Home > News (Personal), Personal > Personal: March 2010 in review

Personal: March 2010 in review

Time again for the third (and possibly final) month in review:

Personal

I’m still jobless and it’s getting a little serious now. Without money coming in it will be difficult to make rent at the end of the month, so if blogging and tweeting stops it could be because it’s difficult to get power/internet out on the streets (I don’t actually think it’s quite that serious, but it’s getting there).

Blog output was terrible in March, posting nothing after February’s monthly review except linking to a video of a spoof Avatar 2 trailer. I need to write up pieces on Borderlands (still left over from February) and the two new games I played last month, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Heavy Rain (which I’ve written a lot of words about, but they’re not yet in a condition to be posted). I mentioned above that this might be the last monthly update because I think there’s more potential in regular updates whenever I have something to say rather that limiting myself to a chunky monthly update (and not just because it means more posts a month, honest).

More positively, I managed to find some time for:

Reading

In the previous two updates I mentioned how I’d not read anything substantial for a while but I was finally able to turn that around in March, reading the whole of one book and starting another. The finished book was Steel and Snow, the first part of a two-part book, A Storm of Swords, which is itself the third book in George R. R. Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire, so it’s full title would be A Song of Ice and Fire Book Three: A Storm of Swords Part One – Steel and Snow, which as titles go is about as epic as the series itself. The first book, A Game of Thrones, was recently commissioned as a TV series by the always excellent HBO and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it, and BioWare cited it as an influence for Dragon Age, which I’ve still not played yet but really want to.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a fantasy series that aims to recreate the complexity of something like the War of the Roses, a continent plunged into turmoil with the death of a king, prompting new kings to rise up and claim the right to the throne, wars breaking out on multiple fronts, alliances forming and shifting and lots and lots of death, while even greater dangers brewing far to the north and south. The books tell the story from the point of view of multiple characters (this book alone uses eleven different people and across the books so far it’s probably closer to fifteen), which has a couple of advantages when it comes to telling the story.  The first is that you experience conflicts from all sides rather than just the good side, and the second is that it means that people aren’t safe just because they’re a ‘protagonist’. Main characters die and the story shifts around that, and at points Martin can be absolutely brutal.

Being part one the book does end fairly suddenly and I immediately moved on to part two, Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire Book Three: A Storm of Swords Part Two – Blood and Gold, to use its full title), which only goes on for a few chapters before some incredibly dramatic events occur that seem like they would have been a better ending point for part one. According to Wikipedia the book was actually released as one giant story in the US and it was only split into two for the UK (France elected to break it into four, which should give you an idea of how long it is). It’s possible then that Martin wasn’t that involved in the decision or the decision was made to just split the book right down the middle, and as the two books were only released a couple of months apart nobody would have had to suffer through a significant delay. The series really has been fantastic (Blood and Gold has been shocking in its developments) and is definitely among my favourite fantasy series.

(Incidentally, I can’t help thinking that the UK covers for all the books look much nicer than the US ones).

Scott Shelby and Soap MacTavishGaming

The big gaming event for me was Heavy Rain, the first 2010 game I’ve played. It still has a lot of the flaws in story, characters and writing that Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) did, but thankfully doesn’t go to such ludicrous extremes. It works better as a game as well and in terms of atmosphere and tension has some really excellent moments, even if it’s a flawed product overall. What this “interactive drama” genre (which in some ways seems like a pretentious way to refer to “limited adventure games”) really needs is for somebody other than Quantic Dream to take a stab at it. I’m not convinced linear, film-like games is a direction games should be heading in generally but there’s real potential there for games to tackle themes that other genres don’t touch, which could then slowly bleed through to other genres and possibly improve gaming as a whole. If it stays as something that only Quantic Dream are working on then it seems likely that it will always stay as a minor genre, games that ape films without really understanding the strengths of either. Assuming I go back to using this blog for actual blogging I should have a post up about the game soon.

