Firefox 1.5 released

The latest version of Firefox came out yesterday and if you still use IE then it’s certainly worth a look.

The main reasons for upgrading to 1.5 are:

  • The the ability to move tabs across the screen
  • An improved pop-up blocker
  • A new search engine list
  • Quicker navigation (especially the back and forward buttons)
  • RSS discovery (a little orange box appears in your address bar and by clicking on it adds the RSS  feed to your bookmarks)
  • OS X support for all you Mac users.
  • Automated updates

I’ve only just installed today but I’ve been using Firefox as my default browser for a while now. The extensions are useful and the live bookmarks are great. Some of the older plugins aren’t fully compatible with 1.5 yet but the ever useful Lifehacker has pointed out there is a way around this.

MORE DETAIL
> Official site for Firefox
> Wikipedia on Mozilla Firefox
> The Better Browser with reasons to switch to Firefox
> CNET on the new release

 

Phone numbers in films

Having just come out of Woody Allen’s latest film (a full review will be posted soon) I couldn’t help but notice something strange and interesting.

No matter how much movies try to be realistic there are always certain things that have to be unrealistic. One of the most obvious is phone numbers. In American films any phone number in a film usually starts with the fictious 555 code, although Bruce Almighty cheekily flaunted this convention in 2003.

However, in Matchpoint (which opens in the UK on January 6th) one character clearly states a London number. I don’t remember it exactly but it starts 0207, the code for Inner London, where the bulk of the film is set. Off the top of my head I can’t recall something like this happening before. My gut feeling is that they have added an extra digit to make it fictious but if you get a weird phone call after January 6th it could just be a Woody Allen fan…

MORE DETAIL
> Official Site for Matchpoint
> CBS News on the Bruce Almighty phone number shenanigans
> A "Mind-numbingly comprehensive" list of 555 phone numbers in TV and Film 
> Wikipedia on the 555 tradition
> The Guardian’s Notes and Queries section on the subject

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The fourth Potter is an improvement on the first two it lacks the invention and charm of last year’s The Prisoner of Azkaban.

I have a confession to make. I am puzzled by the success of Harry Potter. Whilst it’s heartwarming to see the printed word triumph so spectacularly in an age where kids are expected to play computer games I have never been fully bowled over by the whole Potter phenomenon. Maybe its beacuse the films have failed to really spark my imagination or perhaps its because I’m too old. When people ask me if I have read the books and my honest reply is that I prefer to read adult books and anyway I can catch up on the adventures of the boy wizard when the next film comes out, which at the moment is nearly one a year. The film franchise has now made over a billion dollars worldwide and no doubt the accountants at Warner Bros will be very happy, particularly with three more films on the way.

The Goblet of Fire sees young wizard Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) enter their final year at Hogwarts and after seeing the Quidditch World Cup disrupted by the followers of Lord Voldemort. The start of term sees the Triwizard Tournament take place where pupils are selected by having their names drawn out of the magical ‘goblet of fire’. When Harry’s name is drawn out he is surprised as he isn’t officially old enough to participate but after some consideration he is selected. Also causing Harry some concern is the new teacher "Mad Eye Moody" (Brendan Gleeson). As Harry takes part in the arduous tasks of the tournament he discovers more about what is going on at Hogwarts and the truth about the death of his parents at the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort.

If the previous paragraph made no sense then I assume you haven’t been yet experienced the adventures of the boy wizard. My advice to people coming to this film new is to either a) stay away or b) watch the previous 3. We are now so deep into the Potter series that I defy anyone who hasn’t experienced the books or films to understand what’s going on here. The book of The Goblet of Fire ran much longer than it’s predecessors and contains a lot more plot. Some of this has been compressed for the film, but it still is a lot to take in for those who aren’t Potter afficionados. This film is certainly darker and more exciting than the first two, but as a whole it lacks the sense of invention and playful quality that director Alfonso Cuarón brought to the last film.

Mikle Newell had a tricky job in compressing all the book’s action into this film, although to his credit the action set pieces are as good as any in the series. The Triwizard challenges in particular are handled with a deft assurance. Brendan Gleeson is also a highlight as the new teacher on the block. As his character’s name might suggest he has one eye that seems to have a life of it’s own. As you might expect from a film of this scale and size the production design and technical contributions are all impressive, but one aspect that left me a little underwhelmed was tha ttention paid to the three main characters.

In this film Harry, Ron and Hermione all go through the traditional problems teenagers face growing up. We see some of these in brief, Ron and Harry fall out over the competition and Hermione is upset when she isn’t asked to the school ball. But these moments feel few and far between and given that the film is filled to bursting with plot developments it would have been nice for a change of pace with more character based drama to contrast with all the action and special effects. It is no coincidence that one of the best sequences in the film – when we finally get to see the infamous Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) – is slower and more considered.

