December 21, 2011

Greyfriar's Bobby (1961)

Greyfriar's Bobby was a Skye Terrier that, upon the death of his master John "Jock" Gray in 1858, guarded the policeman's grave site at Greyfriar's Cemetary for the following 14 years. The dog is something of a local Scottish legend, inspiring a bronze statue by Edinburgh's George IV Bridge, a popular novel by Eleanor Atkinson and this 1961 feature film from Walt Disney.

It is likely that Greyfriar's Bobby was a hoax, established by 19th century Edinburgh shop owners trying to drum up some extra tourism. The truth has never been one to stand in the way of a good story, however, and so Bobby remains widely loved, and his statue remains a popular Edinburgh tourist attraction.

December 14, 2011

Babble On, part 6: "Infection"

An old acquaintance of Dr Franklin's arrives on the station with a mysterious set of alien artefacts, the investigation of which leads to quite possibly the worst episode of Babylon 5 so far.

I don't have too much to say about "Infection", the fourth episode of Babylon 5's first season, other than that it's a pretty awful episode. It feels rather like filler, or one of those off-the-cuff scripts written to demonstrate to a network how your proposed TV series is going to progress.

December 12, 2011

Homemade Rage #3: Clare and the Reasons, Nerina Pallot,

Another instalment of Homemade Rage, another three songs I like that you may not have heard of before. First up: Clare and the Reasons combine a lead singer with a beautiful voice and some lovely orchestral-style strings. This is "Alphabet City", which is a song I absolutely adore.

December 8, 2011

Babble On, part 5: "Born to the Purple"

Londo is in love, and his infatuation threatens a crucial negotiation with the Narn Regime. His newfound love, however, may not be what he thinks she is. Meanwhile Garibaldi works to track down a rogue signal in the station's communications network.

Only three episodes into the series and we already have a second episode based around Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari. I'm not certain whether this episode was shifted in the running order, the production team were infatuated with the chatacter, or if it was simply a coincidence. The problem is that while "Midnight on the Firing Line" had a relative amount of depth and character, "Born to the Purple" deals in stereotype and caricature.

December 7, 2011

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Another old review that I've posted elsewhere some time ago, but it's worth posting again here because it's such a criminally underseen and underrated film.

1999. Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J and Charlton Heston.

I’ve said this to people many, many times, but it is worth constantly celebrating: 1999 was the greatest year for American cinema in our lifetime. There were simply too many brilliant films released that year. It was actually impossible to keep up. It was the year of American Beauty, Fight Club, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, Boys Don’t Cry and Man on the Moon. It included great animated films such as Toy Story 2, Tarzan, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and The Iron Giant. It also included this: Any Given Sunday, an epic two-and-a-half hour love letter to American football from writer/director Oliver Stone.
It seemed such a lightweight film. This was the creative force behind Salvador, Platoon (both 1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). A movie about professional football seemed ridiculous, almost comedic. The first time I saw it I was amazed to find it one of the best films he’s ever directed.

December 6, 2011

Babble On, part 4: "Soul Hunter"

The Soul Hunter (W. Morgan Shepard)
Commander Sinclair recovers a severely damaged spacecraft from Babylon 5's jump gate, but when Ambassador Delenn sees who the survivor is she immediately demands the alien be killed. Panic begins to spread on the station out of fear this new arrival - the mysterious 'soul hunter' - has arrived to steal the soul of one of the station's inhabitants.

Any hopes that I had completely misjudged Babylon 5 are shattered by "Soul Hunter". This was apparently the first episode  of the series produced, and it shows. The episode is weakly written and clumsy, and several of the actors (particularly Claudia Christian) feel like they haven't quite worked out how they're going to portray their characters.

December 5, 2011

Babble On, part 3: "Midnight on the Firing Line"

Londo (Peter Jurasik) vs. G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
An unprovoked attack on a Centauri colony by the Narn Regime leads to a threat of war between the two civilizations. Raiders are striking cargo ships near Babylon 5. The station receives its new telepath.

