Dunkirk Review

I saw Dunkirk in IMAX on saturday, and after collecting my thoughts, I’m ready to share them with whoever actually reads my ramblings. I earlier stated that I hoped that this film would be a return to form for Christopher Nolan, since I didn’t like Intersetellar that much. I definitely can’t say Interstellar is a bad film, I just didn’t like it as much as his previous works. After seeing Dunkirk, Inception remains my favourite Christopher Nolan film. The Prestige and The Dark Knight might also edge out Dunkirk but it is nevertheless an engaging and brilliantly executed film.

Dunkirk is Nolan’s dramatization of the Dunkirk evacuation, where Allied Forces were trapped in northern France. Military and civilian boats were then enlisted or requisitioned to evacuate the Allied Forces to England. Dunkirk focuses on three different narratives: land, sea and air. Fionn Whitehead stars as Tommy, an army private. Tom Hardy stars as Farrier, a British pilot and Mark Rylance stars as Mr. Dawson, a civilian heading to Dunkirk. The movie cuts between the three different stories, and the stories intersect more as the film progresses. None of the characters are directly based on historical figures, but some are meant to be composites.

I hate to focus on a film’s visuals, but it must be said that Dunkirk is a beautiful film. I saw the film in IMAX on 70mm, so that probably gave an enhanced experience. Aside from the film’s clarity, it must also be praised for its cinematography and minimal use of CGI. Everything from the planes, ships, explosions etc. are all practical, or at least look like they are all practical effects. There is nothing wrong with CGI in itself, but a film like this benefits from minimal use since you want to be immersed in the history that is being depicted. Nolan succeeds in building and maintaining tension, making you as anxious as the characters as they try to survive one attack after another. Perhaps IMAX made me notice more as well, but I also have to add that the sound effects and sound mixing were masterfully done, recreating everything from the infamous sirens of the German stuka planes to the explosions that are replete throughout the film.

One criticism that has popped up when discussing the film online or with friends, is that the characters were not well-developed. Mark Rylance’s character probably gets the most back story and dialogue, but Whitehead and Hardy both have relatively sparse offerings. However, I didn’t realize this until other people pointed it out. Dunkirk was able to make me invested in characters that were not that fleshed out. The story was enough to keep me interested, and I saw each character as representative of millions of other soldiers’s fear and hopes during Dunkirk. Dunkirk is Whitehead’s debut role, and he does well with his limited time. I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles, who arguably steals the spotlight from Whitehead during some scenes. Christopher Nolan says he wasn’t aware of Styles’s fame before casting him and I am willing to say that all of my worries about Styles’s involvement proved to be unwarranted. Fortunately, I also didn’t have to deal with any screaming One Direction fans in the theatre. Kenneth Branagh is somewhat infamous for chewing scenery at times, but he is a stand out here in a more understated performance as Navy Commander Bolton. Cillian Murphy also deserves honourable mentioned as a shellshocked soldier eager to get back home. There are several other characters introduced throughout and they all form a necessary part of the film’s fabric.

A less capable director could have made Dunkirk dull and repetitive. When you really think about it, the film just depicts one attack after another, with relatively little dialogue between. However, Nolan is able to craft a story of survival that is visceral, entertaining and memorable.

The Persisting Justification of Racism

When I was younger I had stereotypical notions of Texas being the most racist state in America. The Deep South still has a terrible reputation but more recent research I’ve done on America’s racial climate brought Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, to the forefront. As I was looking through an article detailing Boston athletes’ comments on Boston’s racism, I came across this comment:

