Monday, 17 October 2016
Friday, 15 July 2016
Finally got around to watching Dawn of Justice. Gotta say, after all the hate that's been levelled towards this movie I was.. kinda pleasantly surprised to not hate it? There's no question that it's massively flawed. It tackles way too many things, takes itself way too seriously, misreads the characters making Batman into a thug (he straight up wastes so many dudes without batting an eyelid - HAH batting) and Superman into Batman, and refuses to pause for breath or take moments of levity which would provide some much-needed contrast to the relentless wall-of-noise the film (along with Zimmer's hyperdramatic score) throws at its audience.
On the other hand, this is a beautifully shot movie which fully embraces the mythopoeic nature of its source material in a way which distinguishes it from Marvel's offerings, and its many iconic set-pieces are by and large extremely impressive, well-executed and impactful. The problem is with everything that happens to connect those set pieces. Rather than developing our characters, establishing pathos, and giving them plausible motivations for their actions, the film relies heavily on weighty "themes" to hold everything together - God vs Man, Power vs Responsibility, Angels and Demons, Falling Fallers Who Fall and are Fallen, etc. - which is fine when these themes actually dovetail with the story you're trying to tell, when the film actually has a perspective to offer on those themes, a "moral" if you like. Dawn of Justice doesn't, though - all of its lofty ruminations are ultimately in vain when the thing that finally unites God and Man is the fact that their mums both happen to have the same first name. One gets the feeling that if Snyder hadn't crammed so damn much into this movie, he might have been able to tie its parts together a little more convincingly. As it is, one feels that one could randomly reshuffle many of the film's scenes with little consequence for the storytelling.
Ben Affleck is a *superb* Batman, and his scenes were the highlight of the film for me, wanton slaughter notwithstanding. The same goes for Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Jesse Eisenberg unfortunately overacts the role of Lex Luthor something dreadful, apparently attempting to channel Heath Ledger's Joker via Mark Zuckerberg in a manner that is unlikely to win any Oscars but will surely guarantee his continued typecasting as "generic mad genius". Henry Cavill is, again, well cast as Superman, but again spends most of his time moping rather than actually being Super so it's a little hard to tell.
On the one hand.. this is a joyless movie. It's pretentious, incoherent and too-often collapses under the weight of its needlessly self-imposed literary burdens. If this were a solo Batman movie - and it's very clear that Snyder is attempting to emulate Nolan's style - that might work, and indeed the Batman-driven scenes are the best parts of the film. On paper though this is Superman's story, but he never really gets to offer the much needed counterpoint of hope and heroism to Batman's cynical grimdark; instead we get both characters presented through the same gloomy lens and that corrodes the core of Superman's character.
On the other hand, it's hard not to be swept away by the sheer mythic spectacle of it all and I can't help but have a begrudging appreciation for Snyder's boldness in deconstructing Superman before his fans - if he'd just taken a bit more time to build him up before tearing him down, or if he had some inclination to put him back together again afterwards (like "sure let's tackle the problematic aspects of this character, BUT in the end hope is a pretty important thing which is ultimately worth clinging to and sometimes we do need heroes to inspire us") it might have worked out a little better. Hell though, for all its nuttiness, I enjoyed it. 7/10.
Thursday, 7 July 2016
New Scientist - A rational nation ruled by science would be a terrible idea
Inane though Tyson's suggestion is, I can't help but cringe when people like Jeffrey Guhin (see article above) invoke Godwin's Law to attack "scientism" - a label which is itself problematic because while yes, there are certainly overzealous science enthusiasts out there, the term is too often used to attack anything its user doesn't like which happens to come from the mouths of scientists or science communicators, which makes it a tool of unreason and anti-science as often as it's a tool for legitimate critique of the overzealous.
Anyway, while I think the goal of a rational society is laudable, the trouble is it's never entirely clear what is meant by that. If we mean rational in the narrow sense of "sensible, intelligent, shrewd, judicious" etc., then of course this isn't a very contentious suggestion. Is anyone going to argue that society should be run senselessly/foolishly/unintelligently? This doesn't actually get us anywhere though because as soon as we start asking which policies are most sensible/intelligent/shrewd/judicious we're right back to square one, and while it might be a good start if we could agree to ground that discussion on empirical evidence, politics simply doesn't lend itself towards the kind of reductionism that hard scientists are used to - it's almost impossible to control for external variables in studying any substantive policy question, and it is very easy to find studies which will support almost any policy position you can think of, including ones which contradict each other. Don't get me wrong, empirical data is the best tool we have for testing the viability of political hypotheses, but you don't often get unambiguous answers.