Produced and broadcast about a year after the 90-minute pilot, "Midnight on the Firing Line" is Babylon 5's first proper episode, and it represents an astonishing jump in quality.

The show feels tighter, better written and performed, and nuanced where the pilot had been fairly heavy-handed and stereotypical. It also smartly chooses to focus on its two strongest characters, alien ambassadors Londo Mollari and G'Kar.

December 2, 2011

Babble On, part 2: "The Gathering"

Michael O'Hare as Babylon 5 commander Jeffrey Sinclair.
Babylon 5's feature length pilot, "The Gathering", is a staggeringly uneven production. Every element that works seems matched with one that doesn't. The result is a viewing experience that lurches from good to bad like a listing galleon. I do remember being rather impressed with it back in 1993; a science fiction television drama, made in the USA, filled with spaceships, aliens and intrigue, and it wasn't Star Trek. (Don't get me wrong - I adore Star Trek. It was just lovely to get some variety.)

December 1, 2011

Babble On, part 1.

Of all the science fiction television that graced our screens in the 1990s, one of the most popular was easily J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5. Even at a glance it's not difficult to see why: it was a grand space opera featuring alien civilizations, intergalactic war, space combat and so on, but it also featured a pre-planned five-year story arc. I think it was Straczynski himself who described the series' aim as "a novel for television". Spaceships, story arcs, constant little Easter eggs that only science fiction aficionados or dedicated viewers would notice - Babylon 5 remains to my mind the most strategically directed show for hardcore science fiction fans ever produced.

August 28, 2011

Homemade Rage #2: S.H.E., Mercury Rev, Irene Cara

S.H.E. is a Taiwanese girl group. It's very difficult to engage with Chinese language pop music, because there's so much of it out there and even if you do find a song you like it's fiendishly difficult to ever actually find it again or find the relevant CD. This one I like. It's got a slightly rockier edge than most Asian pop, but is still unashamedly poppy and infectious.

August 21, 2011

Homemade Rage #1: Armstrong, Europe, Ruby

Thanks to the wonderful capacity of Youtube videos to be embedded in other web pages, I can do this: little collected groups of pop music videos I've selected for you to watch and listen to. I'm thinking of doing three videos each time, which seems nicely manageable and can fill 10-15 minutes of your day. This time around I've embedded tracks from Craig Armstrong, Europe and Ruby. I hope you like them.

Craig Armstrong is a phenomenal musician and composer - his music has backed an increasing number of Hollywood movies. This track, "Wake Up in New York", was from his second studio album As If To Nothing, and features vocals by Evan Dando. It's just a beautiful song, wonderfully performed.

August 19, 2011

Five Films: Tilda Swinton

One of my favourite actors in the world is Scottish actor Tilda Swinton. She has carved herself a strong niche playing slightly unusual, somewhat androgynous characters, and her immense talent has been rewarded with acclaim and prizes around the world – including an Academy Award in 2008. These days she balances her time between big Hollywood blockbusters (she’s the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, for example) and small independent features, as well as running a variety of strange and exciting film festivals (my personal favourite is the one held in a hall in the Scottish highlands where everyone watches the films in beanbags while Swinton bakes them cupcakes). Here are five of my favourite Tilda Swinton movies.

July 26, 2011

Mathilda, by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley is one of the most famous female authors of all time, despite having only written one novel: Frankenstein. Right? Right? Of course not. In truth Shelley wrote a bunch of stuff, very little of which has managed to receive a fraction of the fame and attention that her most famous novel got. One of these obscure works is Mathilda, a novella that Shelley completed in 1820 but which did not see print until 1959.

Why the 139 year wait between completion and publication? It is a book about, among other things, incest and suicide. Shelley submitted the manuscript to her father and publisher William Godwin, and he was so scandalised by its contents that not only did he refuse to publish it, he also refused to return the manuscript to Mary. We can all be thankful he wasn’t scandalised enough to throw the manuscript into a fire.

July 18, 2011

The many deaths of Sean Bean

Sean Bean sure does die a lot onscreen. This Youtube video comes with a violence warning - I'd also say it comes with a spoiler warning, but to be honest the man dies so often onscreen that seeing his name in the opening credits may arguably be considered a major spoiler.

