Friday Links 17/11/17

Books

Quidco had a pre-Black Friday deal where I got £2.50 cashback if I spent £5. Then I got the same offer again. And again. So, in total, I bought:

Podcasts

Online

Other

As mentioned here before, I frequently get fascinated by a subject, think it’ll be an obsession of mine for years to come, but weeks later I’ve moved into something else. This month’s topic? Polymathy (learning in a number of fields). This came from listening to the Walter Isaacson interview mentioned above (and lead to me buying his Steve Jobs book). Now I want to read his biographies of Ben Franklin and Da Vinci. I read Master of many trades and How To Be a Polymath. Now I want to learn how to play the keyboard, speed cubing, drawing, learn more about maths and physics and on and on. We’ll see how much I’ve done come January. Not much, I imagine. But, as always, it’s fun to try.

 

 

 

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Zombies are Better than People: On The Walking Dead Season 7

Spoilers

1.
The Walking Dead has the same problem now as it did when the show began–its characters aren’t interesting. In seven seasons there has been a total of one person I’ve looked forward to seeing: Shane, and he’s long gone.

Yet I’m still watching. Partly because it’s one of the few shows my wife and I will watch together, and partly because I enjoy seeing someone split a zombie in half. Walking Dead is good at creating hilarious gory moments (how are they still coming up with new methods of dismemberment?). It also does tension well (though less than it used to). But it still can’t nail character. Although I get the impression that the show seems satisfied with its cast. Sometimes it appears to revel in its characters, thinking viewers must love them. They’re frequently wrong.

Which brings me to Negan.

Negan isn’t a horrible, unwatchable, or misjudged character. He’s fairly nuanced compared to others. But the show loves him far more than it should. Season six’s finale and the opening episode of season seven were longggg moments of Negan monologue, thankfully interrupted by all-too-brief moments of horror. This felt like the writers going, ‘Man, the audience is gonna love this guy’, and me going, ‘Can someone tell this guy to shut up?’. If I was Darryl I would’ve gone for him too. Not for what he did, just to stop him speaking.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan does well with the role and seems to be relishing it (although someone has to speak to him about his weird bendy body and skinny legs. How does a grown man end up with the body of Morph?). But season seven could’ve done with more zombies, or more fighting, or more something, so we could have less Negan.

2.
I can’t say I like Ezekiel, but I’m probably more a fan than many. His lines might seem cheesy and out of placebut, remember, that’s all part of his act. As he explained to Carol in seemingly forgotten moment early in the season, the people of The Kingdom needed a leader, so that’s the role he assumed. It’s appropriate that we first see him in a theater.

3.
As well as Ezekiel being a king from the Old Testament, we have Saviours, a beardy man called Jesus, and a priest called Gabriel. The show is piling in these religious references but seems to be doing nothing with them. Any undertone I can find is probably me finding meaning where none exists. People need someone to follow? A disrupted world needs religion or it defaults to anarchy? Or maybe Walking Dead is how Lost wasn’t. Perhaps they’re all dead, and this is a fight for control of heaven. Maybe? No? Alright then. I’m away up the road.

4.
The last few episodes of season seven were like a game of Cluedo. Seemingly every character had a personal plan to kill Negan. Would it be Sasha with the machine gun in the warehouse? Eugene with the poison pill in the drink? Dwight with the Arrow of Treachery? I imagined a finale in which a dozen people have the chance to kill Negan, but all get in each other’s way and he escapes.

5.
I enjoyed how the show treated Sasha’s ending. Showing her in heavy close-up, out of her face with her earphones in, and flashing back to the Abraham era while we weren’t quite sure what was happening, that was pleasantly original.

6.
There’s no obvious timeline in the show that I’m aware of, but a good few years seem to have passed since Rick first wandered out of the hospital and into Zombocalypse. So it makes sense that, by now, a number of organised groups would have formed. It’s also logical that a group’s biggest concern would now be other groups, not the ever-shambling zombies. Yet I miss the days where the sight of a single walker would be a traumatic event, not a routine occurrence to be quickly dealt with. Around season three or so, the opening episode showed how effective Rick’s peeps had become at dispatching the undead. They had gotten their reps in and had become a violent machine. All of this makes sense. But remember when just one walking corpse could rip out the entrails of two or three people. Ahh, the good old days.

7.
Yes, long enough had passed for sects to form, but not long enough for them to develop their own dialect like The Scavengers had. Pretty much everything involving them was stupid, including Rick essentially reenacting the Rancor fight from Return of the Jedi with a spiky zombie.

8.
Throughout the season, fans must’ve noticed how often a chance to kill Negan presented itself and wondered why it was rarely taken. But think of the potential consequences. You fail to kill him, he instead kills you and/or your friends. You do kill him, and behind him are dozens of his armed followers. Trying to murder him in his base would often be a suicide mission.

9.
I feel like there’s some sort of economics lesson buried within the success of Negan and The Saviours. Something about economies of scale, or accelerating vicious cycles. Group A attacks and defeats Group B. Faced with choosing death or enlistment, B’s survivors join A. Now with more people and more guns, A can more easily defeat Group C. The process repeats until A is big and well-equipped enough to take on practically anyone. One conquest makes the next easier, and so on.

 

Friday Links: 03/11/17

Books

Reading: A Sense of Direction (again)

Ordered: The Sovereign Individual (I’m trying to not buy books right now, but its price dropped significantly)

Interested in reading:

Online

I am the One who Runs the Blades: On Blade Runner 2049

1.
2049 reminded me just how much value I place on a well-told and well-paced story. When I read comics, I often rattle through them, mostly ignoring the artwork, because I’m so keen to find out what happens next. With Lost, I forgave many of its faults because the show mostly told interesting stories without excessively dragging them out. With Deadwood, I appreciated the acting, characterisation, and dialogue. Yet, watching was a chore. It had many great character moments but, on a macro level, little actually happened. To entertain me, tell me a good story, and do so with some sense of urgency. 2049 succeeded with the first, but not the latter. The film has so many good points, but its slow storytelling made watching it a slog. The tale at its heart is intriguing and mysterious, but it’s not one that should require 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete.

2.
2049 does have many other redeeming qualities. It’s beautiful — I’m so glad I saw it in the cinema. Its architecture is impressive, from Wallace’s enormous temple-like construct to Deckard’s orange-polluted casino, to its faithful recreation and expansion of the first film’s sino-American city. I liked how these grand structures contrasted with K’s unimpressive flat. The heroes of Philip K. Dick’s stories are generally everymen (or every-android). So it was fitting that K lived in fairly mundane surroundings

3.
Another fixture of those stories is having a character question their reality. So it was a very Dick-thing (!) for the protagonist to have memories he suspects aren’t genuine, then to find out they are real, then discovers they’re not his

4.
Despite my complaints, 2049 is exemplary in how a sequel should be: a tasteful addition that adds additional furnishings to the world built by the original without resorting to cringeworthy references. Contrast 2049’s treatment of the first film with Terminator sequels crowbarring in the line “Come with me if you want to live” as a lazy reference. Perhaps 2049’s most impressive aspect is how heavily it ties into the original world without cheapening it

5.
2049 has perhaps the best piece of casting in cinema history. I can’t be the only person who noticed that Deckard’s dog looks like Harrison Ford, right?

6.
The film’s meditative pace might have itself been a conscious reference to the original. If so, then that’s what they should have been left out. Both films could do with tighter pacing.

7.
I didn’t watch the trailers for The Force Awakens, but it was impossible to avoid finding out that Harrison Ford would appear. So, until he arrived, I was thinking ‘When’s Han Solo coming on?’. The same thing happened with 2049, a persistent, annoying, distracting mind-voice kept muttering, ‘Where’s Deckard?’.

8.
Rachel’s inclusion didn’t work. Much like with Rogue One’s CGI Peter Cushing, featuring a computer-generated replica of a real person just highlights what’s not right. We don’t marvel at how good the effects are and how quickly films have progressed to depicting actual people with 90% realism. We instead focus on what’s wrong. It’s the Uncanny Valley problem — CGI can basically depict anything except realistic humans. So why try to do the one thing you can’t?

