BB-8

A couple of months back I bought a Sphero BB-8. When I saw the video of it I just couldn’t resist…despite it being £130. Ouch.

When I got it the first thing that struck me was it was much smaller than I had thought – the size of a small orange…or a large tangerine. Like most things nowadays I had to do a firmware update on first use which took a couple of minutes (unlike most games which need a download or two to get working….Forza 6 and it’s 60 GB download on Boxing Day is the worst yet) but once that was done I was good to go.

The app allows you to steer BB-8 and it was much more controllable than I thought it would be. It was easy to steer around but also easy to steer into walls 🙂 When you do collide with something BB-8 would glow red, spin a bit and make a groaning droid noise. What’s a shame is that the video makes it look like the noise comes from BB-8 itself but they are all generated from the iOS app. You can get BB-8 to do pre-programmed paths – in a circle, square, spin, panic and run etc. The app is also voice activated so you can say “BB-8” and the app will then listen to your voice commands like “Go Explore”, “Go To Sleep” or “It’s a Trap” which is my favourite.

There is a message mode which lets you see holograms but this are displayed on the phone and you can record your own but this is a bit weak. You can also send BB-8 on patrol and he will merrily wander around your home or office while you work away. Neat. This is all done over bluetooth and the range is pretty impressive. Battery life is around an hour for three hours of charging which is also pretty good as you tend to get a bit bored with it before the battery ever runs down.

While there have been frequent app and firmware updates to add features I’m sure that for Star Wars Episode VIII we’ll see a new version which will have better hardware and maybe feature things like in built sound and a camera. Something to make it more feature rich than the current version.

Then I saw this tweet a couple of days ago:

Mind blown.

Tickle is an app for iOS that allows you to easily build programs for a variety of smart devices. To program BB-8 you select a template, connect to it from Tickle and then you can drag and drop a variety of commands to give you a lot more control over BB-8 than the official Sphero app.

IMG_0402

You can set the colour of BB-8 to almost anything, set it on a variety of paths and loops but also detect events. So if BB-8 collides you can make it shake, change colour, reverse – whatever you want. You can also detect events from the iOS device so depending on how it is tilted or if it’s shaken you can make BB-8 do different things. This is a great extension of what the BB-8 device can do and it’s opened up another avenue that I hadn’t considered.

Digging deeper I found this post on medium – Sphero BB8 robot toy — The Missing Manual. Really useful advice for any current or prospective BB-8 owner with links to a couple of Javascript libraries that allow you to hack BB-8 even more.

Overall I like the Sphero BB-8 but it’s hard to recommend at the price given what it can do although with the Tickle app it’s clear there’s a lot more to this droid than meets the eye and I’m pleased I picked one up.

There's Been An Awakening

Has there been a more anticipated movie than Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Maybe and that was called Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and we all know how well that went. I saw The Force Awakens last Thursday and I loved it! It was on it’s own a great film but it also ticked a lot of boxes for the Star Wars fans. I’ve got a couple of things that I want to say about it though…and that means there are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the film yet.

Rey-and-BB-8

As I’ve said already, the film for me worked really well. I was a bit concerned that there would be too much of the old characters and not enough of the new but that fear was blown away with the first 20-30 minutes. Focussing on Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren and not giving too much back story got the film off to a great start. John Boyega was excellent throughout but the star of the film was Daisy Ridley. She carried large parts of the film and was totally believable throughout in stark comparison with many of the actors used in the prequels. I also loved that she stood out as the Jedi hero of the film and the trailers hadn’t given everything away.

I’m guessing we’ll find out more about Rey’s heritage in the next films…but is it to obvious that she’s Luke daughter? Hopefully not another brother/sister with Kylo Ren. I said Rey was the star but I’m forgetting BB-8. What a great droid and it stole almost every scene it was in. So long R2 – it was good knowing you.

