Tuesday, 27 August 2013

New to Netflix UK - 26/08/13

A slightly delayed edition, due to the Bank Holiday, but I wasn't able to find much in terms of worthy new content.

Hope Springs - A couple, whose thirty-year marriage is losing steam, attend a counselling retreat where they find the effort to rekindle their passion is a lot harder than they expected. Light and fluffy comedy that takes no risks but is helped forward by a great cast, particularly Mr Lee Jones.

The Moo Man - Documentary following a British dairy farmer who, unlike much of his competition, didn't sell out to the dairy industry and instead opts for a more down-to-earth method of earning a living. Much more engaging than you would have imagined, it's heart-warming on an emotional level but also a reminder on how fast traditional-Britain is being phased out.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Elon Musk's Iron Man 'Inspired' Hologram Project - Details Coming Soon

After the Hyperloop proved to be a well talked-about engineering prospect for the South African Billionaire, it seems that he wasn't quite finished trying to revolutionise the world we live in.

Talking on Twitter, Mr Musk revealed that they had designed rocket parts (I assume space rockets, for Musk's SpaceX company, rather than military rockets) by just moving their hands and then sending it to be printed in titanium.

Using hand gestures to build stuff isn't a new idea but it's still in its infancy and given the extremely high precision required in making spacecraft components, one can't help but be intrigued as to how they did it. Apparently it involves holograms and Iron Man.

Musk promises a video this coming week.

Hyperloop - The Essentials (or "What is it?")

Wrote this a while ago but didn't upload for various reasons. Uploading it now however...

The sudden technology boom in the mid-nineties and the rise of the internet resulted in a lot of people getting very rich very quickly. You had companies with the likes of Amazon, Google and eBay making massive leaps forward and dominating their market, making their founders multi-billionaires with each passing year. Elon Musk has a similar success story with his founding of PayPal (which he sold to eBay for $1.5b) and has since gone on to invest heavily in the technology of the future, founding both Tesla Motors (electric car company that's still a long way from conquering the market) and more famously SpaceX (one of the major players in the new private space-exploration sector). But it seems that he wishes to go one step further and revolutionise the way we travel across the land with his new 'Hyperloop' system, a train-like system that has the potential of travelling 1000km in under an hour. To put this into perspective, the average cruise speed of the Boeing 747 is about 890km/h.

But just what is the Hyperloop?

Background Info

Mr Musk apparently came up with the idea after the proposed high-speed rail system to connect LA with San Francisco 'lacked innovation' and would prove to be both costly and not very fast (travel time of 2hrs40min at a price of $105 per ticket for a one-way trip). As a comparison, a return by air would cost $158 for less than half the time.

As a result, he was looking for a system that had the following traits:
  • Safe
  • Fast
  • Low Cost
  • Sustainable/Low Power Consumption
Obviously, we currently have no method of transport that incorporates these characteristics hence why it is proposed that a fifth method of transportation (after automobile, boat, aeroplane and train) be introduced.

The Hyperloop

Essentially described as a human-sized version of the Pneumatic Tube Transport (those pipes you used to get in shops and offices where you put the item in the tube and it goes "VVROOP" off to its destination), the Hyperloop will be an long pressurised steel tube which will contain a train-like carriage (or capsule) to hold people and vehicles. The capsules will be supported within the tube by aerodynamic lift and air bearings.

The intended route is LA to San Francisco (although Musk heavily hints that any country can install such a system) and the route will (hopefully) contain stops inbetween, although details on how the cars will stop at said stations have not been clarified upon.

The proposed method of power is solar, which if distributed across the roof of the tunnel will supposedly provide excess energy to power the transport system.

The Train

Two types will exist, one for passengers and one for vehicles (presumably just cars and not heavy freight). The passenger car can hold 28 passengers while the vehicle version has room for 3 vehicles.

The interior is designed with the passenger in mind, with high quality comfort chairs, LCD/LED screens displaying imagery (there are no windows after all) and an entertainment system for each person.

The Cost

Musk reckons that the whole thing could be built for around $6.0b, almost a tenth of the proposed cost for the high-speed rail system.Then take into account its completely self powering, it is actually a pretty cheap affair.

