Friday, 27 July 2012

My good friend and comedy partner Dan Marshall is currently appearing in  a gritty urban reworking of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with some new elements apparently inspired by Neil Gaiman. This sounds intriguing to me - I quite liked the play in year eight English lessons and Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. He has a great knowledge of mythology and folklore and a wonderful way of bringing them into the modern world. Sadly, I can't be in York to watch the play, but reading about it gave me this idea for a short story using mischievous fairies in a contemporary urban setting...

Jack is the awkward kid at the party, the one who doesn't really want to be there. He doesn't know how to introduce himself to people, has no confidence in his dancing ability and really has no idea at all how to tell Sammy how pretty her hair looks. Or is it her dress that he should compliment? Not that he ever will. Indeed, Jack would be a lot happier at home, staying up late not to "get well messy", as he can't believe someone genuinely just said, but to work through his new Planet of the Apes box set. Yes, as the stereotype festering in your mind would suggest, he's a real sci-fi fanatic, Jack has a passion for wonderful worlds of impossible spaceships and extraordinary inventions. They're a way for him to escape from the real world of his social inadequacy, from awkwardness into awesome. So, naturally, he assumed that his visitor, which only he could see, was an alien.

Jake is the new kid in the gang, the one unsure of his place in this city and in this life. Cheesy Dave has been a constant in his upbringing, the one person he's always been able to come to throughout his series of children's homes and foster families. But now, Cheesy Dave is asking Jake to take on too many responsibilities that make him uneasy. It's not just the dealing, it's what he has to do to anyone foolish enough to get into debt with Dave. Jake's parents, before the accident, had tried to bring Jake up religiously, and, while neither Mum nor Dad had exactly been a saint themselves, this had, Jake liked to think, left an imprint of morality on his soul. So, naturally, he assumed that his visitor, which only he could see, was an angel.

Jack's alien first appeared to him a week ago. Elegant, pale, effeminate, floating on flimsy yet powerful wings; an awe-inspiring presence with an indescribable, somehow extraterrestrial glow. Jack had been kicking himself, mentally, physically and indeed metaphorically, after bumbling through an unexpected and awkward conversation with Sammy. For some reason, he'd tried to give her his opinion on her choice of sandwich (it was easier to express than his opinion on her… eyes? Are they good to compliment?) and hadn't even made a good job of that. The first thing the alien did was mock him on this, doing silly impressions of, for example, the way he'd described the mustard, a particular cause of embarrassment. The alien had been annoying at first, its fooling around preventing concentration on Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but it wasn't long before Jack felt a strange connection with it. This was the kind of visitor from outer space, after all, that he'd spent his life dreaming about meeting. The alien seemed to understand Jack's problems and to want to help him. It had been the alien, in fact, who had persuaded Jack to come to the party.
"Come on nerd boy, you need to get out more. This isn't healthy. Never going to win Sammy's heart from in front of your TV, are you? Alone, that'll be you - lonely, depressed, wasting your life away. Did I mention alone?"
The alien was right. And so Jack is at the party.

Jake's angel first appeared to him a week ago. Elegant, pale, effeminate, floating on flimsy yet powerful wings; an awe-inspiring presence with an indescribable, somehow ethereal glow. Jake had been having an emotional moment, thinking of everyone he'd lost, holding back the tears in case anyone saw. He'd been needing a friend. He used to go to Cheesy Dave at times like this, but since his duties has been ramped up, he didn't feel comfortable with that. The angel quietly listened to his sorrows. Then the angel told him to man up.
"What are you playing at? Stop acting like a child. You're a man now. Or you should be, anyway. Your cheesy friend has offered you a life here. Take that opportunity."
The angel was right. And so Jake is on duty for Cheesy Dave.

The evening is heating up, and some of the partiers aren't satisfied with the alcohol alone any more. Matty P (the one with the cocky eyes) manages to pull himself away from one lady or the other to tell everyone that knows where something stronger can be bought. But who's going to go to pick it up?
"Go on, nerd boy," whispers Jack's alien, "you can put yourself forward. That would impress Sammy. That would make you popular."
And so, to everyone's amazement, not least his own, Jack offers to buy the drugs.

Cheesy Dave has to go out. Jake has to be left in charge of the stash. He can do this. He's a man. A man with an angel.