The other big game of the month was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. As I briefly mentioned in an early blog post I felt the original Modern Warfare game to be a great shooter, even though I’m not keen on modern war settings in general (in any media, not just games). Modern Warfare 2 is an incredibly confident game, aware that it would in every way be a blockbuster product, and I think it kind of loses something from that. MW2’s story is much more reminiscent of Hollywood Blockbusters than the first game’s was and seems to revel in war and ‘gun porn’ in a way the first game didn’t. It’s still an excellent shooter and I’ve put plenty of time into it online in addition to completing the campaign, it’s just the story isn’t as good as that of the first game, even putting aside the controversial No Russian level (which I talked about back when it first leaked and was mistakenly considered to be the opening level) that I think works even less well in context.  As with Heavy Rain, there should be a proper post up about the game at some point.

The IT Crowd and Jack BauerTV

24 was cancelled in March.  It didn’t seem to be about the quality or the ratings as much as it was about the cost of making the episodes, but this current season has certainly had some rough points. For the entire first half of the season Katee Sackhoff has been saddled with a terrible filler storyline to pad out the episodes, and it’s only recently that she’s had anything to do that hasn’t felt like a waste of time (but even then she’s been moved into a standard 24 trope that seems to reinforce that the show is pretty much out of ideas). 24 is generally still entertaining to watch if you don’t take it absolutely seriously but I don’t see myself mourning its passing.

I only discovered the joys of The IT Crowd this month, a sitcom about an IT department in a big corporation. If I’d known it was written by Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted, then I probably would have watched it from the start. It really is funny and has a lot of geeky in-jokes as well. I only ended up watching it when I did because I discovered the whole series is available on 4oD, Channel 4’s web TV player. We don’t have anything in the UK that quite compares to Hulu for covering a wide range of programmes and channels (or at least it seems to, as it’s not accessible outside the US), but Channel 4’s 4oD and the BBC’s iPlayer both do great jobs with their own content.

A lot of US TV shows either had their seasons start in March or resume from hiatus. Damages returned for a third season, a show had a great first season but didn’t quite seem to know what to do with its flashforward concept in the second. House, Bones and Fringe resumed, the first two of which are still great but I still don’t enjoy Fringe that much. Lost’s final season is ongoing and still hasn’t yet started to make sense of its “everybody knows everybody else now” flashsideways world, and there aren’t that many episodes to go to tie up all their mysteries, assuming it intends to. It’s still entertaining even if I’ll be glad when it’s over.

Film

In March I mostly watched films with my nephew so most of them skew towards a younger audience (a * marks a film I’ve not seen before):

  • *Alice in Wonderland
  • *The Fly
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • *Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • *Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
  • *Inglourious Basterds
  • *Malice in Wonderland
  • Night at the Museum
  • *Night at the Museum 2
  • Over the Hedge
  • Runaway Jury
  • *Sherlock Holmes
  • Tales From Earthsea
  • Titan A.E.

My nephew’s reading the first Harry Potter book at school and decided to go through all the films, so we watched them together (and I hadn’t seen the newest, Half-Blood Prince, and maybe not the one before it either, The Order of the Phoenix). As with the books, Prisoner of Azkaban (the third) is the best, although with the films it’s for slightly different reasons. The first two are somewhat lifeless films, copying from the books without any obvious enthusiasm, while everything after Azkaban is based on lengthy books that in film form either require rushing through or cutting large chunks. Prisoner of Azkaban benefits from excellent direction from Alfonso Cuarón and a book that’s just the right length (and also still my favourite book of the series).

The big ‘new’ films on the list are Inglourious Basterds (which I liked but felt didn’t quite work for me and possibly needs a second viewing), Sherlock Homes (which was a lot of fun) and Alice in Wonderland (which looked on in 3D as it was filmed in 2D but was otherwise entertaining).

01/03/10 Mon Tales From Earthsea TV & Film Film Began watching the film with Zak, 25 minutes in.
02/03/10 Tue Inglorious Basterds TV & Film Film Synopsis: A team of Jewish Americans are let loose in Europe to kill as many Nazis as possible, eventually joining an operation to kill Hitler himself.
02/03/10 Tue Inglorious Basterds TV & Film Film Thoughts: A strange film. It seemed much longer than it needed to be, with the (admittedly fantastic) bar scene an hour into the film being mostly unnecessary but adding half an hour to the run time, and at times almost seemed to be two separate films, with the two separate plots only tying together at the end when either one would have worked on its own. The Basterds all cheering at the violence as the Bear Jew beat a Nazi to death with a baseball bat was also rather unsettling.
02/03/10 Tue Tales From Earthsea TV & Film Film Continued watching with Zak, about 40 minutes into film.
03/03/10 Wed Tales From Earthsea TV & Film Film Continued watching with Zak, about 1:30 into film.
05/03/10 Fri Tales From Earthsea TV & Film Film Synopsis: After killing his father, Prince Arren flees and is taken in by the Archmage Sparrowhawk, who is being sought by another mage, Cob.
05/03/10 Fri Tales From Earthsea TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still a good film.
05/03/10 Fri The Fly TV & Film Film Synopsis: Scientist Seth Brundle reveals his teleportation device to journalist Veronica Quaife, but when a fly gets in the chamber with him he begins to undergo changes.
05/03/10 Fri The Fly TV & Film Film Thoughts: A good film. I’d got the impression that it was more of a regular monster movie for some reason, but it’s nothing like that.
06/03/10 Sat Over the Hedge TV & Film Film Started watching the film with Zak, up to about 40 minutes in.
06/03/10 Sat Runaway Jury TV & Film Film Synopsis: After a shooting that leaves several people dead, the widow of one of the victims sues the gun company for not caring who buys their guns, resulting in a battle to control the jury and get the desired verdict.
06/03/10 Sat Runaway Jury TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still a good film, even if the central idea – that a jury can be so heavily manipulated to the point that the cases made are irrelevant – is fairly horrible.
07/03/10 Sun Over the Hedge TV & Film Film Synopsis: After accidentally destroying a bear’s entire supply of food, RJ the raccoon befriends a group of foragers to trick them into helping him get it all back for the nearby suburb.
07/03/10 Sun Over the Hedge TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still an average Dreamworks movie.
12/03/10 Fri Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV & Film Film Inventor Wayne Szalinski invents a shrink ray that accidentally shrinks his children and two of his neighbours.
12/03/10 Fri Honey, I Shrunk the Kids TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still a fun film.
13/03/10 Sat Titan A.E. TV & Film Film Started watching the film with Zak, up to 51 minutes in.
14/03/10 Sun The Long Kiss Goodnight TV & Film Film Started watching the film, until the DVD consistently quit past a certain point.
14/03/10 Sun Titan A.E. TV & Film Film Synopsis: In 2038 AD, Earth is destroyed and young boy Cale possesses the last hope for humanity, making him a target of the Drej.
14/03/10 Sun Titan A.E. TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still a good film.
15/03/10 Mon Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets TV & Film Film Zak started watching the film, getting 1:23 in.
15/03/10 Mon Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone TV & Film Film Synopsis: Young boy Harry Potter discovers he’s a wizard and goes to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, where he befriends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and discovers that one of its teachers is working to bring back the evil Lord Voldemort.
15/03/10 Mon Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone TV & Film Film Thoughts: Zak was watching this in the same room. Still not a bad film.
16/03/10 Tue Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets TV & Film Film Synopsis: Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year, but the school is threatened with closure when students start being petrified and there are rumours that the mysterious heir of Slytherin has returned and opened the Chamber of Secrets.
16/03/10 Tue Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets TV & Film Film T Thoughts: Still not a bad film.
16/03/10 Tue Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban TV & Film Film Zak started watching the film getting about 1:10 in.
