Ashamed of last night’s debauchery? There’s an App for that

There’s nothing worse than waking up to rediscover your typo-ridden, cringe worthy updates of last night’s party on Facebook. Fortunately, one former Pembroke student has created a solution to such woes, in the form of a discreet iPhone app.

Daniel Cowan’s “Last Night Never Happened” app deletes all Twitter and Facebook messages uploaded during a state of intense inebriation. The self -proclaimed “world’s first morning after app” thus promises to rid students of the humiliation surrounding drunken status updates and lascivious late night tweeting. For the particularly unfortunate, the app also erases unflattering photos uploaded on social networking sites.

22-Seeds, the company behind the app, claim that iPhone users are 27% more likely to post humiliating Facebook updates than their computer-bound counterparts.

Cowan, who graduated from Oxford in 2000, explained his inspiration for the app: “I was on a diving trip in Indonesia, checking my Facebook – and was shocked to see a photo posted which I thought would never see the light of day. I then spent the evening reliving the stories of my time at Oxford.”

Amy Watson, a 1st year Biology student, was somewhat underwhelmed by the product: “I think it’s a pretty clever app to have, albeit a little bit uptight. The price is perhaps a little too much for something you could do manually. Then again, if you’re an insufferable waster then you may well be insufferably lazy. I suppose it would be very useful for multiple extreme frapes.”

Cowan responded: “We won’t be able to detect fraping per se, but if a user finds their account has been accessed or leaves their phone around and a friend pulls some kind of prank, our app can definitely help with damage control.”

However repentant stalkers may find themselves disappointed: the app cannot recall sent texts or delete husky midnight voicemails.

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Limitless: all Cooper, no substance

Bradley Cooper is Eddie Morra, a scruffy author with writers block and subsequently no writing. Combine this with a book contract that is due imminently and his need for inspiration is clear. Four days later he has written his magnum opus, learnt the piano and most importantly (on the films terms at least) had a makeover. How has he done this? The now super suave Eddie has been popping pills. NZT to be exact, an underground drug that allows users to access 100% of their brains capacity (instead of the mythical 10-20%) It turns him into some sort of Einstein inflected superhero seemingly capable of turning money, into, well… more money. A perfect premise therefore for parodying the drugged-up, prescription-reliant, capitalist-driven, consumerist age in which we live, you may say, being the discerning reader that I’m sure you are. Well do you know what? Shut up, stop thinking, and look at Bradley Cooper in tailored suits being successful at stuff. Greed may or may not be good but Limitless seems concerned only with asking whether or not it’s entertaining.

Based on Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, the film is directed with a sort of sub-Fincher visual flair by Neil Burger who yet again shows his tendency toward sporadic visual gimmickry. Between the uneven use of cascading letters and fish eye camerawork however he does pioneer a series of unique and motion sickness inducing extended zoom shots of New York’s streets which are technically and somewhat contextually impressive. Outside of these fleetingly stylised moments, though, the film is pretty much conventional in its presentation and Leslie Dixon’s script, while competent at delivering what is a largely intriguing concept, is for the most part uninventive.

Cooper however is cast perfectly to type for the majority of his performance as the smugly confident NZT-addicted Eddie Morra and most importantly provides some much needed style to what is essentially a substance vacuum. With every performance he is showing an increasing amount of promise as a bankable (albeit fundamentally superficial) leading man. De Niro however (as the ridiculously named Carl Van Loon) is thoroughly wasted with minimal opportunity to do anything but phone in his performance. Squandering his talents on insubstantial roles like this and a certain comedy franchise with severely diminishing returns seems like a terrible waste. Where’s Scorsese when you need him?

