Friday, 30 April 2010

Kick-Ass

I didn't know much at all about Kick-Ass until my mate, Joe Roper reviewed it on his blog last month, and he made it sound like a great flick so I had it in mind to see at some point. I got the chance this week, and although I disagree with Joe in that I wouldn't give it a full five stars, it's one of the best films I've seen in a while.

The story focuses on geeky high school kid, Dave Lizewski and his ascent to local fame as real-life superhero, Kick-Ass. Things turn ugly though when Dave is mistakenly targeted by a crime gang and gets in over his head, requiring the assistance of a couple of other, more experienced superheroes.

Much like the recent Batman movies and unlike all of the recent Marvel movies, I liked the way the film stayed fairly grounded in reality for the most part. Current internet phenomena such as YouTube and MySpace were also used to great effect to give the film an even greater connection to the real world, although I did think using Facebook might have been more realistic seeing as hardly anyone uses MySpace these days.

Apparently based on a comic book series, the film is set in modern day America, but as Joe points out in his review, the film is quite a British affair, with the script being written by Jane Goldman and two of the main actors being British. There's also roles for Clark Duke of Clarke and Michael fame, and Fogell from Superbad. And from the way the film ended, it looks like the actors will be able to reprise their roles for a sequel at some point in the future.

Kick-Ass is a refreshing and realistic take on the bloated genre of superhero movies, and whilst extremely violent and crude in parts (especially referring to the foul-mouthed, not-yet-teenage superhero, Hit-Girl), it pulls no punches in its honest approach and story. Mixing some superb action scenes with a great comedy script, Kick-Ass is pretty much a must see.

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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"My Destiny" by Andrew W.K.

"My Destiny" by Andrew W.K. is a song you have to hear to believe.

I've never let anyone hear this song before. I'm deeply humiliated and embarrassed at the thought of anyone hearing it. This is probably the most intense and personal song I've ever recorded – it's called My Destiny and it was written and recorded when I was 17.

You can hear the track on the Guardian website and read about why it was written and the juvenile restraining order it earned Andrew. Here's an excerpt from the lyrics:

Drove Past Your Doorway Fifteen Times
I Don't Want To Cause You Harm
Harm – That's What You're In For
If You Don't Open Your Door

So I'll Keep Knocking A Million Times
I Will Knock Until My Knuckles Bleed
Bleed – That Blood Will Leave A Stain
On You Forever

Apart from the obvious darkness and extreme creepiness of this track, it's an interesting piece because it's so intense. Recorded when he was 17, it's typical Andrew W.K. because he's pouring every ounce of emotion into the track, and I believe that's the best kind of music (you can even hear a signature piano trill here that appears in much of his later work).

I've been into Andrew W.K. for a while now. I love the passion, energy and extremeness of his personality and music - it's pretty inspirational. And even though there's some controversy over the legitimacy of his act (sparked by this video series), it only adds to the intrigue.

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Monday, 26 April 2010

Shake Club

Recently I went to Shake Club on Westfield Terrace in town. They have a pretty novel concept in that they take all sorts of confectionery and biscuits, basically anything sweet you can think of, and blend it up into a milkshake. They make over 100 flavours, with some of the weirder ones being fig roll, Werther's Original, Jamaica Ginger Cake, lemon curd and Wagon Wheels, and I'm intrigued to see how some of them like Haribo Starmix and Drumstick Chews actually turn out. I had a Walnut Whip, and although the large was pretty pricey at £2.99 it was pretty tasty. A bit like Subway's 'Sub of the Day', they also have 'Shakes of the Month', which means that certain flavours are cheaper throughout the month, so I'll grab one of those next time. As well as the one in the city centre there's also a Shake Club up at Broomhill.

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Friday, 23 April 2010

World Championship snooker at the Crucible

Watching the snooker live is something I've wanted to do for years and I got the chance to this week. Ever since I can remember I've watched the World Snooker Championship every year on TV, and it's great that the tournament is held in Sheffield, but up until this year I'd never actually been to watch a live match at the Crucible. Luckily my dad got given a pair of free tickets this week so me and my brother went down on Wednesday for the morning session.

The two matches on that morning were Ding Junhui vs. Stuart Pettman and Ryan Day vs. Mark Davis. I'd originally wanted to see the Ding Junhui game, but our seats were on the other side of the arena so we watched Day vs. Davis, and we ended up getting a better deal with that match to be honest - Ding had taken such a lead the night before that his match on Wednesday only lasted two frames. There were a lot of Chinese fans there to see him - he's a massive celebrity in China - but most of them left after the two frames. Wednesday had been a national day of mourning for the recent earthquake in China as well, and because of that Ding had requested that the four players come out with no entrance music. I believe the entrance music is actually something they've introduced this year to try and re-brand snooker, much in the same way that darts has undergone a transformation in recent years.