Tickets (remembering for the train it's around $105 for a single journey) will cost a mere $20.

Will it get the go ahead? Highly unlikely. After all, this is too much tech for many to handle and those behind the High Speed Rail project probably have extensively deep pockets and puppets to do their every whim.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Netflix - New 'My List' Feature Now Available

Netflix have just rolled out the ability to add film to a list, which will then appear on your homepage to make films you want to watch easier to track down. Best of all is that it works independently of the new profile system, so you can set up different profiles suited to different genres if you like.

The only annoying hitch is that every time you add a film you 'the list', it comes up with an annoying pop-up telling you it's been added and if there's anything else you wish to add.

Monday, 19 August 2013

New to Netflix UK - 19/08/13

We continue our week with some more decent material available, including some great sci-fi TV shows and some powerful dramas.

Lost Girl (TV) - A girl discovers she's a succubus descended from a world of fantastical creatures and uses her 'talent' to help humans in need of help. A offbeat mash-up of the Night Watch series and Buffy, the series isn't exactly hardcore fantasy horror but it's good fun to watch and has some pretty sharp dialogue. (All current three seasons are available).

Collision (TV) - Mini-series following the aftermath of a fatal crash and those involved as conspiracies and secrets begin to unravel in the investigation. Tense drama from Anthony Horowitz that's well written and acted, although the open-ended nature of the series is bound to confuse and annoy a lot of people.

Fringe (TV) - A secret theoretical science division of the government goes about trying to solve the mysteries surrounding paranormal and mysterious events unaware that a even greater threat is looming around them. It's essentially X-Files: The Next Generation but Fringe is a compelling bit of TV that benefits from some amazing showrunning (courtesy of the Lost guys), consistently thrilling and horrific cases, some incredible world building and one of the greatest mad scientists ever created. (The first four seasons are available).

All The Pretty Horses - Two cowboys find work on a Mexican ranch but when one of them falls in love with the ranch owners daughter, it begins to cause serious complications. Mediocre romantic drama that's worth watch for the actors involved and the way the material is handled, even if it hits every romance cliché in the book.

A Christmas Carol (2009) - Mo-cap retelling of the classic Dickens tale. It is no where near as exciting as it should be and it brings nothing new to the story but Carey gives his all playing most of the characters and it still ends up being a fun experience.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - A secret agenda behind the '69 moon landings prompts a race between the Autobots and the Decepticons to recover a crashed ship and culminates in a final showdown in Chicago. Say what you will about the series but if you enjoyed the first two you will enjoy this one, even if the first half is unbearably slow, the second half more than makes up for this with jaw-dropping action and amazing special effects.

Marnie - A career thief is coaxed away from her criminal ways by a suave shop owner but her commitment issues reveal a much darker and deeper psychological issue. It's not the best Hitchcock movie but it's still pretty damn good with both Connery and Hedren giving their best and enough trademark dark humour and suspense to keep you hooked until the very end.

On The Road - Adaptation of the famous beat generation bible that follows a fictionalised Jack Kerouac as his makes his way across America on a road of self discovery. It's a near impossible book to adapt from however the film does it's best and although the spirit of the beat generation is lost in the translation, the film has it's own unique style about it thanks to some excellent direction and great performances.

Hit & Run - A man disregards his witness protection identity to drive his girlfriend to LA for a once in a lifetime opportunity eagerly pursued by the police and his former gang. It's a dumb movie - but the good kind of dumb - and it's made with such free-spirited energy that you can't help but like it.

Amour - When his wife suddenly suffers a stroke an elederly man is there ready to care for her but as her mental and physical health spiral into decline, his complete devotion towards her begins to have a serious toll on his own well-being. An astounding tour-de-force emotional experience from Haneke, the film manages to conjure up a deep reaction from the viewer thanks to the exceptional performances from the two lead actors but also because of the humanity portrayed in the movie.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Documentary Sunday - I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

It's been almost a week since Laszlo Csatary, the Hungarian art dealer accused of helping the Nazi's deport the Jews to concentration camps, died before his trial could come to a conclusion, leaving behind many unanswered questions. As a result, this week's documentary is a look at one of the most famous of the Nazi War Criminal hunters, Simon Wiesenthal.

