Sunday, July 30, 2006


If you pay any attention to adverts then you will have noticed that Film Four is now free. The satellite/digital channel run by Channel Four and stuffed with movies.
When it was originally launched it was touted as a specialist channel, somewhere to go for alternative films, classics and world cinema, so it's odd that the majority of films that gain a mention in their current hyperdrive are more geared toward the mainstream.
I can't complain about having access to a film channel for free (seeing as I get digi-telly bundled with my broadband) but I hope that they don't stray toward the more obvious side of alternative in order to placate the providers of advertising revenue. Lost In Translation is hardly undiscovered.

Anyhoo, seeing as I own the DVDs for the opening night's line up, I neglected trying out this wonderful source of free flicks until today. When I saw Topaz.
Not known as one of Hitchcock's classics, this is presumably due to the fact that where his other films might instill fear, excitement or tension, Topaz dishes out generous helpings of boredom.
Pushing uncomfortably close to two and a half hours, Topaz succeeds in making the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis a ho-hum occurence. The main characters struggle to gain anything more than a periphery hold on your attention, which can partly be attributed to the actors treating the grave political machinations with all the seriousness of stomach cramps.
I didn't like it.
Where I said "generous helpings", I don't wish to imply that Topaz reaches previously unheard of levels of boredom, or in any way drags itself out of the humdrum chains it is mired in, rather it is merely dull and unexceptionally so. The kind of film that plays on a sunny sunday afternoon and fails to hold your attention.

In summary, I'm glad it was free, three cheers to Film Four.

Higurashi, or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, is an anime show currently airing in Japan. A boy moves to a small village with his family, and becomes involved in a curse which sees people die every year after a religious festival. Beginning as a cutesy tale of a young boy moving to town and making friends with lots of cute and chirpy girls, it quickly descends into a mire of psychological horror and gore, with a complex time-shifting plot that possibly implicates the whole village into a conspiracy involving human sacrifice. Higurashi is something to look out for, assuming it gets licensed and released over here, that is.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Segmented eyes

It being summer, as you may have noticed recently, the time came again as it does every year for the ants to bulk up and grow wings.
Yes, that scourge of the skies, the flying ant, saw fit to pop above ground a couple of days back and infest the outdoors in the way only it knows how.

I freely admit that I am not the biggest fan of the insect kingdom, I don't seek to destroy them at any given moment and am content to remove them from my immediate living space. Most species I don't have a problem with and merely seek to avoid a situation wherein they might explore my flesh, although I do have a soft spot in my heart for moths, in that I fear them and their hideous, paper-wing ways, flying at my face in their desperate attempts to reach the moon, or whatever it is they do.
Even moths I avoid smushing and try and trap them to chuck them outside, after all they smear across surfaces like creatures of sand and dirt rather than blood, and it's never a pleasant thing to see.
But the flying ant is a signal to head indoors and close the windows. No other insect seems to manage the same complete lack of co-ordination, with what amounts to no sense of direction or of any surroundings at all, blindy flying into any nearby obstruction in a way most other airborne invertabrates seem to avoid.
Were this heinous offence not sufficient grounds for damnation already, the flying ant flaunts its hideously bloated body upon the eyes of all, in a way no insect should this close to the arctic.
Truly these creatures are worthy of the term "beasts".

If you like flying ants, feel free to comment detailing the rationale behind your filthy perversion, along with relevant past traumatic experiences that may have led to this incorrect thinking, so we can protect our children.


You may have seen ads for Coke Zero recently. I'm told there are TV campaigns though I haven't seen tham myself. Could they be as corny as theone of the singing woman handing out Cokes? Chances are high. I have seen the printg ads, and the ads on the sides of buses, and this afternoon a colleague arrived with two crates of 150ml "fun" size cans to share out, no doubt as part of the avaricious media barrage. Opinions were divided by those who liked it and were surprised, and those who thought it vile. Those who liked it did so as it tasted more like Coke than Diet Coke, which it truly does, but seeing as that taste is of rusty metal death I don't understand the approval. Needless to say, I did drink a couple, but in my defence I ran out of 'mineral' water and my workplace stopped supplying water coolers months ago, leaving us with the tepid and slightly sinister tasting tap water.
Anyway, remember that you heard it here first, or would have done if you did. It's looking to be more of a success than Tab Clear at least. Avoid it!


It's late so I'm off to play a bit of Gun before bed. Games update is that I'm only missing Black from my 'to get' list, though I am keeping an eye out for a cheap Tomb Raider. The new one.
Gun is like GTA, but in the Wild West, except much, much smaller. It's good fun while it lasts though, so off I go to shoot people in the head, but it's okay because they are bandits and varmints, and I am true of heart.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Let's go over this one more time

The art of cinema is now over one hundred years old, providing entertainment for generations of people all over the world.
After all this time, are we really running out of ideas?

It is often said that there are only so many stories to tell, and these are just regurgitated over and over again in different fashions. True enough, boy meets girl has been covered, but this doesn't stop people trying to tell their own version, just as you don't give up living your life simply because it's not totally unique - other people get up and go to work, meet friends, watch TV, share a fascination of early thirteenth century Hungarian pottery, for example.

But the idea of a limited number of basic story structures does little to excuse the insipid occurrence of the re-make.
There are economical reasons to support the re-make, simply being that if an idea was successful before then it can be again, but rarely do people consider the opinion that if you remake a pre-existing success, the inevitable comparisons are going to be that much harsher. By all means re-do flops or interesting films that didn't quite gel, but deciding to cover old ground rather than create something new just seems lazy and stupid.
A case could possibly be made for the director-as-artist, seeking to honour their favourite works like recording artists doing a cover, but a film is so much more of a collaborative effort and involves so much more work than recording a song that this idea smacks of selfishness and again a lack of creativity.

To give an idea of the prevalence of this epidemic, this is a smattering of re-makes made in less than ten years:

Assault on Precinct 13, Adventure of Greyfriars Bobby, Amityvill Horror, The Haunting, Phantom of the Opera, When a Stranger Calls, Taxi, Godzilla, King Kong, Stepford Wives, Ghost Ship, Anna and the King, Pink Panther, Ladykillers, Longest Yard, War of the Worlds, Around the World in 80 Days, Moulin Rouge, Psycho, Omen, Time Machine, Oliver Twist, Italian Job, Dawn of the Dead, Manchurian Candidate, Freaky Friday, Ring, Ring 2, Grudge, Dark Water, Bourne Identity, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fun With Dick and Jane, Alfie, House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Poseidon Adventure, Flight of the Phoenix.

This has always been an issue in Hollywood, but it does seem that more recently the remakes have been escalating in number like a disgusting self-replicating alien slime. With the Wicker Man on the way and remakes of Oldboy and Infernal Affairs planned, it would seem like the problem isn't going away.
Often the impetus appears to be that film makers see a film and wish they made it, so rather than try harder to make their own decent films they just decide to put their own spin on what they liked.
Often the reruns of Hollywood fare will be of films made decades ago so that there is sufficient distance, temporally as well as stylistically, so that the remake doesn't feel completely redundant. But more recently the success in the West of the East Asian film industry has led to remakes of films that have barely made it into the cinema, often in an insidious attempt to Americanise the films for a broader Western audience rather than the smaller audiences that are prepared to put up with subtitles.


In more bad film news, I continued my sideline interest in director's cuts, extended versions and such today.
Bladerunner is arguably the most famous to be treated with differing versions, and with the advent of DVD it has been increasingly popular to provide one or more alternate versions of movies, everything from painstakingly restored classics such as The Wild Bunch to the "Extended cut by design" releases of current comedy and horror pics exploiting the home market with promises of "the version not seen in cinemas".

It is always interesting for fans to see what could have been, whether in these cuts or from deleted scenes, and it was with this mood that I watched the Daredevil director's cut. I'd seen it before and thought it a bit crap, but this version was a big improvement, developing the characters and fleshing out the storyline, almost making it a good film. Still not great, but the newer cut is a noticeable improvement.

So how is this more bad film news? Today I watched the extended cut of Underworld. I didn't notice any extensions, apart from a brief snip of Scott Speedman's Michael telling Beckinsale's Selene how his wife died.
I did notice it was still crap. To be fair I remember quite liking it when I first saw it, but what I probably liked was seeing Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather.
No, I did like that.
And I liked Bill Nighy as the elder vampire Viktor. Nice bit of hamming and not taking himself seriously.
But the film itself is one in a long line of the "bullet-time copycats", films that feature a large part of slo-mo combat and a stylised 'dark' mood, most recently rearing up as Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux.
A lot of effort has been spent on creating the style and mood of Underworld, but it still manages to be anonymous and homogenised, similar to dozens of such films with a neo-gothic feel.
The story does have a smidge of potential, but like Aliens vs. Predator this doesn't automatically make for a good film.
Selene is meant to be a battle-hardened killer of werewolves who out of nowhere gets doubts and falls for some guy seemingly based on nothing but him being a but hunky and having floppy hair. It's meant to be set in 'Europe' but may as well be in an alternate-America, with nothing indicating any sense of place. Said floppy hair Scott Speedman is crap, his character has little to do but it's still crap. The double-crossing Kraven is played by a low-rent Travolta and is also crap, in fact the only other lights aside from Bill Nighy are the bloke who used to be in Desmond's and Michael Sheen.

