james debate
james debate

Saturday 31 October 2009

song of the week: "I Wonder Who We Are" by "the Clientele"

thing that makes me happy today: Epic Halloween parties and my kick ass costume.

pic of the day:
David Caruso
Julian Casablancas
Sergeant Pepper

Badly faked accents
The Kiss Army

Friday 30 October 2009

Directed by Jonathan Munby
Written by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Helen Edmundson
Starring Dominic West, Rupert Evans, Kate Fleetwood
Production company The Donmar
Theatre The Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar pulls off another memorable production with Dominic West absolutely captivating as the lead role Segismundo.

donmar life is a dream

The first thing that strikes you when you set your eyes on the stage is the minimalist nature of the production. Pretty much no stage props and only a minimal backdrop of peeling gold and wrought iron, enough to generate the impression of tainted grandeur.

It's a dark mirror image of the play that unfolds, telling the story of Segismundo, a Polish prince who is locked in a tower by his father the King because of a prophecy that ordains that Segismundo is a beast who will bring chaos to his Kingdom (anyone familiar with the oedipus story can probably see where this is going).

Meanwhile Kate Fleetwood, plays a ferocious Rosaura, a woman on a mission of revenge. Cinema patrons may recognise her from the Donmar's Hecuba production a few years ago where I first noticed her, and I am glad to say she even outshines this performance in her new role.

However the main plaudits must go to Dominic West, who many will recognise from TV's the Wire. He is excellent and brings a raw power to bear upon his characters deep torment in a way that is thoroughly convincing of West's total involvement in the role.

The acting is a joy to behold throughout the entire cast, with a superb comic turn from Lloyd Hutchinson and Rupert Evans striking a particularly absorbing balance between charming and slimy/unlikable.

If i had one criticism it would be that the writing sometimes seems to strain a bit. It's not clear if this is merely the result of some muddled rewriting by Helen Edmundston, or if something is getting lost in the translation from Calderon's original text, but the 'deep' moments of discussion with regards to the nature of reality and destiny often sound a bit contrived and hackhanded. Often I found that while there were interesting points raised by the story, a fair amount of the dialogue seemed to miss these intricacies out or not do them justice. That being said, one has to admire the script for the deft comedic touch that is present throughout, even in darker more serious scenes, and aside from these few weak moments the writing is of a high standard.

Another excellent production you would do well to go and see if you like real theatre.

In addition to the uniquely interesting Anish Kapoor exhibition, the Royal Academy of Arts is also hosting "Wild Things", an exhibition bringing together the sculptures of three artists, Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who all come from very different backgrounds, but explore similar themes of sex, fertility and the human condition.

wild things

Jacob Epstein was a New York born Jewish artist who is recognised as a pioneer of modern sculpture, Eric Gill was a very religious man who strangely attempted to consolidate his faith with extremely explicit erotic sculptures, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was a French sculptor who moved to London and has a large body of work, despite dying at a tragically young age.

The three were linked during life, with Epstein having met both, and indeed heavily inspired the work of Gaudier. This exhibition largely explores the development of their work and the world's reaction to it. It makes for a strangely interesting narrative to follow through the exhibition and helps put each entry in a perspective beyond what meets the eye.

Even aside from this, the quality is pretty high throughout. I find myself less interested in Gill's vaguely uneven explorations of repressed sexuality, but Gaudier and especially Epstein were very talented sculptors. One can't help but feel that Gaudier would have amounted to even more had he lived longer.

However, the real centrepiece of the exhibition is "the Rock Drill" by Epstein (pictured), a striking piece of art that appears in two forms, with a reconstruction of how he originally put the sculpture together, and the torso that remains of the real thing (Epstein hacked off its limbs to make a statement about the horrors of World War I). This sculpture was pioneering, not only for its depiction of a mechanical man (way back in 1915 this was), but also for its integration of a real rock drill, the first time a sculptor had used a real ready made object as part of a larger sculpture.