9.
When I saw Deckard with a casino all to himself, I started to imagine Harrison Ford as a futuristic version of Jack Torrance from The Shining

10.
The opening scene left me unsure of K’s sturdiness, which made me question details of other fight scenes. K is tough enough to put down his weapon when facing off with Dave Bautista. When he then gets stabbed in the arm, he barely flinches. But, in other scenes he is soft to a humanlike degree. A few gut shots are enough to finish him off. So, were just some of his body parts particularly tough?

11.
The film did a good job in referencing the original’s timeline without mentioning that its timeline is just two years away. I think we better speed things along, if that’s what 2019 is supposed to look like

12.
Denis Villeneuve’s filmography is solid. I haven’t yet seen Enemy or any of his French films, but Arrival and Sicario are both very good and Prisoners is great. Maybe my slight disappointment with 2049 was due to high expectations.

 

Friday Links: 27/10/2017

Books

Reading:

Interested in:

Documentaries

My listen to documentaries as if they’re podcasts because my Netflix free trial runs out soon period continues. Both of these are brilliant (links to Youtube trailer):

  • Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee. An amazing story with some incredibly candid comments (though not from the man himself)
  • Prescription Thugs. As with Bigger, Stronger, Faster, director Chris Bell covers macro level issues, then humanises them by showing how they relate to his family and to the death of his brother. One of the many remarkable things about the Bell family is how willing they are to talk about personal issues on camera. Thugs has stuck with me for days now.

Gentleman Raptor: On Jurassic World

Giant Lizard Prehistoric Times Dino Dinosaur T Rex

1.
Do you have a crazy/drunken/pervy uncle? One who comes to visit every Christmas? Nobody likes him, but you’re all stuck with him, so you just try to make the best of the situation?

Jurassic World’s raptor-loyalty sub-plot is the film’s Uncle Eric. I imagine someone thought it was a great idea and demanded its inclusion, and the rest of the cast and crew realised they were stuck with it, and just did the best they could. Because the rest of the film isn’t too bad. A bit forgettable, yes, but a perfectly fine popcorn movie. Except for the stupid raptor thing.

Alien vs Predator was okay until the ridiculous scene where a Predator and a lady both recognise the warrior in each other and team-up to defeat the xenomorphs, running off into the distance like Batman and Robin*, to a soundtrack of viewers laughing or shouting at the screen. AvP tried to humanise an otherworldly killing machine and that was stupid. Jurassic World fell into the same trap. We fans want our raptors like we want our zombies: focused purely on feasting on delicious human flesh. Instilling raptors with a sense of loyalty, subordination, or a crush on Chris Pratt just sabotages the reason we like them so much.

(*Or Del Boy and Rodney as Batman and Robin)

2.
Outside of that, I have only two other main gripes:

a) The characterisation of Zach (the older brother) was one-dimensional, borderline offensive, and horrible. Okay, teenagers might be full to bursting with raging hormones but, my god, add some other aspect to the boy. Until the dinosaurs got going, all Zach thought about was girls, all the time. Stare, smile, stare. Stare some more. If you were depicting a sex offender, all you’d have to is replace Zach with someone 20 years older. Horrid.

b) It was…kinda cool to see the T-Rex. But there are better ways to use it, outside of releasing him from his cage just so he can murder, then, with no other purpose to serve, skulking back to his resting place like the Saint of Killers. Not the best way to portray that most gangster of dinosaurs.

3.
I liked that the film tried to inject some intrigue with Claire saying Open paddock nine and us getting to briefly wonder what was inside. But you can’t have a cool moment based around use of the word ‘paddock’. It’s a word I associate with Emmerdale Farm, not badass dinos

4.
Liked the pterodactyl attack. All these Jurassic parks have weak defences, but airborne attackers render them completely useless. A large number of winged dinos made the attacks feel all the more random and unfair

5.
Jurassic World needing a new dinosaur to keep the punters coming felt like a comment on consumerism, on neophilia and the need for a new new, on customers’s accelerating demands, the Red Queen Effect, the Silicon Valley-esque focus on continually growing users and profits, and the hedonistic treadmill. I don’t know if that was intentional

6.
Chris Pratt is watchable in anything. His boss was really annoying

Friday Links: 13/10/17

Books

Reading: I’ve returned to Narconomics and loving it
Bought: The Photographer’s Eye
Interested in:

Online: