Archive | November, 2013

High-class Reviews!

17 Nov

Because of my roaring social life, I have had time to watch lots more of yesteryear’s television and movies that everyone has already forgotten about. You heard it here last! Reviews of blockbuster movie Pacific Rim, and
TV’s Suits.

Pacific Rim

Director Guillermo Del Toro is best known for giving me diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder after watching most of Pan’s Labyrinth. Earlier this year, he released the less-disturbing bigger-budget sci-fi behemoth
Pacific Rim.

It’s about huge alien monsters, called Kaiju, who’ve invaded earth via a portal in the sea-floor. To avert their extermination, the humans unite to develop sky-scraper-sized mechwarriors piloted by pairs of synchronous street-fighting humans, who pound the aliens back to where they belong. But now, the monsters are evolving…

It’s full of colossal-scale martial-arts robot-alien battles, wrecking cities in the hope of saving mankind. What’s not to like?

<Minor-plot-hole-spoiler-that-might-ruin-the-movie-if-you-haven’t-seen-it to follow>

One thing.

The sword.

OK two things. The scientists are as annoying and cliched as it is possible to be. But the sword!

An hour into the movie… an hour full of epic battles in which the robots fist-punch the monsters, zap them with plasma weapons, blitz them with missiles, and so on, all of which only seems to annoy the creatures, and which is so dangerous that most of the crews are killed… an hour into this movie, the main surviving team seems to be all out of ammo and out of options when…
the sword.

One of the heroes even says, ‘Oh no, Other Lead Actor, we’re out of options! This is it!’

To which Other Lead Actor responds, ‘No we still have the sword!’

She then activates the sword, they whip it out, and cut the monster clean in half with the first swing. I know it would be a much shorter movie, but shouldn’t they just always be using the sword? They had to punch and kick the aliens through buildings for ages before they even dazed the suckers, but they could have just cut them in two without any effort? They have this 100% effective weapon as a last resort? So much of a last resort that one of them forgets they even have it?

I can’t forgive the sword.

Suits (TV)

Suits is like LA Law for people who were born after LA Law. Except the kid (not the Corbin-Bernsen-looking guy) in this one has law super-powers, and I can’t remember if LA Law had
super-powers in it.

Effectively, Corbin mark2 was supposed to find a new junior associate who would be the Next Big Thing, but all the Harvard graduates were cliches. So he accidentally finds this super-power kid who doesn’t actually have a law degree, but is better at law than all the lawyers.

He wants to hire him as an associate (because that’s the position he was supposed to fill, so what choice did he have?), but he’s not qualified.

What would you do in this situation, especially if you were Harvard-clever?

What’s that? You’d hire him as an associate anyway and find extremely fraudulent and incriminating ways to help him practice law without a licence, making it certain that you would lose your own lawyering licence and destroy the firm in which you’re senior partner if anyone found out? You too?

Because that’s the solution that drives the tension in this show from
episode one onwards.

Me? I’d hire him as a researcher so that I could get him to read all the stuff I didn’t want to, and so that I could take all the credit for his lawyering super-powers, which is mostly what happens anyway. Or, I’d find a way of getting him into Harvard legitimately, seeing as that is exactly what this very lawyer’s boss had done for him.

Again, it would be a shorter and more boring show, but at least it wouldn’t be incredibly stupid.

Extortionately priced product placement ad

17 Nov

Did you know, you can get mediocre ungenius-made products from CafePress for merely extortionate prices?

promo_image

They’re bound to be the best t-shirts and mugs that you ever paid too much money for! Get them now!

http://www.cafepress.com/ungenius

The Death of ‘Life’

15 Nov

imdb.com registers a user score of 8.1 / 10 for this show after 64 votes. 64 people can’t be wrong I guess.

I had seen a few minutes of the NBC’s ‘Life’ (2007-2009) when it aired here, and then went and found something better to do. But recently a friend lent me his DVDs of the show, expressing dismay that it was cancelled after only two seasons. Having watched some of it now, and being unwilling to phone my friend to tell him personally, here are some of the possible reasons for canning it. (My friend sometimes reads this blog, and I really don’t like phones).

1. Background Music

It’s been repeated often enough how much of an influence music has on mood. There is a whole genre of YouTube video dedicated to changing the soundtrack of familiar movies in order to make comedies seem like horrors etc. My favourites include the horror version of ‘The Sound of Music’, and some of the many ‘Dumb and Dumber’-as-a-thriller versions, such as this one and this one.

Given that the role of music is so well documented, the soundtrack to ‘Life’ is baffling. It’s like instead of choosing music, they’ve just left the radio on. It’s like they’ve seen hip TV shows that have cool soundtracks with ‘the Next Big Thing’ playing over the emotional montage scene each week, but they’ve decided to go for ‘the Next Best Thing’, which is to get any pop music that was available for free, and then to put the music player on ‘shuffle’ instead of hiring a music co-ordinator.

It almost makes it worth watching the show just to be amazed at the music choices.

2. That episode with the girl in angel wings

So you’re writing a TV show, and you have this idea about the exploitation of Russian brides, and you have one of them thrown out of a tall building while wearing angel wings. So far so good. If you’re an exceptionally lazy writer, what do you do next (besides sleeping until half-an-hour before deadline)?

You litter the script with 3 fallen-angel jokes per minute.

3. That episode with the computers in it

I know very little about computers. They are quite complicated things.

You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous...

