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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

How to Please a Goth (Without Using a Choke Chain and Leather Flogger) - Part One

(The following post is in collaboration with Fiona of Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor; check her out some time, she's a'ight)

Good evening, fine readers, apologies for the late post. Seeing as tomorrow is Halloween, the one with all the spooky stuff and such, and my good friend Fiona is one of those weird Goth-types (super-effective against Fairy) I thought it might be a nice idea to amalgamate my ambivalence towards the two and collect them under a more interesting topic: video games.

Nothing brings people together like a healthy dose of asthenopia and passive aggression.
It's always interesting to see how outside parties view our favourite pastime (behind binge eating and masturbation) so I sat down with Fiona and we skimmed through the rich history of video games to find a collection of gaming gems that, through their design choices, gameplay, story or atmosphere, speak not only to our own scaly, pale, cloudy-eyed race, but theirs too.

Heck, we're only one zombie bite apart in the family tree.
This little ode to all things spooky will be split into two posts; the first focussing on the games of old, here meaning anything made before LucasArts ceased to exist, and the second on newer additions to the gaming world. Before we begin, here is a little message from our sponsor:


Fiona:

"Boo."
N’yello, folks! I mean, ‘darkest greetings’ and all that. This is Fiona/Fee/that weirdo with the bats and stuff, author of Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor and arch frenemy of Ben. I'm a 5’5” Glasweigan Medic studying in Dundee, who likes Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain if you replace pina coladas with skulls and unsuspecting showers with morbid songs about peeing in sweet shops. I blog mainly about gothic lifestyle, fashion and feminist issues (so virtually nothing like this one), and to commemorate the grand auld day that is All Hallow’s Eve (as well as being my favourite day of the year, it was a rainy Halloween that I first met Benjamin here) I thought I would team up with boy blunder and combine our two passions – goth and gaming.


Not like this though.
This was partially as an exercise to educate him on what Goth is (a music based subculture originating in the eighties post punk scene [Ben: blah, blah (Fiona: you cheeky shit!)] featuring dark and melancholic themes, I’ll have you know), which he seems to be woefully confused about, and also because, sadly, I am not a gamer. I've tried, and I have what can only be classified as some kind of motor neurone problem that means my limbs don’t do what I want them to, explains a lot of my dancing and makes gaming fantastically difficult. However, there is a significant crossover between goths and nerds, which means that games which appreciate the dark beauty and moody atmosphere of the gothic mind set can only be appreciated, and are all the more likely to get me in front of a console.

So without further ado, onwards with the post!

Castlevania - NES (1987)


Fiona:

In Ben’s words when he suggested this to me, "game, set, match. Go pack up your things and go home". Other than if someone actually does a Bauhaus inspired game where you have to help Peter Murphy find his clothes (the difficulty level would be insane, considering the singer seems to own so few), the Castlevania series is the spookiest goddamn action-adventure you can get for your consoles. 

Whilst the format varies from game to game, typically you as the gamer have to battle werewolves, vampires and other beasties in your attempt to find and kill Dracula (usually I have a problem with projects that have the name Dracula slapped on without much relevance to the original book, but I’ll make an exception for this). Whilst the original is in true 8-bit format, there has clearly been dedication in it’s attempt to create a classic horror aesthetic, and even in the lesser graphics of the early games it achieves it. The series has a wide variety of different formats, from the platforms of the early games to the action-adventure of the newer ones. With glorious ruined castles, classic horror monsters and sneaky wee references to horror actors such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and others in the credits, it’s everything I could hope for in a game franchise, distilled.

Ben:

First of all, I have to make a confession. The ROM I downloaded for us to play the original Castlevania (I’m poor - I’ll buy it eventually) turned out to be in Portuguese so I’ve no idea what’s going on, all the boss characters seem to be called Chefe so I assume the game is something to do with satanic medieval kitchen staff.


Whatever's going on, this Ponto guy seems to be full of Vida.


