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A Weekend of WTF!

Apologies about posting a little late this week but I’ve only just managed to compose myself after the worst weekend of TV for a long time. Ok so I’ll kick things off with Strictly on Saturday night…

Unbelievably, Ally Bastian was given the boot sending Chris and Ricky through to the final. This was after Ally and her partner Brian Fortuna were given a perfect score of 50 by the five judges.

I was a bit miffed at this to say the least and Ally should have definitely made the final over Chris and I genuinely thought that she’d walk away the winner, partly because I can’t stand the sight of Ricky and his Desperate-Dan-chinned partner but mainly because she has been by far the most consistent dancer throughout the show. Chris was ok but good enough for the final? No way. You could tell by the look on his face when the results were given that he couldn’t believe he didn’t get the chop.

Anyway, Strictly is a good bit of fun and although she should have gone through, the whole drama was nothing compared to the shit storm brewing on ITV1…

First up was an evening with Cheryl Cole. Now I’m not sure when the Earth turned into Cheryl Cole World but I’m absolutely sick to the teeth of her, she’s getting far too much time getting rammed down our throats and this show highlighted the fact that she isn’t talented at all.

Usually when we’re subjected to an evening with… the star in question at least has enough source material and is charismatic enough to be able to handle singing and chatting with the audience for an hour.

Cole on the other hand managed to sing a couple of (crap) songs (didn’t sing live), had to be helped with presenting duties by the beautiful Holly Willoughby (can’t complain there) but the whole show needed padding out with other celebs (purely because Cole didn’t have enough talent  to drag herself through her own show).

So I’m sat there thinking surely this isn’t the best that the UK has to offer on a primetime slot?. Apparently it is, X-Factor or as it should be named, Cole-Factor was just as bad. The three remaining contestants only sang one new song each and went back to sing previous weeks’ efforts.

The big story here was that the three finalists were going to perform duets with three stars. Wow! Or not, as it happened.

Stacey was stuck with Michael Bublé who actually seems like a pretty cool guy, he’s got an amazingly powerful voice judging by how far away his mic is from his face but c’mon! This was supposed to be the equivalent of Shock and Awe!

Bublé isn’t really a well-known star here in the UK and there was a fair bit of headscratching from me when he came out mid-way through Stacey’s song. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a good performance, they both sounded excellent, but if I know one thing it’s that the morons who vote for the X-Factor year in and year out wouldn’t be having any of it, so it spelled bad news for Stacey.

Stacey’s two solo performances were sang almost to perfection and if you ask me, even now, she’s ten times the singer that Leona Lewis is.

Olly sang ok but nothing special, his duet was with Robbie Williams (surprise surprise) and it was all just a bit erm, weird.

Robbie looked as if he’d been caning the ching again and he managed to fluff his cue and came in way too early for his line (which is really disappointing considering that he’s supposedly a world-class singer).

The remaining minute and a bit were spent with Olly and Robbie hugging constantly (?) and Robbie looked every bit the contestant whilst Olly was giving him reassuring glances throughout.

All VERY strange.

Next up was pride of Britain, Cheryl Cole’s adopted brother, little star Joe McElderry. Looking like John Barrowman’s younger twin, he did his thing (which is fine) but for fucks sake, let’s try to push the boundaries a bit and make some decent music!

The excuse that he’s got a great voice isn’t a valid argument. If you go to the church and listen to the choir on a Sunday, most of them have fantastic voices – but would you buy an album with ten tracks of them singing? No.

Joe was partnered up with George Michael who came out looking very out of shape. Obviously years of hanging out in public toilets haven’t been kind to ‘Ol George.

They sang don’t let the sun go down on me (maybe George should have sung don’t let your sun go down on me, to Mr & Mrs McElderry snr) and it was a great song choice for Joe’s voice but again, very strange seeing the two of them up there together, I thought at one stage they were going to do a Robbie/ Olly and spend the time hugging each other.

Nothing special at all from Michael and he didn’t look too comfortable at all during the duet. However, during the Sunday night show he absolutely nailed his solo, so I’ve got to give kudos to him there. His voice sounds as good now as it ever did.

