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Month: August 2020
Prospect (2018) – Movie Review
TLDR: it’s a space western, so it’s ok.
So, science fiction movies tend not to be very good. This is because: a) most script-writers are morons, b) most script-writers don’t actually understand the genre. Sci-fi can be very cerebral and highbrow, sure, but the dense and thoughtful prose needed to make it so tends to be confined to dense and thoughtful novels written by intelligent people with day jobs other than churning out pages of garbage aimed at the lowest common demoninator. As much as we love the Federation cycle (I’m sure there’s someone who does, anyway), it doesn’t have the mass appeal of Superman. There has never been a Demon Princes movie, only Flash Gordon. (FLASH! AH-AH!) And there never, ever, on the face of the Earth, ever will be a Dune movie that doesn’t star Sting, shut up SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP.
My point is: if you’re looking at mass entertainment, your model has to be pulp scifi–something written quickly, to be read quickly, with enough technique to make it hang together and enough thought to make it appealing–and no more than just enough, because the object of pulp fiction is to dash off something that meets the word limit, that audiences like, and that you get paid for. More than that though: Pulp scifi is the direct descendent of penny dreadful westerns, and I submit that the purest form of scifi is that which has copy-and-replaced “Injun” with “alien,” “horse” with “speeder” and “wagon” with, “spaceship.”) Or “detective” with “space detective,” or “axe” with “space axe” or “captain” with “space captain.” One of the clearest and earliest examples of this in A Princess of Mars, where the action literally does flow from the hero fighting Red Savages in a barren landscape to fighting Green Savages in a barren landscape.
My ULTIMATE point is, however, that scifi movies tend to be really terrible if they don’t do something of this sort. Alien: horror movie in space. Aliens? War movie in space. Star Wars–fantasy epic in space. Even sf movies that aren’t necessarily set in deep space must appeal to some other genre. Terminator: slasher movie with time travel. Equillibrium: kung fu movie with dystopian trappings.
But the best of the best is always when scifi returns to its roots and does: westerns….in space.
Hence, Prospect. It’s about a man and his daughter who are prospecting. Get it? They’ve been hired to dig for orlac on a far-out planet, but things go sideways when daughter (Cee) and dad are accosted by two other drifters who have lost their ship but are amenable to the thought of a motherlode of orlac before making their way back to the orbiting mothership. Dad and the one who isn’t Pedro Pascal end up dead and Cee makes a run for it, only to find that her ship is nonfunctional (somehow). Pedro Pascal (Ezra) turns up at her ship and proposes a deal: they get the orlac for the original buyers (“the mercs”) together. He’ll protect her and she’ll lead him there, and they’ll both refrain from killing each other if they get the chance. The alliance is distinctly uneasy, but they soon find enough outside enemies to make it much easier to trust each other and work together to get off-planet.
And that’s about it, barring a few twists of happenstance that are mostly spoiled in the trailer, anyway; at 99 minutes including credits, it’s not a long movie. But it is well-done. Sophie Thatcher performs her part very well, and her character was well-written. There’s a scene which shades into brilliance, when she’s describing her favorite novel to Ezra in a manner that any reader can recognize. (“I shouldn’t tell you…in case you read it.” “Seems I must.” ) More, I enjoyed the dynamic between her and Ezra, that they were able to form a partnership wherein neither really holds the upper hand–Ezra’s physical advantages are negated by his injuries, but his intelligence and knowledge give him an edge; and while Cee is vulnerable due to her youth and inexperience, she has a demonstrably cool head under pressure and knows her way around scapels and rocket engines.–and that they do end up saving each other in the end.
Pedro Pascal (AKA, The Mando) walks away with the movie, however. He plays the part with a Southern accent, a moustache, and the proper space-roguish nonchalance that might be more from weary fatalism than confidence…or maybe not. He is slightly hampered by a script that insists upon giving him rather stilted polysyllabic declaimations, but for the most part he handles it pretty well. A lot of his best scenes are mostly wordless, though: when a Mexican Standoff goes south and he’s left staring down the one gun remaining, or when (SPOILER) his arm is amputated. He’s excellent in the one and mesmerising in the other.
On a whole, the design and worldbuilding is pretty solid, too. There’s no running around on alien planets without space suits–everyone is suited up and helmeted, and communications are done over radios. On entering a structure without an airlock, the entrance has to be sealed and the structure purged before helmets can be taken off. There’s even some talk of takeoff weights and trajectories, not to mention thumbing through checklists and manuals.
