Saturday, 31 July 2010

SAW 3D: Saw it all before?

So SAW 3D is coming soon. Pardon me while I sigh. The last Saw film I enjoyed was number 5, but even that was stretched out far too thin. Another couple of films later and here we are with yet another one around the same damn premise, with the same damn traps and the same damn everything.

This one is supposed to be the last one, isn't it? I bet you it ends with a twist and an opening for the next film, whether or not anyone will care by then. Plus, releasing this one in 3D just comes across, to me at least, as a desperate attempt to wring another few dollars from the emaciated corpse of this particular franchise.

There was an eighth Saw film planned, but the diminishing returns that the series was bringing in meant that the makers had to incorporate elements of that script into this flick. Hopefully that means there is plenty of plot to chew on as well as gory eye candy.

To really give it some longevity, the makers of the series should have had the grisly Jigsaw torch passed along long before Saw 5. Surely there could have been some more variations on the theme of traps and puzzles. I would have loved to see some set up throughout the city, for example, or a huge puzzle that involved more than just people getting their extremities hacked off.

Although, in the film's favour, it was actually shot in 3D rather than converted after the fact, which at least means it is going to look pretty cool. I honestly hope I'm wrong about the film and it turns out to be a worthy successor to the first couple of entries in the series. I'll wait until I've checked out some reviews before I see it. I do honestly hope this final piece of the jigsaw gives us a satisfying complete picture.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

New SF Flash Fiction From Me At 365 Tomorrows!

The daily SF Flash Fiction site 365 Tomorrows have published my story 'The Moment of Freedom' today! You can check it out for FREE by clicking the image above or the link below!

Read 'The Moment Of Freedom' by Andrew Hawnt on 365 Tomorrows

365 Tomorrows is the premier site for daily flash fiction in the SF and Speculative genre, and it's an honour to have the story on there! I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

THOR AND CAPTAIN AMERICA FILMS TO BE CONVERTED TO 3D



Aaaaaargh!!! Alarm bells are ringing. The Marvel Studios movies THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER are to be converted to 3D, even though THOR was shot in 2D and Captain America is also being lensed in 2D. Not sure about this at all, as even though Kenneth Branagh (Thor's director) has stated that they have approached all of the effects from a 3D perspective, I'm still not convinced that a 3D conversion can work.

Then again, it does seem that these films are being approached for 3D conversion at an early enough stage in their evolution for it to work well, which is what I'm hoping for. I'd hate these films to be unwatchable (Clash of the Titans and its 3D nausea) or just messy (The Last Airbender and its almost unnoticeable 3D).

I can see how 3D would benefit some of the sweeping vistas of Asgard and so on in THOR, but I'm not sure how the 3D will work with Captain America. Granted, it could make for some stunning set pieces in the WWII sequences, but will it actually be able to add enough oomph to make it worth the studio's extra cash and our own extra entrance money?

I really hope that these two films do well, as they are something of a pair of wild cards in terms of audience familiarity. While Captain America is a huge icon in the US, elsewhere he's a bit of a joke, thanks to the name, the costume and the whole character in general. Us lot, y'know, the rest of the world outside mainland America, can't really relate to Cap. That's not to say the comics aren't great, as some of them are wonderful examples of the medium, but he doesn't have the impact of a guy being bitten by a radioactive spider, or a billionaire with a cool suit of armour. It just doesn't translate as well as it should.

Thor on the other hand does have some punch outside of the US audience, as the film will feature some set pieces and scenery on such a grand scale, that an audience will immediately latch onto it the moment a trailer is released. Even non-comics fans or people unfamiliar with other Marvel properties will (hopefully) flock to THOR just for the spectacle. It needs to be a wild and amazing ride for the viewer for them to really get something out of it (see Elektra for how not to maintain audience interest- y'know, by having nothing happen for the middle hour of the movie).

With the cast these two films have, and the talent behind the camera and in the animation departments, we are sure to at least get something worth watching. However, I can't help but feel that these films are a huge gamble for the studio, which could have done with getting a new Spider-Man movie off the ground a bit quicker to keep the flagship character in the game.

