Dexter: the finale

Massive spoilers ahead:

I watched the finale last night (31/01/2016) and I have to say it is haunting me. It’s like all great dramatic art in that way. There are a lot “What if…?” questions for me, like there was for that Australian drama film “Summerfield”.

That being said, the ending did leave me dissatisfied and sad. It would have been life-affirming if Dexter had been redeemed by love…renouncing killing and leading a domestic life in Argentina. Instead we have an empty shell of a man at the end. Presumably he is no longer calling himself “Dexter Morgan”. Harry has left his psyche. There is no “Dexter” to narrate the story any more. I got the impression that Dexter had given up killing (when he leaves Oliver Saxon to Debra, for arrest).

It was very sad to have his sister, Debra die. Would have liked that to have not been the case. Not having read the books the tv series was based on, I don’t know how he evolved there. I did think that maybe the tv series could have possibly orchestrated a romantic relationship between Debra and her foster brother, Dexter. That might have been one trajectory for an extended tv series.

It didn’t bother me that Dexter left his young son, Harrison, with Hannah McKay. What did bother me was that Dexter abandoned both of them. Hannah would be under no obligation to look after Harrison in any case. Dexter has also destroyed Hannah’s hopes of them having a life together.

From my point of view, Dexter’s choices aren’t logical and it was sad for him to choose desolation over hope…maybe the scriptwriters had to work very hard to orchestrate and manufacture this undesirable (from my point of view) outcome. It seems to me that the scriptwriters were working under the sort of logic that existed decades ago for homosexual characters in pop culture…they led lives of misery and killed themselves or died. They were “bad” people who must be punished. Hence Debra dying for her “sins” and Dexter suffering for his. What happened to the biblical model concerning one conversion on the road to Damascus?

Lastly, perhaps, I was wondering if Dexter’s new life was planned…he seemed to be wanting to kill himself in the hurricane. If it was a planned outcome, it seemed a very implausible outcome!

If Dexter and Debra couldn’t have come to love each other in a sexual way (Debra being sad about this was affecting) then I was hoping for Debra to be alive at the end and for Dexter to be living a new life with Hannah and Harrison in Argentina, having given up killing. That would have been hopeful and a redeeming ending for him.

Oh well.



Mass Effect 3 Game Cover.jpg


Platform: PS3

Genre: Role playing sci-fi 3rd person shooter

Setting: The Milky Way Galaxy in the future

Story: The concluding chapter in the story of your Commander Shepard (whether you made them male or female) and their fight to defeat the Reapers, a force bent on destroying all life in the galaxy.

Graphics: The best in the series. The textures on the clothes, especially, are approaching photographic realism (whereas the previous game had a more fantasy/sci-fi art look to it) but the custom face I built for my female Shepard looked more cartoony in comparison to the other characters.

Audio: Haven’t mentioned this aspect in my previous reviews, but as far as voice acting goes, I enjoyed it…many times I laughed at the jokes in the game or was moved by some scenes when I replayed various sections of the game looking to see what happened if I chose different options. To audio proper, some parts of the score brought to mind the work of Saul Bass, perhaps in Hitchcock films like Suspicion or Psycho…e.g. the parts with the violin (which both the game and the movies have).

Romance in the game:

Having chosen to let Kaidan die on Virmire rather than consummate a relationship with my female Shepard (because I found Kaidan so dull), I did finally consummate a relationship for the first time in both the times that I played Mass Effect 3…once with a male human character and another with the feminine Asari character. So…numerous options on that front…but I really would recommend starting this franchise from the beginning, not jumping into it from the middle or end.


My first playthrough was on Normal on this and I got through it alright, although some of the DLC missions had extremely tough sections to get past…Insanity level. This is also the first game in the series not to have any small spacecraft for you to fly…it’s all done for you in cutscenes.

Good about the game:

I like how the game wraps everything up (this is without the Extended Cut DLC) but I haven’t had a chance to compare it to the Extended Cut version.

Also good was how some of the conversations played out. E.g. on the Omega DLC Shepard reminded Harrot of how he knew her, cf. earlier games where Shepard was always having to be reminded of how they knew people (or at least, I was! I played Mass Effect 2 first, when the official line was that the game in the series would never be released on PS3…which it later was). This kind of character knowledge (as opposed to the gamer’s knowledge) should be the default in games, I think…whether for conversation options or assumed knowledge for weapons and tactics etc…i.e. for the latter, games should clue you in as to what the right thing to do is, re weapon selection etc.

Okay, that example was for DLC…although I never saved some outcomes, there are some really poignant/tragic scenes which may happen in your game if you don’t have the requisite amount of conversational options, as per the previous games…Tali’s is particularly affecting. Basically, playing the “paragon” version of Shepard, I was emotionally invested in the characters and the story.

Bad about the game:

* The cover system can be very annoying…e.g. if I was under heavy fire in cover and wanted to get away…I seemed to get into cover nearby and not just free run away like I wanted to.

* The side missions can be broken if you don’t do things in the “right” sequence…and there is no way to know beforehand what that “right” sequence is…which brings me back to my earlier point about what the default should be re character knowledge vs the gamer’s knowledge. The photo quest was broken for me for some silly reason, which sucked…I didn’t have that problem on my second playthrough though.

* The load times.

* The load times when you want to replay a conversation to see different outcomes.

Intolerable about the game:

* The way that the game cripples Shepard in that section at the beam on Earth. On insanity it’s just enough to make you want to cry…the gameplay is radically different to the gameplay throughout the game and all previous ones in the series. Whilst it might be great as a cinematic technique, I have never felt so robbed by a game in all my life. It’s where my Insanity run ended and I haven’t completed the game as result. Just abysmal stuff from Bioware.

