Sunday, 26 June 2011

Just One More Thing - Peter Falk

Dear Peter,

This is a note to say thank you. Thank you for the pleasure, entertainment and smiles you have induced in us over the years. You had a rare skill to create and absorb characters that connected with an audience through the big and small screens, as well as an effortless charm with which you delivered your numerous roles.

It is with great sadness that we hear of your passing, but we wanted to share your history with others and the impact it has had on us.

Your most iconic role has been our regular weekend fixture, the yardstick that any detective series should measure itself against, created by Levinson and Link, the inimitable Colombo. You made him your own by using your own raincoat and picking out the battered old Peugeot.

The inverted detective story, showing the murder and the perpetrator at the top of the show was a brilliant device to highlight how you then unpicked the story, exposed the usually affluent murderers and proved that the "ordinary" cop can outsmart anyone who comes onto his radar, thus providing immense satisfaction for us, your audience. It is this satisfaction and familiarity with the set pieces, foibles and quirks that you delivered which continues to provide the Colombo audience with delight week after week and retains their affection for your character.

We know you're going to be pesky and keep dogging the murderer, coming back to them again and again at the tennis club or mansion, wearing them down and exposing their flimsy alibi's.
We know you'll keep chewing on your stogie's as the cogs chug round your head - you appear to see nothing, but actually see everything.
We know that the unfailing wisdom of Mrs Columbo (we like this beautiful picture of you and the real Mrs Falk) or the variety of relatives and acquaintances that we never see provide insight into the particular crime on hand, be it bagpipe playing Uncle or nephew at UCLA specialising in dermatology.
We also know that catchphrase and we perform it along with you, as you head towards the door - pause - turn around, scratch your head, point and say "Just One More Thing..."

You had many, many other successful roles throughout your half century career; a fistful of Emmy awards, a double Academy Award nomination and a particularly iconic role in the Wim Wenders 1987 art house film Wings of Desire where you played yourself and in the end titles was credited as "Der Filmstar". No further tribute needed.

There was a luminous relationship with the director John Cassavettes in which you delivered two more outstanding performances on film, A Woman Under The Influence (1974) and Husbands (1970) as well as The Great Race and The Princess Bride.

But you came to acting surprisingly late, at the ripe old age of 29, after an interesting journey that included a Masters in Public Administration and degree in political science as well as working on the railroad for six months in the former Yugoslavia and a United States Merchant Marine. Last year we saw Dirk Benedict of "The A-Team" fame, in a stage version of Columbo: Prescription Murder at a local theatre in Poole. Although he had the raincoat and a healthy cigar habit there was something missing, something which only you could ever bring to the role.

As you spent many hours on the Colombo set, your honed your skills in charcoal and watercolour whiling away the time and as a result had many gallery shows. This one, with your finger pointing to the sky is the image that will stay with us, when Columbo has stopped being shown on TV (may this never happen), as the ultimate aide memoir of your work as a fine, fine actor who delivered a diversity of roles and emotions which endeared you to your public at large. Peter Falk, we salute you.

Yours Sincerely
Ian & Tracey

Friday, 10 June 2011

E3 2011 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the annual mecca/trade show for the computer and video game industry, where developers show off their biggest games and bestest hardware. The three top dogs (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) set out their stalls with a clearly defined offer of Kinect, 3D/Vita and next generation Nintendo. As a consumer this choice is wonderful, it feels like the industry has never been richer, so get ready for an uber digest as there’s a lot to get through.

Microsoft kicked off proceedings flaunting their forthcoming Kinect titles; Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (allowing for major gun/weapon customisation), Kinect Star Wars (you are the light sabre) and Rise of Nightmares (Japanese horror with you punching oodles of zombies), however, Mass Effect 3 was the title that the people wanted and it did not disappoint.

With ME3, you’re able to use your voice to progress the story, as well as calling your fighting squad to “move up” and support you or retreat into cover and cower away. Sounds good? I'm not so sure. I understand the concept of Kinect in ME3 as it attempts to create a deeper immersion in the narrative with you “calling the shots” as Commander Shepard trying to save the galaxy from the Reapers, but I think  it will interrupt the flow and rhythm of proceedings.

As a player using the dialogue wheel in the ME and ME2, you read the choices on offer internally, decide which one you want and hit a button to determine your choice. With the addition of Kinect, you still have to read all the choices, make your decision and then speak your choice out loud, but this speaking out loud will add at least 2 or 3 seconds per dialogue sequence and there’s an awful lot of dialogue in ME3. Accumulated over the whole game and it may make it a rather stuttery experience. Kinect + ME3 will not be good; however, ME3 with a normal controller will be spectacular and rightly claims its place as the most anticipated title for Xbox360. It’s also got Mr Clint Mansell in charge of the soundtrack which will ensure audio brilliance. ME3 is slated for a March 2012 release.

Sony swiftly followed with a rather confused message, though it was a good confusion to have. Not only did they have numerous AAA and exclusive titles pouring out of the stable like Uncharted 3, they launched a brand new a brand new portable console, the PS Vita, pushed the adoption of 3D TV and gaming with a new “all in one bundle” of PS3, 3D TV, 3D glasses and Resistance 3 for under $500 and highlighted  Move titles like Starhawk and Dust 514. Four messages are not clear and it felt like they were trying to out-do their Xbox and Nintendo counterparts but ended up with little consistency to their conference.