So, the film has a certain rather effective flashiness, but anyone searching for a deeper meaning beneath the surface will be hard pushed to find one. Between all the sex, lies and pharmaceuticals there may lurk a message of sorts, timidly hinted at in brief encounters with Eddie’s girlfriend (played by a perfectly acceptable Abbie Cornish). She seems to be the film’s voice of reason, threatening to ruin all of the drug-induced fun by occasionally suggesting that the drugs may make him a ‘better’ person, but they also make him a different one. Nevertheless, when the film does seek to explore the underbelly of NZT addiction it slows to a lifeless and entirely unconvincing crawl. The film imbues the viewer with little in the way of emotional attachment to any of the characters, let alone the arrogant, self involved lead. Thinking and reason routinely give way to showy, well handled montages of ever more smug handshaking, back patting and nightclubbing but that’s what the film is here for and that’s fine by me.

Anyway, who needs reason when you’ve got a “four figure IQ”, a new found knack for playing the stock market and a terribly handsome head on your shoulders? Not Eddie Morra and not Limitless that’s for sure. Whenever side effects or come-downs are given even a modicum of screen time, my interest and indeed attention wavered. The film is not about serious moral messages, nor is it grounded in any semblance of reality. At its best when voyeuristically ooh-ing and ah-ing at Eddie Morra’s effortless swagger and the city culture which his character seeks to dominate, Limitless is success porn for the aspirational masses. It isn’t going to change the world, or in fact change anything, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it’s hollow charms and Cooper’s film saving performance while they lasted.

3 Stars

Jury still out on McConaughey drama

Ah, Matthew McConaughey. Not, it is fair to say, many people’s favourite actor – most of his recent films have been, well, dreadful; with McConaughey seeming to choose roles purely on the basis of the resulting pay-check and whether they offer him a chance to take his shirt off. So what a pleasant surprise it is to see him give the performance of a lifetime in The Lincoln Lawyer Brad Furman’s adaptation of the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly.

McConaughey plays sleazy criminal lawyer Mick Haller, a man who specialises in getting (well-paying) criminal clients acquitted. When a real estate mogul’s son is accused of assaulting a prostitute, Haller thinks he has a slam-dunk case to get him released. Naturally, things don’t quite play out that way. But while the premise is unoriginal, the way the plot twists its way towards its conclusion is not – there’s enough of the unexpected here to keep the audience guessing and director Furman does an effective job of creating a menacing atmosphere as things begin to get out of hand for Haller.

Furman also receives able support from his cast. Ryan Philippe, playing against type as an evil killer, is a revelation, his boyish good-looks only making his terrifically creepy performance all the more notable. Marisa Tomei, playing Haller’s ex-wife, is also as excellent as ever. But it is McConaughey’s performance that truly carries the film – he approaches his role with a grit that has been completely absent from recent performances, his sardonic, sleazy cool finally playing off. It’s a career-best performance by an actor who has often promised much and delivered little.

All of which makes The Lincoln Lawyer’s second half even more of a disappointment. A long-winded court trial dissipates the tension created in the first hour and sucks most of the energy from the film. Gaping plot holes begin to appear, a side-effect, perhaps, of having to trim much of the novel’s content to fit into two hours. This leads to several plot lines never being properly tied up (the film begins to examine the motives of a murderer at one point, and then completely ignores them for the rest of its running time) and the story itself is far too perfunctorily wrapped up, with one late plot reveal rushed by so quickly you’ll miss it if you blink.

All this is not, however, to say that The Lincoln Lawyer is a bad film. It’s a perfectly serviceable and often quite tense legal thriller, with some sterling performances. It could have been so much more, which is certainly disappointing. However, for McConaughey at least, it’s a step in the right direction.

3 Stars

University announces tuition fees

University officials have announced tuition fees will be charged on an income-dependent scale from £3500 to £9000 per year for students starting undergraduate courses from 2012 onwards.

The University Council last week approved proposals under which most Oxford students will pay the maximum possible fee of £9000, with waivers to reduce the cost for those from households with an annual income of under £2500.

Based on the current mix of students at the university, around 16% of students will benefit from some level of fee waiver. Approximately 9.4% will receive the highest waiver, paying £3500 for their first year and £6000 for each subsequent year; students with a household income between £16000 and £25000 will be charged fees between £6000 and £8000.

In a letter to staff and students, University Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton said that the proposals “show the strength of our commitment to being accessible for all” despite the “deeply regrettable cuts to teaching funding”.

The university predicts that after taking into account cuts to teaching and capital funding, the higher fees will provide £10 million of extra annual income, of which £7 million will be “immediately reinvested in student support”, bringing the total spent on support and access schemes to £19 million per year.

In addition to spending on the provision of fee waivers, the university will spend an extra £750k on access and outreach work, £750k on on-course support including careers advice and provision for students with disabilities, and £290k on maintenance bursaries. Students with a household income of under £42000 will receive some form of bursary, with those from the poorest households getting £4300 in their first year and £3300 each year afterwards.

In an e-mail to college OUSU representatives and others who have helped in lobbying the university, OUSU president David Barclay said that Oxford is set to be “the most generous University in the country in its offer to the poorest and most under-represented students”. He said that the allowances made by the University “could never have happened without the co-ordinated efforts” of many students.

Barclay also said: “we now need more than ever to join together with the University and get out to schools and homes across the country to give the message that no student should be put off Oxford by the new fees system, and that if they have the talent Oxford will sacrifice to get them here.”

The press release accompanying the announcement of Oxford’s proposals emphasised the University’s desire to “attract applications from all individuals with the potential to study at the University”. An Access Agreement outlining how the University plans to increase the diversity of the student body has to be submitted to the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) by mid-April. The latest draft of the Agreement includes targets to increase the intake of students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and neighbourhoods with low participation in Higher Education, but the figures are to be “milestones” to be aimed for rather than quotas which have to be met.

Oxford is one of seven universities that have so far announced plans to charge £9000 tuition fees, along with Durham, Exeter, Surrey, Essex, Imperial and Cambridge.

Chemistry Department goes out with a bang

It could have been mistaken for end of term celebrations. In fact, the loud noise which stopped passers-by outside the University’s research lab on Mansfield Road was caused by a chemical explosion.

Two students were sent to hospital after the blast, which drew onlookers and fire-fighters to the scene in minutes. Having closed Mansfield Road at approximately 3.30pm, a police blockade was erected to deter curious onlookers.

Although a spokesperson for Thames Valley Police said they “were aware of the incident,” the precinct will not begin an investigation into the matter.

The Chemistry Department are withholding further details about the explosion, including the state of the injured students, until they conclude their own investigation.

A spokesperson for the University was said: “A minor explosion occurred at a University chemistry building on Friday afternoon but was contained by a safety cabinet. Two people were injured and were taken to hospital. The fire brigade were called but the building was reoccupied and there was no risk to the public and no indication of criminal activity.”

Professor Stephen Davies, Chairman of the Chemistry Department, declined to comment on the matter.

The real mystery of the Thin Man reboot is what exactly is the point?

by Rebecca Gillie

What do you get when you mix the director of the latest in the rapidly deteriorating Pirates of the Caribbean series, the screenwriter of that revered classic Bad Boys 2 and an actor who reached his dramatic peak in 1997 and hasn’t put in a really interesting performance since 2004?

Apparently, if you’re an executive at Warner Brothers, you get exactly the right ingredients to remake one of old Hollywood’s most sparkling jewels, namely 1934′s superlative and surprisingly enduring comedy-mystery The Thin Man.  The film, for those of you who don’t know, is based on a novel by the great Dashiell Hammett, and centres around a wealthy, witty, hard-drinking married couple who end up entangled in a murder mystery during a Christmas visit to New York.  Johnny Depp (for it is he) has been dragging his pitch for a remake around Tinseltown for a while now, and it seems as though the project is finally getting off the ground, with release tentatively scheduled for 2013, although given Depp’s committment to the PotC franchise, this date might well get pushed back.

Rob Marshall is attached to direct, and whilst the succes of Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha prove he is no shmuck, the fact that he only has four feature films under his belt, none of them comedies, should surely provoke tredipation. Especially in light of the fact that his 1934 counterpart, Woody ‘One-Take’ Van Dyke,  had the movie in the can in 12 days and for a budget of $231,000 (just over $3 million in today’s money).  Let’s see Marshall try to beat that… Meanwhile, whilst the 1934 classic was penned by Goodrich and Hackett (who would later go on to write It’s A Wonderful Life), today we learned that Jerry Stahl will be doing the honours this time around. You probably haven’t heard of him, but his similarly short CV consists mostly of scattered TV episodes. He also seems to have a knack for jumping on board a good show just as it begins to sink (Moonlighting post-sexual tension, Twin Peaks post-comprehensible). That’s not to say he’s a no-talent hack – his addiction memoir Permanent Midnight was well-received – but he has no background in movie comedy. A bit of a worrying pattern is developing here.

And then there’s Depp himself, increasingly reliant on his Jack Sparrow persona. You can’t coast along on quirky half-smiles forever, especially when you’re setting yourself up against one of cinema’s most winning performances. ‘William Powell is to words what Fred Astaire is to dance’ is Ebert’s verdict on the man who was an entire generation’s image of urbane sophistication, knocking back endless cocktails whilst solving baffling mysteries without breaking a sweat. And all achieved with a delicate balance of wit, cynicism and charm. That’s a pretty tall order for a man who seems to be running out of steam. This might be the challenge he needs to get himself back on track, but I’m unconvinced. The last time he tried to move away from his eccentric image the result was the underwhelming Public Enemies, and unless he finds a pretty spectacular actress to play the other half of the story’s husband-and-wife detective team (my pick would be Reese Witherspoon), I can’t see how he will generate the energy needed to pull the whole thing off. The role, to my mind, would be better suited to someone like Robert Downey Jr., who has the required urbane charisma and, as a plus, is freshly back at the top of his career.

Pictured: doing it right

The problem, of course, does not lie with the concept of a remake itself, which is as old as the hills. In fact, Classic-era Hollywood was possibly even more shameless when it came down to revamping old material – another of Hammett’s novels, The Maltese Falcon was adapted three times between 1931 and 1941 (and critical opinion seems to agree that they only got it right the last time). And his magnum opus The Glass Key was first immortalised on screen in 1935 until some smart executives figured there was still life in the old dog and promptly bashed out a 1942 rehash (which, it is worth noting, was once again garnered much better reviews than the first attempt).

The problem with Depp’s vision is that there is no visible answer to the vital question: What is the point? It isn’t that, like the examples mentioned above, the original was a flawed effort at capturing great material. The Thin Man is still highly regarded by critics and popular amongst film fans,  and some, including this observer, would say it even improves on the book. Alternatively, a remake’s interest can lie in the fact that it reimagines an old story in a different setting (think Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai translated to the Wild West as The Magnificent Seven, countless Shakespeare adaptations). However, Depp apparently plans on keeping the story’s 1930s setting. Whilst this comes as a relief (attempting to pass off the lifestyle of interwar New York high society as modern day would have been a grisly spectacle indeed), it also reminds us that Depp really doesn’t seem to be bringing anything new to the table. This approach never works, as epitomised by Gus Van Sant’s spectacularly pointless 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, which proved it is possible to copy a masterpiece with complete accuracy and yet still fail to capture one iota of the original’s brilliance.

Lest I be accused of simply booing blindly from the sidelines, I will almost certainly be going to see the Depp reboot if and when it makes it to cinemas. But it will be with the sort of guilty, transfixed voyeurism one associates with a particularly eye-catching road accident. The best thing I can say about the project at this moment is that bad remakes tend to sink reassuringly without trace (case in point: 2008′s blood-curdling assault on The Women, made in 1939 yet still one of the most genuinely funny films you’ll ever come across).  And hopefully, it will encourage people to dig up a copy of the original (and its highly enjoyable sequels) and get acquainted with one of cinema’s most perfect examples of pure entertainment.