It is no secret that Boston has always worn the label as a racist city. A well deserved one at that. But until people STOP using labels to describe ethnic group it will never stop. And that includes all groups. The African-American community needs to stop using the N word for everything. Lose it from your vocabulary . It doesn’t help your cause when you call each that name excessively. Maybe if the word disappears some of these hateful things can be avoided. Sounds a little naïve but it has to start somewhere”
This poster is right, his comment does sound naive. I almost don’t know where to start with this comment. The article detailed several testimonials about racism athelets received in Boston stadiums and Bonston as a whole during their time playing for Boston sports teams. After reading all of the experiences, all this man can say is that maybe things like this wouldn’t happen if we didn’t use the N word.
“You’re the ones we learned it from. I heard nigg** back in 1971.” (Ice Cube: ‘Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’).
It is not like blacks historically used the N word to refer to themselves, and then white people used it to insult us. The use of the n word is a re-appropriation of a term that is still used to denigrate the black population. I have heard people arguing that the true injustice is that black people can use the term and they can’t. After all, shouldn’t we be equal?
Firstly, this argument is dripping with paternalism and condescension. Secondly, it ignores context and history. Third, I would gladly trade not being allowed to say the n word for all the benefits that come with whiteness.
On average
1) Girls are more likely to date you
2) People will be more welcoming if you move into their neighborhood
3) People will be more willing to send their kids to school with your kids
4) You will be more likely to be hired for a job (Affirmative action actually benefits white women the most)
5) Less likely to get followed when you shop
6) Less likely to get pulled over by police
7) Less likely to get killed by police
Now, if someone said I can get all that but I won’t be allowed to say the n word, I would gladly take that deal. The white people who think they are victims because they can’t say the n word, represent the true “triggered” victims they always mock. They are surrounded by benefits and privileges that make their lives easier (as a whole), but they ignore all of that and focus on things that are trivial in comparison. I remember reading a testimonial from a woman who was upset because she saw a fruit stand that had a black Jesus painted on it. She felt victimized and ranted about how black people would get upset if she put up a white Jesus at her business. I remember reading this piece as part of my research for my Master’s paper, as best I can remember it came from White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism but I may be mistaken.
This woman is blind to how white supremacy has created the popular image of white Jesus. European painters depicting Jesus in the 14-16th century were very unlikely to depict him as anything but white due to their own views on other races. Centuries later, depictions such as the Sistine Chapel still fuel the American conception of Jesus. This has been cemented by the most popular depictions of Jesus on film and on television. So, this woman ignores the dominant images of white Jesus all around her but feels the need to lash out at a fruit stand for showing something different. It is true that recently there have been more rules regarding displays of religion in some workplaces, which can sometimes affect displays of Jesus. That is not an issue of white Jesus vs Black Jesus though, it is often more of an issue of Christianity vs other religions, which is a whole other article.
Moving back to the comment that inspired this article, the poster also says that we can eradicate racism by simply getting rid of labels. It is true that the labels of “black”, “white” etc. were birthed for the purpose of creating legal and social hierarchies. Hence, the frequently cited argument that race is just a social construct. However, people are not blind. They have always noticed skin colour. The desire to create a hierarchy was a result of the idea that people with darker skin were inferior. Even in the bible, the Cushites (called Ethiopians in the King James version) are described as dark-skinned Africans.
People will still see colour if we remove the categories of race. People already factor in skin colour when deciding what areas they want to live in, who looks suspicious, and who they want to date or marry. I have a hard time believing that tendency will disappear simply because the dark-skinned folk aren’t called “black” anymore. Dating profiles will say “no dark-skinned guys” or no “guys of African descent.” People will cross the street when they see a “dark-skinned guy” approaching. You see where I’m going with this.
What truly baffles me about this post is that this poster doesn’t spout the usual “I don’t even see colour” rhetoric that I would associate with his comments. His comments on removing the categories of race displays the same naivety that the colour-blind worldview does, but he, let’s call him “Blind”, actually acknowledged that Boston is a racist city. Many people would be happy to tell the Boston athletes that the racist incidents were very isolated ones or that they brought it on themselves somehow. Blind displays some more conviction but undermines it by shifting the conversation to race labels and the black community’s use of the n word.  Although he might not mean to, he resorts to blaming the victim. It’s the equivalent of asking a rape victim how she was dressed.
Although “Blind” didn’t make this argument, his comments also reminded me of the black-on-black violence cop-out that is often used by racists to shut down discussions of police shootings of black civilians: “Well black people are killing each other all the time anyway. Maybe they should work on that first instead of race-baiting.”
White people are also killed mostly by other white people, at least in the US. The next time a black person kills a white one, can I just retort that white people are killing each other off anyway?
Even the people who can acknowledge that racism is an issue, can have backwards ideas about its causes or resolutions. I believe that part of this problem is that some white people take it personal when you discuss acts of institutional racism or individual prejudice. They hear you discuss racism and get a knee-jerk reaction to accuse you of racism, or to simply discuss how enlightened and colour-blind they are: “I don’t even see colour, you’re so racist for talking about it.”
These people will then get “triggered” if they see a movie where a white character got changed to a black one (even though this happens less than whitewashing) : “Why is Hollywood forcing diversity on us? I hate this liberal propaganda.”
Welcome to the new colour-blind era.

Dunkirk and Harry Styles

Batman Begins was my first Christopher Nolan film, a film that I later discovered marked his transition into high-budget blockbusters. The Dark Knight became one of my favourite films, thanks in large part to Heath Ledger’s performance as my favourite fictional character. Afterwards, I went back to Memento and then added Inception to my favourites list. The Dark Knight Returns and Interstellar were both disappointments, but only disappointing when compared to Nolan’s previous work.

