There is a new kid on the block

September 29, 2008

I am a very fussy television watcher.  My limits are normally documentaries, films and the news.  However from time to time I will try the occasional pilot of a new TV drama.  I won’t watch a series unless I have seen it from the beginning.  I would have to say that in the past 10 years I have only closely followed two series (excluding Star Trek :p)  Those would be Six Feet Under and Dexter and I love them both.

So we come to the new kid, one that is so far putting them both to shame.

Breaking Bad.

This series is adult drama at it’s best.  It has it all.  From amazingly funny dark, and I mean dark, humour.  To moments of sheer dramatic brilliance.  The line is towed by the star Bryan Cranston who you may remember from Malcolm in the Middle.  To be honest he is the reason I picked it up in the first place.  I thought he was brilliant then and he has taken it to a new level with this.  There are of course downsides.  His sidekick, I don’t know the actor, isn’t on top form so far and for all I know he may never get there.  But…

All in all this is first class drama.  Weighing in at a measly 7 episodes for the first season I hope the second isn’t long in coming.  If you haven’t seen Breaking Bad yet, find it somehow.

Oh, you want to know what it’s about?  Google is your friend.

That is all.

Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex Alpha 6 on a Dell XPS M1330 Laptop

September 26, 2008

I normally upgrade my Ubuntu installation to the latest Alpha when it becomes available.  I just love being an early adopter for no other reason than that.

However up to Alpha 5 I have been unable to get the M1330 to boot using the install media or a direct system update via the net.  Black screen crashes with each method.  So along comes the Alpha 6 yesterday or the day before and I try over again.

And we have success.  I have tested both the distro upgrade via the net from 8.04.1 and also a direct, clean install from the i386 live cd.  Both work flawlessly.  The only bug I had, which was resolved it seems by an update released shortly after I upgraded, was the wireless, which didn’t work correctly.  However, like I say, this is now working fine too.

The system itself seems to be slightly faster and more responsive.  Other notable features?  To be honest to look at and use on the surface 8.10 looks and feels pretty much like 8.04.1, but we are in an early alpha stage.

I know that there are features under the bonnet that have been upgraded.  The new kernel, new xorg, ACPI support and others.

I’ll say well done to the Ubuntu team.  This really does feel like a stable and a faster machine with Intrepid Ibex on it.  I look forward to more rolling updates to see where it goes from here all the way up to the final release in October.

In The Valley Of Elah

July 19, 2008

In The Valley Of Elah

Tommy-Lee Jones puts in a very captivating performance as usual in what I found to be a rather mediocre thriller full of ‘The War in Iraq’ morality.

The unbelievably grizzled Jones has had some rather decent films out recently, not least the stunning ‘No Country For Old Men’.  But as far as I am concerned this is a rather weak effort as a film.  The story of his son being murdered, in a hideous way, after coming back from Iraq allows him to explore some of the deeper emotions which he does with aplomb.  The addition of Theron adds little to the mix other than the eye candy.

As for the story, as I touched on, it is rather a run of the mill mystery/thriller with the customary chase scenes and violence thrown in rather as an after thought.  The parts that really ground on me were the ‘effects of war on the average Joe’ scenes.  This has been done so many times before, and recently, that I think the film industry as a whole needs to stop pointing out to us that war destroys people and their lives.  The obvious is the obvious and I can take a subtle pod in whichever direction the morality of the film wishes, but having it forced down my throat is tiresome.  Susan Sarandon is also wasted here and seems to be cast to beef up the billing.

The actors do their jobs but this film was too much band wagon, not enough story for my tastes.


July 18, 2008

WALL-E Film Poster

Sometimes when you hear so much about a film it will taint your viewing experience one way or the other; and I’m afraid that is what happened for me with WALL-E.

Now don’t get me wrong before I have even begun the review.  I liked WALL-E, I really liked it.  But not as much I as was led to believe I would.  Yes I believed the hype.  A cardinal, cliche ridden, sin.

As with most Pixar films I find it hard to pick fault generally and I guess the only real one I can find with this isn’t even a fault at all.  I’ll repeat: I believed the hype.

What I have said so far makes it sound as if I didn’t get anything from the film and I did, I was just looking for more.

I am ending this rather short review with a summing up that I think holds the essense of my viewing experience.

WALL-E is an excellently animated morallity tale with a sweet love story.  It is nicely seeded with current affairs dilemas that are packaged perfectly for children.  It has enough to satisfy the young and old.  Is it ‘magnificent’ or ‘classic’?  I really don’t think there is enough substance for that.  Is it one of the best animated films in recent years?  Without a doubt.


