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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Business as usual - the rise and fall of Nua

Name the year: in January, a huge earthquake hit Kobe in Japan, in April 169 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, and there was an ebola outbreak in Zaire in May. In October, O. J. Simpson was acquitted of double murder.

In the entertainment world, Sony released the first PlayStation, ‘Forrest Gump’ won the Best Film Oscar, and the album releases included Leftfield’s ‘Leftism’ and ‘The Bends’ from Radiohead.

Economically, things were looking up in Ireland. Encouraged by tax breaks and a skilled young workforce, 30% of all US high-tech investment in Europe was coming to the country, led by companies such as Microsoft and Gateway. Overseas investment in Ireland created 6,500 new jobs in the year. Irish-owned companies were also enjoying success - in April CBT Systems became the first Irish firm to be quoted on the tech-heavy NASDAQ.

Still not sure when all this happened? It was 1995, the year that also saw the foundation of a company that was to become the high-profile poster-boy of Irish internet start-ups.

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Posted in • Modest ProposalsIrelandTechnology
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Prime Suspect - my plastic fantastic

Nifty Fifty

It’s cheap, plastic and it wheezes. But it’s by far my favorite lens. My precious is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens.

Eschewing such luxury developments as USM focusing or full-time manual (and don’t even think about image stabilization), this $70 lens - known variously as the ‘nifty fifty’. ‘thrifty fifty’ or ‘plastic fantastic’ - produces amazing results.

It’s in no way a pro-grade ‘L’ lens, but Canon have been working on this classic for decades - 50mm is seen as the standard focal length for 35mm film cameras - and it does one thing very well.

Bought on the strength of the recommendations (Amazon reviewers in their hundreds sing its praises, and even the picky crowd over at Fred Miranda can’t say enough good things about it), I was anxious to see how it compared to the competent but not amazing 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 consumer zoom that I’d transferred from my old film SLR to my new Canon Rebel XT.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fall TV preview - ‘Attack of the Clones’

This season, cloning comes to television. The networks’ nerve has failed and instead of blazing new trails they give us copies of existing programs that weren’t great in the first place, or try two versions of the same suspect reality TV idea.

Several of the retreads build on the success of the tightly plotted but heartless ‘CSI’ franchise. CBS launches a new spin-off, ‘CSI New York’ (Wednesdays), with Gary Sinise lending some gravitas to the show. Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, NBC also tries to cash in on our ghoulish tendencies with ‘Medical Investigation’ (Fridays).

These shows are competent but leave little room for character development, nuance or quirkiness, which is why they’re so easy to clone (the ‘Law and Order’ family follow a similar approach). The characters and settings are completely interchangeable: you just need one slightly aloof leader with a black sense of humour, one loyal female lieutenant, a couple of younger earnest helpers, two unrelated investigations each episode, one poorly-lit laboratory (where the requisite ‘science bit’ happens) and you’re done - in New York, Vegas or Miami. (article continues)

(first published in the Santa Fe Reporter, Sept 15th, 2004 - for the full text of the article, please contact me)

Posted in • Santa Fe ReporterUSATelevision
Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Going to the Life Laundry

DIY and interior design shows purport to improve your life by improving your environment - but do any of them actually work?

You can get the Homefront team to do your kitchen for you, or call for DIY SOS when you’ve made a hames of things yourself. The Changing Rooms posse will let your neighbours loose in your living room, and The Property Ladder shows you how to turn a profit from getting your hands dirty.

Interior desecrating is everywhere, but when the film crew has left, are you really better off?

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Thursday, November 21, 2002

Wolf it Down - Brotherhood of the Wolf reviewed

So you’re waiting for The Two Towers to open, and you’re looking for some action and spectacle. Potter and Bond have arrived in cinemas promising to deliver, but don’t be fooled - forget those franchised phoneys and stay at home with The Brotherhood of the Wolf.

The new blockbusters represent the triumph of craft over talent. The Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day are reliably diverting and well put together. They do exactly what it says on the tin, reassuring the consumer that even though they’ve not seen this particular film, they already know what to expect.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilm
Monday, October 21, 2002

The Rules of Comedy

So you want to write a radical situation comedy? It’s got to be ground-breaking and edgy with new settings and scenarios, unlike anything seen before. Father Ted, Seinfeld and Will and Grace all rolled into one.

In that case, you just have to follow the rules. You might think comedy is rebellious, but literary critics will tell you that it’s inherently conservative - it seems like normal customs will be overturned, but at the end of the piece, everything is resolved and things go back to the way they were before.

TV sitcoms show this in their episodic structure - compare them to drama series and see how little actually happens in the long-term plots on the comedies. It’s taken seven seasons for two of the Friends characters to get married.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Wednesday, October 09, 2002

Papa’s got a brand new blag - Britain’s Favourite Hoaxer reviewed

‘Do you think there’s something wrong with us, doing this, like?’ asks Tommy, just before he and his mates blag their way onto the podium at the British Grand Prix, for a spot of Riverdancing.

Nothing wrong at all.  They’re just living a low-budget heartwarming British movie - The Full Monty for the new century.

