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.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Review of 'Long Shot'


A really silly comedy that turned out to be quite enjoyable. Seth Rogan (and that's generally a bad sign) is an investigative journalist whose independent newspaper is taken over by a nasty media tycoon so he quits, and then gets given a job by the US Secretary of State who's just about to run for president and needs a speechwriter - and he'd fancied her years ago when she was the cool older girl next door. And she gives him the job, and then they start a romantic relationship, all of which is completely implausible but sort of works within the film. Some good drug jokes, some dodgy politics, but all better fun than it ought to have been.

Watched on BBC iPlayer via smartphone and chromecast. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review of 'The Ministry for the Future'

Kim Stanley Robinson is not a great writer, and this book is not great literature. Nevertheless, I'm still thinking about several days after I finished it, and I'm recommending it widely - because it's a positive utopian work about climate change and how 'we' - loosely defined - save our planet and our civilisation. It's a plausible vision, with little reliance on technologies not yet invented or - except for the eponymous Ministry, which is created by the COP to represent future generations - actors that don't exist. The political and technological narratives are possible, even if from the perspective of now they don't seem very likely. Along the way 'we' also solve the problems of inequality and ecocide/biodiversity loss.

Among the things I liked were the positive vision of India as an agent of change, the relaxed attitude to geoengineering, the nuanced view of China and its Communist Party, and the rich depiction of Switzerland, where KSR lived in his younger days when his wife worked there as an academic. An extra bonus is that quite a few of the initiatives and organisations that he describes are actually real - like the 2000 Watt Society, which I hadn't previously heard of. 

So I'll be reading more of Kim Stanley Robinson, even though his prose is not the best and his characters are sometimes a bit wooden. His politics and his reportage more than make up.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Review of 'Promised Land'

 A film about fracking, and the way that gas companies turn up in small towns and bribe/beat them into selling the mineral rights. There were bits I didn't understand - why were the company people trying to persuade the town (via a town hall meeting) to give them permission to drill, but also buying up leases and rights from individual farmers? Surely they didn't need to do both?

But a good film with insights into corporate morality, and into the morality of the people involved in corporations, who are sometimes able to convince themselves that "it's just a job", and sometimes - as in the case of Matt Damon's conflicted character - actually think they are doing something good. That makes them more useful to the corporation because they're more convincing.

This is much better than the whiny reviews suggest, and worth watching, even if Frances McDormand is not at her best here.

Watched via informal distribution, Chromecast and VLC renderer.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Review of 'The Rider'

A beautiful, haunting film without much of a plot or development. It's about a young man who has been a rising star in the local rodeo scene, but has had a head injury and is now recovering. He's kind to his learning-difficulties sister, has a complex and unhappy relationship with his tough-guy insolvent dad, and spends a lot of time with another young man who is in an institution following another rodeo accident - he'd also been a rising star, and he's now very badly damaged. The main character is not well, and he's warned to not ride any more, but he knows nothing except horses and rodeo.

It's Chloe Zhan, and the young man is a non-actor playing a character with a story like his own, with supporting roles mainly played by non-actors too. Painful and beautiful at the same time. I loved the depiction of his relationships with the friend, the sister, and especially the dad.

Watched via VLC renderer and informal distribution.

Review of 'Headhunter'

Danish thriller about a high-profile headhunter brought in to find a replacement CEO for a family business who finds himself caught up in internal company struggles - sounds sort of dull, but it's not. It's really tense, and well-acted, with several plot twists that I didn't see coming. There's a bit of a gaslighting dimension too, as the audience is really confused about what's happening, as is the main character. And I rather liked the depictions of corporate morality (fitted well with my experience) and the way it makes Denmark looks so moody and interesting.