A random video…

Now I haven’t been posting in at least two months. Within a week’s time, I’ll be back with some actual stuff but for now, here’s a dumb video I made about the Australian federal election that happens on Saturday. Enjoy.

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Time passes… I’m no better with chopsticks and not cutting into anything

Some website called The Woks of Life, in an article on how to use a pair of chopsticks, makes this ambitious intro: “Chopsticks are probably the most versatile utensil ever. It’s a fork, knife, pair of tongs, a whisk, and a steamer stand (just place them in your wok and they’ll hold your bowl above water) all rolled into one.”

Let’s break it down:

  • “most versatile utensil ever”: I’d say the bowl is a better tool. You can hold stuff in it, mix in it, heat it up, trap spiders in them, use them as a guide for cutting hair, or bash someone’s head in if they attempt to rob you
  • “fork”: Okay, sort of. More of a two-pronged, badly put-together fork if there ever was one.
  • “knife”: NO! Chopsticks are no basis for a knife. What’re you going to do, cut a serrated edge into a stick to make it a knife? And how are you going to add the edge anyway? You need a knife goddammit! And even if you achieved this, chopsticks cannot work as a knife under any circumstance
  • “pair of tongs”: Well chopsticks are essentially tongs without a physical connection between the two constituent parts
  • “whisk”: Anything can be a whisk. Duh.
  • “steamer stand”: Now that’s stretching it.
  • “all rolled into one”: Seriously, this is obvious As Seen on TV product material, though not as blatantly rubbish as Sham-Wow.

Why do I bring up chopsticks for no apparent reason? It’s not like it’s in the news. Not like Prince was found dead with a chopstick up his nose.

It’s because I want to talk about my long, long struggle with understanding the epitome of Asian cutlery technology: two sticks.

Asian food establishments are everywhere in the Western world nowadays. All the lame cooking shows need to feature some flamboyant Malaysian curry to wow a line of “judges” into dishing out high scores. I myself have grown up sampling Asian cuisine for goodness knows how long. Port Moresby is a hotbed for expats and foreigners either passing through or planting their feet in the soil to exploit the shambling ruins the locals of PNG call a government, and it seems various Asian ethnicities have holed up here and of course the restaurants had to follow. There weren’t a whole lot of safe places to go and eat on the street and it’s no different when I visit these days, but in the most reliable of places was always a Chinese or Japanese place, and they were some of the most frequented outlets. My family and I would eat out at these places often enough for the owners to know us by name. We’d walk in, the lady at the counter would see us and immediately pass word to the kitchen that the kid who likes the crispy fried chicken is here. Now in those days where I spent most of my life in Port Moresby, I never really bothered with chopsticks. You could ask for a knife and fork without feeling guilty given that the actual make-up of the staff was decidedly more local PNG folks than Asian. It didn’t feel like an insult to the culture. At some point though, I came across a scenario where there was no choice but to use the two pieces of wood that were meant to deal with an entire plate of sliced meat and noodles.

Also, my mother thought it would be a good idea to get me to learn chopsticks early.

I don’t remember when this was, but it was at a Chinese place in Australia. Mum showed me how to use the sticks and I attempted to follow suit. It wasn’t a great effort but mum said I’d get better with time.

My technique has not improved in the last several years of using chopsticks.

I don’t know why. My parents nowadays hold their chopsticks differently to each other and are still able to hold onto a stray noodle tighter than a dog chewing a mailman. Any point I mimic their methods, the whole bloody thing falls apart. Sticks fly. Chicken slips. I get infuriated. I return to the method that works for me. And I can only just grab a slice of seared beef. I dread the moment I dunk it in soy sauce because it’s a 50/50 chance whether the beef stays in the loose grip of the sticks or hightails it from me.

I actually bring up this topic in light of an increase in visits to Asian restaurants in Brisbane where in some cases, there is no standard cutlery on the premises.

You’d think after a very long time of experiencing chopsticks, I’d be quite adept at it. Well, fuck no. If I’m to achieve anything, I need a knife and fork. At least most places hand out a spoon when you order rice. But then people say chopsticks are great for picking up rice. How? Am I expected to eat one of my favourite foods one painstaking grain at a time? Are we just hoping that the rice is sticky enough to attach to my chopsticks? I mean, you can’t exactly scoop rice up very well with two damn sticks. As a fork, they work better. Poking at something and carefully getting the food into your mouth is fine enough. But suppose you get a piece of chicken karaage that’s too big or has a large amount of gristle on the end that you need to ditch in order to actually enjoy your meal. What’s chopsticks going to do? Do you simply squeeze the life out of the food, hoping it all works out?

Well, here’s my opinion on food and chopsticks interactions. Because there’s no way in hell two rounded sticks can chop anything, the food you get must be of appreciable size and trimmed nicely so as not to require further cutting. Simple. That’s how I see it. If you are given chopsticks, you must assume that the food you get can go straight down your gullet without any tampering expect a bit of soy sauce. Unfortunately, that’s never the case. You get a chunk of chicken that clearly needs to be rid of some excess size but you, armed with chopsticks, can only attempt to squish it into submission. That rice spoon you get does a better job at cutting than the two fucking sticks.

And there’s still the matter of how to use the sticks correctly.

But what is the correct way? I’ve searched online for handling techniques and have unsurprisingly discovered there is more than one way of doing it. However, are any of these ways the right way? I found an article by Kotaku on chopstick holding and incredibly, not a lot of people use the so-called “correct” method. In Japan, a country where the ultimate goal of robotic research is a Hello Kitty automatron that rides the bullet train and eats power cord soup with graphene enhanced chopsticks, it seems 70% of folks in their 40s and 50s don’t use the “correct” method. How do I describe the “correct” method? I don’t fucking know, and I don’t really care at all. I have a method that, while far from useful, works the best for me. I’ve been trying to get my head around chopsticks for years and I’m no better than when I first started using the damn sticks.

What’s even crazier is that I wrote a whole thing about chopsticks and why I kind of don’t like them.

Should they be banned? Nope. This isn’t some kind of PSA on the false hopes that the chopstick overlords have bestowed upon us. I’m just terrible with them and have yet to work it out. Sure, go ahead and tell me I’m doing it all wrong and that I’m offending Asia for criticising two pieces of wood. Of course, if you actually think this is an attack on Asia then I’m sorry but I think you’re too far down the drainpipe to be saved. If there is anything I really do want to push apart from my pointless chopstick skills, it’s this: chopsticks are not knives and never will be. Use a spoon instead.

Biased Book Reviews: The Chrysalids (1955) by John Wyndham – Out with cosy England, in with an apocalypse

I’ve hit a problem. All the studies I have to do have reduced the time I have to read books to zilch essentially. Yes, I’m pissed off about it, but will I let Biased Reviews stop doing books? Nope. The same for the gaming reviews, though I haven’t played as many games as the hundreds of books I’ve read over the last couple of years. So here we are, reviewing another book. This time, it’s from the man who repeatedly asked the question, “What’s the British approach to a bizarre situation that quickly spirals into a disaster?” Oh Mr. Wyndham, you’ve left us a lot of tales of humanity threatened to the point of collapse only to have the sensibilities of ‘50s Britain try and resolve matters over some crumpets. John Wyndham has reliably provided an interesting and almost sardonic angle on world-changing sci-fi dangers. There were the killer walking plants from The Day of the Triffids. Then the oceans were invaded by beings from the stars in The Kraken Wakes. Later on, creepy little children would terrorise the countryside in The Midwich Cuckoos and a piece of algae-fungi blend kickstarts dreams of a feminist movement in Trouble with Lichen. In this review though, I’ll take a gander at the writer’s most adventurous outing, leaving the familiarity of post-war English towns and hurtling into the far future where the world is a barren landscape. I’m talking about The Chrysalids.

This was his third book released under the Wyndham name and, while well known in literature, has divided opinions amongst those who claim to be pro literature reviewers. Stuff about a sneaky deus ex machina in the end, flawed logic, yada yada yada… I’ll be the judge of that in this edition of Biased Book Reviews. Let me emphasise one word: BIASED. This is my opinion. I might even think what I say is more correct than what others say. It’s still my opinion so feel free to look at the book a different way. And because this is biased to myself, some of the things I may say might be purely out of personal interests and not from “pure critique” whatever that is. Let me say this first: I like Wyndham’s work so far. For the record, I’ve read The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos and his posthumous novel Web. The science fiction elements in those are balanced nicely by his present-day settings and attitudes, providing a different but not overly dramatic outlook on oncoming tragedies. So, how does this post-apocalyptic story work out?

The tale is told from the perspective of our protagonist, David Strorm (quick insert here: I can’t help but keep typing “Storm”; the future’s really full of slightly different names). We begin with his days as a youngster in the settlement of Waknuk some time far into the future where out beyond of the safety of what little civilisation exists are the Fringes, a place no-one dares tread. As David grows up, he learns more and more about the values the community believe in. The townsfolk are very religious and go to great lengths to ensure the populace contains only those made in God’s image. The same goes for crops and animals. Apparently, anything that looks slightly out of line is a monstrosity that must be eliminated to keep the human race pure. Hmm, sound familiar to anyone? I personally find allusions to racism and genocide. The image of the Nazis’ approach to the Jewish population in Germany is what I relate this book to. However, while those wackos were trying to kill off an entire race, the world of The Chrysalids is concerned with mutations. It seems that ever since the event that transformed the landscape into the horrific shithole it has become, lifeforms have occasionally deviated from societal norms of appearance, and instances are on the rise. David learns much of this through encounters with so-called Deviants. The first one he encounters is Sophie who has six toes on her left foot. He and her family make a pact to keep the girl’s difference secret as David begins wondering why Deviants are feared.

We learn David’s family is one of the more religious ones in Waknuk and the importance of protecting the purity of the human race is constantly drilled into him. Eventually Uncle Axel comes into the picture and thank goodness, there’s someone to talk to who isn’t a dick to Deviants. David tells Axel of strange dreams he’s had and is advised not to mention them to anyone. Later on, Sophie is found out by the town to be a Deviant, leaving her family no choice but to flee – with unsuccessful results, because that’s how a dystopian future works I guess. This event triggers David’s desire to escape but Axel convinces him otherwise. Besides, where is there to run? Out in the Fringes are apparently where the Deviants are most abundant. Oh, and those dreams David’s been having? Well… turns out he’s telepathic, making him a Deviant. Soon enough, the Strorm family welcomes newborn daughter Petra who, unbeknownst to anyone except David, also harbours telepathic abilities. Time passes and more telepathic people emerge, all joining into an ethereal conversation. The group attempts to keep their power a secret and teach the young Petra to keep her skills undetected. However, selfishness by one of the telepaths sets off a series of events that slowly expose the group to the Waknuk villagers.