I’m pretty sure that this really was a plan to get McElderry to win. Usually, the contestant who sings with the biggest star, wins.

Need proof? Alexandra Burke sang with beyonce last year whilst JLS and Eoghan Quigg (Yeah, who?) had to perform with Westlife and Boyzone respectively.

Another point to note is the opening VT’s were the contestants travelled back to their home towns to perform. Stacey went to Dagenham working mens club (!), Olly went back to a small shack in Colchester, but McElderry and Cole managed to ram The Sage in Newcastle center full to the hilt, even though Joe comes from South Shields, a place much smaller than Stacey or Olly’s hometowns.

I’m not going to ramble on too much about it but the bottom line is, Stacey got the boot on Saturday and Joe won on Sundays final. I’m absolutely astounded that this happened because let’s face it, Stacey was the real star of the show. As much as I like Olly, it would have done him no harm whatsoever coming second and I’m sure he’ll have a much more succesful career in coming second place than if he’d have won.

To give John Barrowman’s mini-me the win is an absolute travesty. Even more so when you look at the cover of Miley Cyrus’ (!) shitty song that will no doubt launch into the Christmas number 1 spot. I am absolutely gutted and apart from watching the idiots audition next year, I’ll be turning over as soon as the live finals take place because it’s obvious to me that X-Factor has lost that smallest shred of credibility that it had this year.

I can’t knock Cowell, he’s only making money and to be fair to him we were given the opportunity to have a winner in Stacey that could have actually done something decent but yet again, the pond life in the UK that voted completely let me down.

It’s emerged that McElderry was the clear public favourite and bagged the majority of votes from the sixth week so it was a foregone conclusion that he was going to win, I’m just gutted that whatever tiny hope I had in the great British public would come through and we might have had the first ‘recording artist’ to win the contest that music fans could be proud of.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that we haven’t heard the last of Stacey and I’m sure that Olly has got some really good times ahead of him. As for Joe, the sooner he slips from existence the better.

Ok, so the final WTF was that Ryan Giggs was voted BBC Sports Personality of the year. Granted, it was a weakened line-up this year but I’m gobsmacked that he beat Mark Cavendish to the top spot.

I know cycling isn’t the most popular sport over here but his achievements in world cycling far eclipse Giggs, who is way past his best and it seems was given the award as default for services in previous years.

I shouldn’t expect anything less though, it was only two years ago that Zara Phillips beat Joe Calzaghe to the top spot. Luckily, Joe won the award a year later but seriously, some toff who rides a horse should never be put above a reigning boxing champion of the world. Or should they?

Enough from me, I feel as though I’ve vented sufficiently and feel (a little) better now. Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your comments on this weekend’s media circus

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Stay Frosty!

We’re now a month in since the release of Modern Warfare 2 and after racking up nearly a full days worth of play time I think I’m ready to post a few thoughts about it.

Infinity Ward have done something that Epic and Bungie (the first time round) failed to do, and that’s deliver a sequel that is not only every bit as good as its predecessor but actually better.

Firstly the Single player campaign:

There’s not much to be said really, the campaign plays like a Hollywood movie with some of the best set pieces seen on a console. The only games I’ve played with set pieces anywhere near as good are Gears of War, Halo 3 and Resident Evil 4.

People are bashing the single player experience as too short but in my opinion, it’s the first Call of Duty that didn’t seem to have levels thrown in the middle just for the fun of it. As good as COD 2 and the first Modern Warfare were, I felt that especially during the run up to the finale there were levels that didn’t develop the story enough. World at War was another prime example and COD 3 just seemed to go on forever. I’m really happy with the length of the campaign though, I’d much rather a short game where every level is great rather than a long campaign that drags out gameplay just for the sake of it.

My only criticism (and it is a very small one) is that in using the Cockney voice actors from the previous Modern Warfare I was a bit confused as to who the characters around me actually were and both games seemed to morph into one in my memory. As I said, a small gripe but nothing that spoiled my enjoyment.

