Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Case for Royal Rubbish

Okay, first off, bah humbug.

Sorry, I have already had enough, even though the main royal wedding event is still not until tomorrow night. I mean, seriously: TVNZ can't afford TVNZ7, and TV3's parent company needs a government deferral to keep afloat, but still they can afford to send a gaggle of their perkiest presenters to the UK, plus support staff, to cover a wedding that several dozen major networks will also be covering and could provide pictoral coverage. What is with that?

And then there are the insane Diana-related stories. ARGH!

Thank goodness the wedding is tomorrow. Hopefully by Saturday, all this insanity will be over. Of course, chance would be a fine thing too.

Verdict: Okay, things have been very depressing and glum of late, but really, when did so many people turn into monarchists? 2 royal jewels out of 10.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Case for De-Facing

I have to admit to not being a huge
Facebook user. I do like to post the odd photo and will occasionally use it to contact people I don’t see regularly and once used it to try and arrange an event. It is occasionally useful, occasionally frustrating, and an amazing way to keep in contact with people abroad and to reacquaint oneself with people from the past. I do know there are some people who live their lives on Facebook, either as a hyperactive contributor or as a cybervoyeur (I think my own behaviour, less participating than observing, would put me into the latter camp), but it has never really appealed to me that much. Perhaps because it can also be really destructive.

While it is great that people can rediscover lost friends, there is the reverse phenomenon to which I have been subjected on several different occasions. The act of “de-Friending” is possibly a really good way of keeping the number of friends whose lives one follows down to a manageable number. It is probably a really good way of banishing those whose online antics has offended in one of the many ways one can cross acceptable behaviour boundaries online: posting unflattering photos; not posting photos; revealing personal secrets in a publicly viewable thread; being beaten on an online game; inviting people to join too many groups; not being invited to an event; basically, if there is an application on
Facebook that does something that involves others, then it is highly likely that it can be used in such a way as to annoy someone else. Cracked published the graph below that helps (somewhat).

And, of course, there is also an i-phone application that will keep a track of these things.

However, as mentioned, I don’t tend to use
Facebook a lot, and when I do I tend to keep messages short and to ensure that photos I share are people-less or that others are aware if I am putting their image online. So it comes as an interesting and bemusing and mildly disconcerting realisation when I discover that I have been de-friended. I am not the only one, I know, but still.

This has happened to me a few times, the most recent time I became aware of it being this morning. I was hoping to track some old primary school fellow attendees down and, when the more regular channels failed to yield results, I switched to a more circuitous route through someone else who tended to be fairly well connected. Much to my surprise, I discovered this individual, who I know used to be on my
Facebook list of friends as I had sent what I thought was a fairly innocuous message to them a few weeks earlier, no longer appeared on my list of friends. This person appeared on the lists of mutual friends (so I re-requested them as a friend; we shall see what comes of that), but on a one-to-one level, according to the internet rules of relationships, any relationship ties we may have once had now appear to have been severed.

As I know this kind of thing happens all the time (and there are websites dedicated to encouraging defriending too), and I cannot claim to have really been close to this person for a long time, I had to smile when I realised this disassociation, though there was a tinge of bitterness that made my expression more a grimace than an open laugh. It is therefore a bit of a mixed sensation, having one’s friendship revoked in such a manner. It’s both noticeable and an active, conscious decision, but also remains impersonal and, in its own way, a very “nice” way of letting people know what others think of them.

Personally, I don’t actually know how to snub someone in such a manner using the modern technology at my disposal. To be honest, my
Facebook account is not something I really care that much about, in that what I put up there is for as much public consumption as this blog, so I don’t really mind who has access to it. Evidently, this is not the case with everyone.

Quite what the “sharing criteria” are though do intrigue me. I know some limit their
Facebook associates to 100, culling excess friends through a complex decision-making matrix. Others just refuse to accept those they are unsure of (I am in that bracket), but will befriend anyone else and leave them on my list until Facivilisation comes to an end. And of course, defriending due to an actual friendship meltdown makes perfect sense. But there are obviously other criteria out there that shift with time and other relevant dimensions. And these less obvious rules intrigue me, especially as I seem to be suffering from their harsh dictates more regularly as time goes on.

Facebook is a fascinating social phenomenon. People are more in touch with each other, more connected, than ever before. But that does not mean that the art of friendship is any less complex or any more understandable. 7 tweets out of 10. But I will let you know how I get on in the Facebook friendship stakes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Case for an Alien Road Trip

I had perhaps a bit too much expectation heading into Paul. I mean, I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with a passion, and as this movie was touted as being in the same vein, a crazy set of madcap adventures of two British geeks who stumble across an extraterrestrial called Paul who wants to phone home. The ads certainly gave the impression it would be a lot of fun. But I think "madcap" in the USA is a very different kettle of fish (or should that be hats?) from the insanity that the aforementioned British movies unleashed.

That's starting this review on a bit of a downer, but from there, I hope to come back up a bit. Paul is an amusing comedy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and it's a credit to these two that this film is as watchable as it is. They actually do seem to be two ordinary guys, best mates, who love their geeky indulgences and would side with an alien against the dreaded Men in Black. Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig (why do I love her so? Because she is awesome) and a very quick cameo from the always incredible Jane Lynch (I bow down in her dry witted presence) provide good support to these two, and there are a few other worthy cameos (is that Landry from Friday Night Lights playing a redneck ruffian? Wow) and enough pop-culture/sci-fi references to keep the more knowing members of the audience chuckling while the less geeky wonder what is so amusing.

But part of the problem with the film is that, for the most time, it is not really that funny. Sweet? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. Full of sly references and "in jokes"? Definitely (the bar scene band's tune seemed to pass most people by; and the Big Bad...). Slow? Well, yes. Funny? Intermittently.

It might have been that, seeing this film at the Embassy cinema with their luxurious leather seats (and still decent "standard" seats too), everyone was so comfortably seated that the audience was more inclined to rest and relax then get excited by the antics on screen. It might have been that the incredibly frenetic and almost unintelligible (and completely unintriguing) trailer for a Bollywood film that preceded the feature left most of the audience in a catatonic state for the following two hours. It could be that aliens had drugged the audience so that they could conduct their dastardly rectal experiments while we hypnotically watched what was on the screen before us. But I doubt it (well, maybe not the last one).

It's really just not that funny. The aforementioned rednecks are introduced for no real reason and play a completely redundant role that would be fine in a Cannonball Run movie, but add nothing - and perhaps even subtract - from this film. But a big part of the reason is the alien, Paul, himself. While I like Seth Rogan, his stoner alien dude is very much. him - besides the alien part (I think). In other words, it is the same character that he always plays, and (for me) that kind of attitude does not instil a huge amount of sympathy with the character. For the most part, it seems like Paul is meant to be funny because Paul is crude and swears. A lot. And that's it.

Actually, the script seems to make the assumption that anytime anyone swears, that is hilarious. It works in one or two instances, but it tires really quickly when there is nothing much else on offer. There were some classics in there: I definitely want a creationist "Evolve This!" t-shirt portraying Jesus shooting Darwin in the head (now to find one.), and there are several other jokes that had me chuckling (mostly in joke-y ones). But otherwise, I just sat, entertained but unmoved.

There is a lot right with the film, but for me, the individual bits of rightness did not come together to make a memorable movie. Galaxy Quest from a few years ago scored mostly hits with its collection of clich├ęs; Paul seems to miss the mark on most occasions. Perhaps extraterrestrials had more to do with the script than I realised, and their sense of humour is vastly different to my own. Or perhaps I just didn't "get" it. Either way, Paul ended up as a bit of a disappointment - though perhaps that is my own fault for going in with expectations of being amused.

Verdict: Paul is a slow, pleasant road trip across extraterrestrial yet familiar territory. There are the odd speed bumps of humour that lift one out of one's seat every so often, but mostly it's a fairly easy cruise with the burbling of meaningless cursing emanating from the stereo. 6 aliens on board out of 10.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Case for Old News

Okay, I really late off the bat with this, as there is already a Facebook page devoted to its return, but Flashbacks (the party bar) in Lower Hutt has followed the Hoyts cinema and disappeared into history (well, for now anyway).

For me, Flashbacks was an eternal part of Lower Hutt's nightlife. Not that I have ever been in there for more than a few minutes. Whenever I passed by, the lights flashing and illuminating the Lower Hutt skyline, it was either so busy with drunken Huttites that I was too scared to cross the threshold, or it was so empty awaiting an influx of custom that its small yet bare interior gave me the wiggins so I was too scared to go in.

So I can't really say that I am too sad to see this go, and so I can't really join the Facebook initiative to bring it back.

Verdict: Things to do change - but perhaps the power of Facebook will resuscitate this Lower Hutt institution. Considering some of the inmates that must have been let loose since this instituations demise, that might be the best thing. 2 flashes out of 5.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Case for Suckers

I have already been beaten to the punch, as it were, in reviewing Sucker Punch, the new girl power flick from the makers of such films as 300.

Going in, having seen the ads and with the aforementioned lineage, I expected frenetic action and lots of bone crunching martial arts by some pretty young women in skimpy skirts in what I imagine comes from the brain of a fevered Japanese manga graphic artist. And there was a bit of this, to be sure.

Babydoll is sent to a mental asylum, where she dreams of escape. In this movie, those dreams are an integral part of how she actually plans to quit the institution, her fantastical landscape providing her with the motivation to achieve several tasks to achieve those ends, and she enlists the aid of a few other pretty young things with promises of an escape for them all.