If you're my age or younger and don’t have a fascination with things older than you that look like they were scribbled on the back of a cereal box, play the 2010 reboot Lords of Shadow instead. It’s awesome in its own right with some lovely hack-and-slash combo fighting and even RPG elements what with upgradeable weapons and such. Plus my Japanese man-crush, Hideo “ninety-minute cutscene” Kojima, produced it so, yeah, that. But I’ll focus on the original because that’s what’s in front of me right now.

I’ll be honest, it hasn't aged well. I've rattled through the first two boss fights (on turbo controller settings, granted) in an easy fifteen minutes, so the challenge is only there if you’re not familiar with a platforming game like this already. As this is also featured on Fiona's blog I’ll assume half of you, the readers, are not. I hate to make assumptions, but life is a hell of a lot easier that way.

An artist's conception of the common goth.
As I said, from a gaming stand-point the original iteration of the series has fallen behind a little in their old age, and even compared to other titles of a similar age it doesn't quite stand up. The game doesn't feel quite as empowering as the wonderfully brutal Ninja Gaiden, but there’s still fun to be had whacking suits of armour, giant bats, mummies and a variety of other baddies with your giant chain of justice or whatever its called. Plus, the ageing is both expected and allowed for a game that literally lends half of its name to the genre it gave birth to

Frankly there's no reason not to have a go; if you're literate and have an internet connection you can try a piece of gaming history for free with an emulator and a foreign ROM, like me. So be like your good old uncle Ben and whoop some gothic-themed ass.

Spoiler: The final boss is Dracula.

Or, as my version calls him, Head Chefe.


Fester's Quest - NES (1989)


Fiona:

So I lied about Castlevania. It doesn’t have the Addam’s Family in it, and therefore is imperfect.

What’s more goth than the original creepy kooky family? Fester’s Quest is a less well known Addam’s Family game for the NES console of the eighties, and is one of only five games released under the franchise’s name (apparently the rest aren’t fabulous, so we’ll gloss over them). In it, you play as Uncle Fester, as you attempt to save the local town from alien invasion - the actual setting design isn’t terribly spooky, with lots of hot dog stands and generic paths and fences (though there are rat infested sewers and strange amorphous blobs throughout).

Ben actually ordered this as a surprise when I was struck down with the plague mutation of the flu (by which I mean he played it for an entire weekend whilst I was couch bound and occasionally offered me the controller between bouts of hacking up my lungs), and having played it it’s a lot of fun; it’s a simple game for those who aren’t super-mega-pro-gamers - though infuriating in it’s confusing layout and how it sends you back to the start if you die - and there are lots of tender nods to the sixties TV series that it’s based on (including nooses that summon Lurch to destroy all on-screen enemies, which is a touch of genius). It’s a fairly standard NES game otherwise, and whilst I’m not sure why you would own a NES in the first place if you aren’t Ben, I would froth at the mouth for a dead chicken if it had Morticia's face scribbled on a post-it and stuck to it, so I’ll leave the actual evaluation up to the nerd in the corner.



Ben:


Now that we've gained a worryingly accurate insight into how to take all of Fiona's money, shall we see if Fester’s Quest is the proverbial dead chicken in our Addam's Family collection (in a good way)? Well, from the opening sequence I can assure you that the game has captured the madness of the TV show.

I. Um. Yeah, that.
This one I actually own, so bye-bye crappy ROMs (except for taking screenshots) and hello jiggling the bloody cartridge for ten minutes before I can get the NES to start up. Now it appears that the supposed notorious difficulty of this game predominantly arises from the complete inability to hit enemies while firing along the X-axis. I can only get any modicum of accuracy when firing my green splurge blunderbuss [citation needed] downwards. On top of that, you start with a measly two bars of health and every time you die, you start right back at the beginning of the game again, meaning you'd better enjoy traipsing more familiar ground than that infuriating sniper rifle fetch quest in Metal Gear Solid.

Overall it’s pretty fun, despite not making one ounce of sense. Don’t ask what the enemies are meant to be and you’ll be able to sleep at night. And the moment I learn why there are hot dog stands all over the place I will die a happy man.

