Ex Machina…ex taedium?

It got a 92% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s right up my alley – gorgeous, heady, well-acted, interesting topic, sparse. Yet, I just didn’t like this film. It was meh – at times laughably meh, even.

My five word review: Pretty, but I read Frankenstein.

As always, there may be spoilers.

Here’s the thing, the more I think about the movie, the more I want to like it. It’s just…I don’t. It was boring. At bottom, I think this is a snoozer of a plot buttressed by gorgeous film making. Let me be clear, I like slow, cerebral films. I just didn’t like this one.

Where the movie is supposed to shine is in its commentary on humanity. Quoting a review from Amber Wilkinson: “The pleasure of Garland’s film lies more in the deeper questions of what makes us ‘human’… than in the plot, which suffers from predictability.” Yes, the film is very predictable. However, the ‘deeper questions’ are also predictable, and this is because we all had to read this film in high school: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Don’t get me wrong, Ex Machina is not a retelling of Frankenstein. The set up of Ex Machina is quite different to that of Shelley’s novel. The moral of the story, however, is kinda the same. I didn’t know much about this movie before I saw it. I had no expectations going in, and I saw it on a whim. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d known more about the film. I think that would have helped. The minimalism of the film puts the content front and center, but the content fell flat for me.

Above, I mentioned that this film is buttressed by gorgeous film making. I can’t say this enough. The cinematography was stunning. There is this nice blending of the organic with the inorganic throughout the film. The acting was superb. Hat’s off to Oscar Isaac. I hated his character. I mean it. I genuinely disliked him. However, he never felt pantomime. He never felt clichéd. He was real, genuine assholery.

On another day, under different circumstances, I think I could have enjoyed this film. I even suggest you go see it. It doesn’t need to be seen in a theater, but the visuals are worthy of the big screen. Unfortunately, if I’m being honest, I’m just not convinced you’re missing anything if you miss this film.

 

 

We Don’t Need Another Hero’s Pointless Girlfriend – A Mad Max Review

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this weekend. My five word review: This movie is fucking awesome!

There may be spoilers below. There may not be. I haven’t fully planned this post. However, there’s not much to spoil. ***Spoiler Alert*** Mad Max movie has car-based action sequences. See what I mean?

Here’s how I would describe this movie: Start with the long take that opens Touch of Evil and combine it with the chase scene in Bullitt. Next, sprinkle in countless explosions, guns, pole vaults, chained-together nipple rings, a baddie named Immortan Joe, and post-apocalyptic cars. There you have it – Mad Max: Fury Road. The movie leaves you exhausted and in need of a tetanus shot – which is the desired outcome of seeing an over-the-top action film.

There was some minor “controversy” among the Men’s Rights Movement because this film has a woman as a main character. I know. I nearly man-fainted when I heard the news, too. In all fairness to the guy who posted the initial anti-Furiosa rant, he hadn’t actually seen the movie when he was ranting, so his points were just made up out of misogynistic hatred. He can’t really be faulted for being inaccurate about the film.

Here’s the thing, this movie isn’t radically feminist. It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here. This film is upsetting MRAs because it actually has a reason to have a woman in the cast.

Hell, the roles played by women are mostly traditional. They are “breeders,” custodians of “the green place”, and the givers of compassion. In other words, they’re all mothers of one sort or another. However, when push comes to shove, one woman can beat a motherfucker (with the help of a bunch of other women and a mechanical arm). Consider this line from the MRA rant: “This is the Trojan Horse feminists and Hollywood leftists will use to (vainly) insist on the trope women are equal to men in all things, including physique, strength, and logic.” For all that is over-the-top in this film, this line is inaccurate. The women in the film do not equal the men in physique and strength. Not even close. They are equal in logic and driving skills. So, when we boil down the actual movie, the feminist “trope” is that women can be decent drivers. This puts the film on par with the radical feminism of NASCAR.

Anyway, this film is non-stop action. I mean it. It is relentless. Go see it, in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find. I’m not a big action film guy. I’m not a Mad Max fan boy (though I will admit to watching Beyond Thunderdome a bunch when I was young). I am just a guy who can enjoy a good film, even when it is an action film with icky girls in it.

[Edit] Here are two more reviews of the film that more explicitly call the film feminist. They do a better job of explaining what I mean by “It isn’t regressive, per se, but there’s no feminist manifesto here.”

1. From fearless.frivolous.feminist

2. From The Filmology I want to single out this quote from the Filmology’s review:

‘This film isn’t “feminist propaganda” as some people might accuse it to be. We as a film-viewing society have just forgotten that women can be leading action ladies and kick ass and be awesome, without any superfluous romantic subplots or gratuitous nudity moments. These women are portrayed as humans, saviours, sisters, mothers, friends and heroes, and they never have their femininity under threat because that isn’t an issue. The fact that they are women is just an uncompromisable fact that doesn’t deter their pursue of justice and freedom, and for that I salute George Miller because in the midst of all the pumped up, overly masculinised, masturbatory action films of the past many years, it is fantastic to see that this kind of story can still be get majorly released and be a success.’

Death and Rihanna

Two very different topics for this post. The first topic is, I think, cool and important. The second is an otherwise pointless rant I need to get out of my mind by committing it to this blog. No, seriously, it is an incredibly pointless rant.

1. There is a project (with Kickstarter), called the Urban Death Project, about using our bodies after we die. I think it is a neat idea, and I wanted to share.

2. There is a post at HuffPo exploring if Rihanna’s new song Bitch Better Have My Money (aka #BBHMM) is a song about Reparations. You can find the lyrics to the song here.

Although my taste in music is relatively broad, it is mostly stuck in the 80’s and 90’s. As such, I will readily admit that I may be under-informed on the possible meanings of various lines in the song. However, I am baffled as to how someone could consider this a song about reparations.

If you read the piece at HuffPo, the author offers not a single line or quote from Rihanna making such a connection. The only people quoted actually talking about reparations are Azealia Banks and Ta-Nehisi Coates, neither of whom have any connection to the song. The connection #BBHMM has to reparations appears to be as tenuous as having a similar tone to the one Azealia Banks had in her recent interview with Playboy Magazine in which she discusses reparations.

If I prime you with a suggestion of reparations, lines like “Bitch better have my money” and “Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot” could be seen as connected to reparations. However, if you just read the lyrics without prompt, it is hard to find such a commentary. Again, I am open to being corrected, but the song seems pretty straightforwardly about Rihanna asserting her position as a top female performer, demanding her money (respect and recognition) and warning other artists hoping to displace her in the pantheon of top female artists that they need to check themselves.

Such a reading of her song makes much more sense and seemingly better accommodates lines like “Ballin’ bigger than LaBron” and “Louis XIII and it’s all on me, n***a you just bought a shot/ Kamikaze if you think that you gon’ knock me off the top.” Or consider this line: “Every time I drive by, I’m the only thing you’re playin'”. Again, please correct me/inform me if I am missing something, but I do not see how these lines have anything to do with reparations.

Why has this article been bugging me so much today? Because the author sets the stage with these lines:

“I also think this song is a powerful and politically charged anthem calling for reparations owed by white America for the wrongs and the legacy of slavery. …I haven’t been able to listen to the track without considering the powerful implications it has for this particular moment in popular culture. We are living in a time where it is impossible to dismiss the legacies of colonialism, slavery and violence, which shape lives and worlds in the present.”

That’s some pretty highfalutin talk. I agree that the legacies of colonialism, slavery, and violence have shaped the world in ways that justify considering radical forms of reparation. I agree that popular culture can have an important role in larger social discussion of such topics. I just don’t see how #BBHMM fits this billing. To describe the song as “powerful” and “politically charged” does a disservice to songs that are actually, you know, “powerful” and “politically charged.” And let me be clear, I’m not trying to pass judgment on the quality of the song nor Rihanna’s ability as a singer. I’m just passing judgment on the author of the post for suggesting that this song is about reparations.

You know, as I’ve typed this, I’ve been thinking about the text the author received from her “close friend and hip hop scholar”: “Can we think of bbhmm as a reparations song?” Perhaps the author of the text has something completely different in mind. For example, if I got myself worked up while giving an impassioned defense of reparations, I could see how this song may be a bit cathartic, even if it didn’t quite capture my feelings. Perhaps this is what the author of the text meant by it being a “reparations song”. But, is this song “about” reparation? I just don’t see it. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

On ‘Gone Girl’ the Movie

First, this will have spoilers about Gone Girl.

Second, I have not read the book. I don’t know anything about the book. I honestly didn’t really know anything about the story except that it involved the disappearance of a woman. I knew this because I had seen a trailer for the movie. This is an unspoiled review of the film, only.

I am going to defer my five word review to the woman who was sitting in front me in the theater. Her five word review as the credits began to roll sums up my feelings about the film: “What? Nah. Fuck this shit.”

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On the Cutting Room Floor

I have 25 unfinished posts sitting in my Drafts. Some of these have been there since late 2012. It’s time I bite the bullet and delete them. For posterity’s sake, I’ve decided to give some of them a moment in the spotlight. Below are excerpts from 9 posts that will never see the full light of day. They appear, roughly, in reverse chronological order.