June 23, 2011

Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing #1

You have to love DC and their hilariously unwieldy titles. Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing picks up some of the pieces left by the 24-issue series Brightest Day, which itself picked up many of the pieces left by the eight-part miniseries Darkest Knight, which was itself spun off from several years' worth of plot developments in Green Lantern. With me so far? (And comic companies wonder why their titles don't sell like they used to...)

The basic premise of this three-issue miniseries is actually pretty simple: Swamp Thing, a green elemental creature with magical powers that has been missing for many years, appears to have returned to Earth. Rather than the old benevolent Swamp Thing, this new incarnation appears to be destructive and potentially very dangerous. English magician John Constantine heads off on Swamp Thing's trail, hoping to track down his former friend and find out what has gone wrong. On his way he begins to encounter a group of superheroes including Batman and fellow magician (and, it turns out, ex-girlfriend) Zatanna.

June 20, 2011

Giant-Size Atom #1

This is, I suppose, a short review in the form of a complaint. Recently DC Comics has been making a lot of noise about their line-wide relaunch/reboot this September. It's been a pretty effective promotional campaign, because it got me into a comic shop for the first time in over a year with an interest in buying a few superhero comics.

Of course, it's often hard when you want to simply buy a single issue of a comic book to find one that's going to be self-contained. It's a serialised medium, and so finding a single comic book with a beginning, middle and end is often rather tricky.

In the end I went with Giant-Size Atom #1. I've always liked the Atom (aka Ray Palmer), and this purported to be an extra-length 'one-shot' guest-starring Hawkman, who I also rather like. (A one-shot is, rather obviously, a single issue self-contained comic book with a beginning, middle and end.) The comic was written by Jeff Lemiere, whose previous work I have not read but whose solid reputation has preceded him.

February 25, 2011

Oscar predictions: Part II

Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
The Illusionist, Sylvain Chomet
Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich
Toy Story 3 is entering this race as the presumptive winner, so strong is the critical reception to this film (it even gained a Best Picture nomination – only the second animated feature to do so). It’s coincidentally the one nominee out of the three that I haven’t seen. I can’t help but feel a little bit of Pixar fatigue however – they’ve won every year from the past three, and despite their high and consistent quality I can’t help but feel they’re not always offering me anything new any more. My pick to win is easily Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, which was subtle, beautiful, funny and melancholic.
What’s going to win: Toy Story 3
What I want to win: The Illusionist

Oscar predictions: Part I

I have had a long-standing interest in the Academy Awards. They rarely give their awards to the most deserving candidates - they rarely nominate all of the most deserving candidates - but as an annual window into the world of how Hollywood thinks they're very addictive to watch. It's like a bitchy circus, with lots of insincere marketing, cynical "Oscar-bait" performances every December, and horribly unattractive ball gowns. Here are the first of my predictions for Sunday night's Academy awards, this time focusing on the four acting categories.

February 7, 2011

Random link.

BBC Radio's Interview program has interviewed American science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin. You can download the podcast from the BBC here. (Link goes directly to the mp3 file.)

February 4, 2011

Not proud of the BBC

The BBC's motoring show Top Gear found itself in hot water again this week, after a string of racial slurs were presented about the Mexican people on the programme. The Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom lodged a complaint to the BBC, several British MPs condemned the remarks, and everyone has essentially been waiting for the public on-air apology.

I have no idea if there will be an on-air apology by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond or James May, but I'm going to hazard a guess there won't be. The BBC's press office has released a written apology for the remarks. It's quite interesting reading.

February 3, 2011


Two random links to get you through your afternoon:
  • The Hollywood Reporter profiles and interviews director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club, The Social Network). Check it out here.
  • Blake's 7 themed Lego. Check that one out here.

January 31, 2011

The Omega Factor

The Omega Factor was an unusual drama for the BBC: a paranormal thriller produced by BBC Scotland, it sparked a sudden controversy upon release before being essentially buried by the broadcaster for more than two decades. It has only been since a recent DVD release that modern audiences have had the opportunity to discover it.