When I heard Christopher Nolan was doing a World War II film it became one of my most anticipated films of 2017. The teaser and the subsequent trailer still managed to exceed my expectations and affirm my belief that this would be a triumphant return to form. However, I couldn’t help but detect one drop of poison in the cauldron. The YouTube comments on the trailers were hijacked by One Directioners, proclaiming their love for Harry Styles and saying that their baby better not die in the film. A co-worker mentioned that Harry Styles was in the film, but I hoped that his role was a small one that would not overshadow Dunkirk. I still don’t know how big Styles’s role as “Alex” is, but the billing online makes it seem like it is pretty significant.

Although I personally loathe (trying to cut down on the use of the word ‘hate’) One Direction I didn’t want to let that hamper my perception of Styles. I have seen actors come from unlikely backgrounds and nail major performances. At one point, people probably thought it was ridiculous that The Fresh Prince would have Oscar-nominated roles. However, the horde of One Directioners that this film is apparently attracting does bring up some concerns.

Firstly, I bet most of the One Directioners barely know anything about World War II, or even care about the story itself. They just want to see their hubby on screen. I like to think of Daisy Ridley as my wife-to-be but there is no way I would watch two hours of a story I have no interest in just to see her on screen. I have never understood this level of fan worship, and I honestly think it represents the worst of fandom. As a matter of fact, the only time I would watch a film just for an actor is if I appreciate their acting talent. I saw Shame simply because Michael Fassbender was in it, but I also had some interest in the story. As much as I love Fassbender, I still avoided Asssasin’s Creed like the plague.

An even bigger issue with Styles is that his addition in this film seems so, for lack of a better word, random. Was his audition truly so spellbinding that it beat all of the competition? There wasn’t a single other talented actor with the right age and look? A co-worker argued that must be the case if he got selected, and part of me hopes that logic holds true. Nolan isn’t Michael Bay, he doesn’t hire actors just because they’re hot or marketable. Yet why was Style’s, an unproven acting commodity, casted before actors like Cillian Murphy? I’m seeing Dunkirk on saturday and if Styles’s performance is anything short of spectacular then I will continue to wonder why I had to see him on screen, while surrounded by screaming Directioners.

Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

Note: I was out of the country for the past week, with limited wi-fi. I am back in Canada now but my schedule will still be busier than normal, likely until the end of August. With that said, I will still do my best to post three times a week.

Also, this piece has spoilers for “Men Against Fire”.

When I started watching “Men Against Fire” I thought it would end up on the bottom half of Black Mirror. The acting was some of the weakest the show’s given us in a while and I initially didn’t find the characters or the world as enthralling as the ones in preceding episodes. Initially, the story was about marines with hi-tech equipment killing zombies. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi and zombie stories but the plot was a sharp contrast to the previous episodes. However, I figured that if I can watch an episode about a man being blackmailed to have sex with a pig, I can give this episode a chance.

The end of some episodes were disappointing, such as “Playtest”, which was dulled by numerous fake-outs throughout the episode. Other preceding episodes also have great ending, especially “White Christmas” and “Shut Up and Dance”. However, those endings were paired with episodes that I found enthralling and entertaining from start to finish. The endings were brilliant, but they only helped to immortalize amazing episodes. “Men Against Fire” might rank as my favourite ending (last 20 minutes) simply due to its ability to elevate what came before it.

“Roaches”, the pale, humanoid monsters that the soldiers eliminate turn out to be humans. Their MASS implants limit their sense of smell and hearing, drowning out the smells and sounds of war. Michael Kelly is a stand out on House of Cards as Doug Stamper, and is also a stand out here as Arquette, the psychologist who shares the twisted truth with “Stripe”. As always with Black Mirror the technology itself isn’t the most interesting part of the story; the most interesting part is the human behaviour it highlights.

Arquette uses the statistic that only 15-20% of men fired their rifles at the enemy in World War II, even when under the threat of immediate danger. Although this statistic is hotly debated, a comment on this page did add that most deaths in the world wars came from artillery fire: long-range, impersonal attacks that avoided the Rambo-esque hacking and shooting of close quarters combat.  Scholarly books such as Denis Winter’s Death Men also assert that most military deaths came from artillery fire, especially during advances.

“Men Against Fire” gets more interesting after a roach shines a laser into Stripe’s eyes. It was obvious that the laser must have some impact on the plot, when Stripe’s senses were affected after being exposed to it. When Hunter and Stripe raid an apartment building there is also a blueprint of the laser in the roach nest. Some online discussion shows that plenty of people say they saw the twist coming, and then also argue that the episode is poor because of that. I have to say that a predictable twist doesn’t have to bring down an episode if it is executed well. I thought I saw a twist coming, but I actually misinterpreted what it was.

Although the roaches appearance is terrifying, you realize that they didn’t initiate an attack in the first raid. Their first instinct is to run, and the sniper who kills squad leader Medina is an exception, probably because the soldiers are closing in on their refuge. The roaches weren’t depicted as the mindless predators we’re familiar with from zombie films. They seemed like mutants trying to live peacefully. The characters frequently mention a global war that passed, and I thought the roaches were the offspring of radiation from that war. For that reason, I thought the laser was a device that was meant to make them only appear normal to others, before they were mutated.  I had an inverse understanding of the twist until it was revealed. The roaches weren’t trying to make Stripe see them as they used to be, they wanted Stripe to see him as they are.

“You see me.”: The words of a refugee on the run from a genocidal society, relieved someone finally sees her as human. The military might be the ones killing the roaches, but the general public are brainwashed to see the roaches as literal monsters. Civilians don’t have MASS implants, the roaches are just other humans to them. However, they are humans that threaten the strength and purity of humanity’s bloodline. Arquette lists a range of defects present in the roaches, from higher susceptibility to diseases, to sexual deviancy and criminal tendencies. Arquette’s speech has all the cornerstones of eugenics and racism, and Trump’s comments on hispanics sadly mirror some of the ideas that criminality is ingrained in certain people.

In the aftermath of the war, one side went through great trouble to dehumanize the other. Cockroaches or “roaches” is what the Hutus called the Tutsis leading up to the Rwandan genocide, and even more recently used by a British politician to refer to refugees. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same term is used here. Dehumanization is a key part of genocide, birthed from propaganda that makes it easier for law-abiding civilians to engage in or support violence against the other. Civilians won’t even touch the food the roaches touched simply because they don’t want to get contaminated by a lesser breed.

“Men Against Fire” transitions from a war movie, to a piece that delves into the dark corner of the human psyche where prejudice reins supreme. As Stripe stands alone outside a dilapidated, graffiti-stained house, he sees a beautiful woman waiting to welcome him to their home. I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other soldiers in this army had their memories wiped after they found out the truth.

Black Mirror: White Christmas

Picking a favourite episode of Black Mirror is a challenge. “The Waldo Moment” and “The National Anthem” aren’t contenders but there are plenty others, ranging from “Shut Up and Dance”, “Be Right Back”, to “The Entire History of You”. Among this list is “White Christmas”, which after careful consideration, I will have to say edges out the competition.

Like my post on “The Entire History of You“, I don’t want to focus on the plot itself. Black Mirror‘s central thesis is that technology can have corrosive effects on how humans interact with one another and I want to focus on how that is displayed here.

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) is undoubtedly a highlight of the episode, a character who is both charming and repulsive at the same time. The more vile aspects of his character emerge as his story unfolds. His past-life as a wannabe dating guru seems somewhat harmless at first. As a lanky film geek, I’d probably be an easy target for his services. However, it only takes a few seconds to realize that his real-time coaching is a grave invasion of privacy. Aside from the simple act of watching, Trent’s technology (referred to as the Z-Eye) also provides him with face recognition software he can use to research anyone his clients come in contact with, allowing him to feed any pertinent information to a party crasher. It gets only worse when we realize all of the members of his class share in their peers’ experiences, including any luck they get with unsuspecting women. The date that lands Trent in legal trouble also reminds me of the few I’ve had: promising starts with catastrophic endings.

It was great to see Oona Chaplin in another role, after seeing her for the first time in Taboo. She was undoubtedly a weak link on Taboo but does a better job here, portraying Greta, a wealthy woman about to undergo surgery. Prior to her surgery, a digital copy or “cookie” of Greta is created.

This cookie is intended to control Greta’s smart house, serving the rest of its “life” performing functions such as regulating heat and displaying Greta’s schedule. As expected the cookie is reluctant to spend its life this way, but Matt’s job is to make it compliant. By manipulating the time settings in the cookie’s digital world, he is able to make the cookie “live” for months at a time, stuck in a white room with nothing but a control panel. The room itself is only a projection within the cookie, but it is Greta’s prison now.