Channel 4’s documentary, Britain’s Favourite Hoaxer, showed the effort behind Tommy and his mate Karl ‘Fat Neck’ Power’s sporting stunts, from crashing the team photo at Manchester United’s Champions’ League quarter-final last year, to playing tennis on Centre Court at Wimbledon.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Monday, September 30, 2002

Losing the Ryder Cup

Spare a thought for Steve Ryder, the journeyman sports broadcaster for the BBC.

He’s just spent the last three days covering the Ryder Cup (no relation), without being able to bring us any live coverage, because the Sky Sports schemers had the rights.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevisionSportUK
Monday, September 02, 2002

Real Drama - reality vs. fiction

Channels here and in the US are fighting to outdo themselves with variants of the reality TV idea. At first unknown people were made famous just by showing them on TV doing their jobs - Hotel, Airport, that one about the cruise ship.

Then it became much more entertaining to get the unknowns to earn their celebrity a little - Survivor, Big Brother, that one on the Scottish island.

We’ve also had the historical variant - The Trench, The 1940s House, and now The Ship, which purports to be about James Cook’s voyages, but is really Survivor at Sea meets Simon Schama.

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Posted in • Square EyesTelevision
Wednesday, August 14, 2002

All Grown Up - Minority Report reviewed

‘What happened to our sense of wonder?’ mumbles Van Morrison in his song ‘On Hyndford Street’, and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report answers that question with a degree of pain and pessimism we’ve not seen from him before. 

Spielberg was famously the Peter Pan of Hollywood, his films warmed by the sense that life could be wonderful if we just held on to our child-like innocence and enthusiasm. 

From ET to Jurassic Park, the grown-ups were responsible for all the bad things, but the kids were all right. And that gave us hope.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilmUSA
Monday, July 22, 2002

Ray Mears - Practical visionary

Ray Mears is that rare and perfect combination - a practical visionary. When he’s talking you through the challenges of surviving in the world’s wildernesses, you trust his judgement and expertise, but you also warm to his more philosophical side.

I’ve always been disappointed they make astronauts out of fighter pilots and not writers. Sure, you need someone who’s good under pressure and will do as they’re told, but if you’re sending a spaceship off the planet, shouldn’t you have someone on the trip who can explain what it’s like to be doing such an amazing thing? ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ might get the job done, but it’s not exactly deathless prose. It’s like asking footballers how they scored a breathtaking goal - ‘Well, Smodger knocked it over and I just hit it - it either goes into the stands or it goes in.’ Being good at some jobs means being bad at talking about them.

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Posted in • Square EyesUKTelevision
Thursday, May 23, 2002

Attack of the Clones - One of our heroes is missing

It’s difficult to garner much sympathy when everyone knows you’re Darth Vader. Especially when you’re a snot-nosed teenager in a sulk.  George Lucas has been watching Harry Enfield - in Attack of the Clones, Annakin Skywalker is the teenager Kevin. With a light sabre.

The film is much better than The Phantom Menace, but the ass-backwards order of the two trilogies doesn’t help any. The Jedi are protecting the Republic - yay! The leader of the Republic is the Emperor Palpatine - boo! Yay for defeating the army of the droids!  Boo that it’s done with clones that will grow up to be stormtroopers.

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Posted in • Square EyesUSAFilm
Sunday, April 28, 2002

24-hour plot people - 24 reviewed

It?s 8am in 24, and we?re a third of the way through the day. How?s it working out for you?

On the plus side, the plot?s gripping and has more twists and turns than Robert Pires on the dodgems. And there?s some good use of technology to drive the story along - closed circuilt cameras, mobile phones and a large number of beautifully lit Macintosh computers.

Some of the set pieces have been good too - we?ve had lesbian assasins escaping from exploding aircraft, spook pseudo-dads murdering their offspring and surprised slackers getting shot in the head.

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Posted in • Square EyesUSATelevision
Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Oscar War - What should really happen at awards ceremonies

In our playground there were simple rules of engagement. Three boys would link arms and stride around the playground chanting ?Who wants a game of War??, or if we were feeling cheeky, ?Who wants a game of Kiss Chase??.

Soon others would join in, and then the teams would be divided along certain agreed lines. Most of the time, the captains would alternately choose one person, until the only one left would be the new kid with the patch over his NHS specs to correct his lazy eye.

But on occasion, we?d divide the teams up in a different way - for example, Mrs Bowring?s class stick the rest. While watching the dreary Oscars last week, it dawned on me that the ceremony would be much more exciting if it was a team event.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilm
Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Walking Tall - The secret of small actors

The movie?s reaching its climax - a man is being led through a filthy jail to see his friend who’s been incarcerated for two years; our hero is about to volunteer to serve his own sentence to save his friend’s life - and the only question in my mind is how tall is Vince Vaughn?

This clearly wasn’t the sentiment the makers of Return to Paradise wanted to evoke in the audience, but soon I was away on a height jag. If Vaughn’s about 6’2”, then Anne Heche must be pocket sized, because she’s clearly a foot shorter than he is. And that means Joaquin Phoenix is tiny as well.

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Posted in • Square EyesFilm
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