Friday, January 29, 2010

Funny People

Its another review of a film that was out months ago! Woot!

Funny People is probably the most filmic film that Judd Apatow has ever made. He has made some good films- the Forty Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up spring to mind, but both suffered from improvisation: Apatow allowing actors to freestyle and say whatever came to their minds. This often detracted from the pace of the film, with scenes that added nothing to the characters or plot, just the occasional laugh. Thats fine, but it doesn't really make a film. Even worse, some of the more emotional scenes in Knocked Up feel improvised, and that undermines their impact somewhat.

Funny People doesn't have that problem. It probably has some improvised content, but clearly some scripted stuff too. The comedy often tells us something about the characters, and for once we have a strong plot. Adam Sandler as George Simmons is excellent, an absolutely horrible man who has abused everyone around him, and now he realises he is dying, is trying to change... except he doesn't. A lot has been said in other reviews I've read or heard about how the final act of the film doesn't really work, and while it is a tad clunky, the point is to underline quite how selfish Simmons is. He intends to destroy a family, claiming it is the right thing to do. The way this part of the story is told is a bit clunky, but the point is there.

Apatow's comedy only blossoms when it has a strong story hook to attach it to, and the more discipline he subjects himself to can only make his films better. This is probably his best film yet.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Frank Miller is a lunatic

Frank Miller is a bit of a legend in comics. He has written many classic comics, and some less classic ones. He has a habit of being utterly misogynistic, and, in some instances... utterly insane

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


This is the most curious piece of television I have yet to witness. A musical drama set in a high school, it presents cliche after cliche- we have the high school football star with inner depths, the shrewlike wife holding the lead back, the gay kid who loves singing... I could go on. At times the sentiment is piled on in an unholy amount, leading to a sometimes saccharine environment.

Yet theres something to it. There are few plotlines here you haven't seen before, but the telling mixes between the joy of the musical numbers and an overwhelming underlying sadness. The story here is kind of about how much life is holding all these characters down, how the town they are born in appears to be dictating how their life will be. The show can be delightfully surreal, and genuinely hilarious at times (with Jane Lynch providing many of the laughs).

There are some serious flaws here at work. The songs feel a bit overproduced at times, which is sad, as everyone there is clearly very talented, so it'd be nice if they'd just be allowed to sing now and then. The biggest problem is the pace the story goes at. Some of the episodes have had arcs that should have taken three episodes conclude in one, which feels rushed and unecessary- part of why the show has been so absurd so far is it has had to reach for more and more ridiculous plots because it keeps concluding stories earlier than it needs to. The show does appear to be settling down, however, and the fourth episode was great. I will continue to watch with interest.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Flickchart, and issues with

A recent hit to my productivity came in the discovery of a website called Flickchart. This tries to create a list of your favourite films by comparing them one by one. A laborious process, and a fun one, with some extremely tough choices at some points. Its certainly occupied me for quite a while. There are some irritations to the website though:

1.Its clearly not capable of coping with the traffic it has managed to generate, and sometimes drops to a crawl. The design of the website is a little clunky, and its hard to tell if its actually responding to user input at some points, which is just messy
2.I am not happy with its sorting algorithms. It likes to match up similar films, but this isn't always useful. Films might be similar if they have the same director or genre, but if I have to compare a great film to three poor films of the same genre, the maximum rank my great film can acheive is fairly low, meaning a film I greatly admire may languish at #400 for a long time. In addition, this can mean that when I find another film I love and try to rate, it might compare it to a great film that hasn't been sorted properly yet. Ideally new films being added to the list should only be compared to films that have been compared at least 10 times, as otherwise their current position in the list may be a complete fluke.
3. I can't stop using the damn thing.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010


So Obama no longer has a 60 seat majority in the sentate, and may find it difficult to pass his health care reform. One thing it is easy to forget about Obama, and I have been guilty of it, is that he is not overwhelmingly powerful. The US constitution is a rather crafty thing, and is designed to make change slow for the most part- one needs a majority in the senate and the house of representatives. Its actually been a while since I studied it so I don't remember exactly how it works off the top of my head, but one thing the US does that we no need is to seperate legislature, the executive and the judiciary. For a while over here we had all under one roof. We've actually created a supreme court, which is probably a good idea, but the formally and carefully created US political system is pretty smart.

