Monthly Archives: March 2011

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.

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 Oxford Student

One Step Ahead Since 1991