If someone can tell me why I'm fighting giant raspberries, I'll have an aneurism.


The game mixes top down shooter with the collectyness of an RPG and even has some wonderfully migraine-inducing 3D mazes before each of the 5 boss fights. That said, despite it's little quirks, this is very much typical fare, just follow the path and blast the enemies, picking up what they drop to upgrade your weapons, jobs a goodun. I’ll be honest, I don’t really see what's exactly “goth” about this excluding the brand name attached to it, but what the hey; gaming doesn't really lend itself to being specifically for certain subcultures other than angry pre-pubescent children and perverts, so we’ll keep the arbitrary stipulations for the sake of making our hobby less depressingly unwelcoming.


Moving on...



Grim Fandango - PC (1998)


Fiona:


Dear god, this is a beautiful game. Heavily inspired by Film Noir, Art Deco, the Mexican Dia de los Muertos and Aztec imagery and beliefs, this nineties computer game has the gamer play as Manuel "Manny" Calavera, a travel agent-esque Grim Reaper, as he assists souls in crossing the underworld and uncovers conspiracies in the Land of the Dead. As a big fan of puzzle games I’m desperate to have another go at this one beyond a brief snippet before Ben couldn’t bear my fumbling with the keyboard any longer (plus I need something to distract me from studying this year), but, obviously, the attention to detail put into this game is one of its crowning glories.


The humour and the scripting is glorious, and the bright and creepy aesthetics will appeal to Tim Burton fans whilst the mix of different inspirations the designers drew from keeps each of them fresh. Unfortunately, having tried to play this game I ended smashing my head into a wall out of frustration at the confusing means of movement which results in the limitation of only being able to press one key at any one time, but the actual puzzles are fun to solve, and simply looking at the design concepts I can conclude that it’s very well written and a delight to play. 

The only things I have to say about this game other than the above is just wordless whining and wishing I could download myself into the game setting.


Ben:

She did not just relate Grim Fandango to Burton, oh no she di'n'! *black sass finger snap* 



The glory of Tim Schafer and Lucas Arts shall not be sullied by the inferior likes of him! Maybe I could accept such claims if we were living in a world where Burton stopped making films before Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but alas, some sins can not be forgiven.


Wow. You just keep on digging don't you, Tim?

On the subject of Fiona's comments on this, Grim Fandango is less inspired by Film Noir, and more a love letter to it. From the dark mystery style plot of old to the voice-over narration from the main character, this thing oozes noir; all it’s missing is a cameo from Humphrey Bogart’s ghost (Fiona: You mean this doesn't happen? MY DREAM IS RUINED). Just imagine the puns! “The last time we met was La Belle Au-gore”.

"I stick my neck out for no-boo-dy."
As far as I’m aware, no such thing exists in this game, although the beautiful humour makes up for it in spades. If you’ve ever played another Lucas Arts game, be it The Secret of Monkey Island or my favourite, Day of the Tentacle, you will agree when I say that these games are funnier and better written than pretty much any film, book or toilet stall graffiti. They are a joy to play and Grim is no different, brimming with character, sharp humour and mind bending puzzles that keep you thinking but are never The Longest Journey levels of rubber-ducky-impossible absurdity.

The biggest downfall of the game is frankly it's control scheme, which discards the then done-to-death point and click style of adventure gaming, replacing it with some ludicrously awkward stumbling about using the keyboard. Imagine the controls for Heavy Rain (point your character with one key, then accelerate unceremoniously forward in a perfectly straight line with another) but without the luxury of being able to turn while walking, leading to gameplay akin to driving a remote control car with your thumbs cut off. The whole thing just becomes a farce when you reach levels that refuse to even acknowledge the concept of depth perception and challenge comes mainly from trying to squeeze round various objects while hammering the "look at" button to see what's actually useful.

Tim Schafer, you are a glorious, glorious dickhead.

American McGee's Alice/Alice: Madness Returns - PC (2000/2011)


Fiona:

This is perhaps surprising, but I hate Alice in Wonderland adaptations. Whilst I'm very fond of the original books and Carrol's back catalogue of nonsense poetry, the exhaustive quantity of repetitive ‘updated’ Wonderland based creative projects really irritates me, and with each successive new adaptation the original story at the heart of it loses its charm. 