The documentary is divided into two clear parts: the first recounts Simon's family life pre-Nazi occupation and his memories of having to witness the monstrosities inflicted upon the Jewish civilians solely for their beliefs. It is hard to watch as we are shown images and videos of the horrors that was the Final Solution but it hammers home that the holocaust happened and that those behind it were no longer fit to be labelled human.

The second part, while equally tough to watch, ends up turning into a thrilling detective story as we see Simon, a man once destined to be an architect, turn into one of the greatest Nazi hunters who helped bring down more than 1000 war criminals between the end of the war and his death in 2005. There obviously isn't time to go through all his exploits however we are given glimpses of his more famous pursuits such as Adolf Eichmann (the [evil] mastermind behind the Final Solution), Franz Stangl (one of the operators of the Hartheim Euthanasia Centre which was responsible for almost 100,000 deaths) and some of those responsible for the maintenance of the gas chambers. It's incredibly shocking to learn the body counts these men were responsible for but fascinating to learn of the methods they were brought down with. Certainly one of the more impressive stories is that Wiesenthal offered insight into Frederick Forsyth's 'The Odessa File' which, because Simon told Forsyth to use a real war criminal for the story, actually led to the arrest and capture of Eduard Roschmann, one of the ghetto commandants.

Overall, this is a very emotional experience that delves deep into Simon's character and his complete devotion to tracking down every last surviving member of the party. It does a good job showing the effect it had on his family life but also the effect it had on him as a survivor of the holocaust.

Who Does it Appeal To?
Forget who it appeals to, this is one documentary that everyone needs to see or at least read about. The holocaust was one of the most shocking events of the 20th Century and should never be forgotten, especially in a world where similar crimes still occur on a daily basis.

What to Take Away From It?
That one man can make a difference, even when the rest of the world was prepared to move on.
It is also a testament that good will always prevail over the darkest evil and that no crimes can ever go unforgotten.

Monday, 12 August 2013

New to Netflix UK - 12/08/13

Some pretty big movies are now available, perfect seeing as how the evenings are now getting shorter.

The Hobbit: An Expected Journey - Bilbo Baggins is roped into a life-or-death adventure to help a group of dwarves defeat a dragon that has taken over their homeland. It may not have been the triumphant return to Middle Earth many were expecting but there's not denying the film is beautifully shot and, if all goes well, the beginning of an epic trilogy.

Cowboys & Aliens - A cowboy finds himself in possession of a strange device that reveals its true purpose when a town is attacked by aliens. It's formulaic and over-filling with western stereotypes, but look past this and you may just find a fun popcorn flick.

Roadhouse - An ex-martial-artist-turned-bouncer lends his services to a troubled bar, but problems arise when he falls in love with the girlfriend of one of the trouble-makers. It's somewhat camp now but this is a movie that still holds the heart and essence of what 80's action movies stood for, which is over-the-top-action and a killer soundtrack.

Shanghai Noon - After the royal princess is kidnapped from China and taken to America, an Imperial Guard must team up with a local outlaw to rescue her. Fun and inoffensive westerner with some great choreographed fight scenes and decent banter between the two leads. Sequel Shanghai Knights is also available and sees the duo travel to London.

Erin Brockovich - A single-down-on-her-luck-mother manages to get a job at a lawyers firm where she begins to notice strange discrepancies involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and helps to form one of the greatest class-action lawsuits in American history. Julia Roberts carries the entire movie on her shoulders and pulls it off with such ease that the film is easy to loose yourself within the story and is immensely entertaining to watch.

Celeste and Jesse Forever - A couple, together since high-school, find themselves growing apart and both opt for divorce but as they move further and further from each other, they find their friendship begins to take the strain. It's not a widely-used narrative, but the two leads pull the material off with enough conviction to help forget about any weaknesses in the story and the result is a bittersweet rom-com that shines above the usual riff-raff that plagues the genre.

