Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar: A review

It’s the end of 2009 and what a year it has been. On a personal level I finished university, put one foot into the real world and planned a trip round to the Far East and Australia, which is now scarcely 18 days away. Chances are this will be my last real post before I leave and dedicate this blog to documenting my travels, so I decided to do a review of Avatar, A) as it is very much hyped at this point in time, B) I watched it the other day so it felt like a relevant topic.

I felt some trepidation before watching this film, as I am always very wary of films with a lot of hype behind them and also that this was touted to be the film that would make 3D big. I have to admit I’m no real lover of 3D films. All the films I’ve seen in 3D have left me questioning its point, unless the director purposely exploited the medium by repeatedly sticking objects in the face of the viewer. This was the reason I didn’t see Up in 3D as I felt it was good enough in 2D, but anyway I’m getting away from the point.

So anyway making a start on the actual film itself, it revolves around the human race exploiting a lush moon called Pandora for a special expensive mineral called ‘Unobtainium’ (I wonder why it’s called that, hmm… scientific naming is getting a bit lazy these days). As the atmosphere of Pandora is poisonous for humans, special human alien hybrids are created - based on the genetic code of the native Na’vi (the logical result of merging a cat, a smurf, and a man together) and the person who ‘drives’ the avatar – to explore Pandora and interact with the natives. Here we meet Jake Sully a paraplegic marine who’s been called in to replace his avatar driver twin brother, who has been murdered. Jake is naturally enthusiastic about the job, as it gives him his legs back. However, on his first journey out into the jungle with his team, he manages to fall foul of the local wildlife but is saved by Na’vi woman Neytiri. On gaining their trust Sully is put to work to infiltrate the Na’vi by security boss Col Miles Quaritch (played by Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers) and the owner of the base Parker Selfridge (played by just about every money minded ignorant capitalist ever seen in any film) in return for getting his real legs back. Of course on entering the Na’vi society Jake becomes less interesting in helping his people out, and his allegiance is truly tested when the humans discover that a huge ‘Unobtainium’ (I can’t say it with a straight face) pocket lies beneath the Na’vi tribe’s hometree, surely dooming them to live out the rest of their lives on some kind of Na’vi gambling reserve.

As you can see the story is fairly easy to predict and contains the usual archetypes of many films you’ve seen before, borrowing heavily from films like Last of the Mohicans. However, I was surprised to find myself not caring about this as the world is so believable and the story so involving that I forgave it for this. The performances and the fact that many of the characters are computer generated allow you to leave your doubts at the door and just indulge in the fantasy of this film. I actually also liked the 3D as the medium really lent itself to this kind of film. This is the kind of film that was made for 3D, instead of having 3D bolted on for the sake of it as with many other films. Of course this doesn’t mean that 3D has made it as a medium, oh no. 3D can only make it if more films like this are made, and if the 3D pretenders are done away with completely. It’s fairly safe to say that Avatar is 3D finding its niche though.

Also it goes without saying that the visuals of this film are amazing and also that Pandora is a beautifully designed world. However, that didn’t stop me from being awed by it. Normally visual design in movies is taken for granted by the audience as we come to expect it, but the world design and the imaginative character design has really been a labour of love for James Cameron and his team. It also goes to show that a simple story and spectacular visuals can still make for a good movie without it seeming to dumb the audience down. For that I accept this as an apology for Titanic.

A few other points about the film are firstly, beware this film if you find movie military characters annoying. What do I mean by ‘movie military characters’ you ask? Well to sum it up, imagine a muscle bound meat head that has a permanently confrontational demeanour, and only communicates through tough talking colloquialisms. Think that’s bad? Imagine that multiplied several times, as many of Pandora’s human inhabitants are marines serving as mercenaries, so this becomes prevalent in the early part of the film, and is very frustrating.

Also to begin with Jake Sully has the restraint of a toddler, whilst in his Avatar body, playing with every strange piece of Pandoran flora and faena before him. Also another point about Sully is how he, without any practise or training, is basically able to outdo his massively experienced team at nearly everything in the Avatar. This must be so soul destroying for someone who spent years trying to be an Avatar driver only to see some excitable marine come in and outdo him at everything first try. In computer gaming terms its like being continuously pwned by a noob.

All in all, despite some minor nitpicks which every film has anyway, Avatar is a really great use of two and half hours. It has a monster running time with lots to fit in, but this doesn’t become a chore like some longer films. This film doesn’t really have any superfluous material and everything you see feels like it’s there for a reason. 9 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The White Terror!

Lock your doors! Get the Kids inside! Horde enough food to last for next two weeks! IT’S COMING! Or more to the point it’s here! I am of course talking about the sudden and ‘terrifying’ onset of snow that has hit our country.

