base would react to the films, rather than simply how I myself reacted to them, and secondly because if I was going to sit through Breaking Dawn, knowing what I knew of the story, I wanted to at least have some enjoyment first, and the first few films are nothing if not harmless fun.

So, at 4:30, I sat down in a packed cinema, fangirls (and maybe like 4 or 5 other guys dotted around) surrounding me, and the lights dimmed for the first film.

My impressions, as they have always been, were that the first is by far the weakest Twilight film to date. Kristin Stewart just feels wooden and soul-less, and Robert Pattinson is a shadow of the actor he can be when he performs at his best - if you compare this performance to say Remember Me, or even to a lesser extent the third Twilight: Eclipse, this performance leaves an awful lot to be required, and its because of this that the film just doesn’t really work for me.

For the fans though, this was clearly a return to a world where they feel at home. From the cheers and woops as Edward first appears to the loving sighs which accompany Jacob’s first appearances, this first film definitely felt like it got the most reaction from the fans throughout the evening, and it’s clear that for people invested heavily in this narrative, this is the true cornerstone of the text.

In the break which followed Twilight before New Moon got underway, I caught the tail end of a conversation taking place behind me, between one of the fans and her boyfriend, explaining the scene in Breaking Dawn in which Edward (and it pains me to say this, as its just revolting) eats the baby out of Bella’s womb.

The guy straight up refused to believe that such a thing could happen in what is of course a 12A film, and said she should stop making stuff up. Of course as it turns out: she wasn’t. But again: more on that later.

As far as New Moon goes, I had in fact forgotten quite how much I like the film. After the rather awful R-Patz showing in the first film, he was blissfully missing from much of this second outing, and the relationship which grows between Jacob (who is the far more interesting of the two lead male characters), and Bella is heartwarming and well judged - even if we know it can never last.
Again, maybe it was simply that I was with an audience who were rapt throughout, but it just felt impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere, and get drawn into the story in a way which I can say I’ve never experienced watching a Twilight movie before.

It is also the film which first introduces us to the Volturi, and to Jane, the slightly psychotic and entirely sadistic vampire who can bring pain to anyone just by thinking it. While they are sorely underused later in the series, the sequences towards the end of New Moon in Voltera are some of the very best the series has to offer to date.

Next up it was the turn of Eclipse. Both my favourite book and favourite movie (indeed the only one I saw more than once in the cinema), in the franchise, we finally see the love triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward come to a head.

Intertwined around this is a well written, and frankly very dark given the nature of the story subplot about an army of new born vampires, some scenes from which genuinely look like they have come right out of a real horror film, rather than a teen-lit love story.

David Slade - who has dealt with vampires before on 30 Days of Night - has found a great mix of the two stories to bring out what is actually a very good movie indeed, and one which seems almost out of place in the franchise as a whole: it is simply in a league of its own in comparison to the two movies which have come before it.

Finally, as the clock struck 12, and to tremendous cheers and applause, the lights dim a final time and the reason we’re all here finally makes it’s way onto the screen, as Breaking Dawn Part 1 gets underway.

Now, it is important before I talk in detail about the film to explain my prejudices against the movie based on my reading of the novel.

This is a book which includes, in no particular order: violent sex; paedophilia - as well as the character assassination of one of the best characters in the series - ; a baby being EATEN out of it’s mother’s womb after the baby breaks its mother legs and back and nearly kills her; a pregnant 18year old girl having to drink blood so as not to waste away and die ; among countless other abhorrent, and frankly disgusting things.

These are things which, in my mind, do not belong in a book aimed at young teenage girls. This is a book which features things which would not feel out of place in an 18 rated horror film, and things which are in no way suitable for the younger audience at which Stephenie Meyer aimed her novel.

So the question is: with all of these ingredients involved: how can a film get through with only a 12A rating, and even if it could: can the film possibly be any better than the frankly horrific book?

In a word: Yes. Yes it can be better than the book The style and the way it deals with a lot of these frankly impossible and even ridiculous instances is at times flawed, but Breaking Dawn Part 1 is, as an adaptation of THAT BOOK, turning that book into a film suitable for 12 year olds, is far from terrible.

Kristin Stewart stands at the heart of the piece this time around, really taking control of the screen, and in every scene she’s in - from the wedding, to a heartbreaking sequence where, as she wastes away into nothingness, she looks at herself in a mirror, realising how much weight she is losing, and yet remains resolved to carry the baby to term - you cannot help but feel like she is in the driving seat.

Up until this point in the franchise she has always felt like the weak link, held up by Lautner and Pattinson, but here she actually holds her own impressively.

There have been a lot of really terrible reviews of this first film, and to a large extent I’d say they are pretty unfounded. It is probably actually the best of the films to date - except possibly for Eclipse - and while certainly in it’s second half procedings do enter the borderline insane territory, it should be remembered that what we’re watching is a Vampire film, and by definition therefore a horror film.

The horror elements shining through seem to fit so much better here than they ever did in the book, where the series was squarely a romance until this final chapter: the films have dealt with the horror roots much earlier, and have built more naturaly to a point where some of these sequences fit. It feels as though the films found the balance that the book could not, by bringing these subtle horror vibes throughout, while not sacrificing Bella and Edwards love story.

Indeed when Edward finally eats the baby out of Bella’s womb as she seemingly flatlines on the table, it is actually stylistically very well handled, showing you just enough to know what you’re seeing, but not too much as for it to be as graphic or as blatant as it felt reading the book.

That is not to say it is a perfect film. Jacob imprinting on Renesmee still standing out for me as the one sequence in the whole series which really is beyond disgusting and was handled with as little dignity here as it was in the original text (although I’m sure we’ll see more as that subplot evolves in Part Two.)

