2008 in Music

Why hello there, may I introduce myself as the latest member to the Wyvern covern. I will be posting music and music technology bits alongside the usual games, films and television banter from Geeky Tom, Crabs, Saltdog and the Other Girl (and of course the costume drama and naughty work related nonsense from RGB).

2008 has been an excellent year for the musical underdog. The criminally underrated geniuses Elbow won the Mercury Music Prize, the much maligned Kings of Leon finally converting the entire country to their sexy country swagger; but the biggest triumph of 2008 has to be the return of Leonard Cohen. The seminal singer songwriter, now 78, only decided to tour to claw back some money after a manager swindled him out of $10 million. Yet after a fully sold out 30 date tour culminating in an incredible performance at Glastonbury, his vicious twisted love song Hallelujah now sits at the top of the charts in both the number one and number two spot. Hallelujah to that.

Even the crap music this year has been better than the crap music of other years. Duffy may be bad, but she is a homage to all things girl group sixties and northern soul – I never thought I could dislike that. Even The Ting Tings, though over exposed and irritating are something of an ode to all that is good about Blondie.

Other honorable mentions for the best moments of 2008, have got to be all things lofi and Americana – Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Deerhunter, as well as the swirly attitude of MGMT and Santogold.

So I’ll leave you with the obligatory YouTube clip. With this tip for 2009... Passion Pit. There’re just ace.

and I think you’ll agree that hearing once is a good thing. However hearing it again and watching THIS.MAN.DANCE is even better

(image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelfoleyphotography/ under Creative Commons)

Film review: Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith

Quick update on the new Will Smith film which I had the mixed pleasure of seeing yesterday evening. Given its premise, the less you know about it the better, although if you want a brief synopsis, IMDB.com sums it up in one sentence which nonetheless gives some indication of what to expect. That said, if you're accustomed to much cinema-going, you'll probably realise pretty quickly what's going on, in spite of the deliberately obscure narrative and gradual drip feed of information.

This was the crux of my problem with SEVEN POUNDS, along with the overriding impression that my buttons were being pressed every step of the way. Call me cynical, but surely nobody likes feeling emotionally manipulated, even by the ever-appealing Will Smith?

From the outset we are aware that Smith's IRS (Inland Revenue Service) tax officer is palpably weighed down by some heavy burden, and the fact that he's seeking out very sick or disabled people reinforces the atmosphere of doom and gloom. Smith has always had the knack of creating empathetic characters, and it is in no small part due to his likeability that the overabundance of wounded looks (mostly accompanied by mournful music) still strike a chord. In less capable hands, I would have dismissed the story as oversentimental tosh. As it stands, Smith's performance, and his convincing rapport with the truly excellent Rosario Dawson (whose character suffers from a serious heart defect) lift this in parts beyond soulsearching melodrama.

During one scene, Smith and Dawson lie in bed playing a game of 'What If?' and the intimacy and poignancy of the moment is lump-in-the-throat inducing. And there are a few fleeting moments of levity when you can actually crack a smile. However, the fact that the outcome seems so clearly signposted, along with the deliberate tugging of heartstrings, ultimately frustrated my attempt to indulge in this as a proper, old-fashioned weepie. Call me a cynic but overall then, a watchable film that, in spite of good intentions, simply tries too hard.

My Best & Worst Movies Of The Year

I have been very remiss of late in posting, leading GT to despair of me and rightfully so. Anyway, to make amends I thought I would do a little round up of some of the good, the dreadful and the mostly meh movies I have had the pleasure and misfortune to see over the past year.

A look back through my diary and an online calendar of 2008 releases tells me I have seen 44 films out of a possible 90+ throughout the year, so this is not a comprehensive reckoning. I have not, for instance, seen either TWILIGHT or HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 and have absolutely no plans to do so. This probably means I have automatically discounted most of the teen and tween's 'bestest movie of 2008' in one fell swoop. Likelihood of them reading this blog being virtually nil, that clearly isn't a problem. I should also point out that at least two the films (my favourites in fact) aren't released in the UK til early 2009. Which is actually a good thing because now you'll be all keen as mustard and race to the cinema when they do open...

