Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean

Yeah I must be getting bored. I know it's a kids movie but I'd heard enough good things about it to give it a chance. Naturally as a Disney movie it's incredibly stupid. Every character is a tired cliché, and you can expect a whole lot of treacly true love bullshit (especially at the end). But hey, even Disney can't fuck up a movie about zombie pirates, and there's plenty of decent, not quite gory enough action.

Basically the movie is all about Johnny Depp, who hams it entertainingly up as a crazy pirate captain, who makes a very cool, charming anti-hero. Even though the film is fluff I couldn't help but feel that there was a better movie hidden somewhere inside. The villains, a crew of pirate zombies, have some cool lines about suffering from their curse, never able to enjoy the fruits of the treasure that incurred the curse by stealing. A real movie could have extended this into some sort of metaphor. A real movie could have also played up Johnny Depp as 'the worst pirate in the world'. As it is it has trouble deciding whether he's a brilliant pirate who's secretly a sham, or if he's a brilliant pirate who outwardly appears to be incompetent. Either option could have been cool, had the writers picked one and stuck with it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oh my god! I’m the pushy queen of Slut Town!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 7 Part 1

As I've said before I loved Buffy right up until the end of the sixth season, even though conventional wisdom holds that it started to suck from season five onwards. However even I am forced to admit that season seven, to put it delicately, sucks balls in comparison to the rest of the show. It certainly started out with a lot of promise, as some interesting plot hooks were introduced at the end of the last year. On one hand we have Willow, who as you probably recall went batshit crazy in the climax to the previous season and started killing people. There could have been a lot of dramatic potential in watching her come to terms with her actions and learn to keep her power under control, right? Spike has also just been granted a soul, completing his years long journey from villain to hero. Unfortunately it seems to have driven him mad, leading to a very cool scene at the end of the second episode in a church, when Spike collapses Christ-like onto a crucifix. (Rather painful for a vampire.) Finding out what happened to him, at the same time as he learns to deal with his rediscovered humanity, should be pretty compelling, right?

If the writers had just carried on from there they could have produced something really good, but knowing that it was the last season they preferred to hedge their bets. Firstly they introduced the biggest, nastiest, most overdone baddie they could think of: the First Evil, ultimate source of all pain and suffering. Secondly they tried to recreate the thing that made the first few seasons of the show so popular, the high school setting (slash painfully obvious metaphor). Unfortunately these calculated moves failed to pay off and in fact did more harm than good.

The First Evil is not an interesting character. Up until this season the show always did an excellent job of creating memorable, entertaining villains who were also genuinely well thought out characters with real motivations and personality. The First Evil is just a plain old clichéd cackling villain. Possibly the reason it never exhibits it's own identity is because it always manifests as another character. They could have gone in some interesting directions with this, as at times it seems to take on the personality of whoever it's appearing as, but I suspect that this is just bad acting.

The high school is reintroduced by having it rebuilt (after being blown up at the end of season three) and Buffy employed as a guidance councillor. Why they thought this would work is beyond me, as the central characters are all four years older. Just as in real life you can't go back to high school again, trying to wedge these characters back to where they came from is an exercise in stupidity.

A few of the standalone episodes are quite good. In 'Him' the female characters are enraptured by a love spell cast on the football jacket of a high school jock. This episode is arguably the best they do at a decent high school analogy in this season, and this is probably because it's played completely for laughs (the Charlie's Angels scene and Buffy trying to take out the principle with a bazooka are some of the most memorable things about the season). 'Selfless' is even funnier, showing flashbacks to Anya's transformation into a demon in first millennium Europe, complete with hysterical subtitles: “Her hips are wide and unattractive, like those of a baltic woman. Your hips are slender and arousing, like those of a baltic woman from a more arid region.”, “The troll is doing an Olaf impersonation, hit him with fruits and various meats!”

'Conversations With Dead People' is kind of stupid in a few ways (especially Buffy's long, pointless conversation with a vampire psychologist), but Dawn's plot thread, in which she is visited by her mother's tormented shade (who may or may not be the First Evil in disguise) contains some of the entire series only successful attempts at horror. It only took him seven years but Joss finally figured out that genuine horror isn't bought about by a scary monster hiding in a dark alley (unless you're a five years old), but by the subtle undermining of the familiar and comfortable by the disturbing and evil, in this case the threatening and sinister manifestation of a departed family member.

Aside from those three instances (and the first two episodes of the season) the show mostly just slowly drags it's way through the main plot, introducing new characters who add little (those Slayers in waiting are really annoying) and throwing in dramatic revelations that fall flat. The Watcher's Council gets blown up. Who cares? We haven't seen them for three years. Buffy has to fight a super powerful vampire from the dawn of time. Well that would have been cool if it didn't take three episodes for her to kill it. What is this, Dragonball Z?

Anyway, in conclusion I shall present the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Relative Hotness Table (all scores are out of 10):

Buffy: Season 1: 8, Season 7: 5

I have been accused of finding Sarah Michelle Gellar more attractive at the beginning of the show because then she was playing a sixteen year old schoolgirl, but I insist that that is not the case! It's because she has become another victim of the Hollywood 'starve yourself into a skeleton and tan your skin leathery' school of beauty treatment.

Willow: Season 1: 10, Season 7: 10

Nerd with a touch of goth. According to Joss the network execs tried to convince him to replace her character with a blonde cheerleader.

Anya: Season 3: 9, Season 7: 2

I'm not sure what happened to her, but the most probable baseless accusation involves drugs.

Faith: Season 3: 9, Season 7: 9

I think being evil automatically provides bonus points.

Cordelia: Season 1: 10, Angel Season 4: 4

Mostly just because of that haircut, and possibly the transition of her character from brainless but entertaining bitch to bland and boring love interest.

Xander: Season 1: 4, Season 7: 10

Man did that guy get macked fast.

Dawn: Season 5: 2, Season 7: 7

The only female character to get a higher score at the end of the show than when she was first introduced. This has nothing to do with her being the youngest. Next up on 'The Real Reason TV Shows Get Cancelled': The Golden Girls...

See also:

Buffy Season 5 Part 1
Buffy Season 5 Part 2
Buffy Season 6 Part 1
Buffy Season 6 Part 2

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Brain Eaters' Greatest Hits Part 1

Well seeing as I have all this time on my hands, I figure it's probably a good time to commit to paper (electrons?) a series of posts that I've had in mind for a while. This one is only two parts, so unlike the last time I did this it shouldn't take me a year and a half to finish.