Infinity Ward finally fixed veteran difficulty and put an end to the infinite respawns and grenade throwing. Again, this is getting knocked by the hardcore players who say that veteran is way too easy now but I’ve got no problem with it at all. There were areas in Modern Warfare that seemed absolutely impossible to play through properly and it was only once I’d decided to forget about killing enemies and just sprint to the next checkpoint that I managed to make it to the next save.

World at War was another example of how utterly frustrating COD can be when the difficulty is too tough, the grenade throwing and endless respawns were ridiculous. Corkscrew and Blowtorch took me about 6 hours of non-stop gaming to complete and it was after that level that I decided to hang up my vet boots. When I used to see gamercards where the whole of the game had been completed I felt a bit of pity for the poor gamer who dedicated so much time to remembering the enemy paths in order to finish the game. And that was the point about previous veteran difficulties, it was not so much about skill, more remembering where the enemies would come from and trying to find the invisible line that would stop the spawning.

The bottom line is that I’m happy, veteran MW2 was an absolute great experience. Yes there were still levels that I was stumped on for hours at a time and Yes I still managed to trigger checkpoints at the most inappropriate times (screen red, close to death etc) but every level seemed totally do-able.

As for the ending – absolutely top-notch and has got me foaming at the mouth to see what happens next to Capt Price & Co.

And now the Multiplayer:

More of the same really, fantastic maps that seem to be really well balanced, the introduction of killstreak customisation and more perks & challenges. MW2 online is every bit as addictive as Modern Warfare and unfortunately, that is its downfall.

Now I might be going against the grain on this but I think that the very reasons that MW2 is a great game are also the reasons why it won’t be a fantastic game that’s remembered for years to come.

The online experience is only so addictive because it’s so rewarding, with so many challenges to complete and because the levelling up system is so transparent, it seems as though getting X amount of kills with X weapon is all 90% of online gamers are bothered about.

Its getting increasingly obvious due to the lack of in-game chat that most team members are just going it alone in a bid for more kills. It doesn’t seem as though many people are actually bothered about winning matches, as long as they get the all important couple of thousand points for kills they’re happy.

Near enough every game will have a good example of this. How many times have been playing, seen someone get killed and immediately after respawning, sprint straight back to the point where they were killed? The idea behind it is that they know there’s an enemy waiting, hence there will be a kill waiting. Inevitably this just leads to feeding the opposing team a bunch of free kills.

A good online experience for me is joining a match where everyone is on a mic, a bit of game chat and a lot of banter. I’m getting really tired now of joining matches only to play in complete silence and it’s making what should be an amazing game into a bit of nothing.

If you need any evidence of this, check out the kill/ death ratio of your friends on the leaderboards. If it’s anything like mine the players who have reached the high echelons and made prestige have absolutely horrific ratios, this is because they don’t care how many times they’ve been killed as long as they’ve racked up a couple of dozen themselves. I think it says a lot when the MVP of a team has 15-20 kills with double that amount of deaths. And this isn’t something that happens rarely, I regularly see this sort of thing after a game.

Am I still pleased though? Abso-bloody-lutely. MW2 is one of the best games I’ve ever played, I just don’t think I’ll be busting a gut to still play it when COD7 is released by Treyarch next November.

How cool is this!

I found it over at thinkgeek.com, it’s a sleeping bag based on the Tantum from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

I’d be well chuffed if this found it’s way underneath my tree this year.

Full link here:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/homeoffice/gear/bb2e/zoom/

Fangoria has reported that the sequel to the Zombie-tastic Spanish horror flick [Rec] is due to be screened at New York’s Spanish Cinema Now festival at the end of December.

This is great news for Zombie fans because it surely means that there won’t be too long before it gets a full international release.

The sequel takes place immediately after the events of the first movie, as a team of commandos are let loose on the apartment building to find out exactly what happened to the residents inside.

The action this time will primarily switch between members of the assault team via the helmet cams worn by each soldier, and its looking to be every bit as good as the original.

Check the trailer out here:

I picked up a copy of Beatles: Rock Band a couple of weeks ago and in between heavy bouts of Modern Warfare 2 I’ve just finished it and thought I’d post my thoughts on the game.

So what’s good?

