Sunday, 13 April 2008

Film: Cloverfield

I was thinking of a broader name to catalogue any comments on films I may have that would be clever and wistful. Unfortunately, this failed and I have instead settled with "Film". It’s not too original or particularly clever, but it does get the message across that this post will be about a film. I suppose the only possible confusion you may get is if you are a photography enthusiast but never mind.

I am well aware that Cloverfield has in fact been out for a long time (to the point whereby it's out on DVD shortly) but this did not stop me from seeing it at the cinema last week, courtesy of the Prince Charles Theatre in Leicester Square, a fantastic independent cinema that doesn’t leave you with the feeling that the guy at the box office somehow managed to trick you out of your life savings.

The basic premise of the film is that New York is attacked by a Godzilla sized monster of unknown origin. Most people hearing that will roll their eyes and move on, but its the "gimmick" of the film that makes it interesting, as this has been filmed to look like the whole event has been recorded on a camcorder. Whereas this isn't quite as low grade film quality as The Blair Witch Project with the picture quality being a little more polished, it's a similar idea, just with a giant monster instead of a spooky forest.

The film was written by Drew Goddard (of "Lost" fame), so I was expecting a few twists and a bit of suspense, but to be honest, it didn't really let off any genre breaking fireworks, staying around some fairly clichéd ground. Having said that, I would in no way level that as a criticism. All the way through watching the film, although having a rough idea of how things would pan out, who would make it and who wouldn't, it didn't feel like it had been done before, or that I'd seen everything that it had to offer, but that it was trying to do something different. Take for example the very premise of the film: A giant monster rampaging around New York. That idea has been done before, and is well trodden ground. The reason this looks so different is definitely the way its been shown, and that’s not to say that its been shot on a camcorder, its to say that it's shown from the point of view of the main characters. All the way through, you feel like you are the cameraman, one of the unlucky friends lumbered with a video camera before the monster shows up, and that you are there with them from start to finish. I think this is managed by never giving the audience any information that the characters don't have already. When one of the characters would say "what the hell was that?" they would largely be speaking what you were thinking. The only exception to all of this is that at the beginning of the film you're told that the film you are watching was found in a camera in Central Park, so when the surviving characters make it to the park, you have a rough idea that the film is drawing to a close.

I think the point that I'm trying to laboriously make is that it feels very real. This film has managed to make a monster attack on New York look realistic, not in the sense that the graphics are stunning, but that it gives the feel that it actually happened. Of course, the graphics are stunning. The special effects budget must have been huge, but the way they've made it even more effective is by not giving us a good look at these effects. You only get one or two good looks at the monster itself, and most of the destruction it causes is only seen in passing as the cameraman understandably is running as fast as he can. It's got a very similar style to when you see a journalist reporting in a war zone shortly before gunfire opens and everyone dives for cover with the cameras still rolling. In fact, the film felt so real I was pretty much out of breath by the time we left from all the running around that my brain thought it had been doing.

I think the best decision they made was to not explain the monster itself. I've already mentioned that you don't get a really good look at it, which is brilliant as I can't think of a single film that gets you terrified of a monster of some description and then maintains that terror after you've taken a good look at it. In Jaws, all fear left the audience once the mechanical shark made it's appearance about two thirds of the way through, to the point whereby the sequels might as well have been called "Fish". Even Alien lost some of the fear once you saw it close up (although not to the same extent). By the end of the film, all you really know about the monster is that the event has been code named "Cloverfield" and that it came from the ocean, but didn't necessarily start there.

I'm surprised this film got some harsh criticism. A few people reported motion sickness from the shaky camera work which I understand would probably put them off the film, but apart from that I can't see much to be upset about. Ok, so there are a few clichéd moments, some characters manage to move on from the death of their friends and relatives fairly quickly and everyone seems to deal with some serious looking injuries astonishingly easily, but these sort of things are in most films, and if characters really did break down mentally and physically in an overly realistic manner, the film would have some serious pacing issues. Maybe the fact that it had a lot of hype, or rather, it had very odd hype, contributed to peoples disappointment. It was kept a secret, it went under several different names in production, posters were leaked to conventions (or were they?) and everything got the people who were following it all really excited about the film. Maybe people were expecting something a little more interactive having spent the last six months on a virtual treasure hunt, or they were faced with the inevitable disappointment that too much hype will lead to.

I have no idea what people were expecting from this, but of course, that probably sums up why I enjoyed the film so much; I didn't know what to expect. Put that together with the fact that the Prince Charles Cinema is a really pleasant place to see a film and that I was with very good company, I suppose I was bound to enjoy it.