17/03/10 Wed Alice in Wonderland TV & Film Film Synopsis: When she feels she is being forced into marrying a man she does not love, Alice returns to Wonderland and finds things have deteriorated in her absence.
17/03/10 Wed Alice in Wonderland TV & Film Film T Thoughts: A good film. It didn’t really use the 3D very well (with scenes either flat or overcompensating with objects being shoved/thrown out of the screen) and the end essentially boils down to a big action scene that loses a lot of the charm, but it’s still a good film, with Depp and Fry excellent as the Hatter and Cheshire Cat.
18/03/10 Thu Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire TV & Film Film Zak started watching the film.
18/03/10 Thu Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban TV & Film Film Synopsis: Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year and learns that the villainous Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison.
18/03/10 Thu Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban TV & Film Film Thoughts: Still an excellent film.
19/03/10 Fri Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire TV & Film Film Synopsis: After watching the Quidditch World Cup and its dramatic aftermath, Harry returns to school for his fourth year, where the school of Hogwarts, Beauxbaton and Durmstrang come together for the dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament.
19/03/10 Fri Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire TV & Film Film T Thoughts: Still a good film. It’s the first one that feels rushed in places though, where they were clearly struggling to fit in everything relevant even after omitting a lot of the things they could get away with.
20/03/10 Sat Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince TV & Film Film Synopsis: Harry returns to Hogwarts for his sixth year, where Dumbledore enlists him in befriending the new Potions teacher to learn something that could be vital in the battle against Voldemort.
20/03/10 Sat Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince TV & Film Film T Thoughts: A very good film. Even knowing it as coming, Snape using avada kedavra is a powerful moment.
21/03/10 Sun Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix TV & Film Film Synopsis: Harry returns to Hogwarts for his fifth year and discovers that the Ministry refuses to believe Voldemort has returned and has declared Harry a liar, going as far to place an ally in the school to undermine Dumbledore and keep the students in check.
21/03/10 Sun Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix TV & Film Film Thoughts: A good film.
22/03/10 Mon Paulie TV & Film Film Started watching the film with Zak, up to about 15 minutes in.
23/03/10 Tue Malice in Wonderland TV & Film Film Synopsis: Billionaire’s daughter Alice is knocked down by a London cab driver and has a strange night.
23/03/10 Tue Malice in Wonderland TV & Film Film T Thoughts: A strange film. Being based on Alice in Wonderland it revels in being strange, but at times it doesn’t quite work. It’s fun though.
25/03/10 Thu Sherlock Holmes TV & Film Film Synopsis: Inspector Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson find and capture Lord Blackwood, only to have him seemingly come back to life after his execution and lead them into a sinister plot.
25/03/10 Thu Sherlock Holmes TV & Film Film T Thoughts: A very good film. Holmes and Watson are very much like House and Wilson, with Holmes treating Watson badly and undermining his relationships but in a friendly way. The ending was a bit cliché at points (the high battle on a construction site, the villain standing on a rope that can be looped around his leg) but that doesn’t detract from is being a lot of fun.
28/03/10 Sun Night at the Museum TV & Film Film Synopsis: Divorced inventor Larry Daley becomes a night watchmen at the New York natural history museum, discovering that at night all the exhibits come to life.
28/03/10 Sun Night at the Museum TV & Film Film T Thoughts: A fun film.
29/03/10 Mon Night at the Museum 2 TV & Film Film Started watching the film with Zak, up to 40 minutes in.
30/03/10 Tue Night at the Museum 2 TV & Film Film Synopsis: Larry, now a successful inventor and head of a company, discovers the museum exhibits at his old job are to be shipped to the Smithsonian, and once there a battle ensues between them and some of the more villainous Smithsonian exhibits.
30/03/10 Tue Night at the Museum 2 TV & Film Film Thoughts: I don’t think this was as good as the original, the cast seemed a bit bloated, everything was a bit busy, it ended in a standard big battle scene, and having Larry be a successful inventor who leans that success and wealth didn’t really buy him happiness is a fairly lazy story idea, but it’s not bad.
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