Monday, 26 November 2012

Curled Up Next to the Fire: Guards! Guards!

Now this has taken me some time to get to. It's a strange old story really. I tell people I'm a geek and it conjures up all sorts of images and associations in their heads. Also a lot of assumptions. They assume I've seen this or read that. Then I have to squeak in an ashamed tone of voice, "Well, er, actually, it, uh, turns I out I haven't." Notable examples of this are having only seen Lord of the Rings: Return of the King the whole way through and not the other two movies and, until about twenty minutes ago, never having read a single Terry Pratchett book.

All these things, by the way, are grievous offences that I am working to rectify. Life just keeps getting in the way, you know? Pesky Life. Should mind its own business really.


Anyway, moving swiftly on from what could become some kind of existential rant, my purpose here is actually to rave. You see, all those people who kept telling me and telling me that I would love the Terry Pratchett books can now beam with the pride of "I told you so". Might even let them say it. Once.

So, my at-long-last induction into the wondrous world of Terry Pratchett. In the years that I was harassed to read the books (and being read very, very amusing snippets), I was told that instead of starting in the logical and fabled place of "The Beginning", I should avoid doing that and start with the City Watch sub-series of the Discworld novels. Given that the very, very amusing snippets read to me were from the City Watch/Samuel Vimes books, I picked up Guards! Guards! And in the last week (or two, temporal mechanics has gone all a bit fuzzy now), I have been finding it somewhat tricky to put the book down.

Now at first the structure worried me. I'm an OCD man, I like to finish a chapter of a book before putting it down and going to bed/conducting whatever mundane Life activity I have to perform. So when I first sat up in bed to read Guards! Guards! I did my usual trick of un-focusing my eyes (sounds weird, but the vision is blurred enough that I can barely read words and thus avoid spoilers) and flicked ahead to find the chapter end so I knew when I would be logically able to put it down, should sleepiness overcome my desire to read. And this is when I found that there were no chapter breaks. This was a little disconcerting, but I pressed ahead regardless. Must have demolished about twenty pages before heavy eyelids made me put it down. And a very amusing twenty pages they were. After that, worries about structure melted away and whole thing just flowed quite beautifully. Probably helped with the whole not-quite-being-able-to-put-it-down thing.

I imagine a good percentage of my readership are more than a passing familiarity with the works of Terry Pratchett and how deeply, deeply hilarious they are. I had been told and told, but I guess I never truly one hundred percent believed it until it was staring me in the face, reducing me to absolute hysterics.

It has just occurred to me that I've missed out on a certain obligation of book review-type posts - a brief summation of the plot.

So, Guards! Guards! is the story of Captain Samuel Vimes, currently commander of the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork's City Watch. And he has a lot to deal with - new recruit Carrot Ironfoundersson, a suspiciously human-looking dwarf who actually believes in the Law and goes around arresting people and, unknown to him, a secret brotherhood that are busy going about trying to conjure up a dragon. All in all, the last things Captain Vimes ever expected to have to deal with.

Now back to the hysterics. Not many books can claim the honour of making me laugh out loud. Especially in public. They are Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and its two subsequent sequels, Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Life, the Universe and Everything) by Douglas Adams and jPod by Douglas Coupland. Notice a trend? Both called Douglas. But now, Terry Pratchett has muscled his way into a neat little spot that I suspect was waiting for him all this time.

Also, pretty much every Ankh-Morporkian speaks in a West Country accent. Especially Sergeant Colon. Might be a side effect of living in Somerset, but whenever I read their dialogue, it's definitely West Country. Don't know about everyone else's opinions on that score.

So there we have it really. Everyone now gets to pat themselves on the back and say "I told you so". Because you did bloody well tell me, didn't you?

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Frakkin' Toasters

It seems I'm going to be trying that whole "being prolific" thing with blogging. At least in the sense that for the first time since I started this blog in January I've done two posts in rather quick succession. But then again, in my last entry, I did promise my judgements on Skyfall and Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome. Since I have watched both, it's time to get on with the judging.

Of course, no blog entry would be complete without my establishing ramble about the historical context of how things came to be in my life. The James Bond movies were strangely ever-present during my childhood, perhaps because of the influence of my ownership of a Nintendo64 and my love of the timeless classic, GoldenEye. So we'll say it all kicked off for me around the mid-1990s, taking full hold around 1999 when television channel ITV went a bit James Bond happy and were showing one Bond movie a week (or maybe a day, I can't entirely remember). I pretty much religiously taped these movies, watching and absorbing useless trivia facts and favourite lines ("Don't touch that...! That's my lunch." - GoldenEye, Q to Bond). Pierce Brosnan was the definitive Bond as far as I was concerned and I think his movies will remain my favourites. That being said, I am quite enjoying the new Daniel Craig movies.