Nonetheless, I will make an exception for the 2000 PC game American McGee’s Alice, due to it being one of the forerunners of this movement, and one of the best examples of macabre/creepy Wonderlands. In it, you play as an older Alice, who lost her parents in a house fire and is now confined to an asylum, as she proceeds through a darker and warped version of Wonderland to defeat the Red Queen. I will be honest and say that, although the concept is great, the game itself is a little dated. The graphics are from the early days of 3D gaming and thus have some very strange textures and appearances; you can tell it’s also very early in the platform gaming front as well, as there’s a lack of explanation on how to move, attack and what you’re supposed to do - which can be picked up quickly, but it’s disorienting for new or inexperienced gamers. 

i.e. Me.
However, the sequel 2011 game Alice: Madness Returns is a whole other story; with the benefit of time, virtually everything in the game has improved. The graphics are better, the art style has further improved and the story has been explained far better than before, with darker undertones and genuine disturbing creepiness. As a gamer, there’s improvements to the actual game play as well, with a proper tutorial period, collectibles to upgrade your weapons (though if anyone can explain why it’s teeth, I will give you my front two) and better combat, making it a joy to play. For me, this is a successful adaptation of the series, with well thought out designs and attention to detail in every tiny aspect of the game that really makes a difference. And yes, this is the only variant of Alice in Wonderland I would consider dressing up as.

Ben:

I think I might have to agree with Fiona here. I'm a big fan of gimbling toves and oyster murder but the rather tedious saturation of a large chunk of art in recent years (particularly if said art is made by someone with a tumblr or DeviantArt account) with Wonderland imagery dilutes the source material and detracts from what is one of the most well realised and interesting fictional universes put onto paper. Even the likes of cinema and other video games aren't safe from the icy grip of this trend; do you want to portray a sense of mystery and curiosity whilst also instilling dread and a fear of the unknown? Get a character to talk about discovering the depth of leporid holes by squeezing into them. Want the audience to know a character is important to the protagonist’s journey? More rabbit imagery.

The sunglasses represent all of our lost unbirthdays.
However, the ever so modest American McGee with his game American McGee’s Alice does very well in creating a Wonderland twisted by a tortured mind into something very alien and yet disturbingly familiar. The scripting captures the enigmatic musings of the book’s dialogue perfectly and enjoys poking fun at the player, video games and it’s own inspiration, making for some chuckles amongst the slightly unnerving word play and riddling. That said, Fiona has hit the raven on the writing desk with her critique of the original game. It’s getting a little auld. The game was released in that awkward era of gaming where PCs hadn't quite worked out how to comfortably manoeuvre in a 3D space, making the platforming sections frustratingly difficult (not in a good way) and the combat mechanics squidgy at best.

The silly putty to Street Fighter's adamantium.
Then there’s Alice: Madness Returns, the spiritual-successor-but-really-a-remake of the original, and lordy, is it better! It could just be the jarring change between playing one immediately after the other but this game feels a whole lot more well rounded. With an extremely morbid and disturbing storyline (you’re welcome, children of the night), a more rigid combat mechanic and all of the sharp wit of the original packaged with better visuals, this is obviously the vision McGee had over ten years ago. That said, the voice acting is laughably bad and the game still clings a little to a somewhat outdated game mechanic, but I dare you to complain about any of that as you bounce between mushrooms on a cloud of blue petals, shooting down flying pig snouts with a pepper grinder machine gun.

Go on, see what happens...
That, good friends, is the end of the first leg of our journey into the dark, seedy underbelly of video gaming and I think we've started off pretty well with a geek slightly more aware of what the hell a goth actually is and a goth with a little more insight into a usually impenetrable pastime. If you think we've missed out a game that we absolutely shouldn't have missed out, then keep your opinions to your self and off my immaculate comments section. And wipe your feet next time, there's mud everywhere. Were you raised in a barn?