The Adjustment Bureau – an opportunity missed

Philip K. Dick film adaptations are numerous and have a tendency to be very variable in both quality and tone. The better offerings usually evoke the authors sense of harshness and paranoia, taking his hard sci-fi themes and pitching them in a hard sci-fi manner. The Adjustment Bureau on the other hand under the guidance of writer and first time director George Nolfi takes the themes posited by Dick’s ‘The Adjustment Team’ and sets them somewhat as a back drop rather than a central thesis to what is an unexpectedly well handled love story. But has he missed a trick by not staying more true to the harsh nihilism that I’m sure Dick himself would have approved of?

The plot itself mainly concerns Matt Damon’s David Norris, a congressional candidate who appears to be the darling of modern US politics. Young, confident, rebellious and on the cover of GQ magazine, his campaign to be senator for New York seems unstoppable. That is until some indiscretions committed during his time at college come to light and he subsequently loses an election he fully expected to win. Enter Elise (Emily Blunt), a mysterious British dancer who meets and subsequently kisses him on the eve of his concession speech. The meeting has a profound effect upon Norris and his ensuing performance in conceding the election catapults him to political stardom. The next time they meet on a New York City bus (apparently by chance) their chemistry becomes ever more apparent to both of them, but as they part it is made very clear to Norris that he can never see her again.

Why? Well no one seems to know, but an organisation of shady well attired men in fedoras inform him that meeting Elise for a second time and indeed meeting her ever again was and is not part of ‘The Plan’. He meets two of these men, Mitchell and Richardson (played in a perfectly passable fashion by Anthony Mackie and Mad Men’s John Slattery) who, with no little exposition, inform him of the Adjustment Bureau. The eponymous ‘bureau’ consists of a vast swathe of similarly clothed gentlemen who enforce the plan of the ‘Chairman’ (take whatever religious connotations from this you wish, although the film doesn’t seek to explain the nature or indeed the purpose of this shadowy figure) by intervening in the affairs of humans in such a manner as to keep ‘The Plan’ on course. Norris however doesn’t take kindly to their demands and voila; the high concept is reduced substantially from what could have been a refreshingly emotionally grounded intellectual exploration of the notions of fate and free will to a mere (albeit interesting) framing device for a romantic drama to play out to.

The more I think about it, the more I see The Adjustment Bureau as being but a mere shadow of the film it could have potentially been. It feels strikingly edgeless and the ending that Nolfi punted for after much to-ing and fro-ing with script edits and reshoots seems like a missed opportunity. Not to give it away but I myself was desperately hoping for a Brazil style finale with which the film could have jarred audience expectations and given them something to really mull over after they left the screening. Yes, in light of the films overall Hollywood sheen and Matt Damon’s general on-screen persona the film may not easily lend itself to such an unusual and unforgiving take on proceedings, but even so I still would have loved the film to take it’s premises to their more depressing, yet thought provoking and seemingly more logical conclusions.

This is made ever more tragic when the fledgling relationship between Damon’s David and Blunt’s Elise is handled actually quite well. The scene in which they first stumble into one another (in the gent’s of all places) is a surprisingly offbeat and well judged brief encounter and something which from the get-go sets the tone for what really is a promising opening hour. Their relationship does actually provide a fairly strong emotional pull to a film that on the surface may seem all high concept and sterile, earnest plot exposition. A hammer-blow ending could have elucidated the tragedy of their situation so much better and could have elevated the film to more than just a high-budget well written romance with pretentions toward something more substantial.
The Adjustment Bureau is perfectly entertaining popcorn fare with something only slightly deeper to offer in terms of intellectual nourishment. That it fails to commit to its less mainstream aspirations however is disappointing.  Whilst some sci-fi can be too dry in its philosophical theorising the film could’ve got away with a much more serious take on its themes considering the easy rapport of its leads. But unfortunately, as it edges toward its finale, the film has its sights set firmly on our heartstrings in the broadest manner possible when simply carrying out what it had threatened to do all along would have twisted the knife so much more.

3 Stars

Sorry you’ve gone XI

Tim Wigmore picks an XI from the best players whose World Cup is over, featuring at least one player from the six knocked-out sides.