A very interesting exhibition, but to be honest there are few pieces other than the Rock Drill that really demand to be seen, and all the interesting backstory about the artists can be found in books or online anyway.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

As you know, I revel in finding the hot new bands out there and spreading the good word around. Well today I want to bring another of these bands to your attention, certainly one to watch for the future. (credit goes to Ben F for finding this one).

los campesinos

I am often sent emails here at the Ephemeric discussing various new bands I should look at/listen to, and while many of these border on the 'meh' side of things, I do occasionally get one in my inbox that is pretty damn good. This was recently the case when one of my more hapless amigoes sent me a few links telling me to check out Los Campesinos!.

Los Campesinos! are a seven piece indie band from Cardiff, and importantly, a recent addition to the lineup of awesome bands attached to the frankly awesome Arts & Crafts record label, which already holds the rights to excellent bands like Stars, Broken Social Scene, Feist, and Phoenix, it reads like a who's who of awesome and quirky indie rock.

It's hard to describe their sound as anything other than eclectic. At times I can almost describe them as sounding a bit like Stars, or Bloc Party or the Kooks, but ultimately they have a unique and quirky sound all their own. These guys definitely have something there, that unique and special quality that marks them out as something special to keep an eye on.

They have already released two albums, with a few good songs here and there, but this is a young band that is continuing to improve every day, and there are high hopes for their third album, Romance is Boring, coming out February 2010.

Key Songs:

We Throw Parties, you Throw Knives


The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future

2007, the Year Punk Rock Broke my Heart

Monday 26 October 2009

It's that magical time of year again. A time when all mankind can come together in harmony and fearitude. This week we will be celebrating my favourite of all religious holidays, Halloween.

As a film buff, I can riff off a list of brilliant movies for pretty much any occasion, and this day is no different. And besides, if there's any holiday that deserves it, it's this one. So turn off your lights and hold on to someone you trust, behold the ultimate list of movies to watch on Halloween:


5. Psycho


The classic horror film from Alfred Hitchcock scared a generation out of showering (at least that's their excuse). Often seen as a genre defining moment in cinema, Psycho created several of the horror movie conventions we now take for granted; creepy motels, tormented loners, inept cops getting sliced and diced, and of course there's the iconic shower scene.

Rating on the Freaky Pumpkin Meter:

4. Scream


It has become so passe to laugh at teen horror movies, it's really the ultimate cliché. Watch this film, however, and you can see exactly why everyone decided to copy it, with the only difference being that this one is actually pretty good. One of the only films of the genre to combine gratuitous horror with an oh so dark chocolate sense of humor makes for a winning formula.

Rating on the Freaky Pumpkin Meter:

3. Night of the Living Dead

night of the living dead

No way I was going to make this list without some zombie film, so I might as well pick the grand daddy of them all. George Romero's 1968 classic created the modern 'zombie apocalypse' archetype and while, in terms of film quality, it may have been bettered recently by Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, this is the one that started it. Where most zombie films are all about gratuitous gore, this one actually had meaning behind it, about the subversiveness of vietnam era society... and stuff... also, zombies!

Rating on the Freaky Pumpkin Meter:

2. The Nightmare Before Christmas

nightmare before christmas

Maybe it's more of a Christmas film than a Halloween film, but it's damn good enough that I feel happy putting it on this list. Tim Burton's halloween musical was well received initially, but I don't think anyone anticipated how well it would stand the test of time and develop such a cult following. Striking and original visuals and great songs make this a holiday classic.

Rating on the Freaky Pumpkin Meter:

1. Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks' classic takes horror stereotypes and turns them on their head in the way that only Mel Brooks can. Featuring the comedy stylings of Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle and a surprising cameo from Gene Hackman, this film is a pure joy for all fans and non-fans of the horror genre, and a must for your Halloween party.

