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Friday, January 25, 2008

Movie Review: Dracula (1992)

There are many instances where the book is better than the film. Francis Ford Coppola's take on the classic Vampire novel Dracula is of such abysmal quality that it itself is a monster that needs a stake through the heart and its head cut off.

Tom Waits as Renfield was one of the only good performances in it, as well as occasional moments from Sir Anthony Hopkins (the part after Lucy is staked is hilarious: "Yes, she was in pain, but we put a stake through her heart and cut off her head, and now she is at peace"). But Keanu Reeves's English accent is so bad that he sounds like he did in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and has ever since played the same role in every movie he gets a job in.

And it's just a tad too smutty and lurid, even though eroticism was present in the original novel, here it is so blatantly sexual that it's a turn-off instead of a turn-on! It's like Basic Instinct meets Anne Rice! The character of Lucy in this film is a complete tart compared to the gentle and courtly Lucy in the novel, there is a scene showing a translation of the Arabian Nights translated by Richard E. Burton... is it the same Richard Burton I think it is??? Because if it is, it's a historical goof!

All in all I give it Two Stakes out of Ten, one for Tom Waits, the other for Anthony Hopkins. A brilliant waste of Hollywood money and your time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger's Dead (I smell a new Bauhaus hit single)

So Heath Ledger's dead.

Sad indeed.

Sad indeed for Australian talent, since Nicole Kidmann hasn't delivered a decent role since... ever. At least we still have Cate Blanchett to be proud of. Ledger was one of Australia's only quality home grown male actors, and he will be difficult to find a substitute for, if at all.

Now I'll be the first to admit that I criticised Heath Ledger's slipping into an Aussie accent in I'm Not There when he says "You can't take me kids!", something that Bob Dylan would never say, or any American with their accent would ever say, in an obviously American movie.

But I can forgive him that, if only he would have avoided his fate we could have seen a string of quality films... people have speculated that his role as The Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight led to his downfall, but I present one piece of evidence that nullifies wild acceptance of this theory as law...


Jack Nicholson played The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman, and he turned out fine. Well, he did play the crazy father in
The Shining
previously, so he had experience in lunacy.

So what gives me the right to speculate about Ledger's death?


We simply don't know enough yet, and I'll be waiting until the official autopsy and burial and 10th Anniversary Memorial Special for me to come up with some decent conspiracy theories. But in the meantime I do enjoy debunking rubbish theories about it.

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"

Friday, January 18, 2008

On Optimism

It seems to me that since I adopted Optimism as my outlook on life, replacing the Pessimism that had ill-served me in my teenage years, I have become happier and more accepting of the Human condition, whereas previously I wanted nothing to do with it. This did not occur because I read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, but under very strange circumstances where I became so annoyed with my lot in life (having to stay at school while my friends went to their University placings) that I most likely became fed up with my choice of philosophy.

"Why was I here, if I was doomed to go through another year of school with a bunch of idiots who wouldn't appreciate literature if a radioactive manuscript of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar stabbed them in the back?"

This was the question I asked myself, and I pondered the answer in a conversation on Windows MSN Messenger with a friend (as you may recall, this was how I came across the meaning of what being a man was, in a previous epiphany) but instead of Angus, my other friend Tom was the one who inspired me to go on.

I considered his argument. There were indeed students in the new Year 12 who were not as uncultured as I feared. The trouble was that those students tended to be very busy with their studies, as I should have been too. Then it occurred to me that instead of fearing the mindless curriculum of the courses I had to take, I would see what I could learn from these courses that might be useful to a young Author like myself.

