Thursday, 22 January 2009

They're still trapped on that frigging island

LOST returns on Sunday and as I am hastily making my way through season 4 to catch up with everything that's happened, did happen, and is going to happen to the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors, I thought I'd post my current problems with the show.

1. Nobody talks to anyone.

Back in the days of classic Neighbours, when Bouncer ran gaily down Ramsay Street to Lassiters and there was someone called Mrs Mangle in it, entire plots could be carried on for WEEKS with the single line "I don't want to talk about it."

The "IDWTTAI" line is best delivered, teary-eyed, red-faced and just before slamming a front door, usually directed at a loved one. What made the line all the more frustrating was that the cause was usually a complete misunderstanding - that no one had run anyone over, no affair was taknig place, no one had left the oven on - had they been prepared to sit down and have a chat, over tea and a biscuit, all that grief, worry and strife could have been avoided.

And so it is on LOST. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard "I can't tell you that", "I've not been completely honest with you", "I think they're lying", "I don't believe you!" - and man, is it getting boring. The problem being - we know better than the characters sometimes, cos we see all the flashbacks and flashforwards so them dicking about on the island not talking to each other just frustrates us. But then the characters will deliberately withold information and suddenly reveal it. I suppose the effect on the audience is supposed to be joyous surprise at the 'twists' but actually it just leaves us feeling a bit stupid - we thought we knew, now we don't.

2. There's still too many stupidly hot looking people in sweaty vests.

"Yeah in the 108 days since the plane crash I've mainly been working out, lot of work on my lats and abs. I managed to find these awesome pair of combat trousers and I'm now fully firearms trained too. And in walkie-talkies. And in driving boats. And in bush-tracking."

I'd be shit on the island. No wifi, no mobile phone signal, not that big a fan of the heat. Body sagging, I would put my vest on and look like Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances. I wouldn't know where the safety was on a 9mm automatic and I'm pretty sure my cub scout training wouldn't extend to following the Others back to their camp let alone starting a fire. However all of the main characters seemed to have grasped this within the space of three months and look amazing while doing. When LOST started out it was a real mixture of characters... then they offed all the funs ones, kept Hurley for laughs and is now just a bunch of super-fit people in posturing competition.

3. It's really still just The Prisoner.

LOST is probably the greatest tribute to the late Patrick McGoohan he's ever likely to get. No one really escapes the island/Village. There's a mysterious organisation behind it conducting crazy experiments. The island/Village has it's own unlikely security system in the Black Smoke Monster/Rover. There's an evil, malevolent force that wants to know everything in Number 2/Ben Linus. They've even managed to escape, only to end up going back - season 5/'Many Happy Returns'... If LOST ends as crazily as The Prisoner did - complete with Beatles backed machine-gun fight, I'll be happy.

Bouncer from Neighbours in his award-winning role as Vincent in the opening shot of LOST.

4. Alan fucking Dale.

Dear TV producers, please stop employing Alan Dale. We've seen enough. Despite this being yet another link to LOST's predecessor, erm, Neighbours, it also keeps employed the most ubiquitous man on TV.

ER, The X-Files, CSI: Miami, Ugly Betty, NCIS, The OC, The West Wing, 24, The Star Trek movies, he even made Torchwood shitter than usual (an episode saved by Freema Agyeman confronting a giant insect) and now LOST - enough is enough. We can't blame him for making the new Indiana Jones crap, but the fact he was there could be a contributing factor, people!

5. You keep dodging the big issues!

A while back the LOST ARG which was enormous fun, posted videos that suggested that with the failure of the DHARMA project to solve the Valenzetti Sequence, that it was time to release a virus that would kill two-thirds of the world's population, as you can see in the video below.

WHAT?! I mean this is fucking HUGE stuff - nevermind whether Kate wants to bed Sawyer or Jack, the DHARMA guys are going to KILL US ALL!! Why haven't they addressed this in the show?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

It's a celebrity on Twitter! Pee yourselves!

Over the last four or five months the number of celebrity tweeters on Twitter has increased significantly, some have arrived through a love of technology others have appeared due to PR campaigns.

What's interesting is that the moment that one of our esteemed representatives of film or usually TV joins the community it's like a dog running around the playground while you're trying to learn basic English history.

