bookmark_borderSlow West vs DC

I watch a lot of movies, if I have a couple of hours free I’ll usually watch a movie than regular TV; although I’ll admit that Netflix has changed my habits there quite a bit, but then many of the shows that they are releasing – House of Cards, Daredevil, Jessica Jones – en masse are essentially just a longer movie chopped up into episodes.

This weekend I went to the cinema to see Batman vs Superman, a big blockbuster special effects superhero thing. I also watched Slow West (on Netflix), an independently budgetted movie which won some awards at the Canne Film Festival (I think).

The difference, outside of budgets, special effects, storyline, setting et al, was striking. Strip both movies back to their essence, and they are both simple stories with only a handful of key characters.

In Slow West we follow the journey of a young man from Scotland as he travels into the American mid-west in the late 1800s to find his true love, who fled there after a tragic event.

In Batman vs Superman we follow the journey of an old man as he travels to meet his ultimate enemy in Superman who has himself been through a tragic event. We also follow the journey of a young man as he starts out on his own journey to discover what it means to be Superman.

The scale may differ – in Slow West one man dies, in the Superman event thousands die – but the premise is the same.

Alas at this point things start to differ and that’s largely down to how each film was directed.

In Slow West, thanks to some excellent pacing, acting and direction, we become finely tuned to the hopes and dreams of the few main characters; we learn about their pasts as the story progresses, we go through trials and tribulations with them, share their pain, their desires and, when the end comes, we are as complicit in it as they are.

In Batman vs Superman we struggle to tune in to the few main characters as we jump from set piece to set piece, each marking a trial and tribulation but from which we get no output or payback, so we don’t buy in. We get close to understanding the ageing Batman, but not close enough. Similarly we can see that Superman is struggling with his own world view but, again, we aren’t really allowed more than a reference to hang our empathy on.

It does feel a little like it was directed by checklist, rather than by emotion – “Show that Superman is conflicted, check. Show that Batman is determined, check” and on and on. Ultimately, I don’t really care about any of them.

Looking at other superhero movies (from Marvel) we are allowed enough time to learn without being directed, and we empathise enough to care about the characters. Marvel cleverly allowed the main characters their own movies so to bring us on the journey, so by the time Avengers Assemble rolled around we already care enough about the characters, we have a connection. They are doing the same again before each Avengers movie.

And maybe that’s where Batman vs Superman went wrong (ok, ONE OF the areas it went wrong). It was too soon. In the ‘Justice League’ universe, we’ve had one Superman movie – itself a turgid affair that was more about spending special effect budgets than creating any sense of wonder and compassion for the man in the red cape – and then we are straight into an ensemble piece featuring their two big heavyweight characters – Batman and Superman – and then everyone’s favourite Amazonian Goddess joins the fray (not to mention the three other characters we see hints of as well). She will get her own movie as well but maybe they should’ve done that one first?

Slow West was quiet at times, it used humour smartly to reduce tension, and allowed the characters to be vunerable and human. It was a subtle movie that walked you through the story and the set pieces, when they arrived, were well paced and never seemed forced. It’s a single movie, not part of a larger universe, but the same rules apply. Let us learn about the characters in isolation before you through them altogether.

To that end, and again I think Marvel have this figured out. You aren’t just filming a single movie, each movie in the universe you are recreating has to be sympathetic both of and to the others, and the character arc is just as important over three or four movies as it is within one. Why show us Wonder Woman now when we don’t know how she fits or what her motivation is? (aside from ‘she likes to fight and ‘do the right thing’).

There is one moment in Batman vs Superman (featured in the trailers as well) that hinted at the potential this series could have. A reconciled Batman and Superman stand behind a recently arrived Wonder Woman as they prepare to launch into battle. Superman turns to Batman and asks ‘is she with you?’ to which a perplexed Batman replies ‘No, I thought she was with you’.

It’s a tiny moment and the kind of thing the Marvel universe has nailed. Amid all the melee, throw in a couple of lines to let the audience pause… alas the Justice League universe looks like it will continue to focus on special effects, large set pieces and little in the way of levity.

I read the Batman vs Superman series many years ago and it was a favourite at the time. The dark world of an aged Batman confronting an ageless Superman, the comic book included many throwaway lines. The movie has ignored these, much to its loss.

So, if you get a chance stay in, fire up Netflix and watch Slow West, a wonderfully dark, odd, and beautiful movie, then come back and tell me what you thought of that ending!

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

bookmark_borderI have a switch

The switch doesn’t make a sound.

From on to off and back again. Proximity is all that’s needed to tumble the switch and I am who you see.

