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The Ruling Class – James McAvoy

The Ruling Class posterIf i’m honest, I hadn’t to date seen enough of James McAvoy’s work to fully appreciate his range as an actor.

I loved him in X-Men: First Class – but then the X-Men movies haven’t disappointed yet – and as the Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. That said, I haven’t yet seen The Last King of Scotland, which earned him a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor, nor Atonement, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination and his second BAFTA nomination for Best Leading Actor.

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RCM Students’ Union Film Orchestra

Royal College of Music Student Union Orchestra

Royal College of Music Student Union Orchestra

We were lucky enough to have been invited by one of our lovely friends to attend the Royal College of Music this evening to watch the Students’ Union Film Orchestra perform a selection of cinematic classics.

Conducted by Richard Miller, SFO Principal Conductor, the performance began with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s suite from Kings Row (1942); a triumphant, rousing soundtrack with more than a little similarity at times to the main section of the evening’s entertainment to come.

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The Recipe of Daniel

Prompted from this post by Sarah and in the spirit of the original, I present my recipe. Proper measurements not included because that would just be boring. Rules as follows:

How does the old saying go — girls are “sugar and spice and everything nice,” and boys are “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”?

Aside from not knowing what a “snip” is, I don’t buy it; we’re much more complex than lollipops and unicorns and toy trucks and frogs. This week, we want a window into the complexity that is you. We want your best recipes.

We don’t mean we want your best recipe for fried chicken (although we’ll take that, too — a good fried chicken recipe is always handy). We want the recipe for all the bits and pieces and quirks and foibles and loves that make you you.

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The Recipe of Daniel
For the biscuit base
A large bowl of Helpfulness
Lashings of Patience
Twice as much Anxiety as necessary
A pint of Empathy
Equal parts Silliness and Seriousness
Oodles of Honesty
A dash of Creativity
A spoonful of Shyness

 

For the caramel and chocolate topping
A pair of Odd Socks
Gratings of untamed Facial Hair
5 Cups of Blue Shirts
A fistful of Converse
A hint of A Ponytail

 

Instructions
Spread the biscuit mixture out in a quiet space, preferably a dark movie theatre showing the latest sci-fi or fantasy spectacle. If you don’t have one, a DVD will do fine. Line with pages from A Wizard of Earthsea.
Layer on the caramel slowly, allowing time for the mixture to expand into every corner of interest from animation to programming to games design to robotics to web design. Spread the melted chocolate on top evenly, right up against the anime and murder mysteries.
Leave to cool at the back of the fridge with classic point n’ click adventure games. Once a week feed with BSL and sign-song. Serve with Jack Daniels and fabulous friends.

 

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The Hunger Games

Liz dragged me along to The Hunger Games this afternoon. You know, that movie that everyone is talking about. I was more than a littleresistant. Admittedly I didn’t know anything about The Hunger Games – Liz has been raving about how good the books are – but I was expecting a Westernised Battle Royale with a healthy dose of Hollywood cheese.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Battle Royale films. I absolutely love them for all their gruesome hack and slash delights. But there seems to be this need in Hollywood to remake foreign films for Western audiences. They did it with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (“Män som hatar kvinnor” 2009) when they released the American version in 2011 starring Daniel Craig. Why?! The original is fantastic – and harrowing – with a stellar performance by Noomi Rapace. They did it again with Let the Right One In (“Låt den rätte komma in” 2008) re-imagined as Let Me In (2010). I don’t know why there seems to be this Western aversion to foreign films. In many ways they’re head and shoulders above the airbrushed sugar we get from Hollywood. They’re quirky and unique in their own way.

So was The Hunger Games a re-imagined Battle Royale sell-out? Actually, not at all! I take it all back: i’m converted; I loved the film. I enjoyed it enough to read the books as soon as I finish the last Harry Potter. To be honest, I probably would have been happy with it even if it was like Battle Royale, but this is a film that takes the “set a bunch of kids in an arena to kill each other” scenario and makes its own mark on it. For one thing, the actual fighting doesn’t happen until much later in the film. Instead the film spends a long time establishing the key characters, their relationships, and the political structure of the Panem nation with its rich Capitol, and 12 surrounding districts.

The film opens on Reaping Day: a day of remembrance for the previous civil war which sees the 12 outlying districts offer up a young boy and girl as “tribute” to take part in The Hunger Games; a ritual fight to the death which leaves only one victor. We’re introduced to Katniss Everdene played by Jennifer Lawrence: a strong-willed young woman, handy with a bow and arrow, who will do anything to provide for her mother and young sister. When her sister is chosen to take part in The Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers in her stead, leaving behind the squalor of the Twelfth District for all the pomp and mockery of the Capitol. Together with a local boy, Peeta, she is whisked off into the media frenzy surrounding The Hunger Games, repackaged for the camera, and put through combat training with the other 22 contestants.

It’s all disgustingly ironic. While the twelve districts eke out a living from the land, the citizens of the Capitol live a life of luxury with food and warmth to spare, and the superiority complex to match. Katniss finds herself paraded around by her oppressors like a show dog, asked to perform for them while they cheer her on and congratulate her for taking part in their Game. And it is a game to the citizens of the Capitol. Whole industries are built around The Hunger Games with sponsorship deals and camera opportunities galore. Everything is arranged to maximise the performance and the public lap it up, strutting about in their extravagant hairdos, with their fake smiles.

Katniss herself takes everything in her stride. She is initially dazed by the media attention but later accepts that she must ‘play the game’ through gritted teeth to get sponsorship deals and increase her chances of surviving The Hunger Games. She helps Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) show his own strengths and, while initially distancing herself from him, grows closer to him over the course of the film. This was both touching and awkward like most teen romances and the glimses of their backstory throughout the film were very revealing.