Now, just for a moment, let's have a little discourse on the major differences between all these movies. You see, in last ten years or so, movie studios have gone a bit reboot mad. On some levels, it's been brilliant - Christopher Nolan's trilogy of Batman movies - and on others, not so much (Superman Returns. Sorry, Brandon Routh. But we loved you in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). But the James Bond franchise is one of those Marmite Principle things - people tend to love it or hate it. Of course there's grey area ambiguity where people neither love nor hate, but for the sake of argument and discourse it's the Marmite Principle. So in 2006, when Eon Productions where gearing up for Bond 21, they decided to reboot - take the series in a different direction. Dispose of the gadgets and make it grittier. Make Bond get his hands thoroughly dirty. And I'd say, personally, I think it worked. I enjoyed Casino Royale. I did miss Q and all the wonderful gadgets (I still do), but it seems, with Skyfall, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel on that score.

Judgement time!

I'll start with this - I really enjoyed Skyfall. It was almost grand, but still gritty - the villain, brilliantly portrayed by Javier Bardem, wasn't just some power-crazy megalomaniac, but by gods could he bring MI6 to their proverbial knees. The premise of his character, Silva, is that he's a former MI6 agent with connections to M's past. He's deranged and he wants to kill M. Naturally, 007 turns up and decides to be a snag in that little plan. What ensues is your standard fare of chaos, mayhem, one-liners and things going *BOOM*. And very awesomely so.

What's interesting about Skyfall is it's sense of the past. 2012 is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Dr No, the first ever Bond movie. So naturally, there's a lot of cheeky references to past movies - especially the classic Aston Martin DB5. But more than that - the scriptwriters not only interwove those little references to the last fifty years of Bond movies, but they also delved into the chequered pasts of our beloved characters - James Bond himself and his boss, the ever-wonderful M. Once again, Judi Dench is on excellent form as Bond's superior. The relationship between the two characters is explored in a lot greater depth in this movie, once more linking in to the theme of the past being thrown at us throughout the entire movie.

On a happy note, the movie sees the return of Q. This time, it's the youthful Ben Whishaw taking the mantle of MI6 Quartermaster. Now let's face it - Desmond Llewellyn will forever be the definitive Q. John Cleese did a sterling job living up to the legend after Llewellyn unfortunate passing in 1999 and from what I saw in Skyfall, Ben Whishaw will be bringing his own unique charm and wit to the role. So while Skyfall does dwell a lot in the past, there's a glimmer of hope for the future - although Q quips "Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't go in for that sort of thing anymore", I hope to see some level of plausible gadgetry being developed by Whishaw's Q Branch in future movies. He's also a bit of hacker/computer wiz and was given quite the expanded role in Skyfall compared to the role of Q in previous movies. Again, pinning one or two hopes on this young whipper-snapper.

In overall conclusion, Skyfall was a very much enjoyable movie.

Now, Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.

Loyal Colonials and Frakkin' Toasters everywhere have been champing at the bit since the demise of prequel series Caprica for the promised release of prequel series Blood and Chrome. We've been through a lot in that time. A promise of a television release downgraded to webseries and constant delays and setbacks. But finally, last night, episodes one and two were posted on YouTube! Thank you, Machinima Prime!

Watch them here: Episode 1 and Episode 2.

First off, I did enjoy the episodes. Short and sweet, but what do you expect from a webseries? And I'll be honest, I was very sceptical about Blood and Chrome. It was Luke Pasqualino, the actor chosen to play Bill Adama. For one thing - where the frak is his gruff voice? But credit to the boy I watched in Skins, he actually pulls it off!

The premise for those rooks just joining the worlds of Battlestar Galatica is thus: it's year ten of the Cylon War. Fresh out of the academy, Ensign William Adama has been assigned to Battlestar Galactica, one of the fiercist (and newest at this point) battlestars in the Colonial Fleet. Adama is a typical rook - he's cocky, eager and wants to rack up a quick kill count and few dozen medals, then return to Caprica a hero.

Of course, nothing ever happens that way. War is Hell, remember?

Adama is quickly put in his place and assigned to pilot a Raptor, not the Viper he had been hoping for. His ECO, Lieutenant Coker Fasjovik, is bitter and war-weary, coming to the end of his mandatory second tour of duty. He wants out, a concept Adama can't quite wrap his head around. I'm intrigued to see how this plays out through the series.

Now the budget isn't as big as the re-imagined 2004 series. There's a lot of CGI backgrounds, which doesn't necessarily bother me - it's the changes they've made that irk my brain a little bit. Galactica is one of my favourite ships, it's been discussed before. So when I see what they've done to the interior of my beloved Battlestar with their CGI, I'm a little confused. I can easily explain it away - by the 2004 series, Galactica's been in service for forty years. There's probably been endless updates and refits. So while it irks me, I can get over it.

