Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pawing at the door frame.

Tim Roth's controversial directorial debut, The War Zone, captures the desolation and gloom of the English countryside with an uncanny eye. The vast, overcast skies seem to speak of impending doom or hidden terrors, except 'terror' is too exciting a word to describe the kind of inevitable, mundane horror, like the South London wifebeater Winstone plays in the de facto companion piece, Nil By Mouth, which shares having both a gritty and uncompromising English setting and being the solitary directing effort from an established actor (to date). Even the scenes set back in London share the same quiet desperation in the locations of a scraggy dive and a tower-block council flat, where an awkward, aborted seduction takes place.

The War Zone has numerous beautiful landscape shots, especially on opening and closing, but their beauty doesn't stop them being depressing as hell.

A London family relocates to a ramshackle farmhouse and experience turbulence as a new baby girl is born amidst a car accident and dad and his first daughter seem a little too close for comfort. Told through the eyes of the son Tom, the classicly glum and sullen, gangly teen, who already feels isolated at being taken from his old life and dumped in the middle of nowhere, he becomes understandably upset as his relations with his family deteriorate after discovering the secret.

Ray Winstone who usually seems incapable of playing anything but the cockney wide-boy (three-dimensional or not), yet displays here a range in the difficulties of fatherhood (outside of incest) and in his dealings with business people on the phone, catering for what he thinks they expect to hear and proves that he's capable of more than that fackin' accent.
Colin Farrell makes a brief appearance as the local catch who woos Jess to the beach and the war-time pill box, later the scene for the abuse between Jess and her father, but does little besides looking pretty and not sounding Irish.
In keeping with it's 'challenging' indie roots, the main cast all spend some time in states of undress in a decidedly non-tittilating fashion.
Choice quote: "Does he do it up your arse all the time?"
The War Zone can justifiably be called bleak and uncompromising, but despite the controversy surrounding its release, the child abuse/incest is only betrayed as a terrible act, though it's a shame that more isn't made of the father's motivations - leaving him little more than a self-denying monster.

Throughout the film you get the sense that there's something missing in the family home, with the strained, awkward silences as they slouch in the living room, and it took an hour before it struck me - they don't have a telly. Whether it was a part of the back-to-nature impulse of the characters or not, it sends a clear message that if you don't get a TV for the family to sit around, you will Rape Your Kids.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jesus on the dashboard

For a long time I've bemoaned the lack of variety in men's fashion. Whilst ladies are open to the possibilities of a thousand variations of garments, men find themselves restricted to a narrow range of shirts that either do up or do not (shirts and t-shirts as they are better known), and trousers made from different material of different lengths. And that's it.
The shirts can be made from different materials, they may be cut in slightly different ways, they may have long or short sleeves (or none, turning them into a 'vest'), but they're all shirts. Trousers are trousers, shorts are short trousers and jeans are trousers made from denim.
The different names for women's tops do actually refer to different clothes - a strapless top is not simply a variation on a blouse, and a dress is not a joined-up skirt and top.

This dearth of options has always led me to err on the typically male attitude to clothes shopping-it was a chore to be endured as quickly as possible, opting for larger sizes that can be held with belts to avoid the hassle of actually trying them on. I was lucky in that my culture of choice was that of the 'metaller', meaning baggy or oversized trousers were generally accepted and not a sign of laziness but of taste. These added to a band t-shirt meant getting up in the morning was an activity to which Americans would refer to as a 'no-brainer'.

Whilst this made dressing easy, it didn't prevent my yearning for real difference in my choices, and so my expression came about in other areas - from the age of about 14 I grew my hair long, so for a time I experimented with different types and numbers of pony tail, pig tails and also hair dying, at one time having as many as four colours in my hair at once.
It all ended at Uni when my hair became unmanageable to the point of anarchy, and I shaved it all off. I never had the chance to grow it back again because I started going bald shortly after, and started a mighty goatee instead.

For the last nine years I worked a job where I could wear what I wore outside work, so I did, but just recently my new workplace comes attached with the rule of having to scale up a few levels of classiness, to that of trousers, shoes and shirt, and has led me once again into the quandary of male fashion.
That, and the fact I had the misfortune to visit Oxford Street's Topman on Friday.

The horrors within, dozen upon dozen of preening male halfwits in hideous diamond jumpers with haircuts that would have resulted in mass suicides five years ago. In a pique of desperation the minds behind Topman have clubbed together to concoct methods of persuading young men to buy clothes more often than the cloth actually wears out. Like women do.
Their answer this 'season' is to have people think that it's a must to dress like colourblind golfers.
It's all very well to have fashion houses go for the straight male's wallet, but you'd think that in the jump from offering the purely functional they might try something other than t-shirts with different designs and jeans the same as all the other jeans, only with built-in stains?
It prompts a cry of why bother? And more to the point why do people buy into it? Because they're idiots, that's why.

