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Jurassic World: A Review

by on Jun.11, 2015, under Rants, The Rest

Jurassic World is a truly horrible film. Not simply because it’s badly written, drearily directed, and horribly acted, although it is all those things. But because it’s a joyless void.

Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a splendidly fun movie, for all manner of reasons, but key is that it understands one huge thing: dinosaurs are amazing. Jurassic World begins with the premise that no they’re not, that they’re boring, and that we’re all over them. And sinks deeper into its awe-free mire from there.

The park is open, successful, and packed with tens of thousands of visitors. But, we’re told in the opening breath of the movie, people are over dinosaurs now. They’ve seen them, they’re used to them, they need to create something bigger, scarier, more powerful. In some ways it’s a defiant opening statement for the film to make: we’re going to be so much more than that 22 year old movie (no, it’s really 22 years). It’s a statement that its audience is au fait with dinosaur movies, even bored of them. So you just wait folks, we’ll make something even better.

But huh? When did we stop loving dinosaurs? When did we get cynical about seeing them at the movies? That’s not something anyone’s ever expressed. In fact, the reason people were delighted to hear the franchise was back is because it’s been so long since a film revelled in their majesty. Fourteen years since the entirely forgettable Jurassic Park III came out. Eighteen since Spielberg was at the helm. Sure, we see dragons and magical monsters in every other film, but that extraordinary, breath-taking wonder that was felt the first time you saw the family at the foot of a brontosaurus? The rush of watching the gallimimuses “flocking this way”? The utter terror of the velociraptors in the kitchens? Imagine that, but with 2015′s technology! Imagine the wonder!

Jurassic World is a film with the wonder surgically removed. Every character but for the generic impish child is utterly uninterested. It shows little children bored as they ride around on baby triceratops in petting zoos, parents staring into the middle distance. It’s probably a statement about how we’re all staring at our phones as the world goes by around us, or something. But in a film so empty-headed and blunderingly constructed, such social commentary is wholly out of place. This is a film with open contempt for its audience, snootily condescending of the imagined demand for bigger, scarier dinosaurs. And then is about a bigger, scarier dinosaur, that has apparently had its DNA spliced with nearly every other species of animal on the planet.

The plot is so dumb it feels like lying when trying to explain it. They’ve made this super-dinosaur, bred it to be larger, scarier, more exciting than a T-rex for the jaded fools it imagines are watching, and then almost instantly releases it into the island. But there’s also these velociraptors that Chris Pratt has sort of tamed a bit, and there’s this baddie man who wants to use trained velociraptors in the army… oh God, seriously, this is the story. Meanwhile, two children are posted to the island by their mom, Judy Greer, to spend time with her sister, Aunt Bryce Dallas Howard. Aunt Bryce is IN CHARGE OF RUNNING THE PARK, but Mommy Greer is utterly bemused that she’s not able to drop everything and entertain her children for her for a couple of days. How dare she?! But then wouldn’t you know it, just as things start to go wrong, it’s those two boys alone who are inexplicably in immediate danger. It then slides downhill until the finale that defies all credibility.

What unfurls is drowsily stupid. At no point does anyone make a decision that makes any sense. “Keep everyone trapped on the island with the killer dinosaur, because if we send them home we’ll be closed down!” That’s literally the argument made by one character. And every single moment of peril is caused by people being too hideously brainless to ever just go indoors. No dialogue is worthwhile – there’s not a single line in the entire film that works properly. Jokes repeatedly and awkwardly fall hideously flat, met with complete silence in a packed cinema. Even a conversation between two dinosaurs – no, I wish I were kidding – is over-long and boring.

