Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

It’s not often that I rave about films; because it’s not often I see a film worth raving about. In the 6 months I’ve had my Cineworld unlimited card I’ve seen about 40 movies. There have been some good ones: Kick Ass, Inception, The A-Team and Cemetery Junction and lots of bad ones: Chloe, Clash of the Titans and Legion, to name but a few.
Until tonight Perrier’s Bounty was the best film I’d seen all year. Now it’s going to have to share the top spot with another real gem, The Karate Kid.


I have very fond memories of the original film, shown endlessly when I was younger. I’m also normally very sceptical about re-makes. So I entered the cinema expecting something decent but probably not memorable. Director Harald Zwart was a wild card, the only film I know he’s directed before this was the second pink panther re-make, which I haven’t seen but have heard nothing good about.
The plot is exactly the same as the original. Boy meets girl and angers girl’s boyfriend (kinda). Boyfriend and his Kung-Fu gang start bullying boy. Boy enlists the help of ag├ęd (kinda) mentor to teach him to defend himself but has to enter a Kung-Fu tournament to drive off the bullies for good.

There are differences. Firstly, the characters are all younger. In the original movie Danny (the main character, played by Ralph Macchio) was in his late teens, in the re-make Dre (played by Jaden Smith) is only 12. All the kids, who make up most of the rest of the cast, are about the same age.
Jackie Chan as Mr Han is also a bit Younger than Pat Morita’s Mr Miyagi.

The other major change is a shift of location from California to Beijing. It’s actually a change that’s massively beneficial to the film as the sense of alienation is a real drive for Dre, especially in the opening third.
The move to China also allows the director free licence to use some amazing photography. There are stunning shots of busy Beijing and the tranquil rural areas of China littered throughout the picture and they all earn brownie points in my eyes. Even the obligatory and totally cheesy shots of Dre training on the great wall are just too well-crafted for even my cynical soul to gripe about.

However there are three things that really make this a great film, and believe me, it is a great film. The first is the casting. Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan are perfect for this movie. Jaden Smith has whiny kid out to learn life lessons down pat while Jackie Chan as the slightly odd, hilarious, Kung-Fu master couldn’t have done better. This is miles better than any Jackie Chan film I’ve seen before and has earned Chan some grudging respect in my eyes.

The second component is humour and emotion. There are jokes littered throughout the film. Some of them are based on the similarities with the original but there’s fresh material and Chan’s interaction’s with Smith get real laughs the whole way through.
There’s also a touching side to the plot with more heartfelt moments as the bond between Mr Han and Dre strengthens. Both actors do well in the more dramatic sequences.

Lastly and unsurprisingly it’s the action that really makes this movie. The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed and superbly executed. They all look authentic and even without computer graphics you’ll be wowed by some of what you see.
It’s also very well shot, at no-point is the camera too close to make out what’s happening or too far away that we lose the sense of excitement and uncertainty in the outcome of a fight.
Crucially Dre’s development in the movie is totally realistic. Unlike in the original, Mr Han really puts Dre through the paces, and over the film we actually do see Dre becoming more muscly and fitter. I totally believed that Dre had enough preparation for the tournament and that he could do the moves we see him do in the film.

Although I was never bored, this film is a little on the long side, clocking in at 2 hours 20 minutes. It delights me to say that’s my only criticism; the acting, casting, drama, plot, action and suspense are all top notch. This is a must see film whether you loved the original or have never heard of the Karate Kid before now. Go see it.

