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culture

Consuming Culture: 16-31 Jan 2020

Here are brief descriptions of the various cultural things I did in the second half of January 2020.

Food: 12:51 (Islington, 2020-01-18)

Our second visit to 12:51, but the first time we tried the tasting menu. It’s a bit pricy (£75 a head, I think) but it’s well worth it. The food was wonderful. And on the night we were there, James Cochran (the chef who owns the restaurant) was there – although he was serving, rather than being in the kitchen.

Food: Wolkite Kitfo (Holloway, 2020-01-24)

This is an Ethiopian restaurant near Arsenal’s new stadium. Ethiopian food is really interesting. It’s usually served piled up on a flatbread called injera. You then tear off bits of the injera and use it to scoop up bits of the food and put it in your mouth. So the injera doubles as both plate and cutlery. If you’re interested (and I think you should be) then this is a nice local restaurant in which to try it.

Art: 24/7 (Somerset House, 2020-01-29)

The subtitle for this exhibition is “A wake-up call for our non-stop world”. The pieces here all examine the way that the world has changed over the last twenty years so we are now all more connected much more of the time and how that has affected us. It’s a very thought-provoking exhibition and I highly recommend you seeing it.

Film: The Personal History of David Copperfield (Screen on the Green, 2020-01-29)

I’ve never read David Copperfield. I don’t remember even seeing another film or TV adaptation. So I was probably one of very few people in the cinema who didn’t know the plot. And, therefore, I have no idea how much this film deviates from the book. It certainly feels like a rather modern take on the book (although it’s very much set in the nineteenth century). There’s a great cast and a cracking script. I loved it.

Gig: John Grant (Roundhouse, 2020-01-29)

I love John Grant’s music and see him live whenever I can (I already have a ticket to see him again at the start of May). This gig was part of the Roundhouse’s “In the Round” where artists play to an all-seated audience. This was a stripped-back set (just John on piano and a keyboard player) which meant that some of his more complex songs were skipped. But he played everything I wanted to hear – even finishing with a great version of “Chicken Bones”.

Gig: Hate Moss (Old Blue Last, 2020-01-30)

It is many years since I was last at the Old Blue Last for a gig. I was drawn back by an old friend who was first on the bill, playing as M-Orchestra. I stayed on to see the other two acts. Kill Your Boyfriends were a bit noisy for my tastes, but Hate Moss were well worth staying out for. I’ll be looking out for them playing London again.

Dance: Sadlers Wells Sampled (Sadlers Wells, 2020-01-31)

I’ve been in London for over 35 years and I’ve never been to Sadlers Wells. And if you’re going to fix that, then it makes good sense to go on a night where there’s a selection of different types of dance on display. There were eight different acts during the night – from traditional Indian dance and tango to really experimental dance from Company Wayne McGregor and Géométrie Variable. I’m no expert in dance and this was a great introduction to the breadth of options available.

Categories
culture

Consuming Culture: 1-15 Jan 2020

I want to do more blogging this year. So one thing I’m going to do is to write about the cultural experiences that I have. My plan is to write short reviews of any films, plays, exhibitions and lectures that I go to. To start us off, here’s what I did in the first half of January.

Film: Last Christmas (Vue Islington, 2020-01-01)

Yes, this got some terrible reviews, but cheesy romcoms are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. This isn’t up to the standards of Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill, but I really enjoyed it. And I don’t care how much you judge me for that.

Art: Wonder Factory (Dalston Works, 2020-01-03)

This was weird. Fifteen rooms have been turned into Instagram-friendly art installations. They are of variable quality, but the best installations (like the marshmallow swimming pool) are very good. It’s only around until early February (and it seems they’re now only opening at the weekend) so you should get along to see it soon.

Film: Jojo Rabbit (Screen on the Green, 2020-01-05)

The Hitler Youth isn’t the most obvious subject for comedy, but this film manages to pull it off brilliantly. It’s obviously a very delicate balance but director, Taika Waititi, gets it spot on – while also playing a very funny imaginary Adolf Hitler. I see this has been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar; and that’s well-deserved.

VR: Doctor Who – Edge of Time (Other World, 2020-01-05)

Other World is a virtual reality arcade in Haggerston and currently, one of the VR experiences they are offering is the Doctor Who game, Edge of Time. Players are put in their individual pods and loaded up with all their VR equipment (headset, headphones and a controller for each hand) by staff before being left alone to help the Thirteenth Doctor save the universe. I confess I got a bit stuck trying to get the Tardis to dematerialise, but I really enjoyed myself and am very tempted to go back for another try.

