Monday, June 21, 2021

Review of 'Almost Famous'

A film from 2000 about a 15-year-old boy (young man?) who blags his way into writing for Rolling Stone magazine (they don't know how old he is, and he fakes a deeper voice over the phone), and ends up on tour with the rock band Stillwater, developing substantive relationships with some members of the band and their hangers-on. One of these is a young woman called "Penny Lane" who is a member of a groupie cohort called the band-aids, and it's here that the film gets problematic. The hero calls out the band because he thinks they aren't kind enough to these girls, but there's no suggestion that he or anyone else thinks that there's anything abusive about sexual relationships between men in their twenties and girls in their mid-teens.

There's surprisingly little tension in the film - the hero is never really in trouble or in danger. The band's manager is supplanted by a cool dude appointed by the record company, but the old manager who has been with them since the beginning still stays on. And so on. Frances McDormand is nice as the boy's mother.

Watched on Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Review of 'The Moneyless Man' by Mark Boyle

I read 'The Way Home', Mark Boyle's book about living without technology, and found it just about interesting enough to want to read another book by him - because though that was mainly annoying, there were occasionally interesting insights or thoughts.

This one is the same. It's mainly annoying too. Sometimes it's smug - he rarely writes about his struggles and his failures, or even about the process whereby he learns to do stuff. I think that's because he's trying to be inspirational, and feels that writing about the process might be too disheartening - but it comes across as smug. Sometimes he writes dismissively about the people who criticize him, but often without much insight or understanding. 

He's annoyingly inconsistent about what the point of the exercise is. Is it OK that he bought stuff in advance so that he could live without money once his challenge had started? Sometimes he implies not, but he's definitely done that...the solar panel, for example. Is it OK to receive gifts that others have paid for? Same inconsistency. Is he living off the slack and waste of industrial civilisation (like scavenging food from dumpsters behind supermarkets) or is he turning his back on industrial civilisation, and only eating what he grows or forages? Sometimes it's one and sometimes it's the other.

So while there are important points to be made about personal relationships with money, and also about consumption and happiness, and the psychological aspects of self-reliance...I don't think he more than scratches the surface. I don't think that what he performs here is scalable - we couldn't all live like that, even if there are a few things that it might be worth paying attention to. If I were a single parent trying to feed and clothe kids in a way that would help my family keep its head above water I'd want to throw this book across the room, and then maybe rip it up and burn it. There would be very little in it that would help me at all.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Review of The Sound of Metal

A moving, effective film about deafness - a heavy metal drummer becomes profoundly deaf, and he has to reflect on how he's going to live his life now. He's given hope that cochlear implants will fix him, but they are very expensive and he is forced to sell the RV that is his home (I checked, in the UK they are available on the NHS, but this is America where being sick is traumatically expensive)...and also to deal with the rejection from the deaf community that he's found, who don't accept that deafness is a handicap or that it should be fixed.

Really good in the way that the film manages to represent his experience of deafness.

Watched on Amazon Prime - best film there for a long time.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Review of "The Way Home: Tales from Life Without Technology" by Mark Boyle

Mixed feelings about this. Sometimes I can't help being engaged by his honesty, and by the single-mindedness with which he really does renounce the damaging, corrosive ways of the world as it is...and sometimes I'm a bit appalled. Rejection of technology doesn't seem to make for a simpler life, just a different set of dilemmas, and there isn't all that much consistency in the way that he deals with them. 

And there's something just a tiny bit fascist in the way that he seems to celebrate traditional life - I don't buy that people in C19th rural life had happier, healthier lives at all. Yeah, there were some aspects of that life that might have been worth preserving, but maybe they couldn't even exist without the life as a whole, and that was miserable, painful, priest-ridden, abusive, poor...

Sometimes when he's talking about the practicalities it's fascinating - I love the detail. And sometimes I can't but admire either his agonising over choices, or the choices that he ends up making. But I'm not sure that he and I would end up on the same side of the barricades, were there ever to be barricades.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Review of 'Nae Pasaran'

This was an unexpectedly moving film - what made it special was seeing the Scottish engineering workers who had 'blacked' (well, we wouldn't call it that now, would we?) the Chilean fighter plane engines, later in life, when they still had no idea of the impact of their action - and then being shown how much they'd affected other people's lives. It was a beautiful paean to solidarity, and a memory of an earlier time when international solidarity was not just something that happened on demonstrations, and when Labour ministers were prepared to intervene on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers.

Watched on BBC iPlayer.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Review of "The Disconnect: a personal journey through the internet' by Roisin Kiberd

I started this book with zero expectation - I hadn't heard ot the writer, or anything about the book. I've really enjoyed it - though as is often the case, that doesn't seem like quite the right word. It's very much a personal journey, and Kiberd lays out all the different ways in which she is messed up...she calls it mental illness, and she's right really, but she's mainly (very) high functioning, so perhaps calling it that gives the wrong impression. 

It starts out as relatively conventional - if acutely observed - journalism about the world of tech companies, by which she mainly means companies involved in the latter incarnations of the web. IBM and Microsoft get mentions every so often, but you won't hear much about say Cisco or Nokia or the telcos who build and operate the infrastructure on which the whole edifice of the internet rests. Lots about Facebook and Twitter and Google, and their surveillance/data-mining business models; she mainly reiterates the same stuff as Shoshana Zuboff (who's in the bibliography), and she doesn't engage with the rather more sceptical perspective of Cory Doctorow. Thankfully she writes much much better than Zuboff.

Then she moves on to energy drinks - which I've never used or even thought much about - and it's like a curtain has been drawn back and there's a bit of the world that I'd not known was there. And gradually she takes in the key aspects of human life - food, shelter, sleep, sex...and discusses how the internet has "disrupted" them. And she does it very well, shifting between personal experience and references to research. Some of it is very heartfelt, and some of that is hard to read; she really does lay her life bare.

I am not entirely convinced that it's the internet that has messed her up (which I think is what she might want us to conclude), but it's certainly determined the form her messed-up-ness has taken, and there's such a lot to learn from this strange and wonderful, and sad and painful, book.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review of 'Sword of Trust'

A strange, understated film about...well, what, exactly? A pawnshop in a town in the Southern USA, to which two women - lovers, though that's not immediately apparent at first - bring a sword that one of them has just inherited from her recently-deceased grandfather. The sword has an apparent provenance (with supporting documentation) as the one which US General McClelland surrendered at an unknown battle in the Civil War, and is therefore "proof" that the South won the war.

This is obviously nuts, but the pawnshop owner soons sees that there are lots of people who believe in this, and in a conspiracy to hide the truth about the Civil War; it helps that his shop assistant is a conspiracytheorist and flat earther, so he can easily key into this stuff. Soon believers are turning up and offering serious  money for the sword, which is referred to as a 'prover' item. 

This looks like it's going to be a film about a con - the storyline is a bit like the violin scam, which I think forms the basis of a short story that I can't find at the moment. But it isn't exactly - we've seen the two women receiving the sword, and if it's a con they're not in on it. There are some good scenes, and lots of odd ones that seem to full of menace but nothing happens. 

Worth watching, but in a very odd way.

Watched on All4 via smartphone and Chromecast.