MCM Comic Con – Birmingham – March 2016

Picture of a Raider and Moxxi from Borderlands

This is not us.

We went to the MCM Comic Con, in Birmingham on Saturday just gone (19th March).  Here are some various random observations.

Getting to the NEC Birmingham is quite easy for us – we drive over, it’s between 45 and 55 minutes depending on traffic and this time it was pretty good.  There was a queue leaving the M42, which took up about 10 minutes of the journey, but it was always flowing.  On the way back however, we noticed a pretty bad car fire on the A42, which looks like it had closed that road for some time.  Not sure by how long we missed that, but glad we did, and hope everyone involved was okay.

We parked in East 5, having pre-paid for our parking the night before.  I can’t stress enough how useful this is if you intend to go to an event at the NEC.  The queue for car parking tickets was about 100 meters long, and I suspect was roughly a 10-20 minute wait in temperatures hovering around 4C.  Car parking was £12, which is high, but it’s a captive audience.  We couldn’t book reserved / priority parking which puts you outside the event halls, I guess there wasn’t any close enough for the Comic Con event, but we’ll check again next time.

We had priority tickets for the event, it’s £5 more, but you can go in from 9am rather than 11am.  We never intended to get there for 9am (and if you do, you’ll queue even with a priority ticket), but we got there around 10:15am-ish, and walked straight in, past the 11am queuers.  I recommend this approach!

The event was in an L shaped hall and quite big; bigger than November last year which felt very cramped.  It was a little more open this time, although still quite cramped in the main section.  There were the usual selection of vendors and guests, but since that’s not why I went, I won’t comment.  We didn’t go to any of the events either, although there was an inflatable theatre in which they were taking place.  Greté was there to shop, and I was there to take photographs.

There were some really good things.Picture of Stormtroopers behind a Comic Con sign

  • There were a lot of Rey’s.  It’s great to see another interesting and dynamic character for female cosplayers to play.  Of course, gender is irrelevant (I saw at least one female Kylo Ren), but for women who want to play women, it’s great that there’s more choice, and with costumes that aren’t revealing or sexualised.  There were, as always, the usual collection of Lara Crofts, Harley Quinns, female manga characters I never recognise and Black Widows (among lots of other female characters, don’t get me wrong).  I just thought it was nice that popular media has presented another strong female role model, with any-age appropriate dress, and hope we get many more in future.  Which reminds me, there were quite a few Dana Scully’s as well come to think of it – always handy to break out a smart suit and wear an ID badge.
  • There were a lot of families all in costume, many of them with very young kids who seemed to be having a great time.  I don’t remember previous Comic Cons being quite so kid friendly.  I guess for the kids it’s normal – get dressed up as your favourite character, it’s just as we get older it becomes more nerdy and weird.  We should learn from that – nothing wrong with it at all.  I think it’s great that people felt comfortable enough to bring their kids along.
  • Lots of excellent costumes in general and clearly a lot of effort had gone into them.  There’s always the regular semi-pros, the 501st Legion, that company who pays cosplayers to dress up (can’t remember what they’re called), the guys in the Batman suits that look like they just walked off the set, etc.  I do wonder if they can be off-putting at times.  But then there were the regular broad range of almost-semi-pros, amateurs, last-minuters, threw-on-a-fezzers, wore-my-tardis-dressers, and came-dressed-as-Jessica-Rabbit-in-my-7-inch-heels-and-bearders.  It was really a great collection of people.

The not so great.

  • There was an unnecessary amount of body odour.  I know, everyone’s wearing Lycra, or vinyl, or rubber, or fur, or leather, or whatever.  But if you know you’re going to be in close proximity to a lot of people just use some antiperspirant or deodorant that day, even if you don’t normally.  I know, some folk have medical conditions, and I respect that, and I absolutely have no desire to stop those folk attending or having fun, but there are just some guys who can not be bothered to make the basic effort of wearing deodorant, and there’s no excuse for it.
  • I go to the convention to take photographs of costumes.  There are people wearing those costumes, and the costumes range in quality.  I want to capture people who’ve put in some effort and are enjoying themselves, and I work hard mentally not to judge the people I’m looking at outside of those parameters.  Clearly, I’m also human, so I naturally find some people more attractive than others, or more interesting, or whatever.  I work hard to ensure I’m not just there taking pictures of attractive women in revealing outfits – that’s not why I or they are there.  However, there are clearly some people only taking pictures of people they fancy.  I stopped a pair of ladies and asked if I could take a picture, and one of the pair stepped sideways out of the shot.  They were both in costume (the lady who stepped sideways was in a less revealing outfit than her friend).  I had to drop the camera and ask her to step back in to the frame, at the same time as her friend was encouraging her back in as well.  I don’t know if she was just shy and didn’t want to be in the shot, but I got the feeling they’d been stopped by other people who just wanted a picture of the lady in the more revealing outfit and it made me a little bit sad and somewhat angry.
  • I felt a bit sad for the two of three rows of signing tables.  Pairs of people behind a desk – ageing actor + agent, all the way along, waiting for someone to turn up so they could earn another bit of cash.  I know, it must be lucrative, and I’m being hugely hugely disrespectful.  Fans love to meet their heroes, their heroes love to meet their fans, and if you’ve got a fan base then you should turn up and everyone’s a winner, but the two times I walked through that area it just felt devoid of soul.  Sorry.