Jack's shaking with nerves just walking to the address. This is a rough neighbourhood. What is he doing here?
"Better be on your guard," warns his alien, "you don't want to mess with anyone around here. Posh nerd boy like you will get beaten like a fly."
As the alien says, Jack doesn't exactly fit in, with his neatly collared shirt and his pricey new trainers.
"Don't get your phone out, obviously. And do not let anyone see that."
The alien is pointing to Jack's watch, an expensive model from Austria, a gift from one of his father's business trips. He doesn't want to risk losing that. Jack feels threatened, enclosed, afraid. And, to be honest, as he knocks on the door of the frankly unremarkable terraced house, the alien isn't helping. He has no idea what to say to the scruffy haired boy in the tracksuit who opens the door.

Jake answers the door to a kid about his age in a shirt that, except for the creases, is peculiarly smart. The student (Jake guesses) looks nervous and mumbles something that's probably a greeting.
'Aww, bless," says Jake's angel, "are you going to let him in then?"
Jake lets him in.
"Wow, this kid looks rich. You are going to charge him the full student price, right?"
Cheesy Dave loves charging clueless students a little extra. Jake leads the student upstairs and takes a few packets of coke from the stash.
"The kid's watch looks flash. Bet you'd like a watch like that. Probably a present from his family. Bet you'd like a family like that."
Jake is getting annoyed now. And, honestly, envious. He would like a family like the nervous kid's.
"Why don't you take it then? The watch. It could be yours, easily."

"He's probably armed. You're really not safe here" says Jack's alien.
The alien's right. Jack's on the defensive.

"This kid's not a customer to be trusted. Good chance he'll regret coming here. If pressed, he'd blab about you to the police, you know. Especially after you've looked at him like that."
Jake is angry now. He's had enough.

"You need to get out of here, nerd boy. Fast."
Jack's had enough.
He punches.
His fist misses the alien.

Jake sees the attack and instantly reaches for his knife. Before he knows what he's doing, the blade is through the nervous student's chest.
"You get him, boy! Be a man!'

Jack fails to see clearly. He pushes forward. The scruffy haired youth falls back and hits his head, hard, against the window ledge.
"Oh shit, nerd boy!"

When Cheesy Dave returns to his flat, he finds two boys sprawled on the floor, lifeless. His stash is gone. For Jack's alien did not come in peace and Jake's angel was corrupted by sin. Whatever they are - alien, angel, some may call them fairies - tonight their wardrobe got a little flashier and tomorrow they'll be a little higher on the ethereal plane.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

On 24.7.12 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments

Summary: funny script, predictable plot.

It's out next Wednesday and worth checking out.

Not that anyone cares about films that aren't The Dar Knight Rises these days. I'll get round to watching that this weekend, a whole week after release. Not a proper film fan, I know.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On 17.7.12 by KieronMoore in , , , , ,    No comments
This piece was written as part of a Film Journalism workshop at university and intended as a submission for The Big Picture, but, since they've not got back to me, I'm posting it here.

Introduced by its sinister corporate creator Dick Jones as “the future of law enforcement” and “the hot military product for the next decade”, the ED-209 enforcement droid violently brings to the fore the satirical edge of Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Its presentation early in the film ends with the dull Omni Consumer Products boardroom and its model of a newer, blander Detroit bathed in a vibrant splattering of blood and poor Mr Kinney a little worse for wear, as well as allowing the film’s cyborg hero to be backed as a hopefully more reliable alternative. But, as Jones insists, it was “only a glitch”. This key scene is a defining moment in highlighting the distinct character of Verhoeven’s darkly hilarious swipe at American big business. 

And ED-209’s later appearances don’t disappoint. It’s hard to forget the excellent set piece action scene in which ED pursues an injured RoboCop through the OCP executive suite, blasting the building to pieces and ending with the kind of laugh out loud staircase incident that we haven’t seen since before the Daleks learned to fly. It’s hard not to sympathise with the cold, mindless killer as it lies squealing like an upturned baby tortoise. 

If there’s any creature it resembles, however, it’s a killer whale. A steel killer whale outfitted with gatling guns. ED is a few steps up from the kind of robot seen defusing bombs in The Hurt Locker and it’s hard to believe that the US armed forces will be employing it any time soon. Yet there’s something about its simultaneously sleek and clunky design, complete with impractically placed front exhaust, that fits with the business aspirations of Jones, intent on creating a marketable murderer. If Microsoft made war machines, this would be it. The sound design also gives it a distinctly rough edge; incorporating the unprocessed growl of a cheesed off black leopard as well as the distorted voice of executive producer Jon Davison, who expected his recording to only be used for the film’s early screenings. 

A full scale, articulated ED-209 was painstakingly built for the film’s production, as well as an 8-inch model. It’s obvious on screen when the model, animated using stop motion, is being used, but somehow that tangibility just adds to the charm. 

