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Saturday 25 March 2017

What Comes After

It may just be me, but - now, whenever a serious incident happens and people get hurt, how I respond to it mentally has changed.

(You'll note I haven't used the term "terrorism", there. A lot of things get labelled as terrorism that may not be, and a lot of things that are, don't.)

The incident itself provokes several emotions. Horror. Anxiety. Incredulity. That's the immediate response - a mixture of worry for the people hurt and killed, shock that it happened, and outright flabbergasted anger that someone deigned it a good use of their time.

What follows after that is a kind of hollow-stomach dread at what people are going to do next.

You know the people I'm talking about. Everyone does. Some of them exist in the world of news and politics. Others are family, work colleagues and friends. Some of them are genuinely well-meaning people. Others are, well, not.

It's obviously an emotive thing - when lives are injured and cut short in such a shocking and visible way - and critical thinking gets frayed and thrown out the window. Understandably, yes, but we have to recognise it happens, because a lot of people who talk sense afterwards tend to get ignored for a lot of people who really don't.

We get people like Trump Jr, who decides to have a pop at the Mayor of London, because...well, we're not really sure, but immigration and grr and things. We get people like Katie Hopkins, who believes that murder isn't an extreme behaviour, just "more devout", thus demonstrating a lamentable grasp of any kind of reality. We get people like the right-wing rando who went on Twitter chatting shit about how Theresa May had let in several quadrillion immigrants in her time as Home Secretary, and laid the blame at their door for the actions of a man born, raised and living in England. We get the EDL, showing us carefully selected pictures to try and make us hate, hoping we don't think about them for several seconds at once.

And we believe in free speech, so they can say what they want. The real problem is that people are too busy being angry to actually fact-check them.

It's easy to be afraid and angry. Very easy. We've all been there.

But we owe it to ourselves to not.

I mean for god's sake, we're adults. Aren't we? Capable of critical thinking? Capable of spotting potential lies? We have object permanence, don't we? We have knowledge of the basic concept of someone having an agenda, and knowing that what they say will probably fit in with that agenda?

...I'd really hope so.

Meanwhile. Hundreds of extremists will shout about the actions of one extremist. They'll tell us they are on our side, and so that will be fine. More barriers, more anger, more breakdowns in society.

People died, innocent people, and that is a tragedy - but now their deaths are going to get foisted around like political capital, used to promote anger and hatred, and that is a disrespect above and beyond.

I've done a blog previously about this kind of thing. It's here, if you are interested. It's specifically about the solutions to terrorism.

All I hope now is that once the terrorists have done their work, and the other terrorists start talking, that less and less people listen.

Sunday 19 March 2017


I'm a big fan of monster movies.

I love them. However cheesy they are, however ridiculous. They entertain me no end. Maybe it's the same love I have for old kung fu films - the sheer spectacle of the thing, regardless of plot, standard of script, or anything similar.

My favourite kind? Those Godzilla flicks with the guy in the rubber suit. Doing battle every installment with a new rival of equally ridiculous proportions, sometimes our friend and sometimes our foe, sometimes an affable weird creature that protects children and sometimes a terrifying atomic monstrosity. Those are the Kaiju movies of my dreams - even if they miss the original point of Godzilla, which was a terrifying view of the atomic nightmare wrought on Japan in 1945.

So, what about more modern monster movies?

Well, the 1997 American iteration of Godzilla was laughable. It utterly robbed the franchise of any charm and magic it had previously. It was a farce. It's why a lot of folks call it 'Zilla, rather than Godzilla - or In Name Only.

Cloverfield. An interesting take on the genre. It left qustions unanswered and it was genuinely scary in parts. One of the better examples of Found Footage movies, in that it is totally devoted to the limitation of its medium.

The Peter Jackson adaptation of King Kong. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. So the entire segment on Skull Island was pretty good, but it...wasn't...very..King Kong. Like it came across as something of a mishmash horror film that they stapled King Kong to. Also the acting in that film was...genuinely vile - the writing, likewise.