It is, sadly, not perfect. If there is a powerful enough president, and the right circumstances, laws can be passed quickly- look at the Patriot act, and all the other ridiculous changes Bush made, which will take longer to undo. Of course in the UK we have even less checks and balances, and far more power concentrated in the prime minister.

America can be frustrating from the outside. It honestly baffles me that many people in the country are currently fighting very hard to prevent universal health care, but sadly a democracy should probably work that way. There have been outright lies and ludicrous nonsense spread around the US, but if you cannot convince a good majority of your fairly radical changes then maybe those changes should not be happening, even if they are for their own good. There are probably some advantages to having one of the least efficient health care systems in the world, I'm sure. Hell, rich people do well by it.

If you think about quite how much land mass north America takes up, it almost shouldn't work. Like Russia and China, you are talking about so much land, where people will have stunningly different lifestyles. How much does someone who spends their life on a farm in texas really have in common with a polyamorous transexual from new york . This is probably the case for every country, but in the UK we are all pushed a little closer together. Its much harder to have never left your home town- practically impossible really, and most people who live in villages commute to a city these days. Yet somehow the country remains united, even when one side seems to hate the other (sometimes for the most pathetic of differences). Being the most powerful nation in the world probably helps- it tends to unite people.

The last century saw the British Empire finally lose its sheen as the most powerful, and, with the two world wars, the whole of Europe lose itself to the newly ascendant US, probably due to us spending a whole lot more on the war than the US did, and then being heavily in debt to them as we rebuilt ourselves. One wonders what this new century will bring. Its easy to think that things will stay the same, and certainly most visions of the future seem to have imagined the socio-political structure being the same. But China is only going to get more developed, and currently holds most industry. Lets just hope any upheaval in power doesn't come with wars of the scale that the last century saw. That seems a political impossibility to us right now, but with enough factors I imagine it might well alter.

[apologies for the ramblingness of this post, it was not planned....]

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Up in the Air

This is definitely a film worth seeing. Jason Reitman has put out three magnificent films with Thank you For Smoking, Juno and now this. Its very funny, certainly but the emotional undercurrents are more than a little astounding. I had expected a traditional narrative structure to this film, and felt a little disconcerted when the film continued to defy it. These characters are humans, not hollywood characters as you might expect at the start. There is not necessarily going to be an easy change of heart that will make the character happy.

Its a film that warrants repeat viewing, I suspect. I was so disconcerted by the ending that I think I need to watch again to decide how I feel about it. It wasn't where I felt the story was going, and some of the ending scenes felt a little rushed- the story shuddered a little towards an ending. Its experimental, and its interesting, and needs to be watched again.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Physical compliments

I'm sure they think they're being nice. After all, they paid some lady on the internet a compliment. Everyone likes to be complimented after all. I mean, yes, they chose to do it in a you tube comment thread, but so what? Shouldn't such an act be rewarded? Well what was the woman doing in the video in question? Was she modelling? Was she expressing a deep quandry about her looks? Was she exerting her physical attributes?

Or was she singing? Or saying something funny? Then ideally the compliments should be about those attributes. Imagine doing such a thing to a man, or a woman feeling the need to do such a thing? What you are paying is not a compliment, but a veiled insult. By ignoring the attribute the woman is trying to display and focusing only on their looks, you are reducing them to just that, something to look at.

I'm not saying that women can't be contributed on their looks. Of course they can, and as I say, if done correctly I imagine it may even please them. But it should not be the first thing one should go for, and when a comment thread to an excellent and amusing song has nothing but people commenting on how hot the women in question are, then it just underlines their lack of respect for the women in question.



