Harry Brown

9 03 2010

Apologies for the time-lapse since my last post, I have been very busy with production days and contributing to the exciting new CJS website Capture Cardiff.

In the light of the above, I have decided to add some of my recent articles to this blog, particularly my reviews and comment pieces.

I will start with last week’s DVD review: the new Michael Caine vehicle Harry Brown.

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From the opening scene of Harry Brown, it is clear the viewer is in for a harrowing experience.
An unprovoked act of violence in broad daylight, in which a group of youths shoot a defenceless mother, is a microcosm of the moral abyss in which the events of the film take place.

Nearly 40 years on from Get Carter, Michael Caine shows he still has star quality

Michael Caine stars as the eponymous antihero, a vigilante who takes it upon himself to combat the rule of the violent and unrestrained youths of south London.
***

But the real star is Ben Drew, who is beginning to forge an impressive acting career after a semi-successful foray into rap under the pseudonym Plan B.
Reminiscent of a young Vincent Cassel, Drew excels as the hollow villain of the piece. Few performances have disgusted and impressed in equal measure as much as his since Gary Oldman’s in Leon or Cassel’s star turn as Vinz in La Haine.
***

The strength of the acting is complemented by an impeccable use of gothic London cityscapes, which transport the viewer back into a Jekyll and Hyde-esque nightmare in a way which is not at all artificial.
***

Director Daniel Barber, making his feature-length debut, looks like an old hand. His command of subtle lighting and his use of silence or minimal dialogue add to the atmosphere of frightening uncertainty.
***

The haunting tone of the piece leaves the viewer feeling distant and horrified throughout, yet undoubtedly affected once the film draws to its chilling climax.





Music to write copy by

7 02 2010

Here at CJS we have recently dived head-first into the relentless routine of production days.

Unforgiving deadlines, strict word limits and gripping features are now the order of the day, and we need to be focused on the job in hand.

While a clear mind and a readiness to communicate are musts within the confines of the newsroom, many of us will no doubt find ourselves constantly on the go, chasing stories and writing features away from the order-in-chaos.

I cannot be alone in using music to help focus the mind, and in this post I will share with you just some of the bands and artists I turn to when I have work to do.

Be it revising for a testing public admin exam or writing a 750 word feature on Formula 1, music tends to help my productivity. I’m sure it does the same for some of you too.

At the very least, I hope I can introduce a few more names to your Spotify playlists and provide a gift that stays with you for years to come.

1. Electric President

I was introduced to Electric President just over a year ago, and  the Floridian duo instantly won me over with their blend of haunting vocals and mellow beats.

Alex Kane’s electronic input perfectly complements Ben Cooper’s vocals, both providing a subtlety lacking in the work of may of their peers.

They have been compared to Postal Service and The Weakerthans, but such comparisons do an injustice to a band whose music will engross but not engulf the listener.

2. Mogwai

As far removed as possible from the energetic Gremlin with which they share their name, Mogwai are on a level which most bands can only dream of.

For more than a decade they have treated fans to expansive post-rock so grand in scope it makes Lord of the Rings look like Superbad.

They went some way to getting the recognition they deserve after being asked to compose the soundtrack to Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait in 2006. Since then, they have gone from strength to strength with recent album The Hawk is Howling showing the band’s unerring ability to captivate observers with every movement, much like Zizou himself.

3. Jurassic 5

Of course, I appreciate that different people work best when listening to different genres of music. As such, I feel it would be both ignorant and inappropriate of me to omit hip-hop in my discussion of music to write by.

Kings of the genre, in my humble opinion, are California-based act Jurassic 5. Showing more versatility than many of their peers, J5 span all elements of hip-hop, often providing more relaxed and mellow music but never being afraid to show more aggression and panache on live favourites such as A Day at the Races.

Their music might not seem conducive to writing at first glance, but check them out for yourselves and you may well be pleasantly surprised, even if hip-hop isn’t usually your cup of tea.

4. Explosions in the Sky

The word ‘epic’ is used all too frequently when it comes to today’s music. But one band which really does merit that description is Explosions in the Sky.

The Texan quartet have spent the last decade or so making music you thought couldn’t be bettered…and then bettering it. Their crashing guitars and vocal soundscapes add an unquantifiable sense of grandeur to whatever you are doing while listening to them.

So stick any one of their albums on, be it one of the earlier classics or the new groundbreaking material, and it will feel like that MPs’ expenses story you’re writing is the next Ulysses.

5. Sigur Ros

Perhaps the most famous of the five bands I have mentioned here, Sigur Ros have still taken far too long to gain the recognition they deserve.

No one else makes music quite like the Icelanders, whose vocalist Jonsi Birgisson sings in an invented language – Hopelandic – as well as in his native tongue.

It is perhaps the use of Hopelandic which give the quartet their almost magical quality. But the whole-hearted desire to experiment also has something to do with it.

Their music puts you in a state of mind so peaceful all other concerns will be brushed to one side, letting you focus your energy on almost anything.

If you are yet to discover this masterful band, I urge you to sit back, relax, and enjoy.





