Thursday, 31 March 2011

[452] I R ON IRC

I've recently kick-started the preparation for my MA dissertation. As I said a few weeks back, it will mostly be focused on fansubbing - community-led subtitling projects that are most common, yet not restricted to, online anime fandom.

Every day brings a new revelation. In the years since anime slipped off my radar, the community has developed all kinds of new quirks. Did you know, for example, that 'karaoke subbing' is now a major part of the process? Both the opening and end credits of an episode are accompanied by quite elaborate 'hard' subtitles (ie burned onto the image, not superimposed via a synchronised text file), which offer kanji, transliterated Japanese and English versions of the songs' lyrics that bloom along with the vocal melody.

Likewise, the community is not only right up-to-the-minute in their consumption, with episodes appearing mere weeks after their transmission in Japan - before some series even have an 'official' English title - but they've also moved with the times when it comes to encoding. These people like their anime as crisp as possible - 1080p, please, and FLAC audio while you're at it. Individual files can be 500mb in size, for a 22 minute episode. It's all part of the astonishing passion with which they approach their hobby.

However, one thing hasn't changed, and that's the community's main method of communication: IRC. A friend asked me to describe this archaic platform, and I said: 'imagine if all innovations in social media from 1995 onwards - such as the streamlining of UI and functionality - had somehow been lost in transit'. After daily use of Twitter, Google Apps and Facebook, going to IRC is like opening up a time capsule, and being hit by a musty cloud of decomposed BBSes and newsgroups.

You boot it up, and you're hit by a choice of servers, then you're tasked with picking from the thousands of channels within those servers. These can range from economic discussion to wrestling, from MMORPGs to, erm, porn, but even when you're in a channel, most of the users can often seem happy to simply run through various scripts to get their fix of 'FML' anecdotes, or lottery-style games. Recently, I've found channels which are a little more chatty, but I'm still under the impression that most communication happens privately.

It's a different world, I tell you. A world where Linux won, perhaps. A place beyond the high tide of hashtags and memes.

IRC is a terrifying, fascinating place, and I must make it my home for the time being. Any help or guidance during this dark period would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

[451] WAW+P Radio #8: Arne Bellstorf

After a short hiatus, here's the latest We Are Words + Pictures podcast, with Arne Bellstorf.

This one is a first for the series: a remote podcast. I recorded all the audio off-site, using a superb clip mic for the interview with Arne. I think it worked out quite well. It certainly has more of a mellow, undulating vibe to it, and that's not just because of the frankly awesome playlist. I'll have to think about how these qualities can be better evoked when we get back in the studio. The bustle and ambience of the cafe is partly to blame for a much more energetic, and at times erratic, overall tone.

We'll see. I have a couple more shows planned, so hopefully we'll get back on track. As always, any comments, links or tweets would be greatly appreciated. Oh, and go and buy Baby's In Black. It's a wonderful book.

Here are some show notes, and the playlist.

Back after a wee break, We Are Words + Pictures returns to London Fields, in order to bring us all the best titbits from the world of comics. In this episode, host Michael Leader talks to German comic artist Arne Bellstorf about his new book, the smoky, romantic Baby's In Black. Expect musings on the German comics scene, insight into the book's release and subsequent translation, and an eclectic mix of mellow tunes.

To find out more about the We Are Words + Pictures collective, visit their site at

The Beatles - Cry for a Shadow
Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender
The Beatles - Baby's In Black
The Beatles - Money (That's What I Want)
Miles Davis - Générique
Juliette Gréco - La Javanaise
Edith Piaf - La Foule
David Bowie - Oh! You Pretty Things

Arne Bellstorf's website -
Baby's In Black at Self Made Hero -
German-language comics at the Goethe Institut -

You can download the podcast here, or listen below using the London Fields Radio Mixcloud player.

Monday, 28 March 2011

[450] Killing Bono (2011) Review

And here's another review! Sadly, yet another disappointing film. My patience is being tested.

Heavily adapted from the memoirs of Telegraph rock critic, Neil McCormick, Killing Bono starts thrillingly, before falling into the frustrating, unpleasant space between fact and fiction.

Its opening is both promising and entirely made up. In 1987, Neil (Ben Barnes) careens through the streets of Dublin, which are draped with posters teasing an exclusive launch party for
The Joshua Tree, the latest album from U2. In between swerves, he breaks the fourth wall, staring at the camera as we hear of his thwarted dreams. "I always knew I'd be famous," he crows, but little did he know that it would be his two classmates, Paul Hewson (Martin McCann) and David Evans (Mark Griffin), later known as Bono and The Edge, that would take on the world. However, tonight, on the eve of the release of their biggest selling album, he would steal the limelight. He is going to kill Bono.

With its gaudy, hyper-real cinematography and Barnes' loopy, exaggerated performance, there are hints that we're in for something tense and twisted with this story of obsession. But we're soon dragged back to the late 70s, back to the boys' school days, where Neil sets up a band to rival the stars-to-be, and poaches his brother, Ivan McCormick (Robert Sheehan), from under proto-U2's noses.

Read the full article here.

Friday, 25 March 2011

[449] Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review, in Micro Mart

I rarely write video game reviews. And when I picked up Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, for a Micro Mart review, I remembered why. Even when you enjoy a game, you still have to invest tens of hours of 'research' (play) time into it, before you can write with any shred of integrity.

In this case, I sank about three days of full-time preparation into Brotherhood. That was only 50% of the game as a whole. And I hadn't even touched the multiplayer.

Crikey. Anyway, the review is in this week's issue of Micro Mart.

Available at all good newsagents. I might post up the review once the issue slips from the shelves.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

[448] Behind The Bytes: Twit-Tease

March has been quiet on the blogging front; this is mostly because of Behind The Bytes, the webseries that I have developed with Nick Moran and Edward Szekely. We've been working on the pilot, which should be online before the end of the month.

Behind The Bytes will peddle completely fictitious short documentaries, looking at the scandalous lives of video game characters. The pilot is about Tails, from Sonic the Hedgehog: it is a tragic tale of companionship, obsession, and sprinting.

On Monday, we launched the series' Twitter feed.

We're going for a mix of the Drunk Hulk / Average Batman-style feed, providing 'in-world' gossip tweets about video game scandals, alongside teaser-y updates and series-related links. Today we posted the above, which came with the below image.

...of Clarissa Ankle (the hideously talented Samantha Baines), one of the three talking heads who act as our guides through the highs and lows of the gaming 'scene'.

The pilot is shaping up to be rather sharp. I'll post more when the episode comes out, but in the meantime, follow the Behind The Bytes Slander Feed™ to keep abreast of all news from the gaming rumour mill.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

[447] Chalet Girl (2011) Review

...and March started so well!

Coming soon: the new short film (which is currently in post-production), and at least a couple of podcasts. In the meantime, here's a thoroughly unimpressed review of a film that isn't at all aimed at me.

While we're all getting into a patriotic froth over The King's Speech, and the hefty sum granted to its production by the soon to be defunct UK Film Council, perhaps it's best to see where else its money is going.

Out this week is
Chalet Girl, a British comedy that was boosted by a £800,000 stimulus from the UKFC. Like Tom Hooper's awards-winner, it is fiercely British, and casts its gaze over one of the nation's pet obsessions, class.

Bright young thing Felicity Jones stars as Kim, a grungy teen whose promising career as a professional skateboarder is put on hold after the untimely death of her mother. Stuck in a dead-end job, at Chicken Cottage, no less, Kim must scrounge in order to support her grieving father (Bill Bailey), and puts her name forward for a plush catering job in the Alps, living with an upper class family for the summer. While navigating from one faux pas to another, the working class girl develops a rapport with posh dreamboat, Jonny (Ed Westwick), and spots a potential way to change her life completely, by competing in an international snowboarding event.

The script, penned by newcomer, Tom Williams, tries incredibly hard to please, stuffing every scene with sight gags, cheap gags, physical gags, broadly caricatured characters and plenty of fish out of water gags. Few hit home, but thanks to a pleasant cast, it isn't entirely offensive. Bill Nighy provides his salary's worth as Jonny's quirky, feline father, while Tamsin Egerton, as Kim's colleague, Georgie, manages to maintain something of a comic composure while delivering god-awful jokes about Facebook.

Felicity Jones is an absolutely delightful screen presence, even if her natural, pretty charm isn't an easy fit for Kim's supposedly uncouth, tomboyish personality. On a basic level, the character seems to have been misconceived, with her snarky, sarcastic witticisms being as overwritten as her cluelessness in the face of upper class life is unconvincing. That said, she nevertheless stands out among most young female leads by having a passion that isn't simply the pursuit of romance. Even if her skill is never doubted and her mastery of snowboarding is remarkably breezy (a short montage should do the trick), her desire to win challenges the usual gender stereotypes for such cinematic fluff.

Read the full article here.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

[446] Age of the Dragons (2010) Review

One of the downsides to reviewing awful films is that they're the first to be cut if the publication is pushed for space. Sadly, this happened with my latest review for Little White Lies. It's a shame, because it was a little different to my usual style, in that it's rather 'zingy'.

Irreverent movie journalism, here I come? I'd better warm up the image editing software.

We can all agree that Pride and Prejudice sorely suffered from a lack of zombies. So, by that logic, we can also conclude that Herman Melville’s literary masterwork Moby Dick, the tale of one man’s obsession with the titular white whale, is equally harmed by its staunch disregard for supernatural fads.

Luckily, cheap ‘n’ quick director Ryan Little (
Saints and Soldiers) is on hand with Age of the Dragons, which sees Ahab (Danny Glover) pursuing the Great White Dragon, with a motley crew of hunters and harpooners at his side.

Among them is our dashing protagonist, Ishmael (Corey Sevier), who dazzles all with his superb accuracy and skill, landing him a place aboard the Peaquod. However, in Little’s re-imagining, Ahab’s vessel is not an impressive whaleship, but more of a reinforced caravan, which roams snowy tundra in search of its winged prey.

Even this little tweak has massive ramifications, dissipating any claustrophobic tension as the crew are dragged along on their captain’s personal quest – but it is small fry to the unmitigated disaster that is the film as a whole.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

[445] Portal 2 Preview-Interview

Portal is one of my all-time favourite games. I've played it through more times than I can remember, on two platforms. So, when I was offered the chance to play the sequel at a preview event, I couldn't say no. And to find out, as I turn up, that writers Erik Wolpaw and Chet Faliszek were there, and we were allowed to interview them? That was an amazing bonus.

I can't wait for April.

While we're all rather spoilt for choice when it comes to highly-anticipated games in 2011, with plenty of sequels and long-in-the-making blockbusters coming your way over the next 10 months, there’s one in particular that, for many, stands above the rest - and it’s only just around the corner.

For coming out in April is
Portal 2, Valve’s follow-up to its surprise first-person puzzle hit of 2007. Initially bundled with the Orange Box anthology, Portal soon garnered plenty of attention, probably because it was - and still is - a superb, unique game. It was polished, full of surprises, and possessed two uncommon qualities for games of its type: brevity and wit.

Portal 2, coming years after the memes and in-jokes have gone stale, doesn’t have surprise on its side. And, indeed, Valve’s decision to open up the game to a more standalone length (at least six hours, plus a co-op campaign), moves it away from its short-and-sweet predecessor.

However, let’s remind ourselves: this is Valve! They’ve not yet made a less-than-great game. And after playing the opening 40 minutes of
Portal 2 - essentially an introductory tutorial sequence - any potential worries have been cast aside.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

[444] Fish Tail (A Tale About Fish)

As promised, here is Fish Tail, the short film I worked on with Edward Szekely, Simon Vickery and Edward Gosling, under the moniker 'A Bunch of Guys'.

Szekely called me up about a month ago, and said he was interested in shooting a short for Kino London's 'Open Mic Film Night'. He soon brought in Gosling and Vickery, and after one production meeting we had this plot - half a development of a drunken idea conceived in the Maple Leaf a week prior, and half a rip-off of Raymond Carver. Two house-mates, divided by not only their choice in food, but their ambitions for life. Cooking as a domestic context for a subtextual conversation. And so on.

I'm still trying to figure out what I actually did, in terms of a title. We were all hyphenates, really. Vickery and Gosling were the actors as well as the first-drafters, and Szekely did all of the technical stuff. I co-wrote the second draft, the heavily-revised version that is mostly intact in the final film. Then, on the day, I monkeyed around, talking about shots and line delivery, and afterwards pestered Szekely as he slowly developed Final Cut Claw in the editing process.

And there it is. A creative impulse satisfied. What do you think?

Next up? Well, maybe a comedy web series pilot, with Szekely again, but this time conceived and written by old chum Nicholas Moran. Stay tuned.