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On Breaking from Tradition

I started this blog in July of 2012. Over those two years, I’ve posted 90 times (this is 91). That isn’t a blistering pace, to be sure, but there’s very little I do at a blistering pace. The main reason I don’t have a higher number of posts is that I am inconsistent. I regularly disappear for weeks at a time. I even had an extended absence from February through June of 2013. Also, I tend to start blogging projects without finishing them. Though, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still working on the ‘Books Men Must Read’ project. I just get easily sidetracked by books not on that list.

However, there is one thing I have consistently maintained throughout the two years of this blog: I start every post title with “On.” As I near the brave new world of triple-digit post counts, I’m thinking about abandoning this tradition. My primary motivation is creative. I just want to broaden my options for what I can use as post titles. I often find the “On” is superfluous or makes the post title technically inaccurate. Likewise, I will occasionally come up with a witty title, but I don’t use it because it doesn’t start with “On.”

Alternatively, I’m multiple years and nearly 100 posts into this thing, and I’ve maintained this tradition throughout. That’s kinda cool. Fine, maybe it’s not cool, but I certainly fancy it as neat. For all my inconsistencies with the blog, this is what I’ve maintained, and I suspect I should value that more than a post title with a witty pun or clever portmanteau. It’s just, I really freakin’ like witty puns and clever portmanteaus.

At this moment, I have not decided if I will make the change. I am on the precipice, however. Should I step back, close the door before me, and fully embrace “On?” Or, Should I step forward, close the door behind me, and enter the new world of non-formulaic post titles?

Sometimes, life is complicated.

On Catching Up

Phew. It has been a few weeks. A month and a half’s worth, in fact. As is my custom, let me catch up on some of the goings on over that time:

The World Cup Happened

The vast majority of my posts over the months of May and June were related to the World Cup. Thankfully, it was an enjoyable World Cup.

It had excitement, drama, upsets, biting, the emotional crushing of a nation, and the subtle twinge of guilt any liberal feels while enjoying a spectacle built on the exploitation of others.

David Feit wrote a funny post prior to the start of World Cup that accurately hits a number of the insecurities of American soccer fans. Hopefully this World Cup was able to suck in even a non-fan as himself.

Here’s a nice review of some of the best memes from the World Cup.

Lastly, and thankfully, the goal that made Germany the champions was worthy of winning the tournament.

The Hobby Lobby Decision

I have nothing to add. Just, you know, ugh.

The Satanic Temple Has Religious Convictions, Too

The Satanic Temple is looking to use the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case to undermine state laws that put unnecessary barriers on women seeking their legal right to an abortion. You can find a nice overview of the story at the Friendly Atheist.

However, as Ed Brayton points out, this may not accomplish much.

The Moral Landscape Challenge Winner

A year ago, Sam Harris issued a challenge to defeat his argument put forward in his book, The Moral Landscape. For this challange, Russell Blackford was selected as the judge. The winner received a cash prize that increased if the winning essay convinced Harris that he was wrong.

The winner was chosen, and the prize went to Ryan Born. Congratulations to him. You can find his winning essay and Blackford’s comments on why he chose Born’s essay here.

Since announcing the winner, Harris has written a response to Born’s essay.  Born has, likewise, responded to Harris (Part 1 and Part 2).

There’s Finally a TV Channel for Atheists

American Atheists launched AtheistTV – “the first on-demand television station that presents exclusively atheist, humanist, and freethought programming.” At this point, the channel is not producing new, original content. Of course, that’s not surprising. It is a budding venture of an organization whose primary goals are related to activism, not entertainment.

Mary Elizabeth Williams was critical of the channel insofar as it’s not clear what the future of the channel will look like. This is fair criticism, but American Atheists is likely well aware of the channel’s shortcomings at launch.

My personal thoughts? I don’t really care. I will likely never watch the channel. If they produce a new show that gets buzz, I may change my mind. My biggest concern? There just isn’t a tangible subculture of tv-watching/streaming fans that will watch the channel. I’ve seen people offer Christian-focused channels as evidence that AtheistTV can succeed. However, I suspect a large part of these channels’ success is due to a sense that American culture, generally, is secular and ‘godless’ (i.e., not expressly Christian). In other words, they’re providing programming sought after by a sizable population. I’m just not sure there are a number of atheists asking for their own TV channel.

I’d be happy to be proven wrong, and I wish American Atheists success in their venture.

Patheos Poaches Another Godless WordPress Blogger for the Atheist Portal

Neil, writing at Godless in Dixie, has made the jump to Patheos. Congrats to him.

Carry on, my wayward son.

On a World Cup of Songs – The Did Not Qualify

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been posting my favorite songs from each of the countries that qualified for the 2014 World Cup.

