Friday, April 23, 2010

I hate 3D

The first "3D" tvs go on sale soon. Despite being an "early adopter", I won't be buying one. I don't to buy one ever because I hate 3D.

I saw the Brendan Fraser film Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 3D when it came out, and after about 5 minutes of going "ooh, that yoyo is coming right at me," the novelty value wore off. In fact, I wished it hadn't been in 3D Brendan has quite a big posterior and even though a kindly wardrobe person had made him wear saddle bags to disguise it, it still felt like it was looming out of the screen and was going to ENGULF THE ENTIRE WORLD (sorry Brendan - I'll still marry you).

Look out! It's coming right at us

My problem with 3D films is that most of the time it's not necessary. I saw the new version of Alice in Wonderland, and its awfulness was only enhanced by being in 3D. The glasses made everything look dark, and rather than making the film better, the 3D was a distraction.

3D just doesn't feel that necessary - and in order to justify it, film makers put in scenes where things are dangled at the forefront of screen, or arrows appear to be shooting you. Audiences then end up looking like geegawing idiots, dodging bullets and long poles that aren't really going to hit them. This detracts from the storyline and makes you even more aware that you are "having a 3D experience" rather than getting absorbed by the film itself. You end up in a state of meta-awareness where you're thinking "Isn't the 3D trickery of this film clever" rather than getting lost in the film.

Maybe when colour film first appeared, people didn't take to it for the same reason: "I just couldn't get into Gone with the Wind because the colours distracted me from the storyline." But I don't think so. Colour can always help to make a film more engaging, and plenty of early films didn't seem to try to "showcase" the colour (though some like the Wizard of Oz were clearly making the most of the new medium). The same goes with high definition tv, which I am a fan of. While there is a "wow" factor of seeing HDTV for the first few minutes of a film, it quickly wears off, you adjust to the clearer picture and any benefits you get from seeing things in more detail are generally unconscious.

With 3D, thanks to the stupid glasses and the fact that you're tricked into thinking things are coming at your face, you never stop being aware of it.

And the sort of films where 3D seems best suited to, are big block buster action adventure types with lots of noise and flashes and people in spandex saying things like "You'll never get away with this!" and "The fate of the whole world is at stake!" Perhaps there is more of a purpose to 3D there - although films that resemble roller-coasters aren't really my favourites anyway. The stuff I care about in film - character development, interesting camera work, use of music, narrative structure - 3D can only detract from those.

My worry is that if 3D becomes popular, then those other aspects of films will not be viewed as important in the future. Instead, film-makers will think more about how audiences can be "wowed" by a 3D effect.

And interestingly, it is more expensive to view a 3D film, than to see the same version in 2D, so it feels like a cynical way to simply get people to pay more to get (what I think is) a worse experience. At least, while there is choice, I can take the less expensive option, and possibly even get a quieter auditorium. But I am holding out that this is a flash-in-the-pan, like Ugg boots, and that it won't catch on.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Grand Designs

I have secretly poked fun at my father for his model train set hobby (which he keeps in the garden shed). But I have turned into him. I spent £100 on Lego this month. Lego was always one of my favourite toys when I was younger, and I could spend days building elaborate houses and then taking them to bits again. The thing I remember most about Live Aid in the 1980s was sitting on the living room floor, playing with my Lego the whole time it was on. And caring a lot more about the Lego than the pop music (I was 13 at the time).

But I was never interested in those Lego kits that let you build spaceships or tanks. All I ever wanted to do was build houses - I realise now I was just ahead of my time - I was the Kevin McCloud of the 1980s, albeit on a miniature scale.

This is what I built while the election debate was on. Lego's come a long way since the 1970s. That's a lego barbecue set in the background - and check out that satellite dish, the mailbox, velux windows and the garden table and chairs set. My old 70s Lego (which my parents wish I would take off their hands) only had a few windows and almost all the bricks were uniformly 2 by 4s and came in red, yellow, blue, white and black. Now they come in about 30 different shades and shapes.

