Archive for March, 2021

Subverting Expectations in “The Last Jedi” and “Star By Star”

March 31, 2021

I’ve been re-reading all of my Legends Star Wars books, and have been working through “New Jedi Order” for a while now, and when writing the last post comparing it to the sequel trilogy I had intended to write about other things about my reactions to the “New Jedi Order”.  First up is yet another comparison to the sequel trilogy, this time specifically to “The Last Jedi” and its attempt to subvert expectations.  This has been a common comment made about the movie, including in an analysis by Shamus Young that I addressed in a discussion of “Knives Out”, which was claimed to be the same sort of subversion.  Here, what I want to do is note that the novel “Star By Star” in “New Jedi Order” was more of a subversion of Star Wars tropes and expectations than “The Last Jedi” was, and it wasn’t even trying to be one as much as “The Last Jedi” supposedly was.

As noted in my own review of “The Last Jedi”, the big issue there was that the movie was too ambiguous to really pull off a real subversion.  While he was indeed probably trying to subvert the typical hero moves with Poe getting chided for his “loose cannon” ways and the heroic mission of Finn and Rose being actually hugely detrimental to the Rebels, as well as Finn being stopped from committing a heroic sacrifice with the movie making that seem like it would have been a waste and so was undesirable.  However, how it was structured certainly made us question whether those who were questioning these tropes and expectations were, in fact, just plain wrong.  While they were chased through hyperspace anyway, having two of those super ships would probably have indeed simply ended up with them destroyed, and the tradeoff between what they lost killing the ship and what they gained by killing it was a tradeoff that most people would at least consider being debatable, and Leia getting that upset with Poe after serving in the Alliance with the irreverent Han Solo seems pretty unreasonable.  Holdo might seem like a commander who more believes in order, but her presentation is of the sort of commander that is too much of a stickler for procedure that has to be worked around, and her plan isn’t all that great a one.  And let’s not even start talking about all the character and plot problems that are introduced by Rose’s actions.  So while Johnson may have been trying to subvert expectations, the ambiguity in “The Last Jedi” pretty much kills our sense of that, which is really bad because most people I think reasonably believe that he really, really did want us to take that from the movie.

Now, “New Jedi Order” had set out to do things a bit differently from the start.  The enemy was not only not an evil Force User or Force Tradition, but instead was an enemy that was cut off from the Force completely.  They weren’t the Empire or anything that came from it.  They also used radically different technologies — biological — and had a strong distaste for most of the things that the Star Wars galaxy most loved, droids in particular.  Additionally, in the very first book “Vector Sigma Prime”, they decided that they wanted to shake things up and kill off a major character who had been a part of the franchise and of Legends to give the sense that anything can happen and anyone can die.  They chose Chewbacca.  And while I didn’t do a lot of research into it from my reading around they deliberately intended to do that again, this time killing off one of the Solo children, and they changed which one it was along the way.  So they were starting from a premise, again, that was trying to surprise the audience and leave them open to the idea that anything could happen (a risky move considering that a number of people were not all that happy with the trope in general and with it’s use in “Vector Prime”).

So the basic idea was this:  the enemy has created a new and terrible beast that can hunt down and kill the Jedi.  They discover, however, that it is being cloned somewhere deep inside enemy territory, and so if they can kill the queen then it will stop the enemy, presumably, from cloning more of them and so the beasts will die off.  Anakin Solo proposes a risky mission that will take them deep inside enemy territory but will have to exclude the more powerful and well-known Jedi like Luke Skywalker and Corran Horn.  So, essentially, it will involve all of the younger Jedi, the children of the main characters and all of the new up-and-coming ones, and thus will essentially be the first official mission of the “New Jedi Order”.  While Han is initially opposed to it, he is eventually persuaded to support it and ends up being the deciding vote to have the mission go ahead.  This is crucial because Chewbacca’s death introduced a couple of character themes related to Han and Anakin.  The first is that Han has had his feeling that he and his family cannot die and so has become overly protective of his family, and here he is voting to send all of his children into danger.  The second is that he at least initially blamed Anakin for Chewbacca’s death and this has created a rift between them.  On top of that, Anakin also through some unique adventures on Yavin gained the ability through his lightsaber to sense the enemy, which no one else can do, giving him a unique insight and perspective on them.  He also has a burgeoning romance with Tahiri who the enemy attempted to shape into becoming one of them and so also has a unique insight into the enemy.  So there are a lot of plotlines here around the character of Anakin, and as Kyp Durron notes once it looks like Anakin will be the future of the Jedi, and so the figurehead for the “New Jedi Order”.  He seems, then, to be an incredibly important character to the series and the future of the Legends works.

