Friday, 2 September 2011

Review of One Day, and The BlackBerry Trajectory

I'm not usually averse to Americans being given a hard time; they live in the world's wealthiest and most powerful democracy, they can take a few digs. But I must admit to feeling slightly sorry for Anne Hathaway, whose version of aYorkshire accent in One Day has had a bit of a trashing lately. Being a Lancastrian, I'm less entitled than most to comment on the accuracy of an imitation accent from t'other side of the pennines, but her attempt doesn't seem that bad...Admittedly, it does veer about from posh, generic Northern to fairly standard RP, but this befits the character, Emma's, move to London, which does tend to soften the edges of most regional accents, whether by gradual assimilation, or design.
We Brits do seem to get quite upset by non Brits attempting any variety of British accent. I tend to make a personal distinction between:
i) accents that are ludicrous but don't feature that heavily in a film, and are regarded eventually as something of a classic (Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins).
ii) accents that are slightly rubbish, thus allowing us a smirk of superiority, but don't ruin a movie (Russell Crowe in Robin Hood)
iii) accents that are utterly silly, and so heavily featured that the film is almost impossible to watch (Brad Pitt as an IRA man in The Devil's Own)
and I'd argue that Hathaway's probably comes into the second category.

Besides, it's not the least of this film's problems. I read the book on holiday this summer, and enjoyed it. Mainly because it seemed to me to be an attempt at a portrait of my generation, and so many elements of it rang true. The move down to London post graduation (or at some point later); the inability to decide how to spend ones life; the romance with chemicals in the early 90s, partying, partying and yet more partying; the endless weekends spent at weddings in ones 30s etc etc. There were some keen moments of observation, as when the two central characters are at the start of their friendship, and Dexter analyses Emma's character on the basis of the contents of her student bedroom, and sums up with the devastating sentence ' The problem with these fiercely individualistic girls was that they were all exactly the same'. Ouch.

The episodic nature of the structure works in the book. For those who haven't read it, the action starts on 15July, and focuses each chapter on that same date in each of the subsequent years, looking at where the characters are in their separate stories, and in the one they share. But in the film, there isn't time to dwell on these occasions, and time passes like a series of snap shots, and we don't really see how their lives/personalities are developing. There are parts that have been elided, eg Emma's affair with a colleague.

The film's main problem is that it straddles various genres, as if it can't really decide what it is. It isn't a romcom, the story's ending is too sad for that. There are comedy moments, but somehow they don't quite take off. It isn't in depth enough to be a drama. Emma in the novel is mischievous, she has a twinkle in her eye that makes her one liners and put downs witty and droll rather than whingy. Hathaway delivers these in a flat monotone that kills them stone dead.

One my friend Celia said, when I asked if she wanted to see the film, that she found the book the 'smuggest vomitfest' ever, and although the book didn't strike me that way, the film kind of made me see what I think she meant. It's true to say that all works of fiction take place in a bubble, that's the job of the author, to create a believable universe in which the events take place. But I think realist novels, which One Day is, need to have some kind of connection with the wider world. The novel takes place during interesting times; the fall of Thatcher, the rise of New Labour, both Gulf Wars, 9/11, the London bombings are just a few of the events that fall within this time frame. But none of them are referred to. Alright, one could argue that the novel's focus on just one day each year, means they could be ommitted. But all these events resonated on for years, and someone like Emma, who is a political activist at the start of the book, would certainly have reflected on them/been affected by them.

The film shockingly portrays the ending of the story. The film starts with this scene, Emma cycling through the London streets, and returns to it near the end. Even though, if you know what's coming you're waiting for it, because of the camera angle, it hits you like a sledge hammer. I involuntarily covered my face with my hands. This ending rips apart the smug little universe of Emma and Dexter, and shoves home the story's theme of 'what really matters?' with a sickening thud. But when you leave the cinema, sadly, you don't feel any more able to answer that question than when you went in.

The BlackBerry Trajectory
I updated my mobile in June, and having decided I wanted easy access to my email, without having to pay more each month, I went for a BlackBerry. Of course, the cachet of using a BlackBerry had not passed me by. I had a vague idea that they were popular with business people and city types. Turned out, I was a little behind the times, just one of the things I learnt from the coverage of the recent riots.

Back in 2003, Blackberry released the first smartphone set up to optimize using email wirelessly. Basically, it was always connected so new email was notified to the user automatically. Back then it was all about the business community, being able to respond to emails quickly while on the go. So addictive was this ability to answer emails, and gallivant around on the web whilst commuting etc, that the device quickly earned the soubriquet ‘Crackberry’.

Barack Obama was probably the most famous addict, his dependence on his BlackBerry was revealed during his 2008 presidential campaign. Although warned about security issues, he carried on using it for some time after his inauguration. This ‘endorsement’ is estimated to have been worth more than $25 million.
So how did the Blackberry smartphone go from being the must have accessory of the modern business person, to tool of civil unrest, as witnessed in the UK riots?

Well, there were comments on the net back in 2006 that business people were starting to shun BlackBerry because carrying one was thought to signify low status in the corporate heirarchy, and the need to be always at the mercy of email and ones superiors.

Dr. Paul Coulton, Senior Lecturer in communication systems at the University of Lancaster said that teenagers started to use the BlackBerry as they inherited their parents’ cast off phones, and quickly cottoned onto the BlackBerry Messenger service as a way of keeping in touch for free. I spoke to some Merseyside teenagers (ok, my nephew and niece but that doesn’t make them any less reliable sources!) who confirmed this. My niece told me that not all of her friends have free texts in their contract, and those on pay-as-you-go often are too skint to top up their credit. My nephew reckons he was the first in his circle to get a BlackBerry, after seeing them in use by hip hop stars such as Jay-Z, who compares himself to a BlackBerry in his track Venus Vs Mars, and Ghostface Killah (formerly of the Wu Tang Clan) who lauded the BlackBerry in his track Drama. BlackBerries are also relatively cheap now to get on contract from phone companies, for example Carphone Warehouse offer the BlackBerry Curve free from £10.50 per month.

Although it’s well known that the police can surveil email and other web traffic when necessary, the riots were the first occasion when they have demonstrated wholesale their ability to break into mobile communications. This must have come as a shock to the BlackBerrying rioters, given you have to use a PIN to access the messenger service, which gives an illusion of security. The messages instigating rioting were sent in real time, and couldn’t be accessed quickly enough to stop this activity, but the police confiscated phones from those they arrested, and accessed messages planning looting etc. The Met even managed to use details from the seized phones to monitor BBM in realtime, which allowed them to turn up and disrupt further planned events.

So what does this all mean for Research in Motion, the company who makes the devices? I imagine they don’t care all that much, as long as their product is being bought and used, it probably doesn’t matter to them just who is picking their BlackBerries. 

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