With the paper schedule out of whack the last couple of weeks, I’m still playing catch-up on a few things: album reviews, a gig review, a press screening write-up. At least with this bank holiday weekend I’ve had a breather of sorts to triage my commitments and carve out some valuable time for thinking and contemplation.
A Richter scale for outages
The downside to seamless technology: when the invisible tech behind it all betrays its hodgepodge nature and gives up the ghost. Going by Matt Webb’s scale, even a 2.0 could have a major human impact in that it could ruin an entire workday (and depending on one’s role and responsibilities, that could cascade disastrously). #aux·
Disney’s $1 Billion Bet On A Magical Wristband
The technology behind it is actually rather simple; it’s just an RFID chip in a rubber wristband. But it’s the interconnected, multilayered thinking behind the whole system, the application of the tech in a real-world scenario that tries to account for what would make the experience feel like ‘magic’ for the user — that’s what’s revolutionary. #aux·
Buy now, pay later
Explaining the Irish banking crisis, in typically Irish terms. It’s still pisses me off that we’ve never really learned the lessons of what went down, and we’re bound to repeat it again. No real sense of people pulling together, everyone out for themselves. The upcoming marriage referendum has brought it out again: such an absence of empathy in such a supposedly ‘Christian’ nation; personal ‘conscience’ as an excuse for denying others trumps all. As a people, we’re a sham, we really are. #comment·
Millions spent but are our streets more cycling friendly?
I don’t know where they’re spending their millions because the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Here’s two simple things that would help immensely: educating motorists that cyclists are allowed to ‘take the lane’, especially when it’s unsafe to keep left; and making sure road surfaces are free of debris and uneven surfaces (poor tarmac laying around shores is just one depressingly regular example, grand for cars but potentially lethal for cyclists). #comment·
With Extreme Rules coming later tonight, it’s about time (after four weeks, I know) that I reflected on this year’s WrestleMania, which did not have the most auspicious of beginnings. Last time out I said I was “hopeful that some exciting TV” would come out of the post-Rumble mess on the road to the Showcase of the Immortals. Alas, the build-up was fairly weak, despite all the potential being there.
Let’s ignore for now the main event set between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns — more a case of grudging inevitability than pulse-racing anticipation — and look at the rest of the card which, all things considered in this era, was fairly stacked. For the nostalgia kick, there was Sting versus Triple H, one of the few bouts to get a decent build before the show (perhaps because of the hook: WCW Legend takes on WWE Guy). Randy Orton against Seth Rollins best represented the contemporary product. The smart marks got the IC Title ladder match (Money in the Bank in everything but prize and name). Cena v Rusev filled the ‘big man’ requirement. Even the obligatory Divas match had some substance to it this year. The problem is that a lot of these match-ups and scenarios look fair enough on paper, and virtually write themselves. So the weekly shows seemed to hold back on the big sell, expecting — not necessarily wrongly — that you’ll be watching anyway, because it’s WrestleMania.
The embargo’s finally lifted so I can share with you all my surprising take on the second Avengers flick: it’s shite.
Now calm down, I will be fair; there are some improvements on the first one, which I hated with a burning passion. The awful ‘witty’ dialogue has been toned down for the most part. The treatment of the characters is more sympathetic to their solo adventures, if not canon. The Hulk, written backwards from one of those oh-so-witty lines in the first film, is redrawn here as the classic tragic child-in-a-monster’s-body; Hawkeye is not the one from Matt Fraction’s superlative comic run, but at least gets a respectful role in the story.
Even the story is an improvement in being marginally less convoluted than its predecessor, though it does gets stupider and more illogical as it progresses (I mean, even if you can suspend disbelief for a movie about an evil robot battling a team of superheroes).
That’s because Joss Whedon just can’t help himself. For all his improvements - in de-Buffy-ing the first film’s bland fight staging, in shooting with a wider angle and finally grokking how not to frame so tightly - he still can’t eschew his trademark flaws. For instance, there’s still too much wisecracking from characters who just don’t talk like that (Thor especially: he’s far too self-aware in Whedon’s hands, when the whole point is that he should be oblivious to his pomposity. What’s so difficult about that?).
The worst offender is the lead villain, the dastardly robot Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who should instil fear in the hearts of all who are good and true, but is mostly a vessel for Whedon to slash wildly at the tension with all the subtlety of a baboon. Indeed, subtlety is not a concept Whedon appears to get; what would be a background hint in another filmmaker’s vision is boldly underlined for your convenience by a director who’s fine for ’90s TV but has yet to show any real flair for cinema.
There’s also an argument to be made that the film is racist by ignorance. So many white people - all bar one, Samuel L Jackson in his usual cameo as Nick Fury (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie are even further in the back, and decidedly put in their place). Not to mention a flying visit to Wakanda, which while in itself is a blessedly contemporary treatment of a modern African city (it was filmed in Johannesburg, so gleaming skyscrapers instead of crime-ridden slums) is still the butt of a joke (a name the white American characters are hopeless at pronouncing? How funny!) and is located, according to the on-screen text, on the ‘African coast’ (North? South? East? West? Who gives a shit?). The less said about Andy Serkis and his woeful ‘Sahth Ifrican’ accent - worse than Leo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond - the better.
That the film as a whole falls into the usual ‘superpowered people destroy a bunch of shit’ mode is really the least of its problems.
After all the anticipation, Mr Turner was a letdown:
A bravura performance by Timothy Spall this undoubtedly has, but as a film, Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner is a flawed masterpiece. As I see it there are two ways you can do biographical drama: identify a theme and use events of the subject’s life to illustrate that and tell a specific story (a la Milos Forman’s Amadeus), or simply retell the events of that life in succession. Leigh opts for the latter, and the result is like a diary flailing for a story, and missing out on the stuff we really care about when it comes to JMW Turner: the bloody art, like!
Over two-and-a-half hours depicting the boring minutiae of an odious arsehole’s comings and goings, we’re still left in mystery as to the inspiration behind his greatest works, let alone the secret to his appreciation as a wunderkind of British art. There isn’t even much of an effort to try, Leigh’s lens far more comfortable to rest on the homely, Hobbiton-like safeness of a simply appointed quayside terrace than the majesty of the ocean or the magic cast by sunlight that informed his most arresting paintings.
The DUFF is a nice surprise: a film I fully expected to be awful, judging by the try-hard social media marketing campaign, and the ‘Hottie and the Nottie’ implications of its central conceit. But it’s actually a pretty funny, well-done contemporary take on those risque ’80s teen comedies we look back on with such fondness. Starting from a fairly crass premise, the film moves through a series of set-piece high-school cliches in lieu of a plot, but they’re cliches because they work, and there’s enough modern riffing and stereotype inversion to set it apart from straight pastiche. Plus there’s the versatile Mae Whitman (the voice of Katara in the fantastic Avatar animated series) in the lead as the so-called Designated Ugly Fat Friend of the title, gracefully walking that line between sensitivity and silly comedy, and who by all rights should be destined for better things.
Little to report over the previous few weeks that I haven’t already mentioned.
Press screenings have been thin on the ground for me lately due to scheduling conflicts. I did attend one this Friday morning, for the new Avengers movie, but we’re apparently embargoed till Tuesday, so yeah.
Music-wise, I’ve got another heavy stuff round-up in the works for Thumped, on top of a few other reviews. This past week I’ve been mostly listening to the new Bosse-de-Nage record, All Fours, which is the best thing I’ve heard in ages. That’s been at the expense of everything else, however, so I’ve got a fair amount to catch up on.