The ED-209 returned to provide comic antagonism in the duo of inferior sequels. The franchise is set for the inevitable reboot in 2013; could the ED-209 return? If so, it will doubtlessly be via the magic of CGI, which will have to be very magical indeed to live up to the murderously lovable original.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

WARNING: Spoilers may follow!

"Maggie walked through that door with nothing but guts. No chance in the world of being what she needed to be. It was because of you that she was fighting the championship of the world. You did that. People die everyday, Frankie - mopping floors, washing dishes and you know what their last thought is? I never got my shot. Because of you Maggie got her shot. If she dies today, you know what her last thought would be? I think I did all right."

What is it about boxing that makes good films? It's not a sport that I'd ever actually watch, but ask me to name some good sports movies and among the first to come to mind would be Rocky, Raging Bull, and The Fighter. And that's more than I could name for tennis (oh, Wimbledon).

Anyway, I've just watched Million Dollar Baby and can happily add it to that list. It's a remarkable story that takes some of the conventions of the sports movie genre, as Clint Eastwood's cynical old coach reluctantly takes on Hilary Swank's underdog, and plays with them in a realist, believable and touching manner.

Just as listeners of Mark Kermode's Five Live show know that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy isn't about spying (debatable), Million Dollar Baby isn't about boxing (true). It's a deep and gritty character study about a man making up for his failure as a father forging a relationship with a girl determined to raise herself out of her constricted upbringing. In fact, after a shocking twist, the last 45 minutes or so don't involve a single boxing match, and are all the better for it. The unfolding drama, as Eastwood's Frankie faces up to his mistakes of past and present and has to make some damn tough decisions, is compellingly gruelling. You know what I mean; hard to watch because it so excellently pulls on the heartstrings without resorting to sentiment or being at all forgiving. A superb script performed by actors at the top of their game.

It had taken me too long to find the opportunity to watch 2004's Best Picture Oscar winner and the film surpassed my expectations, which were high anyway, with a very brave and surprising take on the genre.

Also, it's narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

With adventures across all of time and space, iconic heroes and villains, and the attention brought in by a major international brand, surely it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect the combination of Doctor Who and video gaming to be, you know, good.

Yet, given the output so far, it seems that such hope would be a bit optimistic. The Eleventh Doctor's era has seen a rise in tie-in products, though not an overwhelming amount of quality. A Wii title here, an iPhone distraction there; all generally received as mediocre.

The better end of this market so far was the Adventure Games, downloadable for free from the BBC's website. Marketed as interactive episodes of Doctor Who, the series lived up to that promise, with fun stories that utilised the aliens of the series well and made a good attempt at mimicking its structure within the format of a third-person puzzler. Sure, the gameplay wasn't perfect and the stories weren't quite up to the standard of the TV episodes, but Sumo Digital got the mix of all necessary elements about right, with the games improving as the series progressed. The fifth and final, The Gunpowder Plot, was by far the strongest, having a complex and compelling story (the last act of which was a bit too ridiculous, admittedly) with the Doctor Who mix of history, humour and adventure. It was even educational, dispensing snippets of history regarding Guy Fawkes and his lot, without seeming patronising or distracting to older players.

However, only coming in small instalments, the Adventure Games left us still waiting for that perfect Who game that would live up to the brand's full potential.

Late last year, a new Doctor Who game was announced: The Eternity Clock, from Supermassive Games. And this one would be on PS3, which is good, because I have one of those. I'll admit that the trailers made me a little bit giddy. A proper console-based time travelling adventure! Would this finally be the good Doctor Who game?



The game begins with the Doctor finding his TARDIS caught in a time maelstrom - yep, one of those buggers - and being pulled to a vault in the Bank of England. Then, finding himself in a sewer with a locked door, his first instinct is to call River Song on one of those phones that sewers have and make her travel a few thousand years back in time to unlock the door for him. Everything goes downhill from there, as River and the Doc discover that the Cybermen, Daleks, Silence and Silurians are all invading London in different time periods and have each taken possession of a piece of the eponymous Eternity Clock, a "hard drive for time".

Yes, a "hard drive for time". And yes, the game involves four invasions of Earth centred around London. That sentence encapsulates the two most disappointing elements of the story. 