The Host is a Korean horror/monster flick that breaks all the rules of the genre. You see the monster, full length and in broad daylight, within five minutes of the title. It's still fantastic, perhaps even because of its genre-smashing nudges and winks.

The more recent US Godzilla was somewhat more respectable, if massively teasing. We came here to watch the big guy rip and tear. Why tease? Why dangle a juicy fight in front of us, and then snatch it away in the moment before impact? Aside from that, not bad. Not bad at all.

Kong: Skull Island promises to be pretty awesome, but then I can see how it may not work out that way. There's a lot of ways to screw up a monster movie. Though with a strong thematic and a Kong that actually looks like a Kong, there's some hope there.

And then, there is Shin Godzilla.

Also known as Godzilla Resurgence, this thing appeared basically out of nowhere, crashed onto my radar, and demanded I pay attention.

It's different. From the very beginning, the monster showing up is intermingled with footage of government doing what government does. The segments of the monster doing its thing are genuinely scary - indiscriminate destruction and swathes of literal ruin torn through the heart of dense neighbourhoods. It's played serious, shot in a clean style, and is...generally...really rather good.

Like, as a movie. The cinematography is impressive. The soundtracking is stark and withdrawn. The scene-cuts are rapid and jarring, leaving you off-balance, awaiting what is going to happen next. The characters are interesting, the acting is on point, and for a giant monster movie, it actually reeks of believability.

Even for the significant parts of the film in which the big guy isn't on screen, you still feel involved. You aren't spending your time waiting for it to show up again. The film engages you in a way that makes you anticipate that reappearance rather than impatient for it.

And they use the original classic music! as dumb as the genre can seem to many - and there's a lot of dumb in it, don't get me wrong - it turns out that you can still make a good movie with a monster in it. You just almost always have to leave it to someone that isn't Hollywood.

And if you only ever watch one monster flick - make it Shin Godzilla.

Saturday 11 March 2017

You Suggest, I Digress

So with only a smattering of ideas in terms of what to write this week I turned to the smartest bunch of people I know to suggest topics for the blog.

Last time I suggested I might only do one but ended up doing them all. Frankly there's not even gonna be a shadow of a doubt this time, I'm just straight up doing all of them.

So with some names removed to protect the innocent (HAH)...

Mighty Max playsets - Mighty Max was AWESOME. I had a bunch of the playsets, a lot of the smaller ones, one or two of the bigger ones. The cartoon was the absolute bomb, too. Just check out this intro. It should tell you everything you need to know. It's METAL AS FUCK.

Boobs - Yes, they're very lovely.

Kittens - Yes, they too are very lovely. BUT - controversial opinion - having had more elderly cats as pets, I prefer them, honestly. Especially the big sloppy ones that don't really care about going outside, they just want to sit on your lap. Love them.

Roses - I get hayfever. Overpriced sex organs that die very quickly. Not a big fan of flowers. Succulents, however - cacti - that's my shit. If only I was actually good with plants, I'd keep some.

A gadget you don't have but want - Oh lord there are so many. See I love gadgets, I love little bits of technowizardry. If I lived by myself I'd love one of those speaker systems that you can stream to anywhere in the house - a 3D printer would be kick-ass - one of those super-expensive but very stable drones with really high definition cameras - a set of those exoskeleton legs so that walking around wouldn't fuck my knees and ruin my joints - god, the list is endless.

Boobies - They are very lovely. (Okay are you folks noticing a pattern here?)

Tory Manifesto Promises - Said it time and again. What a politician says and what a politician does are two different things. You can always trust the Conservatives to make cuts and to help big business. That's not just an opinion. Look at history, and look at the voting records of those in parliament right now and previously. If anyone took their manifesto promises as being at all believable - The Party Of The NHS, don't make me laugh - then it shows a general lack of political acumen. This isn't limited to Tories I will bear mention. Manifesto promises are all well and good, but before you put any stock in them, see if the MPs of that party have actually ever voted for or supported those promises previously. You CAN do that. They DO keep records. No matter how non-connected a politician will tell you they are with the fracking industry, there is a record on how they have voted in connection to it - and that, they can't make up. (If anyone DOESN'T know how to check voting records, TheyWorkForYou and The Public Whip are two great places to start.)

