Archive for November, 2011

Thanksgiving Linkorama

Thursday, November 24th, 2011
  • Icicles … of death.
  • Gamers … fight aids.
  • Cyclist … of hope.
  • Lakes … of Europa.
  • Idiots … of fear.
  • Light … from nothing.
  • User Registration

    Sunday, November 20th, 2011

    Is turned off. I’ve been getting a ton of spam registries lately. I’m also deleting several hundred users that look like spam accounts. Let me know if I accidentally kill yours.

    Drugged Morals

    Monday, November 14th, 2011

    Bryan Appleyard argues against the idea of drugs causing people to act moral.

    Moral enhancement cannot be a scientific project because neither term has any measurable meaning that can be universalised. Rather, it is an ideological project which would hand power to an oligarchy of neuropharmacologists who would be permitted to decide that somebody – probably them – had the power to determine our moral status. This embodies the familiar delusion of many powerful and prejudiced people that all history and culture attained some kind of apotheosis at the moment of their birth. The point is that there are as many definitions of morality as there are human societies. Dr Sandberg spoke about making people less violent which sounds fine until you realise that, for example, the Taliban would regard such a drug as immoral, refuse to take it and conduct a gleeful onslaught on the newly pacific remainder of the world’s population. Or perhaps sublimated violent impulses are good things, making people creative or successful. Steve Jobs may be a good example.

    I think he misses the point.

    All of us have our occasional moral failings. But people do not always fail because they’ve evil; frequently it’s because they’re weak. They know the right thing to do. But fear, prejudice, selfishness, egoism, greed, lust, avarice — these make it easy to give in.

    It’s my basic philosophy of human nature: humans are basically good, but also weak. We find it far too easy to be temped into doing the wrong thing. It’s lead companies believing scientists who tell them their products are harmless, it’s people ignoring a mortally wounded child on the streets of China, it’s people spewing hateful invective. We know the right thing to do. But it’s so easy to give into those voices that say, “It’s not my problem.”

    This state of moral tension is a form of anxiety. If you could identify the neurological background to it, you could develop a medication that calms those fears, makes it easier for people to do the right thing … whatever they judge the right thing to be. There would be a market for that.

    I’m not necessarily saying this is a GOOD thing since sometimes it’s good to question morality. There are countries were brutal honor killings are considered moral. Those lingering doubts are how progress is made. But I do think it’s possible.

    Update: Speaking of moral failings, McArdle has one of the better commentaries on the PSU mess.

    Monday Linkorama

    Monday, November 14th, 2011
  • 11 sounds children have never heard. Not included: that Mike Siegel is so attractive. Sadly.
  • Sexy dances moves for men. Really?
  • The physics of angry birds: Seriously.
  • The steroid era was not all that. Totally.
  • Tuesday Linkorama

    Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
  • Sullivan delivers a broadside to Obama’s marijuana policy.
  • Spooky pics of a funfair in North Korea.
  • A very funny summary of movie posters that all look alike.
  • Taking out the neuro-trash.
  • The Shakespeare Project: Love’s Labours Lost

    Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

    I tried, but I just couldn’t get into this one. Maybe it’s because my reading was spread over many weeks; maybe it’s because I was reading it while tired. Or maybe it’s because it’s a very “in” play with contemporaneous references that aren’t as relevant today. I was frequently thanking the heavens for the Kindle’s ability to look up words with a click. Shakespeare’s other plays have aged well, but this one just hasn’t.

    There was some stuff I enjoyed. Some wordplay was clever and the character of Berowne was good. But it was just missing something. Situations that should have been clever — Costard mixing up the letters, the overlapping overheard conversations, the attempts by the men to conceal their feelings — just washed over me. The games the women played at the end — games played so well in, say, Merry Wives of Windsor just seemed cruel and arbitrary. And then it end up in the air.

    Humph. Maybe Love’s Labours Won would have redeemed it. In fact, the whole thing plays like a prelude to the possibly apocryphal second play. Unfortunately, we don’t have that play. So we’re stuck with one of the weaker comedies.

    Up Next: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Dream. One of his best.

    The Bond Films: The Brosnan Years

    Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

    If there was anyone who was born to play 007, it was Pierce Brosnan. I don’t remember much about Remington Steele, despite being a fan at the time. But I remember thinking that Brosnan was mostly auditioning for the role of Bond. He had everything you want in a Bond — looks, charm, humor, action skill, wit. It’s interesting to think what might have happened had he been hired for Daylights instead of Dalton.

    It’s too bad the movies let him down as time went on.

    Goldeneye was simply the best Bond in 15 years and a smashing debut for Pierce Brosnan. Almost everything works. The sophisticated plot, sprawling over the Cold War and its aftermath, is a great spy tale. The action scenes are good to great, although the tank chase is a bit over the top and needlessly destructive. I always feel bad for the Russian soldiers getting needlessly killed.

    It’s directed with style and flair, with plenty of tension even in dialogue scenes. Izabella Scorupco is a great Bond girl — beautiful, tough and smart. Sean Bean is his usual excellent self (his performance in Lord of the Rings was an unheralded emotional anchor to the films). The music is good, including Tina Turner’s title song (in an unpublished novel, a character said to hear her voice is to know her life).

    In 1995, this was breath of fresh air.

    The new additions to the franchise also work. Judi Dench is a great choice as M; the scene in which she calls Bond a sexist, misogynist dinosaur — a slap 20 years in the making — is excellent. And Samantha Bond is perfect as Moneypenny. She’s funny, charming and just pretty enough.