Look at these. Only idiots would buy these! Idiots I say! Info here at FHM, who along with the other mags like Arena, GQ and Maxim etc. will attempt to tell you what hellish clobber is "in" alongside the celebrity boob pics.
In case further clarification for 'idiots' is needed, exhibit B:

Link to GQ's "Let's look at the catwalk" mind-melt

There was a time when men wore robes, capes, ruffled shirts and permed wigs, pantaloons, buckled shoes, jerkins and thigh-high boots, but now the norm is the trouser and shirt variation on a theme. I blame the Victorians, with their regimentation of everyday life forcing people to confirm to proscribed moral guidelines. As women fought for their freedom, their fashion changed alongside the suffragette movement and led to the sartorial bounty on offer today. But men were free to begin with and their social change has been slight - the focus of life has slipped a little in the last century and a half from work towards a life with more leisure time, and fashion movements have followed suit, or rather left the suit. Haha.
But the basis of the suit-type is still there - even the most slovenly chav wears a variation on the suit, albeit a 'sweat-suit'.

Of course it's not just me noticing this situation, indeed there is a whole website dedicated to broadening men's fashion horizons, or at least trying to get them to wear skirts. Which I think defeats the point really, as you're not bringing much new to the table but instead are just borrowing from what's already out there. But you can see where they're going, the skirt already has a precedent in the kilt so it's not too out there for most men's minds.
If you are into skirts for men, here is a treasure trove. I'm not really into the skirt thing, shorts are bad enough. Men's legs are best left unseen.

Men's fashion - it's either simple or it's a mess.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I sing in the shower. Don't tell my wife.

For weeks I've been meaning to write write about the so-called "next generation" of gaming, and in particular, the fate of Nintendo's Wii.
But what with my Cineworld pass tugging me silver screen-ward, and games themselves demanding to be played I've never found the time, so rather than perpetually putting it off I present a Frankenstein's monster of half-formed opinion and hyperbole that I've written hither and thither over the past months.

I took a picture a while ago, to better exemplify the wonder of Wii in my imagined little article:

Not quite on a par with Nintendo's own shiny, happy, metrosexual marketing, but I had a go. It probably doesn't help that I've never had any of my friends visit. Imagine a group of scrubbed and breathless twenty somethings squashed together on the bed behind me, grinning. Now stop being dirty.

From an e-mail I wrote to a collective of 360 owners, having one of those archetypal platform debates of the kind that you may remember if you were around for those fabled SNES vs. Meagadrive days:

"Watch out, this is a long one!

Mmmm...Sony are getting a lot of stick at the moment, and they aren't helping themselves any.
Microsoft have already built up a massive user base with the 360 and have a ton of stonking games out, whilst Sony have had to perpetually delay their system because they thought it necessary that they offer more of a games console, and keep backtracking on the stellar specs that they first offered.
They were probably banking on the success of the PS3 making the Blu Ray drive the HD player of choice, but it looks like they have misread the market - people would prefer to see how the HD 'war' plays out before they take a plunge and possibly back the loser.

The issue of the price appears again and again all over the internet and it shouldn't be ignored. Don't get me wrong, the PS3 will sell out on launch in Europe and will initially be a 'success', but I think Sony are in danger of resting on their laurels.
They expect the PS3 to be the Daddy because the PS2 totally slaughtered the competition. The Gamecube died a death (though maybe not as savagely as the N64) and the Xbox put up a good fight, but obviously could not compete with the sheer amount of PS2s (is it snide to slip in a suggestion that a lot of those were repeat buys due to the notoriously faulty PS2 drive?). But why was it so successful? It received overwhelming support from the developers and publishers, with more games than there are Welsh people, but it only received this support because of the numbers of machines sold. So if the machines sold first, and the games followed, why won't the PS3 be the automatic Daddy?
The main reason that the PS2 was so successful was that it traded on the Playstation name. The original Playstation was the machine that launched gaming into the media spotlight it enjoys today, that got more girls into gaming before the DS was invented and ruled the games market thanks to the weak competition - Sega just didn't have the power to back the Dreamcast and the N64 was killed by the outdated cart tech - £60 for a game was nuts when you could pick up blockbusters for £20 on the Playstation, and like Busby said the few top-notch Nintendo games couldn't keep the console afloat without third party backup, who flee any machine that won't guarantee enough of an audience to make their money back.

But now the PS3 is up against the 360 which has a massive and possibly fatal head-start. Plus this time the Nintendo option looks a little stronger - this time around Nintendo are offering something that you can't get anywhere else. This is why the DS has been wiping the floor with the PSP - whilst the PSP mainly offers what amount to home console games, and multimedia options that are usually better served by dedicated machines (or even mobiles!), the DS allows you to play games that are unique, that give you a reason to own the handheld even if you already own a home console. As long as Nintendo don't drop the ball, and third party companies make an effort to differentiate their Wii games from their PS360 ones, the Wii might well be the main rival to the 360 with the PS3 running as the outsider.

The fact that in the media Sony continues to be cocky seems to only damage it's reputation: clicky

Remember that at the end of the day a console is only as good as it's games. Sony must have been mental the day they let Genji out."

The group of 360 players are people I used to play Xbox Live games with, back before the 360 launched. The question of me owning a 360 is an inevitability, a when not if as I salivate at the prospect of Halo 3, but I've been waiting partly because I need to whittle down my game library rather than add to it, and partly for a price drop. £280 still loooks like a hell of a lot in my book, PS3 or no, but the upcoming release of the turbo-bastard 360 Elite should hopefully knock the price down. Hopefully.

This brief slip of an e-mail was a reaction the Elite release announcement and the uncoincidentally simultaneous UK PS3 launch:

"See? Now it makes sense that I've waited so long!
Now I need a date and a price.

Also: PS3 breaks sales records:

BUT! There are still plenty of consoles out there. Sony claim to have shipped 220,000 to the UK, and sold 165,000 in two days. This is all well and good, but we all know that the Wii and 360 sold out way before launch - they would have sold a lot more if the consoles had actually been available to pick up off the shelves. As far as I have seen there are still stock problems with the Wii months after launch, so who knows how many it would have shifted if demand could be met?

Let's put things in another light: the PS3 will probably do well, if not as well as Sony hope.
The DS has sold 3 million units in the UK so far.
In the UK.
So far.

DS wins."

As I said, DS wins.

This nugget I wrote today as a comment to yet another article damning Wii graphics in comparison to the 360's, on the Computer & Video Games (C&VG) website.

"This has been bugging me for months so I have to add my tuppence worth:

1. Reviews and previews and such on this site, in GamesTM, Edge and other places regularly bring attention to the graphics of Wii games - of course looking at the progress of any game on any system will involve judging it's look, but in this case it's often a comparitive measure against the other home systems, how the Wii compares against the 360 or PS3.

You could argue they share the same level, but I struggle to find similar comparisons between DS visuals and those of the PSP when looking at their respective games' articles. It seems that Wii is unfairly bearing the brunt of the 'graphics question'.

2. There is no doubting what the Wii is capable of: seeing as it runs Gamecube games, it is at worst as good as a Gamecube, which arguably has Resident Evil 4 as it's benchmark. There's no question that in the case of the shoddy graphics of many Wii games out thus far, it's lazy development at fault wherever the graphics are shoddy, especially when they can't match the Cube launch title, Rogue Leader.

3. Having said this, the few bastions of Wii capabilities to date are Nintendo titles, and many unreleased ones at that, which doesn't exactly inspire hope.
The N64 and Cube both had first-rate first-party titles, shining examples of the respective generation's gaming, but both consoles died a slow death due to lack of third party support.
If the third party support at this early stage of the Wii's life is so half-hearted that developers can't produce the goods from a system that is comparitively easy to code for, the public won't buy, the third party support will dry up and people won't wait out the arid deserts between Nintendo releases.

That's the pessimism - for the optimistic outlook you take the DS. Underpowered in the handheld market, a unique control system that forces developers to make an effort, but massive software support and king of it's hill.
The question is, which path will the Wii end up on?"

As an aside, it was the C&VG magazine, followed by Mean Machines, that inspired my love of the caption. Something about the type of humour, the non-sequiter or surreal idea used to livenup the screenshots had me in stitches month after month.
No magazine I've read since has ever managed to match those giddy heights of picture captioning, an art unto itself, but it's something I feel like reaching for.
Halcyon days...

To summise, the PS3 launch wasn't as spectacular as Sony have attempted to spin, bearing in mind the year they had to build up stocks and the year punters had to build up savings, and with their price handicap along with a poor software showing, it will be an uphill struggle to gain anything like the momentum they had with the PS2 (which has still been outselling the PS3 in Japan).
The Wii will live or die by it's games, and the jury's is still out as Nintendo has still to launch a "killer app" and the third party developer releases are bitty to say the least. Whilst the Nintendo track record for home consoles is far from rosy, the Wii is different enough to come up with something no-one expected and pull a DS.
The 360, whether it finishes this latest console war in first, second or third place, will still continue to do well thanks to it's large user base and wealth of decent games both already released and in the planning stages.

But whatever happens, the DS wins.

What's your favourite Wii joke?