Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cansei de Ser Sexy Is My Hot, Hot Sex

So I get home after a week of too long days and too little sleep, tired, cranky and with a fierce desire to drink, and announce this to the world by misquoting lyrics. Lyrics I annoyingly can't quite place, so I set out to track down the source. Not a hard thing to do, since I know the Gillen is responsible for putting it in my head, and quickly find Brazilian party rockers CSS with Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above.

And then I watch it again. With wine then beer then more then again. And again. And again. And all desire to hear Marilyn Manson wail about spiders washes away in a rush of nonsense lyrics and bouncy synths. It's impossible to stay miserable listening to it. It's fucking brilliant. And thanks to the wonder of the electric internets, the entire album is swiftly purchased and secure on my harddrive, and it's almost as good throughout.

There's some throwaway songs on there, and bits of it are in Portugese but that shouldn't turn anyone off in the slightest, because there's an overwhelming sense of playfulness and fun driving the thing, even on the angry parts. And even when the lyrics are in English rarely make sense. Meeting Paris Hilton is borderline incomprehensible because Pixie-like vocalist Lovefoxxx (yes, Lovefoxxx) pronounces beach and bitch identically. And when they do make sense , they're ridiculously punny, like "suck, suck, suck my art-hole" on the spiteful Art Bitch.

They're also rather naughty, which can only be a good thing.

Really, you should go give them a listen.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quantum of Solace

Remember Casino Royale? Of course you do. It was a fantastic reboot of the Bond franchise, cutting away the camp of the later Brosnan movies, and Daniel Craig creating the definitive Bond by sweating, bleeding and being hit on the balls a lot. It could've used a bit of trimming, but overall it left me really excited about Bond for the first time in a really long while.

Quantom of Solace completely pisses that away.

Let's pause for a brief wanky beret moment. Closure is the act of observing the parts but perceiving the whole. Filling in the blanks. Everytime you move between panels in a comic, or an edit happens in a movie, you're relating the frames spatially and temporally, as well as extrapolating from the visual elements in the frame. This takes brain power, and audience involvement. Knowing how to use it is absolutely key in visual storytelling.

At some point, someone had the idea of making more agressive use of this, sacrificing clarity in favour of getting in close and giving a more impressionistic view of action sequences in the hope that it would increase audience involvement. And you know, people complain about shaky cam a lot, but I'm fine with it when in the hands of a skilled director. Remember the Tangiers chase in the Bourne Ultimatum? Ten minutes of Bourne running after Desh, Desh closing in on Nikki, and the audience completely pinned to their seats.

Marc Forster is not a skilled action director. So he just throws a bunch of frenetic edits of moving bits at the screen, without little regard for establising spatial relation, in the mistaken hope that we'll mistake the confusion for excitement. There's a particularly egregious sequence kicking off the film, a car chase where it's fucking impossible to make out who's chasing who until it's over and you realise that Bond was in the car in the front becasue he's still moving and the car behind crashed.

This is a problem when the movie is 90% action. It's even more of a problem when the script gives the action sequences little purpose other than being loud, noisy padding.

Oddly for a movie that literally picks up an hour after Casino Royale, it has little interest in what made that movie good, or the fraught emotional state Bond was in at the end. Oh, there's some lipservice about how angry and hurt he is, but anytime there's danger of a real character moment, the movie panics and hurtles along to the next action sequence as if slowing down would put it in danger of being accosted by rape-goblins.

It's a real pity, because Daniel Craig is still as great in the part as ever, Judi Dench is in fine form, and Olga Kurylenko is a good Bond babe, but the script doesn't put them to good use. The only weak link among the principals is Mathieu Amalric as the hilariously ineffectual and unmenacing villain.

It's not worth writing off the rebooted franchise completely yet, but they'll have to do a lot better next time around.

At least it's better than Max Payne, which has an appealing performance by Kurylenko for all of her five minutes of screentime, and then goes back to being completely useless, lumpen pap. You'd think it wouldn't be too hard to get a pulp tale of revenge for murdered loved ones up to acceptable standards, but alas, the video game movie curse struck again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hello again blog

It's been a while, hasn't it? No, contrary to appearances, I did not disappear into a crippling WoW addiction. I rode out the trial and left it at that. I was just being lazy again.

The apparent irony of that last post was pretty funny though, wasn't it?

