The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Quick Review

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I’m just back from the cinema and thought I would jot down my thoughts. The Battle of the Five Armies is a really great finish to the trilogy. I’ve enjoyed the other two films, but not as much as LOTR. But this third part felt much more like the LOTR trilogy – in tone, in look, in humour, in battle and in other ways.

While the book has been split into three parts this film isn’t really the extra one. That was Desolation of Smaug – Jackson says so himself in the appendices to that film. Smaug filled out the middle of the story. Five Armies seems something that has been set in stone for longer – the writing credit for Del Toro shows that. But Five Armies does benefit from that extra second film. It’s a much tighter, leaner, more exciting film – for having the second film take and deal with some plot threads and leaving this film to build and build.

For me one of the problems with parts one and more particularly with part two of The Hobbit, was one of the stars of LOTR was missing – New Zealand. The forests of Smaug and Laketown made for a very studio based film. Part two was made in more haste, Five Armies looks like a film that has had a lot more time spent on it. There’s some lovely use of proper locations and better bigger sets, better CGI and a feeling much more akin to Lord of the Rings. Even the unreal locations are quite magnificent – particularly a frozen one.

Some great acting. Some very nicely put together action. Some very tight writing. Some classic Peter Jackson directing – some very characteristic violent gags that are typical of him, moments that reminded me of Gimli and Legolas’ best moments in LOTR. There were a few moments where you could tell there was a cut away to get a lower rating in the UK – cuts perhaps made so Jackson could keep some more pivotal violence. I expect we’ll see those cuts removed in the extended edition.

There were some genuinely great performances, properly earned emotional payoffs and scenes. It was a fitting end. And it flows beautifully into the events of LOTR. In a decade or so I imagine watching all six in Middle Earth chronological order and it will all seem very fitting.

Front Element Dust – One Man’s Quest

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Maybe others have done this before, but I want to relate a little story of how I solved an issue with my Fujinon 18-55mm and a persistent blob of dust on the inside of the front element.

I had this big piece of dust on the inside front element of the lenses. This didn’t adversely affect the image in any way but was annoying me. I believe it was a dust mite, it even seemed to move around a little and would come towards the edge of the lens when I shone a torch there. But I could not shift it completely, it kept returning to the front element.

I read some advice about killing mites in lenses by freezing. So I sealed the lens in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer for a few hours. I didn’t release the lens from the bag until it had returned to room temperature. Whatever the dust blob was it didn’t move again after this. But it was still sat there in the middle of the front element. I had killed the beast but not shifted it.

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My Photography Year 2014

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Today I began work on a long post that I intended to use to look back on my best photographs of the year. I fired up both Flickr and Lightroom with the aim of putting together several themed galleries that I could discuss in the post. Looking back on my photographs of 2014 made me rather sad. While I am merely an amateur photography with so much to learn I had thought over the last few years my output was improving. But looking at what the year had to offer looked like I had taken a big step back.

And since beginning the process my thoughts have flip-flopped several times. I’ve gone through the photos and decided there are plenty I really like. Then some I don’t like. I believe that the real issue is that I haven’t been out and about with my camera very much at all in 2014 and the result is that I have a smaller pool of shots to choose from.

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Watching the Robocop Remake

I’ve just finished watching the new Robocop film on Netflix. It surprised me. I must be honest that I watched it in part to be annoyed about the sacrilege – Paul Verhoeven’s original is of course a masterpiece. But the new film had plenty of interesting things to say – and they weren’t all the same things as the 1980s film. And that made me sad for this film. There was some good thoughtful stuff here, some interesting concepts, some neat directorial flourishes and a fine cast. So why didn’t this need to hang it’s frame on Robocop? This was a film that could have told the same story without the baggage of living up to Verhoeven’s work. In making this a Robocop remake it did the original a disservice, but I’m surprised to say it did itself no favours either. This was a good film and deserved a chance to stand on its own.

Safety of the Realm – Prologue

They had stopped beating him some hours ago leaving him to lie on the slick slippery surface of the cell bench, awash in his own fluids. They finally let him sleep. How long? He wasn’t sure. What little light made it past his swollen eyes told him nothing of the time of day. More time passed and his gaolers dragged him up and out of the room. They hosed him down, there was basic medical treatment. He drifted in and out. They dressed him at some point. Left him to sleep a little more. The voice inside remained silent.

“You’re a resilient creature,” the translation block on the table crackled to life, startling him awake. “I said you are a resilient creature. Can it hear my speech, query. Give it a shake. No I don’t want to touch it myself.”
“I can hear you,” he said.
“Are you hungry, query. Would you like to join us in the feast, query.”
He couldn’t open his left eye properly. His right took in the room. Ornate luxury. Paintings, tapestries. Sparkling silver and gold tableware hurt his eyes. Focus came and went.
The feast. The feast.
It was sat at the end of the table, a couple of yards away. Its fingers were thick with grease from the meal. Before him a servant laid a fresh silver platter. The steam did not hide the dish – a human infant, probably two years old, roasted. It had been dressed in primary coloured clothes after cooking as a garnish. Boy’s clothes. Nausea rising.
The voice inside was still silent.

“You are a resilient creature. But not very intelligent,” it said. It began feasting. He closed his good eye. He wished he could close his ears. “You have much control over your frame. Control over elements such primitives can understand.”
It paused to feast some more.
“Behold your problem, creature. Your gambling face is well formed. Yet I smell you. I smell fear. I smell your revolting innards. I also smell relief. Why, query.”
He said nothing.
“My feast revolts you. But my feast provokes relief.”
It ate some more.
“Why would you be relieved I was eating this particular creature, query. I will tell you why this is. No. Pause. Group-officer, find this one’s spawn. Treat it with kindness, for now.”
It threw a piece of meat at him.
“This moment, you will give me what I want.”
Without the translator now, It spoke in gargled, deep, but intelligible English.
“Give us that which we desire. Or. I. Will. Force. Feed. You. The. Still. Living. Flesh. Of. Your. Own. Child.”
The other voice inside his head screamed.

My Rambling Thoughts on Gamersgate

Videogames are art. Much of the time they are pretty stupid shitty art – with dialogue and plotting that is just plain embarrassing. But they are art none the less. What sets art apart from many other human endeavours is the manner in which it is discussed. I would argue that good art requires good criticism. If we want good games then the level of discourse surrounding them needs to be of a high calibre.

I worry less about the quality of games writing than I do about the quality of games. I think writing about games is at its best right now. Yes I know there are some crappy reviewers, I get that. But there is so much great writing on the subject of games that elevate it from an embarrassing pastime to an art form worthy of being discussed alongside other media. One of those writers is Anita Sarkeesian. Anita is a gamer, a feminist, a writer and someone who is playing a part in raising the discussion of games to a level above mere “my console is better than yours” nonsense.

Sarkeesian is clearly someone who enjoys games, understands them very well and wants to make them much better than they are. The games business is lucky to have this kind of discourse surrounding it. The discussion surrounding sexism within games is a vital and positive one. The discussion benefits women, women who play games, men and men who play games. It’s a happy all inclusive venn diagram of gaming goodness.

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Camera Gear Forums & Obsession With Sharpness.

It is mad how much stock people put in sharpness. On camera gear forums it seems to be the aim for many people – they’ll post what they think is an amazing shot – because it is sharp, not because of the composition, light, subject etc. People rate lenses and cameras on how sharp they are as the primary factor. I think it’s all bonkers.

Back when I used to have a little film camera and all my prints were 6×4 I don’t remember anyone talking about sharpness. Being in focus yes, but nothing more. But now folks can look at 100% images on large monitors they become obsessed with the pixel sharpness, throwing away images that would make pretty large prints before sharpness was an issue – even if sharpness actually is one.

But that’s gear forums for you. Go somewhere more about the end product and there’s less focus (no pun intended) on sharpness. Go to places that are about the art of photography – sharpness much less of a thing there.

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Happy Birthday Will

Our youngest is five today. He’s been insanely excited about his birthday for months now and I’ve been concerned it couldn’t live up to his expectations. But his expectations aren’t anything other than the excitement of a day all about him – and he’s been giddy with joy all morning before heading to school.

It has been an interesting year for Will and us as it is his first year at school. He’s a bright, funny and outgoing boy but he’s also in many ways not a million miles away from the toddler he was. And when starting school I was nervous about his academic prospects – not because of any doubts regarding his abilities – but merely because he’s nearly a year younger than others in the reception class. After all, just three months before starting school he’d still been three.

I needn’t have worried. While he may be small and sometimes too trusting of his friends the one thing that hasn’t been a problem this year has been learning at school. He is a boy that’s always loved finding out new things – especially about dinosaurs, Star Wars and volcanoes. He has taken to learning to read with real enthusiasm and has really impressed us with his progress. We needn’t have worried – his reading ability at the end of his first year of school is as good as any in his school year.

I wanted to post today to mark the date, a date so special for our little boy. And it’s special to us too because it celebrates this bonkers bundle of cuteness and energy that is our baby boy. The little monkey has lit up my life. Happy Birthday William.

Driveclub, Forza Horizon 2 & Magic Computer Beans

This week’s announcement of Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One has got videogamers on many forums spouting the same old rubbish we’ve heard time and again about frame rates. The nonsense intensified earlier today as Playground Games revealed Horizon 2 would run at 1080p30.

Come on guys, most of you are smarter than playing out this silly 60 vs 30 argument all over again. Playground Games has chosen to make this game 30fps, rather than 60fps. Why? Because it’s a good compromise for this kind of sim-lite open world action. You can put lots of silicon horsepower into making the game beautiful.

Could it be 60fps? Of course it could.

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