Archives for January 2012

Netflix, What Is It And Should I Sign Up?

Net­flix is the most suc­cess­ful Video On Demand provider in the US. And despite its impres­sive attempt at shoot­ing itself in the foot last year by need­less­ly solv­ing a non-exis­tent prob­lem, it’s like­ly to remain so for the fore­see­able future.

For a small month­ly fee (€7 in Ire­land), they give you access to their library of films and tele­vi­sion series, which you can then stream as many as you like of via your inter­net connection.

So its prin­ci­ple sell­ing points are, that on the one hand you don’t waste any of your pre­cious hard dri­ve space, as all of the titles are stored cen­tral­ly by Net­flix. And on the oth­er, you have an exten­sive and lim­it­less choice of titles to pick from. So, your access to the inter­net aside, what’s it like?

Well it’s cer­tain­ly easy to sign up to, and they pride them­selves on mak­ing it as pain­less as pos­si­ble to unsub­scribe from as well. The idea being, that the ser­vice they pro­vide is some­thing you can come back to at your leisure, when some­thing you see there catch­es your eye. And I imag­ine that many of the peo­ple who availed of their intro­duc­to­ry free month tri­al will very prob­a­bly con­tin­ue to sub­scribe sub­se­quent­ly. After all, you real­ly only need to see a cou­ple of films, or a tv series in any giv­en month to jus­ti­fy the price of €7.

But if they’re hop­ing to make a seri­ous dent in the mar­ket on this side of the Atlantic, then they’ll have to sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand the num­ber of titles they give you to choose from. Nat­u­ral­ly they’re only start­ing up now, and it’s very much a work in progress, but it is none the less a dis­ap­point­ing­ly lim­it­ed selection.

On a more gen­er­al lev­el, what impact is stream­ing going to have on our every day lives? Well, as with most things con­nect­ed with the inter­net, it’s not so much the death of one thing and the birth of the next, as it is a re-imag­in­ing of the over­all landscape.

Just as cin­e­ma was not in fact killed off by the advent of tele­vi­sion, and then video, dvd, cable and satel­lite. On the con­trary, it was strength­ened with their arrival by hav­ing its reach sig­nif­i­cant­ly extend­ed. In effect, they pro­vide cin­e­ma with what amounts to a whole new mar­ket in which to prof­it from. So too the inter­net, and specif­i­cal­ly stream­ing will serve to yet fur­ther extend that reach, and to ever more firm­ly bind them all together.

The rea­son why stream­ing can nev­er replace cin­e­ma or indeed tele­vi­sion is sim­ple. It’s com­plete­ly reliant on the Hol­ly­wood stu­dios that make so much of all the film and tele­vi­sion that peo­ple most want to see for all its con­tent. And those stu­dios are only every going to drip feed the likes of Net­flix after their cash cows, the Har­ry Pot­ters and the Bat­mans, have duly earnt their crust in cin­e­mas and on main­stream tele­vi­sion first.

The only way around that is for Net­flix to begin pro­duc­ing its own con­tent, which is exact­ly what it’s begun doing. But it can no more be cer­tain of pro­duc­ing the next sure fire hit than any­one else can, and would need in effect to become a rival stu­dio in order to be able to com­pete on a lev­el play­ing field. Which is of course what Sky has done by join­ing forces with 20th Cen­tu­ry Fox. So rather than replac­ing any­thing, stream­ing becomes one more arm in an over­all, glob­al media strategy.

But the main and most obvi­ous rea­son why stream­ing is most like­ly to add to rather than sub­tract from how we watch and lis­ten to films, tele­vi­sion and music is quite sim­ply numbers.

In 1920, the world passed the two bil­lion mark. Since then, it’s more than tre­bled, and by the mid­dle of this cen­tu­ry that num­ber will have more than quadru­pled. Fur­ther­more, the num­ber of peo­ple who now live in what is known as the devel­oped world has explod­ed over the same peri­od. So there are incal­cu­la­bly more peo­ple now all try­ing to watch and lis­ten to the same sorts of things.

Add to that the fact all sur­veys sug­gest that those who do down­load, whether legal­ly or ille­gal­ly, tend to spend more than they used to on their enter­tain­ment, and it all points to the same thing. Stream­ing is one more means for a huge­ly enhanced land­scape to expand even further.

The Artist”- Michel Hazanavicius

This year’s smash hit at Cannes… Silent and in black and white… Clas­si­cal­ly French…  Charm­ing per­for­mances… And the dog…! Hmmn, what? Oh I’m sor­ry, I think I might have dozed off there.

There have of course been some gen­uine­ly won­der­ful films about Hol­ly­wood. Bil­ly Wilder’s Sun­set Boule­vard (’50), Vin­cente Min­nel­li’s The Bad And The Beau­ti­ful (’52), Robert Alt­man’s The Play­er (’92) and David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Dri­ve (’01) being the four most memorable.