And then there's the 2012 AVENGERS movie, but that is a whole different rant.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dear makers of 'The Guild'- I love you. You're Awesome.


I love The Guild, and I am not ashamed in the slightest.

The Guild, that delightfully fun web series about the gaming and IRL adventures of a mismatched group of gamers, is back for a fourth season (Visit the official site HERE). This is cause to rejoice, and I have partaken of the first episode, which I'm happy to report is great, as ever. In related news I just finished reading the three-issue prequel miniseries from Dark Horse comics, which tells the story of the Guild's formation and was written by the show's star and creator, Felicia Day.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&from=sp&fg=shareObject&vid=9c194351-975c-4b54-9462-e85b3e87af8e" target="_new" title="Season 4 - Episode 1 - Epic Guilt">Video: Season 4 - Episode 1 - Epic Guilt</a>


Felicia Day is a marvel of the internet generation. After some notable TV work, she really seemed to come into her own with her web work in Dr Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog as well as the Guild, cementing her likeness and comedic creativity in the hearts and minds of people in geeky t-shirts the world over.

But what is it about The Guild that makes it stand out over all of those other web based shows? Well, for one thing it's actually funny, and has that awkward edge about it that lifts it up a few notches above the competition (actually, is there any competition?). Next to the writing, the ensemble cast is the key to the series' popularity. Each of them perfectly captures a different subset of the geek community and they do so with accuracy that can only make us all cringe when we see ourselves in them.

Another aspect that is so endearing about the series is the fact that it doesn't take itself seriously (which is good, considering it's about gamers...heh). Proof of this is available in the music video the cast were in for the song '(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar'. I mean, you can't go wrong with a bunch of nerds in brightly coloured cosplay outfits, can you?



I think the group has perfectly captured a style which affectionately pokes fun at their own audience, and because Felicia's just as much of a geek as the rest of us, you can;t help but join in. While The Guild may not bee to everyone's tastes, it is a damn fine series made by some very talented people, and if you are yet to discover this particular avenue of pleasure, then I suggest you do so immediately. I mean, how else are you going to join in with the in-jokes otherwise?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Harvey Pekar- R.I.P.

Harvey Pekar, the much loved and admired creator of the AMERICAN SPLENDOR comics, has died at the age of 70. Pekar was an underground comics star that finally crossed over into the mainstream with the movie adaptation of his life, which starred Paul Giamatti as the young Pekar and Harvey himself in linking material. That film opened up the eyes to many more people to Pekar's work, and a new series of American Splendor comics was thus published by DC Vertigo.

Pekar's wry eye for humour and emotion in the most mundane of moments and activities was a breath of fresh air to the comics industry when he first emerged. His stories of everyday life were illustrated in the early days by comics legend Robert Crumb, and saw him develop both a strong writing style and a wide ranging fanbase.

He beat cancer a few years ago, which was the basis for the highly acclaimed book 'Our Cancer Year', and alongside works such as 'The Quitter', Harvey has left behind an extremely admirable legacy. His works speak to the reader on a very ordinary level, and the clarity of his dialogue has always rung true. His comics are about as close to real life as comics get.

That said, the comics world has lost one of its most unique peers, a very honest man who had few illusions about his own personality. Rest in peace, Harvey. You were one of a kind.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

LIVE REVIEW: ANVIL + GIRLSCHOOL – Sheffield O2 Academy, July 7th 2010

Tonight, a packed out O2 Academy was treated to two extremely powerful sets by two bands that are very familiar with the almighty riff. The crowd was a curious mixture of old school fans, new fans brought on board by the hit Anvil documentary, and a surprisingly strong contingent of young fans that are only just discovering the rock and metal genre's many delights. The atmosphere in the venue was electric from the moment we got in, and by the time Girlschool took to the stage the place was almost full. The lights dimmed, the intro started, and a crowd that was already sweating awaited something fantastic.

We got it in spades.Girlschool have been around as a band as long as I've been alive, and that's a hell of an achievement. Kim McAuliffe and the girls have always generated an air of respectability in the rock scene to me, but while they may have their roots in another musical era, they can kick your arse hard. Their set was a raucous mixture of classic tunes and more recent pieces, which melded together well. Kim broke a string (“The first broken string of the tour”) and ended up playing one of Lips' guitars for a couple off tracks, leading to some delightful stage banter. Girlschool came across as perfectly at home on the stage, and for their whole set they owned the place.
The interlude is mercifully brief, and Anvil hit the boards with the instrumental 'March of the Crabs', stomping around as the crowd went insane. The band were clearly having the time of their lives, which I hope has been the case for the whole tour, as they've damn well earned this new popularity. The crowd kept on getting louder, and from where we were at the front, the band's grins were hard to miss. '666', 'Winged Assassin', 'This Is Thirteen', 'Mothra', 'Flying Blind', 'Thumb Hang' and more served a hugely appreciative audience some old school traditional metal. The slower numbers had a huge impact, which impressed me on a musical level due to the band operating as a three piece since the departure of 2nd guitarist Ivan Hurd a few years ago. Despite the single guitar in their live setup, they sound immense.
The onstage banter of Lips was at times both heartwarming and hilarious (much like the film was). Their appreciation for fans old and new was blatant throughout the whole set, and the energy they put into their performance would easily make thousands of young bands whimper. The set climaxed with the ubiquitous 'Metal On Metal' (including a fantastic singalong) and an encore of 'Jackhammer', and off they went to riotous applause. ever Even though many of the songs would be unfamiliar to much of the audience, the set was perfectly pitched and had everyone singing along by the second chorus. Personally I'd have liked to have heard 'Bombs Away' from 'This is Thirteen', but other than that it was perfect. Lips was in fine voice and beating the hell out of his guitar, Glenn 5 was showing off some very strong bass work (love the 12 string bass, man!) and Robb 'Robbo' Reiner was flat out astonishing during his drum solo.

Within a few minutes the band were amongst the crowd, chatting, signing and having pictures taken (Hence the three of me with the band you see here). Talking to them, it's very plain indeed to see that they are extremely grateful for the support of new fans and old, and I pray that they come back to these shores soon (hopefully with a new album! Are they still working on 'Juggernaut of Justice'?). Getting to talk to people that you admire will blow the mind of many fans, and despite my experience with talking to musicians, I couldn't help but act like a gibbering fanboy. Anvil delivered the goods that night- hard and heavy, just as we wanted it.

Huge thanks to the band for being so cool, Girlschool for such a great opening set, and the crowd for being so flat out energetic. What a night. If you ever get the chance to see them live, do it. Their show is worth every penny of the ticket price, and then some.

Here's hoping that next time around I can bag an interview with them for the magazine ;)

(Click on the Anvil tag below for my other Anvil posts!)

Review: SERPENTINE - 'A Touch of Heaven'

Serpentine
"A Touch of Heaven"

Genre: AOR/Prog
AOR Heaven

Tony Mills is a busy fella right now. Aside from fronting TNT he seems to be turning into something of a journeyman as far as AOR releases go right now. This is just one of the many projects he has been involved with in recent years, and the former SHY frontman is on very fine form indeed. The songs on offer with this album immediately bring to mind Journey at their peak, however the undeniable comparisons don't stop the songs being great.

The title track gets things off to a pleasantly uptempo start, with hugely melodic hooks that bring to mind Kansas and Styx as well as old school Journey. 'Whatever Heartache' follows and is a little more mellow, while track three brings us the first big ballad with 'Lonely Nights'. The album continues with 'For the love of it all', and while this would be where some albums start to struggle, here we continue to get quality.

The album is unashamedly old school in it's approach, but the songs, the performances and the little touches of progressive rock keep it lively and fun. It almost feels like a lost album by one of the greats of the genre, such is the finesse of the songwriting. It's a disc I have been playing a great deal since it arrived, and it continues to improve with each successive listen. While the AOR genre will probably never be any great shakes in terms of success ever again, it continues to thrive with such high quality releases as this one. AOR Heaven have another gem on their hands here, and the six musicians involved deserve some serious kudos. It may be bright and melodic, but it still rocks.

...apart from the cover of Toni Braxton's 'Unbreak my Heart'. After such a good album, it does kind of end on a note of WTF?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Review: Primal Fear “16.6 All Around The World” Live DVD

Primal Fear
“16.6 All Around The World”

Genre: Traditional Metal
Frontiers Records


Primal Fear always serve up quality when they release anything new, and this second live DVD is no exception. Their first live release was way back in 2002 for the 'Black Sun' album, and that live DVD/CD set (“The History Of Fear”) set the benchmark for anything else they would release in a similar vein. That set was amazing value, and thus when approaching this DVD, I couldn't help but compare the two. How does this new one measure up? Pretty well, actually. While the last set featured both the DVD and CD, this time around the two have been split into separate releases. I can understand this, but from a fan's point of view it may have been better to package them together.

This DVD was shot during the world tour in support of the band's “16.6” album, and while there are a few tracks from that superlative opus on offer here, there's a wealth of older tracks to enjoy too. The current incarnation of the ban is on fine form, with frontman Ralf Scheepers still delivering the goods in awesome style through every track.

The mix of this live disc isn't as punchy as their earlier live release, lacking some mid-level clout, but it's a very fine live document that captures the band's energy and dedication very well indeed. Featuring live tracks shot in Switzerland and America, it can sometimes feel a little disjointed, but it still a brilliant chronicle of a band that still goes somewhat underrated. The new tracks mesh well with the old too, which is always a boon.

It's the extras on this disc where the package really shines. Five music videos, The making of the “16.6: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead” album, and an extensive 'Bootleg' section of live recordings, interviews and more. It;s all this bonus content that fans are going to lap up, and really fills out the package much more than your average live DVD from any band. On the whole it is a very worthwhile DVD for fans of the band, and also a very good introduction to them for new listeners. Now, if the mix had been a little heavier, it would have been perfect. As it is, it's merely superb.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Review: We Are The Fallen - "Tear The World Down"

We Are The Fallen
"Tear The World Down"
Genre: Gothic Rock/Rock/Metal Universal Music/Republic

Yes, the band is made up largely of former Evanescence members and is fronted by an American Idol contestant, and with that out of the way, let's talk about the music. This debut album from what is being touted as something of a supergroup is very, very strong indeed. There have to be inevitable comparisons with Evanescence, and quite rightly, but the album also needs to be taken on its own merits as the debut of a new band. Regarding those comparisons, the first thing that strikes me is how much more together it feels than the last Evanescence studio album, 'The Open Door.' Now, I loved that album, but this feels decidedly more coherent.

It's only natural that We Are The Fallen will sound very much like Evanescence, and with the backbone of Ben Moody, John LeCompt and Rocky Gray, the band has a brilliant foundation built right in. After all, those three guys were part of the band that created the global phenomenon that was 'Fallen', and their influence is very much in evidence here. 'Tear The World Down' is a powerful collection of dark rock songs that retain the drama and power of Evanescence with a more exciting rock edge to the music.
It's that rock edge that has allowed for some faster songs and some heavier moments, along with some experimentation that is more guitar based than based around the piano or synths. Electronics are still around, and used sparingly for depth and atmosphere very well.

Vocalist Carly Smithson is a revelation here. Look, I despise American idol/Pop Idol/X factor and the whole scene surrounding those shows, but in Smithson the band has bagged themselves a vocalist with an astounding voice, a huge presence and some serious star quality. her voice is imperfect, cracking here and there, which makes me like it even more. What about the songs?

The songs that make up this debut album are a superb cross-section of rockers and ballads, with lead single 'Bury Me Alive' being the perfect opener, and later songs such as 'Paradigm' and 'St. John' all being high points. A great debut album, and well worth a purchase. They are more than Evanescence 2.0- they're the fulfilment of a missed opportunity. Now, I wonder what the new album from the other band will sound like in comparison...

