Category Archives: Journalism

Die Hard (1988)

“When they touch down, we’ll blow up the roof, they’ll spend a month sifting through rubble, and by the time they work out what went wrong, we’ll be sitting on a beach, earning twenty percent.”

Every year since 2014 I’ve visited The Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle to watch Die Hard at Christmas. It’s become something of an annual pilgrimage, one which I took great pride in repeating last night, despite some real changes having taken place in the previous four years. I actually ended up working at the Tyneside for a considerable period between 2014 and 2017; with me experiencing the night at other selected screenings as a member of staff.

This year also marked a change because of the newly “remastered” version of the film, leading to an increased drive in Blu Ray sales for Christmas, also meaning a fresh print of the movie in which we’re expected to be able to see a notable difference in picture and sound quality. But more on that later.

For those who don’t yet know the story, and every year seems to bring in an additional group of people who are watching this movie for the first time, Die Hard is set in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve. John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York City cop, is visiting his estranged wife Holly at her new job. He’s hoping to take some time to reconnect with his family, and the sub current of the film – which doesn’t get explored much – is that effectively Willis is somewhat of a misogynist with a drinking problem who assumed Holly would come crawling back after a few weeks.

When Willis arrives at the party, and repeated viewings of this film will make you realise just how absurd some of the supporting dialogue in these opening scenes are, he surprises his wife just prior to the arrival of German “terrorists” led by Hans Gruber (played fantastically by the late Alan Rickman) who are ultimately working for the benefit of a third party never identified. Willis then has to fight as a “lone gunmen” against unsurmountable odds, involving the LAPD, the FBI and, ultimately, the media in his quest to continue a conversation with his wife.

The film was written adapted from the novel “Nothing Lasts Forever” and depending upon whose stories you believed, the rights are purported to have been originally owned by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was 77 when Die Hard was filmed and was contractually obligated to have been approached for the lead role, as he’d previously stared in the novel’s original film. Another theory is that Clint Eastwood was to play his own version a few years prior, but both he, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger turned the film down.

One of the areas in which this film succeeds so well, although doesn’t receive much praise for doing so, is its supporting cast. Notable 80s actors like Paul Gleeson, William Atherton, Robert Davi and even a cameo from comedian Rick Ducommun make this film a directory for talent; yet Willis and Rickman, who themselves remain separate to each other for almost all of the film, remain in completely different locations than those outside. Part of this is rumoured to have been done owing to exhaustion, with Willis also filming Moonlighting during the same period, meaning more scenes involving the supporting cast had to be added.

The film, originally written to have a reveal towards the end between hero and villain, only avoided achieving that goal because of antics on set. The rumour goes that Alan Rickman was practicing an American accent prior to filming. Considered so good, director John McTiernan felt it was a perfect opportunity to have the pair meet without realising who the other one was. This scene was also unrehearsed, which upon re watching is phenomenal, showing just what depth of talent they had. This was also Rickman’s first day of shooting, and the actor effectively sprained his knee making the jump at the beginning of the scene.

Rewatching this film simply reminds you of how pivotal a role can be for an actor, and certainly it changed both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman’s careers going forward. Reginald Johnson, the actor playing Al Powell however, never truly managed to find the same footing and his cameo appearance in the films sequel has been long since forgotten.

Picture wise I saw little difference in newly remastered print, with more continuity errors spotted, such as the shadow of the stage hand who knocks over the Christmas tree towards the films climax and the issues surrounding the filming of the final scene – which I’m unsure whether was now filmed earlier in the day than the preceding scenes during which Al shoots Karl and meets McClane. At the start of the film I was incredibly impressed with the colour of the sunsets, though note one scene in which the villain’s truck can be seen driving down the freeway. This truck seems to be filmed at a completely different time of day and weather condition to the rest of the film and such remasters make the print all the more obvious.

Crucially, though, the expanded light range is never taken so far that it looks unnatural or forced. Provided you’ve got a good HDR TV, you’ll see no clipping of detail in the newly invigorated light peaks, or crushing out of detail in the newly enriched dark scenes and image areas.

The 4K Blu-ray image is also a worthwhile upgrade over the HD Blu-ray when it comes to sharpness and detail. There’s a beautiful density and granular quality to the image that just isn’t present on the HD Blu-ray. Plus, you get far more texture and minutiae in everything from clothing to facial close-ups and the Nakatomi Tower’s stark combination of stylish and sterile environments.

Die Hard remains as riveting and engaging 30 years (and many viewings) on as it did when it first exploded into cinemas in 1988. The only difference now is that it looks unprecedentedly glorious in its new 4K and HDR clothes.

Steelwork Steps for Former Brewery

The first steelwork has been laid in place as part of an exciting new Sunderland development. A plot of land, on the site of the former Faux Brewery, has begun construction on what will be a 60,000sq ft office complex – the land purchased by Sunderland City Council in 2011.

Irene Lucas CBE, chief executive of Sunderland City Council, said: Sunderland has taken huge leaps forward in attracting innovative, high-growth businesses to the city, as well as supporting start-ups to succeed – particularly in the knowledge economy, an area in which Sunderland has achieved the second fastest rate of growth outside London. 

“Office spaces like the new facility in Vaux will provide high quality accommodation to scores of businesses that want to be part of what will be an innovative and creative community at the heart of the city centre.  It’s hugely exciting to see the site taking shape.”

Work is being carried out by Carillion, part of the Siglion joint venture between Igloo Reconstruction and the Council to develop and transform five key sites across the city. Siglion itself is a development and regeneration company which found in April 2015. It manages over 700 tenancies and plans to develop Sunderland City at the Vaux site, Seaburn and Chapelgarth then Farringdon Row and Numbers Garth.

John Seager, chief executive of Siglion, said: “The Vaux site is such a focal point for Sunderland and its position as one of the main entrance points of the city centre is hugely important for those visiting.

“It’s fantastic to see the building begin to take shape and see this important location transformed into a development that reflects the modern and dynamic city that Sunderland is. The Vaux development, when it is completed, will be a space that will create new jobs, workplaces and original communities.  It’s a huge step forward and we hope that the second phase will follow soon after the first building.”

Designed by Architects Field Clegg Bradley Studios it is expected to stand five stories high, giving much needed office space to clients, as well as an open plan area accommodating a bar, café and restaurant with views overlooking River Wear and Wearmouth Bridge. It is expected that this site will be a flagship space in Sunderland’s current rejuvenation. The building is due to be completed in June 2018.

Eddie Tribe, Carillion’s project director said: “It’s great to start work on this iconic site. Our work will create jobs and opportunities for local businesses. We have agreed a target to achieve 60 per cent of spend with local suppliers and aim to employ 16 apprentices throughout the construction programme, with further opportunities within our supply chain for employment for local people.

Carpe Diem

I live to write. I love to write as well. I’m writing a story right now. Descriptive narrative has always been something I’ve excelled at, and if they had done a full module in creative English when I was at school there might have been a chance I’d have gotten at least one A in my final exams. But with great power, comes great responsibility, and I always felt that I needed to play to my strengths. I’ve spoken before about the first story I ever wrote – it was a news piece about the Stena Sealink, which had crashed into a wall docking in a Dublin port – and I had to edit the piece as reported by RTE online to a nice little script for my newsreader.

When I worked with Wave 102 in Dundee back in 2009, I got plenty of experience with writing news stories and creating articles for broadcast, and then I’d be the person reading them out during the broadcast. I always remember how weird it was to go for a walk around Dundee Town Centre and hear my voice reading the news on a loudspeaker in the local shopping centre. We pre-recorded the last four bulletins of the day on a weekend, so I’d recorded the first 8/10 live and then do the final 4 before I left for the evening.

December 2018 commemorates my tenth anniversary of getting a job at Talk107. As a Producer for a major Edinburgh radio station it remains one of my firm career highlights and allowed me to look after things like the Drive Time show and create content and features like I’d dreamed of since I was 15. Of course, I was closer to 15 at the time than I am now, and I’m still dreaming. Still writing articles and creating words and being as descriptive as I can with this narrative – perhaps to pull on your heartstrings this festive season?

My first Journalism lecturer was named Tom Clarke. He gave me some interesting advice, on my very first day as a Professional Journalist, when he told me that if I didn’t consider myself a Journalist from this moment on I would never be one. And he was right, because this was before the age of YouTube and Video Journalism, where every person with a camera can claim to be a reporter. Oddly enough, that used to annoy me, but then I realised that just because you give somebody a football doesn’t mean they know how to play soccer. And even when they learn to kick a ball and score a goal, does it mean they can make the first team?

What I mean by this is that Journalism, from my perspective, is a skill. There’s an ability to be able to create something and a talent or a flair that is inhalable. I don’t necessarily agree that you have to pay to go to University to obtain something like this, but I do agree that you’ll soon discover whether you have it or not, and your voice and your presence will carry you. I think another talent for Journalism is investigation – the ability to hunt and find what you need – to ask questions others would naturally shy away from or just to be the person who has the self-belief, self-determination, courage, respect or whatever to put their hand up and challenge.