Imrul Kayes

Whilst Tamim fired only briefly, his less obtrusive opening partner was the nearest Bangladesh had to a reliable batsman. Seldom over-adventurous but with a good range of shots deployed sagaciously, Kayes provided the backbone for their successful chases over England and the Netherlands, winning the Man of the Match award in both games. In his own words,”I believe in the idea of hanging in there instead of making a 10-ball 30” – making him almost the antithesis of Tamim.

Ed Joyce

His long-awaited return to Ireland colours was a disappointment in many ways – how Joyce will rue his soft dismissal against Bangladesh. But his 84 against the West Indies, which begun with consecutive boundaries, was testament to his class: he is surely the most aesthetically pleasing batsman any of the associate nations possess, with his cover drive evoking that of David Gower.

Collins Obuya

He is remembered for his sharp-turning leg-spin in the 2003 World Cup, when he took 5-24 in the victory against Sri Lanka. Obuya’s bowling has since subsided, but he has reinvented himself as a top order batsman of genuine quality, as 243 tournament runs illustrates. It was a great shame he ended 98* against Australia, after he had handled Tait, Lee and Johnson with the assurance of a Test player.

Niall O’Brien

O’Brien will be extremely frustrated reflecting on this World Cup: he made starts in every innings but only once past 50. O’Brien’s relish for a challenge was illustrated by hitting Morne Morkel for six over long-on, one of the shots of the tournament, and an average in excess of 40 shows the quality of this most industrious of cricketers.

Ashish Bagai (wicket-keeper)

Bagai was one of the best wicket keepers on display in this World Cup, keeping with poise and vivacity to seam and spin alike. And with the bat he was easily Canada’s best player. Elegant and never overawed, he took them to victory over Kenya, and then scored a commanding 84 at almost a-run-a-ball against New Zealand.

Ryan ten Doeschate

Ten Doeschate came into the tournament with a reputation as the best associate player in the world, and, with a century that fused brawn and finesse against England, he quickly went about justifying it. Though runs proved harder to score thereafter, he chipped in with a half century in difficult circumstances against Bangladesh, before ending the tournament with another magnificent hundred. His wicket-to-wicket bowling also troubled England.

Kevin O’Brien

Critics will say he only played one innings of note, but what an innings. O’Brien 113 against England – including 45 off 15 balls during the batting powerplay – was a knock for the ages. As a display of brutal, calculated hitting it was phenomenal: and it was fitting he ended Ireland’s tournament with the six that sealed victory over the Netherlands.

Shafiul Islam

Belying his ODI average of under 6, and three ducks in five innings this tournament, Shafiul proceeded to smash Swann and Anderson down the ground en route to raiding England for a match-winning 24*. His pace and reverse-swinging venom previously claimed 4/21 to clinch a tight victory over Ireland. But, like his team, Shafiul was damagingly inconsistent, leaking 124 runs from 14 overs in Bangladesh’s three defeats.

George Dockrell

Dockrell’s control and big-match temperament – remarkable for an 18-year-old mark him out as a special talent. In the intense pressure of the opening game in partisan Dhaka, Dockrell’s wonderful 10 overs, in which he returned 2-23, ought to have secured Ireland victory. Thereafter, he only continued to impress, with the only shame that his skipper didn’t trust him to bowl to Kieran Pollard. What odds him representing England in 2015?

Ray Price

The man with the most theatrical expressions in world cricket illustrated his guile and skill with some admirable performances, notably 2-21 of eight overs against Pakistan, and was equally effective opening the bowling or bowling in the middle overs. Nine wickets at less than 19 deserved better support from his disappointing compatriots.

Harvir Baidwan

Canada’s bustling seamer was impressive throughout, making up for a lack of express pace with nagging consistency and a touch of late movement. He will be rightly proud of his haul of thirteen scalps – three more than any associate bowler managed – which included Brendan McCullum, Shane Watson and Younis Khan.

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