One of the characters, “Joe” remarks that this is slavery, but Trent believes it isn’t since the cookie isn’t a real being. I have to agree with Joe on this. Any sci-fi story that deals with the issue of consciousness, with Ex-Machina being a recent example, raises the question of what makes a being conscious and the morality of keeping a conscious being captive.

Is Greta’s cookie a conscious being? Matt doesn’t think so, because she’s just a string of code. However, if we analyze consciousness the way it is analyzed in Ex-Machina, then we understand that the components of a being don’t define its eligibility for consciousness. In Ex-Machina, Caleb argues that one of the central tests for consciousness is the “chess” question. A chess computer knows the game of chess and can make good plays, but can it describe what chess is? Does it even know what chess is? Simulation vs consciousness.

This cookie, from what we understand, is mentally no different than the person it was spawned from. We see it panicking as it is extracted from Greta and Matt has to explain the nature of its creation and its assigned purpose. Essentially, a copy of Greta’s mind was grafted and planted into a different environment. Until Matt explained what she was, she thought she was a conscious human being. She may be just code, but consciousness isn’t about matter, it’s about thought.

Although the cookie is the most advanced technology we see in the episode, it is actually not what interests me most. We are probably all familiar with ghosting, the act of ending a relationship with someone by cutting off all communication without explanation. Ghosting is usually discussed in the context of romantic relationships, but can apply to anyone. Someone decides to end the relationship, but decides that they want to avoid the difficult decision, call or text required for that. Instead, they simply cut off the other person. Ghosting preceded technology such as phones and computers, and some may see it is just a new name for something old. However, I believe technology makes it easier to become disconnected from other people. We don’t have to move or  shred letters, we can unfollow, delete or block with a click. Ghosting is convenient for people who have become accustomed to hiding behind screens when they interact. It is spineless and immature, and technology only makes it easier.

When “Joe” confronts his wife about her pregnancy, she is quick to block him. She doesn’t do this on her phone or some app, she blocks his entire body using the technology her world has to offer. She sees nothing but a grey silhouette where he stands and can only hear muffled static when he speaks. When Matt’s wife is confronted with the truth of his actions, she elects to do the same thing. The people who would have previously gone for a walk or tried to avoid their spouse, instead of contronting an issue, can now feel free to block someone’s entire body. The current level of cowardice that we see doesn’t prove effective if you’re likely to see someone again at work, school etc. With the capability to block someone as we see in “White Christmas”, the ghosted may be able to see you but they can’t interact with you. When Joe confronts his wife, after she blocks him, she only walks away and then proceeds to file a restraining order. Blocking becomes legally binding and the argument that you simply wanted to be able to confront someone directly doesn’t protect you. The authorities take the side of someone who decided to block her husband because he insisted on discussing their baby with her.

I have no doubt that authorities would defend this behaviour. Ghosting is already on the rise. Find any article online that discusses it, and allows comments. You will find plenty of people criticizing the practice, but you will also find many supporting it for one reason or another. All of the positive reasons boil down to “It’s easier for me (or both of us)”. Article after article will tell you that people who get ghosted may be able to deal with a relationship ending, but hate the way that their partner decided to do it. Blocking takes ghosting to an almost sadistic level.

Speaking of sadism, “White Christmas” gives us another twisted ending. Once Joe confesses that he murdered his ex-wife’s father, the authorities decide to tamper with the time settings. Each minute becomes 1000 years to Joe’s cookie, leaving him trapped in a projection of the cabin where he committed murder. We’re already living in a society where policemen have killed civilians for a thrill, I can definitely believe law enforcement officials would take a little glee in messing with someone they view as a lowly criminal. Even better, I can believe they would punish a sex offender with not being able to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Black Mirror Season 1. This piece will not include full plot summaries of episodes. It is intended for those who have already seen them.

I completed watching Black Mirror two nights ago and can safely add it to the my list of favourite shows. The series is an anthology with twelve episodes, each focusing on the consequences of technology on society. With each story, the main character is challenged by a development borne from technology that is either common in their world, or is experimental. In most cases, the challenge does not truly come from the technology itself. The challenge comes from people’s misuse or exploitation of it.

Although I enjoyed most of the episodes, with “The Waldo Moment” being an outlier, I didn’t want to write about every one. The episodes that I found most interesting were the ones set in worlds the most similar to our own, e.g unlike “Fifteen Million Merits”.

With that said, I wished to discuss “The Entire History of You” first. The episode follows lawyer Liam Foxwell (Toby Kebbell), who suspects that his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) is having an affair. Liam investigates his wife using the commonplace “grain”, an implanted chip that records everything its users see and hear, and makes it available for replay and display.