Tsk, really...


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Film Facts 1: Amélie - Orgasms in Paris

Any good film buff has a good grasp of world cinema, even if it's only the most mainstream of those films; so long as you've seen your Pan's Labyrinth's and Oldboy's, you don't need to worry about not having seen Bombón: El Perro or I'm A Cyborg But That's OK. That said, a must for anyone willing to don the mantle of obsessive shut-in has to have seen Jeun-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie.

"Welcome to the club, make yourself at home. There's crippling anxiety on the table, next to the coffee."
What I love almost as much as watching films, though, is taking unrelated statistics and skewing them in order to come up with interesting facts about said films. And that's where Amélie comes in. There's a particular scene amongst the endless stream of utterly adorable tales that makes up the movie where Amélie is sitting on a rooftop, asking the question "How many people are having an orgasm right now?". The answer is, apparently, fifteen.

We don't ask how she knows...
Have no fear, dear reader, I am here to put your worries aside and assist in determining whether or not this claim is actually true through the power of various statistics and a very lenient grasp on basic mathematics. To do this we need the building blocks of smartness: numbers.

Carl Gauss: Knowledge Breeder
Right, lets get started. Firstly, lets get our demographic down. Now in the film, it isn't stipulated how many people we are considering in our test group, however the line "she amuses herself with silly questions about the world below.." is spoken as she looks over the Parisian suburbs, so I am going to assume she was referring to the city of Paris. The population of the city itself is 2.2 million, but that only counts the city and not the wider urban area which, to my untrained eye, is where it looks like Amélie is currently residing in this scene; so that racks the total population up to 12.1 million people in our test group, of which 53% are male and 47% female (we'll come back to that later). For an easily visualised approximation, that's about the same as the population of Zimbabwe

Plus one crazy authoritarian dictator unaware of inappropriate moustache styles.
So we've got 12 million people living there, but what about tourists? The website for Paris (like, literally the city's website) says they get 28.9 million tourists a year. We'll assume these tourists stay in Paris for a week on average, it is a pretty expensive place to visit after all, so maths says there could be anything between 79'000 and 554'000 tourists in any given day in Paris, not taking into account holidays. We'll just use the median of that and call it a cool 316'000 visitors on top of out 12 million, adding a drop in the ocean to the tune of 12.4(ish) million.

The "ish": a term first coined by Blaise Pascal when writing religious prophesies.
Next, we need to find out how often people supposedly orgasm. This is a deceptively difficult statistic to find, seeing as the Google search page for "average number of orgasms" is clogged up with Cosmo articles on "How to have the best female orgasm!!11!!!3!" and so on. Thank god the Kinsey Institute has my back with statistics on frequency of intercourse as well as masturbation statistics. These are done by age group, so if we go back to our Parisian population, the average age in Paris is apparently 40 years old (our few thousand tourists won't make much difference to that). Between the 30-39 and 40-49 year old demographics, we get between 69 and 86 cases of good old-fashioned noogie per person per year. If we subtract the 314'000 people in Paris who are under the age of 14 and thus not able to consent to sex (I won't judge, mind. What happens in French schools...), we undo all of my hard work with working out tourist numbers and end up with a population of 12.102 million people humping each other a total of 937.9 million times a year. 

That's a lot of shaggen. And the kids just have to sit back and watch.

That was rather poorly chosen wording.
Have no fear, wee kiddly bobs, for we've yet to add masturbation into the mix. If we go back to the Kinsey Institute, they say that 5% of men and 11% of women have never masturbated. So if we use our 53% male and 47% female ratio from earlier and put that into our total population (including kids this time, seeing as nearly half of the population have apparently masturbated by the age of 11), that means we have 6'243'400 masturbating males and 5'186'920 masturbating females. With an approximate masturbation rate of 12 times a month (144 a year) for men and 4.7 times a month (56.4 a year) for women, that gives us just short of 1.2 billion wanks per annum. Who would have thought we were such randy buggers?

