Friday Links: 12/01/18




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I Am the One Who Kongs — On Kong: Skull Island

(Spoiler Island)

A good film with liberal lashings of stinky dialogue. I was overwhelmed with examples, so many that I’ve forgotten most of them. But one that sticks out is:

Mason Weaver…is a woman?
Last time I checked

I can’t believe lines like that were still being used in 2017. Lots of elements in Kong are deliberately dated to give the film a ‘Nam-era feel. But that’s not all old-fashioned line, just a bad one

Lots of cliche here — rock music blasting from soaring helicopters, soldiers busting each other’s balls. I’m unsure about the reasons for all this cheese. Was it an attempt to play with tropes by making Kong feel like a standard war film or Apocalypse Now, but one with the addition of massive dirty ape? Or was it just derivative filmmaking?

I liked how we saw Kong so early. In some films it makes sense to delay that reveal. Not here

My favourite moment was one that played with expectations. As Momma Skullwalker chases a group, Cole unpins some grenades and stands his ground, ready to sacrifice himself. We’ve seen points like this so, so many times before. Then the film subverts tradition and has the ‘walker swipe him with his tail, avoiding all damage to itself and sending him crashing explosively into a cliffside. Cole’s sacrifice maybe slows the beast down by half a second. Loved it.

Chapman was revered by his colonel and a number of soldiers without us being given us a particularly meaningful reason as to why. Bad characterisation? Or were there deleted scenes?

A water-buffalo the size of a building isn’t strong enough to lift a helicopter from its own neck. Yet, Weaver still thinks she can hoist it off. Maybe I’d do the same in that situation (I haven’t been there. Yet). But it still looks stupid on screen.

Marlow is the most interesting character. I always like the idea of someone disappearing for years then returning home, culturally ignorant and mostly forgotten. Although I did get picky about his return. The decision to stylise it so it looked recorded on a 70s home-video camera just made me think, ‘Who’s recording this?’


The Gang’s All Here: on Batman v Superman

(Batman v Spoilers)

Maybe it’s because I went in with low expectations, but I quite enjoyed BvS. The criticisms I’d heard–it’s too long, too busy–are true, but not bad enough to significantly affect my enjoyment

What are the practicalities of announcing two deaths but only having one body? Bruce says Superman’s coffin is an empty box, which only raises more questions. Was every relevant official part of a hoax? Would a government hostile to Superman go along with this?

More and more I think I’ve got mild OCD. This film using ‘V’ in the title instead of ‘vs’ makes me uncomfortable

Common in my film posts is my belief that a film’s ending has a disproportionate effect on the viewer’s estimation of it. BvS doesn’t have a bad ending, it has an extra one. You naturally decompress after the two heroes battle it out. Then along comes the Doomsday I never asked for with Wonder Woman to boot. Sure, we saw her in alter-ego earlier, but how often does a character get properly introduced 90 minutes into a film? It’s almost as if she exists to announce her upcoming appearance in a film coming soon to all good cinemas near you. The Doomsday battle is mostly good fun, but feels like an unnatural extension of the movie.

Batman to Martha – “I’m a friend of your son’s”. This comes ten minutes after Bats was close to killing her son. That friendship blossomed quickly

Both of their ‘mothers’ have the same name? How did I never notice this before?

A cool geek-out moment — Bruce’s parents are Negan and Maggie from The Walking Dead. I’ve been trying to assimilate these titles and have Batman and the show exist in the same universe. I’ll find a way

Every time Perry White made up a headline, it was a bad one. No wonder the Daily Planet is failing

I’ve read that the introduction of seatbelts hasn’t increased car safety because drivers drive more dangerously now that they feel safer. In that vein, if I was Lois Lane, I’d do all sorts of dangerous stuff, knowing there was a good chance Supes would save me

Superman always turns up at the very last second to save Lois. What is he doing before that? Is he aware of the danger but is holding off? Does he expect her to be pushed from the roof, but waits until she’s close to the ground? Would he not intervene before then? Maybe his ears are particularly tuned to only her most desperate screams, and he’s deaf to any mild danger she might be in

We saw Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday. You know who we never saw? Dawn of Justice. Where was she?

Thoughts on Things: 02/01/18

(Thoughts on Things is a new format I’m trying out, where I’ll post thoughts on anything that’s floating about in my head. The idea being that, if I write it down, hopefully I’ll stop mentally repeating it.)


Reading Mary Beard’s book on Ancient Rome showed me how easily I fall into narrative bias. Throughout it Beard stops to warn the reader not to fall into building a neat little story. Remember, this historian might have been skewing events because he was on the emperor’s payroll, for example, or The wealthy were more likely to document events, so the poor’s perspective is harder to find. Despite these frequent warnings, I still often found myself forming a ‘complete’ and easy narrative, the very thing she was warning me about. Being aware of the existence of a cognitive bias, yet still committing it, is evidence of how powerful biases can be.

Fellowship of the Ring

Some believe that the Lord of the Rings’ theme is addiction. Gollum is the addict, unable to pull himself free of the ring’s lure. Frodo is gradually succumbing to it, slowly becoming Gollum 2. Yes, FOTR is indeed about addiction. Addiction to food.

Within the first hour or so of that film, the Backup Hobbits, Merry and Pippin, put themselves in danger twice because of their desire to eat. Mere hours after setting off to follow Frodo and Sam, they raid a farmer’s crops, despite the chance of being attacked. They start a campfire to cook sausages while on a hilltop, signalling their location to the lethal Ringwraiths. This leads to Frodo being stabbed and almost dying. Only Aragorn’s combat-handiness spares them all from death. When Frodo tells the pair how dangerous lighting that fire was, they act like they didn’t know doing so would put them in danger. They knew. And they did it anyway. Greedy little shits.