Rating on the Freaky Pumpkin Meter:

Well that's all folks, farewell and happy Halloween!
I leave you with this, probably the most spooktacular song ever written:

Saturday 24 October 2009

song of the week: "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives" by "Los Campesinos"

thing that makes me happy today: Question Time this week becoming 'lets abuse Nick Griffin' time.

pic of the day:
Module 2
BNP lunatics
Halloween, still

Module 1
GOP lunatics
Lesser holidays

Friday 23 October 2009

Directed by Sander Plug, Lernert Engelberts
Release date(s) Watch here
Running time 13 episodes, each about 4 minutes long

On the 4th of August 2006, the personal search queries of 650,000 AOL users were accidentally leaked in an online document. After the public outcry and the ire of all the outraged customers died down, the dutch film making duo of Engelberts and Plug decided to take the incident and turn it into art.

i love alaska

The result is I Love Alaska, a 13 part documentary that tells the story of a middle aged American woman through the search queries she entered between 1 March and 31 May 2006. Piece by piece these short and sharp videos build an image of this woman like a jigsaw puzzle, these tiny search queries giving us brief, seemingly inconsequential snippets inside the searcher's mind while we the viewers are left to fill in the blanks using our imaginations. It's a very unusual project that would look more at home as part of an art installation than on a television screen in someone's home living room.

Here is a woman going through a midlife crisis, spending her days browsing the internet to read about celebrities and the weather and how to get rid of annoying birds outside her window. It all starts off very innocent and almost depressingly droll, but eventually we start to see patterns of her insecurities and longing for acceptance, as well as her developing internet addiction as she starts meeting people on the internet and ultimately having an affair. The final videos depict the aftermath, in which her life essentially collapses and her search patterns begin to reflect her remorse. Here, the internet is more than just a source of information, it's also a friend and confessional for a very lonely woman, and suddenly the mildly humorous non-sequitor queries take on a far more depressing light.

It's weird and initially a bit creepy hearing all these private thoughts and feelings, which range from the light and humorous to the darker and more personal, but in the end there is something very detached and cold about the whole thing that makes it strangely easier to watch. The queries are read aloud by an emotionless computer voice, each one rendered completely insignificant against the backdrop of the serene, but isolated and empty Alaskan wilderness. The reality is that we aren't really watching a story unfold about a real person, the vast majority of the character comes from within our own minds.

It succeeds largely on this introspective nature of the project, and the absolutely striking cinematography that will either give viewers a sense of complete calm, or complete dread. But really this film isn't at all about what you're actually seeing on the screen, or even what you're hearing. In the end it doesn't even really matter what happens with the woman, it's about how the film makes you think.

The directors clearly have a keen understanding of the voyeuristic nature of people, and the dark tendency to constantly judge. The end result is not so much to tell us a story, but to get us to think about ourselves and why content of this nature is so compelling in the complete absence of any unified meaning. More than that it creates a very real sense of wonder about our own search and web histories, and the footprint we leave all over the internet in doing so. One can't help but wonder what our life stories would look like from a similarly harsh and clinical perspective.

This is not a film I can recommend as entertainment, but as an examination of human nature in the internet age, it's pretty interesting stuff.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Head Chef Sam and Samantha Clark
Style Moorish
Address 34-36 Exmouth Market, London EC1R
Open Mon-Sat, lunch 12:30-2:30pm, dinner 7:00-10:30, Tapas served all day
Telephone (0)20 7833 8336

This year there has been a lot of buzz about Moro. This restaurant opened in 1997, but following a string of recent awards, including the Observer's Restaurant of the Year 2009, it has risen to prominence, becoming a home to the fashionable crowd who only go to eat at places that will make their friends jealous. Well friends be damned, I went to find out what all the fuss is about, do read on.

moro restaurant london

After pushing your way into the restaurant through the entry curtains, what struck me was the simple pub-like decor with wooden floors and simple tables and chairs. There's also the long bar one can sit at and get a pre dinner drink or have some tapas.

For me, the quality of the free bread often serves as an indicator of how good the restaurant is going to be. The bread we were served here is about as good as bread ever gets. Soft but chewy, crusty, perfect texture and a mildly sour dough kind of taste. A great start.

Perhaps somewhat foolishly, we then decided to get starters and mains, as well as one or two of the small bar food dishes to share. These small dishes included a plate of chorizo, which was absolutely delectable, but let's face it when is chorizo not awesome? The other was a small dish of manchego cheese, which is always decent.

The choice to then get a starter and a main was a foolish one, as I was pretty much full up by the time I was done with the starters, so heed my warning should you ever find yourself eating here.