Dour, normally sensible posters become gibbering with excitement falling over themselves to ingratiate, be funny at or generally grab the attention of the celeb involved. One person felt the need to tweet how grateful they were for Phillip Schofield acknowledging their message of support. You wonder if this is a hangover from him and Gordon the Gopher never reading out their letter in the Broom Cupboard.

Stephen Fry, whose number of followers means that one day he will own Twitter, while thousands of people live in constant hope of DMing him an invite to their dinner party, manages it quite well. He usually very sweetly thanks people and shares his everyday life (which mainly consists of going to far-off places to make TV shows and complaining about PCs) in a series of amusing tweets and pics. It doesn't take much to see that Stephen is gradually using Twitter to increase his market base, as does his blog and podcasts. He's the ultimate 2.0 self-publicising bloke and he's doing it very well indeed. Jonathan Ross recently joined is clearly enjoying himself too. Was it recommended by his PR company post Sachsgate? John Cleese is irreverant and amusing but never seems to want to tweet about the blonde bint he's now boffing.

Other celebs don't contribute so much. Terry Wogan seems to have disappeared, it if ever was him. Jeremy Clarkson stopped altogether on the 5th of January. Alan Carr about a week ago. It seems that for some celebs the idea of giving stalkers exactly what they want is a little too much and probably too time-consuming.

So, the celeb effect will certainly draw further interest from the public in Twitter, which for the company is a good thing, but the community will need greater subject and poster grouping tools to keep all your work, hobby, sex and celeb streams straight. If you want all that information...

See, my greatest problem with Twitter is apathy. You've updated your blog - CONGRATS. You're explaining how Twitter works to a {polite but ultimately disinterested} TV presenter - WOO HOO. You've posted some new pics of your cat to Flickr - FOR GOD'S SAKE MAKE IT STOP. You've told everyone that your partner is the world's greatest lover - at this point I usually have to shut down Twitter or risk throwing my monitor on the floor and kicking it, and any nearby animals, to death.

But is the celeb effect enough to keep me there? Time will tell and yesterday was a great example, Robert Llewellyn posted that there was definitely going to be some new Red Dwarf, which is a good thing.

John on Twitter

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

You're in the Movies!

(but maybe not the whole of you).

So last weekend I had some friends over for a few drinks before we headed out to a party. Unbeknownst to them I had planned this as the perfect time to expose them to social gaming on the XBox... or at least the beginnings of it and like a drunken Hollywood mogul chatting up the waitresses at the Brown Derby, I was going to put them IN THE MOVIES!

First however I needed to get into the mood. Judging by the box cover art the mood of YITM is one of extreme excitement and jubilation.

Yeah! Look at all the pointing and stuff!

With this in mind I decided to do my best emulate those on the box and get in the mood. That guy on the left looks like he's having fun, I thought, I'll try him.

Are we having fun yet or what?!

Now that I was suitably in the mood it was time to set up the camera.

You'll notice that the camera is precariously placed, especially on a thin telly like mine. After all this is the place usually reserved for the Wii infrared unit, which came with sticky tabs to hold it in place. No sticky stuff on the XBox camera, so it rested on the Wii bar. The camera is so light, it doesn't have to be that secure, just something to be aware of as you're going to be jumping around.

YITM loads up with a short movie explaining the best way to play the game. This includes the four things you're going to need to make the game work.

1. Correct lighting.
2. Lots of space.
3. The ability for people to get in and out of shot.
4. Alcohol.*

Cheekily shot in home-movie style with toys, the introductory movie is genuinely funny, well-acted and will give the most technophobic player a good grounding to what's going to happen next.

You're then invited to stand in front of the camera and let it take your pic to give you a) a player avatar and b) differentiate you from the background. This where the problems set in.

The process that YITM uses to magically transport you to the cinema is one very similar to chroma key, an idea that's been in use in tv since the 70s and in movies long before that. In short, the person in shot must wear a different colour to one that is used in the background behind them, as the background is then 'filled in' with a static image. Therefore if you have a black jumper on and let's say a black coat is in the background, bits of you will disappear when encountering the space occupied by the black coat. Here's Dan playing one of the minigames:

If you look carefully you can see that not all of Dan has been picked up and that he's not all there...