Capturing Cardiff – Ffosfforescence

10 12 2009

Last weekend, young and old alike gathered on Penarth’s seafront to witness Ffosfforescence, a light installation devised by Bristol-based artists David Boultbee and Ruth Essex.

With the help of artists and local residents, David and Ruth filled balloons with LEDs and displayed them in the sea in a project designed to use light to articulate hidden spaces and shadows of famous landmarks.

Ffosforescence was born after the duo were asked by Ffotogallery, a local art gallery based at Turner House, to come up with a large-scale installation to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Penarth Pavilion.

“One of the aims of the project was to demonstrate the might of the sea,” said Ruth,

“The length of time that the balloons stayed visible was determined by the tide, so the work we did shows how powerful it really is.”

And the balloons were not the only things fighting to survive.

Piering back into the past

Penarth Pavilion, one of the main focal points of the town, has been a major landmark ever since its grand opening in 1929.

But a series of setbacks, including a fire in 1931, have meant more than one generation of Penarth’s public has been unable to see the pavilion in all its glory.

Now, with lottery funding proving more than just a distant possibility, locals may be able to take in the delights of the building sooner rather than later.

The installation was visible from far away, and was able to draw in passers-by (Photo: David Drake)

The redevelopment project, which is set to include a cinema and a number of restaurants, will not be cheap.

As the appeal for lottery funding is only at an early stage it is difficult to estimate just how much things will eventually cost, but it is fair to say the town’s £400,000 annual budget would fail to accommodate such a large-scale development.

Councillor John Forbes Fraser, the mayor of Penarth, claims that the project is “essentially” the responsibility of the Vale of Glamorgan Council, but he has pledged his (and Penarth Town Council‘s) support towards all the work done towards the pavilion’s redevelopment.

“We are 200% behind the project,” said Coun Fraser.

“I would love to see it come off. One thing we can do as a council is lobby.”

Ffoto opportunities

The ‘save Penarth Pavilon’ project is being supported by two major art galleries in the centre of the town, Ffotogallery@Turner House on Plymouth Road and The Washington Gallery on Stanwell Road.

And many locals, including adults and children of all ages, flocked to Ffotogallery on Saturday where they filled balloons with LEDs under the guidance of experts from Dorkbot Bristol, a group who describe themselves as “People doing strange things with electricity in the West of England.”

After a few hours’ work, and a few mince pies put on by the gallery, the willing volunteers then helped take the light-filled balloons down to the sea-front where they would produce a visually stunning display.

Volunteers from Penarth (and further afield) help set up the display on the seafront (Photo: David Drake)

Anne Siegel, digital arts project manager at Ffotogallery, was very pleased with how things turned out on Saturday night.

“I have been so busy with the project over the last few days and weeks,” said Anne.

“And on Saturday night it was basically us against the tide, so it was good that people could stay out and see the installation until about 8.30 or 9.”

Map showing Ffotogallery and the surrounding area

The artists themselves showed their appreciation for the effort put in by the volunteers, and recognised how difficult the installation would have been to set up without the help of the townspeople and experts who devoted their time throughout Saturday.

“Loads of people came down to help out,” said David Boultbee.

“I was impressed by the number of families that came along, it seemed that a lot of the town was happy to get involved.”

“Also, I think the fact that you could see the lights from the top of the hill helped bring more people in. Maybe even people who were just passing by with no intention of coming to look at the installation.”

Looking to the future

It seems that all involved are pleased with the impact made by the Ffosfforescence installation. As well as demonstrating the artistic vision and capabilities of David and Ruth, it has the potential of achieving a more long-term goal.

If nothing else, the installation has made more people – across South Wales and beyond – aware of the campaign to save and redevelop Penarth Pier Pavilion.

And with the first barrier crossed in the journey towards lottery funding for the project, it is surely only a matter of time before the building is returned to its former glory.

To find out more about the Penarth Pavilion Project, visit www.letsmakeithappen.org.uk

If you want the audio of the above video clip, click below






Climbing up the (pay)walls

6 12 2009

In the beginning, there was news.

Then people, for argument’s sake let’s call them journalists, thought it would be a good idea to print news. The newspaper was born.

Many years later, the internet came along.

The internet quickly became a repository for anonymously abusing people, watching pornography, and of course reading news.

When the UK’s national papers jumped on the online bandwagon they thought it would be a good idea to make their content free to whoever wanted to read it.

Sales of physical newspapers were not in as dire a state as they are now and anyway, if sales started to fall away they could always start charging and people would be happy to pay up, right? Wrong.

“Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today.” – Pink Floyd, 1973

Last week, former Cardiff Journalism School student and current UK editor of paidcontent.org Rob Andrews came back to his old stomping ground to give a talk about the problems facing newspapers as they try and bring in money from online sales.

The main issue is very simple. People don’t want to pay for something they can find for free somewhere else.

Rob explained how difficult it is for online sales to put money in the kitty

You see, you should never underestimate people’s willingness to shop around for freebies.

And with so many news aggregators around online, it is becoming easier for people to find free news if they are determined enough.

While some papers, including the Financial Times, have experienced some success after setting up paywalls, Rupert Murdoch’s ambition to do the same with The Times is likely to be less fruitful.

Because you’re worth it

Now I’m not saying many – if not all – of the UK’s national papers deserve income from their online stories.

While the stories themselves may be the same as those available for free elsewhere on the web, The Times and its counterparts frequently display a far greater standard of journalism.

Take, for example, this brilliantly-written article from Daniel Finkelstein.

It shows a lot of depth that cannot be found elsewhere, yet people will still prefer to read articles like this which are free, informative and to the point.

Keep it snappy

When I went on a work experience placement at BBC Sport, one of the first tasks I was given was to write four-paragraph stories.

I was told that four paragraphs are all you see on the first page of Ceefax, and that on the website you have to scroll down to get to paragraph five.

People don’t like scrolling down, I’ve heard. It requires too much effort.

The difference with the FT and other similar sites is that they provide expert information.

People go on sites like this because they are looking for something specific. And by ‘something specific’ I don’t just mean ‘Who is Katie Price going out with this week’ or ‘What film did I see that actor in?’

I mean information that people can trust, specialist information that readers need to be able to rely on.

Mmmm… free goo

Recent trends seem to show that people are moving towards free sites, no matter how uninformed or useless the information they provide is.

And the polls which Rob showed us seem to suggest that forcing people to pay for news will be ambitious at best.

The one potential saving grace, which seems like a fairly remote possibility, is that Murdoch’s plans will drive readers back to print media.

Is this the end for print media?

But have people really just stopped reading papers because they can get the exact same stories for free, or is it because they simply don’t like carrying a paper around with them every day and ending up with a pile of useless ‘old news’?

The Evening Standard would seem to side with the former, jumping the  gun by becoming a freesheet and – one would assume – seeking to get advertising companies on their side early and generate something approaching a steady revenue.

And while Murdoch hopes to buck the trend, few have been able to convince themselves that paywalls are the answer to journalism’s woes.

After all, the success of paywalls requires something far more difficult than writing an award-winning story. It requires convincing people to change their habits.





Hashtag la vista

28 10 2009

Last week I, and my colleagues on the Cardiff postgrad diploma in journalism, were tweeted to an intriguing lecture from @cward1e

You may be wondering a couple of things about that opening sentence, namely why I used the word ‘tweeted’ and why I referred to our guest lecturer Claire Wardle as @cward1e

There are two reasons for this:

1. I am massively self-important and am using words like ‘tweet’, ‘hashtag’ and ‘blogosphere‘ to sound smart and hide my profound lack of knowledge on subjects I might appear to be well-versed in. Note that by making this point ‘1’ I am only drawing more attention to this self-importance.

2. Claire was talking to us about her area of expertise, social media, and – more specifically – the twitterverse.

Sesame tweet, this week brought to you by the letter @ and the #32*

For those of you who are new to the world of twitter, let me give you a brief rundown.

People post their views – known as ‘tweets – on whatever they want, from their views on Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize to what they are eating for breakfast, and share these views with the world.

Anyone can see your tweets if they choose to ‘follow’ you, but long gone are the days when people only joined twitter to stalk the likes of Stephen Fry and Charlie Brooker ( or @stephenfry and @charltonbrooker to you and I and anyone else who follows them).

So, those @ signs, what do they do? Well they allow you to tag or mention your friends/followers/stalkees in your tweets. For example, yesterday I tweeted about going to a Frank Turner gig with my friend Emma – the tweet went something like this:

seeing @fthc tonight with @emcetera

You can also throw in the odd hashtag (that’s a #) to discuss ‘trending’ topics – i.e. those which a lot of people are tweeting about. For example, last week, one such topic was #oneletteroffmovies and my immature offering was #oneletteroffmovies ace ventura – pee detective.

The hashtag is – of course – by no means restricted to juvenility and bad puns, that’s just what I use it for.

#butwaittheresmore

Trending topics can do more than simply bring together like-minded people. They can help bring news stories out in the open.

Take, for example, the recent coverage of the Trafigura debacle – the name of the Swiss company became common knowledge far quicker than it might otherwise have done, simply as a result of tweets and hashtags spreading it like wildfire.

And there are other ways that twitter helps bring people together.

Claire told us about things such as twitterfall and tweepml in her lecture. The former allows you to see what people have to say about certain trending topics, while the latter allows you to form lists of people with certain things in common. Go on, try them out.

Other things came up in the lecture, such as netvibes and tweetdeck, but I’ll let you find out about them yourself.

Alessandro Diamanti

*32 is a completely arbitrary choice, made – for argument’s sake – because it is the number worn by Alessandro Diamanti when he scored the equalising goal for West Ham last weekend. It’s the ‘#’ bit that’s important, although if you hadn’t worked that out by now you’ve probably wasted your time reading this. The eagle-eyed among you will have also noticed that ‘@’ is not technically a letter. Good for you.