The movie isn’t ugly, although there also isn’t anything spectacular about it, either. The foresty biome setting didn’t look particularly alien–except for the actors being in space suits–But! That’s OK and even a plus, because at least it wasn’t totally CGI. Being actually outside or on a spacious-enough stage gave an additional layer of realism and grittiness that was very appealing. I didn’t notice the music except for a couple of diegetic tracks playing on Cee’s headphones; I also didn’t regret the lack — there was enough going on to keep my attention absorbed without music blaring at me all the way.
IMDB indicates that this movie was filmed for 4 million dollars, which is impressive however you look at it. On the other hand, Box Office Mojo indicates it made 22,000$. I don’t really see how this movie could have been a hit without a huge and dedicated marketing campaign, but….that’s really a genuine shame.
Admittedly, this movie is not without cons. Taking the tropes of one genre wholesale and not adapting them intelligently leaves you with, well, stupid results. Such as far-future medicine that has no options between “just a flesh wound,” and “it’s going black, cut my arm off.” Or mining alien egg-sacs by hand (and only by hand) with a highschool chemistry lab and vibroscapels. Or execution-by-box-on-an-alien-planet (which even the script acknowledges is weird and convoluted, but lampshading stupidity doesn’t make it not stupid; only justifying an apparent stupidity does. That was stupid.) But the good in this movie far outweighs the bad, to the point where I’ll gladly and highly recommend it to anyone who likes good, minimalistic, quiet but well-paced, nicely-shot movies which don’t sustain brilliance but do manage to achieve it in flashes.
Rated: five bold offers out of five.
Have we been keeping an eye on Elon Musk?
Because he’s at the “implanting computer chips in pigs” stage.
Neuralink has a medical focus to start, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects. The technology could, for example, help paraplegics who’ve lost the ability to move or sense because of spinal cord injury, and the first human uses will aim to improve conditions like paraplegia or tetraplegia.
But there are obvious future (and futuristic) implications as well.
But Musk’s vision is far more radical, including ideas like “conceptual telepathy,” where two people can communicate electronically by thinking at each other instead of writing or speaking. The long-term goal is to head off a future where artificial intelligence vastly smarter than humans exterminates us.
Musk envisions people using Neuralink to connect to their own digital AI incarnations so “the future is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth,” Musk said. “It’s going to be important from an existential threat perspective to achieve a good AI symbiosis.”
And they’re also building robot doctors to do the implantation process itself.
Neuralink is building a robotic installer that ultimately is designed to handle the full surgical installation process. That includes opening up the scalp, removing a portion of the skull, inserting the hundreds of “thread” electrodes along with an accompanying computer chip, then closing the incision. The installer is designed to dodge blood vessels to avoid bleeding, Musk said.
I’m in favor of advanced technology, but let’s focus on getting a significant fraction of the population starborne before we try messing with AI, shall we?
the Witch of the Wood
Little girl, little girl, what are you doing all alone out here?
Dressing my doll in a wind of white silk,
Combing and combing her long black hair
Little girl, little girl, what is that song so keen and so fair?
The Witch of the Wood sang each morning at dawn
She sat on the stones of the isle over there.
Little girl, little girl, the stones of the isle are empty and bare.
The Witch of the Wood was stolen away
They sing for her now but she never will hear.
Little girl, little girl, what lightens the water, what gleams in the air?
The Witch of the Wood sat over the streambank
Combing and combing her long yellow hair.
Little girl, little girl, the banks of the river are faded and sere.
The Witch of the Wood was watcher and warden;
Beast, brook and bird are wanting her care.
Little girl, little girl, why walk they together, a wolf and a deer?
The Witch of the Wood set peace on this place;
Blood brother to brother, the dog to the bear.
Little girl, little girl, they turn not aside, and they go as a pair.
The Witch of the Wood is lost from these lands
They look for her long, though they do not know where.
Little girl, little girl, will they weary of searching, or search for her e’re?
The Witch of the Wood was their mistress and mother
They will search for her always and never despair.
Little girl, little girl, when hunter grows hungry, the prey must beware.
The Witch of the Wood was their lady and leader
They will search without ceasing, the hawk and the hare.
Little girl, little girl, where went she then, that she comes back ne’er?
The Witch of the Wood was taken to Twilight
The cold King of Winter led her down to his lair.
