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Matt J Williams
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Here's my 2013 film roundup. 2013 was very hectic for me, so I didn't catch as many films as I'd liked. I usually try to write a bit more about each film, but to get this out before January is over I'm going to do one sentence reviews. I'll try to return to interminable screed in 2014.

Top five cinema releases of 2013
1. Gravity – A simple survival thriller plot that serves as the core for the most extraordinary audio-visual experience of the year.
2. In The House – Provocative meta-fiction that's also thrilling throughout.
3. The Place Beyond The Pines – Ambitious storytelling that goes deep on inherited burden.
4. Arbitrage – Suspenseful drama where Richard Gere impressively keeps the viewer on-side while his character is drowned by his own white-collar misdeeds.
5. Wreck-It Ralph – Clever and fun in the way that Pixar films used to pull off as a matter of course.

Honourable mentions: Captain Phillips, The Way Way Back, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Mud, Stoker, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mud.

Potential contenders that I didn't catch in the cinema: Blue Is The Warmest Colour, The Kings Of Summer, The Act Of Killing, Upstream Color.

Least-favourite cinema release of 2013
Pacific Rim – I think I'm just in the "it's poor", rather than "it's so over-the-top it's great", camp on this one. Not truly awful, though, which is why I've changed this category to "least-favourite" rather than "worst".

Top five home viewings of 2013
1. 12 Angry Men – A film that discusses debate and judgement, and also happens to show what superb drama can do with one room and 90 minutes.
2. It's A Wonderful Life – Yeah, I hadn't seen this before. And, yeah, it's an excellent movie, as well as being an excellent Christmas movie.
3. Road To Perdition – A very nicely shot father-son story which manages to be gripping and moving.
4. Mr. Nobody – I have a thing for films that try to weave themes across multiple periods, generations, and lives. Mr. Nobody doesn't do quite as good a job of it as films like The Place Beyond the Pines or The Fountain, but had a memorable effect.
5. Cloud Atlas – See "Mr. Nobody" (above), but longer and with more flaws.

Honourable mentions: Primer, Mr. Nobody, The King Of Comedy, Oldboy.

Least-favourite home viewing of 2013
To The Wonder – Tree Of Life was a film that had the odd tedious avant-garde voice-over, but was otherwise great. To The Wonder is a film that has nicely shot (but otherwise pointless) visuals interspersed with far too many tedious avant-garde voice-overs, making the whole thing an excruciating experience.

Links to previous roundups
2011: https://plus.google.com/+MattJWilliams/posts/Xo72LHTQysY 2012: https://plus.google.com/+MattJWilliams/posts/bPbaoNrZa6i

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About to post up my film roundup of 2013. Realised that my first (2011) wasn't public.
Here's a roundup of the films I found notable in 2011. A caveat (which really doesn't need mentioning) is that this only covers film's I've seen. If you're outraged at the omission of a film, it's either because I wasn’t into it or because I haven't seen it. A few films I haven't yet seen but have high hopes for are: Moneyball, Tyrannosaur, The Kill List, The Artist, The Tree of Life, 50/50, and Senna.


Top six cinema releases this year
I'd originally intended this to be a top five, but I had a hard time relegating Submarine to the wilderness.

1. Drive
Beautifully shot with a soundtrack that works perfect with the film. This contrasts well with the (ultra-)violence that arrives part-way through. Not an intricate plot, but this is probably a benefit as it allows the characters (especially the protagonist), the city, and the action to take precedence. Saw it twice in almost as many days. Eagerly anticipating the Blu-Ray release -- this definitely deserves a viewing on a high-end system.

2. Take Shelter
Within the sense of uncertainty that the film (intentionally) conveys there are some incredibly affectionate family moments. The interplay between obsession, (unintended) destructive behaviour, and mental illness (or is it?) is very interesting. Also, the plot and ending do well to stimulate interesting debate about the film’s meaning.

3. Black Swan
Even though it's been almost a year since I’ve seen it, I can vividly remember the gripping tension. Any film this thrilling had to make it into my top films list. Apparently, critics and true ballet fans have issues with how it portrays the art. However, as far as I can see, Darren Aronofsky keeps churning out excellent movies, and this one did not disappoint.

4. Melancholia
I've fond memories of seeing this at an Art House cinema in Athens a few weeks before its general release. I was affected during that viewing and again when I saw it for a second time in the UK. It's great filmmaking. The parallel between the despair of humanity and individual depression works well. Kirsten Dunst's lethargic depression is very effective and almost contagious. Much better than Antichrist.