Other things

  • May the tiny kitten of joy vomit forth happiness upon you

    GenkiGear t-shirt

    Lots of vendors, the usual range of stuff, not really why I go, but it kept my wife occupied for the four hours we were there.  Shout out to GenkiGear which is where my wife spent the bulk of her cash.  She does love their stuff.  There seemed to be about a thousand versions of Monopoly on sale, one for every fandom and universe, including Firefly.  There was quite a nice little Steampunk area, although it didn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention, one guy with some amazing art there though (who’s name I didn’t take down – aha, just remembered, I think it was this guy).

  • Getting into the venue from the car park was amusing.  If you’ve been to the NEC you know they run a shuttle bus service from the car parks.  We were on a side of the NEC we’ve not been to before, and we walked from the car park down towards the road (past all the people queueing for car parking tickets, see above).  As we got to the road, we could see the bus stop to our left, but everyone was streaming over the road crossing and not far in front of us we could see some buildings.  So, sheep-like, we just followed.  Sadly, those folk were more optimistic and younger than we were – the buildings we could see weren’t the exhibition halls, and so it was the feared long walk from the car park to the entrance.  We got the bus back.  Next time, we’ll be much less sheep-like.
  • There was a mock fight between a Rey, a Kylo Ren and a Finn.  I’m pretty sure if you’ve never seen the film it counted as a spoiler – they didn’t spoil the other thing though.
  • I saw the worst Han Solo ‘look-alike’ ever, even if his costume was authentic looking, he looked like an accountant.

Overall it was a good day out – not the cheapest way to spend four hours if you’re not interested in the events or the star signings, but not the most expensive day out either, and great to see so many excellent costumes and folk enjoying themselves.

NetFlix in the UK – going to be any good?

So, I know it’s early days, but NetFlix has just opened it’s doors in the UK and quite frankly, I thought they would have had a better line up to open with.

For the most part, the TV selection falls into four categories – old stuff of varying quality (Cracker, Fawlty Towers, 12 episodes of Men Behaving Badly), huge amounts of Kids TV and Animated stuff (Moschops, Thomas and Friends, X-Men), TV comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and a small, tiny amount of ‘new’ stuff (Dollhouse).

The movies don’t fare much better.  It’s not easy to list every movie, but here are the 2010-2011 movies on Netflix in various categories (this is every movie the interface returns, in that category for that year).

Action & Adventure 2010 & 2011

  • Blitz
  • Drive Angry
  • Delhi Belly
  • Thor: Tales of Asgard
  • Woochi
  • Shaolin
  • Red Hill
  • Fists of Rage
  • The Expendables
  • Little Big Soldier
  • Locked Down
  • Gotti the Mob Boss
  • Jackie Chan and the Kung Fu Kid
  • 71: Into the Fire
  • Nude Nuns With Big Guns
  • Rakht Charitra
  • Special Ops
  • Tees Maar Khan

Sci-Fi & Fantasy 2010 & 2011

  • Dead Space: Aftermath
  • Woochi
  • Area 51
  • Ticking Clock
  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • Hunter Prey

Thrillers 2010 & 2011

  • Blitz
  • Ticking Clock
  • Red Hill
  • Buried
  • My Soul to Take
  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • Winter in Wartime
  • Stone
  • Pimp
  • Raajneeti
  • House Under Siege

Maybe I’m missing something?  I mean, Blitz shows up on the main page which is a 2011 movie, but I can’t get it to show up on the basic lists, so perhaps I am missing something, but it still looks like a pretty lame opening gambit from NetFlix.   Unless they significantly improve the content very quickly and provide a more comprehensive way of listing movies (such as the simple LoveFilm A-Z view), I’ll be hard pushed to justify signing up.

Update: Aha, typically, after posting this I worked out what I was doing wrong.  You have to tell it to list things you’ve already seen in the summary lists.  I’ve added some items into the list, in italics, where they were missing first time.

An Open Letter to the Cast of Castle

Dear Mr Fillion, Ms Katic, Mr Huertas, Mr Dever, Ms Jones, Ms Quinn, Mr Santiago-Hudson and Ms Sullivan.

Long have I defended the right of artists to have crazy batshit eccentric desires.  It is a fact, I would declare, that actors are artists, and artists have minds that we simple consumers can not understand, can not even fathom.

I have excused the behaviour of artists and actors alike.  Flying a hat first class across Europe?  He’s an artist!  Demanding people not look you in the eye?  She’s an artist!  A bowl of wolf nipple chips in the dressing room?  An artist!

All these and more I have forgiven actors before you and I will forgive actors after you.

But there is a line!

A line that should not be crossed!

Why, I shout now, why do you only work for half a year?  The latest season of Castle has finished its UK run.  Now we must wait!  I am a consumer, I do not wait!  But wait I must for another half year to pass before I see you all on my screen again.

Why?  So you can go gallivanting off and make a movie?  So you can all dress up and go out dancing during the award season?  We consumers work all year!  Every week, earning a crust so we can stuff stuffed crust down our gullets while living our lives vicariously through your on-screen actions.  We can’t cope with you not being there for half a year.  This evening, without Castle on my Television I had to have a conversation with my wife!  My wife!  I’m not even sure what she wanted to talk about, but I’m pretty damn sure I wasn’t interested.

Was it about a woman drowning in a bath of chocolate?  No!  Neither did it involve putrefying corpses lying in bed for a week.  Not even a hint of a crime or a mystery to solve.  Tomorrow I fear I might even need to watch the News or some other non-fiction TV content to get my fix.

So I ask again, what right do you have to only work half a year?  Do I not deserve more than 24 episodes of Castle?  Am I not worthy?

Yours, disgruntled of England.

PS. Keep up the excellent work, looking forward to season 4.

PPS. Wish we could buy the DVD’s in the UK!

How do you make mystery TV mysterious?

It can’t be easy making mysterious TV mysterious any more.  Sure, if it’s not popular you’ve got a chance, but as soon as it is popular you’re screwed.  In the old days, the folk in the house would talk about the plot and maybe they’d work out some of what was going on, but they wouldn’t know anything until the following week.  Perhaps someone in the house would work out Some Great Secret but you didn’t have any way of confirming it.

Maybe they chatted about it to a friend or two at work.  Perhaps students got together in bars and mused over cheap alcohol.  But eventually you had to watch and find out.  You had no contact with the writers.

Later, maybe magazines ran stories, and you could garner some information from those to share among your small circle of friends and you could enjoy yourselves discussing the possibilities.

These days, thousands of fans, maybe tens of thousands gather on forums and they pour over every aspect of the show.  The dialog, the scenes (frame by bloody frame if necessary), and they look for connections.  Connections within the show, within the other shows of the same writers and directors and producers.  They look for patterns and they talk and talk and discuss and theorise.

Writers are normal people.  They’re not super heroes with super writing powers.  They invent stuff and they research stuff and they bring to the front stuff they watched and remembered and enjoyed and twist the tale and deliver excitement.  But they’re normal folk.  So when you bring together 10,000 more normal folk they’re going to have some shared experience, some knowledge, some idea of what is going on, and when they brainstorm – well you should fear their collective awareness.

They will find every hole, they will spot every plot, they will dig deeper than you can imagine, they will invent stuff you love but never thought of yourself.

How on earth are writers ever going to deliver something interesting at the end of a mystery TV series these days?  Is there no hope?

Is Fringe doomed, lost in the shadow of the thousands of fans predicting every episode and digging beneath every mystery?  Did Lost lose it’s way when the fans described every possible explanation for the island there could be?  Do we need to use the approach from Push where our hero works out what to do and then has his mind wiped so no one, not even he, can guess where things will lead?

Will we end up with soap opera style TV series in which there is no long running mystery because how can any mystery survive the glare?  Will we have to live on a diet of 1 hour mysteries with no long running story line (and how long will they survive when we’re all wired in and talking to our 10,000 friends while the episode is on air).