Even if it wasn't true.

I have to admit that I sometimes feel a slight temptation whenever I walk past a retail copy of WoW though. It's a very polished game, and Azeroth has a lot of sights to see. And I can definitely see why people get stuck in it. There's always a new little reward. *ding* You reach a new level. *ding* You get a new spell. *ding* You find a nifty item. *ding* You learn to make a better sandwich. *ding* You fi- *ding* Y- *ding* *ding* *ding*

It's a constant barrage of little happy pills of accomplishment.

It still can't escape the fundamental rubbishness of the genre though; the inability to affect your world meaningfully, all the while maintaining that you're super awesome one chosen hero of singleplayer rgps. But you can't fool me. I possess cleverness and functioning retinas. I can see that those nasty critters I genocided the minute before spawned back and nothing changed.

Which wouldn't be that big a problem if your genociding the evil critters was fun, but WoW's combat is neither visceral nor tactically challenging enough to make it entertaining. It's easy to do the math and see how an engagement will end the minute it starts, and then it's a dull couple of minutes to execute your plan. Unless of course an angry bear spawns in behind you, and then you die, because you're as fierce as a soggy kitten and can't handle angry bears in addition to the other enemies, and the camera refuses to let you spot their filthy spawning hides before you pull aggro. And then you swear copiously, while wondering why you're supposed to put up with this on the promise that it gets better after the first 20 or 30 levels.

Which leads you to putting the box back down in the store and move on to purchase other, more appealing games. Like Fallout 3. On which there will be many words later.

Unless shiny things happen.

You can't trust those shiny things.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

This cannot possibly end well

Yes, I installed the free WoW trial. Sometimes you just get curious, and jam a needle of heroin into your eyeball to find out what's so great about it, y'know?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

"What is it with you and women?" indeed

I defy anyone remotely familiar with Frank "WHORES" Miller to not burst out laughing at the latest trailer for his adaption of Will Eisner's The Spirit:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Random art appreciation moment.

Just to get that last piece of nastiness out of the way, here's a man who's clearly played too much Silent Hill. Or at least shares fetishes with those games.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

1. Sexual Harassment 2. ???? 3. Children!

I have prejudices against Russia. In a way it's only natural; Finland and Russia have had a bit of a rocky history so it's only natural I'd absorb some level of distrust through osmosis. It's not something I'm particularly proud of, and I try to be aware of it and not let it cloud my judgement too much.

I really wish they try to help me out sometimes, y'know? It's got to be a two-way thing if we're going to make this work, and it's just not going to get any better if complete scumfuck things like this continue to leap at me from the headlines.
The unnamed executive, a 22-year-old from St Petersburg, had been hoping to become only the third woman in Russia's history to bring a successful sexual harassment action against a male employer.

She alleged she had been locked out of her office after she refused to have intimate relations with her 47-year-old boss.

"He always demanded that female workers signalled to him with their eyes that they desperately wanted to be laid on the boardroom table as soon as he gave the word," she earlier told the court. "I didn't realise at first that he wasn't speaking metaphorically."

The judge said he threw out the case not through lack of evidence but because the employer had acted gallantly rather than criminally.

"If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children," the judge ruled

Monday, August 4, 2008

Phonogram: The Singles Club b-side

Perennial bad influence and former professional beard grower Gillen is teaming up again with Jamie McKelvie, professional drawer of hot punk girls, to bring the world the second series of Phonogram.

As with the first series, they're starting to hype it by releasing one-page comic "b-sides".

Like so:

The first series, which you can still read the first issue of here, if you scroll down a bit, was quite good, so this should be one to look out for if you read comics that don't feature pervert suits.

And if you like hot punk girls.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Some Dark Knight or other

Everyone has been going gaga over this one, partly fueled by Ledger's explosive performance and his subsequent tragic demise, with critics showering praise all over it. It's the new Godfather, the new Citizen Kane. Two and a half hours of orgasmic bliss for nerds.

Alas, the truth is far more disappointing. It's not even as good as Batman Begins. (Which admittedly set the bar pretty damn high.) It's merely a good, albeit overlong and messy movie, with some excellent performances.