After the four players had entered the arena, the board that divides the arena in two came down and we were left only able to see the table on our side, and we were in for a great match (when Ding's match finished the board went back up again so everyone could see our table).  Ryan Day was ranked 6th in the world and expected to win, but Davis put up a great fight and won out in the end after a total of 18 frames, so we ended up getting to watch some great snooker for about three and a half hours.

I enjoyed watching the TV production aspect of the event as well and getting to see the contrast between live snooker and the TV coverage of it. Sports journalism is something I've thought about going into before so it was pretty interesting to see how such an event translates into a production for TV. I think the BBC do an excellent job every year and really make the tournament a great spectacle, and it's even better that you can now watch everything online as it happens. They also film out in the open in the middle of Sheffield city centre and you can go down and watch the presenters in the Winter Garden. It's not uncommon to bump into some of the snooker players just walking round Sheffield either.

When you're watching the snooker live though you don't get the BBC commentary, the multiple camera angles or the benefit of hawkeye, so it's definitely a different experience, and the Crucible arena feels quite different to how you'd imagine it from watching on TV. I thought that they might have screens up inside the Crucible showing the table from different camera angles, but that's not the case. They do have screens, but they just show the score. When you're watching it live you feel as if you can't really see that much from your seat, but after a while you get used to the view. A couple of things you don't get to see on TV though are the second referee sat at the side, presumably keeping track of the score, and obviously the two cameramen constantly working away at the end of both tables to bring you shots of the action.

If I went again I'd like to get one of those headsets that they recently introduced - you can buy one just before you go in and tune it to hear the BBC commentary while you're watching. That's why sometimes half the crowd will chuckle out loud together - they'll be laughing at a joke they just heard on the commentary. In fact some of the crowd had theirs turned up so loud that you could catch bits of the commentary even if you didn't have one yourself.

When you consider that the event goes out live to national TV I had expected there to be more warnings about not making noise during play and the like. All the announcer said at the start was to make sure our mobiles were switched off and to not take any photos during the game, although I did notice there were a number of ushers placed around the venue making sure the audience kept fairly quiet during play. But it did strike me how easy it'd be to do something during play and get on TV for your 15 seconds of fame. I think next time I'm gonna get a front row ticket and wear a t-shirt advertising my netlabel. I dunno if we ended up getting on TV this time, as we were sat fairly far back, and the programme showing the match we went to see still isn't available on iPlayer for me to check.

But all in all it was a great experience and you should definitely go down and watch a match at the Crucible if you get the chance. They've recently redesigned the place and it looks great, very modern compared to how it looked before. They're always saying that the tournament might move elsewhere, but I don't think it will. As the billboards say that are all around town at the moment, 'Sheffield Snooker City'.

Right, I'm going back to watching Mark Davis vs. Mark Allen online now. The tournament's really starting to heat up now we're in the second round. I've been alternating between just writing my dissertation and watching snooker these last few days, but now I've handed in my draft dissertation I'm free to watch snooker all weekend.

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Thursday, 15 April 2010

Chatsworth

Yesterday I went to Chatsworth House to meet with someone who had contacted the East Asian Studies department at Sheffield University looking for Japanese students who would be able to take groups of Japanese tourists round the house. Apparently interest in Chatsworth from Japanese tourists has been increasing lately so the house need extra translators to help show big groups round.

Chatsworth is an area not too far away from Sheffield in Derbyshire, and although I'd never been to the house before, our family used to go to the farm and playground a lot when I was a kid. I remember the playground included a big zip-line and an underground tunnel that always used to get me excited for going. The house is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who still actually live there, but they open up many of the rooms for visitors to go and look round. It must be odd having people look round the place you're living in, but I guess they have to do it to help with the costs of upkeep. It's pretty big and is impressive if only because of the amount of expensive stuff in it - the whole place is filled with valuable items and has massive painted murals all over the walls. Each room is probably worth more than most people's houses.

Yesterday I caught a bus from Sheffield Interchange which stops right outside the house, and after arriving I was given a quick tour by one of the guides there. It sounds like I'm gonna have to look up some specialist vocabulary to prepare for the job, but mainly I'll just be translating what the main tour guide says for my own group of tourists. Although the work won't be that regular, I think it should be a worthwhile experience and something impressive to put on my CV.

