Friday, September 19, 2008

Iron Man Blu-ray / DVD differs from theatrical cut

An interesting story has emerged about the upcoming Iron Man Blu-ray and DVD release. It turns out that the version of the film on the home format will be ever so slightly different from the theatrical cut of the film.

While the movie was in production the website [a href=""]IESB[/a] obtained a photograph of the Iron Man suit in action and they published it on their website. This was nearly a whole year before the film came out. The studio Paramount went into meltdown and contacted the movie sites internet host and had the site shut down. The problem was that the photo was obtained and printed legally so Paramount had no right to do what they did. Shortly after both sides met and Paramount offered an apology and gave the website an exclusive set visit.

After this incident the direct Jon Favreau used the 'spy' photograph in the movie as a kind of easter egg. It is used at the very end of the movie as the picture on the front page of a newspaper that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is reading. Kinda cool really.

Anyway, now the IESB website is suing Paramount for unauthorised use of their photograph. So with the legal battle ahead the picture has been removed from the movie and replaced with a different image.

I think it is a petty reaction from the folks at IESB. You would think as a movie fan website they would be proud to have some of their own work show up in such a clever way in one of the biggest movies of 2009.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hot Air Balloon Trip - 13 September 2008

Yesterday myself and my wife spent the evening floating around the Meath / Navan area in a hot air balloon. A pretty cool way to spend an evening.

We got a gift token for the trip last September but the weather has been so bad the past year that it was only yesterday we got to go. On the day you are due to go you ring their information
line to hear a message to say whether or not the weather is good enough to fly. We were just lucky to get the weather yesterday as Friday wasn't good and today was terrible. They only fly in very good conditions - light wind, dry and no cloud.

So we drove down to Trim and we got collected by the pilot and his partner. From there we got transported to the launch field along with the eight other passengers. I was surprised that many people would fit in the balloon at one time but I didn't expect the basket to be as big as it was. The good thing about the trip is that they get you involved in every part. We all helped to unfold the balloon (envelope is the correct name) and it is massive. Then we had to lift down the basket from the truck and it is really heavy. Reassuringly heavy I suppose because it feels really sturdy. The next stage was filling the balloon with air. For this they get you to direct big fans into the balloon opening. It gets a bit toasty in this position as you can see from the second picture.

All of a sudden the pilot yells GET IN THE BASKET and a big scramble ensues as the
basket starts to move around. The thing that really struck me about the trip is how smooth the flight is. The basket doesn't shake or move at all and is totally level the entire time. A friend asked earlier in the week how they steer while in the air and I know the answer now - you don't. Basically the wind takes you and the pilot just hopes to find a suitable landing area before running out of fuel.

I'm not sure exactly how high we were but I think it was about 600 feet. It was a nice height as it gives you a great view of the area without things getting too small. Also you would be amazed at how sound travels. You can hear everything so clearly - dogs barking, children playing and car horns beeping. I think I g
ot some decent pictures of the area although I'm sure any professionals reading won't think so.

Next up is the landing (in Navan), which was great fun. The balloon drops pretty fast and we hit the ground then bounce back up in the air. We bounce up and down twice more before landing precariously teetering between topolling over and landing normally. Apparently it
is fairly normal to topall over and nothing to worrry about but I think we were all relived when the balloon settled down normally. The pilot's partner who had been following us in a van got permission from the farmer to enter the field and collect us. I'd hate to be in a situation where you land in a farmers field who gets upset, we did take a few big chunks out of the ground. The last part is packing up the balloon and it gets done surprisingly fast. The pilot has 19 years experience and has us working in perfect harmony to get the balloon folded. Then we have to lift the basket back onto the truck and we're all back off to Trim to enjoy a few glasses of champagne.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dimitar Berbatov - debut coming up.

I just realised that Manchester United signed Dimitar Berbatov two weeks ago and I never posted anything about it. He is a very fine player, there is no arguing about that. However, I do feel that some people are getting carried away. His goalscoring record in the Premier League is good but it isn't exceptional. In fact he scored the same number of goals in the same number of games as Robbie Keane last year and no where near the number of Ronaldo. He is very good but just because they have him now doesn't mean they are going to walk away with the title or defend the European Cup successfully.