The Art Of War - I read this fairly regularly. It's not such a great guide as people think it is, but it does contain several little nuggets of wisdom, which can be applied to a wide spread of daily experience and general life. I play a lot of games, many of them involving strategy or conflict, and so I perhaps get more out of it than most would. One of my favourite sayings originates from the Art of War: "If you know your enemy and you know yourself, you will not be defeated in a hundred battles."

Staffs/Staves in a fight - The problem is room to work with. The same as two-handed swords, which I actually have a little training in. If you've got empty space, like at least twelve feet, then they will do the job. They give you reach and are a flexible way to do damage to someone and stop yourself from being stabbed to death. The way they are presented in movies, though, well. People spin them around like they weigh nothing, yet they hit like they're made of lead. Most weapon fight scenes in films don't do justice to the techniques and items in question. Don't get me wrong, I love watching it happen - the Neo vs Agent Smiths fight in the park in Matrix: Reloaded is a great staff fight scene for all of its ridiculousness - but it just doesn't reflect the usability in the real world. Again, same is said with swords. If you're still fighting with a sword after like three minutes, you've done it wrong.

The trans bathroom debate - In my eyes there isn't a debate. There's just people that want to use the bathroom, and other people making ridiculous demands of them. I don't mean to attack the person that suggested this as a topic, it's one that needs talking about. It's just that calling it a debate implies that both sides approach with equanimity - and I don't think that's true.

Trumpton - My views summed up here. (Content Warning: Dank Rave Music.)

Thoughts on narratives told using multiple mediums (Transmedia storytelling) - So in terms of a franchise I like this idea. Like, playing Halo tells you a lot about the story, and is a self-contained story in and of itself; but the expanded media, novels and such, present a far more textured and interesting world for the games to exist in. However...if I am playing a video game but need to pause it and watch a movie to get the whole story, like the narrative has a hole in it if I don't do this thing, then - well I dislike that. I dislike that quite keenly. "It makes more sense if you've read the book", that I can be slightly more forgiving about - hell, I like some films that are kind of incomprehensible compared to their books. (And films whose books are almost incomprehensible, too.) It know. If you can't tell the story, try a different story, and don't make me go out and buy something new to fill in the holes.

The weird subtext of Kong: Skull Island - I haven't seen it yet. I want to. When I am mobile I will. But to me, from just the trailers and such, it looks a lot like a Vietnam war film with big monsters in it, which suits me just fine. Like down to the colour choices of shots and the way people talk, the way it is written. Again - just from the trailers, this may change when I watch the movie. Now I like movies about Vietnam, and I like monster movies, but do the two great flavours taste great together? Remains to be seen. By the way. Why isn't this film called Viet Kong?

Boobs - Okay see that's the third person on my Facebook friends list to suggest I write about boobs. All ladies, no less. I have no idea why. I will make no secret of the fact that I am a big fan! But like...that's kind of problematic, 'cos that's a very short step away from objectification. So suffice to say this: however much I love boobs, people that may or may not have them are more important to me. Just please lord don't test that statement. My spirit is strong, my flesh is very, very weak.

Insomnia seems appropriate - I asked for these suggestions at 00:30, I was still checking them at 04:00. Insomnia used to rule my life, now it is more of a background character trait than a primary thing - it's often primarily driven by pain anyhow. But yes. Sleep is not easy for me. Until I fall asleep, and then, half the time it is very very easy indeed. The other half of the time it just doesn't last anywhere near long enough. I've kind of learned to cope without the standard 6-8 hours, though if I do look wild around the eyes any time before noon, that's why.

Go all meta and blog about your blogging - Hah, well. I've been doing this blog for a while now. The first entry was on the 8th of July 2012, and talked about me dropping my previous blog. There weren't even any labels that far back. I should fix that really. Spend an afternoon tagging up all my old entries. I've found it a great way to get things out of my skull and into a more legible format; it's helped me deal with things I am thinking and feeling in a way that feels constructive. Also I sometimes get audience participation which is really entertaining in its own way. I used to worry about viewership, but then I stopped. I shouldn't care how many people read this. I'm writing it for my benefit primarily, even if other people reading it may get something from it (and I hope they do!). So honestly, it's a great thing to have in my life. I enjoy my little slice of the blogverse.

Though, that said - if any of you think that anything I've said would be of interest to other folks you know? Do feel free to distribute. Even if they just want a snide laugh at my overly-optimistic Leftie principles or how I feel about Transformers.

So there you have it. Another job lot of suggested topics done. I always enjoy this - I can never guarantee what I will get asked about...

...though perhaps I can guarantee one politics post and one post about boobs?

Thanks for tuning in, folks. Have a better one.

Sunday 5 March 2017

Words & Numbers

Two films that I have seen recently that I have thoroughly enjoyed, in fact absolutely loved, have been Arrival and Hidden Figures.

Both films took me places that I love to go - one to the weird and strange place that science fiction can take you, and one to a historical time so often discussed but so rarely brought to life. Both had excellent scripts and soundtracks. Both had superb cinematography, but done in sumptuously different styles. The acting in each was absolutely delectable, though while Hidden Figures had a broader cast that had to hold their own against each other, Arrival was almost a single-character piece and excelled for it.

"But John," I hear you cry, watermelons raining around you like confetti. "But John, why do you like them? What about each of them? Be specific! We want to shred your opinion in the comments!"

Alright then.

Arrival is not the film you think it is. Just watch it, okay? Just watch it. Don't try to second-guess it. Just watch it and let it happen to you and you will be thoroughly and happily surprised. It has a wonderful wonderful twist that you simply don't see coming.

Hidden Figures is funny as all get-out. In some places, it is laugh-out-loud amusing. Janelle Monae in particular serves up some delicious comedy, but it's a witty film overall. A lot of it is deft script-writing,

Arrival breaks some of the annoying stereotypes found in similar films. The military are not constantly being serious douchebags - there isn't a second-act intervention from Spooky Man In Suit that nobody recognises but seems to be mysteriously influential - and the press response and geopolitics seems surprisingly feasible for a science fiction film.

Hidden Figures shows you what racism looked like in 1960s Virginia. There is no single person twirling their mustachio and cackling darkly, despite every other white cast member being totally chill. It's a consistent dragging factor that holds people back throughout most of their lives and is casually undertaken by everyone around them, without anyone really thinking about it. (The only problem I have with the entire film falls in this category unfortunately.)

Arrival talks about language in a very interesting way. It makes you think about it, though that doesn't get in the way of the plot. Far from it. It IS the plot - semantics and syntax. It's not about the world leaders and the militaries posturing and posing. It's about Louise Banks working on the greatest challenge of her life, while all that happens in the background.

Hidden Figures has an amazing soundtrack. I've mentioned this before but it deserves reiteration. Pharell Williams, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch do a great job of putting you in the place and the time. It feels good to listen to, and it distinctly fits the scenes it is set to. It is hope and hard work and happiness where you find it.

Below is a very minor spoiler for Hidden Figures.

I did mention a problem, back there. I didn't really have any with Arrival - it was just fantastic. Hidden Figures had one specific thing that niggled me and continues to. There's a moment where Kevin Costner's character decides to single-handedly desegregate the bathrooms in Langley. That just didn't happen - Katherine Goble just kept using the whites-only bathrooms. A complaint was raised, she ignored it, the complaint went away. A wealthy white dude didn't swing in and save the day for our plucky black lady. She just got on with it, because she had better things to do. I understand why they did it in the film, for cinematic reasons - also forgiving that the book it is based on takes place over many years and by the events of the film Langley itself was already desegregated - but that one thing just...itches at me.

But outside of that? If you can forgive that? Then go watch these two films. Pick them up and chill out with them. Screw on your thinking cap for Arrival and your feeling sweater for Hidden Figures. Myself and those who went to see it skirted on the edge of tears several times in the film. (For different reasons, it bears mention.)

...but yeah, I'm sure Beauty And The Beast will be juuuuust wonderful.