10/01/10

My first visitors of the year today. And with only 2.47% of the year elapsed! This may be a new record for me. I think in 2009 my first foot would technically have been the gas man who came in June to replace my gas meter and, free of charge, tut at my cooker.

My guests today, let’s call them Jo and Soo because that’s their names (their short, some would say laughably over-vowelled, names), were sporting enough to give me a bit of notice. Not much notice, but enough to allow me to run round the flat trying to make it seem slightly less like a place where bears fight skunks on a regular basis.

Being visited by Soo and Jo is like being descended upon by a young, attractive Hinge and Bracket, or forty percent of Pan’s People after one too many Cinzano Biancos. It’s nice, but a tad unsettling.

“How many DVDs have you got?” “Bring me some hot water in a cup.” “I’m growing a penguin.” These are all examples of the winsome pair’s conversational style. It’s disorientating. If I’d been wearing orange coveralls and heavy bracelets I would have assumed I’d been the victim of special rendition.

Soo has a nine month old child and is therefore temporarily and understandably mad. Jo though has always been something of a psychopath, and a brow-furrowing worry to all who know her. She’s the kind of girl who would bring a flame-thrower to a knife fight. A scented flame-thrower probably, something nice like jasmine or loganberry, but a flame-thrower nonetheless.

Anyway. Good times.

I thought I might have been able to squeeze a movie in before bedtime last night, but no such luck. I put Public Enemies in my Blu-ray player and it damn well bloody wouldn’t work.

I have known this day would come, but have been living in denial about it. Almost every Blu-ray disc comes with a starkly presented warning that the technology is pretty new and changing all the time so newer discs might not work in older machines. Tough titty, it goes on not to say.

Samsung, the manufacturers of my apparently prehistoric 2008 Blu-ray player, knew that this would happen and helpfully offer firmware upgrades for free from their server, but in order to effect that I had to find an old yellow Ethernet cable and connect the player to my broadband router. I’m not going into all the details, but if you look up “kerfuffle” in the dictionary you’ll have some idea. Some stuff had to stay plugged into the phone line, some had to stay plugged into my telly, and unfortunately the distance between those things was more than one yellow cable’s worth.

I got it done in the end, albeit in a living room that wound up looking like a Wilf Lunn contraption from Vision On, but by then it was far too late to watch anything.

This is a newish thing, I think, with technology. It used to be that when you bought stuff you were the dominant one in the transaction. You told the stuff what to do and it did it. If it didn’t then it was bad stuff, naughty stuff, and you chucked it out in favour of new, better things.

These days gadgets wander in like they’re Jack bloody Bauer from CTU and say basically “All right, sir, we’ll take it from here.” The first PC I bought came with elaborate instructions about how to install the operating system. The last one, I turned it on and a message came up whose meaning I interpreted as “I’m installing my own operating system. You just go away for ten minutes and have a cup of tea or something. And try not scald your stupid sausage-fingers on the kettle you drooling, mouth-breathing meat-bot.”

I bought a Nintendo Wii some time ago, and it’s all right I suppose. I don’t use it often. There’s a bit too much jumping around for my liking and I see my gaming as an extension of my “sitting still time”. So mostly it sits there liked, but not loved, and idle almost always. On a monthly basis it takes exception to this and starts pulsing its big blue light. It’s a nice light, but it’s kind of distracting like the throbbing of a bruise or the ache of a tooth, and it won’t stop until the wretched thing’s been turned on and played with a bit. To be frank I’m starting to feel a bit bullied by it.

Today anyway, once the ladies had gone, I finally got to see Public Enemies in high definition on my newly updated Blu-ray player and I was once again reminded about why a lot of blokes get pointy pants about their audiovisual kit.

It looked amazing.

Public Enemies is not Michael Mann’s mumbliest film (that would be Miami Vice), neither is it his best (that would be Heat), but it’s OK. Johnny Depp is a fine actor but doesn’t, I think, bring enough brutality to the role of John Dillinger. Christian Bale is better as the intense, driven G-man Melvin Purvis. Marion Cotillard outshines both of them as Billie Frechette.

Mann is at his best not with the interpersonal stuff but rather with the technical stuff: directing action sequences, attention to period detail and so on and, to repeat myself, he makes this look absolutely wonderful. Not all new films look much improved on Blu-ray but this is pin sharp and a joy to behold. I had wondered if the contemporary photography would feel anachronistic (as it does for me in De Palma’s The Untouchables) but it didn’t. The hand held hi-def digital stuff looks great, and there seems to have been a hell of a lot of set dressing and dirtying down. In many of the scenes the period detail is piled up to an almost Gilliamesque extent.

A pass mark from me then, but it wouldn’t have got on my list of favourite movies from last year, and man I still feel like I’m catching up. Don’t think I’ve seen any films released in 2010 yet. I saw Sherlock Holmes but that was a 2009 release. And it won’t be at least until I’ve seen Avatar that I’ll feel able to draw a line under 2009.

8 comments on “10/01/10

    • Yay Dave.

      I was once in a Chinese restaurant and, at the end of the meal, my dining companion had a cup of hot water with a twig in it. I had a cup of coffee. I thought I won. She disagreed.

      It’s a mystery.

  1. We saw Shelock Holmes yesterday. Very exciting, visually gorgeous, clever and all-together a fun experience, I thought. I’m a sucker for gothic, moody sets, anyway (That’s probably why I want to see Wolfman.), and some of the shots made me wish I could stop frame and just spend some time *looking*. Oh, and those panoramic over-London scenes at the end…(sigh.)

