Wednesday, February 27, 2008

R.E.M. @ Twickenham

I just got my tickets to see R.E.M. at Twickenham in London this August 30th. I'm so glad that they announced this date along with three others as I was determined not to have to go and see them at Oxegen during the summer. I just have no interest in music festivals like that. Why would I want to spend good money to spend the day with 16 or 18 year old drunks more interested in drinking and fighting than listening to good music?

Anyway the show in London should be good. Only staying the one night but we should be in Barcelona sometime that month so not to worry. As for the venue I am surprised they have gone for such a big stadium. I mean it has 82,000 seats! I can't really see them filling it but hopefully they will. I think the new album will suit the new style venues, plus the incorporation of some rock classics into the set list should help. Tracks like Orange Crush or Walk Unafraid will be great to hear in this setting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscar Winners, my take

Not too many surprises really at last nights Oscar ceremony. I'm happy to see that No Country for Old Men won big on the night. It really was a great film and the Coens deserve their best director[s] award. Javier Bardem winning for his performance as a really scary villain was thoroughly deserved too. I also so Michael Clayton this year so I also think that Tilda Swinton was good value for her win too.

Unfortunately, I wanted to see Viggo Mortensen winning for best actor but it went to Daniel Day-Lewis as predicted. I haven't seen his performance yet but from the ads it does look good. Hopefully I'll be seeing the film soon.

The biggest upset for me took place in the technical categories so I suppose it isn't that big a deal but it annoyed me nonetheless. How did The Golden Compass win best visual effects over Transformers? For me Transformers took visual effects to the next level with their photo realism. They truly were absolutely amazing and in this day and age when we have become very blasé about visual effects. I've seen clips of The Golden Compass and while the effects were good they were basically the standard of what we now expect. They certainly didn't raise the bar in the way that Transformers did. Was it a case of Michael Bay's over excitable direction detracting from the impact? Possibly.

It was also nice to see The Bourne Ultimatum pick up three awards. All in technical categories but an Oscar is an Oscar.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Challenge - Update 9 (I's)

After a little break in the hunt for 1001 movies I'm back with a small update. The letter 'I' has yielded another 39 movies for the list. Not that impressive really but I'll take what I can get. It is easy to pick the best of the bunch from this selection and that is the Indiana Jones trilogy. I know that is kind of cheating but I can't pick my favourite one. Another great movie here is Infernal Affairs, a terrific thriller for South Korea. This film is interesting to me, as I do not think it is actually as good as the American remake - The Departed. It is still a brilliant film though. I think the reason I prefer the remake is that some of the humour and the culture of the original just didn't translate well for me.

It is so easy to pick out the worst film here and possibly ever in the shape of Into The West. I was practically dragged to the cinema to see this sorry excuse for a movie. It is the one movie I always bring up when I talk about how poor I think the Irish film industry is. A truly terrible, terrible film. Avoid at all costs.

Current Count: 548

Sunday, February 17, 2008


In a development of no interest to anyone but myself I managed to get the survivalist challenge completed on a game of COD4 earlier. I survived the whole match without dying once and managed to rack up 13 kills. I was just camping out in a room that I found that only has one entrance so I didn't have to watch my back. I know it is considered to be camping playing in this style and it is frowned upon but I didn't like it. I much prefer running and gunning and usually end up with a neutral kill ratio.

Anyway, it was good to complete the challenge and a whole host of other challenges to as a result such as a 5:1 kills to death ratio challenge. It'll be back to running and gunning in the next match.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ich bin ein Berliner

I spent some time in Berlin last week, Alexanderplatz to be precise. It was my first time in Germany, (that reminds me that I'll have to update my travel map on a country that I had always planned on visiting. Now I must say that I do like history and war time history especially. I do hate to say it but that is what attracted me to going to see Germany in the first place. Although I'm sure people in Germany would rather that not be the case and would rather I'd been attracted to the country and culture as it is now. As it turned out I didn't get to see many places that would be associated with happenings during WWII but mainly things that came about as a consequence of the war, i.e. the Berlin Wall.