Antiviral - In a future where diseases caught by celebrities are sold to devout fans, a man must unravel the events surrounding the death of a singer after he injects himself with the same substance that may have killed her. Incredibly twisted little sci-fi thriller that manages to make the most of its high concept plot but Brandon Cronenberg needs to find his own voice rather than emulate that of his fathers.

Sinister - A crime novelist moves his family into a home where a string of murders took place but when he discovers a set of films that contain bizarre footage of the previous owners, he finds his family is about to suffer the same fate as those before. Incredibly creepy, despite having seen it all before, the movie has enough to sway your mind that good horror movies are not a thing of the past.

Also a reminder that the second part of the final season of Breaking Bad has begun and Netflix is adding the episodes to the site a day after the US broadcast.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Documentary Sunday - Cool It

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

I sat down to watch 'Cool It' not long ago only to realise after ten minutes that I had already seen it when it first came out. Not a good start. What makes it more shocking is that this is such a powerful documentary (in terms of ideas it showcases, not its style or presence) and I felt disgusted that I had all but forgotten the message Danish environmentalist Bjørn Lomborg was trying to put across.

The documentary takes a little while to get going. We toe-tap a little bit around Bjørn's personal life and influences before looking at how the world of science made him an outcast when he questioned the way we were treating climate change, and it is here where things get interesting. Bjørn essentially picks apart all the excuses politicians have used (mostly through fear) to show that global warming is happening and debunks all of them. He doesn't deny the issue, far from it, just feels that the public have been lied to. One of the main picking points is Mr Gore's rather overblown 'An Inconvenient Truth' (which, while I admire the tenacity to which it addressed the issue, was just the same graphs and facts re-used and exaggerated) and we begin to realise that the issue isn't as bad as we've been made to believe it is.

We are then treated to a brief overview of the possible solutions towards global warming, most of which are so simple in design that its almost unbelievable that no one has sought to implement them in a full-scale use. To top it off, Bjørn takes the current EU climate change budget and uses it to metaphorically fund and deploy all this awesome new technologies, all to immensely positive results.

Who Does it Appeal To?
Environmentalists and global warming guys (it goes without saying) will eat this up, mostly because it presents all politicians -  who think they are spearheading change -as complete morons.
It should also note that as an engineer, a lot of the tech presented in the film was incredibly interesting and those looking to study or go into environmental engineering should also take notes.

What to Take Away From It?
The immense sum of money being coughed up by the EU each year (supposedly) will barely make a dent in lowering the average temperature rise, so instead all the money should be funneled into these alternative methods that (again supposedly) will have a 100% success rate. As a result, Bjørn should be made president of the world.

Monday, 5 August 2013

New to Netflix UK - 04/08/13

So there appears to by heaps of new content this week, which is nice for a change.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - A teen skips school with his girlfriend and depressed best-friend, embarking on a set of adventures around Manhattan all while being pursued by the headmaster. It's funny, endearing, well-written and ultimately one of the greatest teen movies ever made, though you'd expect nothing less from John Hughes.

Unbreakable - After a man survives a deadly train crash without a single scratch, he becomes the target of obsession for a rare-comic seller who is convinced the man is a superhero. It's one of the most subtle examples of a superhero movie but the acting is top notch and the script and direction reminds us why Mr Shyamalan was once so well respected.

Good Morning Vietnam - A radio DJ is enlisted by the army to help boost morale for the soldiers in Vietnam, but his unorthodox attitude on the air causes friction with some of the officers. The ability to create a comedy around one of the darker examples of the US Army conflicts is a difficult task but Levison and crew pull it off, providing one of the best anti-war films ever made and giving Mr Williams one of his best roles to date.

The Bone Collector - When a sadist begins abducting and killing people, it's up to a suicidal police officer and his troubled partner to stop them. It's well acted and although the film may not be executed in the most logical fashion, there are enough cheap thrills here to make an enjoyable thriller.

Déjà Vu - After a bombing on a ferry, a police officer finds himself embroiled in a top-secret operation that allows people to travel back in time. Despite the high-concept, a lot of the interesting ideas fail to shine through resulting in a bog-standard, albeit watchable, action-thriller.