5. The Skin I Live In
'Enjoyable' is how I'd describe this film, which seems perverse given that it features some very horrible incidents. A great plot that keeps you intrigued all the way through, with a great twist part-way in.

6. Submarine
Very funny, in that reserved British way. I suspect part of the reason I can't leave this out of the list is because it's set in south Wales and does such a good job of depicting it.

Other highlights of the year: Super 8, Snowtown, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Source Code, Hugo.


Worst film I saw in the cinema
Captain America.
How did they fail to make Nazis with lasers exciting?


Top five home viewings this year
These are films I've seen outside of the cinema as part of my effort to catch up on the last 84 years of film-making (I'm drawing the line at Metropolis). In no particular order...

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Incisive satire. Still stands up today (excepting some of the special effects). Peter Sellers demonstrates some of the best acting I've ever seen. The film has so many entertaining, memorable characters.

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
A bit of a surprise. A touching film. It genuinely wants to portray the subject's life honestly, and does a very good job of it.

Zodiac
One of David Fincher's best.

Eyes Wide Shut
Another Stanley Kubrick film. Not as a good as Strangelove, but close to the top. (Note that I haven't seen Barry Lyndon or anything before Strangelove.) The ritual scenes are outstanding.

The Royal Tenenbaums
I often find oddball comedies difficult to get (examples include 'Oh Brother Where Art Though' and 'Rushmore'), but this one hits the mark and the quirkiness and drama work well together.


Worst home viewing of the year
Revolver.
I should note, however, that I had to give up 1/3 of the way in because it was so dull. Perhaps it really takes off.

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I've checked the council website, and Players on Stage (Awen) is registered as public art: http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/objview.asp?object_id=19498 
It seems reasonable, therefore, that the public should be allowed to visit it.

+Matt Rogerson -- does you or DMX512 know if it's on public land, or if it belongs to the College? If it's the latter, then it should probably be flagged for deletion? If it's the former, then all Ingress players should be able to visit it unmolested :).

Low Level Battleground
Hi all. Vox here. This community is a great idea, thanks to Ponder for setting it up.

So, it seem there's interest in a low level battleground for Cardiff. Here's the reddit post that inspired the idea: http://www.reddit.com/r/Ingress/comments/165dz2/the_importance_of_a_n00b_battleground/
As more invites roll out, more players will be faced with the daunting prospect of L4 or higher portals on the opposing team. A place for them to attack, link, and gain AP and feel like they're actually playing the game would hopefully keep them interested.

Location?
In terms of the location, I'd suggest Animal Wall since it provides the most AP per metre of anywhere in Cardiff. It has six portals all within 100 metres. If all portals belong to the enemy, then that's 600 AP per 5 minutes for any newcomers. If the portals are friendly, then there's AP in linking. And then there's also the obvious AP for newcomers destroying resonators and/or taking whole portals.

Aside from AP, it's near town (but not too close to be a strategic target), has amenities nearby, and is generally a nice place to visit. 

I'm conscious of the fact that bienjamu and Ponder invested many L4+ resos on the wall, however. If we do select it, martinjc and I don't mind dropping 20-30 or so L4 resonators in that area as recompense. We'd also leave the portals naked (uncaptured) for beginners to populate.

Rules?
Regardless of the location we choose, we need to think of how the low-level battleground would work. Here's how it might go:
* No resonators above Level 3.
* No attacks from anyone Level 4 or above.
It's possible that high-level visitors who aren't aware of the armistice might end up rolling over the area with some big resonators. I guess in this case we'd have to allow someone from the opposing team to attack and reset the offending resonators. 

Opinions? I wasn't sure whether the max should be L2 or L3, what do people think?

Film roundup 2012
2011 was the inaugural year of my end-of-year film roundups. I'm doing it again for 2012. Maybe now it can qualify as a "tradition", even if it is about two weeks late. In addition to the usual "top cinema releases" and "top home viewings" lists, I've also a included "top high budget releases" list this year. In hindsight this was a bit overkill. Writing about 15 films, some of which I saw almost a year ago, in one block was tiring. That said, it is refreshing to do some non-academic writing; I'm tempted to make my 2013 challenge to write 200-400 words after each film I see this year. That'd definitely make the 2013 end-of-year roundup easier. 

Looking back to the last end-of-year roundup I wrote (link: https://plus.google.com/116334378255532501938/posts/ES9F3BdrYQA), 2011 was a very good year for cinema. Drive and Take Shelter in particular were masterpieces, and with subsequent home viewings of Drive it's become one of my favourite films of all time. Comparing 2011 to the last 12 months, I find 2012 to be the weaker year. The average quality was good, but the peaks do not exceed those of 2011. 2012 was nothing to be disappointed with, however, as there have been some excellent films, the top five of which are coming in a moment.

Before that, I just want to note the following films I did not get a chance to see in the cinema:
Amour, Holy Motors, This Is Not a Film, Sightseers, Berberian Sound Studio. 
These are the ones that, from what people have told me, might have been contenders for places in my list of top cinema releases. I'll try and catch up with these when they are released for home video. If you've any recommendations of your own please let me know!

Top five cinema releases of 2012
1. End of Watch
One of two excellent films of 2012 that are driven by the relationship between the two main characters, the other example being The Master. The Master didn't make the top five because, despite its superb performances and mesmerising scenes, I still left it feeling unfulfilled. End of Watch, however, provided great performances, many memorable sequences, and a journey with its characters that left me satisfied. 
The dialogue is perfectly written and Jake Gyllenhal and Michael Peña do a masterful job of pulling the viewer into the dangerous world of law enforcement in South Central LA. Even their day to day banter provided more humour than most of 2012's comedies. Both times I saw End of Watch the whole audience laughed, recoiled, lamented, and cheered exactly when the film wanted them to. Around the main characters there is the stark impression of what life can be like in the worst parts of LA, similar to what The Wire did for Baltimore. 
The faux found footage style adds a naturalistic feel which works very well. Don't be mistaken, though -- it's not a found footage film. I had to embrace this fact to really enjoy it. 
End of Watch is a good antidote to Training Day (which was also written by David Ayer) -- both are convincing and revealing portrayals of policing on the streets of America, but End of Watch has a far more positive perspective, which is very refreshing given that many 2012 films tended to focus on the darker, corrupt side of law enforcement (e.g., Rampart and Killer Joe).

2. Argo
I knew little about the Iran Hostage Crisis before I saw Argo which I think allowed it to have its full effect as a thriller. Ben Affleck really knows how to ramp up the tension, and takes it to breaking point towards the end. Fortunately, John Goodman and Alan Arkin provide some well-needed comic interludes along the way. These are woven well into the narrative so as not to appear out of place, which again is to the credit of Affleck. As a thriller alone the film would be worthy of reaching this list. What I really liked, however, is that it's a great story. It's an almost comical and unbelievable concept (unbelievable, except it's true) that is set against a threatening backdrop of revolutionary Iran. 

3. Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard very cleverly subvert the horror genre, while still creating a fun film. I'm not a horror aficionado, but even I was able to enjoy Cabin in the Woods's mocking references to the tired tropes of bad horror films. It also works as an educational exercise, highlighting the stupidity and gratuitousness of modern horror. There's a lot to think about beyond the entertaining comedy-horror escapades.

4. The Hunt / Jagten
Mads Mikkelsen gives a great performance as the victim of mass persecution for a crime he did not commit. We're shown from the start that he is falsely accused, making it all the more grievous and compelling when we see how badly he is treated by his neighbours and former friends. It's depressing to watch these normally kindhearted townsfolk turning on their neighbour so quickly. There is, fortunately, a heartening contrast by way of the few friends and family that do support him as his life begins to disintegrate. In addition, there is the obvious comparison with the Newsnight scandal which was ongoing when The Hunt was released, a sobering reminder that a miscarriage as seen in The Hunt could happen in real life. 

5. The Grey
On the surface The Grey is a well-made survival thriller genre movie. All the necessary components -- tension, action, fear -- are implemented well. It also has one of the most traumatic plane crash sequences I've seen in a while. Despite what the misleading trailer suggests, however, The Grey is not simply Liam Neeson takes on wolves. It's more like Liam Neeson takes on depression, hopelessness, and God. Neeson's character starts the film with nothing to live or fight for and we see how he grapples with this in the wilderness. The climactic "I'll do it myself" scene is a stand out from 2012 and clinches The Grey's position in my top five.

Honourable mentions:
Killer Joe, Young Adult, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Raid: Redemption, Five-Year Engagement, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, The Descendants, Chronicle, Seven Psychopaths. 
...and any films on the top high-budget movies list. 

Worst cinema release of 2012
The Dictator
Unlike Sacha Baron Cohen's mockumentaries, The Dictator is simply not funny and not edgy in any way.  

Also, dishonourable mention for Liberal Arts which, while not being a genuinely bad film, gets the award for being the most agonising cinema experience this year. Kudos to you if you can get through this film without finding the central couple the most excruciating "quirky" couple you've ever had to bear. 

Top five cinema blockbuster releases of 2012
Despite none being present in my top five, there were some good blockbuster (by which I mean high budget) releases in 2012. The following is a list of my favourite five films with budgets in excess of $100 million. 

1. Skyfall
The best Bond and one of the best villains. It's relieving to see a Bond film that comes close to Casino Royale. It's fitting that in the year of the 60th anniversary of Bond they release a film that acknowledges its past as well as setting its own tone for the future. Casino Royale was excellent, and made the franchise interesting again, but it shunned a lot of the hallmarks of its predecessors. Skyfall retains the rougher tone of Casino Royale, but embraces elements of the classic Bond without being cringeworthy. The cinematography is great (interesting note: it was all shot in digital) and the core relationship between Bond and M drives the film amidst all the usual setpieces. 

2. The Dark Knight Rises
On first viewing, The Dark Knight Rises worked exactly as I'd hoped it would. Engaging throughout and a fitting end to Christopher Nolan's trilogy. Bruce Wayne is shown to be spent, broken, and deserving retirement, but facing a Gotham that still needs Batman despite rejecting him. Bane is a great villain made threatening by being a convincing physical match for Batman. Sadly, The Dark Knight Rises has lost a lot on subsequent viewings. It's still a mostly enjoyable watch, but there are too many extraneous threads; there are a lot themes in the melting pot, but not all of them are explored and the overall result ends up diluted. Still, the themes that do work -- self-sacrifice, inequality, redemption -- add depth that puts Dark Knight Rises above The Avengers on this list. 

3. The Avengers 
Joss Whedon did the impossible -- he somehow made the Hulk an interesting character. Also, he managed to pull together 5+ previous films, 10+ pre-established characters, and over one billion dollars of Marvel film investment into an entertaining and (mostly) coherent film. The Avengers mixes humour and action in the way a good comic book movie should. Marvel and Disney took a risk and it paid off. Hopefully the same will happen with Star Wars now that Disney have purchased it. 

4. Looper 
Refreshingly bold concept sci-fi, reminiscent of Inception or Moon. A great, intelligent movie that crams a lot of ideas into two hours. I really like the brooding atmosphere that fills most of the film. This is sometimes disrupted by out-of-place unnecessary Hollywood action antics and clichés, and a great deal of attachment and emotion are lost as a result. The worst culprit is Noah Sagan's character, who gets no love from Rian Johnson and just seems to exist as a throwaway catch-all to keep the plot moving. These are just gripes, however. Looper is not perfect, but any sci-fi with its level of ambition, and its success in realising its objectives, will always receive my praise.

5. Prometheus
Expectations were high for Prometheus and there was a lot of disappointment following its release. Not without reason, too -- it is laden with problems. It tries to convey points by having the characters didactically state them rather than allowing us to learn them for ourselves. This problem is exacerbated by the mostly one-dimensional characters, Michael Fassbender's playing David being a conspicuous exception. It's telling when an apathetic android is the most interesting character. However, the points that Ridley Scott is trying to get -- big questions regarding existence, belief, self-annihilation, and so on -- are compelling and the characters' adventure to try to answer them was enough to keep my attention. There are also great sci-fi visuals and some creepy horror scenes.

Top five home viewings this year
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
I've only seen each Lord of the Rings film once, back when they were first released in the cinema over nine years ago. I enjoyed them immensely, but at the time only really appreciated them as movies, rather than films. I revisited the trilogy this year in its extended format. That's 11 hours of epic high fantasy which, despite its length, was still captivating throughout. Among all the entertaining characters, great costumes and effects, long shots of beautiful landscapes, grand machinations of sinister beings, and stirring large-scale battles the trilogy has at its core the deep and affective personal stories that keeps it grounded and relatable.
Conventional wisdom is not wrong in regarding this as one of the best trilogies of all time; they're the high water mark of fantasy filmmaking. The decision to do as many of the effects with miniatures (rather than CGI) has paid off. Almost a decade on the films have aged well and I can see them featuring on Channel 4's winter TV schedules for many more years to come.

