All entries for Monday 11 December 2006

December 11, 2006

New Media. Second Life: the Virtual World is Taking Off

Second Life The Reality of Virtual worlds

Second Life for Beautiful People

IntroductionAlgernon Avatar

The first time I’d heard about Second Life the rapidly growing virtual world with thousands of people signing up every month was in the Financial Times weekend colour supplement a few weeks ago (now available online here). They had sent a reporter in to check out this rapidly growing phenomenon.

Once you come across something it seems to be everywhere. its in this month’s Net magazine and a swift search is finding stories about it on the technology pages of the BBC website. so let’s start to check it out.

Special World for Teenagers

Because of the more adult nature of Second life and because many don’t wish to meet teenagers even dressed as avatars the creators of Second life have created another world especially for teenagers.

Click here to find the interface to Second Life

Take some time and follow the BBC links and also the other links. There’s a story of one person who in real life got into debt and managed to win the trust of his Linden friends to lend him real money! Wow…. now there’s impressive.

The BBC Second Life Concert Venue

You’ll find the BBC runs rock concerts in there and IBM are there too. Addidas and Toshiba are selling virtual trainers and cars. some people are reckoning that this is the ‘killer’ application for broadband internet, in other words how to make real money in the real world.

Other Virtual Worlds

The online game World of Warcraft is hugely popular with more than five million people now regularly spending time in Azeroth, trying to turn apprentice adventurers into fully-formed heroes.

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game and, as that lengthy title implies, gives gamers the chance to control characters in a large net-based fantasy world.

World of Warcraft

For some Warcraft players slaying monsters and gathering treasure is not enough. Instead of swords they are using economics as a weapon.
This is because for all its fantasy trappings, one aspect of Warcraft is alarmingly similar to the real world and that is the importance of money.

Summary

Virtual worlds is bocoming a big thing. They are working on different models of development. The World of Warcraft is dungeons and dragons for the web however Second Life is a far more creative and dynamic model which is generating real interest in the world of business as well as individual adventurers. Please see the entry which is summarising the Net interview with Philip Rosedale the founder of Second Life. Certainly some are beginning to see Second Life as the new ‘killer’ application for the broaqdband era for it is the availability of cheap broadband that is a core technology in allowing the model to operate. Broadband is to Second Life what roads are to a city.


British Cinema: Films of 2006

Introduction

I have to confess I haven’t seen too many British films brought out in 2006. This is due to two main reasons. Firstly I like to get the DVDs and I like to wait until the premium price has come off it. This is usually a reasonably swift but I don’t have that urge to see the latest as soon as it hits the screens (that is if the distributors and exhibitors allow it to).

However I’m teaching some British cinema post 1990 and clearly the OCR board is so fed up with getting essays on The Full Monty and Four Weddings and a Funeral they’ve had to send a reminder out to teacher’s that we are 6 years into the 21st century. Of there is a danger of losing a sense of history but that’s a strong tendency media studies which is best resisted.

Anyway 2006 turns out to have been quite a good year for British films many of which court controversy (thankfully). As I haven’t seen many yet this is a round up of reports and recommendations and hopefully pleasures to come.

British Films of 2006

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Ken Loach on the Set of wind that Shakes the Barley

Well one film that made the headlines is Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley now out on DVD. As a winner of the Cannes Prix d’Or this comes as something of a surprise. Loach has forged his own vision of a socialistic social realist aesthetic often combining history and politics. I’m looking forward to this one as it deals with the very thorny issue of Britain’s relationship with Ireland and focuses upon the the period when the Black and Tans gained historical notoriety for their brutality. This period has lived in the Nationalist consciousnes ever since. Whatever its strengths and weaknesses getting a prize at Cannes isn’t going to earn Loach a Caribbean island (he wouldn’t want it anyway.) Sight & Sound December 2006 shows that it isn’t now on release and it made £3.88 million in the box office.

Shoot the Messenger Dir: Ngozi Onwurah

Shoot the Messenger 2006

I missed this one which was screened on BBC2 and is a BBC comissioned film. There is a report on it here.

As you can see from the negative response of some viewers they want representations of ethnic or other minorities to be sqeaky clean, ‘Sunday best’ kind of films. I remember this kind of argument emerging when Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette came out in the 1980s. Looked at now it stands the test of time very effectively and its real strength is bringing out the contradictions in people’s identities and emotions which is what made that film a piece of art. The argument here is also reminiscent of the issues around Turtles can Fly (see Opinion 1 on this blog). The social reality is that identity by ‘ethnicity’ is leaky. People are more complicated than that! It is certainly a film I shall be trying to get hold of.

Click here for the Edinburgh film Festival report and a hyperlink to a video about the film.

London to Brighton. Dir: Paul Andrew Williams

London to Brighton 2006

This is a film that has made an impact well beyond its budget. Generically it turned into an unintentional gangster thriller (Sight and Sound Dec 2006, p 16). As such it is one to watch as it fits in well with the long-term genre for gangster movies in Britain which is analysed elswhere on this blog:

... where Williams could have opted for Guy Ritchie style crass humour he finds a more restrained and chillingly effective alternative. Its a film worthy of Mike Hodge at his best…

One of the key important points to make about this film is that the director Paul Andrew Williams found his own financier. (Look at the BBC video interview here to find out more). – You will need to click on the link and have Realplayer installed. He didn’t go straight to the UK film Council, although he did apply at a later a stage and was accepted by the UKFC. The Time Out review is here.

The Road to Guantanamo. Dir: Michael Winterbottom

The Road to Guantanamo

A full review of this film is under construction. The first part of this piece is already posted currently giving about one dozen linked reviews and links to trailers and extracts. suffice it to say here that the film did exceptionally well at the Berlin Film Festival. It is also notable that the film is so far unique by arranging to have near simultaneaous release on TV, DVD in the cinema and very imprtantly on the internet as a download. The advantage of this is that the attempts to control the distribution and multiplex by companies purely trying to profit from large US marketing budgets and the ‘Yoof Market’ are being circumvented. For more on the multiplex phenomenon see separate article on this blog.

The Queen (2006) dir Stephen Frears

Helen Mirren in The Queen 2006 by Stephen Frears

Link to Britfilms synopsis

Red Road (2006) dir Andrea Arnold

Red Road 2006 by Andrea Arnold

Link to Brtfilms synopsis

This is England (2006) dir Shane Meadows

This is England 2006 Shane Meadows

Link to Cineuropea review


Film Opinion 1: Pop Culture or Pap Culture?

Opinion

Iin these so-called post-modern times there is almost a collective guilt created in critical discourses about liking or approving of a film that is artistically, socially or culturally challenging in some way or another. There is a real fear amongst the critical community of calling pop culture ‘pap culture’.

The Mr. Busy column in January’s Sight and Sound hit the nail on the head when describing the average film review:

The nearest newspapers come to this kind of privileged opinion forming these days is in their restaurant reviews. (p 12).

Instead of trying any kind of opinion forming evertything defaults into a kind of star rating. I for one am very suspicious about this. I’m sure that whoever puts the Independent reviews of films on TV together for the Saturday edition just whizzes through a Halliwell’s and / or Time Out film guide and averages out the star rating.

Being a bit of an afficionado of the ‘World Cinema’ (i.e. everything that isn’t ‘Hollywood’) it soon becomes noticeable that the film on BBC4 which are TV premieres very rarely seem to make a star rating by getting a mention in the column. Now some films probably don’t deserve it but lots deserve some kind of mention especially when populist pap gets a miserable 2 star or even 1 star rating.

Good for BBC 4 showing Denys Arcand’s Barbarian Invasions I’d read a favourable review ages ago but as my DVD budget goes on European cinema – except for Pirates of the Caribbean – to teach action-adventure cinema and a good romp it was too! – I’d have missed it. the fact is that in these post-humanist times it was an unashamedly humanistic film which dealt with genuine life and death issues which touch on every human in a way that was funny and non-judgemental makes that film a valuable one. It is a film which won’t date in terms of its content or the way it is handled. In short one might call it ‘Art’. If you click here you can access a short trailer. Thankfully I didn’t see the trailer. I’ve just realised they put me off, they’re so… yes “cheesey” is probably a good word. But my benchmark of ‘is it worth 90 odd minutes of my / your valuable time holds. Yes! you probably have to be of a certain age to fully appreciate it – Trainspotting it ain’t but both have heroin and a sharp sense of humour.