Airplane! - An ex-USAF pilot is forced to take over a commercial airliner when food poisoning takes out the pilots and half the passengers. This is one of funniest movies ever made and the greatest spoof movie of all time. There's nothing more to say. Just watch it.

The Green Hornet - Following the death of his father, a young playboy and his driver find their calling as masked vigilantes who pose as criminals in order to fight crime from within. It divided a lot of people on its release, most notably because it left the original source material behind, but it's a mostly fun action-flick that doesn't over-stay its welcome.

Vanilla Sky - A man, charged with murder, recounts his fall from the big leagues after he was subjected to a horrific car crash that left his body scarred for life. The film is pretentious to a fault, but look beyond that and you are treated to a mind-numbing psycho-drama that rewards those who stick with it to the bitter end.

Seraphim Falls - A Union footsoldier is relentlessly pursued by a Confederate Colonel across the harsh terrain of post-Civil War America. It's long, slow and the ending feels like a bit of an after thought but the acting is decent and it has enough atmosphere to keep your attention.

Funeral in Berlin - Harry Palmer is tasked with helping a defecting Soviet defector but the situation proves to be a lot more complicated than previously imagined. It's not as good as The Ipcress File but Caine is still excellent as Palmer.

Metro - A San Francisco hostage negotiator seeks revenge after his best friend is killed by a jewel thief. Passable Murphy vehicle that benefits from some well-made action sequences but is otherwise forgettable.

Instinct - A scientist, who has spent the last few years living with gorillas, is jailed for murder prompting a psychiatrist to find out exactly what happened to him. Despite some decent performances the film never lives up to its true potential but there's enough here to satisfy those in need of a good thriller.

Big Trouble - A mysterious suitcase ties together the lives of a recently divorced father, his wayward son, a bored housewife, two inept criminals, a homeless man and a psychedelia-inducing toad. Light-hearted farce that never tries to be more than what is advertised.

Ghost - After being killed during a mugging, a man is reincarnated as a ghost and must find a way to warn his girlfriend that she too is in danger. It's obviously famous for that one pottery scene, but otherwise there isn't really much else to this movie other than a typical romantic drama.

The Enforcer - The case against a network of hired-assassins is jeopardised when the lead witness is killed, prompting the DA in charge to revisit the case and find new evidence against them. Decent Bogey crime film that's less of a typical film-noir and more of a drama.

Anita & Me - Determined to fit in with her new surroundings, an Indian girl befriends the local trouble-maker all while her family adapt to their new surroundings. It's not ground-breaking stuff but the film is charming enough to help you forget that the culture-clash message isn't exactly well handled.

Schultze Gets the Blues - After his taste in music makes a sudden change, an out-of-work miner and accordionist makes a trek from Germany to New Orleans and finds his life re-invented. Somewhat odd but completely fresh and charming, this dark comedy finds a new way to encompass the human spirit.

Sweet Sixteen - In an effort to save his abused mother, a teen sets out to find a new home not caring how he gets about raising the cash. It's hard-hitting and at time shocking, exactly what you would expect from Loach, but there's an undeniable sense of humanity to the movie that makes it an extremely emotional experience.

The Miracle Maker - The life of Jesus as told through the eyes of a terminally-ill young girl. Aside from the Catholic appeal, this is a really well made stop-motion film that shouldn't be ignored just because you don't believe.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind - After witnessing a group of lights in the sky, a group of people find themselves entranced by a mysterious urge to visit an isolated location where something wondrous awaits them. Classical Spielberg sci-fi that's just as magical to watch now as when it was first released.

Fly Away Home - After her mother dies, a girl is sent to live with her father where she ends up becoming a surrogate mother for some Canadian geese, resulting in her having to make the migration trail with them. Beautifully filmed and well-acted, this is one of those movies you can watch as children, revisit as adults and still find yourself emotionally overwhelmed by the story.

