Thursday, June 30, 2005

You Came to Take My Heart and Soul

Mike Patton & John Kaada – Romances

After being impressed by the General Patton vs. The X-Executioners album, which I had been highly skeptical about before I heard it, I pretty much decided that Mike Patton was incapable of producing anything less than stellar each time he put out an album. I've changed my mind again now though. 'Romances' is OK, but not great.

Kaada is a Norwegian composer, and his music is hard to describe. Romantic is actually the best way to describe it, as it's mostly quiet and subdued strings, with influences ranging from Jazz to Opera. Of course, this being a Patton record, there's the occasional burst of free form noise or electronic weirdness. Patton himself is mostly in suave crooner mode (somewhat like the Lovage album, but without the sleaze), but again with the occasional bit off crazy screaming or bizarre grunting.

It's nice enough, but fairly forgettable, and not up to the standard of Patton's other recent output.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

12 Tone Sucks Ow!

If you're needing a dose of music geekery, I found this article (via Arts & Letters) pretty interesting.

I think the guy who wrote it is a little hard on avant-garde music, but even though he argues that twelve tone music was a dead end, 'deeply flawed at their musical and philosophical roots', he does admit that plenty of good music has come out of restrained use of 12 tone and atonal principles.

Because even though a few zealots might never willingly listen to any tonal music, most people find the beauty in it's dissonance when it's contrasted with normal music. And even though real avant-garde never enters the mainstream (in fact, that's part of the point), some of the ideas it develops do seep through. I find that if I ever really pay attention to (God forbid) a Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake song, I can't help but feel that it wouldn't sound quite the same if people like Schonberg or Coil hadn't done what they did.

Monday, June 27, 2005

This Next One is Called 'The Wanton Folly of Me Mum'

Angel Season 5

Season 2 Part 1
Season 2 Part 2
Season 3 Part 1

So good old TV3 are still showing the last season of Angel, several years late at 11pm on Tuesday night. I can't be fucked staying up that late, and it's a pain to try and record it, so it's kind of convenient that they've waited so long to show it that it's already out on DVD. So I bought the two sets and watched the whole damn season over a week. It's kind of sad now that I've seen the end of my second favorite show, but at least it went out with a lot more style than it's parent. Anyway, if you're still bothering to watch it on TV, don't read the rest of this post because I'm going to tell you what happens at the end.

After four years of more or less the same concept behind the show (Angel as the underdog P.I.) they shook things up a bit by putting Angel in charge of Wolfram and Hart, the big evil law firm that had been his arch-nemesis for the previous four seasons. This turns out to be a pretty good idea because it supplies a lot of engaging plot hooks. The central conflict arises from our heroes trying to do good and change the big evil corporation from within, while still trying to please their clients (a nasty bunch of demons and necromancers) and keep on the good side of the senior partners, the mysterious demonic entities who own the company.

I would have liked the overarching plot to be a bit more cohesive, the senior partners' big plan behind giving the firm to Angel turns out to be little more than a variation on the 'Lets try and make Angel go nuts!' scheme they've been trying since the show began. I would have liked something a little more epic to finish up the show. Plus a few of the interesting plot threads introduced in the first half of the season, like Spike getting resurrected as a ghost and Angel having a new girlfriend, get resolved a little curtly, almost like they had lots of cool ideas at the start that got forgotten or cast aside later on (a problem that plagued (some might say 'ruined') the last season of Buffy).

The season takes a little while to build up steam, opening with a bunch of 'monster of the week' episodes which, while they aren't that exciting, introduce the new situation and the moral dilemmas the characters are facing this year.

'Soul Purpose' is probably my favorite off the first half. It uses the rivalry between Angel and Spike to great effect, and Angel has some hilarious hallucination scenes while he's in his demon-induced coma. The third to last episode 'The Girl in Question', is a bit of a classic too. Angel and Spike travel to Italy supposedly on business, but really to get Buffy away from her new boyfriend (an old enemy of theirs known as 'The Immortal'). The fact that neither The Immortal or Buffy ever actually make an appearance only enhances the humour (probably an artistic decision based on Sarah Michelle Gellar's unavailability). It nicely closes off the relationship triangle between the three of them.

