Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly, in the right order?

Tuesday, December 22



42 Days of Summer #3

Directed by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Written by Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly
2012, 93 minutes

Merida, a young princess of the Nac Mac Feegle, horrified by the Kelda's plans to marry her off to another tribe, conspires with a hag to turn her mother into a newt and her brothers into tadpoles.  This backfires when a fire-breathing salamander arrives and lays waste to the kingdom.  Now only Merida and her trusty poodle, Macguffin, stand between the Feegles and utter bewailment.

This film looks pretty - probably the best-looking Pixar film I've seen, and that's saying something - and it's great to see strong female characters, even if they're complete idiots.  But this is a children's film from start to finish, failing to grasp for something more the way Pixar have succeeded at many times (Toy Story, The Incredibles, Up).

It's unexceptionable, but unexceptional too.  I'm left with just two observations:
  1. There's a reason we used to burn witches.  Nowadays we'd just sic the FDSA on them.
  2. Did the Kelda ever apologise?  Everything that happens in the story is her fault.  She's loving and protective and dumb as a bug.
  3. It reverses - again, though in a different way - the previous night's film, in that the moral of Brave is that there's nothing you can't fix with determination and courage and a willingness to utterly rewrite the rulebook.
Two and a half ravens out of four.  I think it's the weakest Pixar film I've seen, but that's with the proviso that I gave up on Cars after only a couple of minutes and don't count it.  And that most Pixar films are brilliant.

Next up: Brad Bird's The Iron Giant.

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Monday, December 21


42 Essences

As a daily quickie, something that captures the essence of something.  

Essence #1: Postmodern Jukebox

(Postmodern Jukebox seem to default to ragtime, but this is one of their best songs and also one of their best videos.  It's the essence.)

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42 Scores Of Summer

Not talking about film scores, though I might do that at some point.  Just talking about how the scoring system works.

I give each item I review a score out of four.

Four things (the things vary) means the film (or whatever) was everything it could have been and everything I could have wanted.  It's rare for a film to do both; I'm not objective in my ratings and don't pretend to be.

Three things means the film was very good, well worth watching, and recommended.

Two things means the film was... Adequate.  Or perhaps it was well-made but didn't grab me, or it grabbed me but was badly flawed.  Something you might watch on a rainy afternoon and not count your time wasted.

One thing means the film was not very good at all.  Not recommended unless you are feeling particularly perverse.

Zero things is a stinker with no net merit whatsoever.  A black hole where talent and money went to die.

Negative things indicate a film that is not just without merit, but actively makes the world a worse place.

And finally, five things - out of four - indicates a film that is so remarkable that it made me recalibrate my conception of what our species is capable of.  This doesn't happen very often.

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Twelve Monkeys

42 Days of Summer #2

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples
Starring Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, and Madeleine Stowe
1995, 130 minutes

Bruce Willis is James Cole, survivor of a global bio-warfare plague unleashed in 1996 by a terrorist group known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.  He is sent back in time to try track down an unmutated sample of the virus to help scientists in the future - our future, his present - create a cure or a vaccine.  Madeleine Stowe is Dr Kathryn Railly, a psychiatrist who helps Cole when he inevitably gets locked up in the nuthouse.  And Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt, a nut who turns out to be [spoilers go here].

But this is a Terry Gilliam science fiction film, and that means two things.  Three things.  First, the future looks like it was disassembled by ferrets, reassembled by raccoons, accidentally set ablaze, and finally extinguished by a tidal wave of moose piss.  Second, the present looks like a Baltimore dumpster fire.  And third, nothing goes well for the hero.

This film has none of the problems of Sky Captain: Smartly written, tightly directed, and with terrific performances from both the leading and supporting casts.  The one weakness is that Terry Gilliam can't help being Terry Gilliam and laying on the fevre dream icing a couple of layers beyond what was really needed to bake this particular cake.  But given the overall craftmanship of the piece, I'm willing to forgive him that foible.

This is not a happy film, though.  It's not entirely bleak, but a consistent theme is that there are some things you simply cannot fix.  If this film and Groundhog Day ever collided, their mutual annihilation would be visible from the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy.

I give it three twelve monkeys out of four.

Next up: Pixar's Brave.

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Sunday, December 20


Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow

42 Days of Summer #1

Directed and written by Kerry Conran
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie
2004, 106 minutes

Were it not for the leaden acting, incoherent script, sophomoric direction, and trite score, this film might have...  Wait, that doesn't actually leave much, does it?  Or indeed, anything at all.

I could say that some of the sets look nice, but there aren't any sets; the entire film was shot on digital green-screen.  I could say that some of the action sequences are good (the only saving grace of the last Die Hard film) except that frankly, they're not.  I could say that the Art Deco-inspired art and architecture and colouring made this a visual treat, but I'd be lying; it's about as visually striking as a fallen soufflé.

The chemistry between the lead actors is actually negative; the plot makes less than zero sense.  I literally had my head in my hands several times towards the end of this film.

I wanted to see this when it first came out, and even bought the DVD, but somehow never got around to it.  I'm sorry that I eventually did.  Even after hearing that it wasn't very good, the vague idea of it I had in my head was vastly better than what Conran actually made.

I made it to the end, but at one point I wandered into the kitchen to get a drink without pausing the movie, and I never do that.  I can see the screen from the kitchen, but still...

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 72%, which is absurd.  It tanked at the box office, and deservedly so.  Even at 106 minutes - not long for a modern feature film - it needed to be cut drastically.

I rate it one tiny elephant out of four.


Next up: Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys.

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42 Days Of Summer

It's the middle of December, and that means it's school holidays for six weeks, and that means I get to listen to my neighbours' twelve kids (possibly more, but I've counted twelve in one place) scream incessantly for the next forty-two days, unless it rains heavily or SMOD comes to release me.

This year I've decided to interleave the shrieking with watching a bunch of movies that I had meant to watch but somehow never got around to.  One a day, and write a review the same day.  I'm already a couple of days behind - I had meant to start on Thursday, the day school got out - but here goes.

And I picked a great one to start with.  Yep.

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Saturday, December 12




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Sunday, December 06


Hell Bound and Heaven Sent

I wasn't feeling this season of Doctor Who as much as some of the recent ones (the Amy and Rory seasons, and the first Clara half-season), but they certainly went out with a bang.

Nothing Stephen Moffat likes better than messing with fans' expectations - except messing with fans' expectations of messing with fans' expectations.

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Friday, December 04


Two Weeks-ish With A Mac

After about 10 years in Windows and Linux-land, I've been setting up my new iMac over the last couple of weeks.  This takes a while, because I use a lot of different applications.

My impressions so far:
  • Performance: 9/10.  Almost everything is zippy.  Best result ever on my Python benchmark, twice as fast as running in a Linux VM on my four-year-old Windows box.

    That was one of my main reasons for getting a Mac - I can run the server-side applications I work on directly under OSX rather than having to run Linux virtual machines.  I have VMWare Fusion so that I can run virtual machines, but I don't have to.

  • Screen: 9/10.  Exceptionally sharp and vibrant, let down slightly by the reflective finish and lack of adjustment options (tilt only).

  • Sound: 6/10.  Adequate and inoffensive, but far from amazing.

  • Noise: 9/10.  Pretty much silent when you're not asking it to make noise.  My Windows box gets quite loud when it's busy.  (Though for about $100 I could add a closed-loop water cooler that would silence it.)

  • Mouse: 7/10.  The mouse is a bit oddly-shaped, but the "magic" part works very well - you can left-and-right-click even though it has no buttons, and you can scroll up, down, and sideways even though it has no scroll wheel.

    The only problem is with mouse acceleration in OSX.  Mouse acceleration sucks and there should be an option to just have a constant but high mouse resolution.

  • Keyboard: 2/10.  The so-called Magic Keyboard sucks.  It's a mediocre notebook keyboard with no feel or key travel, transplanted to the desktop where it has no reason to exist.  I dug my 15-year-old G3 iMac keyboard out of the closet and I'm using that instead.

  • Gaming: 7/10.  Runs Baldur's Gate EE, Torchlight and Cities: Skylines just fine.  Haven't had time to try anything else yet.

    One letdown is that it doesn't seem to be possible to run games natively at 5k; they default to the UI resolution, which is half that, so 2560x1440.  That's the right resolution to run at given the mid-range video card it has, but I would have liked to see Cities: Skylines at 5k.

  • UI: 5/10. Coming back to the Mac after a decade away, all the nice stuff is still there.  Also all the bad stuff.  A bit disappointing, really.

    The single menu bar needs to die.  It made sense on a 9" screen.  It's absurd on a 27" screen.  

    Launchpad is dumb - it's the Mac equivalent of Windows 8's Games window.  Snapping windows is dumb.  Finder is dumb.  Installing software works pretty well, mostly.  Uninstalling is a mess.

  • Developer tools: 9/10.  All my JetBrains tools run on Mac, and handle the 5k display better than they do the 4k screen on my Windows box.  (Plus AppCode for Swift and Objective-C, which is Mac only.)

    The Homebrew installer is great.  For my work I need MySQL, MongoDB, Elasticsearch, RabbitMQ, Neo4J, Redis, Python, PyPy, Ruby, Lua, Node.js, PHP, CouchDB, uWSGI, Nginx, LMDB, PhantomJS - oops.

    The PhantomJS package won't install on OSX 10.11, but that's the first problem I've run into.
So overall it works pretty well, and I'm happy with it.  Ran into some trouble with the Adobe installer (it basically refused to install anything), but they released an update and it started working.

The only worry now is how quickly I'm filling up the 1TB SSD.  I have 70GB of loops to download (bundled with Mainstage) and I've barely started installing my Steam and GOG libraries, even though only about one third of my games run on Mac.  I might add an external SSD at some point - the Samsung T1 looks like a nice option.

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