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A Round Up 30 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Well first thing I have to do I guess is apologise. Keeping up with this blog has proved to be much harder than I thought it would be, if I didn’t do damn shorthand I’d have all the time in the world for these kinds of things but I do do it, and at 9 o’clock every damn morning!

Anyway that’s enough excuses. Instead of trying to review every film I’ve seen over the last month or so I’ve decided I’m going to give a brief review of all of them, albeit briefly so you know what to look out for in a few months time on DVD.

2/10/08 Death Race

Paul Anderson’s re-make of Roger Corman’s classic Death Race 2000 which featured Sylvester Stallone in a hilariously over the top performance proved to be one of my favourite films of the last month. I won’t bother with a plot synopsis (you can read that on IMDB) but needless to say there isn’t much of a plot. There seems to be a general dislike of Jason Statham among the critical community but I personally love him, especially in brainless action nonsense like this where he gets to show off his crazy buff body. The races are what this film is all about and in that aspect Anderson does not fail to disappoint. All of the stunts seemed to have been done largely without CGI and some of the sights defy belief. There is never any question that Statham is in any kind of peril but that’s not important. The film is slick, well shot and features some of the best races in a while. Joan Allen and Ian McShane add a touch of class to the production but are both a little underused.

5/10/08 How to Loose Friends and Alienate People

This one was a huge disappointment. I am a huge fan of Simon Pegg going back to Spaced but he is the only thing which makes this stale rom-com even remotely bearable. It is the kind of comedy which keeps you smiling throughout but in which you rarely actually laugh (I found myself laughing twice). Bridges is excellent as editor Clayton Harding but otherwise the film is sorely lacking any king of originality or edginess it seemed to promise before its release. As a depiction of the magazine industry on the other hand it manages to be even worse!

8/10/08 88 Minutes

Truly awful. To be honest I was actually quite enjoying the second Al Pacino/Jon Avnet thriller in as many weeks until it’s truly ridiculous ending which actually manages to make the ‘twist’ at the end of Righteous Kill seem like a cinematic tour de force. I don’t like to say this but the ending left such a bad taste in my mouth that it has coloured my view of the rest of the film to the point where I can no longer remember what I liked about it. Pacino rings it in and the rest of the cast is just as bad. It’s a shame that brilliant character actors like Niel McDonaugh and William Forsythe get dragged into crap like this.

12/10/08 The Mutant Chronicles

I love my post apocalyptic vision of the future sci-fi epics as much as the next person but the Mutant Chronicles suffered from clearly not being a finished film. The special effects and acting were of a made for TV standard and the plot was clearly the product of a deranged mind. I quite enjoyed the film for the most part but it’s a shame a more talented film maker wasn’t given the chance to make something better out of what is a quite interesting premise. It’s nice to see Tom Jane and Ron Perlman in anything but here they are sorely wasted.

18/10/08 Eagle Eye

Shia ‘the beef’ sci-fi nonsense, a cross between two far superior Will Smith films Enemy of the State and I, Robot, both of which benefited from having directors with at least a minimum amount of ability. The set pieces can be quite entertaining, and it’s always a joy to watch Billy Bob, but the premise is so ridiculous I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief. Nothing we haven’t seen before, Transformers 2 should hopefully provide a more enjoyable slice of Shia sci-fi action next year (if he doesn’t kill himself before then).

21/10/08 Burn After Reading

Disappointing follow up to No Country For Old Men from the Coen Brothers (again sharing directorial duties here). The film sees a return to the more ‘zany’ style of previous films like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and Intolerable Cruelty but even the unbelievable cast they’ve managed to drag together could not lead me to escape the feeling that it all seems a little pointless. The appeal of intelligent actors playing complete idiots is lost when you don’t care about them and to be honest there’s only one or two good performances in the whole film. Brad Pitt solicits the most laughs but even his stichk gets tired pretty quick. John Malkovich offers easily the best performance of the ensemble, playing his role almost completely straight and managing to pull of the film’s one touching scene (for reference it’s the one on the boat with his father). Entertaining while it lasts but instantly forgettable and probably the second worst Coen Brothers film.

26/10/08 Saw 5

If it’s Halloween it must be Saw, as the trailers like to tell us, but this year arriving a week early courtesy of a certain Mr Bond arriving on screens next week. Saw 5 offers pretty much the same as the series has been offering since the second entry, lots of gore, ridiculously complex plotting, neat twists and music video direction to make your head hurt. The fifth installment directed by David Hackl, production designer on the entries since 2, and thankfully his style seems slightly more restrained than that of Darren Lynn Bousman. The story also takes a more restrained approach this time, abandoning the near incomprehensible complexities of number 4 in favour of a cat and mouse detective story inter-cut with Jigsaw flashbacks and the latest deathtrap for another random group of people. The traps are much improved this time around and the more Jigsaw the better but the people who are being put through Jigsaw’s game are in no way connected to the main thrust of the story, unlike in previous installments, are the writers finally running out of ideas? We’ll find out next year.