American comedy gets too much material from verbal clumsiness. As good as the Jump Street films are, they overly rely on characters stammering their way through conversations as a source of humour. Likewise with Dave Franco’s Disaster Artist version of Greg Sestero. The same thing is particularly prevalent in kid’s TV and films. Look at manny Disney Channel shows or Anna from Frozen. “Yes, I would love to…I mean, not that I would ever…but you…I mean I…”. It’s practically a trope now.

TV seasons

Season one of The West Wing, seasons three and four of Boardwalk Empire, and the only season of Firefly; all are as good as any season of any show. Boardwalk is a sadly underappreciated show

Books and Films of the Year – 2017

(As with every year I do this, my favourites are chosen from those I experienced this year. Actual release date is irrelevant)


Honourable mentions go to SPQR and Black Flags. My three favourites of the year, in reverse order, are:

3) Narconomics 

Narconomics applies economic principles to the illegal drugs trade. Why does collusion between gangs make sense for them in one country but not another? Why is destroying drug crops mostly futile? Tom Wainwright isn’t just an economist dryly applying theories at a remove from the reality of the drugs trade, he gets in amongst it. Narconomics is both an original look at the industry and a fascinating insight into how it currently operates.

2) The Undoing Project

How can a book about behavioural economists can be so enjoyable? Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the field. Michael Lewis, dominator of nonfiction bestseller lists, documents their work, relationship, and their intriguing lives.

Imagine a university economics professor. You’re probably picturing glasses, poor posture, perhaps tweed. Now imagine them leaving work early and rushing to the airport in order to fly home and command a battalion of tanks to protect their homeland. Moments like this (plus great writing and the pair’s strong bond) make a potentially dry book idea into something electric and cinematic. I could see this being another of Lewis’ books adapted into a film, if not for Israel being such a political hot potato (and you can’t really relocate the protagonists because they’re actual people). A great book, both as entertainment and an education on your mental biases and blind spots.

1) Sapiens

I struggle to explain what I got from this book because I got so much. It covers the rise of, well, us, from hunter-gatherers to farmers to knowledge workers. And religion, geography, slavery, evolution, and more. Its discussion of social constructs affects the way I think about many things now, including money (particularly relevant with Bitcoin currently so popular).

I’ve read a lot of books I’ve loved, but only two have had an effect on my everyday life: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, and this. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.


I managed to pick my top three but was unable to prioritise them.

a) Prisoners

Prisoners is about the abduction of two young girls and the effect that has on their family. It’s sad, brutal, tense and intriguing. There is some symbolism and references that, having researched after watching it, I didn’t fully pick up on. So I look forward to seeing it again

b) X-Men: Days of Future Past

Someone mentioned on Twitter that this was the best X-Men film by a mile. I’m a huge fan of X-Men 2. So I was like, ‘Lol, yeah, whatevs douche’, or whatever youngsters say nowadays. But I decided to actually do some research before commenting (which is not the Internet Way). X2 is great, but Days is greater. The most remarkable thing about it is how it constantly puts the right foot forward. Film-making is a vast series of decisions. Even with the best minds behind it, statistically, something major should eventually go wrong. But it nails everything. Like Professor X in Dude Lebowski mode, getting drunk at home in his dressing gown. It introduces a character (Quicksilver) who moves fast enough to be unstoppable and make others pale in comparison, but has the sense to exit him early. One of the final scenes is surprisingly brutal for this type of film. All great moments done exceedingly well. Days is on the highest echelon of ‘capes films.

c) The Disaster Artist

(I thought about putting this #1 on the list, but figured I may be guilty of recency bias because I just saw it two weeks ago).

I think seeing The Room (which is on Youtube) helps to fully appreciate this film, although you don’t need to have read the book of the same name. Although you should read the book because it’s brilliant.

I was never a fan of James Franco. Have you ever seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians and saw Rob constantly look like he’d rather be elsewhere? That’s how I felt about James Franco on a Hollywood set. The only time I actually enjoyed his acting was the brief moment in Spiderman 3 where his character suffers from amnesia and wanders around without a care in the world. Good films he was in (like Rise of the Planet of the Apes) were good in spite of him, not because.

But he did an amazing job with the Disaster Artist. Playing Tommy Wiseau is a tough gig — Wiseau is a real person (who’s ingrained in the minds of anyone who has seen The Room) with a bizarre accent, and is so weird that even playing him accurately could seem unbelievable to many viewers. Yet Franco absolutely nails him (which shot-by-shot comparisons between The Room and The Disaster Artist make clear) and manages to make the absurd Wiseau sympathetic.

Franco’s direction is even better. This is another film that has no flat moments. The ‘naked Tommy’ scene is incredible, with its humour, handheld camerawork and long takes adding to the tension, and Franco’s complete dedication to his role. I expect to see Franco nominated for Best Director and Best Actor at the next Oscars. Writing that feels wrong.


Friday Links 22/12/17


Reading: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

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Friday Links 8/12/2017


As I’ve collected this bundle in the last few weeks, and with Christmas coming up, I’ll be set for reading material for a while.



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I’ve despaired at the sheer amount of things I’ve saved on Twitter and into Instapaper and Pocket, and never gotten around to consuming. Recently, I realised many of these saved links are to videos, and many of these videos are short. So I’ve collected all the videos under ten minutes long into a single folder, and try to pick them off one at a time — when I’ve got five minutes before starting work or when I come back from lunch. So far I’ve watched: