June, 2007

Snow Patrol at the O2

Snow Patrol at the O2
I visted the O2 last night (previously the Dome) for a “secret” Snow Patrol gig that was an invitation only affair for many of the people who worked on the site, or had something to do with it. My involvement is minimal to non-existent – I supplied the odd piece of data to a friend who works there.
The last time I got off the tube at North Greenwich was in 2000 when the Dome was originally open. I was vaguely curious about the delights it held in store at the time, but my real reason was that somewhere within, there was a machine that scanned your body and allowed you to create a digital avatar. You could then use this in various PC games. As it happens, I didn’t really use mine as the resulting avatar really brought home how out of shape I was.
Anyway, last night I made my first return visit, and the Jubilee line delivers you straight to the neon lit venue. Once inside the dome, they x-ray your bags (or at least should), and then you can wander around the various shops and bars. There’s an 11 screen Vue cinema, and a VIP bar which was quite smart.
I was whisked upstairs into one of the very plush suites which have a bar and eating area at the back, and seats in the arena at the front. All in all a very civilised way to watch a concert (Of course, this does now prevent me from writing a rant that I’d had building up inside me, about all the VIPs at that great “egalitarian” festival Glastonbury. Still, you do have to read Charlie Brooker on Glastonbury in Monday’s Guardian). I preferred to sit on bar stools overlooking the seats in front of me into the main arena.
The arena is very adaptable with sports events including basketball, ice hockey and, er, Ultimate Fighting Championship events coming up. I also understand that for smaller events they can put in a fake ceiling to make the arena feel more intimate and cut-off the top tier of seats.
What about the concert? Well, I saw Snow Patrol on the Isle of Wight a couple of weeks ago, and they’re very much a band that everybody likes a bit, but nobody loves. They’re quite probably the biggest selling contemporary band in the UK, but they’re just not a band you can get excited about. The invited audience at this gig certainly didn’t get too excited. The band played gamely on, and had success with a couple of their really big numbers.
What I will say is that the acoustics are excellent. AEG, the American company who built it, are stadium experts and considering that it’s a similar size to Earls Court or Wembley Arena, it sounds vastly better.
Finally, a really nice thing. There’s a bit of wall somewhere near the main entrance which has the names of 11,000 or so people who worked on the project. And my name’s up there! Names are sorted in alphabetical order, and although this terrible photo doesn’t do it justice, I’m on the topline. I love it – even though I feel a bit of a fraud (See also my Lord of Rings DVD appearance).
My Name at the O2

Five Fined

Five has been fined £300,000 by Ofcom – the largest ever fine for a public service broadcaster – for faking winners and misleading its audience with Brainteaser on five separate occasions.

Sky on Freeview – Ofcom Announces a Consultation

Today Ofcom has announced that it will conduct a public consultation into Sky’s proposal to replace it’s Freeview channels with three pay channels on DTT.
As regular readers will recall, this proposal came as a counter measure to Setanta who will have Freeview, and also acted as a nice distraction for the launch of Virgin Media.
Anyway, now Ofcom has determined that a public consultation will take place in the autumn, with a statement in the new year.
I’m guessing that Sky will be a little frustrated at this outcome since it gives Setanta a few months to build their business.
[UPDATE] Sky isn’t very happy at all.

Hyde Park Calling and the Buena Vista Social Club

The Feeling
And so to Hyde Park Calling – a festival that happens at the same time as Glastonbury, and so has an “old rocker” feel to it.
Due to a bit of a cock-up on my part, one of the newer singers I wanted to see, Terra Naomi, who’d I heard on the cover CD of this month’s Word magazine, was singing the last lines of the last verse of her last song as I entered her tent. Not a great start then.
The set-up is one big stage and two smallish tents. I was actually quite worried about how small the tents were, because I was planning on seeing the Buena Vista Social Club in one of them later. I made a mental note to make sure that I arrived nice and early to see them.
On the main stage, I watched The Feeling perform essentially the same set as they’d performed at the Isle of Wight Festival a couple of weeks ago. That didn’t bother me too much because I’d enjoyed it before, and they’ve got a few quite decent songs, and I got to hear their cover of Video Killed the Radio Star again. What a great song!
The one worry I had was that the heavens were going to open at any time. Most people were glancing in a worried manner skywards every so often.
Next up was Crowded House, who were pretty good. I say that, but I only stayed for a couple of songs before heading off to the second stage in one of the tents. I wanted to make sure I could get in for the Buena Vista guys.
Member of the Buena Vista Social Club
I needn’t have worried as there was plenty of space when I got there and watched Jason Mraz finish up. He was pretty good from what I saw of him, but his fanbase and that of the next band didn’t seem to overlap and they all left. That afforded me the chance to get right down to the front and stand on the railings at the dead centre of the stage. You really couldn’t get a closer and better view.
And that’s where I stayed for the entire show. The Buena Vista Social Club band was formed for the film of the same name by Wim Wenders back in 1999. Since then, a few of the big stars who came together for that film and the subsequent album and concert performances have died. But Cuba’s an incredibly musical place, and those band members have been replaced. As the Wikipedia entry quotes, the band is “something of an anomaly in music business terms, due to their changing line-up and the fact that they’ve never really had one defining front person … It’s hard to know what to expect from what is more of a brand than a band.”
So today’s version is not at all the same as the band we’ve seen in the film, although several “original” members are still there performing.
Nonetheless, they still play some quality music and a packed tent (made even more packed by the heavens suddenly opening and a much promised dumping of rain finally arriving) is soon dancing and clapping along to the great melodies.
I had a whale of a time.
Afterwards, I wandered out to watch a little of Peter Gabriel before I left to go home. I didn’t hang around long, as one after another unfamiliar song was played. Then Gabriel announced that he’d held a vote on his website where fans had picked some of the lesser played songs for him to perform tonight. Suddenly, even though this was a “festival” where greatest hits sets go down fine, we were to become a fan club only event. I left.
More photos over at Flickr.

Taking Liberties

Taking Liberties is that rarest of things – a low budget British documentary released in the cinema. It covers a subject that’s very close to my heart, the reduction of civil liberties we’ve seen under the premiership of Tony Blair over the last ten years.
It tells its tale using a combination of archive clips, illustrative pieces of old film, and fresh interviews and pieces.
The film takes turns in examining the loss of several liberties including the right to protest, free speech, privacy, detention without trial, extradition and torture. It does these in a clever and witty manner.
Right from the beginning, you’re scared quite what the authorities are now able to do. We’re accompanying three coach loads of middle aged people who want to protest at an American airforce base. There are a lot of police watching them. They decide to turn the coaches around. There’s no discussion. These are peaceful people. The police force the coach to return all the way to London. The drivers aren’t even allowed to stop at service stations.
Some of the areas it covers are obvious, but at other times, even someone who likes to think they’re aware what’s going on is shocked by what they see. So we meet someone who’s basically a prisoner in his own home. He’s a suspected terrorist, yet he hasn’t been charged with anything. Instead, he’s under virtual house arrest, with a tag preventing leaving an arbitrary area around his North London home.
And I never expected to feel sympathy for a member of the NatWest 3. These, you’ll remember, are three ex-bankers who have been extradited to the US. The member in the film even acknowledges that he’s not likely to be the most loved person. Yet, with no evidence whatsoever, the British Government is happy to ship him off to America, where he must sit around and await a trial.
Of course there are sections on ID Cards, and there are bits on Torture. They cheekily use a clip of 24 which does indeed tend to suggest that torture works. It probably does help the populace at large believe that torture really does work. It doesn’t of course. I’ll tell you anything you want to hear if you start to hurt me.
The only problem I have with this film is that it’s not going to be seen very widely. I rather suspect that most of the people who go along and see it will be the converted. I watched it at an early-evening midweek screening that wasn’t especially busy. And I can’t see that it’s going to be very easy to get shown on TV because it is enormously partisan.
That said, I hope the DVD is released nice and cheaply and passed around as much as possible. It really is scary what is happening while we sit back and let it happen. We really are letting the terrorists win and we lose our freedoms.
The film’s website is here.

Die Hard 4.0

I’m sure earlier in the year, or perhaps late last year, I saw trailers for Live Free or Die Hard. But in the meantime, somebody noticed that Web 2.0 was a bit of a buzzword, and since this film is all about using the power of computers to bring down the state, it was renamed Die Hard 4.0. To be honest, it’s a better title.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back, some twelve years after the last entry in the franchise. Relative new boy Len Wiseman takes on the directorial reigns, with John McTiernan who directed the first and third films getting a Producer credit. Who’s Len Wiseman? Well he’s directed those Underworld films and is married to Kate Beckinsdale. I’m not sure that thought thrilled me as I entered the cinema.
McClane’s daughter is now a teenager and as soon as we meet her, we know that she’ll be involved in the plot later on. McClane has to pick up a teenage hacker (they’re all teenagers, right?) in a routine sweep for the FBI. But the fact that a hit-squad is trying to kill him alerts McClane to something more nefarious.
Bad guy Timothy Olyphant is leading a high-tech attack on the US, employing a group of skilled hackers to shut down transport, communications and power around the country with something called a fire-sale. Fortunately, while Homeland Security et al are left paralysed, McCane is able to get around with his young hacker accomplice to thwart their every move.
The production notes to the film explained that they wanted to do stunts with as much realism as they could before resorting to CGI. That seems to be true to a point, but there’s also a lot of CGI as well, especially later in the film. A chase sequence where McCane, in a car, is being chased by a helicopter is good fun, and the denouement brings a cheer in the cinema. And a scene that ends with an SUV in an elevator shaft is also good.
But there’s also a scene involving some kind of fighter jet and a truck. I won’t say any more, but obviously CGI is used enormously, and the whole big budget sequence is terrible. It just doesn’t work, and reminds you of that awful bit in True Lies that involved Arnie hanging onto a Harrier.
It’s a shame really because overall the film’s pretty good. Yes McCane keeps getting back up every time he’s knocked down, which is a good effort considering Willis is now 52. But the story just about holds together, the villain is good, and the pace keeps up pretty well. But I suspect that for some visceral “real” thrills, we’re going to have to wait for The Bourne Ultimatum later in the summer.
I’m not sure what the UK certificate for the film is going to be, but if my eyes and ears didn’t deceive me, it looks as though a single strong swearword (inevitably added to ensure the film doesn’t get too low a rating in the US) has been dubbed out for the UK – probably to get a 12 or 12A rather a 15. It’s the first time I’ve noticed a dubbed word on a film soundtrack. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
I saw this film at a preview screening, and can I just say that however much you might just have enjoyed a film, there’s nothing more of a downer than facing a bun fight of 2,000 people (approximately the capacity of the Odeon Leicester Square) all trying to retrieve their mobile phones simultaneously. I know that phones like the Nokia N95 have five mega pixel cameras on them these days, but is phonecam shot movie really going to a major piracy concern? There’s got to be a better solution. All that happens is that 2,000 people end their evening a bit pissed off.
[UPDATE] It seems that in the US, this film is still called Live Free or Die Hard whereas in the UK (and much of the rest of the world) it’s Die Hard 4.0. A very curious state of affairs.