The 1976 Paddy Chayefsky film is something of a classic with Peter Finch’s network news anchor Howard Beale essentially having a nervous breakdown on air when the network first tries to push him out the door, and then, when ratings soar, grab hold of him and let him do what he wants. It has always been a favourite of mine, revealing the uneasy relationship between the needs of news and commerce.
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” becomes Beale’s mantra.
Now Lee Hall has adapted the film for the stage, and the National Theatre has staged something of a coup by getting Bryan Cranston to star in it. And it’s just staggeringly relevant in 2017 – perhaps even more than it was in 1976.
The stage version sticks to its mid-seventies setting, with the cast dressed up in power suits of the period. Yet the design is also very much 2017, not least with the extraordinary set. The Lyttleton’s stage is opened up to the fullest extent possible, and a working restaurant has been installed along the righthand side – real diners being served from a working kitchen at the very back of the stage. Some of the action takes place in the restaurant, including one scene that left some of the real diners a little stunned.
Along the lefthand side of the stage, the set becomes the workings of a TV studio, with a glass control booth and make-up chairs.
The centre of the stage is largely bare, but is dominated by an enormous screen that becomes a vital part of the production. Into this are wheeled a news desk and camera crews at various points in the play. Throughout proceedings, the action around a ridiculously busy set is captured by roving camera crews and fixed cameras. This is a multimedia production in the truest sense of the word – one scene even starting outside on the South Bank.
Michelle Dockery is the scheming Diana, ruthlessly pushing the Howard Beale show on sometimes initially reluctant bosses. And Douglas Henshall is Max, Beale’s producer, both appalled and party to what transpires.
I wasn’t completely won over by the music, performed live by four Kraftwerk-a-like performers each in front of a laptop, positioned high above the set. But astonishingly good use is made between actors and video screens, with the on-stage camera operators framing things beautifully, often with infinite loops of imagery caused by screens within screens.
I wish I’d picked up a copy of Lee Hall’s script (I may still do so), because there are passages in it that scream out for only the tiniest changes to make them completely relevant in a “Fake News” world.
The play also explores the corporate machinations that lead to the provision of news. News Divisions don’t turn a profit, we’re told. And that all seems extraordinarily relevant too, at a time when questions hang over the future of Sky News were Sky’s takeover to be rejected, and the rumoured demands of the US Department of Justice that Turner Broadcasting (including CNN) be sold if AT&T is to be allowed to takeover Time Warner.
But this is a tour de force from Cranston as the unbalanced Beale. At times he both holds the stage and the camera simultaneously.
I spent a few hours at the Barbican attending a book making course, and ended up with these two booklets. They’re books with four-hole stab binding, with 20 pages of double-ply paper inside. Actually one of them has a couple of extra holes to allow a more complex stitching pattern in the corners. My stitching probably needs some work, but they were surprisingly easy to make with a minimal number of tools – at least if you’ve got your paper already cut to size.
The course was run by the London Centre for Book Arts, who have an artist-run studio, and have lots of other interesting sounding courses I may be trying in due course.
I’ve never been much of a fan of Apple’s iPhones. They’ve always seemed overpriced, and far too tied down. You can only do what Apple allows you to do with them. Furthermore, the ecosystem is incredibly limited. Everyone has to use one of a very small handful of models, none of which are especially cheap (even the “budget” iPhone SE). And of course, you’re using precisely the same hardware as everyone else. Choice of protective case is not the high point of individuality!
But one thing this has all allowed Apple to do is offer a seamless backup and upgrade programme. If you lose or damage an iPhone, it’s relatively trivial to restore the phone in its entirety once you have your hands on a replacement device. Similarly, when it comes to upgrading to a newer model, it’s a painless affair, assuming you’ve made use of the iCloud.
The same just is not true for Android. While I enjoy getting a new phone as much as anyone, I really don’t look forward to the hours of work it will take to move across. Certainly the simple act of signing in to the device is trivial, actually getting the phone back to something similar to what you had before is incredibly time-consuming and tedious.
I’ve just upgraded to a new phone, in large part because I unfortunately damaged my previous one. Not enough to stop it working, but enough to mean an expensive repair. I opted for a replacement.
Google has started providing a USB adaptor with its Pixel phones to aid the set-up. The idea is that you connect a cable between your old phone and new one, and lots of your settings, messages and music are transferred across.
But this is really only a very basic transfer, and there’s much more that you have to do.
Now I appreciate that I use my phone for lots of services, and have more than 150 apps in total running on it. But it’s just such a painful experience even once you’ve backed up what the cable allows.
Here are just a few of the problems:
- Passwords – Apps just don’t remember them. You have to re-sign into nearly everything. Now Google does have a Smartlock service, and some apps work really well with it. Netflix and Uber worked seamlessly. But the vast majority of apps needed me to sign in again, in the worst instances, having to set up the various options as I’d had them before. Sure, that’s the app developer’s fault for not using Google’s service. Yet, it still feels needless.
- Signing in repeatedly – Even more annoying are the multiple apps that share the same user identity, yet require you to sign in separately. For example, I have a number of apps that use Amazon’s login (e.g. Kindle, Amazon Prime Video, etc). I repeatedly have to sign into each app. Again, that’s probably the app developers’ fault, but from the user’s perspective, it’s needless.
- Run every app – All of this means that to ensure everything is working, you have to run every single app.
- Apps that don’t work – Again, not really Google’s fault, but apps that don’t run in Android Oreo, just don’t get installed. It means that apps drop off in the transfer. It would be useful to have a list of apps that have not been installed because they’re not yet compatible.
- Layout not transferred – Since I have a large number of apps, I try my best to corral them into sensible folders. I spend ages doing this, and of course, when you set up your new phone, this is all completely lost. I understand that the layout of my new phone may be different and therefore screen real estate can’t be precisely replicated. But it’d still be nice to keep the groupings between phones. In the past, when I’ve had a phone repaired (and of course, reset afterwards), I’ve ended up taking screen shots of the way it was organised so that I can mirror my set-up later.
- Widgets are lost – Ditto, none of the widgets I’ve placed previously are carried across. I have to rebuild them.
- BlueTooth settings – While WiFi settings do tend to be carried across, you have to repair all your BlueTooth hardware. I realise that this is perhaps due to how the technology works, with unique codes attached to each device.
- Re-download media – While I understand why I have to re-download all my podcasts, because Google doesn’t have a default podcast app, so developers all do their own thing, that’s not true of music. Google has its own Music app, and it allows you to download tracks for offline listening. None of this is remembered, so you have to go through and re-download all your music, rather than it automatically restore itself.
That’s just what I can remember off the top of my head, and isn’t necessarily comprehensive.
I would say that, conservatively, it took me 5-6 hours to get my new phone up and running to my satisfaction. And that doesn’t include one false start where I didn’t realise that if I didn’t do the transfer from the old phone during initial set-up, it would never work. A factory reset was required, and I started from scratch a second time.
Undoubtedly Google is getting better at this. Every major Android release sees some improvements. And of course the diversity of the Android ecosystem means that it’s harder for Android than for iOS to do this kind of thing. But many of us are locked in a phone replacement cycle of between 18 and 36 months, meaning we all have to do this on occasion, it’s vital that this process is made easier.
In the last few days, both Sky News and CNN have become tangentially embroiled in ongoing media takeovers. In both cases, there could be an impact on their longterm futures to a greater or lesser extent.
The CMA should not in its assessment simply assume the “continued provision of Sky News” and its current contribution to plurality
Sky News is widely considered to be loss-making, but nonetheless works well in Sky’s favour in terms of influence. It also obviously provides an alternative news source, has to adhere to impartiality laws, and offers the only rival 24-hour UK news service to the BBC.
Meanwhile in the US, reports place CNN at the centre of a potential block to AT&T completing a takeover of Time Warner. CNN is a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting, part of the Time Warner empire, and there are suggestions that Time Warner might need to sell this arm to appease the Justice Department. Trump is no fan of CNN of course, calling it “fake news.”
Exactly how profitable CNN itself is, isn’t completely clear. The US version of the channel might be, but it becomes more complex on an international level. But it’s likely that it works well in combination with other Turner properties when negotiating carriage deals.
It sounds as though the case could end up going to court, as it seems likely that both the TV assets of Turner Broadcasting as well as the DirectTV arm of Time Warner (another proposed remedy sale), are key to the basis of the overall acquisition from AT&T’s perspective.
In both instance though, this shows how precarious the news business can be, with proprietors or regulators determining their future in an ever consolidating world. Once news was a highly profitable business to be in, but changes in media consumption have seen business models decline as advertising has shifted online, and there has been less willingness of consumers to pay for news.
And fewer news outlets is definitely a bad thing. When the threat to Sky News emerged, there were a lot of triumphant anti-Murdoch voices happy at the prospect of its closure. That’s despite the channel regularly winning awards, and adhering to tight impartiality rules that all UK broadcasters have to follow. Losing a voice is definitely not a good thing, however much you might dislike a particular presenter.
Likewise, damage to CNN would be a loss in democracy both in the US and globally. Competition keeps everyone honest. And at a time when impartiality is constantly threatened, with well funded government backed outfits from some countries (e.g. CCTV and RT), and other semi-independent broadcasters threatened in other ways (Al Jazeera), independent voices are needed.
Strong, impartial journalism is critical to the foundation of our democracies.
It has been a week since British Summer Time ended, the clocks went back an hour, and suddenly the sun is setting around 4:30pm.
If you ride a bike, and work regular hours, that means that you’re going to be cycling home in the dark. Now I’m a pretty live-and-let-live cyclist, in that I’m not prescriptive about helmet use (I wear them for longer rides, but don’t for shorter ones), or the need to wear high viz jackets at all times.
However, I do take objection to people insane enough to ride around the streets after dark with no lights. Aside from anything else, it’s the law:
At night your cycle MUST have white front and red rear lights lit. It MUST also be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors, if manufactured after 1/10/85). White front reflectors and spoke reflectors will also help you to be seen. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.
Yet there are so many quite insane people who feel able to ride without lights.
Quite adequate cycle lights are ridiculously cheap. Chain stores like Halfords and Decathlon have very reasonably priced gear, as do larger supermarkets and stores like Robert Dyas. Then there are the myriad of online places.
Here are two examples from my commute home today. This took me along the Seven Sisters Road and onto Green Lanes. These are busy roads.
This guy had no lights, and ran the red light too.
This woman rode all the way up Seven Sisters Road and then along Green Lanes. No lights, and happily ran a few lights too. Compare the bright lights of the braking moped and the cars ahead, with the lack of similar on the cyclist.
I was in a black cab recently and couldn’t help noticing just how bad “Boris Bikes” are to spot on dark streets. These are bikes that have two flashing LEDs at the back. So imagine how invisible you are to drivers, even on well lit roads, with no lights on at all.
Beyond these, there are those people who do have lights but they’re so weedy or badly places as to be ineffective. You’ll see people riding along with one of these hanging from their saddle with no particular concern about which way the light is pointed.
Sorry. These are fine as supplementary lights – perhaps to strap to a rucksack – in addition to a proper light. And it can be useful to keep a set in your bag for emergencies – e.g. your regular light’s batteries have run down. But not for exclusive use on their own.
Then there are those who have a light, but have managed to hide it behind a pannier or have it pointing at some wild angle, so it’s just about ineffective since it’s not actually visible.
And then there are those who pop a front light onto the back of their bike, because it’s all they had available. White at the front; red at the back!
Finally, there are those who have not changed the battery in years, leaving them barely visible.
Of course, the other extreme is those who’ve bought lights that are really designed for mountain bikers in rural Wales, or are using 300 lumen bulbs that seem designed for small lighthouses. But aside from running the risk of inducing epileptic fits in the surrounding population, at least they are visible. (Hint: If you’re in an urban area, those super-bright settings are really designed for daytime use!)
It’s not hard. So turn some lights on.
I forgot to mention it when I switched it on recently, but this site is now HTTPS enabled. That should mean that in browsers like Chrome you see a nice green “Secure” label to the left of the URL.
What did I need to do to get this to work?
Not a great deal really. My host, Virtual Names, has enabled Let’s Encrypt the free open certificate authority. That involved a quick email to my host and within minutes they had moved me across to an appropriate server.
Then I added the WordPress plugin Really Simple SSL which took no real set-up.
The final stage is to change the Site URL and WordPress URL in the WordPress settings, and away you go.
Well it was that straightforward for me anyway.
(OK – I realise that I don’t actually have much on this site that really requires SSL. The most interaction you’re going to have with the site is leaving a comment. But nonetheless, HTTPS URLS are becoming more important, and most of the web is going that way.)
I went to a decent selection of films at this year’s London Film Festival, and overall was very impressed by the range and quality. There are obviously a stupidly large number of films that you can see, and while seeing some big hitters early is always nice, there’s also the opportunity to see films that might never get released in the UK at all.
One overall takeaway I had from this year’s festival is that film makers should be very careful in using non-English speaking actors to speak and converse in English. If an actor can’t really speak the language then it suddenly becomes very stilted and their acting qualities go out the window. Suddenly it’s enormously distracting.
Of course two characters may converse in English because that’s the only language that both speak. But a lot of the time you feel that it’s about producers hoping for better box offices down the line. And that’s a shame.
Anyway, with that little aside, and because I’ll forget what I saw unless I record my thoughts here, here are [relatively] brief reviews of the nine films I saw at the festival.
Ghost Stories ran on the London stage for years, although somehow I never quite got around to seeing it. Written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, this adaption changes some things but brings others into play.
While I didn’t see the stage version, I do know that it was presented in terms of a lecture to the audience. In this version, the construct is a character who has made his name in unveiling fakes on TV, investigating three inexplicable stories that he’s presented with by a mysterious character who disappeared from public view many years ago.
This framing narrative allows for a portmanteau structure of three different, yet linked, stories. Each of them is well constructed. We get Paul Whitehouse’s security guard, Martin Freeman’s obnoxious banker, and Alex Lawther’s teenager. All tell their tales, bringing with them plenty of shocks and frights that I won’t spoil here.
And of course, there is more to everything than there might at first seem to be. Great performances all around.
Rift is a nasty little Icelandic horror film, all shot in a remote region of the country. Gunnar heads off to a remote house, where his ex-partner has left a worrying phone message. Is he going to do something stupid.
It’s the lead-up to Christmas, and the two haven’t really been talking since the break-up. The message suggested that someone was trying to get in. Once in the house, there are strange and disturbing sounds from nearby. What’s real and what’s not?
The film is bleak, and told with a modern horror sensibility. That does mean that sounds are used a little too much to make you jump. But there’s plenty here that’s creepy enough. Figures appearing and disappearing. Knocks on the door in the middle of the night. Where is it going to end?
Set during the war in occupied Hong Kong, Our Time Will Come is the story of a group of resistance fighters, trying to smuggle out those the Japanese are trying to intern or imprison, and disrupting the war effort.
It’s based on a true story, although with a good deal of added melodrama.
Zhou Xun plays Fang Lan, a teacher living with her mother, who also houses some academics. She gets involved with a resistance group led by Eddie Peng Yuyan’s “Blackie” Lau, who swashes more buckles than anyone in cinema since Errol Flynn. Sadly, this also means takes away from the film’s verisimilitude. Fang becomes ever more involved as the stakes get higher.
In the meantime, her boyfriend (Wallace Huo Chienhwa) has started working for the Japanese. Slowly, everyone gets deeper in their involvement, and the danger increases.
I really enjoyed the film, although I couldn’t quite get a handle on the pitch of it. At times it feels all too real, while at other times, it really doesn’t.
The parts of the film that really didn’t work are the faux documentary scenes surrounding the main film. Filmed in contemporary Hong Kong, but in black and white, we are to believe that some of these people were the protagonists of the action during WWII. While one child is explicitly said to be one of the adults, the rest too would have been children, or much older than they would appear here. I’m not sure the scenes add much.
That all said, this is a part of history I really know nothing about – maybe with the exception of wartime Shanghai as depicted in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. And the performances are excellent.
Just released properly last weekend, and like many other films getting a release over the next couple of months, attracting some Oscar “buzz”, this film from Luca Guadagnino is based on a novel of the same name. Set in the 80s, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is the son of liberal academic parents, and is largely bored throughout the long summer holidays in the beautiful part of Lombardy that he lives in.
He is sort of having a relationship with a French girl, but then the household is disrupted when a visiting academic, Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives for the summer. He’s literally freewheeling (borrowing a bike to get around), and instantly attracts the ladies – especially in a great scene in the local nightclub.
But the young Elio takes an especial interest in Oliver, and soon they are hanging around together a great deal. Elio is 17 and Oliver is older, but their relationship blossoms.
In some curious way, this reminds me a little of a TV series from the late eighties that I loved – Summer’s Lease (from a John Mortimer novel). And you could say too that it shares DNA with Stealing Beauty. All of those feature very middle class families, Italian idylls and coming of age stories.
There are heartbreaking moments in this, and some very funny moments as well. Not a film I think I’d have rushed to see, but one I’m glad I did see.
This is curious Icelandic film, although shot in Danish. The film opens in near darkness down a mine, men hard at work in light. Finally they emerge into the light, reaching the minehead. Then we’re introduced to the two brothers, Emil and Johan, and we begin to learn more about their lives.
They live in poor accommodation – perhaps some kind of camp associated with the mine – and there is clearly not much to do. But Emil has a sideline in producing some kind of homebrew spirit which he sells to colleagues. He’s also flirting with a girl in a nearby house. He’s also slightly obsessed with an VHS tape that teaches soldiers how to use their guns.
But one day someone who’s bought Emil’s homebrew collapses and is taken to hospital very ill. Suddenly, Emil’s life collapses around him.
This film is peculiar because it’s an experience as much as a story being told. The 16mm film it was shot on, the stark desaturated landscape, and the nothingness of the place. This might be set in Iceland, but it could be anywhere. At times this could be an experimental art film as much as film in the conventional sense. Yet it remains powerful.
Grain is something of an epic from Semih Kaplanoglu, set in a dystopian future in which crops no longer grow properly, and people live either within the confines of society, or outside it on the margins.
Jean-Marc Barr plays Erol, a scientist trying to find answers. He decides to go in search of Cemil (Ermin Bravo) who may have the secrets that can help.
The film is visually stunning, filmed in widescreen black and white in locales as distant as Detroit, Germany and Turkey. This is an allegorical film about a quest. Based in part on a chapter of the Koran, it has a philosophical tone throughout, and you are never quite sure where it is heading.
My only problem, as alluded to at the start of this piece, is that English is neither of the two leads’ native language, and it really shows. Perhaps the problem in part is that they’re being asked to speak using words with which they wouldn’t be comfortable in real life. Either way, it distracts from the film despite there being relatively little dialogue overall.
Ana Asensio has writes, directs and stars in this tale about life in the margins as an immigrant in New York. Luciana is from a non-specific Latin American country having to get by without having a social security number. She picks up various jobs when she can get them, but she’s about to be kicked out of her apartment by her roommate for unpaid rent, and her phone has no credit left. She meets up with a friend one day between babysitting gigs. Her friend Olga tells her that there’s a job on offer which will pay good money if she shows up in a smart dress.
Luciana is rightly reluctant, but in need of the cash to finagles a dress from a shop, and then has to follow a complicated series of instructions to be on time for the party she has to look pretty at.
We the audience are also beginning to get a little on edge. What kind of party is this? It can’t be good, with assignations below restaurants in Chinatown and back alley addresses. And I’m not about to tell you here either. But it’s clear that Olga has not been altogether honest about what’s required.
What this film does show, is perhaps a truer reflection of the diversity of life in New York City, and one that the TV cop shows set there tend to avoid. There are a lot of people in this film who don’t speak English natively, and as viewers, those conversations are not translated for us.
I really liked this film. It’s definitely uncomfortable, because you simply don’t know where it’s going to go. And while I’m not sure elements are a completely accurate reflection on life in the city, you can see how people desperate for money will do things that they mightn’t otherwise choose to do. Furthermore, others will prey on those people.
