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12 April 2011
Filed under:Arts Reviews at9:45 am

In this week’s New Yorker podcast, Nancy Franklin takes the update of Upstairs Downstairs as an excuse to go back and laud the original series as one of the highlights of television drama of the 1970s. I, too, fondly remember the series but I made the mistake of watching it once when it was repeated and I found I just couldn’t take more than a few minutes. At all levels – the writing, acting and aesthetically – recent dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Babylon 5 and my current favourite, Rubicon, are markedly superior.

25 August 2010
Filed under:Arts Reviews at10:04 am

I thought Inception had the potential to be much more interesting than it was. Much has been made of its depth and complexity but (perhaps because it is after all a big budget Hollywood film) I seldom found myself working very hard to understand what was going on or why. None of the action sequences were at all engaging (at least for me) because there was no sense of reality and therefore of risk. Mind you I thought the scenes in the hotel corridor (which were not CGI as you may have already heard) were visually striking. I would recommend that if you are interested you go see Memento instead if you haven’t already.

Still, if it is successful and that success encourages mainstream Hollywood to be more ambitious in its storytelling that would be a good result.

13 June 2010

I read a profile of Lu Xun (魯迅) in the Guardian which describes him as “China’s Dickens and Joyce rolled into one”. Surrounded as I am at the moment by Chinese students I was keen to learn more but I thought there might be little available in English – at least not for free. In an article I wrote ten years ago for Salon – The US-Wide Web I bemoaned the fact that the internet appeared to be dominated by the English language and by American content. Of course a lot has changed since then but I was still surprised to find that a free creative commons audiobook in English of some of his stories is available as well as some English translations as text online. Hurray for Creative Commons, the public domain and the internet!

PS if you are Chinese please comment and tell me what you think about Lu Xun and how his work and his place in China today have been described in the Guardian…

13 April 2010

I’ve been listening to the free Librivox audiobook of this for fun and I was surprised given that it was written in 1905 at how liberal its politics are – it contains often sympathetic references to most of the better known people’s revolts. I was also struck that although it was aimed at children it has in several places explanations of the Greek and Roman derivations of some of the vocabulary.

21 March 2010
Filed under:Arts Reviews at9:41 pm

Finally as a late birthday present went to see Avatar with my other 1/2 – the first chance I had to see a movie with her in at least 4 years. I was not surprised or disappointed at the wooden acting in Avatar having read the reviews but I hadn’t realised that battle sequences would be quite as dominant a part of the film as they were – not really a very peace and love-y experience. And I thought from the reviews I would have a chance to see an alternative world beautifully realised but I found (perhaps again unsurprisingly) that the ‘alternative’ was only lightly alien-ized with faux horses, rhinoceroses and dragons rather than anything dramatically different.

It was my first experience of the ‘new’ 3D and while I wanted to like it I concur with Mark Kermode – when it was noticeable it was annoying, it seemed to encourage the director to play to it with lots of things exploding into my face and once I stopped noticing it I am convinced I had the same sense of depth as I would have had had I watched the film in 2D. The human brain does a lot of filling in by itself – that’s why it’s perfectly possible to enjoy a film on one’s iPod Touch.

Lastly, all the exploding gave my wife (who is more sensitive to noise and sitting in a chair for 2 3/4 hours) a splitting headache and thanks to living in one of the world’s most expensive cities the whole experience set us back in the neighbourhood of £50/$75 each. Next time I will just go to the opera…

15 March 2010

This article, “What is the Good of the ‘Examined Life’? Some Thoughts on the Apology and Liberal Education” is to my mind the essence of an academic article. It’s thought-provoking, on an important subject (perhaps, the author argues, the most important – the need for each of us not just to live ethically but to reflect on what it means to live ethically), it’s written clearly and concisely and it’s open access so anyone can read it. I wish there were some way to make it a required reading for what I teach…

Thanks to the ever excellent Book Forum blog for bringing it to my attention.

7 July 2009
Filed under:Arts Reviews,Computer Games at2:13 pm

My favorite meta-gaming webzine, The Escapist discusses the brief life and the Death of a Manifesto – Manifesto Games, which created by Greg Costikyan to get independent games into the market. The long and short of it is that several mainstream digital download game distributors have also taken to stocking indie games but Manifesto despite its visionary zeal has been unable to make a go of it.

An accompanying article asks “what does indie gaming mean anyway?” echoing arguments about mainstream vs indie art and music that have been discussed for centuries).

21 April 2009
Filed under:Arts Reviews,Old media,Personal at11:09 am

I still remember finding E.E. “Doc” Smith‘s space opera, The Skylark of Space when on holiday with my parents when I was probably no more than 10 – I immediately read it cover to cover and sought out the others in the series. I had forgotten about it for years then noticed it had gone into the public domain so I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg into my iPod Touch and began to read. I was immediately struck by a certain amount of casual racism (not uncommon in 1928) and of course its attitudes toward women were also pretty retrograde. Moreover, with their powerful weapons the heroes seem quite happy to kill off hordes of alien ‘bad guys’ even when they can’t shoot back. The racist and eugenicist undertones became stronger and stronger near the end however. The ‘bad aliens’ are darker skinned than the ‘good’ ones, and I just got to the point where the hero describes the religious system of the good aliens, seemingly without dismay:

they are magnificently developed for their surroundings. They have attained this condition by centuries of weeding out the unfit. They have no hospitals for the feeble-minded or feeble-bodied–abnormal persons are not allowed to live. The same reasoning accounts for their perfect cleanliness, moral and physical. Vice is practically unknown. They believe that clean living and clean thinking are rewarded by the production of a better physical and mental type

Ugh… I didn’t remember that part!

16 March 2009

Thanks to BBC iPlayer and the increasing number of podcasts available my ability to download interesting stuff is finally outpacing the time available to consume it. My iPod now contains about 48 hours of audio and video material – a mix of (free classic) audiobooks, current affairs and history programs and a number of academic-related feeds, notably Thinking Allowed, Radio Berkman and of course the LSE’s own podcast of its lectures. Unfortunately, in attempting to update the podcasts blogroll on the right I seem to have broken it instead. You can see all of the individual podcasts I subscribe to as they broadcast in reverse chronological order here.

25 February 2009
Filed under:Arts Reviews at9:50 pm

I’ve been following Lost since it began and at first found it really engaging but regular readers will note increasing disenchantment setting in. Even though I know I only need to ‘hang in there’ for a season and a half to find out what is really going on I have (rather belatedly) decided that I just can’t be bothered. The main weaknesses I despair of being addressed are:

  • The characters are thin and their behavior is inconsistent
  • Relatedly, they seem irrationally swayed by any ‘authority figure’ who comes by. This results in characters holding diametrically opposite views for no better reason than they blindly believe the last person who seemed to know what was going on (eg Ben, or Charles Widmore).
  • Lots of misunderstandings arise which would have been easily cleared up if the characters just shared information with each other or talked over what had happened to them.
  • There are just too many loose ends to tie up.

I think I’ll probably watch the last season finale just to see how on earth they try to make it all make sense but that aside, I’m done. It’s a pity, as it started really promisingly…

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