I am going to work my way up to this.

It contains over 5,900 pieces and features "advanced building techniques". Something happens to my brain when I pick up a piece of Lego. I go into a weird trance-like state of transendental concentration. Hours can pass and I don't notice. And then I dream about it when I finally pass out with exhaustion.

I am not going to let my nephews and niece play with my Lego. I'm afraid it's too good to be wasted on children.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kim Kelly is my friend

I have been enjoying Freaks and Geeks this last month, an off-beat high-school American comedy-drama which is now ten years old. It only ran for 1 season, although quickly gained a cult following. It also acted as a springboard for the likes of Judd Apatow, Mike White, James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Set in 1980 (when I was 8), it focuses on two groups at a Detroit high school, the freaks or burnouts, who listen to Led Zeppelin, fail their classes and take drugs, and the geeks, who quote Star Trek endlessly, play Dungeons and Dragons and tend to get beaten up by the bullies. The show's focal point are a brother and sister, who were both geeks, although the sister, book-smart Lindsay crosses over to the freak group in the first episode, ditching her successful career as a "mathlete" to hang out with charming yet manipulative Daniel (James Franco) and his gang.

You can't blame her.

It is not an easy transition. Lindsay's old mathlete friends are horrified - especially super-goody Millie who is "high on life".

Lindsay also has to contend with Kim Kelly - played amazingly by Busy Philipps (now in Cougar Town). Kim is Daniel's girlfriend (too bad for Lindsay). Worse still, she is a BITCH. Make that a jealous, unstable, violent, mean yet hugely likable bitch. In the first episode she rejects Lindsay by emptying the contents of her bag all over the ground and telling her sarcastically "See you at the mall!"

She constantly refers to Lindsay as "brain" until she suddenly decides they are best friends - although this is a ploy so that she can introduce Lindsay to her "mental" mother and step-father in the hope that they will be impressed with Lindsay's good credentials and not want to sell Kim's car. "My aunt Kathy GAVE me this car and it's MINE!" Except it all goes wrong, as it usually does for Kim.

This scene signifies the start of the rather odd friendship between Kim and Lindsay. Kim is an archetypal bad girl. She shop-lifts, she has sex with boys. She gets Ds. She's permanently angry, except when she's been sarcastic. It's an odd friendshp, but not an improbable one though. Kim comes across as tough but she's not really. She's a "raw nerve" and her anger is misplaced disappointment - a bucket of fried chicken for dinner and a shower curtain for a bathroom door don't tend to give you the best outlook on life.

This particular episode especially resounds with me because when I was at school I was rather like Lindsay, getting top marks in everything and coming from a "good family" (in a region of widespread unemployment we were the sort of family that politicians refer to as "hardworking"). And I was friends with a male version of Kim - he smoked, failed everything and was always getting into trouble. He was sometimes quite mean to me, but as with Kim Kelly, he made life a lot more interesting.
How not to marry a millionairre

I'm back from a week in Nice. The South of France always sounds glamorous, and although I like France, I tend to get annoyed by a few things that overwhelm me. There were train strikes the whole time we were there, and resultingly, massive queues for buses, so I didn't get to travel out of Nice. I also stood in dog poo - for the first time in about 15 years. British dog owners are all very well trained now - they pick up their dogs' poo obediently. Unfortunately, French dog owners don't seem to like doing this, so you have to watch where you walk - and poo is everywhere. It's like going back to the 1970s.

I also noticed the difference in standards of restaurant service between Britain and France. In the UK, you are normally greeted with a smile (often forced, but at least they make an effort) and are given your menu at the same time as the waiter shows you to the table, or else you get it within a couple of minutes of sitting down. Not so in France. In one restaurant we went into, there were plenty of diners, but nobody present who seemed to be working. So we showed ourselves to a table and sat down. Five minutes later, still nobody had appeared. So we left. The next day, we went to another restaurant for lunch. This time, a waiter did deign to indicate where we should sit. But then he vanished without bringing us a menu. Five minutes later a waitress appeared. She noticed we didn't have a menu, gave a little shrug and went off. "Ah!" I thought. "She is getting us a menu." But she never came back. We left there also. Last night I was so hungry, at the third Restaurant Of No Menu I decided to wait it out. Eventually a glaring waiter brought us one - at just under ten minutes. I was so glad we had gone self-catering so could mainly just feed ourselves.