Most of the other contestants however, while each having their own strengths, come across as a bit one-dimensional. Alexander Ludwig plays Cato, the typical ‘in it to win it’ kid with attitude. He never really gets a chance to become anything other than this unfortunately.

Throughout the games Jennifer Lawrence shows off Katniss’ hunting prowess and survival skills with gritty detail. We see her setting traps and finding safe places to spend the night, always staying one step ahead of the other contestants. While the film is only a 12A there are enough cuts and bruises to show the brutality of The Games without the violence being glamorised. Like The Truman Show everything is televised, however unlikely it is that there just so happens to be a camera pointing in that direction at that particular time. But the technology that makes it all possible thankfully takes a backseat to the characters themselves, allowing for many intimate moments amongst the action.

The other supporting characters in the film are played really well. As her mentor Haymitch, Woody Harrelson is the weak-willed ex-winner who finds comfort at the bottom of a bottle. He comes around later and is one of the few who offer Katniss helpful advice. Meanwhile her stylist Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz, again sympathises with her situation, but frustratingly does little to help, while Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman epitomises the smarmy television star we all love to hate.

The evident injustice really makes your blood boil and by the end of the film you are rooting for the underdogs to upset the status quo. It’s an epic, emotionally charged, film that has you on the edge of your seat the whole way through, and it deliberately leaves many questions for the next film to explore. I for one can’t wait.

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Entrapment

Entrapment - An adventure game by Stuart Lilford of Lightbulb GamesThe first of my reviews (finally) of the selection of games generously included in the AGS Bake Sale bundle and what an opening it is. Entrapment is a game by Stuart Lilford, aka Tenacious Stu, of Lightbulb Games created using Adventure Game Studio and first prototyped back in January 2011 when he was at University. The finished game sees the main character, Sam Drake, plagued by attempts to frame him for murder from an unknown stalker. Recently he has been waking up in hotel rooms with different women.. different dead women. Yeah..you thought you had problems?!

The first thing that really grabbed me is the music. The title screen fades in to moody, threatening chords, oozing with tension. Peircing notes lance through the chords, shortly resolving into a lighter, more positive swelling soundtrack, the likes of which you’d find in epic movie productions. The music was created by Brian Carnrike (aka Swordofkings128) and his unsettling scores punctuate the rest of game, heightening the tension. Some of the sound effects in the game, such as the ticking clock, complement the soundtrack, although I felt the game would have benefited from more sound effects. It cannot be understated how solid the game feels with a proper musical score though.

The game deals with very serious themes, [spoiler warning] namely murder, guilt, and split-personality disorders, [/spoiler warning] but these are made more palatable by a good dose of humor. The gravity of his situation isn’t lost on Sam, and he tells you so when you happen to forget! He also has a hard time convincing the other characters that the murders are even happening and his frustrated exchanges with the hotel receptionist work well as comic relief.

Visually, the game is presented in a simple, almost cartoon style, however this works well with the difficult subject matter. The focus isn’t on the gory details – though they be presenting their bodily fluids to all who can bear to watch – instead it’s on Sam’s attempts to cope with his predicament. That’s not to suggest that the graphics were an afterthought. On the contrary, the backgrounds are full of nice touches like the light cast from lampshades and ruffles in the duvet covers of the hotel bed. Not to mention the blood trail leaking from the abdomen of the unfortunate young woman lying in the middle of the floor..

Some background animation would have breathed life into the otherwise static scenes – there were some flashing lights I recall – however Sam himself has been given some very nice animations. It has to be remembered that the game was finished to a tight deadline to make the Bake Sale and it’s easy to forget how much time it takes to create each animation, especially for a one man team. Of those that have been implemented, my favourite is the ‘wide-eyed’ horror that Sam expresses and the crawling animation.

I found the puzzles satisfying, not too difficult but not blatantly obvious either. I didn’t spend too long scratching my head although I would have liked to see more interaction with some of the hotspots in the rooms. Items that I thought were perfectly logical puzzle items turned out simply to be background scenery. The puzzle solutions made sense though and I especially liked the solution to the bathroom puzzle..because you would use a [insert item here], wouldn’t you?

The dialogue in the game was well written, although I found the intro sequence a bit over the top but it later feeds back into the story well and there’s a nice, related, touch in the main menu. I did find some of the monologue – particularly the reveal near the end – quite awkward. A splurge of explanation for everything that happened that was perhaps unnecessary.

It’s a short game which tries to cover a lot of ground and mostly succeeds. Some of the later dialogue introduces ideas which would have been nice to see earlier, to see how they would unfold, but the game presents a solid, well-rounded story that quickens your pace throughout. A nice feature are the two different endings with two extreme choices left up to the player and I felt compelled to try them both, and rewarded for doing so.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It’s clear that a lot of love and time has been invested in the game and it succeeds in presenting an unsettling narrative. That such a powerfully emotional journey can be contained in such a small episode is testament to the author’s creativity and narrative technique. I’d be very interested in seeing a longer piece from Lightbulb Games, exploring psychological issues in more detail.

The Bake Sale is now finished so the game is no longer available for the moment, however you can see a trailer of the game here and some notes on its genesis on the Lightbulb Games blog.

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Making Felix Morton

papier-mache-morton

I was invited to a fancy dress party last weekend so thought i’d do something a little different and go as Felix Morton from one of my favourite adventure games, The Dream Machine. I made one of them Instructable thingys too;-)