Monday, September 25, 2006

Children of Men review

About 30 minutes into Children of Men, there comes a moment when you realise that, unless you like cold-blooded murder in your films, this isn't going to be a particularly easy one to watch.

Filmed mostly with hand-held 'documentary-style' camerawork, this is a dark, raw, film set about 20 years in the future, at a time when the human race has become infertile, the youngest person on the planet is 18 years old. The majority of the world's countries have collapsed into anarchy, and Britain is the only place that has managed to hold itself together and keep a civilised society - although one which is effectively a police state, with closed borders and a paranoid immigration policy. Clive Owen plays the hero, a world-weary ex-activist who somehow finds himself in the position of having to protect the most important person in the world - a pregnant girl.

The problem with the film is that it doesn't know what it wants to be, or what it wants to say. Part semi-futuristic sci-fi, part-political commentrary, part-action thriller. Undoubtedly, it is as third type that it succeeds most. After a slow start the action and excitement is pretty non-stop, and anybody who's played the latter levels of Half-Life 2 will feel right at home in the last 40 minutes. In such all-out thrillers you tend to ignore any silly plot holes as your belief is already suspended, however that doesn't happen in this film as the director is constantly cutting back, as if he is trying to say that this is something that could really happen.

On that note it fails. While the futuristic world is intriguing it is not fleshed out enough to make it truly believable (mostly because of all the action sequences), and so when the action stops for a bit and you catch your breath, you're left a bit puzzled as to why this is all going on.

Djanira didn't like it at all, partially for the above reasons, but also becuase of the violence. Although actual moments of real goriness are few and far between, it is a violent and rather cold-blooded film, and I was surprised to see it only got a 15.

By contrast I quite enjoyed it, but left a little disappointed that more wasn't made out of the world and the scenario - it would have been a gamble to do so, as many of the action sequences would have to have been dropped, and perhaps that would have made the film a little too slow. But it might just have paid off.
Incidentaly, it is an adaptation of a P.D. James book, so it will be interested in reading the book to see if it succeeds where the film stumbles. In conclusion, I would say that it is definately an interesting film that is worth going to watch, but perhaps a missed opportunity.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Capoeira at the Octopus Street Party in Notting Hill

This weekend my Capoeira school, Capoeira Canal, did a demo performance at a street party in Notting Hill, organised by the Octopus Challenge - a charity raising money for cancer research and support. We did a couple of shows, once early on, and once a little later - the later one was definately the better one because the crowd was a lot bigger (maybe up to a couple of hundred), they had drunk a bit more champagne by then, and us capoeiristas had a little bit of Dutch courage after a brief visit to the pub also! We were a little bit nervous before the first performance, because only a handful of beginners (including me) had turned up, and I was worried that our basic moves wouldn't do any justice to neither the school nor the game of capoeira - fortunately, just before we took the stage a couple of more experienced players arrived, so inbetween politely applauding the beginners, there were plenty of oohs and aaahs from the crowd when the flips, handstands and big kicks came out.

Djanira managed to make the second performance, and has video footage of me - looking like a rank-amateur, of course, but fortunately I didn't fall over and make a complete prat of myself. Unfortunately it's too big to put on here, and she didn't get any photos of me, so you'll have to wait for another day to laugh at my inabilities. However, here's a couple of photos of some more impressive play going on.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's looking Wii-lly good

The other day I nipped into PC World to buy some paper, and grabbed a chance to a have a quick go on a couple of Xbox360 demo machines. The two games I played were MotoGP (a motorbike racing game) and Dead or Alive 3 (a beat-em-up). The first thing I noticed was the fact that, on MotoGP, the graphics were nigh-on video quality. I'll be honest, my jaw dropped - I simply couldn't believe how realistic and life-like the game looked. Dead or Alive 3 was more stylised (thus less life-like) but still looked breathtakingly beautiful.

Yet I eventually left the store rather unimpressed. Why? Because, once a certain standard has been reached, graphics just don't make much difference. Superbike 2000 had brilliant graphics, and when played with a joystick, was pretty much all you could ever want from a motorbike racing sim. Is Dead or Alive 3 really much better than Tekken 3, or Soul Caliber? I guess what I'm getting at is, is it worth paying hundreds of pounds for a new system, and £50 each for games to play on it, when the final experience you get isn't much different?

My current thinking is 'no'. Which is why, each time I hear a little more about Nintendo's console, the daftly-monikered 'Wii', I get more and more interested. It's now well-accepted that the graphical power will not be as high as the Xbox360 or the PS3, yet the new control system (which is based around the detection of motion of a wireless controller) opens up an entire new domain of gaming options. Fine, if it works well. Yet from reading reports on the internet (e.g., it looks like Nintendo, and the various developers who have working on the launch titles, might just pull it off.

In conjunction with the facts that the Wii is likely to cost around £150 at launch (under half the price of the PS3), the games will be around £30 (rather than £50), and many classic Nintendo games of previous consoles will be available for direct download for £5 or £10, Nintendo might actually have a chance of taking top-dog in the console market. Previously I have been a Sony die-hard when it comes to consoles, but unless Sony announce something really revolutionary with the PS3 (and drop the price!), my money might well be going Nintendo's way.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September the 11th

Today is the fifth anniversary on the attack on the twin towers of New York. Remembrance services are being held around the world. But are we remembering the right things? Today's newspaper had some interesting 'official death toll' statistics, based on worldwide activity since 11/9/01:

US citizens killed in terrorist attacks: just under 3000.
US citizens killed in 'the war on terror': just over 3000.

Worldwide deaths due to 'terrorist attacks': just under 5000.
Worldwide deaths due to 'the war on terror': >95,000.

So. While it is right to mourn those who died five years ago today, shouldn't we also be mourning the other 90,000 people who have died, mostly innocent civilians in Iraq and Afganistan?

And while Saddam Hussein deserves to be tried and punished for killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians; why isn't anybody being tried and punished for the deaths of nearly one hundred thousand people who have died thanks to military action that has occured since September 11th?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

This is the second Iain M. Banks I've read, and I approached it with great expections after enjoying Consider Phlebas so much. It tells the story of Cheradenine Zakalwe, a human employee of the Culture who is basically used to do their dirty work - sent in undercover to change the political or military situation in a given location. As capable as Zakalwe is though, there is a secret buried deep in his past...

The manner in which the way the book is written is quite different to normal. It has two strands than run in alternate chapters through the book. The first is what could be called the 'real-time' thread, which describes the story of the current events; whereas the second thread is, in essence, a series of short-stories that describe aspects of Zakalwe's past. Crucially, the stories in this second thread are presented in reverse order - the later the chapter the earlier the point it describes in Zakalwe's life. It works quite well, as the events in the 'real' story reach a climax, so the timeline of the reverse story reaches a crucial point alluded to through the entire book.

There's no doubt that the book is an enjoyable read, Banks' style is very readable and there is plenty of meat to the book. I do, however, have a bit of a problem with the ending. There is a twist, of sorts, though to be honest it is less of a twist and more of a complete surprise. A good twist should make your mouth drop and get you riffling back through the pages to find half-remembered references and hints. The ending of this book does no such thing, it's just a bit of a slap in the face, with no explanation. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but if so it's because I think the quality of the rest of the book deserves a good twist.

Nonetheless it is still a good read. Excession is up next and apparently that is more similar to Consider Phlebas, so I'm looking forward to it.