Play: A Kind of People (Royal Court Theatre, 2020-01-06)

The Royal Court has a brilliant scheme where they make tickets for Monday evening performances available for £12 each. That price makes it very tempting to see plays that you know nothing about. And that’s what we did for this. We really had no idea what this play was about. It turns out that it’s an investigation of the various prejudices (racism, sexism, class snobbery, …) that bubble under the surface of British society. I’d recommend you go and see it, but it closes in a couple of days.

Meeting: Tech For UK Post-Election Debrief (Onfido Ltd, 2020-01-08)

I want to get along to more tech meet-ups this year and this was my first. Tech For UK is a group of techies who volunteer their time to build tools that increase democratic engagement in the UK. You can see some examples at voter.tools (this includes my site – TwittElection). This meeting was a discussion about what the group had been doing during the election campaign and where they should focus their efforts in the future.

Art: Bridgit Riley (Hayward Gallery, 2020-01-15)

I want to make more use of my South Bank membership, and this was a free after-hours, members’ viewing of the exhibition. This is a retrospective of Riley’s whole career and, therefore, is a great introduction to the breadth of her work. She’s a fascinating artist (if one who occasionally produces art that can give you a bit of a headache). I recommend seeing the exhibition – but hurry, it closes on 26 January.

Categories
media

UK Film Releases

I like watching films. I’ve been a member of the Clapham Picturehouse for about ten years and I like to get there a few times a month.

But I’m not very organised in my cinema-going. I never really seem to have much of an idea about what films are being released in the coming weeks. This means that sometimes I get taken by surprise when three or four films I want to see all open in the same week.

So I decided that if I had a better view of what is coming up, then I’d be better able to plan my visits. And that sent me looking for an iCal feed of upcoming UK film releases. But I was surprised to find that no such thing existed. Or, at least, if it did, it was very well hidden. I found a couple of RSS feeds on filmdates.co.uk, but they omitted the most important information – the date the film was going to be released.

After an unproductive couple of hours trying to track down an existing feed, I decided that I was just going to have to build one myself. So that’s what I did.

The iCal feed itself is at http://dave.org.uk/ukfilmrel.ics and I’ve also built a page that presents the information in a more easy to understand format. Currently, the data comes from a text file that I created by hand from just going through the latest copy of Empire. Hopefully I’ll find a better source for this information at some point in the future.

I thought it would be a two-hour job. But (as is usually the way) it took a bit longer than that and I ended up having to learn rather more about iCal than I thought I would. If you’re interested, you can find the code on Github.

If you find it useful, please let me know.

Categories
film

Fantasy Film League

I quite like the idea of a Fantasy Football League. All that tracking of stats appeals to the geek in me, I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s stats about football which is something that I have no interest in whatsoever. If only there was an alternative version where the stats were based on something that I’m interested in.

Enter Fantasy Film League. The Fantasy Film League works on a similar principle to Fantasy Football League. You have $70m to cast a film. From that money you have to pay for a director and six actors. You then give your film a title and it’s entered into the competition. Each week, the people running the competition take various box office information and for each member of your cast who is in a successful film, your film makes some money. Full details are on the web site. The competition starts this week and will run until next year’s Oscars.

If this sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because the competition ran for the few years back in the mid-90s. It then vanished without trace for about fifteen years before reappearing last year.

I took part last year, but my film didn’t do very well. This year I’ve taken it all a bit more seriously. If you think that your film can do better than mine (which is called Return to SW12) then please enter the competition.

The FFL web site also has a facility to set up private leagues. I’ve set up a ‘davorg’ league so that my friends and I can have a private competition amongst ourselves. If you want to join my league then you’ll need the code number, which is 2857ed1a.

Come, join in. It’ll be fun.

Categories
film

Leaving LoveFilm

Earlier this week I closed my LoveFilm account. It’s a shame as I’ve been a customer for a long time, but I really couldn’t justify continuing to pay them £13 a month.

The LoveFilm service has two problems. A small one and a big one.

The small one is that I have a wide taste in films. This means that when they send me two random films from my list there’s a better than even chance that I won’t really be in the mood to watch at least one of them. As an extreme example, I once had a Mike Leigh film for about six weeks before I was in the right mood for it.

