Eurovision 2015 Scoring Spreadsheet

Eurovision 2015

Saturday night brings with it the annual European celebration of all things glittery. With David Cameron and Nigel Farage set to pull us out of the EU could this be our final year in the competition? Almost certainly not… Regardless the show is sure to be a mixture of bizarre and fantastical performances and something best watched with a group of friends voting on the countries they think have performed the best.

To help you enjoy yourselves I have once again put together a spreadsheet to help you recreate the Eurovision voting process in your own home. This is so that your party can better handle the mathematical part of the evening once all the songs have been sung and booze has been drunk. Two years ago we had that year’s version of this spreadsheet projected onto the wall and had a whale of a time. Without the spreadsheet how would we have known how to have fun?

Before you turn on BBC One at 8:00PM give everyone who will be voting some paper so they can make notes on each song against whatever metric they think is important to the Eurovision contest. For some it is singing talent that matters, for me it is all about being flamboyant. It is up to everyone to come up with their own top ten ranking out of all the performances.

xlsm-1758Once all songs have been performed everyone then makes sure they are happy with their personal ranking and perhaps hilariously messes up their neighbour’s notes/scraps of paper before apologising and blaming the drink. After this it is time to collate the votes. To the spreadsheet!! Click on the Excel symbol to the right and within moments you will have your very own Mild Concern Eurovision 2015 Party Score Collation Spreadsheet for Maximum Fun and Mathematical AccuracyTM.

It is all pretty self-explanatory, I hope, but here’s a quick guide. When you first open the spreadsheet make sure you have macros enabled. If you see a warning like this…
Macros…deal with it.

The first thing you see with be an empty white box. Type in the first voter’s name and hit Enter, then continue until you can see everyone’s name in the list. If someone goes to the loo at this point and is pretty forgettable they may be in trouble. Once you’re done click on the grey button.

Name Form

Now you are at the heart of the spreadsheet. The table to the left will show you which country is winning based on your party’s votes and the table on the right is where everyone enters their scores. When prompted each person should list their top ten countries to the group, preferably with reasons and a generic European accent, while the Spreadsheet MasterTM uses the drop-down lists to put these countries into the table. Once all ten are entered the voter should verify the list, salute the Spreadsheet MasterTM (optional), and they will hit the “Submit Scores” button which will… submit the scores (I told you it was self-explanatory).

Score Form

Once everyone has voted you will have your winner! What mathematically accurate fun we’ve all had in replicating the voting process of the Eurovision Song Contest. If only all parties had spreadsheets…

The Theory of Everything – Blu-ray Review

The Theory of Everything 2

Film
Despite my long-held admiration for Felicity Jones and endless praise for the film I somehow managed to miss The Theory of Everything when it was in cinemas. Perhaps I was annoyed at having to share Jones with the rest of the general public or, more likely, nobody wanted to go and see the film with me knowing that I’d be slack-jawed throughout.

The Theory of Everything follows the romance of Stephen and Jane Hawking (Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones) from their first meeting at University and through their marriage as Stephen slowly becomes more and more dependant on Jane thanks to the onset of motor neurone disease. Tellingly most coverage of the film has focussed on the acting; to some degree on Jones’ performance as the ever-burdened wife but mostly on Redmayne and his brutal portrayal of a man slowly losing control of his body.

The praise for Redmayne is certainly well deserved as he audibly and physically transforms himself throughout the film from a sprightly young student to a wheelchair-bound professor. Most importantly what Redmayne manages to do is maintain the spark and personality that is such a vital part of the real Stephen Hawking. While he may end the film sitting almost immobile in a wheelchair Redmayne’s Stephen never loses his energy. Alongside Redmayne Jones brilliantly plays a woman not just dealing with raising two young children while coping with a demanding husband, but also shows the pain of a deeply religious woman whose husband does not respect her beliefs.

Together Redmayne and Jones portray a couple deeply in love who find their relationship straining when one loses their physical capabilities and the other struggles to find the emotional strength to carry on. Neither are passed off as saints as they both show signs of selfishness and weakness as their love for one another stumbles. It should definitely be noted that this is not a film about a science but a film about love. And while we’re at it, as a great narrator once said, this is not a love story; this is a story about love.

The film is undoubtedly moving and is as good as it is simply because of its strong lead performances; failing to truly wow with its script or direction. As I look back on the film I find I am left with a sense that some of the less loving emotions between Jane and Stephen may have been watered down. Their marriage was far from perfect, understandably considering the circumstances, and the lack of real anger in an otherwise emotionally open film felt suspect. Luckily the actors are skilled enough to distract you from second guessing while you watch the film itself.

These quibbles aside The Theory of Everything is a great showcase for two young British talents, though I suspect they have better films left in their careers. A film worth watching, just maybe not worth watching twice.