Art is a term much avoided in populist film criticism. Lets talk about Terminator 2 in post-Lacanian terms based on Klaus Thewleit’s analysis of male fantasies in the Weimar and Nazi periods. Well that at least squares the contradictory needs of having to discuss populist products a “modern classic” according to the BFI publishing department at least. Its not the product which counts but the academic discourse you gnerate around it. Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy Terminator & Terminator 2. They can get the adrenalin going on a Friday evening when slumped after a hard week at the whiteboard face or stuffy ozone ridden computer room. But, can one seriously write about a film or other cultural artefact onlt a dozen years old and call it “a classic”. A case of the marketing tail wagging the critical dog as usual.

One nice thing about developing film courses and the paraphernalia around them is re-viewing films which were valued when they came out and are still valued. It also gives the opportunity to re-value something which wasn’t well received at the time. In the last few years I’ve become a real Visconti fan. I love his aesthetics and his political astuteness is often unrecognised.

A teaching colleague thought that The Leopard was rather slow. I told him I was worried he was teaching too much horror and getting into the aesthetics of the restless film endlessly cutting to help create a forceful dynamic pushing the often feeble narratives – I mean why horror for pleasure? – there’s enough out there in the real world isn’t there?

Lilya 4Ever Lilya looks out from her prison

Check BBC4 Review here

I like showing my horror and action adventure fan A level groups films like Lilya 4Ever. It usually hits them hard. Oh that’s horrible… well life isn’t all fantasy that’s what its like for lots of teenagers in countries that are now part of the European Union. What I find odd is why a film like that gets an 18 rating. Its exactly what teenagers need to see. Heavens thay even got shocked when Richard Harris got that smack in the mouth in This Sporting Life. Now that is classic!

Richard Harris in This Sporting life

Another BBC4 hit with me this year was Turtles can fly. As usual people can get get very defensive as this blog shows. Well there seems little point in being in total denial about issues of illiteracy. Blackboards directed by the gifted : Samira Makhmalbaf. Written by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Samira Makhmalbaf. Well along with other Iranians they are filmmakers who don’t beat about the bush. Uncomfortable truths is what the best artists confront us with. Yes poverty and illiteracy are coexistent and one feeds off the other.

Blackboards Poster

(A level media research students for women & film check the official site here.)

Lets face it, Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, has an extraordinarily high functional illiteracy rate yet people are in full time education from about 4-16. The fact that people in the Middle East are illiterate and are forced into selling mines is a savage indictment of the so called civilised world.

For me Dr Nazhad Khasraw Hawramany is a parochial case of protesting too much. Because if you check out his blog he actually agrees that people, presumably children turn to sellng mines and bits of military equipment:

...the only refugee camps are for Iranian Kurds who fled the despotic Islamic regime in Iran!) and earn living through trading with mines, weapons and military scraps.

Turtles Can Fly Mines

The good Doctor’s nationalistic concerns are getting the better of him (patriotism = patriarchy ?), becuase he entirely dismisses a key factor in the film centered around the rape of a young Muslim girl and the blind baby she has given birth to. The good doctor (presumably not medical) displays his ignorance of biology at this point:

the girl was raped in Halabja in 1988 when she was not younger than 14( otherwise she couldn`t have been pregnant) and now in 2003 , the child is only about 3 years old and she is still 14 years old! What a dumb discrepancy!

Doesn’t he know that girls frequently get periods at 11 and occasionally even younger. Sex education clearly isn’t high on the agenda anyway! As a BBC report on Darfur was highlighting only yeterday rape is a tool of terrorism and the book by Susan Brownmiller from the 1970s showed that this was an historical trait. come on good doctor lets have a bit of contemporary consciousness of sexual politics whilst you reside in aSwitzerland made famous by Orson Welles comment in The Third Man!

Well Dr. Hawramany does rather seem to be missing all of the artistic points in the film and academic discourse it ain’t. Personally I thought it well worth seeing. Was it a Rembrandt among films – probably not – but amongst the piles of pap being continuously pumped out (god was the Blairwitch Project boring or what?), in my opinion it is worth the 90 odd minutes of your time watching it. I like a film that raises a bit of real controversy and makes me a bit uncomfortable in my complacency. Lets face it you don’t get it with ‘reality TV’ :-).

Turtles Can Fly Teenager leader

If like me you value your time budget then knowing what to avoid seems to be a primary task of a reviewer. Happy viewing in 2007 :-).


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