It is rare that franchises go past a fourth film but with the books in danger of outselling the Bible it seems like the Potter films will continue till the seventh and final installment. Despite their popularity I don’t think they will ever compare favourably to the Lord of the Rings trilogy,  the other blockbuster fantasy franchise of recent years. Those films had a scale and intensity that the Potters have so far not matched but they have improved on the first two films which often seemed to be coasting on the coat tails of the books and the charming world Rowling had created. Here Mike Newell has passed on the baton well but if the series is to be remembered for more than just box office receipts the next films need to be more daring.


MORE DETAIL

> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> Brush up on your Harry Potter knowledge with the help of Wikipedia
> Go even further with the Harry Potter Wiki
> JK Rowling’s official site
> Confused by all the Potter jargon? Struggling to understand what a Muggle is? Then the Harry Potter Lexicon can help you out
> One of JK Rowling’s favourite fansites is The Leaky Cauldron. Full of the latest news on all things Potter

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

A wonderfully smart and cocky pastiche of the kind of films that writer-director Shane Black used to pen himself in the late 80s.

Throughout its 102 minute running time Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang treads a tightrope.

Any film with a heavy use of voice over and a plethora of self reflexive gags stands in grave danger of being a self indulgent piece of crap.

But despite all this, Shane Black has managed to craft a supremely witty and inventive film that contains two sparkling lead performances from actors whose talents had been submerged by showbiz nonsense in recent years.

The film is narrated by Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), a petty thief who stumbles across an audition in New York whilst on the run from police.

Flustered and desperate he manages to impress a producer who mistakenly believes he is some kind of intense method actor. Flash forward to LA and Harry is at a Hollywood party ready for his breakthrough role, when he meets the aptly named private detective Gay Perry (Kilmer).

Together they get involved in a complex noir murder plot that involves – amongst other things – an old high school sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan) and a dead body.

Back in the 80s Shane Black struck gold by creating the Lethal Weapon franchise and influenced countless action films with a weary wisecracking protagonist.

After Warner Brothers bid a then record amount for The Last Boy Scout and were reportedly less than thrilled with its dark edge and underwhelming box office performance Shane Black withdrew from the Hollywood mainstream.

After 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight his last writing credit was 1999’s A.W.O.L – a film whose title was all too prophetic, at least as far as his career was concerned.

Six years on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang feels like the first Lethal Weapon film with a script polish from Charlie Kaufman.

We have the stock Shane Black ingredients: mismatched partners, witty one liners, a feisty love interest, kidnappings and well orchestrated mayhem. But what we also get is a slick narrative, laced with some irresistible self reflexive humour.

At times the gags are too centred on Hollywood and film making but given the setting that is entirely excusable. All of this is enhanced by some winning lead performances.

Downey Jr. has long been touted as a next big thing but his off screen activities prevented him from the best roles (as well as for a time his actual freedom). Here he shows how good a comic actor he can be and his interplay with Monaghan is always good value.

Even better is his chemistry with Kilmer, whose deadpan delivery and languid charm is an unexpected delight. Together they are reminiscent of Gibson and Glover in the Lethal Weapon films only here we get more comic confusion and less macho posturizing.

Screenwriting gurus might tell you that voiceovers are lazy narrative devices but in the right hands they can work a treat.

The voiceover is one of the best in recent memory, managing to elicit plenty of laughs through Downey Jnr.’s pitch perfect delivery and the wonderfully subversive way it refutes many of the conventions of Hollywood storytelling.

As the plot of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang jumps through ever more complex hoops, Downey’s voice over becomes a welcome relief, reminding you of the absurdities of most thrillers whilst revelling in them at the same time.

Some may not like the smarty-pants tone of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and complain that it is all surface, but ultimately that is what is so fun about the film.

If only more films had a surface as delectable as the one Black has constructed here.

Is it shallow? Absolutely. Does it matter? To be honest, most of the time I was too busy laughing to care.

MORE DETAIL

> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> Jonathan Bernstein in The Guardian with an excellent article on the film and the buddy movie in general
>
Culturepulp have an extra long ‘directors cut’ Q&A interview with Shane Black
> Screentalk discuss the script with Shane Black

 

The Constant Gardener

A gripping thriller that also functions as an intelligent and moving drama, The Constant Gardener is easily one of the year’s best films.

Fernando Meirelles’ last film, City of God, was a stunning look at crime in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. He may have been a surprising choice to tackle the intrigue of John Le Carré’s 2001 novel, but he turns out to have been an inspired choice, bringing an unexpected energy and power to the material. This is very different from the refined world of previous Le Carré adaptations like The Russia House and The Tailor of Panama. Continue reading “The Constant Gardener”