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  • Avengers End Game

    April 27, 2019 by Nick

    I have now seen Avengers End Game twice. The first time was immediately after rewatching Infinity War in a double screening. It suffered from the comparison. In hindsight, it was always going to.

    End Game has to serve many, many functions in a way that Inifnity War didn’t have to: it has to be a sequel, it has to satisfyingly resolve a huge cliffhanger, it is a capstone to a decade’s worth of plot threads and character arcs and it has to function as a narrative in its own right. It manages most of these feats to a greater or lesser extent, as well as subverting the self same expectation and doing several things that are unexpected, but it feels very much like several films stitched together as one.

    Inifnity War was largely assembling people and setting a scenario in motion. It had a momentum and told one story. It also cemented a villain and his actions together. Stopping the villain and his scheme were one and the same. As the film ends the heroes face their own failure and, for many, their own mortality. End Game picks up with them at their lowest ebb, having suffered massive loss, and an the extrapolation of this loss provides the backdrop for at least two of the threads of the film. But there is also an unpicking of the combination of antagonist and his actions, as stopping one doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the other.

    The opening is breakneck and ultimately subversive and anti climatic. It serves to change our expectation of what the film must be about and to suggest a greater complexity and necessary change in thinking. The next phase of the film is about these differing priorities and is very focused on the core characters at the heart of the story, the new stakes of the film and their own individual stories and characters. In many ways it looks back much more than it seems to advance the overreaching plot. As the film moves to the eventual climax we face the heroes in an arguable greater position of strength than the previous film and facing a subtly different challenge than we would have expected.

    The first film is thrilling and largely upbeat and treads a very familiar path, but somehow feels largely upbeat with an absolutely shocking ending. The second film opens in a downbeat way and shows a level of desperation and bleakness you don’t normally associate with successful films before going on a far less predictable route full of character moments and genuine sadness and culminates in a way that seems true to the first film but somehow at odds with the one of the second film. Emotionally End Game affected me much more than Infinity War but I definitely prefer Infinity War. And I can’t even begin to process where the Marvel films may go from here.

    Ratings

    May 19, 2018 by Nick

    There is a problem with leaving ratings on shopping sites. Actually, there are several problems, but the main one is that an objectively fair rating does disproportionate damage to the product and seller unless it is truly excellent.

    There is a thing called social proof. Basically people look to other people to advise them if something is desirable / useful. When I buy electronics I tend to stick to a company I know I trust or find a site that seemingly offers impartial reviews. As a last resort I will go with the reviews on the site I’m buying from. But then I will click products that meet a minimum review criteria.

    Minimum review criteria means that product reviews of 4 out of 5 are problematic and anything below that can be a disaster. Think about that for a second. 3 out of 5 should be average and represent a product that does what you expect but no more. I bought some hasps recently that were a little flimsy and didn’t sit absolutely flat. They were adequate for the purpose and cheap. If I leave that review I will harm the seller although I think it is a tempered recommendation.

    If I see a film I want to see has a rating of seven out of ten with a reviewer I trust, or a positive recommendation with caveats, I will happily spend money to see it and will more than likely not be disappointed. If I see the equivalent rating on an item on amazon I will skip it and move to the next.

    This has led to a while industry where sellers try to get positive reviews through various means. From basically giving the product away, to significant discounts, to outright paying reviewers. I know I am lenient when I’m being positive because I know how it can affect the sellers, and will tend to skip reviewing products I feel ambivalent about, saving what would be harmful reviews for products I think deserve them. Such as an ebook I bought on Nginx which actually set me back, such was the inaccuracy of the information within.

    So, basically, reviews on sites from purchasers should generally be treated with skepticism and products with more reviews treated as having a higher proportion of genuine reviews. And the reviews shouldn’t be treated as absolutes, rather the relative deviation from the average review for that type of product should be considered when making a purchase. But try to find a review on an independent site instead.

    Headphones And Earphones

    May 10, 2018 by Nick

    Recently I have bought rather a lot of pairs of headphones. They are, in no particular order:

    OneOdio Over Ear Headphones Closed Back Studio DJ Headphones – For the money, I really like these. The sound is spacious, and encompassing. You struggle to hear anything else when you have them on and the bass is pleasantly deep. They come with a nice long lead and they’re comfy enough to wear for a long time.

    Betron HD800 Bluetooth Over Ear Headphones – I haven’t tried these as either a mic or for Bluetooth, so I can’t say whether those are selling points or not. The cord is shorter than on the OneOdio and I would say the sound is slightly thinner. They’re equally comfortable and I am more than happy with them. The problem is that they’re slightly edged by the OneOdio.

    KLIM Fusion Earphones High Quality Audio – These are excellent by any measure. The sound is as good as over-ear headphones and they have similar abilities when it comes to blocking out external sounds. They come with a long lead and I fully intend to replace my gym pair and pair for work with some of these.

    Rokerworld R1 Gun metal Noise Isolating Earphones – These are good for the money and come with lots of extra bits. The sound is adequate and I would be very happy with them but for the fact that I have fallen in love with the KLIM.

    Betron B750s Earphones – I had these for about ten seconds for the gym and lost them. I can’t really comment on them compared to the others as I don’t have them to hand. Their carry pouch, oddly, was the best of any I bought and I love the flat and tangle free leads. They’re generously equipped. The sound didn’t disappoint, but I may find them less impressive now I have heard the KLIM.

    Betron AX3 Earphones – Again, a good set of earphones suffering from comparison to the KLIM. They’re my work pair and up to the task of ignoring colleagues. They have a similarly good pouch to the B750s but don’t feel quite as well made overall. A slight annoyance is how hard it is to tell which is for the left and right ear at a glance.

    I bought my mum some Betron several years ago and the sound is as good as it was when we got them, and they have been dependable despite being thrown in various handbags and wrapped around a phone. I also have a Bluetooth headset from them that I used at my last job. It again has a spacious sound, but isn’t as bass heavy as some others and does let external noise through. It also sometimes lost Bluetooth connection, although I was unsure if that was the headset or the computer I connected them to. Overall they are a brand that I am happy returning to and feel confident in.

    Brands

    May 9, 2018 by Nick

    I buy a lot of unbranded stuff. Or, rather, brands I don’t recognise and aren’t well-known. In my experience branded goods are often made in the same factories, by the same staff, to the same specifications and are frequently the same products.

    Brands tend to establish themselves by building a reputation for quality and customer service. They then trade on that to build a reputation as they double down on marketing and raising their profile. Once this is done there is a tendency to become complacent or, frequently, be bought out and the easiest way to increase profitability is to cut costs. This is often done by cutting back on customer care and the product itself. The things that made the brand worth having in the first place.

    Whenever I see a brand being promoted I think of a familiar logo emblazoned on a thin box with lightweight plastic goods inside. And then, if I am in the market for a similar product, I look at the name no one knows, costs less and has better packaging, responsive support and actual physical heft.

    Infinity War

    May 7, 2018 by Nick

    Avengers: Infinity War, at the time of writing, is the fastest grossing film of all time and has surpassed the total box office take of Justice League. Justice League, according to which figures you believe, cost the same as Infinity War and is largely comparable and shares some of the same DNA. As someone who favours Marvel over DC, this gives me a sense of gloating satisfaction. There is a tribalism at play that sports fans can probably relate to.

    One of the interesting things about the two films is how they sit within their respective franchises and their relative trajectories. Infinity War is the umpteenth Marvel film and could yet become the most successful. Seemingly the brand is now strong enough to launch unknown or unheralded concepts and they perform respectably to spectacularly at the box office. The previous Marvel film, Black Panther, is still out on general release, still making money, and has a huge cumulative take.