The main problem with the movie is that it's too crowded. The Joker, Harvey Dent and Batman are one too many characters for the movie to develop comfortably, and the need to cram them all in there makes the movie rush from scene to scene without ever letting you pause for breath. It never feels like a two hour movie, but on the other hand you hand you walk out of the theatre feeling like you've just been run over by a truck. And frankly, even though Aaron Eckhart does a pretty decent job, Harvey Dent isn't nearly as interesting to watch as the Joker. Ledger's nihilistic sociopath will probably go down as one of the great villains of all time, the movie lights on fire every time he's on screen, and every time the movie breaks from him and his escalating reign of terror you just want him to get back on there. Cramming Dent's arc in there was a mistake.

At which point people will go: "How can you say that, you charismatic sexpot you? Surely you must see that Harvey Dent is essential to the story and illustrates the war Batman and the Joker wage over Gotham's soul?" And while that is a fine idea, it doesn't really work dramatically. Nolan needed to find another way to make that point, and write a leaner screenplay. Or at the very least have the decency to resolve everything at the same time, instead of first tying up the Joker's thread, and then limping to a weak confrontation with Two-Face.

My other chief complaint is how coy it is with the violence. The Dark Knight lives up to its name; this is a very dark movie in tone, and the Joker is one terrifying antagonist. It has no business pretending to be anything but an R/15 certificate movie, and sometimes the need to cut as much as humanly possible get it past the censors really hurts scenes. I'm not asking for gore for the sake of gore. While everyone will remember the Joker's brutal magic trick, which gets by fine on implied content, there's also bits like the first time he tells the ever mutating story about his scars, in a scene which builds and builds and builds, and then dissipates with an odd cut to a body slumping to the ground. Sometimes you need a visceral punchline, even if it's through everything *but* the knife that causes all the screams and blood, but this is a luxury the studio couldn't afford. Because apparently relying on adults to pay for a blockbuster is fucking impossible.

There's plenty of other nits to picks, such as the trip to Hong-Kong being extraneous, the Two-Face make-up being too over the top for the grounded take on the Batman mythos, the sonar system being goofy, etc, but in the end it's still an entertaining, if flawed movie, and I don't want to keep ragging on it for too long. It's still well worth seeing.

It's just not as good as it should have been.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Stray Rounds

West Baltimore. Another turfwar over drugdealing rights. A neighbourhood woman hears the first gunshots, and with practised routine she grabs her toddler and ducks into her bathtub. Bullets might go through those cheapass walls in the projects, but enamel as well? Not likely.

It's incidental detail like this that makes The Wire about the best show on television.

Pity her nine-yearold didn't have the same practise with gunfights and caught one of those stray bullets though.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Busted Wonder

Is a graphic novel by Kieron Gillen and Charity Larrison that's finally complete after quite a long time in the making. It's about fairies and circuses and other things eleven year old girls like, but also how if all you want to do with your life is unrelenting mediocrity and to buy more shoes you'll get exactly what you deserve. Or something.

Anyway, it's very good and the pictures are lovely and the fairies are mostly nice even if they sometimes wear hats consisting mostly of blood and it's free so you should definitely go read it. Yes.

What do you have against science, Wired?

I thought we spoke about this before, but you persist with the silliness: "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete"
This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.

The big target here isn't advertising, though. It's science. The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years.

Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise.

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete.


There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.


No. No, it's not. Data without a model *is* just noise. The value of a model is that you can make predictions with it. You can't do that with just data points, you have to connect them in some way. Even if you're only making inferrences from correlation, you're still creating a model. The hypothesis is the model. From it you make predictions, which you test. This is often how things start in a proper scientific investigation. Someone notices an interesting correlation and studies it further. You're just skipping the testing phase, relying on lots of correlation being sufficient instead.

Why do you refuse to learn how science works, Wired magazine? Is it because you fear that too much critical thinking will expose the singularity as a pipe-dream, that you won't get nerd-raptured away?

Come on. We can work through this together, if you'd only tell me why.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indiana Jones and the post of too many words.

...or at least more words than something that unremarkable deserves.

Yes, the new Indiana Jones movie has been out for a while now, and people of discerning tastes have uniformly let a great disbelieving moan of "That's *it*? You waited twenty goddamn years to make a sequel, and *this* is what you came up with?"

