May, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

The Last Stand (or X-Men 3 as it was known until pretty recently) is the latest, and possibly final entry in the X-Men film series. Although Bryan Singer was univerally praised for his first two, they always left me a little cold; perhaps because I was more a DC comics reader than Marvel. Singer, of course, has gone over to the DC universe and made Superman Returns, a trailer for which ran in front of this film. And was that John Williams’s score I heard in it? So the mythology of X-Men was not as deep-seated with me as Batman or Superman. Indeed, even Spiderman was a bigger draw for me. In fact, I only got around to watching the second film on DVD a month or so ago.
Anyway, back to The Last Stand. There’s lots of backstory revolving around the seemingly dead Jean Grey, and a businessman has developed a “cure” to mutantism.
The film has all the necessary bangs, explosions and over the top action sequences. I can’t fault the CGI, but it just feels so-so. There’s no real suspense, and I don’t especially empathise with any of the characters. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine growls, Halle Berry’s Storm does nothing very special at all, and the rest of the cast feel like they’ve stepped off the set of one of those teen soaps.
I didn’t completely lose interest, but if it weren’t for the fact that I really can’t bring myself to see The Da Vinci Code, I mightn’t have gone to this film at all. It’s really just so-so.
It’ll be curious to see if there’s a malaise in big summer releases this year. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 could be interesting, but I won’t hold my breath, and the Poseidon remake looks dreadful (and that’s just from the trailer). Only Superman Returns really appeals.

Deal or No Deal… The Book!

Wandering aroud Ottaker’s today I couldn’t help noticing that someone’s managed to publish Deal or No Deal, the book. So, I wondered, exactly how do you turn a guessing game into a 400 page book. A quick flick through it, revealed that it must have been “written” inside a week. As I say, Deal or No Deal is a guessing game, so this book just seems to be a guessing game based on how much the banker would offer in various situations. Page after page of printouts of the “board” of remaining values.
No doubt the board game, the video game and the mobile phone game are all just around the corner…

Silence of the Grave


This is the book for which Indriðason won the CWA Gold Dagger award last year. I enjoyed the first book in the series, Tainted Blood (or previously, Jar City), and the return of police detective Erlendur is welcome. As before, he’s struggling with his private life. He lives alone, but his dug-addicted daughter has miscarried and is in a coma.
In the meantime, some bones are uncovered on a hillside… Flashbacks to a time when Reykjavik is under Allied occupation during the Second World War, and a husband who beats his wife and taunts his children including a disabled daughter. It’s pretty horrible what she’s having to put up with.
The question, then, is how does this relate to the bones that have turned up in the present day?
This is a short book, but a very good one. On the surface everything seems very simple, but digging into the past unearths complexities and complications. We learn some more of Erlendur’s background, and begin to understand why he’s had such a tumultuous personal life.

Pet Shop Boys – Fundamentalism

I know just about every magazine or newspaper has already given the new Pet Shop Boys album, Fundamentalism, 4 or 5 stars (out of five), but it really is that good.
I am a bit of a long time Pet Shop Boys fan and this album really is the best since Behaviour with some great tunes and some serious politics. Integral, for example, closes the album and is all about a subject I hold closely – ID Cards:

If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to fear

If you’ve something to hide you shouldn’t even be here

You’ve had your chance now we’ve got the mandate

If you’ve changed your mind I’m afraid it’s too late

We’re concerned you’re a threat

You’re not integral to the project.

Of course this album marks the return of Trevor Horn, who worked on Left To My Own Devices. I still remember putting my Introspective cassette, newly purchased from Our Price in Bath, into my cassette player, only to hear some kind of orchestration. I seriously considered that there might have been some kind of mix-up in the duplication factory. Left To My Own Devices remains one of my favourite ever PSB songs.
As a consequence, I’m really looking forward to hearing their recently recorded concert with the BBC Concert Orchestra this Saturday on Radio 2. This opens with a fully orchestrated, full length version of Left To My Own Devices. It also features Rufus Wainwright, Frances Barber and Robbie Williams. Should be quite a listen. Then there’s Wednesday’s C4 documentary, Saturday’s appearance on The Culture Show, and today’s interview with Simon Mayo.
Anyway, rush out and get hold of Fundamentalism!

LA Stories

Listeners to The Geoff Show may have heard ITV’s Head of Entertainment recently fielding programme suggestions from listeners. He was very good, and a scarily high proportion of ideas had already either been pitched or even produced.
Anyway, Jackson is no Johnny come lately to the broadcasting game, and he’s just presented the first pair of three shows on Radio 4 called LA Stories explaining how American TV works.
Here’s a scary fact about how US TV schedules work. Pitching new shows happens between 4 July and the end of September, so get those scripts ready now! One of the execs on the first show said they collectively heard 350 drama pitches, of which they buy 60 scripts, from which 8 will get made as pilots, from which 3 will get made as a series. And only one of those three in an average year will get to stay on the air and reach the end of its first season or get renewed for a second.
A fascinating series, with the second part availble to listen-again now. It’ll keep me going until Desperate Networks arrives.
Finally, welcome if you’ve just come to me from The Geoff Show. Hope you like what you see, and feel free to go through the rigmarole of getting a Typekey username so that you can comment below. Even then, I get to say yay or nay on comments, but unless you’re really nasty, it’ll be yay.