I would definitely recommend this to anybody. It’s doing something a bit different and is well worth the couple of hours it takes to watch.

I am currently on an Odeon boycott. This boycott fails whenever Fien, or one of my friends successfully finds a film that I wouldn’t mind seeing and arranges to go there, but the thought is still there. I recently got very frustrated by the fact that the tickets went up in price, but what really drove the nail into the coffin was that they ended up charging approximately £10 for a regular seat, and close to £15 for a “premiere” seat. A premiere seat is a little bigger, has a little more leg room, and is in that three-quarters back, central, location that is the ideal place to sit. This arrived in the Camden Odeon when I went to see the Golden Compass, and so in the largest screen, the six of us that went had to squash in around the rest of Camden that had gone to the cinema that evening, around the edges, whilst there were a good couple of hundred free seats in the middle that nobody was sitting on, because nobody was going to be shelling out that much money for a cinema ticket in the Camden Odeon, a place where if you stand still for too long, the popcorn cements your feet in place for eternity.
Incidentally, the fact that the film I saw was the Golden Compass may have been the thing that finally tipped me over the edge, but that’s a rant for another day. It could be worse though, my flatmate Kris couldn’t get the song “The Final Countdown” out of her head leading up to the film, but to make things worse, her brain had substituted the words “It’s the Final Countdown” with “It’s the Golden Compass”.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Just Be Yourself

Everyone has heard this piece of advice before. "Just Be Yourself" is the one thing that everyone knows that you should do, but nobody ever does. I know that I for one am very rarely myself and I know that those around me are very rarely just being themselves. This doesn't mean we are all compulsive liars, just that we act with restraint, and inevitably tailor our behaviour to those around us. It's not dishonest, it's survival.

It's a lot harder than it sounds to be yourself. The advice often gets thrown at teenagers who are worried about fitting in and making friends, or people going out on a first date, and you can see the overwhelming temptation for them not to act as themselves. In terms of popularity, if you're not popular when you're trying, how damning would it be if you were unpopular when you were being yourself? In terms of dating, everybody has immeasurable amounts of quirks and oddities, but at the same time, some people dating may be in denial about this and be looking for somebody utterly perfect. You can't let all the crazy loose on a first date, and you can't let all the crazy loose when you're trying to find a niche in the world. Being yourself is fine so long as you are actually a pleasant person underneath layers and layers of social conditioning and second guessing, but my bet is that not many people are.

My girlfriend recently levelled a piece of criticism at this blog by saying that she didn't feel it was very personal and that she was reading it and couldn't feel that I was behind it. I think she may have a point here, but then, I don't think I really want to just open the door and let it all flood out on to the internet. I accidentally did that with a live journal once, and reading back on posts I'd made months and months ago came to the conclusion that I'd fallen into the "whiny emo trap" that I was dreading all along. I think that on this blog that I'm writing what I want to write, and what I think is worth writing about, but I'm not going to go on about my trials and tribulations of living in a flat in Camden with friends and my girlfriend, because everyone does that sort of thing every day and I don't feel that my particular version is going to be that different from everyone else’s.

Can you imagine how awful it would be if everyone was themselves all the time? I'm undecided whether or not people become themselves after a drink or twelve, but if it is true, hordes and hordes of people acting as if they are under the influence all the time would be a very bad idea. Even if people wouldn't act as if drunk, I don't really want to know everything about people I hardly know, and I certainly don't want someone to be themselves in a raw format the first time I meet them, because it's quite frankly overpowering, a bit frightening, and feels like an animal instinct of attempting to dominate the other party. We've all been in those conversations with people who are always trying to just say something slightly better than you, or that have done something slightly more impressive than you. That's all very well, and sometimes very interesting, I in no way begrudge being impressed or envious about someone's achievements, but most of the time it's just insensitive, rude and overpowering.

Maybe I'm just being a little on the Victorian side of things and trying to be repressive in respect of emotions and letting go, but I really think too much stock is placed on "Being Yourself". I'm not myself. I'm annoying, whiny and selfish deep down. I don't want anything to do with that. At the same time, I'm not going to go around claiming how much I enjoy watching football. I used to tell people I support "Swindon Town Football Club" if they asked, but that was just a lie, and it didn't really work out for me. Maybe that was just because of Swindon Town Football Club, but I think it probably had more to do with the fact that I didn't really see the point of watching football.

I think what I'm trying to say is a boring "you have to compromise" statement. A classic, David Hing, sitting of the fence answer, but it's the only one that will suffice. Don't be Yourself. Be thoughtful to those around you. Be sensitive, but at the same time, don't actually lie.

And if all that fails, Just Be Yourself. No one else is.

