Saturday, 31 October 2015

Blog break for Nanowrimo

Once again, I'm planning to take a blog break for November to concentrate on Nanowrimo. Cute Cat Friday will continue as normal and I'll be back to posting in December.

See last year's post for a description of what this is all about. As it turns out, last year I was distracted and blogged more or less at normal pace, but I'm hoping to stay a little more focused this time.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Martian: Review

The Martian is one of the finest science fiction films I have ever seen. It has a brilliant, tightly constructed script, and is easily the best film Ridley Scott has made since Gladiator. It has likable and believable characters, using their wits, courage and hard work to confront the uncaring laws of nature.

Matt Damon's astronaut is stranded on the surface of Mars, more alone than any human has ever been. He has to survive with his meager supplies, contact Earth, and somehow find a way to get home. If the bitter cold and lack of oxygen don't kill him, he still has to fend off starvation on a planet where nothing grows.

I can't help but compare The Martian with Interstellar (which also had Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain in leading roles). Both are ambitious and visually spectacular science fiction films. On balance, I liked Interstellar very much, but at the same time it was deeply flawed. The Martian steps clear of the pitfalls into which its predecessor stumbled.

The Martian shows rather than tells. It has no pretentious speeches about the potency of love and the human spirit. When Interstellar wanted to say our ecology is fragile, it had a fungal blight destroying all life on Earth; The Martian instead shows how very hard it would be, to reconstruct even the simplest of terrestrial ecosystems. The Martian is a glorious celebration of science, but it also succeeds on a human level. We believe in the protagonist's courage, terror and loneliness, without mawkish conversations with a volleyball as seen in certain other films.

Since the end of the Cold War, most science fiction films have assumed the USA is the only country with any aptitude for space exploration. From Interstellar to Independence Day, NASA is the only outfit worth noticing. (In fact, as @quixoticevil points out on Twitter, budget cuts to NASA may result in other countries taking the lead in sending people to space.) Gravity and The Martian are honourable exceptions, with countries other than America playing an important role in the plot.

The Martian is an optimistic film which celebrates the can-do spirit of the USA, and there's nothing wrong with that. The lead characters and their mission are American; but in matter-of-fact ways, they are shown to be part of a larger world. We are one human species, and we all share in the triumphs of space exploration.

The Martian is a magnificent and intelligent movie, and tremendously entertaining.

Talking of Independence Day, I just learned there is a sequel coming out next year. It remains to be seen if the alien computers are still compatible with an Apple Macintosh.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-10-23: Belle

Our regal cat enjoying the autumn sunshine.

We adopted Belle two years ago this week. Here's to many more happy years together!

Bad Motivator: Star Wars Episode 3

(Following on from Part 1 and Part 2.)

This is the big one. Anakin Skywalker undergoes his final descent into evil and becomes Darth Vader, one of the most iconic villains in cinema history. His motivation had better be good.

Sadly, it isn't.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-10-16: Belle

You may pass, but never forget I'm in charge of these stairs.


The SNP has just released a party political broadcast which may be the ultimate example of its kind. It is entitled "A Tale of Two Cities" -- evidently London and Edinburgh, although the latter isn't mentioned by name. Here are some of the chilling and baffling highlights:

Friday, 9 October 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-10-09: FLB

Enjoying the sunshine, and maybe admiring his reflection in the polished car roof.

King Over The Water

Let's imagine for a moment that Jeremy Corbyn fails to sweep all before him.

(Some Corbynistas may take the very suggestion as an insult, but that's too bad.)

Suppose it's a few months before the 2020 election. Maybe Corbyn is still leader, or maybe he has been deposed. Either way, opinion polls predict heavy losses for Labour and a landslide Conservative victory. The writing is on the wall: Labour will lose badly, and there will be a vacancy for the position of leader.

No, not this king over the water.
At this point, I would expect the centrist elements of Labour to start pushing for former Foreign Secretary David Miliband to return to UK politics. He sat out the defeat of his brother Ed, and hypothetical calamities under Corbyn, doing good works as head of the International Rescue Committee in New York. He would have the unique combination of senior government experience, and almost complete disconnection from Labour's decade in opposition between 2010 and 2020.

David Miliband will be 55 years old, and could try to find a safe seat for the 2020 election -- although Scotland has demonstrated the concept of a "safe seat" is not what it used to be. On the other hand, to wrap up the family soap opera, brother Ed's seat in Doncaster might become vacant.

The main difficulty for the hypothetical Draft David movement is this: Miliband may not want to run for leader again, or take on the task of trying to salvage something from the post-Corbyn wreckage.

I'm raising this possibility not out of any particular liking for Miliband, but because the parliamentary Labour party is likely to be pretty desperate. There aren't many other plausible leaders.

Cooper, Burnham and Kendall have just had their chance and been soundly beaten by Corbyn. Chuka Umunna withdrew from the race this time for personal reasons, and may not wish to try again. There are some talented new MPs such as Keir Starmer and Dan Jarvis, but they might be considered too inexperienced. Who else is out there, really? Could Ed Balls end up being the standard-bearer for the centrist tendency of Labour?

This raises another line of speculation. Balls lost his seat in the general election. He could try and fight a by-election to return to Parliament as soon as possible, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was in no hurry to serve as an MP under Corbyn. He might find himself another job for the next five years and aim to return as an MP in 2020.

Maybe Corbyn will be a stunning success and render all of this moot. If not, you read it here first: We might have a Prime Minister Miliband after all, just a decade later than we first thought.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-10-02: Belle

Happy in yet another paper bag.

We picked Belle up last night from the cattery on our way back from a week's holiday, she's glad to be back in her familiar territory.

Bad Motivator: Star Wars Episode 2

One of the great problems with the Star Wars prequels is the lack of intelligible character motivation. The previous post looked at Episode 1; we now move on to Episode 2.

Episode 2 requires major surgery. A few lines of dialogue won't do it.

There are two parallel plot lines: Obi-Wan's investigation into the attempt on Padmé's life; and Anakin and Padmé hanging out together and supposedly falling in love. The first story is fairly enjoyable, but in the second, the problem of motivation is worse than ever.