All depict a pitch black world bereft of a moral com­pass, where blind­ly dri­ven char­ac­ters devote their lives to sac­ri­fic­ing their tal­ent on the altar to per­son­al ambi­tion. The result is a land­scape where any­thing can hap­pen, and every­one’s care­ful cal­cu­la­tions are for­ev­er under­mined by the whims of the non-exis­tent but mis­chie­vous Gods. They are all in oth­er words Euro­pean films, that just hap­pen to use Hol­ly­wood as their backdrop.

They reek of the Old World, with its iron­ic insou­ciance and casu­al cyn­i­cism, and are free entire­ly of that unshak­able cer­tain­ty and bound­less opti­mism that make the New World so appeal­ing and give it its veneer of invincibility.

Mul­hol­land Dri­ve might look like Hol­ly­wood, but its cor­rect title, as David Thomp­son so per­cep­tive­ly point­ed out is Mul­hol­land Dr., and the that Dr stands for “dream”, as in night­mare. The pow­ers that be that gov­ern this world are neb­u­lous, nefar­i­ous and hope­less­ly inscrutable. This might be the dream fac­to­ry, but these are the wrong kinds of dreams.

The Artist is the exact oppo­site. It’s an all too con­ven­tion­al Hol­ly­wood film clum­si­ly dressed in Euro­pean art-house chic. Sure, if you’ve nev­er seen, say, a Madon­na video (it’s in black and white!!) or a for­eign film (what, sub­ti­tles!!! (well, titles actu­al­ly)), then you might but briefly mis­take it for some­thing mild­ly un-con­ven­tion­al. But you’ll very quick­ly tire of the film’s un-rip­pled progress, as all the char­ac­ters duti­ful­ly make their way down all too well worn paths.

The fact of the mat­ter is, The Artist isn’t a pas­tiche of those ear­ly Hol­ly­wood films, it’s one of them. And it’s every bit as dull, drea­ry and pre­dictable as those kinds of films have always been. That’s why, both then and now, we grav­i­tate towards the likes of Méliès and Eisen­stein, Lang, Mur­nau and Chap­lin. Their con­stant inven­tion and daz­zling bril­liance are a glo­ri­ous cor­rec­tive to the bar­rage of end­less tedi­um we’re for­ev­er forced to put up with from main­stream Hollywood.

Still. There is of course one part of the world where they’ll see The Artist as a fan­tas­ti­cal­ly coura­geous attempt to buck the pre­vail­ing trend of drown­ing every­thing in a cacoph­o­ny of wide screen, sur­round sound 3D Tech­ni­col­or noise. Roll on the Acad­e­my Awards.

Theme Time Radio Hour”, Bob Dylan’s Four Dazzling Acts.

There are famous­ly no sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can lives. But as he has on so many oth­er occa­sions, Bob Dylan has proved him­self the glo­ri­ous excep­tion to Fitzger­ald’s famous maxim.

Dylan’s first act cul­mi­nat­ed in an extra­or­di­nary 14 months between March 1965 and May ’66 when he released no less than three epoch-defin­ing albums; Bring­ing It All Back HomeHigh­way 61 Revis­it­ed and the still sem­i­nal dou­ble album, Blonde On Blonde. Then how­ev­er, just as sud­den­ly as he’d emerged, he dis­ap­peared into the under­growth, opt­ing for domes­tic bliss and the anonymi­ty afford­ed by his base­ment in Woodstock.

To every­one’s sur­prise and amaze­ment though, he burst back into rel­e­vance in the mid 70s with Blood On The Tracks in ’74, Desire in ’75 and the Rolling Thun­der Revue tour. But with­in a year or two his brief renais­sance had passed, and by the late 70s he’d resumed his role as a rel­ic of an era that had long since passed. The nev­er-end­ing tour he seemed deter­mined to per­sist with looked like lit­tle more than an excuse for him to avoid hav­ing to ever look him­self in the mirror.

But to every­one’s fur­ther amaze­ment, a decade lat­er he sprang back into life again, first with No Mer­cy in ’89, and then with Time Out Of Mind in ’97, both of which were pro­duced by Daniel Lanois. These three acts would com­fort­ably have seen his name for­ev­er carved in stone on high.

Remark­ably though, these last few years have been arguably his most pro­duc­tive peri­od to date. Three fine albums in Love And Theft (’01), Mod­ern Times (’06) and Togeth­er Through Life (’09), par­tic­u­lar­ly the first. A nov­el­ty Christ­mas album, which was far bet­ter than it had any right to be. That extra­or­di­nary auto­bi­og­ra­phy Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One (’04), which had noth­ing to say about his per­son­al life, but which was excep­tion­al­ly can­did and bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nat­ing on his music (par­tic­u­lar­ly on the epiphany that result­ed in the release of  Oh Mer­cy.). Plus Scorsese’s bril­liant doc­u­men­tary, Bring­ing It All Back Home. And amongst all of which, some­what improb­a­bly, he embarked upon a new career path as a 21st. cen­tu­ry DJ.

