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Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Solar System - Terrestrial

I've had this post in drafts for god knows how long, but have struggled to find the time to finish it up: a brief insight to our Solar System, considering my inability to stop spurting out space facts. The Solar System is a thing we greatly underappreciate and will never fully understand in terms of it's origins and certain future, but what it is right now is an amazing world that's not only home to our much loved Earth but also it's numerous neighbouring planets. Some are physical, others giant balls of various gasses. Let's have a look at the first lineup...

Mercury


The smallest of the Solar System's seven planets and the closest to the Sun, Mercury is a barron landscape that pretty much lacks an atmosphere - consequently, the side facing the Sun will be lethally hot, whilst the side facing away will be monstrously cold. The planet, as expected, also has the fastest orbital period of them all - completing a full circuit around the Sun in just shy of 90 Earth days, though it's rotation is so slow that barely two days will pass even after two full orbits. This is result of what is known as a tidal lock with the Sun's gravitational influence, which has gradually slowed the planet's rotation down over time to keep it in sync with it's full orbit.

Mercury has a high accolade in the Solar System lineup, however - only behind Earth, it is the second densest planet. It's composition of rock and other similarly heavy materials make it this way despite it's small size (barely bigger than the Moon). It's minor distance from the Sun makes it a hard planet to visit with probes, and so such visits have not been as common or detailed as those with other popular planets. It's lack of atmosphere and dry landscape make it a vacuum where life could certainly never prosper, making it the last place we'd consider a future to thrive.

Venus


Mercury may be the closest planet to the sun, but it's lack of atmosphere causes extreme temperature variations - the day is scorching hot, whilst the night is hideously cold. Venus, the second from the sun, is quite the opposite - in a sense, it has too much atmosphere, which causes consistent temperatures of around 460 degrees celcius. The surface of the planet is not even visible from the views of probes due to an obstruction of thick sulphuric acid clouds; only 3D scans give us an idea of what's beneath, which is essentially a dry hellhole littered with more volcanoes than any other planet (well over 1000), an atmospheric pressure nearly 100 times as strong as that of Earth, as well as frequent storms with proven existence of lightning and acid rain, though said rain quickly evaporates before it even gets close to the surface.

Aside from the Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky; a trait caused by the fact that it is both the closest planet to Earth and because it's aforementioned clouds reflect the majority of sunlight into space. In areas without light pollution, it is often bright enough to cast shadows, and even bright enough to be seen in the early morning and evening daylight in some areas - hence it's morning star and evening star nicknames. Venus is also known for being the slowest planet in the Solar System when it comes to rotation - it orbits the Sun faster than it rotates on it's own axis, completing a full orbit in 224 Earth days yet not finishing a full rotation until 243 Earth days, technically making a year on Venus quicker than a day on Venus.

Mindfuck.

Earth


Earth is, of course, the only celestial body known to accommodate life; an attribute that can pinned down to many factors, but the most important is of course known by anyone (I hope) to be it's perfect distance from the Sun. The Sun's heat provides us with a landscape that allows life to evolve and prosper, and another crucial trait of Earth is it's magnetic field - which blocks harmful solar UV rays, permitting the first lifeforms to develop around 3.5 billion years ago; 99% of all Earth lifeforms are believed to be over, something that a number of mass extinctions have contributed to, most notably the Cretaceous impact event that killed off the dinosaurs.

Earth now houses over 7.3 billion humans who have divided it's landscapes into hundreds of countries and states housing their own diplomacies, cultures, religions, ideologies, you name it. Scientists believe that we've discovered only one thousandth of 1% of all other extant lifeforms, meaning that dozens of mysteries still await on our age old homeworld. The future of the planet is generally uncertain; but if we ignore all the fears of global warming and other human disruption, it's generally believed that life on Earth will come to an end just under a billion or so years from now when the Sun begins to enter it's red giant phase, where it will increase in luminosity so drastically that the Earth will certainly lose it's oceans and plant life. Where humanity will be by then (if still around) we do not know, but it's amazing enough just how lucky we are to be here when you consider the perfection of the system around our home, and it's something I always feel we never really appreciate.

Mars


While not the first planet to have man made tech land on it (that goes to Venus), Mars is the only planet that we have explored the surface of in great detail thanks to an environment that, while certainly hostile to any lifeforms, is safe enough for robust rovers to navigate through. It is a world that attracts some of the highest amounts of interest from researchers and has often been hypothesised as a place that could one day be terraformed for human adoption. Rovers over time have uncovered evidence of liquid salt water, suggesting Mars may once have been home to bacterial lifeforms and wasn't always the dry, dusty desertscape it is today.

As a volcanic landscape, Mars is home to some of the largest geological features in the Solar System, including Olympus Mons, a 14 mile high shield volcano that's almost as large as France, and Valles Marineris, a system of canyons that stretches for over 2500 miles. Almost half of the planet is home to the North Polar Basin, a smooth basin that is believed to be the result of a catastrophic impact millions of years prior. These features rival and exceed many similar structures on Earth, despite Mars only being half the size - so don't underestimate it at first glance. We have much more to discover on it's surface, and with more and more rovers planned for launch in the decades to come, we can be sure that Mars still holds the answers to some mysteries about whether or not life could prosper there one day.

Pluto


I know it's not a planet anymore, but Pluto still holds such a memorable place in many people's hearts because of it's original title as the eighth planet from the Sun - a trait that lasted from it's discovery in 1930 until 2005, when the term planet received a formal definition that excluded Pluto and left it classed as a dwarf planet, resulting in gas giant Neptune being the new furthest planet from the Sun. A recent surge in Pluto's rep came in July 2015, when the New Horizons probe took the very first closeup pictures of the planet after it's 3 billion mile journey that began in January 2006. These pictures began a stronger understanding of Pluto's general landscape and brought to fruition many of it's key features, notably it's heart-like pattern that's merely a brighter area of land but has become one of it's most recognisable traits - though I myself think it looks more like a whale's tailfin.

Insightful research was ignited upon New Horizons' flyby of Pluto, a key moment of which brought to focus that possible life being born from inanimate matter. Whether or not this can be confirmed we don't know, but even in it's brief flyby the probe made many detailed measurements, leaving us with many possible answers to the mysteries surrounding the dwarf planet since it's discovery.

The gassy bigguns? Maybe soon...

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Best of a Genre

I've had this post in the works for a while now, but deciding on many of these categories has been one tricky task, especially with more and more releases pouring into cinemas as the years fly by. But, for now, this is the batch I'll settle with: let us dive into my favourite films in many of cinemas key genres...

Best Superhero Film - Spider-Man 2 (2004)


Spider-Man 2 is undoubtedly one of the most widely praised superhero films ever made due to its commendable balance of action and honest emotion. The story takes inspiration from the 1967 comic book Spider-Man No More, featuring Peter trying to give up his alter ego to try and live a normal life. Coming into conflict with countless thugs and protecting New York from crime as Spider-Man leaves his real self Peter Parker to fail his exams, lose the love of his life and even the friendship of his closest pal Harry Osborne. The emotional focus on Peter trying to cope with being a normal man but also knowing his gift has to be utilized is something not seen in many superhero films nowadays - and, of course, Alfred Molina's portrayal of Doctor Octopus remains one of the most iconic villains in a superhero film to date.

Best Animated Film - The Lion King (1994)


While Frozen has claimed the title of highest grossing Disney film as well as highest grossing animated film, The Lion King previously held the former record with incredible worldwide earnings of $968 million, and it still remains the highest grossing traditionally animated film ever made. Featuring a star studded cast, gorgeous animation, and an epic, emotional storyline, The Lion King is a perfect example of a colourful animated film that can appeal to both adults and kids without relying solely on subtle mature jokes. Some people criticise it for some abrupt tonal shifts, but The Lion King still remains my favourite film of all time, and of course the best animated feature I've ever seen.

Best Sci-Fi Film - Back to the Future (1985)


Though it's not necessarily pure sci-fi, Back to the Future still qualifies as an entry to this genre and still remains one of the most treasured films of all time. Co-written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film sees protagonist Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) sent back 30 years in the past, clashing with his younger parents in the process. Exceptionally constructed and superbly acted, Back to the Future brings a fantastic script to life with some impressive visuals for the time and an energetic sense of fun.

Best Horror Film - The Woman in Black (1989)


I never shut up about this film, but I just can't help it - The Woman in Black is a unique low budget horror flick that manages to be one of the genre's best thanks to a chilling atmosphere and excellent pacing. It's screenplay made several annoying changes from the source material, but regardless, an eerie vibe underlines the entire narrative, which itself is far more interesting than most horror films these days. Much better than the 2012 adaptation, the 1989 Woman in Black may be outdated to some, but it remains spooky and unsettling to many others - and for good reason.

Best Biopic Film - Catch Me If You Can (2002)


Directed by filmmaking poster child Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can recaptures the true story of con artist Frank Abagnale, who successfully faked his identity as a pilot, lawyer, and doctor - all before he turned eighteen. With Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in starring roles, the story is already brought to life with compelling performances - but it's Spielberg's sweet and sentimental direction that captures the heart to this complex story. Interesting on its portrayal of Abagnale's real life actions yet still dramatically effective, Catch Me If You Can is quite easily one of Spielberg's best films to date.