I knew going over there that the Berlin Wall has largely been removed but I wasn't aware of the extend to which this is true. We only saw two separate 10/20 meter stretches of the original wall. One part had actually been striped so badly (in the quest for an original piece) that it was fenced in lest it fall on some unsuspecting passer by. I did find out that they left the trail of the wall marked with two bricks all through Berlin. So when driving along a road if you pass over where the wall once stood you will actually feel a bump in the road. I though it was a nice touch and a good reminder of how things were. I was also struck by the thinness of the wall. I was under the impression that it would be at least a meter wide, capable of withstanding a tank attack or something but it is actually only several inches thick. I suppose if you have manned gun towers every few hundred meters you don't need that thick of a wall.

Getting away from the wall for a moment there were other very interesting sites to see. The Brandenburg Gate is spectacular and the statue on the top is far bigger than I imagined it was. You really need to be up close to see how large it is. I never realised that the Gate was actually in no-mans land while the wall was in existence. Just down the road from this is the Reichstag building the current seat of power in Germany and home to the famous dome by Sir Norman Foster. I can see why when the design was unveiled it caused controversy. The Dome with all it's glass would be striking in any location but it is absolutely jarring when juxtaposed with the old building that is the Reichstag. I don't dislike it, in fact I think it is very cool. What wasn't cool was the hour long wait to get up into the Dome but hey it was free so I can't complain too much. It was worth it though for the fantastic views of Berlin and just to see the genius that went into designing the thing. One feature we loved was the fact that as you use the walkway to walk around the Dome and make your way up you don't meet anyone coming down in the opposite direction. It is like an optical illusion but there is a separate walkway that is intertwined with the one leading up, very cool.

Actually before we'd seen both the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag we were at the Holocaust Memorial. It is a striking piece of art. With 2,700 blocks of granite all protruding from the ground, which is actually very uneven. This means as you walk through the memorial some blocks will tower above you or you above them. I'm not sure how it represented the Holocaust as these things in art are usually lost on me but I know what I like and this I liked. We used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus around the city, which as I'm sure you know can be very hit and miss depending on who the guide is. I don't think the tour was as good in Berlin as I've experienced in other cities like Paris or San Francisco which is a shame because it is not like they have a lack of things to talk about. I did pick up some interesting facts -

  • Berlin lost more buildings during the war than were ever built in Munich.
  • The department store KaDeWe is the biggest in mainland Europe.
  • Turkey has land for an embassy but no embassy it is just a small woodland.
  • They are very proud of Berlin and will denigrate Munich or Bonn at the drop
of a hat.

Having stayed in Alexanderplatz I'm not so sure why it is labelled as a great tourist attraction. It is in a fantastic location for traveling to other sites, the Reichstag is within walking distance but there is little to see in Alexanderplatz itself. I stayed in the Park Inn Alexanderplatz and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone coming to Berlin. Again that reminds me to submit a review to Staying on the 18th (out of 39) floors gives you a fantastic view, depending I suppose on what side of the building you are on. We were looking directly out onto the Fernsehturm. The rooms are really clean and modern but I would like to sound a note of warning. Do not stay in the same room as someone that you are not intimate with or at least familiar with their bodily functions. For more on this see the many reviews on The lounge/bar in the hotel is great with brilliant service and the most comfortable of couches to just sit an relax with a cocktail or Irish coffee. Ahhh, the memories.

I think at this point I should bring up the issue that caused me the most concern, the food. Before I start on this I should say that I like my meat to be well cooked. If I'm getting stake I will ask for it well done, nothing pink or bloody for me. Period. It all goes back to a bad episode with Salmonella. Anyway, the first night I order a pizza as does my wife. Nothing risky there you might think. The pizzas arrive and my wives' is topped with pork, strange but hey, we both like pork so no big deal. What is a big deal is that it isn't cooked properly. In fact a very large chunk of it has clearly never been even near a cooker in its existence. It is totally raw and it is sitting there on top of cooked food. We complain and they offer to reheat it! As they say on many a message board, WTF?