Something I didn’t like about The Force Awakens is that it really did stick to the Star Wars formula and you could argue this was a bit of a remake of the original Star Wars. Surely the big bad have learned by now that a death star isn’t the way to go as the rebels will fly a few ships towards it and bomb a known weakness. This was pretty lame as was the zero explanation as to how Poe escaped the crashed Tie Fighter and also the planning for the final attack which looks like it took 5 minutes to make up before everyone was sent off on their mission.

One last grumble…anyone else think that Snoke looked like Gollum?

Looking at positives again I thought the film brought back the spectacle that the prequels had lost. No sure if it was the mix of real sets and CGI but the film looked far more believable and brought back a sense of size and scale that the prequels never had. I also loved that Han Solo was killed…the setup meant it was a fairly obvious step to take but there were still audible nooooo’s in the cinema and not from the kids either.

Thankfully there was little of C-3PO and R2 and Carrie Fisher had little to do which I think is a blessing as the acting wasn’t the best.

So where does the Force Awakens stack up compared to the other Star Wars movies? For me the order is as follows:

V > VII > VI > IV > III > II > I

Role on episode VIII which is a couple of years away. In the meantime here are some great Force Awakens links to enjoy.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review – consider me conquered
George Lucas nearly wrote a perfect prequel trilogy. He just didn’t notice
24 Delightful Star Wars: The Force Awakens Cameos You Might Have Missed
This “Star Wars” Fan Theory About Kylo Ren Is Perfect
A Gallery of Jaw-Dropping Concept Art From Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Bond

I watched Spectre a few weeks ago and while it looked amazing and clearly had a load of money thrown at it the story was half baked, the action scenes felt incomplete and the script was poop. So an average Bond film then.

It got me thinking as to which Bond films I liked the most. What was my favourite Bond film? Who was my favourite Bond? There’s 24 films to choose from so I grouped the films by actor and ranked them accordingly. That generated the following:

Sean Connery
From Russia With Love
Goldfinger
You Only Live Twice
Dr No
Thunderball
Diamonds Are Forever

George Lazenby
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Roger Moore
Live and Let Die
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Man with the Golden Gun
Moonraker
Octopussy
For Your Eyes Only
A View to A Kill

Timothy Dalton
Licence to Kill
The Living Daylights

Pierce Brosnan
Goldeneye
The World is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies
Die Another Day

Daniel Craig
Casino Royale
Skyfall
Spectre
Quantum of Solace

That made it a bit easier to list my favourite Bond films as follows:

Favourite Bond Films

  1. Casino Royale
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. Goldfinger
  4. Skyfall
  5. Live and Let Die
  6. Goldeneye
  7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  8. You Only Live Twice
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me
  10. Spectre
  11. Dr No
  12. Thunderball
  13. Licence to Kill
  14. The Man with the Golden Gun
  15. The World is Not Enough
  16. Quantum of Solace
  17. The Living Daylights
  18. Moonraker
  19. Diamonds Are Forever
  20. Tomorrow Never Dies
  21. Octopussy
  22. Die Another Day
  23. For Your Eyes Only
  24. A View to A Kill

So who’s my favourite Bond?

  1. Sean Connery
  2. Daniel Craig
  3. Pierce Brosnan
  4. Roger Moore
  5. Timothy Dalton
  6. George Lazenby

Poor George – great film, shit Bond. If Daniel Craig does sign up for one more hopefully we see more of the criminally wasted Christoph Waltz who ended up being one of the weaker parts of Spectre. If you have seen Spectre, I loved this post that tries to explain it’s ending.

With only a couple of work weeks left of the year I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the old classics again over Christmas. Can’t beat some Little Nellie.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

This years big Marvel movie is Avengers: Age of Ultron and I managed to watch it yesterday afternoon at a fairly quiet Braehead Imax. It’s a good watch and the Whedon strikes again with a great ensemble movie where so many have struggled in the past. I wouldn’t say it’s up there with Avengers Assemble or Captain America: Winter Soldier but definitely worth catching on the big screen. I do have further words on it, but those are spoilery so read on if you’ve watched the film or else be forever ruined!

The Good

  • Hawkeye – given more to do in this film and was very much the emotional heart. Don’t like the actor but the character is great.
  • The Twins – thought they were well played and given a good enough back story to make them a worthwhile addition. Quicksilver was a much better character than the one in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
  • The opening sequence reminded me of how the good Bond films start and was a great welcome back to the Avengers.
  • The Vision was a great addition especially as the character was hidden from all trailers although it was pretty weird hearing/seeing Jarvis. Expect any people will hate the character but the aloofness was pretty funny.
  • Who can wield the hammer – very well done.
  • The hulkbuster scene was pretty intense and I regret seeing the trailer for this as it took away some of it’s impact…but not all 🙂 One flaw – how can Hulk take down Levithians in Avengers but not a metal robot in Ultron?
  • Enjoyed the payback for watching the other Marvel universe films and TV shows as well as the comics. Makes for a much richer experience but if you hadn’t seen Winter Soldier then much of this wouldn’t make sense?
  • Killing Quicksilver – shame for the character as I thought he added a lot to the film but at least one of them died. Needs to be a bigger threat in these movies.
  • I’m amazed that each character got a little more backstory and they were mostly well told adding a bit of richness and warmth to the film.

The Bad

  • Ultron was the big bad in this film, so why did he carry so little menace? Voiced well by James Spader he never carried a big enough threat in my opinion. Some good one liners but defeated rather tamely at the end. At times he felt like a slightly camp Ironman.
  • Pacing and film length were poor. As a viewer you were dropped into certain scenes without explanation and I thought Thor and The Vision were short changed. Initial rumours were of a three hour film but the actual release was forty minutes shy of that and it showed. I’d like to think a Blu-Ray release showing a directors cut would come out later this year but thats not the Marvel way. I’m sure there’s stuff that was in the trailers but not in the film – ah – there was!
  • Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Wakanda-cave

  • Too many characters, some only on screen for a few seconds. It was all just a bit too much at times and the film suffered.
  • Marvel films have a definite template and while thats the same for many, like Bond for example, they come along every 3 years or so where as we are getting 2 to 3 Marvel films per year. I felt the end of Ultron was so predictable that it took all tension away and made for a slightly disappointing finish. On reflection the film was better than it’s ending but it left me flat when I left the cinema.
  • Ultron lacked some of the scale of the first Avengers film – the set pieces never seemed to match the first film…or the trailers.
  • Spotty CGI in places, especially Black Widow on the bike. I also wish movies would stop with the “Sorry”, “Excuse Me”, “Oop’s” type comments when a hero is driving through traffic/people. “Get out the fucking way” while ruining the chances of getting a 12A certificate would be far more entertaining.

marvel_universe

The Future
Next up for Marvel is Ant-Man which I can’t say I’m expecting much from but after that is far more interesting. The above graphic from Empire a couple of months back shows the upcoming films and how everything is linked in the Marvel universe. Some of it is speculation but what we do know is that Captain America: Civil War will feature Team Captain America vs Team Ironman and will be directed by the Russo brothers who were behind the Winter Soldier. This is “a good thing” as Winter Soldier was one of the best Marvel movies so far. They will also take over from Joss Whedon for the next Avenger films and all I can say is good luck for all three as juggling so many characters in the one film isn’t easy.

I never thought I’d say this but I’m getting a bit jaded by superhero films – all much of a muchness and thanks to the money Marvel have made, Fox and DC are cashing in too. Look at just how many superhero movies are coming out in the next few years! They need to start offering something different and hopefully some of the Marvel titles will do that as they are branching out from their main titles which should see them offering something a but fresher – like Guardians of the Galaxy.

But thats in the future. For now, go and enjoy Avengers: Age of Ultron and the mix of fun and action that Joss Whedon has delivered. It was over-hyped and he deserves credit for almost delivering on the promise.

Alfonso Cuaron Returns to the Bigscreen After Seven Years With ‘Gravity’

I watched Gravity tonight and loved it. Possibly the best movie I’ve watched this year and one of the best I’ve enjoyed on IMAX in 3D. The effects were stunning and as I watched I was wondering how they shot some of the film…which this Variety article explains. Do not read this if you haven’t watched the film!

What’s interesting is that Shak found the film dull – polar opposite to what I felt. I’ve found others say the same, and I wonder if it’s because there is not much actual story. I love space and everything to do with it so I got sucked into the film early on and it never let go but I can understand how people can find it quite an empty film apart from the visuals.

Still, I highly recommend you catch this at an IMAX to enjoy it at it’s best – it won’t have the same impact watching at home.

Dear Mr Watterson

One of my favourite cartoons is Calvin & Hobbes. Next month a new documentary, Dear Mr Watterson, looks at why Calvin & Hobbes was so successful and the impact it’s had on a generation of readers. Bill Watterson created the strip and stopped publishing in 1995. He is very private and the film seemingly respects that privacy. Looking forward to this.

Calvin & Hobbes takes me back to my time at uni. Lewis let me borrow a copy of one of his books and I was hooked. So good.

Geek Fear

The big reveal at Comic-Con this weekend (apart from Avengers news) was that not only will there be a sequel to Man of Steel (no real surprise) but that it will feature Batman. When I first saw the early rumour I thought it would be a small part to set-up a Justice League movie but then I read that this was quoted at Comic-Con

I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.

Oh boy.

bat

Thats from The Dark Knight Returns. One of my favourite comics and one that I’d love to see made into a movie but know the studio’s never would. Until now. However seemingly the next Man of Steel will be inspired by The Dark Knight Returns and it won’t be a full adaption. There’s lots of great material in the book so that should be good…apart for one small detail.

Fucking Zack Snyder.

His films are generally OK but far too heavily reliant on CGI for my liking. I really enjoyed the first hour of Man of Steel. The next hour, not so much. In fact I don’t think I’ve hated a movie in recent years as much as I hated that last hour of Man of Steel. So much good work wasted with over the top CGI action that was almost too fast to follow not helped with lots of shaky cam, audio that bordered on too loud for my liking and a pretty shit plot.

I have the fear of what a potential Batman vs Superman movie under his direction will turn out to be. It all feels rushed unlike Marvel which has plotted The Avengers for a number of years.

Still, 2015 looks to be an awesome year for geek films. Star Wars VII, Avengers 2, Batman vs Superman, Terminator 5, Independence Day 2, Ant-Man, Bond, Avatar 2 and rumours of Star Trek 3. Geek sequeltastic.

Inception

So on Saturday I watched Inception. It’s the talked about movie of the moment and my initial reaction on Twitter was:

Inception – Good but not great

That was how I felt walking out of the cinema. Almost disappointed considering the hype. So I wanted to talk a bit about it which will involve some spoilers, but not yet. First, some general thoughts on the film rather than the plot.

As expected, the film looked gorgeous. The set pieces were HUGE but without the over the top use of CGI that is so prevalent in today’s film. To contrast, I watched the remake of Clash of the Titans just a few days before which was more akin to God of War on the PS3 with some actors placed into the CGI. Tosh. It was also an incredibly good looking film. Both sets and actors were of the highest quality. So much so it’s hard to really find fault with any technical aspect.

Leonardo DiCaprio turned in another captivating performance. To think that he’s come from Titanic to great films like Blood Diamond, Body of Lies, The Departed and now this – is he THE hollywood actor for this generation? For me it’s between him and Christian Bale as my favourite actor right now. In fact, are they this generations De Niro and Pacino? Other good turns from Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy…in fact the only actor sold short was Ellen Page. She was great in Juno but I felt her acting in Inception was a bit wooden – maybe being saddled with a script that sometimes made her the audience guide didn’t help – think the voiceover in Blade Runner. She always asked the obvious questions leaving the other talent with the job of explaining to her, and hence the audience, what was going to happen next. Something just didn’t feel right with her performance. Despite the great talent, Tom Hardy stole the show for me.

The British actor owned every scene he was in. Some of that was down to his character getting some great lines and being involved in the thick of the action. Mostly it was his sheer presence on screen. If you get the chance catch his performance in Bronson (showing on Sky right now). Future star, if not already one – he’s currently shooting a new Mad Max film and I can’t wait to see how that turns out.

Before we hit the plot, and the aforementioned spoilers, a word on Christopher Nolan. Momento, Prestige, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and now Inception. Some of my favourite films. Dark, clever and always require more than one viewing. Without doubt my current favourite director. I can’t wait to see what he does with the next Batman film in a couple of years. Also, if you haven’t taken in Prestige it’s well worth a watch although can be a bit….ploddy.

Yet I walked out the cinema on Saturday and was almost disappointed with Inception. That’s changed after some reflection. Firstly, cinema’s generally piss me off. Noise, phone’s, other people, crap seats and a really sticky floor don’t add to the cinema going experience. Yes you get a big picture but that feels soft when compared to what can be viewed at home. Audio is loud, but I can do that at home if I want to as well. All in all, not a stellar experience. I also felt a bit of plod around the middle of Inception but that’s more down to me. I wasn’t thinking. The next day I couldn’t get the film out of my head. What really happened in that film, what did that visual clue mean, am I over analysing? That’s what is so great about Nolan’s films. You need to think to get the best out of them, something I didn’t really do at the cinema, and with that, it’s onto the spoilers. You’ve been warned so if you haven’t watched the film, go read something else.

Spoilers
Inception doesn’t answer everything. It leaves you guessing at the end as to what happened. Is this the mark of a great film maker – not scared to leave it down to the audience to figure it out? Of course, that means there are a number of events open to interpretation.

The ending revolves around whether Cobb (DiCaprio) makes it home to his family or is he still dreaming. This is done via the totem that is referenced through the film which cut’s away before falling – falling would mean it is reality. Some points on this and my take are:

1) Cobb visualises his children in his dream at a very young age. IMDB list the children as 3 years and 20 months (don’t know how they know this but it’ll do for me). Yet earlier in the film Cobb is speaking to his kids and at least one of them sounds a lot older.

2) Sticking with the kids, when Cobb visualises them you never see their faces. You always see them in the garden of the house wearing the same clothes. When he finally ‘gets home’ at the end of the film you see their faces, but the clothes are the same (I think) and they haven’t aged.

3) The editing at the end of the film hints at one of the dream concepts mentioned earlier – the dreams feel real but how did you get there? It feels rushed between Cobb wakening on the plane and very quickly appearing in his house – is he dreaming, does he know how he really got there?

4) When we first meet Miles (Michael Caine – just wanted him to say never – see Dark Knight), I’m sure he says it’s time for Cobb to come back to reality…or something like that. Does that mean he’s dreaming at that point? Is the whole film a dream?

5) The limbo visit’s and the multiple levels, kicks and jumps. The age difference between Cobb and Saito (Ken Watanabe) at the end is due to Cobb dying (and hence going to limbo) in level 1 – Saito dies in level 3 where time travels at a far faster rate. The bit I’m not sure about – how do they end up in the same limbo – is it because they are sharing the same dream space? All the jump’s kind of make sense to me, although again I’m kind of hazy with Cobb and Saito – was that Cobb convincing Saito that this wasn’t reality?

So with those points, and I’m sure there are more but that would only come with a repeat viewing, was Cobb dreaming at the end? Was the whole film a dream? My take is that the did complete the inception and that Saito’s phone call on the plane was real. From that point on though was a dream. The editing, the age of the children and the setting all point to this being a dream. What I, or I think anyone, can tell is whether that dream takes place on the plane, after Cobb is reunited with his kids or at some point in the future. During the film Cobb said he couldn’t dream anymore – was completing this inception and facing up to his wife in the dream world his chance to dream again?