As for the food itself, it's an interesting situation. The food is mostly pretty damn ugly. Literally I was worried for a moment when my food arrived. I started with the girolle mushroom and prawn arroz with alioli, basically a prawn and mushroom rice dish with cream, and as I said before, ugly, I wasn't really sure what I had gotten myself into. But then I tasted it, and was reminded vaguely of the Iron Cook episode of Futurama, because the food was really quite delicious. It was really quite exquisite, both texturally and flavour-wisem with deliciously delicate girolle mushrooms and succulent prawns mixed in with this wonderful creamy sauce.

For the main course I got the wood roasted bream with saffron rice, braised chard and tahini sauce. This, compared to the other dishes I had eaten so far, was tasty but mostly unremarkable. The highlight was the crispy lemon grass on top of the rice, which was delightful.

The service, as one would expect from a restaurant that has been so fully thrust into the limelight, was impeccable and friendly, and the wine list covered all the bases.

Ultimately, the food here may look and sound a bit strange, but it's mostly pretty damn tasty. And if in doubt, just go and get yourself a plate of the chorizo, can't go wrong.

Saturday 17 October 2009

song of the week: "Seven Day Mile" by "the Frames"

thing that makes me happy today: This beautiful microscope photography.

pic of the day:
Family Guy now
FM2010 Demo

Family Guy then
Lesser holidays

Sunday 11 October 2009

New term, and two weeks in it's time to get down to some serious work, now that certain necessary distractions like the halfway dinner and pub crawl are out of the way.

Good news and bad news. Good news is I'm loving the new term. This more science based course full of lectures and labwork is much more my style and I'm loving the course material, despite the full schedule. In any case it's not half as busy as last year working in the hospital, and I feel so much more full of energy in my free time that I'm damn pleased to be here. Any of you signing up for film soc, book soc and art soc, look forward to seeing me there. In the meantime I'm also trying hard to track down the elusive wine and fine drinks society that appears to be more secretive than the skull n bones society, if it no longer exists rest assured i'll get it started back up.

Bad news is I'm loving this new term. It's no secret to most of you that I seriously disliked last year working in the hospital, and it definitely has me considering my options after this year. Stay tuned.

On a side note I'm having a good time at my temporary digs, despite how small they are, while I'm looking for a bigger, more permanent place. Those of you who have visited know how conveniently located it is as well, which is pretty damn awesome.

Ghostbusters is on tv now, and as a side note, I fucking HATE movies on tv with the commercials and everything.

Damn it

Saturday 10 October 2009

song of the week: "Long Time Coming" by "Delays"

thing that makes me happy today: Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

pic of the day:
beer pong championIN:
Winning the Nobel Prize
Modern Warfare 2

Winning the Olympics
Call of Duty 5

Monday 5 October 2009

Developed by EA Sports
Genre Sports
Platform Xbox360, PS3, Wii, PC
Release date(s) Out Now

The latest instalment to the number one football video game series. This year's is probably the most hyped up game of the series, with absurd reviews giving near perfect scores and hailing 'the greatest football game of all time'. But can it possibly live up to all that hype? Or is this just another journalist hack circle jerk as seen with the good but not nearly as stellar as was hyped GTA4. Bear in mind that I test this game on legendary difficulty, so many of my comments on gameplay may not be applicable for easier difficulties.

fifa 10

Things didn't get off to a great start with the unnecessary and unskippable intro video that plays every damn time you start up the game (one of gaming's cardinal sins). Then you get the traditional 'select your favorite team' option, which in the old days would lead you into a nice friendly game against a 'classic xi' featuring some of the all time great players. Of course this being one of the few good ideas EA have had in decades, it was scrapped a few years ago.

These small grievances are unfortunately indicative of my biggest gripe with EA and their games. They don't really care. They don't care about the football, or the fans, they just want to make a good product and dominate the market. And as you'll see, while they may produce a very decent product, this telltale trait of theirs shines through all too often.