Doonesbury

How long has Doonesbury been in the Independent on Sunday? It always seemed a little weird that The Observer didn’t carry it – and now I know why. (Although I think it was probably more a case of nobody else taking it, and IoS deciding that they would).

HD Launches

A good piece on Mediaguardian about HD, with Sky’s service launching today, and material already being available to some Telewest customers.
I tend to think that it won’t take off quite as quickly as some would hope, since we’ve alredy got more definition with PAL, compared to the US NTSC format. We’ve also had widescreen for quite a while now. We’re certainly all buying HD ready TVs, but that’s really a by product of the cheaper and more readily available flat screen LCD and plasma TVs that are now on the market. They’re HD ready by default.
Undoubtedly, some will be jumping to upgrade their Sky or Telewest systems, but for most it’ll be a natural progression rather than a quick jump. Allied to the fact that we still don’t know which format will win out in the Hi Def DVD market, complications over various DRM systems, and suddenly it’s only the early adopters who’ll be jumping in – at least until Sky end up giving away the boxes to all their customers.
HD won’t move as fast in Britain as some expect. Certainly not as fast as it has in the States.

Sell of Radio 1 and Radio 2

A report from the European Media Forum is reported to suggest that BBC Radios 1 and 2 should be sold off. They’d raise £500m and since this would “re-balance the radio market and level the competitive playing field between commercial broadcasters.”
I beg to differ.
What’d actually happen is that vast parts of commercial radio would struggle as the newly independent Radios 1 and 2 sucked up the vast majority of advertising. In terms of audience share, commercial would suddenly be bigger – well that’s not surprising, since only Radios 4 and Five Live have any size at all. But would it really help the radio industry?
Who’d be likely to come along and make a bid. Would it be GCap? They’re expected to annouce severely reduced earnings in a couple of days. There’d be British bidders undoubtedly. But isn’t it likelier that Clear Channel would come in and buy at least one, and immediately have a massive stake in the UK commercial radio market.
And would the ad market grow massively to support these services? Or would it simply unbalance the current one, and end up with everyone else losing significant revenues?

Digilogic PVR

I’ve been meaning for ages to mention the Digilogic PVR that I got from Argos a while back – the FVRT95 (incidentally it’s identical to the T90, but that’s Argos code).
For under £100 you’ve got an 80 GB single-tuner PVR which’ll record around 40 hours of television. As it came supplied it could timer record programmes via either manual timings, or, more likely, the 7 day guide. You could also pause live TV in a Sky+ like ability.
All very well, and I loved it. But there were a few issues. There were only 8 recording slots for you to program – somewhat less than you might want if you go away for a week or two. Deleting programmes sometimes left the machine in a crashed state, and it’d then take a while to identify all the true free space it had.
Well this weekend saw a significant firmware upgrade. Now the 8 slots have been replaced by 32 – even I’m unlikely to use that many (apart from anything else, I’ll have filled the disk). Rewinding live TV’s been introduced (something Sky+ has always had). What that means is that if you’ve been watching a programming, and suddenly want to double check what just happened, you can rewind, irrespective of whether you were recording the programme. This functionality also means that as long as you were watching from the start, you can decide you want to keep a recording of the programme you’re watching. Finally, the much needed skip function is in place. By default it’s 3 minutes. So you’re watching a recorded programme from commercial TV. An ad break comes up, and you immediately skip forward 3 minutes and continue with your programmes. Advertisers love this sort of thing.
In truth, this doesn’t have any functionality that Sky+ doesn’t already have – indeed the series-link button is still missing (Record every episode of The Line of Beauty in one button push). Also Sky has recently started having green button prompts during trails to encourage you to set timers for those shows. It also needs a second tuner – there is a model available but it hasn’t got the new firmware.
But this comes in the week that Freeview’s announced the forthcoming Freeview Playback as a “brand” name for Freeview PVRs, which’ll no doubt include some generic functionality that all devices must include.
Now what I’d really like now is some kind of PC link-up with my device so that I can grab the raw mpeg2 recordings and burn them onto DVD. There are various people working on such things, but not with my particular firmware, and the machines require you to open them up and remove the hard-disk, before plugging it into another PC (or an external hard-disk case). I’d like the next generation of boxes to either have a USB connection or even a CAT-5 connector. That way I can quickly and efficiently burn DVDs from my recordings – perhaps editing them first.
In the meantime, if you’ve got a few quid in your pocket and are happy with Freeview, then I can think of very little reason not to jump at getting one of these.