Put that hand down, Timmy. I know where it's been now.
OK, we're getting somewhere. 1.19 billion one-man-bands plus 937.9 million horizontal two-steps gives us 2.13 billion orgasms in total. Those of you following along at home with a calculator might have a completely different number because I've been rounding more sporadically than a broken belt sander making banister knobs but this is all estimates so screw you and your fancy accuracy. 

Now that we've got a total number of jizzes per annum, we need to find out how much time that's going to take up. Depending on where you look you get a range of orgasm duration for both sexes from 8 seconds to almost an entire minute. Now I'm not a pessimist, but 60 seconds seems a little long, so we'll go further to the other end of the scale and use our first wiki article of the post for this one. Men clock in at a generous 12.5 seconds and women at an envious 20 even. If Paris is having 2.13 billion hail mary's a year, then the City of Love is spending 34 billion seconds, or 569 million minutes, or 9.5 million hours, or 400'000 days jizzing every year.

The fuck, France?

How my mind feels right now.
Just to clarify, the population of Paris and it's surrounding suburbs spends more time flooping the pig in one year than the length of the reigns of the Ancient Roman Republic and the Roman Empire combined.

I...What?

These numbers cannot be unseen.

Not to be confused with The Number 23, which also cannot be unseen.
But yes, what does this mean for our dear Amélie sitting alone on that Parisian rooftop? If we took turns with one person cumming after another, then it would take over 1000 years; with two people at once, that becomes 500. If we keep folding the numbers like that (because I work far better with a completely un-mathematical visual memory) then in order for all of that jizzing to take place within one year there would have to be at least 1082 people orgasming at any given moment.

With a total urbanised area of 2'724 square kilometers and a resulting average population density of 4552 people per square kilometer, my calculations mean that the next time you visit Paris, remember that at any given second you have a 23.8% chance of being within a kilometer of a spunking Frenchman.

"Remember to bring wellies." - Ingrid Bergman

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Some Guy and Some Guy in a Robot Costume

Ow. Yellow. It burns.
Who here loves South Park? High five! Yay for being another immature man-child who likes to pretend you watch it for the social commentary.

"Hehe, he's all covered in- I mean, consumerism and government and...something."
Although there should be no need for justification in bringing up such comedy genius, my question has a point. Some long-time fans may remember a certain episode featuring Cartman's AWESOM-O 4000 robot, which, to the uninitiated or those who don't click every hyperlink they see, consists of Cartman dressing up in some cardboard boxes and talking in a monotone voice to convince the town moron that he's a robot sent from Japan to be his new best friend.

*insert racist Asian joke here*
If you ever wondered what that concept would be like if it was stretched over the course of an entire film and replaced the town idiot with an elderly shut-in in the early stages of dementia, then your worryingly specific request has been granted by Robot and Frank, a relatively low budget slow-paced, sort-of-sci-fi drama featuring Frank Langella. You might know him better as the one who wasn't the TV presenter in Frost/Nixon or the guy with half a face in the hastily excised haemorrhoid that I've mentioned previouslyThe Box. God, I hated that movie!

Judging by his performance, I assume his character also only had half a buttock.
So what's Robot and Frank like? For twenty minutes it's a bland tale about a very typical forgetful, grumpy old man getting given a robot aide by his "I-care-about-you-but-I'm-obviously-too-successful-and-busy-to-be-a-good-child" son, Hunter, a gesture which he is unsurprisingly unhappy about, but is slowly brought over to as the two of them strike up a wonderful friendship. Essentially the formula for every elderly companionship movie ever made excluding the only good elderly companionship movie ever made, Harold and Maude, but this time with a robot.

This sub-genre needs more robots.
After the twenty minute mark, the addition of, and consequently also the thoughtful moral dilemma surrounding, Frank realising he can use the robot to assist him in reviving his past career as a cat burglar adds some desperately needed individuality to the otherwise forgettable prologue. They decide to rob the local library which is soon to be turned into a completely computerised system, apparently destroying all of the books once they're scanned because that's definitely what you'd do when trying to preserve literature. One of the books in jeopardy is of course an extremely valuable copy of Don Quixote (why it's just sitting in a cabinet in a small town library we will never know), and Frank takes it upon himself to rescue it; most likely from Susan Sarandon's character, who can't help but constantly play with all of the extremely fragile books.