    Here I go again with the science/mysticism theme, so be warned! Holmes triumphs with logic, and science explains all that looks like magic. Yet Conan Doyle was into all manner of the mystical: spiritualism, faeries, magic. (I believe I read somewhere he thought Harry Houdini had actual magical powers!) He was a doctor of medicine: he seemed to believe in both science and mysticism. We humans are contradictory by nature, I think, because what we think and what we feel are not always in consert. I’m fascinated by, and keep up on scientific discoveries from astronomy to quantum physics to zoology, but I still want to believe there is some awe-inspiring *something* better, smarter and more unconditionally loving than I am. I’m smart, and I’m a pretty good person, but REALLY, I wouldn’t want me running the Universe!

    It’s interesting that seeing the movie brought to mind a pair of books connected, however tenuously, to the Holmes/Conan Doyle canon for me too. The books, “Seven” and “The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” are both worthy reads. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Chabon had read “Seven”(by Twin Peaks creator, Mark Frost), which was published I think in the 80s. That’s all I’ll say in case you haven’t, and would like to read it.

    My guilty reading pleasure is detective fiction, especially the modern novels that have interesting characters with fleshed-out lives. I think that’s another reason I liked the movie so much. Sherlock and Company felt like real people not silhouettes. Anyway, “The Susupicions of Mr Whicher” is a non-fiction look at an English murder that captured the public imagination of the day. It also chronicles the beginnings of the real-life job of Police Detective. The author posits that Mr Whicher was the inspiration for our friend, Sherlock *and* the genre of detective fiction as a whole. Good Stuff!

    Keep on bloggin’…
    XO

    • Hi Michelle. Glad you liked Sherlock Holmes.

      You’re quite right that Conan Doyle was interested in spiritual matters. Sadly the fascination was a by-product of his grief at the loss of his wife and son. Distraught and vulnerable he was pretty cynically exploited and left to look a bit foolish.

      He trained as a doctor so you’d expect a bit of scientific rigour in his Holmes stories, but I don’t think it’s really there. The stories advocate a reliance on logical deduction, but most of what Holmes indulges in isn’t deductive reasoning. It just looks like it to the reader who sees the conclusion first. It doesn’t matter because the stories are so vastly entertaining.

      It’s interesting to contrast them with Chesterton’s Father Brown stories in which similar deductive sleights of hand are performed but with the intention of demonstrating that what looks mysterious isn’t usually mysterious, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t mystery in the universe. It’s the man of faith who uses logic to dismiss mundane mystery whilst celebrating the greater mystery that lies beyond it.

      I love Chesterton’s writing and whilst I don’t share his adherence to catholicism I can appreciate the way he preferred a personal disciplined faith to a voguish, credulous open-mindedness.

      “When men stop believing in God,” he said, “They don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.”

      I don’t believe in the supernatural. I think if it happens it’s natural. We may currently lack a way of explaining it, but if we can experience a phenomenon we will ultimately be able to explain it in terms of other things.

      I don’t believe in a partial, petulant, favour-granting God or gods. There may well be something beyond our experience, but if there is (and you have to wonder what the word “is” means in this context) there’s no point speculating. We don’t have the apparatus to apprehend it. It’s like the two dimensional character in Flatland who, after a brief sojourn in the three dimensional universe, is sent back to Flatland and can’t find a way to explain to his fellow Flatlanders the concept of a direction which is “up, but not North”.

      I don’t believe in life after death. I don’t understand the words energy, force, spirit and power when people use them in this context. I think our identities and self-awareness are tricks of a bicameral brain. I think our identities die when we do. I find it hard to believe that my “consciousness” will survive my death. It’s not even constant during life. You just have to see someone drunk, on drugs, in a coma or succumbing to Alzheimers to watch a personality just trickle away as the brain is affected.

      Quantum mechanics, so far as I understand it, is a complete head mangler but I’m so glad we have discovered it. It was the gradual acceptance of the heliocentric model of the solar system that enabled humanity to stop seeing itself as a special case in the universe. It de-centred us and paved the way for scientific free-thinking and the laying down of classical mechanics. Quantum mechanics is having a similar revolutionary effect on today’s accepted orthodoxy.

      It’s fascinating to me to find that classical mechanics only works at the macroscopic level, not the microscopic one, and that at that level the observer necessarily participates by the fact of their observing. It brings together science and philosophy which weren’t natural partners prior to that. It’s giving us a new way of thinking about things as basic as objective reality.

      It’s all just my opinion of course and I am happy to respect other people’s as long as they accept that they may be wrong. It is the folk who tell you that they definitely know about God, or what happens after you die that I abhor because I don’t see how they could possibly know.

      In my experience the proselytising religious people are after something. Usually money or sex.

      • Yes, yes, & yes!

        If a mind is sufficiently open, people will throw all kinds of garbage into it. 🙂

        And I do think that grief, or the thought of our mortality has a lot to do with the need for spiritual comfort, and so is the perfect situation to be exploited by dispicable people. The deeper the grief, the bigger the target, unfortunately.

        So have you read “Seven” or “Mr Whicher”? I’d be intersted in your opinion if you have.

  2. P.S. What’s with the creepy happy face?! I didn’t put that there! Emoticon’s don’t creep me out like that thing.

    • Haven’t read either of those books, though they are both now on my list. I’m sad to have not even heard of the Mark Frost one. I loved Twin Peaks!

      Forgot to say earlier that we do, as a species, have a tendency to ascribe agency to things. It’s something we’ve adapted for over our evolution so it must have stood us in good stead, but it does leave us open to superstition. I think this is where religion comes from.

  3. Hmmm, I would just like to point out that my hot water ‘craze’ has been going on for 20 years now… though I am eternally grateful that this is what I was chastised for and not any of my other, now publicised, behaviours….

    As for sticking a twig in it – I stuck my finger in it and the temperature was just fine… twig anyone?

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