One: four invasions of Earth. In none of these cases do we learn anything about the villains' motivations, nor do they serve any narrative purpose other than box-ticking on the 'Classic Villains' list. If the series has recently been moving away from repetitive massive scale invasion stories, The Eternity Clock does a damn good job of making up for it, with everything but the kitchen sink thrown in as a poor attempt to cover up any hint of interesting or cohesive storytelling. The aliens are led by the most pantomime of evil masterminds - "You will die" being the deepest and most meaningful line spoken by anyone - while the Doctor and River bounce between these set pieces through the use of absolutely no logic at all. At one point, they encounter a wall covered in tally marks (by whom they were scribbled is never revealed) and remark that the Silence must be present, before the Doctor disappears and reappears 300 years later, commenting that the Silence "separated them through time". If anyone understands this scene, have a biscuit from me. There are many more like it. The Adventure Games were scripted by writers who'd actually written for the show. This wasn't. And it shows.

Two: centred around London. Bloody London. Every other episode, and a few more, of the TV series in the Russell T. Davies years was set in London, and, let's be honest, it got samey. At least there was a budgetary reason for stories to be confined to recognisable British settings; making a video game that doesn't have to be filmed in actual real places is not the same. Isn't it obvious that there's a lot more fun to be drawn from adding variety to the settings? Exotic alien worlds, anywhere in history... even Derby would be more interesting than London again, and wouldn't cost a penny more for the developers. Pretty stupid not to use that major advantage over those producing the show. There was one level in Stormcage, which I liked.

The gameplay is also rubbish. Though the Adventure Games' third person style worked well, I didn't initially have a problem with The Eternity Clock being a side scroller. I am, after all, a LittleBigPlanet fan. The problem is that the side scrolling is, unlike in the entertaining adventures of Sackboy, painfully and awkwardly obvious. There are so many points where I found myself wanting to shake the Doctor by the tweedy shoulders and demand that he just walk round the fucking crate. This even applies to the enemies - who knew that you could make a Dalek stop shooting you by walking behind a wall that you'd think it would be able to go behind too? Plus, on the off chance that this tactic doesn't work, no big worries, as the most evil race in the universe have an attention span of less than five seconds, apparently. That's the iPod generation for you. 

If this is all sounding a bit negative, you may enjoy the series of mini-games based around the computers that the Doctor has to hack into every few minutes, or the boss battles, neither of which are repetitive, formulaic, or just plain shit. Oh alright, yes they are.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that The Eternity Clock is as buggy as a Tritovore's trousers. From dialogue popping up at the wrong point to lifts not doing any lifting to computer-controlled River failing at walking, there's a wide array of glitches to get your complaining teeth stuck into. And the save points... oh, the save points. The game gives no indication as to where you can start from again after quitting (usually out of frustration), meaning that, on three occasions, I had to redo large portions of levels. Once, the Doctor and River returned to the TARDIS after bashing up a Cyberfactory. This section in the TARDIS seemed like a logical point to finish for the night and   escape into sleep. Little was I to know that I'd have to redo the whole damn Cyberfactory. Which is just not on. Supermassive Games have said they're working on a patch to fix this, but really, it's such an obvious problem that I can't understand how the game was released as it is.

I also don't like the cutscenes, which are presented in such a dull and clunky manner which most video games grew out of after, I don't know, Playstation 2 came around? Stilted character animation, long pauses between lines... to be honest, there were Game Boy Color games that did cutscenes better.

Positive points? Well, the game does have its fun moments. I did enjoy sonic blasting the Silence in a fun rip-off of the Day of the Moon climax, for example. And the new Teletubby Daleks somehow don't look as offensively naff in video game form.

Overall, however, it's rubbish. But it's Doctor Who so I played it anyway.

So. Another failure to add to the roster of Doctor Who games that are failures. The Adventure Games remain the best attempt so far and I'd like to see how they'd develop with a second 'series', perhaps with lengthier episodes in the vein of The Gunpowder Plot, but, alas, they've been cancelled. And we're getting more of The Eternity Clock. Sigh. I don't doubt that Supermassive will be able to improve on their first game and iron out some of the technical issues, though the way they're going in terms of storytelling isn't filling me with any excitement at all.

I'll end this post wth my idea for a Doctor Who game I'd like to see - a Dragon Quest VIII/Rogue Galaxy style third person RPG in which you create and play as an original companion in an adventure spanning a variety of planets and historical locations. The Doctor and River Song join your party and are playable, but don't take precedence over the main character. An original main villain with an interesting story thread connected to the lead character. Appearances from well known enemies where appropriate, but without a single massive invasion of Earth centred around London. Someone make this please.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Monday, 2 July 2012

On 2.7.12 by KieronMoore in , , , , , ,    No comments
Here's my review of Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus for Platform, the YSTV review show. I may have forgotten to say anything about the plot.