Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Month: November 2011

Into The Sunset

It’s no secret that Before Sunrise and Before Sunset rank amongst my favourite films and, like many in that nebulous list, rewatching them is like spending time with old friends. Returning to Jesse and Céline some nine years later in Before Sunset was a rare treat, a sequel that hit a rather different but pitch-perfect note and we left them again tantalisingly close to embarking upon a relationship.

With the announcement that a third film is planned for next year, Francesca Steele of The Independent wonders if this is a good idea (warning: major spoilers) and, in particular, whether this romance can survive another outing. Though her suggested title “Before Death” is excessively negative (incidentally, my money is on “Before Sunday”*) she does have a point. Much as I love to think these characters did eventually get together, the reality of their relationship can never be quite as beautiful as the promise of romance. And if it has not yet crystallised some 18 years after they met, while a film about fading dreams may be though-provoking, our shared history together does risk losing some of its sheen.

Nevertheless, the collaborative writing process between Linklater and his actors, Hawke and Delpy, means these are two of the most rounded and real characters ever to grace the screen. So I suspect I am entirely incapable of turning down another opportunity to spend a few more hours in their company and, if the past is anything to go by, whatever insights they may have into their lives are sure to have a poignant resonance in my own.

Meanwhile, various bits I’ve linked to via Twitter lately, which is why you ought to keep an eye on the sidebar (or follow me, of course):

*if only because “Before Sundance” would be unforgivably meta.

Sony Tablet S

You would be forgiven for checking it’s not early April upon seeing a post by me on a newly acquired tablet. I have been an open tablet sceptic and overnight this has not changed. However, when Sony kindly sent a free Tablet S my way, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to see whether there really is a place for one in my life without taking a £400 gamble.

Some criticise Sony for taking over a year to bring their tablet offering to market, but I applaud their more thoughtful approach rather than merely churning out another “me too” device. The first thing you’ll notice is the tapered “folded back magazine” design, which is excellent for holding in portrait mode for lengthy periods, particularly as the weight distribution ergonomically falls down the “spine”, but less useful in landscape mode. It does mean you need to rotate the entire tablet to switch hands, but the display will smoothly reorientate automatically. The screen is vivid and, while many reviews suggest the housing does not feel sufficiently “premium”, the choice of materials allows for easy grip when carrying it around. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether such aesthetic considerations trump usability. It sports the tablet-optimised Honeycomb flavour of Android, with resizeable widgets, a new notification system and a multitasking app switcher.

What’s it good at? Tablets are, of course, for media consumption rather than creation. Reading email and RSS feeds (via Pulse) is slick and comfortable. Magazines look great too, but with a backlit screen rather than e-ink I can’t see myself reading e-books for long periods. Web browsing is crisp and fast, though as on phones I prefer Dolphin Browser to the default. Music works well enough, but at home I have a full speaker setup and when travelling I have better sounding, smaller PMP so it will likely get zero use. With a good front-facing camera it makes a really neat portable Skype device (slight volume issues notwithstanding) that doesn’t keep you stuck in one place. I can control my home theatre system with it as a giant remote, though in practice it’s only for browsing the library and selecting shows since a dedicated remote is swifter for quick actions.

Where does it fail? The tinny internal speaker is somewhat inevitable given the slim nature of tablets and, although it’s adequate for embedded news clips, even YouTube videos suffer. Hiding the power button and volume controls under the edge looks tidy, but they are positioned too closely so you’ll often find yourself accidentally turning off the screen and, depending on the current orientation, they can be hard to reach. Despite access to the PlayStation store, the lack of PS3 controller support is a real shame and means this just isn’t really a gaming device — at least until I can get OnLive running on it with a dedicated controller. Touch controls may be intuitive when games are specifically designed for them, but shipping with Crash Bandicoot was a mistake since it tends to be more frustrating than impressive. Fruit Ninja draws more excitement from visitors.

How do I find myself using it? Primarily it’s to check email and Facebook, and to browse IMDb while watching films, without having to fire up my laptop. I can see it slotting comfortably into my daily routine – checking email, news and weather when I wake up and before bed. These are all things I would otherwise do with my smartphone, but they are far more comfortable on the tablet. Watching a short videoclip while holding a tablet is fine but for anything longer you need to dock or balance it somewhere (and its asymmetry makes the Tablet S harder to prop up than others), whereas angling a laptop screen remains much more comfortable. When docked it can also serve admirably as a digital picture frame.

The deal-breaking moment for me was when I found myself reading an email on the tablet and then, wanting to respond in more than two sentences, I got up from the couch walked into my bedroom and typed the email out on the PC instead. SwiftKey Tablet X is a fantastic thumb-friendly predictive touchscreen keyboard designed for tablets, but it seems even that wasn’t enough.