So let's begin with the new features in this game. In terms of the gameplay, we are supposed to have a brand new physics engine, and 360º dribbling, combined to make the most fluid and realistic looking football game of all time. In this regard it is mostly successful and the football certainly feels more complete than any other football game I have ever played, however it still suffers from excessively rigid animations, which often supersedes the 360º dribbling, making it barely noticeable.

Similarly it is STILL far too often the case that once you get locked into an animation you can't get out, the infamous 'on rails' moments which result in players picking up a loose midair ball near the touchline and dribbling it several feet over without you having any control, and in some cases players will run after balls, or wait for passes to reach them without you having the ability to control this movement, resulting in a lot of very stupid and unnecessary mistakes.

Elsewhere in the gameplay you'll notice that your team mate AI is actually a little bit improved, though they'll still frequently roam out of position, refuse to collect loose balls and refuse to make runs or push up unless you're specifically controlling them, and this is especially a problem with fullbacks, who carry very little attacking threat unless you really really try to force them up the pitch. Still far too often your own players will run into you while you have the ball, triggering a 'stunned' animation that will knock both players out of the game for several seconds and the man marking system is still useless.

Worse still is the new goalkeeper AI. Supposed to be 'smarter' and more dynamic, this, more than any other part of the game, is a complete mess. Goalkeepers don't come out for crosses, they don't collect loose balls, they punch and parry slow moving balls they can easily pick up, they simply don't move or react realistically to being lobbed and won't bother chasing the ball and they concede some really bizarre goals like crosses or clearances from the other side of the pitch. It's bad, really.

Further more they have seriously overdone the whole 'referee getting in the way' thing where your ball ricochets off the ref annoyingly, some might argue this is a little bit of realism that simply wasn't necessary, and it seems to happen every game. Another piece of really unnecessary realism is the added capability for the ref to make incorrect decisions, which again is extremely unbalanced and really wrecks the game in the long run. Clearly EA hasn't learned that a computer that is programmed to intentionally do things wrong and has absolutely no concept of subtlety just doesn't look right.

But it's not all bad. Set pieces have been perfected, finally. Free kicks and corners are now actually useful for a change. Similarly you can actually score from crosses, and in fact goal scoring in general is far more fluid and you will find yourself scoring all kinds of different goals. The passing system has also been fine tuned, meaning that when you're on the attack you can play some really fantastic football that just looks and feels right, just a shame that there are so many issues with the defensive side of the game. Ultimately, despite the flaws, there is no doubt that this is the best football gameplay yet, and light years ahead of the competition.

As is always the case with EA, for every good thing they do, they find some ridiculous way to undermine it. In this case they've gone and designed probably the best game engine for playing attacking football of all time, and then designed the most appallingly negative opposition AI you will ever see. Literally, it doesn't matter if you're playing against Bolton or Barcelona, all teams will 'park the bus' as it were and it is indeed a strange sight to be on an attack against the Barca defence with all 11 of their players packed into the penalty area. Rarely do they bother coming out of their shell.

Elsewhere, another big addition is the virtual pro mode, essentially an expansion of the previous be a pro mode. You can now design your player and train his skills up and play him across every game mode. It even has the "incredible" gameface which allows you to upload a picture of yourself to the EA website and put him on your player so it looks like you!

Just a few problems with that, you can only do it if you have a Windows computer, and only in the most recent version of internet explorer or Firefox, and you have to do it on the EA website rather than ingame, and using the god awful EA website is one of the most mind numbingly painful and exhausting experiences I have ever seen. I would rather claw out my own eyeballs and stick red hot chili peppers in their place than waste another hour trying to log into that buggy, slow, temperamental piece of unholy horse shit.

The be a pro mode itself meanwhile is the same as it was before, fairly good fun and a brilliant idea, marred by a stupidly designed player ratings system that hasn't the foggiest clue what makes a decent performance, and atrocious AI.

You will, as always, be spending most of your time in the manager mode, which has supposedly been revamped and made to be more realistic. Well it's been revamped anyway, not sure how realistic it is. The transfers seem a little better now, you will no longer see Wayne Rooney signing for FC Twente like in the old games, but beyond that it's the same shoddy half assed 'realism' that you always find. In my first season my top 5 was my team, Portsmouth, Everton, Fulham and Arsenal. Liverpool finished just above relegation and Man U finished in mid table. I'm used to this after several years of playing Fifa, but I can't for the life of me understand why this is so hard for them to correct, or do they want the game to be 'more open' than in reality? Who knows.

