Month: <span>March 2016</span>

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!


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Weekend Reading

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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.

Personal Musings

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  • Weekend Reading

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    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.

    Life Personal Musings Writing

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

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      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.
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    Weekend Reading

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    It’s been a while (a year!) since I wrote about podcasts but with my recent change of job, and a 30-odd minute commute by bus, I’ve been hunting about for some more podcasts to fill my time, and on the way I’ve ditched a couple I used to listen to, so I thought it worthwhile popping a list of my current subscriptions here in case anyone else has the same, admittedly specific and narrow, set of interests as me.

    In saying that, most of my choices of whether to subscribe to a podcast or not is largely based around time. Anything over 40 odd minutes doesn’t make the cut – every rule has exceptions of course – and my subscriptions are varied as I’ll happily listen to someone talking about pretty much anything as long as they are engaging and passionate about their topic. I’ve dropped a couple of podcasts recently purely because of the voices, shallow I know but I really don’t want to spend 30 minutes cringing at every gasping adenoidal breath of a host who offers neither passion nor much humanity as they speak.

    However looking at the list of my subscriptions (below), it does have a fairly narrow focus that covers design, tech, Apple fanboy stuff, comedy, food, science and desert island discs, so if anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment, doesn’t really matter what the topic is, as long as it’s around the 30-40 min mark (or less!).

    So, in no particular order, here is my current list of podcast subcriptions:

    • TEDTalks (audio) (subscribe) (website) – the audio only versions of the TED talks, doesn’t always make sense without the visuals, YMMV.
    • Answer Me This! (subscribe) (website) – random questions answered with humour, knowledge and pathos (ok, not pathos, swearing. Whatever).
    • Song Exploder (subscribe) (website) – Take one song and break it out, artists discuss inspirations, production ideas and how a song becomes a song. Fascinating.
    • a16z (subscribe) (website) – Discusses trends, news and the future of a world being shaped by technology.
    • Serial (subscribe) (website) – The rule breaker – usually at least one hour long but an indepth look via investigative journalism, at one true story. Fascinating.
    • Clockwise (subscribe) (website) – Four people, four topics, tech/geek/apple fanboy tastic chat.
    • In Our Time (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4 – Melvyn Bragg and guests the history of ideas, usually in great detail. Challenging at times, always interesting.
    • Canvas (subscribe) (website) – two fulltime iPad users talk iOS and mobile productivity. Every episode (so far) has been full of useful hints, tips and apps.
    • Refresh (subscribe) – a show about things we plug in, program and play with – from the people who brought you Cards Against Humanity
    • Radiolab (subscribe) (website) – a show about curiosity, where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.
    • 99% Invisible (subscribe) (website) – MY CURRENT FAVOURITE – Design is everywhere – a weekly exploratoin of the process and power of design and architecture. ALWAYS fascinating and way more entertaining than it sounds.
    • No Such Thing As A Fish (subscribe) (website) – MY SECOND FAVOURITE – The QI Elves discuss four random topics. Irreverent, educational, funny, rude, enlightening. A simple format that really works.
    • Gastropod (subscribe) (website) – Food with a side of science & history.
    • The Allusionist (subscribe) (website) – Linguistic adventures, a look at words, how they came to be and how they shape how we act and think.
    • Thinking Allowed (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4, discussions on how society works.
    • Desert Island Discs (subscribe) (website) – From BBC R4, truncated show (they can’t play all of the tracks) so you get the chat without having to listen to all of the music choices.
    • Ctrl-Walt-Delete (subscribe) (website) – Walt Mossberg (hence the name) and the Verge editor-in-chief discuss the last tech news and ideas.
    • The Broad Experience (subscribe) (website) – Discussing issues facing women in the workplace today.

    Hopefully someone might find something new in the above list!

    Ohh and I’m still using Overcast, largely because it works and does some clever little things that help – my favourite feature is probably the button that lets me skip 30s forward as I’m really fed up hearing about Squarespace and Mailchimp – and it also has a good directory which has helped me find some of the above podcasts.

    Got a suggestion? Drop it in the comments!

    Podcasts Tech

    Psssst, want to get these posts by email? Subscribe over there on the right.

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      This shouldn’t be a surprise, and I don’t think Facebook is evil, just that the machinations behind the scenes are rarely considered by the majority of the people who use it everyday.
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      A bit of local history, learn something new every day.
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      Dear everyone, look at these, our planet is stunning, amazing and we really should be fighting harder to keep it that way.
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      I’ve tried these other playlists, much more hit and miss but then, that’s the point!
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      Spot on analogy, but fails to answer the key question, who is batman?
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      Yes. Well, maybe. Mostly. OK, it might, a bit. Depends. Sorry.
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    Weekend Reading

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