Best Thriller Film - Shutter Island (2010)


It's not Martin Scorcese's most acclaimed picture, but Shutter Island is a personal favourite of mine - the story of the novel is perfectly constructed with stylishly dark visuals and an unsettling atmosphere. Piecing the events together alongside protagonist Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an engrossing experience from start to finish, and a surprising amount of twists and turns are sure to thrill newcomers. A well crafted and superbly performed film is the end result.

Best Crime Film - Harry Brown (2009)


Starring Michael Caine, Ben Drew, and Emily Mortimer, 2009's Harry Brown sees the pensioner namesake fighting a gang of youths who terrorise a rundown housing estate in London; the same youths who go on to murder Brown's closest friend and trigger his lust for revenge. A classic low budget British thriller that embraces unsettling violence, Harry Bown's atmosphere and tension is extremely effective, and thanks to a lineup of quality performances, a disturbing yet gripping story is truly brought to life.

Best Fantasy Film - Life of Pi (2012)


It's not set in a fictional world full of magical creatures, but Life of Pi can easily be judged a fantasy due to its source material once being deemed 'unfilmable' - to craft its unique setting and characters, director Ang Lee and his crew used all sorts of special effects - ranging from animatronics, water pool sound stages and, of course, stylised computer generated imagery. Telling the story of a young man stranded in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger as his only companion, Life of Pi is both emotionally stirring and aesthetically stunning, ranking as one of my favourite films of all time without a doubt.

Best Foreign Film - Pan's Labyrinth (2006)


Much like Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth combines elements of horror and dark fantasy within a war backdrop - in this case, five years after the Spanish Civil War, during the 1940s. The story takes inspiration from the age old English tale Alice in Wonderland, featuring a young girl journeying through a series of dark challenges to earn immortality. Demonstrating exceptional usage of practical effects, particularly the costumes for Doug Jones as the Faun (and as the incredible terrifying Pale Man), Pan's Labyrinth is a freaky and complex story that's superbly told on almost every level, and also boasts one of the best love to hate villains in the history of film.

Best Drama Film - Saving Mr. Banks (2013)


Saving Mr. Banks documents the making of one of Disney's most cherished films, Mary Poppins, and his attempts to gain the rights to the original book from it's author Pamela Travers. Featuring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in the lead roles, Saving Mr. Banks is a heartfelt and witty period drama that handles its emotional moments with care and charm but never goes down an overly depressing route in an attempt to milk the heartfelt nature of it's story.

Best Comedy Film - Hot Fuzz (2007)


Hot Fuzz certainly ranks as one of my favourite films of all time - not only is it hilarious and witty, but also equally well structured in terms of it's narrative development. A concept that may seem hard to take seriously actually flourishes in a way that yields some surprising emotional strength without being overly pandering or a little too serious - thankfully bags of room is made for the film's central comedic appeal without jarring tonal shifts popping up. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver starring performances that not only develop loveable characters, but provide a number of hugely funny gags in terms of dialogue and physical slapstick - indeed, Hot Fuzz's entire cast perform admirably, even the lesser seen roles, as the story itself slots nicely into place due to some superb writing by director Edgar Wright and Pegg himself. This of course leads to one my favourite comedy flicks to date without a doubt.

I know film has many other genres, so perhaps we'll continue another time...

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Most Anticipated Films of 2017


I gotta be honest and say there aren't a huge array of films I'm psyched to see next year, making this most anticipated list one of the hardest yet to compile. Still, there is some good stuff on the way, so here I'm gonna run through the five I look forward to the most, even if it's not purely for good reasons...

#5 - Beauty and the Beast


What's enticing me to check out Disney's newest live action remake come March is the overall production values at first glance. Whilst Dan Stevens' design as the Beast has generated some controversy, I found the appearance extremely well done and the voice absolutely spot on - the same can be said for the various supporting characters, all of whom find themselves played by equally fantastic actors such as Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Thompson.

The main issue I have with it is that Emma Watson in the lead role, while perfect in terms of her overall appearance, never won me over in the various trailers; Harry Potter jokes aside, all I heard was Watson talking in each scene with a little bit of effort visible at times. For the most part, she seemed painfully bland, and considering she is one of the titular roles, this worries me a great deal. So, this film becomes a most anticipated title for two key reasons: to see the rest of the world surrounding the story brought to life in the same dazzling way it was in the trailers, but also to see if Watson's overall performance turns out to be better than these previews make it out to be.