So what we’d expect, given the previous Star Wars and Legends works, is that they’d would go out and deal with the threat heroically.  There’d be obstacles, but they’d overcome them.  Perhaps some of the lesser known young Jedi would die.  After their success, Han and Anakin would settle their differences and the attempt would move reveal things that they could use to turn the battle against the enemy and start to build towards the ending.

That’s not what happens.

The mission is brutal.  They are behind the eight-ball from the start and end up realizing just how difficult such a mission would be and ultimately how stupid an idea it probably was.  For the most part, they are just desperately trying to stay alive.  Many of them are killed, and they are not relying on their Force abilities but instead on regular weaponry.  They run into some Dark Side users who help them for a time, but are never converted and instead run out on them with the ship they hoped to escape in.  They actually don’t manage to kill the queen, and it’s only a direct intervention by another character with her own agenda that results in the mission being a success, so while it wasn’t entirely for nothing, it wasn’t a resounding success.  At the end, most of them are dead, all of them are badly injured, Jacen Solo is captured and, most critically, Anakin Solo is dead.

This really does break from expectations.  Anakin Solo was the leader and looked to be stepping out as the leader of the “New Jedi Order”.  He also had an unresolved character arc with Han Solo.  Tahiri also almost kisses him but says that she’ll save it until he comes back, which is a hint that he will come back in Star Wars on par with “I know”.  He also was the only one who had any insight into the enemy, both from his lightsaber and from his experiences with the enemy that led to that.  As it turns out, he was also the focal point for a new religion among the enemy that was the best chance to overthrow the leader and the order and so lead to peace between them.  There were a lot of character and plot points that would suggest that Anakin would live.  Instead, he died, throwing all of that away and all of that into disorder.

I’m not going to claim that “Star By Star” is a true subversion, let alone that it was properly intended as one.  But unlike “The Last Jedi” the expectations are clear and the book does clearly subvert them, generating surprise, at least.  I think that “The Last Jedi” wants to try to subvert the philosophy more than the work itself, but it falters by falling into ambiguity.  It wants to be more a critique of the expectations than a subversion of them, whereas “Star By Star” has a purpose that’s more a desire to surprise the audience and get them wondering what might happen than to critique what the other things have done.  And in doing that, I think it does work better at going against the expectations of the audience and making it clear that things were not going to and didn’t work the way they expected it to.

Thoughts on “Warriors of the Wasteland”

March 30, 2021

So, in that pack of 11 movies that I talked about last time, some of them are more science fiction and some of them are more horror.  I’m working my way through the pack, and so am going to write about the science fiction movies as science fiction and write about the horror movies in my normal horror movie slot.  The second science fiction movie is “Warriors of the Wasteland” which is similar to “Slipstream” but shows how even when you take the basic idea of invent a world and situation that we can explore you can, indeed, still screw it up badly.

The main premise is that there was an I think nuclear war, and this has left society in a more Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic society where they all drive around in various vehicles and kill each other.  The main character is a specific warrior who always wants to travel pretty much alone, and the main villains are a quasi-religious group led by someone who blame humanity for the holocaust and wants to solve the problem by killing all the remaining humans with his band of men, who presumably don’t realize that he’d eventually want to kill them off as well.  The hero has a history with them, and gets involved with them when rescuing a woman from them.  There’s also another warrior who likes to fight wandering around, and a young kid who fixes things and wants to kill things as well.  They all come together with another group who are trying to survive and who are attacked by the main villains.

The big problem with this movie is that there aren’t all that many new and interesting environments to explore, but nothing else really makes sense or is developed properly, nor are the emotional connections made clear.  He picks up the woman, has sex with her, and at least tries to rescue her at the end, but there’s no real reason for him to do so.  He and the warrior have a history and he keeps rejecting help, but there’s no reason for him to do so and rejecting help when going to face a group where he will be outnumbered and where they want to kill him is just plain stupid.  We never really find out what the warrior’s deal is, nor really what the deal is with the kid.  And they introduce a signal that could indicate more survivors and perhaps something that isn’t the simple moving settlements that they’ve seen, but they never actually reveal what that was.  So all the movie can rely on is our interest in the main characters and their conflict, but it’s an underdeveloped conflict and the actors aren’t as good as the ones in “Slipstream”, so they don’t capture our interest with their performances.  Ultimately, there just isn’t anything here to keep our interest, and so it falters as a movie.

As you might guess, I don’t have any interest in watching this one again.  While it could have used its premise to have the wanderer take on the girl and meet people along with way and then built to a clash with the villains as it did at the end, there’s nothing in the middle to keep our interest and this makes the end clash a bit hollow emotionally.  This could have been better, but unfortunately it doesn’t really end up giving us anything to be interested in.

Should Bruce Wayne Have Become Batman?