I shall begin by introducing the titular Brain Eater. Millennia ago this ancient beast, a refugee from a far away interstellar war, crash landed on Earth. Weak and injured by its fall, it has been unable to return to his home galaxy and until this day has remained trapped on our planet. It has gone largely undetected in that time, as the brain eater is an energy being and does not have a corporeal form. However it has been moving among us, seeking the thing that it needs to restore it's strength enough to flee our lonely backwater of a solar system: human brains.

As an energy being the Brain Eater does not physically consume it's victim's brains, instead it merely drains them of all creativity and artistic talent. For this reason it seeks out the most talented artists in the world and feeds on their energy, leaving only shattered remnants of their former selves.

I shall illustrate with a few examples. If one were a fan of the band Metallica, one might say, “Boy, the Brain Eater sure made a messy meal of those guys after the black album!” However, it would be incorrect to say “Man, look at what the Brain Eater did to Gwen Stefani/Green Day!”, as to do so would be to imply that Green Day or Gwen Stefani at one stage had some degree of talent to speak of.

In this series I shall be looking at some of the most spectacular recorded instances of the brain eater ruining a formerly brilliant artistic career.

8. Korn

Korn were never a brilliant band, but they did at one time have a certain raw passion that allowed them to put out a few compelling albums with quality ranging from decent to pretty good. However their recent output has had such a dramatic drop in quality that it is only reasonable to conclude that the Brain Eater, desperate for sustenance after being subjected to three years of indie rock, concluded that Korn (having been around for over ten years now) must have at least something worth devouring in their heads. Lets hope that such a paltry meal is not enough to keep it alive long enough to find another victim.

7. Robert Jordan

The Wheel of Time series started out with a hell of a lot of promise. Jordan had a good writing style, an original plot and setting, and a clever knack for handling prophecies and internal references to both events in the book and in the real world, creating a large and detailed world that captured the imagination of many a reader. Sadly he drew the series out too long, and by the halfway point the Brain Eater had already done its messy work, leaving only the sad spectacle of five whole fucking seven hundred page books in which absolutely nothing happens. Curiously enough, he started receiving mainstream attention right about the time of the Brain Eater attack.

6. System of a Down

Their self titled debut album is a genuine classic, managing to be hard metal and have a quirky artistry at the same time. Their follow-ups, Toxicity and Steal this Album, sacrificed a bit of that for the sake of commercial appeal but were still very good. Then came Mezmerize and Hypnotize; in a few short years absolutely everything which made these guys stand out had been stripped away, leaving just another boring nu-metal band. Curse you Brain Eater!

5. The Writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Like most people the Brain Eater didn't click on to Buffy for a few years, on account of the terrible movie it was based on. Fortunately for us we got four brilliant seasons before it did, at which point it began to nibble gently here and there. I suspect that the Brain Eater looks at situations like this as a kind of 'watering hole', where as long as it doesn't feed too greedily the show stays on the air with new writers coming on every year and providing it with a potentially permanent food source. It wasn't until the final, seventh season when the collective genius became just too tempting and the Brain Eater finally lost all self restraint, gleefully gorging itself on the minds of the writers in a grisly orgy of gluttony. (Fortunately Joss Whedon hid under a desk and was spared.) The seventh season was completed, but with half its plot threads unresolved and a completely nonsensical emotional arc. Afterwards the Brain Eater sat weeping, knowing that it had become an addict but unable to ask for help, having driven all its friends and family away by being emotionally unavailable. Don't be like the Brain Eater. If you or someone you know has an unquenchable desire for human brains, act now. Call Quitline to receive information about brain addiction and to learn how you (or your 'friend', you're not fooling anyone man) can get power back over your own life with the help of friends, whanau and a healthy government subsidy.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Funny Webcomic

Man do I know this feeling.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In Which I Learn That Some People Have Even More Time On Their Hands Than Me

Dominos in Oblivion

Final Fantasy: Advent Children

Short Version: The (barely comprehensible) story sucks. The voice acting is terrible. It retroactively wrecks the end of Final Fantasy VII. But hey, it's still worth watching.

Final Fantasy VII is one of the most popular computer games of all time, and even though it's a Japanese RPG (a genre legendary for it's confounding plot lines) it actually had a pretty decent story, if you paid enough attention to decipher it. In particular the ending was appealingly ambiguous (for the record, my interpretation was that the planet (with it's self-defence mechanism 'Holy' activated) purged itself of the thing that caused it all the problems in the first place, i.e. the human race). However a lot of people can't handle ambiguity and legions of fanboys were positively salivating at the chance of some sort of explanatory sequel.

So Square-Enix have followed up their last box-office flop The Spirits Within with this movie, which continues the story of Final Fantasy VII. It turns out I was wrong about the ending of the game, as the human race is alive and well. Mostly well anyway, a virus called the Geostigma is afflicting children all over the world, and a bunch of guys with long white hair are riding around on motorbikes fucking shit up. But never mind the plot, like ninety percent of Japanese imports it's nearly incomprehensible to our feeble, unenlightened western minds. The emotional arc is trite and stupid too; it can be summed up as 'Cloud has to learn to stop running away'. (Hey, didn't he learn that lesson in the game?)

While The Spirits Within was released in theatres worldwide and was designed with an international audience in mind, Advent Children is basically by the Japanese for the Japanese, with an international DVD release almost an afterthought. The difference is obvious just from the look of the character models, those in The Spirits Within have a deliberately raceless character to their faces, while those in Advent Children are definitely Japanese.

So why is it worth watching then? Firstly the animation is great, the backgrounds still look pretty fake, but some of the detail on the characters is amazing, especially the hair. Secondly the music is excellent, it includes orchestral and hard rock arrangements of the midi music from the game which was brilliant even in that format, but benefits greatly from a real performance. (There's a very funny moment when Tifa finishes beating the crap out of some guy and his cellphone starts ringing. His ringtone is the classic Final Fantasy 'battle over' bugle call.) Lastly the fight scenes are immensely entertaining, cheesy as fuck but definitely cool. The movie only really succeeds because it's ninety percent fight scenes. In fact the whole last half hour is simply nonstop action, and it's a jolly good time.