However, the cynical nastiness of the film is a lot more deeply rooted than just in its sneering plot. It also seems to believe that it needs to be incessantly gruesome to keep us thrilled. Except, it goes so far that any 12 year old watching would experience a few sudden moments of really unpleasant trauma, between extended periods of yawning and asking if it’s over yet. Spielberg expressed dismay at how kids had been upset by a couple of moments in the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic World seems desperate to ensure everyone feels uncomfortable. Spielberg had Martin Ferrero get eaten on the toilet, and Wayne Knight scoffed in a car. Jurassic World slaughters in dozens, with scenes where the dinosaurs extensively torture established, benign characters, before tearing them into pieces. It kills and kills and kills, blood splattering, everyone dying with anguished screams in complete terror. It’s miserable.

When the film ended, I felt a moment of genuine surprise when the director’s name came up. I thought, “Why would you deliberately own up to that?” It’s a film that seemed to hate its own existence, and its audience for wanting to see it. And despite the frenzy of deaths, the ever-so-slightly bigger than a T-rex baddysaurus, and the far greater technical capability, it feels a far smaller film than Spielberg’s original. There’s no sense of scale, no presence, no excitement.

At one point, early on, there’s a moment of wit. In an arena designed to look like the whale show at an aquarium, a monstrous aquatic dinosaur is shown off, leaping out of the water to catch its food, then splashing down and soaking the audience. The food being dangled is a great white shark. It feels like a statement, a bold claim that this will be a disaster film that nonchalantly eats Jaws for breakfast. It proves to be a pivotal moment of arrogance from which it can never recover. (And not least because the clunking rigid rubber head of a dying brontosaurus is less convincing than that ’70s robo-shark.)

Oh, there’s so much more to rant about, so many more abandoned sub-plots, utterly irrelevant characters given extraordinary amounts of screen time… but none of it needs saying after the most key problem: it’s a film that’s bored of dinosaurs. Who the hell is bored of dinosaurs?

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by on Oct.13, 2014, under The Rest

I need to put this in one place, to stop myself from having to tweet it eighteen trillion times.

GG got very cross yesterday and overnight with my having written about how much abuse and harassment I received. I mentioned that I’d received thousands of unpleasant tweets. I came to this figure based on an average bad evening of it would see 500+ tweets coming in, and this happened multiple times. Within them were a number of extremely unpleasant and distressing tweets, with demands that I kill myself and so forth. This was one of them (which GG has been desperately trying to declare can’t be anything to do with them because of X, Y and Z, then someone else pointing out he was, and then tweets get deleted, and so on).

Oddly enough, I didn’t keep the rest. Because I’m not crazy. I screenshotted that one on my phone, because it was quite so scary, and when the tweeter promptly deleted it after lots called him out, I was able to repost it. I took screens of a bunch of others, but deleted them since, because I didn’t really like having them on my phone. And, heck, why would I need them?

GG participants are FURIOUS with me, and have attempted to disprove that I’ve received any abuse at all, via various searches. However, they used Topsy, which only stores a month’s worth, meaning it went back only as far as 12th Sept, after the bulk of the abuse I received had happened. Their search also only included that which had the #gamergate tag in it. This also doesn’t work, as the vast majority of the abuse I received came without it. People would send me a tweet saying whatever, and if I replied, they’d then frantically add in the tag to get back-up. This would then bring dozens more in who were following the tag, also insulting me without the tag, and then themselves only adding it in if I replied pointing out they were incorrect, etc.

The reality is, I spent two weeks receiving extraordinary amounts of unpleasant comments, most of them mild, but unrelenting. It was miserable, my wife saw it all happening and it made her miserable, my friends saw it, people argued with these people at the time – it all happened. It’s important that I maintain this, in the face of an attempt to discredit it.

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A Thing About #GamerGate

by on Oct.12, 2014, under The Rest

I want to think through some thoughts about #GamerGate, and try to address the questions/accusations I receive the most often from those who identify as part of the movement. I also want to talk about my personal experience of it.

GamerGate (GG), since its beginnings, has unquestionably been a formless, undirected collection of people with wildly disparate aims and desires. To say, “GG thinks X” is a meaningless statement, since there are those who are participating who only want to know that the games journalism/criticism/coverage they read is not affected by corruption, all the way to those who are sending terrifying death and rape threats to women in the industry, with a wide spectrum between. While there are various attempts at grouping together specific aims or objectives, these again widely vary, from desires to see game sites publicise clear ethical guidelines, to the desire to “destroy” sites that do not adhere to particular standards/styles/beliefs. There are those who wish to see “politics left out of games coverage”, and those who wish to see writers with “SJW agendas” out of work. There are those who fear games themselves will be negatively affected by progressive criticism, and those who wish to scare female developers and writers until they are too afraid to participate in the industry.

Identify the group as one aspect of this, and other aspects will step forward in disappointment/fury/confusion in response to this understanding. It’s intangible. And I believe perhaps its greatest weakness is that it seems to have no idea that it is.

I absolutely believe that there are many who have been part of the million tweets made using this tag who are horrified by the horrendous abuse and criminal attacks that have come from within GG. I know that there are those who identify with GG who have benign aims, and are personally hurt or upset when they see people identifying GG as a misogynist cause, or a cruel, bullying agenda. I appeal to these people to consider whether GG is ever going to be a place that accurately reflects them or their desires.

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Rum Doings Episode 172: They’re Bubbling Like Fermenting Sauerkraut

by on Sep.30, 2014, under Rum Doings, The Rest

In our 172nd ever Rum Doings, our topic is what is, considering all the cracks, isn’t it now time to admit that paving stones are a noble failure which should be abandoned?

We talk about how microwaves enhance baby learning, Nick’s food fight with a primary school, and John’s disgust with the awfulness of Doctor Who.

There’s then chat about American late night talk shows, British attempts at them, and then some TV and book recommendations.

You are of course required to leave a review on iTunes. Thank you to everyone who has – there are some extremely generous comments up there.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @rumdoings. If you want to email us, you can do that here. If you want to be a “fan” of ours on Facebook, which apparently people still do, you can do that here.

To get this episode directly, right click and save here. To subscribe to Rum Doings click here, or you can find it in iTunes here.

Or you can listen to it right here:

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Poor Old Newspapers – Technology Vs A Sex Scandal

by on Sep.28, 2014, under The Rest

Today the Sunday Mirror has a strong scoop. A male freelance journalist, posing as a young female Tory activist, managed to hook a Tory MP into sending explicit photographs of himself, and trying to arrange to meet ‘her’. The journalist then gave this story to the Mirror, who contacted the MP – he denied ever having heard of ‘Sophie’. So they contacted Downing Street with the evidence, who promptly released a statement saying the MP was stepping down immediately.

But ho boy, if a story involving technology isn’t a tricky pickle for the UK press to cope with. The conversation between Brooks Newark and ‘Sophie’ began via Twitter, moved on to Facebook, and then eventually to texts. However, the photos they exchanged were sent via WhatsApp. Here’s how that’s been understood by today’s newspapers, trying to hop on the scoop.

Here’s the Mirror’s front page headline:

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How Internet Hate Mobs Work, And Why It’s So Insidious

by on Aug.20, 2014, under The Rest

In the wake of another really horrifying social media attack on a few individuals – some I know, some I don’t – I find myself needing to process the way it works. The awfulness of what is done, and just how frighteningly proficient are the organised attackers.

In this particular story, an angry ex-boyfriend has made public a huge screed of personal information about his former girlfriend, along with a long list of accusations. These accusations crossed my path when they included claims that someone I employed had behaved inappropriately. There was no evidence provided for these claims, and indeed no examples of the suggested corruption have ever existed. I assume much else was untrue or twisted too, but it’s absolutely none of my business. What I was in a position to know about, I knew was entirely false.

Yesterday the woman involved had her Twitter and Tumblr hacked, her personal information including phone numbers, family phone numbers, street addresses and PayPal information made public. She has received unending abuse on all channels, including to her personal phone and address. People close to her have received similar abuse. People who have made it clear they are against the abuse have received small fractions of the abuse too. There is, without question, a huge amount of abuse to go around. The thing is, it’s not from a huge number of people – they’re just exceptionally good at making it look as though there are.

