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

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); […]

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.


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


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.



Pervasive Pixels: Fondly remembered games

Crowbarska made one of those list posts on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that got me thinking. The gist of it was to list the ten games that have had the most impact on you. Not necessarily “teh best games evah” or even ten of your favourite games, but those which have struck a chord and stuck with you long since you first experienced them.

Although I wasn’t tagged directly (sad face) it wiggled its way into my brain enough that I felt my own hypothetical answer justified a proper blog post. So here, in no particular order, are mine:

Tombraider – Playstation
Tombraider was the first full 3D game I ever played, having jumped from a Sega Master System II to a Playstation so difference in visuals alone was huge. I still recall fondly the strong sense of exploration and wonder that I’ve found lacking in some of the later games, especially as they grew more combat-based. This was also the first game that genuinely made me care about the protagonist beyond simply completing stages. The historical and mythological angles really appealed to me too, plus it had freaking dinosaurs!

Metal Gear Solid – Playstation
I soaked up any information I could on MGS prior to its release and played the demo disc that came with Pro Evolution Soccer to death. Similar to Tombraider, it had an epic-scale plot, and the non-playable characters were believably intelligent. Standout moments like the showdown with Psycho Mantis and Grey Fox blew me away. The overall experience was very cinematic and I loved it.

Gain Ground – Sega Master System
My brother and I played this game to death when we were younger. I’ve never completed it and having used pass codes to sneak-peak at the later levels I doubt I ever will. The premise is super simple – a training simulation gone wrong with the computer trying to kill you and your comrades – but with two-player mode, multiple characters including a bombs expert, commando and wizard, and mocking intro screens before each stage the replay ability is very high.

Theme Hospital – Playstation
While Theme Park got a lot of popular press, Theme Hospital is the better of the two for me. From the unforgettable humour to the pleasure of designing your own hospital and hiring (and firing) various incompetent staff.

Taz-Mania – Sega Master System
One of the few games i’ve completed multiple times (this was before save games) and certainly not the best example of a platformer by any means, but the recognisable licence and varied stages made this stand out for me, not to mention the catchy music. Highlights include the swamp level and Taz’s familiar spin attack.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – Sega Mega Drive
Obviously a much stronger platformer than the aforementioned, but what makes this version stand out for me in particular is the inclusion of two player with Tails as a playable character. I’m very much a fan of co-operative multiplayer games over competitive and this game is one of the better examples. Plus who can forget seeing sonic drown?

Command and Conquer – PC
Although it’s big brother C&C: Red Alert 2 is my favourite, and I sank just as much time into Starcraft, the original Command & Conquer was my first foray into Real Time Strategy gaming. I loved the whole GDI vs Brotherhood of Nod setup (and on separate discs too!) and the different unit types allowing for a variety of attack and defense strategies. Plus it came in a big old-skool chunky box=D

Cut the Rope – iOS
Despite my love of all things iOS, i’ve only played a small handful of games on the platform. Cut The Rope is the ultimate example of a perfect iOS game for me, combining strong visuals with smooth transitions between levels and good use of the touch screen interface. Needless to say it’s pretty addictive and one I return to often.

Medal of Honor – Playstation
My track record with first person shooters is a bit haphazard as i’ve never had a high-powered gaming rig or been particularly moved by many of the generic one-man-army offerings available. That said, Medal of Honor was a close tie with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare here as the latter has one of the best single player campaigns i’ve played in a first person shooter.

Medal of Honor though was my first taste of a first person shooter on console and the first time I saw persistent bullet holes! The little conversational German sketches (“The American has dog biscuits in his pocket”) also tickled me silly at the time.

Thomas Was Alone – Playstation 3
There have been others but this was the game that proved you don’t need outstanding visuals or complicated mechanics to make a memorable game. The voiceover is superb and the simple yet engrossing storyline is as emotionally charged as i’ve found in any adventure game. A real piece de resistance.

Honourable Mentions
The above list doesn’t begin to cover all of my favourite games but there are too many to mention.

A handful include:

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (PC) as one of my first Point n’ Clicks, The Dream Machine (Web) for combining two things I Iove – adventure games and claymation – in one stylish package, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear (PC) for its mission planning stages and urban environments (so sick of all the woodland/wasteland shooters), Mass Effect 2 (PS3) for its epic storyline and playable female lead, and the original Commandos games (PC) for their mix of specialised characters and gorgeous isometric environments.

Master System II“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Eyes Peeled

The latest addition to my teeny tiny comic collection is Eyes Peeled by Grace Wilson.

EP is a 2013-2014 series of observational comics and drawings which span two continents and three cities – Edinburgh, London and Stockholm – with a couple of other exotic excursions in between.

To say that this is a comic overflowing with ideas and details would be a huge understatement: every page is crammed with illustrations. Beautiful, disgusting, surprising, familiar illustrations of real life and real people. Candid little snapshots of the daily lives of a fascinating cast of characters just being themselves in their familiar haunts.

I suppose that’s what’s most engaging about this kind of social commentary. It’s a very immediate and personal transcription of events as they happened or felt at the time without much in the way of a filter.

From the youth spewing his guts up on the train, to the Scotsman relieving himself against a wall, chips discarded on the pavement, to the judgmental air hostess – the author makes no apology and allows many of the drawings to simply speak for themselves; take away what you will.

I found it interesting to discover characters I’ve come across in my own travels, transplanted and quite at home in a far off land like Sweden. Small world. Or the situations I’ve found myself in, and places I’ve been, proudly put on display here, warts and all, with unashamed honesty.

As the author hops around we rediscover a London ailing from the recession yet still building out and upwards (much to the inconvenience of everyone else). We’re taken to familiar places like Brick Lane where the curry houses are over-eager to welcome you in to their establishments, and corner shops that won’t take Scottish notes. In Edinburgh the awful tourist shops with their useless tat don’t miss out on a mention, nor does the referendum on Scottish independence, and I was amused to see Wetherspoons described exactly as I know it.

I loved that about Eyes Peeled – it’s not trying to pull the wool over our eyes with the typical romanticised take on tourist hotspots, instead it’s down in the nitty gritty of daily life. The odd little scenarios we’ve all come across. Little nods here and there that locals will instantly recognise. I have the benefit of having resettled in London after growing up in Edinburgh and having done my fair share of travelling in between so I could relate to Eyes Peeled a lot.

What I’ve failed to mention and cannot hope to do justice to here is the humor of Eyes Peeled. Sprinkled throughout lies a running commentary by the author (and several cameo appearances in the comics themselves) with witty insights and little anecdotes. It’s also seamlessly bilingual with Swedish throughout but without ever leaving you guessing. I found these parts the most interesting because of the cultural differences and similarities. I’m also very fond of enjoying works in their original language so was happy to try wrapping my mouth around the strange words here.

As someone who loves animation but has yet to properly scratch the surface of comics, I found Eyes Peeled readily accessible. It’s a proper adult narrative delivered in a wonderfully crafted, engaging art style which I think would appeal to people of all ages.

You can pick up a copy of Eyes Peeled from Grace Wilson’s online shop. You can also follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.

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.