So far, so action-y. A sound track featuring "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics (though not actually performed by them) and the always awesome (and odd) Bjork add to the potential coolness factor. But then, very early on, something happened that made me a bit wary. And as the movie progressed, my apprehension grew, to be replaced by distaste, which finally became mortification when I realised that this was actually integral to the film. The action that turned into a cardinal sin? Talk.

People talk. A lot. About the plot. About their fears. About their inadequacies. About protecting each other. About not needing to be protected. About how awesome they are. About how unawesome others are. About what needs to be done. About what shouldn't be done. And they don't stop just... talking. But the worst thing is: it's all complete bollocks. The talk is not funny, nor is it interesting, nor is it character building, nor is it even necessary to the plot. At times it aims for semi-seriousness, philosophical resonance, perhaps even a "wheel of morality" lesson or two. But it fails. Every time. But it doesn't stop.

Well, not often. The action sequences are huge and insane, set to rock music at ear-bleeding volume levels (thanks Reading - the opening "Experience the Difference" fly by seemed almost tame in comparison). But they are spread far and wide between what seems like hours of non stop drivel and unengaging story telling. In the end, having the soundtrack blast out my eardrums was a relief as it meant I might be deafened from listening to the dire-logue that was bound to follow.

As I was expecting an action film, this was huge disappointment. As a huge Jena Malone fan, the only redeeming feature about her performance was that she seemed to be the best actor in the whole film. Hopefully it will raise her profile amongst teenage boys everywhere. But the other guys with whom I attended the session seemed unimpressed also, though they were probably on the more forgiving side of a scale of "slap on wrist" to "firing squad".

Verdict: I am not entirely sure what
Sucker Punch was trying to be, but if it was aiming to be an entertaining movie, it completely missed the mark. Or perhaps it was aiming past me to the young teenage male audience, of which I am definitely no longer a part. 2 right hooks and a swift kick to the groin (and ears) out of 10.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Case for Limitations

I hadn't originally intended to go to Limitless, but it ended up being an interesting option for a Friday night movie session. I had originally pegged it as a flash-looking but ultimately moronic man against powerful forces kind of actioner - and it turned out, after all my experience going to the movies, that I had it pretty much right.

Bradley Cooper plays, Eddie, a man with writer's block, living in a dingy New York apartment and at his wits end. As happens in these movies, he is offered a way out in the form of a mysterious plastic pill that will allow him to use 100% of his bran power as opposed to the 20% normally used by both mortals (that old line). It's an opportunity he takes. And hijinks ensue.

"What would you do?" is the question posed, and Eddie decides that, with his newfound powers of perception and association, he wants to hobnob with the rich of Wall Street on his way to his ultimate grand plan that will (apparently) benefit all mankind. And have sex with lots of random intelligent and beautiful women who find discourse on the state of stocks a complete turn-on (though I am pretty sure being wooed by Bradley Cooper didn't hurt either).

The storyline doesn't really have plot twists, more plot straight lines. Almost every development is telegraphed a long time in advance. But it doesn't stop the first part of the film being very easy to watch - at least for the first half. Then... well.

It completely jumps the shark (or is it nukes the fridge these days?) when Eddie hides from Russian mobsters in his super secure ultra decked out apartment in downtown New York. Not only does this multimillion dollar apartment have steel rods in the doors that the mobsters completely ignore when they cut out the lock, not only does this apartment not get cell phone reception (wha?), not only are the police not informed when thugs break into a building and smash video cameras and start up a chainsaw, and not only do the windows smash when presented with the slightest internal pressure, but the safe room (I assume it is a safe room) has doors that can be battered down with a mild tap.

What follows from there is just... well, quick, stupid and completely undermines any of the good work laid down at the beginning. Sure the whole idea of this miraculous secret drug that absolurely no one else has access to (who manufactures it again, and why can't anyone else get their hands on it?) falling into this "loser's" hands is typical Hollywood fodder in its incredible improbability, but... I'm sorry, I forgot where I was going with that.

Verdict: Limitless has a whole raft of limitations that make it fall short of using 100% of its brain power to create a film that is actually good. It's not completely painful, but it might be worth leaving before the final 10 minutes to avoid the worst of it. 3 plastic pills out of 10.


As an aside, Rugby World Cup fever is growing - well, the number of promotional opportunities are. I can successfully avoid a lot of ads on the telly thanks to the joys of recording most of the shows I watch, but there is really no avoiding the stories about Sonny Bill Williams that seem to come out every other day. I wonder if Fair Go will send out "the Chairman" Mau to investigate All Black overload on the NZ populace... but I doubt it somehow.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Case for Impending Winter 2011

A few snaps of Wellington in March, as April arrives and the air grows colder...

Verdict: Wellington can't be beat on a good day, but the good days will be harder to find as winter deepens. 5 snowflakes out of 10.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Case for Fringes

Not sure how many people watch this, but the other day
Fringe did a fantastically retro 1980s opening credit sequence:

Compare that with the "normal" one:

Fringe has its highs and lows, but cute things like this definitely make it worthwhile.