The game looks and sounds great. Like really great. The trippy sequences as you get further in the career are great and it’s certainly not as boring to watch as a spectator as other guitar based games. The tracks have been produced using the master recordings so if you run your 360 through a surround system like I do, you’ll be amazed by how good it sounds.

The notes path for each song is done really well, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from a Rock Band title. The recent Guitar Hero games seem to have gone for the most frustrating paths, just for the sake of pissing off gamers. With Rock Band games, the paths are better structured and even tough parts actually make sense.

Thats about it for the good points. so on to the bad…

The game is amazingly short. The career can be cracked in under four hours and that’s including the odd song that you have trouble with.

Although Harmonix have tried to prolong the life of the game with the achievements, it’s a massive fail. Unless your of an exceptional standard, you’ll be lucky to bag yourself 500 G’s. Rather than encourage playing the next level up by giving points for completing songs on expert difficulty, Harmonix only reward you for either getting 100% notes hit on expert or in the case of the guitar, five gold starring certain songs.

I can hold my own on Hard difficulty and there’s only a handful of songs that I haven’t managed to five star on my first playthrough, but getting 100% notes hit on drums expert is something that I’ve got no chance with, I’m confident I’d be able to bag a couple of the five gold star achievements with a stack of practice but to be honest, I’m not prepared to invest that much of my time in a game that at its core, only has 44 tracks (and as much as I love the Beatles, the songs are so similar that it can get annoying).

It would have been much better to release the game as DLC rather than milk it for a full release, it would have saved us gamers cash and would have been one of the best bits of DLC released for the Xbox. Unfortunately, Harmonix didn’t and there’s not enough game to command the £40 price tag.

If you haven’t yet bought Beatles: Rock Band, do your wallet a favour and rent it for a couple of days and spend your hard-earned cash on something more worthwhile.

If you don’t fancy lining Simon Cowell’s pockets even more this Christmas and can’t stand the way that the X-Factor bags the Xmas single every year without being in the slightest bit festive, make a statement and purchase Rage Against the Machine’s single ‘Killing in the Name’ next week.

The single will be available to download on Monday and music lovers in the UK are being urged to pick the tune in a bid to release Cowell’s stranglehold over the charts.

A similar thing happened last year when Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ was released during the same week as Alexandra Burke’s awful cover of the Leonard Cohen song. Unfortunately, Cowell won last year but maybe, just maybe we can make a difference this year.

As much as I enjoy watching the X-Factor, the format is looking REALLY tired now. It’s great to watch the morons who can’t actually sing during the audition process but it’s terrible to see whichever muppet wins the show go straight to the top of the charts every Christmas (usually followed by the inevitable hype – “fastest selling single in the universe” etc. etc.)

I reckon that the year that the X-Factor winner doesn’t get straight to the No. 1 spot at Xmas, will be the final year for the singing show. Cowell’s not daft and I don’t think he’ll flog a dead horse, so if you genuinely can’t stand the shit that pumped out by the likes of Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, splash a couple of quid on a digital copy of Killing in the Name and see what happens.

This year’s X-Factor has probably been the strongest one to date with a couple of people who can actually sing but it’s come under fire from Sting, who said that the music show has put British music back a decade and the reason why Calvin Harris jumped on stage during John & Edwards’ performance last month was in protest at Simon Cowell (He’s got some nerve considering the second-rate, re-hashed pop/ dance crap that he releases).

The bottom line is this: I think people are getting wise now, but I don’t know if enough can be done this year, we may have to wait another 12 months before we see the back end of Cowell and his minions.

The next time you’re in work or at home bored surfing through YouTube and fancy an alternative to watching teenagers lip-sync their favourite song or skateboarders failing jumps, check out the Sixty Symbols channel:

It’s run by the University of Nottingham and is a series of short videos given by scientists on a range of subjects, mainly to do with physics and astronomy.

The vids are given in an easy to understand manner and you may be surprised by what you find there. I haven’t had a chance to see them all yet but I particularly enjoyed the articles about the Large Hadron Collider & Schrödinger’s cat. If you like the idea of expanding your mind a little then check it out –

http://www.youtube.com/user/sixtysymbols

http://www.sixtysymbols.com/