Sunday, February 23, 2014

ReVamp in concert

Last night I was aware that the metal band ReVamp were playing a gig in Eindhoven. I'm a huge Floor Jansen fan, so I looked on YouTube for some ReVamp concert footage. I bought their album Wild Card from iTunes recently and really liked it. There was a concert from November 2013, they played at a show called Female Voices In Metal and really rocked the joint. I really enjoyed the show, shame it was a bootleg, they played songs from their latest album Wild Card. It's got some strange sounding song titles on that album for sure. Like "Anatomy of a nervous breakdown: the limbic system" for example. Songs are all very good though. I'd recommend it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Falling Down

I watched this film tonight. I have seen it before and must have liked it so much that I wanted to own my own copy, as I watched a DVD of it. It works on a number of levels but is quite a simple film. A man steps out of a car stuck in a traffic jam and decides to walk home leaving his car in the jam. Sounds simple doesn't it? Well, it ain't quite as simple as that. He tries to phone home from a public payphone after stepping off the main road into a back street but he doesn't have the change so he goes into a general store. The main character, known only as D Fens, is played by Michael Douglas in one of his best roles I think. He wears a white short sleeved shirt and tie, with a pair of black spectacles. He has a pen in his shirt pocket so we can imagine he is a technician or scientist of some kind. It seems he works for the military in some capacity.
The film is based on his journey home and the characters he meets on the way. There is another character who plays an important role in the film, a retiring cop who has a desk job and is looked down on by his superior.
There are some great moments in the film, like when a gang in a car attempt to kill D Fens in a drive by shooting and end up shooting pedestrians instead then crash their car. D Fens walks over to the car where one of the gang is hanging out of the car and the others are unconscious and bloodied. He picks up the sub-machine gun and shoots the guy hanging out in the calf, smiles and walks away saying something like "That's the concept, get it right next time". There's another death later, this time on a golf course where some rich guy (in all the usual silly golf clothes including tartan bobble hat) gets so annoyed with D Fens walking on his golf course that he tries to hit him with a golf ball. D Fens brings out a pump action shot gun he stole from the gang in the car and the rich man has a heart attack. As he watches the man gasping for air D Fens says "Now you're gonna die wearing that stupid little hat. How does it feel?" Classic!
Most of the victims, although seemingly obnoxious at first, are not evil. However, there's a guy who owns an army surplus store who is just a nasty fascist. I was on D Fens' side when that guy got what was coming.
As I said earlier, this film works on many different levels and is one of my favourites.

D Fens inside a burger chain restaurant

When My Son Taught Me To Play Yu-Gi-Oh

I watched a couple of YouTube videos explaining the basics the night before but nothing helps to teach you like playing the game in the flesh. So my son and I had a duel this afternoon. It was quite a long game but would have been much longer if he hadn't have gone so easy on me. I did win but only because he used up most of his life points on a seriously demonic card. If his card had attacked me, I would have been destroyed for sure. Fortunately, I had a Trap card waiting and when he attacked me I sent his Monster card to the graveyard negating the attack. It was a high risk strategy he played and it didn't pay off.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

From Dusk 'Til Dawn

The other night in bed my wife selected a film to watch as she fell asleep (like she normally does) as I was reading my book. I usually keep half an eye on the film, unless my book is fully absorbing me. I saw some of the opening minutes of the film and was quite intrigued but my wife was tired and turned the film off and I didn't complain because I wanted to finish my book. So I decided to give the film a go and watch it myself, my wife happened to join me also.

It starts out like a normal movie about a couple of brothers who have busted out of jail and are on the run. They robbed a bank and are heading to cross the border into Mexico and what they hope will be their freedom. Sounds like standard fair so far doesn't it? Well, this was a film script written by Quentin Tarantino so yep, you guessed it - it's not quite that straightforward. One of the brothers is played by George Clooney and the other by Tarantino himself. He's not a bad actor. He does play a psycho in this film. Juliette Lewis is also in the film as the daughter of a minister who has fallen out of love with God and has gone on a road trip in an RV with his son and daughter. The minister is played by Harvey Keitel. All of the actors in the film are good actors. They probably elevate it. The brothers are trigger happy and the death toll rises before they get to the border. They kidnap the minister and his kids and commandeer the RV. Somehow they make it across the border crossing. They are heading to a nightclub/bar in Mexico called the Twisted Titty. The film goes wrong at this point. It turns into a crazy vampire film. It's very enjoyable and is a good evening's viewing but the vampires aren't scary, it's not horror and it's not exactly comedy although there are some moments that are pretty funny in a silly way. I much preferred the earlier parts of the film to the vampire stuff.

Almost over: my week off

It comes around faster than a speeding car doing a fast lap. Tomorrow is my last official working day that I have taken leave for. That means that I'm back at work on Monday. Boohoo! I hate going back to work, it's just horrid. Into the maelstrom again.
Do I feel this week has been a good break? Well, the answer is a non-committal "yes" and "no". It's not easy to answer that. I didn't book any special time away anywhere (for example, a cottage). Perhaps just being at home doesn't feel different enough. I haven't done any work and I wonder if I had looked at some of it I might feel different, kind of like "look at me, I have the luxury of time I don't normally have". But to be honest, I'd rather do other activities than work any time: like read a book, read a comic, watch a film or TV series, listen to music, play a videogame, go shopping, go out to eat or go out for a walk in the woods.
If I had booked something, it would have cost more and the kids wouldn't have been able to play with their friends - my daughter went to a sleepover and my son played with a couple of his friends. I finished a book and played a few videogames I haven't played for a while, mainly because my son has been on the Xbox360 a lot. I have spent a bit of time just wandering what to do. It is unfortunate but I do feel myself questioning the use of my own time. I did have a videoconference with my brother, which worked surprisingly well despite the great distance involved. There was a bit of lag but it wasn't too bad. I also cleaned the kitchen radiator and walls. The paintwork really needed a wipe down, I was surprised how dirty the paintwork had become, it's something that gets messy so gradually that you just don't notice it on a daily basis.
Today, I had a nice lie in with my wife, something we don't normally do at all. We had a nice pub lunch too, taking the kids with us. Other than that and a little bit of shopping, that's pretty much all I've done today. I do feel slightly guilty, but on the other hand, at least I was spending time with my loved ones.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hell Bent For Leather by Seb Hunter

I finished reading this book last night. It didn't take me all that long, the book was amusing in parts. It's the autobiographical story of a boy growing up and getting in to heavy metal and latterly hair metal. He wants to be in a band, eventually gets to be in a band but then also wants to have success and respect attributed to the top rock acts. Unfortunately, after several promising opportunities it seems that Seb and his bandmates don't quite have the drive, conviction and maturity to really push it. Instead, they seem to squander opportunity and would rather abuse various substances and just try to look cool while being totally vapid and uncool. I didn't have much sympathy, as you can probably tell. I didn't agree with everything in the book, there are a fair number of opinions about various things. It was entertaining and amusing in parts, especially if you have had friends in bands who were always "on the verge" of making it. It brought back a few memories of similar moments. My lasting impression comes from several episodes in the book where his ex-girlfriends are mentioned. Hunter doesn't always come across as a nice person, probably the intent because it is written in hindsight, but it does hamper my desire to recommend this to others. If you like heavy metal music and grew up in the seventies you might like this, otherwise probably best avoided.

Did I mention my new laptop?

I don't know why I haven't blogged about this before but just after Christmas I splurged on myself and went and bought a new laptop. My Toshiba netbook has been a trusted friend over the last four years. I had been getting on very well with Ubuntu 12.01 as an operating system however there were some fundamental issues that were becoming increasingly difficult to live with:
  • a small screen, not good for image editing (which I do a fair amount of)
  • related to above, the dialogue boxes always needed to be maximised for me to see the Save or Cancel buttons
  • sound output through the speaker was in mono and not very loud
  • performance in general was poor, although it only had a 1GB of RAM, just not enough to cope with video without a lot of lag and HD video was just a no no
So for the reasons above I decided to buy a new laptop. I shopped around a bit and considered different options but in the end I wanted something that was probably unremarkable but affordable. I chose the HP Pavilion 15, coming with a 1 TB hard drive, 8GB of RAM and a Intel i5 processor. Good sound and a big screen. The screen is very slim indeed, I worry about breaking it. The laptop isn't a lightweight one but my work laptop is a similar screen size but much heavier. In general, I'm happy with my new laptop but getting used to Windows 8.1 has been, and still is, a bit taxing sometimes. I went for a non-touchscreen version. I've learned all of the trackpad gestures and it works very well. Don't really need a touchscreen

New food sensation

Every now and then something comes along that I try that is surprising in a nice way. Sometimes, it's something I tried previously and didn't like but have decided to give it another shot. And sometimes it's completely new. I think this falls into the last category. I have eaten fresh mango but it's not a fruit that I've ever regarded as a favourite, the first time I tried mango I don't think I enjoyed it very much. But since then I have eaten more and quite like the fresh mango. What I'd never tried before though was dried mango. I'm not a big dried fruit fan to be quite honest. I have tried dried bananas and they're okay but not as nice a fresh bananas. My experience of dried fruits in general is that they're either okay but not as nice as fresh or they're bloody awful. Then along comes dried mango and lo and behold it's actually better than the fresh mango. Dried mango seems quite expensive, so might be a bit of a delicacy. If you look at dried mango you might be forgiven for thinking it has been dusted with sugar. Rather, what you see is the sugar that has been drawn out of the fruit after the drying process.

Holiday week

This week I am on holiday from work. Yesterday I spent the day with my family shopping in Brighton. We had a good time although my legs were aching by the end because we had done so much walking! I think my wife could have gone on longer, she can definitely shop longer than I. Almost every time I go to some place like Brighton, I don't have something specific in mind. I like to see what I can find. I'm not sure this is the best strategy. Before we got there I was thinking of a couple of things to pick up: a rock band beanie hat and a rock band T shirt. I like so many rock bands that I didn't have any specific ones in mind but I would know a cool hat and logo when I saw it. I found only one shop selling them and they looked really big. My head is tiny so I think they would have looked ridiculous. They were just woollen hats, I'm not even sure they were beanies and I don't think they were official merchandise either. I didn't buy any. There was a shop selling T shirts but they were like £25, which I think is way too much. There was a thin NASA long sleeved T shirt that I liked but when I saw it was £50 I lost interest. Stuff in Brighton is so expensive!
I did pick up the following, the first and last for little or nothing:

Disturbed - Believe (on CD)
American Vampire (graphic novel)
Peter F Hamilton - The Dreaming Void (book, 1st of a trilogy)

We visited Dave's Comics, a great comic shop, and I decided to pick up the first volume of the American Vampire series by Scott Snyder and another guy whose name escapes me.

I've not read any Peter F. Hamilton books, so this will be an interesting experiment.

When I got home I added the Disturbed CD to my copy of iTunes but I didn't play it back until today on my iPod in the car. Oh dear, the sound is heavily distorted and I'm not just talking about the hard rock music. There is some problem with it. I will probably give it a go at cleaning it but I don't expect to fix the problem, I reckon it's just a bad disk. Ah well, I didn't pay much for it as it came from Oxfam like the Hamilton book.

Sunday, February 09, 2014


This evening I watched the film Byzantium. I must admit it was a better film than I was expecting it to be. I don't think reviews like "Twilight for grownups" really help a film because it just creates more prejudice than a film deserves. The photography was lovely in this film and the score really helped too. The piano pieces in the film were really evocative but I don't know if they were original or taken from classical music history. There was a strong sense of Victorian horror throughout the film and the modern day setting really worked well. Gemma Arterton's accent is so great, she gives a wonderful performance, so too does her co-star Saoirse Ronan although I have no idea how to pronounce it!
The story centres around the mother (Clara, played by Gemma Arterton) and daughter (Ella), who have eternal youth, but who live as sisters. Living off prostitution the Clara provides for them both but after living a couple hundred years of prostitution and never settling down Ella is tired and wants a change. She meets a boy (Frank), who is attending the same writing course. The lecturer sets an essay titled "I am", which she decides is the way to tell Frank her story as a way of declaring her love. The story is then told through a combination of her written piece and what happens in the modern day after Frank hands the story in to the lecturer. Things then begin to unravel.
It's a wonderful film that I have no trouble recommending.