Verdict: This is a  thoughtfully designed tablet and a worthy competitor to the other high-end products on the market. Beyond perhaps the internal speaker I have very little negative to say about the Tablet S by comparison to the competition. It seems there is a space for a tablet in my life but it is not “filling a need I didn’t know I had”. Ultimately it’s nice to fire up my laptop less frequently but £400 is still a lot of money for what a tablet does. Still, it’s a hell of a lot better than a netbook.

In closing, my personal views on tablets take nothing away from what Sony has produced and, if you are in the market for one, this is a model you ought to give serious consideration. However, I would highly recommend first holding one for yourself to decide whether its unique shape works for you.

The Birthday Barn

Lenka arranged a group “retreat” to a lovely converted barn in the Norfolk countryside to celebrate her, Kate and Viktoria’s birthdays. This sounded like it would be a relaxing, civilised affair. Of course I ought to have known better given: (a) the above average number of Saffers in the group; and (b) the barn in question, I swiftly realised upon recognising an all-too-familiar roadsign, was just down the road from where this transpired nearly three years ago. While there was certainly some drama, as with the trainee weekend away what happens in Norfolk remains firmly in Norfolk. The highlight was the Saturday night masquerade accompanied by a veritable feast put on by Lenka and her sous chefs. As I was handed the mantle of official photographer, a larger-than-usual Birthday Barn gallery is available for your perusal (those masquerade money shots are, naturally, at the end).

This year nearly passed by without a single film review. This is primarily a result of severely reduced cinema attendance, although it was coupled with a rise in home viewing so my actual film watching remained roughly even. However, I am hopeful this trend is reversible, not least since I am now in possession of  Picturehouse membership for the first time since leaving university. This partly due to the convenient proximity of both the Clapham Picturehouse and the Ritzy in Brixton, but also the fact a deal meant the membership sold for less than the value of the three free bundled tickets. My reviewing return begins with the excellent The Ides of March.

Meanwhile some changes at the site.  The Questions section has, once again, become woefully out of date. I have rolled through updating across the board to the current v2.0 beta and, as with all betas, that means I invite feedback: specifically, as always when this section receives updates, any questions? I just might answer them. The major change you may notice is that the site’s content now bears a Creative Commons licence which allows copying and derivative works for non-commercial purposes, so long as an attribution is included, which better suits my general opinion that most information on the Internet ought to be freely to be shared (in other words: it makes me less of a hypocrite). It does not apply to to the Gallery, not for commercial reasons but primarily because many of those photos feature friends or family who have not consented to — and may be uncomfortable with — such reuse. For photos I continue to direct people to the royalty free images shared via my morgueFile profile.

Arkham City

Two years ago developer Rocksteady released its critically acclaimed breakout game Batman: Arkham Asylum, eschewing the typical cash-grab film tie-in for a meticulously constructed licensed game that owes more to the animated series and Batman’s comicbook roots. Its strength lay in its premise: placing Batman inside Gotham City’s asylum for the criminally insane allowed the team to roll out a rogue’s gallery of famous and lesser-known villains. The problem was that while Arkham Island was fully explorable, movement was constrained by the way in which it was broken up into contained areas.

I had concerns about the sequel‘s proposed open world approach, but again Rocksteady found the ideal conceit: a controversial response to crime has led to a section of Gotham City being closed off and all Arkham’s undesirables dumped inside. Batman can grapple, glide and swoop across large areas making traversal now as much fun as the brawling combat. Interludes as Catwoman intersperse proceedings (controversially requiring extra payment unless you buy the game new) providing a lithe new way to move and fight. Meanwhile a plethora of side-missions are available throughout, and after completing the main story. Its careful construction (traverse, explore, sneak, assess, fight, repeat, well-choreographed boss fight) means it never feels like anything but a game, yet it is one of the finest, most distilled gaming experiences of this generation.

Mark Hamill returns for his final outing as The Joker,  having announced his retirement from the character which he has also voiced in countless animated productions. But what a high to go out on! Great as Heath Ledger’s performance may have been, The Joker is a role that Mark Hamill owns. Without spoiling the story itself, Arkham City‘s central plot focuses on my favourite aspect of the Batman mythos: not the rivalry between The Dark Knight and The Clown Prince of Crime but rather their co-dependence. While Batman donned his cowl in response to Gotham’s criminal element, Arkham City mastermind Hugo Strange reprimands Batman, arguing these criminals now exist because of him. Whilst there are other heroes and villains in Gotham, ultimately, bitterly fought as their battles may be, the lives of Batman and Joker would be emptier — almost meaningless — without one another. Approaching this in a videogame format marks another notch in the move towards conceptually mature narratives.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2023 Priyan Meewella

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