So, starting backwards with the mostly so-what films that failed to leave any kind of impression once the credits rolled. INDIANA JONES IV, THE INCREDIBLE HULK and QUANTUM OF SOLACE were the main contenders in this category, although I would also add SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE to that list. What's noticeable here is that all of these were big budget movies with big names attached - brands in their own right. And all failed to either live up to the promise of what went before or, in the case of HULK, improve on what many see as Ang Lee's flawed first attempt (I think Lee's version is thoughtful and interesting, but many disagree - google if you want to see what I mean).

I found INDIANA overblown and ludicrous - why the sudden recourse to alien artefacts in a story which has always delighted in historical archeological finds? HULK failed to move me by all but wasting the acting chops of its lead, Edward Norton and QUANTUM was the biggest disappointment of the lot since CASINO ROYALE had proved so thrilling. Poor old Daniel Craig was reduced to fighting, running and jumping on/ through/ over things - no time for the patended Bond badinage and charm here. Hopefully the third and final instalment in the purported trilogy will realise the importance of a decent story and proper characterization over non-stop action sequences. Not only was there very little sex in the big screen outing for SATC, there was also little in the way of a good story or the witty banter which made the TV series so beloved. Frankly, it was little more than a fashion show - very pretty but ultimately superficial and unsatisfying.

Miscalculated as they were, I have no real hard feelings towards the above quartet. I save my vitriol for the clutch of films so dreadful that not only do I resent having parted with hard earned cash to see them (OK, only in one case since I went to two as work related screenings) but more importantly, precious hours of my life being so joylessly squandered. The absolute worst culprit was FOUR CHRISTMASES. Damn you Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon - two actors normally signifying enjoyable if not groundbreaking entertainment. I also blame New York in December for being festive enough to persuade me that a 'holiday comedy' would be a good idea. I cannot stress enough how freaking awful this film was - the comedy set pieces were simply unfunny, the various relatives were wholly cliched, the performances tired (no chemistry between the two leads who I hope were suitably embarrassed to be participating in this dreadful charade) and - as pointed out by my fellow sufferer - shoddy production values. See at your peril. Obviously, it's number 1 at the US box office...

Two runners up for shitest flick of the year also fall into the comedy/ rom-com genre - WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS and MADE OF HONOR. The former saw Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher getting drunkenly hitched in Las Vegas before hitting the jackpot and then having to try to make their marriage work because of the money. The latter was a gender reversal take on My Best Friend's Wedding with Patrick Dempsey assuming the titular role in order to stop his newly realised soulmate marrying a Scottish laird. Both films were painfully lacking in both romance and comedy. They don't make 'em like they used to (although I thought last year's Knocked Up was a great modern take on the rom-com).

Finally, in amongst the amusing enough/ interesting enough/ affecting enough pile of others - including the likes of CLOVERFIELD, GARAGE, CHOKE, ROLE MODELS, ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, THE CHANGELING, THE WRESTLER and WALTZ WITH BASHIR, all of which are worth a look, particularly the last three which really are very good indeed - two jewels shone out. Neither are art house movies, or in any way inaccessible, although they won't be as ubiquitous as Quantum of Solace. However, they are gems you should seek out which will hopefully send shivers down your spine and truly make you feel.

My joint best movies of 2008 are Danny Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST. Groan if you must, but both share an uplifting belief in love and friendship, although they couldn't be set in worlds further apart. SLUMDOG, based on a bestselling novel, tells the tale of a young boy from Mumbai (Dev Patel from C4's Skins) who ends up one question away from becoming a millionaire on a TV gameshow and must prove how his poverty stricken upbringing has taught him all he needs to know to answer the questions, rediscoving his childhood sweetheart in the process.

NICK AND NORAH is set in New York and is about a boy and a girl who, over the course of one night, meet and fall for each other. Straightforward and sweet, what makes this movie so appealing is not just the great use of real Manhattan locations and cool music, but utterly endearing and believable performances from Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) and Kat Dennings as they eponymous Nick and Norah, and who could more than teach Vince n Reese a thing or two about on-screen chemistry. A movie to make you wistful and hopeful at the same time (the balance between the two probably depending on how many years you have on the clock).