In other words, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a bit rubbish. Not horribly, appallingly rubbish. Because let's face it, Spielberg is still behind the wheel, and even though I don't have any particularly great love for him as a director, he's still too skilled a craftsman to let projects spin out of control like it were a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, even when he's doing bad work. It's just a bland, sodden mess that has had all spark ripped out of it through endless rewrites. Which isn't good enough for any movie, and least of all an Indiana Jones movie.

The terrible script is doubly a shame, because having gotten my grubby paws on the draft by Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, non-movie nerds), which everyone but Lucas liked and was set to go into production until he put his petulant foot down, there was a much better movie about to be made. Which is just further proof that Lucas is in dire need of people that will thwack him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper with a sharp "No!" when his creative impulses misfire.

Judging by his creative output during the last twenty years, this would lead to Lucas' permanently walking around with a raw bloody stump in place of a nose. Crows circling him, waiting for an opportunity to rip strips of flesh from the raw pulp.

I am fine with this.

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

Darabont's draft is hardly perfect: there's some hokey giant creature sequences that have little payoff except another gag about Indy's fear of snakes, it's too long, with too many bit characters, and the alien macguffin is still firmly in place. And for all its nods to the other movies, there's some very odd implications for the overall mythology of the series.

(There's also the very fundamental problem that Indy is a pulp hero rooted in the thirties, before colonialism had fallen out of vogue, and when the line between archeology and plundering was very fine indeed. Aliens and the a-bomb all go very well with the fifties, but the fifties don't go very well with the kind of character defined by the previous movies. To which you might reply that this is Character Development, but I am fine with my b-movie heroes not changing. I don't need to see them re-connecting with family so Spielberg can work out his daddy issues. Just stride in from the dark, kick ass, and stride back into the unknown with a tip of the hat thankyouverymuch.)

But for everything that's wrong in Darabont's draft, it's so much of an improvement over what wound up on the screen. The biggest improvements are arguably combining Cate Blanchett's and Ray Winstone's characters into the treacherous Yuri, and not reducing Marion's character to a cute background detail, but having Indy's attempts to win her away from her husband (yes, she's married here) be a prime motivation throughout much of the movie. A lot of the events are similar, except when they're more exciting, but the connective tissue is so much better, with coherence, character motivation and logic. And the aliens are evil shits instead of benign all-knowing, vomit-inducing borefests, and their skeletons aren't randomly magnetic.

But I make it seem like KotCS's problems is all down to the script, which is not entirely fair. Speilberg's direction is less than stellar. The characters all act like they know they're in an Indiana Jones movie. There's never a sense of danger. The previous ones let humour into the action as well, but there was still a sense that the characters took it seriously, that Indy was just hanging on by the tips of his fingers. Here, the most they manage a wince as they get hit on the balls yet again, and overall there's a very forced quality to the production. Speilberg said at some point that he tried to go back to the filmmaker he sort of grew out of, but the end result is worryingly like watching your parents trying to show they can still can be down with the kids. It just leaves you depressed and feeling embarrassed for everyone involved.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Oh god oh god oh god oh god

Via Rock, Paper Shotgun:
“I’m working on Beyond Good & Evil 2. We have been in pre-production for a year, and we’re carrying out research as a small team. But for the moment, this is at outline stage, Ubisoft hasn’t given its agreement yet.
We want to be in the continuity of the first: a large variety of play types, lots of emotions in the gameplay and from the supporting characters. This time we are dealing with the future of the planet, the rapport with the animals…”

Beyond Good & Evil is one of those games that should have been bought and loved by everyone, but mysteriously failed to find widespread adulation. Everyone went reaching for the Zelda comparisons when it came out, and not only because our lovely protagonists has a predeliction for wearing green, but instead of traversing some cod-medieval world, you get an alien planet filled with talking pigs, sharks, rabbits and most memorably, rastafarian rhino mechanics. It's about as charmingly Gallic and oddball since anyhing this side of Little Big Adventure. And instead of a lttle fairy-boy, you control an intrepid, charming journalist investigating the abuses of the military controlling the planet.

Why yes, I have a crush on Jade. I'm not ashamed to admit it. You'd have one too, if you'd played it instead of leaving it to wither on the store shelves.

You can start rectifying this lamentable situation by giving the demo a whirl. Or just go straight to hunting down a retail copy.

PS: Ubisoft, if you don't give Ancel a green light, I will BURN YOUR SHIT DOWN. You don't want your shit burnt down, do you Yves?

