Monday, 28 February 2011

How To: Virgin Media Super Hub + Apple Time Capsule

I've recently upgraded my broadband with my cable provider Virgin Media, from 20 to 30 meg.  As part of this process I was advised that my existing modem would be incompatible with the upgrade so I was going to be sent their wonderful Super Hub (a custom Netgear box).  The problem was that this Super Hub is a wireless router and that it wasn't quite compatible with my existing home network: an Apple Time Capsule and an Airport Express.  If I was to connect the Time Capsule to the Super Hub I'd run into the dreaded double NAT problem whereby each of the routers would try to allocate all the devices on my network IP addresses, causing all manner of conflicts.

Ideally, all the Super Hub needs is a kill switch to make it act like a modem and nothing else. But it doesn't.  This is a much maligned piece of kit that many customers have been grumbling about.  However, it can be tweaked.

I couldn't find any instructions for doing this, but I managed to piece together the relevant processes from posts on the Apple Discussion forums as well as the Virgin Media site (kudos to Seph).  What I'm going to do in this post is show you how I managed to disable the wireless capabilities of the Super Hub so that my Time Capsule can act as it should.  The same should apply to anyone using an Airport Extreme (the Time Capsule include this hardware) router too.

Before I started I jotted down the MAC address (aka Airport ID) of the wireless devices I was using (my MacBook Pro and the Time Capsule).  On a Mac you get to these by navigating to the following:

System Preferences >> Network >> Advanced >> Airport

The Airport ID should be at the bottom of the dialogue box.

How To:

1 - Plug the Time Capsule router’s WAN port into any of the LAN ports on the Super Hub.

2 - Plug the computer/laptop into any Super Hub LAN port and access the management page by typing http://192.168.0.1 into the address bar.  Login with the details from the back of the Super Hub and click the Advanced link
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3 - In the left-hand navigation column, under Advanced, select the LAN IP option.  Examine the DHCP Client Lease Info field; you should see your computer and the Time Capsule (plus any other connected devices if you have them). If you haven't already, make a note of the MAC address from the Time Capsule and add it to the DHCP reservation section.  After that, give the Time Capsule an IP address like 192.168.0.10

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4 - Next step, navigate to the DMZ host page on the Super Hub from the left hand column and enter the same IP address (e.g. 192.168.0.10) in the appropriate field. This means that the Super Hub will pass all traffic to the second router without any checks or filters. The Time Capsule will be in the same subnet as the router side of the Hub.
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5 - Turn off or disconnect the Time Capsule and connect your computer to it with a network cable. Reboot it.  At this point launch Airport Utility - the Time Capsule will be reporting an error.  It needs to be put into Bridge Mode (either via the method below or by using the diagnostic tool):

Manual Setup >> Internet >> Internet Connection >> Connection Sharing >> Off (Bridge Mode)

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6 - At this point you are almost ready to go.  All we need to do is disable the wireless functions on the Super Hub. Login to the router again http://192.168.0.1 but don't go into the Advanced mode yet.  Simply select Wireless Network Settings and change the Wireless mode to Off then hit Save.

7 - Log back in to the Advanced mode on the Super Hub http://192.168.0. Navigate to the Services tab under the Content Filtering option in the left hand column.  Once there deselect the Firewall Features and  IP Flood Detection and hit Apply.
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You should be good to go now.  Your original wifi network will be functioning as normal and the Time Capsule will be taking care of business.  I did a quick ISP speed test and it looks like I'm getting the full 30 meg speed.  Nice.

NB: Virgin Media are planning on upgrading the Super Hub's firmware and testing it around April time

Friday, 25 February 2011

The King of Kong...

This coming Wednesday I'm presenting my film choice at at the University of Sunderland's CineClub, and I've chose the 2007 docudrama King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars. I'll be introducing the film and setting the context for the screening - I expect many people in the audience will be unfamiliar with the world of competitive gaming, so this will be a real eye-opener for them.  In preparation of this I've made a couple of posters to advertise the event.  I thought I bung them up here in case nobody reads the CineClub's website.  Enjoy!