Jacob has - as I have alluded to - always been one of my favourite characters in the series - and the idea that Meyer could find no better way to finally close of the love triangle once and for all than to fob Jacob off ON BELLA’S DAUGHTER is painful to watch, as the creepy paedophilic undertones of it all just wash over you as you view it. Infact I am getting the shudders just thinking about it.... *ugh*

All in all though, Breaking Dawn Part One is, as far as an adaptation of what I would have deemed to be an unfilmable novel goes, surprisingly entertaining. It combined all the elements of the series into the just the right melting pot, and while there are certain elements I still wish they could change, the film is nothing like the train wreck it could so easily have been.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

A Complaint Letter to the BBC Regarding Doctor Who Confidential's Cancellation

The text which follows the image is the text of a complaint message I just sent in to the BBC's Complaints page, surrounding the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential, the behind the scenes companion show to Doctor Who, which the Beeb announced it was axing because of "budget issues". As you can imagine: I'm not very happy.

This is a formal complaint surrounding the frankly disgusting decision made in the last few days to cancel Doctor Who Confidential. The show, as you are no doubt aware, has been the perfect companion show to Doctor Who for many years now, consistently rating well, and being loved by Who fans of all ages for many different reasons.

Some simply like getting a wider, more insightful view onto one of the shows they love, while others - myself included - take great inspiration, as aspiring film makers, to see behind the scenes on one of Britain's biggest shows, and see how the pro's do it.

With the Script to Screen competition on Series 6 this year, DWC promoted script writing to primary school children, and in doing so may well have completely inspired a whole new generation of people to discover the craft. The winners were given tours of the sets, as well as getting to be on set while their mini-episode was recorded and transmitted around the country. This must be the sort of confidence booster many children can only dream of. If that is something the BBC does not see to be important, then frankly shame on you!!

You claim the show is being axed because of budget difficulties, but ultimately it is clear you spend more on countless dross reality shows - World's Strictest Parents etc, sending people around the globe, than on what is effectively a small documentary crew over at Confidential. Before you cancel shows which are doing some real good in the world, stop and think about that!!

If this weeks episode really was the final episode of Doctor Who Confidential, then it was a fitting goodbye, sending the show out on a high note, and truly showing the BBC why they were wrong to cancel it, but I honestly hope that in the off-season you see the error of your ways and reinstate it.

Especially gearing towards 2013 and the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, surely you should be investing strongly in the show towards the celebration, not pulling back on it!!!

I hope you change your minds.
James Gordon

If you, like me, are incensed about the cancellation of this brilliant show, let the BBC know! You can sign the Save Doctor Who Confidential petition by clicking here, or you can send the BBC a complaint, like I did by clicking here. Campaigns like this have worked before, like in the case of 6Music, so we cannot give up - if enough people get behind this show, there may be a chance yet!!!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Magic Quill

For years, fans of the Harry Potter novels have hungered for more, longing for Jo Rowling to give them just an ounce more information about the Wizarding World, about Harry, and about what we never learned in the seven books.

Well now, finally, that chance has come in the form of Pottermore. Billed as an “interactive experience built around the books” fans have been promised no less than 18000 new words from Jo Rowling herself, at launch alone, with plenty more to follow as the website explores the rest of the books (only Philosophers Stone will be on show on release).

Mixing the books themselves with amazing new artwork, mini games and information galore, Pottermore sounds like everything I and many others have longed for.

While the site won't go live to the world until October, a select few (1million to be exact) will be granted exclusive beta access to the experience, allowing them to see what Pottermore has to offer.

I am one of those lucky million.

The selection process seemed easy enough: solve a clue related to the Harry Potter books, turn that answer into a hyperlink, and then find “The Magic Quill”.

To hardcore fans the quill isn't a massively new idea. Jo herself referenced years ago in an interview as noting down the names of magical babies being born so that Professor McGonagall would know who to send Hogwarts letters to on their 11th birthday.

So, on July 31 I awoke early, logged on to Skype with a few of my fandom friends and waited. None of us knew exactly what form the clue would take, but we had been given the rather cryptic idea that “Diagon Alley would be a good place to start.”

Now of course, we all over thought it. To us, entering Diagon Alley meant pressing just the right bricks on the wall. We were clicking bricks on the Pottermore homepage, horrified when we found we could zoom the page out revealing more bricks we had not yet seen – throwing the combination off.

But, just before 9am BST, it appeared all the clicking was for nought. Someone in our skype chat exploded “ITS UP! REFRESH!” and, sure enough, the scroll in the middle of the page changed from a simple message explaining the Magic Quill challenge, to the clue itself.

“How many breeds of owls were offered on the Eeylops Owl Emporium sign, then multiply this number by 49.”

There I hit a problem. I'd known the clue would be numerical, but had hoped it would be easier, as my Potter books are unfortunately still in storage as I'm in the process of moving.

I quickly headed to the HP Lexicon online, searched Diagon Alley and found relatively quickly there were 5 types of owl. 5 times 49 equalled 245, and in seconds I was entering in my browser.

There, to my great glee, was a group of quills floating on the Sony website (one of Pottermore's partner sites). One of them was glowing, and I clicked it, redirected to the Pottermore registration page to “begin my journey.”

A short reg process later, and a book (the magic quill's book), appeared with my name along side those of Harry and his friends.

I was magical.

I verified my email, logged in, and was greeted with a message congratulate me on being one of the lucky few to shape the experience before its official launch.

That was 4 days ago, and the process has now taken place 5 times out of the allotted 7. Each day at a different time a new clue has appeared, and taken those quick enough to solve it to a different partner site (from The Guardian's announcement article about Pottermore, to the HP page on Scholastic's website), where they could find a magic quill of their own.

With only 2 more opportunities to enter the beta before registration is shut down, its clear that the next 2 days will see huge levels of traffic heading towards Pottermore, as those who have missed out throughout the week endeavour to get on board.

If you want my advice as regards getting in, go to as soon as you wake up each day. Over the past few days they have posted a timeframe of about 3-4 hours when the quill will appear. It won't be there the entirety of that time, but it sure helps narrowing down the window for refreshing, so if they give a timeframe, it sure helps.