2. American Psycho
Truly one of the most quotable films I've ever seen. Christian Bale is fascinating as Patrick Bateman and gives a convincing satirical portrayal of vacuous affluence. American Psycho is compelling in its contempt for the vanity of yuppie culture, with many well-observed and amusing scenes where Bateman or his colleagues demonstrate their pettiness. 12 years on from its release, and ten more since the book, a story of a wealthy man who commits audacious crimes and gets away with it still resonates with the contemporary zeitgeist.

3. Dogville 
Dogville has supplanted Melancholia (which was 2011 a top five) as my favourite Lars von Trier film. It has an excellent cast including Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Bettany, and Nicole Kidman, all of whom give tremendous performances, Kidman in particular. The staging is quirky at first, but then disappears as the film becomes engrossing. Everything seems fine at first, but over the course of three hours the tone goes from kind, to sinister, to downright evil as Kidman's character becomes increasingly abused and trapped. 

4. Blue Velvet
My favourite David Lynch film so far (still a few to go, though, including Elephant Man and Eraserhead). I enjoyed it much more than Mulholland Drive, probably because, while it retains a lot of the Lynch surrealism, it still has a tangible narrative and satisfying ending. It is interesting to see the progression from the protagonist's picturesque and optimistic beginnings to the gritty and unsettling world he then finds himself in. This contrast is accentuated by Dennis Hopper's deeply disturbing performance as the film's antagonist. 

5. Citizen Kane
My naive stance before seeing this was "how can a film seven decades years old be considered the best of all time?". It doesn't reach my favourites of all time list, but it is undeniably a great film. I often have trouble getting into biopics (fictional or not) because the subject isn't interesting or compelling; Citizen Kane, however, succeeded on both counts. It's also interesting on a technical level -- there are lots of tricks, such as deep focus, I didn't notice or appreciated until I saw how they were used in Citizen Kane. It's impressive that a film as old as the invention of the microwave oven is able to do this today. 

Honourable mentions: Rosemary's Baby, The Aviator, A Separation, Citizen Kane, American Psycho, Tree of Life, Blue Velvet, Red State, Beginners, Indie Game: The Movie, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Man on Wire, THX 1138, The Pianist, Sunshine, Billy Elliot, Brokeback Mountain, The Town, Brick, The Shadow of the Vampire, The Devil's Backbone, Vertigo, Little Miss Sunshine.

Been tardy with my challenge updates. Here's a roundup. 
Sept & Oct -- No challenges.
Oct -- Write down three positive comments about each day.
Dec -- At any point of indecision (after applying usual logic), reduce the options to two and flip a coin.

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Walked into a lecture theatre with +Christopher Gwilliams when, suddenly, +Ingress#Ingress  activation codes needed to investigate further! #IngressInvite
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July 30-day Challenge
July's challenge was to take a brief walk every one hour when in the office.

August 30-day Challenge
This month's challenge is to write and run "Hello World" in 30 different programming languages. I'll update with the day's language in the comments for this post. 

I'm open to ideas for languages to try from other people. If you've any suggestions, add them as comments to this thread. Esoteric languages are welcome, as long as obtaining and installing the required software (SDK, interpreter, compiler, etc.) is not time-consuming. I'm using a loose definition of 'programming language', and allowing markup such as HTML and LaTeX. 

Some of the planned languages, in no particular order: Python, Java, HTML, JavaScript, LaTeX, Clojure, LISP, Haskell, Ruby, Perl, PHP, MATLAB, Mathematica.

May 30-Day Challenge
March 's challenge to plan each day beforehand worked out pretty well, and I've continued this practice since (if a little less strictly). In the end I created an Evernote notebook for these daily plans, which also serves as a handy retrospective diary.

In April I was abroad and busy, so decided to skip the 30-day challenge.

This brings us to May, during which my challenge is to learn and use IPA (the International Pronunciation Alphabet). In particular, I'm focusing on IPA for English dialects. This has 63 phonetic values (each roughly equivalent to a symbol), which works out as two phonetic values per day. Of course, just learning the notation wouldn't be very interesting, so I'll try and transcribe at least one word per day.

Clearly, this won't have much (if any?) impact on my everyday life, and given the wealth of pronunciation tools online (http://www.forvo.com/ is one example), it's also unnecessary. However, it's a compact concept, easily manageable with only a few minutes a day, and involves both learning (the notation and symbols) and practice (transcription). Wikipedia uses IPA frequently, which means I'll continue being exposed to it even after the challenge ends. And, most importantly, I have a penchant for pointless novelty skills.
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