Monday, 29 March 2010

The Ebook: Or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the pixel.

I can be a bit of a Luddite when it comes to new technology. It took me years of holding out before I bought a mobile phone and even longer until I fathomed out how to use an mp3 player. I now love both and wouldn’t be without either.

However, I was always against using an electronic device to read material. Like most avid readers I love collecting books. There’s nothing nicer than stepping into a well-stocked bookshop (or even Waterstone’s) and having a good long browse. Modern book covers are so enticing that they practically beg to be bought and added to the ever growing ‘to be read’ tower by my bedside.

So there was no need for an ebook reader in my life. Early models were ungainly and slow to use. They also had a backlight which made lengthy reading uncomfortable, at least for me.

All this was true until I got my hands on a Sony Pocket Reader. This small lightweight device uses a newish technology called E ink which basically allows you to read a book in available light and dispense with a backlight altogether. As I had a bit of money in my turnups I plonked down my cash and bought the thing.

So, how does the e-reader work and is it easy to use?

You load ebooks on your reader by means of a small program that runs on your computer. It’s a matter of minutes to upload a small library of books onto your reader via the supplied USB lead (which is also used to charge the sealed in battery). The pocket edition holds around 150 books but this depends on the size of the files you are importing.

Once loaded you can start reading a book which you select from the main menu screen. One of the advantages of the reader is that you can alter the size of the book’s font making it easier to read if you have problems with small print. You turn the page by means of a small wheel underneath the screen.

Personally I found the reader very easy to use. It’s lightweight to hold and, now that I’ve bought a cover for it, even looks a little like a book. Any worries I had about eye strain have vanished, as I’ve had reading stretches for more than an hour without any problems.

The main advantage about owning an ereader is portability. It’s no longer a strain to lug about War and Peace or Infinite Jest on the bus or train with me. The small font sizes of print volumes are obviated by the magnifying feature of the Reader and the device even remembers what page I was up to when I stop reading.

Battery life is excellent. My Reader usually lasts two weeks on one charge. The only downside being that when the battery eventually runs flat the Reader will have to be sent off to Sony to have a relacement fitted.

There are disadvantages though. E ink only produces greyscale print which means that illustrated material doesn’t look brilliant. There will be a while to go before non-fiction heavily illustrated technical material will look good in this format. It also takes a while to get used to the way the screen goes black momentarily when you turn the page. It can also be annoying to find that the book you want to buy isn’t (a) available at all or (b) only downloadable in another propietary format. Hopefully this situation will change soon.

Having an ebook Reader has changed the type of material I read. There are many places on the internet to download free, legal ebooks. These are mostly out of copyright classic novels. It’s great to be able to download a book by Dickens, Chesterton or Eliot and know that if you don’t get on with then it hasn’t cost you any money to find this out. (Libraries are another handy way of trying before you buy!)

Since buying my Reader I find that I’m reading a lot more than I used to and trying new authors and genres of fiction. I’m currently in love with American pulp hardboiled crime fiction of the 1940’s and ‘50s. It’s very difficult to resist a book called Blonde Bait (“She had to buy protection-and her payment was her body”)!

In a forthcoming blogpost I’ll talk about the best places on the web to download free fiction and how you can use your Reader for more than just books.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Demonic Toys 2 (2010)

Those of you of a certain age with a fondness for cheap horror films will remember the straight-to-video movies produced and directed by Charles Band. During the mid-1980's his production company Empire churned out a plethora of mid-range horror and SF titles to supply the growing movie rental market. Such titles as Trancers (1985), Ghoulies (1985), and Puppetmaster (1989) were very successful. They spawned numerous sequels and a cult following.

With his latest production company Full Moon,Band continues to make movies today and Demonic Toys 2 ( aka
Demonic Toys: Personal Demons) is the, somewhat belated, follow-up to the 1992 original. (It's slightly confusing that there have already been two sequels to the first film, Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys (1993) and Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys (2004). Both are Marvel team-up type movies pitting the toys against other Full Moon franchises).

Shot, and set, in Rome this sees a number of disparate people stranded in a supposedly 13th century castle reputedly haunted by a Bulgarian Empress, Fiora Borisoff. The reason the dolls are there is that Dr. Lorca wants to add a 14th century doll (the devil-like Divoletto) found on the premises, to the two he already has. Unfortunately Divoletto wakes up and revives the other two creatures. Terror and mayhem ensue.

Or rather boredom and ennui ensue, at least to this viewer. I'm quite partial to a creepy doll movie (there's the creepy clown-doll in Poltergeist (1982) and the very scary Zuni fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror (1975)) but these toys are not scary but silly. The baby doll, called Whoopsie Daisy is a foul-mouthed joking brat and Divoletto just giggles a lot and lurks in a non-threatening manner.

Most of the doll movement is achieved by puppetry with many pov shots as they skitter across tables or walk on the floor thus obviating the need for a lot of cgi effects. It's hard to suspend disbelief when you know that your killers are operated in the same manner as Sooty and Sweep!

The acting in the film is variable from awful to mediocre. The two lead characters are American student-types who you're meant to root for but are so bland you wish they would die. There's a middle-aged gay toy dealer played by Leslie Jordan who makes as much as he can of an underwritten part and a midget-medium called Lillith (Selene Luna).

The direction by William Butler (who also wrote the confused script) is pedestrian and staid. My favourite bad scene is the opening one where our characters meet for the first time. Shot outside the castle it's notable for its length and the fact that it was shot on a very windy day. All the actors are constantly battling with flyaway hair whilst trying to deliver exposition. Inside the castle (supposedly abandoned yet it has a well stocked kitchen and working fireplaces), there's little improvement with boring set-ups being the norm. For a horror film there's a distinctive lack of tension. As for the ending, the word anti-climax springs to mind.

My suggestion? Go and watch the earlier Band movies or try The Gingerdead Man (2005). surely you can't go wrong with a title like that?

Friday, 19 March 2010

Get branded!

"You should do a blog", I was told. "Get branded, publicise yourself".

So here it is, my first blog.

Actually, that's a lie. I attempted a film blog many years ago but, like many things in life (and on the internet) interest soon waned. This one will be different ,oh yes.

Why the title? Well,I'm a librarian and I'd always seen myself wearing a nice cardie or a tweed three-piece suit. It's what male librarians are expected to look like and I do so hate to disappoint.

I'm going to write about things that interest me. Whether that includes what I'm reading, a film I've just watched, a folk gig I've attended or something on the internet that caught my eye.

Eclectic is the word I'm looking for. Which, in this case, might just be a synonym for unfocused. We'll see.