Friday, May 9, 2008


Shouldn't we be getting fed up with these found footage movies yet? Diary of the Dead, Cloverfield, and now this little Spanish horror flick. Wouldn't it be better if we said "Yes, you're tapping in to the zeitgeist, we're all a bunch of voyeurs. Well done! But Cannibal Holocaust did it almost twenty years before Blair Witch introduced it to the general public, so you're really not as clever as you think you are.", gave the director a tripod and told them make a proper movie instead?

A small team are following some firemen through the night for a local TV show called "While You're Sleeping". Halfway through a very quiet night, they get called to open an apartment. An old woman has been screaming something fierce, and they fear she's had an accident. Once inside, terrible things start happening, and when they make their way down with the first casualties, the building's been surrounded by police and is in the process of being quarantined. They're not getting out.

[REC] hits familiar beats for anyone moderately familiar with the horror genre, but it's genuinely well executed and the actors do a good job with what they have to work with. Being confined to mostly one building and one situation, the script doesn't let them display a lot of range. The most developed character unsurprisingly ends up being the the sassy anchorwoman, and Manuela Velasco has no problem holding the camera's attention. Clocking in at a snappy 80-something minutes, the latter half is almost constantly escalating tension. Aside from some shaky exposition about the ultimate cause of the events, there's very little to complain about here.

So shouldn't we be getting fed up with these found footage movies yet? Well, no. Not when they're this good.

And like every non-English language horror film released lately, it's getting a Hollywood remake. Although unless that footage of military people going in is trailer-specific, they've obviously already cocked it up. Have a Spanish trailer instead:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Iron Man

Observant readers might have have deduced that I really, really like comics. I'm a lot more ambivalent about the superhero genre, despite - no, because of - its ridiculous dominance of western sequential art. Obviously there's been some great work done in the genre, and you'll have to pry my copy of Watchmen from my cold, dead fingers, but having 90% of the output consist of people wearing their underwear on the outside of their pants really does nothing but stifle the medium.

The recent glut of superhero movies has elicited similarly mixed feelings, although that's more to do with their rather varieable quality than their role in the grand sceme of any industry. Batman Begins? Fucking brilliant, despite the obligatory descent into action in the third act. Spiderman? I never got further than the embarrassingly awful Forrest Gump bit on the bus before switching off the telly. X-Men? The character introductions were mildly diverting, but then the movie suddenly ended. X-Men 2? Aces. X-Men 3? No. Just no. Fantastic Four? I watched it on an airplane, and almost walked out. And I can't be bothered with Superman in any shape or form, except for when Batman beats the snot out of him in The Dark Knight Returns.

Thankfully, Iron Man is definitely belongs in the upper echelon of superhero movies, despite having a host of problems. The plot's another tired superhero origin, there's some serious handwaving going on with the whole shrapnel/heart situation, and the movie seems to attempt some geopolitical relevance before settling on being irrelevant fluff, leaving some of the earlier ripped-from-the-headlines images from Stark's captivity sitting uncomfortable and isolated.

(I don't mind people tackling controversial subjects in movies, and I didn't blink an eye at the suicide bombing/subway stuff in V for Vendetta for instance. But silly as it was, V was resolutely political. I start to squirm a bit when people drop stuff that reminds you of people getting beheaded on camera in fun popcorn fluff. Maybe I'm just getting overly sensitive in my old age.)

But all those objections melt away in the face of Robert Downey JR living it up as an irresponsible playboy (The man has a stripper pole in his airplane! Tony Stark really is a genius.), delivering zingers with impeccable timing, and constructing his Iron Man suit in almost pornographic detail.

Sadly, it occured to someone that this was in fact a comic book movie costing millions of dollars, and they had better get back to the plot and have a big robot slugfet to resolve it because that's what the kids want, and my interest waned. Jon Favreau is a sensible enough director to get the special effects out of the characters' way, but when it comes to delivering enough visual spectacle to amuse in a fight even when the outcome's given, he isn't up to the challenge.

The result's an uneven movie that's usually a ton of fun, mostly thanks to Robert Downey JR's performance (although he has some capable suppport from Gwynneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges) before evaporating in a limp climax, and then suddenly rebounding with a brilliant final scene. I don't know if it deserves quite all the adulation it's getting, but it's more than worth the price of admission.