    There are a few things that don’t work for me. I can’t stand the character of Xenia Onatopp, who is so ridiculous and over-acted, I want to fast forward every time she’s on screen. I’ve frankly never understood the whole Famke Janssen thing. The absurdity of using Arecibo for the finale bothers me. And the lair of the bad guys gave rise to my coining of the Slick Science Rule.

    So not perfect; but damn good. IMDB rates it the 6th best Bond film, the finest vintage since Spy. I agree. 8/10.

    Tomorrow Never Dies: OK, this is one where I disagree with the critics, the Bond fans and IMDB. This is ranked 18th on IMDB and was tepidly received by numerous critics. I just don’t get it.

    The plot is solid, if filled with technical holes. Stamper and Carver make great villains. I know a lot of people can’t stand Pryce’s performance, but I found it well within the over-the-top tradition of Bond villains. And the idea of a media mogul starting a war for ratings has been believable since Hearst. Brosnan is in top form, even making the scenes with Teri Hatcher believable. The film features several great (if implausible) action scenes, notably a great scene involving a remote-controlled car (the shot of Brosnan grinning like a kid as he pilots it is worth the price of admission). I even like Sheryl Crow’s title song.

    What elevates it to a really good Bond film, in my opinion, is Michelle Yeoh as the Chinese agent Wai Lin. She is one of my favorite Bond girls, although that’s at least in part because Michelle Yeoh is one of my favorite actresses (she was stiffed out of an Oscar nomination for Crouching Tiger). Her character is believable, her comic timing excellent and she and Brosnan have wonderful chemistry. After Die Another Day, a lot of people suggested that Halle Berry’s pointless Jinx character be the subject of a spinoff movie or a recurring role. Screw that; Wai Lin would have been much better.

    I simply don’t get why this is rated so low. Below Octopussy? Below Golden Gun? Below Diamonds? You’ve got to be kidding me. I rate it an 8 when I’m in a generous mood, just a cut below Goldeneye.

    The World is Not Enough: As much as I disagreed on Tomorrow, I have to agree with the consensus on this one. IMDB ranks it 19th. I give it a 6. Brosnan is fine, as always. But the plot, the writing and the action let him down.

    The problem is that it goes for too much action cliche: people outrunning explosions, vehicles exploding at the slightest touch, Elektra’s all-too-predictable betrayal. Not to mention the wild science. A captivating film could get me to ignore these problems. But TWINE is so long and boring, I can’t help but notice. In this film, you see the bad elements that would explode into disaster with Die Another Day.

    Sophie Marceau tries to be a great Bond Girl, but Elektra is such a bad character, it doesn’t really work. Robert Carlyle is a boring villain (And can we rid ourselves of the cliche of people who can’t feel pain being invulnerable? People who can’t feel pain have very serious problems). “Welcome to my nuclear family” has to be one of the worst catch phrases for a villain in Bond history.

    And that’s not even mentioning Denise Richards. She tries. She’s beautiful. She smiles well. I liked her a lot in Starship Troopers. She’s just in over her head.

    World is not bad, per se. But it’s just not good. And the elements that were bad turned our to be merely precursors of what was to come.

    Die Another Day: IMDB, the critics and Bond fans alike agree that this was the worst Bond film ever. It’s the film that almost killed the franchise, despite making lots of money.

    The film itself is actually not horrifying. The problem is that it’s simply not a Bond film. Decades of cinematic history are flushed down the toilet to make a film built not on tension and espionage, but action and chaos.

    It has its good points. Um … Rosamund Pike is quite fetching. Um … there’s some reasonable tension in the climax. Um … Samantha Bond is great … I thought Cleese was a fine Q … the film doesn’t really plunge off a cliff until the second half.

    This film was built with references to all the preceding Bond films. Fair enough, but did they have to take the worst of all the Bond films? Diamonds‘ absurd diamond-powered laser? Moonraker‘s cringe-inducing fight in a glass museum? The alligator sub from Octopussy? On the rare occasion when the reference isn’t stupid, it only reminds us of how much better the other films were.

    Really, the problem is that this feels like something produced by the marketing department with basically no input from writers, directors or actors. It’s cobbled together out of things that were focus-group tested to see what would make a profitable Bond movie. You can almost imagine the meetings: “How about Halle Berry? People like Halle Berry, right? And all that CGI stuff? And those gimmicky wipes and jump cuts? Audiences eat that shit up. I heard something about conflict diamonds in the news lately. Plus, let’s make everything explode the second it is touched.” Every piece looks like it was designed for a trailer or a product placement commercial. The film goes downhill for the very first second, when a stupid CGI bullet whizzes out at the audience. Forty years in, did we really fucking need the CGI bullet?

    Watching it for the third time, I’m just annoyed by the things that make no damned sense. Like how Jinx’s boat managed to park right where she was going to dive. Or why Graves uses a stupid body suit to direct the death ray. Or the absurd claim that hovercraft can not set off mines. Or how the guy Bond punches stay unconscious for hours. Or why Madonna … exists. I shouldn’t be bothered by such stupidities — it’s a Bond film! I mean, I enjoyed Moonraker for Christ’s sake. But the film simply isn’t good enough to carry the absurdity. It’s not that I can’t suspend belief; it’s that I see no reason why I should. (See here and here for more on this film’s absurdity).

    And as for Halle Berry’s Jinx, there was some talk of making a spin-off franchise over her. Please. She’s pretty and can act but has little chemistry with Brosnan. Their “flirting” double entendres are painful. Given that Bond was working with Chinese intelligence, this was the perfect chance to bring back Michelle Yeoh, with Bond calling in his debts from Tomorrow Never Dies. He didn’t.

    I rate it a 6, but it’s cold 6. It’s not unwatchable; it’s just irritating to a Bond fan. Thankfully, however, a miracle was just around the corner.