Then when the world retreats again I switch back.

It’s more noticeable, to me at least, when I’m tired. The music choices change, different tracks are skipped.

If I’m tired I head to melancholy, long assumed to be my resting state, my natural place. I like it there, it’s familiar and comfortable. A soft blanket on a cold day. The soporific warmth of the summer sun carrying me away. I don’t see it as a bad place these days, I’ve made my peace with the quiet noise in my head.

When well rested I become more of the person most people think they know, I wear the mask of me far easier. The persona doesn’t tire me as much, resistance drops and the music kicks up in tempo and volume. I have all the spoons I need.

Hmmmm, I wonder if I could measure my mood by BPM? Higher, faster, SCREAM FOR MORE!

By the same logic I know I can sometimes hack my mood. A building tempo, thumping bass, and I can feel my outgoing, laughing and joking recklessness pulse into my veins with every beat, pulling my heart along in time to a happier place.

I like it here too, thoughts are lighter. Things are better, easier, not as easily weighed down by the what ifs.

Such moods are quick, a light breeze changes my course and with it a new mood is revealed. Floating on a current of happiness, with love in my sails, I never veer too far from this route these days, but there are always storms ahead, whirlpools and crashing waves that try and tip me over.

I turn the music up and the sea calms once more.

Every night I sleep on clear waters, the gentle sway soothes me.

Every morning I wake and wonder which me I’ll be today.

Not that you’d know.

The proximity sensors kick in, the switch flips. It doesn’t make a sound. You never know.

I am always the me you know.

bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

  • My Year in San Francisco’s $2 Million Secret Society Startup
    I blinked. I didn’t know Justin very well. I did know that he was a very affable bearded man, and we both lived in the Bay Area. At the time, he ran a small creative agency, while I worked as a writer and digital media consultant. “I’ve been thinking about giving you something,” he said.
  • The history of ugliness shows that there is no such thing
    In the 19th century, a hirsute aboriginal woman from Mexico named Julia Pastrana was billed on the freak-show circuit as ‘The Ugliest Woman in the World’.
  • The Bidding War
    America’s war in Afghanistan, which is now in its fifteenth year, presents a mystery: how could so much money, power, and good will have achieved so little? Congress has appropriated almost eight hundred billion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan; a hundred and thirteen billion has gon
  • I’m bisexual and I refuse to leave the LGBT community
    The day the Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage I sobbed into my boyfriend’s shoulder in bed for half an hour. My shoulders heaved and my dog looked worried as he frantically tried to lick my tears away.
  • American Psycho Author Bret Easton Ellis Tells Us Where Patrick Bateman Would Be Today
    After 25 years I’m occasionally and increasingly asked by readers of a book I published in 1991 called American Psycho (later made into a movie in 2000) about where its narrator, Patrick Bateman, would be now.
  • How a Ragtag Gang of Retirees Pulled Off the Biggest Jewel Heist in British History
    ‘It required a team with diverse skills….
  • It’s time for robots to have their own pronouns
    It’s hard to talk about robots. They’re not human, but they’re starting to look and act more like us. They are objects, much like cars, or trees or laptops, but we give them names. They’re often gendered human names—tech company x.
  • bookmark_borderWalking Home

    The bell finally rings and as one we rise, chairs scrabble across worn tiles as the dull intonation from the teacher behind her desk – take your time and remember to do your homework – bounces and echoes round the room with no ear willing to catch it. We all want out. The first of us stream down the corridor and quickly overwhelm the metal door, with all its dull edges and cross hatched safety glass, that marks the boundary of our freedom. We spill forth; the thundering of feet on the ground where we play, a tumult of immature noises rising and merging as the classrooms empty.

    At the main entrance to the playground the parents await. Some are peering keenly, trying to desperately spot their child amongst the bustle, to pick their beloved face from the mass the rushes towards them so they can wave and call. Other parents stand back and chat with a practiced weary distraction, these are the parents of the older children, the Primary 5s and up, they’ve been waiting there for years, know the ritual well and are fed up of being told just HOW EMBARASSING it is that they even exist at this point in time, this crossover from school attendee to escaped convict.

    BY the time I’m old enough, as I live close to the school, I’m trusted to make my own way home. My independence comes with the realisation of control. I can choose my route home, who I walk with, the pace I walk at, when I stop, when I start.

    There are three exits from the playground we are allowed to use (the front of the school is out of bounds), one to the left, two to the right. The main exit is on the right, but I can leave by either if I choose. Beyond the school walls further choices can be made; stick to Bonhill Road or Townend Road (right and left exits respectively). After that decision more choices are revealed; veer off Bonhill Road and through the old folks home, head for Round Riding Road (which opens an additional two routes and so on). But most days I stick to one route. The lane.