The same lecturer also told me that you shouldn’t accept gifts from bands, that you need to avoid writing in the first person and that you should diversify as much as possible. And I don’t think I’ve been able to keep a single one of those rules. The difference between my skills in Journalism and those of, say, a solicitor; the lawyer doesn’t give legal advice for free. Rarely have I met a comedian who doesn’t inform me that when somebody learns what they do, there’s an expectation they’ll tell them a joke. Imagine meeting someone at a dinner party who informs you they’re a cleaner – would you immediately ask them to empty your bins?

At one point in my career I stopped being creative. I stopped presenting my radio show, stopped writing articles like these, stopped taking photographs and posting them online. I even hesitated to make Facebook posts longer than four syllables. I did this because a friend, who is also a Journalist, told me he wouldn’t take a commission for work unless it was paid. He’s still waiting. I became incensed at the idea that everybody wants this work for free, that I couldn’t earn a living doing what I loved because I was selling myself short. From what I know, most of the people I studied Journalism with in University went on to study other subjects – a majority of them retrained and entered medicine. They look back at their Journalism time as the naïve folly of youth, as if I’m approaching being that guy you notice in your record store. The dude with the ponytail whose greatest moment was aged 23.

But that’s not where my story ends.

Because I realised that if I enjoy doing something, monetary value (although important), should not be the deciding factor. I know filmmakers who are hesitant to create new projects because they simply can’t afford it. Ideas and scripts sitting in a drawer which would make millions – perhaps – but the world is saturated with Netflix originals and re-original content.

A friend once complemented me. We were standing next to a plane that had flown in World War 2 and I said “Imagine, at aged 19, getting in this plane and flying across the skies. Dropping bombs on other countries, shooting down enemies…” and he just looked at me, told me never to lose that, because all he saw “was a fucking plane”. But that gentlemen once told me that filmmaking, true filmmaking, is an art. Directors like James Cameron and writers like John Hughes used to create visual and aural poetry – whereas nowadays, there are less obvious concerns for craft.

So I’ll continue writing. But not because I believe I’m better than anyone else. But because I believe that if you’re good at something, you should never stop doing it – and you should be able to choose the direction it takes. Last night I spent two hours sitting by a computer and listening to music. I heard an album from start to finish without interruption. I can’t remember the last time I did that. We live in a world of such fleeting glances, GIF’s and disposable media, that taking time out to do something which meant that other things couldn’t get done seemed alien.

Carpe Diem.

Grave Formats

The other day I found myself in HMV while my parents visited in the run up to Christmas. As it was a festive occasion, my parents had suggested we purchase a gift, something they could enjoy wrapping and leaving under the tree for me before their return to France. Not being one to ever miss out on a present I gladly accepted and proceeded to rummage through a number of my mental ‘wish lists’ attempting to come up with something I’d like to physically obtain.

As I proceeded to leaf through the copious amount of Vinyl on offer I realised just how far HMV have evolved. December 2012 seems like a distant memory, but more tenured employees of HMV will remember the time well, as it spelt a certain end to the company. At the time, economists took great pride in appearing on news programs, telling us just how obsolete a store like HMV was in today’s marketplace. And yet, it remains. The store I was standing in, in Gateshead’s Metro Centre, had recently located to a more premier retail location and a new store, in Boston Lancashire, opens its doors in the very unit its predecessor was forced to close in March 2013.

In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that HMV has managed to remain, but commendable and worthy of praise all the same. It’s current business model meant that more high priced items like phones, electronics and games took a back seat; while shelves were recently filled with comics, collectables and even Vinyl. Having worked for the company briefly in 2009 and again in 2013, I defiantly experienced some of this change first hand. Vinyl itself presented something quite unique; as if we’d suddenly travelled back in time and embraced a format which should – by all rights – be extinct. Just as many analysts argue HMV should be.

Compact Disc has been a regular fixture in the marketplace since the late 80s, swiftly seeing off competition from Mini Disc, VHS and even Laserdisc; they even buried Vinyl considerably in an episode of Tomorrow’s World recorded around 1992. Whereas a lot of music fans have embraced the digital revolution a decade ago, retailers are limited in their selections, admitting that embracing MP3’s and Spotify subscriptions would leave them out of a job. So CD has found a bizarre and unchallenged equilibrium; until the return of Vinyl. Asides from their popularity with collectors, their physical appeal, their openness to customisation (who doesn’t love a good picture disc?) there’s also an exceptionally unique quality to Vinyl which makes it a more attractive proposition for retailers; it’s practically impossible to steal.

Consider for a moment walking into a store on a cold Christmas day and shoving a cassette tape into your pocket. Even a CD would fit snuggly into an inside pocket without much effort. Vinyl, on the other hand, presents twelve inches of self-resistance to petty theft; for both customers and staff alike, making it the perfect product. In 2017 HMV predicted its most successful year of Vinyl sales in almost 20, thanks in part to the efforts of mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher embracing the format, with UK sales for that year topping four million.