The backlash to Tyson's comments though comes I think from a not-unjustified suspicion that his "rationality" entails something else, either a) the dubious assumption that the correct methodological approach to policy making would resolve this ambiguity, and/or b) a world-view, that is, a pre-established set of doctrines about what is or is not true which the architects of Rationalia have deemed fit to smuggle in under the umbrella of "rationality", as every utopian architect has done since the dawn of modern science.
Maybe Tyson is - in his own way - simply calling for a greater respect for reason and evidence in public debate and policy making, which I can 100% get behind, but if you want to advocate for a new form of government you need to actually apply that reason in order to develop some idea of how you're going to get there and what its institutional arrangements are gonna look like. Just saying "we should use reason" isn't very insightful, and it's a shame so many of science's more vocal advocates seem to think otherwise.
Tuesday, 5 July 2016
The Conjuring 2 is a technically competent but otherwise underwhelming sequel. The first film was a brilliantly crafted love letter to 1970s horror which perfectly walked the line between homage and pastiche while adding a few cinematic innovations of its own. The second obviously has similar intent - even opening with an interior shot of the famously odd windows at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville - but while Wan still knows how to shoot a great horror movie, he's apparently forgotten how to write one. All innovation is gone, and the film's attempt at homage is undermined by the countless tropes borrowed from other recent horror films. The storyline is plodding and nonsensical - I'd anticipated a twist which I'm convinced would have made for a significantly more satisfying resolution, and the fact that it's heavily foreshadowed by earlier events in the film makes me suspect that the original ending was sabotaged by studio-driven last minute edits, because they instead go with a Diabolus Ex Machina which tries to raise the stakes by throwing dramatic CGI at the screen but otherwise fails to bear any relevant connection to the rest of the story, notwithstanding Lorraine's "visions" earlier in the film which equally feel like last-minute additions.
Tuesday, 2 February 2016
In the blue corner we've got Hillary “What's the establishment?" Clinton vs. Bernie "Hope and change but for realsies this time" Sanders, with polls showing a narrow but dwindling lead for Clinton as the match approaches.
In the red corner we've got Donald "Nobody builds walls better than me" Trump vs. Ted "Green eggs and ham" Cruz, with Trump holding a fair but not insurmountable lead in the polls.
Although Trump's edge over his opponent trumps (heh) Clinton's, both races remain highly competitive. While Iowa is but one of many contests to come, these early races promise valuable media coverage for the victors as well as boosting their perceived electability among primary voters, increasing their chances for future victories.
The safe bet is on a Trump/Clinton victory, although Sanders' poll trends and demographic advantages (especially in a high-turnout scenario) could yet get him over the line. Results should be in by this evening.
Tuesday, 22 December 2015
Saturday, 30 May 2015
I don't know whether it's plausible that a Cabinet Minister would leak what appears to be an entire transcript of a cabinet meeting - possibly it's just a deleted scene from House of Cards with the names changed, which is certainly what it reads like. The contempt Abbot displays here towards his voters, his ministers, and rudimentary constitutional principles is truly appalling.
The political henchmen of the 0.1% are systematically dismantling the basic constitutional principles that prevent the arbitrary use of state violence against their citizens, and their citizens are kept willfully ignorant of our steady institutional decline by a complicit media, repeating government press releases verbatim (no time for journalism with a 15-second news cycle) which frame these changes - which are taking place simultaneously (if at varying pace) in every English-speaking country in the world - as matters of national security.
The irony is that they are matters of security. The security of the few against the many. They've seen the writing on the wall. They know that their global ponzi scheme can't survive another recession. They know the chaos and desperation that our changing climate is bringing upon the world's populations. They're preparing for class warfare on a global scale, and doing everything in their power to keep the rest of us oblivious and unprepared.
It'll soon be too late to change course. While there's still any chance at all, we must try - billions of lives hang in the balance. But we must also start preparing ourselves and each other for what's coming if we fail.