Frazetta Friday – Trouble Not Edition
Interesting: mining with plants
Spotted at bayourenaissanceman’s blog: some plants accumulate nickel to the point where it can be commercially viable to harvest them.
The University of Queensland’s van der Ent has calculated that a hyper-accumulator like Phyllantus balgoyii can produce an estimated 120kg of nickel per hectare every year. That translates to a market value of around $1,754 (£1,300) per hectare. Extracting the nickel involves pruning the shoots – which hold the highest concentrations of the metal – and burning them, after which the nickel can be separated from the ash.
$1,754 isn’t a whole lot of money, but if we’re talking about, perhaps, rehabilitating an area which has been damaged–say by wholesale nickel strip-mining–or an area on which it isn’t possible to grow other crops, might work. At least, it ought to allow the grow op to pay for itself.
There are also a few species that hyperaccumulate iron, or so the article seems to imply.
It does seem like a very elfish, in tune with nature-way to extract resources from the Earth, doesn’t it? (Curufinwe Feanaro could not be reached for comment.)
I will grudingly admit the “verse” block is useful
His enchantment done: Restless, he braces his wings of fallow gold and crimson, and feathers deep blue as the crashing Sea, and crouches, talons of amber pale as fire gouging deep the dark, damp, fresh earth, and rises high, and soars. They hear his cry for many miles.
Rough ‘n Riding Watchlist
Shotgun – 1955, Sterling Hayden, Yvonne de Carlo
There’s this marshall who gets shot (with a shotgun) by this guy he put in jail, and Sterling Hayden goes after to avenge him-slash-bring back the murderer. Yvonne de Carlo turns up somehow in the middle of this and attaches herself rather firmly to Hayden. Turns out the bad guy was also supplying guns to a band of surprisingly neutral and sympathetically-portrayed Apache. On the other hand, they also kidnap de Carlo, which means Hayden has to get her back, which means SHOTGUN DUEL ON HORSEBACK.
Hayden was quite good in this. de Carlo was…miscast. In fact, I think the problem was that she either completely couldn’t act the part or just wasn’t bothering to. The random gunslinger guy who gets nailed to a tree by the Apache was quite good but not enough so for me to look up his name on imdb. Robert Wilke, however, has a small part and adds his sneers to the movie with great effect.
Macbeth – 2015, Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard
Basically unwatchable. This movie is everything I dislike about modern cinema: pompous camera work, pompously whispery and yet over-emotive acting, and a grungy, dingy, dim color scheme. Oh, and David Thewlis.
Coroner Creek – 1948, Randolph Scott, George Macready
On the other hand, this one is both slightly too Technicolor, and slightly too nice to be the gritty revenge picture it could have been.
Doctor Mordrid – 1992, Jeffrey Combs, Yvette Nipar
It’s a Doctor Strange-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off movie adaptation. And it was made in the early ’90s. And it has a very low budget. And with B-minus level actors I’ve never heard of. And the effects are cheap and dated. And the script is about as thin as, well, something very thin. And…
…it’s got an ineffably cheesy charm all of its own that really must be seen to be appreciated.
Overboard – 1987, Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn
The Mother of Skaith liked it. And for an ’80s romantic comedy starring Kurt Russell as a carpenter father of three who takes advantage of an amnesiac heiress who cheated him out of a lot of money by convincing her that she is his wife in order to exploit her for cheap household labor while her husband jets off on their yacht with a bevy of supermodels, it’s probably the best of the genre.
Top Gun – 1955, Sterling Hayden,
Hayden is Rick Martin, a not-exactly outlaw who is not exactly welcome when he rides back into his long-gone home town. In fact, they have a spot reserved for him on Boot Hill. Right next to his mother’s grave, and across from the men he, well, let’s go with “shot”, since he’s the actual hero and it was actually a fair fight. Rick, fortunately, is not here on personal business. He’s here to warn the Sheriff that Quentin’s gang is on its way, and they intend to paint the town red, and then burn it down with extreme violence. Problem: the town doesn’t want his help, his ex-fiancee is ex because she’s getting married to one of those oily suit-wearing Big Rancher guys, and his Ma didn’t die of sickness: she was shot in the back. What’s a man to do….
….except what he’s gotta do?
4/5, it’s totally cliche and totally played straight.
Love and Destiny – ep 54 – CDrama Recap
So Ling Xi is still keeping vigil with her mother and HuaYan comes by to tell her to go to bed already. But Ling Xi prefers sleeping on the table. And presently some guitar music drifts in. So she wanders over to go see Jingxiu. (Where’s Baoqing and how is her romance with Student going? That’s what I want to know!) He’s playing the song that her (mortal) father sang for her.
Ling Xi, cogently, asks why and when he went to her house. And tells him to call her Ling Xi. Lin Mo is in the past. (It’s been a month.) But it’s been a loooong thirty days, Ling Xi says–and assures him that no matter who she is, she respects him. That’s…not the answer he wants.
So Ling Xi drifts back out again, and a bird lands on the rail. It’s got the knot charm from Jiu Chen. Ling Xi cuddles it and looks teary eyed. Well….what…?
So meanwhile, Jiu Chen is getting an examination from Yuli. He’s recovered and probably also had a power-up. Oh, and also he can merge the Nuwa Stone-heart completely into his own flesh. And then he thanks Yuli. Yuli is slightly hurt but mostly professional, and leaves….lol, Si Ming walks Yuli out and Shi San is completely distracted and Jiu Chen doesn’t get his tea.
Turns out, Yuli is in charge of Medicine Hall since her father and seniors are busy healing plagues in the mortal world. It’s her job. Si Ming hints heavily that it’s also good for her to let go of things that aren’t hers.
Yuli says: I’ve liked him for fifty thousand years! I’ve got seniority on Ling Xi! My liking him doesn’t bother anyone, especially since he’s got that dumb Ling Xi. In short, whether I like him or not is my own business, NOT YOURS. Well, Yuli’s grown up a little. Good girl.
Meanwhile, the current head of the Yuan Clan is come to beg for Yuan Tong. Her immortality has been removed and she might, you know, die!
Jiu Chen says: you know, the Yuan Clan did not fall by accident.
And he heads off to the south pole. (Si Ming asks: South Pole or Phoenix Tribe? Jiu Chen: stares.)
Meanwhile, Yuan Tong is all the way out in the middle of a desert. Probably really honestly is going to die, since it doesn’t look like there’s any water there, either. But she’s also staying put right in that one place, for some reason.
Meanwhile, poor Baoqing is throwing a tandrum and also the furniture. Also, Brother Jingxiu says that he’s not going to come see her anymore. And the thought that Phoenix Queen might wake up is no comfort to poor Lil Psycho. (poor kid.)
Ling Xi, meanwhile, is still sleeping at the Queen’s bedside. She is a high god now and doesn’t need to rest–but the Old Lady is treating her like family, now. Which is nice.
Meanwhile at the border, something wooshes by–oh, it’s Antler Wolf! (Also Jiu Chen).
Meanwhile, the palace maids are gossiping about Baoqing’s bad mood, and the fact that Jingxiu no longer likes Baoqing–and that he likes Ling Xi instead. (Jiu Chen eavesdrops) Everyone likes Ling Xi, even the God of War. (the other maids scoff: that god of war is so old!) The other girls defend Jiu Chen: he’s handsome! But HuaYan is distracted and can’t contribute to the conversation. Ling Xi arrives and scolds them. But, despite Antler Wolf trying to point him out, misses Jiu Chen until he sneaks up behind her.
LX: ….hey. Are you eavesdropping on the girls? People will laugh at you!
JC: Yeah, people gossip here. I NOTICED.
LX: Oh, like Yun Feng and Kaiyang don’t? Anyhow, what’s with the sneaking?
JC: Sneaking? Me? I think I do it rather well, don’t I?
LX: ….yeah, so what’s with the sneaking?
JC: I’m going to the South Pole. Just letting you know. In case you wanted to look for me. For your information. Just thought you should know.
LX: Oh, ok. Now I know. Bye.
JC: [mutters] brat!
JC: YOU! Stop throwing a tandrum!
LX: You killed me twice, dude! You’re using your higher power, higher experience, greater age and important position to bully me!
HuaYan comes by and (since gossip), they have to hide, Ling Xi clutching Jiu Chen. Antler Wolf deflects HuaYan.
And Jiu Chen takes the opportunity to ask, why exactly were we hiding? Also, are you hanging on to me or not?
LX: ….uh. Uh. Um. You snuck in, so, uh, uh, people might think you had improper intentions!
Jiu Chen: [pulls her to kissing range] Well, I DO.
LX: LET GO.
JC: NOT LETTING GO. You used to feel me up, didn’t you?
[kiss, dodge, attempted slap].
