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Sunday, December 08, 2002

Badly Drawn Man

I bit the bullet and went to see the latest bond flick, Die Another Day. It's good, unpretentious fun which occasionally threatens to come alive. It wisely ups the ante on the previous effort, which, apart from the excellent opening speedboat chase, felt decidedly lacklustre.

Director Lee Tamahori goes for the more-is-more philosophy and floods the story with hectic, thunderous action. It isn't subtle, but who cares? It's got just enough style and wit to nudge it in front of the usual Hollywood action fare. We've all heard plenty about Halle Berry's Ursula Andress-alike entrance, and she's on fine form, but it's newcomer Rosamund Pike as undercover agent Miranda Frost who stole it for me. The sparky banter between the amorous Bond (who's understandably frisky after being locked in a Korean prison for a year) and the guarded Frost is one of the film's highlights.

However, some of the computer-generated effects were simply embarassing, in particular the sequence where an obviously fake Bond dodges a massive laser beam on the edge of an iceface. This year I've seen similar CGI stunt figures in Blade 2, Attack of the Clones and Spiderman - and they were all feeble. I hope the movie industry puts this experiment back in the box now - surely audience reactions in test screenings will point them towards doing so. The visual effects maestros need to get it through their heads that if we want to watch graphics of central characters performing death-defying leaps and so on we'll buy a damned Playstation.


Just Add Evil Pantomime Laugh

CNN delivers a Christmas greeting from al-Qaeda, where they spread their message of peace:

Earlier this week, an al Qaeda statement posted to the Internet threatened a strike to coincide with the end of the Muslim holy season - which is December 5 and 6. The statement said, "You have not learned your lesson."

"Oh American people, you are the victim of your leaders, but you are also a partner in the war on us. The gift for the holiday is on its way," the statement continued.

In the al Qaeda statement, the group warned Americans to leave Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Africa and Asia: "Otherwise, you will reap death because of your stupidity in ignoring our warnings to you."

But Andrew Northrup isn't quaking in his boots:

Oh al-Qaeda, the greatest gift you could offer us would be to get someone else to write your monologues. We are going to "learn our lesson"? Our "gift for the holidays is on it's way [mwah-hah-hah-ha]"? One minute we're getting lectured on how labelling terrorist "evil" is simplistic, and the next minute Qaeda sends out threatening web posts which appear to have been ghost-written by Skeletor. This threat will, no doubt, be backed up by blowing up some more Africans. Can we have some better enemies, please?

Via Moira Breen.


Thursday, December 05, 2002

Inconceivable, I tell you! Inconceivable!

Mark Steyn says he received a little pearl of wisdom from a Frenchman:

"A man like George W Bush is simply not possible in our politics," I was told by an elegant, cultured Parisian this spring. "For a creature of such crude, simplistic and extreme views to be one of the two principal candidates in a presidential election would be inconceivable here. Inconceivable!" Two weeks later, Jean Marie Le Pen made it into the final round of the French election.

Inconceivable, eh? Whenever I hear that word I think of this guy. I wonder if he warned Steyn to never get involved in a land war in Asia?


When Chickens Attack

Here's a case of life imitating a Gary Larson cartoon. Tim Blair has the story of a Florida town under seige by roaming gangs of chickens. Wild fowl are everywhere:

More than a year after Key West launched a roundup to relocate birds that roam the streets by day and roost in trees and shrubs at night, the city is still struggling to rein in its rooster population.

A city ordinance bars the public from killing the fowl, so more than a thousand have been rounded up.

Maybe there is an ordinance but something tells me it might not be too easy to enforce. I don't see many chickens dashing up the steps of the cop shop to squawk about yet another brutal murder. A prosecution is hardly likely either since the evidence of the crime is most likely simmering away in someone's casserole dish. You can't exactly dust for drumstick, can you?

I'm sure there will be plenty of animal rights activists on hand to protest the mysterious "disappearances" though.

If the residents of Key West are having real problems catching the little blighters maybe they could try a spot of music. According to a study made by scientists Jaak Panksepp and Gunther Bernatzky (via 2blowhards), music calms chicks down:

In the study, briefly isolated chicks - who quickly cry out in distress - were exposed to music. Their distress calls dropped and they showed other physical signs that the music had quelled their anxiety, apparently making them feel better.

They seemed most soothed by a range of pop music, and calmed less by Mozart's Kronungconzert, said Panksepp. But there's no saying for certain, because chicks can't explain how they feel, he cautioned.

Depends what kind of chicks you're talking about...


Monday, December 02, 2002

Forged in the Fires of Mount Dumb

One of the things that distinguishes healthy-minded people from lunatics and Guardian columnists is the ability to tell fantasy from reality, something that seems to be a bit lost on the ever-so-earnest John Yatt.

His lame excuse for thoughtful literary criticism finds The Lord Of The Rings "unacceptable" because:

The Lord of the Rings is racist. It is soaked in the logic that race determines behaviour. Orcs are bred to be bad, they have no choice. The evil wizard Saruman even tells us that they are screwed-up elves. Elves made bad by a kind of devilish genetic modification programme. They deserve no mercy.

To cap it all, the races that Tolkien has put on the side of evil are then given a rag-bag of non-white characteristics that could have been copied straight from a BNP leaflet. Dark, slant-eyed, swarthy, broad-faced - it's amazing he doesn't go the whole hog and give them a natural sense of rhythm.

This sort of maddening superficiality will find racism, sexism or homophobia in almost anything - the colour of your bin liner, for example. "Black?!!!". J.R.R. Tolkien's work created a mythology based on Western European sensibilities, but it was set in a fantasy world. Context has to count for something. Is Yatt incapable of grasping that a literary world stuffed with hobbits, trolls, orcs and immortal Dark Lords might exist on its own terms without the need for symbolism? Can't a story possess its own meaning without us trying to snip off bits of it to glue onto our papier-mache political playthings?

Tolkien himself agreed with Mrs. Malaprop that allegories should remain on the banks of the Nile, yet critics both amateur and professional continue to dredge up masses of metaphors from his work. One of the things that has made The Lord of the Rings so enduring is its openness to interpretation: environmentalists, conservatives, libertarians and liberals all find their own meanings in it. But if we absolutely have to pin down "what it means" to us can we at least try to do it in a sensible way? Yatt ends up applying the boneheaded determinism he accuses Tolkien of: in his argument dark skinned people are defined by their ethnicity, not their actions. Are the hobbits also stereotypes - of vertically-challenged bumptious yokels?

Steven Chapman has fun with this too, plus a few snippets of what might happen if David Blunkett were Home Secretary of Middle Earth.

I'm not one to breathlessly promote upcoming blockbusters, and it's been a long time since I got really excited about a new movie.

But I'll tell you - for the first time in ages, I am counting the days.


Oh good grief. Did anyone tell Helen Kolawole that it's just a fucking television programme?


We fade to grey

New job this week, so blogging will be a bit lighter than usual.

If you're intrigued by optical illusions have a look at this. Yes, it's true. Via The Volokhs.


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