I am happy he is there though but they did pay over the odds. Although about £5 million of that is basically hush money so that Spurs don't report them for practically kidnapping Berbatov from the airport. Obviously that was very poor form from Man Utd but the Premier League is a soap opera afterall so there is nothing wrong with a little drama every now and then. So his debut looks like being tomorrow morning against Liverpool. I am never confident about the results in these matches with Liverpool even though Uniteds record over the last few years has been exemplary. I'm going to say it will be a score draw with Berbatov on the score sheet.

We shall see...

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 - nearly here

I find myself for the first time since 2001 without a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer to play. As anyone who knows me will know PES is and probably always will be my favourite series of video games. When I traded in my Xbox 360 a few months ago for the PS3 (still happy I did) I also traded my copy of PES 2008. It may not have been the best game in the series but I still really enjoyed playing it. I didn't think I'd miss not having a PES game to play but I really do.

I have refused to buy any games on the PS3 that I've owned on the Xbox 360 previously so no COD4, GTA IV or PES 2008. Although I hear that PES 2008 on the PS3 is a very bad port anyway. So with that rule in place I've been fairly restricted to what games I've bought or played on the PS3. I've bought and traded on the launch games and now I'm at a loose end. There is nothing really worth playing until October 17th (I think) when PES 2009 launches. It can't come soon enough really.

I know the 2008 version did a lot of damage to the brand, I for one was never able to get a game going online. However, I have every faith in the developers that they will get the series back on track with this one. For me the most anticipated new feature is going to be the Become A Legend mode, where you control just one player throughout their career. I can't wait to give it a go. I think I'll pick an offensive midfielder first as I think it will keep me involved in the match whereas a player on the wings might get a bit isolated. I also hope they have fixed the online component as it has been far too long since I was beating all comers online.

Just over month to go.

And then comes Little Big Planet...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Boom Blox [Wii] - Review

Another blockbuster from Steven Spielberg?

Boom Blox is a puzzle game developed by EA for the Nintendo Wii. The interesting thing about the title is that film director Steven Spielberg approached EA with an idea for a game. Against expectation it is a relatively simple family game rather than some grand action/adventure game. When this game first launched here in May I had picked it out as a definite purchase for the Wii. We are all acutely aware of the shortage of quality software titles on the Wii so I decided to hold off on buying it till there is a lull in good games and I could come back to this. So with nothing worthwhile on the market for PS3 or Wii recently, I went back and got Boom Blox last week.

The gameplay is like a mixture of Jenga, dominos, a shooting game like 'Duck Hunt' and Lego. There are three distinct game variants - throw, shoot and grab. In the 'throw' games you use the Wii Remote to throw objects at the onscreen objects to accomplish different things. There is a reverse version of Jenga where you throw balls at a tower of blocks with the aim of toppling the tower. Shooting games are pretty self explanatory really. The 'grab' games are perhaps the most fun. There is a game that is basically Jenga where you use grab blocks out of a large pile and try to avoid toppling the tower. Three game types doesn't sound like a lot but there is a massive variety of games within each type. The developers have thrown in plenty of little details that will make each level play differently. For example purple colour blocks will disappear when hit meaning blocks above will fall into the empty space, or hit two green blocks into each other and watch the resulting explosion fling surrounding blocks around the screen. These little details let the player bring much more strategy into play than one would expect.

You can play all these games as mini-games, trying to get a bronze, sliver or gold medal in each one. Or you can play the adventure mode where the developers have attempted to wrap a story around each game. It is a nice idea but the narrative isn't exactly deep or engaging and to be honest you don't buy this type of game for the quality of the story. The single player mode is not as fun as I was hoping it to be. In fact I was quite disppointed in it to be honest. However, you can overlook this rather large failing with the exceptional multi-player gameplay with two, three or four players. You can opt to play competitively or co-operatively with the latter being more fun in my opinion. Suddenly games that are fun alone become even more fun as you try to knock over your opponents towers or leave a precariously position tower for your opponent to remove a tricky block. I can't wait to break this game out when I have a few friends over as I suspect it will be a big hit with four players - fast, frantic and highly competitive.