    Justice League, by comparison, seemed to be an attempt to run before the films could walk, is the least successful film in the franchise, and a sign of how the brand is becoming toxic. Even well-known characters portrayed by a famous cast have been unable to save the film from being viewed as a flop.

    Gotham

    September 25, 2014 by Nick

    Gotham is Fox’s new series set after the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in the Batman milieu. It’s developed by Bruno Heller of The Mentalist and the first episode was directed by Danny Canon. It’s somehow much less than the sum of its parts and leaves you feeling unfulfilled.

    The first scene introduces a neophyte Catwoman and unfortunately encapsulates the shortcomings of the show: her movements are exaggerated and clearly not something the actress is comfortable doing, the action is confusingly staged and shows the limitations of the director and the budget and it comes across as far less impressive then you feel they were aiming for.

    There is a power demonstration scene featuring James Gordon and a madman in the police precinct. The precinct looks beautiful and brings to mind Blade Runner. The actual events are so stupid they make your head hurt. It sets out to show the police force as sloppy and unafraid of oversight and shows Gordon as decent and his partner as complacent and definitely not by the book. As someone with a passing familiarity with the comics I do wonder why they used one character as his partner’s basis rather than another (one used by Nolan in his far superior take) that would fit better.

    Bruce Wayne’s parents’ murders somehow feels wrong. It doesn’t feel mythic, I’m not at all convinced by the take on Wayne himself, the staging is wrong and the direction doesn’t focus on a detail that soon becomes very important. It also changes details that add layers of complications where none are needed.

    Which is one of the central problems with the show: so much is being shoe horned in and interconnected when it really doesn’t need to be. Not everything has to link to characters that we already know and try to give us nascent versions of them. Too much happens and too quickly, and there isn’t a steady enough hand at the tiller to make us accept it. Things need to be stripped down and decompressed, characters don’t have to be shoe horned in and the actors don’t need to try forcing it.

    The guy who plays Jim Gordon looks a lot like Russell Crowe. It’s distracting and makes it completely clear what the casting department was going for. He’s overly noble and some of his later actions defy belief. His fiancée is very telegenic but ultimately just there to serve the plot (and subject to one of the contrivances I think hamstrings the show). Various other characters aren’t particularly interesting or well done, with the exception of the mob boss, Falcon and Wayne’s butler (who is the only actor I can name, although there are a couple I recognise).

    I may try watching a future episode out of boredom, but I have no interest in seeing the next one. It’s too frustrating a show and too many things about it don’t sit right with me.

    X-Men: Days Of Future Past

    May 26, 2014 by Nick

    Days of Future Past is a very highly regarded X-Men comic from the John Byrne and Chris Claremont run on the title that many people consider to be the best era on the series. It’s also consistently cited as one of the very best X-Men stories. This would arguably carry a heavy weight of expectation if it were not for the fact that X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand are also (loosely-) based on well regarded tales: God Loves, Man Kills and The Dark Phoenix Saga, respectively.

    Days of Future Past is arguably closer to its inspiration, although it does depart in many significant ways and also ties into the films that have preceded it. It feels like an exercise in excising the mess that was X3, completely ignoring Wolverine Origins (and I assume it also can be seen as writing the last Wolverine film out of the movie continuity) as well as jettisoning large parts of X-Men Origins. It is the latter aim that seems most miserable, there were great ideas given short shrift and lots of characters discarded for a throwaway moment.

    The film series now encompasses 7 films and 5 different directors. Several of the roles have been recast, even between successive films (I think Ellen Page is the third Kitty Pryde and the first to actually return). There’s a lot of inconsistencies in tone and timelines to iron out to make the story into a cohesive whole. And the film manages to draw threads from the series and knit them together or cut them off in a way that makes sense.