World Rally Championship 2014

The WRC 2014 championship is underway and two rallies have been held, the one this weekend was Rally Sweden and it looks cold! The snow and ice must be a really difficult surface to drive on. The snowy roads of Sweden though look amazing and are what I naturally think of when I think about rallying. I don't think enough rally sport is televised at the moment. I have to catch up on the rally world mostly through YouTube and Facebook. I like to tie in my watching of rallying with playing videogames. I've always wondered how much the drivers actually listen to the pacenotes read aloud by their co-drivers via the intercom. They must rely heavily on them because I've heard of at least one team leaving the road into a ditch recently because the intercom system broke.

Mad Max

Last weekend I saw a box set of 3 Mad Max films in a charity shop for £1.99 and it was too good to miss. I have seen scraps of all three films but never sat down to watch an entire film before as far as I can remember. I've now watched the first film in the series. I thought it was a good film. It's set in a future world where fuel is in short supply. It's essentially about a crazed gang of motorcycle thugs and a cops revenge after they conduct a series of attacks on his friends and family. The budget was clearly limited but they did an impressive job with what they had. The roads were sparsely populated and long and straight. The motorbikes and cars are impressive but for me the sound design of the film is the star. Mel Gibson looks very young in the lead role, he's a bit too pretty and a little bit wooden in the later stages of the film for my liking but he does an acceptable job and is eye candy for the ladies no doubt. I'm looking forward to watching Mad Max 2. I'm not so keen on Mad Max 3, usually franchises run out of steam but I don't want to prejudice myself. The bleak tone of the film reminds me of other classic films shot around the same time. Indicative of the fears facing the world at the time.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Julia's Eyes

I wasn't sure what to expect with this film. The story is about a woman named Julia whose sister died recently by committing suicide after going blind. Julia has the same eye condition and her vision is also deteriorating. She thought her sister died alone however she discovers there was a man involved, perhaps a lover. She starts to become obsessed with finding out who the mysterious man is. The tension is built up well throughout the film. As she gets closer and closer to discovering the mystery her vision gets worse. It's a good metaphor.
It was much better than I thought, I watched it thinking it would be a good Friday night horror film and it is but is also a very good thriller. I can easily recommend this to fans of horror or thrillers.

Stupid teenagers must die

I thought the title of this film was amusing, it's a sentiment we can all identify with, so I gave the film a go. The image quality was grainy and dark at first, so I thought it was deliberate but as I watched further I began to suspect it was just shot on low quality film and with low quality cameras. It turns out that this is the case. The poor quality actually doesn't convey any sense of threat and just gets in the way of enjoyment of the film. Sound quality is poor, it's not just the image quality.
The plot is ridiculous, some teenagers have been able to enter the house infamous because of a former serial killer inhabitant. Some have an intention to scare others by leaving horror props around the house, like plastic gravestones and real kitchen knives. The ouiji board comes out and when you expect the fun to begin it quickly turns into tedium. There is an attempt to give the characters traits, like the cynical boyfriend, two sex crazed lesbians, a cool guy in a leather jacket, a beauty and a couple of jokers plus a few others. None of the characters engender any sympathy. When the killing began I was hoping all the deaths would be swift to get it over with. It is a short film but it felt longer than it was as I watched it. The visual effects were poor and the low quality of the image didn't do the effects any favours but I suspect higher quality film would just have made the effects look even less convincing than they were. After setting up the premise of the film, unfortunately the execution of the film was poor. There is nothing about the film I could recommend. It's not a good laugh, not a good horror, not a good parody of horror and just not a good "bad film". Not worth anyone's time in my opinion. Disappointing.