Jiu Chen says: don’t be mad. I’ve hurt you, but you know why I did it. We’ve been through so much. Please stop pushing me away. Awww, he’s proposing properly to her. And it’s pretty nice. HE SAYS: You took the initiative! And now you have to take the responsibility! (awesome). Because I’m unable to live alone again now.
Ling Xi: [tries not to smile] You think that because you kissed me, I’m already not mad?
Jiu Chen: Oh well then I obviously have to kiss you some more, then. [smooch]
Ling Xi: DUDE!
Jiu Chen: And I’m NOT THAT OLD. And I’m still fine, ain’t I?
Ling Xi: Well, OK, fine, I’ll come see you when I have some free time.
Jiu Chen: See me do what?
Ling XI: JUST VISIT [runs off]
[turns back to look]
So at the South Pole, Jiu Chen has to ask the OLD DUDE WHO LIVES THERE IF he’s old, LOOOOOL. (and doesn’t get a really satisfactory answer, HAHHHHHH) And he goes and retrieves….a book? OK, what book? Tell me about this book, please. Why is he smirking at this book?
At Phoenix Palace, Ling Xi is talking to her mother about her boyfriend. She’s very happy that he’s finally expressed his feelings and gotten in touch with his emotions. And she’s pretty happy that her luck’s been good lately. She just wants to be able to tell her Mom all about it! (aw.)
Meanwhile, Yuan Tong is sleeping/collapsed in out on the sand. Internally, though, she’s being tormented by spirits calling her name….and someone shows up. Oh, her brother….it’s the demon king, taking the shape of her brother. Demons never disappear–so long as there is evil…oh. It’s The Demon…and the previous guy was just his vessel. And now, Yuan Tong….
Yuan Tong, The Demon taunts, is specifically not qualified to be Demon King! She’s too soft, too powerless! Too full of the milk of human kindness! What he’s here for (back in brother form): is the chance to get total revenge, wash away all humiliation, and let Big Brother rest in peace in the netherworld!
All she has to do is find the next Demon Lord. Uhhhhhhhh ohhhhhhhh.
Back in Peach Blossom Forest, Junior Fox Bro rushes over to help Qing Yao, who has managed to produce one pill of medicine.
And in the Phoenix Realm, Jingxiu is there to observe…the Queen should wake up slowly in a couple of days. (But would have slowly recovered anyway.)
Jingxiu: shifty-eyes. HuaYan is still staring fixedly at him. The other maid scolds her: even though he’s handsome, be careful, because besides not being suitable, Princess Baoqing will kill you.
Speaking of, BaoQing is playing with a couple of baby turtles. And by playing with, I mean poking with a stick. She’s also not going to go be there with her adoptive mother when she wakes–she knows she’s been supplanted by Ling Xi, although her maid servant thinks that it’s going a bit too far. Also she’s mad at Jingxiu for liking Ling Xi. But sets off hopefully enough when she hears that he’s been avoiding LX.
Jingxiu is back in the woods with his guitar, and Lieutenant and Orc Commander are both anxious for their leader to, you know, lead them. Unfortunately, Baoqing walks up in time to overhear Orc Commander say how they’ve killed the Old Phoenix King and attempted to kill the Queen and now Ling Xi isn’t going to let them off, either. Lieutennant agrees: they have to act! (Baoqing watches in trepidation.) Jingxiu agrees….and they all spot Baoqing walk off. Don’t hurt your lil psycho sister! NO!
But Baoqing has gone back to her own rooms and her maidservant wants to go to the Old Lady and call in help. Baoqing says: DON’T! I have to think about this! But she immediately goes over to her mother’s rooms, so. Ling Xi is personally concocting the medicine, earning the maidservants a scolding from the Old Lady. BaoQing is thinking about her mother’s care of her in the past. See, being a spoiled princess doesn’t make you an evil psycho automatically! But she’s also not telling the Old Lady about the plot.
And she goes out. She’s shaky, but she goes. (Leave the country, kid, and go somewhere else.)
So, the Phoenix Queen wakes up with neither of her daughters around, only the Old Lady. And Phoenix Queen is immediately greeted with news of Ling Xi’s being around.
But, uh oh. Baoqing walks out and sees Jingxiu’s coup coming the other way.–in badass slow-mo black robes and walk. But all Jingxiu asks is if Mom is doing well…he’s going to go visit her. Baoqing grabs him, but he brushes her hand away and tells her to go take shelter and stay out of trouble. YOU AREN’T BEING A GOOD GUY JINGXIU NOOOOO
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