The idea behind Theme Time Radio Hour is sim­ple enough. For one hour every week, Dylan takes a theme, say “Mar­riage”, or “Cig­a­rettes”, and spins discs asso­ci­at­ed with the cho­sen theme. He plays lit­tle or noth­ing from the mid 70s onwards, stick­ing for the most part to the 50s, 60s, and ear­ly 70s, though there are also a healthy hand­ful from the 40s and even 30s. There are three series so far, com­pris­ing some 100 hours. And each and every sin­gle track, on every sin­gle one of them, is an absolute gem. Not only that, but his sly but enthu­si­as­tic intros are every bit as enjoy­able as the for­got­ten finds he’s con­tin­u­al­ly unearthing and cor­rect­ly celebrating.

It is, by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance, the finest hour of lis­ten­ing to be found any­where in the ether. Fur­ther­more, it’s made for the “Shuf­fle” mode. As it’s almost as enjoy­able hav­ing what­ev­er it is that you’re lis­ten­ing to incon­gru­ous­ly inter­rupt­ed by one of Dylan’s droll intros before return­ing to your own playlist, as it is hear­ing the actu­al track that his intro was refer­ring to.

TTRH is an edu­ca­tion and a con­stant source of joy. And once again, that man from Min­neso­ta has pro­duced yet anoth­er rab­bit from that appar­ent­ly bot­tom­less hat of his.

Carnage” – Roman Polanski

I defer in almost all mat­ters to the New Yorker’s film crit­ic Antho­ny Lane. But I have to gen­tly dis­agree with his huffy dis­missal of Car­nage

Our con­trast­ing reac­tions to the film stem from our very dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions of the the­atre. Lane is as polite as he is effort­less­ly eru­dite, and hav­ing been brought up to respect the the­atre, he clear­ly finds it dif­fi­cult, not with­stand­ing the end­less dis­ap­point­ments he must have expe­ri­enced there, to see it for what it is. It’s where writ­ers who aren’t quite good enough for tele­vi­sion or cin­e­ma go to hide. 

That sign that met Nicholas Ray when he arrived in New York from Wis­con­sin in the 1930s, which read “the the­atre is dead; let’s give it a decent bur­ial” stood, and stands as an appro­pri­ate headstone. 

So the play that this is based on, The God Of Car­nage by Yas­mi­na Reza is exact­ly what one should have expect­ed. As a piece of seri­ous writ­ing it will of course dis­ap­pear into the ether, and will only ever be of use to am dram socs and sec­ondary schools. But that’s hard­ly the point. It’s just a bit of fun, that’s all!

A pair of upward­ly-mobile, New York cou­ples spend a day togeth­er dis­cussing what’s to be done about the bois­ter­ous behav­iour of their respec­tive chil­dren. Inevitably, the veneer of respectabil­i­ty is soon scraped clean, and they are prompt­ly tear­ing strips off of one anoth­er. The film is every bit as pre­dictable as that makes it sound, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

It’s the kind of thing Woody Allen used to make in order to raise the mon­ey for his more per­son­al films. In exchange for get­ting his more seri­ous come­dies fund­ed, he’d pro­duce some­thing light and frothy to keep the mon­ey men hap­py. So for every Man­hat­tan, The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo and Crimes And Mis­de­meanours, there’d be a Han­nah And Her Sis­ters, a Bul­lets Over Broad­way and a Vicky Christi­na Barcelona. Devoid of sub­stance and made entire­ly of sug­ar, they’re an instant pick-me-up, but are per­fect­ly charm­ing nonethe­less. That’s what this is. 

I would though chal­lenge any­one to guess that it’s a Roman Polan­s­ki film if they hadn’t been told so before­hand. It’s not so much direct­ed as it is a filmed play. But con­sid­er­ing that Polan­s­ki hasn’t made any­thing of sub­stance since Tess in 1979, per­haps that’s not such a bad thing.

Any com­pe­tent direc­tor would be flat­tered when work­ing with actors of this cal­i­bre, all of whom deliv­er won­der­ful­ly. Though a bet­ter direc­tor would have insist­ed on impos­ing an end­ing, which the play plain­ly lacks, and which is exact­ly what Polan­s­ki him­self had done on his best film, Chi­na­town. I don’t know. Per­haps he has oth­er things on his mind these days.

Not with­stand­ing all of which, Car­nage should be seen for what it is. Quite sil­ly, and huge­ly enjoyable.