28/10/08 Mirrors
Alexandre Aja directed re-make of Korean thriller Into the Mirror proves to be a little above standard Hollywood horror but little more. The story is a stripped down version of the Korean original replacing genuine intrigue with the bog standard ‘evil force’ which seems to be behind so many horror villains nowadays. Aja does a good job keeping the scares coming and the brilliantly bleak ending is retained from the original but too much is played for jumps and I sat through the whole thing thinking I wish there had been a new season of 24 this year and hoping that Hollywood will finally give Aja a script worthy of the promise he showed with Switchblade Romance.

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Multimedia journalism and the importance of the word 25 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Multimedia.
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Multimedia journalism offers the potential for greater engagement with the reader than pure print journalism could ever hope to achieve. It is wrong to say that multimedia journalism came about because of the internet; broadcasters have always worked as multimedia journalists, while newspaper journalists have been known to reluctantly wield their own camera from time to time, but it is because of the internet that journalists have come to realise the importance of a multimedia element in their work.

It is with good reason that Ofcom promotes multimedia literacy; that The Guardian trains print journalists in broadcast skills; and that the Birmingham Post has recently launched a mobile phone site, with Trinity Mirror looking to launch a further 10 mobile sites in the coming months for its other regional papers. Presenting a story using a combination of the written/spoken word, music, still/moving images, graphics or interactive elements allows you to tell that story in a more compelling and engaging way. Simply embedding YouTube clips can give the reader something to create an emotional attachment with even before they have read a word.

Steve Spring (CEO Future Publishing) said audio and visual reporting skills are now ‘hygiene’ requirements, but too much emphasis must not be placed on the ‘multimedia’ part of ‘multimedia journalism’. The old motion picture adage holds true here: you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script. Journalists must not lose sight of their unique selling point: the quality of their words.

Journalists cannot be interested in technology for its own sake; it must serve a purpose according to Kevin Anderson (blogs editor at The Guardian). Multimedia is an increasingly important element in digital storytelling especially, but it is not an essential one, and the two are certainly not synonymous. Mark Deuze claimed in 2004 that most multimedia journalists were still just reproducing old journalistic practices with a new gloss, especially in the use of interactive elements. While I feel this argument is dated now I agree that the notion of a fully integrated multimedia news room has still not been widely achieved or even accepted.

Training all journalists in multimedia storytelling will allow for the streamlining of the newsroom, but that training must give journalists a certain level of multimedia proficiency before news rooms consider downsizing. It cannot be some ‘on the job’ training that writers simply have to get through. Just last week David Hepworth lambasted the magazine industry for producing ‘cheap TV’, and rightly so. There are strict internal quality controls for written works, but the same levels of scrutiny don’t seem to exist for video and other multimedia elements in most stories.

Rant over. Don’t get me wrong I think a multimedia future is the only future journalism is likely to face, and I intend to be in the front carriage of the bandwagon, but it is important to remember the word in all of this. Any sacrifice of the word is simply not acceptable.

Networked journalism: the death of the reporter or too much to hope for? 18 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Citizen Journalism, Networked Journalism, User Generated Content.
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I can see networked journalism going one of two ways, either the public will embrace it to such an extent that news reporting as we know it will never be the same again; or it will go the other way ignored, unloved and unused by all but the dedicated few. I tend to err on the side of scepticism. I do not doubt that Web 2.0 and User Generated Content are already essential tools for a journalist, but continuous collaboration with the public on a specific news story seems a little too much to hope for.

First however I will try to stay positive. As has already been proven networked journalism can work. The reporting on Hurricane Katrina by the Fort Myers News-Press in Florida would not have been possible with the limited resources available in the news room. Likewise The Guardian has got in on the act by open sourcing all of the information on its BAE fileswebsite, encouraging amateur investigations around the globe. One of the crucial benefits of networked journalism is that greater public participation in an open media forum will inevitably lead to greater trust in the media itself. Trust is something journalists have always been short of with the 2008 Ipsos-MORI poll putting journalists joint bottom with politicians as the least trusted professionals in the country with levels at just 18%.

Taking it to the extreme if networked journalism were to take off the potential for breaking news originating at a local level would be limitless, so much so that how would it be possible for a journalist to keep up and continue to operate as a reporter? Wouldn’t it be the case that the journalist was now a glorified sub-editor, at best an aggregator, shaping key information from the public into a news story capable of publication? (Jay Rosen seems to share this fear statingYou can’t just open the floodgates and expect the public to produce. If there are too many people involved then it simply creates too much work for the journalist to make it worthwhile.”)

This however seems highly unlikely. Many commentators have talked about the benefits networked journalism could have on our profession (notably Jeff Jarvis and Charlie Beckett) but most seem to put too much hope in the public’s willingness to engage in the journalistic process to the extent required by networked journalism.