You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous…

But whoever wrote ‘Life’ is the computer-equivalent of Dürer’s woodcut drawing of a rhinoceros based entirely on 2nd-hand information. They’ve got the gist of the thing, but the details are all really sketchy.

A back-horn?

So in one episode, the following happens:

  • Detective Charlie wants to sneak into classified computer files guarded by a tech geek. So he sneakily spills energy drink onto the keyboard of one of the computers. Result? A sticky keyboard? Nope, every computer screen in the network starts flashing and scrolling like they’re running Vista. Tech guy runs in a panic to go fix them (tech guys never do this), and he leaves his own console logged in to deeply classified information.
  • Bad Kid 1 has hidden his drug selling information on his gaming console. To access it, someone has to get to level 10 of ‘Prince of Persia’. Why the heck would you do that? Every time you want to record a sale, you’ve got to play ten laborious levels of the same game? There’s not even any suggestion that this is his archive; it’s the only copy of a detailed spreadsheet, hidden behind ten game levels.
  • The cops suspect there’s something hidden in this game in the first place, because there is a file on Bad Kid’s regular computer that keeps getting referred to, and it turns out to be this reference to ‘level 10’. Why would anyone need to record a note-to-self that they’ve hidden the info there, let alone making continual reference to it? I only saw the show once (days ago), and I can remember what level it was on. He put it there and he needs a reminder?
  • They need someone who can beat 10 levels of Prince of Persia, and so they ask Tech Geek if he can. He trots out the awful cliche about how he’s thirty and still lives with his mother and has Star Trek outfits in his cupboard, so obviously he can play console games. That’s bad enough, but he then spends try after try getting no further than level 2.
  • Dectective Charlie — because he’s an idiot savant — notices that Bad Kid’s sister is watching them play and making ghost movements with her thumbs as though she’s holding the controller. Instead of admitting her to hospital for a neurological disorder, he deduces that she’s actually brilliant at Prince of Persia. Who ghost-plays console games when they’re standing around watching??
  • When she reaches Level 10, the spreadsheet automatically splits the game apart and shows all its secrets. What if someone just wants to play Level 11? Also, he couldn’t code a hard-to-see easter-egg-type button to access the spreadsheet, rather than letting his illegal document reveal itself by default? Doesn’t seem that secure. What if his sister and her friends were playing when he was at college? She seems to like playing it.
  • When they’ve analysed the spreadsheet, the leads don’t pan out and they hit a dead end, so Charlie phones this other computer-nerd analyst at the station to ask if they’ve ‘missed something’. Nerd complains that they haven’t and he’s too tired and he doesn’t want to look anymore. Charlie threatens to pound him senseless, but in a Zen way, and the nerd gets all sweaty and afraid. Three seconds later he says, hang on, there’s this entire column of data here that now looks fishy to me. Twenty seconds later Charlie’s solved the case (Bad Kid was having an affair with his kidnapper’s mom who was just jealous for his mother’s love — it’s all there in the column).

In summary, that’s a whole lot of stupid to pack into one episode, especially when the writers could have fact-checked with literally anyone and improved it.

But, er, thanks for lending it to us, bro, we really enjoyed it. >ahem<

School Stationery Conspiracy

1 Nov

waltons-logoThe time for thinking about ordering all your school stationery for next year has come around again, which means that your school is probably supplying you with the Waltons catalogue, and telling you what to order from it.

This has been happening since I was at primary school, so that’s a little while now.

Last back-to-school season, my wife suggested that she could probably get some of those items cheaper elsewhere, to which I responded, ‘Surely not. Surely Waltons is giving us good prices, because they receive such massive benefit from being given all the school’s business.’ I figured that the volume they must be pushing would almost certainly make it worth their while to stay as preferred supplier. Also, given that the schools virtually forbid you from buying stationery any other way, I couldn’t believe that they would be ripping us off.

They’re ripping us off.

‘But,’ I hear you protest, ‘You’re bound to pay a little more for the convenience of having your stationery delivered!’

Well, let’s discuss convenience. Waltons requires you to read a catalogue, fill out an order form, take the order form to school, wait however long, and then return to the school to find your box. At our school they don’t really go out of their way to make convenient collection times either.

What about the alternative? We all go to the supermarket at least once a month. At the supermarket, they have aisles where they collect all the stationery in one place. You add the stationery to the trolley with your other shopping things. You put the stationery with the stuff you were already carrying to in the car in which you were already going to drive home anyway.

Special delivery via Waltons sounds convenient, but in practice it’s meant an additional trip to school for us, and working with their catalogue takes about as much time as moving through the stationery aisle.

And secondly, you don’t pay a little more for this ‘convenience’. Look at the comparison of Waltons’ prices with what we paid at a Leading Retailer TM (note also that this is a comparison of equivalent brands, not the cheapest products on the shelf, and the totals have been adjusted to reflect the recommended quantities, not the single unit price):

waltons

This sample represents the stuff we had on our list, not the most damning evidence we could gather against Waltons. Clearly there are some items for which Waltons is cheaper–consider getting your permanent markers there–yet Waltons averages out at 36% more expensive.

By all means do your own comparisons and get better data than my admittedly sketchy sample. But I’d recommend hitting the supermarket rather than the Waltons catalogue (or if you’re really watching pennies, just buying the things for which Waltons is cheaper), and asking your school some awkward questions about why they put pressure on us to spend 36% more that we should on stationery.