Sunday, 28 August 2011

Saves everyone, kisses the girl, goes somewhere else

These days it's a rare film that makes me want to write one of these blog posts. It's got to have ideas that interest me - something that makes me want to fill a paragraph. Source Code is one of these good films. You might already know the premise. A man has to re-live the last eight minutes of someone else's life over and over, each time getting closer to a bomber on a train. And in a way, that's the boring bit. Question asked. Mystery solved. As he goes over it he gets to know the sequence of events and works out who the bad guy is. The interesting part is, that in this big budget thriller, there's all these big ideas. Is it possible to create a parallel world where everything's different? He knows these eight minutes are just a projection, but if he saves everyone, gets off the train, kisses the girl, goes somewhere else - he might be able to carry on. With this question the film can go anywhere. It can pull the plug or go with it. Even before it gets there it's engrossing. The structure of this repeated scene doesn't get old. Each time he tries to break it, push the boundaries and do something else. 'What would you do if you knew you only had a few seconds left to live?' This is a film that can get away with that question.

It's not as mind-squeezing as Inception or an episode of Moffat Doctor Who. Still good though. Sometimes less mind-squeeze is a good thing. Duncan Jones is turning out to be a director worth watching. This and Moon show that science-fiction is about the big ideas. The same big ideas that don't age, that are universal, and create a different place. More films like this should be made. It would keep me watching them.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Stuff and stuff

There's Stuff and there's stuff. The things you've accumulated throughout your life deserve a capital letter. Boring and plain objects that you don't care about is just stuff. Because if you think about it, every object in your collection of Stuff has memories attached to it. Usually not very exciting memories, but you might remember unwrapping a film, or reading a book for the first time, or listening to music in a certain place. Some things might have come in on your birthday or Christmas, and the rest you bought or found. All of it together is arranged in order somewhere, in rows and piles and boxes.

So, I decided to count all my Stuff:

94 books
28 films/tv seasons
88 CDs
128 games

The most noticeable thing there is how many films I don't have. I usually rent them, and I only really feel compelled to own a few of them. And still, that list isn't right. A lot of Stuff has been given away, or sold, or lost. Stuff that isn't relevant anymore. I seem to keep books, even though they take up a lot of space. And games. You can't get rid of games.The other noticeable thing is that I have many objects. 338 things.

Does your collection of Stuff fill rooms? Or do you burn everything every few years?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Do scary films make us a bit mad?

Last night I watched Paranormal Activity 2. It was pretty much the same as the first one, but with a dog and a baby. Doors slam. Frying pans move. Demons stomp up the stairs to drag you out of bed. But it made me think about the way in which horror films effect us. How they alter our minds. The least scary way to watch a horror film is by yourself. It's hard not to join in with other people's nerves, like how you'd laugh more at a comedy while sitting in an audience. So the tagline for Paranormal Activity is 'Don't watch this alone'. Because it might make you paranoid.

If the film has done its job your head will be in a slightly different place afterwards. Even when you've put the film back in its box. Everything is a bit more tense. You start noticing little noises. Creaks and bumps. Your safe house becomes a bit threatening, even though it hasn't changed. Only your perception has. And since Paranormal Activity is all about these little noises, some people might have trouble sleeping (not me, I'm brave). For a short time after watching a scary film, everything's different. What other genre could have this effect on us? Make us actually alter our behaviour. We know it's just a film (and in the case of Paranormal Activity 2, not even a very good one). We know it's not real. Maybe it flicks a switch in our brain, that makes us believe in the monsters we forgot about. Maybe that's the reason we watch these films. To go back for a bit.

Do horror films make you a bit mad? Little bit of crazy? The effect is reversed if you watch a Pixar film straight after. So that's good.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Books don't run out of batteries

I recently let Apple try to explain to me why their e-books are A Good Thing and not An Awful Thing. I've seen these iPads. They look fancy. I mean, I would have no actual use for one, but they're really shiny. The adverts show all kinds of wonders. Listening to a magazine. Watching a newspaper. And, I don't know, eating a book? When you download one it goes onto a virtual bookshelf. Which is nice. It almost looks like a real bookshelf. But then you open one up, and this is where it all goes wrong for me. Apple boast about the advantages over paper. You can change the font and text size. Highlight hard words to look them up in a dictionary. Go straight to the page you were last on, because the machine remembered it for you. But I don't want to customise books. I don't want to change them. A book is a solid thing that has been designed and produced and exists in the world as an object. It can't be changed. Books don't have to loaded. They don't run out of batteries. In telling us that an e-book is just like a real-book, they've forgotten the most important thing. A piece of data in a machine is not really there. You can't hold it. You can't keep it. I bet it doesn't even smell of anything.

There is a possiblity I am being grumpy. This is, obviously, what happened to music. People who bought records can now scroll through iTunes. And in some ways, it's better. Having all your music two clicks away. That's good. I download music, but I've noticed a difference. If I really like an album, I'll buy it on CD. So I can have it. The downloads mean less to me. It doesn't feel right spending the same amount of money for information on a screen. If I downloaded a book, it would be because I didn't really want it.