Slumdog is out Jan 9th 2009 and Nick and Norah comes out Jan 30th 2009 in UK cinemas so there is no excuse not to make a beeline for these. Merry Christmas and Happy Viewing!

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix new moves controversy

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is out there and it's awesome. Whisper it quietly, as Capcom are known to follow the Wyvern, but it's better than Street Fighter IV.
This isn't the major controversy about this new game though. Oh no. It's more mental than that. You see, the developers Backbone Entertainment gone and rebalanced the whole game. Ryu has a fake fireball, E. Honda can smash through fireballs and Chun-Li's spinning bird kick now moves both vertically and horizontally. Personally, I love that they've changed the rules, although it now means that I can no longer count the frames and demoralise people with Dhalsim. However, some people are less than happy, as this video demonstrates.

World of Warcraft Paid Character Customisation

I’m a bit annoyed at Blizzard. I understand that they have to turn a profit, but I feel that they have a rather monopolistic hold over the MMORPG (massively multilayer online role playing game) market which they are taking advantage of.

I will explain what’s going on. To play World of Warcraft you must pay a monthly subscription of around £10. This is a common model that a lot of MMO’s use. The other model is called the micro-transaction model. Basically the developers make money through players buying items that cost real life money. This allows the developers to offer the game for free. Both are acceptable models, however Blizzard have decided to combine the two. Not only do you have to pay to play their game. You now also have to pay if you want to change the name and appearance of you character. There is also a card game you can buy where – if you are lucky - you can pick up items that can be used in game as well.

It’s seems they are implementing the micro-transaction model by stealth and I don’t like it...

Over here in the UK we have something called the competition commission. It basically stops one company taking over a market and thus taking advantage of their customers with higher prices and a poorer quality of service. I’m sure they would be very interested in Blizzard actions. Although I am sure they can do nothing about it

Anyway, this won't be the last paid service that Blizzard will be offer up to its cornered market, mark my words.

Left 4 Dead (Fun with Witches) and Mirrors Edge (Live Action)

The Xbox 360 Version

I love this game, my friends love this game and I though it was about time I wrote about this game. It’s a co-operative Zombie shooter and It’s genuinely scary, not because of the source material more due to the fact that zombies will be hiding in cupboards, round corners, in trees – basically where you least expect them.

It’s based on Value’s Half Life Source engine, so if you have ever played a Valve game before then you will know the score with the graphics and the game-play. My biggest fear when I heard about this game is that it was originally developed for the PC so Xbox 360 port was probably going to be an after thought. My fears quickly evaporated when I got my sweating hands on it. It’s just as good as the PC version, you will never be able to replace a keyboard and mouse for games like these but the ease of Xbox Live really makes the whole experience fan-bloody-tastic.

Oh and I nearly forgot, this game has the greatest character probably to ever grace a computer game. Meet the Witch.

A horrible sobbing girl that can kill you in a single blow. The aim is to not startle her, so its flash lights off and time to hold your breath when you hear her theme music. The problem is that is just too dam tempting to try get that head shot achievement – the one where you have to kill witch with one shot to the head. This normally ends in much hilarity and a dead team member.

Here’s a video of the general vibe of the game because my reviews are always rubbish.

Mirrors Edge (Live Action)

In an attempt to make my posts seem a bit bigger, here is a real life version of the free running game from EA.
I really enjoyed this trailer. The marketing and the game have been truly innovative. In a year of guns and guts, I have really enjoyed this side order of running, jumping and climbing trees.

Lost In The World Of Warcraft

This is probably a bit of old news but the new World Of Warcraft (The Wrath of the Lich King) expansion has sneaked in a cheeky nod to Lost.

In the zone they have named the Sholazar basin, there is a small island. And on that island is what appears to be a hatch, and upon the hatch is a set of numbers. A set of numbers that I think we are all quite familiar with now.

Blizzard are notorious for squeezing nuggets of popular culture in to Warcraft. It was only a matter of time until Lost got the treatment.