I found a safe haven in Genre Theory. Learning how genre worked was more interesting than it sounded, and as a Fantasy Author, this was crucial information I needed to know. I would have to read as many books in a genre as well as many other genres to remain fresh and in touch with the concerns of modern Humanity... and I was up to the challenge, despite the large pile of books I had to read for my studies. I calculated that the only solution to my problem was to:

a) Read these books instead of gazing upon them and going into a Lovecraftian madness

b) Accept that it is possible for a great work of literature to exist without dragons, Elves, Dwarves, or Faeries explicitly mentioned in the text

c) Know that the more I read, the more I would learn about writing, and the more I would learn about writing, the more I would create quality prose (and pass my exams)

d) Recognise that the Human experience came not from a literal interpretation of the world and the imagination, but the use of imagination to bring excitement into mundane everyday things. Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, wrote something along the lines of "can't we just enjoy a nice garden without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?". Taken literally, this is a rejection of imagination and wonder. Taken as the metaphor it is, it is multi-layered. It seems to me that it is a metaphor for how science, in Douglas Adams's point of view, does not destroy the beauty of nature by explaining how it works, but enhances our appreciation and understanding of how complicated the wonders of nature really are, and our enjoyment of a garden will not be taken away by the absence of fairies. I am also aware that Adams was friends with Richard Dawkins, the renowned/reviled atheist superstar scientist, and such a friendship most likely resulted in a shared interest in secular science. In Hitchhiker's, he seems to have created a tale that is both funny, and reflective of his scientific, secular world-view, that also contains a wonderful affirmation of the fact that science is compatible with the imagination, for without it, Humans cannot conceive the many developments in technology we come up with every day. Therefore, the quotation contains so much imaginative and intellectual discussion, in one brief sentence, that to take it as a literal forsaking of the imagination would be an insult to the memory of the late Douglas Adams. So here we learn that science does not necessarily mean the abolition of imagination, though I could point out many cases where scientists reject imagination, Adams is appealing to both a scientific argument and the nature of Human beings to tell stories. I might not agree with Adams's friend Richard Dawkins's arguments against religion, however Adams presents his world view in a much friendlier and less hostile manner. So I give him a pat on the back for presenting a view without preaching (if the Only Convert to Atheism could be described as doing such a thing) to the reader. Or lecturing, to be more respectful to Adams's lack of belief in God. If he was alive I would ask him to give my religious beliefs the same respect, naturally.

* * * * *

After accepting my studies I became happier and more productive. When I was a Pessimist, I was lucky if I typed 1000 words for a story in a week. Since becoming an Optimist, I have continued to produce nearly 2000 words every day for the past four days. If that's not an endorsement you'd believe, I don't know what else I could do to change your mind.

I've been sleeping better, the usual insomnia that plagues my nights seems to be easing. Rather than always not having enough sleep, I always wake up refreshed (I usually have to walk a bit of the sleep off before this kicks in, like anybody does).

I've had more hope for the future. Having a plan and a vision for what I want to do in the future hasn't made me a millionaire yet, but keeping in mind not everybody needs to be a millionaire, just enough to live comfortably and a full life, I have been more content with my circumstances than ever before. My dreams of becoming a full time Author after I leave school seem actually achievable, as I work for my dreams and put them into practice every day. Thus I can taste the reality of a growing and living manuscript instead of a mocking, half finished pipe-dream.

I highly recommend Optimism, it's not a religious cult that will take all your money, nor is it a fad. It's a philosophy that will improve your lifestyle to degrees immeasurable by Pythagoras himself. Do try it.

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Formula of Fiction, Video Games, and Life

It's not that difficult to learn how to play when your sibling owns a Wii, however it is possible that, like with most plug in console games that I'm not using a handheld for, Super Mario Galaxy is a challenge for a previously non-gamer myself. The controls are innovative, unlike Wii Sports, you can play it sitting down, but it is definitely easier to twist the Wiimote to the left or right than what you had to do with the Gamecube controller to play Super Mario Sunshine.

What I've noticed is that the formulaic nature of Mario games is their selling point, each new Mario game features a new innovation while using a simple plot to tie the goals of the game together. The basic plot of a Mario game is to save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, a turtle dragon like creature that breathes fire. It seems to have worked well over the years, so I guess Nintendo have no intention of changing this formula, though Phoenix Wright games on the Nintendo DS have appeal for having different villains in every game/mission.