The game is deceptively simple. The graphics (even for a Wii title) are unlikely to win any prizes. They are nice and colourful, while the backgrounds are surprisingly good. There is some added personality in the game with the addition of animals who watch the action from the sidelines and they have some nice animations. The sound too is equally functional rather than amazing. There is some nice tunes, especially those that have the animals chanting along and there are good solid sound effects for the falling blocks. The most impressive aspect of the game is one that can be easily overlooked - a very advanced physics engine. Everything that happens in this game happens as you would expect it to happen in the real world. The blocks fall very convincingly, causing chain reactions where you expect them. There is never a time when you think that something that has happened was scripted, you are always in control.

A good deal of effort has gone into improving the longevity of the game. Firstly, there is over 100 levels of co-operative and competitive levels to work through, added to the 300 or so single player levels. Very impressive. If that isn't enough there is a quite impressive level editor. Here you can alter existing levels or create your own from scratch. You can play the single player game to unlock more objects to use in your own creations. There is a handy meter on the side to say when you have enough objects in the level, otherwise the physics engine would be overloaded. It is here that the game shows off some more technically impressive functions, sharing created levels with friends over WiiConnect 24. It is good to see a third party developer take a lead here rather than wait on Nintendo so show everyone how it is done. Kudos to EA for going the extra mile and hopefully it will encourage other developers in future.

Simple graphics but this is not title that requires state of the art graphics. Most of the power of the Wii is probably busy calculating where all those blocks are supposed to fall. Colourful and cute like most Wii games.

Functional and solid. The soundtrack is unremarkable apart from songs when the animal spectators chant along.

Possibly the best implementation of the Wii Remote since Wii Sports. It is especially good at calculating the speed of your throw from the force you use physically. The grab tool is also very accurate.

I know EA gets a lot of criticism (some deserved) but for making this game they deserve a lot of praise. As a multi-player title it is a lot of fun, one of the best multi-player games on the Wii which is high praise as the system has a lot of good party games. If you want a fun game that you can hop on and play in short bursts or fancy a lengthy challenge then this is the game for you. If you intend playing solely on your own then I'd recommend renting first.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - Review

Here is a review that I had written back in May but had forgotten to post. Better late than never I suppose. Now that a few months has passed I might be inclinded to look more critically at the film but I haven't changed the text since I wrote it.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Quite a mouthful for a title but perhaps fitting for a movie that looks like it is going to generate some heated debate. Whatever way you eventually feel about the movie, it is without doubt one of, if not the biggest film event since Star Wars: Episode One back in 1999 and you owe it to yourself to see it.

I still remember going to the cinema to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade nineteen years ago, in the Savoy in Dublin. It is one of those memories that I will always treasure. It was a surprise trip with a group of friends. When we left the cinema we were all on a high from the movie and spent the day all wishing we could be Indiana Jones. It has been a long wait and a nervous one ever since it was confirmed that a new film was in production. There were so many questions. How would Harrison Ford cope with the physicality of the role? Can they capture the spirit of the original movies? How much influence would George Lucas have? Having seen the movie I can at least answer two of those questions positively and hey, two and out of three is not bad.

First let me say that I really enjoyed the movie. It is an action adventure movie first and foremost, I do not think it pretends to be anything other than that. As such, it has to deliver on the action front and it does - in spades. The opening action sequence immediately dispels any doubts over Fords ability to play the role. From here on in you forget that he is now much older and he is simply Indy as he was all those years ago. The action beats range from the vaguely realistic to the totally preposterous but never fail to entertain. I was particularly taken with the truck convoy chase through the jungle. I will acknowledge that it was insanely over the top and brought to mind one of the weaker effects sequences from Peter Jackson's King Kong. However, it was so much fun that you cannot help but love it all the same. Bazookas, sword fighting between vehicles, fistfights and giant ants what more can you ask for?