* The intolerable load times. Oh…did that say again? Let’s not forget the intolerable lack of save spots which forces you to replay over an hour of content up to a bit you might want to handle by itself. The beam section could have done with an opportunity to save, if you got past the first wave of enemies on your slow walk to it. It’s just crushing and soul destroying having to go through that section in all its agonising, nauseating gameplay. It really made me want to not play that section of the game. Which I acted on…by not trying to get past that section of the game on Insanity. It’s that bad.

* On the original ending of the game, the narrative and final choice options are just badly handled or opaque. It’s not clear who dies or how to identify the final options in the game…and it seems if you want to retry the ending you have to…wade through an intolerable amount of time replaying the game in order to do that. That sounds like torture. Ruinous to a game. As with the beam section, the thought of having to do this just makes me physically recoil from the thought of wanting to do that again.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Theatrical release poster

82.5% Apocalyptic, surreal, exhilarating.

As with Mad Max 2, this latest instalment of the Mad Max franchise presupposes no prior knowledge of the preceding movies. The term “reboot” has been applied to it, which is perhaps fair enough. Having a new star as the titular character (Tom Hardy) lends credence to this view. As with Mad Max 2, Fury Road begins with a voice-over narration setting the scene. In Mad Max 2, that voice was some nameless man, acting as a teller of the myth of Max. In Fury Road, it is the voice of Max himself. Mad Max 2 struck me as more mythic, but Fury Road does not eschew this approach but it does appropriates other stylistic genres.

Perhaps the driver of this story is a variation on the story of The Iliad…all Hell breaks loose when the wife of a powerful man goes walkabout…off the reservation, so to speak. There seems to be more emphasis on a picture of a post-apocalyptic society here than in previous Mad Max films, although perhaps Beyond Thunderdome did delve in to this aspect…it’s just that I remember very little of of it, apart from that cage-fight setting etc. Early on in the film, at least, it’s more about creating a sense of place and society than focusing on Max. Most of the movie is one long, frantic, car/truck/motorcycle chase sequence…which might sound like a bad thing but director George Miller makes it exhilarating…although perhaps falling short of the standards he set in Mad Max…which happened to be more introduction to the franchise and made me conclude as a child that he had outdone Hollywood (later watching the first movie in the series was a disappointment, I have to say).

How does Tom Hardy fare in the role? In this, he seems a marginal character a lot of the time…an accidental/incidental hero, if you will…low intensity often, too. He looks buff compared to the lithe Mel Gibson in the first three movies. His accent seems a bit weird too…I can’t remember if I found it to sound South African at times…or maybe that was one or two other characters? Some of the other characters have weird accents too…either they’re not nailing what they’re going for, or it’s just a mixed bag of accents. Max’s costume accessories at times recall his role in The Dark Knight Rises. Sometimes Max’s predicament puts in mind James Bond being in a similar, outlandish circumstance.

In this mad world, it’s good that Max isn’t the be-all and end-all. Quite a lot screen time is spent on Charlize Theron’s character…the fancifully named “Imperator Furiosa”. One has to give Charlize great kudos…I doubt that any other actor has taken The Method to such an extent as to have their forearm amputated for the role! She is, in a way, a rival to Max’s myth.

Also impressive about the film is the cinematography and style of it all. The sea of humanity early on in the film, the aesthetic, which seems to draw on such diverse sources as “Beneath the planet of the apes” (perhaps…foggy memory!), underground American horror films about the backwoods people and Freaks…etc.etc.etc. The refugee camp aesthetic has a distinct looking cast but I don’t think that they have the memorability of the goons in Mad Max 2, with the likes of The Humungus, Wez and The Feral Kid (although he is not a goon!). Let’s not forget The Gyro Captain in that latter camp too!

Some really impressive visuals can be found in the dust storm sequence, which seems positively of The Apocalypse and one setting which brings to mind wastelands enchanted by an evil spell…a la “Lord of the rings” or “Excalibur” like. The latter setting has a surreal feel to it in stark contrast to its stark, monochrome colour palette.

Perhaps for the first time in this series, the “mad” part of the title character seems to be literalised. He has demons which torment him. To be honest, I wasn’t sure where to place these in the chronology…before going into this movie, I suspected that it was set some time after the events of the original movie and perhaps before or after the events of the second. Max has numerous flashbacks which unsettle him. I did wonder if one of the faces I saw was meant to be the Feral Kid or another was meant to someone from the first movie…but the age of the character in the flashback I Fury Road made me doubt that…although the original movie isn’t clear in my mind. It might very well be possible that the events of the flashbacks could be fodder for a sequel to Fury Road…assuming that they haven’t been covered in the prior movies.

My casual reading of the series is that the first movie was set in a remote, violent community. Some time between the events of that movie and the second, some sort of global catastrophe occurred which brought mankind back to a primitive, dog-eat-dog state. Speaking of which, there are some nice, seeming references to Mad Max 2…from the truck driven by Furiosa (is that where this movie’s title derives from?) to a nice nod to the dog food scene…but turned up to 11 (something the squeamish may want to close their eyes momentarily for!).

To be honest, I would have been happy for Mel Gibson to reprise his role as Max and I didn’t really need “name” overseas stars brought in, but Charlize is probably less of a marked choice than Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome (although she had a couple of great songs on that movie’s soundtrack!).

I’d place this movie behind Mad Max 2 and above Beyond Thunderdome, which I saw before rating movies at places like this. It’s an exhilarating ride. Notes to self: Pretty lame lines on posters for this film. I.e. “What a lovely day” and “The future belongs to the mad”…seems like the PR guy’s mother phoned those ones in! Music as if from a melodrama at times Dedication to two Professors in credits…who? Found the guitar guy bit a bit silly! “Cars that ate Paris” type car too!

Mass Effect 2

A human male soldier carries an assault rifle. On the right, a woman and a reptile-like extraterrestrial accompany the soldier. The game's logo floats above them, while the background consists of ruins on a planet with orange sky.

Score: 75%

[N.B. The following review was posted elsewhere c 26/07/2011. This is also the first game I played in the trilogy, due to the first game in the series being represented by the publisher as never to appear on the Playstation console.]