The movie is really just an excuse to see these well loved characters, locations and musical themes back in action again. By the end there's no avoiding that the plot is there simply to provide a pretext to resurrect Sephiroth for an over the top rematch with Cloud, enhanced by the latest advances in computer animation. There are heaps of references to the game thrown in for the enjoyment of fans (mostly special moves from the game performed during the fight scenes) and if you're a fan of the game and accept the movie as just a big blatant piece of fan service and don't take it at all seriously, it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

In Which I Am Easily Amused

Captain Picard's blog.

1001 Albums: Help

So there's no way I'm actually spending money to buy 1001 albums, as that would end up costing me over 30 grand, so I'll be downloading these albums and then buying them if they turn out to be any good (I'm betting most of them won't be). However I'm having trouble finding a P2P service that has a decent selection of old stuff. I'm currently looking for Elvis' self titled album Elvis Presley, but I've had absolutely no luck. Can anyone recommend a program or website were I can download this sort of thing?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

In Which I Find Out That I Am A Demographic

Ever hear of 'lad-lit' (chick-lit's opposing member).

Goddamn it! This is me!
"I may be 30, but I act 15. I am adrift in New York. I'm too clever by half for my own good. I live on puns and snide, sarcastic asides. I don't look too deeply into myself or anyone else — everyone else is boring or a phony anyway. I may be a New Yorker, but I am not in therapy. I have a boring job, for which I am overeducated and underqualified, but I lack the ambition to commit to a serious career. (Usually I have family money.) I hang out with my equally disconnected friends in many of the city's bars. I drink a lot, take recreational drugs, don't care about much except being clever. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, and while I am eager to have sex, which I do often given the zillions of available women in New York, the sex is not especially fulfilling, and emotions rarely enter the picture. I am deeply shallow. And I know it."
Emphasis added. The sentence about sex doesn't apply so much but hey, I'm in Hamilton, not New York. I'd like to think that I'm not deeply shallow either.

Secret Window

For some reason I got it into my head that this movie had a lot in common with The Ninth Gate, an absolutely brilliant satanic mystery movie from a couple of years ago. Turns out that they both star Johnny Depp, but that's where the resemblance ends.

Secret Window is based on a short story by Steven King, and it's a thriller rather than a horror with no supernatural aspects. If you didn't already know that it's written by King you'd soon guess from the premise. Depp plays a writer working on a new novel in a secluded location (probably somewhere in Maine) who is visited by a psychotic southerner who appears on his doorstep accusing him of having plagiarised a story.

It starts out pretty good, with plenty of mystery and tension but like so many thrillers it falls apart when it comes time for the big revelations. In this case the final twist is ripped straight out of a much better story, but has none of that tale's clever foreshadowing.

Johnny Depp is usually pretty cool, but in this case he's hamstrung by a lame story and too much vocalised internal dialogue. Nothing else is in this movie is exactly good or bad, but just uninspired. Mostly it just made me want to buy The Ninth Gate on DVD. That movie is fucking sweet.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Dark Knight Returns

by Frank Miller

As I mentioned in my post about V for Vendetta, The Dark Knight Returns was one of the iconic comics released in the mid 80s that shook up the superhero genre. Miller's story is a 'Doomsday Myth' for the Batman series; set some unspecified time in the future, Batman has been retired for some years, Robin is dead and Two Face and The Joker have been safely locked away for some time. However Gotham City is plagued by a particularly nasty crime wave, and Bruce Wayne, despite being old and out of shape, is compelled to put on the costume once more.

The political overtones are nowhere near as overt as those in Moore's V for Vendetta or Watchmen, but they are present. The ultimate villain turns out to be Ronald Reagan, whose amicable but bumbling persona and hillbilly mannerisms could stand in for any incompetent American president du jour. Unlike Moore, Miller takes a few stabs at liberalism as well as conservatism, in the form of busy body TV personalities who condemn Batman's vigilantism and portray his enemies as the victims. Together his criticisms make a case against a lack of personal responsibility and sheeplike obedience to authority, contrasted with Batman's willingness to do what is right according to his own code of honour regardless of how anyone reacts to it.

Graphically the story is presented in a very chaotic fashion, with constant sudden scene shifts and frequent interspersals of TV footage featuring media reaction to the story's events. It can be distracting, but it's worth it just for The Joker's appearance on David Letterman.

Batman himself is a very morally ambiguous character in this story, especially at the end. Miller's treatment of him and other canonical DC characters (fascist Superman the useful idiot; fat, old Catwoman and others) is very jaded and somewhat demeaning, showcasing their flaws and taking a more realistic look at what these characters (who until this series was published were treated as more or less two dimensional heroes and villians) might actually be like. Most notable is the portrayal of Batman himself; haunted all his life by the murder of his parents his drive to fight crime borders on the psychotic, but at the same time he displays genuine moral superiority to his contemporaries. We are familiar with this take on the character from Tim Burton's movies, but Burton was basing his story on Miller's, which was published when Batman's persona was more like that of the infamous 60s TV show (”There's not a scrap of evidence Batman!"). Miller's Batman may be frighteningly intense, but at the same time he brings out the core elements that give the character it's resonance with today's world (as opposed to the idealistic, morally unambiguous Superman, a hero for the 1940s and 50s), which are well summed up in the introduction to the trade compilation:

“They talk about a Man of Steel. An Amazon Princess.
But they never talk about the mean one. The cruel one. The on who couldn't fly or bend steel in his bare hands. The one who scared the crap out of everybody and laughed at all of the rest of us for being the envious cowards we were.”

Monday, May 22, 2006


So I saw my first Kurosawa movie the other night. This unemployment gig is really helping me to catch up on my enculturising! I was really impressed although it wasn't quite what I expected. The ending was a little bit cheese but it was more than compensated by the excellent climactic fight scene, not excellent in a 'wow awesome coreography' way but excellent in that it's probably one of the most honest fight scenes I've ever seen in a film, two guys so shit scared of dying that they can barely hold their weapons for shaking. It's a welcome realistic antidote to my current diet of Steven Erikson and Angel. The movie's presentation of honesty, lies, good and evil is thought provoking too, although I feel somewhat unqualified to offer my own interpretation of such an iconic film. Plus I'm too lazy to write a long post today.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Last week Einstuerzende Neubauten released the fourth EP in their Musterhaus series. This one contains a few live recordings of the band performing together with an orchestra. The first two tracks, 'Wueste' and 'Keine Schoenheit ohne Gefahr' are obvious choices for this treatment, as their compositions contained significant orchestral parts to begin with. The other tracks, 'Installation No. 1' and 'Negativ Nein' are harder, more industrial songs so their transition to this different format is more interesting. Overall the Musterhaus series has been pretty good, although it would help if they bothered to email subscribers when they released a new installment. I missed out on downloading the second one by a day. It's a bit expensive though so I don't know if I'll keep subscribing, although my attitude may well change when I start working again.