Then there's the finale. The big confrontation comes out of left field a little too much for my taste (we only learn about the big baddies in the second to last episode). I think a bit more foreshadowing and build-up would have been good. Despite that it holds up pretty well, especially compared to the limp Buffy finale. The final scene is a little vexing though. On one hand it's cool that they go out fighting, but the ambiguity of it all (Do they all get killed? What about the prophecy about Angel?) is a bit frustrating, especially considering that it's the end of the whole Buffy story, at least for now.

Apart from that though, it's a great season, probably the best of the shows run. The character arcs are tied up pretty nicely, except for Angel's. I was a bit surprised that Angelus (Angel's evil alter-ego) didn't show up at all during the season, I thought a confrontation with him would be necessary to properly close off his story, but maybe that just means they're holding out to continue it someday. Well, probably not, but I can hope.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

I've got Spurs that Jingle Jangle

System of a Down – B.Y.O.B

I don't normally buy singles, but I got this one for free. I was kind of excited to learn that it had live tracks from this years Big Day Out, and I had vague hopes that it might include Daron playing Sultans of Swing in Auckland. Unfortunately I was disappointed in that respect, as all the tracks seem to be taken from the Australian shows, but they're still pretty decent live tracks.

First up is 'Forest' off of Toxicity. I don't really like the way Serj sings it, but there are some cool crowd sing-a-long parts. Next is 'Prison Song', at the end of which you hear them start to go into 'Roulette'. The first time I heard it I turned around and yelled at the stereo, “Why didn't you play that in Auckland?”, but that mild annoyance aside it's a pretty good version. Lastly there's a kick arse version of 'Sugar', one of their best songs.

One more snark though, the single is almost twenty minutes long, over half the length of the album that B.Y.O.B comes off.

Monday, June 20, 2005

I Have Never Licked a Nipple

Rammstein – Lichtspielhaus

Rammstein's 'Live in Berlin' DVD is one of the best concert DVDs I own, partly because their brand of straight forward heavy metal suits itself superbly to huge arena live performances, but mostly because of their unbelievable stage show. I was hoping they'd release another one with footage from their 'Mutter' tour (seeing as they neglected to come to New Zealand as part of it). Unfortunately 'Lichtspielhaus' isn't a concert DVD, although about a third of it is made of live clips from throughout their career, (which are enough to whet my appetite for their rumoured appearance at the Big Day Out next year).

The rest of the disc contains a music video collection (containing the videos for the singles off all their albums up until 'Mutter'), and a bunch of interviews and 'making of' features for a few of the videos. The interviews are interesting to watch once, and the live footage is pretty cool (but I'd still be more inclined to watch the 'Live Aus Berlin' disc).

The real highlights are the videos. What Rammstein lack in seriousness they make up for with style. The highlights are almost too numerous to mention, but a few of my favorites are 'Sonne', 'Du Reicht So Gut', and 'Seeman'. 'Seeman' has the band dragging a boat through a desert, which doesn't sound that exciting, but it has a really well done mythological ambiance which suits such a sad song perfectly. 'Sonne' is a twisted version of Snow White, complete with Snow White snorting gold dust and a fairly amusing spanking scene. My favorite has to be 'Du Reicht So Gut' though, which is a dark, gothic clip involving werewolves and a hot chick, and that's pretty much all you need to know. There are about ten other videos and they're all pretty good as well (except for the one done for that crappy 'XXX' movie).