Jarvis has said, “even as journalistic organizations may shrink, along with their revenue bases, journalism itself can and must expand and it will do that through collaborative work.” However if the majority are choosing to engage less with the news as readers why would more people choose to devote their time and effort to a product where they are unlikely to have any significant impact  or even be credited?

On the other hand networked reporting is often not feasible or appropriate. In high politics where the breaking of news stories is often reliant on the journalist’s close ties to those involved in the political process, how can the public expect to contribute? With the internet demanding news be continually updated the pressure to get a story out as soon as possible means that the public is unlikely to have a hand in shaping such stories, even if they are present at their inception. Once the story has been broken it’s unlikely the public will be able to add anything else which isn’t just superfluous.

If just 1% of those who contribute are “truly creative” and 10% produce “anything journalistic” as Rosen claims it is unlikely that networked journalism will take off any time soon. It has greater potential at the local level, where events happening in and around the community are what drive the news, but is there not more chance that at this level the journalist will be fed inaccurate information or, even worse, deliberately misinformed by a member of the public? If networked journalism ever does take off will it be the case that journalists are all resigned to a life as glorified fact-checkers and filters for publicly sourced information?

Beckett has claimed that “to retain value journalism must engage with the public,” a statement with which I whole heartedly agree, however my scepticism lies in the practicalities of networked journalism. Only those with the technology, specialist knowledge and time available are likely to participate, a shallow well for the journalist to draw water from.

Citizen journalism: the problem of definition 12 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Citizen Journalism, User Generated Content.
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The term citizen journalism is an inadequate definition of the public’s contribution to the news media. The reason is obvious; every citizen becomes a journalist (if as ‘citizen journalist’ implies professional training is not a prerequisite to becoming a journalist) when passing on current affairs information to others. We are all citizen journalists then, or are we?

Direct public communication with big news outlets is as much an accepted part of the news media’s link to its audience as the idea of journalist as creator and public as consumer. The problem comes when we try to define who a citizen journalist actually is.

These problems have been commented on extensively elsewhere, so what I hope to make clear here is that I consider User Generated Content (UGC) to be much less problematical as a definition of the public’s contribution to the news media.

UGC is a more accurate description of what the public actually contributes to big news media. Very few members of the public are likely to go through the process which a journalist goes through in the creation of a news story: extensive research, sub-editing and fact checking for example. In fact most of the ‘news’ which comes under the umbrella of citizen journalism is raw information, a source which must be shaped by a professional into a piece of journalism.

There are exceptions to this, such as CNN’s iReport or the BBC’s Have Your Say page and the millions of news blogs to which users submit/upload complete stories, however this is not what many people have in mind when talking about citizen journalism. Photos, videos and messages sent to news outlets are UGC and not citizen journalism. Just as I wouldn’t consider photos or a piece of writing yet to be subbed a complete piece of journalism, I wouldn’t consider such things sent in by the public journalism either.

Rightous Kill (2008) Director John Avnet 1 October 2008

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Righteous Kill sees the reteaming of perhaps two of the greatest actors of their generation Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Last seen on film together more than ten years ago in Michael Mann’s urban classic Heat, the partnership I am sorry to say have chosen a less than worthy film in which to reunite.
De Niro and Pacino star as a pair of ‘veteran New York Detectives’ (just count how many more cliches in this plot synopsis alone) Turk and Rooster who are close to retirement but are held back to solve one last case, that of a serial killer who kills only criminals, and in particular criminals close to Rooster and Turk. Suspicion falls on De Niro’s Turk as another pair of cops (played by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) are brought into help on the investigation. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that there is a big twist in the proceedings but the blindingly obvious nature of the twist from perhaps the first scene in means in hardly seems right to define the later plot ‘development’ as a twist. Needless to say this review wont reveal any major plot points, even though the movie hardly deserves my discretion.
The plot therefore is poor, very poor and like most elements of the film is just an excuse for De Niro and Pacino to reunite. Unfortunately their performances leave little to desire and it’s a shame that genuine legends are now reduced to starring in predictable Hollywood thrillers for a living. The rest of the actors fare little better with the sole reason for their existence onscreen being that Rooster and Turk can keep the plot moving forward. The direction by John Avnet is unimaginative and frankly indistinguishable from any other of a number of Hollywood hacks, it could have been Brett Ratner’s name after the credits and it would have made no difference. The soundtrack as well is completely forgettable contemporary hip-hop that adds nothing to the proceedings apart from giving the audience a break from the clunky dialogue.
Those involved in the creation of Righteous Kill probably thought it would be impossible to go wrong with the actors they managed to sign up but it goes to prove the rule that you can’t make a good film out of a bad script. Toss in a director for hire and you have a recipe for disaster. There was a certain amount of pleasure to be had in watching De Niro and Pacino on the big screen again but after seeing the finished product it makes me wish they had left it at Heat (and the Godfather Part 2). On second thoughts instead of seeing this prize turkey go and watch one of those classics again, you know you want to.