I also bought Sin Episodes Part 1 off of Steam last week too. Remember a time when Doom was the best computer game ever made, and all a game developer had to do in order to sell a product was to put in lots of gore and overdone PG13 sexuality? The original Sin came out in just this environment and despite being a terrible game they sealed it's popularity by putting a ridiculously proportioned woman in a kinky outfit on the cover. Developers Ritual have apparently not changed much over the years and have delivered more of the same with this sequel. To their credit the absurd plot, gratuitous violence and embarrassingly adolescent sexuality is presented completely shamelessly without taking itself seriously.

The plot is absolutely retarded. Apparently being a cop (A commando cop! Called John Blade!) in the future means that you drive around looking for suspected drug dealers, and whether they're in a warehouse, a cargo ship, or a big office building, you kick down the door and blow everyone inside to fucking pieces. The villain from the original Sin, the absurdly proportioned Alexis, is back in this series, now with even more polygons and featuring more realistic heaving animations. The developers are so proud of this technological achievement that they obligingly begin the opening cut scene with the most ridiculous cleavage shot ever. Even your partner, the obligatory cute, nice girl, for some reason has a police uniform that shows off her g-string.

That said they've found a fool proof way to package all this into a good game. Sin Episodes uses Half-Life 2's Source engine so it plays like a slightly more mindless action oriented Half-Life, it's a very fun game once you get past the stupidity. A nice addition is the dynamic difficulty, which adjusts itself automatically depending on how hard you are finding the game, and it works pretty well. The business model is a bit of a rip off however. Six or seven hours gameplay for $20 US doesn't seem like a bad deal, but when you consider that there will be nine episodes in all it means you'll be paying $180 for the whole game. I will probably splash out for the upcoming Half-Life Episodes but Sin Episodes will have to depend on how many other games are competing for my attention at the same time.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Air Babylon

by Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous

Although presented as a work of fiction, Air Babylon is actually a fictionalised aggregation of the many stories told to the author by a large cast of airline crew and airport ground staff, collectively credited as Anonymous. The intention is to reveal the dirty secrets of the airline industry, with the emphasis on dirty. Although details about how the airport and airlines operate as businesses are included, the focus is more on the sexual, narcotic and criminal escapades of the airline staff and their customers. You can certainly tell that it's been written by a Brit, as the author's tone has a thin veneer of disapproval but tries little to conceal it's glee in relating the sordid episodes of the story. You can just imagine a bunch of middle aged soccer mums with their noses buried in the book tut-tutting “Oh, it shouldn't be allowed!” while their faces are lit up with vicarious delight.

It's a fun, breezy book to read and I recommend it without reservation. Just don't expect any incredible revelations; almost everything that happens in the book is exactly what you always suspected goes on anyway. If there's a moral to the story it's to be nice to every staff member you deal with from the moment you enter the airport, as they have to deal with obnoxious members of the public all day long and they're not paid much for it. They also have plenty of ways to get back at you: piss off the check in staff and they'll seat you next to the fattest person on the plane, piss off the flight attendants and they'll stick laxatives in your meal.

And to answer the question that occurs to 90% of males immediately upon reading the blurb for this book, flight attendants are usually pretty well behaved while on duty (unless you count drinking and drug taking), unless you're a celebrity. Off duty is another story, but then, we already know about that don't we...

News Flash

Myspace is full of idiots.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


So the posts I linked to the other day have continued to stir discussion about how to get people interested in classical music, and I thought I'd share my own thoughts.

In my experience any unfamiliar genre of music will fail to leave an impression the first few times you hear it as your brain has to some degree be trained to know how to listen to it. We've all grown up with exposure to pop and (hopefully) rock music so it takes no conscious effort to appreciate these genres, whereas unless you've grown up with them jazz, blues or classical can take a little while before it too becomes familiar enough to appreciate easily.

I find the best way to listen to something unfamiliar is to put it on in the background while you do something mentally undemanding. Two memorable 'holy shit this is fucking good' moments happened for me this way, once when Ravel's Bolero came on the radio while I was driving home from work and again when listening to Debussy's La Mer while playing Civ 4.

I think classical aficionado's often don't really appreciate this. To them a certain piece's appeal is obvious and if anyone doesn't get it they assume there must be something wrong with them. And of course the snobbishness can go the other way too, someone with no knowledge of classical music might get told that Beethoven's seventh is the greatest piece of music ever written, but feel nothing when they first hear it themselves and write this whole 'classical music' thing off as an 'emperor's new clothes' type of pretentiousness, or just some old person thing to be classified under 'shit I don't care about' along with Coronation Street.

Funny Movie Trailer Remix

10 Things I Hate About Commandments

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Funniest Music Video Ever

God bless the 70s. I don't know which is funnier, the keyboard player's dancing or his moustache.

Neil Gaiman Ruins My Life

If hypothetically I were to get off my arse and make it to Sydney by next week (prognosis: very unlikely) I could get to meet Neil Gaiman.

In the meantime I'll have to make do with his interview in the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I thought, 'If only I was a 70-year-old black man called Blind Melon Goodbody, I could wear a hat like that'."

Random pointless story: went into town today to run some errands (reluctantly pay car rego for another six months, mail Jacob's shirt back to him), and sure enough while I was there I popped into the comic book store 'just to have a look, not to buy anything though'. A resolution that immediately went out the window when I saw Gaiman's Stardust on the shelves, and of course you can't just buy one thing when you go comic book shopping, so $80 later... Damn you Neil Gaiman!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Appreciating Classical Music

Interesting discussion slash catfight on how to introduce classical music to the unwashed masses at Musical Perceptions, Sound and Fury and Uncertain Principles.

I'm just curious as to how all the posters involved would respond to my assertion that this is the greatest music ever written.