I wonder how mystery TV writers with ambitions of long plot arcs will survive in the glare of the Internet and how fans will come to lament the loss of the mystery and the inevitable let down when the predictions from 10,000 fans come true in the final episodes.

The Third One Never Dies

Is this a trope?  I couldn’t find anything obvious on TV Tropes although I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on there.  Here’s the breakdown.  Criminal drama on television, usually in cases of multiple crimes (so serial killers, that kind of thing).  The show starts with either the discovery of some victims, or the killer killing their first victim(s).  Then, the good guys get in on the case, and start investigating it.  Then, the killer strikes again, only this time we see some of the build up.  The good guys work harder.  And then, the killer moves in on their third victim.  But, now the good guys are on their tail, and they rush in and save the day.

Doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes they break the formula, but it’s pretty reliable.  Certainly the case in Criminal Minds, definitely the case in the CSI cross-over piece that they did recently, sometimes the case in Fringe.

Take this evening’s Criminal Minds for example.  Usual terrible horrific subject matter.  Serial killer targets a family and kills them – this starts the show and the team get involved.  Later we see another family killed.  Finally we find out a third family is being targeted but by then the team know where they are and rush in to save the day.  I’m sure it’s to do with the duration of the show, otherwise there might be more victims, but I’m sure it’s also because we like the format of 3 acts.

Opening Act: Horrific murder, the killer strikes, the team are baffled.
Second Act: The team beat themselves up because they couldn’t save the second victim, but wait! A clue!
Third Act: Can the team save the 3rd victim from the evil killer in time!

All good stories have a start, a middle and an end.

This is probably no revelation to anyone, but I started using the phrase ‘The Third One Never Dies’ whenever a serial killer story starts up in a TV Crime Drama and I liked the phrase so much, thought I’d blog about it.

Bah technology

For some reason, the non-terrestrial channels on our Sky+ box are showing very dark on the TV.  If you switch to BBC1/BBC2/ITV/C4 it looks fine (they’re still being delivered via Sky+ over the same SCART connection).  But anything else you can actually see it ‘flip’ to a darker picture.  On top of that, any dark scenes are causing the black on the TV to get totally saturated and you can hardly see any detail.

I’m positive it only started doing this in the last couple of weeks, maybe even after I switched in the new Sky+ viewing card.

It’s really frustrating me.  I hate when ‘simple’ technology like this doesn’t work and hate it even more that I can’t fix it.

Fringe Benefits

So I’ve seen 18 episodes of Fringe now, and a comment from Mark prompted me to blog about how it’s going.  I’m still compelled to watch each week (which is good), and while there are dips of ‘odd thing which Walter solves’ there are also highs of ‘really odd thing which explains some stuff and asks more questions’.

It’s worth saying again, this is not a programme which intends to depict fringe science as anything but totally made up.  The writers take a thread of what might be a possible thought about the existence of some concept in fringe science and then turn it into something totally outlandish.  Don’t watch it for the science.  It’s an FBI / Weird-Shit-Goes-On investigation programme.

So are we any nearer to knowing things?  Yes and no, during the season we’ve learned something things about Olivia, we’ve had some hints about Peter, both his past as a child and maybe his past as a young man.  We’ve learned a little about Walter, but mostly there are still many questions.  In the last few episodes it feels like we’ve had some deeper revelations but JJ could just be toying with us.  I’m pleased at how the relationship between Olivia and her boss (Phillip Broyles) has improved.  It grated on me that they didn’t trust each other at the outset.  I’m pleased as well that we’re seeing Olivia unravel to some extent, she’s seeing a lot of weird shit and it needs to have some impact if we’re to give it any kind of credibility.

If you like detail – then you’ll like the series.  Most of this goes over my head, I’m just in it for the story and the characters, but JJ makes sure there’s a lot of detail.  For example, the colour motif (red, yellow, blue) shows up for several episodes, several times an episode.  A line of M&M’s, a poster in a nightclub, lights in a room, even the gore on a body.  The fan forums are full of people discussing the deeper meaning of the tiniest things like that, I scan them every now and then but I don’t need them to enjoy the shows.

Threads sometimes get dropped and never resurface (we’ve not heard anything about the odd egg-shaped things travelling through the earth from an early episode), and sometimes they do come back (the glass discs).  Links are starting to appear, but as I said, JJ is likely to be messing with us on some level.