This is the new Guillermo del Toro film, and it’s a delight. We’re in fifties America, and Sally Hawkins is the mute Elisa, living above a cinema in an apartment that reminds me a little of Amelie. This may be the fifties, but Elisa is thoroughly modern even if her job is as a cleaner in a strange military site where strange undersea things are examined. She and her co-worker Zelda diligently go about mopping up the labs even as some kind of amphibious humanoid creature has been captured Michael Shannon’s evil Strickland.
Elisa begins to make friends with the creature, and she becomes more and more uncomfortable with how it’s being treated. The relationship is handled tremendously, Doug Jones playing the creature under layers of makeup. The relationship between them always feels real, even though the story runs perilously close to being silly. Yes – you have to buy into a world where this is possible. But it’s such a beautifully structured and believable world, that isn’t a simple one and has a seamier and nastier underside.
This is a lovely piece of work, and will be well worth watching when it gets a fuller release in a month or so.
This is the return of John Woo, the action director fondly remembered by many for films like A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled, before he went to the US for films like Face/Off and Mission Impossible 2. Of late he seems to have been making Chinese language potboilers, and this is his return to the action genre. Hanyu Zhang plays a Chinese lawyer working for a big pharmaceutical company in Osaka, Japan. He’s somehow embroiled in a plot from three years earlier in which he successfully covered something up. But now he’s wanted for a murder that he probably didn’t commit. The ingredients also include an evil boss and his son, two female assassins, a Japanese police inspector and his doting new assistant.
To be honest, this film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it took me a while to understand that. Yes, Woo’s big action set pieces have always been overly elaborate, but there was a certain serious world view in those earlier films. In this case, you hope, Woo has his tongue firmly in his cheek. But even then, the dialogue is as corny as hell, and it falls again into the trap of having people speak English when they really shouldn’t (the reasoning is communication between a Chinese and Japanese national). The plot is not even worth explaining, since it’s so corny.
There are a few good set pieces, with bad guys being killed in a range of inventive ways. And in one sequence where our two protagonists are handcuffed together (which goes right back to Hitchcock’s The Thirty Nine Steps), we are teased with a dovecote that we know will see the release of dozens of white doves.
The bigger issue for me was probably the video effects that make it feel at times it was a Chinese language soap opera. Freeze frames, and strange wipes, as well as corny video effects that we didn’t need to see. One shot appears to be been made with a consumer drone, and really looked bad on the big screen.
Action films have moved on since 1992, with Bourne and even Bond adapting. Sadly, it doesn’t feel as though Woo, now 71, has stayed up with it.
In this week’s excellent episode of the Reply All podcast, Alex Goldman and PG Vogt explore the question Is Facebook Spying On You?
In particular, a number of people are of the belief that the Facebook app is listening to what you’re saying and that’s the only way to explain why things you were talking about with your friends are suddenly appearing as ads in your Facebook timeline.
Now in fact there are lots of reasons why Facebook could know this information, and the episode digs into the issue of online ad tracking, which is remarkably sophisticated these days – and/or creepy. Facebook tracks your internet behaviours across many sites who use the Facebook Pixel. Essentially it’s tracking code that follows you around vast parts of the web. It’s this technology that also explains why that pair of shoes you were looking at during your lunch break then follows you elsewhere around the web.
Facebook records thousands of pieces of data about each user, and then further utilises location data from the app and location data of your friends’ apps. In turn this means that you might see products that your friends were looking at because it can infer that you might have mentioned them. (Interestingly, just after listening to this episode the Facebook app on my phone performed quite a sizeable update that required me to log in again. The first thing it asked for was permission to turn on location services. Denied!)
This remarkable technology, along with smart algorithms that will make inferences based on people’s behaviours means that as Facebook says, it isn’t actually using the microphone on your phone to listen to you.
But the tracking they manage seems to be practically magical to many people, so they infer that Facebook must be listening in!
So my question is this: Does it actually matter that Facebook isn’t using the microphone on your phone. If their tracking is so exceptional and accurate, that it becomes creepy, people will rationalise it as meaning they must be doing it.
And if people believe something to be true, it really doesn’t matter if it’s not actually the case.
Note: I write all this in the knowledge that I have microphones in my home that do stay live all the time, and report data back to Amazon and Google. The difference is that I trust those organisations more. It’s difficult to put my finger on why that is, but it feels that they’re more up front and honest about what they’re doing.