Friday, May 12, 2006

You Can't Go Wrong Opening With A Mutilated Body

Still Life

It's been a long while since I played a decent adventure game, and this one is probably the closest thing to a satisfying entry in the genre that I've seen in a long while (I wasn't a fan of The Longest Journey). I played the demo of Still Life several months ago and found it very promising. Discarding the traditional fantasy and sci-fi setting in favour of a detective noir combined with some police procedural stuff (I actually liked that CSI game of Heidi's that I played years ago) is a smart idea for giving the genre some more life. It looked kind of like a modern, gorier, sexier, darker Police Quest.

The game is very good in some ways and very bad in others. The bad aspects include atrocious voice acting and dialogue, and the game's low difficulty. Every puzzle is pretty trivial and obvious to solve, which is a nice change from the headache inducing stupidity of some older adventure games' puzzles, but a bit more challenge would have been an improvement. The good aspects include the bug free, smooth gameplay and the excellent art (going back out to the options menu feels like having needles stuck in your eyes in comparison to the pretty in-game graphics). The only bug I encountered is that the character model of our protagonist, FBI agent Victoria McPherson (apparently some poor overworked graphic artists idea of dark and sexy) occasionally has holes appear in the back of her head.

The plot is both good and bad. In one thread Victoria's grandfather tracks down a serial killer (who is also an artist) in 1930s Prague, and in the other Victoria hunts down a copycat in modern day Chicago. The bad aspects arise mostly because they use not only every cliché in the adventure game book (dual plot lines in different time periods, pointless supernatural elements) but also every one in the police thriller book (complete with Victoria angrily handing in her badge to the know nothing boss who tries to tie her hands with red tape and regulations damn it!). But by and large it overcomes the clichés with a few original ideas, the art angle is a fresh one and it gives the game just enough style to make it worthwhile, while also providing a unique source for finding clues to puzzle solving within the game (as the copycat killer tries to recreate scenes from the original murderers art).

The graphic design on this game is really well done and combined with the dark and nasty plot goes a long way towards creating a really good modern noir sort of mood. Unfortunately it's all let down by the awful dialogue. The story is left wide open for a sequel so hopefully the developers will do better on their next attempt.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Red Mars

by Kim Stanley Robinson

I first read the Mars Trilogy five or six years ago and loved it so I figure it's about time for a reread. It was interesting to see how different my reaction is to it now than when I first read it. Characters which I previously found sympathetic have become contemptible, and vice versa. I guess this is a result of Robinson's skill at characterisation, as he creates believable, fully realised people, not just characters shoe-horned into good guy and bad guy roles for plot purposes. For the record, the first time I read it it was the cynical, emotionally stunted Frank Chalmers that appealed to me, whereas this time around I preferred reading about his friend and rival, the all-American first man on Mars John Boone despite his arrogance. The real difference between them is that Frank works in the big cities, willing to compromise and use the political system to provide a new future for the human race, while John uses contrary methods of roaming the wilderness and preaching non-violent revolution, but to the same ends.

Red Mars is the first book in this trilogy, and it follows a team of scientists sent to colonise Mars in the mid 21st century. The book deals with both the practical scientific and engineering challenges they face, trying to survive in a hostile environment where even the air is poisonous, and with the political and ethical issues that arise as they build a new society from scratch. In this first book the main question is whether Mars should be terraformed for human habitation. Robinson has clear sympathies for the environmentalist perspective of leaving the planet as it was found, but at the same time recognising that the continually degrading environmental and political state of Earth may render such an ideologically pure position impossible. The major conflict of the story is introduced about two thirds of the way through the first book, when the Martian natives (i.e. the earliest colonists) who wish to create a new world order based on fairness and free of the wars and greed that ruined Earth revolt against the Powers That Be back home (a corrupt and ineffective UN and the huge transnational corporations controlling it) who see Mars as just another place to squeeze money out of.

This conflict is only just getting going at the end of the first book, so most of the book deals with the scientific challenges they face. Robinson suffers from a little bit of pro-science Pollyanna-ism, as with few exceptions every endeavour, from the bio-engineered Mars-friendly algae to the enormous space elevator, goes smoothly and according to plan. The science is all quite plausible (with the possible exception of the immortality treatment, but that can be forgiven as a necessary plot gimmick required to keep the same POV characters around over the hundreds of years that the whole trilogy spans) but it stretched my belief a little to think that there would be no setbacks or disasters when dealing with these staggeringly huge engineering projects.

That's the only complaint I could make though, Robinson is a great writer and this series is (to this date) his masterpiece. It works perfectly on the levels of plot and character, and the overall themes and questions that it raises are important and thought-provoking. It's nice to think that with a fresh start on a far away planet that it might be possible to build a new, better society than the one we have here, but of course, even in a completely different environment can human nature ever really change?

It's a toss up as to whether I'll continue with this series or move on to his global warming series, has anyone read those?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Headstone For The Dear Departed

Korn – See You On The Other Side

Seeing as I was going to see Korn live I figured I may as well familiarise myself with their new album. I needn't have bothered. It's not very good and at the concert they only played two non-single songs from See You On The Other Side anyway. On past albums Korn have definitely had their moments but from the high water mark of Issues and Untouchables it's been a rapid decline through mediocrity (Take A Look In The Mirror) to rubbish (this album).

To be fair almost every song has at least one point that makes you sit up and pay attention, but mostly it's just more of the same old, delivered without much inspiration. Losing a guitarist doesn't seem to have made a whole lot of difference to their sound, it is a little sparser and more open sounding but that probably has more to do with the production than the reduced line up. The album was produced by the eternally rocking Atticus Ross (Trent Reznor's favourite pet producer, and the musician behind 12 Rounds and Error) and The Matrix, a production collective who in the past have bought to life the inspired vision of such honest, soulful artists as Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne. Ross seems to have done a very good job providing some cool ambient intros and industrial background effects, but his presence is overwhelmed by the heavy hand of the pop producers. While taking a the music of a band like Korn, heavy but with mainstream appeal, and giving it a dash of pop seems like it could be an interesting idea on paper, the result is pretty bad. Basically The Matrix (credited as co-writers for the whole album) have run everything through the bland-o-tron, leaving any potentially interesting musical ideas adrift in a sea of crap. Take A Look In The Mirror was worth a few listens because even when it was bad it at least earned points for containing a reasonable dose of balls out metal, See You On The Other Side goes for quirky and weird instead but it's attempt is emasculated by the need to be radio friendly. Maybe if Ross had been the only producer it would have worked. Oh well Atticus, at least you tried.