Many devices we have now allow us to do this, but of course they are not embedded in our bodies. The grain is used to screen passengers at airports, and it also appears that 9/11 operators rely on it to authenticate calls, as evidenced when an operator hangs up on one of the characters because she doesn’t have a grain.

The aspect of the grain that I found most interesting was how people use it while they perform certain tasks. In particular, we see Liam and Ffion having sex, while using their grains to replay memories of steamier times.

While their bodies move in a half-hearted attempt at intercourse, they both use their grains to replay sex that was probably from the honeymoon phase of the marriage. There may be many people who feel sexually unsatisfied with a partner, and the grain allows them to disconnect and relive those memories, even while they are with their partner. Like our present time, technology removes the intimacy from our encounters. I personally know people who confess that they need visual stimulation, like pornography, to get aroused for sex with a partner. Ffion’s ex-boyfriend, Jonas, openly admits to using the grain to replay or “redo” past sexual experiences so that he can masturbate to them. In a sense, past sexual experiences become the new pornography.

Don’t we all know people who spend half the time at a concert recording it instead of actually experiencing it? Or someone who can’t put their phone down for a few minutes for a conversation?I am not a luddite, but I can’t help but notice that, for some people, the visual proof of an experience becomes more important than the experience itself. We increasingly lose the ability to simply enjoy a moment.With the grain, your Instagram obsessed friend can now interrupt a conversation and use any tv screen in the room to broadcast their latest workout.

The grain also leads to more obsession with the past. Liam’s initial obsession is an appraisal at work, where he redos the moment repeatedly, analyzing the appraisers’ facial expressions and the movements of their hands to judge what they are writing down. His obsession then moves to his wife’s behaviour around her ex-boyfriend, Jonas. Liam scrutinizes and redos the way she looks at Jonas in contrast to him, the way she laughs at Jonas’s terrible jokes etc. When Ffion admits she dated Jonas only for a few months, Liam is able to search his memory archives and find Ffion saying she only dated him for a week.

We find out Liam’s suspicions were warranted. It is implied he has been suspicious for some time, and his suspicions could have led him to analyze his wife’s behaviour more, instead of suspicions arising simply due to the abilities the grain provides. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone could be led to paranoia if they were to overanalyze and replay certain parts of a conversation or encounter. People are already quick to judge their partner as a cheater or potential cheater if they go a certain length of time without responding to texts, if they seem distant one day etc. What happens if an insecure person is able to study every encounter with their partner, the same way Liam can?

“The Entire History of You” is both a story we have seen before, and one we haven’t. Infidelity plots are dime a dozen in entertainment, but Jesse Armstrong’s writing weaves in a science-fiction element to create something that is captivating, heartbreaking and maybe even relatable.

When I was looking up the episode to verify the writer’s name, I came across this review that said this episode is one of the weaker ones because the technology “wasn’t so crucial to the trajectory of the story”. I can enjoy the more technologically focused episodes like “Be Right Back” or  “Men Against Fire”, but I can still appreciate this episode. Sometimes, the best science-fiction stories are ones that only use technology as a backdrop to analyze our tendencies and behaviour. I can enjoy a story about a killer robot being sent back in time but it is also a treat to watch a story that simply asks “How would this development change how people interact with one another?”

Motion Capture

I no longer see films in theatres as much as I used to, and although I like to blame this on adulting, I believe the real culprit is the limited social circle I have where I am currently living. When most of your friends are out of town, you don’t have as many opportunities to go to the theatre. Most of my time in front of a screen is now dominated either by work, television or catching up on older movies. As a result, I sometimes lose track of upcoming releases. Logan was a dominant blip on my radar, and then Wonder Woman, Justice League and Star Wars took over.

Amidst these films I forgot about War of the Planet of the Apes. Its predecessors both exceeded my expectations, and the film’s main actor also brings me back to the character that truly birthed my love of film.

I remember seeing Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers back in 2002, and later learning that Gollum was performed via motion capture. Instead of being solely computer generated, Andy Serkis provided the movements and voice for the character, which was then edited in post production to give us one of the greatest CGI creations in cinematic history. Special effects age fast, but at the time Gollum could easily be mistaken for a real person (albeit a hideous one). Even today, Gollum still looks better than the CGI creations from more recent films.

As I look back on The LOTR trilogy, I can safely say that Gollum is one of the characters that marked my shift from a regular movie-goer to a true cinephile: The type of person that could discuss all details of a film all day. From that moment, I didn’t just talk about how attractive the actors were, like most people. I was interested in what went on behind the scenes, budgets, directors a.k.a all the details most people viewed as boring or geeky.