There's not a huge lot to say about Blood and Chrome for the moment. So far, I like it. I might try and make it a weekly thing to keep this blog updated on my growing opinions of the series, might not. We'll see. Regardless, by the end of Blood and Chrome, I'll likely have a lot to say. I might not say it week to week, but by gods I'll be saying something eventually. For now, it's good. Carry on.

Well, that's all for today. Until next time...

(Song of the Mind: Immigrant Song (Cover) - Karen O, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

I'm not a psychopath, Anderson, I'm a high-functioning sociopath, do your research

Once again, I've been giving the blog the unfortunate (and very unintentional) silent treatment. The real world, life, interfering, not to mention the ability to procrastinate and put things off that one acquires as a university student that never seems to go away. Not until you have someone to disappoint or have reached a point of desperation that you realise you really need to change something in your lifestyle. Oh my gods this has really turned into something rather morbid now, hasn't it? Okay, so this isn't actually going to be something morbid. In fact, I'm here to rave about something that I've just come to love - finally, after months (and possibly years) of being told I'll love it, I have caved and watched series one and two of Sherlock.

Okay, I say caved. I make it sound like it was a difficult decision to reach. It really wasn't. I'd been intrigued to watch Sherlock, but naturally this curiosity only struck me too late, when Sherlock was off the air and off BBC's fabled iPlayer. Luckily, those kind of obstacles don't stop DVD rentals/friends loaning you the DVDs they have in their possession. Through these combination of factors, I have quickly fallen in love with Sherlock.

Though whenever I try and whistle or hum the theme tune, I always end up with the theme tune to Dirk Gently instead. Ah well.

So if you haven't guessed (or watched the show already), the title of this blog is a line from the first episode, "A Study in Pink". Believe me, if you haven't seen it, this is just one of many quotable lines from the episode - and a lot of them aimed at Anderson, the irritating forensics man. Now I'd just like to take a second to examine my own words, how I've just said that Anderson is irritating...the entire set-up of the show makes Sherlock Holmes (played absolutely outstandingly by Benedict Cumberbatch) out to be this incredibly irritating smart-arse. And yet by virtue of being the main character (and being utterly, utterly brilliant), you forgive him and let things slide. Even if he did come to your house and deduce every last one of your dirty little secrets just from looking at the place.

Let's face it, if he showed up at your house you be a little bit flattered. It's Sherlock frakking Holmes after all!

But we can't go giving all the credit to just Sherlock Holmes. Sure, he's a genius (and more than a little bit of an ass about it) and he solves crimes no one else can, but as much as he'd love to, he couldn't do it alone. So he has a whole host of supporting characters - from the obvious Doctor John Watson (Martin Freeman), the long-suffering Detective Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) and on occasion, though usually not being very supportive, his own brother, Mycroft Holmes (Mark Gatiss).

I'll be honest, that whole paragraph was mostly to get to Mycroft Holmes. Mark Gatiss, one of the co-creators and writers of the show, well...he's brilliant. On his own as Mycroft, Gatiss is wonderful to watch - put in a room with his on-screen brother, it's even more fantastic. It's funny, it's something I find hard to put into words. You really just have to watch it to fully understand the beauty of it all.

So there we have it really. As is customary, I'm going to avoid going into too many details due to the risk of spoilers. But rest assured, Sherlock is brilliant and everyone who told me to go and watch it...well, they get to say "I told you so".

It's half past midnight here and I've reached that funny feeling that there was so much more I wanted to might relate to tomorrow's impending web release of Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, but I think I'll save judgement until watching it. Though it might be a while, given that friends are dragging me to see Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, tomorrow. I say drag. I'm going quite willingly really. Say what you will about James Bond being a misogynistic relic, I enjoy the movies as mindless violence and fun. So more to report on those two later.

Speaking of reserving judgement, Star Wars and Disney. Any self-respecting geek could hardly have missed the news the last couple of days - Disney have bought Lucasfilm and promised us Episodes VII, VIII and IX. It's curious, because I remember when Star Wars was re-released in the late 1990s (when I first came to love the franchise) and I swear someone told me that there were going to be nine "episodes". So the news that we will have three new films to enjoy isn't too surprising. We'll just have to wait to see if Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm will prove to be as sound an investment as their decision to buy Marvel Studios.

Well then. It appears this is all I have to report for now. Hopefully in the next couple of days a new post will materialise with my judgements on Skyfall and Blood and Chrome. Until then...get out there and watch Sherlock if you haven't done it already!