    The school is an old red sandstone building, the playground surrounded by a 1000 foot high wall made of thick stones that will stand there until time ends. At the main exit, there is a sloping gap in the wall, wide enough for a car, through which most of the children pour. But further along the wall there is a smaller space, big enough for a door though it has never had one that I’ve seen. That is where I head, away from the many to the path of the few.

    Some days I run, desperate to be first, to be away, to be alone on my walk, to avoid the pushes and trips, the jostles and shouts, as long as I am first to edge of the playground I know the majority will turn right and walk down the street to another place as few of us turn left as I do. To be first doesn’t guarantee sanctuary, but does bring a thin veil of protection.

    If I’m not first, I try to be last. I deliberately fumble at the zipper of my jacket, I slowly pull my satchel over my arms and onto my back, I saunter the corridor and as I finally leave my hand touches the warmed metal handle of the door, the recent ghosts of classmates still lingering there. Ahead of me, shouts ring out, an inflatable football slaps against stone, a goal scored in a never ending game. Once through the door I pause at the top of the steps and watch the herd as it retreats, slowly splitting in two, left and right. Walking slowly through the playground I follow the rest that are heading my way, wondering if I can sneak past them all, knowing I can’t so lingering as long as I can, aware that the janitor will soon sweep me up and chase me out.

    The lane was there from an early age, as soon as I was trusted to make my own way home safely I knew it would be mine. In latter years the bullying dictated I follow the same strategy but with military precision, to be first or last was key and that decision soon came to be habit. To this day I am first, early for things, pushing ahead and not looking back.

    The few that walk that lane know each other, our houses and homes on a similar route, and we know the lane that leads away from the school and eventually back to the main road. We know where the puddles form when it rains, where the nettle patches will reach out to scrape bare legs in the summer. The lane traces the backs of gardens and passes by a large patch of (still to this day) vacant ground. Long grasses, wild bushes and trees claimed it long ago and in the warm months, if you walk very carefully, or stay a while and listen, crickets will start to play their symphonies whilst birds swoop low and gorge on the rising wall of insects.

    Beyond the cacophony of those insects, aside from the swooping birds and occasional bats, I sometimes saw a lone cat. A large ginger beast that would fade in and out of the long grass. A tiger hunting prey. It would stop sometimes and look at you, a challenge? An acknowledgement? I did not know cats back then, but I knew the word aloof. The aloof tiger, deigning to pause and glance in my direction. It always continued on, undeterred, knowing the scruffy boy in the grey shorts and brown leather sandals posed no threat.

    Across the piece of wild abandon is another road that plunges away towards the town centre. That boundary is marked by an old iron fence, with a locked large gate to one side. Some of the bars are buckled just wide enough for a child to squeeze through. Between the lane and that gate, winding its way through the grass is a faint path. Often enough walked to be visible, seldom enough walked that brambles and other jaggies have been able to take up residence and stretch out their arms, silently waiting to snag your socks or rip their tendrils across your shins.

    Beyond the usual weeds, the vivid greens and yellows of the grasses, wild flowers tried their best to throw some colour against the dull canvas. They were joined by the detritus left behind by man, spikes of red from rusting cans of Coke, sparkles of silver from foil wrappers, the occasional discarded pornographic magazine in all its tawdry vitality. These were the colours of the place, they remain painted in my memory.

    On through the lane now, one foot then another, turn right at the t-junction towards Scott’s house, then left when you re-emerge on to the main road. Then plod onwards past the dancing school (held in someone’s front room), past Patricks house then Isobels then the entrance to the Old Folks Home – a place of smooth winding pathways and home to many cycle races in the summer – then on to the corner of the sweeping crescent I called home.

    First house on the right; chips in a fake newspaper cone on a summer evening and home to my best friend. Then the policemans house on the left; ignore the loud barking dog, you’ll realise later he’s as gentle as a puppy. Childless houses on the right that held all manner of guessed secrets and mysteries. Dr. Wales house on the left; War of the Worlds and always the promise of a sandwich. Then our neighbours house; Number 11, and the boisterous Captain, keep an eye out if he’s washing his car, he’ll try and soak you too! Then, finally, home. One foot on the low wall, leap the flower bed and a hop step and a jump to the front steps.

    Through the door, hang your jacket on the coatrack and head to the kitchen to recount how your day was.

    It was always ok.