I was also particularly fond of the motorcycle chase from earlier in the film. It was more old school in its direction and I think you can see Dan Bradley's (stunt co-coordinator on the Bourne franchise) influence shine through in this sequence. This scene had more physicality to it, it may also be because looked to have a total absence of CG trickery. Indy being pulled from the bike into the chasing car and then fighting his way to the opposite window and climbing back on the bike is right up there in the hit list of Indy stunts. When you think of Indy climbing under the moving Nazi truck in Raiders, or Indy fighting on top of a tank in Last Crusade you can now add this sequence from Crystal Skull.

The feel of the movie really does capture the spirit of the originals. It follows the well established format set out before - the opening action sequence, the downtime when we get some heavy plot exposition and then the adventure starts and continues till the very end. The humour of the previous movies is all present and correct too. For me it is the small moments that make this movie. The 'punch Joe college' moment, the sand trap scene, the hints at past adventures they all combine to make the experience as a whole so satisfying.

I've already mentioned Ford's ability to play the role physically, but he also handles the acting side of things just fine. His comic timing is still there and he still radiates this feeling that he is the type of guy who you'd like to have as a friend. Thinking of the cast made me remember something that this movie has over the other films - a really likeable sidekick (I consider Sean Connery to be his mentor, not a sidekick). Shia LaBeouf's character Mutt is as good a sidekick your likely to get. Short Round anyone? Give me Mutt any day. I like the tough guy image he projects but you can at times see how frightened he is at the situation he has gotten himself into. The bonding scenes between LaBeouf and Ford came across as very genuine too; they are two of the better written characters. I think that Cate Blanchett does a good job with what she is given but her character is a little too one-dimensional. We do not get to know anything really about her background or motivation other than she is a loyal solider of the Soviet Union. Ray
Winstone is a good addition to the cast, always a reliable actor he does a good solid job here. Of all the actors and they are all good actors it is John Hurt who has the least to do. For such a terrific actor he is criminally underused, reduced to a silly comedy sideshow act, he is only given something relevant to say in the final two minutes.

I was really impressed with the look of the movie. It was bright and colourful and seemed to have a really crisp sheen to the whole proceedings. A lot of praise must go to Spielberg for putting all this together on film because there is a lot going on here. The plot is not exactly straightforward and there is not much time for exposition between action scenes. However, he
still finds time for some iconic shots - especially the introduction of Indy, putting on his fedora in silhouette. Sublime.

I have said a lot about the parts that pleased me but there are a few elements that left me cold. The story is perhaps one of the weaker in the series of films, although it might be stronger than Temple of Doom's. One of the questions I posed at the start of the review was how much influence George Lucas would have. Unfortunately, it appears to have been too much. I think it is safe to assume that the alien (and that is what they were, forget the "inter-dimensional beings" guff) aspects were championed by Lucas. Sorry if that is a massive spoiler but you were warned. He seems to be totally preoccupied with alien beings and he obviously is not happy with keeping it confined to the Star Wars universe and has seen fit to bring it into Indy's world. I will be interested to hear if reports come out over time of how accommodating Spielberg was to this idea. I think that the story line would have worked better if the alien aspect were expunged. They could still be looking for a crystal skull and the lost city of El Dorado. That would make an interesting film; there is no need for the skull to be alien in origin. Someone should have shown Lucas, Spielberg and Ford (for he has a lot of influence) the movie Stargate before green lighting this script.

There were some other problems, most notably the lack of a very strong baddie. I already said that Blanchett's Agent Spalko was one-dimensional and you never really get the feeling that she is capable of killing Indy. In fact, after Indy survives a nuclear explosion you get the feeling he might just be invulnerable. Although, he did drink from the cup of ever lasting life in Last Crusade so there is some justification for his amazing survival. I think the 'monkeys' scene is destined for the wrong kind of movie notoriety. And why has Karen Allen (Marianne Ravenwood) got a smile permanently on her face when faced with the certain of not just herself but her son too?