In general, I feel that it’s been worth watching, I’ve enjoyed most of the individual episodes for what they are, I’m starting to enjoy the arc that is forming and I’m interested in knowing where it goes.  I’m hoping that JJ won’t annoy the shit out of me with a huge cliffhanger ending to series 1, but somehow I think I’m going to be upset.

Criminal Minds – Finally!

Criminal Minds is finally back on in the UK this week on Living!  Normally I don’t look forward to TV programs this much but CM is just excellent.  Really looking forward to the opening episode after the cliffhanger at the end of last series.

PS3 / Blu-Ray

I did quite a bit of standby and call out (and a little overtime) in November and December and due to various timings, all my claims got stacked up and paid in February.  Which was good news because I needed to pay off the dental work on the visa card and think about organising the rest of it.  But it also meant we had a little spare cash, and that was added in to the reduction of my mortgage by £100 and not having to pay council tax this month.  So I decided to do my bit to end the recession by spending and not saving ((this is my regular behaviour as well, but during a recession I have an excuse)).

After wavering a lot recently about Blu-Ray, and deciding not to get a PS3 when I finally did go for Blu-Ray but to get a dedicated player, I did a complete about-face this morning.  Playstation 3 bought from Tesco (proof that supermarket points schemes work, price was roughly the same as other places, but we get points at Tesco that we can buy food with when the vouchers come through).  I also bought the Matrix Blu-Ray set (needed something to watch on it), and we got LittleBigPlanet free with the PS3.

Got it all home, disconnected the optical audio from the Sky+ box and plugged it into the Playstation ((so, no more surround sound from Sky+, which I think we’ve used about twice since we got the surround sound system)), and it was all up and running.  The PS3 did some updates (two, I think), and LittleBigPlanet tried to do some, but it got a big confusing, and then finally worked.

We watched bits of the Matrix and were awed by the clarity and the colour and the detail.  I also put our original DVD Matrix in and tried it with and without the PS3 upscaling.  I even took some photo’s to try and show people how clear Blu-Ray is, because I can’t find any good examples online.  While I was looking at the photo’s I noticed the Matrix Blu-Ray pictures were a totally different colour to the DVD.  Seriously, much more blue and green.  I was a little worried, was that normal?

Then I played LittleBigPlanet for an hour or so – looks like it might be fun.  Between levels the screen goes fully white though and after that hour I was getting a headache.

We eventually settled on watching the Matrix tonight to really see how good Blu-Ray was, and to try and convince myself the colours were okay.

And then I remembered – our TV sets preferences on a per-input basis, so the HDMI2 channel we were watching the PS3 through was set to all the defaults.  Those defaults include Backlight set to 100, Contrast and Colour are also pretty high.  On my regular setup I run Backlight set to 20 (yes, 1/5th of the default) and Contrast and Colour differently.  In fact, I don’t use any of the TV defaults.  I set them through a lot of playing around when we first got the TV and again recently using a THX calibration section of the Star Wars DVD’s, so I’m pretty happy with how they look, and they don’t give us headaches.

Setting those values on HDMI2 has left us with a much kinder Blu-Ray image and none of the retina burning sensation that the defaults give you.  Also, some searching online showed that the 2004 DVD for The Matrix (and also the Blu-Ray print) have a different colour setup compared to the original DVD release which is the one we own.  So, those two things together make me much happier, the on-screen image is now less obviously different, and where it is different I know it’s because the print is different this time around.

If you were ever wondering, can upscaling DVD players really give you Blu-Ray quality images – the answer is no.  Maybe with newer DVD’s that were created with upscaling in mind they may come closer, but comparing the original Matrix release and the Blu-Ray release is like comparing the granularity of gravel and sand.

Really pleased with it.  Also glad I bought surround sound first, rather than Blu-Ray.

Superbad – what did I miss?

We recorded Superbad over Christmas and watched (the start of) it this evening.  Maybe myself and Grete weren’t in the right mood but it really didn’t strike a chord.  I chuckled a couple of times, but I hated Seth and the other two kids were equally annoying.  We made it to the part where the liquor store gets robbed but then just gave up.  Perhaps it turns a corner at that stage and gets super funny, perhaps not.

Won’t be rushing to try and catch it again any time soon – deleted it from Sky+, dissapointed and left wondering what we missed.

I won’t call this a full review since we didn’t finish watching it – and that’s something that hasn’t happened in a while.