Console: Playstation 3

Genre: Role playing game/First person shooter

Setting: The Milky Way Galaxy in the future and selected planets and spaceships in there.

Story: You play an elite human soldier (Shepard) who must save the universe from a monstrous alien attack. This soldier commands an advanced spaceship and must recruit various humans, aliens and androids to take on a fearsome adversary which is attacking human colonies and leaving no one left behind to tell the tale.

Graphics: Excellent. Has a quality science fiction/fantasy art book look to it, but not as lush/realistic as, say, “Uncharted 2”.

Good about the game:

* You can upgrade the skills, weaponry and powers of those you recruit by gaining their loyalty. However, on first play through, it seems that sometimes you have to choose who to support…which means you may alienate other recruits. The system does have some depth, in that you can lose the loyalty of someone. Nobody on your team starts out as loyal, but that’s not to say they are hostile to you. At times, if you make a lot of alternative save spots in the game, you can go back to a point in time and try to gain a different outcome as far as interaction with your ship’s crew goes…but that can make no difference at times…which is a strength of the game (unless some game trophies require things be different).

* The gameplay and cinematic element is brilliantly executed in the mission concerning the sniper recruit trying to find someone he believes betrayed his squad…it’s like watching a movie…which you are creating right there.

* There are side missions which can increase the strength of your squad members…or they may just be a bit of fun…or perhaps there will be serious consequences to them in Mass Effect 3? * There is a sense of fun to the game, should you care to explore. E.g. some of the interactive advertising billboards are amusing. Conversations you have with team members can be intriguing too. I did find amusing some of the information on planets near the Krogan’s home world, as well as what some of your crew were reading, according to secret dossiers on them.

Misjudgements in the game:

* The PS3 version of the game has one glaring omission…you start in the middle of the trilogy. The whole point of the game is the story element, and the main gimmick of the game is that the choices you make in one game carry over into the next game, when you play that. It’s for this reason I am not marking this game as highly as I could.

* The PS3 version of the game does not have a booklet with game information in it. There is such a guide on the disc, but it is not accessible when you are actually playing the game, I don’t think. I would have appreciated having a booklet to glance at to familiarise or re-familiarise myself with gameplay or gameworld information.

* There is a bug in the game whereby if you get to close to something the game won’t let you walk over (like a hole or incline) your character is lodged in the air, unable to move…so you have to reboot the game! Other characters may float next to you by way of solidarity with your predicament.

* Unfortunately, I had an undesirable outcome once I accepted one mission…which is why I think I’ll replay the game…i.e. even though you have to save the universe, there’s no rush UNLESS you choose to take on a particular mission (IFF mission). The game does warn you that you can’t go back once you start the Omega 4 Relay mission, but I think that the IFF mission warranted such a warning itself…found myself sans nearly all of my crew after I dilly-dallied rescuing them. Since I read a cheat book, I know that it was possible to rescue more than I did by delaying their rescue.

* The A.I. can be up and down…early in the game when I was hopeless at times, the female thief was brilliant in allowing me to complete a mission, or so too the Krogan character in another mission…I don’t think that I had the right equipment on me, so without my squad’s help I doubt if I could have progressed. The flipside of this A.I. is that on some missions they are nowhere to be seen…they abandon you to face enemies alone…e.g. in a room on a spaceship I was fighting a team of enemies and my two squad mates were outside. It would be good if they could help you defeat your enemies without needlessly getting themselves killed too…take cover, for God’s sake! * Oddly, I did find it awkward when one crewmate pointed out that I had asked the same thing before. Another crewmate complained that I was having too many personal chats with him…when I hadn’t spoken to him in a while! On the flipside, I liked that you could ask the same question again without such awkward comments being made to you…i.e. if you missed the import of something that was said, you could go back to take it in better.

General observations:

This is a quality game with an engaging story. The major drawback with the PS3 version of the game is that the gimmick available on other platforms (Xbox 360, PC) aren’t available to you (the element of your choices counting in later games). Replaying the game (you can get bonuses after completing the game a first time, as well as change your character’s gender), I found I had a sense of familiarity with the characters, not unlike those on other platforms get, who have played the first in the series. Although the game does have some bugs, it doesn’t significantly detract from the pleasure of the experience. High replay value. Potentially a 8.5+/10 game (on other platforms).

Mass Effect


Score: 67.5+%*

[N.B. A word of warning to potential buyers of this game: it’s possible that you won’t be able to finish the last few minutes of this game due to a glitch at the climax of the game. This is a known problem (definitely for the PS3 version but not sure about other platforms). It looks like those behind the game have no interest in fixing it, since the problem is years old (I did manage to complete this game…eventually…in the 2nd week of 2015). Not sure what % of PS3 consoles have this issue, but it manifested for me in the climactic fight…the game just slowed down, stuttered and eventually froze, requiring a reboot. Rebooting didn’t fix the problem either. My score does not take into account such aggravation or the feeling of being ripped off if you buy this game and can’t finish it, which means you can’t transfer your character information to the sequels. It might be case that the PSN version of the game may make overcoming this glitch possible, but I did have issues with even that, although I did make it through to the end of the game…it’s for that reason that I’m not taking this aspect of the experience into my score. It would have been impossible to give this a (good) score at all if I hadn’t of been able to finish the game.

Another note: I played the first game in this series years after playing its sequel first…due to Bioware insisting that the first game would never be released on Playstation.]

Platform: PS3, also on PSN.

Genre: Role playing sci-fi shooter.

Setting: The Milky Way galaxy in the future.

Story: You play an elite human soldier (male or female) who must save the universe from a monstrous alien attack. You command an advanced spaceship and have a squad of elite fighters who you take on missions.

Graphics: Very good. Has a sci-fi fantasy art picture book quality to the visuals. Having played Mass Effect 2 first in this series (‘thanks’ Bioware!), the character models aren’t as realistic looking as in that sequel.

Elements of the game:

Romance: I played as a female soldier. The unfortunate aspect to this RPG element for me was the fact that low-level flirting (if that) pretty much put my options on rails…i.e. I seemed to be limited to one romantic option. Other characters were ruled out by the game as potential romantic interests due to my character having imperceptibly (somehow) become BFF to a male character. This element is rectified in the sequel but it’s a pity it’s not a good system here…so, I got no trophy for Romance in this game! In fact, my choice on Virmire pretty much ruled out that possibility (seeing as the game does not have post-completion gameplay, unlike the sequel).

Mako missions: This is a military vehicle your spaceship drops onto the surface of planets and moons in order to investigate things…which usually leads to battles. Apparently some people have problems with this vehicle but I haven’t really explored their reasons for this. I didn’t mind this aspect of the game too much, apart from being annoyed by having to deal with heavy artillery or big, offensive robots. If you play by the game’s rules and you’re not very good at manoeuvring the vehicle whilst avoiding being hit by weapons fire and dealing out damage to those offensive weapons, then the gameplay will be frustrating. That’s because the game doesn’t allow you to save progress. So, you will have to reload from your previous save, if you play by the rules. I did rely on a workaround to this problem…which was nice. The sequel has much less Mako type missions and did prevent my workaround from the first game too…which is unnecessarily annoying on the developer’s part, I think.

Gameplay: I played this on “Normal” difficulty. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the early missions seemed quite tough to get through, as far your character dying or having members of your squad die. Can’t say that I got to grips with the squadmate placement system, which is something that I eventually came to grips with in the sequel. The sequel at least has an in-game tutorial on how to use the system. Early on in the game I felt like one of those NPC victims to be rescued by the hero…pretty useless. The same feeling occurred to me in Mass Effect 2 but I transitioned into a competent hero in that. It did make me wonder if I would make that same transition in this first game.

Intolerable about the game:

* That all these YEARS after release, it’s STILL possible to be unable to complete the final battle in the game which will prevent you from taking your saved game and importing it to the sequel. Demonstrates utter contempt for quality control by the company.

* Bioware treating gamers with contempt by not releasing the series in chronological order for Playstation gamers.

Good about the game:

* It’s a believable simulation of a galaxy teeming with advanced alien civilisations. If you wish to immerse yourself in this universe, you are provided with a database which provides information on the species you encounter and their history. The Mass Effect universe is perhaps the most satisfying world in which to inhabit. Already I feel I have a sense of this place, with its alternatingly warring and co-operating alien species, such as the Krogan, Turians, Salarians and Asari. It’s for this aspect of the game that I find it a “must play”.

* Not having played online shooters and thus having good twitch reflexes against nimble, deadly opponents, I have to say that I appreciate that you can pause the game as you initiate targetted attacks on enemies. Bring up your weapons display and you can pause the game while you switch your weapon. Bring up your ‘powers’ display and you can pause the action whilst you choose options available to your type of soldier…e.g. hurling a deadly fireball at an enemy.

Not so good about the game:

* Squadmate A.I. I literally made a point sometimes to lock them out of an area in some encounters so that they didn’t die. In other words, I felt that “team” really needed an “I” in it. Just “I”! It’s maddening how you direct them to a particular spot behind cover, say, then they start following you around instead of staying put. Some squadmates are even more annoying…they’re spooning you as they walk right behind you! Sheesh! Getting your gun out and firing it may help discourage them from doing this.

* Navigating on foot in some places. This could be a real pain, as I found it easy to get lost or have no idea where to go. Great examples of badly disorientating locales are Feros as well as the even worse tunnels of Zhu’s Hope. To be balanced, however, I did find one urban space where I had a good sense of how to get to various places in it. That was for the city on Noveria.

* On the Mako missions, often I’d be firing at the big mechs etc, and they didn’t take any damage at all. The ability to damage them seemed random, as far as targetting them. This gave rise to a workaround…getting out of the Mako and just destroying the mech with my squadmates!

* Taking a while to work out how to set the default weapon for your squad.

Remembering how you did that was also annoying.

Could be more intuitive in other words.

* Some bugs in the game, like in-world objects being highlighted so that you can interact with them…and they don’t interact because you already interacted with them but forgot about it. Or the game giving you the impression that you haven’t been to a place before when you actually have…i.e. your Journal isn’t updated to note that you’ve already been there. The Journal also once marked me down as having done something which I still needed to do.

By the by:

Amusing cutscene with Emily Wong due to the fact that there was a bug, which creaating a shadow under her nose and lip…giving her a Hitler mo!

General observation:

I’m currently playing the final instalment in this series. Whilst I can’t say that the gameplay for the series is great or that there aren’t annoyances, it’s definitely worth playing the games because the world is so immersive and believable.

* I didn’t actually write down a score when I made my notes on this game  many months ago. It’s definitely a Pass score. Worth playing in other words. My score of 67.5+% is just what I’m guessing I would have scored it at the time.

The general

A silent, black and white film which has some laughs.  65%


The General poster.jpg

Despite being the major creative force in this movie (looking at Wikipedia’s entry for this movie now, I seem him co-credited for roles such as director, producer, script writer and editing) Buster Keaton seems to humbly list himself in last position as far as the acting credits go, even though he is the lead actor in this movie.

In this story Johnnie Gray (played by Buster) is a railway engineer (…um…’just’ a train driver?) in America’s South. It also happens to be set in the spring of 1861. For non-Americans, that date may not mean much, but no doubt most Americans would recognise it as the time when the American Civil War broke out (very early on in the movie, at the train station Johnnie pulls into, you do see two young black males carrying luggage…it certainly doesn’t seem like the South is a Hellhole for black people…but then again, you don’t see anymore blacks afterwards). When his love interest Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack) wonders when Johnnie will enlist to fight for the South after seeing her father and brother do so, he goes to great lengths to do so, to some comedic effect. Marion makes for a feminine and attractive co-star. Keaton himself makes for physical prowess and derring do in his performance.