Gah, I can only shudder at the thought of what Underworld Evolution is like, but I still have that morbid curiosity about it.
Oh, and Len Wiseman, the director of (only) Underworlds 1&2 is the guy who married Kate Beckinsale soon after she split with Michael Sheen. They all worked together in Underworld 2. Ouch. And Wiseman is in talks to direct Die Hard 4.

Ah, I've just changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment. So if you wanted to laugh at my eyepatch without having to go through the annoying registering thing, now you can. In text. Like hahahahahahhahaaha!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who are you?

ID cards.
Do you know what they're for? It seems that the Identity Cards Act was passed on the 30th March. I remember it being blocked at the House of Lords a number of times, but it finally slimed through.
Despite all of the reasons why the Lords sought to block it, the New Labour government has been particularly enthusiastic about getting this off the ground. Why?

The prevention of terrorism angle remains unproven, with no evidence to justify that this massive operation will make any difference whatsoever. The fact that the most recent terrorist activities in this country were carried out by English and Irish people begs the question as to how being able to check their identity will make the slightest difference. All assertions of the ID card system being introduced to combat terrorism are empty and meaningless.

In terms of dealing with illegal immigration, it is shockingly obvious that the vast majority of people seeking to enter this country whether legally or illegally will not be using British identity documents in the first place, so it is irrelevant how secure or not these proposed cards are in terms of checking these people's identity.

Identity benefit fraud costs an estimated £20-50 million (government source). This figure does seem a large amount of our taxes being lost, but when factoring in the huge (and still estimated) cost of implementing the ID card system, the money saved would not pay off the system used to save it for years, and that is assuming that the ID card system remains fraud proof. The government's own Department of Work and Pensions site puts total benefit fraud at £0.9 billion or £1.5 billion a year, depending on whether you look at their main page or FAQ page, so it's obvious that identity fraud is only a small part anyway.

Identity fraud in total is said to cost the UK £1.7 billion a year and affected 135,000 people last year, a 500% increase since 1999 (Home Office source again). This is an alarming trend, but given a minute to think about it you can take into account that the rise in internet usage in the same period and corresponding rise in internet-related scams (such as e-mail 'phishing' for bank details) are unlikely to be affected by owning an ID card. What is missing in these scare-stories is a proportion of this personal fraud that would have been preventable by owning an ID card (similar to the proportion of benefit fraud we can gain from the figures above - a maximum of £50 million out of a minimum of £900 million in benefit fraud)
The government site does say that the ID card will make you safer online because you can use the card and PIN to verify your details. So, if it all relies on a PIN how is it any safer than the current system of passwords and PINs?

A number of the reasons why this is all a bad idea are listed on the anti-ID card sites, such as No2ID, and along with all the opposition in the Lords, even the London Assembly has passed a motion against ID cards.

Even without an ID card, the government is still pushing ahead to get your details on the National Identity Scheme in a manner of centralising information that has been found to increase the rate of identity fraud in the USA and Australia (source). The card will be the main means to gain access to any services paid for by our taxes, and any errors that happen will effectively cut us off, meaning those not in a position to rely on private pension and healthcare will have serious problems.
The IT systems run by the government and the biometric detail system are both shown to be unreliable meaning the instance of mistakes leading to fines, imprisonment and loss of access will affect thousands if not tens of thousands.

The government has not even attempted to show that this is a cost-effective alternative to solutions to the problems that this scheme is supposed to deal with. At a cost running to at least £5.5 billion in a decade (financial times story) this is an immense bill that we will all have to stump up for, with little guarantee of results at the end, apart from inevitable misery for some of us when we are the victims of bugs in the system.

By far the best site I've seen so far is that of the London School of Economics, collecting its investigations into the issue here.

Now, if it's not going to prevent terrorism, stop benefit fraud, stop illegal immigration (whether that is a problem or not) or stop identity theft with any success, why is the government willing to splash out on close to £6 billion of our taxes?
Who runs the industries providing the biometric technology and all the relevant information technology needed to back up the National Identity Register?
Well, here is a link to the companies that the government has already paid over £20 million (a years worth of the low end estimate of identity related benefit fraud losses) on planning and trials for their nefarious scheme.
Here's a list of companies interested according to Corporate Watch. The Office of Government Commerce took the lion's share of over £12 million in its "Provision of advice and support on benefits management and other commercial issues", of which a hefty chunk went to PA Consulting.
PAConsulting have worked for the Home Office before, advising awarding Capita a contract with the Criminal Records Bureau (which used to be part of the same office with the passport agency. Capita went way over budget and under target despite PAConsulting giving the thumbs up.