So we hit the idea of reheating raw meat on the head and re-order and get a lasagna, which they promptly nuke in the oven but at least it is cooked. The following night in a different restaurant we encounter similar problems. I order a steak well done and it come out very pink and a bit bloody. After a quick retreat to the kitchen it returns a little less pink but certainly far from well done. I know people eat it like this and even less cooked but that is what I asked for and surely the customer is always right. So thats another dinner ruined. The third night (another new restaurant) I decide to play it safe and get the fish option. I plump for salmon, which looked great when it arrived until I noticed that my potatoes had been soiled with large amounts of cheese. I shipped those off to my wives plate for consumption and cut into my salmon. The result? Well it was very red and runny in the centre. Now I'm no chef but that didn't look very healthy to me so I left it, too exasperated to even bother sending it back to the pond or kitched or from wherever it came. The results of three nights of eating garnish led us to the local Burger King. Oh, the shame of it and even there I didn't risk the meat and stuck with potato wedges.

I should mention our trip up into the Fernsehtrum. It was actually EUR9.50 to go up but it was just about worth it I think. Although, if I had know in advance how long we would have to queue I would not have bothered. It was, without exaggeration, about an hour and a quarter. The queue was small enough outside but it continued inside and it was winding up two sets of steps. Once we got up the top though it was good, with amazing views obviously enough. There was a small bar in the view deck too where we got something to drink and look out over Berlin. I got a cappuccino which was pretty weak actually so if your there you might want to avoid the cappuccino. There is a restaurant there too but we didn't bother with that. I nearly forgot to mention that we visited Checkpoint Charlie. It was nice to see the exact recreation they have there for the tourists. It is hard to imagine the importance those posts would have held not so very long ago and that world war three very nearly started in the same spot.

So that was how my little stint in Berlin went down last week. It was a good city to visit and I'm glad I did but I won't be rushing back to Germany in a hurry. In summary I'd say that the culture is great but culinary skills not so.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Challenge - Update 8 (H's)

Ah, the halfway point has been passed. With only 52 movies to choose from the H category it doesn’t really help me reach the 1001 mark as quick as I was hoping. The one thing that I did notice about this group is the number of old movies that begin with H. When I say old I mean the 1980s to very early 1990s. This may have been the case in previous groups but I didn’t notice when compiling the list. These ‘old’ films include Howard the Duck, Highlander, Heartbreak Ridge, The Hard Way and there are a few more.

The best of the bunch from this category is between A History of Violence and High Plains Drifter. I really liked A History of Violence when I saw it back in 2006. Yes, it was violent but it was not glorifying it in anyway. Viggo Mortensen’s performance was excellent, really coming out from underneath Aragorn’s vast shadow. The coffee house confrontation scene was expertly done; so well in fact you could feel the tension. To top it all the cameo (because that is all it amounted to) from William Hurt was immense and he truly deserved that Oscar. As for High Plains Drifter I thought it was excellent and a very surprising film. I honestly didn’t see where this film was heading and when the final act unfolded I was absolutely gob smacked. Anyone who knows me knows that I think Clint Eastwood kicks ass and in this film it’s no different. Not quite Unforgiven but then again what is?

Current count: 509

Friday, February 8, 2008

Indy IV

A quick entry. I just read that the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trailer is to debut next week. I can't wait to see this. Now I'm not one of these people that likes to know everything about a movie before seeing it but I do like to see a trailer. Anyway, May isn't that far away now.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

My gaming history (P.2)

If memory serves me I got myself a Nintendo Gameboy around 1991/92 when I still had the C64. A friend of mine had one at the time and I thought it was amazing. There really was quite a large jump in the quality of the games on the Gameboy and the C64. Many of the games I had on tape were fairly ropey in all honestly but it seemed that many games on the handheld were just of a quality. Although they were all in monochrome but I don't think that was ever an issue for me.