At this point you will have to forgive me if this review turns into a bit of a rant. I have heard a lot of negative comments about this latest Indiana Jones but the majority of these comments are in my opinion base on a fallacy. And that is, that the first three Indy films all contain amazingly complex and wonderful storylines, terrific character development, Oscar worthy dialogue and realistic action scenes. These are the thoughts of people who are looking back with rose tinted glasses on a series of movies that have not been in the cinema in 19 years

Let us look at the facts. Indiana Jones has never been realistic. There are so many examples to draw upon to prove this point and this needs to be proven so people can stop beating Crystal Skull with big fat fraudulent stick.

- The Ark of the Covenant contains the Wrath of God that will send forth ghosts to melt the faces of people with open eyes.
- People can live with their heart ripped out.
- Drinking from the cup of ever lasting life will give you immortality and heal gunshot wounds.
- Having a conversation with an 800-year-old knight from the Crusades is an everyday occurrence.

Suddenly having aliens in the movie does not seem all the unrealistic to me. In fact, it is in keeping with the outlandish stories of the past movies. I am always willing to listen to a point of view but some of the negativity this film is gathering could have been averted if these people had their facts straight.

I hope this review does not pigeon hole me as some kind of Indiana Jones fanboy. I would not consider myself to be such because not even I can defend Temple of Doom. However, for this movie I feel I had to voice my opinion on what I consider to be unfair criticisms. I have only seen the Crystal Skull once and have not had time yet to decide where to rank it against the other three. My first reaction is to say that Raiders and Last Crusade can rest easy but Crystal Skull will probably overtake Temple of Doom in my critical rating. The bottom line is Indiana Jones promises action adventure and you get it in the traditional spirit of the Indy movies.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shoot 'Em Up - Bite-Sized Review

I watched Shoot 'Em Up tonight on Blu-ray. It is one of those rare movies that is so bad it is good. As the name suggest the whole movie is one long gun fight between Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) who is protecting a new born baby and a lactating prostitute. It sounds preposterous and it is.

This film is so over the top ridiculous it makes Wanted look like an Sunday night BBC drama. Normally I like over the top movies but that is with the proviso that there is some sort of story going on in the background. This film really is the one of the best examples of style over substance. The director (Michael Davis) seems to think he can coast by on visual style, action and violence alone.

To be fair the movie does have its fair share of really quite inventive and humours moments, such as a gun fight while sky-diving, a gun fight during sex and a very original way of ending a car chase. Along with these highlights the film is peppered with a series of good one-liners. Giamatti as the villain of the piece gets all the best lines, as the villain usually does. My favourite being "Guns don't kill people! But they sure help".

I like the idea behind the movie, a pure action movie but I'd put it down as a failed experiment. It isn't without merit though and it is thankfully pretty short. I'd recommend it for action junkies.

Actually if you liked Crank you will probably like this.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Golden Compass - Bite-sized Review

I just thought I'd post a few little thoughts on this film.

I never got around to seeing this film in the cinema when it came out but I've just finished watching it now. The overriding impression it has left me with is that it was a massive missed opportunity. Now I've never read the books but from the film it is obvious that there is a very detailed and well thought out universe there. The film however failed to get any of this detail across.

It felt as though the makers knew that they couldn't fit everything into this film and were determined to keep the running time under two hours. As a result the movie hurtles along at a million miles an hour, jumping from one place to another. There isn't enough time given to explain the world that these characters live in, which is a shame. Also the actors Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman whom the advertising was based around had barely any screen time. Especially Craig, who has little more than a glorified cameo.

Having said that I felt it was okay and I would be interested in seeing a sequel if it gets made. That is a pretty big if at this stage considering its box office in the US. It has certainly made me interested in reading the books though.

Another thing I have to take issue with is its win in the Best Visual Effects category at the 2008 Oscars over Transformers. The effects were impressive but nowhere near the level of Transformers that in my opinion set a new benchmark for visual f/x.