One way to avoid the ID scheme for now, would be to renew your passport, as urged by No2ID and the Liberal Democrats who these days seem more like the Labour Party than the Labour Party.
On the one hand renewing your passport will set you back over £50, a bit annoying if it doesn't need to be renewed yet.
On the other, if you don't renew it before September (?) then when you do need to you will have to pay at least £93 for the new version of the passport anyway and may have go through an interview in order to prove your identity.

"The National Identity Register - All Your Eggs In One Basket"

Sunday, July 02, 2006

An unctuous residue

Recently I had the misfortune to visit the Budgens outpost in Ealing Broadway; the bright side being that I purchased one of the two remaining bottles of Vanilla Diet coke they had there. There must be a Budgens warehouse out there stacked with the stuff, or a Budgens buyer with a vanilla fetish.
So on to the wholly unnecessary consumption of carbonated beverages. At my local snack emporium I spied a new brand of Coke 'pon the shelves, one the likes of which I never did see afore. Motivated simultaneously by the rancidly humid weather and by a desire to replace the departed fizzy pop close to my heart, I purchased a can and consumed it this evening.

Coke Zero? What the hell is that? It looks like death and tastes crappy too. It seems to be a very belated attempt to match 'Pepsi Max' with the "all the flavour, none of the sugar" idea that rewrites the history of Diet Pepsi and Coke but hey. Coke Zero does have that flavour that Diet Coke is lacking, the flavour I like to call 'Tooth Death". The sort of metallic aftertaste that you get when tasting blood, not something I'd be eager to recreate but I'm not in the soft drink industry.
Can't see any immediate difference in the ingredients, it seems to be identical to Diet Coke so they've obviously done a magicks to it.

Carbonated water isn't a problem, but Phosphoric Acid has many eyebrows raised. There is some association with the onset in osteoporosis - the bone deficiency disease. There are correlations between soft drink consumption and osteoporosis, but it's as yet unclear as to whether the link is direct or due to soft drink consumption replacing that of milk in the diet, or soft drinks being prevalent in the diet of those with a sedentary lifestyle. So, if you sit on your arse and don't drink milk, it may make no difference if phosphoric acid never passes your lips. The jury's out...

The colour additive Caramel E150d gives us this from : "Side effects are manifested from the use of E150c and E150d, where intestinal problems may occur after ingestion of large amounts. Due to the complex nature of the mixtures, toxicology tests are still being carried out."
: drinking a lot may not be great for you. Like many substances, moderation is best so no news there.
According to the Evening Standard dated May 10th 2004 caramel colouring causes 'behavioural problems' But in their side effect list, so does Caffeine making it hard to ascertain what they mean by the term.

Aspartame or E951 according to the Standard can cause dizziness, blurred vision, migraines and brain cancer. Wikipedia has it as : "Aspartame has been the subject of a vigorous public controversy regarding its safety and the circumstances around its approval. It is well-known that aspartame contains the naturally-occurring amino acid phenylalanine, which is a health hazard to the few people born with phenylketonuria, a congenital inability to process phenylalanine. A few studies have also recommended further investigation into possible connections between aspartame and diseases such as brain tumors, brain lesions, and lymphoma. These findings, combined with notable conflicts of interest in the approval process, have engendered vocal activism regarding the possible risks of aspartame."
In the more in depth Wiki entry about the health risks, my favourite of 92 possible adverse affects is that of "feeling "unreal" ".
However much weight any of the studies carry, Aspartame carries with it a malignant air and a dubious past in terms of its approval for the food industry tied up to Republican/corporate machinations.

Acesulfame K or E950 has cancer links in the Standard's report. Wiki has it again under the undecided banner, with the official line being that the agreed levels are safe, with pressure groups claiming that there are cancer links although it seems these effects have yet to be replicated in studies.
One ironic point is that E950 is used a sweetener to replace sugar and lower calorie intake in products. But its consumption had been shown to raise insulin levels which, in turn, can produce food cravings and therefore weight gain. Huzzah!

Sodium Citrate (E331) is listed as an "acidity regulator". Nothing in particular comes up under nasty, it seems it's often used to do exactly what it says - regulate acidity by making it more alkaline.

Worryingly, apart from the soft drink companies not having to list ingredient dosage for some reason, they don't have to list all flavourings and so these come up as "Flavourings including caffeine"

So what have I learnt about what I ingested? Not a lot. Some of the ingredients could have some nasty effects, but then they also could not. Caffeine, however, has some proven results but I doubt that will be outlawed any time soon.

I'd like to go into some films here but that will make for a loooong post, next time (maybe) - sequelitis.