But that’s just a tiny problem. I could ignore that if it wasn’t for the other problem.

The second, and far larger problem, is the inherent fragility of physical media. And the stupidity of the general public.

The older ones amongst you will remember the excitement that came with the introduction of CDs. You will have seen things like Tomorrow’s World presenters spreading jam on CDs and still being able to play them (or maybe I imagined that). After decades of fragile vinyl records we finally had a medium for music storage that was nigh-on indestructible.

Of course, it turned out that this was bollocks. Sure, CDs were harder-wearing than vinyl had been, but it was still possible (easy, even) to damage them. And when DVDs followed using similar manufacturing technology, they proved to be just as fragile as CDs.

All of which means that if you lend a DVD to several random members of the public, then it will get dirty and damaged. And before too long it will become unplayable. Of course that wouldn’t be a problem if people were careful about looking after DVDs, but in my experience that’s never going to happen. The DVDs that LoveFilm get back will often be covered in smudges and scratches. And in some cases, they will no longer play.

So there’s a good chance that you’ll be sent a DVD from LoveFilm that just doesn’t work. Often it’ll just be a bit grubby and a quick wipe with a cleaning cloth will fix the problem (but it’s still an issue if it doesn’t affect the film until you’re 45 minutes into it). Other times, no amount of cleaning will fix the problem. We had a copy of Before the Rains recently which had huge pock-marks in the surface. It wouldn’t even load the disk menu,

LoveFilm say that they check all disks before they are sent out. But clearly this is a process that doesn’t scale. I suspect that actually they check a random sample of the disks. And that the problem is so bad that plenty of damaged disks still get sent out.

I estimate that over the last six months or so, about one in three of the disks that I get from LoveFilm have some problem. In most cases it’s just a case of whipping the disk out and cleaning it, but enough of the disks are proving to be unplayable that I decided I had to cancel my membership.

And cancelling your membership isn’t easy. You can’t do it over on their web site. You need to phone them up. And you speak to someone in an Indian call-centre whose job is to get you to reconsider by offering you special deals. I had to repeat “No, please just cancel my account” about four times before I got anywhere. This is a shame as it gives a bad impression of the company. And all the previous customer service I’ve got from LoveFilm (largely through their excellent Twitter account) has been exemplary.

I don’t expect to be parted from LoveFilm for too long. They already have a streaming service. But it’s only available to subscribers to the physical media service. Once they follow Netflix into offering streaming-only subscriptions, I’m pretty sure I’ll be back. A Bluray player I bought just before christmas is internet-enabled and already has a LoveFilm application installed (although it’s currently disabled).

It’s worth noting that a streaming service solves both of the problems I mentioned at the start of this piece. Not only does it do away with physical media, but it allows my to choose any film that I want to watch.

In the meantime, I’ll be getting my films at home from other sources. Probably a lot of stuff from FilmFlex . I’m considering adding Sky Movies to my Virgin Media package. I might even go back to my local DVD rental shop (although, that will still have the physical media issue).

Has anyone else left LoveFilm recently? What were your reasons? Where do you get films from now?

Categories
film

Clash of the Titans: Random Thoughts

I saw the original Clash of the Titans in the cinema when it was first released. It’s been a major source of enjoyment for me ever since and it was therefore with some trepidation that I settled down in the Clapham Picturehouse to watch the new version this afternoon. I’m not going to write a full review, but here are some random thoughts that went through my head while I was watching it.

  • In general a pretty good remake. Very similar plot, with some nicely updated effects.
  • Yay Pete Postlethwaite! Always the mark of a quality film.
  • Only three of the gods had speaking parts (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon). There were some well-known people playing other gods but they were only ever seen briefly in the background. Hardly worth them turning up.
  • Nice Bubo joke.
  • Nice to see Skins actors doing well in Hollywood. Actually, thinking about it, it’s just the Stonem family.
  • It bugged me all through the film that I recognised the woman playing Andromeda. It was electro-girl from Angel.
  • That Gemma Arterton is gorgeous.
  • I know it’s only vaguely based on Greek myths, but surely some things should be fixed? Perseus and Andromeda end up together. It’s written in the stars. That can’t be changed.
Categories
film

Alice in Wonderland

I’ve just got back from seeing Alice in Wonderland and I’m now feeling rather depressed and am starting to despair for the future of the film industry.