Additional Notes:
I once met somebody when I was working on the River Thames one summer who had the Swindon Town Football Club logo tattooed on back of his left calf muscle. It looked like he had been branded. Who knows, maybe he'd lost a particularly serious game of poker and fallen into servitude?

Monday, 17 March 2008

A Certainty of Failure

Currently, at work, I am in a bit of a quandary, as I have 60,000 letters to print out and send to union members and I have until last Friday to do it. Add into this the fact that I only started this (Monday after the last Friday) morning.

Put simply, it is utterly impossible to meet this deadline. There is A Certainty of Failure.

However despairing this may be however, it is also quite liberating. With a guaranteed failure regardless of what you do, there really isn't much incentive to work too hard and the pressure has completely gone. Of course, this is a slightly limiting view, as I have to mitigate this particular scenario by working as fast as possible, but the pressure is off all the same. The deadline passed, and the world didn't end.

I think it's a similar approach that I take to a lot of things in life. If I don't see any real urgency to do something, I'm more likely to do it. My comics for example have been lolling around in a state of hibernation for about 9 months and I've only just started working on them again, but only because I don't feel any great urgency. Admittedly, the only urgency I had before was the UK Web and Mini Comix thing and it was important to try and get some new stuff ready for it, but even this completely stifled any kind of creativity in the process.

It seems odd, and I'm sure I may be an exception to the norm, but with a Certainty of Failure, I seem to do quite well. Of course, I still fail, but it's one of those failures that makes people go "Actually, he did quite well, all things considering". Not a brilliant core attribute, but I'll take it.

Additional Notes:
Before throwing all of this into a spell checker, I managed to spell "failure" wrong every time I wrote it. I find this wonderfully ironic.

The UK Web and Mini Comix thing is held in a hall in Queen Mary University in East London and is on this Saturday. It's a decent day if you're into your webcomics, or would like to see how some people spend their hobby time. There are some genuinely interesting people (and some terrifyingly frightening people too, but less of these). Visit their website at .

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Reclaiming yourself

I recently embarked upon my long abandoned webcomic project. For ages, I had my homepage on my home computer set to my webcomics page, and for ages, every time I opened it I was confronted by the cold, harsh, embrace of the "Cannot Find URL". I think every time this happened, it chipped away at me and made me chew my lip a little more.

Finally, I managed to draw a few new pages, and get my website up and running again and up to scratch, allbeit in a fairly skeletal state. If you're interested, which I'm sure you are, it's at It's incredible how much of a good mood creating something can put you in.

I've also been trying to register for Google Adverts to try and sell out a little bit. The thing that people always forget to mention about selling out is that you get money from it.

Additional Notes:
Upon writing this, I have decided that skeletal state would make quite a nice band name, although it would lend itself to a band that was not very good...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

The Life of Game: Kicking the Habbit

Just over a year ago, I made the fairly crucial error of signing up for a free trial of "World of Warcraft". I'm not going to link that, because if you haven't heard of Warcraft, you are almost definitely living in a cave and therefore not linked to the internet and therefore not reading this post. (I want to make it clear that I in no way intend to insult you if you do in fact live in a cave, which by law, could be classed as a residence.)

Once the free trial had ended, I was persuaded to sign up for a full blown subscribed account by a few friends who wanted to set up their own guild, which struck me as a good idea.

What followed was similar to a Zombie survival style film. First of all we lost a veteran player who actually knew what he was doing, then we moved realms which culled a few more players and then exams hit. Matt and Kris for example went to a festival and stopped playing for the summer and then decided that they quite liked the outside world.

Although the analogy to a Zombie survival style film is actually quite tenuous, but you get the point. I ended up being one of the last people left. I think there are a couple of others, but we all appear to have odd logging on habbits and seem to work different shifts in terms of Warcraft.

The point that I really am trying to get to, is that people quit. I don't mind it when someone stops playing something, or gives something a break, but the thing that makes me furrow my brow a little is when somebody quits as if the game is a large brick of heroine. I am well aware that Everquest, an early online RPG, was dubbed as "Evercrack", and that many people have waxed lyrical about how addictive Warcraft is, but to make such a strong quitting declaration over a computer game seems just a tiny bit extreme.
It is possible that I am quibbling over semantics here, but I recently spoke to a colleague of mine who has quit in this manner, and her reason appears to be that the game is too good and that there are other things that she would like to do. That is in essence, fair enough, but I can't think of a single instance where I have not played a game because it was too good, nor can I think of any time that the presence of a game has prevented me from doing something different that I wanted to do. Admittedly, I've had that "oh, it's daylight again" sensation once or twice, but not to any phenominally unhealthy degree.