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Sunday, 11 April 2010

"I'm Not Your Toy" by La Roux sounds like Sonic the Hedgehog



This song by La Roux came on at Pizza Hut the other day, and the first thing I thought was that the samples sounded like they'd come from the Sega Mega Drive, and more specifically, Sonic the Hedgehog. I don't know too much about La Roux, as she got popular in the UK while I was in Japan, but my dad's a big fan, and the first time he played me some of her tracks I immediately recognised the influence of chiptune/video game music. Granted, artists like La Roux also draw a lot of inspiration from synthpop, which has a lot in common with VGM sound-wise, but I do think we're starting to see VGM affect popular music quite a bit. In fact, there was some controversy a couple of years back when Timbaland sampled a track from a chiptune artist without permission for the Nelly Furtado album he was producing - the chiptune artist being Tempest, someone whose music I've played on my podcast before. If you look out for it, you'll start to notice the chiptune sound creeping into popular music more and more these days.

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Friday, 9 April 2010

Joe in Japan: The Sequel, coming this summer

So it's with great excitement that I announce I've been accepted onto the final short-list for JET CIR applicants, which means that, should my medical and police check go fine, I'll be heading back to Japan this summer to work. I'm pretty chuffed to be honest. I've been waiting to hear back about this job since I took the interview down at the embassy in London two months ago, and it's been annoying not knowing for so long. I did have a backup plan to travel to Canada if I didn't land this job, but that's not necessary anymore.

A big brown envelope came through the letterbox this morning and I knew it was from JET as it had a stamp on the back saying so. I pulled back the top of the envelope which seemed to be already open (maybe the postman had a look), and as soon as I read "It is our great pleasure to inform you" I dashed off on a mad lap of honour round the house. I couldn't stop smiling. The levels of excitement and pleasure match that of getting an NES for my 5th birthday. It was a great relief, firstly to know what I'll be doing next year, but secondly to know that I succeeded in my application. For me this job is perfect and means all sorts of good things.

I've managed to secure a job in this unsure economic climate, and a good paying job at that. And even better is that it's in Japan, which is a fairly hard place to find work if you're a foreigner. Ever since coming back to the UK I've missed certain aspects of Japanese life and I'm chuffed that I'm gonna be able to take part in it all again come this August.

The nature of the role is something I'm really interested in - it's a job working for an organisation called JET, which is run by the Japanese government and sends out English teachers and CIRs (Co-ordinator of International Relations) to Japan. My job will involve translation, interpreting, organising events for international exchange and other tasks, all the while representing Britain in Japan. I'll also be working alongside other Japanese people, which means I'll get to experience a Japanese business environment, and it'll give me the opportunity to really hone my business Japanese. I can't wait to start to be honest. Also, the job prospects after should be pretty good, as people who've worked for JET have gone on to do things like diplomatic jobs with the British government.

It takes a lot of pressure off me regarding uni and earning money from my part-time job as well. If I was going to Canada I'd have had to save up a lot of money before my flight in June, but as JET pay for my flight to Japan I don't have to worry too much about money. And the flight to Japan is in August, so I can work some more at Pizza Hut before then and save up anyway. Also, now I've got a decent job lined up it doesn't matter so much whether I get a high mark for my degree, but obviously I'm still gonna make sure my dissertation is a good piece of work. That's another thing - I've been working on my dissertation so much I haven't had time to practise Japanese at all, and I'm a little rusty, so I'm gonna have to make sure I'm up to scratch again before I depart in August. Shouldn't be hard though. I always find it comes back quickly.

I don't actually know where in Japan I'm headed yet, that's something else to wait for now. I said I wanted to go to Osaka or Kobe preferably, but it could be anywhere. And to be honest, I don't think I'd mind getting put out in the countryside somewhere, but whether I'd be saying that after a few months is a different story. For now, I'm absolutely over the moon and totally looking forward to what the next few years hold.

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

Drummer leaves Underoath

A couple of weeks back I wrote about going to see Underoath in Leeds, and it was a good job I took the opportunity as Aaron Gillespie, their drummer announced this week that he's leaving the band. It's a shame and quite unexpected. This guy was the only remaining original band member, having been with Underoath from the start, and despite being the drummer he was one of the band's two main vocalists, having a massive influence on and writing much of the band's material.

He made a couple of posts on his Tumblr to clear up questions about his departure, but it's still not clear exactly why he left. He's a killer drummer, live and on record, and his style of playing has definitely given me new ideas and ways of looking at the drum kit. He shaped Underoath's sound so positively and so much with his playing and vocals that I'd go as far as calling him irreplaceable. It'll be interesting to see what Underoath's next move is and it's likely their sound will change considerably, but they could have already written their best album.

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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Facebook 'Suggestions'


Facebook's 'Suggestions' section on the homepage (underneath 'Requests') is an interesting and amusing feature.  It's like Facebook is watching out for the social life of your poor friends who haven't been getting much attention lately.  With messages like "Reconnect with her" and "Help him find his friends", you'd be cruel not to.

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