The more I discover about our history, the more I find myself inclined to think that we reap what we sow. The troubles we have taken to maintain dominance in the middle east, in an attempt to keep a handle on the bounty that area has been blessed with, the more we sow the troubles we experience now. This is another argument to develop alternate fuels- it would be nice to live in a world where we don't have to oppress other people to maintain our opulent lifestyles....

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rum Doings

Rum Doings is a podcast with John Walker and Nick Mailer, and is worth a listen. John Walker has appeared on many podcasts, because he has a problem, and is 1/4 of rps (or a more complicated faction if you add the occasionals to rps). Nick Mailer, to my knowledge, has not been on any podcasts. Its a podcast in which the two discuss stuff, mainly to bitch on issues. They have interesting opinions, especially mr Mailer, who I wish I could enter into a discusssion with. Some of the things he says are so wrong headed, I wonder if he really thinks them, or hasn't thought enough about them. Lacking a forum in which to argue them (well I could go to the month old blog post, but I suspect no-one would notice), I'm going to take issue with some of his points in podcast 10.

Podcast 10 begins with a rather accurate parody of the Now Show, which really does underline quite how tired that show can be. I don't have as much hatredy for the Now Show as they reserve for it, but a lot of the jokes really fall flat, and are tired variations on old gags. After this they discuss environmentalism. And Nick Mailer takes on the role of the skeptic.

Now, he cunningly does not suggest that we are not having an effect on the climate, but instead says that we cannot predict it. He does have several good points, and I will talk about them.

The idea that the earth has some perfect state, and humans are damaging it, is more than a little silly. The earth will not notice us. We can do damage, certainly, but the earth will outlast us in all probability. There are lots of events that could destroy our race but leave the earth still standing, and the global temperature chaning will have neither effect. Global warming does not mean the end of the human race, but its going to lead to a lot of damage, and millions of deaths.

So to address his mistakes, we are capable of more predictive power than he thinks, and there is a pretty strong consensus on where the climate is headed. Its all in error bars, of course, but its pretty certain there are going to be some dramatically bad effects within the next century or so. He makes the argument that if that happens, it happens, but the issue with this argument is that in all likelihood the nations that will suffer the least are the ones pumping out the most co2... ie us. The wealthiest nations will weather the storm, the developing ones will be damaged. We certainly shouldn't burden them to reduce their emissions too much- indeed, this isn't necessary, if the biggest producers would commit to a true reduction.

It may well be that a technological advance may save us from our ways; it has in the past, after all. Relying on that is a fools game, however, and reducing our emissions makes sense as well. This could be potentially very bad, and it behooves us to react on all fronts.

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Top Gear

I think what always bothers me about Top Gear was it was never that good. I have enjoyed watching it, for sure- the stunts, the challenges, tpically were amusing and interesting enough to make for decent tv. I never thought of it as amazing though.

All three, but especially Clarkson, would spout ignorant nonsense on politics and science, and assume that was funny. In many ways Clarkson's attitudes represent all I despise, so the less I have to hear his opinions the better. The interviews were often embarrasing, but interviews often are. Clarkson was probably a little better than Jonathon Ross, but seeing as he is the worst interviewer there is thats not terribly surprising.

The car reviews are typically very dull. Watch a review of one fast car. Then watch another. Spot the difference. Typically, it will start by the car driving very quickly, and Clarkson making a sexual metaphor. This will go on for several minutes as he spouts nonsense figures, until he gets to the "bad part". Typically this will be about the cars not cornering well, and that the dashboard looks a bit rubbish.

I have to believe that most viewers are not interested in this. These reviews have no practical advantage to most people, as they cannot afford these cars, and even if they could, they couldn't actually use the car for what the top gear people want it for. Whenever top gear reviews a car that actual human beings might use, they make a joke of it.

Recently my disdain for the show has got a little worse. A lot of the things that happen are so obviously set up and scripted it drains the humour, the caravan being a notable example. I'm tired of top gear, but I was never that happy with it.

Are there things to like in this show? Yes, at its best it can be an amusing an affable show about 3 man childs expressing their love for their hobby and getting on each others nerves. Thats great, but a flag ship off television? Ludicrous popularity? People wanting to elect Clarkson? Just disturbing...

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Thursday, January 14, 2010


Spectromancer is a fun little game made by Richard Garfield, the creator of magic. It follows similar rules, but the joy of it is in the tactical elements, rather than desk building. Indeed, your deck is randomly chosen for you at the start of each game. Each level provides a different challenege, which steadily increases as the game goes on. The AI can be fiendish, and on some of the harder scenarios, probably impossible to beat when you get bad luck in the combination of cards you are provided with. I don't know how well balanced the game is- it seems like some cards are just strictly better than others, but mostly it works well.

The demo is rather extensive, and if you've ever enjoyed magic I guarentee you will enjoy this.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We got out this animated film the other day. We really have to start using love film, or some similar service, as I am a little tired to giving blockbuster practically enough money to buy films that are invariably scratched, and I can only have for one night. Still, I digress.

Persepolis is based on the graphic novel by the same name, and is the tale of a girl growing up in Iran during the revolution of 1978, where the Shah, imposed on the people by the British (there is a reason Iran hates us), was overthrown. We get to see the hopes of the middle class family she is from that there is going to be something better coming, and then growing horror as the Shah is replaced by something equally as bad. Iran became an oppressive islamic republic, and the same people who were imprisoned by the Shah were soon imprisoned under that regime. With Iraq invading, the country fell under a more oppressive regime more quickly.

Its a film that can feel harrowing. Chiara's life is by no means easy, and while it retains wit and humour throughout, the appalling reality of what living under such an oppressive regime, especially as a woman, is clear. Its a beautifully told tale, one of a people who can be considered savages simply because of where they are from, and the difficulties of leaving your home, even one as dangerous as Iran became for Chiara.

Of course this tale is focusing on Chiara, and it is telling that what leads to the greatest hardships in Chiara's existence is failed love rather than the oppression (although arguably her later mistake is opposed on her by the way Iran works, or worked).

An excellent film, and well worth watching.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Yada yada, britian is pathetic, yada yada....

Apparently Canada is better at dealing with incredibly snow conditions than we are. Huh. Who knew? I guess they're just a better country, seeing as they have the same weather as us.... oh wait, they don't. So Britain gets unprecedented amounts of snow and ice, and finds it difficult to cope. Why is this a surprise? We could be ready for the snow, of course, and found essential services that we use all the time suffering because of budget cuts.

As always, it comes down to money. If we want to be prepared against unlikely emergencies then we need to be happy with the amount of money that will cost. When a few years have passed, and the extremely rare event has not occured, we might be more inclined to push that money in the direction of something more essential. Bear in mind that when the conservatives talk about making the budget more efficienct, this kind of stuff is exactly what they are talking about. You can't have lean governments that can deal with every emergency.

Its fun to mock our country, and there are things I do get frustated about- our trains are just worse than other nations, for one example. But inability to cope with a large amount of snow? Not that surprising.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Nights Dawn Trilogy

Its important to start well when writing. So many great books I have read have started clunkily, and almost put me off, thanks to a slow start that failed to grip. The Reality Dysfunction, a space opera by Peter F Hamilton, is definitely one of these. It begins by a rather dull description of a creatures evolution. I leant this book to a friend, who never got started, and I perfectly understand why.

Perservere, and the story becomes worthwhile. The start of the story is extremely misleading, and its actually quite hard to see what will cause the crisis which will begin to consume the human race. Once it does happen, the descriptions are genuinely horrific, tense, and involving.

This continues into the second book, The Neutronium alchemist. Sadly, the Naked God, the final book in the trilogy, was a let down for me. It has two problems. First of all the narrative spends too much time following a set of characters I have little reason to sympathise with, and ends up being down right depressing, bringing down the rest of the story. The revelation of who controls earth felt like it came from nowhere, and didn't feel greatly plausible. The main problem is that the story is resolved by a massive deus ex machina.

The solution must be searched for, and the characters do strive for it, but there are basically two twin narratives- the battle against a hideous foe, and the search for the deus ex machina. Both are fine, but the latter ends up solving the former, which is hugely disappointing. It would have been a lot more satisfying if the former had resolved before the latter, as it makes a lot of characters actions fairly pointless. The neatness of the finish is a little sad as well.

The trilogy is kind of Hamilton at his worst and best, which is unsurprising, considering quite how huge the triolgy is. Its a hell of a ride, and maybe thats enough, but the ending just doesn't pay off properly.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Fan fiction

Fan fiction is an oft mocked thing. The internet is full of it, and it ranges from weirdness to, I am sure, quality. Creating a story in someone elses' world might seem odd, but its not that strange. It can be fun to be constrained in your story telling, and you may well enjoy the world someone else has created, and want to tell your own stories within it.

I present you with- television. Most American drama's are written by a team of writers, which means, in a way, that some of them are writing fan fiction. They are creating stories in someone elses world. They can help make it theirs, of course, but they are still a little detatched.

The question about making it your own world is an interesting one. Russel T Davies did a lot of things to Dr Who. He started by making the doctor the very last of the time lords, with his race extinct, the rules were suddenly changed. Earth soon became a knowledgable place, while before it had existed in ignorance. Many speculated that he might push a reset button on his work, but he certainly did not do that.

In fact he did worse. It was probably clear he was going to bring back the time lords, because Davies has been about nothing if not escalation of the scales at stake. Yet he made them sociopathic loonies who appeared for about ten minutes. By doing this he has pretty much destroyed the time lords. There can be no plots about the beauracratic Gallifrey, because Davies wanted a bit more excitement than another trial for the Doctor (and perhaps that would be retreading old ground, but hell, he did it with the daleks and cybermen, it would be nice to see a foe that the Doctor willingly submitted to). They're basically gone now. To bring back the time lords as a narrative force would be rather difficult for any writer, and would involve a HELL of a lot of flim flam.

This is a little frustrating. Because while Davies did restart Dr Who, its not his, and now, while Moffat has control, he must work within the parameters Davies decided would be fun. Oh well.

[Incidentally, on a complete tanget, a thing I'd like to see would be the notion of galactic history continuing without the Doctor. There were entire wars between the daleks and the rest of the galaxy which the Doctor just knew about, with the Doctor being involved in a smaller story about their resurgance by using human minds. The Doctor doesn't have to make the entire universe tick]

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010


So xkcd wrote an amusing comic about this article. Some researchers determined that the G-spot might not exist. Their proof? They asked some women whether they thought they had one. They expected identical twins to say yes, but this didn't happen....

Sigh. So they asked some people whether they had an elusive sexual feature, and if they said no, assumed they were necessarily correct? As responses within the article indicate, many may simply have not had a sexual experience which allowed them to reach such a spot. 56% of women surveyed said they had one, and there was no genetic link. The abstract does suggest that it could be that the other women simply haven't found it, but then postulates that its really because it does not exist.

Sadly I do not have access to the article in question- at least online. I have no idea if my library carries the journal or not. Apparently the women in question filled in a thorough questionnaire. If I am correct that those women who said they did not have one may not have found it in some cases there should be a difference in the sexual behaviours of the two groups. Sadly without access to the survey I can proceed no further, but the claims this paper make are interesting. Universities do love a good press relief after all, and its much less impressive to say "study shows some women cannot find their g-spot, but is unable to show whether this means it is there or not".

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Dr Who

So Russel T Davies has finally gone. Thank goodness for that. He brought a series alive, certainly, and made Doctor Who a lot of fun, but was holding it back towards the end. So, issues?

Russel T Davies was a big fun of plot threads. This was a necessary thing for the new doctor- stand alone episodes tend to be less fun than continual plot, and Bad Wolf was intriguing. Sadly, he was frequently quite poor at not tying these together particularly well- the denoument was kind of lame (yeah, I left bad wolf across time as a message for me to.. open the tardis? Because I wouldn't have done that anyway?). The worst conclusion was Davros, and that ridiculous planet conjunction plot, where various references to the medusa cascade fizzled to nothing, and, once again, a character was only special because in the future they would be special.

At its best was the Master plot, which was just terrific. I know the whole "Doctor is a goblin" plot was lame, but the notion of the planet getting together and helping the Doctor was quite cool, then with the Doctor forgiving the Master, it was quite neat. Although the Doctor's tendency to completely forgive homicidal maniacs who have shown no inclination of reform is beginning to get a tad irritating.

One of Davies biggest flaws was to fail to earn victories for his characters. There was a certain Batmanesque nature to some of the cliffhangers he set up, where the character would face complete peril, and then Davies would pull some flim flam from nowhere to save them. I mark that down to an inexperience with writing science fiction- we know the character has lots of powers, but creating new ones whenever you need something to happen is lame. An example of a cleverly introduced technical device-

In the Family of Blood we discover a device in the Tardis which can allow a time lord to hide by becoming human. This beautifully sets up the Master in Utopia, a few episodes later.

Heres an example of a poorly introduced technical device-

Donna and the other doctors talking nonsense while destroying the daleks by twiddling knobs. It was quite funny, but dramatically was stupid.

Generally speaking with science fiction solutions to problems one needs to use a chekov's gun approach- the element is introduced earlier in the plot, and then used by the characters, potentially in an unexpected manner. This rewards the alert viewer, who might predict it, and will feel more earned. Sadly Davies never seemed to realise this, although occasionally he did succesfully use the trope.

Still, we have Moffat to look forward to now, who has proven adept at crafting Dr Who episodes in the past. We shall see what he does when handed an entire series.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Three legged pub crawls

I get gimmicks. Golf crawls, sure, although I'd never subject myself to one. I have been on a toga crawl, (although wearing clothing underneath), and enjoyed myself. Silly frappery to add to the pure joy of pub crawlery is understandable. I appreciate drinking games, as, done right, they can be a whole load of fun that add to the experience. Done wrong they can be tantamount to bullying, of course, and that must be avoided.

What I do not understand is the notion of a three legged pub crawl. The most tedious part of a pub crawl is usually the transition from one pub to the next, with that treacherous enemy, the bladder, causing much consternation. I cannot imagine wanting to travel more slowly. I am also a fan of not having serious injuries, and three legged pub crawls seem designed to create such a thing. I suppose one has the advantage of a partner who will look after you if things go the worst, but really you should only be crawling in a reasonable group anyway. Can anyone enlighten me on such a strange phenomenon? I am aware of the concept of drunken escalation, and it will only be so long until some idiot decides that a 5 legged crawl is a bloody brilliant idea.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Difficulties with a door

So I have lacked the ability to communicate over the last few weeks, with no internet, then christmas occuring.

I am now in a new, not that shiny flat. Its a sweet little place, but sadly not without its problems. One of the most significant of these was my inability this week to leave the house. Apparently our front door is very vunerable to expanding, and then getting jammed, to the point where to open it we had to climb out the window and push from the other side. We called the flat agency, but it being new years eve, no-one was actually there.

So we took manners into our own hands, and I was sent on a mission to B&Q, where I purchased a belt sander, which did the job. So fun times were had. Still, we have central heating now, which is nice, and a shower. No internet yet- I'm on campus writing this, discovering that apparently I am not allowed to do work yet. Fine with me!