(But only just)
The Theory of Everything 1

Extras
This being a period British film looking at people and emotions rather than explosions and special effects the extras on the Blu-ray are limited. What you get are a good number of deleted scenes and a brief documentary Becoming the Hawkings focussing on Redmayne and Jones preparing for their roles.

As far as I can tell the DVD has no special features. The horror!

The Theory of Everything is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

Interstellar – Blu-ray Review

MM and MC

I’ve tried to explain to you all before why Interstellar is worth your time and now it is out on a variety of shiny discs I think it bears repeating. I’ve watched every single one of the special features so my opinion is valid and should be respected.

Film
In the near future life on earth has become almost untenable as crops fail and dust storms barrel across the landscape. Thanks to a bizarre gravitational anomaly astronaut-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles across the secret residual base of NASA; an organisation now seen as frivolous in an age where farming comes before scientific exploration. After a bit of exposition from Michael Caine Cooper finds himself travelling with a small crew through a wormhole in search of a new planet that can sustain life and ensure the future of mankind. As Cooper travels on his interstellar journey his science-loving daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy & Jessica Chastain) stays behind on Earth growing up fast without her parental unit. Thanks to the relativities of space and time as days pass in space years are flying by back on Earth. Cooper and his crew not only have to contend with running out of fuel but running out of time to find the new home for the human race.

On the big screen Interstellar was an absolute marvel. The music was original but somehow timeless, the visuals were stunning and unlike anything I had seen before, and the sheer ambition and craftsmanship from director Christopher Nolan was admirable. Though some sitting close to me disagreed it was love at first sight for me and Interstellar. It was not a perfect film but it was an experience I wouldn’t forget soon. Sitting down with the Blu-ray on my less than stellar TV I was a little nervous that the experience would be tricky to replicate.

I needn’t have worried. While I wasn’t going to be able to create the visual impact of a 70mm print at home I dimmed the lights and let the film do its work. The picture was crystal clear on my vintage flat screen with the scenes on Earth looking suitably grubby and dust-covered while the planetary visuals were sublimely realised in cold sterile clarity. My non-existent sound system even managed to do some justice to Hans Zimmer’s excellent organ-based score which lends the film a religious feel befitting a film with the fate of our species at its core.

You may despise Interstellar, some certainly do, but for those willing to turn down their scorn temporarily there are moments of real awe to be had. Even on your TV at home.

For more pro-Interstellar rambling please see my full review.

Christopher and Matthew

Extras
Once you’ve finished the film allow yourself a short comfort break before getting stuck into the special features as the two-disc Blu-ray is full of the things. Proceedings start with a 50 minute documentary about the real scientific theory that went into the making of Interstellar that will fascinate or bore in equal measure depending on just how much physics you are willing to indulge in for the sake of cinema. I can take a lot of physics so was very pleased with this in-depth look at black holes, relativity, and space-time. Lovely stuff.

From there we get no less than fourteen featurettes of decent length detailing every aspect of the production from physical and computer generated effects, through farming and simulating zero-gravity, to recording the music in an actual church. On a Christopher Nolan film as much is done without the aid of computers as possible and a lot of what I had assumed was CGI was actually done for real. It’s hard to appreciate all this while watching the film itself so the extras allow the hard work to be fully appreciated.

As with the physics I know not everyone wants to get too stuck into the behind the scenes but for my fellow nerds there is plenty to enjoy here.

Everyone else can be quiet.

Interstellar is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, and super-special-Blu-ray. Extras vary depending on which one you buy.

The Salvation – Film Review

The Salvation - Mads Mikkelsen

The year is 1870-ish and after years of forging a new life in America with his brother our hero Jon (Mads “Cheekbones” Mikkelsen) is finally able to bring his wife and son over from his native Denmark. Before they even reach their new home Jon and his family find themselves in a carriage with the wrong type of men. They soon experience the sort of journey you dread when taking the night bus alone in London. His family having been severely wronged Jon takes his revenge on their assailants and things get steadily worse. Unfortunately one of the men Jon takes revenge on is the brother of the local gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and so now it is up to Delarue and his gang (which distractingly includes Eric Cantona) to seek vengeance on Jon. Thus a vicious cycle of violence, brooding, and revenge continues.

It is clear that writer/director Kristian Levring has a love for classic westerns and wanted to make his own mark on the genrefrom a Danish point of view. Clint Eastwood minus fifty years wouldn’t look out of place in The Salvation with its gentle pace, stark landscape, and sparse dialogue and Mikkelsen is a fine substitute conveying all he needs to through a clenched jaw, narrowed eyes, and dramatic cheeks. The Salvation is precisely what a Western should be; it looks right, sounds right, and generally feels as it should do. Mikkelsen is a superb, captivating lead and Morgan gives his best villainous performance with relish and conviction. And yet…

The Salvation - Jeffrey Dean Morgan

In giving us everything we have come to expect from a Western The Salvation has forgotten to give us anything new. This is anything but the reinvention of the Western and the only Danish influence to be found is in Mikkelsen’s accent. This doesn’t make the film bad necessarily just a little boring.