July 7, 2008

Apple logoI have always been a reluctant Apple user but over the past year or so I have found myself surrounded by more and more Apple products and you know what?  I like them.

Yes they can be over priced, yes they do overly use DRM, and yes there is an element of style over substance.

So am I that superficial that I can be converted despite all of those things or even because of them?

Well not really, my love affair began fairly simply with my other half wanting and getting a iPod shuffle last year.  I scoffed of course having never used iTunes and read all the negatives about it’s DRM and how it limits the way you can use your downloads and devices associated with it.  And I still hold those views.  But iTunes really is a very slick and user friendly piece of software.  It makes downloading podcasts, which I listen to lots of, and other sundry simple via an Ipod.  However I don’t use iTunes for the negative reasons I stated.  However I still like Apple products.  Again, why?

Well since the day of my partners pink Shuffle I have been curious and as such have tired the majority of their products to the point of now writing this on a Macbook (as you will have an idea of if you have read my previous posts).

I like the iPods, especially when using them under Linux using software that allows you to edit as well as you can with iTunes if not with a little rougher UI.

Having used the nano, classic and shuffle I have found the zenith in the Touch.

My iPod Touch isn’t used for music or podcasts.  Why?  Because I have jailbroken it to use it as a very capable handheld mobile PC.  There isn’t much I can’t do with it using the inbuilt wifi.  It is use to check my email on the fly, sign in to an IM, check on the news, browse the web, check the whether and basically any other operation you can think that you might want to do on the move.  Of course it can’t replace the functionality of a fully fledged laptop but what it can do is replace my Asus EEE 701, which has now been handed down to my partner.  Yes, I love my Ipod Touch, not for it’s Ipodness, but for it’s functionality, when jailbroken of course.

So I guess I can move on to the Macbook.

I had never used an Apple computer until I got my hands on this one.  I knew what to expect from the style and looks; as I mentioned Apple products are simply stunning for the most part.

But hardware and OS X wise I had to lose my virginity.  OS X is slick and smooth, there are problems getting some freeware tools and programs that I am used to using, but  I am happy to be using a system that is close to Linux in it’s Unix core although I have yet to really get under the bonnet.  I haven’t even opened a terminal yet.  As such I can only comment on the GUI and it is functionally simple with installs via downloads very easy and it’s overall simplicity over complexity works well.

Hardware wise I am impressed.  The Core Duo model I have runs fairly fast after my upgrades.  I have installed 2 gigabytes of RAM (The maximum for this model I was rather sad to read), to replace the default 1 gigabyte.  I then changed the hard drive from a 60 gigabyte to a 120 gigabyte model.  What I noticed most doing this was just how easy it was to install the upgrades.  Remove the battery, undo three screws and you have access to everything most users would need to upgrade.  The whole operation can be done in under 10 minutes.  Now I come to my favourite aspects of the Macbook, and these alone are almost enough to keep me on it as my main machine.  The screen is simply gorgeous, the best I have seen on a laptop.  It is clear, bright and unbelievably crisp.  But the coup de tat is the battery life.  5 or 6 hours during my normal usage!!!  Brilliant, and coupled with the above, a deal sealer for me.

Yes Apple.  You have a convert.  Not because you are beautiful, although that helps.  You have your downsides in software availability  compared to a Windows or even Linux machine; and your DRM is horrible.  But your hardware is brilliantly designed and that coupled with the functionality of your devices… well, like I say, the Macbook will be my main machine for the foreseeable future and me and my Ipod Touch are never separated.

Maybe its time for me to try the Iphone?  I just hope my other half doesn’t read that!

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

June 1, 2008

Blade RunnerIt’s been many years since I watched this film on VHS.  I think back then I wasn’t old enough to appreciate or understand most of the finer plot points and as such had dismissed it in my youth.  But I was wise to give it another go when The Final Cut appeared on TV.

I love this dark vision of the future.  It doesn’t go into huge amount of detail about this version of our possible future and, I think it is fair to say, is slightly optimistic about how far we would come by 2019 in some respects.  But for a 25 year old film it doesn’t half hold up well.

The visual environment is stunning and epic in proportion.  Every scene, landscape and visual oozes quality and attention to detail.

Harrison Ford does what he does best.  He plays Harrison Ford but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the experience as a dark and foreboding  image of the future.

This story of replicants and their hunter, or Blade Runner, is as good as it ever was.  The script is delectable and as a fan of the sci-fi genre I can say that you won’t go far wrong with this.  Did I mention this is a Ridley Scott film?  No, the name alone explains most of the quality.

