Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Following The Science Is Scientifically Illiterate

'Science' has become the latest in a long line of words to have its fundamental meaning stripped away in aid of the dogmatic obsession with proving oneself 'right', or 'on the right side'. This latest act of liguistic repurposing was started by Extinction Rebellion, who have repeatedly claimed to be following the science while making demonstrably ludicrous statements such as suggesting that climate change will imminently cause billions of deaths, that deaths from weather-related disasters are on the increase, or that rising sea levels pose a threat to the existence of nations: all claims eviscerated by Andrew Neil last year in an interview with an Extinction Rebellion spokeswoman - who, to her credit, has since changed her mind and resigned.

The hypocrisy of making ludicrous, politically-motivated claims under the guise of science is, of course, nothing new for either political aisle. The left makes self-evidently ludicrous claims about imminent climate-caused human extinction, among others, just as readily as conspiracy theorists on the right try to pass off anti-vaccine myths (such as the MMR jab causing widespread autism in children) as 'scientifically' justified. What's telling is that the very idea of 'following the science' is itself profoundly unscientific.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Positive/Negative - Two Interpretations Of Freedom Which Divide The Political Left And Right

In 1958, philosopher Isaiah Berlin delivered to the University of Oxford a lecture entitled 'Two Concepts Of Liberty'. In this lecture, he laid out two competing interpretations of the concept of liberty. Negative liberty, most easily remembered as 'freedom from', is defined by the absence of obstacles to achieve your desires, short of those desires conflicting with the freedom of others. Positive liberty, most easily remembered as 'freedom to', is defined by the ability to act in such a way as to become the best version of yourself.

Though the distance between these definitions appears small, borderline intangible, in general terms, the nuances differentiating them is as clear an example as there has ever been of the difference in outlook between those on the right of politics and those on the left.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

The Technicolor Magic Of The Love Witch

I wish I had seen Anna Biller's The Love Witch before compiling my Top Ten Movies Of The Decade last December, because it certainly would have been in contention for a spot. It's a beautiful, idiosyncratic, complex movie which visually harkens to the past while framing its traditional images and tropes from an entirely new perspective. In those respects the movie mirrors the nature of its heroine, Elaine, a witch who travels to a new town to find, through magical manipulation, a loving husband following the death, or her probably murder, of her former lover.

Elaine's hyper-traditional fantasies of love, wherein a woman submits herself entirely to her husband's needs in exchange for his devotion and affection, clash with both her suitors' and her own emotional reality. The magic she uses to ensure male adoration works too well, making them obsessively needy and completely unable to process the strength of feeling she draws out of them. This she finds hopelessly pathetic and she abandons them, leaving them to die in their entranced state either of longing or by their own hand while she goes in search of another prey to make adore her and heal her fractured psyche.

Friday, 30 October 2020

I Want Your Love & I Want Your Revenge: No More Heroes Game Analysis

In honour of the first two No More Heroes games being ported to the Nintendo Switch this week, it seemed as good a time as any to reissue an analysis I wrote up many years ago of a game series inspired by such diverse sources as Alejandro Jodorowsky's abstract Western El Topo and the Brit Punk music movement of the '80s, filtered through the lens of geek and video game culture. No More Heroes is a satirical and often surreal gaming extravaganza which I urge everyone who hasn't already taken a trip to the superbly named town of Santa Destroy to pick up as soon as possible.

Until developer Goichi Suda makes a concrete statements on the matter (which he won't – Japanese modesty prevents it), no-one can say for certain what ideas were suplexing around in that brain of his during the creation of the No More Heroes series. Everything from here on in is speculation, but hopefully speculation informed enough to offer a new perspective on the games and enhance your enjoyment. I will deal with the themes running through both games, so be warned that SPOILERS abound.
   

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Do We Really Want To Go Back To Normal?

If 2020 can be summed up in a question, that question would probably be: 'When can we get back to normal?' The problem is that 'normal' as is often imagined hasn't existed in a long time, if ever. The internet likes to declare the present year the worst ever and the COVID-19 pandemic alone has provided plenty of ammunition for that argument. The problem is that the issues of today make it easy to forget the issues of yesterday.

As devastating as the pandemic has been, it either subsumed or replaced much of what was complained about in 2019. To name but a few: the creeping ascendancy of the far-right in politics and far-left in culture; governmental incompetence in the UK and US; China using an extradition bill to crush the autonomy of Hong Kong; mass shootings in New Zealand and the United States, and a massacre of protesters in Khartoum. Just as every US election is declared the most important in US history (hint: it never is), so too does the freshness of recent disasters and controversies make it easy to convince ourselves that the present year is the worst ever and to long for a state of normality which exists only in our minds and disguises a refusal to seriously engage with the issues of the present.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Episode 1 Review + Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 Review

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY - Season 3, Episode 1: 'That Hope Is You, Part I'

Having been a Trekkie for most of my life, the return to television of the Star Trek franchise with Discovery ought to have been cause for celebration. Instead, Discovery proved not just to be Trek in name only, but a lousy television show in its own right, its reputation only somewhat salvaged with the airing of the considerably worse Star Trek Picard. If Discovery was seemingly written by people who'd memorised Trek lore but didn't understand what gave the series its soul, Picard knew what Trek was about but seemed to actively despise it.