Still alive

Although the resolution to keep the posts coming was neither a triumph nor a huge success.

But despite all the evidence that points to me be being incapable of making regular posts, and the fact that I've probably alienated anyone even remotely internet meme-savvy by making Portal references, I'll not done with this blogging thing yet. Maybe the third time's the charm?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Le Fabuleux destin d'Ellen Ripley

More commonly known as Alien: Resurrection, which I finally watched yesterday. It's also known as the final nail in the coffin for the Alien franchise, forever dooming it to an existance as sub-standard slasher tripe in the form of the AvP movies. It was also the experience that made writer Joss Whedon run away crying to television, where the writers at least have a say over what ends up on screen. Having read the shooting script, and compared it to what ended up on screen, I can't say that I blame him.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is very much an auteur. He only makes Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, much like Tim Burton only makes Tim Burton films. The problem is that Jeunet, like Burton, has a very warped sensibility that's completely wrong for an Alien movie, and he gives the proceedings a generally absurd feel, especially when it comes to the scientists and military. And thus the general described as "ramrod straight and about as gruff as you would expect" in a scene like this

He is mostly dressed, still shaking off sleep. He stands at the command console,

bringing up visual. Everything on the screens is smoke and noise.

comes out like this in the movie:

That's not an imposing general about to deal with a crisis concerning a lethal Alien species, it's the school janitor suffering through another prank by some pesky kids. Quite possibly one involving bananas and buckets of urine. It's an endless litany of scenes that are played completely wrong. Turning Gediman, the one sympathetic scientist into a freak that likes to make faces at the Aliens in their pens. Making Vriess a comic relief character mugging for the camera. Casting Winona Ryder. Having the hybrid look ridiculous and make out with Ripley.

Which is not to say that Whedon's script is perfect in every way, especially since Alien is still my favourite and this is more a rollicking action-adventure starring a gang of cool outsiders, Whedon's favourite pony doing its favourite trick again. The cloning stuff is the same hokey nonsense, for starters. (Although to be fair, it's not like there were a lot of ways to bring back Ripley, and given that "Alien 3 was all just a dream" was considered for a while, it could have been so much worse.) But it's pretty solid, features recognizable human beings, has a suitably epic showdown on earth, and the hybrid does not make out with Ripley.

That last point, I feel, is pretty important.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I've been been watching CBS' post-apocalyptic sloppy blowjob to Middle America instead of studying for exams, since my man-crush Rogers has an unhealthy level of appreciation for it. After some eight episodes I can say for all the neat post-apocalyptic bits, evil Blackwater Ravenwood private military contractor (ooh, and a guestspot for my favourite Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi) and clever meta-structure bits television writers get all hot and bothered about, there's so, so much wrong with it. Whenever it should be nasty and gritty, it opts for schmaltz instead, and don't get me started on the horrible, horrible small-town mom (complete with soulful piano plonking whenever she has a heart-to-heart).

But the most eregious misstep is not having enough hot science girl. There's a girl, see. She's hot, and she knows science! Clearly she should be a centerpiece of the show, but instead she goes missing for several episodes at time. And Skeet Ulrich, for whom she has the hots, spends more time obsessing over a some blonde with awful hair he has a Small Town History with when he should be snogging her at every opportunity. Where's your judgment, Skeet? What quality are you looking for in your mate after the apocalypse? Bad hair extensions, or the ability to fix air ventilation by cannibalizing vintage cars?

I'll still keep watching though, and fade it into the background whenever the soundtrack lets me know the soap opera bits will become overbearing. I just like the end of the world and hot science girls too much to drop it, despite its frequent awfulness.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What we need more of is science.

What we need less of is people who do not understand how science works.

"The internet is changing the scientific method

If all other fields can go 2.0, incorporating collaboration and social networking, it's about time that science does too.

In the bellwether journal Science this week, a computer scientist argues that many modern problems are resistant to traditional scientific inquiry.

"There is an enormous success story for Science 1.0," Ben Shneiderman, a University of Maryland computer science professor said. "But the Internet is changing both the methods we use and the things we need to study. The challenge for the next 400 years is to understand how trust and empathy work."

In an editorial titled, "Science 2.0," Shneiderman argues that studying the interactions between people will be more important than studying the interactions between particles in bringing scientific solutions to big problems like disaster response, health care and energy sustainability.

Listen, here's how the scientific method works: you gather data, formulate a hypothesis, make predictions from said hypothesis and conduct experiments to verify your predictions. Correct hypothesis if needed, and iterate until solid. That's it! If you fuck with that you're no longer doing science and should be tarred, feathered, whipped and judged eligible to only recieve medical treatment from alternative medicine proponents.

Of course, what Shneiderman seems talking about is changing fields of of study, increasing collaboration and all that jazz, but changing some of the methods scientists use is different from changing the scientific method. This is a distinction the people at wired are either too ignorant to grasp, or too concerned with a sexy headline to let it bother them. Either way, they should get a good clout on the head and be sent to bed without supper.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Moving pictures, with occasional music

Arn: The Knight Templar

Arn is an adaptation of Jan Guillou's bestselling trilogy, covering the first book and half of the second, and the most expensive swedish production ever, clocking in at some 210 million swedish crowns. Clearly wanting to be a big historical epic in the vein of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, it sadly falls short of the mark by a pretty wide marigin.

I haven't read the books, but I suspect the root of the problem is the need to be faithful to the novels. One and a half books is a lot of ground to cover in the space of two hours and twenty minutes, and the inability to cut out stuff and rework it into something more concise leads to a move that feels overlong and rushed at the same time. It's too busy rushing from plot point to plot point without letting the characters breathe in the slightest. Oh, now he's a little kid sent to a cloister, now there's a bunch of political maneouvering, and now he's in (utterly unvconvincing) love, now there's more political maneuvering, oh god more horrible unconvincing love scenes, now he's sent to the middle east to fight in the holy war and whoops the movie's over. In the words of Dr Kermode, it's all just a bunch! of! stuff! happening. In every scene we get images and music that tell us exactly how we're supposed to feel, but the filmmakers haven't got the time to actually make us feel it, nor do the actors' have the ability to pick up the slack.

It's not all bad, mind you. The production design, costumes and cinematograpy are of consistently high quality, there's a pretty neat duel, and I really like the mix of languages. People will start praying in latin, the arabs actually speak arabic and so on. Loads of neat incidental detail like that.

Still, all the production values in the world can't help save the core from being flat and uninvolving. And really, for a movie subtitled "The Knight Templar", we don't get nearly enough knight templaring.


Well, this is certainly the most savage movie to come along in a long while. John Rambo is back, and this time he's racking up a biger body count than ever before. There's a semblance of plot about some do-gooder Christian missionaries that get caught up in Burma's civil war, but really, it's an old-fashioned exploitation movie. It's all just an excuse to deliver gallons of gore and shredded bodies to the audience.

Which is fine, I've nothing against gore and violence. But I wish Stallone would've left the all the mubling about this is how the world works and how we're supposed to howl with glee because a peacenik learns to bash people's skulls in with a stone. It leaves a sour taste.

Of course, a loathsome underlying message didn't stop all those Reaganite eighties action movies from being enteraining, but the carnage is too impersonal. There's some feeble attempts to develop a main antagonist in the shape of a pedophile general, but it carries all the force and conviction of boiled asparagus. In the end, you're left feeling momentarily stunned and slightly soiled by the dour, unrelenting savagery, but that's all.


I'm not a big fan of Disney to put it mildly, but this was simply a delight. It starts off as your typical old-school disney movie, albeit slightly with it's tongue slightly more in cheek than usual. However, soon enough the princess-to-be is thrown down a wishing well by the wicked stepmother, and lands in modern-day new york and we switch from animation to live action. There she's taken pity on by a kind single-parent lawyer who exasperatedly tries to reconcile her fairy-tale mentality with the realities of the world while sparks slowly start flying between them. Meanwhile, her dunder-headed bethrothed barges after her, and Susan Sarandon chews an impressive amount of scenery and looks better while showing more cleavage than any sixty year old woman should legally have a right to.

Well, outside of the hag makeup anyway.

It's funny and knowing about all the Disney tropes and winks at the audience without giving in and turning into a smug full-on post-modern Shrek-alike. It's a pretty impressive tightrope to walk, and a lot of credit for its success belongs to Amy Adams for turning a cartoon character that by all rights should be annoying as hell into someone insanely charming. The end goes perhaps a bit more over the top than it should, but all in all it's quite lovely.

The Jacket

Jack Starks died the first time when he was 27, shot in the head by a little boy during the first gulf war. Afterwards, he has problems forming memories and suffers from hallucinations. One day winter day while hitchhiking he's involved in an incident where a cop gets shot. Unable to remember anything but a little girl and her mother who helped out earlier in the day, the crime gets pinned on him and he's sent to amental hospital. There, he becomes the subject of a sadistic doctor's experimental treatment that consists of being put in the titular jacket and stuffed into a morgue drawer. This takes him several years into the future, where he runs into the girl who've grown up into Keira Knightley and informs him that he's supposed to have died within a couple of days of the first time he got stuffed into the drawer.

Right about there is where you either roll with the movie, or start laughing. The whole time travel business is never justified with the even slightest of hand waving, which is just as well. More troublesome is all the paradoxes and plotholes that are even wider than in most time travel movies. But in the end I quite like it, despite all its problems. It's a moody, atmospheric and oddly uplifting mix of horror, drama and sci-fi, with quite solid acting throughout. You just have to be able to go along with it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's hard out there for a pimp

Which is why they need intructional videos:

This is the definitive rulebook for pimping in Atlanta, by the notorious kings of the street who lay it all out for those who don't know. Charles Floyd Pipkins, aka Sir Charles, and Scooby give the real lowdown on what a pimp is all about.

Presumably containing advice on where to get a hold of a the most outrageous hats, as well as handy tips for slapping a ho around, picking up teenage runaways and the top five ways to hook someone one crack cocaine!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mumblings about funny-books and other stuff.

During New Year's, when it was time to tell yourself the usual lies about how this year was going to be different, amongst the usual stuff about becoming a sexual tyrannosaurus fearsome enough to lure the cast of Predator out of the closet, and saintly enough to make thousands of virgins commit suicide in my honour, there was a surprisingly strong idea about trying to write more. Sharp writing skills are always useful, but it's hard to be any good at it if you never use them.

This year was going to change that.

Obviously, it has worked out brilliantly so far.

But the year's not over yet, and while I warm up the engines and try to prepare myself for the prospect of updating once (maybe even twice!) a week, here's a few links to some lovely sequential art.

Anders Loves Maria is a cute and often quite funny webcomic romance starring two people in need of a couple of good slaps, and going through the archives will be a very enjoyable way a couple of hours. The creator, Rene Engström is Swedish-Canadian and has the casual Northern European attitude towards shagging and showing rude bits to the audience, so if that sorts of thing offends you, make sure to fire up the outrage machinery before you get started with the first one that's located here.

The Great Love Swami has a new comic coming out via Avatar, which will be yours for free and deliverd in five page instalments, if memory serves. the time to launch is this:

And speaking of Ellis, one of my Christmas gifts was the first volume of Fell, collecting the first eight issues of this seminal series, and I'm still having trouble getting over just how bloody good it is.

The premise is simple: Richard Fell pissed off the wrong people, and as punishment he's been sent from Over The Bridge to Snowtown, where he's one of three and a half detective working on the homocide detail in the worst sinkhole imaginable. Each issue is a self-contained story, with a handful of regular characters and a new grisly crime, inspired by real world circumstances.

There's a hint of Ellis usual speculative fiction in there, since Snowtown is a feral city, a place where the government has simply lost its grip completely, but mostly the stories are straight detective yarns, albeit ones given a surreal spin thanks to Ben Templesmith's scratchy art and the mythical quality of the place - we never get any real names, just Snowtown, and anywhere else is Over The Bridge, making the place seem utterly lost and isolated. The inhabitants have even taken to marking every building with the Snowtown tag, as a protective magic. And there's a wordless, increasingly menacing nun in a Nixon mask constantly lurking in the background.

Fell's is also quite unusual for one of Ellis' protagonists in that he's not a terrible bastard redeemed by a few laudable, strongly held ideals, but a genuinely kind, caring man. The stories stories where that aspect really shines through tends to be my favourites, like when he has to deal with a suicide bomber in a pawn shop, an interrogation with a suspect that goes horribly wrong, and the format breaking closer that concludes with him looking out over his new home proclaiming "None of you are nothing to me", which is about as good a coda as could be imagined to the first volume.

First issue for free here. Go read. There's really no excuse not to.