5/5

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eric

A siren wails out across the city as the thunder finally rolls in. A tom cat, stalking mice down an alley scurries for cover amongst the bins. A torrent descends on to the streets of Dublin. A wave, washing fag butts into gutters, sweeping discarded chip bags and the night’s vomit from the pavement, crashes on the late night shore. Each rain drop strikes the concrete like a cymbal, bringing the storms crescendo higher and higher.
Eric O’Gorman notes the storm as it thunders against the skylight above his bed but he’s disconnected from it. He watches it as through a screen, he hasn’t been following the drama and has no interest in it.
He sits, his back set in the corner his bed has been squeezed into. His whole existence compressed into a tiny room on a small street in a city he has never cared for.
On the table beside Eric’s bed is a recently emptied bottle of cheap wine and two crushed and discarded beer cans. A glass sits by the room’s only lamp, a fag end polluting the last mouthful Eric didn’t finish.
They all lie on top of faded newspapers and torn magazines. On the covers jaded girls trust their tits out towards the camera. On the floor at the foot of the table, almost against the bed, is a vodka bottle, the top missing.
Eric holds a framed photo, so old the colours have bled. The edges of the frame are worn down from years of Eric clutching it in his big hands. In the picture is a small boy, curly blonde hair flowing down to his shoulders. The boy is being held by his dad, the man with Eric’s eyes.
He sits there staring vacantly at the glass, as he has done since midnight. The two figures, happy, all smiles, stare back.
Eric’s eyes screw up tight and his fists contract and shake as they clutch the frame. His knuckles go white before he drops the photo to the bed with a strange sob, like all the air has been knocked from his lungs.
He gasps, he can’t breathe. He doubles over on the bed and shakes. For 10 long minutes he silently sobs, his whole body wracked with an anguish he cannot fight and cannot control. Finally the shaking passes and he reaches down and swipes the vodka bottle. He takes a swig but wretches on the cheap vodka.
Eric grabs the glass from the bedside table and tosses the fag end and the last mouthful into the bin. He wipes it out with his fingers and with an unsteady hand pours half a glass. He spills vodka all over the magazines and newspapers but he doesn’t care.
He starts searching for mixer but the bottle of coke he had started with earlier is empty. He staggers from the bed, spilling the vodka on the floor. He leaves the glass on a cluttered counter and searches the fridge. There’s nothing in there but milk and that’s out of date.
He curses to himself and throws open his two battered cupboards. He finds an empty cereal box and a half loaf of bread already going mouldy. In the other is pasta and rice, but nothing to cut his drink.
He drops into his only arm chair and begins laboriously to put on his shoes. He grabs his coat and searches the pockets until he finds his keys. He searches the dining table, cluttered with crap, for his wallet. He leaves. A moment later he returns for his coat.

Outside the gutters are overflowing. The cat has had to make a break from the bins, which now sit in a couple inches of water. He is perched instead on the alley wall, directly in the rain. Eric leaves his dingy flat and steps into the alley, straight into a huge puddle. He sighs and pulls the collar of his coat up around his neck. He looks up and down the alley and heads south towards the city centre.

Dorset Street is deserted as Eric shuffles by. The pubs, long shut, are locked up tight. Even the adult stores are closed, their neon lights extinguished as if by the rain.
Eric doesn’t see anyone until he passes Blessingston Street. Then a lone tramp scurries by him without even a glance.
At Parnell Square Eric turns and trudges towards the river. The rain is so heavy that he can only see the lights ahead. As he crosses Parnell Street a taxi speeds at him from the rain and Eric has to leap to the pavement to avoid being hit. The angry driver shoves his fist against the horn until he’s well out of sight.
Even O’Connell Street is empty, the combination of driving rain and the late hour keeping even the usual night owls safely tucked away. Only a Garda, sheltering under the portico at the GPO watches Eric as he heads south.
As he comes to Abbey Street a peal of thunder rattles off against the buildings and Eric is suddenly afraid.
The haze of the alcohol is flushed from his head as adrenaline kicks in and his heart starts to pump. What is he doing wandering around in a thunderstorm at 4am? He considers going back but he’s come too far now. He ducks into the only shop still open and grabs a large bottle of coke. He goes to the counter and reaches for his wallet. He knows even as he opens it that it’s empty. He spent his last twenty on the bottle of vodka nine hours previously.
He opens it anyway and then pats his pockets looking for change. He doesn’t have any, so he sighs, puts the bottle back on the shelf where he found it and trudges out into the rain.
Around the corner on Abbey Street he finds an ATM and withdraws a twenty euro note. As he takes his bank card from the machine his stomach grumbles and he changes his mind about buying the coke. Instead he crosses O’Connell Street and ducks into the burger king, which is always open, unfailingly, like a church for the unwanted and malnourished.
He orders a burger and sits, munching on it, staring out into the rain.
Through the thunder clouds dawn is breaking and Eric, alone with the two staff joking behind the counter, sees the rare beauty of a dawn storm.
With his burger finished and shivering from his damp clothes, Eric leaves the fast food joint and heads home.