The PS Vita was the major talking point and they’ll launch it at a very fair price point - $249 for the basic wifi model and $299 for 3G model. Some of the techno features include a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, 6-axis motion sensor, front and rear touch panels and front and rear cameras for augmented reality games. However, it seems to have been peeping over at the super socially successful Nintendo 3DS because the Vita is launching “Party” and “Near” modes. Party let’s you voice chat with other Vita gamers in the same game room no matter where they are and Near lets you connect and play with other Vita gamers around you. It had some surprise titles including Street Fighter X Tekken and Uncharted: Golden Abyss as well as Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers, all of which will be coming to some hands near you. But the most VitaL and exciting news came from Ken Levine from Irrational Games said they're working on a Vita exclusive Bioshock game. Things to look forward to me thinks.

...and so to Mr Ninty, oh how I’ve been waiting for official words from Messrs Miyamoto and Iwata after all the rumours flying around about “Project Cafe/Wii2/Stream”. They started their conference with news about not one, but four new Zelda titles coming out this year, including Skyward Sword on the Wii, as well as a series of worldwide Zelda symphony concerts and two CDs all celebrating the 25th anniversary of our little Link. Fans happy with multiple Zelda announcements? Tick.

A flurry of big Nintendo first party titles were announced for the 3DS including Super Mario 3DS (looking like a mini Super Mario Galaxy complete with Tanooki suit!), Mario Kart 3DS (the coins are back on track as well as in-air and underwater racetrack sections) and something we didn’t see coming at all, Luigi’s Mansion 2 (the Gamecube classic looks right at home on the 3DS). Alongside these there was a montage, and Nintendo love a montage, of a whole host of third party titles which are mostly coming out this year including: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Ace Combat 3D, Tekken, Tetris, Cave Story 3D, Resident Evil: Revelations, Pac-Man and Galaga Dimensions and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D. Gamers happy with first and third party quality titles? Tick.

What came next? It was a game changer, a fountain of innovation and a glimpse into the future. It was Wii U. Our man Reggie, President of Nintendo USA introduced the concept of Wii U and it’s incredible new 6 inch touch screen controller through another montage. Through the magical controller you can flip the footage from the TV screen to your controller and carry on playing the game (freeing up the TV to watch Ironside or Russia Today). You can draw on the touch screen and the image appears on the TV. You can put the controller on the floor, see your golf ball and swing at it like it’s really there. You can flick ninja stars from the controller onto the screen and chop down trees. It was an impressive demonstration of what is possible.

The two major flaws which have badgered Nintendo for years have also been answered, online and big third party titles. Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham City, Dirt, Metro Last Light, Ninja Gaiden 3, Ghost Recon with online multi player and Tekken are all coming to Wii U.

It’s slated for a July 2012 release and just when the crowd had died down they dropped in that Super Smash Bros will come to the 3DS and Wii U. Sony and Microsoft wondering what to do next? Tick.

E3 was spectacular, with surprises and revelations which we hadn’t seen coming. Sony faired well with mixed messages, Microsoft flogged their Kinect system to death and Nintendo stole the show with Wii U. I admire the vision and consistency of Nintendo, as a company it strives for innovation and puts the player experience genuinely at the centre. One screen bad, two screens good!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Rock, Rock - Nils Lofgren, You ROCK!

Last night we saw some minor rock royalty in the form of legendary guitar man, Nils Lofgren.

Famed and followed in his own right as a multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist and charismatic front man, but also a key part of: The E Street Band with Bruce Springsteen, he worked on Neil Young's After The Goldrush album at the tender age of 17 and was a key member of both Grin and Crazy Horse.

We got a pair of tickets courtesy of a competition run by a mighty fine local radio station a week or so ago after they interviewed Nils about his forthcoming UK tour and it was night one of his 16 date UK tour at a venue in Southampton called The Brook.

The Brook was a cracking venue, looking something like one of the early spit and sawdust venues on the Play Station 2 video game Guitar Hero, the whole audience was close to the stage giving great sightlines of Nils and Greg Varlotta as well as a nose rumblingly good sound with a hard wood floor underfoot. You know how musicians and bands like certain venues, they may not be the biggest or the best looking, but they have a certain something, well The Brook has it in bucketfuls.

It was one of the best gigs I've ever been to. Nils and Greg know how to make a crowd happy, from some cracking between song banter, "I gave up alcohol many years ago, it brought me out in handcuffs" to hearing Nils talk about some of his passions like the guitar school he runs for people back in the USA or his passion for jamming with other musicians to create a 2hr piece of musical magic which is then lost, never to be captured again, because it was created and could only ever exist in that moment.

It was a mixture of classic hits like Cry Tough, No Mercy and the awesome Mud In Your Eye to some of his newer material. One of the most impressive things about the gig was the skill of the two musicians, Nils can play Harp (he opened the gig with a sweet harp solo), Guitar (he must have had at least 5 different ones with him along with his pedal board to vary that sound), he played piano. But both he and Greg had many, many tap dance vs guitar battles during the songs and it sounded and looked incredible. Nils would riff on the guitar and Greg would call out a footing great rhythm in return.

This made my jaw fall down and I smiled muchly at this and wanted to see more and more. I have ideas that more tap dance vs guitar battles should be taking place at gigs all around the world. Nils was just stupenddous on the strings with numerous 5, 6 and 7 minute guitar solos; including one where he played it with his teeth, yes his TEETH!

It was brilliant and would heartily recommend you catch him before he leaves the UK, nearest place to Bournemouth is Hastings or London, full details of the tour can be found here.
Nils Lofgren and The Brook, we shall meet again.