The best bit about these theories – it’s entirely plausible that there’s another way of interpreting the events, and maybe thats the whole point. Has the movie been constructed in such a way that there is no right answer? Is this Nolan playing with our minds, stealing our dreams? In many ways it reminds me of Life On Mars which ended with no clear answer and open to many interpretations. That made it so much better and the same can be said of Inception.

I look forward to a repeat viewing in the comfort of my own house with a crossed finger or two that it will come with a directors overview of what he wanted to deliver and all the twists and turns throughout the film.

Inception – just great

Avatar

Finally caught Avatar at the cinema on Friday night. Booked the tickets a few weeks ago and wasn’t expecting much but it has become the biggest grossing film of all time so it must be good, no? Also, it would be my first 3D film and seeing as the local IMAX was showing it in 3D it made sense to view it their. Firstly, was the film any good?

Well, yes it was. It was extremely predictable with no plot twist that I can remember. I won’t post any spoilers but I will say that despite knowing what was about to happen throughout the film I didn’t get bored and the time (a flabby 2hrs 40) passed pretty quickly. Performances are mostly good although the actual screen time for the real actors is pretty small. So it’s worth watching but what about the two talking points – the CG and the 3D.

The CG is excellent and to the film’s credit almost every shot probably has some CG in it and at times you won’t notice it. Of course on the planet of Pandora it’s 100% CG and some of the locations are amazing. The tree’s, water and interaction between machines and the planet are superb. The motion capture and movement of the Na’vi (aliens!) is also well done but there’s also a niggle. Your watching CG, not an actor, despite the advances in technology. It meant that sometimes the movie felt a little cold.

However the most interesting aspect was the 3D. This was my first 3D movie and at times the 3D worked really well and other times…it was absolutely rank. First issue – those glasses! At the IMAX the glasses were big and uncomfortable like the ones in the pic below.

With a half hour to go they really started to irritate me. They were big enough so that I could wear my glasses underneath but it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. Second issue was the 3D itself. In Avatar some of the scenes were truly impressive – some of the control room scenes were really well done, the flowing water and some of the early mess/ship scenes stick in my mind. What didn’t work though was I think my eyes. Well, not just mine I suspect. As things were falsely thrown into the foreground you would naturally try and focus on them which is the wrong thing to do as you then lose focus on the film. At times it got pretty awkward, especially in scenes walking through the planet where plants and undergrowth were brought into the foreground.

I also felt the colour and definition were lacking and also there was a dullness to some of the scenes. Might have been the focus issue I’ve already mentioned but some scenes just looked a bit poor. One good thing is I didn’t suffer any headaches or motion sickness but we did get a verbal warning before the film started that people may get motion sickness so it must happen quite often.

So a good film with great CG, some good 3D and overall worth catching at the IMAX just due to the size and scale that the screen offers. One thing I won’t be rushing out and doing this year though is buying a 3D TV. I don’t want to wear another pair of glasses to watch TV or play games and the experience, at the moment, doesn’t match the expense. It’s not like moving from SD to HD. I’ll think about 3D at home when the technology doesn’t rely on glasses which will be a few years away yet.

Best Left Unanswered

I love The Italian Job. Not the 2003 remake but the original filmed in the 60’s with Michael Caine. In a documentary celebrating his 70th birthday he’s revealed the ending that was filmed and then scrapped.

“I crawl up, switch on the engine and stay there for four hours until all the petrol runs out,” he said.

“The van bounces back up so we can all get out, but then the gold goes over.”

There’s more detail on the BBC site and also some info on a competition to come up with an ending next year to mark 40 years since the Italian Job was made. I’m so glad the film cut the ending as it sounds terrible. I also wish the ending had always remained a mystery – so much better to leave it to everyone’s imagination.