As more telepaths are caught and tortured, a message calls from a woman in a far-off place called Sealand reaches the group. The situation in the village worsens further to the point that the group decides to get the hell out of Dodge despite the dangers of venturing into the Fringes. David goes on the run with Petra and his fellow telepath friend Rosalind. Waknuk settlers track them while the trio are caught by a Fringes tribe and held captive. It’s here that Sophie makes a surprise appearance. Well, her family was caught but not here. She’s resided with the tribe and agrees to help break David, Rosalind and Petra free as the woman from Sealand races to arrive at the scene and help. However, the Waknuk hunting party arrives and does battle with the Fringes tribe. There appears to be no escape for David and his gang, not to mention the other telepaths converging on their position. But it’s Sealand to the rescue as the mysterious woman arrives in an aerial vehicle that shoots web-like materials at the warring factions, some of it getting on the telepaths. The material is in fact a contracting plastic that pretty much is what today’s riot control squads would dearly want in their arsenal, only this plastic is painful given how much it actually contracts. The entire battle is silenced by the weapon and David and crew, after getting the plastic removed, are given a lift to Sealand, the promised land. The end.

The thing I was saying about allusions to racism earlier? Maybe the Nazi example was a bit extreme. I can actually see this desire to keep Waknuk pure by killing those whose bodies don’t conform partially in our image-obsessed culture which thankfully is slowly being rectified. We can all recall times in our life when we noticed that some overarching powerhouse – the media – concocted an ideal image that we could try to follow. It’s still a heated topic today. Of course, we don’t go about slaughtering those who look a little bit fatter than what the “norm” (if there really is one) is, but there is shaming. It still happens today though I hope it’s not as bad as previous years given the growing movement to just accept others as they are.

Now I haven’t actually touched on some of the background elements of The Chrysalids. I mean, why is the world a wasteland anyway? Well, it’s hinted several times that the world was destroyed by nuclear war, a concept that was very scary back in the Cold War but isn’t such a big deal today with all this worrying about cybersecurity and dumb terrorists from a furniture company. It also explains the reason for the many Deviants in David’s world. It’s not quite a case of evolution but the thing is that the Sealand woman who swoops in and saves the day sees the telepathy mutation as the next step in humankind. I suppose no-one in this world can remember the past, so I guess the thought of nuclear annihilation and radiation hasn’t quite crossed their minds. Apparently everyone is Sealand is a telepath and far more technologically equipped than the farmhands down in Waknuk. However, there is some conflict in the Sealand woman’s thinking at the novel’s ending sequences. That plastic weapon she used actually kills people. Both the Waknuk party and the Fringes tribe were attacked by the weapon. From what I read, the Sealand woman didn’t seem too willing to kill. However, it happened. There’s a long speech she delivers discussing Sealand, its intentions and how she handled the situation was worth it. Yes, the inhabitants of the Fringes didn’t mutate at their own will yet the woman says they had no chance and that apparently is justification enough for killing them. Remember how the folks at Waknuk were all about exterminating those who weren’t like them? Sounds a bit like Sealand, don’t you think?

This analysis of the ending falls in line with a review from a website called SFReviews.net and by their reviewer’s judgement, this ending made the book suck. To me though, I see this strange convoluted shot at explaining why the Sealand woman willingly killed the fighting people a suitable way to close up the novel. We expect Sealand to be the better world than the one David and company resided in, a place to work with similar people in a safer and more innovative environment amid a ruinous world. Instead, this insight into the Sealand woman’s ideologies suggests that maybe the promised land isn’t that great a place. I like that approach to the end although if this is what Wyndham intended is open to question.

I’ll tell you what else is good about The Chrysalids. Character development is well done, primarily with David given he’s the narrator. The other characters receive adequate attention too, without too many moments of useless participation. Pacing isn’t too rushed and it kept me interested throughout. The world in which the tale exists, while overdone today, still intrigues and gives us a window into what the ‘50s Cold War era feared and expected from a nuclear exchange. Wyndham may not have portrayed the satirical dismissiveness of England to impending doom but the climate of fear and expectations are expanded here. It’s not too long of a novel either so anyone could pick this up and enjoy it for a reasonable amount of time. Is it a masterpiece though? I wouldn’t go that far. The book doesn’t jump out at me with some great element. Going out of his way to write a far future story was probably enough for Wyndham and for that I applaud him.

It’s over 60 years old now but The Chrysalids is still a solid read. The fears of an irradiated planet may be past but the issues of conformism, especially in body shape, and racism to a degree are somewhat relevant today. This isn’t a book that has little relation to our world. Besides, the story is wonderful and interestingly for a Wyndham sci-fi tale, there’s a coming-of-age story too. Following David and his friends over the years, learning more about themselves and the society they exist in, it’s quite an adventure. By no means is this his best novel but it holds its own and remains an admirable piece of literature. In fact, I’m surprised this hasn’t been turned into a film yet with the current flood of YA dystopian films. I would be interested in an adaptation of this story to hopefully stop the shit we’re getting from the Divergent franchise. Anyway, I award The Chrysalids a score of:

8/10

I feel I’ve read too many good books for a while. I should probably look at doing some terrible ones. Still, if you haven’t read anything by John Wyndham, definitely check him out. The Chrysalids is a good choice if you want to save the best for later.

Halting the clockwork with a case of the flu

It’s been rather busy lately. Blame it on being, ahem, “down with the sickness” (the kids say that on the street, right? or is it a song by Disturbed?) and believe me, getting even the slightest bit sick is a spanner in the relentless escapement driving my institutionalisation.

You see, I undergo flight training and safety is a bigger issue than forcing a fake Disney pirate to tell the world Australia can be as douchy with border security as Los Angeles International Airport. Part of the protocol I have to endure deals with acceptable ailments and medications, of which any kind of disease is grounds to be, uh, grounded. As for meds, there’s a list of stuff you can take and others you’ll get arrested for if someone with a little machine finds it in you. I could go more into the exact bloody documentation for it but frankly, you can’t be that interested. It’s laws and regulations, and me talking about laws and regulations only results in trouble, anarchy and mindless ramblings far more unintriguing than the ones that already exist on Matters of Opinion. So, begone ye papers that define thy rules! I’ll see you guys when the next exams roll around.

Call it being overcautious, but there is a lot of reason to make me not fly if I have a cold or a bout of the influenza. I trust that you reader have experienced this common yet sometimes debilitating reminder that Mother Nature gives no fucks about how you feel. Seriously, look at the graveyards. The forces that be couldn’t care less about our livelihoods. I could be super positive and make some comment on the possibility of the mental interconnectedness that quantum physics has yet to explain, partly because quantum physics ignores the supposed pseudo phenomena.

Back to the flu though. All that mucus, all that snot that creeps out your nostrils and dribbles down your throat only to be coughed out into the shower drain is the body’s attempts at rectifying a viral infection. I’m not a biology expert but it’s this method of fixing the problem that creates the rubbish symptoms we experience in our sinuses, clogging them and screwing with our hearing. The sinus issue becomes particularly important with the flying I do. See, I fly around in Piper Warriors and unless Boeing has been secretly sticking turbofans in them and sending them to 45,000ft in the air, these relatively little aircraft aren’t pressurised. Have you ever been on a commercial flight with the flu or a cold? It’s not pleasant at all, amplified by the generally taxing closed-in environment and the several-odd passengers and a screaming child surrounding you. Even though the cabin gets pressurised, it’s not feasible to maintain the same air pressure as on the Earth’s surface. Your ears begin to hurt. Hearing becomes a little strange. Are you in a fish tank? What’s that tinny sound over the intercom? Why does my in-flight movie’s audio sound like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke shoved through twenty vocoders? Worse thing is, trying to clear your ears is harder and in some instances a great way to make your situation much less comfortable. It doesn’t matter if you’re the yawning kind or the person who actually knows that the Valsalva method is called the Valsalva method, equalising the pressure in your sinuses to match the environment of the metal tube you’re in is no picnic. So think about being in a general aviation craft. The pressure’s going to get lower for sure, and the pain’s going to be a real bitch.

Oh, and you can also blow out your eardrums.

I’m no stranger to the dangers of entering different pressure environments with jammed ears. Back in the days where watching the everyday horrors of Port Moresby was starting to bore me, I went underwater with a tank of air and a PADI Dive Certificate to my name. More than once I’d scuba dive with the sniffles and end up relieved to be treading on the surface to escape the excruciating pain in my ears. That pain is very distracting. Distractions in flying are really bad.

Therefore, don’t send someone up with a sickness, especially Ebola… uh, is that old already? I’ll run with Zika virus for now.

However, not all of you take aircraft for a spin. Maybe you sell flowers. Maybe you play in a band. Maybe you file reports from a cubicle. Maybe you’re a professor in Mayan culture. Maybe… it’s Maybelline. Regardless, sickness affects us more often than we’d like and unfortunately, work or study demands we keep a schedule and can only bend so far. Some can stand trying to stick to the plan whilst blowing their noses ‘til the nostrils dry out to Atacama Desert levels. I traditionally used to just power through any ailment, particularly headaches which have been more common than I’d like in recent months. There comes a point when ignoring the pain fails. It throws you off. The train starts to wobble as derailment approaches. I can still operate with the flu, but only at half-speed with study – if I’m lucky. It’s really more like a three-fold increase in time to complete a task. In my days as a boarding student, it was unbelievably hard to charge ahead with even puny little 1,000-word assignments as my brain suggested that I should take a rest, to which I would reply, “But I have to get this shit done by Friday goddammit!”

The fact is that we can’t predict when we will accidentally inhale a stray germ or walk barefoot into jigger-infested soil (and for the love of sanity, do not Google pictures of people affected by jiggers; they’re nasty buggers whose damage is far too horrendous for me to talk about). Most of us all have some kind of commitment – a job, a course, a hobby, etc. – that insists on holding a schedule which works best if planned months in advance and followed to the letter. Along comes Virus McVirusface and wham, you’re below operating capacity and will end up issuing the wrong cover pages on all your reports. Someone has to pick up the slack and things go awry. Don’t tell me I don’t know anything about that. As a result of being down with two instances of the flu (though I suspect it was a short-lived cold first, then a shitty flu a few days later) I’ve been thrown far back in my flying schedule and have ended up near the back of the pack. It annoys me that this is where I am but regardless of all the countermeasures, all the hand sanitiser, all the regular cleaning of my room, how could I know that I’d wake up on a Thursday morning with a sudden and horrific coughing fit that didn’t calm down for four hours?

I, like the rest of the business-oriented world, like things to go smoothly as per a timetable that some computer created based on peoples’ personalities and favourite ice cream flavours. Sickness rolls in and says, “Try keep up with things with this little grievance I’ve got for you.” Chaos ensues. I don’t like getting sick. I don’t like being behind the ball. I also don’t like Nickelback but that’s not really a surprise and has nothing to do with these ramblings.

Now, have a guess why I’ve been away from WordPress for a few weeks. The flu accounts for the first half of the break. The second half is just getting business sorted out at flight school. Also, I’ve been contemplating life. I do it a lot.

Life still sucks. No dancing around that. Being sick certainly doesn’t help improve that statement.

PS: I’d like to at least congratulate the designers of the upcoming new $5 note in Australia for celebrating the unwanted habit of getting ill by featuring infectious diseases, probably E. coli, on the banknote. Or maybe it’s Nando’s corn-on-the-cob.

Biased Film Reviews: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – Dumb ideas v good performances: drawn-out substance

Warning: spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

It’s less than a week since the first big DC Comics blockbuster hit the cinema and the social media machine hasn’t disappointed. There’s an apparent war between the uptight, dismissive critics and the relatively raving audiences. Banter has ensued in workplaces over whether the sucky elements are overcome by the genuine strengths of the film. And of course, that interview with the two main stars in which Ben Affleck remains mostly silent while some smart alec plonks an ideal piece of Simon and Garfunkel over the top. My goodness, go have a look at it before you continue.

For the record, I generally don’t like the recent run of superhero movies. Like a lot of the popular pop culture characters of the past moving into the present day, our comic characters have undergone the “dark and gritty” treatment. It’s not entirely a bad move – it worked with Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman in the Dark Knight trilogy – but you can’t just weld other superheroes to such dull slabs of metal. It worked with Nolan’s Batman because his character background is decidedly dark itself and warrants a diversion from the days of wacky sound effects and onomatopoeia. But stick this attitude to most other superheroes, where’s the fun in that? It’s happened with a lot of the Marvel films of late. Okay, they don’t go the whole hog with the “dark and gritty” theme but there is this tendency to add a level of, ahem, realism. Sure, I like realism but if you have a hero who’s naturally a goof and quite the outgoing kind who’d happily replace your resident wacky bushwalk guide, grounding them with moody, mopey, stakes-are-high stories cancels out much of the appeal. Yes, you elicit an alternative perspective and try to possibly humanise these superheroes but after years and years of this toying, it’s a real drag. Now Marvel hasn’t taken “dark and gritty” to the max – yet – and this is evident from the occasional gag here and there in their films. As for DC…

First off, let’s make it clear that DC has it hard. Marvel’s already got their Cinematic Universe. DC Comics has turned up late to the party (so late in fact that it’s more unfashionable than phat pants) and is struggling to get their Extended Universe kickstarted. Whereas Marvel’s Iron Man gave us high hopes, DC’s Man of Steel rebooted Superman to grey fanfare. I remember seeing most of it. I don’t know how I remember it. It was bloody boring. There were some interesting turns in it but “dark and gritty” was turned up beyond eleven. I was almost convinced Henry Cavill’s personality had already been surpassed in humanity by a decade-old production line mechanical robot arm. I was also wondering why Zod picked Earth to terraform. Last I checked, there are other planets out there that probably react better to so-called “world engines” and cause less fuss with living creatures. Did I mention Man of Steel was mostly rubbish?

man-of-steel_01

Imagine the horror I felt when they announced Batman v Superman. I have this observation that about 90% of films with the word “versus” or any variation in the title will be shit. Examples: Freddy vs. Jason; Alien vs. Predator (and its sequel); Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus; Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever; Dracula vs. Frankenstein; Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (yep, there’s a sequel here too); the list just goes on. That’s not to say there aren’t any good ones. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Joe Versus the Volcano come to mind (although there’s many who’d say otherwise about the latter). It wasn’t just the mere mention of “versus” in a movie title that annoyed me. The notion of pitting Batman against Superman is already ridiculous from the outset. I’ve seen my fair share of people offering valid reasons using the logic from the DC films as to how a billionaire in a black suit could defeat an all-powerful alien with laser eyes and iron fists, but I think it’s clear Superman could knock out the guy from Gotham just by sneezing. All in all, in the lead-up to seeing this attempt at really selling the DC Extended Universe to the world, Batman v Superman reeked of mistakes and corporate billionaires sticking their hands in our wallets.

So I went to see the movie.

Now you will already know that the critics hate this movie. As of writing, the Rotten Tomatoes score was 28%. However, speaking with other people who’ve seen the movie, it’s surprisingly more positive, many citing the performances – although I suspect each person I asked had some kind of crush/admiration for at least one of the actors/actresses (Affleck and Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman, appeared to attract the most lauding). In fact, the Rotten Tomatoes audience score reflects this unusual response for what should be a shitty flick, scoring 72% with the not-snob-nosed critical crowd. Essentially, this is a reverse Hail, Caesar! scenario (a film with great technical accomplishments but not much that was audience-friendly as I discovered in a previous review). Gee, 2016’s getting weird.

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So what’s the setup with Batman v Superman? Well, we get yet another reshooting of Bruce Wayne’s origin story which I’m sure is burned into our skulls enough times. Then it moves to the events from Man of Steel’s final act. Surprisingly, I liked the setup here and honestly thought there was an interesting direction that the film took. As Superman fights Zod via the tried-and-true method of smashing the villain through hundreds of skyscrapers, Wayne flies into Metropolis to ensure the safety of his employees at a Wayne Enterprises building but arrives as the fight decimates the offices, sewing the seed of hatred from the dude in the red cape. Seriously, I liked this angle. It’s a very convincing argument for Wayne to became the Gotham vigilante in preparation to take down Superman, and he’s not the only one concerned. The rest of the world is questioning where Superman is a good idea or not, and weighing in on the matter is our obvious bad guy Lex Luthor… sorry, it’s actually Alexander Luthor (fuck that, it’s Lex now), played by Jesse Eisenberg who is still clearly high from the drugs he smoked in American Ultra. He wants a piece of kryptonite from one of Zod’s crashed spaceships as a kind of insurance when the time comes to kill the flying guy with an S on his suit. Superman himself, under his public guise of Daily Planet journalist Clark Kent, learns about the mysterious Batman terrorising Gotham and decides he’s dangerous and must be stopped. Okay, not as well-developed a tale but let’s run with that for now.

Wayne learns of LexCorp’s questionable activities but data copied from Luthor’s serversis stolen by the mysterious Diana Prince. He gets it back of course, and in one of the most befuddling sequences in the movie, Wayne suffers a… dream?…of a world that’s… uh, gone bad? And there’s a time traveller telling him stuff? No, for real, a time traveller from the future saying stuff! What is this, Doctor Who? I don’t get it. It justs pops out of nowhere. Maybe it’s to wake up the people who’ve fallen asleep in the cinema. Anyways, he gets the data and finds that Luthor’s been keeping tabs on Prince and other subjects labelled as metahumans. Prince is especially strange in that she hasn’t appeared to age since an old-timey photo of her in an Amazonian outfit (hint hint: it’s Wonder Woman). Oh, Wayne also learns about the acquisition of a piece of kryptonite and almost snatches it sneakily – ha ha, as if he does it sneakily. Nope, it’s chaos and carnage through Gotham but whoop-de-doo, Superman intervenes and… (drum roll)… lets him off. Wow! Much action! Very fight! Quite drama! It’s a false climax. The Batmobile gets wrecked.

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Things don’t go well for Superman by the way. He goes to court like all good boys only for Luthor to ruin the proceedings by having a bomb blow up and kill everyone – except Superman because I suspect he’s made of steel (I’m just going off what the last film said). There’s some moping and… oh get on with it Kent! We don’t have all day to watch you be “dark and gritty”, ugh! Don’t worry though, good ol’ Luthor, for no reason except that Eisenberg is still stoned, enters the spaceship wreck in Metropolis and starts creating a… creature? I mean, there’s science involved… I take it he’s a mad scientist. Something about blending his DNA with that of Zod’s. Makes me wonder why he didn’t use a Blendtec blender. I hear those things can shred iPhones to the atomic level.

Anyway, we finally get to the “versus” mode as Luthor reveals he knows a lot about Superman – as to how, I don’t fucking know, maybe Eisenberg’s on a new CIA drug – and will have his “mother” killed unless he goes to Gotham to kill Wayne/Batman. So we at last get the epic battle… well, Batman’s all prepped to stab red cape guy with a kryptonite spear (personally, I’d rather fashion some kryptonite-tipped arrows with a bow instead; Katniss would do that for sure). Superman doesn’t really want any beef with Batman but failing to use his non-existent negotiation skills, the fight goes ahead. You’d think Superman wins easily, but while Batman gets thrown around an absolute shitload, he’s fine because he’s a billionaire with a sort-of strong metal suit this time around. Also, he gets the upper hand because he’s got kryptonite smoke bombs that actually weaken the alien with an S for a chest to collapse. But of course, no-one wants Superman to die so in comes Amy Adams as Lois Lane – I think I forgot to mention that she appears real early in the film (as usual) – and by pure coincidence, Batman’s mother’s name is the same as Superman’s “mother” so they agree to work together to stop Luthor’s… uh, plan? Yeah, this whole “versus” thing didn’t really reach a head at all, even with untold levels of “dark and gritty” that actually shorted out power to all of Brisbane.

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I don’t know what Luthor wanted, but he sure as hell has no way of getting away with creating a monstrous being that feeds of the energy of the superheroes’ attacks to grow stronger and emit… uh, orange EMP lightning thingies? Yeah, that’s another unknown. Then Prince (Diana, not the short singer) finally arrives as Wonder Woman, by far the coolest entrance of any character in the entire movie. They even put in some rock to accompany her scenes. Couldn’t have asked for more there. So the three of them fight the big monster but it’s pointless. Superman finds Batman’s kryptonite spear and shoves it into the monster (I still maintain that a bow and arrow is better). The creature dies… but so does Superman (plot twist!) to my imaginary dismay. Anyone with a brain will know they wouldn’t let Superman die before they even got to the Justice League movies. So Lois Lane mopes, the folks of Metropolis mope, Luthor gets a shave, and Batman isn’t such a bad man after all. With the red-caped man in a coffin dropped into a hole in the ground, Wayne makes what should’ve been an inspirational speech but ends up being nothing. And you know that “justice” we’ve been waiting for? Well, it doesn’t even get close to dawn.

Then it ends. Oh, and obviously Superman is not dead. Duh.

I’ve gone to the trouble of going through much of the plot to point out how overstuffed the film is. That’s funny considering how bloody long it is. Director Zach Snyder could’ve easily chopped out 20 minutes of people sulking but nope, it has to be 150 minutes, for immersion reasons I suppose. I mean, I don’t mind long films but Batman v Superman’s plot didn’t justify the runtime, plus a lot of people don’t have attention spans that long. In fact, much of the failure of the film rests in the writing and story. What began with a refreshing premise that made this movie’s “dark and gritty” feel seem worth it is destroyed by nonsensical plot lines and too much content. The film tries to provide background for at least three major players (Batman, Superman and Luthor) and much of it is useless talking or lots of brooding, a typical “dark and gritty” trait. The initial framing of Superman as more of a liability to Earth provided very good reasons for the so-called fight to happen but it slowly slips away as Luthor’s plan that’s not a plan takes more of centre stage. I mean, why is he making horrible monsters from DNA splicing? Isn’t being a maniac with long hair enough? His motivations are beyond obscure and how he has knowledge of our heroes is something not even pseudo versions of Sigmund Freud’s theories could explain. Also, the actual “versus” thing… it’s not that big a deal. The real battle is against the weird creature thing with Wonder Woman tagging along. That film title alone, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, has almost nothing to do with the movie. It’s just marketing. This has to be one of very few big name films to have a title that hardly correlates to its content. It’s an absolute scam and almost as misleading as those trailers for Hail, Caesar! And where’s the damn justice? What justice is there to be made? Justice against Luthor? Justice against holding grudges? Justice against having “dark and gritty” superhero movies? And another thing, it’s too “dark and gritty”. The whole mood works with Batman but when I think of Superman, I think of a man swooping a cat out of a tree, cape fluttering in the wind with a smug face. There’s very little humour here, it’s all taken way too seriously. That’s not good for this film in particular. If it’s just a Batman flick, sure, go crazy with all the “dark and gritty” stuff. Don’t drag Superman any further into it, he only needed half of that “dark and gritty” from Man of Steel.

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While the story is a major weakness, I was surprised at what actually worked in Batman v Superman apart from a wicked setup. Cavill’s Superman has stepped up from the dready Man of Steel; not a big step up, but a move from the emotionless flying tile in the previous film. I know Cavill can act because he did it in the film version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and thankfully he was a little more likeable in this movie. Affleck as Batman… whoa, I expected worse. He’s very invested in it, and very much nails Wayne’s character. He’s slightly darker and more violent than Christian Bale’s Batman in the Dark Knight series and I welcome that. Is he better than Bale? That’s open to debate so I won’t dwell on that point. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman’s story is decidedly more sparse to maintain a level of mystery to her but despite this lack of info, her tale was more compelling simply because we don’t know much. Also, rock music when she joins the fight. Rock on! Her performance was fine, I don’t really have any complaints. Sure, the outfit isn’t that patriotic red-white-and-blue America bullshit but a more metallic and battle-hardened one more appropriate for a presumed Amazonian. The fight scene against that creature in the final act was the most exciting out of all the other ones. The CGI shines best in this fight too. Sure, it’s what I expect in terms of quality – c’mon, Avatar is like six or seven years old now, big budget effects should’ve upped their game – but more impressive is the scale and incorporation into live action shots that make it more believable. And before I forget, Eisenberg as Luthor. Yes, I’ve taken a lot of shots at his stupid plan for… world domination? I don’t know. Regardless, Eisenberg was a good choice for the role, even if he acted more like the Joker than a scheming madman. His jumpy, off-kilter mannerisms probably made Luthor a more interesting character although I don’t claim to have read the comics so I’m not going to comment on parallels with the actual comic book interpretations.

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The bizarre thing about Batman v Superman is that it gets a lot wrong while the rest of the elements are done unusually well. The story, despite initial promise, faltered and simply made less and less sense as the overly-long film continued. However, the good performances of the main actors was a shock, and so were the special effects. Snyder is a man who has quite an obsession with over-the-top CGI. In other films of his, he’s created visual eye candy to die for but justification for it dies with every other aspect sucking a lot of balls. However, he pulls it off here because there are other elements that are done well, primarily in acting. It coupled well with the cinematography and honestly was quite a spectacle eventually. Now the critics agree that this film is rubbish but then again, these people said Hail, Caesar! was a masterpiece. Sure, it was made well but it was a bit of a let down. With Batman v Superman, I suppose they just wanted to hammer it (like me initially) and focussed more on the story elements. However, the sheer amount of visuals and strong performances of iconic characters is enough for audiences to watch. So, is Batman v Superman a shit film? I say no. Is it a great film? Nope. It’s a hit-and-miss affair and opinion will be based upon whether you’re a story buff or a visual buff. I’m open to both sides and as much as I was angry at the ridiculous leaps in logic, I have to admit that, for a film I expected to hate, I enjoyed it a little. It was the acting that sold me. It’s a better film than Man of Steel although if this DC Extended Universe is to continue, the studios need to put their brains back into their craniums and have a serious think about where they go from here. The problem so far has been story and too much “dark and gritty” seriousness. Hopefully some of this will be rectified in later DC films like Suicide Squad. For now though, we have the disappointing Man of Steel and this giant “versus” movie that hasn’t got a lot of “versus” any way you look at it. Should you watch it? Yeah, give it a chance. It’s no wonder, but I feel there’s just enough good to overcome the bad. On that note, I award Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a score of:

5.5/10

Had the story been thought out better and had the film been given a diet better than the paleo one, the acting and effects would have happily supplemented the film to greater success. However, this is what we have to work with, and honestly it’s not as bad as what some are saying.

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Biased Film Reviews: 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – A far cry from its spiritual predecessor, thank goodness!

WARNING: Of course there’s spoilers. It’s to be expected.

It was another one of those mindless scans of Rotten Tomatoes. Gods of Egypt unsurprisingly got a bad score. Grimsby was in the 40-50% grounds. Brooklyn clocked in 97% (I don’t know how, it’s beyond my levels of comprehension). London Has Fallen, the unrequested sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (or was it White House Down?) predictably was a shitstorm.

10 Cloverfield Lane. 92%. What?

The first thing that springs to mind is whether this is some kind of joke. It reeks of Cloverfield influence purely by name. J. J. Abrams’ producer fingerprints are all over it like the previous film. 10 Cloverfield Lane sounds like a lazy cash grab. But beyond that, there isn’t much else to know about it. As per Abrams’ philosophy of his “mystery box”, the trailers and press releases don’t say a lot. However, it’s been revealed already that this film is not Cloverfield 2, but a kind of derivative of the original. It’s not really in the same universe, but it supposedly takes aspects of the original movie and does something else with them.

Still sounds like a dumb idea.

Anyone ever see Cloverfield back in 2008? I can’t say I’ve seen all of it, but for those not in the know, it’s a found footage film (shiver!) where a group of friends attempt to survive the chaos of some other-worldly monster tearing New York City to shreds. It’s not the most inventive movie and the term “Oh my God” is uttered more times than Justin Bieber can say “baby” before running out of credibility. For a found footage film though, it’s decent enough and the monster is quite terrifying in itself. The main reason it’s had such a more-than-usual amount of praise is likely from the cult following it has built.

Now what did I expect from 10 Cloverfield Lane? Well, if it’s the spiritual successor, I expected some kind of alien monster, considerable destruction, frantic utterings of the same three words, and a less-than-intelligent man holding a camera. From the trailer, it’s obvious there’s no found footage to be had. Phew! Also… not a lot of large scale destruction. Plus there seemed to be no annoying “Oh my God” shouts anywhere. I still didn’t know if aliens were in it, but the premise of the film was an interesting direction.

You know what, let’s actually do a review.

We meet Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead), yet another lady with a failing relationship who pulls a runner, driving as far away as possible despite the pleas of her partner over the phone (voiced, unbelievably, by Bradley Cooper). As night falls, her car gets itself into a violent crash and knocks Michelle out. Upon waking, she finds herself in a foreboding cinderblock room, her injured leg cuffed to a pipe in the wall. However, instead of having a whining bitch contemplating just how much of a horror movie trope this environment gives off, she uses her brain and endeavours to reach her belongings. In comes John Goodman as the menacing Howard Stambler, a large man whose intentions are murky. Michelle’s escape attempts are at this point ineffective but she learns from Howard that he rescued her from the crash and took her to his bunker under his property because the outside world has been attacked, and that the air has been contaminated. Michelle soon gets somewhat free roam of the bunker, meeting Howard’s neighbour Emmet Dewitt (played by John Gallagher, Jr.) who helped build the shelter. Turns out Howard is quite the survivalist and has thought of everything. I wonder whether he appeared on Doomsday Preppers on National Geographic, that would have been something. Michelle is still unconvinced but in another escape attempt, she makes it to the exit only to find a severely injured woman begging to come inside, appearing to confirm Howard’s theory of deadly air. It’s here that she accepts their fate and soon the bunker doesn’t seem so bad at all. However, conflict is not over as she slowly finds evidence that puts Howard into question regarding his past and his sanity. Is he a misunderstood man simply trying to survive the end of the world? Or is the bunker a far more dangerous place with him around?

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Michelle confirms her fears that Howard has had a murderous history and plots with Emmet to make an escape from underground, including the construction of an airtight suit and gas mask to defend against the hostile outside air. Unfortunately, the plan shifts closer to falling apart as Howard finds items out of place and reacts violently, resulting in him shooting Emmet. Thankfully, Michelle has more than enough wits to engineer a getaway despite having her cover blown, getting out via the ventilation system and crippling the psychotic Howard with acid which just so happens to conveniently burn the interior rooms. Having escaped, signs of living creatures assure her the air is safe, but a strange aerial craft approaches in response to the bunker exploding (thereby beginning the expected considerable destruction). Our heroine manages to dodge the aliens several times and even destroys their flying vehicle by using the tried-and-tested practice of tossing Molotov cocktails into the mouth of a living spaceship. After finding a working car, she drives out and finds out on the radio that the military has managed to fend off the enemy around Baton Rouge but requires help in Houston. Quite conveniently again, she’s stopped right by set of road signs point to the only two places that have been mentioned. Her decision? Fight and protect in Houston.

The film is only just over 100 minutes long, but I’ll be honest, it was a surprisingly well-oiled machine that did not fuck around. It may have been directed by Dan Trachtenberg but J. J. Abrams is very present throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane in much the same way Michael Bay screwed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles despite being a producer, but at least Abrams isn’t shit. Trachtenberg’s record doesn’t show a lot; I think this is his first film as director. Still, it does feel more like Abrams was in control and it definitely shows. The story keeps you on your toes guessing, directing you to look at certain things, take in specific details, help you formulate what the course of action is, then proceeds to say, “Get fooled, fool!” as it takes an unexpected right turn into a whole new series of problems to solve. Enhancing the plot is the bunker’s setting. My goodness, it’s wonderful to see a film with a very limited area to work with. That claustrophobic feeling amplifies the tension and genuine shocks that make you jump in your seat. I know I did – but then again I’m not good with jumpscares, and a knife poking suddenly through an air vent might be bad for my comparably healthy heart. Even if you can tell that a sudden event is going to occur, you will more often than not be caught off guard.

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10 Cloverfield Lane also has the rare opportunity to have only a small cast to work with. This has enabled there to be a clear dynamic between the three main characters. Michelle is the obvious heroic protagonist who thankfully has a hundred times more smarts than that ridiculous Tris from Divergent. I was undeniably happy to see a female protagonist I could root for because they weren’t a stereotypical clueless damsel in distress, but a creative problem solver not clinging to some romantic interest for hope. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, if you’re reading this, get yourself a bottle of champagne and celebrate, you deserve it. There’s also John Gallagher, Jr.’s character and his more laid-back and open Emmet is also a handy addition to the bunker. He’s not as deep as the others but essential to the plot and to balance out the complexity of the film’s plot and other characters. His more cheerful approach to life underground is quite welcome and his change in perspective upon learning about Michelle’s disturbing findings regarding Howard is commendable. Speaking of Howard… goodness gracious, how many facets are there to a blood diamond? John Goodman’s performance as the not-so-clear-cut bad guy is stellar. First off, Howard shifts moods with little warning, stirring up our impressions of this seemingly overprotective and assertive hulking mass of a man. When he’s charming, he is legitimately caring but there always exists that hair trigger which sets him off. For the first half of the movie, it’s fair to say that he comes across as more of a slightly nutty but ultimately well-meaning man who doesn’t exactly understand how to be firm and fair at the same time. By the time we reach Michelle’s escape, the evidence that is learned points to the monster inside Howard which brutally breaks out yet there’s still the sense that his actions are a result of him thinking he is doing the right thing. It’s a multidimensional villain we don’t see enough of these days and having such a character in 10 Cloverfield Lane is perfect. I really can’t say much more about Winstead, Gallagher and Goodman. They’re amazing.

Along with the setting and acting, the art design is subtle yet influential. The film primarily plays with warm yellow light in times of fragile joy and safety while moments of doubt and sinister suspicions elicit harsh grey tones. It’s quite a smart film really. Even from the opening moments of Michelle’s runner, 10 Cloverfield Lane emphasises showing over telling, and the people behind it understand what makes a thriller and deliberately manipulate these conventions to create a truly gripping and terrifying psychological trip into paranoia. The music score is also very significant, shifting between the old-fashioned foot-shifting yet ironic tunes of 50 years ago (I mean, what a place to play “I Think We’re Alone Now” given the situation) to the edgy swelling notes of impending uncertainty and doom. It’s safe to say the movie is quite the spectacular thriller, incorporating some horror elements and, particularly towards the end, sci-fi themes that carry over from the original Cloverfield.

There’s a ridiculous amount of praise to dish out, but there is one area that some will find to be the weakest link in an otherwise fluid, jarring and effective edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. And I can understand the possible issues with the end because this is something I have experienced in the four years I did film studies at school. The final 15 or 20 minutes of 10 Cloverfield Lane deal with what is outside the false safety of Howard’s shelter. The aliens I definitely predicted, and so was the eventual escape to the surface. As mentioned before, Michelle encounters the aliens responsible for the attack and survives the encounter in spectacular and explosive fashion. However, it does feel a little hammy at times, almost sort of generic and gimmicky like the writers struggled to find a more satisfying end. I myself was okay with it but as evidenced by a few laughs in the audience in the cinema, there were detractors who must’ve felt cheated after all the high tension of the bunker plot. Frankly, to follow on from the mysterious twists and turns that played out underground is a far harder ask than you think. In my last year of film classes, we were tasked with writing a screenplay for a short film. My one was set in the near future where people lived in underground bunkers to protect against the fallout of a nuclear war. It sounds like something from the Fallout video games but while I’d rather talk about it in more detail in a later post, I did not know anything about the games when I wrote it. Anyway, the story involved a bunker resident who was convinced that the surface was actually safe and managed to escape by the time of the final scene. That’s where I hit a brick wall. How was I supposed to end it? I went through a lot of revisions, ranging from the protagonist simply walking into the world to cheap exits involving computer simulations. In the end, I chose a nuclear explosion to end it all. And when it came to actually filming this larger-than-life story, even my group colleagues couldn’t think of a better ending. Looking back, it looks stupid but even then, I admit there wasn’t much choice. This is pretty much the case with 10 Cloverfield Lane. What on Earth could they have done instead? I really don’t know. And I’m not exactly complaining that much about the ending we do get. It just has to be that way I guess.

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So, did 10 Cloverfield Lane deserve such rave reviews that others have done? Yes, it’s well justified. It’s a tight thriller, a very lean steak, not much unnecessary bullshit to contend with. J. J. Abrams’ “mystery box” approach and creative control (not sure how much input Dan Trachtenberg had) have erased any doubt over this movie’s credibility. It’s certainly a faint descendant of Cloverfield and ultimately a far better finished product than its distant relation. The end may divide opinions but honestly, I don’t see many other ways it could have ended. The more limited setting and smaller cast work in the film’s favour, jacking up the mood and performances we see. I walked into that cinema expecting a half-baked batch of oven French fries, and I’m glad my fears were destroyed and overtaken by brilliant understandings of the thriller genre. On that note, 10 Cloverfield Lane gets a score of:

9/10

It’s a must-see that at first glance looks disposable but instead sets another bar in modern thrillers. Don’t let the Cloverfield association sully this film. Better yet, you don’t have to know anything about the original film to get this one.

Biased Film Reviews: Hail, Caesar! (2016) – Doom in the form of misleading trailers

Warning: spoilers!!

Of course, I can’t review this properly without spoiling stuff, okay?

The Coen brothers. What a career they’ve had. They’ve given us treasures including but not limited to Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men. According to critics, Hail, Caesar! is yet another treat from the best directing brothers since the Wachowskis of Matrix fame realised they weren’t technically brothers. However, a quick check with online review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes paints an interesting picture. The film’s certified fresh on 83% yet the often-ignored audience score is a staggering 45% rotten rating.

How? I guess these dumb movie-goers know nothing about the art of the moving picture, eh? They just can’t appreciate greatness like proper men and women trained in the world of cinema and critique. Besides, haven’t you seen the trailers and ads for Hail, Caesar!? Looks like a real hoot filled to the brim with big names. Just look at some of them: George Clooney; Ralph Fiennes; Scarlet Johansson; Tilda Swinton; even the two lead actors from 21 Jump Street are in it. This has to be a comedy for the ages. Right?

Right?

Tell me, when you went to see the movie, you must’ve been excited, ready to laugh your head off with Clooney bumbling about in a Roman uniform and some actor called Alden Ehrenreich not meeting the vocabulary requirements of Fiennes as a posh director. I know I was prepared for a laugh.

Hail, Caesar! is set in the early ‘50s, an era of epic film productions with lofty ambitions and much theatricality. At the fictional Capitol Pictures, high profile lead actor of the company’s latest Biblical epic Baird Whitlock is kidnapped while off learning some lines. This becomes the latest problem for production head Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin) who also has to wrangle with a pregnant unmarried actress, Western actor Hobie Doyle’s inclusion into a tedious drama film, and twin gossip columnists who happen to be rivals. On top of this, Mannix is continually approached by the Lockheed Corporation who feel his troubleshooting talents are better invested in the aeronautical industry rather than the studio world. The film explores various short subplots, of which only a few seem to tie into the main story involving Whitlock’s abduction. His captors turn out to be film industry writers who harbour Communist beliefs and have attempted to subtly fuse them into major motion pictures. The group, calling themselves The Future, have demanded a large ransom which Mannix arranges. As the film progresses, he seems to get no closer to discovering The Future as Whitlock, the clumsy dim-witted actor he is, gets along nicely with the Communist writers. However, it turns out Hobie Doyle is the one to solve the case when he witnesses the suitcase of ransom money being handed to Burt Gurney who is the main star of a sailor musical film. Doyle retrieves Whitlock from the Malibu luxury beach residence he’s been held while The Future deliver Gurney to a waiting Russian submarine, although the ransom money is accidentally dropped during the transfer, lost to the ocean and benefitting no-one. Case closed, right? Well, The Future’s talk of Communism has imprinted on Whitlock who receives a few hard slaps to the face when trying to explain them to Mannix. In the end, he finishes his parts in the epic film and refuses Lockheed’s deals. It is also here that some other subplots are tied up and finished.

First off, an important question: is Hail, Caesar! a comedy film?

In a sense, yes, but not on the whole. A more accurate descriptor is “quirky drama”. It’s not a bad thing at all as those particularly deliberate comedy moments are funny and hilarious. These words don’t fit with the overall feel of the story though. It’s an investigation into a kidnapping, and not much of an intriguing one. I’d say only half the film directly or references the main plot. The rest of the time, it’s all of Mannix’s other problems. Some of these subplots are great, some more unnecessary regardless of their comedic value. In particular, the one time we see Frances McDormand as a film editor is in a baffling deviation from any of the plots in the film. Why is it there? For more humour? Did Joel Coen just want an excuse to put his wife in somewhere? Funny as it was seeing her almost strangle herself by getting her scarf stuck in the film roll machinery, it was a wasted ten minutes. There are many things more useful and interesting I can do in ten minutes: make at least three cups of noodles; hang up my washing; spell “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” aloud about 60 times; disprove all claims made about ShamWow!; list every song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience; hack the NSA; Photoshop myself into a movie poster. That’s ten minutes I won’t get back.

Additionally, the story itself is a limp affair. I expected some cat-and-mouse business between Mannix and The Future. Instead, Doyle just happens to see something and acts on it in an anticlimactic rescue. Watching a dead crow is less boring than Hail, Caesar!’s main story, although it’s at least a much better viewing experience than five minutes of Modern Family. There’s certainly some funny moments in that part but there’s also a lack of mystery. We’re not even halfway into the film when we get a good idea of who The Future are. And the people involved in the search for Whitlock don’t seem too concerned. Shouldn’t there by all this rushing to and fro, a sense of urgency perhaps? If this is how they handled kidnappings in 1951, that makes me a more responsible person for seriously caring about a lost pencil sharpener. Alongside the main story, let’s not forget the numerous subplots – oh yes, you won’t forget there were lots of them – and many of them seemed lazily tied into each other. The biggest of the subplots as per the reliability of movie trailers involved Scarlet Johansson’s pregnant character looking to find a way out of a possible scandal considering she’s not married and is expecting a baby. This train of thought leads to the only scene with Jonah Hill in which he stamps some papers and says little. Yep, that’s it. He’s happily highlighted in the all the advertising yet makes one appearance in a mediocre role. Don’t forget that Johansson appears, from memory, only twice. That’s surprisingly little for another big name splayed across billboards and posters around the world. The subplot with Doyle is more interesting and thankfully plays more into the main story than others to the point that it’s essentially Doyle who deserves the credit for rescuing Whitlock. There’s more subplots I can touch on, but I really don’t want to keep harking on about that, because this film is not all bad.

The plot is mediocre at best, but the real strengths of Hail, Caesar! lie in its art design, acting, and overall homage to the days of lavish productions of post-war America. The Coen brothers really felt at home with designing the world of Capitol Pictures from the large set pieces down to the finer details such as office furniture and ye olde camera equipment. Costume design is on point too, and the soundtrack enhances that ‘50s nostalgia we expect. Despite the underwhelming plot, the actors and actresses pull out an incredible job in bringing the ‘50s feel with their mannerisms and language, whether it be Brolin as the burly Mannix, Fiennes as the discerning film auteur, Ehrenreich as the country-born Doyle, or Johansson as the obnoxious but at times enticing DeeAnna Moran. Comedy wise, when it happens, it’s charming and playful. Arguably the best moment involves the typically buff and macho Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney doing a cheerful, carefree musical number in a sailor’s outfit. And he tapdances as well. The humour there is down more to Tatum’s unusual role compared to his outings in 21 Jump Street, White House Down and (God forbid) Magic Mike. There’s many other funny moments that come to mind: the meeting-turned-cursefest between Mannix and various religious representatives disputing who Jesus is (or isn’t); Fiennes as director Laurence Laurentz struggling to coach Doyle in speaking with a touch of class; and the bitter battle between the twin gossip writers (both played by Swinton) chasing up the story of a lifetime.

Now before I properly announce my assessment of Hail, Caesar! there is the matter of the critical vs. public opinion to touch on. Looking at what I’ve discussed so far, it would appear that there is more to dislike than to celebrate about the film. Rather, the part where I analyse the weaknesses is filled with nit-picking – I pretty much pretended to be a chimp delousing another grottier chimp in that section. The part where I praise the film is shorter but covers broader elements that I felt didn’t demand much more dissection. I would argue that the good outweighs the suckiness, yet the general audience response has been rather mixed. To answer that, I turn to two major points: the advertising and the meaning of the plot. Firstly though, you may recall the trailers for the movie. What has been done is the same issue with terrible comedy films: the best jokes are strung together and voilà, we have ourselves a trailer. Hype is high and everyone piles in expecting a whale of a time. Instead, we came out feeling less of a whale and more of a tired haddock. We were promised one thing and we got it, but it turned out to be simply the highlights of one thing and hence disappointment ensues. I walked out of the cinema kind of satisfied with Hail, Caesar! but wanted more because I expected something else. Had it been advertised as more of a drama, maybe audiences would be more forgiving, but alas this didn’t happen.

Now the other point is to related to the plot but not so much about the lack of firmness to it. Watching the film, you get a sense towards the end that you were meant to take something else out of it. The reason? The movie is meant to be a clever satire of the film industry the Coen brothers have existed in for a while now. I suppose the best way to understand the film is to watch it again and again. The more I think about that, the more this film makes sense. It’s a Coen brothers film, and if there’s a certain trait found in many of them, it’s that the plot is filled with nonsense but harbours some weirdly deep meaning that can only be ascertained through repeated viewing and close attention. The best example of this is The Big Lebowski which begins with a home assault and a rug and somehow, this leads to a trophy wife, bowling, a motormouth Vietnam veteran, and an argument about the Eagles. What even is the story? I don’t know. However, it has a massive following and many interpretations have been made about that movie. Are any of them correct? Who knows. I’d also like to mention Fargo which, while having a more clear-cut story, isn’t exactly the comedy everyone calls it. Yes, it’s more of a comedy than Hail, Caesar! but it plays off more like a crime drama which just happens to have been committed by some foolish criminals. This vagueness in the Coen brothers’ latest film, coupled with bad trailers, really killed much of the audience appeal here.

As for the esteemed critics, they most likely caught onto the satirical undertones of the film and would likely argue that the floundering plot isn’t actually a mess but a rocksteady platform to poke fun at Hollywood. Add to this the amazing production values on display and the depictions of the ‘50s filmmaking scene and there’s brownie points shooting out of reviewers’ mouths.

And the thing is, I have to agree with the critics and the audience on the film.

Differing expectations is what has divided the opinions of the martini-swilling folks in ties from the common man and woman wearing year-old trainers and munching popcorn without enough butter. Yes, the movie is a whirlwind fest of ‘50s fashion and art but for the average viewer, the story is a little bland and only just interesting enough to keep us watching. It’s a shame for the public anyway. I can go on about plots being too sophisticated for a generation of people addicted to middling pop music and motherfucking Minions (note: please stop the onslaught of talking yellow Tic-Tacs, most of us have lost our shit already), but I have to place the blame squarely on incorrect marketing. In my opinion, it’s a good film but thanks to altered expectations, it falls a little short of what it achieved. On that note, Hail, Caesar! earns the score of:

7.5/10

If you haven’t seen it, do not expect an all-out comedy. For those who’ve already seen it, give the film another chance and if time and money permit, watch it over and over again. Maybe the satire will reveal itself.

Biased TV Reviews: The X-Files: Season 10 (2016) – The truth is still frustratingly out there

Warning: Spoilers!!! This review pretty much relies on examining parts of the show that are most certainly spoilers for those who haven’t seen it.

I did not expect to consider doing a TV version for Biased Reviews. Is this going to be some bizarre one-off? I know I’ve only done one edition of Biased Game Reviews but at least I’ve played enough games to warrant more reviews. Television shows on the other hand… it’s not that I don’t watch a lot, but it comes down to commitment. A TV show screened weekly demands that you keep up. Miss an episode, things get thrown into disarray. The only show I always ensure I keep up with is Doctor Who. However, there are very few other TV programmes I’ve been able to keep track of, and when The X-Files made a return to nighttime television recently, I decided to make it a priority. It’s only six episodes of a miniseries which is now accepted as Season 10 I suppose, so I had not a lot of trouble with that. So it looks like for Biased TV Reviews, I’m tackling the latest instalment in an iconic classic of the modern TV era.

First though, let me explain my footing on The X-Files prior to Season 10. I was born in the ‘90s when it was a big thing yet I never had a glimpse of it. Until two months ago, all I’d seen of anything to do with the show were fragments of its first film version and all the countless plays of the theme song. That part alone has resonated firmly to this day, and you can’t deny how piercing the ethereal notes of the tune are. It’s the stuff that makes you think of conspiracies and weird goings-on in a world that we think we understand. Regardless of all that, The X-Files eluded me. I knew the premise and the names of the two main characters – Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – and thought it sounded pretty cool. Mulder the believer and Scully the sceptic. Creepy circumstances that continually challenge science. And aliens of course. It was pretty much the running theme of the show when it wasn’t dwelling on monsters and other mysterious threats. I knew all of that, but I never saw it.

Then, out of nowhere, one of the Australian channels announced they would broadcast old episodes of The X-Files selected by creator Chris Carter. I managed to watch a few of them. I was blown away. How had I missed this years ago? Okay, I’m not good with horror but holy shit, this was the kind of stuff I was into. Mysteries, dumb or conspiracy-laden, have intrigued me for a long time, and this was a show that explored this realm. I caught on the tail-ends of Season 1’s “Ice” and “The Erlenmeyer Flask” and I was hooked very quickly. The screenings were on pretty late so I didn’t get to see all that was on offer. The Flukeman in “The Host” – that was fucking creepy, yet the story hit the beats it needed to. Unfortunately, family commitments intercepted me and my encounters with The X-Files became sporadic. “Home” was quite unsettling. “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” was more exposition than anything else but at least I was now aware of the character in question. “Memento Mori” had a great premise but got a little muddled towards the end. “Bad Blood” had a comic tone to it, one I didn’t expect.

But what do I know, I’m not a long-time X-Files fan?

I’d seen enough to definitely consider watching the latest X-Files. For someone who didn’t know too much about the show, I felt that Season 10 did a decent job of dropping me into the narrative without too many issues. So, I’ll start there and go through episode by episode.

“My Struggle”

After Mulder gives us a recap of what we need to know of the last nine seasons, we have him and Scully reunite when Walter Skinner of the FBI insists they meet with Tad O’Malley, a web series host who’s very much the conspiracy freak. His latest scoop is on the big alien conspiracy that is central to The X-Files mythology. After meetings with claimed abductee Sveta and a stored Alien Replica Vehicle (ARV), it is theorised that maybe their understanding of the whole alien conspiracy thing was wrong. Mulder suspects that a select group of humans have been behind everything, using alien tech to abduct people and perform experiments on them involving alien DNA. Additionally, Scully’s blood tests of Sveta and herself confirm trace amounts of the mysterious DNA. Interspersed throughout the episode are flashbacks to the government’s salvage and handling of the 1947 Roswell UFO crash, confirming many of the conclusions Mulder comes up with. O’Malley wants to go public but by the episode’s end, he is shut down, the ARV is destroyed and Sveta is presumably killed in her exploding car due to a spacecraft from above.

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A lot of the pre-release reviews of “My Struggle” have been rather mixed from what I understand. I’d imagine these were from long-time X-Files fans. However, I have to disagree with this apparent negativity. The way this episode was delivered demanded that it be seen less as an episode and more as an introduction/setup for the next few. Come on, it’s been over a decade since the last series so it’s not going to be a smooth transition. I like how even though I’m hardly up to speed with the show, “My Struggle” is a suitable beginning for even the greenest of viewers. The dynamic between Mulder and Scully is re-established and at this point holds a lot of promise.

The character of Tad O’Malley though… well, typical online conspiracy jerk. Every shot of him, every movement of his, I swear this is where Ryan Seacrest went after American Idol. Without a shitty outlet of a job to sound hopeful and supportive of some singing people has eaten away at his brain, reducing it to the annoying voice of cover-up exposers. It’s nearly as grating as that wacko on Ancient Aliens (which is, unsurprisingly, a History Channel series). Sure, he provides a motive for the X-Files team to get back together but regardless, it’s pretty cliché and overblown.

Otherwise, it’s a good first impression of Season 10, minus O’Malley.

“Founder’s Mutation”

The second episode revolves around the bizarre suicide of a researcher at Nugenics Technology who moments before death complained about a high-pitched noise and started deleting computer data. The X-Files investigation eventually finds its way to Nugenics’ owner Dr. Goldman who claims to be studying cures for genetic deformities in children. Of course, this isn’t entirely the case: he is also involved in alien DNA research, stealing foetuses infused with the DNA from pregnant women including his wife. This conjures up flashbacks to William, the son of Mulder and Scully who was given away in the hopes of protecting him. At some point, Mulder and Scully track down the reason for the researcher’s suicide: a janitor who didn’t intend to use his powers to kill the man but demands he meet his sister, one of Goldman’s subjects. The two finally meet in a climactic moment against Goldman and the X-Files agents, at which point they flee never to be seen again.

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Having established its comeback in the last episode, “Founder’s Mutation” moves to be a more traditional story that lightly ties into the season’s overarching theme while presenting an interesting case for Mulder and Scully to handle. It’s a significant step-up from “My Struggle” but towards the end, it fails in providing adequate closure, and as I’ll discuss later on this is a recurring issue throughout Season 10. For this episode, the capture of the janitor comes rather late and rushes to get to the climax. Sure, he and his sister escape after incapacitating their captors but that’s the last we hear of them. At least Goldman gets killed under the influence of the high-pitched noise which I found a likeable aspect of the story, especially the times where Mulder gets caught in its power.

While a stronger effort than “My Struggle”, “Founder’s Mutation” presents the first sign of a major inherent flaw that becomes more obvious later on.

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”

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This one’s quite a, uh, change from the last two. While examining a series of murders and attacks in Oregon, the X-Files duo find possible evidence pointing to a lizard-like bipedal creature roaming the woods. Further strange events lead Mulder to suspect someone called Guy Mann for being a were-creature who can change into this lizard form. It turns out, as told with much comedic cheekiness, Guy is actually a lizard creature who, after being bitten by a human, started cycling in and out of human form. Despite being the believer of the two, Mulder highly doubts Guy’s claims. I don’t blame him to be honest – Guy’s got a thick New Zealander accent which makes me laugh a lot (it’s not a surprise then that he’s played by Rhys Darby, the fictional band manager in the Flight of the Conchords TV series). Mulder’s doubt is heightened when the real assailant is found but in a final encounter with Guy, they shake hands at which point Guy returns to lizard form and hightails it out of there, allowing Mulder to put aside his misgivings and start believing again.

I suppose more informed X-Files fans will get this rather jarring funny turn in the series. It was not something I expected but, despite the weirdness that surpassed the creepiness in other more serious episodes, it was quite refreshing to see a different side to the show pulled off neatly. There isn’t much to poke criticism at here expect that I wasn’t prepared for The X-Files to be this humorous. The guest stars and supporting cast held up extremely well and didn’t make the episode feel like a farce. As a self-contained story, it was surprisingly the best of Season 10. The premise, while not entirely unique, was toyed around playfully and not excruciatingly forced upon me. By the end, I truly felt I could walk away from it satisfied. No loose ends to be concerned with, no burning questions needing immediate answers. It was a sweet surprise.

It’s fair to say “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” represents the high point of the season. Again, I’m amazed it was this one.

“Home Again”

Wave goodbye to funny Kiwi voices, it’s time for Mulder and Scully to face a legitimately terrifying creation. A series of violent murders involving torn-off limbs appear to be linked to a city plan to move a homeless community and the Band-Aid Nose Man, a being who seems to be a graffiti painting that comes to life. As they investigate, Scully has to contend with the approaching death of her mother. As the murders continue, they track down the graffiti artist responsible, a man called Trashman. He maintains that the artwork was meant to be something the homeless could look up to in their time of trouble, but has somehow become a physical entity via the power of thoughts, motivated to solve the apparent mistreatment of the homeless by dismembering the officials responsible. Despite finding this out, the X-Files are unable to save the last victim from the hands of the Band-Aid Nose Man. At its conclusion, Trashman finds a way to modify his creation’s image while Scully tries to come to terms with her mother’s death.

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Again, we have a cool idea that is confounded by a lack of closure. The Band-Aid Nose Man is effectively hideous and frightening, a worthy monster that can sit up there with the Flukeman from Season 1. However, in explaining its reason for existence the tale becomes muddled in theories about “thought forms” such that there’s not enough time devoted to exploring Trashman and his work. Part of the problem there is related to Scully’s subplot with her mother. Touching it may be, it takes up too much time and adds little to the overall story except a tacked-on final conversation between the two agents where Scully relates the philosophies behind the case with her family’s treatment in relation to her mother. I get there was going to be some deeper meaning to it all, but it’s unfortunately not translated well to the audience.

“Home Again” essentially starts strong but slowly sinks into two stories competing for attention and don’t mix well at all. Also, not much closure… again.

“Babylon”

Two suicide bombers destroy a Texas art gallery but one survives. The X-Files are called in to help interrogate him since he’s in a coma. To complicate things, they are introduced to what are pretty much the younger, cockier versions of themselves: Agent Miller (believer) and Agent Einstein (extremely sceptical). While Scully and Miller attempt to use ECG readouts to ascertain a basic form of receiving answers from the comatose bomber, Mulder pushes Einstein to give him magic mushrooms in the hopes that he can enter an altered mental state through which he can talk to the bomber. And if you wanted a reason for not doing magic mushrooms, Mulder in “Babylon” happily shows that it’s trippy as hell and very embarrassing, especially in a rodeo dance bar. Somehow, he manages to speak to the bomber in his mindless dream state but only gets an Arabic response. Upon waking to a very pissed-off Skinner, Einstein admits she gave Mulder a placebo. Either way, he tells Miller (who just so happens to understand Arabic) what he heard. The info leads to a hotel where armed forces catch and apprehend more suicide bombers hiding out there.

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“Babylon” proved to be rather underwhelming. This is partly due to the Australian advertising. They portrayed it as a very different episode, one involving a dead person still able to kill people and who is able to get into Mulder’s mind. Very different from what actually happened, right? Even then, the episode didn’t appear to try going into more far-fetched territory like I wanted it to. As for the inclusion of the Mulder and Scully copy-and-paste younglings? I don’t know what to make of them. Are they replacements? Is there existence trying to make a point? Heck, they even match each other aesthetically, particularly Einstein’s red hair that clearly is Scully’s. Why? I imagine they go to the same hairdressers. Or maybe they’re secretly related?? That’s probably not the case.

No matter how you look at “Babylon”, it wasn’t very daring and appeared to play the safe game. Fingers crossed the final episode is a real kicker!

“My Struggle II”

Was it a kicker? Simple answer: no, it was almost an insult.

Mulder has vanished. O’Malley has returned to the web (goddammit Mr. Seacrest!). And there are an increasing number of people calling into hospitals with ailments they are meant to be immune to. O’Malley suspects that alien DNA has been implanted into everyone to aid the so-called Spartan Virus which disables the immune system. Miller tracks down Mulder via a phone tracking service while Scully meets with Monica Reyes, a former FBI agent who reveals that it is the work of the Cigarette Smoking Man and that she has been working with him as a means to stop the attack from the inside. It turns out that it’s not the alien DNA causing the Spartan Virus to activate, but it’s that DNA that provides immunity. As the two redheads work on a vaccine, Mulder confronts the Cigarette Smoking Man but, like all other big confrontations on TV, he doesn’t bother to shoot him. Mulder is offered a chance at protection from the Virus which is already debilitating him severely but Miller intervenes and drives him back to Washington, D.C. where public chaos ensues. Scully manages to concoct the vaccine and gives Einstein a shot before running out to locate Mulder and Miller in a traffic jam on a bridge. Upon reaching them, Scully determines Mulder is too ill for the vaccine to work and needs a stem cell transplant from their son William. It is here that a spacecraft arrives and shines a beam upon the three agents. The camera closes in on Scully’s eye before cutting to black.

That’s it.

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No matter how much good you can find from “My Struggle II” – the disabling of an entire population’s immune system; alien DNA as a cure – the episode sucked because it simply did not deliver. There was build-up, there was tension, there was expectation for an epic closer… and instead the show flips the middle finger and screams, “Fuck you!” For goodness’ sake, why the cliffhanger? It was a passable episode until the end. Yeah, I’ll reiterate what I said: all the great things of the episode are overshadowed by the ballsiest ending to ever grace TV in a very long time. I mean, what if they don’t go ahead with another season after this? Even if that’s the intention, a season final needs some form of finality. That’s why it’s called a final. Also, it’s clear enough that Miller and Einstein are more disposable than the screenwriters expected. Goodness gracious, if they ever do create Season 11, I sure hope to the heavens that they don’t replace Mulder and Scully. It’s not the change that’s needed in any case.

Grrrrrr!!!!

Overall thoughts

Season 10 was enjoyable enough for me. The problems it suffered were repeated errors that were strangely not rectified throughout the show’s run. If the lack of an ending in “Founder’s Mutation” wasn’t a clear enough indicator, this should have been noticeable by the time “Babylon” rolled around. Season 10’s episode ideas were without a doubt mostly worth the time to watch, and the Mulder-Scully dynamic was spot on and not tired out. The incorporation of Miller and Einstein, especially late into the series, was confusing and unnecessary. I’m still not sure what’s going on there. The O’Malley character was bothersome at best but still more intriguing than the new agents. From the first five episodes, The X-Files Season 10 was quite a treat – not a perfect or even one, but salivating enough with a hint of ‘90s nostalgia.

Then shit hits the fan with the final. In “My Struggle II”, the title sequence displays “THIS IS THE END” instead of the usual “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” tagline. This subtle change only heightened my expectations for a fitting end. Instead, we get a bullshit excuse for another season. I sure hope that they go ahead with that because you simply can’t end The X-Files on such an ambiguous note.

The other big problem with Season 10 comes down to the amount of time it runs for. I understand it was a miniseries that tested the waters for any sign of significant interest in bringing back The X-Files, and I think they’ve had an adequate response. To test it, they stuck with a basic six-episode plan which, while sensible in the TV company’s eyes, did not help Season 10. I kept getting this feeling throughout the season that there was a rush present throughout the stories. It’s more evident when thinking about Season 10’s arc concerning the new interpretation of the alien conspiracy that the show dealt with for nine seasons many, many years ago. For this season to have had the best chance, it needed more than six episodes to properly examine the alien DNA theme whilst still having space for run-of-the-mill “monster of the week” episodes. At least, “My Struggle II” could have benefited from a simple 15-minute extension to give the writers a chance to write a more convincing ending that, while still being a tease for a possible Season 11, provided some kind of ending that puts to rest enough story threads to leave me satisfied. That truly is the primary issue with Season 10: a lack of time.

So, is Season 10 shit? Not entirely. I’d say more positive things are in it than you think, but that finale really silences a lot of praise. Until Season 11 materialises, I won’t be able to forgive “My Struggle II”, easily the worst of the series. The surprise winner of it all was “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” which maintained a sci-fi edge while dabbling in some well-intentioned laughs that made me smile. The things that make up a traditional X-Files episode were present – not so much in one or two episodes – and it did not feel dated even though they used the almost exact same title sequence from the ‘90s. I’m glad I’ve gotten into The X-Files and despite its disappointments, Season 10 was okay to watch. On that, I award the latest season of The X-Files a score of:

6.5/10

They tried their best with only six episodes, but it suffered because of that limit. If Season 11 doesn’t happen, there’s going to be a lot of angry people to answer to. I refuse to let a close-up of Scully’s eye be the end of The X-Files.

Friends aren’t as simple an affair nowadays

It’s another one of those weekends. Me toiling away trying to grapple with prescribed work and study in preparation for bloody stressful tests and learning activities. I will at some point in the day get out and at least wander the city for a bit. In very occasional instances, I briefly encounter friends, either recent ones or those who I haven’t seen in years. For example, I said hi to someone I met during first year at university while about to cross the street. They and one of their own friends had gone shopping for nutritious sustenance (a.k.a Coca Cola I think) and had some plans for the afternoon and evening. It would have been nice to spend more time with that friend, but people these days are busy, so a quick chat was the best that could be done. This day however, luck decided to throw me into the path of another friend, one I certainly hadn’t seen in a while, one from my cohort at school a few years ago. He was in good health and on his way to an anti-war rally. Well, I decided not to make a snide joke about rallies (also, I don’t see a problem with an anti-war rally as long as it’s not hosted by folks like the NRA). Again, it was a brief meeting as I had to head on home carrying some probably environmentally deadly plastic bags holding a few music CDs, including a rare early special edition of R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

It’s late Saturday night right now. That has been my weekend so far.

I’m willing to bet most of my other friends are out clubbing and pubbing (I suspect I’ve invented a stupid word; my apologies, English grammar Nazis) as I contemplate what friendship really is today. At its most basic part, it can’t have changed much. You meet someone. Things get along fine. Voilà – friends. How long does it last? No clue. Hopefully, it’s a long-lasting one. Regardless, there’s going to be the ones that float off due to many reasons. The primary one is that they weren’t really friends in the first place, just people who happened to know you because you were at the same school as them. There’s also the reason that over time, friends change in such ways that their differences and gripes escalate. It comes down to who’s going to cut off that friendship. This has certainly happened to everyone at some point, regardless how friendly you are. A lot of the time, you can see them coming, much like every game of Monopoly I play – that feeling of the inevitable dreadful end well beyond the horizon.

Of course, you at least still have a lot of friends to consider unless you’re Donald Drumpf – those supporters are actually gullible fools, not friends. Out of those friends, there’s going to be a select number who are what I term as “legit friends”. Sure, you can have hundreds of friends but do the majority really care about you? This is very much linked to social media. So what if you have 800 friends of the Book of Faces? Do you talk to each and every one of them on a regular basis? Have you actually met all of them more than once? Are they just friends with you for some very shallow reason? See what I’m getting at? Those friends are more like “friends”, so it’s important to know who your legit friends are. These are people you can communicate with often and who at least take some interest in your activities. Up from legit friends are best friends or close friends. I consider best friends as those you can rely on and are willing to support you with most things. Of course, there can be sublevels to this model. I’m not a goddamned sociologist. As far as I’m concerned, I most definitely don’t have enough street cred or even a hint of charisma to give a well-informed lecture in socialising.

With all this talk of having best friends and so forth, why am I discussing it right now if it seems suspiciously clean cut? Well, in a busy world, being with friends isn’t always an option. During my boarding school years, I was stuck with the same people day in and day out, many of which found unrivalled pleasure in pissing me off. I swear that masturbation paled in comparison to the satisfaction of misreading my name on the nighttime roll for weeks on end, not to mention their bizarre obsession with taking photos of me from over the not-so-high walls of my dorm room – maybe they were gay; all that talk of wanting to fuck girls must’ve been a smokescreen. I didn’t get many opportunities to get out during those years, but uni came around and while there were a few familiar faces, there were new ones too. It was somewhat refreshing but as usual, they were off doing their own thing while I would reach out to some of them to see if I could hang out with them. As always, they were busy most of the time, even the best of my friends. And the thing about uni was, there was more free time, yet I spent most of it either staring blankly at empty messaging boxes or getting on with study out of frustration.

That still happens today.

It’s not made much better when they broadcast their lives online. While sure, a lot of the things young adults like myself do in their leisure time aren’t the kind of things I’d want to get caught up in, things like nightclubbing, getting drunk, going to theme parks, whatever. But it seems that with all these events happening, you don’t get as much time with your friends as you’d like. Hmph, you could say it’s stretching the term “friend” a little bit. There’s also at least two or three friends who absolutely appear to not mind talking and hanging out with you, but at some point you have to wonder whether continuously speaking with them is detrimental to those involved. Sure, these are your best friends and they say things like they’ll help you whenever, but if you feel like you’re having to communicate with or be around them very often, to me it feels like abusing a friendship even if there’s no intention to do such a thing.

I mention everything here so far because I constantly deal with these dilemmas regularly.

Add to that the last couple of years of monotonous weekends where the best delight you get is some materialistic item. It’s not that bad to own a thing with not a lot more purpose than what it’s designed to give (like, c’mon, I got a unique version of an R.E.M. album, huzzah!), but after a while, the pleasure is short-lived. It’s at a point where I feel I actually need my friends more than before, particularly in a much more stressful year than previously. I can’t exactly hammer on everyone’s door. It just comes across as pleading and begging in the annoying sense.

I think I’ll just do some study, and hopefully write up a few more things.

This US election is getting under my skin…

I worry and stress about a lot of things these days. Typical things like being labelled a pessimist, piling on tremendous amounts of study for exams that cost a few thousand dollars to re-sit them, chewing on my still stalled novel project (which may be closer to actually happening than originally thought), and generally keeping up with what the kids are doing – usually I don’t get any of it because it’s designed to work against the likes of me. However, there’s this little event that occurs across the Pacific that, while interesting, is not something I normally concern myself with. As I speak, the folks in the USA stand in the aisles of Politi-Mart wearing carp-like stares of indecision over who’s the lesser evil – only it’s not about who’s best, but who’s outrageous and likeable. I don’t claim to understand the mechanics of the US election – anything political generally makes little sense under the microscope – but it’s clear to me that level-headed people almost entirely agree that a certain moneybags man with a wig from a carpet store who has taken longer than Truman Burbank to realise there’s a reality beyond the studio. Need I give more of an intro? I don’t wish to spend too much time here right now.

In any political campaign, they love to pedal the ‘promised’ policies and what they’ll bring to the table. There is also the advertising component, and the method varies from person to person. Up there in the leaderboard is Donald Trump, the man who others become apprentices to if they have no integrity. You have to give it to him, he works the cameras. It’s second nature to him. Trump’s a TV personality who happens to also be stinking rich. Regardless, he’s knocked over a lot of beehives and has demonstrated the incredible ability of being more outspoken than Kanye West (at least I have some respect for West’s music). No person needs to read his policies to understand he’s trouble. Trump wants to ban Muslims from the country until he finds a reason not to suspect all of them for hiding C4 in their clothes. There’s also that big spanking great wall he wants to build between the US and Mexico, presumably part of his immigration reform schemes. Not to mention he loves guns, a popular pastime in the Land of Definitely-No-Major-School-Shootings. Oh, and he doesn’t like a lot of countries which might negatively affect international relations[citation needed]. I don’t have to list everything. Just Google his quotes. Sure, he’s taking the non-PC angle which I normally praise, but some things are simply too far.

Take a moment here to think about a few things. Where the hell are you going to deposit the Muslim population if they are banned? Is a giant line of bricks really necessary to stop illegal Mexican immigrants, and can it even work given than tunnels are the in-thing so I’ve heard? Would the Parisian attacks a few months ago have been solved had each of the restaurateurs kept replicas of Dirty Harry’s S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum in their pockets? Either Trump hasn’t thought of the consequences or doesn’t give a damn. Or maybe he has no brain underneath that so-called hair of his. I do realise there are regulations in place to prevent a President from having too much power, but it’s still a scary thought that he could be up there in the Oval Office, building a new ballroom on the White House grounds, and kickstarting a new spin-off show: The Apprentice: Presidential Edition. Even though he isn’t there right now, I’m not being too alarmist by saying never has a bizarre hairstyle wielded so much and ludicrousness since A Flock of Seagulls’ Mike Score did his own hair up.

Now the average person should already tell by now that Mr. Orange Wig is on some out-of-this-world bazongas and isn’t fit to run the tiniest of countries, let alone a massive one like America. However, this asshat is the leading Republican candidate in the polls so far. Why? Hardly any of Trump’s ideas have any sound logic. Well, for all the blatant idiocy he’s gathered, he has tapped into the incredible low-level intelligence of many Americans, and the rest have gone along with shared feelings of fear, something that Trump has cleverly twisted to mean everything is dangerous and that he’s the answer. I don’t like talking about politics but I definitely feel that something needs to be done about him. How concerned am I? Goodness gracious, I’m in Australia and I’m concerned. Am I saying all Americans are stupid? No. I can list a good number of US citizens who’ve helped advance science and technology, plus many more in other fields. I will say though that the USA is, for a so-called great nation, easily manipulated primarily through fear, thanks to the increased attention to terrorism since 9/11. That, plus the additional media coverage from his little outbursts of incredulousness, is how he’s managing to do so well. The man’s clearly one of the worst candidates for Presidency in a long time, yet the polls don’t reflect it. Simply put, Donald Trump should not be voted for.

So, next question: who’s better than Trump? Honestly, anyone candidate is better – expect for Ted Cruz. At first glance, he doesn’t seem too bad. Then again, it’s primarily due to every TV camera being pointed at Discount ‘80s Mike Score With Orange Hair. Now I, like many, want ISIS/ISIL/IS/WTF to stop sullying the name of Muslims. I mean, they’ve already used Trump’s speeches in their recruitment videos, which is another reason Trump is poison. I’d certainly prefer to avoid a full-on no-holds-barred war with the gun-toting Toyota people who train on playground equipment, but “carpet bombing them into oblivion” is very much overkill. I’m not sure if Cruz here is displaying hazardous behavioural traits or is conducting an experiment into whether “sand can glow in the dark”, something he’s eager to find out. Regardless, here’s a tip from me: avoid Cruz, and definitely steer clear of TV Trump. In particular, given Trump’s inability to understand that there is more than one country on planet Earth, it’s not long before he decides to go all World War III against everyone if he becomes President. Yeah, that’s why I, Harry the writer here, who’s obviously not American or anywhere near America, am concerned. Some said that George W. Bush’s continued exercising of his will on the world spelt the end sooner than the Mayan calendar needed to be turned over. Well, enter Donald Trump, and he’s managed to slip through while the Four Horsemen, a supposed early warning system for apocalypses, were busy playing poker.

However, there are probably more unsuitable candidates in the midst of the USA, and I don’t have time to sort through them. Trump and Cruz stick out from a mile away but given how awful the candidates are, there’s more rotten apples out there. Seriously, joke candidate Deez Nuts has more sense than most of the actual runners in the election. What can be done? Well, there’s two things I can think of. The first is adapted from Tom Clancy’s novel Executive Orders in which ex-CIA and former National Security Advisor Jack Ryan becomes President just as he’s being sworn in as Vice President due to a disgruntled pilot crashing into the ceremony with a large airliner, killing the previous President and most of Congress. The novel looks at how Ryan tries to resuscitate the US government as a person with not much political background. His approach involved selecting people for positions based not on their political leanings or policies, but more on their experience in given fields and whether they’ve shown that they’ve done stuff. The key phrase here is ‘done stuff’. Sure, we get candidates who say they’ll do this and that, but once they got top spot, just say, “Fuck it, let’s take a sharp left here and a wandering right there.” Adapting Ryan’s method, I suggest to voters to actually check the experience and actual doings of candidates to find ones that will legitimately do stuff if elected to President. I haven’t managed to do much digging – come on, I’m doing a terribly large load of flight training here – but Hillary Clinton seems the most promising.

The other way of addressing this flood of stupidity in candidates is to simply establish a new organisation that investigates candidates for sensibility. Let’s call this hypothetical group the Committee for Assessing Presidential Candidate Sensibility (CAPCanS). The main requirement for the group is that the majority of its members must not be Americans. It’s fair to say that those who can see the problems with the USA most clearly are outsiders, so get them in and tell the Americans who’s dumb and who’s worth a shot. As for US members for CAPCanS, they must be comedians because they’ve so far demonstrated the best understanding of how ridiculous elections and politics can be. That way, Trump and similar folks can be given the no-go for going further into the election. Also I don’t want to be blown up by a loopy businessman with roadkill fur on his cranium. My days have been bad enough already.

Also, if they still go ahead with that Mexican wall idea, may I make a suggestion as to its construction… move Trump International in New York to the US-Mexico border and kick it over. That’s a big enough brick from the man who wants it really badly.