UK + US Release: March 17

#4 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge


Of course known by it's mouthful of a subtitle Dead Men Tell No Tales in the US, the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise comes six years after the last film, which interestingly finds itself being the most expensive to date with a budget of nearly $400 million with all expenses accounted for. The initial trailer for this next effort debuted just three months ago, showing Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar savagely attempting to hunt down Jack Sparrow himself, his established former nemesis. It's high on tension and thankfully low on stupidity and unnecessary action, which helps to capture the atmosphere and make things look much more promising.

I'm a big fan of the series in general, even if At World's End is far too long and On Stranger Tides overwhelmed by it's obsession with endless, effects driven set pieces. Johnny Depp still performs strongly in each one no matter the film's overall quality, and the aforementioned trailer also reduces the effort of banking on naught but his bizarre mannerisms in the role by not showing the character at all: only the villain and his crew in a unsettling landscape. I may be proven wrong in the end and it could be as mediocre as it's predecessor, but I'm gonna hope it turns out much better - which to be fair isn't too difficult.

UK + US Release: May 26

#3 - Spider-Man: Homecoming


Yet again the Spider-Man series approaches it's next reboot, following on from the mediocre outcome of the Amazing Spider-Man films and a deal put in place some time ago between Sony and Marvel to integrate the character into the ever expanding MCU. Tom Holland debuted as the web slinger in last year's Captain America: Civil War, appearing briefly in the climax in what was, in my opinion, one of the most irritating portrayals of the character without a doubt. Lacking any personality aside from being a smartass and having no real solid purpose in the final fight aside from a visibly rushed attempt to show him off in an MCU film as soon as possible, his role just made me detest the character's cinematic reputation even more and question Holland's true strength within the role.

However, the first trailer for Holland's own Spidey movie came to us only last month, showing off once again the admitteddly impressive new costume, more focus on Peter Parker himself, and some brilliant new set pieces. The jokes from Spidey himself work a lot better and seem far less try hard than his Civil War appearance, which hopefully will result in the balance being met - portraying the hero with his trademark sense of humour but not overdoing it to the point of plain stupidity. Michael Keaton's role as Vulture also looks pretty cool, and so this'll hopefully all lead to a better outcome - yeah, it looks cliché in some ways, but I'm still enticed to see how it pans out.

UK + US Release: July 7

#2 - War for the Planet of the Apes


The Planet of the Apes franchise reached new heights of success both critically and commercially with 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and this only excelled further with it's 2014 sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - which earned even stronger critical acclaim and over $700 million in box office revenue. This next installment focuses on the apes fighting the human tribes for domination of Earth, with central character Caesar (Andy Serkis) resorting to his darker traits in order to ensure the survival of his species.

Thanks to what looks like another superb performance by Serkis himself and some superb tension and set pieces demonstrated within the trailers, this next installment to the series looks like an epic outcome to the narrative threads developed within it's predecessors, finally reaching the stage of the original films where war emerges between these two species. If it retains the level of quality demonstrated by Rise and Dawn, then it'll surely be another memorable summer hit.

UK + US Release: July 17

#1 - The Nut Job 2


Whilst the original Nut Job is no masterpiece, it's hard to deny that critics were harsh on it from the get go, seemingly hateful against it because it lacked the production values of Disney's finest works. When it comes down to it, the story was there, the characters were enjoyable, and it all....







...HAHA no. Jk.





ACTUAL #1 - It


A very strange choice, right? Based on Stephen King's 1986 horror novel which I've not even read, my main interest in the story of It stems from viewings of the 1990 TV adaptation starring Tim Curry in the lead role. Whilst limited visual effects and some daft narrative ideas made it a bumpy ride, Curry's performance and the unsettling themes of exploring fears deep within us managed to ensure it was a decent viewing for the most part.

This time round, Bill Skarsgård will take the helm as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the initial form of the titular evil as it haunts a group of a children, leading them to rebel and fight back against it upon reaching adulthood. Part of me is unable to describe what makes me so hyped for this film - I've not read the book, know little of King's works, am not the biggest fan of the TV film despite it's many strengths, and little marketing has yet taken place so early on - no trailers, no posters, and barely any other official images aside from the appearance of Pennywise himself. Still, my ongoing interest in the story as a whole and love for a well made horror film has kept me coming back each day to see when a trailer will finally be revealed, and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.

UK + US Release: September 8


...now is this where they upload the trailer and it ends up looking really bad?

Thanks for reading!