Being an ancient comedy (i.e. being in black and white and silent to boot), I think that the humour is no doubt dated for modern audiences (or at least adult ones), but I did chuckle more than once for its duration. E.g. when Johnnie contrives to be alone with Annabelle when there are two young boys inside the mansion with them (I have no idea who those two boys were meant to be…and it’s also quite weird in how Johnnie and Annabelle first meet…it’s by no means clear they are meant to be a’courtin’). The other scene which made me chuckle was when Annabelle takes it upon herself to do some sweeping on Johnnie’s train (which is called “The general”, hence the title) at a rather odd moment. A few seconds after that event, there’s a bizarre moment between him and her. Anyway, the humour for the most part is of the “slapstick” variety.

The Wikipedia entry for this movie mentions that there are different versions of this movie which have different running times. The version that I saw was screened on ABC1 (Australia) on 06/01/2014) at 1:50 a.m. Of course I PVRd it to watch later, as well as the cult Australian movie “Stone” which preceded it. Yet to see the Australian movie though…and I saw “The general” some weeks after I recorded it…and am writing this review weeks after seeing it too. Anyway, in case the following information helps identify which version of the movie that I saw, the running time from go to whoa is 75:30 minutes length. The score features a lot of piano solo music to it…I’m assuming some of the score references a funeral march piece one time, and I can definitely hear “The teddy bears’ picnic” later on…it’s played on a constant loop for a while and later on it is used to comedic effect at an apt moment. There is one scene where the advancing army of the North gets a jaunty score…which makes me wonder if this was a later version of the movie.

“The general” has a cast of 100s at times and the cinematography is nice at times…with shafts of light breaking into a forest. There’s also a probably a good example of special effects ‘magic’ in one scene where you see a lightning flash. For one scene with a shot of a train on a high bridge, I did wonder if that was a model, but I could see figures moving inside of it, suggesting it was not a special effect.

In favour of this movie is the good, easy to follow narrative structure and the way that the captions linger on the screen even when there is the occasional slab of text, making it less stressful to read the dialogue before it disappears.

One thing of interest to note about this movie is the fact that in it, it’s the South (as represented by Johnnie which is the ‘hero’ of the movie. This relates to my earlier query about whether the score for the advancing Union army was a later inclusion.

This is my first Buster Keaton movie. As an Australian, I have to point out that having seen this movie now, I can definitely see the homage being paid to Keaton by the Australian comedian Frank Woodley (of “Lano and Woodley” fame…in fact, they made a sit-com together as well, “The adventures of Lano & Woodley”). I was very impressed with his 2012 sit-c0m “Woodley” and found it funny and sweet. He leans on the kind of minimalist slapstick humour utilised by Keaton in this movie. In any case, I suppose I’m saying that if you are a fan of Keaton’s work, I can recommend “Woodley” at least…his other work/tv shows are too foggy in my memory to recommend.

The smartest machine on Earth

Score: 80%

An interesting documentary concerning the attempt by IBM researchers to create a computer capable of competing on the American game show “Jeopardy!”. As these boffins explain, the ability of computers to play chess was once seen as the pinnacle of computer intelligence. However, the highly formalised and rigid nature of the game of chess was something which computers quickly mastered, even recently being able to defeat chess grandmasters…I Wikid this topic and found some interesting information on this, as well as a link to a documentary on this achievement:

An interesting quote from the first link, above, is:

“Kasparov claimed that several factors weighed against him in this match. In particular, he was denied access to Deep Blue’s recent games, in contrast to the computer’s team, which could study hundreds of Kasparov’s.

After the loss Kasparov said that he sometimes saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves, suggesting that during the second game, human chess players, in contravention of the rules, intervened. IBM denied that it cheated, saying the only human intervention occurred between games. The rules provided for the developers to modify the program between games, an opportunity they said they used to shore up weaknesses in the computer’s play revealed during the course of the match. Kasparov requested printouts of the machine’s log files but IBM refused, although the company later published the logs on the Internet.[108] Although Kasparov wanted another rematch, IBM declined and ended their Deep Blue program.

Kasparov’s loss to Deep Blue inspired the creation of the game Arimaa.[109]

That first paragraph in the quote, above, mirrors something which happens in this current documentary…the computer created to play on “Jeopardy!” improves once it has access to the answers already provided by human contestants in the category currently being played.

For what it’s worth, the computer designed to compete on “Jeopardy!” is called “Watson” by the boffins.

The appeal of this documentary is the insight provided into how a computer of this sort approaches providing answers to the sorts of ‘questions’ given on the game show. It’s the nature of those question (well, the show is sort of bizarro…contestants have to provide a question to the sometimes cryptic ‘answer’ given in the show) which mark out this experiment by IBM as being much more demanding of computer science than building a better chess playing machine. Ordinary language isn’t as rigid and formal as the rules of chess, hence creating a machine capable of competing against the very best players of “Jeopardy!” is a much tougher proposition.

Two approaches to the issue of artificial intelligence are mentioned:

1) Rules approach – this is a kind of “brute force” approach which is suitable for chess programmes. The computer simultaneously thinks through all the possible combinations of moves which made me made by itself or its opponent…a figure of something like 30 moves ahead is mentioned…which absolutely dwarfs what the best human chess grandmasters can manage.

Some of this approach is used on Watson. The computer programmers code millions of items of “common sense” to make the computer able to give logical answers to questions. An example of that would be the distinctions between “child”, “teenager”, “adult” say, and “boy”, “man” etc. If you know the meaning of one of those words, then you can make deductions and inferences based on that knowledge. However, a limitation of this approach is humans aren’t really capable of formalising all these kinds of “common sense” facts which we all take for granted.

2) Machine learning – this is more akin to human learning. The computer is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. When humans can’t code the millions upon millions “common sense” facts which we all take for granted, another approach to make Watson able to compete against the champions of “Jeopardy!” will be required to fast track the process of making it competitive against them.

There are some laughs to be had in this documentary. In trial runs against humans at IBM headquarters, comedian Todd Crain hosts the game show. He often mocks Watson for incorrect answers. For instance, due to computers coming up with answers to questions as found on “Jeopardy!” differently to how humans do this, Watson proposes that “Richard Nixon” is a First Lady of the U.S.A! To a human, it’s obvious that a man cannot be a First Lady, hence Watson’s answer is extremely stupid. Presumably the IBM programmers didn’t add that kind of Rule into Watson’s database!

Before Watson is ready to tackle “Jeopardy!”‘s finest champions for real, on television, some ‘bugs’ must be addressed. Another issue is Watson’s inability to hear contestant’s correct answers to questions in a certain category which would allow it to work out what the ‘question’ is really entailing. Once that data is provided (the human contestants already have this information) Watson will have the ability to “self-correct“. In other words, if Watson is not ‘getting’ the import of a category on “Jeopardy!” and is giving ‘stupid’ answers, then ‘hearing’ correct answers given by the human contestants will allow it to work out what feature of their answer is relevant to the notion of providing a correct answer in that category. For instance, if Watson gives the answer to a question on dates as a particular day – and gets it wrong – and the human contestants give a month as the answer, Watson can self-correct to match a month to two dates given as clues in the ‘question’.

The documentary does mention the computer programme called “Eliza” which is available on the internet now. I’ve interacted with that before and may post my experience of that sometime soon here.

P.S. since posting up this review, the machine at the centre of this documentary (“Watson”) has been in the news again. I.B.M. is looking to incorporate Watson into mobile phones:

A paragraph from that link above reads:

“During a keynote address at Mobile World Congress 2014, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the IBM Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, a global competition to promote the development of mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson”.

Pigeon guided missiles and elephants

Thought I’d transfer some posts from a Group of mine which I hardly ever use any more to this site. I’ll repost my introduction from my Group to this site too:

Time stamp on Group when I posted it: 21/09/2001 (01:09:30 -0700)

I heard about this article during a public seminar on the question of whether god is dead or not. It relates to the terrorist attacks on the US. It is by British evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. Stick with the article as it does have a serious point.

Below are reader’s reactions to the article:

Religion’s misguided missiles

Promise a young man that death is not the end and he will willingly cause disaster
Richard Dawkins

A guided missile corrects its trajectory as it flies, homing in, say, on the heat of a jet plane’s exhaust. A great improvement on a simple ballistic shell, it still cannot discriminate particular targets. It could not zero in on a designated New York skyscraper if launched from as far away as Boston.

That is precisely what a modern “smart missile” can do. Computer miniaturisation has advanced to the point where one of today’s smart missiles could be programmed with an image of the Manhattan skyline together with instructions to home in on the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Smart missiles of this sophistication are possessed by the United States, as we learned in the Gulf war, but they are economically beyond ordinary terrorists and scientifically beyond theocratic governments. Might there be a cheaper and easier alternative?

In the second world war, before electronics became cheap and miniature, the psychologist BF Skinner did some research on pigeon-guided missiles. The pigeon was to sit in a tiny cockpit, having previously been trained to peck keys in such a way as to keep a designated target in the centre of a screen. In the missile, the target would be for real.

The principle worked, although it was never put into practice by the US authorities. Even factoring in the costs of training them, pigeons are cheaper and lighter than computers of comparable effectiveness. Their feats in Skinner’s boxes suggest that a pigeon, after a regimen of training with colour slides, really could guide a missile to a distinctive landmark at the southern end of Manhattan island. The pigeon has no idea that it is guiding a missile. It just keeps on pecking at those two tall rectangles on the screen, from time to time a food reward drops out of the dispenser, and this goes on until… oblivion.

Pigeons may be cheap and disposable as on-board guidance systems, but there’s no escaping the cost of the missile itself. And no such missile large enough to do much damage could penetrate US air space without being intercepted. What is needed is a missile that is not recognised for what it is until too late. Something like a large civilian airliner, carrying the innocuous markings of a well-known carrier and a great deal of fuel. That’s the easy part. But how do you smuggle on board the necessary guidance system? You can hardly expect the pilots to surrender the left-hand seat to a pigeon or a computer.

How about using humans as on-board guidance systems, instead of pigeons? Humans are at least as numerous as pigeons, their brains are not significantly costlier than pigeon brains, and for many tasks they are actually superior. Humans have a proven track record in taking over planes by the use of threats, which work because the legitimate pilots value their own lives and those of their passengers.

The natural assumption that the hijacker ultimately values his own life too, and will act rationally to preserve it, leads air crews and ground staff to make calculated decisions that would not work with guidance modules lacking a sense of self-preservation. If your plane is being hijacked by an armed man who, though prepared to take risks, presumably wants to go on living, there is room for bargaining. A rational pilot complies with the hijacker’s wishes, gets the plane down on the ground, has hot food sent in for the passengers and leaves the negotiations to people trained to negotiate.

The problem with the human guidance system is precisely this. Unlike the pigeon version, it knows that a successful mission culminates in its own destruction. Could we develop a biological guidance system with the compliance and dispensability of a pigeon but with a man’s resourcefulness and ability to infiltrate plausibly? What we need, in a nutshell, is a human who doesn’t mind being blown up. He’d make the perfect on-board guidance system. But suicide enthusiasts are hard to find. Even terminal cancer patients might lose their nerve when the crash was actually looming.

Could we get some otherwise normal humans and somehow persuade them that they are not going to die as a consequence of flying a plane smack into a skyscraper? If only! Nobody is that stupid, but how about this – it’s a long shot, but it just might work. Given that they are certainly going to die, couldn’t we sucker them into believing that they are going to come to life again afterwards? Don’t be daft! No, listen, it might work. Offer them a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, cooled by everlasting fountains. Harps and wings wouldn’t appeal to the sort of young men we need, so tell them there’s a special martyr’s reward of 72 virgin brides, guaranteed eager and exclusive.