It's not even just Warcraft that inspires this level of "kicking the habbit". My occassionally-bordering-on-OCD-when-presented-with-video-games friend Elliott has frequently announced that he is giving up computer games and promptly destroys saved games, uninstalls software and attempts to utilise the CDs as frisbees. All that happens is the feral gamer reawakens after a couple of days of monotony in the real world, hunts around in the garden for discarded CDs and then reinstalls everything, insurring the cycle can repeat.

What I'm really trying to say is that I think it's a real shame that fewer people achieve some degree of compromise with these things and that the only options they really see are on or off. The main element that throws this complaint out of whack is that Warcraft costs money each month, and so taking a more casual approach may seem like you're not getting the most out of it, or quite plainly that £8.99 is just being burnt each month. As well as this, to really get anything out of a game like Warcraft, you really need to put a lot of time into it, with some groups of people expecting you to play every night in order to get a place on raids and such. I'm also aware that this could just be me being bitter about the fact that my gun-slinging-engineering-hunter-cow used to have a small platoon of friends, whereas now it is in fact Fien and myself against the rest of the world.

Whatever the true reason for this feeling of mine is, I would like Warcraft declassified as the class A substance that people think it is and for compromise to muscle it's way into the otherwise binary option of play vs. don't play.

Additional Notes:
The free trial was fun. I think you get a lot out of the game when you know you only have 14 days. It's like a trailer for a film: You get to see some fairly interesting stuff, and you don't get completely bored out of your skull by the clumsy building up sections that have odd pacing.

The guild was called "Balls of Cthulhu". This isn't as offensive as it sounds, but based on the UCL juggling society's name, "Balls", as most of the members were jugglers. Many people have sent me messages saying that the guild name is "awesome" or various alternatives for that word.

Elliott has an incredibly strong Guild Wars addiction. Guild Wars is in fact a much better game, but it requires a little more team work and interaction with strangers than Warcraft, and the thing that I have started to learn about online games is that I tend not to like interacting with other players... I've mentioned that in Warcraft, it is now myself and Fien against the world. This isn't essentially true. It is in fact me against the world, being generally grumpy with anything that doesn't inspire me with confidence in the first 5 seconds of contact, with Fien being a good PR manager for our two person team and dealing with their random requests for help.

When it comes down to it, what I really want to say is "all things in moderation, especially moderation." Maybe all of this is just an issue of willpower, and maybe I am being naive in thinking that I could just stop playing whenever I wanted withouth going 100% cold turkey.

Introductions should be short

If I've learnt anything from my academic career of writing endless meaningless essay based reports (which I possibly haven't) it's that a long introduction can really detroy the rest of what you're writing.

With this in mind, allow me to say my name is David Hing by the online moniker of Ding. I work in administration. I study law. I used to study History. I live in Camden with a girlfriend, a friend, the friend's girlfriend and the friend's girlfriend's three Chinchillas.

To say that I am a geek, although accurate, does not do the statement justice. I am not a geek, I live by the "doctrine of GEEK" (Guardians of Essentially Extraneous Knowledge) but let me reassure anyone still reading this that I do not, in any way, shape or form, take myself seriously.

No, really, I don't. I love fantasy, oddity, science fiction, and all things that belong in the "oh, you're into the dungeons and dragons stuff are you?" category, but it is not my life or raison d'etre.

So in conclusion of this introduction, that's all there is to say. I invite you to read on for additional special features and directors commentary.

Additional Notes:
Long introductions are notoriously bad. Think of any game or film that has built up far too much hype before its release and then disappointed. The go- to example for this would easily be Star Wars, but this is not the place to stomp around in that particular well trodden quadmire. A potential up coming example of long introductions could be this, although I sincerely hope that it isn't.

There are currently preliminary plans for friend and friend's girlfriend to obtain chinchilla number 4. It is black and white and potentially going to be called Daisy and would be joining Merlin, Bernard and Herbert.

The girlfriend, friend, and friend's girlfriend go by the name of Fien, Matt and Kris. It seems slightly strange that I managed to introduce the chinchillas before them, but that's something that I'm sure I'll answer for sooner or later.

I tend to differentiate between Geek (Guardians of Essentially Extraneous Knowledge) and Nerd (Not Entertaining Real Dimmension). A geek enjoys fantasy and such, but realises that it is fabricated. A nerd on the other hand lives for the fantasy at the suffering of reality. I'm sure there may be individuals out there that feel that being a Geek is in fact mere tourism, but that's really just an issue of where you stand on the matter.

I really don't take myself seriously. This is not a lie.