Rudy - Despite being of poor physical condition, a man is determined to make the Notre Dame [American] Football team to avoid having to work in his mining town. Movies like this are rather common but this one stands out thanks to some great performances and the fact it doesn't overwhelm you with (too many) sport movie clichés.

Lost in Yonkers - Two boys are sent to live with their scary grandma and eccentric aunt but there boredom is soon removed when their mobster uncle returns with a price on his head. It's not the best of Mr Simon's adaptations however there is still much of his trademark farcical humour involved, most of which is excellently delivered by the great cast.

Krull - Armed with a legendary weapon, a prince and his friends go off to rescue the princess who's been kidnapped by alien invaders. It has a strong cult following but it's still debatable on whether this movie is actually any good.

Pineapple Express - A stoner and his dealer go on the run after one of them accidentally witnesses a mob hit. Extremely funny stoner comedy which features some great one-liners and great chemistry between the two leads.

Vertical Limit - A mountaineer mounts an expedition to K2 to rescue his sister after she disappears on a climb. It's preposterously silly and full of plot holes but it's good for a Saturday night in, just don't expect to remember much afterwards.

Powaqqatsi - Follow-up to Koyannisqatsi which examines the impact of civilisation. It's not as good as it's predecessor, and you wouldn't be wrong to dismiss it for being much the same, but it's still full of some incredible images and still worth checking out.

Adaptation - Meta-film in which a screenwriter recounts his attempts at bringing The Orchid Thief to the screen, while his life crumbles around him mimicking the events of the book. Incredibly bizarre but incredibly well acted, you don't find many films that dare to be as intelligent as this one.

Detention - When a serial killer starts taking out students at a high school, a group of students serving detention band together to stop them. It's a tough film to recommend as its own self-awareness of hipster jokes and pop-culture can completely overwhelm the already thin plot but it's a really fun movie if you just let it do what it wants to do.

Tower Block- Residents of an apartment block find themselves the target of a sniper and must fight their way out. It's a simple concept that forgives the mediocre drama surrounding it but the thrills are plentiful (if cheap) and it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Legend of the Seeker (TV) - While trying to find out the person responsible for his father's murder, a young man is drawn into a quest to end the rule of a tyrannous overlord. It may not be as good as the other Raimi produced series but the production values are decent enough to make for an entertaining fantasy saga.

A few BBC additions have also made the site, which include...

Mock the Week
Knowing Me Knowing You
Live at the Apollo
I'm Alan Partridge

Plus some more episodes in Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Documentary Sunday - Man on Wire

Sunday's are lazy, so why not take the time to sit down, relax and open your mind to exciting new worlds of knowledge, intrigue and opinions.

Talking about the Twin Towers can be a taboo subjects in some situations, most likely because the whole 9/11 travesty is still to emotional for many people. And then here is a film that looks at a French trapeze artist who one day decided to do a tight-rope walk between the two towers. He just goes up there, walks between them a few times, gets the public's (and law enforcement's) attention and then gets down. And the result is a highly engaging bit of film-making that's as thrilling to watch now as it must have been back then as an eyewitness.

Philippe Petit narrates his life through a series of well constructed re-enactments (as well as archival footage), concentrating mostly on his 1974 stunt of walking between the towers. Why? Because no one else had ever done it. Without ruining too much, we get a glimpse at his upbringing and an in-depth look at the planning and practice behind the big event, and the whole thing plays out almost like a crime movie.

Petit, who acts as the 'presenter' of the documentary, is a very good story-teller and keeps us hooked on every sentence. We know that he survives the stunt but he still manages to convince us that there is every chance that he could die or get caught and the whole experience is fascinating to watch, much more so than if this had been made into an actual movie.

The music also helps bring about a complimentary mood to the documentary, thanks to the ever reliable Michael Nyman. The music is mostly from his Greenaway collaborations but it works so well in this film that you could think otherwise.

Who Does it Appeal To?
Dare-devils and those who like to live on the more dangerous side of life.
Also anyone who wants to witness one of the most incredible and crazy 'circus' acts in history.

What to Take Away From It?
In some ways this is a morality tale that if you want to do something, you should just go out and do it, no matter how insane the idea is. As a result, try not to get carried away.