With the tournament starting tomorrow, I’ll finish up that project by choosing my favorite songs among those countries that did not qualify. Qualification for the World Cup happens by continental regions: North/Central America and Caribbean, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. I will choose one song from a country that did not qualify from each continental region.

Enjoy.

Africa: South Africa

Mafikizolo – “Khona”

Asia: India

Avial – “Karukara”

Europe: Sweden

Opeth – “Harvest”

North America: Canada

Corneille – “Viens”

Oceania: New Zealand

The Naked and Famous – “Hearts Like Ours”

South America: Venezuela

Los Amigos Invisibles – “El disco anal”

Alright, that does it for music videos. Phew.

 

 

On a World Cup of Songs – Group H

Here is the final round of my survey of the best songs from each country participating the 2014 World Cup.

First, a review of the ground rules:

1. The song has to be released in or after the year of my birth (1981). Otherwise, Pedro Infante’s rendition of “Cielito Lindo” would win, hands down.

2. Regardless of relative quality, if I know of and like songs from a country, I have to chose one of them. This will hurt some countries. For countries where I know multiple songs/artists, I have allotted myself 10 minutes to make a decision on the best song.

3. If I don’t know songs from a country (marked with an asterisk*), I have allotted myself 10 minutes of internet research to find a song. This will also hurt some countries.

4. My rules for a band representing a country is roughly as intuitive as FIFA’s rules for players representing nations. (In other words, any remote affiliation may count.)

5. These choices are definitive of my personal taste in music, nothing more. Please share your favorites in the comments.

On with the show.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Belgium:

Gotye – “Somebody that I Used to Know”

Perhaps a cliché choice, but the song is fun.

Honorable Mention: Natacha Atlas’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You.”

Algeria:

Khaled – “Aicha”

A classic, gem of a song.

Honorable Mention: Cheb Mami – “Meli Meli”

Russia:

Leningrad – “Fish”

There may be many fish in the sea, but this song is definitely a catch.

South Korea:

Psy – “Champion”

I know; you thought I’d choose the other song. Not a chance. This was the first Psy song I heard, and it became one of my karaoke songs while I was in Korea. That being said, I was really happy to see “Gangnam Style” become a mega-hit around the world because I think Psy is a quality artist and performer.

Honorable Mention:  Psy – “We are the One” (Do you know your Korean movie references?); Witches – “There She Is” (my other karaoke song); Windy City – “Love Supreme”; Windy City – “Carnival”; MC Mong – “Mong’s Party”; Suck Stuff – “Just like a Punk Rocker” (a shout out to Skunk Hell).

That wraps it up. The best songs from all 32 nations participating in the 2014 World Cup. Share your thoughts and suggestions below.

The Rest of the Groups:

Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Group E
Group F
Group G

On a World Cup of Songs – Group G

Here is the next round of my survey of the best songs from each country participating the 2014 World Cup.

First, a review of the ground rules:

1. The song has to be released in or after the year of my birth (1981). Otherwise, Pedro Infante’s rendition of “Cielito Lindo” would win, hands down.

2. Regardless of relative quality, if I know of and like songs from a country, I have to chose one of them. This will hurt some countries. For countries where I know multiple songs/artists, I have allotted myself 10 minutes to make a decision on the best song.

3. If I don’t know songs from a country (marked with an asterisk*), I have allotted myself 10 minutes of internet research to find a song. This will also hurt some countries.

4. My rules for a band representing a country is roughly as intuitive as FIFA’s rules for players representing nations. (In other words, any remote affiliation may count.)

5. These choices are definitive of my personal taste in music, nothing more. Please share your favorites in the comments.

On with the show.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Germany:

KMFDM – “A Drug Against War”

Sure, KMFDM is not for everyone, but the line “KMFDM is a drug against war” just randomly pops into my head from time to time. It is probably weird to say, but I find this song catchy.

Honorable Mention: Did you know that Lou Bega was from Germany? I sure didn’t. Lou Bega – “Mambo No. 5”

Portugal*:

Os Golpes – “A Marcha dos Golpes”

I thought about going with Nelly Furtado, what with her being of Portuguese decent, but I opted to search for a home grown band and found this nice little tune.

Ghana:

FOKN Bois – “BRKN LNGWJZ”

If it were my choice, I would have given you the visa, Wanlov.

USA:

Black Star – “Definition”

“Consider me the entity within the industry without a history of spittin’ the epitome of stupidity.” Nuff said.

Honorable Mention: Michael Jackson – “Bad”. This was the first song I really liked off of the first cassette tape I ever owned. Also, I share a birthday with MJ.

That wraps up Group G. One more group to go.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Share them below.

The Rest of the Groups:

Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Group E
Group F
Group H