    It’s a nearly film. It’s nearly great. It nearly does big action well. You nearly care about the characters. The ending nearly gets away with it. There is a brilliant action sequence part way through the film, but it sadly makes the ending feel more muted and less climatic. The best moments are featuring a character who then doesn’t appear again. The sense of inevitability that time cannot be rewritten aren’t allowed to pervade enough to create a sense of dread. There is a depressing feeling that matches the period but stops the film being entirely one thing or another.

    James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have a chemistry together and McAvoy has a role he clearly enjoyed sinking his teeth into. Jackman has Wolverine practised now and the rest of the cast perform admirably (although a lot of the future X-Men are massively under utilised and it’s amazing Anna Paquin is even credited, let alone so highly). The script isn’t bad, but there is too much crammed in and you feel characters are under utilised to the point where you assume it could easily have been an extra 30 minutes long.

    Jennifer Lawrence very nearly steals the film though. Her wig looks awful but she is brilliant. She’s the American Keira Knightley: she makes either period films (X-Men First Class, American Hustle) or films set in the future (Hunger Games) or more outre contemporary work (the Silver Linings Playbook).  Seriously, though, she does the action scenes well and shows real range as she oscillates between being conflicted and determined.

    The special effects are largely good, although the entire future sequence is obviously studio bound and could have used a little more grit and detail. It compares unfavourably to the 20 and 30 year old vistas of the Terminator series, which is saddening considering the relative budgets and the technological progress in the meantime.

    As much as I want to love the film I merely like it. I feel it exceeded my expectations but hinted at the potential it only manages to fleetingly achieve, if it ever comes close.

    Write. Publish. Repeat By Sean Platt And Johnny B. Truant

    January 1, 2014 by Nick

    I have read altogether too many guides and handbooks in the past six months or so. Not necessarily finished them, as many have shortcomings. There have been books that have been almost convincing, where they have provided a singular point of view and a coherent argument. And then an utterly stupid typo or misused phrase or the wrong incidence of a homonym appears.

    It’s horribly jarring and amateurish. It takes me out of the reading experience and makes me question everything the author has written and is trying to achieve. Worse still have been the books that seem short on what I would consider vital information: books that skirt around or straight across fundamental steps as if they are sufficiently explained or obvious. What you tend to find is that all books of their ilk will do the same thing, leading you to believe that the people writing them are bluffing and rewriting everything they have found in another tome.

    Cheap volumes by multi title authors are incomplete and filled with entreaties to buy their other works to get the missing information. Their other works, of course, merely repeat what you have already read in a reworded or re emphasised manner. You never feel like you are getting to the heart of the matter.

    Among the most disappointing book was a manual on Drupal from Sams, a company I previously associated with inherent quality and accuracy. I genuinely believe it had been written for whom English was a distant second language and had not had an editor at any stage. It was terrible.

    Write. Publish. Repeat. Kind of explains how those terrible books came into existence. It’s also the anti thesis of them. I’d argue there is a word used incorrectly once. It’s consistently very well written and pretty much free from errors. I know it sounds like that this should be the most basic achievement that a book aims for but I have first hand proof that it is a bar that a lot fail to meet. Even books I would consider reputable.

    It’s a large book but engagingly written. At no point does it skirt a subject or cause you to suspect that the authors don’t actually know what they are talking about. It’s deflating and inspiring, it will make you realise that some other books are perpetuating myths and making blanket assertions with precious little to back them up.

    The authors apparently have a veritable cottage industry of novels on Amazon (and other online book sellers) and explain how they go about presenting and selling the content in order to make money from it. They also go into quite a lot of depth on how they create the content in the first place, but that is arguably a secondary consideration (if, as a writer, being told to actually write comes as a surprise then you are in for a rude awakening generally) over the mechanical nuts and bolts of business. They’re candid and the work is full of citations and the evidence of their own experience.

    The book is full to overflowing with examples from their own catalogue and their conclusions drawn from their experiences and how to apply this practically. It never really feels like an effort to sell you on this work though, and there is no sense that the book is incomplete in any way. Nor do you actually think that there is lip service paid to any of the topics covered. They’ve done the work and the research, some of which are tomes I have read and would heartily agree with.