Our flat had a tv that showed only French stations - which is OK for about two hours, but then I started to get a headache as I could only translate about 30% of what was said (if only I had tried harder at school). I saw the French version of Come Dine With Me. All the contestants were beautifully dressed (one of the men actually had a fan), the homes were exquisite and the meals were the stuff you get from places that have Michelin stars. Not like the UK then. If I was ever on Come Dine With Me. The starter would be a bowl of chips and the "entertainment" would involve me putting the tv on and handing out a box of Celebrations.

I also listened to an English-speaking radio station called Radio Riveria, which was unlike any radio station I'd ever heard. Its ideal listener seemed to be about 60 (judging from the fact that hardly any music after 1985 was played) and stinking rich (judging from all the adverts for yachts, people wanting personal chefs for their yachts and other yacht-related material). My favourite one was an advert for mooring your yacht in Tunisia as it was half the price of mooring it in Monacco (even oligarchs have to economise in these difficult times). I had hoped to go to Monacco and snare a millionairre (of either sex) who I would make fall in love with me and would give me my own yacht, but because of the train strikes it was not to be and instead I was stuck in Nice with dog poo on my shoe. Maybe next time.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

I am Generation X

Being born in 1972 I am squarely in Generation X, the complicated, whiny, irony-loving generation that came after those bossy baby boomers. I loved the mythos of Generation X, popularised in the 1990s by Doug Coupland. The film Reality Bites, starring X-queens Winona Ryder and Janene Garuffolo summed us up. We were over-achievers and slackers, we were going to be stuck in McJobs - exploited by the Baby Boomers. We had no culture of our own - apart from Nirvana. So instead we went back in time - picking out bits and pieces from other decades or from other societies and combining them in new ways. And we were big worriers. Maybe it was because we were the first generation of children where being part of a "broken home" was increasingly seen as normal. And our formative years were spent being told we were either going to get blown up in a nuclear World War III (which the film Threads made patently clear wasn't going to be any fun at all), or we would become drug addicts ("just say no!") or die of AIDS. In Reality Bites, Janeane's character worried about become HIV+ and then told Winona that she was like a character in Melrose Place, who was there to teach the other characters that it was OK to have AIDS. And then she'd die. Despite the horror of the situation, the girls ironically acknowledged that "Melrose Place is a great show!" And at times, that's all Generation Xers had - irony.

Of course, these are sweeping generalisations - and only really apply to a small percentage of middle-class, westernised people who were born into my generation. If you never had the cultural capital to know what Generation X was, then you weren't in it.

Now the Xers are in their 30s and 40s - on the cusp of power. I can see it as work, as my older colleagues retire in droves, leaving the way clear for the likes of me to take their places. Lots of them don't seem to want to go though - they've held the reins for so long and they've been so hard-working, that a common refrain I hear is that they don't want to retire because they'd be bored (although there are some lovely exceptions Kaz). Me - like a good X slacker, I can't wait to retire.

We are a minority generation too - represented by a hugely falling birth rate in the 1970s. I recall class sizes shrinking and shrinking in the years at school immediately following mine as the boomers sensibly decided to put off having children or just to not have as many.

The birth rate went up again a decade or so later, and the Generation Ys - the first generation to grow up with computers from birth, are the ones on Facebook and reading Harry Potter. Gen Xers are now stuck in the middle. I organised a conference earlier this week and was amazed and slightly horrified afterwards to find out that the younger members of the audience had been twittering each other about the speakers, as they were speaking. Blogging feels like a quaintly Gen X pursuit these days.