By the time he reaches his flat Eric is so cold that his hands shake too much to get the key in the lock. Only after breathing on his hands for a minute can he open the door.
As he steps into his flat the smell of vodka greets him like a veteran’s wife. He ignores it and turns up the heating. Before the door swings shut behind him he’s already pulling off his sodden clothes, piling them on the floor where they bleed out.
Eric hates his flat but the old place has one saving grace; the electric shower with its constant supply of hot water. He sticks it on and within a minute the waters warm and feeling begins to return to Eric’s legs and arms.
He spends twenty long minutes in the shower before climbing out and towelling himself off. He steps back into his five by four metre kitchen, living room and bedroom which is now toasty from the electric radiator. He flicks the heater off and moves to the bed.
He removes what few real possessions are on his bedside table and bins the vodka soaked newspapers and magazines in one go. He thinks briefly with regret about Tabitha, who liked cats and had a great rack but the magazines are too saturated to save.
Then he mops up the remaining vodka with paper towels, takes the photo from the bed and without looking at it puts it on the table, facing away from the bed. On the back of the frame is written in his mother’s handwriting: James and Eric, aged 6.

Still naked, Eric pulls the blankets up over his head and goes to sleep. Above him the rain drums on the skylight as the sun rises behind the clouds. Outside the cat is gone.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Earth

In a moment, in a blink
The present moon begins to sink,
The future sun,
Is rising now
And at it’s head a shining prow.
Built by men to forge a dream
The White Knight waiting
To redeem
The pettiness of human life
As it rises like a knife
Through the clouds and dust and air
To soar to space and to repair
Our hope, our hearts
Our drive and worth
And show us all our place;
This earth.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Backpacking, Wanderlust and Edinburgh

There is, in my view, only one way to see the world. If you travel and stay in hotels and cart around ridiculous amounts of clothes, in cases you could be buried in, you never really experience what travel is all about. It’s about taking the smallest amount of stuff you possibly can, shoving it into the smallest bag you can possibly fit it in and forgetting everything that you’ve left behind.
Travel is about turning up in a city that until that day was just a name, and finding in it treasures you’d never imagined. Travel is about staying in tiny dorm rooms when you have to and cozying up with fellow travellers when you can.
Travel is about things working out when by rights they shouldn’t and things going terribly, scarily wrong and being able to laugh when they do.
I love backpacking and I love travel. The two for me are inseparable. It’s sad that in the past couple years I’ve done so little of it; especially this year, when I’ve had so few commitments.

I went to Scotland first and foremost to see my brother, who lives near the border with England. As soon as I’d booked the trip I realised I needed the break. Staying in Ireland for too long makes me jumpy and cranky. I love Ireland and Dublin but travelling is a passion and wanderlust an infection I’ve carried a long time.

I considered seeing both Edinburgh and Glasgow but on the advice of just about everyone I opted to avoid the more industrial city.

My flight to Edinburgh was due to take off just after lunch last Wednesday, which coincidentally was when my airline, Aer Lingus, had said they’d start flights again after the Eyjafjallajokull ash cloud.

I didn’t expect the plane to take off. So I went through the considerable rigmarole of packing (love travelling, hate packing) without a lot of optimism. I got a bus to the airport, again, expecting the worst. There was a tiny queue to check in, which took a ridiculous amount of time to clear and when I got to the desk I was surprised to be handed a boarding pass straight away.

After that the trip was plain sailing. I spent my time doing what I most enjoy, wandering around a city to get a feel of it, reading books (I bought 6, read 4) and when the urge struck me, writing.

Edinburgh is a really gorgeous city. My hostel was smack in the middle of the Old Town and that meant I didn’t have to see many modern soul-less buildings or wander very far to see the sites.

I went pub crawling with the hostel crew each night I was in Edinburgh and discovered that I am currently a backpacker magnet, although why this is I have yet to decipher. I don’t intend to analyse it too much, lest I break the magic.

My trip south was less impressive. The train from Edinburgh to Carlisle cost me £40 which shocked me a bit, and the terrain in Southern Scotland (the lowlands) is really not as impressive. They did have some awesome castles down there though.

Seeing my brother was great. In the last five years I’ve only seen him a handful of times and he and his girlfriend provided some really awesome meals for me while I was down there.

In all it’s been a good trip. However I’m left with a stronger sense of wanderlust then ever. I want to start an epic trip, drop everything and just keep moving. It’s starting to get higher on my list again. When the marathon is run and the 365 challenge over I think I might take out my backpack again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Photos in Absence

All the shots I uploaded to flickr while I was in Edinburgh but didn't get a chance to post them to Facebook or Twitter:







Friday, March 26, 2010

Where do the months go?

I started this blog to help me write. It was something I could turn to with random musings and quirkey ideas. Sadly it hasn't worked so far. Instead it's been 20 days since I last updated and out of the 85 days so far this year I've failed to write even a single word on 21 occasions, thus failing my challenge pretty horribly.

So what gives Robin? Why the lack of writing?

I think the problem is my current lifestyle and the sheer amount of things i've given myself to do. ALong with the challenges I have websites to build and a marathon to run. Those last two have been taking up more and more time. Thankfully the current site will soon be done, the marathon however will stretch on, becoming more and more imposing until October.

Most of the writing I have managed to do has been superficial. I did manage the first draft of a short script back in January. I was reasonably pleased with that, but it was but a week's work amongst a sea of self-serving blog posts (like this one) and pretty bad poetry.

This week I did start a new play, but even with a strong initial concept I've been struggling to flesh out the characters and real interactions to push the piece forward.

For good or bad I've signed up for Script Frenzy to try turn it into a proper 100-page play by the end of April. Considering everything else going on at the minute I'll be amazed if I manage that. Still, worth a go, no?

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Beauteous Night

I watch the stars each night,
Stricken low with an empty longing,
Knowing the vastness
That reaches us over a million years
Will drain my soul
And blow it out to space.
Solitude is finite.
Loneliness is endless.
We are but specks in a limitless ocean.
Drifting into contact at the whim of laws
Our minds are still too tiny to conceive.
And yet the sky is beautiful.
And in a way, that is the problem.
The vast emptiness is all too easy
To embrace, leaving behind
All those things that make us human.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nostrum somnium ero verus.

There is a lesson,
Inscribed on a stone plaque
Carved in my heart.
When adversity faces us
We must not bow our heads,
Or taste defeat in a bitter mouth.
There is no victory in overcoming
A challenge there is no chance of failing.
“Anything can be achieved with hard work and will power”.
From the race to the rise
All things are impossible
Only when we let them be so.

If you must cry
Then shed tears in endeavour
If you must complain
Then do so only to yourself.
If regret is your master
Then you must master regret.
If the burden is too heavy,
Find others who will help to carry it.

Fear is not within us,
It is without us.
The fear of failure is the drive to success.
Bravery is simply foolishness in fancier garb.
Nostrum somnium ero verus.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photography Bucket List

After reading this article dredged from the mammoth backlog in my Google Reader I decided it was a good enough idea to steal.

So here is my bucket list.

A really good portrait
Solomon on the mound - Day #67
If you've browsed my photostream you'll see that portraiture isn't my thing. There are probably three photos with people up there in total. This is a shame because I quite like portraiture. So why not go out and get more? Well I hope to. In fact in the not too distant future I may be pestering you with my camera.

That waterfall
In the wicklow mountains - Day #90
Yes it's a massive cliche. I still want one. I've even had the chance a few times, but it's never been exactly what I'm after, which is a lot of water flowing captured with a slow shutter speed.

One of those slow motion coastal shots - Again a cliche but these are just great when done properly. Here's a good example example.

A wild fox - To be honest any sort of wildlife photography would be a bit of a dream. A fox is just the top on the list. They're elusive buggers though and without a super telephoto lens this is probably never going to happen. I'd best start saving.

A studio shoot - Another dream. Someday i'd love to rent a studio out and have the right equipment to do justice to a shoot. I'd probably go for a proper fashionesque model and see what I coud get of her.


Let me know what you'd like to shoot. There are plenty of other shots I'd love to get. I'll probably expand this over the year.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Flickr - The numbers game

I've been using flickr for a little while now and it's become apparent that while easy to use it is somewhat limited as a service.

Flickr is a great way to share your photos and find great photos easily. It has a clean layout and if you pay the $2 a month fee then you get unlimited storage.

On the other hand there are some major things wrong with flickr.

Black and White
The biggest problem is it's design. Flickr always shows every photo against a white background. Sadly most photos look better against a black backdrop, and this can have a bigger effect on your shots then you might think.

Take this shot and it's displayed on black version. You should immediatly notice the diference. The reason for this is a little odd. The human eye actually has no default value for white. When we look at a scene we immediatly take the brightest value we can see as white. What this means is that photos on flickr that have areas that appear white on a black background look less bright and slightly off white against flickr's white backdrop.

Poor Stats
Stats on flickr cost money. Ostensibly it's what you pay for when you spend money to make your account PRO. Sadly stats are severely limited. The main problem is a lack of options. You can't really compare shot stats, or try to understand what you did to get a photo seen more widely. THe graph flickr does provide you only goes back a month but the biggest problem is that the stats don't give you any depth; You can't tell how long someone looked at your shot and flickr has no built in system to let people rate your shots.

Groups - Too many, not fit for purpose
Groups on flickr are a great idea. With them you can collect together photos on any subject, style or quality. However flickr hasn't adapted to what groups are most comonly used for: competitions.

On flickr we generally post to groups to get our photos seen by a wide group of people. The easiest way is to post in a group where the rules of the group insure people look at your photo before they post theirs. However competitive groups are a mish mash of moderating and silly award images and despit having been around for years flickr hasn't made an effor tto improve them.

The addition of facilities to give group awards through flickr would majorly improve the service. As would the addition of a photo rating system.


The numbers game
If you do get into flickr you will probably be sucked into the numbers game. As with any website or social network we all tend to get slightly obsessed with how many people see our efforts and contributions.
On flickr this takes the form of individual views, comments, favourites and the holy grail, intrestingness.

Hits on flickr aren't that dificult to get, provided you are willing to put the spade work in. Hits are basically decided by the quality of the photo (actually not as important as how good it looks small) and how much you promote it. The easiet way to get hits is to post lots of photos into lots of diferent groups every day.

When posting into groups your shot needs to look good in a very small format. What this boils down to is that there has to be high general contrast (i.e both bright and dark areas), there has to be large details as opposed to small, the colours should be warm and vibrant and the shot should preferably be easily discernible at a small scale.

I generally post shots to about 20 groups a day and on good days get about 500 hits as a result.

Comments are received en masse in a similar way to hits. If you want useful constructive comments then you're best to post in groups where part of the rules is that you must comment and rate other photos. These groups give you useful feedback about your photos. Be warned however, not everyone on flickr knows what they're talking about and people will present themselves as experts in comments by using technical terms (Depth of field, exposure, selective contrast) when in fact they themselves are not great photographers. When in doubt check them out.

Favourites are much much harder to get. Really this boils down to contacts and the quality of your work. I have a simple method of boosting contacts and one that is beneficial to all. I add as a contact anyone on flickr who adds me first and anyone who has a shot I deem worthy of a favourite. Over a short time I have accumulated around 500 contacts who will see my photos on their contacts page and, if they like them, will give them favourites. In return I regularly check my contacts page and comment and favourite shots I like.

Intrestingness is the holy grail of flickr. We all like to get our shots into the top 500. Sadly intrestingess is hard to achive. Even your best shots won't make the list on a good day. The real way to make the list is to have loads and loads of contacts and then don't promote your photos at all intrestingness is about the ratio of favourites to views, so the fewer people who see a shot but the more who favourite it the better. This can seem a little counter-intuitive but it makes sense if you assume that the best shots don't need to be shouted about, news about them will spread no matter what.

Any and all questions in the comments

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nightmare coming

There is a nightmare I have
of our future coming.
Of government corporations
where all decisions
are made by the bottom line.
no people,
just employees and customers
and the endless war
but long hostile take overs.

I see its beginnings
free speech for the unliving
giving voice to greed;
Voltaire turns in his grave.

Changed

They came, footsteps crunching out
A slow rolling beat.
The tolling thud of thunder
Thumping in time
To their low chant.
They did not shout for change
They had shouted too often before.
The disenfranchised and the forgotten
Held banners woven of their tattered dreams
Stitched with tears and lined with broken promises.
On each face the battle marks of lives wasted
By men who knew it all
And knew it all could be taken for themselves.
Men who preached democracy,
The rotting carcass of a broken system,
Purporting to empower the people
While keeping them down.
Taking our power to decide from us
And calling it a mandate.
There were children in the crowd.
Who saw ahead a future as hard as their parents past.
All were resolute in the face of threats and weapons
They were laid out by bullets, gas canisters and riot gear.
Inside each and every one of them a minor miracle
Had fornicated with their last remaining hope.
The fucked up offspring of delusion and despair
drove them to die for a cause only they could believe in.
Fuck change. Fuck government.
Their legs pump as the stoic silence parts to angry venom
Peaceful protest finally gives up and dies
And rage spills out onto the streets.
Fists pump as sheer numbers push back men
Who until the last moment think they do their duty.
Angry words turn into angry action
And then there is change.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why terrorism works.

I don't plan to talk about politics much on this blog, but there are some things that just need to be said.

Right now, terrorism works.

That’s right. If you want to change the world for the worse, to scare the 'West', to lessen our freedom or to inspire fear then all you need to do is sneak a bomb onto an aeroplane. It's not that hard. There are all sorts of explosives and if you're really prepared to die for your cause then it can't be that dificult to cause a plane to crash.

Sadly this isn't why terrorism works. Terrorism works because of our reactions to it. The aim of terrorism is to make us afraid, to take from us our freedom. No terrorist alone can do this. No, it takes the complicity of major world powers (I'm looking at America and Britain here) that, as soon as there's a terror threat, hit the panic button and removes more of our 'democratic' freedoms. It works because we start thinking of ourselves or our children and we decide that having everyone's private lives examined or being strip searched to fly is a price worth paying.

It isn't. Whether you have nothing to hide or not your privacy is sacred. It's sacred because without it there is no democracy. Anyone who won't to do something because of fear of their government doesn't live in a democracy and anyone who gives up their freedom for temporary safety deserves neither.

Law is not fear of government. Law is enforcement of a moral code we choose to live by with penalties set out before hand. I’m not afraid of being given a parking ticket; I just know that that’s what happens if I park illegally. I shouldn’t be afraid to read a book or write a blog because it might draw the eyes of my government and what I say or do shouldn’t be tracked by them.

Terrorism isn’t the man on the plane with the dynamite. Terrorism is what we do to ourselves after the dynamite goes off, or doesn’t.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Written in mild delerium

The soft curves of a slight smile,
and a naughty sparkle in your eye.
The warmth of your body,
pressed close against mine.
Your lips as inviting
as an open fire,
and a glass of wine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Swift illness

Cloying smoke curls
in my battered throat.
coal weighs down my eyes
and every muscle aches
like a week on the rack.
My skin is old leather
my mouth the dregs of a blackboard.
My neck two bowling balls in a canvas sack.

Sleep is both fantasy and nightmare,
each breath relief for my lungs
and death for my maw

Swift Illness, unquenchable thirst.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Some other day

Screaming at the sun -
as the sun descends,
Turning, toppling, twisting
as I reach the end.
Oxygen starved
and out of control,
Feeling like a prisoner
passed by for parole.

Lost and silent
and out of my mind,
Why argue with reason
when reason is blind.
Broken hearted
and man does it hurt,
Left like a spoon,
lying in the dirt.

Setting a benchmark
for crazed and confused,
When you leave yourself open
you're easily used.
Delerium stricken
you're strictly unkown.
A forgotten king
on an empty throne.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The beauty of the sun in the hawthorn tree

Sunlight strikes dew drops on a hawthorn tree,
a beauty no lens of mine can capture.
The golden fingers stretch towards the sky
and the flaming orb obscured by branches
casts brilliant spells upon the frozen grass.

A blackbird searches chicken-like in the frost.
Stalked by a hungry cat.
The bird wins this encounter.
While above a finch watches
picking at food we have left it
for this long Winter.