The series was created by George Gallacio, a former production manager for Doctor Who who had moved to Edinburgh to take up a permanent position there as a staff producer. Gallacio was initially commissioned to produce the second season of The Standard, a 13-part newspaper drama that had been launched in 1978 with great fanfare. With that series facing flagging ratings, however, Gallacio was ordered to abandon pre-production for that show and instead develop a new drama series himself.

January 27, 2011

Five Films: Michelle Yeoh

This week’s Five Films segment is dedicated to Michelle Yeoh. She was born in Malaysia, raised in Great Britain and then introduced to movie audiences via Hong Kong. She originally trained as a ballerina, but a spinal injury led to her shifting to choreography, then modelling, and finally to acting. She will next be seen playing Aung San Suu Kyi in Luc Besson’s biographical drama The Lady, but she’s got an enormous back catalogue of films that are well worth checking out. Here, below, are my five favourites.

Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
Yeoh featured in six films before retiring from acting in 1988. It was only after she divorced her husband, Dickson Poon, that she returned to the screen opposite Jackie Chan in Police Story 3. She is extraordinary in this film, going toe-to-toe with Chan in terms of energy, screen presence and ridiculously dangerous stunts. Her final stunt in the film – riding a motorcycle off a ramp and onto the roof of a moving train – was so impressive that it led Chan to add an even more dangerous stunt for himself (hanging off a rope ladder tied to a flying helicopter) to keep his reputation intact as Hong Kong’s most reckless and talented stunt artist.

January 21, 2011

Arthur of the Britons: "Arthur is Dead" (1972)

Arthur of the Britons was one of those strange TV shows that I saw as a child during the school holidays in the mid-1980s. It was a half-hour British adventure series, and seemed like no other version of the King Arthur legend I had encountered. It seemed rougher, smaller and dirty. Camelot didn’t seem to exist, and Arthur and his knights seemed to live in a wooden fort.
I didn’t realise at the time that the series wasn’t a new one. Arthur of the Britons was produced for two seasons between 1972 and 1973 by HTV, one of Great Britain’s regional television stations. The series was set in the Dark Ages: the Romans had withdrawn from Britain, and Arthur was Celtic tribal leader defending his territory against Saxon invaders. Even 38 years later it feels like a completely fresh take on the Arthurian legend, creating the sort of “the real Arthur” mystique that the 2005 Jerry Bruckheimer film could only dream of. In many ways it foreshadows another HTV production, Robin of Sherwood, which took the well-worn Robin Hood legend and created something new out of it for the 1980s.

January 20, 2011

The Greatest Show Time: Perfect Blue and Paprika

This was originally written and presented as a reading at Aussiecon 4 in September 2010. Writer/director Satoshi Kon had recently died, and I felt like commemorating him in some way.

‘It’s the greatest show time!’ announces a clown as they impossibly squeeze out of a tiny automobile. A circus ring seems like an incongruous place to begin a science fiction film, but before long we are following a middle-aged police officer from circus to corridor to train and beyond, without explanation or logical sense. We are in a dream, and that dreams is being subtly controlled and manipulated by a machine: the DC Mini.
It sounds quite a lot like Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mega-hit Inception, in which surveillance experts use technology to enter other people’s dream-states and steal their ideas. This, however, is Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, an animated film from Japan that pre-dates Nolan’s work by four years and is – arguably – the superior film.

January 19, 2011

Urine controlled videogames

You can forget all the motion-controlled games being thrown around at the moment, whether it's the Wii, the Xbox 360 Kinect or Playstation Move. Sega are already onto the next big thing: urine!
It sounds like I'm joking, but in four Tokyo arcades this month Sega are trialling a series of urinal-installed videogames. The idea is that as you play them, you will also see digital advertising on the game screen.

Five Films: Mark Hamill

For the second Five Films column, let’s take a look at Mark Hamill. Best known as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, he’s been appearing in various films and TV productions for over 40 years now. And remember: if you liked Hamill in any films not mentioned below, make sure you speak up in the comments below.