Would they fall for it? Yes, testosterone-sodden young men too unattractive to get a woman in this world might be desperate enough to go for 72 private virgins in the next.

It’s a tall story, but worth a try. You’d have to get them young, though. Feed them a complete and self-consistent background mythology to make the big lie sound plausible when it comes. Give them a holy book and make them learn it by heart. Do you know, I really think it might work. As luck would have it, we have just the thing to hand: a ready-made system of mind-control which has been honed over centuries, handed down through generations. Millions of people have been brought up in it. It is called religion and, for reasons which one day we may understand, most people fall for it (nowhere more so than America itself, though the irony passes unnoticed). Now all we need is to round up a few of these faith-heads and give them flying lessons.

Facetious? Trivialising an unspeakable evil? That is the exact opposite of my intention, which is deadly serious and prompted by deep grief and fierce anger. I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite – or too devout – to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don’t mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one’s own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

If death is final, a rational agent can be expected to value his life highly and be reluctant to risk it. This makes the world a safer place, just as a plane is safer if its hijacker wants to survive. At the other extreme, if a significant number of people convince themselves, or are convinced by their priests, that a martyr’s death is equivalent to pressing the hyperspace button and zooming through a wormhole to another universe, it can make the world a very dangerous place. Especially if they also believe that that other universe is a paradisical escape from the tribulations of the real world. Top it off with sincerely believed, if ludicrous and degrading to women, sexual promises, and is it any wonder that naive and frustrated young men are clamouring to be selected for suicide missions?

There is no doubt that the afterlife-obsessed suicidal brain really is a weapon of immense power and danger. It is comparable to a smart missile, and its guidance system is in many respects superior to the most sophisticated electronic brain that money can buy. Yet to a cynical government, organisation, or priesthood, it is very very cheap.

Our leaders have described the recent atrocity with the customary cliche: mindless cowardice. “Mindless” may be a suitable word for the vandalising of a telephone box. It is not helpful for understanding what hit New York on September 11. Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from.

It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.

Richard Dawkins is professor of the public understanding of science, University of Oxford, and author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and Unweaving the Rainbow.

Saving Mr. Banks

Humour, pathos, reality. 100%

Saving Mr. Banks Theatrical Poster.jpg

An amusing and entertaining account of the protracted efforts of Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) to acquire the film rights to the novel “Mary Poppins”, by Pamela (Mrs!) Travers (played by Emma Thompson. No, not “Hermione” from the Harry Potter movies!). The reasons why his efforts are so protracted become evident throughout the movie.

Firstly, I have to confess to never having seen the movie nor read the book. Truth be told, it took me ages to work out who the titular character was! Now that I have the seen this movie, exploring the source material and more seems worthwhile.

“Protracted”…well…Mrs. Travers sort of comes across as a female version of Basil Fawlty in this movie (of the famous U.K. sitcom “Fawlty Towers”)! She is brusque and has the manner of a stern, toffee English woman. Mrs. Travers is consistently and insistently brusque throughout the movie and most amusing for that. That being said, seeing as how “Fawlty Towers” never found favour in the U.S., it might be hard to picture American audiences being much amused by her. There is some nice, subtle humour in the performances of those Mrs. Travers has to work with in the movie…the would be song writers for the film “Mary Poppins”…I recognised one from the U.S. version of “The office” (B.J. Novak).

If Mrs. Travers was nothing more than a female Basil Fawlty, then I suppose I might not have enjoyed this movie so much. Thompson, however, brings a great sense of pathos to her role. She is a woman who miserably carries her cross with her all the time. Not having read her book, I wonder how much of a ‘disconnect’ there is between the author and her creation.  Having seen a few award bait movies recently, I can’t say that any have particularly grabbed me. As Travers does have a narrative arc or sorts and displays multi-dimensional emotions, I think Thompson deserves a Best Actress award. The recently held Golden Globe awards gave that honour to actresses in “American hustle”, but to me “Saving Mr. Banks” is the superior movie and Thompson a more deserving recipient (I have no idea if Thomspon was even nominated in those awards).

Tom Hanks is also recognisably Tom Hanks in this movie, but it didn’t detract from his performance. Seeing as how positively I responded to this movie, I would be generous in giving him a Best Actor award. Seeing as how this movie is made by Walt Disney Studios, it’s no surprise that his representation is imbued with a vaseline glow. I was trying to recall what the controversy was with him, so I looked him up on Wikipedia to see if it was mentioned there…it is…anti-Semitism and racism. Of course, I doubt if a movie of this sort would really have any business delving into that aspect of his character.

What is good about this movie is how it attempts to ground Mrs. Travers personality with her childhood experiences. To me, it seemed to provide a basic level of insight into her, which wasn’t harsh. Without having explored this aspect myself, it seems to me that the film does provide some sort of explanation for the relationship between her book and her childhood experiences. Perhaps I would have liked more insight into the relationship between her childhood experiences and the woman she became…they seem pretty tenuous in the film, but then again I’m not sure psychonalysis would be of much help here. It’s just my sneaking suspicion that there is more to her adult form than what we see in the movie. This aspect is intriguing to me.

If I do have one criticism of the film, it is that it appears quite obscure on her family’s story. It wasn’t clear to me what Mrs. Travers’ father did for a living before he moved his family to the middle of nowhere in Australia. Did he have to change jobs? Also, there is a scene with Mrs. Travers’ mum (when she is also a child) where her mum pockets some liquor at the clothesline. Was that drink for her? Or was she hiding it from her husband? More clarity would have been appreciated here.