Never before has a priceless artefact been so needlessly fondled.
Then we spend a little while pottering about watching Frank stake out his next target and occasionally forget stuff so we remember that he's not well. Then some more inconsequential plot developments. To be honest, the whole film feels very...bitty... No one aspect of the plot sticks around for long enough to actually get going. We're watching Frank get to know the robot. Now we're being given some sort of heavy handed parable. Now it looks like he's under the most obvious police surveillance ever.

"I AM INCONSPICUOUS."
Frank himself is, frankly (eh, eh!), dull. The writers have tried to push him away from the old man stereotype by making him an ex burglar but despite that he is still just the old man stereotype. He's forgetful, grumpy, unwelcoming to new things and firmly set in his ways.

The robot is, equally so, just a robot, and in many scenes very obviously not a robot. If we would like to go back to my very first comparison, its plainly obvious in parts of the film that the robot is just a person wearing no more that some painted cardboard boxes. Now, it would be impossible to actually use a real robot for the variety and detail of tasks being performed in the movie and still keep a budget under the billions, but did they have to make it so obvious that the whole suit slipped on like a jumper? The blatant falseness of the robot costume, although not a deal breaker, is certainly jarring in a few scenes and definitely takes away from the illusion of a highly sophisticated piece of machinery. That said, Peter Sarsgaard's voice performance as the robot is probably the most convincing piece of acting in the whole movie.

"I have more talent in one circuit that all of you flesh sacs combined."
The other characters out-with the titular pair would be more at home in Flatland than anything requiring three dimensions. The aforementioned son turns up, dumps the robot and leaves, throwing in a few lines to express exasperation and mild sarcasm. All of the other male characters in the film are equally as sarky in everything they do, not one of them managing a single serious sentence without smirking halfway through like so many art students talking about their views on philosophy after reading the wiki page on Nietzsche. The worst perpetrator of this is the smarmy grease-ball that is the closest thing to a villain that the film manages. He looks like a cross between a weasel and a confused toad and seems to be incapable of basic human interactions, including knowing when not to sound like a sarcastic, self-entitled bastard. Essentially me.

I have nicer glasses.
The daughter, Madison, can only be described as an air-headed liberal who spends half of the movie in [impoverished country] "finding herself", turning up just long enough to shoehorn in the inevitable requirement of approaching the "robots replacing humans" dilemma, and raising the argument that although robots can complete the same tasks, they can't do it with the love and affection of humans. After five minutes she realises it's too hard looking after an old person on your own and uses the robot anyway.

To bury Frank and save them all the bother.
Then there's the near-future setting that our story is based in. It's presented as a kind of pseudo-future with little technical advancements here and there, suggesting the more feasible subtle changes in technology likely over the next few decades instead of the Jetson's-esque levels of jetpack awesomeness more commonly presented in cinema. Although it was a nice thought, the people behind making this future world have still managed to fall down the usual potholes, most notably the idea that our phone calls will be voice-activated and permanently displaying video on the living room TV.

"Dad, why are you masturbating at the cat?"
What if you've lost your voice and can't activate the phone with a "hello", or if you're currently in a less than flattering situation, or very simply not in that room? Where's the microphone; do you have to shout at the screen to be heard? What if the room is noisy, or there are other people there? Or if you want to keep watching TV while you're on the phone? There's so many flaws with this idea that I'm amazed people keep trying to suggest it. I mean what brainless fool would actually- oh.