March 29, 2021

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Should Bruce Wayne Have Become Batman?” by Mahesh Ananth and Ben Dixon.  This essay takes a strong Utilitarian approach focused on that of Peter Singer to criticize Bruce Wayne for using his wealth to buy himself massive training and incredible gadgets to become Batman and protect one city instead of at the very least taking that money and spending it to provide food, water and shelter for the people who are starving.  If we take Singer’s strong take on utilitarian morality, then we should agree that the greater good is better served by that and even by Bruce Wayne giving all all his money than to keep it, and we should probably agree that we should also give away any money that we have that we use to purchase luxuries as well.

While I’m a strong opponent of Utilitarianism in general, here I just want to focus on criticizing Singer’s much stronger take on the issue, and let’s start with that question itself:  should Bruce Wayne have become Batman?

The problem with that take is that the villains that Batman takes on are villains that arguably aren’t really capable of dealing out devastation at the same level as, say, a major famine, they are still villains who, if left to their own devices, will kill thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in incredibly horrible ways.  The Joker, for one, is a villain who has come up with many, many plans to do just that.  Perhaps those that are more strictly criminal like the Penguin, Two-Face or Killer Croc won’t, but for those who would or could it certainly seems callous and morally suspect to say that stopping them is significantly less of a priority than giving money to charity to help feed starving people (especially since Bruce Wayne does donate to various charities as well).  Stopping such evil people does seem like a worthy goal even if it requires resources that could arguably be spent on other causes that might, in theory, save more people.

But even for the more criminal villains, it seems that the same argument could be used with respect to police forces.  After all, they are paid for using tax revenue by cities and other governments that also do things like provide for the homeless and for those who are struggling in various ways.  One could, then, argue that we should indeed literally defund the police and use its budget to create soup kitchens, provide health care and housing for those who don’t have it.  After all, the lives improved and saved by doing so will almost certainly exceed those that would be killed in various crimes and murders, and those people will be far more destitute and in need of monetary help than those who happen to be mugged or burgled in the crime spree.  But we would, I think, generally intuitively reject such a move, as it seems to be the precise wrong thing to do and would seem to be immoral.  And I think this is for a couple of reasons.

The first is that we see, I think, inherent moral goodness in stopping explicit evil and stopping evil from causing suffering to other people.  While perhaps not all criminals are evil, some clearly are and certainly Batman’s villains are.  So we do think it morally praiseworthy to oppose evil and do think that it’s acceptable to use resources that could, say, feed people in order to do so.  The second reason is that we feel that the government, at least, has a moral obligation to provide protection for people who live under their jurisdiction.  The idea that they would refuse to do so and instead shift all of that budget to providing those other services seems like they are refusing to fulfill one of their moral obligations.  We could also argue that because Batman both can stop these violent criminals and is willing to stop these criminals that he also accrues a moral obligation to do so, despite the insistence that he should use that money for other things.

This leads into the second big issue I have with Singer here, which is the clash between the strong and moderate version of giving in Singer, as outlined by Ananth and Dixon.  The strong version of giving is that one should give until one would cause themselves as much suffering as they would be relieving by giving it to others.  The moderate version is that one should give until one has to sacrifice something morally significant to do so.  Singer doesn’t see any reason to hold the moderate version instead of the strong version, which in general will require almost all people to divest themselves of almost all of their wealth and to forgo almost all of their luxuries — and any luxuries that they might want to provide to their families and friends — in order to relieve poverty, even in far-flung places.  Well, perhaps not so much to relieve poverty because the argument can be made that the level that it would in theory require will leave most people at a level that we would consider poverty.  But I think it is a huge misunderstanding of morality to make such a claim.  If Singer can make a strong moral case that morality will in general demand that strong a sacrifice, then the moderate case and the strong case are the same case.  But if there are situations where someone could have a moral obligation that would require them to give those resources, then it is obvious that that moral obligation would trump anything else Singer would have to say.  So it seems to me, then, that there is no reason to hold the strong version of giving a priori.  Thus, Singer should always start from the moderate version and then show that morality will ultimately at least almost always lead us to the strong version, instead of mostly — at least in the quotes provided by Ananth and Dixon — dismissing the moderate version in favour of the strong one.  The moderate version is the one justified by general morality, while the second one can only ever be justified by specific reasoning.

Of course, it turns out that Singer’s strong version isn’t really workable anyway.  The first major issue is that one of the ways that capitalism makes it so that people have money that they could decide to spend on luxuries but instead should give to various effective charities is because we don’t all have to work simply to the level of subsistence anymore, and so we don’t all have to be involved directly in producing necessities.  So we can in fact make money by doing things that aren’t strictly necessary.  Singer tends to use the example of a movie ticket or DVD as an example of something frivolous, but we can see that such things aren’t actually all that frivolous when we look at all the people that are employed in that industry.  Just watch the end credits of a major blockbuster movie to see all the people that were employed in creating it!  And that doesn’t even take into account the people who are employed directly at the theatre and so are only there because people will buy movie tickets and watch movies.  Singer’s move, then, would risk eliminating the actual economic system that allows people to have money that they have to decide between giving to charity or using to go to the movies, by eliminating all luxury spending and so reducing everyone to only being able to work on producing necessities … leaving no money available to give to charity.