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A Pointless Guide To Armstrongian Hyperbole

by on Aug.16, 2014, under The Rest

On the superb BBC1 quiz show, Pointless, I contend that co-host Alexander Armstrong perhaps a little over-effusively enthuses on the contestants’ competence after their failure. No pair of entrants appearing in the 600 aired episodes has ever fallen short of “great contestants”, no matter how fist-grindingly dreadful they may have been. This is part of what makes Pointless so absolutely lovely, in an age of quizshowing that otherwise focuses on humiliation or treachery. It’s also entirely daft.

Armstrong, who appears an all-round splendid chap, seems peculiarly beholden to a script, from which he appears unwilling to deviate. I do wonder if during his sleep he mumbles that everyone gets two chances to reach the Pointless final, or that for the remaining two pairs things are about to get even more exciting now as they enter the head-to-head. (Of course, the meandering banter between he and the adorable Richard Osman is incessantly delightful, and the primary reason to watch the programme.)

While I have no desire to see Armstrong berating contestants, and absolutely love that failure is met with warmth and cheer, I do fear that his madcap positivity is causing confusion, so have prepared a guide to what his terms practically mean:

“Great Contestants” = Really astonishingly terrible contestants, who likely scored 200 in the first round, two days running, and uttered phrases like, “The 1870s were before my time,” and, “Words ending in ‘EART’ isn’t a good subject for me.” That they found their way to the studio without accidentally strangling themselves with their own arms is of note.

“Brilliant Contestants” = Pretty poor contestants, unlikely to have displayed any knowledge, who most likely only got through to the second round after some “Great Contestants” inadvertently impaled themselves on the podium.

“Really Brilliant Contestants” = Okay-ish contestants, who knew a right answer that scored under 50. It was probably about football, which was, when they were asked what subjects they’d like to see come up, their only response.

“Properly Brilliant Contestants” = At this point the “properly” introduces the notion that there may be some credibility to their performance. These contestants potentially knew the location of a country on the planet, or the name of a film director. Where some Brilliant Contestants had said, “Well I don’t really follow politics” when asked to name a British Prime Minister, a Properly Brilliant Contestant might remember someone other than the present incumbent.

“Really Properly Brilliant Contestants” = Quite good contestants.

(It should be noted that the reason I would never go on a quiz show like Pointless is how it would immediately reveal me to be in the region of a Brilliant Contestant, as the woeful lack of knowledge I possess would be presented to the viewing world.)

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On UKIP, Ignorance, And The Lazy Lie Of “Disillusionment”

by on May.27, 2014, under Rants, The Rest

Disillusionment is so often cited as the reason people vote for extremists, the underpinning reason why X or Y is happening in British politics. And it’s mostly gibberish. It’s a nonsense told both by those who wish to vote for extremes, and by those attempting to justify why others might vote for those extremes. The reality is, it’s barely ever the case.

I feel like we’re in a pretty scary place. When it comes to politics, there’s obviously a tendency for hyperbole, exaggerating one’s claims to suit one’s political agenda. But for someone with left-wing beliefs, their understanding of how to treat others best represented by socialism, the United Kingdom is currently a frightening political landscape.

People are voting UKIP/BNP/English Democracts, etc, etc, we’re told, because they’re disillusioned with the main parties and want to see things shaken up. This is plain, absolute rubbish. It doesn’t make sense in any way, and the media’s frequent declaration that this is the case is both intellectual snobbery, and woeful naivety.

The obvious reality is, a large contingent of people voting for extremes, for racist and homophobic parties like UKIP, BNP, etc, do so because they are racist and homophobic. Pretending this isn’t the case is endemic in the reporting of our politics, perhaps from a fear of appearing “biased”, perhaps from a fear of alienating the racist and homophobic contingent of their audience. Very few people tend to wear the mantle of “racist” with pride, hence that most oxymoronic of aphorisms, “I’m not racist, but…” The inevitable continuation of something either grotesquely or insidiously racist rather confirms the contrary, but for some reason our press has opted to acculturate itself to the opening gambit. Essentially, the coverage of UKIP in the recent elections has been, “UKIP isn’t racist, but…” The reality of course being: UKIP is racist, and lots of people who agree with their racist views have voted for them accordingly.

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You & Yours And Its Gloriously Failed Attempt To Promote Audiophile Woo

by on Mar.06, 2014, under Rants, The Rest

Oh glorious day!

One of my favourite worst things is BBC Radio 4′s You & Yours. On when I get my lunch, each weekday I get to hear a portion of this most daft of consumer shows, as they spread fear and concern about whatever was in yesterday’s Daily Mail. That’s not to say they don’t sometimes do some good – I believe they were pivotal in ending the banking scam over taking five days to process cheques, and they often do a good job of airing scams to make people aware of what to avoid. But this is always scattered with main host Winifred Robinson’s scaremongering and personal vendettas, as she ceaselessly attempts to campaign against things she’s been proven wrong about, most recently her deranged fury about DAB radio.

Today though, something wonderful happened. The end of the episode featured a segment in which two music engineers came on to explain about the wonders of “high resolution music”. This, we were told by straight faces, was the same as increasing the pixel count of a picture, enabling more detail to be heard. Incredibly at one point one of them acknowledges that previous recording qualities already matched what the human ear could detect, but no no! Despite this, the “harmonics” were more clear if there was a new way to have to buy lots more expensive equipment!

I’m not a sound engineer, and I’ve no idea if there’s genuinely any measurable improvement in the quality of the recording, but I certainly do know that no human would be able to tell.

As they were given air time on this national radio station to make their ridiculous claims entirely unchallenged, unquestioned, and only excitedly enthused about, they played in clips of recordings in “low res” and “high res”, so these experts could explain the difference. And it was pure woo bullshit from start to finish. Brilliantly they made it clear that no one listening would be able to tell any difference between the two because radio waves would take the magics away. But then played them anyway. They would be able to tell, in the studio, listening on a “high definition Sony Walkman” through their £90 billion headphones. They played Ella Fitzgerald twice, explaining which was low and which was high. Winifred declared she could “almost” hear Ella’s breathing on the second, opening the door for some wonderfully silly explanations about the guests’ surprise at how noticeable it was, how it was a “mellower, warmer sound” and “more dynamic”. “It actually started off slightly quieter,” the second expert explains, “and that’s one of the great things of higher resolution, whereas a CD if you like levels it out a bit just by the nature of the delivery, so you’re right, I think it was more noticeable than I thought, and I think we are losing dynamics on a lot of CDs.”

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Dexter Is Missing, And So, So Stupid

by on Dec.05, 2013, under The Rest

One of the oddest and best jobs I have is writing a column for a magazine called The Cat. The quarterly magazine has been going for over 80 years, published by the charity Cats Protection. My column has appeared in the last four years’ worth or so, and until the current issue (which you’ll likely find in that pile on the windowsill in your local vet surgery) has been about Dexter. The latest features Lucy too. If you can find a copy, I really recommend taking a look, because the illustrations they put on my column (called “Walker On The Wild Side, and NO, I didn’t pick that) are just fantastic. We’ve had a couple of them printed on canvas, and they hang on our walls.

Dexter has been missing for three nights now, which he’s never done before. Obviously we’re very worried, and extremely upset, but we’ve done absolutely everything we can, from posters, flyering the neighbourhood, searches, alerting the microchip firm, and contacting local vets and cat homes. I’ve also added his details to the superb Animal Search UK, who use volunteers to look for missing cats in their area. Amazing. You can be one of those volunteers if you want – you just sign up for emails of alerts near where you live.

So, out of sentimentality, while he’s gone I thought I’d post a few of my old columns from The Cat (these are the unedited versions, so expect mistakes). The first couple were based on articles I first wrote here, so I’ve skipped those, and appropriately gone for the third: a piece about how stupid he is. Because wow, is he stupid.

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