I was going to screen this wonderful little docudrama last term but the weather got in the way. There’s nothing stopping us this semester. In case you don’t know anything about the movie, here’s the blurb:

A middle-school science teacher and a hot sauce mogul vie for the Guinness World Record on the arcade classic, Donkey Kong. Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell engage in a cross-country duel to see who could get the high score and become the King of Kong. Along the way they learn what it means to be father, a husband and a true champion. This docudrama is a heart-warming story of dedication and determination. It’s also a relatively rare opportunity to get a glimpse of the history and culture of arcade and video games, long since forgotten in the wake of the success of recent giants like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft.

Entry is free and it'd be great if to see you there (directions info: here).    In case you know nothing at all about this little gem, check out the trailer below:


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Doing Women's Film History Conference

A few of my colleagues from the Centre for Research into Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland are hosting a conference this Spring (April 13-15 2011) on the subject of film history and women's marginalised role within it, which promises to be most interesting. I've copied the conference description:

Despite their marginalization in film history, women continue to be widely involved in cinema as producers, directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, editors, designers, actresses, distributors, programmers, cinema managers, publicists, critics, audiences. This international conference brings together researchers, archivists, filmmakers and those involved in distributing and programming films to explore new research in women’s film history, asking how this impacts on conceptions of cinema and how women’s filmmaking can be made more visible, accessible and relevant.
There have been over 70 conference papers accepted to date and there are a range of academics and experts speaking at the event.  I've listed a few of the plenary speakers and panelists below:

  • Monica Dall’Asta (Bologna University; Non solo dive. Pioniere del cinema italiano); 
  • Jane Gaines (Columbia University, Women Film Pioneers Project); 
  • Christine Geraghty (Glasgow University; Women and Soap Opera); 
  • Karola Gramman (Kinothek Asta Neilsen, Frankfurt); 
  • Debbie Horsfield (theatre/TV writer/producer); 
  • Margo Harkin (Besom Productions; Northern Ireland Film Commission); 
  • Sue Harper (Portsmouth University; Women in British Cinema); 
  • Clare Holden (Sally Potter Archive); 
  • Kate Kinninmont (Women in Film & TV – UK); 
  • Neepa Majumdar (Pittsburg University, Wanted, Cultured Ladies Only: Female Stardom in India 1930s-1950s); 
  • Laura Mulvey (Birkbeck, London University; feminist filmmaker & writer); 
  • Tessa Ross (Controller, Film4); 
  • Heide Schlüpmann (Goethe Universität, Frankfurt; The Uncanny Gaze); 
  • Felicity Sparrow (Central St Martins; Circles); 
  • Debra Zimmerman (Women Make Movies, New York).
There are some big names from the worlds of theory and production listed there. A more detailed list of individual panelists can be found here.  I understand that booking for the event is due to commence from the 1st of March, so if you want to stay abreast of future developments then head over to the conference blog:

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Rockstar rocks the 1940s

After the success of last year's hit, Red Dead Redemption (which shifted 8 million units!), those folks at Rockstar have what looks like an awesome game lined up with the investigative crime game LA Noire.  There's a new promotional video doing the rounds.  You should watch it.  Team Bondi are developing the title - they were the people behind The Getaway on the PS2.


LA Confidential meets Heavy Rain via GTA IV?  I wonder what the odds are it'll be a hit?

Monday, 7 February 2011

"Young turn to piracy to watch pay TV for free"?

In a Guardian article which should be filed under stating the bleeding obvious, it suggested that young people are using the internet to access television content ahead of broadcast.  The article went on to talk about the new Sky Atlantic channel which is looking to position itself as the UK version of HBO, as most of the content is pulled from their archives.

None of this is particularly noteworthy in and of itself, other than a rather bemusing claim that was removed stating that a "fresh wave" of piracy would ensure as people would look to get the channels content (most of the material consists of repeats that have no doubt been pirated or streamed already). Another claim about DVD sales being likely to slump seems to mirror an already established trend.

What was worth drawing attention to was the comment by dj1917 which I've reposted below:
People download television from the interweb, you say? With something you call a "stream" or "torrent"? Further research tells me that films, musical recordings and football matches are also freely available! I must say, Good Sirs, that young people today disgust me! As a gentleman on the cusp of my fourth decade, I was not previously aware of this heinous trend in technological thievery only known of by the young, with their funny haircuts and their eye-pods. I must praise you, Mr. Guardian, for bringing it to my attention. In future editions of your fine organ could you take some time to explain, in terms as if to an audience of elderly simpletons, as otherwise I may not understand, who these "Beatles" are, and what's all this I hear about horseless carriages?

That certainly ticked me.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Black Swan: brutal ballet

Black Swan - psychodrama, horrific, melodramatic, sadomasochistic, misogynistic?  You take your pick with the superlatives when it comes to describing this Oscar-nominated ballet movie.  It's been nominated in 5 categories - best picture, best directing, best cinematography, best actress, and best editing. Last night, my wife and I went to the local cinema to see what all the fuss was about, and I thought I'd share my gut reactions here. I thought this was a brilliant and powerful movie, one I've got to see again.
Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN; Photo by Niko Tavernise. Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight

I best let you know that HERE BE SPOILERS so if you don't want to ruin the plot click away now.

The film centres around Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a ballet dancer in her late 20s, who has lived a sheltered life devoid of much outside of ballet.  She lives with her mother (no mention of a father), played by the creepy over-botoxed Barbara Hershey (as Erica), who sacrificed her own dancing career at the age of 28 to look after her child.  Nina's ambition is two fold: to be 'perfect' but also to match the desires of her mother - to play the lead in a large, well respected production - in this case, the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.  An opportunity arises when the ageing principle ballerina, Beth (Winona Ryder), is 'retired' by the producer, Thomas (Vincent Kassel).  However, the world of ballet is competitive and bitchy - friendships are hard to come by for Nina, in a discipline that is marked by jealousy.

Aronofsky's film says much thought the mise-en-scene - it's very claustrophobic, over-bearing and subterranean.  The Sayers' apartment is full of tight corridors flanked with mirrors and shadows; the large rehearsal rooms appear narrow, stale and devoid of natural light; deserted tight hospital corridors; grey toiled cubicles; even a gala function takes place in a gothic mansion with tight frames bearing down on the protagonists.  Seldom do we see wide open spaces in this film, and even when we do its via hand-held camera tracking the back of Nina's head as she makes her way to the rehearsal building - a sense of landscape and perspective is purposefully denied as the cloistered world (and mental state) of the protagonist encroaches.  Nina's ambition to succeed in the role causes her great consternation as she struggles to respond to the demands of Thomas.  Her lack of life-skills outside the world of ballet means she has a limited repository of experiences to draw upon, in rising to the challenges. Her quest for perfection in ballet has meant that she has sacrificed much we take for granted.

Nina's bedroom is that of a pre-pubescent child: pink, filly, and covered with stuffed animals - perfectly reflecting her innocence and sexual naivety. This virginal innocence is perfectly fitted to the role of the White Swan, yet Nina is not the automatic choice for the passionate Black Swan role that comes with the part. Throughout the course of the plot Nina is encouraged by her lecherous producer, to 'let go', find herself, give over to her sexual urges.  He insists she masturbate in order to overcome her inhibitions. He forces himself upon her in a later scene only to walk out on her with the pithy put down 'That was me seducing you' when it's clear she is incapable of being seductive herself.

The film shows Nina is capable of perfection (at least in regards to form), but this comes at a cost - it's not natural nor sensuous, and it gets in the way of artistic expression.  Thomas seems to want the virgin and the whore, the latter of which Nina is seemingly incapable of being.  As Nina becomes increasingly obsessed and her descent into madness ensues, events play out on screen which cast her sanity into doubt. In one sequence, after seemingly bonding with a fellow dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), over drinks Nina notices her drink being drugged. The plot switches to a nightclub scene with smoke, strobes and distorted/reverbed music where Nina and Lily are partying. One jump cut later and Nina is kissing a stranger - disorientated she makes her way into the street to be joined in a taxi by Lily.  They end up in Nina's bedroom and sleeping together, only for Nina to awaken and find no trace of Lily with the bedroom door looked from within.

This film is also very visceral. Throughout the film the camera dwells on the trussed up feet of the dancers; going so far as to focus, somewhat sadistically, on the swollen toes and damaged nails of Nina.  Several sequences in the take a sadistic pleasure in borrowing from the generic codes of horror and torture porn movies. The sound design is superb - several times in the film I was conscious of the off camera diegetic audio coming from over my right shoulder just before a fast transition or jump cut would take place.  The nightclub sequence, though short, reminded me of the disorientation that can occur on the dancefloor, when engulfed in sound and darkness. The fingernail cutting sequences seemed to overlay audio from a butchers table or from a guillotine, exaggerating the sense of fear and panic associated with the act.

However, the film is full of mixed messages.  The misogyny of the movie is there for all to see - in order for any women to succeed it must cost them dearly (Nina takes her own life, Beth steps out into traffic, Erica sacrifices her career, etc).  Some of the sacrifices they make are physically damaging - Nina's feet, diaphragm, back and legs all take a hit.  Some of the sacrifices go beyond the physical: Nina loses her grip on reality.  She visits the woman she succeeded in hospital (Beth) only to witness self-mutilation at the hands of nail file, which then Nina finds in here own hand. Did Nina stab Beth or was it all a figment of her psychosis? These are but a few of the several moments (as I've outlined) where Nina's perception of events are unreliable.

The movie, like the plots of many operas and ballets, seeks to punish women. Like Swan Lake, Tosca, Giselle, Carmen and Madam Butterfly several women in the film who seek their desires are punished for attempting to achieve them.  Nina's journey is a clear parallel of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake who eventually takes her own life.  It's difficult to say whether this film is a critique of this trope or not. If it is then the label of misogyny is misplaced.  Much of the film seems to undermine the pursuit of perfection - several times we are shown scenes of bulimia as Nina goes to the bathroom to be sick in order to stay underweight, the refusal of cake, the lack of desire to go for food with Lily, etc - by portraying these sequences as normal parts of life when they are anything but (suffering for perfection?). The characet of Thomas comes across as both lecherous and odious - yet his vision shapes Nina's?

I think Debra Cash illustrates the problems of the film's supposed misogyny best when she said,
It’s a film about a masochist seen through the eyes of a sadist. Black Swan could be a textbook demonstration of what academics refer to as the male gaze—with a pretty young thing poked and dismembered under a misogynist lens. Aronofsky’s fable portrays female powerlessness on every level—youth, friendship, collegiality, retirement, motherhood.
Aronofsky has made a film that takes a certain degree of pleasure in breaking its female characters, although to label the director a sadist is perhaps heavy-handed. If this wasn't done for a reason other than to take pleasure in that violence then I think we have a problem. When dealing with the role of women, the film is ambiguous at best, and it refuses to take an easy kop out.  I prefer to think that this unrelenting movie is trying to get us to look beyond the story and is asking us to think structurally and holistically about cinematic pleasure and patriarchy. This film doesn't seem to be playing with conventions in an ironic sense - it seems to be drawing our attention to a problem.

In one take on the movie, Judith Schutz points to the broader societal expectations which inform the film:
What is being expressed in Black Swan ... is female self-hatred in the face of societal expectations of what female perfection should be. Impossibly thin. Totally self-controlled. Beautiful. Accomplished. Envied. Adored. And as the fate of fallen ballerina Beth Macintyre (played by Wynona Rider) shows, even if you have, through years of hard work, attained these qualities, you cannot hold on to them for long; and once you have lost them, you will inevitably become an object of horror, derision, and pity. Achieving perfection in her last dance, Nina herself has no choice but to die, not because she is mad, but because the other alternative is unthinkable. Her last words are telling: "I was perfect." 
These final words ring hollow when set against Thomas' earlier claim that 'Perfection isn't about control, it's about letting go' and Nina certainly lets go as she lies dead on the stage.

In many ways, Black Swan reminded me more of Fight Club than The Wrestler (a movie many have claimed is its companion piece).  The unreliable narrator of that movie dealt with his own masculine crisis by creating a perfect alter ego for himself, before the film ends with a rejection of that construct.  In Black Swan, it is patriarchal culture which fosters an imagined perfect femininity that Nina strives for, but is unable to achieve - precisely because the 'perfection' is artificial and unobtainable.  The only way out is death?  It is this denouement which worries me more than anything else, especially as Nina's final claim that she'd been faking all along and that she achieved perfection seems so bleak.