*slow clap*
I've been whinging for a good few paragraphs and I've just polished of a very smooth bottle of Pinot so why don't we take the opportunity to look at at least one good thing to come out of this film? Due to the unique amalgamation of Frank's deteriorating condition and the introduction of an ethically ambiguous piece of pseudo-sentient machinery, the film's makers have stumbled across a goldmine of a parable in the form of the importance of memory in making a person, or being, human. The fragility of Frank's unstable memory is paralleled with the robot's memory, which can be wiped at any time by its owner, and we realise that his attachment to the robot is built predominantly around it's memories of him and their experiences together. When it comes to the choice of whether to wipe the robot's memory or not Frank is hesitant because, by doing so, is he essentially destroying a being which he has slowly grown to know and helped to nurture over months? It is the only moment in a movie otherwise devoid of plot, character or individuality which makes the entirety of the hour and a half of slightly de-saturated stumbling about almost worthwhile. And I needed a bottle of wine to appreciate it properly.

Take from that what you will.


Overall Ben Equivalence Rating


Watching a Feature-length Honda Advert -
Lots of desaturation, pseudo-advanced technology, robots and a distinct lack of plot.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Jack Vettriano: Some Half Decent Pikchurs

I'd be sad if my thumb was that shape too.
So art is a thing apparently. With the painting and the putting things in things and giving it a completely inconsequential name. I've never really got it myself to be honest.

Damien Hirst's latest award-winning installation: "The Effervescent Tedium of a Calcified Pasty".
That said, there's this one painting I saw years ago that I always really liked. It was of two people in formal dress dancing on a windy beach with a maid and a butler. It's called "The Singing Butler", and it's the most famous painting by Fife-born artist Jack Vettriano; prints of it adorning many a dentist's waiting room from here to whatever country without cheap shopping centre art shops happens to be closest.

I - no, even I can't do this...
For whatever reason, I particularly like Vettriano's stuff. It's not hugely detailed, it's very accessible, and a large chunk of his pieces are actually influenced by pop culture, like David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino. All of those things are apparently criticisms in the eyes of the art community, which just goes to show that either I should never go into a career in painting or that the art community are idiots.

So, while I was in Glasgow this weekend, I happened to be passing the Kelvingrove art gallery in the West End and who's work should happen to be on exhibit at the moment?

Damien Hirst's "28 Reasons I Have A Fleeting Animosity Towards Cravats", of course.
The chance to gawk at over a hundred (and one) paintings by the only artist I've ever had more than a mild interest in? And for three quid? Why not, eh.

I had a look at some of the other reviews by various art critics and such about the exhibition and they all go on about his painting style and something about narrative and *groan* *spurt* so I thought I should probably say something about the paintings too, but I'm not really an artsy fartsy type; I don't know how to express what I feel when I look at a Vettriano.

"...gran...?"
With that kept in mind I'll do my best by using one of Vettriano's paintings as a prime example of why I love his work. I'd not seen this one, along with about 80 of the others, before I went to the exhibit, but I would have to rank it as one of my favourites; it's called "Her Secret Life" and shows a woman talking at a payphone by the beach. See below for further details:

"-you should come visit some time; they've not had any sightings of Cthulhu for days."
It's a very simple painting with little detail beyond the woman and the phone-booth, but still manages to shove so much character into one picture. The enigmatic seriousness of the woman clashing with the nostalgic beauty of a beach promenade, complete with bright red bunting. Who is she? Why is she on her own at a place so synonymous with couples and families on a day out? Who is she talking to? What are they talking about? Why do I get the feeling that it's not an enjoyable conversation? So many questions!

The mystery of the painting's subject mixed with the dated fashion and nostalgic setting just seems to strike a chord with me, making for a thoroughly intriguing picture, and I just realised I've managed nearly two paragraphs without trying to make a bad joke; art is bad for me. I need my sarcastic wordplay.

Puns are the broccoli of the writing world.
And frankly, that's all I can really say about Vettriano's work. I whole-heartedly recommend you go to visit if you get the chance, just so you can make up your own mind about it; art is far too subjective to take the word of a rambling internet blogger/hobo as fact, that's what religion is for. The exhibit is on until 23rd February 2014 and you can usually find more information by following conveniently placed hyperlinks. If nothing else, you can at least take the opportunity to pick up a new coffee table book like I did.

Pictured: A piece of fine art and a Jack Vettriano book.