Andy Serkis is undoubtedly a pioneer of motion capture, which has evolved since his days on the set of Lord of the Rings. Motion capture is becoming more common in films, tv shows and even video games. Productions ranging from The Last of Us to The Revenant have utilized it to create CGI animals or characters whose movements and features are more realistic than ones we could get otherwise. Older films have used humans as props for their CGI e.g. using an actor as a prop who would then be edited in post-production. However, this form of “motion capture” mainly helped the other actor by giving them a spot to look at during filming. One infamous example is The Fellowship of the Ring using a tennis ball as a reference for the Balrog’s location. If this scene was done with true motion capture, the Balrog’s movements would be performed by a human in some form of motion capture suit, like the one scene below for The Last of Us.

Some people used to argue that voice acting isn’t real acting since it is more limited. I never believed this and viewed voice acting as a comparable, if not greater feat, since it deprives actors of the tool of body language for conveying emotions. Many actors end up doing some voice work in post-production, where they have to redo lines in a studio in order to counter all of the background noise from the production reels. In the era of motion capture, many actors become voice actors during principle filming. We don’t see them on screen, but they are the ones providing the movements and/or voice for a character. In the case of Bradley Cooper, he only does the voice for Rocket Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy, while the director’s brother does the motions. For other productions, such as Grand Theft Auto V the actors end up doing both. Video games increasingly use motion capture and I wouldn’t be surprised if motion capture is involved in every game’s production in fifty years, if virtual entertainment doesn’t dominate by then.

War of the Planet of the Apes will undoubtedly prove to be another marvel of motion capture, just like the series as a whole.If Matt Reeves ends the series on a strong note, it will be all the proof I need that the solo Batman solo film is in good hands.

Sense8 Cancelled

I gave my thoughts on season 1 of Netlix’s “Sense8” a while ago and was happy to see that some of the gripes I had about the first season were addressed: “Whispers” received more development and so did the Biological Preservation Organization (BPO), the organization that is hunting the sensates. In addition to that, we also got more development for the sensates and got to continue the stories we loved from the first season. Sense8 continued with its emotional gravity and action, while also offering more of the unmatched feel good moments that fans fell in love with in the first season.

Even better, the second season also managed to tackle its themes of discrimination and acceptance without being as preachy as the first season, or even the Christmas special were at times. The action scenes were better, not just bigger and the season left us with a cliffhanger that raised questions and excitement for season 3. I finished the series about two weeks ago, feeling like Sense8 had potential to become something truly iconic. Then a co-worker told me it was cancelled.

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on this development for a while and I figure later is better than never. The main reason cited by Netflix executives and even actor Brian J. Smith (Will) is the issue of return on investment (ROI). Unlike many shows and films, Sense8 shot all of its scenes on location. Production involved filming in eight different countries, which lent more authenticity to the show but also drives up the production costs. Along with The Get Down, Sense8 becomes one of the first notable Netflix original cancellations (at least in a while). The streaming service doesn’t release viewership data, so cancellation is sadly one of the few indicators audiences get of a show’s viewership. This is not to say that Sense8 necessarily resulted in a loss for Netflix. CEO Reed Hastings said the streaming service had too many hits competing with one another. Perhaps Sense8 didn’t make a profit with its last season. Or perhaps it made profit but not enough to justify its budget, in the eyes of Netflix executives. In such a situation, profitable and well-loved shows can end up getting pushed aside for ones that are even more profitable. We are living in a golden-age of television, with a diverse and critically lauded slate of tv shows that is arguably more enticing than what Hollywood offers. Even Hollywood A-listers understand the power of the “small screen”, from Kevin Spacey, to Dwayne Johnson to Matthew McConaughey. Competition is fierce on cable and especially on Netflix due to its smaller stable of original programming. A passionate fan base isn’t enough to bring it back with its cries or petitions, and it appears Sense8 is simply a casualty of entertainment economics.

A part of me holds on the hope that the show will return at some point, similar to how Young Justice is now slated for a third season, three years after its cancellation. When asked why Young Justice was returning, the president of Warner Bros. Animation said that “The affection that fans have had for Young Justice, and their rallying cry for more episodes, has always resonated with us”. I want to believe Netflix could have a similar change of heart but I don’t want to indulge false hope.

Sense8‘s cancellation is all the more upsetting because of season two’s improvement, and the epic season that it was building up to. Now, fans can only imagine what would come next. Maybe that will have to enough.