As always Jonathan Davis' vocals are the best thing about Korn, and he does a good job both with the heavier parts and with his singing. As always his lyrics are the worst thing about Korn, if you've listened to any of their previous six albums you've heard it all before. The lyrics are probably at their best for 'Twisted Transistor' and 'Getting Off', which might have stupid subjects but are at least slightly clever. This leads me to conclude that Korn should abandon the angst, as it's not really working for them any more, and move towards what has always been their obvious strength since the days of Life Is Peachy and 'A.D.I.D.A.S.', writing stupid songs about sex.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The History of the Blues

by Francis Davis

As part of my ongoing efforts to expand my musical horizons, I've been reading quite a few music books. Compared to the huge fucking text book about classical music I read last year, this book about the blues was very light and easy reading. Mainly because the blues is fairly colourful subject matter (most of it's foremost practitioners were shady characters at the best and many were criminals), but also because the author has a very engaging, informal voice, (although not always a good natured one, as he often digresses to bring the snark against fellow blues historians, substandard blues popularisers and rap music).

The book was very enlightening, although I can't claim to have an opinion on the blues itself from reading it, as I yet lack the important experience of listening to all the stuff he talks about, but the book at least gives me loads of recordings and artists to start with. One thing that struck me was the similarity of the blues in the early 1900s to rap music today. Both styles are the music of a black underclass which serves to work out the frustration of social injustices while almost never dealing with these subjects directly. Davis suggests that the subject matter of most blues songs, and the no-good personas of the performers, are internalisations of the white prejudices of the black underclass. It's easy to see the parallel to gangster rap. In the 80s urban black youth were characterised as a race of degenerate criminals, so along came a musical subgenre where the performers loudly proclaim themselves to be the biggest, most degenerate criminals around. See also the use in the rural blues of the derogatory term 'coon' and rap's use of the word 'nigger'. On the other hand musically the two styles have absolutely nothing in common.

It was a fun book to read, but it perhaps assumed a little more knowledge of the music it refers to than I have. Hopefully I'll remedy that soon.

Monday, May 08, 2006

You've Had One Too Many G And Ts

Match Point

So I saw my first Woody Allen movie the other day, and it wasn't too bad. Normally dramas about relationships and so on bore me to tears (more exploding spaceships and frozen zombies please), but this one was rather witty. Placing the action amongst a bunch of upper class British nitwits was a good move, as such a setting is usually fertile ground for entertainment.

The protagonist is a young tennis instructor named Chris, who lucks into a relationship with a girl from a very wealthy family named Chloe. Unfortunately he develops an unhealthy sexual obsession with Chloe's brother's fiancée Nola, and drama ensues. Part of the appeal for me was the fact that almost every character in the movie was repulsive in some way. Chris himself is the worst offender, a soulless opportunist who hides his disregard for anyone but himself behind deferential politeness. His dimwitted match Chloe is unsympathetic for opposing reasons. Despite being nice and loving she has the most unbelievably insipid, stupid personality, and it's hard to imagine anyone finding her the least bit attractive without the lure of her father's money and influence. Chloe's parents are typical rich twits; the father's a greedy nepotist and the mother an alcoholic harpy. The most appealing character in the movie was Nola, although I may be biased by the fact that she is played by the stunning Scarlett Johansson. She might be a fucked up slapper but at least she's honest about it. However by the end even she starts to go a bit bats.

I have a soft spot for unpleasant stories about unpleasant people, so I rather enjoyed watching their lives fall to pieces. The movie's little theme/gimmick about luck was a bit cute for me, especially towards the end but it didn't intrude much. I might have to check out some of Woody Allen's older, better movies, when and if I ever find time for watching movies again.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Goddamn. Shit The Bed

Tool – 10,000 Days

When the best band in the world takes six years to follow up one of the best albums ever made, they're inviting a bit of over-anticipation. Before Lateralus came out Tool had been defunct for several years, Maynard had joined A Perfect Circle and the band was engaged in a long legal battle with their record label. Even though everyone loved Aenima, I think few people really expected Lateralus to even come out, and certainly not for it to turn out so good. Hence 10,000 Days is the first Tool album to be released with the full weight of anticipation upon it, and no matter what they did with it it was always going to invite a backlash. A brief look over the Tool Navy message boards will show you dozens of people swearing that the album leaked to the internet was a fake, or that it just plain sucks. But they're all wrong. It's not as good as Lateralus but I'd still rate it at least on a par with Aenima. To be honest I was slightly disappointed the first time I put it on, but with repeated listening I'm growing to like it more and more.

To start with, the album packaging is great. The booklet contains a series of stereoscopic images that can be viewed in 3D with the help of a special pair of glasses attached to the CD case (you can't download that!) The art itself is excellent too, easily better than even that of Lateralus. The common motifs include skulls and the guy on the front cover image with dozens of eyes and universes inside his head. Each member of the band has a solo portrait, posing with all sorts of esoteric materials from a wizards laboratory around them. The overall mood is far more mystical and old-worldly than they've appeared before. It's such a cool package that now I wish I hadn't downloaded the album early, as the packaging really does enhance the music. I rolled my eyes when the band said that they wanted the music to be experienced with the artwork, but I realise now they were right.

So what about the actual music then? In some ways I feel like it's a bit of a step back from Lateralus, the songs have less progression and are arranged more in the manner of Aenima, based around straightforward repeated riffs instead of moving forward from one place to another. It's not as meticulously arranged as Lateralus either; with the exception of 'Vicarious' the overall structure as well as the individual riffs are looser and less elegant. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as together with it's rawer production it combines to give 10,000 Days a more natural, bluesy feel.