I got Tetris with my Gameboy and that is the game that definitely got the most play over the length of time I had the system. In fact, even my mother got in on the act and got herself hooked on Tetris a little bit. The next best game was definitely Super Mario Land. It was a great game and one of the best Mario games. It did have quite a few gameplay differences to other games in the series such as levels flying planes or piloting a submarine (I think). It had a great difficulty level, set at a challenging level but just short enough to complete in one sitting. Remember it lacked a save game facility that later Mario games introduced.

I honestly don't remember too many other games that I had. I know I had Beetlejuice but I don't remember much about it. Not a good sign. I just remembered that I had another movie tie in, Gremlins 2: The New Batch. I know I got to level two in that game and just couldn't get past it. It is fine having a difficult game but it they are made too hard then as the end user you soon lose interest in the game. I can't actually think of any other games. As a testament to how much I loved the Gameboy I actually had it until 2004 when I gave it to my brother (including all original packaging).

Up next is probably the best console I've owned.

Supernatural Superserious - first impression

Right now I'm listening to the first single from R.E.M.'s new album Accelerate. The song is Supernatural Superserious. I'm really liking it, which is a big relief as I was left underwhelmed by the last time they premiered a song (Leaving New York) from a new album. In fact, just after the first listen I would venture it is better than any of the songs from their last album.

I have to say I'm really, really happy with it. After the rehearsal concerts in Dublin in July 2007 the new material sounded awesome. Really rock and guitar heavy and I was worried a long recording process could end in the songs becoming over produced. Looking forward to the new album even more now. Roll on March 31st.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


I'm just back from the cinema after seeing Cloverfield. This was one of the movies that was on my list of must see movies for this year, in fact it was very close to the top of that list. The problem this movie had to overcome was expectation. It arrives on the back of a fantastically orchestrated viral advertising campaign. The first trailer was brilliant and the follow-up false news reports were very well done and really got me psyched up for the movie.

It is actually a very short movie but that definitely works in its favour. It starts slow but very quickly the monster is on the scene and from that moment to the last it is full steam ahead. Following this small group of people we really do get a sense of the confusion and terror that they must be feeling. This is in no small part due to the decision to show the whole film from the perspective of the video camera one of the characters is using. There are no cuts away to other view points for showy sequences, everything on the screen is what the character captures. This is in equal parts cool and frustrating.

There were a few times during the movie that I just wanted to shout at the guy wit the camera, "turn around and film the monster!". I wanted them to stop worrying about being squashed or eaten and show me the money shot. They don't leave you hanging but they do leave you wanting more, which is actually good as you leave the cinema thinking about the movie. The film has a reported budget of only $25 million but the effects in the movie are amazing and aren't as sparse as you might imagine. Combined with fantastic sound effects it really does all add up into the best monster movie experience I've ever seen.

I'd recommend anyone to see this movie. It is a new experience in movies and is likely to be copied by many movies to come. In fact, it appears that the production company The Asylum has already gotten their claws into this idea. I've seen reports that a sequel is in the works and I am very disappointed about this. I think it is best left as a one off experiment and fantastic experience.

Some people might be advised to take some travel sickness pills before entering the cinema.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Challenge - Update 7 (G's)

The letter G has given me just 46 films for my list, which is a shame as I was hoping to wrap up this list about halfway through the alphabet. With only 46 films to choose from it could have been hard to choose a great movie but in fact there are a few candidates. Now comedy is not my favourite genre but there are three here that I think are great – Garden State, Groundhog Day and Grosse Pointe Blank.

One thing that struck me during this list was the grosses for some of the movies I’ve seen. Surely Goodfellas is worth more than $46M gross and am I one of the very, very few to have seen The Gingerbread Man with a gross of just over $1M. I’ll put forward Gladiator as the best of this section but it was close with both Goodfellas and Ghostbusters running it close.

As for the worst, I’ll plump for Gossip. I don’t think anything even happened in the movie, the script must have been about four pages long. Rubbish.

Films to see: Galaxy Quest, The Green Mile

Current Count: 457