Saturday, January 27, 2007

World Cinema Award 2007

World Cinema Awards Flyer

On Thursday night I took advantage of one of the benefits of my British Film Institute 'Champion' membership and attended The World Cinema Award 2007, hosted at the London National Film Theatre and sponsored by Pioneer.

This turned out to be not so much an Awards Ceremony as a chance to appear as an audience extra in the taping of some inserts for a TV show. Not that I'm grumbling too much as the tickets were free (and I managed to blag four so that friends could come along too), a 'goody bag' was handed out, and the post-show drinks and food were excellent.

The show was advertised as starting at 9pm with a note that it was being televised, but when the tickets arrived there was a note asking us to make sure we got there half an hour earlier. Arriving bang on the dot of 8.30pm after a bite at the local Pizza Express, we arrived to find the place almost packed, and our pre-booked seats unavailable.

The Beeb, who were clearly running the show, had decided to turn the seating into a free-for-all at the last minute, and it seemed everyone else had arrived long before the advertised time, which was interesting given the number of times I've attended 'sold out' events at the NFT only to see lots of empty seats, very late starts and continual late-comers. This didn't seem like the usual BFI/NFT crowd - far too young, trendy, independent and smart looking, as opposed to the scruffy, insular and intense crowd I've got used to!

Luckily there was a row of unoccupied seats in the back right-hand corner but it turned out we couldn't use these as they were 'reserved for latecomers'. As a group we were tempted to follow David's suggestion that we avoid breaking the rules by leaving, waiting outside for 10 minutes, and then re-entering to legitimately claim the adjacent seats that we thought we'd booked! In the event we found a single cluster of four seats split over two rows against the right hand wall and grabbed them, but if I'd known the booked seats were going to be abandoned I'd have taken my glasses as we were some way away from the rather dim screen. I spent most of the 'show' squinting at a rather dim and not very large screen of televised 'conversation', wishing they made the subtitles to these films larger. At least the venue was well decked out, with a good stage design and beautifully lit neon blue and red lit set.

Jonathan Ross was the host, and it was interesting to see the contrast between his performance before the camera's started rolling and that given on-camera. His talk when off-broadcast was all four letter words, presumably to show how 'down with the kids' he is (yeah, I know nobody uses the phrase 'down with the kids' any more, but I need to try and reinforce the stereotype of my being a senile old curmudgeon ;-)). The four-letter words irritated, but I do count myself a fan, and his rude but funny, and unscripted, banter worked for me almost as well as the better crafted scripted lines used for the main show. When talking about the pronounciation of one of the judges names, Ross referred to critic Andrew Bradshaw's insistence on pronouncing it with an exaggerated sort of French accent, before describing him as 'pretentious' and an 'ugly fucker' - phrases which didn't make sense at the time, but had me laughing all the way home because by then it had become how appropriate and accurate both these phrases were!

The ceremony followed a strict format and was admittedly slick. There was a short intro to each of the six chosen film from Ross himself, followed by pre-recorded clips and then a pre-filmed 'conversation' from the four judges around a table as to the relative merits/de-merits of the film just featured. I haven't seen two of the six selections (Volver and Lady Vengeance), but given the way the judges were highly critical of them - at times one felt they were there to discuss films that had lost rather than films that had won - I think they'll be going to the top of my 'Must Buy' list when released on DVD next month. My two favourites of the nominees would have been Caché (aka Hidden) followed by The Beat That My Heart Skipped, but it soon became clear that the judges would find these far too commercial or 'of mainstream interest' to win.

I thought at one point The Child might win, even though I found it extremely average. It's had great reviews but has the sort of 'clearly improvised by non-actors all the way through, with a largely hand-held viewpoint' style that really makes me wonder what people are on when they talk about 'great acting' or 'technique'. People talked about the film being like a Mike Leigh film, but I find Leigh's films much more engrossing and professionally shot. However I'd call The Child a masterpiece compared to the only other contender I'd previously seen: The Death of Mr Lazarescu is, so far as I'm concerned, the filmic equivalent of watching paint dry. Sod's Law dictated it would win!

The Death of Mr Lazarescu is close to three hours of 'real time' footage about an old alcoholic's last few hours suffering through the Romanian equivalent of the National Health Service. The DVD sleeve, which makes it look like it's a hi-tech thriller, claims the film is a 'comic masterpiece', but I challenge anyone to find anything remotely approaching a belly-laugh in this depressing, never-ending 'acted documentary'. The first 20 minutes of the film feature one side of a long phone conversation, shot statically, wide angle from one end of a kitchen without a tripod. So much for even being able to admire the camerawork! But I'm obviously out-of-sorts with critical opinion because as I write this an average 8.1 rating on imdb and critics all over the world fawning all over it. I honestly don't think that in 35 years of being obsessed with movies I've ever seen a more extreme example of 'Emporer's New Clothes' when it comes to a film review, but maybe I'm just jaundiced because after suffering 50 minutes of 'fly on the wall' tedium I ejected the DVD and turned it into a coffee mat.

Needless to say, Lazarescu won the big award, and to add insult to injury I was given another copy of the wretched thing on DVD in the 'goody bag' handed out as we left. But i took some satisfaction from the fact that the award was a very ugly thing indeed - so ugly I can't imagine anybody would want it on display in their living room. After witnessing two of the judges pontificating endlessly in the most ridiculous fashion, I nevetheless take some pride in the fact that my opinions are so much at odds with people I would actively cross the road to avoid, based on their ridiculous posturing and grand-standing as witnessed in the so-called 'conversations' we'd had screened. Ross's earlier 'pretentious, ugly fucker' comment now seemed kind and overly-generous, where originally it had seemed the worst kind of insult!

I must say the after-show gathering was excellent. Thanks to sponsors Pioneer free booze and food were in endless supply, and the rather sore head the next morning was evidence that I'd had a good time, although mainly this was down to the friends I was with (thanks Brian, David and Victoria), than the event itself, which whilst being a good reminder of some great films I caught on DVD last year, worked better as a TV programme to be watched at home than a 'night out in a theatre'.

The World Cinema Award was televised live, and is repeated on BBC 4 tonight at 11.10pm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Venus" at the Clapham Picture House

I took advantage of my membership of the Clapham Picture House to attend a free advance screeing of Venus which stars Peter O' Toole, Leslie Phillips and Vanessa Redgrave. Given the enthusiastic critical reviews, the BAFTA nominations and a cast that would stuggle to deliver a poor performance I was expecting a good movie, and I got it. The real surprise was the script - very witty and very moving at the same time.

The film had a real sense of melancholy about old age, and old age for fading actors in particular, and must have been difficult for both O'Toole and Phillips to play. Both have less than flattering roles and deliver astonishing performances. I'll post a fuller review on my DVD Review blog when the film gets a DVD release, but in the meantime if you want to see a very classy British movie at your local cinema, watch out for this one - it goes on general release in about a week's time.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Politics of Online 'Community'

Those who've read some of my more acerbic or opinionated posts probably won't be surprised to hear that in the last couple of weeks I've managed to win myself 'black marks' or 'infractions' on the only two forums I tend to hang out on. What IS surprising is that these 'infractions' - the online equivalent of a school prefect giving you detention - were earnt simply for trying to provide information, in the form of web site links, to fellow forum members who were asking questions. Unfortunately, it seems to me, we live in a world where ego's have run amok and 'community' sites are less about providing a social networking service to people, and ALL about empire building and point scoring.

I'm not going to name the first site that gave me a black mark, because I really don't want to give them any publicity. Let's just say that the 'organisation' that runs this DVD site has the word 'Poisonous' in its title, which seems to me to be entirely appropriate.

One thing I don't like about the forums is that their T&C state that a company called MovieTyme cannot be linked to, or even mentioned on the forums. Regular readers will know that I had a nightmare trying to get hold of the XBox 360 HD-DVD player from any UK supplier, despite pre-ordering one months in advance. Many others were in the same boat, and frequently questions like 'Where can I get the add-on in time for Christmas?' or 'Where can I get imported HD-DVDs from?' came up. If anybody every mentioned MovieTyme up came the school prefect, now called a moderator, to deliver a stern warning, and a black mark that says 'If you do that again you'll be banned'. When asked directly about a supplier for the HD-DVD add-on I foolishly said that I'd got mine from 'the company that we're not allowed to name'. Apparently this was enough for a black mark warning.

Why couldn't this company be named? It seems that Movietyme used to sponsor the site by paying for advertising links (of which there are many on the site) but then finished their agreement and, according to the moderator who black-marked me, 'set up in competition' so mention of them is banned. If you look at Movietyme you'll be hard-pressed to find any forums - they're an online store, pure and simple - but what do I know of what constitutes setting yourself up 'in competition' with a site that promotes itself as being about and for 'community'?!

When I foolishly said this seemed rather juvenile I was told I was out of order, that this was an agreement MovieTyme were happy with and had even encouraged (as if!) ... and earnt myself another black mark. My own fault of course - you should NEVER hint to the school prefects you think they're acting like big babies - see the recent skirmishes between Peter Jackson and Bob Shaye over The Hobbit movie for a good example of what can erupt as a result!

The forums in question are chock-full of easy platitudes about 'community' but one wonders what communty really means when simply trying to answer a direct question results in threats of being banished. Needless to say, I am not the sort of guy who puts up with little Hitlers and their power trips, and I left the place, probably just in time to avoid being kicked out for thinking 'freedom of speech' (if it doesn't resort to personal abuse) was what 'community' was all about. I won't be returning, despite continual claims to be about being in existence to 'help the community', and if that means I've cut my nose off to spite my face, so be it!

The second set of forums where I earnt a black mark was over at AV Forums. The folks there produce an excellent set of podcasts covering the audio visual industry, the DVD/high def industry, and games and movies in general. They have no problems with MovieTyme being mentioned, and indeed it's thanks to them that I managed to find that company and many excellent HD-DVD and DVD review sites. The information about various audio visual bits and pieces that can be found there is second to none, and the UK slant makes it essential to any gadget obsessives like myself.

My mistake at AV Forums was that I had a signature that contained links to my DVD and HD-DVD review blogs. AV Forums run their own DVD Review site (AVPLay) which 'we have spent thousands on' and apparently links to my pesonal bit of hyper-space were in violation of the T&C that say links to 'rival' sites may not be posted. Given that I'd found most of my favourite DVD/HD-DVD review sites (all sites seemingly run as commercial concerns, all carrying advertising) via links in their forums I found this 'infraction' warning rather odd. In the end I decided I should just feel flattered that they saw my silly little whitterings in cyber-space as a rival, where much bigger, better sites aren't!

So I haven't had a hissy fit and left AVForums in protest, the way I have with the DVD forums mentioned above. The people at AVForums are, for the most part, extremely friendly and the site provides a service second to none, albeit one that's spread across so many different areas one wonders what subject area wouldn't be perceived as a 'rival'. And I can understand that if you've spent several thousand pounds building up your audience and advertising, some Johnny-come-lately grabbing your audience at no cost could rankle. So if those are the rules, I'll follow them and just be glad I've got somewhere I can hang out if I'm careful about what I do and say.

But really, let's not pretend that what's being provided here is 'community'. It's business, and seemingly business that can't tolerate competition, no matter how small and insignificant, pure and simple.

Which is kind of depressing for those of us who like the original idea of the Internet being about community and communication that's free of any restrictions arising from petty jealousy, paranoia, or an inability to cope with anything perceived as 'competition' no matter how small it might be.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

BT (Not) Calling!

Saturday morning. 10am. Suddenly the internet connectivity's dead and the usual rebooting of the 'so hot you could fry an egg on it' router doesn't fix the problem.

I pick up the phone.

It's dead!

This is REALLY annoying as I have a bunch of stuff I need to chase up on this morning. I dig out the BT phone number for fault reporting. A friendly voice asks me if I want to test the line or report a fault. I select "test the line".

The friendly voice says it will need a number like a mobile to call me on if the tests fail but doesn't ask me to input the number. It asks me to hold while it performs the test.

Then it says the test can't be performed and so it is hanging up. And it does so.

Is this a scam to just make money on over-priced mobile phone calls (the only available means to get the mess sorted) or what?!!

I dial the number again. This time I say I want to report a fault, not test the line. The automated system takes me to the same 'test the line' place as I'd been before. It tells me it will need a number to contact me on. Again! But it doesn't give me any means to specify that number. Again! It says it is doing the test. Again. Keeps me on hold for a minute and then says it can't do the test 'at this time'. Again! And then it hangs up. Again!

By now my blood pressure is rising. How much is this total incompetence costing me on top of the £50/month I'm already paying for a service that is broken? Who designed this bloody fault reporting system anyway?!

You can probably tell that I'm not happy! I ring the customer service line and ignore all the endless options except 'other' as I navigate through a hierarchical system designed to keep you on an expensive phone call as long as possible rather than allow problems to be reported. Fortunately I've learnt from the lessons of the past and manage to select an option where I can talk to a human being. But there's a long queue so I select the option where I can enter a number for them to call me back on.

The human being does indeed call me back (Hoorah! And in less than half an hour too - I'm impressed!), apologises for the farce that is the 'Fault reporting' line, and transfers me to someone in the fault department. I get to speak to another human being. She also apologises and tells me to 'please hold while I check the line'. 'But...' I start to say, but alas, it's too late.. I'm listening to God-awful hold music. The hold music lasts about three minutes - a nice little earner at mobile phone rates.

And then there's a click and I'm cut off.

I decide I'm not playing this 'Make money from mobile calls scam by deliberately giving crap service' game any more and wait. They have my number. I gave it to them and they called me back once. Maybe they'll do it again?

How naive am I?!!

Nobody calls but half an hour later the Internet broadband is back (which is how I'm able to post this, natch!)

The phone isn't.

After five hours with no return call and no working phone I decide 'Hang the cost. I need a landline phone', and go through the whole 'speak to a human' hierarchy of automated systems again. I get a person and the same apologies I got last time.

But this time I get to speak to someone who tells me there is a major fault on the London Exchange. This makes me feel rather foolish having spent so long poking behind bookshelves and far too much wiring trying to work out if the problem is perhaps at my end after all now that internet is working but the phone isn't).

They can't tell me when the phone will be back. Or how much all these mobile-rate calls to try and get the service I'm paying for reconnected will end up costing me.

But at least I have internet access.

So if you're trying to call me and getting an engaged tone or a 'no such number' tone, try the mobile.

So that's been my Saturday. I hope yours has been far more fruitful!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

So 2007 is here. I had intended welcoming it in by viewing the usual foreworks display down the road at The London Eye (after all, I'm sure we London residents are all contributing financially towards its high cost) but rain and wind, and memories of the crowds at previous years' events, put me off and I somehow ended up missing the midnight passage because I was immersed in watching a movie. So while others drank and made a lot of noise (fireworks were still going off near here at 2 in the morning) I was watching the HD-DVD of Forbidden Planet, a film from 1957 that I've never seen before, but whose influence on the original series of Star Trek is all too obvious. A review on my new HD DVD Review Blog will no doubt follow in due course.

So it's back to normality (the day job) tomorrow. I've really enjoyed the break and although progress on studying hasn't been anywhere near as much as I'd hoped, I have at least started AND managed to catch up on watching some of the DVD backlog that's been building over the last few months. And finally I got the HD-DVD blog launched, which just means that weekends will now be even more taken up with watching movies and then brain-dumping at the PC, as I suddenly have two blogs to update each weekend now! So many movies, so little time!

I've made no New Year resolutions, but am relatively optimistic 2007 will be a much better year than 2006, which seemed to be a year of continually fighting off the big black bear called 'depression'. I've got no major changes planned (other than cutting down on credit card usage, and trying to get debt free as quickly as possible), but hopefully I'm better prepared for what the year throws at me than I was this time last year.

2006 sucked for all sorts of reasons. 2007 WILL be better, if only because I've FINALLY tidied up the refuse tip that was called my office!