Darkness

These next few months are going to be busy as I take on more part-time work but I’m still committed to posting three times a day. If you haven’t already, check out my film and tv comics channel @moviegrapevine, or my writing channel @wmoviegrapevine.

This piece follows from my continued resolution to write more poetry pieces. It is my attempted distillation of all the negativity and worries that I’m trying to cut out of my life. This piece is also takes lines from my most recent post to @wmoviegrapevine.

The Darkness

I can sense happiness now,

Ebbing and flowing with the words and actions of those around you,

Being pulled along like a dog on a leash,

When your walkers vanish,

Or show their true colours,

I’ll be back to lead you down a different path,

I know you’ll let me in,

You always do when the outside world lets you down,

Let me whisper to you again,

Tell you how your hard work will never pay off,

How you’ll decay in a cubicle,

Never living your dreams,

Let me tell you how you’ll always be lonely,

Your friends are all leaving you,

Other cities call to them,

Or maybe you have more competition,

Girlfriends, wives, children,

The things you know you won’t have anytime soon,

Don’t you wonder why?

Can you really blame it all on them?

Their poor taste?

Or is it just that you lack something that appeals to them?

What is it exactly?

Don’t you want me to tell you?

The Wonders of Tinder

I know this piece differs quite a lot from my normal material but I’ve had these thoughts in my head for a while and had to get them out. I write this piece after deleting tinder for the 5th+ time.

The Internet as a whole is a microcosm of the human race. Our interests. Our prejudices. Most importantly, our vapidness and lack of originality. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the realm of online dating.

“Send me your cheesiest pick up line,”

“I just swiped right for your dog”,

“I’m fluent in sarcasm”,

“I’m sassy”,

“Looking for the (fictional character) to my (fictional character)”

Also, when did Whole Food and Uber ratings become something to mention in dating profiles? That isn’t a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious. I am also genuinely interested to know if all of these generic, rehashed “jokes”and statements come from girls who think they’re being original when they write them, or if they saw it in another profile and figured they would use it too because they’re too lazy to think of something better.

Don’t even get me started on the girls who are just looking for more followers on instagram and snapchat. Some might lead with a brief bio, others might just forgo a bio completely and just post their handles. If they really play the game well they’ll tell you they’re not on tindder much, and that they’re more likely to respond on their social media. I didn’t think any guys would be naive or stupid enough to fall for this, but apparently a lot of them do. Plenty of bios even advise guys they shouldn’t message the girls on social media if they don’t match.

These questions are for the guys: Why do you think following someone on social media (like 100s or 1000s of other desperate guys) is going to help you get laid or get a girlfriend? How does that help you stand out? Do you not think that if a girl’s affection is dependent on you following her, then maybe she doesn’t really like you just for your awesome personality or shirtless bathroom pics? Has any guy that you know personally been able to get with a random girl by messaging her on social media? I need answers.

I previously touched on the disadvantages of online dating when it comes to interracial dating as well. I have been successful with girls that don’t normally like black guys when I met them in person. We were brought together via mutual friends in a setting that was somewhat isolated e.g. a house party. In that environment, they couldn’t just swipe left because I wasn’t their ideal type. They were actually forced to get to know me and try to look past my skin colour. With online dating I go back to being a single picture, and maybe 500 additional words if people like my picture enough. Obviously this is the same for everyone, but it is unfortunate that my skin colour is enough to turn people off in our supposedly “colour-blind” world. Of course, not all girls will say they only like white/Asian/Indian etc. guys. Some are bold enough to put that in their profile but some find more subtle ways. A lot of them just “like hockey players“.

In many cases I just have to pay attention to someone’s interests to get a sense of the skin tone they’re seeking. I once came across a profile where a girl said “swipe right if you don’t like rap/hip-hop/R&B”. Transalation: Swipe right if you don’t like any of the musical genres typically associated with black people. Yes, there are plenty of white musicians in these genres but this snowboarding, country loving girl probably doesn’t associate these genres with white people. Someone who loves hockey and country music is much less likely to be into black guys than the girl who likes basketball and hip-hop. That is not to say that these indicators are guarantees but many supposedly ingrained preferences, are the result of accumulated external stimuli. If you grow up watching a sport and listening to music that is heavily dominated by white figures (even more so than genres like pop or rock,) then it is highly likely you’ll grow up to view such figures as more attractive. Do you think a white child who grows up in an environment where he is surrounded by black people and sees nothing but black people on screen will grow up saying he doesn’t like black girls?

TL:DR: I hate online dating.