August, 2012

The Imposter

I went to see the new documentary, The Imposter at the weekend. All I’ll say here is that it’s very good, and tells the story of a child who goes missing in Texas in the 90s, but who then seemingly shows up in Spain a few years later.
It’s not worth me saying much more than that except that it’s true, and it’s well put together with neatly dramatised scenes, and extensive interviews with most of those involved.
It’s much better if you go into the film knowing as little as possible. I didn’t, and it does take a fascinating direction.
I saw the film at a multiplex, and as regular readers might know, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with multiplexes. I was thinking about this because someone’s rant at Odeon cinemas has gone viral and it probably fairly accurately reflects cinema going experiences today.
Things are changing – some for the better and some for the worse. For example, Cineworld’s recent scrapping of online booking fees, and in fact giving you a discount if you book online is an excellent move. Let’s face it, they employ fewer staff and therefore have reduced overheads if I buy tickets online and cut out the human being.
On the downside, that means fewer staff in cinemas, and invariably they now double selling food and drink as well as tickets at the concession stands. If you’re behind a family of five, that can take a lot longer to serve unless they’re just buying tickets.
But I will say that the staff can be good (they can also be bad). As I queued to buy an overpriced bottle of water (I know I should have brought my own, but then I also know that the film’s distributor takes the vast proportion of my ticket price, so the cinema relies on concessions to make any money at all), the woman in front of me was having an argument with the guy at the till. He’d called a manager over, but the gist was that they wouldn’t let the woman’s daughter in to see the 15 rated film that she was trying to buy tickets for.
The girl did look incredibly young. I’d have guessed she was 12 if asked. The mother was huffing and moaning. She said the girl had just sat her GCSEs and that this was “unbelievable”. The girl had no ID on her, and the cinema wasn’t budging on its position.
I’ve got to say that I thought they handled it very well, and were acting completely responsibly.
The mother, on the other hand was saying that she was a “f***ing responsible mother,” which tended to suggest to me that she was undermining her own argument.
However they had a solution. If there was someone at home who could text a picture of her passport, they’d let her in. There was indeed someone at home and the daughter got on the case getting that person to MMS/email a photo to her smartphone. Ten minutes later I saw the pair of them troop into my screen.
A good solution all round I felt.
On the other hand, I’m now more certain than ever that “unlimited” cards are really bad.
On the surface they’re excellent in terms of value for money. And if I didn’t tend towards the “hate” end of a love/hate relationship with my local multiplex, perhaps I’d buy one. But the problem is they encourage kids.
Take The Imposter. This is a documentary film. There’s no action. It’s intelligent. You have to pay attention. However there are clearly groups of teenagers with these “unlimited” cards who go to see anything that’s on. Particularly deep into the summer holidays. And if they don’t like it, they don’t leave, they just talk to their mates and text friends.
And so, I found myself twice during the film asking them to stop talking or get off their phones – one of them was having a conversation.
And it’s that kind of behaviour and those kinds of things that make me think twice about seeing a film in the cinema, and instead just waiting for the DVD or for it to arrive on TV.
Anyway, go and see The Imposter, ideally without disinterested teenagers killing time at the end of the summer holidays.

Total Recall

I was at university when the 1990 “original” version of Total Recall came out in cinemas, with Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a somewhat unlikely worker who had dreams of being a spy. Unless, he was a spy anyway.
Over the years, the film has become something a classic – albeit a camp classic. The fact that it’s mostly filmed in studio is pretty clear, and the gags are laboured. The effects weren’t stellar – think of Arnie’s eye-popping scene on the surface of Mars. And for goodness sake, don’t think about the physics of it too much. It was trashy fun at the time, and to an extent, it’s still trashy fun today. It’s one of those films that you can end up watching a chunk of when you stumble across it on ITV2 or wherever.
But there were problems with the original film, and the plot never entirely held together. You just went with the flow because the action continued.
And that brings us to the new film. The director and producers are keen to frame this as a reimagining of the original film. But in truth, it’s not. It’s actually very close to the original film. Certainly much more so than the original Philip K Dick short story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Certainly there’s no longer any mention of Mars, and instead we have the United Federation of Britain (aka Western Europe) and the Colony (aka Australia). But aside from that it’s pretty much the same.
At the beginning of the film we’re told that the UFD and Colony are the only bits of the Earth now habitable, and for some reason the best way to get from one to the other is via a tunnel through the Earth! But to be honest, it’s really not worth labouring on the plot. There are still holes a plenty.
We get a somewhat more believable everyman/spy in Colin Farrell, who’s married to Kate Beckinsdale (the Sharon Stone role). I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Beckinsdale is evil, and she does it very well. Her role has certainly been amplified from the original even if her character is occassionally evil for evil’s sake.
Jessica Biel plays a new character who runs around with Farrell a lot and is also a spy for the resistance which is led by Bill Nighy. I’m not entirely sure why, but all the Colony-dwellers (which is Australia, remember) speak in American accents. Whereas all the Brits speak in clipped tones, and they’re all evil.
The film is popcorn nonsense – nothing more, and nothing less. There are some chases, lots of CGI, and it flies along. But it’s nothing special. It’s certainly not terrible. But it’s not good either.
This film also has lots of robots, but I have a bit of problem with that. Why do all robots look the same now? These robots look basically the same as those in the latter-day Staw Wars sequels. They’re really similar! Couldn’t someone design something a bit different?
The set designer has probably spent a little too much time watching Blade Runner, but I suppose just about everyone has been influenced by that. Having phones in your hands is an interesting idea, although I’m not sure how you cope with upgrades (Farrell does have a solution mind you). You do have to wonder why a vehicle that has gravitational challenges (don’t even think about the loopy physics) would have so many precipitous walkways. Wouldn’t it have been better to pad all the floors and ceilings? And yes, we got a triple breasted prostitute as we had in the original (hence the mild nudity BBFC warning).
There’s not a great deal of humour in the film, and I think it could have done with a bit. Instead we get the odd unintentional laugh such as during the kiss when the clock in ticking.
In summary, a harmless fun. But check your brain in at the door.

The Bourne Legacy

There’s no Matt Damon, and importantly, there’s no Paul Greengrass is this follow up to the Bourne series of films.
That doesn’t mean that they’ve recast Jason Bourne with a new actor, but it seems that Treadstone was just one part of the evil plotting going on deep within American security services.
So we’re introduced to Jeremy Renner’s character, Aaron Cross, an ex-soldier who’s been put on a programme of pills to make him a super-spy a la Bourne. But for plot reasons – the end of the third Bourne film – the whole “Outcome” programme has to be scrapped. And that means killing all the agents currently on it.
Cross manages to escape, but he’s addicted to his meds and needs more pills. That means tracking down Rachel Weisz’s Dr Marta Shearing, who works at the evil big pharma corporation that manufactures these dastardly tablets.
From there we have some international travel, and a modest amount of action – culiminating in a big set piece in the Phillipines.
In some ways, I was gripped by the film. But in most I was really disappointed.
Director Tony Gilroy, who scripted or co-scripted all the previous Bourne films seems like he’s a little lost. And for the most part, this film feels like it’s an amalgam of all the previous films.
Remember the rooftop chase in The Bourne Ultimatum? We get another one of them. Remember the super-bad Clive Owen in The Bourne Identity set to kill our hero? We get another one of them. Remember the evil Brian Cox character in the first three films? Well we get an almost direct replacement for him.
It feels like someone ruthlessly lifted all the best bits of the previous films and dropped them into place.
And the structure is all wrong. The film takes ages to get going. The pacing is just poorly structured. There’s no real peril injected into procedings. At one point, the plot sees Cross injected with something that’s supposed to make him very ill. With the manhunt closing in on him, there could have been some real tension. Yet his illness is almost completely forgotten thirty senconds later so we can get into a big set-piece action sequence.
And the end of the film is just awful.
It just stops.
We get a big action scene and then – that’s it. There’s an attempt at wrapping things up, but it doesn’t work at all. And even then, it’s a complete rip-off of a previous film in the series.
Yes, they want to leave doors open for more sequels, but frankly I hope they don’t make any more, if they’re going to be as poor as this.
The odd thing is, that while I was watching the film, I found it perfectly OK. It’s just that as things progressed I realised that there was nothing more happening than a manhunt, and the plot just meandered around. So it’s by no means the worst film ever. But it’s just not very good at all. A real shame.

RAJAR Q2 2012

A break in Olympics coverage for a brief whizz through the latest RAJAR results.
I think it’s fair this time around, to say that one of the main stories this RAJAR is actually the Absolute Radio’s network of stations’ performance. So let’s start there.
Absolute Radio Network is up 6.7% in reach on the quarter to 3.2m – the biggest cumulative reach the business has had for something like 4 years. And in hours terms it’s up 20% on the quarter to just over 25m hours – a 12 year high.
The gains have individually come across the board with nearly all the Absolute Radio branded services seeing gains in reach and hours. Notably FM in London has jumped right back up after a disappointing result last quarter.
Elsewhere nationally, Classic FM had a relatively static reach performance, although a slipped a little in hours. But Talksport is bound to be disappointed with a 10% fall in reach and a 11.5% fall in hours, particularly coming in a period when there was a tight Premier League run-in and extensive Euro 2012 coverage.
The BBC’s national services broadly did pretty well in with only Radio 2 and Five Live falling back a bit while the rest gained listeners. In terms of listening hours, it wasn’t quite as rosy a picture with all the core BBC radio services falling in time spent listening.
Indeed on a broader level, radio listening overall fell. Of course the weather was poor during that period, and anecdotally that means stronger TV audiences which does impact on radio listening.
But the BBC’s loss is commercial radio’s gain, and the gap has been closed a little. In Q1 2012 the overall picture was BBC 55.4% to Commercial Radio’s 42.3%. That’s now BBC 54.3% to Commercial Radio’s 43.3%. Those may seem like small changes, but they’re important to the commercial radio industry, and get things closer to level pegging with the BBC.
One slightly concerning issue is overall radio listening in London. It’s fallen 6% this quarter, and what’s more, there’s more listening to BBC Radio than Commercial Radio in the capital, which is unusual.
The reason for that shift is that with a few exceptions (including Absolute Radio), many of the big commercial services in London have seen substantial falls this quarter in listening hours. Capital is down 19%, LBC 97.3 is down 22%, Kiss is down 15%, Magic is down 22% and Smooth is down 53%. Of the bigger stations in London, only Heart (up 15%) and Absolute Radio (up 37%) have done well. This will be something that everybody in radio looks at closely.
In overall commercial terms, Capital can still say it’s the biggest in terms of reach, while Heart jumps from #4 to #1 in terms of hours. But the fact that no commercial station has more than 11m hours this quarter, compared with three stations achieving that last quarter certainly says something.
That does of course mean that outside London, commercial radio has done pretty well, and I suspect (but haven’t examined the data in detail yet), that there’ll be some record performances around and about.
A couple of the BBC’s digital services have recorded new high reaches, with Radio 4 Extra getting more than 1.6m listeners, and Radio 1 Xtra seeing more than 1.1m listeners.
And that means that it’s not surprising that this quarter more listening is taking place via digital than ever before. We’re now up 31.5% of all listening being via a digital service, and 51.7% of radio listeners spend at least some time during the week listening on a digital platform.
It’s again worth noting listening via the internet is growing quite substantially. 4.6% of all listening coming via the internet is a record high, jumping up substantially from last quarter’s previous record of 3.9%. I suspect that this is being driven both by RadioPlayer and mobile. It’s notable that 18% of adults say that they listen via a mobile phone, up 24% on last year.
In terms of breakfast shows, the two Chris’s at Radio 1 and Radio 2 have both seen falls. Moyles is down a modest 2.5% in what we now know is his penultimate RAJAR on breakfast at Radio 1. What price a big jump next time around for his final hurrah?
Christian O’Connell has seen a 16% jump at Absolute Radio, while Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon have fallen back a bit in London on Capital. Most of the other major commercial breakfast shows have seen drops, although Talksport has seen some gains at breakfast.
Anyhow, I’ll finish with my regular look at RAJAR’s national services using my Hans Rosling inspired tool.

But don’t use this small version, use the full screen version full visibility.
And be sure to read the notes I put together when I first made this. They still apply, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of it.
Full RAJAR results are available on their website, and why not try their app on your mobile device!
Read Absolute Radio’s full details at Onegoldensquare.
Other coverage can be found at:
Media UK
Radio Today
Matt Deegan
Paul Easton
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 24 June 2012, Adults 15+.
Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.

Olympics Day 5 – Wiggo

OK. I didn’t get to watch anything live today. It was a busy work day – but more of that later tonight.
However I did manage to catch Bradley Wiggins’ awesome time trial ride. Coming 10 days after his victory in the Tour de France, he’s clearly an outstanding athlete.
Men's Road Race-31
Bradley leading the charge in the men’s road race on Saturday, trying to catch the leaders.
Bradley in Paris just over a week ago has he won the Tour de France.

Olympics Day 4 – Archery

[Again, I’ve not had a chance to update my photos yet, so I’ll drop them in later] Archery is another wildcard event in that I was able to get a couple of £20 tickets, and thought it’d be fun to watch at Lord’s. All the Olympic venues have secure cycle parks, and since I had to go into work in the afternoon I thought I’d give it a go.
It took asking a couple of stewards, but I found the little enclosure over the road from the main entrance and a young lad assured me that he’d be in with the bikes the whole while. Each cyclist gets a wrist band with a matching one for the bike. You have to match numbers up to retrieve the bike. And of course you lock it as well. It worked well – although I felt a little sorry for the guy who had nothing to do all day. It’s reassuring if you’re leaving a pricey Brompton though!
As for the archery competition itself? Well it was good fun. The rules are relatively straightforward, and we soon understood them. Although we were quite high up, and couldn’t honestly say we could see the arrows in flight, the set-up was good with a nice big screen showing close ups of the targets. In some respects, it’s a bit like watching darts in a live venue. Except the arrows in the targets are a little clearer than darts where the TV monitors are essential.
There was some rain, but it mostly held off, and it didn’t cause anyone to go home early. In all, we got a solid four hours of action with sections of the overall draw being whittled down from the last 32 into competitors going into the last 8. In amongst the crowd were lots of South Koreans wildly their athletes. And I loved seeing a chap from Mongolia who had somehow managed to bring in a massive flag on an enormous metal pole. I’ve no idea how he got that through the x-ray machine!
All good fun, but my last Olympic event for a few days.