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Normal Baby Vs. The Remote

Angel Season 3 Part 1

So after the angst and gloom of the last series this one starts out a more upbeat note, with Angel in a good mood and everyone getting along well. Naturally, this state of affairs doesn't last long, Angel's ex Darla shows up pregnant (to Angel), which spells bad news for several different reasons. One, Angel's not supposed to have been having sex with anyone (because it might turn him evil), let alone an evil vampire whose been trying to kill them all for some time, so his friends aren't too impressed. Two, vampires aren't capable of having children, so a whole bunch of mad scientists, crazy religious demons and other varieties of curious maniacs are after it. Wackiness ensues.

There are a few stink episodes. 'Billy', where Angel fights a guy who has the ability to make men attack women, overdoes the allegory by a significant margin, and 'That Old Gang of Mine' feels like it was included just because they had to close off the hanging plot thread of Gunn's old-school vampire fighting backstory.

While the episodes relating to the overarching plot are good enough, but my favorites are a few of the throwaway stand-alone episodes. In 'Carpe Noctem', Angel gets body-swapped by a horny old man. Wackiness ensues. 'Birthday' on the other hand uses a pretty cliched plot, Cordelia gets to see what would happen if she had never met Angel in LA. It's pretty funny seeing her go back to being an obnoxious self-obsessed bimbo, even if the plot is a bit silly. On the DVD they've added a deleted scene of Cordelia's TV show, which I at first thought was a brilliant parody of bland, brainless sitcoms like Friends and couldn't understand why they cut it. Then the commentary revealed that it wasn't actually meant to be a parody, so I guess it's fair enough that they cut it...

The third season is one of the strongest in terms of a consistently planned plot arc (and it's also where the show finally manages to pull out of the shadow of Buffy and stand well on its own), but that doesn't pay off until the second half of the season, (which I won't be watching any time soon, because I just watched all of Season 5 in about two weeks and I'm all Angeled out for now).

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It's Si! The Photo Guy!

So I finally got round to watching One Hour Photo the other day. It's directed by Mark Romanek, who did the Closer and Perfect Drug videos for Nine Inch Nails, and the video of Johnny Cash's cover of NIN's Hurt, which are all pretty awesome videos so I had high expectations.

It stars Robin Williams as a lonely guy who works at a One Hour Photo shop and becomes obsessed with the family of one of his customers. It is very well directed, but it suffers from a weak script (which I think Romanek wrote too). The first half is pretty cool, as we meet the central character and see his peculiar behaviour, however in the second half it pretty much devolves into a boring conventional thriller with nothing especially interesting to say. It reminded me quite a bit of this terrible movie 'Strangeland' (written by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister) which I've unfortunately seen twice, and the whole point both movies is pretty much just 'Whoa! Check out this guy! He's CARAAAZZYYYYYYY!"

Hopefully we'll get to see Romanek direct a movie with a better script soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

They Said it Would Never Happen...

It's pretty big news to me that Pink Floyd are playing at the Live 8 show in Britain (a Live Aid type thing raising money to fight poverty), which will be their first show in about ten years. But on top of that, they'll be rejoined by Roger Waters, who was the major songwriter for behind all their most popular albums and quit the band in the mid 80s.

It's a bit far fetched to think that they're getting back together permanently, or that Pink Floyd in any configuration will be releasing a new album any time soon, but one can dream!

Monday, June 13, 2005

I Help the Hopeless! I'm a Vampire with a Soul!

Buffy Season 6 Part 1

No one liked this season when it first screened. 'Too depressing!', 'Too gloomy!', 'Not enough strained adolescence analogies!', the critics cried. Of course, these same things make it one of my favorite seasons.

For those who aren't obsessive fanboys like me, at the beginning of season 6 Buffy is resurrected from the dead. It turns out that being resurrected isn't just a matter of chucking a Phoenix Down at someone and waiting for them to get back up in the Buffyverse, so there's a whole lot of angst and downbeat melodrama as Buffy tries to get used to living again after spending a few months in the afterlife.