Friday, 2 July 2010

LEARN TO SING, NOT TO SCREW ABOUT WITH EFFECTS

Something that is rather important when being a singer is the ability to, y'know, sing. Flicking through music channels right now, all I'm hearing is an endless stream of 'artists' who have had their voices mangled with autotune and various effects. It's got to the point where tonally, everyone does actually sound the same, and it's almost at the point where even the sexes are interchangeable.

Granted, people like Ke$ha, Usher, The Black Eyed Peas, that guy doing the 'I'M GOIN' SAULAU, SAULAU SAULAU SAULAU' stack of turds or any of the other polished, packaged and posed 'singers' in the mainstream aren't aimed at my own demographic, but still, they piss me off.

The audience that is coming of age right now is going to start thinking that's what people's voices sound like (and yes they will, as humanity has the tendency to be rather stupid), and that digital effects are a worthy replacement for talent. It's like Michael Bay has become a music producer, fer cryin' out loud. Katy Perry, Timbaland, JLS, they're all at it, sticking a wobbly effect over their dull voices to try and make them sound interesting.

What it is really doing is instantly dating every note of their material, thus further underlining the fact that nobody gives a shit about longevity or integrity any more. The key to a great song (I'm afraid I can't remember who originally said this- sorry!) is one that sounds brilliant when played either with a full band or just with a guitar or a piano. Right now, real singers in pop music are very, very rare. Alecia Keys comes to mind, alongside P!nk, but that's about it. Those two have amazing voices, and while there's the odd effect here and there, there isn't the tendency to drown their every note in wibbly bits.

See? This is what happens when I look out from my rock-and-metal happy place and have a sniff around at what the 'kids' are listening to. I start ranting. Okay, before anyone else starts electronically ululating at me, I'll get back to my happy place and appreciate some talent.

Here and Now: The Net Is Getting Better (I Hope)

It's weird. As I coast into my eleventh year of playing with the internet (I was a late adopter- got online properly in '99), I can't help but wonder what the next step of it all will be. There were the floundering, burgeoning years of the early nineties, the blossoming awareness of the later nineties, the ill-fated Dot Com boom, and the slick shift into the world of Web 2.0 and every form of social media you can think of. It's this most recent era that has been the most interesting for me. The internet is no longer covered in flashing GIFs and other animated clip-art.

It's no longer a chore to get online and get busy (or get procrastinating, depending on your own habits), it's no longer required to know how to code to make something fantastic (which cheers me up immensely as I have no clue whatsoever about code beyond a tiny bit of HTML), and the net is accepted as an integral part of our lives. Children are growing up who can't imagine a world without the internet. Well I can remember it, and it was a very different place.

Is it better or worse now? Both, for various reasons. There are some amazing possibilities for the web that are only just being realized now, and many things are improving all the time. Like what? Like the forthcoming new version of DIGG, for example (with a much greater social aspect which appears to be a genuinely great new way of sharing content), or the continued popularity of Twitter (which I am most pleased about due to the sheer simplicity of the service), and any number of others.

Of course, the web still has a ton of problems, especially with its biggest sites (by which I mean the privacy concerns with Facebook), but we do seem to be living in an age of solutions rather than obstacles. Information has never been easier to obtain, creativity and self expression has never been so welcome, and social interaction over great distances has never been easier. Enjoy it, people. Join in. Get involved. Be a part of this evolutionary phase, and let's run away from the days of 56k connections at an ever faster pace.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Welcome Back EPIC FU!

Hey, I know that both Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf are busy people with a ton of stuff going on in the social media world, but it's always a wonderful thing when they have the time to put out a new episode of EPIC FU. The FU is one of the finest video podcasts that has ever been created IMHO, and a new run of three episodes has begun. These episodes are all about the way we live online, and this first episode offers seven tips to build your online identity. Check it out, and then check out their archive. The show is something very special.

...and then buy the EPIC-FU t-shirt, which I can safely say is my favourite shirt, ever.