Let’s get the positive aspects out of the way first. The cast is wonderful and the acting impressive. I particularly enjoyed the little comedic touches that Anne Hathaway brought to the potentially quite bland White Queen. The visual effects were also fantastic. Burton’s imagination together with state of the art technology has given us a wonderful vision of how Wonderland should look.

So what didn’t I like? Well, firstly, I saw it in 3D. It’s the first time I’ve seen a 3D film outside of an IMAX so I didn’t really know what to expect. And it was all a bit disappointing. It was disappointing because the technology didn’t really seem to be ready for the mass market. During fast-moving sequences things got far too blurry. It was also disappointing because the 3D effect wasn’t very convincing. The image just had a background plane and two or three foreground planes. It looked a bit like cardboard cut-outs in a child’s theatre toy. And lastly it was disappointing because directors (or maybe it’s cinematographers) are still unable to resist the temptation to fill 3D films with shots that wouldn’t look out of place in a “This is 3D” demonstration film. Fight scenes were full of swords being jabbed in your eye and chase scenes all had overhanging branches to whiz impressively past. It was all very obvious.

But that’s not my major reason for disliking the film so much. That’s down to the plot. I don’t know if you’ve seen the film yet, but did you know it’s not a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s book? No, Tim Burton decided that what we wanted was a kind of “Return to Wonderland” plot where he mixes scenes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with “Through the Looking Glass” and a nineteen-year-old Alice. On Alice’s return she meets up with all her old friends and gets embroiled in a battle between the Red Queen (aka the Queen if Hearts) and the White Queen. In the end she has to fight the Jabberwock in order to save the day.

It’s terrible. It makes no sense whatsoever. Ok, I know that complaining about logic in a Wonderland story is somewhat ridiculous, but what I’m saying is that I don’t understand why Burton had to play with the plot like that. It’s like my objections to the BBC’s Merlin. I worry that a new generation of children will be introduced to the story through a warped version and won’t ever read the real version. Burton ended up with a pretty good fantasy plot. Why did he have to attach it to the much-loved Wonderland characters? Why not just go off and make a film with his own characters? I don’t really feel that using the Wonderland characters added very much to the plot. This story could just as well been told using characters from the Narnia stories or the Lord of the Rings.

There were two things that Burton did in the film that I may never be able to forgive him for. Firstly, whenever characters mention the Jabberwock, they call it “Jabberwocky”. “Jabberwocky” is the name of the poem. The  creature has always been the Jabberwock, The second point also involves the poem Jabberwocky. The Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) recites some of the poem in the film. But he does it wrong. Verses are muddled up and lines are changed. It’s appalling. It shouldn’t be allowed.

I really wanted to see this film. Burton and Carroll looked like they were going to be a fantastic match. I’m massively disappointed that the film was so bad.

Categories
film

Creation

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a new film about Charles Darwin has failed to find a distribution deal in the US. The article suggests that this is because Darwin’s work is still a rather contentious subject in the US. They quote the christian film review site MovieGuide describing Darwin as “a racist, a bigot and 1800’s naturalist whose legacy is mass murder” (although they don’t point out that the quotation is taken from a book review and was not written in reference to this film).

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers has a slightly different theory. He says that the US’s antipathy to evolution is only part of the story and suggests:

One reason it probably isn’t getting picked up is that it isn’t a blockbuster story — it’s a small film with a personal story. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, but it’s not a Michael Bay noisemaker with car chases and explosions, or giant robots, or a remake of a 1970s cheesy TV show. That makes it a tougher sell.

Whilst I usually agree with PZ, I think he’s wrong here. It’s obvious that the film isn’t a blockbuster and I agree that the blockbusters are what the US (and, indeed, much of the rest of the world) audiences want to see. But films still win distribution deals if they’re not blockbusters. And I think that this film would have found a deal had it not been for the subject matter. Oh, and the title. I haven’t mentioned the title yet. And I think the title is a direct attempt by the film-makers to grab some publicity by annoying the American creationist movement.

The film is called Creation.

I mean, come on. Nothing could have been more calculated to garner publicity in the US. It’s not even an appropriate title for a film about Darwin. Darwin’s ideas say nothing at all about creation, they only cover the creation of new species of life. Darwin had nothing to say about how life originally came into existence.

There’s a common creationist misunderstanding about evolution. When they talk about “Darwinism” (as they like to call it) they are usually covering a far larger area of knowledge than the one that Darwin wrote about. Because they see Darwin’s work as an opposing theory creationism, they assume that it must cover the same ground as their nonsense. They therefore assume that “Darwinism” tries to explain the creation of the universe, the creation of the solar system, the creation of the Earth, the beginnings of life on Earth and the diversity of life found on Earth. And, of course, it doesn’t.

Obviously people who agree with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection will tend to also hold non-biblical views on the rest of the subjects in my list, Darwin’s work only ever covered the last item on  the list. So to say that something you’re calling “Darwinism” addresses all of these subjects is nonsense. So to call a film about Darwin’s life and work “Creation” is equally nonsensical.

I don’t know if Darwin ever did any research into the earlier items on my list. I’ve certainly never read anything by him where he discusses the origin of either the universe or the Earth. But creationists like to bundle all of these topics together so that “Darwinism” can be seen as being in direct opposition to their fairy stories.

This new film sounds very interesting to me. It looks at how Darwin realised that his work explained the existence of so many different species on Earth without the need for divine intervention. It also examines how that knowledge effected his relationship with his deeply religious wife. I think that if more people in the US saw this film then it would help people to see that Darwin was a just a man doing his best to explain the natural world rather than the antichrist that creationist groups like to portray him as.

So it’s a shame that more people in the US won’t see this film. As I said before, I feel sure that the film-makers deliberately chose the title to court controversy. There’s no other explanation – the title makes no sense. It seems that their scheme has backfired on them. They might have gained some more publicity for the film (although notice that the original story I linked to was from Australia), but appears that very few people in the US will get the chance to see their film.

Categories
film

Misunderstanding Time Travel

I promise I’ll get round to a longer blog entry over the weekend, but I couldn’t resist commenting briefly on this paragraph from Peter Bradshaw’s review of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

It is very silly and of course cannot submit to close inspection. Making brief visits to an unalterable past is one thing, but how about that pesky butterfly effect? Why doesn’t he recognise Clare on their first meeting in the “present” – and why can’t he “remember” his future
journeys into the past?

Now I know that I’ve spent longer than most people either reading or watching stories about time travel. But I can’t believe that anyone seriously doesn’t know the answers to those questions. Why doesn’t Henry recognise Clare when they first meet in the present? Because those meetings haven’t yet taken place for him. Why can’t he remember his future journeys into the past? The big clue is in the word “future”.

Without understanding that, you’re missing the fundamental paradox in the plot of the Time Traveler’s Wife. If you really find it that confusing, I can understand why you would only give it two stars.

Do many people find basic time travel concepts like this hard to follow?

Categories
media

Stardate 90210

I’ve never been much of a trekkie. Or a trekker, or whatever they like to call themselves. If I’m flicking through channels looking for something to watch and I come across an episode of the original series, or The Next Generation, then I might sit and watch it. But I don’t go out of my way to track it down. I suppose I know quite a bit about Star Fleet chronology but I don’t care enough to get upset when the writers ignore it.

I can’t remember the last time I saw Trek film at the cinema (it might have been Generations) but I was interested enough to take myself along to see the new film this evening. I’m not going to give a detailed review, but here are some thoughts that struck me as I was watching it.

  • Nice to know that bars are still exactly the same two hundred years in the future (and they serve the same drinks too).
  • Nice to see the green-skin woman from the original series’ credits finally getting a speaking part.
  • Was the woman on the bridge with the pointy hairstyle supposed to be Yeoman Rand?
  • Actually Spock and Sylar are very similar characters.
  • Why cast Winona Ryder and then make her up to look 50?
  • Red matter? What the hell is that?
  • Was that Hoth where Kirk crash-landed?
  • Doesn’t Leonard Nimoy look old?
  • Uhura and Spock? Oh, come on. That’s just silly!

Ok. So at the end of the film, we’ve got the gang together and they’re running the Enterprise. But we’re in a timeline that’s different to the one we’ve seen before. It’s a bit like the 2005 re-invention of Doctor Who (particularly with the loss of both Galiifrey and Vulcan). Oh, and there are two Spocks around. Anything can happen and it doesn’t have to match up with the history that we’ve come to know over the last forty years.

You know, I honestly don’t know whether or not I liked it. There was a lot to like. And plenty of in-jokes for the old-time fans. But, to me, it didn’t really feel like Star Trek. But I’m not sure whether that’s a bad thing.

Very strange. I don’t think I can remember ever feeling so ambivalent about a film.