In fact that's a sizeable chunk out! Which is a shame as it detracts from the enjoyment of the minigames, but more importantly from the eventual trailer you're going to star in.

Used successfully the effect can be quite dramatic such as during the death of Monitor here in the Doctor Who story 'Logopolis'.

So, there's already a problem with the camera, which is an annoyance more than anything else. However, the minigames are actually quite good fun. Being made to run on the spot, pretend to hit targets, dodge flying film cans or enter into a tug of war are a laugh, especially if you're one of the players watching from the sidelines. Even better is when you're asked to go 'In the Spotlight' and the director tells you how to pose, act and be a star. The best thing to do here is let go of your inhibitions and play-up to the camera as much as possible, it will all help the finished trailer.

So once you've finished the minigames, the game then invites you to your premier. All of your antics in the minigames have been recorded and are now dropped magically in to the trailer of your choice. We started off by trying thriller 'Scared Witness', but then quickly progressed to Superhero movie 'Everyone's Super' as evidenced by Kyla here doing her best Clark Kent.

So overall it would be wrong to say we didn't have fun with YITM cos we did, we laughed, jumped around and had a good time. The longevity of the game is going to be limited though, with only a finite number of trailers to be played through and the minigames not providing that much of a challenge (certainly not enough to sustain the game's half-hearted attempt at competition via a points system and awards ceremony at the end). It's life will therefore probably not exist much beyond this Xmas, but could perhaps be viewed as a stepping stone to better things.

I would say a Moviewatch five out of ten for this one. Moderate fun, but no real need to go back for more. Maaaaaaaaarvellous. I'll also do a follow-up post when I've looked at the editing mode bundled with it.

*They don't recommend you need this in the movie, but trust me it helps.

Thanks to Steve Hill's Image Archive for the Logopolis pic.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

They gave John an XBox 360

Last week I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business when I got a phone call from Bill Gates.

Not Gates himself, of course, he's too busy to actually call people. Like Santa Claus, Bill hires a team of people to impersonate him, especially at this seasonal time of year. The conversation went something like this:

BILL: Hi, is that, John?
JOHN: Yeah, who wants to know?
BILL: John, it's Bill Gates, we need a man who doesn't play games to review our games console.
JOHN: Bill that's crazy talk, I mean I'm 'a PC' and stuff, but getting someone who doesn't review games to play with an XBox 360- It's madness! It's the worst idea since Vista!

Over the next forty minutes Bill explained to me the deal. You see, the House of Mario had released this console called the 'Wii' and families and groups of people were getting together to play it. Not really for the solitary gamer toiling long in to the night. This was 'social' or 'casual' gaming. And it was eating market share like Godzilla with the munchies.

So Microsoft want a piece of the action and they were keen to find social gamers who could help them. Now I do own a Wii and I go game socially with it. Our favourite game is bowling and I have about 10 Miis created by my friends stored on the console. I am actually best at Wii Sports Golf, relaxing to play by oneself, frustrating in a social situation. I think bowling works because the turn around of players is so quick, so no one gets bored.

Anyway Microsoft have asked me to test out the XBox 360 with a game called You're in the Movies. You may have seen the above-the-line TV commercials with Burt Reynolds. Nicely matched with the exposure he'll be getting for his new British comedy A Bunch of Amateurs.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to put the XBox through its social gaming paces. First I'd thought I'd take some unboxing pics, cos you know, that's cool as well.

Mmm, shiny, shiny/Shiny box of plastic...

Actually this probably costs a fortune in orange and green plastic bags.

The testing area set up, note the Wii perched on top of the DVD player.

So some disclosure to conclude:

1. Microsoft really have given me this console and this game. No lie.
2. I own an iPod and ambivalent to the whole Microsoft vs Apple thing. Unlike Stephen Fry...
3. Neither am I some sort of Nintendo freak, YES the N64 was for me the best games console ever, but I have an open mind.
4. As an online marketeer myself I'm finding this whole process fascinating.
5. Any questions give me a shout.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Oxford Lit Festival

It's Festival Time so the blog is back!

Make your way over to to find out what I've been up to.

Involves Charlie Higson and Catapults!

Monday, 17 March 2008


The blog must lived. I can bring it back to life.


Stage 2

Let's see if this works.