Wizards (1977)
Hamill is an exceptional voice artist, and it was a side to his career that he was developing all the way back here in the 1970s. Hamill plays Sean, the leader of the elves, in this inventive animated fantasy from writer/director Ralph Bakshi. This isn’t my favourite Bakshi film (that would still be The Lord of the Rings), but it’s still highly enjoyable.

January 18, 2011

Q*Bert (1982)

There is a purity to early videogames that ensures their continued popularity, either on a small-scale level of cult appeal, or with a much larger pop culture cache. These games were programmed on computers that are by today’s standards ridiculously limited, yet the limitations provided a structure within which some of the most enjoyable gaming experiences ever were successfully created.
This isn’t an attempt to claim that all early videogames are enjoyable. Truth be told, a lot of them are dreadful – either dull retreads and ripoffs of other more successful titles, or quite simply straight-out bad games.
When all of the elements are well designed, and one of these early titles has a unique and iconic look, memorable and original gameplay, and challenging and interesting design, then generally that game is going to be remembered and re-played for years to come.
I have a lot of favourites from the early days of videogames: Frogger, Galaga and Ms Pac-Man immediately come to mind. Another favourite is Q*Bert, a strange-looking but wonderfully addictive American arcade game from 1982.

January 17, 2011

Pale Rider (1985)

This is an old review I wrote back in 2009, but it's a good movie and deserves being talked about again. Hope you enjoy it.

A small community of Californian gold miners find themselves persecuted by a rich local banker with a jealous eye towards their claim. There’s a violent raid one morning. A teenage girl’s pet dog is killed. After burying her pet, the girl prays for God to send a “spirit of vengeance” to avenge her loss and drive away the banker and his men. The next day, a solitary rider arrives in town – a nameless preacher who unites the embattled community and inspires them to fight back.

I have an enormous love for westerns that I don’t often talk about. I love the mystique of this big, dusty, ridiculously fictionalised vision of American history. I think it’s sad that an equivalent bushranger genre didn’t take off here in Australia, because it probably would have been just as fun.
I love grim men in broad-brimmed hats, riding horses and training revolvers on one another. I love – when they’re shot like a western should be – beautiful North American vistas. I’ve never particularly wanted to visit the USA for its people, but I’ve always wanted to visit just to look at the landscape they live on.

January 15, 2011

Want to read scripts to The King's Speech and The Social Network?

One of the cool things about Oscar season is that the studios often widely distribute copies of eligible screenplays, in the hope that Academy members might nominate and vote for them. The result is heaven for any aspiring script writers. Two scripts have recently been put up by Deadline Hollywood, so click here for a PDF of David Seidler's script of The King's Speech, and click here for an insightful interview with The Social Network's Aaron Sorkin, as well as a PDF of his script.

January 14, 2011

Tell-All, by Chuck Palahniuk (2010)

Chuck Palahniuk is a terrifyingly talented author. He has a remarkable gift for odd turns of phrase, describing people, events and places in ways that the reader would never have previously imagined, but which fit perfectly. He’s laugh-out-loud funny when he needs to be, and frighteningly confronting when he wants to be. His first published novel, Fight Club, was a well-deserved cult hit and spawned an even better motion picture from screenwriter Jim Uhls and director David Fincher. Follow-up novels such as Survivor, Choke and Invisible Monsters continued to cement his reputation as one of America’s best novelists. He’s an author with whom you can make some easy comparisons – the deceptive simplicity of Stephen King, the highly evocative phrasing of Bret Easton Ellis – but also one who stands up as a very original writer. Nobody else writes exactly like Palahniuk. Ten novels into his career and he has effectively created his own niche genre.
Tell-All, published in 2010, is Palahniuk’s latest novel. Like several of his recent books it’s comparatively short, running for roughly 180 pages or so in a B-format paperback. It is a satirical pastiche, tracking the attempted career comeback of an aging movie star through the eyes of her long-standing (and long-suffering) personal assistant. When a young man arrives with an eye to woo and exploit the movie star, it’s up to her assistant to see him off and protect her employer – whom the manipulative assistant clearly sees as her own life’s work.

January 13, 2011

Five Films: David Morse

In these occasional columns, I’m going to pick an actor I like and recommend five of their films to you. They might be a major star; they might be a supporting player. I’m starting with one of those exceptional supporting performers: American actor David Morse.

There’s something distinctly watchable about David Morse. I’m not entirely sure what it is. He is one of those actors who seems to effortlessly capture my attention when he’s on-screen. He doesn’t steal scenes. He’s never showy. He very rarely gets the opportunity to play a lead role. Instead he’s one of those immensely strong, wonderfully talented supporting actors who lifts the quality of any film or television episode he’s in.
I think I first noticed him in Michael Bay’s 1996 action film The Rock, where he plays second-in-command to Ed Harris. After that he just seemed to crop up everywhere, impressing me each time – not by playing a striking, unique character, but simply by doing an exceptional job of playing interesting yet everyday people. That’s a hard thing to do, playing an everyday person. Leonardo Di Caprio (whom I admire immensely) tried it and failed miserably in Titanic. David Morse nails that kind of character every time.

January 12, 2011

Away: Shuffle Dungeon (2008)

Videogames are not always the most original of mediums. I suppose the same may be said of pretty much every creative medium: just as you’re always going to discover derivative videogames, you’re also going to be able to easily find derivative films and novels. For some reason they seem to stand out more obviously to me in games. Maybe it’s the gameplay – how many substandard platform games were released for the SNES and Megadrive, each with their own cute animal-based mascot, each desperately attempting to replicate the success of Mario or Sonic? How many bland first-person shooters get released every year? Games are a highly commercial medium, arguably even more so than film and television, and that commercialism tends to bring with it an element of cynicism too.
Most derivative games are not very interesting or memorable. Unless you bring something new and interesting to the table, the best result you can hope for is that gamers buy and play your game while waiting for the next ‘big thing’ to grab their attention.

January 11, 2011

Close to Home (2005)

To use some random sports metaphors, Close to Home is a knockout. It hits the ball out the park. It scores a century without losing a wicket. To speak in plainer terms, it is a sensational work of low budget cinema. Shot on a shoestring in Jerusalem and released in 2005, it demonstrates complexity, heart, nuance, character and vitality. I watched it for the first time in a cinema I used to manage, as part of a program of low budget features including Primer, Keane and Down to the Bone (all of which were and still are exceptional movies). I watched it the second time over the New Year break on DVD, and my appreciation for the film only increased.
Close to Home follows two 18 year-old women undertaking their Israeli national service by patrolling the streets of Jerusalem as part of the Magav, or Israel Border Police. Smadar is cocky and rebellious. Mirit is shy and withdrawn. They don’t like each other much, but are forced to patrol together. Their patrol essentially entails stopping each Arab who tries to pass them on the street and to record the details from their identity card. It’s a tedious job, and the film goes a good length to show how dull it must be. It’s also a relatively racist and offensive job, and the film makes certain we recognise that as well. Finally, there might even be an argument that while morally repugnant it is also perhaps a necessary job.
This isn’t a film about answers, or social justice, or political opinions. It takes a very difficult and complicated backdrop, and then places into it a pair of wonderfully realised, beautifully performed young women.

January 10, 2011

Secret of Mana (1993)

A young man recovers a magical sword from a stone, inadvertently releasing a horde of monsters into the lands around his village. As a result he is banished from his home, and winds up travelling the world visiting the eight mystical Mana Temples in order to replenish his sword’s magical energy and prevent an evil sorcerer from taking over the world.
It’s pretty tedious stuff when read from a page – certainly it was pretty tedious stuff while I was writing it down. It’s the basis, however, for Secret of Mana, a 1993 Japanese role-playing game (RPG) released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). For most of the people who have played it, it is one of the most fondly remembered games of the SNES era. For fans of Japanese RPGs, it remains an absolute classic of the genre.
So why, if the story is so derivative, is Secret of Mana so fondly remembered? Like most videogames, the quality of the story took a back seat to the quality of the gameplay, the graphics and the sound. In these respects Secret of Mana excelled. At the time there really wasn’t a game available for the SNES that combined such high quality images and music with such a wonderfully immersive gaming experience.

