Saturday, 30 October 2010

Rock Band 3 - Xbox 360

There are two reasons why this is my first time playing Rock Band. First of all was the price, but then I found the drum-kit for £15 on TheHut.com. I considered it, but after checking the prices and soundtracks of the games, decided against it.

A couple of months later, the drum-kit was down to £9.93, and I discovered that the upcoming Rock Band 3 had Huey Lewis and the News' “The Power of Love” on its setlist.

I knew then that I had to have this game in my life.

Thr drum-kit was ordered and despatched on the same day, and, unable to wait until the 29th October for RB3, signed up for a free trial with Boomerang, which gave me 21 days to try out RB 1 and 2, and the Lego version.

However, once I knew the drums were on their way to my house, and as Boomerang had not sent me any games, I went and bought Lego Rock Band second-hand.

Despite being a Rock Band virgin, I managed to maintain a mid-80% or higher score for the songs. I also found some tracks on Xbox Live to download and play. I loved the Lego Queen band on “I Want It All”!

Two days before the release date of RB3, I received the email to say it had been despatched, and on the morning of the 29th when the post came...there was no RB3.

It arrived this morning.

Rock Band 3 has the best soundtrack out of all the games by far. Mainly 70s and 80s rock, along with oddballs such as Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” (rather tricky, that one) and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on Xbox Live (really enjoyed playing that song!).

It also has the most extensive setlist, which admittedly takes some scrolling through, but it’s worth it for the amount of songs available both on the disc and through download.

Among my favourites are Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” – although I found it harder than the others at first, Dire Straits' “Walk of Life”, REM’s “Stand” (looked all over for that one on Xbox Live!), Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting – on which I achieved my highest score of 105,000-plus, and of course, “The Power of Love”.

There was something very satisfying about getting the opening beats exactly right at the start of Huey Lewis’ classic before launching into the chorus with gusto.

Yet for all the uninhibited rocking exuberance of Elton and Alice Cooper, John Lennon’s “Imagine” brings a gentler feel to the game, and even when concentrating on hitting the right notes, the words of the song still filter through to your mind.

I’ve only had time to go on free-play, as I like picking my own songs and don’t like being told what to play next, but already I have unlocked a few rewards such as clothes and designs. No doubt they will be useful to play with when I embark on the career path.

As with Guitar Hero, after a couple of non-stop hours of watching a scrolling fret, objects around me appeared to be levitating, and now I have a bit of a headache. Perhaps then, it is best enjoyed in moderation.
   
Now I just have to re-arrange the cluttered underneath of my bed to find somewhere for the drum-kit to live when I'm not playing on it. I have ordered the drum silencers to dim the monotonous thud of wood on plastic when I strike it, and to protect the thing: at times I had to give it a right bashing to keep up. Also I may have to invest in a USB microphone as well as the guitar to go along with the drum-kit. I tried the Lips microphones to no avail.

Finally, I cannot write this review without submitting my own song requests: let's have some Meat Loaf songs available for download, please! Preferably those written by Jim Steinman!

Oh, and the drums are now up to £13 on TheHut!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Michael McIntyre: Life and Laughing

It is apt that Meat Loaf gets two mentions in Michael McIntyre's "patchy memories", Life and Laughing, as it is because of the former that I was introduced to the latter.

In 2006, I was watching the Royal Variety Performance on television solely to see The Loaf, and wondering how long I would have to wait for his entrance.

I was not particularly thrilled to hear that not only was the next act not Meat Loaf, but was a stand-up comedian, a phrase that normally fills me with dread. Almost all of Britain's contemporary comedians I found to be miserable, offensive, and decidedly not funny.

Yet not a minute later I was smiling, laughing out loud, and quoting Homer Simpson: "it's funny because it's true!"

Since then I have followed McIntyre's career on television and stage. I even deigned to go to his show at Newcastle. Being a Sunderland lass the only two people I would go to Newcastle to see were (you guessed it) Meat Loaf and my orthodontist.

Naturally I was interested to know how McIntyre went from being an unknown, to being the only comedian to make me laugh, to performing sell-out gigs in the country's biggest arenas, and getting 2,500 people in the Sunderland Empire to cheer at the word "Sunderland", even though half of them were from Newcastle.

Frankly, his journey to the top is depressing. After all his dedicated years spent as the effectively "least experienced" understudy at Jongleurs, it is remarkable that he has not turned into a depressed, bitter alcoholic with no future in comedy ahead of him.

As a Chinese-looking baby born to definitely white middle-class parents, he and his younger sister Lucy lived a bizzare existence around celebrities and television studios. His father wrote for The Kenny Everett Show, and his young, glamorous mother was frequently photographed with Kenny, then Britain's biggest TV star.

His rich, eccentric, Hungarian grandmother would give him £50 for playing a game of Scrabble with her, giving him a better salary than his schoolmates.

However his parents grew apart, and eventually split. His father met an American woman, and they moved to Los Angeles; while his mother got together with a Patrick Swayze look-a-like who rag-rolled her walls.

They sold the family home to Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, along with little Jack and baby Kelly, and the McIntyres moved to Golders Green. Michael and Lucy then had something of a double-life, spending holidays in LA with their father, doing and eating all things American, and attending school in England.