During that time, where possible (obviously people are busy so it won't always be the case), I'd suggest refreshing the page every 15minutes or so. The amount of spaces available each day have never yet filled up any quicker than 30minutes, so if you're checking regularly there should be no problem

Have Half Blood Prince to hand tomorrow, and Deathly Hallows to hand on Saturday, as well as a search engine just for good luck.

Pottermore have openly stated that the clues are designed to get easier to solve each day (indeed the last two really shouldn't require even a fairweather fan to even look up the answer), but its always helpful to have these supplies to hand.

As soon as you have your answer, and have multiplied by the appropriate number as given by the clue, put that total on the end of and you will be directed to find your quill. More often than not it's in an ad around the page, but it should be relatively obvious where (it will be the same pinky purple background as the Pottermore logo, and will have a quill on it.)

Click the quill, register with your email address (its important you can log in to the accout in question as you'll need to validate it). As soon as you get the confirmation (usually sent out within minutes, but it has been known to take several hours in extreme cases) just validate it, and you're in.

You should then be given a congratulatory message upon logging in.

I wish everyone good luck, and hope everyone who wishes to be gets the chance to be “magical.”

See you on Pottermore

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Casey Anthony - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Yesterday saw the end of one of the most highly publicised US trials in years. The trial of Casey Anthony, who was accused – and then shockingly acquitted – of drugging and murdering her two year old daughter Caylee.

The reason: reasonable doubt. To find someone guilty of murder in the first degree (or any other charge for that matter), it must be proved “beyond any reasonable level of doubt” that the person is guilty.

The prosecution put forward a version of events which (while it convinced the majority of Americans of Casey's complete guilt) was full of holes and circumstantial evidence which the jury of 12 men and women simply could not overcome.

For those of you who do not know the story, Caylee Anthony went missing in June 2008. For more than a month, her mother Casey spun a web of lies when family members and others asked to see her.

She claimed that Caylee was with her Nanny, a woman called Zenaida Fernandez, who lived in her building. It later transpired that Zenaida had never had any interaction with either Casey or Caylee.

During this time Casey Anthony was seen partying, drinking and getting tattoos with her boyfriend.

Eventually, more than 31 days after she had last seen Caylee, the young girl's grandmother reported her missing to the police.

Around the same time, George Anthony (Casey's father) received a letter stating his daughters car had been towed, and when he went to pick it up, both he and the impound attendant said there was a strong smell coming from the car's boot. Both later testified in court that the smell was that of a decomposing human body, although when they checked the boot it was empty.

During the six months between Caylee being reported missing, and the eventual discovery of her skeleton on December 11th 2008 – just over a mile from the family home in Orlando Florida - Casey Anthony lied over and over to police, about a job she was supposedly keeping (which she had actually been fired from years earlier), to the fake nanny who she said must have “kidnapped” Caylee.

Searches of Anthony's computers discovered that she had googled “how to make chloroform”, as well as “death”, and traces of chloroform, as well as strands of Caylee's hair, were found in the boot of the car.

With the web of lies falling down around her, Casey Anthony was charged with Caylee's murder.

The story, of a mother killing her two year old was snapped up by the US media, and for the past several years, various talkshows and news outlets have given the story extensive coverage, turning the murder trial into a huge national event, and giving the public what they like the most: a villain

Despite most of the evidence seeming to point in her direction, by the time the trial rolled around, after 4weeks, and more than 400 pieces of evidence, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murder in the first degree, manslaughter and child abuse.

It came down to a battle of two opposing arguments. The prosecution wanted us to believe in Casey as a woman who would rather see her daughter dead than interrupt her party lifestyle with such trivialities as motherhood.

The defence though painted a different story. They said that Caylee had fallen in the pool at George Anthony's house, and drowned accidentally. The missing 31 days they say, can be explained by the entire Anthony family trying to cover up the death by acting as though it was business as usual.

They claimed the chloroform searches had actually been made by Cindy Anthony (Casey's mother), purely for research purposes, and even found an expert who would testify that it was impossible to tell whether the odour from the car was that of human decomposition, as several other things could have let off a similar smell.

Neither argument was concrete, and although the prevailing attitude was that Casey had almost certainly killed her daughter – she was too calm, too uncaring about the fact her daughter was missing – it simply could not be proven.

Casey Anthony may have killed Caylee, we will never know, but one thing is for sure: there will be plenty of people around America in the next few weeks who will believe wholeheartedly that a murderer has walked free.

It is because 12 men and women decided that they could not without any doubt convict her that she will walk out of the Orange County courthouse tomorrow. Making what was well and truly a life and death decision (Anthony faced the death penalty if the three main charges had come back guilty), this was a huge test of the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” means, and what effect this will have on future trials.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Doctor Who - A Good Man Goes To War

If you're little blue diary isn't up to Doctor Who 6x07: A Good Man Goes to War, turn away now. Spoilers!

Well that’s that then. Until the autumn, and “Let’s Kill Hitler”, Doctor Who has left our screens with an episode of epic proportions.

Calling in the help of his “debtors” – those who he has left to live – The Doctor heads to Demon’s Run to fight Madame Kovarian and the Headless Monks.

This means the welcome return of the Silurians, the big blue black market trader who’s name escapes me, and the Sontarans. To see all of these return gives the episode the same kind of feeling of grandeur that The Pandorica Opens had last year.

Equally special was the return of Rory the Roman to our screens. Kicking some Cybermen’s butt, before failing to recruit River to the Doctor’s army, the last centurion shows off just how important he has become to the show, and to the arc of the series as a whole.

It is touching seeing him tear up as he holds Melody, and as he leads the final stand you can see how far he has come from the wimpy nerd he began as at the start of season 5. Arthur Darvill is a truly fantastic actor, who I’m sure will go far in the world of television or film – wherever he ends up when he is eventually done with Rory

When a good man goes to war, the biggest reveal of the season can’t be far behind. Finally the reveal of Professor River Song’s true identity as Melody Pond came forward as the stand out scene in what has been a great run of episodes recently in Doctor Who.

It was perhaps not the best kept secret in the world – there were certainly several key theories as to her true guise, and this was one of the more prominent – but it was remarkably well handled nonetheless.

Tying up the “the only water in the forest is the River” prophecy that Idris gave in The Doctor’s Wife, Moffat’s writing team once again prove just how good they are at stringing along tiny little fragments of a line and turning them into something huge and important and dramatic.

The one big question that grasps me having watched the episode: How will Amy and Rory react when they find out that River’s mind is trapped in the Library’s servers, and that to all extents and purposes the Doctor watched their daughter die?

Will the Doctor go straight there and find a way to release her, knowing that even if the body is dead it may regenerate? Or will the Doctor instead go in search of Kovarian and Baby Melody?

The fact we have to wait for the autumn for new episodes is crazy, because with the grand cliff hanger finally revealed the wait will surely be torturous. I think it may well be time to go to the TARDIS Graveyard, build a TARDIS of our own and skip forward a few months to see how this all continues. I really cannot wait!!!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Album Review: Lady Gaga - Born This Way

2011’s most highly anticipated album is finally here, as Lady Gaga returns with her latest offering: Born This Way. But can it possibly live up to the hype? I set about finding out.

From the very beginning of opener Marry the Night, Gaga’s signature is all over this album. Utilising the blinding pop hooks which made her first album so great, this takes it a step further. This album shows a definite evolution since The Fame Monster.

It’s clear this album had big shoes to fill, and songs like the dark and brutal Government Hooker drive the album to new and exciting places. The song relies highly on Gaga’s superb vocal ability, not only in the form of her singing voice, but her ability to make everything sound like theatre – and that’s what the Lady Gaga phenomenon is all about: pantomime and performance.

It’s clear that when this album was being written and produced, this was the key. Gaga was going to sing the hell out every track given to her, and each track would have a quirky way of making it unique. From the guitar riffs at the start of Bad Kids, to the echoing, screeching German chanting at the top of Scheibe, this “uniqueness” factor bears out throughout, and it really seems to work.

The real stand out is Americano. Part pop record, part fiddle driven latino explosion, this is probably the best song on the album, and it really shows a very different side to what we’ve been used to up to this point (perhaps unsurprising that Gaga would go out on a limb to do something completely unexpected.

Unfortunately, it’s the singles which ultimately bring the album down. It feels weird – usually of course it is the singles which are practically the only tracks worth hearing, but this time songs like Born this Way (and especially the frankly dull and uninspiring Hair) just don’t stand up to the rest of the album.

They feel generic, and like anyone in the world could be singing them – they don’t fit into the Gaga repertoire, and it’s a real shame because every time you’re almost getting into the album, one of these songs comes along, and brings the whole tone down.

Does this album live up to everything that will no doubt be said about it then? Probably not. Of the 17 tracks, there are plenty of great new tunes, but it really doesn’t seem to flow as an album in the way Fame Monster did, and it’s because of this it is unlikely to ever become a true classic in the same way. Interestingly, with the four singles taken out it seems to work better, but perhaps that’s just a personal observation.

What Gaga has managed though is to build a collection of decent – and in some cases fantastic – pop sounds, building on plenty of different styles and influences to find a sound which feels new and fresh. There is no sense of a difficult second album here, and this is an album which is sure to be played on repeat by Gaga’s legions of fanatics for some time to come. Which I suppose is the point

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Doctor Who - The Doctor's Wife


So: Neil Gaiman wrote an episode of Doctor Who. Even writing those words is fantastic. Yet the episode itself was something else entirely.

Fantastic is a word which does not begin to sum up my feelings for it. It was spellbinding, beautiful, completely and unreservedly fantastic, and just genuinely one of the finest episodes of New Who ever (dare I say it beats Blink for all-time best? It needs a second viewing to be sure, but its damn close)

The premise is frankly fantastic: what if The Doctor met the TARDIS? What if “she” was a real she?

Enter Suranne Jones as Idris, the “mad bitey lady”, who is infact inhabiting the soul of the TARDIS. A tardis called Sexy.

While there was a lot to love about the episode, the relationship between Idris and the Doctor was what will make it an instant classic. From the scenes in the cage, where we learn of their very first exchange – The Doctor stroking the console and calling it beautiful – to the scenes in the TARDIS graveyard, their interaction is simply sublime. It is clear that they are as close to husband and wife as any two beings ever were.

When we hear Idris speak of her plan to find a Timelord and explore the universe, we finally hear the other side of the story – up until now we’ve always assumed, as the Doctor has, that it was the other way around, and the idea of the sentience of the TARDIS stretching to this great a depth is one we’ve never really explored up until this point.

The fact that they have never been able to talk to eachother until now is tragic, but the final resolution – as Idris speaks of her happiness at having even a few hours with her Doctor, it was enough to send chills down my spine.

Away from this, it was also brilliant to finally see a part of the TARDIS which isn’t the central control room. As Amy and Rory are forced to run for their lives around the seemingly never ending tunnel systems, the colour scheme immediately recalls several of the TARDIS’ of classic Who, and the sight of the pair walking on to Nine and Ten’s flight deck was enough to make me literally squee outloud.

Michael Sheen’s villainous, bodiless House was a particularly scary villain, in that you really felt he could have killed our heroes at any time, and that he was really just playing with them - toying with the mice running around his little maze before finally finishing them off.

From the mind of Neil Gaiman has come one of the Doctor’s greatest adventures, and it’s so clear that he’s a huge fan – the way he’s built this story comes from a place where every fanboy in the world can surely relate. My only question: when can we get Gaiman back? Because we need more episodes like this!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Review: The Last Little Blue Envelope

WARNING: The following review includes spoilers for 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

Title: The Last Little Blue Envelope

Author: Maureen Johnson

Published by: Harper Teen

When last we met Ginny Blackstone - at the end of 13 Little Blue Envelopes - she had just made more than a hundred thousand pounds selling her Aunt Peg’s artwork, and was heading back to America , never discovering the contents of the last envelope.

Well now, as Maureen Johnson finally returns to Ginny, it’s time to find out exactly what the last clue said.

Feeling lost, bored and alone at home in America, Ginny receives an email which will change her life (once again) forever. A young man called Oliver has found the last envelope. There are more instructions, and they must search out a second piece of art, bringing Keith – and his new girlfriend Ellis – along for the ride.

From the very start the reader is plunged right back into the adventure that the first novel held within it, and with the almost immediate twist that Keith is suddenly quite so entirely with Ginny as you’d expect, the entire dynamic of this book evolves from its predecessor.

In the void we find Oliver. A smart, but seemingly malevolent man, who you want to dislike, and yet (as Ginny herself finds as the book goes on) you simply struggle to do so. He never actually lies to her, and while his motives remain unclear for the most part, it is clear Ginny is never actually in any danger around him.

Most interesting is the continued interaction between Ginny and the envelopes themselves, and through them with her Aunt Peg. In a crucial scene towards the end of the novel, you truly feel like Peg is stood beside Ginny, and that they have shared this wild adventure together.

Maureen Johnson proves once again - as is so often the case with the best YA writers – that just because this novel will be found in the YA section of your local book store, it can deal with some properly adult themes. The way the novel deals with death, and with Peg’s cancer stricken and deluded sense of being towards the end of her life, is to be commended.

At the same time it should be said that while this book is marketed primarily at a female market , this book (unlike its predecessor which played up the romance), feels much more like an adventure novel than a piece of “chick-lit” (a phrase I rather abhor anyway as a male who enjoys this kind of book).

LLBE should genuinely appeal to anyone who enjoys fun, well written characters and witty and at times even zany situations (when you read about the Cat Palace you’ll understand what I mean by zany).

While this is – seemingly – the end of Ginny’s story, I for one cannot wait to see what Johnson has in store for her readers next. If she can make me care even half this much about her next collection of characters, she’ll be doing astoundingly well.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Doctor Who - Day of the Moon

As River Song would say: SPOILERS!!!

Oh what a difference a week makes. After what felt like a messy, even rather….mistimed… first episode, this time it was just infinitely better right out of the gate.

From the thrilling chase between Canton Everett Delaware the Evil (or you know….not….) and the Doctor’s most faithful companions, we are sent on an all-out thrill ride through the good ‘ole US of A.

There is so much to talk about in this episode, and despite a whole host of answers, we are met once again with 100 new questions – Is Amy really about to give birth to a timelord? When will Silence fall? Who is the newest regenerating addition to the show?

But before I can talk about any of that, there is one thing that really needs saying: The Silence are literally the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Bar none. Truly terrifying conceptually, and the idea that it could actually be happening is just literally beyond scary. After last weeks introduction to them, this week it was genuinely taken to the next level, and the scenes inside the children’s home were completely and utterly horrifying.

Ok. That’s out of my system. Moving swiftly on.

Umm: Amy is pregnant….but not pregnant….but pregnant…. Umm….what? My guess: the timelord baby inside her only has one heart working right now, which is why the TARDIS is confused. It can sense two and one isn’t beating so the pregnancy scanner is completely confuzzled. That still doesn’t answer how Amy is going to become impregnated with a Time Lord baby, but sorry: I honestly have no answers on that one…. We’ll just have to wait and see what Mr Moffat has in store.

One of the best things about this episode – as indeed with last weeks although I failed to mention them in my frustration with everything else – were the performances of Mark Sheppard and Stuart Milligan as Canton and Nixon respectively. Every time either of them spoke, or even appeared on screen, it was a delight, and Nixon genuinely got many of the biggest laughs in this episode (“He broke into Apollo 11 Mr President.” “Oh…well….I’m sure he had a good reason…..”)

A lot of people across the Interwebs have become very bored with River Song as a character, but must say I’ve stood by her up until this point, and: but for last weeks minor discretion, it was a true return to form this week, kicking butt and taking names. I can’t wait to finally find out who she is, and exactly who she killed – my money is still on her being in the Space Suit on the beach rather than the little girl, but we’ll see.

And now, just incase you thought I’d forgotten it, it’s time for the elephant in the room: The little girl regenerated. She fucking regenerated. Excuse my French, but that is actually the extremity of the confusion and befuddlement which befell me at the moment that girl’s hands began to glow.

Again, I have no answers, and honestly at this stage no theories even as to who she is, and how there can possibly be another Time Lord, but I’m certain that she will continue to appear throughout Season 6 until we finally get answers. . At least now we know why the Silence needed to keep her alive. River told us that whole species would rip planets apart for one cell of a dead Time Lords’ body. What would they do for a live one?

Having completely assuaged any doubts that episode one left that this season might not live up to expectations, one can only hope the rest of the season will meet these standards.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Doctor Who - The Impossible Astronaut

Its Easter weekend, and finally we’re back on the TARDIS. And the series got going with an almighty bang – literally.

Someone will die in Episode One. That is the message Doctor Who magazine, and various press outlets, have been running with over the last few weeks, with confirmation that either: The Doctor, Rory, Amy or River Song would meet their maker before the first 45minutes was up.

So when, within the first few minutes, an Astronaut rises from a lake to shoot a future incarnation of the Doctor dead, I have to say I was hardly surprised or shocked – indeed it seemed the only logical explanation (Rory and Amy weren’t going anywhere, and we know how River dies)

As this was undoubtedly the best scene in the episode, the fact it wasn’t nearly as shocking as it should have been perhaps detracted from the overall feel of this season opener, which I can’t deny I found to be lacking a certain something.

“The Silence”, the long awaited villain who Stephen Moffat trailed towards the end of Season 5, was genuinely scary – the idea of instantly forgetting them as you turn away is terrifying because it means you can never run away from them. They’re like The Weeping Angels, except creepy looking too.