What threatens to brand the film as bad or ugly (aside from an unworkable mix of practical and CGI fire) is the lacklustre use of female characters. I realise the film is set in the Old West so scope for female roles is limited but having every woman as either a mute victim or a prostitute is taking it a bit too far. The two main victims female characters are Jon’s wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and Delarue’s love interest/brother’s widow Madelaine (Eva Green). In the short period before becoming a victim to a heinous crime Marie barely says a word because she hasn’t learnt any English yet and while Madelaine gets a lot more screen time her dialogue is nil thanks to having had her tongue cut out in a previous incident of victimisation. Eva Green is a fine actress and her eyes can do as much acting as Mikkelsen’s cheekbones but there was no need to literally mute her.

The Salvation looks great and gives you what you expect with some added Mads Mikkelsen sprinkled on top. Overall though the film is unsatisfying with nothing new to bring to its genre and a frustrating use of female characters.

The Salvation is in UK cinemas now.

Outlander – TV Review

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I give in! After much nudging from Amazon I have given in and given Outlander a try on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Adapted from a series of novels by Diana Gabaldon Outlander is a series with an odd premise. The year is 1945 and WWII is over. To try to rekindle their marriage after years of enforced separation combat nurse Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Frank (the always great Tobias Menzies) travel to Scotland for a second honeymoon. Before too long the couple are filled with highland air and the highland air is filled with love. What can possibly go wrong? After a healthy dose of marital holiday bliss Claire travels alone to visit some standing stones and after placing her hands upon the rock she blacks out. When she comes to her car is missing and British red coats are fighting Highlander rebels all around. Oh, and Claire has travels back 202 years to 1743. After almost being raped by one of Frank’s English ancestors Claire finds herself being taken in by a Scottish clan where she finds the dashing Jamie (Sam Heughan) and uses her nursing skills to gain their trust. Can Claire find her way back to the stones and back to 1945!?

There’s the concept. When I first read it I rolled my eyes too. A period drama with a time travel plot taking it to a whole other period, how could I possibly enjoy something like that? I was going to need some convincing and with subtlety, style, and a slow pace Outlander was up to the challenge. My token effort at watching the first episode snowballed into my watching the first three back to back.

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What won me over initially was the show’s confidence in taking its time. Rather than rush to get the time travel underway Outlander instead allows us plenty of time in the first episode to spend with the happy couple. Claire and Frank’s post-war vacation feels idyllic, very sweet, and a little sexy as they reconnect after half a decade kept apart by war. With time spent in the life she is to leave behind I actually cared when she was exiled once more, this time with years rather than miles keeping her husband from her. When the time travel does come around we are spared cheesy special effects in favour of a simple fade to black. Even with the obligatory violence and nudity accounted for Outlander is a master of understatement and restraint.

And doesn’t it look gorgeous! Despite the setting there is nothing artificial looking about Outlander; no polystyrene and plywood castle walls to be found. Every actor appears to have dirt under their fingernails and scars beneath their clothes and the cinematography is flawlessly cinematic and distinct. We are a million miles away from Saturday or Sunday night on the BBC here. Visual aesthetic aside where Outlander really excels is in putting characters above plot. The basic storyline is high concept but the show isn’t burning through plot in trying to get Claire home or explain how she managed to travel two centuries into the past. Instead the approach is to take a slower pace and let the characters take priority. It is their interactions, and the performances that serve them so well, that make the show worth coming back to. For all the praise a show like Poldark might garner its characters never feel truly real whereas in Outlander every person is an authentic human in a fantastical situation.

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It wasn’t until the first episode had finished and I hadn’t stopped the second from starting automatically that I noticed a familiar name in the opening credits; Ronald D Moore. Moore is best known for reinventing Battlestar Galactica as a piece of modern TV history and has worked his magic again here. Using fine British talent he has created a show of real quality that is almost too easy to dismiss because of its unusual synopsis.

What other show can use bagpipes to score an action scene?

Finally we should focus on the fact that Outlander is a show with a strong female character at its core ably played by Caitriona Balfe. What is particularly satisfying about Claire is that despite a lot of obstacles standing in her way she is a character with agency and a desire to save herself. Lost in a strange land and time she is not waiting for a knight to come and save her but it trying to get back home on her own terms. The series is set in times when women were not afforded equal status with men but with a female lead we can see this imbalance played out and not have all female characters reduced to background decoration as maids and whores.

After scoffing initially I now find myself six episodes in after just four days. Outlander‘s charm has won me over completely and a particularly powerful speech from Tobias Menzies in my latest episode has me hooked.

For those I have convinced the first eight episode of Outlander are available on Amazon Instant Video right now with the rest of this first season arriving weekly from 5th April.