rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

11-8-2004 (archived)

Last night I was driving through Manchester when I saw one of the sandwich boards the Manchester Evening News use to try to sell their not-particularly-good paper, but this time with quite the most arresting headline I have seen thereon: “Lesbian stalker and the vampire poet”. So of course I got to work today and looked it up (I have no intention of giving these people any actual money). I am cheered by the news that we have a Childline employee who moonlights as “Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen”. And performs her own poetry.

In rather more depressing news, apparently this guy got hassled by a security search for carrying a dungeons and dragons book onto a ferry. I mean, what? Since when did being a geek make you a terrorist threat? (Via Boing Boing.).

15-8-2004 (archived)

I have lots of things that I want to write about, and they all seem to be slow-simmering back burner jobs (which is why this is “late”, inasmuch as a site without a published schedule can be late). Jam tomorrow.

So, speaking of jam, here's a recent (and even solicited) post to the steadily-improving Intermusic guitar forums on improvisation vs composition for soloists.

17-8-2004 (archived)

I can pretty much sum up this review of “I, Robot” in one line: do not miss. Sure, the theme is the oldest of SF tropes, and one that's been thoroughly explored before; so what? This isn't really a SF movie, any more than Asimov's Elijah Bailey stories were SF. It's a detective story - a whodunnit - and (being Hollywood in 2004) an action movie on top.

Crucially, though, both of those layers work well. All the layers and clues are there in the detective story, without making anything too obvious. And, as an action eye-candy picture, it's simply magnificent; the CGI is utterly brilliant, Smith totally convincing, the choreography strong. Both strands are coherent, there's not a great deal of slack, and Smith is as charismatic as ever, in a role (clearly based on Asimov's Bailey, but much better drawn than any of Asimov's characters ever were) a little less one-sided than many we've seen him play. He's also been hitting the gym with some dedication, a fact exploited for maximum effect in the first few scenes, much to the delight of at least half of the audience. I'm not sure if my initial reaction, essentially “the best film of its kind since The Matrix”, holds up on reflection, but I'd cheerfully go and see it again. For pure entertainment value, hard to beat.

19-8-2004 (archived)

So. What to say about “Catwoman”?

All of the acting is appalling. Not all that surprising, given how bad the script is. This is the director's first film in charge; before this, he's always been in charge of visual effects. That explains the intensely visual style, but makes even more mystifying the appalling execution. This is the worst CGI I've seen in some years; Berry resembles nothing more than early versions of Tomb Raider, all tits and shoddy animation badly superimposed on poorly rendered backgrounds, and the transitions between effects and actress couldn't be more obvious if they were subtitled. I've genuinely seem more convincing mini-movies rendered in the Quake II engine. Even the walk is badly wrong - too fast, far too much hip-wiggle, and none of the obnoxious confidence and sensuality it needed. A couple of what should have been wonderful wish-fulfillment scenes are ruined by terrible direction, Berry going back and forth between emotions like a demonstration by a talented incompetent. In general, the performances reminded me of nothing so much as one of those 4pm BBC kid's dramas, 12-year-olds trying to emote by enunciating very carefully.

And what the fuck is with the whip? She's a cat, not a dominatrix. The whole sandals thing is an error, too.

That said, we didn't hate it; we went expecting a very bad movie that might be sort of fun anyway, and it sort of was. I really can't recommend it, especially when there's the likes of I Robot around; but if you're sufficiently interested in Halle's anatomy and you've seen everything else already, just bear in mind that it might be the worst movie ever to have gone on general release and you might still have a good time.

21-8-2004 (archived)

Not everything on Steven Dutch's Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism page is easy to agree with; once you get into the politics towards the bottom of the page he displays exactly the sort of inability to separate axioms from facts that he laments in others elsewhere, but since we've all spent enough time on the internet to be used to the delusion that politics is a rationally-based business, that shouldn't bother us too much. (He doesn't really understand the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, either, or at least has chosen to pretend he doesn't in order to ridicule it, but then he's a geologist and so we shouldn't be too harsh about that either.)

However, he does hit the nail pretty squarely in a lot of places, and one is on the question of experts and the value of opinions. My view on this has been often expressed, and comes down to “yes, you have the right to your opinion, and I have the right to laugh at it”. Your opinion is not as good as somebody else's unless you know at least as much and have reasoned at least as well about the subject matter. Dutch puts it well here:

  • We're not "self-appointed" or "so-called" experts. We are real experts. We're not "authority figures." We are real authorities.
  • It's not arrogance to say what you know professionally. It is arrogance to reject expert opinion without having expertise of your own.
  • If hearing the experts say you're wrong makes you feel bad or stupid, that is your problem, not ours. See a therapist and work on your self-esteem. If you think this is rough on the ego, try getting a paper or grant proposal you've worked on for months rejected, something real experts face all the time.
  • We don't know everything, but we do know more on our subjects of expertise than other people, especially people with no training at all.
  • Unless you have real evidence to back up your opinions, they don't count.
  • If you hear something that conflicts with what you think you know, and you don't bother to check it out, you shouldn't feel stupid. You are stupid.
  • If you want to take on the experts but won't spend the time, effort and money to become an expert yourself, you're not just stupid. You're lazy, too.
  • If you think I'm disrespecting you, you're right. I have no respect for people who are uninformed, get angry when someone contradicts them, but are too lazy to get informed and too cowardly to face failure, criticism, and the possibility they might have to change their minds. You're not a good person. Nobody who is lazy and cowardly can be called "good."
  • Where did you get the idea you're so valuable? There are six billion of us. You're not all that unique. How exactly did you get the notion that you stand so high in the cosmic scheme of things that you have the right to make real experts treat you as an equal without bothering to acquire any knowledge yourself?

I was reminded of this a couple of times recently by discussions on Intermusic on music theory, a subject about which I and not a few others there know a thing or two. What is it that leads people to chip in on topics about which they know nothing, and then argue the toss vehemently with people who do? I can only suppose it's stupidity. It's certainly irritating, and it must be confusing for those who are actually trying to learn something. Hey ho. (Via Glaikit Feartie.)

23-8-2004 (archived)

And so it came to pass that I needed a new microphone stand, and as it happened I'd seen a particularly nice one that summer in the hands of Jeff Scott Soto - The Ultimate stand. The clutch thing is very cool and would be genuinely useful, as I find myself adjusting heights constantly, and it looks fantastic. A quick experiment at home suggested that I'd be able to manage with a guitar and a straight stand just fine, so I went shopping.

$2,500. Well, that's RRP, I found one place selling them for $800, but even then that's more than I'm spending on a mic stand. So I went looking for alternatives, and the best one seemed to be one of these.

Three hours of web searching later, I found no UK supplier prepared to admit to having one. So the next day I popped down to my friendly local music shop and ordered one (for a surprisingly reasonable £43) in about 3 minutes. Aren't we living in the future yet?

(Admittedly it took two weeks to arrive. Not the point. It seems pretty great, though.)

25-8-2004 (archived)

The Village” is the third disappointing M. Night Shyamalan film in a row. Sure, The Sixth Sense was spectacular, and Signs was almost good, and even Unbreakable maintained a solid atmosphere. This only barely manages that; the performances are just too stilted, too self-consciously Victorian, and it's so dreadfully slow for most of the picture, and the creatures when revealed just aren't scary. Most damningly, I couldn't really bring myself to care about any of the characters, either to wish them well or harm.

It doesn't work as a horror movie - while there are a few regulation jumps, and the soundtrack leans that way, it just doesn't consummate any attempt in that direction - and it doesn't work as one of his trademark twist movies, because the twists aren't particularly surprising, or convincing. His idea, which I won't talk about lest I give it away to anyone who does want to see it, is not a bad one, but the execution here is poor enough to cripple it from the start, and the plot isn't good enough to merit hanging from an interesting framework anyway.

Wasting decent actors is a crime; here Joaquim Phoenix is mediocre, William Hurt barely adequate and, most profligate of all, Sigourney Weaver barely present (and flat when she is). Even Adrien Brody's more-comic-than-not turn as the village idiot is more mugging than acting. I suppose, charitably, that given the small size of the village we should expect a high proportion of defectives, but the only character to raise any actual interest at all is Hurt's. Bryce Howard, starring as the heroic and blind daughter of Hurt, is both unconvincing and annoying in the first half of the movie, and merely unconvincing in the second. Her touches of second sight are presumably only here to appease any fans who think Shyamalan's moving away from the crystals-and-pyramids spirituality that's been his trademark. This has the lack of emotional grip that broke Unbreakable, the plot holes that made Signs so annoying, and the weak endings that have characterised all of his work but Sixth Sense.

It's not a bad film. It's just far from a good film, and Shyamalan's one-for-four record is beginning to look like beginner's luck. A great cast, a good if hardly original back-story, and a wasted evening.

26-8-2004 (archived)

The third disappointing film in a row, “Love me if you dare” (the French title is the rather superior “Jeux d'enfants”) looked extremely promising from trailers. The idea - two kids with variously unfortunate childhoods become best friends and amuse themselves with a game where they pass a decorated box back and forth with accompanying, unrefusable dares, which continue into adolescence and adulthood, becoming Interesting - is a pretty good one. Sadly, it relies on us finding the kids charming, the teenagers daring, and the adults exciting. Instead they're irritating, unimaginative, small-mindedly vicious, through both intention and carelessness, and thoroughly and unforgivably dull.

Much of the cinematography is beautiful (though the subtitling is startlingly incompetent, so white-on-white unreadable in places that I was forced to rely on my rather poor French), the acting is good, but in the end we don't care in the slightest about these people. The contradictory choice of endings we're offered have no interest, because we really don't care whether these two live or not.

There was an interesting, disturbing film to be made from this intriguing, exciting idea. There was an enjoyable one. There might even have been a film that could have managed several of those qualities. This managed none.

29-8-2004 (archived)

Continuing film review season, The Bourne Supremacy is a remarkable thriller, making the really rather good previous installment look slightly pedestrian. This is breathless, non-stop, kinetic film-making, and an absolutely stunning big-movie debut for director Greengrass, with a pair of excellent car chases, the second topping the excellent chase scene in the last film, superb action elsewhere (including an outstanding in-house combat scene), a coherent and comprehensible plot, and uniformly strong performances, Damon again playing Bourne with complete conviction. This is Bond as it should be for the modern era; none of the silliness and wisecracking, and none of the my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism; this is cynical film-making for our disillusioned time. Obviously this isn't a brain festival, but of its kind it's brilliant.

30-8-2004 (archived)

A Tale of Two Sisters” is a tremendously Japanese-feeling horror movie from Korea. It's also the sort of movie you may come away from unsure as to what's actually gone on, though I'm pretty sure my interpretation is what was intended; any details would be a major, major spoiler.

There's plenty to be spoiled, too, because while the ending might gain from a little more clarity, this is all about atmosphere, and everything - performances, cinematography, sound, editing - combines to give this the sort of stately, tense, gripping feel that The Village was obviously going for (and missed by a mile). This is how you do it.