This notwithstanding though, otherwise this episode seemed simply overlong, and over complicated in and of itself.

Amy’s anguish over the Doctor’s death would not lead her to become a killer, and even the idea that she reached for the gun seems like a complete character assassination. It also felt weird that after not telling him up to this point she suddenly felt the need to reveal her pregnancy. It just felt like Moffat needed a place to throw this line in, and this was the only place it fit. In the build up to the final cliffhanger this just seemed like an odd, and completely jarring revelation, and could just have done without it.

We also saw a weak, vulnerable side to River Song that we’ve never seen before – worried about how they are slowly growing in the wrong direction. As interested as I have always been in her character, I don’t want to see her develop into this whiny, touchy feely person. I want to find out who she is, and who she killed (My money is actually on her being the astronaut in the lake and not the girl – “I know it’s you, and it’s ok” – but I hope Stephen proves me wrong with that, as it’s just too damn obvious)

Honestly, I hope that come next week, as we see the end of this 2 parter, I am able to look back on the story in it’s entirety and find myself happier overall, because currently this just felt like a very flimsy first act, and not really the way I wanted to get underway.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Album Review: Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

A lot of bands struggle to sound fresh and original by even their second album – the Foo Fighters have managed it here on their seventh.

From the face-bending guitar and drum crescendo which begins opener Bridge Burning, Dave Grohl and co. take you on an eleven track musical journey, through everything from heavy rock and roll sounds to more melodic almost vocal led songs, and it’s just superb.

Bridge Burning itself is great in as much as it really sets the tone for the album - this is no holds barred, and this is a record where the band are just going to play in the way they want to play - recording the entire album on tape in Grohl's garage. Building on everything the band have learnt over the past six albums they have found the perfect mix to bring their sound to the masses.

Of particular note are These Days, and Dear Rosemary. The former feels very different from the rest of the album, and more reminiscent of something like Long Road to Ruin from the last album, Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace , with a soulful tuneful opening before rest of the band really crash in towards the chorus.

Dear Rosemary meanwhile feels like a love letter to a forgotten age. “Rosemary, Please pardon me” begs the vocal, and it’s clear that as the song swing’s into its chorus, this is surely going to be a huge sing a long number as the band heads out to tour the album - the call and response from the legendary vocallist Bob Mould surely to be replaced by 1000's of screaming stadium fans.

The real stand out though is penultimate tune I Should Have Known. A song about every time Grohl has ever looked back in regret, it is almost impossible not to draw comparisons to his ex-Nirvana bandmate Kurt Cobain - although Dave himself insists he only realised the connection after the song was done, and it was by no means his actual inspiration for the song. “No I cannot forgive you yet….but I should have known.” Grohl pines. It’s almost heart breaking listening. and it’s one of the best songs the band has produced in years.

Interestingly the only song I’ve really not gotten into entirely is Rope, the song chosen by the band as the first single. It feels much more rough and ready than the rest of the album, and while I’m sure it’s a grower, I can’t help but feel that something like Bridge Burning would have been the more obvious single.

That being said it’s only a very minor issue, on what is otherwise a real triumph of an album, and, with the help of Nevermind producer Butch Vig, what we have is very probably the Foos best effort since 1997’s The Colour and the Shape.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Rebecca Black - A Sorry State of Affairs

Unless you have spent the last 10days living underground without an internet connection, you will no doubt have heard the furore around the latest internet sensation: Rebecca Black. Her music video: Friday, has amassed a whopping 26million views in no time at all. It’s spawned cover versions, and parodies galore. It has also been referred to as the worst song of all time.

With people on both sides of the argument, vocalising their views, Black has been a TOP FIVE WORLD WIDE trending topic on Twitter for over a week. Overnight this 13 year old nobody has become one of the biggest names on the planet.

I have stayed (relatively) quiet on the matter until now. But I figure it’s time I waded into the debate.

Now: let me preface this by saying: I know full well the lyrics are terrible. And she can’t sing a single note in tune. And the video is kind of dire. I am FULLY aware of every single one of these things.

But Friday is a damn catchy tune nonetheless. This is a song which you genuinely (even if it’s for the wrong reason), cannot get out of your head. And you will find yourself humming it, hours after you see the video.

Can a lack of actual musical talent ever correspond to a properly good record though? Aren’t these mutually exclusive concepts? Just because someone puts a catchy pop beat behind something should not justify it as art, and it’s important that the distinction is made.

We HAVE to remember that Rebecca Black is a talentless, nobody who had fame thrust upon her. How this fame evolves will ultitmately be up to both the record companies, and the public who will buy her music – it’s gone top 100 on iTunes in several countries already. If we want to complain about the state the music industry is in, and that people like this keep cropping up, the way to stop it happening is to STOP BUYING THEIR RECORDS. But for some reason it just doesn’t happen.

Comparisons have been made between Black and the infinitely more talented Justin Bieber – himself discovered on YouTube before being signed to a major label. Do I think she could have that level of success? Not at all. I think she may well be the very definition of a one-hit wonder, and I’m honestly not even sure I’d recommend she puts an album out – it won’t sell, and she’d do better to milk Friday for all it’s worth.

That being said, this is a girl the corporate machine could work with. She’s a cutesie 13 year old, who, if they have to, they can easily auto tune to death to fix the lack of vocal talent. She can have a focus grouped lyric book written out for an album, and I’d be very surprised if it’s not well on the way already – even Simon Cowell has expressed interest in her future.

In this post Bieber world, every record label on the globe is looking for the next big thing. The next big child star they can wrench into the spotlight. I don’t think even they expect to find another kid as talented as Bieber, but they don’t need to, it’s not as if there’s a shortage of half talented 13year olds who want to be singers. – they can milk 10 kids dry in quick succession if they have to, with just one or two songs each.

It’s a depressing state of affairs, and frankly these children deserve better. Black herself doesn’t deserve half the stick she’s getting for Friday – the fact her label allowed it to see the light of day in its current state is not her fault, and they should have done more to protect an innocent 13 year old from this social media frenzy.

Unfortunately, while this stuff still sells, the companies will still make it, and we’ll have a vicious circle forever more. It’s time we made a stand. It’s time we stopped being bewitched by a catchy beat, and took the time to realise what we’re actually doing.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Gleecap: Original Song


Glee was back on top form this week, in an episode that simply has to be celebrated as the week of: "FINALLY!!!!!" From Blaine and Kurt (on which more later), to singing Original Songs, to New Directions smashing past regionals.

The episode opens on the Warblers council, and Kurt finally voicing the thoughts of everyone watching: Blaine, you're a great singer. But give someone else a turn!!!

Blaine agrees (kind of), and so now their sectionals performance will be a duet NOT a solo.

Pavarotti is dead.(the bird, not the tenor. Or...also the tenor...but in this case the bird), and in his funeral garb Kurt rips Blackbird a new one, giving a truly beautiful rendition, while Blaine watches from afar, Darren acting this sequence wonderfully, as finally his feelings for Kurt surface within him.

Else where, New Directions can no longer do MCR at regionals, and need a back up plan fast - the competition is less than a week away. Rachel suggests yet again that the group need their own original songs(after trying her hand with "Only Child", which is nowhere near as entertaining as last weeks "My Hairband"), and this time Quinn and Finn support her. It's settled then: this weeks assignment, 2 kick ass songs. STAT!

We get a song about Sam's mouth (Troutmouth) from Santana, and "Big Bottom Heart" from Puck (singing about Lauren, apologising for his earlier discretions.) While the former is genius on a comedic level, the latter is actually a not bad song, and it appears the team may finally be onto a winning system - but Schu figures it's time they worked together. Glee club is about being at the bottom of the heap. Being a loser. And not caring. And so, Loser Like Me is born.

This almost seems irrelevant though compared to what comes next. Blaine and Kurt finally sit down to have the heart to heart we've awaited ever since we first heard that Ryan Murphy was casting an actor to play Kurt's boyfriend.

Blaine and Kurt kiss. There is honestly nothing more to say other than that it was perfect, and it was understated in just the right way, and that I literally squealed out loud. The significance of this single kiss for television - especially on one of the highest rated shows on the box - is unbelievable, and Chris and Darren should both pat themselves on the back for getting this bang on.

Finally it's time to return to Regionals. The place New Directions lost out last time. And the first question on my mind (as it has kind of been all season:) WHERE ARE VOCAL ADRENALINE?!?!? Sue gave them one last chance last year to come back and kick VA's ass, and now VA haven't even turned up? It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it just didn't sit right with me at all.

Sue's Aural Intensity pander to the judges with a dull and uninspiring tune, while Blaine and Kurt's duet is great. It's not as good as Baby It's Cold Outside earlier in the season it must be said, but it's fine. They finish with Pink's Raise Your Glass, and in true Warbler fashion, it feels like an event. Its undeniably great.

But on this night only New Directions could take it.

Starting first with Rachel's song (written after a heart to heart with Quinn where she realises Finn can never be hers). It's called Get It Right, and she informs Finn as she walks out "Listen closely. You just might learn something." It's a great pop-ballad, but realistically: this is the opening act for what is to come.

Loser Like Me is an ANTHEM. I know that was the brief, but seriously: they hit it bang on the head. The song could practically be the theme song for the show if it had a proper titles sequence. It's literally brilliant, and even while it's going the Warblers (or Kurt and Blaine at least) admit defeat and cheer for their friends.

New Directions win, Sue punches the judge (like, a proper full on punch out), and Blaine and Kurt walk off into the sunset holding hands, although confirming we'll see them again soon. ("The competition season may be over, but there are plenty of Gap's round here)

I've seen this episode twice now, and ever since the first time I haven't stopped grinning. I am so happy about literally everything that happened in this episode that I pretty genuinely feel it might have been the best episode of the show to date (or certainly the best of the season.)

And now, finally: Nationals await. Will we meet back with Vocal Adrenaline by then? Who knows. But one thing's for sure: I cannot wait to see what they throw at us next.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Being Human - The Wolf Shaped Bullet

The following post includes spoilers for the entirety of the third season of Being Human, including last night’s finale here in the UK. If you’re behind on the show up to that point, look away now.

Season 3 of Being Human reached an almighty, earth shattering climax last night, as both Herrick and Mitchell both finally met their end.

As the season finale opened, we pick up almost exactly where we left off last week. Nina is critical, Mitchell is in jail, and a newly reborn Herrick is on the brink of world domination.

It’s not long before he frees Mitchell from prison, only to throw him into the wolf cage along with a confused and disoriented George. Lia’s prophecy then is finally going to come true. The wolf and the vampire must fight.

Or so it seems. Annie ventures to the other side to seek out Lia, and find out once and for all what the prophecy means. “I made it up.” Laughs Lia. “This was never a game, it’s revenge. That man killed me, and he has to pay – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is a wolf shaped bullet, and Mitchell carved his own name on it.”

Lacey Turner is a great actress, and she’s the perfect Lia. Growing beyond the character of Stacey Slater, and completely embodying this broken, torn apart young girl, she is believable, and even haunting in her portrayal. You can see that it is hurting her just as much as it is pleasing her, and so when she finally makes the right decision, you completely buy into it.

From here it was a non-stop thrill ride to the end, as Mitchell and George face off, only to be freed by fellow werewolf Tom, forcing Mitchell and Herrick to flee.

In one of the finest scenes in the entire history of the show, Mitchell and Herrick sit, overlooking a bay, talking about their differences. Talking about Herrick’s plans for domination, as Mitchell slowly realises that his rightful place is not at Herrick’s side. He finally hears the secret – “If George had staked me, I’d be dead. I was actually pretty lucky that he just ripped my head off” – before telling Herrick not to go on. It’s not about saving himself anymore, it’s about knowing how NOT to save himself. He puts the stake through Herrick, and then begins the slow march to his own destruction, returning to Barry Island, and to the B+B.

Mitchell stands, facing the three people he has betrayed, begging George to finish it. Begging George to save his own soul by disowning Mitchell once and for all.

Aidan Turner and Russell Tovey make this scene just as tough to view as you’d hope it would be. It is literally breaking both men to say these words, to completely despise the other enough to do what must be done. Finally though, after much crying, and a final kiss between Annie and Mitchell, it is time for George to take stake in hand, and finish the job.

It wouldn’t be a television series finale though without a cliffhanger, and if George killed Mitchell straight off, we wouldn’t have got it.

Setting up next season (which was officially announced this morning), we meet Wyndham, one of “The Old Ones”, the vampire troupe we have heard alluded to before now, but whom we’ve never seen. It’s clear Wyndham and his crew will be the new big bad for season 4, and to see them introduced now lets us anticipate for an entire year what may be coming next.

It’s clear Mitchell is terrified of Wyndham, and terrified of what he would have to do if he were to join him, so the complete relief as George finally fulfils his destiny, and ends Mitchells life is palpable.

The final shot of Aidan’s face, looking at Russell with such longing, such complete friendship and devotion, is a testament to this show.

Turner will be sorely missed, but he goes leaving a grand legacy behind him, and a trio of actors in Tovey, Crechlow and Keenan who can more than fill the void. I for one cannot wait to see how the group dynamic will evolve, as we see Annie and George especially having lost the most important person in the world to both of them. It will give the show a new breath of life, and completely change the way these characters interact with eachother, and for a show to do that 3 seasons in - accept that such a huge change can happen and come back from it - is astounding.

With werewolf babies, Old Ones, and god knows what else to come next year, Being Human is still firmly holding its crown as one of Britain’s very best shows in such a long time.

Nintendo 3DS - Hands On

Like many gamers, I have been avidly awaiting the release of the Nintendo 3DS, the first gaming platform to boast a full 3D experience without glasses.

You will imagine my joy then as I found a full, hands-on testing centre erected in Nottingham's Old Market Square, allowing the public the opportunity to try out the device before its release on March 25th.

So what of the actual experience then? Well I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Being able to try out several of the games, utilising both the 3D and 2D versions, the 3D worked a lot better than I had ever expected it to – having been rather sceptical of the whole thing.

1st up I got hands on with Zelda: Ocarina of Time, an old favourite of mine, having owned it on both N64 and Gamecube. The game play style works nicely on a handheld, and the game looks as good on the small screen as it ever did on the television. That being said, this game was the one with which the 3D struggled most.

If you held the device at just the right angle it looked great, but if you let it slip even a centimetre or two from dead centre, the image on screen clearly split, revealing the dual layers of the picture.

Next up was Ridge Racer 3D, and this was where the 3D finally shone. Bringing to life great graphics, and a fully immersive 3D landscape, this was a racing game I literally could have played all day, despite only having a few minutes to test it in reality. The motion issues I had experienced with Zelda seemed to have completely gone away here, and the entire look and feel of the 3D experience just hit another level.

The final product I got to test was a new 3D augmented reality game, utilising the full 3D video camera on the back of the handheld. Lining up the camera to a special card on the table, a fully interactive environment is formed right there on your table top.

This was by far the coolest part of the exhibition. I’ve experienced augmented reality before, but found it to often be ineffective, and the interaction with it to be clumsy. Here it was seamless, and it really felt like Nintendo had gone the whole hog to ensure that they were bringing something very new and exciting to their next generation of console.

Walking into the exhibit, I was rather sceptical at the concept of glasses-less 3D. We have been told for a while now that for it to work on TV’s or Cinemas could be as much as a decade away, so the idea that Nintendo had cracked it on a handheld already seemed unlikely.

Was it perfect: No, and as mentioned, some games had distinct issues when viewing in 3D. Others though honestly did work, and now we have one 3D handheld using this tech, developers will no doubt work to make this better and better as the 3DS gets going for real.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Black Swan

I hate it when I’m wrong. I really really hate admitting when I’m wrong. So the next few paragraph’s are going to be painful to write.

Last night I found myself with nothing to do, and so, as is often the case at such moments, I headed for the cinema, to see Black Swan. I first saw this film at the London Film Festival back in October, and somehow it just didn’t click with me at all.

To say I hated the film would not be underselling my initial reaction, and, try as I might, even speaking to so many people who loved the film, I just didn’t get it somehow.

So I figured, with the film now on general release, it was time to revisit the film, knowing now what to expect, and see if that improved the experience any.

Very simply: I was wrong about Black Swan. While certain things still grated with me – the mother daughter relationship in particular just still didn’t ring true –somehow all of the flaws just pale into the background and what you’re left with is a superb film, beautifully shot, and spectacularly edited.

From the precision of the choreography (both of the cameras as well as the actors), to the spectacular soundtrack, Black Swan is as good a psychological thriller as any you’ll see any time soon.

As a devout horror fan, I’m so desensitised to a lot of what I see on screen now, that I just kind of forget that a lot of what I’m seeing is actually terrifying – I just don’t notice. And this is why I think my COMPANY had an effect on my two very different readings of the film. The first time I was sat in a room full of critics, all of whom were tired – it was early morning, and we’d all done multiple screenings a day for weeks by this point. We weren’t in the mind set to like a film, and we, or that is to say I, were too tired to really care less about what was happening before my eyes.

The second time I was in a room, at gone midnight, with maybe 15-20 people in it, all of whom were clearly pretty easily scared. Somehow the atmosphere in the room was almost palpable, and that made the very experience of the film seem almost visceral and exciting, in a way which it just hadn’t been on that first run through.

I guess as I’m currently tied for one bad screening and one good I really ought to see it one more time before I finally pass judgment on Black Swan overall, but let’s just put it this way: based on this time around, I was very, very wrong.