Star Trek: Discovery's third season premiere is a step up on that nadir, at least. Regrettably, it immediately falls into the same flaws which sank the preceding two seasons: leaden dialogue, storytelling burdened with filler and repetitive action, charmless characters and, once again, a fundamental misunderstanding of what Star Trek is about.

Monday, 5 October 2020

James Bond's COVID-19 Delay Suggests It Could Be Cinema's Time To Die

James Bond has pulled a Lionel Hutz. With cinemas struggling to get customers through their doors on account of the COVID-19 crisis, the theatrical exhibition industry's hopes of survival were resting on the promise of a new Bond film to get them through a potentially fatal winter. The name, No Time To Die, was almost symbolic: cinemas would survive and James Bond would get them through it. With the movie having already been delayed numerous times since its original release date was set for October 2019, the marketing campaign kicked off again with the release of a new trailer, soundtrack listing, partner promotions... only for another delay to be swiftly announced, this time to April 2021.

It seems that Bond's promise to cinemas was not 'No Time To Die', but 'No, Time To Die!'

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Game Review: Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Nintendo Switch)

GAME REVIEW

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

SUPER MARIO 3D ALL-STARS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo 
Platform: Nintendo Switch

The 'All-Stars' moniker carries prestige when it comes to the Mario brand courtesy of a beloved 1993 compilation of all the Mario platformers up to that point, improved with modern graphics, physics and controls. It was one of the earliest and most successful examples of the gaming remaster, which has in modern times become commonplace: take a highly rated game from a previous console generation, tart up the visuals and plonk it on a new system for either new gamers to enjoy or old fans to pony over their cash a second time for an improved version of a previously enjoyed experience.

Nintendo have not so much taken up this trend as been consumed by it: the Nintendo Switch's predecessor, the Wii U, was a dismal failure financially, shifting a meagre 13 million units during its four years on the market - as a point of comparison, the Switch has sold in the region of 61 million in a similar time frame. This disparity in sales has led Nintendo to port many over their Wii U games over to the Switch, having presumably realised that there are millions of gamers who never had the chance to play them. While financially prudent - ports are quick and easy - this is frustrating for those of us who own both a Wii U and a Switch, particularly as these ports are not exactly high effort. Unfortunately, that comes to a head with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a release which despite the historical importance of its three assembled games, represents Nintendo at their laziest.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Donald Trump Proves True The Old Vulcan Proverb

According to the venerable Ambassador Spock, there's an old Vulcan proverb about the least suitable people succeeding where more traditional candidates failed: 'Only Nixon could go to China'. In the movie, Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, Spock is referring to his decision that the man to escort the Klingon Chancellor to Earth to negotiate a peace treaty should be Jim Kirk, who has a profound hatred of the Klingons following the murder of his son. Spock knows that if the peace is to succeed, enmity must be overcome on both sides. Kirk is a legendary figure at Starfleet, having saved the Earth countless times over his long career. Spock is gambling that if Kirk can rise above his prejudice, it will be a powerful symbol for others to follow.

The Earth equivalent of the Vulcan proverb operates on a similar principle. President Richard Nixon's image among his supporters was so strong that nobody but he could have made a diplomatic visit to meet Chairman Mao in the People's Republic of China in 1972 without being damaged by it. Nixon's visit ended a twenty-five year communications shutdown between the two countries, leading to full diplomatic relations being opened seven years later. By any rational measure, the staunch anti-communist Nixon was a wildly unlikely candidate to achieve this breakthrough. Ironically, that such a man would even try is what gave his efforts credibility. Contrary to his detractors, Donald Trump's success in brokering an historic peace deal between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain shows him operating from a similar position.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Dame Diana Rigg Tribute: The Avengers Retrospective (Television, 1961-69)

Avengers Emma Peel Diana Rigg John Steed Patrick Macnee

[This article is being republished in honour of the late Dame Diana Rigg, Avengers star and a personal hero of mine, who died yesterday. If you'd like to read my tribute to her co-star Patrick Macnee, you can do so here.]

The name 'Avengers' tends to be associated with comic book superheroes these days, though for  British TV fans of a certain distinction, it instead recalls an iconic and much loved '60s show which beat the comics to the title on these shores by two years. The series was Sydney Newman's first major hit, with his second being the altogether more widely recognised Doctor Who. Starting out as a gritty spy thriller, the British Avengers came to define the swinging sixties through its playful embrace of abstract imagery, empowered women in risqué clothing, and intrinsically English sense of humour.

In its most popular incarnation, the series paired gentleman spy John Steed with a trendsetting, judo-throwing female partner. The most famous of these was Emma Peel, played by Mrs. Bond-to-be Diana Rigg. The series crossed over extensively with the Bond franchise, as Steed's previous partner, the high-kicking Cathy Gale, was played by Honor Blackman, aka Pussy Galore, while Steed himself (aka Patrick Macnee) had a supporting role in A View To A Kill. Bond and Who may have lasted longer, but few creations have been as influential to national culture as The Avengers was to sixties Britain.