January 9, 2011

Hackers (1995)

At the start of Hackers, eighteen year-old Dade Murphy has spent seven years legally barred from using a computer after a hacking incident when he was eleven. Back at the keyboard, he dives straight back into cyberspace as Zero Cool. When he encounters Kate Libby, aka Acid Burn, their battle of the sexes extends both on and off the computer. The two must put aside their differences, however, to prevent a master hacker known as the Plague from crashing a corporate network and stealing $25 million dollars.

Screenwriter Rafael Moreu first encountered the concept of ‘hacking’ while studying at college. ‘I was immediately intrigued,’ he said. ‘When people become so obsessed by a single activity, there has to be a story, and I wanted to investigate further.’
Moreu’s investigations brought him into contact with several of America’s most talented and notorious computer hackers, several of whom were already under surveillance by the police for illegal activities. Moreu compared the phenomenon to a 1960s-style counterculture revolution. ‘These kids were beginning to realise that they’d been handed the keys to the kingdom, and now had to deal with the responsibilities that came with it.’ 
Rather than write a direct and fact-based depiction of hacker culture, Moreu elected to exaggerate the phenomenon into a strange, slightly self-aware version of reality. The film may have been titled Hackers, but the characterisation and technology was vastly different to what one might encounter in the real world. ‘I wrote my own “screenplay hack”,’ Moreu argued, ‘a kind of Trojan Horse program, where I could present these more serious issues in a script that also delivers the hackers’ inherent sense of anarchic humour.’

Game Dev Story (2010)

Game Dev Story is one of those perversely recursive artefacts: a videogame about making videogames. You play the manager of a small videogame development studio. As the game progresses you can access an increasing array of game styles and genres: adventure, shooter, racing, simulation, even audio novel, as well as fantasy, animals, samurai, historical, and so on. The combinations are up to you. So if you, say, wanted to create a simulation game about games, I have no doubt that you could. How is that for recursion?
The game is designed for mobile phones, such as the iPhone or the Android, and as such it’s forced to adhere to a bunch of specific challenges. It can’t be too complex, or too lengthy or slow. It needs to have a certain visual clarity. I found it surpassed all of those challenges, although it does seem a little overwhelming at first.
The game utilises a wonderful ‘old-school’ aesthetic as well, harking back to the 16-bit era of the Megadrive and SNES. On top of that, it’s packed to the brim with awful puns, thinly veiled references to gaming history and well-played moments of parody. If you’re a hardcore fan of the industry and its history, Game Dev Story will probably give you many hours of entertainment.

January 7, 2011

The Feathered Serpent (1976-78)

 There’s something quite wonderful about British children’s television. I can’t really speak for what gets made today – I’m generally at work when children’s TV is playing – but from the 1960s to the 1990s Great Britain hosted an exceptional range of odd little youth-oriented dramas. UK children’s TV was seemingly fearless, and remarkably daring. No subject matter seemed to be out of bounds. No setting or social issues seemed too unsuitable. Whether it was Press Gang tackling sexual or solvent abuse, or Grange Hill getting Zammo hooked on drugs, or even Tom Baker getting half-strangled to death in Doctor Who, UK children’s television often seemed that classic combination of ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. Even TV for toddlers seems creepier and more unsettling than productions from other countries. Maybe it’s just me, but from The Clangers and The Magic Roundabout to Teletubbies and In the Midnight Garden, British toddler’s television is downright bizarre.
I never saw The Feathered Serpent on its original broadcast. To be honest, until two weeks ago I had never even heard of it. It ran for two seasons on ITV, starting in 1976 and ending in 1978. It was produced by Thames Television, and notably starred Patrick Troughton (the second actor to play Doctor Who). It’s also about Aztecs. You read that correctly, and this isn’t a joke: for two years in the 1970s Thames Television produced a children’s drama about Aztecs.