Deliciously dark.  Tempered and paced to perfection.

Dreams From My Father

May 20, 2008

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

I have been fortunate enough to experience this book in its audio format read by the author himself. Maybe fortunate is an understatement because this book is a wonderful experience in every sense of the word.

Obama’s story, the parts of it related here, is one spanning generations of his family and parts of his own life and how they have woven together to make the man that all of the world is looking on today. During his narration he pulls no punches and you really do feel the struggles that he has been through emotionally with his family and friends, personal and professional life and those of simply growing up. At no point do you get the sense he is holding back to protect his political aspirations and the effect of this is a book that engages from start to finish. A story that stands head and shoulders above the crowd that I think would be praised if written by an unknown.

Obama does a brilliant job of reading his story to us and I think that in this case it must raise the audio book above the text version. His style and intelligence shines through throughout and by the end you are wishing that there was more. Which of course there is, and he is in the process of living it. Yes, I was already an Obama fan before hearing this book and I have an offering of John McCains to consume, but as it stands at the moment Obama is the one for the White House in my opinion, and this exceptional read simply highlights that fact in my opinion.

A book that I can recommend for the American politics fan, or those who love to read an amazing true story.


May 19, 2008

So Disney have been on the rocks for the past decade, possibly longer?

I suppose Enchanted is a reach to try something new, maybe trying to reignite the love affair with the over 10’s who remember such classics as The Lion King, Aladdin et al.

Well it doesn’t work because the film isn’t good enough a vehicle for the live action cartoon cross over that is it’s novelty.

Neither the live action nor the cartoon are any good, on their own or as the bigger picture.  The children will love it of course, but it is boring.  Very boring.    The characters are two dimensional, obvious and cliche ridden.  Did I mention that it is boring too?

The title song with soundtrack is catchy enough but that’s about all the film as going for it.

If you want a decent live action cartoon crossover, go and watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit instead.


10,000 BC

May 9, 2008

Yep, I have watched it against my better judgement and after switching off at some point near the end I realised my better judgement is just that.

I had read the reviews and obviously know of Emmerich’s previous work, which peeked at the heights of his first film Independence Day and has slowly filled the testosterone heightened teenage boys lust for CGI over substance ever since.  And yet I still put it on.

What can I say to give you an idea of what you would be letting yourself in for if this graces your media player.

Well, think Dawson’s Creek / One Tree Hill / Desperate Housewives style acting. Basically the state of play of most American soaps with a few notable exceptions.  Then take your perception of said ‘dramas’ above and lower the acting bar a few notable percentage points, think maybe 40 – 50 %.  (They can’t afford to pay a decent cast after splurging on over the top CGI to drive the no existent story).

The story?  Think the Lord of the Rings style fantasy, except LOTR story is based on far more fact….

Ok, so I have given you a brief outline of my thoughts so far.  So lets go in-depth….

Except we can’t.  That is about as in-depth as the film gets.

Convoluted love story, fictional setting with a handful of facts about the historical period of 10,000 years ago, more than a handful of historical inconsistencies, abysmal acting,  2D characters, adequate CGI (which the film relies on totally, as it is the only substance to be found).

I was going to say this is a poor mans Apocalypto, but then that is way too generous.

Every other review I have seen is correct, and there are dozens.

Avoid.  Avoid.  Avoid.

Bobby Fischer Goes To War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow

May 2, 2008

To be honest, I have found this book a little bit of a let down.

If you are a regular reader here you will know that I have recently resurrected my interest in the game of Chess and this famous World Championship match seemed to be the perfect way to supplement my expanding and widening interest in all facets of the game.

But, as I said, I have been disappointed.  I found the author to have a plodding, disjointed writing style that doesn’t lend itself well to what is a historic match.  Instead of distributing the entertainment evenly throughout he some how manages to take away any excitement that could have been had all together.

I know you may be asking ‘How can a Chess match possibly be exciting?’ and I will give you an example of how I think the author gets it wrong.  The apparent KGB involvement is hardly mentioned until the very end of the book.  Instead of distributing this in relevant places throughout the story, this information is kept for the final chapters as a kind of post-mortem.  Maybe it is just me and this really is a great read, but I found it rather dry and lacking in the kind of substance that would have had me plowing through it.

I am sure that there are books about this historic event that include a move by move account of the games but it’s a cardinal sin, in my opinion, that none of this was included, not even the key games.

All in all a big disappointment.