In 2018 this trend continues, with the average purchase of Vinyl made by a consumer younger than those purchasing CDs, according to information from the website Kantar. According to their estimates, the overall value of the vinyl market in the UK for the latest quarter (in the 12 weeks to 1 July) was £25 million. 420,000 people bought a vinyl record in this period, up by 6.6% vs. Q1 (that is, the 12 weeks to 1 April). And this is despite the evident proof that not all collectors of Vinyl have the means to play them.

What might be even more remarkable is that this trend has led to a number of other ‘Grave Formats’ returning to the fold. Swedish band Ghost released their latest album ‘Prequelle’ as well as their live compilation ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ on Vinyl, but perhaps more surprising is their choice to release it on 8 Track Cassette. Although a limited release, initially available through the bands website and the result of Spotify giveaways, their operations are not unique to just cult bands – with Metallica remastering their classic ‘And Justice for All’ album and releasing a special cassette version; which is available to purchase through Amazon and was also stocked in HMV alongside a Nirvana cassette release earlier this year.

The introduction of the cassette tape by Philips in 1963 would lead to it becoming one of the most influential ways people consume music for over 30 years, and yet, it was somewhat ironically never intended never to rival the audio quality of the existing larger tape formats. Once Sony released a portable cassette player called the Walkman in 1979, such anti-taping arguments were more or less dismissed by the general public. Complete with portable headphones, the Walkman encouraged a generation of music fans to take their sounds with them wherever they went, and the advent of the boom box, which featured dual cassette decks, provided portability and seemingly encouraged music duplication through its design. By 1983 it was cassettes which outsold Vinyl.

And yet, as I made my selection that evening in HMV, my father looked on slightly baffled as to why – at 63 – it was his 33-year-old son who was purchasing albums on Vinyl, Cassette and 8 Track in 2018. Everything it would seem, has its place.

WWF/WWE Smackdown! – PlayStation One

WWF Smackdown!
PlayStation One

WWF Smackdown was a revelation. Now referred to as the grandfather of modern wrestling video games, its arrival in early 2000 changed the way we played these kinds of titles, as well as pushing the boundaries’ of what the Sony PlayStation could do. Developed by Yuke’s and published in a collaboration between the developers and THQ, Smackdown (also called Exciting Pro Wrestling in Japan) was based on the World Wrestling Federation and named after the companies Smackdown! Television program.

Retrospectively, it’s the little things that debuted in Smackdown which make the difference, such as the introduction of a more comprehensive Create a Wrestler and Season Mode which give replay long past it’s standard versus matches. You can, of course, have a lot of fun with a multi tap, some controllers and several friends yelling in your ear as The Undertaker Tombstones Stone Cold onto the canvass; but the real longevity in Smackdown is present in its Season Mode.

Pre-Season makes little sense, though allows you to shape your character, decide who he will align with and what he will say. After that you’re just replaying Season after Season (and this can easily go on for 100 years if you want). The absence of commentary makes this feel like a quieter game than virtually every other wrestling title, whereas its often humorous to see wrestlers (dressed in full stage gear) talking with no sound while their mouths move in bizarre cut scenes. Just why was Ken Shamrock casually walking from the Boiler Room like that, and what made Al Snow so angry; we may never know.

Choosing a wrestler, or creating your own, you fight for gold and glory; taking on the likes of Val Venis, D Lo Brown, Mark Henry, The Hardy Boys and even The Godfather. The plethora of mid card wrestlers is fantastic, and should you choose to play as Paul Bearer (for example), there’s something slightly amusing about watching him handing it to The Rock. Unlockable characters are always a big part of wrestling titles and Smackdown is, unfortunately, a little of an exception in that respect.

You do manage to get some unlockable characters, however, they come in segments; meaning that they avoid the legal complexities of actually featuring within the game, the player must choose to mould them together. This was a particularly useful tool, in retrospect, as it does let me legitimately create ‘Naked Mideon’ for his first and only (unofficial) appearance in a video game. Dennis Knight would be proud.

Graphically, this title has aged well, with the character designs looking less jagged and jaded than Attitude before it and Backstage Assault after it. Wrestling historians, however, will argue that the lack of more modern canvass and design coupled with a very dated costumes for some wrestlers (at the time of release, The Undertaker had been absent from programming from several months and would return in his Biker persona quite soon afterward) mean it was already aged before release.

It’s perhaps not surprising that, with a considerable roster improvement and updated content, the games sequel Smackdown 2 was released just eight months after its predecessor. Normally games need time to flourish, to expand, even (in 2018) add some additional digital content to correct the costume changes and thus expand the life of the title – but Smackdown was a rare example of where THQ acknowledged their successes and their criticisms in equal measure and then worked overtime to do something about it.