Maynard's vocals have gone in new directions. There's little of his typical Tool screaming and he seems to have bought a lot of his A Perfect Circle approach to singing to the songs. He also experiments more on this album, as on earlier Tool albums he pretty much used the same voice the whole way through, merely varying along the scream/sing axis. His lyrics are also some of the best he's ever written, a definite step up from Lateralus and Thirteenth Step, which I felt he was possibly rushed for time in coming up with lyrics for. Justin, the bass player, seems to have finally come into his own too. On Aenima and Lateralus he certainly did a good job but was always overshadowed by the huge talent of the other three band members. On 10,000 Days he seems to have become more of a central focus to the music, playing more of the melody and less just rhythm. Danny Carey has once again just ratcheted himself one notch higher on the insane-o-meter. On the other hand Adam Jones, my idol as a guitar player, is the only one who seems to have slipped a bit. He's using much more complicated rhythms and has certainly advanced the music technically, but it's come at the expense of some of the visceral emotion that made his compositions on earlier albums so great. Hopefully by the time they put out another album he will have progressed some more and be able to meld both the passion and the technique together, because that will fucking rock.

The album opens with 'Vicarious', which we have probably all heard many times by now. Maynard's lyrics deal with the political situation of the world today, but in an indirect way by lambasting the tendency of the human race towards schadenfreude. Surprisingly it's probably the weakest song on the album. There are lots of clever time signatures and it's one of the slickest in terms of production and arrangement (in other words the song that could belong most easily on Lateralus), but still it's a good catchy, heavy track that's probably just diminished a little by listening to it too much over the last few weeks.

'Jambi' continues in a heavy vein, also featuring some weird time signatures but this time arranged in a much more natural, engaging way. This track features Adam's best work on the album, with the very satisfying tempo changes from subdued but menacing to heavy and of course with his legendary talk-box solo in the middle. This is probably the highlight of the album in terms of a catchy song that stands on it's own, and it's bound to be a winner during their live shows.

'Wings For Marie' and '10,000 Days' are a pair of songs that go together. They both open with some of the gentlest material Tool have ever produced, and the two songs are rendered most memorable by some of Maynard's best and most personal lyrics he's ever written, dealing with his mother's death (after 10,000 days paralysed by a stroke). Both tracks end with a heavy passage, although the first one is much better than the second, followed by an incredibly sad coda that is identical on both tracks save for the lyrics. This moody, reflective song is a real departure for the band and works very well. The Tool Navy forums are full of people saying they can't listen to this song without crying, a bit of an extreme reaction but it's impossible to hear Maynard close 'Wings For Marie' with “It's time for us to let you go...” and not feel a shiver.

'The Pot' opens with the album's big What The Fuck moment; Maynard singing unaccompanied “Who are you to wave your finger/ You must have been out your mind,” in what has been described as his best James Blunt voice. The song then goes on to rock out in a big way. It's probably the closest thing to a classic Tool song on the album and will probably make a great single. Heavy, catchy and with clever lyrics paying out hypocritical idiots, it's all very familiar territory for these guys pulled off with impeccable skill and total assurance.

'Lipan Conjuring' is a short Native American chant to ward off evil, and to clear the past away for the future. In other words, the absolute definition of an album divider.

'Lost Keys (Blame Hoffman)' is the track that was my favourite on my initial listen. Slow, simple and pretty, wistful but not depressing. A bit of a skit runs under the music, as an Australian doctor (New Zealand and Australia are Tool's biggest fans per head of population, so the doctor's nationality is probably a bit of a nod in our direction) attempts to diagnose an unresponsive Maynard, finally asking him “What's happened? Tell me everything...”; cue feedback and then the repeated riff starts up again with heavy distortion, leading us into the songs other half 'Rosetta Stoned'. For the first few listens I wrote this song off completely. It goes for a good ten or eleven minutes and seems fairly aimless and repetitive. The only immediately catchy thing about it is Maynard's aggressive cutup vocals, which babble and rave nonsense under heavy riffs that repeat in odd time changes, leaving the listener in a very unsettled state of mind. However recently it's been rapidly growing on me. Anyone who's having trouble getting into this song should try reading the lyrics, the story is goofy and funny but once you get the mood behind it the song makes more sense, it's supposed to invoke the idea of a bad trip, a recurring dream and the feeling of trying to remember something very important that you can't put your finger on, all at the same time. If you've ever had a drug induced experience when your brain is flying around in feverish, frustrated circles you'll know the feeling. It's a hard song to listen to, but one that is rewarding when given enough attention.

The album winds down with 'Intension', a mellow progression from 'Disposition' off Lateralus. However 'Intension' is a little darker and a lot longer. It's one of the more forgettable tracks off the album but it's pleasant enough and remains listenable over its seven minutes. Watch out for Maynard's backwards message at the beginning: “Work hard, stay in school, listen to your parents.”

The last song is my favourite. 'Right In Two' starts off in a very gentle vein, with a beautifully sad riff by Adam, and Maynard singing about the angels watching over Earth, puzzled by these stupid humans who use their God given free will and reason to fight and kill one another. Gradually the attitude of the angels turns to anger and the music bursts into the album closing rock out, complete with Danny Carey sounding like his arms must be about to fly off. The closing refrain is “Cut it all right in two”, are the angels describing the actions of the humans or have the angels decided to cut us all right in two, 'Aenema' style. Are the angels attempting to bless us with patience and reason or is Maynard attempting to bless the angels with those qualities? In other words are we going to fuck ourselves or is nature going to fuck us or is there still a little bit of hope for humanity...

'Vigniti Tres'. A quiet little walk out track, very reminiscent of 'Switches' by Coil. A better album closer that 'Faaip De Oaid' from Lateralus, I think.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Good Old Reliable Korn, Always Play 'Blind'


So on Sunday I went to the New Zealand Music Month kick off concert in Wellington. Upon arrival I immediately realised my error in deciding to attend an afternoon all ages concert on the last day of the school holidays; ranks upon ranks of exposed prepubescent pot bellies poking out from under ill fitting tube tops, wide eyed teens giggling at the prospect of being in a real live moshpit with actual pushing and shoving, and their music! It's just noise! [Shakes cane at disrespectful youth]

Actually the music was pretty good. Deja Voodoo were as entertaining as ever, although I am concerned that their constant touring may actually be investing them with a little musical ability, which paradoxically diminishes their appeal. And yes, they did play 'Can't Do What I Wanna Do Open Bracket With You Close Bracket'. The line “You weren't even born in the eighties” probably resonated with most of the audience. (In a couple of years that line won't make sense anymore...)

The Bleeders are still a really good live act, even though I'm not rating their new album. They even got a tame but genuine moshpit going. It was good to see the Wellington ten year old community getting in to the hardish stuff.

Korn Live In Auckland May 1st:

So the next day I got up in Wellington at seven a.m., drove six hours to Hamilton, quickly unloaded all my worldly possessions from my car, drove another hour and a half to Auckland, visited my sister and hooned back down the motorway to Ericsson stadium, only half an hour late for the concert. After such a long day my tired and irritated mood was not improved by getting my camera confiscated at the gate. On top of that despite only being half an hour late I'd already missed two of the opening bands. I'm not too fussed about either Dawn of Azazel or Eight Foot Sativa, but I've never seen the former band live before and damn it I paid to see four bands and I want my moneys worth, even if they're shit.

At any rate I did get to see most of Blindspott's set, but that certainly didn't improve my mood either. I don't think I've ever seen another band come across so well on record but put on such an incredibly terrible live show. But we won't dwell on them, on to Korn.

I saw these guys the last time they were here (over seven years ago) and was really impressed by their performance. I don't like them nearly as much now as I did back then (when I was just a high school student), but the memory of that show (the first big concert I ever went to, incidentally) at the Big Day Out all those years ago was enough to compel me to shell out the cash to see them again.

You know how huge bands like Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones augment their bands with a dozen or so backup musicians, who hang around at the back of the stage playing the triangle or the clarinet? Well Korn is slowly turning into one of those bands, a curious transformation no one could have foreseen seven years ago. As well as their chumby guitarist, standing in for the departed band member Head, they have a second drummer, a backup vocalist (who also acts as a Slipknot style percussionist) and a keyboard player. These guys were all dressed up in animal costumes in the vein of the characters on the cover of Korn's newest album See You On The Other Side, which deflated the potential cheesiness of a metal band having all these backup musicians. They looked pretty cool, in a Flaming Lips meets Slipknot kind of way.

Korn aren't a very good band. You'd think a bunch of guys who've been playing together as professional musicians for over ten years would be pretty tight but these guys still can't even stay in time properly. I can say without exaggeration that they fucked up at least once every other song (the drummer and bass player were the worst offenders). Fortunately it didn't matter, it was still a fucking fun concert. The majority of Korn's songs are just big stompy anthems perfect for a live performance.

Jonathan Davis pretty much commanded the spotlight and all the audiences attention throughout almost the whole concert, he's a very competent frontman and his voice is really good, going from screaming to singing quite comfortably and never going off key or losing power to his screams, (in sharp contrast to the guy from Blindspott). It'd be fair to say that he pretty much makes the band.

The crowd was much younger than I was expecting, considering that these guys were hitting it big when I was in high school, but everyone still knew the songs and even though I was far back from the moshpit there was still a lot of jumping and dancing going on in my vicinity. It was a fairly light, fun atmosphere for a concert featuring an angsty band attended almost entirely by angry people wearing black but that worked for me.

The setlist went a little something like this (as usual I'm having great difficulty remembering the exact order of the songs played, the beginning and end are right but the middle is possibly a bit mixed up):

It's On
An unexpected opener from Follow the Leader, but a good choice as it went down pretty well.
As you'd expect most people went nuts for the old stuff. I was a bit disappointed by the number of kids who didn't know these songs though. No respect for the classics these young people.
Love Song
A new song, I'm not rating their new album at the moment, but I'll save the details of that for another post.
Wank Solo
I believe this is Munkey's tribute to Dimebag song, although that's just a guess. Basically it was just a guitar improvisation with lots of flashy finger tapping and so on backed by a repeating piano riff. It went on for a bit too long, but was otherwise pretty good, I didn't realise Munkey was so technically competent.
Dirty (I think)
I didn't know this song... how embarrassing.
Falling Away From Me
Here To Stay
A pair of brilliant stompy singles that got almost the whole crowd jumping. Probably the highlight of the concert.
Throw Me Away
Somebody, Someone
Counting On Me
The only song they played from Take A Look In The Mirror.

Big Long Medley:
Shoots and Ladders
With extended bagpipe intro. Actually, maybe this was the highlight...
Need To
Playing a bunch of old favourites as a medley is a little lame, but I guess they couldn't fit everything in and it's better than not hearing them at all.

But thankfully they did play all of this one, in a slightly altered version with more buildup.
Coming Undone
Got The Life

Freak On A Leash
Twisted Transistor
This one was a bit bland, everyone was really waiting for good old reliable Korn to pull out good old reliable...
Their most popular song probably isn't that suited to being performed live, the intro is the best part and the rest of the song is quite slow, but hey, seven thousand screaming munters can't be wrong, eh?

After 'Blind' the backup musicians took over playing the outro, which repeated for about five minutes while the band pranced up and down the stage posing and showing off. These guys have obviously developed some pretty huge egos but to be fair it was a good concert. Considering how tired and irritable I was while waiting for them to come onstage, it says something that I left with a big smile on my face.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Guns, Germs and Steel

by Jared Diamond

I've often wondered how Europe become so powerful compared to societies in other parts of the world. It's a fairly simple question but one that I've never conceived of a good answer to. At best the reason would seem to be luck, but that's hardly a satisfying answer and not a strong enough one to oppose the unsavoury racial arguments that the question invites. Evidently I'm not alone in being puzzled by this issue and fortunately Guns, Germs and Steel addresses the question explicitly and offers a surprisingly simple and compelling answer: a society's power is proportional to it's food production capacity, which is in turn dependent on the availability of edible plants and animals that can be domesticated in that part of the world.

The book is aimed at a pop-science level, but is still very thorough and detailed. It convinced me that Diamond's theory is at least the primary cause for disparities in technological level between societies, although I suspect it's not the whole story either. I did expect the book to be more engaging than it is, as the real world historical clash of civilisations should make for gripping reading, but much of the book is dedicated to technical detail about the particulars of plant and animal domestication, and the effect of food production on a society. To tell the truth it's dull subject matter, and it's to the author's credit that he keeps things readable even through these sections with a clever and lively voice.

Nevertheless I highly recommend this book. It contains a huge amount of information that taken together makes you look at all kinds of things differently, from the day to day (I gave Barnes a lecture about why we can't eat acorns one Saturday night while I was dead drunk) to the big picture stuff (whenever anyone says anything vaguely racist around me they can now expect a big lecture about food production). It's been a long while since I read a book that I found myself having to periodically put down in order to think about what it's saying and despite it being hard going in a few patches it's worth persevering, as there's a lot to be learned from it.