    The book is rounded out with some interviews with other authors. It’s great and comprehensive and actually feels well worth the money. I won’t be tracking down any of the writers’ fiction work, but I will be looking at some of the sources that they cite and be keeping an eye out for anything factual that they write in future. And I will give even less shrift to badly created or presented work from now on. This book proves that it is possible to know your stuff, communicate it and do so in a professional and engaging manner.

    The Apprentice 7th May 2013

    May 8, 2013 by Nick

    The British version of The Apprentice is back and Alan Sugar seems more bad tempered with fewer rehearsed lines. The would be businessmen and women performing to impress him have either been coached to be bad parodies of stereotypes or are unremittingly awful. Or both. So, naturally, it made for entertaining TV.

    I’m convinced the structure of each episode is determined by what happens at the end of the episode. Who goes is decided by Sugar from 3 people: the leader of the losing team and 2 people they have identified as responsible for the failure of the task. Therefore enough has to be shown that at least one of these appears a reasonable (but not runaway) choice.

    Moreover, in order to create any suspense, which team lost the task should be debatable and possibly even a shock. Thus the editors of the program have to pick about 40 minutes of footage from at least 32 hours of footage (2 sub teams each from 2 main teams for at least 8 hours of activity.) They also have to make it entertaining. What they don’t have to do is make it balanced, fair or representative.

    Last night was a good example: one team was made to look rife with internal conflict which would make them unlikely to win in order for their result to be more of a surprise. On the losing side one moment was massively emphasised just to justify someone’s presence in the bottom 3. There were probably dozens of similar or more significant moments throughout the day that escaped being aired just because they had no thematic link to the eventual decision.

    The task itself also seemed slightly dishonest. Nothing teams were supposedly given a full container of mixed products from China to sell over the course of 16 hours. Leaving aside I’m surprised some of the items could be shipped that distance cost effectively considering their bulk, ease of production and low value, there clearly was nothing like a container’s worth of product to be disposed of.

    The teams supposedly tried selling against their theoretical RRP. Some of which were clearly massively inflated in order to convince the end customer they were saving money rather than buying anything of intrinsic value.

    The task really should have focused on profit. Ridiculous and time consuming decisions were made that had me rolling my eyes. Trying to sell products to the wrong customers exacerbated this. And repeatedly over valuing one particular line made me wonder if anyone knew their true costs.

    But it was compelling. I don’t know who I like yet but I have a fair idea who I can’t stand. Everything moves at a fair lick and there’s the certain knowledge there are things you can do better than people who consider themselves exceptional. It’s not how business really works and that is what helps to make it so entertaining. Just don’t believe it and don’t take it seriously. That’s what straight fiction is for.

    If Comics Were Like TV

    March 15, 2013 by Nick

    Comics are an utterly unique medium but a lot of people try to make them more like TV shows. It’s a mistake, but it got me wondering: what if comics were more like TV shows?

    – Everything Marvel does would be reprints for a month if DC has a tentpole Summer event.

    – Reality comics that manage to be more unrealistic than mutants in space aided by time travelling alternate reality versions of themselves who came back from the dead multiple times.

    – A greater variety of genres, but at least a third of comics would just be about making comics or other comics. Probably half of these would feature a murder.

    – Who performed at the half time of the Summer crossover would be more talked about than the crossover itself.

    – The nagging feeling you recognise background characters from other comics but can’t think where from.

    – Creators would have to step in to draw certain supporting characters to keep their appearance consistent resulting in a jarring mish mash of art.

    – Wolverine drawn mid torso upwards to hide the fact he got fat but has a long contract.

    – Ridiculous plot twists to stave off cancellation (oh, wait a second . . .)

    – Villains of the week (hang on again . . .)

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