    Of course it was. I was home.

    bookmark_borderWeekend Reading

    Reminder: you can get the Weekend Reading posts straight to your inbox by subscribing over there –>>

    • The rise of American authoritarianism
      The American media, over the past year, has been trying to work out something of a mystery: Why is the Republican electorate supporting a far-right, orange-toned populist with no real political experience, who espouses extreme and often bizarre views?
      I’m equally fascinated by American politics, as I am horrified by the potential impact of Trump winning the whole damn thing. Given UK follows US… Boris for PM? Dear God.
    • Sleep Munchies: Why It’s Harder To Resist Snacks When We’re Tired
      There’s lots of evidence that getting too little sleep is associated with overeating and an increased body weight. The question is, why? Part of the answer seems to be that skimping on sleep can disrupt our circadian rhythms. Lack of sleep can also alter hunger and satiety hormones.
      Given I’ve had crap sleeps all week, I can confirm that I have eaten ALL THE FOODS.
    • Confessions of a Phony Telephone Psychic
      Every morning for more than three years, I woke up with the fear that someone would call me out as a fraud. The same scenario ran through my mind: A woman stops me on the street, grabs my arm and starts calling me a crook, a fake, phony and heartless rogue.
      Con artists, fraudsters, and the psychology they play on are always interesting (think ‘Derren Brown’) but this is a view from the other side (no not THAT other side…).
    • I helped eight people end their lives. By the time you read this, I’ll have ended mine
      Between 1999 and 2001, I helped eight people die—including the poet Al Purdy. Now, as I prepare to take my own life, I’m ready to tell my story I met the Québécois filmmaker Claude Jutra in 1963, when he visited McMaster University for a showing of his first feature, À tout prendre.
      Powerful feature, sad, uplifting and challenging.
    • The gendered way we’ve learned to ask questions is terrible for both men and women
      On paper, there was nothing glaringly wrong with the guy: he was attractive, smart and claimed to like deep-dish pizza as much as I did. In real life though, he was a jerk–and conversationally catatonic. In the 45 minutes we’d spent together at dinner, he had asked me only a single question.
      Despite being a man, I’ve always struggled at casual conversation and use questions as a way to ease myself in to them. I’ll be rephrasing many of them after reading this.
    • Mojave Phone Booth
      Situated in the middle of the Mojave desert, over a dozen miles from the nearest pavement, a lone phone booth sat along a dirt road, just waiting to become an international sensation.
      From the wonderful quirky podcast 99% invisible, the wonderful quirky story of a phone booth in the middle of nowhere and the community it spawned.
    • How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable
      The presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show – and Donald Trump is making a mockery of it. The first thing you notice at Donald Trump’s rallies is the confidence.
      I know, another article about him, but education is key to making him stoppable. And he must be stopped.
    • Everything Is Crumbling
      Nearly 20 years ago, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Dianne Tice, a married couple at Case Western Reserve University, devised a foundational experiment on self-control.
      Willpower is infinite? I, and my waistline, beg to differ!
    • When George Martin met The Beatles: The story of Love Me Do
      In May 1962, The Beatles were in the middle of their residency in Hamburg when an excitably-written telegram arrived from London. Their manager informed them he had secured a recording contract with a subsidiary of EMI Records, and they should return home for their initial recording session.
      More sad news about a man who was as much a part of the Beatles as the Fab Four themselves. Nice story of their beginnings.
    • “Apparently I don’t get to decide this”: A second Wachowski sister comes out as transgender, after tabloid bullying
      Lilly Wachowski, one half of the sibling filmmaking duo behind The Matrix, has come out as a transgender woman. Her sister, Lana, did the same in 2012.
      The kind of thing I don’t personally care about – gender is not binary, love is not finite, sexuality is not static – but worth highlighting this. Live and let live people!
    • What Happens When the Surveillance State Becomes an Affordable Gadget?
      When Daniel Rigmaiden was a little boy, his grandfather, a veteran of World War II and Korea, used to drive him along the roads of Monterey, California, playing him tapes of Ronald Reagan speeches.
      It’s one thing finding ‘Stop Stealing My WiFi Douchebag’ when you scan for WiFi connections, but this opens up a whole other world of possibilities. Scary scary possibilities.
    • DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis on how AI will shape the future
      DeepMind’s stunning victories over Go legend Lee Se-dol have stoked excitement over artificial intelligence’s potential more than any event in recent memory. But the Google subsidiary’s AlphaGo program is far from its only project — it’s not even the main one.
      If you ever played The Sims (or the variants of) then read this. Ultimately, YOU have led us all to this day and the beginning of the end!!