Then, out of nowhere, his father phoned to say that he could no longer afford to pay their school fees. To be suddenly thrust from public to state school was quite a culture shock.

It was while at Edinburgh university that McIntyre decided he wanted to be a film writer, however his first script called Office Angels never made it to the screen, despite its potential.

He knew he wanted to make people laugh for a living, and seeing live stand-up only confirmed it. Finally he made it onto the lowly Jongleurs circuit, occasionally getting the odd gig elsewhere.

However three weeks in Edinburgh for the Perrier awards ended disappointingly when he could not even sell a ticket. After parting company with his first agent, he managed to get in with Off the Kerb, who count Jonathan Ross, Lee Evans and Jack Dee among their clients.

The legendary agent Addison Cresswell got him a stint on the Royal Variety Performance, and we know the rest…apart from family life, of course.

His unorthodox courting methods of his wife-to-be, Kitty, their wedding, and the birth of their first son Lucas are all recounted with much affection and joy.

As a newly-married couple moving into their first home, there were the usual hurdles for Michael and Kitty, such as a shopping experience on eBay that can only be likened to the Stonehenge scene in This is Spinal Tap, and just as hilarious.

There is also an anecdote involving a cremation urn that I thought only happened in an episode of Frasier and seemed too ludicrous for real life.

Although McIntyre professes that he does not read, Life and Laughing is well written, eloquent, and of course, very funny. Yet there are poignant moments, such as the sudden death of his father, and his grandmother cutting him off after he introduced her to Kitty.

The photographs provide an extra insight, along with laugh-out-loud captions. I especially liked the one taken at Disneyland.

With hindsight, it is hard to imagine McIntyre as a struggling comedian. Even with his family connections, he still had to do it the hard way to get to the top. I know I’m not the only one who is glad he is there.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Back to the Future - 25th Anniversary Cinema Release

After watching “Back to the Future” for the first time only a couple of years ago, I immediately went on iTunes and downloaded Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love”.  I will admit that this song was my main motivation for wanting to see the 25-year-old movie on the cinema screen, so that I could hear the soundtrack blasting out through the powerful sound system.
It was worth the £3.25 entry fee.
The songs, both from the 50s and 80s, sounded marvellous, as did Alan Silvestri’s memorable score.
Iconic scenes we are so used to seeing on television looked even better on the big screen, like the first sighting of the DeLorean and the high school dance.  The larger screen also allows for more detailed viewing.  I never noticed the car’s “Outatime” number plate until yesterday.
A quarter of a century after its release, the humour is still fresh, the tension at the clock tower still unbearable.  Even the special effects don’t look too dated in our “Avatar” generation.
The relationships between Michael J. Fox’s affable Marty McFly, his parents, and Christopher Lloyd’s manic Doc are still empathetic today.
Even if you’ve seen the trilogy umpteen times, own it on DVD yet still find yourself watching the showings on ITV4, it is still worth the effort to see at the cinema.  It allows for a truly singular viewing, with no interruptions, no adverts, just a cinematic experience of a classic.
Can we have “Jurassic Park” re-released on the big screen next?  Although if it’s going to be for the 20th anniversary I’m not sure I can wait until 2013.

Mortal Path: Sacrifice by Dakota Banks

Article first published as Book Review: Dark Time: Sacrifice by Dakota Banks on Blogcritics.

In Sacrifice, the second of Dakota Banks' "Mortal Path" series, Maliha Crayne is continuing her quest to free herself from her demon's contract by saving as many lives as she has taken.
She is also trying to collect the seven shards of a lens that will enable her to read a tablet that will put an end to the demons' reign, as well as attempting to prevent the release of deadly toxins into the waters of Africa by a small council of power-seeking masterminds.
Talk about multi-tasking.
At least she is aided in her tasks by the help of her friends, who are a cabal of technological whizzes, superhumans and people with links to underworld and government activities. Yet she is without the help of the man she met in Dark Time and trusted as a friend: Jake Stackman has his own secrets to tell, but Maliha is not quite ready to hear them.
However, Maliha's progress is hindered by another Ageless being named Lucas, ordered by his demon to stop her getting her hands on the shards — although Lucas himself is starting to question his own loyalty to his demon, as well as his feelings for Maliha.
Her quest takes her across the United States, Europe and Africa, leading her on a trek along the Omo River, and involving her breaking into an underwater laboratory. She leaves a trail of devastation and death in her wake, which in turn brings back her own tortured memories of her previous life and the death of her own child.
While she feels these deaths all the more keenly, she has to carry out her task in the same frame of mind as an Ageless assassin. Her demon Rabishu even offers her that existence back, forcing Maliha to question what she truly wants.
Sacrifice is a whirlwind of action, emotion, passion and intrigue. Surprise and shock lurks on every other page. Like Dark Time it can be devoured hungrily. Sacrifice seems to eclipse its predecessor in both depth and plot. Dakota Banks has created a rare thing: a sequel that is as good as or better than the original.

Many thanks to Dakota Banks for sending me a copy of the book! :)