Given the way that our country reacts to snow you’d think that something cataclysmic had happened, as much of our transport network shuts down, people in isolated communities become stranded and/or their power goes out. And if I look carefully out my window I think I see the four horsemen of the apocalypse, riding atop a particularly full looking snow cloud. Yes, we go absolutely bananas when it snows, as we seem to have forgotten that our country is in the northern hemisphere and is kind of prone to this kind of weather. Instead it seems, we cower at our windows, pointing and screaming: “WHAT IS IT!!” before passing out from the stress.

True, getting snow these days is rarer than it used to be and is nothing like the type seen by our parents, when it used to literally form 4 foot high drifts; sometimes stopping people from even opening their doors. But somehow they pushed on without the government preparing the emergency broadcasting system and urging us all to repent before it’s too late! It’s also true that snow can easily cause transport chaos, as I found out firsthand the other day as we drove home from my grandmothers 20 minutes away, only to run into another heavy flurry of snow. Next thing we knew, roads seemed to be closing left, right and centre and the traffic slowed to a halt that only seemed to budge once every half hour. What should have taken 20 minutes ended up taking the best part of 2 hours!

It seems insane that we get completely flummoxed by a bit of snow, especially when you consider that countries like Sweden and Finland cope with heaps of snow every year. Sure they have contingencies in place as it is pretty certain to snow each year in that part of Europe, and we seem to forget that you need more than one 20 year old grit lorry to keep everything running should it somehow snow. If we got snow on the scale that they do, given our current reaction to the weather, we’d end up regressing to a primal stage of humanity, caving each other’s heads in with sticks and preying to the snow god for forgiveness.

Merry Christmas. That is if we survive the white judgement!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

So sue me?

Lawyers. They’re a funny old group of people aren’t they. They are the people who spend years trying to understand the many confusing and befuddling laws of the land, and apply it on our behalf. It’s like hiring a translator really, if you consider law a language unto itself. I suppose in that way lawyers collectively are like a high school clique, with their own created slang to confuse and keep out the ‘un-cool kids’ outside their circle, and in that way it is hard to trust them. Especially as their only apparent criterion for defending a criminal, no matter how immoral they may be, is whether they can pay or not. All in all, what I’m saying is that I don’t trust lawyers.

The main reason I’ve decided to bring this up now is because of a number of libel cases that I’ve noticed recently, gagging people from making comment which is considered slanderous. Now don’t get me wrong I have no problem with protecting people from unnecessary slander, these laws do have their time and place. However, like many laws they are rigid and open to abuse; if context and common sense aren’t taking into account. The examples I’m talking about mainly occur as a result of corporations protecting their image for some reason or another, by threatening a writer or commentator with a valid criticism of something unfair on unjust about said company with legal action. In many cases these don’t even make it to court as the threat (mainly in the form of strongly worded legal letters) is enough to make the accused back down. Alexei Sayle also comments on these issues claiming: “People are either bullied into settling out of court, and admitting wrongdoing even when they're completely right, or they self-censor.”

An example of this can be found here, where stand-up comedian and blogger Richard Herring was forced to censor a blog post he wrote about why he was dissatisfied with his bank not passing on a cut in interest rates. He was sent an email by the bank in question ordering him to remove the post, although in the end he was able to get around this matter by removing the name of the bank from the article. My problem with this I guess is why should a bank be allowed to legally protect itself from consumer complaints when it is providing unsatisfactory service? Surely that alienates the customer further and implies that it isn’t responsible for it’s poor service, even when complaint is due. What right has any company to pretend that it’s above criticism because it can simply send in the lawyers to shut the complainer up?

Sometimes this can be taken even further, as was seen with the Trafigura scandal this year. In this case an entire national newspaper was legally gagged (through the use of an aptly named ‘Super Injunction’) from reporting on the murky story of a government question about an oil company poisoning an Ivory Coast community with their toxic waste output. What right had Trafigura to defend their tarnished image after poisoning several hundered people? None of course, and yet for a few hours they were allowed to silence a major newspaper in this country. In a so-called free society that is pretty scary.

The silliest thing about this all is that when you attempt to defend your image by trying to shut other people up using the courts, you only do yourself more damage. Most people had never even heard of Trafigura before the ‘super-injunction’ incident and after they were splashed all over the media and the web. If something is bad you should be able to say so otherwise we’re not much better than a police state. Corporate interests shouldn’t ever be so great that they become above the law. And then there’s scientology…

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A few observations on Christmas shopping

I made my first cautious outing to my local town centre during the run-up to Christmas today. Having increasingly relied on the internet for nearly all my shopping of late, Christmas or otherwise, it made the experience feel a little alien. I know I’ve faced it before in the past, but it’s like I’d forgotten about all the perils, and general bewilderment that comes with facing a local shopping centre on a Saturday in December.