One of the appeals of the James Bond movies is the use of a different villain in most of the films, save Blofeld, who appears more than once in the series of blockbusters. But it seems with some video game franchises, that a use of a different villain in any one game would alienate gamers who have expectations that Bowser will turn up in every Mario game, or for Resident Evil fans, zombies of some description must turn up in such a Resident Evil game, which is part of the survival horror genre that usually entails surviving a number of mental and physical aberrations in order to get out of some haunted mansion/cursed village/Vampire's castle (in the Castlevania franchise).

But formula is not entirely a beast that must be slain, sometimes, like in the Harry Potter series of books, there is a formula that is subverted on many occasions, the last book for instance had little scenes of Hogwarts at all except for the final battle (I will not put spoilers here), and in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore rarely appears in that book, despite his presence in every other previous book being overtly noticeable.

But then again, Life is best when it is not formulaic. This is because we shouldn't expect the formula, a boring daily routine is a formula we all wish to avoid, yet there are innovations in life that are self-initiated by our own choices, life is not like a video game, lose a life and it's Game Over in the real world. Formulas in fiction and videogames however, can be useful in telling us the concerns of our times, and the concerns of previous ones, which we can learn from to better our existence on Earth.

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I finally got my Nintendo DS Lite (review)

So I got one. It's "Ice Blue", which in various light sources looks light green. I did not expect to get an Ice Blue DS Lite, but then again I didn't expect to find one at all, since many stores have sold out of them. I ordered one from Dick Smith but they seemed to have forgotten about me, so I snatched up the one I have when I could. I also assisted my brother in getting a Nintendo Wii, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.

I have played the Game Boy Advance and have owned one for years, the one I have is one of the horizontal models with a wider screen, but poor lighting, so a plug in light was needed. The upside of this system was that it not only played your GBA games but old Game Boy and Game Boy Color (cursed American spelling oppresses Australian technology users everywhere! IT'S "COLOUR" DAMMIT!) games too.

One of the drawcards for me to get a DS Lite was GBA compatibility, however it can't play Mole Mania, a Game Boy game, because it doesn't play those old cartridges. The upside of DS Lite GBA playing is that with some games, if you have a certain GBA game that features connectivity with a DS game, you can get extra stuff for your gaming, but also, both DS Lite screens are properly backlit, ending eyestrain agony that I had with GBA games in the past on my primitive horizontal GBA.

Oh, and it can play DS games. Like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. That's another reason why I got a DS Lite, the games you can play on it. What other console gives you the chance to be a hotshot rookie lawyer with no legal training or degree required for the experience? What other console gives you the chance to be yelled at by a Japanese doctor with glasses as he puts you through Brain Training exercises, who also explains how you can play Sudoku on your DS using THE SAME CARTRIDGE?

But other than those games there's a good selection out there, which I will review later when I have played them enough to make a decent critic of myself.

The speakers on the DS Lite are a lot better than I'm used to with previous Nintendo handhelds, which in the past had tinny annoying soundtracks on their games. DS games actually try to have good music on them, or at least interesting music. In "Animal Crossing: Wild World", you can create the town's theme tune. I was feeling in a sinister mood, so I put in the "Pan's Labyrinth" movie theme as my town's "town tune". The game even plays variations of it on different instruments when you encounter different people in different circumstances. And that is why I don't trust the purple cat character, he makes the tune play even more chillingly than it should when my character dude talks to him...

The DS Lite, by its name, claims to be lighter than the original Nintendo DS, however I have just compared the weights of the GBA and my DS Lite in my hands, and the GBA is much lighter. Understandably, since the DS Lite has a lot to do, including two screens, built in programs (Pictochat) and dual cartridge capabilities. But that doesn't mean it sucks. It's just a lot more in one package.

I give it Four and a Half Stars (minus one for no Game Boy Colour playback).

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I'll be 18 years old in 20 minutes.

Whoopee. In 20 minutes I'll be 18 years old.

So far I've planted a few pot plants today, bought drink tubs for my party, and installed Mozilla Firefox which makes the Internet run a lot faster than Internet Explorer. Why did I do this? Because Stephen Fry told me so:

Nuff said.

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"