Monday, September 1, 2008

R.E.M. @ Twickenham 30/08/08 - Review

I went to see R.E.M. at Twickenham last night and it was awesome. I suppose I always say that after one of their concerts but the setlist was just so strong last night. There were several songs that I never thought I'd get to hear live in person but they were performed last night.

They opened up strongly with Living Wells the Best Revenge, These Days,The Wake-up Bomb and What's The Frequency, Kenneth?. Four rocking songs that really get the crowd going, especially Kenneth as it is the most well know of the opening salvo. For me Wake-up Bomb is the highlight as I've only seen them perform it on a couple of occassions and I've always like the song. It does sound slightly different live, just louder than the album.

They then start up with Drive that always goes down well with audiences as it is both familiar and always gets people clapping along to the strong beat. I always look forward to this song. Following that we have a quick blast of hard fast rock in Man-Sized Wreath that Stipe told us last night is written about Martin Luther King. Another rarity in the shape of Disturbance at the Heron gets played, which gets a lot of confused looks from non-fans but the diehards go mad (including me).

After that we get a little political with Stipe airing the bands hopes for the forth coming presidential election in the US. Of course they want Obama to "get the Bush the **** out of office and Obama the **** into office". They play the song Ignoreland which I am sure I've never heard live before and it was simply amazing. I was never fond of the album version but with having it performed after the political talk it gave the song new meaning. Plus it sounded really cool. Walk Unafraid is up next and is as usual a high point of the show, a real rocking song from an album (Up) that is decidedly non-rock.

The next song starts slow but is soon going along a good pace with Hollowman and the crowd seems to like this one very much. Then we have one of the all-time classic songs Fall On Me that gets every one going with hands in the air. When Electrolite gets performed next Stipe encourages everyone to wave their mobile in the air to recreate the look of Los Angeles at night. The effect looks cool on the big screens. The following song really surprises me, The Great Beyond. The crowd goes wild for it, I remember later it is the bands biggest commercial hit in the UK. The next song is my one of my least favourite in the entire back catalogue I'm Gonna DJ. This had taken over as the final song at concerts so I'm left wondering what is going to fill the gap. At least we have that song out of the way.

Up next we get Exhuming McCarthy which gets strange looks from some people as it starts with a tape recording of an old political speech. Just like it does on the album. It has always been a very enjoyable song for me so it is nice to hear it performed. The One I Love starts up and once again is a mega hit with the crowd. It is always fun to look around and see couples holding hands during this and having a smug laugh to myself as I know this song is really the reverse of a love song. During the song, Stipe gets upclose and personal with the crowd which is cool.

The band then decide to take the tempo down and play I've Been High a really soft song that sounds really good live. The next song is the biggest surprise and the highlight of the night, an acoustic version of Let Me In. I've never heard it live in person and hearing an acoustic version is even more rare. Truly amazing performance of the song and to see the band huddled around the piano playing it was some sight. With a couple of slow songs done we get some high octane performances coming.

Horse to Water blasts out and I'm jumping around as you have to do to this song and it's crazy chorus. It is a newer song so most people don't know it but I'm loving it. The Bad Day starts up and everyone knows it and then we have everyone jumping around. As this song ends with everyone clapping in unison they start immediately into Orange Crush as the crowd continues to clap. This song is a staple of the R.E.M. live set and every time I hear it, I know why. It just rocks. Another surprise next is the reaction to Imitation to Life, the crowd goes wild. It is a good song no doubt but everyone seems to really love it. It sounds a little harder than the album and I like it, especially as the crowd really gets into it.


The encore starts with Supernatural Superserious, which is a good choice for two reasons - it is fast and recognisable. Losing My Religion is up next and as you'd expect the crowd love it. The next song is Perfect Circle, from their first album and another rarity. It is a really nice slow song. Country Feedback comes along and it has always been a favourite. The live version they play is always superior to the album version as Peter Buck likes to get carried away with the guitar. This is a stunning performance. The band finished up with the old one-two of It's The End of the World and Man On the Moon. Both get the crowd really involved and wrap up a superb concert.

Certainly a highlight of this year.