There was one scene which I appreciated in this movie…after a moment of crisis between Mrs. Travers and Walt, Walt travels to England to see her. He connects with her on a human level, I felt, and displayed empathy with her. The less pleasant scene (although it is played for laughs) comes later, when Mrs. Travers returns to see Walt, unexpectedly. It seems an affirmation of what Mrs. Travers might have imagined their relationship to have been all along…merely mercantile (on his part).

This movie portrays Mrs. Travers as having her D.N.A. (so to speak) all over Walt’s movie. Since the movie is regarded as a classic, it seems her efforts were entirely positive and beneficial to Walt’s movie, perhaps? In which case, she’s hardly deserving the scorn that she draws at times, right? If she hadn’t of been so insistent on her vision for the movie, would have it been as so unutterably awful as she imagined it could have been?

On reflection, it also seems to me that Mrs. Travers is, in fact, a kind of unintentional heroine of this Disney movie. Recently my Duckduckgo (a search engine) app had an interesting news story feed on it…via the “filmschoolrejects” website. The story was called “6 things the film industry does not want you to know about”. Number 6 concerned studios stealing scripts…poor script writers submit a script and an eerily similar one gets made into a movie later on with no compensation for the original script writer. I say “Bravo!” to Mrs. Travers! A true hero!

If the movie’s script isn’t just basically the conversations transcribed verbatim at the time from tapes, then I’d also give this film a best Script award. It’s also my personal Best Film so far.

I did entertain the notion of scoring this movie 95%, then 95+% (which is my threshhold for giving a film 10/10 on sites with a scoring function. But then I thought “Sod it!”. It’s near perfect and perfect enough.

American hustle

Dry, arch comedy with a straight face.



File:American Hustle 2013 poster.jpg


The basic story in this movie is relatively straightforward…a couple of con artists (Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld and Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser) are nabbed by an ambitious F.B.I. Agent (Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso) who promises not to charge either of them so long as they can help him catch bigger criminals by using their skills as con artists. Irving and Sydney agree to this…Irving’s wife Rosalyn (played by Jennifer Lawrence) isn’t really privy to all of Irving’s activities…illegal or adulterous. The start of the movie informs the viewer that “some” of the movie is based on actual events. Presumably accuracy hasn’t been kept at the expense of good fun.

During the movie I frequently laughed out loud as the situation went from bad to worse for Irving and Sydney, or the stupidity of Rosalyn later in the movie (Lawrence shows a talent for character based comedy in this movie). Despite this humour, the movie did strike me as being a dialogue driven piece…a wall of dialogue. It’s also 138 minutes long…putting those two things together, it was quite demanding of your attention, perhaps at the expense of just providing pure entertainment. It’s not exactly intellectually taxing, just demanding of your attention. Even though I don’t usually watch movies again, the thought of watching this movie again due to its demanding nature made me think that I wouldn’t want to do that again in a hurry. I’d have to wait a decade, maybe. The way the characters relate to eachother perhaps has a ‘Brooklyn’ vibe to it. Maybe some people might find that taxing too.

A way that the movie attempts to keep you intrigued is by making you question the motives of the various players…are Irving and Sydney using each other? What is real? Where does the con begin and end? Who’s conning whom? This may provide pleasure for some as a viewing experience.

Can’t say that I knew how to interpret this movie…initially I missed the introduction explaining that it was partly based on a true story. Without that knowledge, I was wondering whether the movie was a comment on the Hollywood factory (e.g. Bale putting on the bat costume, pretending to be a superhero as a kind of con) or a metaphor for the American dream…in the guise of reinventing oneself to reach higher…if that is indeed the American dream…I’m Australian…I don’t know these things. If the latter, maybe that has something in common with the novel “The great Gatsby”, which is regarded as a classic in America and has also been turned into a movie…multiple times. Would still be inclined to think that on some level this movie is ‘saying something’ about the American experience, beyond merely fictionalising a true story.

Another thing that struck me was how often the look of the characters reminded me of other people in movies or tv or real life. E.g. when I caught the start of the movie, with Irving elaborately doing his hair, I was reminded of Tom Cruise in “Tropic thunder”, I think it was; Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito reminded me of a young Liberace perhaps…or that kind of Teddy Boy look…if that is the right phrase; Louis C.K. as Stoddard Thorsen reminded me of Bill Bailey (the English comedian); one guy kind of reminded me of a young Michael Douglas; there’s one mob guy who kind of had a George Clooney in “O brother, where art thou?” look to him (that I don’t remember these character’s names just reflects on how demanding of your attention this movie is); Bradley Cooper in one scene (or two) reminds me of Kevin Kline’s turn in “A fish called Wanda”. Sort of related, perhaps Bale channels Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in his performance at times. Jennifer Lawrence sort of reminded me of Renée Zellweger in her looks at times…but maybe that’s just me?

Speaking of self-referential moments…I got the feeling that a member of the crew had the same surname as the lawyer who appears in the end of the movie…something like “Tellegio”…if that is the case, perhaps it’s a sort of in-joke or something? Maybe there’s more of that too?

There is some good 1970s music etc. in this movie but it’s not quite in the same league as “Boogie nights” on that front, which was stacked with the kind of songs I love from that era.

“American hustle” is a true ensemble work and I suppose in a year in which no particular movie or performance has screamed “Award!” to me, the extra yards Christian Bale has put in to perform his role (putting on a lot of weight, by the looks of it…assuming it’s not a fat suit), he’d be as worth a winner of a Best Actor award as anyone else. In other movies of his I’ve seen it occurred to me that he was often overshadowed by minor characters in star vehicles for him, like The Dark Knight (Heath Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker) and Terminator: Salvation (Sam Worthington’s character Marcus Wright was more interesting than John Connor). It’s perhaps ironic that Bale may win an Oscar in a movie/character which isn’t a ‘star vehicle’ for him. Unlike Batman, Irving is an interesting character…more filling and nutritious, acting chops wise than the caped crusader.

One last thing…the ending…I did wonder if the film took a morally dubious stance on the targets DiMaso was chasing…i.e. not sure that I share those sentiments.