Along these lines, you will note that the game difficulty is still very schizophrenic, meaning that it is not at all unusual to go beat Arsenal 5-1 at the Emirates and then lose the next game at home to Birminham 4-0. The issue here is that so much of the game is automated, pass targeting, tackling, teammate AI, marking, player reactions, much of the shooting mechanism, and on the harder difficulties these variables seem to jump about like a frightened bunny. Ultimately though, the biggest problem with manager mode is that you can still only play a finite number of seasons, a limit which has never made sense to me and is still baffling.

There is also a new 'assistant manager' who will automatically rotate your team based on fatigue and form. Sadly he is completely inept and will frequently play centrebacks at fullback and wingers as your holding midfielders, turn him off.

Player growth has been revamped and a new 'form' system has been implemented which is extremely confusing at first but actually works well once you get used to it. It's just a shame that they seem to use the same awful player rating system that they have in the be a pro mode, which means that you can make a skillful run across the pitch, past 6 players and then mishit your shot, and you'll lose form points, and other similarly harsh judgements.

This is definitely the most rewarding mode then, just remember to edit the database beforehand to recall any loan players in real life, because as far as the game is concerned they are permanent players of their loan clubs unless loaned out ingame.

There are however just a lot of little things that really grate. Pre-season friendlies, for example, only allow you to make 3 subs, which essentially completely misses the point of friendlies. Similarly competitions are frequently programmed in with the wrong format, such as a Community Shield with extra time. Commentary is frequently out of place, again in the Community Shield, talking about the game as if it were a cup final after a long knockout round. Occasionally the commentary simply gets things wrong, talking about looking for an equaliser when the game is drawn, claiming that players have scored or been carded when they haven't, and it's just really amateur.

While we're on the subject of commentary, it's fucking awful. Seriously it's always been pretty cheesy and bad but this year it's just painful. It's becoming something of a tradition with Fifa games for EA to include a special commentary 'theme' that they harp on about incessantly in some horribly misguided attempt by EA to educate us about 'interesting' facts.

For example two years ago the commentators would inform us that it's really the referee who decides how much stoppage time there is, rather than the assistant ref, and remind us of this fact like 5 times during a game. Last year they would bang on and on about 'the sideways tackle' to explain why a ridiculously filthy looking foul wasn't given as it was from the side rather than behind.

This year it's especially annoying as they've included a bunch of commentary referring to the form system, and now every two minutes the commentators will make some absurdly forced and unprofessional comment about how terrible a player is playing or how he's angering his team mates. These lines of dialogue are just terrible, firstly for sounding completely out of place and unlike anything a commentator would actually say, and also because they don't refer to players by name, so you will have no clue who they're talking about. On top of this they seem to judge any player with a 6/10 or lower to be 'having a torrid time', and on hard difficulties there will always be a number of players with ratings around there. It's an unmitigated disaster and I wish they would stop trying to be so clever with their commentary as they always fail miserably.

Ultimately, despite the many flaws and really dumb design choices that one typically associates with EA sports, it simply can not be denied that the football engine in this game is the best that has ever been designed, and (mostly) fantastic fun to play. Conversely, one shouldn't disregard the areas where much improvement is still needed, something which most journalist hacks would do well to realise before they get themselves blindly worked up into a hysteria (honestly it just shows how absurdly inflated game review scores are these days). This is a fantastically finessed football simulator, marred by a number of stupid little design flaws and dodgy AI.

Awesome physics
Silky passing
Much more organic goal scoring

Poor AI
EA trying to be clever and fucking up

Saturday 3 October 2009

song of the week: "Happy As Can Be" by "Cut Off Your Hands"

thing that makes me happy today: Awesome half way dinner at Grace.

pic of the day:
amateur gynaecologistIN:
Fifa 10
Anish Kapoor

PES 2010
Halo 3
Jeff Koons

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