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  • The Oscars

    February 28, 2011 by Nick

    I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1933), Citizen Kane (1941), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), High Noon (1952), MASH (1970), Chinatown (1974), Goodfellas (1990), LA Confidential (1999), and (now) Inception. All films nominated for Best Picture Oscars that lost to an inferior winner. In the case of Chinatown it was The Godfather Part II, which is a close thing, but LA Confidential lost to the trite vanity project that is Titanic and that any film could beat Citizen Kane is frankly ludicrous. And this is before I get into the likes of Touch of Evil and The Third Man which weren’t even nominated. The Oscars have a long history of ignoring great films and being hopelessly unaware of the craft and art present in the very medium that they are meant to be championing.

    Every year I find myself, despite myself, caring about the outcome of the Oscars. I love films. I love the feeling a great film brings out in me. I get evangelical about making people watch films and I feel protective and possessive of them. Films make me smile, excite me and make me cry. I care about the characters and thrill at the events. Inception, in particular, left me breathless and speechless. The first time I saw it I walked out of the cinema aware I had just seen something very special indeed. I texted some friends informing them that (Inception) is Nolan’s Citizen Kane moment. Little did I know how accurate this would be when it came to it actually achieving any recognition.

    I won’t go into what Inception is about, may be about, how well made it is and how thought provoking. It’s a brilliant film and probably the best since Goodfellas (which didn’t win an Oscar), and arguably thematically similar to Blade Runner (not even nominated). It’s the latest in a string of genre movies overlooked at the Oscars because the voters clearly don’t like science fiction. In the entire time the awards have been given not one science fiction film has won the top prize. It’s rare they even get nominated. Films that comment on the human condition and provide social commentary invariably get overlooked for people overcoming adversity and overly serious biopics.

    And this morning all I can think is how much of a missed opportunity this was, how the best film of the past several years (decade? more?) and potentially finest film of the next few years has been overlooked for yet another heartwarming story in which someone wins and Oscar by pretending to have a disability . . .

    Friday Night Dinner

    February 27, 2011 by Nick

    Friday Night Dinner is a new sitcom on Channel 4 starring Simon Bird of the Inbetweeners (in fairness, as part of a fairly evenly spotlighted cast) as part of a family which gets together to have a meal once a week. The family consists of two brothers who have both grown and left the home, their mother and father and also featured their distinctly strange neighbour.

    The plot was fairly rudimentary: the boys show up for a meal, bicker, their dad is cleaning out the stuff he has stored in the garage, they play practical jokes on one another, someone comes round to collect the sofa bed that the dad is getting rid of and the next door neighbour keeps popping round to use the loo.

    This is not to say the plot is bad or annoying, but it exists as a platform for jokes, which is what a good sitcom should do. The jokes themselves are mainly funny, and none are really annoying or embarrassing (in the bad way). There probably aren’t enough jokes, but certainly is funny rather than not and is definitely something I will watch again. There are some jokes that are set up in the show, and they are mainly fairly organic. Only one of them seems particularly telegraphed and still works when it finally pays off.

    The characters themselves are fairly interesting, with the younger duo seemingly more rounded. This could be because I empathise with them more but they certainly seem to have fewer eccentricities and seem to be victims of the foibles of their parents rather than afflicting their character defects on them. This works nicely as they become our point of view characters and the unfolding strangeness and comic moments around them make them straight men, in effect. The family life, while no doubt exaggerated, does ring true and there is a strong undercurrent of familiarity in the setting rather than the jokes.

    Overall I would say that it is a welcome distraction and definitely among the better sitcoms of the past few years. The only real problem is that it will doubtless be compared to The Inbetweeners and will fall short.


    February 20, 2011 by Nick

    I went to see Paul earlier today and I have to admit I enjoyed it. It’s written and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It also features the voice of Seth Rogen as the titular character.

    Previously Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have worked together on Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which are two of my favourite films. What these films have in common, other than their stars, is their director and co-writer: Edgar Wright. And as much as I did enjoy the film, you can fell his absence.

    Paul starts with Pegg’s and Frost’s character going to Comic-Con International in San Diego before going on a road trip of America touring the sites of supposed alien contact. Upon leaving one of these sites they encounter a genuine alien and embark on a journey to help him return home.

    There are a lot of jokes I enjoyed in the film, although they range from nerdy ones that I feel smug for getting to broad slapstick ones that probably play to the lowest common denominator. There wasn’t really much in the way of middle-ground to them. There are, however, just about enough of them to keep the film moving along, even if it does feel a bit episodic in places.

    Simon Pegg plays his normal, likeable and slightly more mature character to Frost’s more buffoonish and immature comedic character. This is a double act that they have used since the TV series Spaced and in their other films together and works well. They have obvious chemistry together and their timing of the jokes works well. It is, however, by now largely predictable. Pegg’s character has all the real plot moments and Frost’s character has an arc where he matures or achieves some success.

    The film is structured as a series of chases as well as the requisite road/buddy movie. There is a lot of familiarity here as well as several explicit homages to science fiction films. There is also quite a lot of swearing, which even forms a plot point in the film. There is also quite a British slant to a lot of the humour, with America’s heartland getting quite a raw deal, especially Christianity and those who support the idea of intelligent design.

    The special effects are good, with Paul wonderfully designed and full of nice little touches. In a couple of scenes you can just about tell there is puppetry rather than CGI at work, but it works and doesn’t really drag you too far out of the film.

    My only real reservations about the film are the fact that Edgar Wright films are funnier and the film draws an implicit comparison to them just through the cast, and that some of the humour is quite broad and the plot predicable and episodic. It’s a funny film and none of the performances are particularly bad, and none of the scenes miss fire. It just isn’t as great as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz.

    Nokia and Microsoft

    February 14, 2011 by Nick

    The new CEO of Nokia (whose name I forget and I am disinclined to look up) caused a few raised eyebrows the other week when he released a memo to his staff basically maligning the two software platforms that Nokia smartphones run on: Meego and Symbian. Now I used to buy a Nokia every time I needed a new phone. I had two separate N73s alone. In its day Symbian was brilliant and still has an active eco system going supporting it. Meego I know less about.

    This week he raised a few more: he announced a deal whereby Nokia would use Microsoft Phone Operating Systems and basically signaled an end to using Symbian and Meego.

    Obviously I know nothing about running a huge multinational company. But I can’t help but think this is the wrong decision for any one of a huge number of reasons. Firstly, just in terms of general PR: many within the company are incredibly unhappy with the decision and a large number walked out for the day on Friday to voice their displeasure. Existing users have basically just been told that their phones are obsolete and the company whose name is on them views them as a bit of a joke and useless. I don’t see that really engendering much brand loyalty (the goodwill that accountants love to over declare the value of).

    Secondly, the whole thing smacks of short termism. In the rush to bring a smartphone to market, the company has turned its back on two separate platforms it could be hoping to exploit and pinning its future on the whims and relative merits of Microsoft. Windows is a PC product with a lot of flaws caused by legacy code and backwards compatibility. As it moves onto different platforms these problems tend to exacerbate themselves by it still being designed for mouse and full keyboard input and having a large footprint. Simply put, it isn’t designed for a phone, a touchscreen or a low powered processor and trying to force it to do these things stops it doing what it is actually good at. It’s a me too product with more problems than solutions in this space.

    The rationale behind the decision is apparently to make phones that appeal to businesses by having the Windows brand on them. There are two things about this, in my mind: it makes the Nokia subservient to Microsoft on the phone and Apple in particular have made huge strides in appealing to businesses. Microsoft are trying to enter the smartphone space on the back of Nokia as a brand and Nokia are doing the same on the back of Microsoft. All the while the two leaders in the space are finding more and more ways to appeal to businesses using platforms that were actually designed for phones in the first place.

    And where does this leave Symbian and Meego?
    Symbian is a collective that produces the software, but Nokia is probably central to its success. Without them there is no real vendor and probably not the financial support it needs. Meego is a partnership with Intel which makes no real sense, but I don’t think Nokia really wants to upset Intel at this point, just in case it needs them in future.

    As much as I want to see Nokia thrive, I don’t think this is going to do them any favours and is probably disastrous in the long run. And I am starting to think the trend for this decade, in technology terms, is Microsoft fading from the market leader into the sort of position IBM currently has.