The standout episode is easily the musical. It sounds like a stupid idea (a demon curses the entire town to spontaneously burst into song and dance) but it's done with so much enthusiasm and talent (Joss Whedon wrote all the music and lyrics himself, and the cast did all their own singing) it ends up being one of the best episodes of the shows entire run.

Pretty much everyone liked the musical episode, but then they followed it up with the Nine Inch Nails sounding trilogy of 'Smashed', 'Wrecked' and 'Gone'. The first two are as bleak as they sound, with Willow going nuts from handling too much magic and the other characters having relatively minor crises in the background.

At the same time, there's still a lot of humour going on. In 'Gone' Buffy gets hit by an invisibility ray. And instead of the typical TV plot of spending the whole episode trying to figure out what's happened, Buffy walks in, says “Hey guess what? I've been turned invisible!” and the rest of the show focuses on Buffy fading away from her life (metaphorically of course). I think one of the reasons I like this show so much is the way it mocks normal TV cliches.

The villains of the season are unusual too. Three geeky guys decide to become supervillians, and set about executing a whole bunch of goofy comic book style schemes (freeze rays, using demons to rob a bank). They're comic relief more than serious villains (at least at the start of the season) the real conflict in this seasons story comes from the heroes internal problems. Joss and the other writers obviously know their geeks though, these guys crack me up, and a lot of it is because I know exactly what they're talking about.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Wildebeest Asylum Brings You this Important Political Message

So the bill to raise the drinking age has passed it's first reading by a margin of 2:1. Some people are confident it won't get much further, but the large number of both Labour and National MPs voting for it makes me think otherwise. After all, it's something that will appeal to both the moral conservatives and the nanny staters alike. (Interesting to see that both ACT and the Greens voted mostly against though.)

In their haste to pander to the shrieking moralisers on both sides of the political spectrum, parliament has neglected the needs of one minority, the single male in their mid-20s. To us, removing all the 18 year old girls from bars would truly be a cruel and heartless act, comparable to beating orphans with a wicker stick, or stealing Christmas. I hope our MPs bear this in mind as they make their decisions in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Midnight Tides

by Steven Erikson

Your average fantasy novel protagonist is some adolescent chump from a shithole, backwater village. This convention gives the author an excuse to have one of the characters explain every detail of his world to the reader, by way of the protagonist. By contrast, the main characters in Erikson's 'Malazan Book of the Fallen' are almost all supreme badasses, who already know everything about the story's magic system and the worlds history, and never bother explaining anything to one another. The reader is simply dropped into it all, and has to figure out what's going on behind the scenes, in terms of the magic system, the world's history, and even the characters interpersonal relationships (those last two are often one and the same in the case of the older characters), from what's shown 'on-screen'.

There have now been five of these books (each one a 700 page plus behemoth), so by now we have a reasonable handle on how stuff works in the Malazan world, although there are still a lot of mysteries. It's interesting to see that you actually don't need any elaborate explanation of the magic system, since once you've been shown a few sorcerous battles you know how it works practically, and any 'a warren is a conduit of magical power' type explanation is revealed for the Star Trek-esque babble it really is.

The Malazan series will eventually be ten books in length, so it's now halfway through, and already it's huge cast of characters and sprawling plot dwarf the likes of The Wheel of Time. It's a very ambitious series, and it amazes me that Erikson can churn each episode out so fast with such consistently high quality. Midnight Tides starts on the far side of the world from the settings of the previous books, with an almost entirely new cast of characters (this is the second time in the series he's done this). Like the previous books, this one tells a discrete story which is somewhat independent of the rest of the tale, but still fits into the larger plot arc.