Here are a few observations:
• Women, when Christmas shopping, have no space perception whatsoever.
• Young children can and will cry, and really test your patience as you wait in a queue of what seems like thousands. Whilst it is annoying, you can’t help but feel sorry for the parents accompanying them, as they are stuck in a bit of an impossible situation. Then again you have to draw the line at parents who seem to just leave the children to cry. I don’t know if they’re trying to wean a child off dependency, or if they’re just rubbish parents.
• Most teenagers seem to think doorways into shops are excellent social spots, despite the hundreds of haggard shoppers who are trying to bundle into said shop.
• Also, most teens seem to want to share their conversation with you whether you want to hear it or not, as they seem to scream their vacuous bilge at each other. Just when you thought today’s youth had cast off the need for face-to-face interaction and turned into a society of texters.
• December, despite the Christmas spirit and pretty lighting, is still shit when it comes to weather, which is doubly annoying when you are trying to wrestle through a crowd with bags.
• People with pushchairs (occupied or otherwise) can be bastards if they give no mind to the fact they’re blocking people with said pushchairs, whilst they idly leaf through everything on the shelf you’re trying to look at.
• You will get the urge to run for the nearest exit of the shop and annihilate anyone who gets in your path, before social etiquette gets the better of you, and you resign yourself to a slow trudge to freedom.
• Free samples of Christmas wares are always welcome.
• Self service tills seem to have a built-in ‘embarrass-the-customer’ protocol.
• Christmas annuals are getting sillier. There is actually a Marmite annual this year! Seriously Marmite!? I expect the pattern to continue until we have a Christmas annual for everything from fuseboxes to Gordon Brown’s favourite breed of Sheep.
• It is always strange to see someone you have known for some years playing the shopping centre’s Father Christmas.
• There seems to be a movie-and-TV-douche-vampire section to the seasonal calendar shop. I guess the rise of Twilight and True Blood, amongst other things, are to blame.
• Companies make an inexplicable amount of novelty crap for Christmas shoppers.
• The incessant Christmas music played could be used as a means of torture (hope you’re listening British and US military. Waterboarding is so yesterday). It’s questionable as to why the shop workers haven’t had severe nervous breakdowns.

Then again I guess I am going to put a negative spin on shopping, as I don’t really care much for it unless it’s essential. Besides, there are more positive sides to Christmas when you get away from the shopping aspect.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

An open letter to the makers of the Windows 7 adverts

They say that evil can only succeed when good people do nothing. Well I have been motivated to act against an evil in our world. The evil in question is Windows 7, or more to the point the people used in commercials for Windows 7 (in the British ones at least). I want to say I am a PC and I am outraged - outraged at the pretension and the idiocy of these ads; not to mention the smug self-congratulatorary wind that these adverts launch into your face. I’m sure that this is justified by the fact that the makers, and stars, of these ads enjoy the smell of their own twattish flatulence so much they want to fill the room with it, so everyone can ‘enjoy it’. Well bad call Microsoft, it’s about as welcome as someone really coming into your house and conspicuously breaking wind in front of you, and then leaving. Only you and the smug cretins you have employed for these ads get a kick out of this idiocy, as – fart metaphors aside – not everyone does like your sense of self-satisfaction being stamped, with a smile, into their subconscious.

Also I’d like to say what self satisfaction? All the people in these ads talk about how they came up with a concept that would make using a PC easier to use; and have now found it in Windows 7. The very worst one, involves a father claiming at the end of the advert that we should “cower in his brilliance” - or something to that extent. Now what does that say? The problems with previous Windows platforms (ME and Vista especially) are so easy to spot even a moron with a god complex could improve it? They’ve found a plentiful supply of attention-seeking problem solvers to prove it? Either way it seems Microsoft is now congratulating itself for making a system that makes sense, and isn’t riddled with bugs and security flaws. Well done for making something that works! It’s only taken you a good 20, or so, years and all you had to do was open your ears for 5 minutes.

Whether Microsoft is a good software developer or not is up for debate, but we still have the problem of these smug bastards, bragging about how they invented Windows 7, invading our screens. I personally want them gone. Preferably to a deserted island in the south pacific, where they can see out the rest of their lives sharing their stupid boastful stories with other idiots like themselves. They’re the only people who could be possibly interested in their guff, or in congratulating their pointing out the obvious. Either that or they can brutally fight each other to the death to decide who really invented Windows 7, both outcomes suit me.

However, in the meantime I demand an apology Microsoft! You have subjected us to a collection of annoying bastards that cannot be unwatched now – much like the Go Compare adverts. You have also taken several minutes of my life away from me, and are slowing the process of me of getting back to the programme I’ve been trying to watch before the adverts came on. Sure I’m petty, but these bastards really rub me up the wrong way.