The plot is driven by the fractious relations between the rich and powerful kingdom of Lether, and the introverted but sinister Tiste Edur (vaguely analogous to Dark Elves in generic fantasy terms). The Tiste Edur are an old, magical, long lived race, who have mainly minded their own business for the past few millenia, but whose warring tribes have recently been united by the Warlock King, a powerful sorcerer who pretty much has 'hidden agenda' written all over him. The Letherii are their aggressive, expansionistic neighbours to the south, whose debt-oriented capitalism and glorification of greed have given them great power and dominion over almost all other cultures they've come into contact with, but at the price of a large discontented underclass, and providing Erikson with an opportunity to comment not terribly subtly on contemporary real-world politics.

While he made the commentary a bit overt, he still does it well. One of the Crippled God's speeches about the his take on 'honour' and 'loyalty' was particularly memorable and thought-provoking, despite it's obviousness. One of the things I like about the Crippled God as the major villain of the overall series is that he isn't just an evil force that came out of the blue to wreck chaos, his very presence represents the failures and the arrogance of the societies in the Malazan world. He might be an evil bastard, but what Erikson seems to be heading towards is that even if the Crippled God is defeated in a huge cataclysmic battle, (like most epic fantasy villains are), he has a lot to teach his enemies, and if they fail to learn from him, they'll just end up making the same mistakes over and over again.

The cast of characters is typical Erikson, including gods, demons and various kinds of superpowered mortals, but the central characters are two sets of brothers, one family Letherii, the other Tiste Edur, and you'd better believe they're all in for a whole lot of drama, angst, and big monsters exploding.

All of the books in the series have been dark and grim, but this one is even more so than the others. The Edur are all naturally reserved and moody, while the Letherii are part of a particularly unpleasant culture (one that probably seems more unpleasant because it is deliberately an uncharitable reflection of ours). To balance it out, Erikson increases the humour a great deal, but unfortunately chose to place most of it in one plot thread. While the humour is still usually pretty funny, the abrupt change in mood from dark to silly every time there's a scene change doesn't sit well.

But despite this minor criticism, it's just as good as the rest of the series, and I'm looking forward to the next one, due out early next year.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Warning, Crazy Arsed Political Post Ahead

So I read this post over at the Corpuscle the other day, and it got me thinking about separation of church and state. I've always thought it was a good idea, because we want to keep the nutcase Jesus freaks out of government, but after I read that article I started wondering, just what does constitute a religion in this day and age anyway? Are the Green party religious, (their morality often seems derived from a spiritual source)? The National Front? United Future are clearly Christian, but less so than the Destiny Church. There's also the Natural Law Party, very religious but with more in common with the Greens than the Christian Heritage party. Clearly there's a spectrum, but where do we draw the line? George Bush's 'faith based' programs have drawn ire for violating the seperation of church and state, and with fair reason, but if any of the above parties tried to do the same thing (with their own peculiar kinds of faith) for which ones would it be acceptable?

On top of that, the reason I don't like the idea of religion in government has more to do with my dislike of religion than with any objective incompatibility between government and religious ideas (as opposed to say, liberal ideas). I suspect the reason that Thomas Jefferson and his mates enshrined the idea in law was simply because of the practical consideration that religious involvement with government had a long history of corruption and intolerance back in Europe, and they thought it would be a good idea to start their new society without any of that bullshit.

Now this might seem like a trivial concern, and well, it probably is, but it just occurred to me that citing 'separation of church and state' while arguing with a religiously inclined nutbag isn't really a valid argument. Why should their belief in a higher power be treated differently than my beliefs, which are, in the end, derived from a source not much better defined (some scholars might call this source 'my arse'). When it comes down to it, it's still just 'my values vs. yours', and there's no objective reason they should take that argument seriously on it's own with no other justification (other than, of course, that I'm right and they're wrong).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Amusing Observation of the Day

Someone pulling into a car park, seeing another one 5 metres closer to the building entrance, pulling out again and driving to it. At the gym. (No, it wasn't raining).

The Gamers Manifesto

(via These Damned Machines are Killing Me)

A list of 20 things the gaming industry should change about their products as they move on to the next generation of consoles. Damned funny, and damned true.