On top of that, there’s an issue that if we did manage to convince everyone to follow Singer’s strong version without destroying the economy, it would be quite likely that there would be enough resources to go around so that everyone could at least get to subsistence level, and so people could, then, return to buying luxuries.  But who would be lucky ones that would be able to do that?  At least some people wouldn’t be able to do so, so how would we decide who are the ones who don’t get to keep some of their money for luxuries?  Or perhaps there wouldn’t be enough money to go around.  Then how do we decide which people don’t get the money to raise them to basis subsistence level?  So either we have to make a tough choice as to who gets advantaged and disadvantaged with a moral system that isn’t properly set up to do that, or else we would all live at a basic subsistence level with is the only way to achieve a moral balance.  That … does not seem particularly inviting.

The issue is that Singer ignores the concept of general versus specific moral obligations.  He’s essentially arguing that we all have a specific moral obligation to help those people because we are capable of doing so, but then once he does that he cannot allow for us to have any other specific moral obligations that would trump that.  It also leads us into the issue that if we don’t need everyone to contribute to help those people then we have no way to determine who should help and who shouldn’t.  Ultimately, then, the issue is that Singer wants to make it so that we all have an individual, specific and personal obligation to do that as opposed to a general obligation that we can fulfill at a societal level.  But the people he is appealing to here don’t have an actual specific moral obligation, and so we can very much get into the situation where we all end up pointing to someone else and saying “You first!”.  Yes, this is problematic — as we see in Bystander Syndrome — but it is how it works when we try to make a specific moral obligation out of a general one:  if we have to potentially sacrifice something then we will be inclined to wait for someone else to do so first than to do it ourselves.  And this is what generates the choices outlined above where we can ask who are the ones who can pursue their luxuries or who are the ones who don’t get subsistence level if things don’t work out equally and universally.  Singer would need to create a real specific moral obligation between each person and some specific person or area to make this all work, and you can’t do that through utilitarianism, especially the strong version of giving that he relies on.

And to return to Batman, Batman has a specific obligation to Gotham City, that he tries to fulfill the best he can.  He prevents crime as Batman, and diverts his resources as necessary to fulfill that obligation.  He gives to charitable causes in Gotham, and diverts his resources as necessary to take care of the poor and needy in Gotham and fulfill that obligation.  And he keeps Wayne Enterprises running to maintain an economy for the city, and maintains his resources to fulfill that obligation.  Given all of this, Bruce Wayne seems to be using his resources in a morally admirable way, fulfilling his specific obligations first and then turning to more general ones like saving the world through the Justice League and helping out those who are suffering in other countries.  Singer et al are going to need a far better argument than they have made in order to show that his decisions are, in fact, not morally admirable.

Thoughts on the Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships

March 26, 2021

I didn’t really watch the Briar — the Canadian Men’s Curling Championships — and didn’t really intend to watch the mixed doubles curling championships either since mixed doubles is not really my preferred sport.  However, it was on at convenient times and there were some reasons for me to be interested in it, so I ended up following it whenever I could after about the first day.

So how does mixed doubles differ from regular curling?  Instead of the normal four person team that is all men or all women, here you have a team of two players, one man and one woman.  The game starts with two rocks in play, and then instead of each team throwing 7 more apiece they throw five more apiece.  So each end is shorter, and an eight end game takes two hours.  This also means that they are given less “thinking time”, which is time to consider their shots.  Also, whereas in the four player game there’s usually someone throwing the rocks, someone holding the broom (that’s literal) as a target (and also judging if the rock is doing what it’s supposed to), and two people sweeping the rock to try to help it do the right thing, obviously that can’t happen here.  So either one person holds the broom for a target and the thrower hops up and sweeps the rock (usually it’s the men doing that) or else the other person is sweeping and no one provides a target and/or judges it from the house.  So a lot of the things that curlers typically rely on to make their shots aren’t available to the curlers, making it a quite different experience for them.

Which is odd, then, in light of the main thing that let me get interested in it in the first place:  the fact that an awful lot of the female half of the teams were players from the Scotties and from the women’s teams that I’ve been following for years.  While there are a few teams and players that are more dedicated to mixed doubles, a lot of the teams had people who were already in the curling bubble for other tournaments, including a number of teams that had never played together and a number of players that had never played mixed doubles before.  This is of course partly because mixed doubles isn’t as big in curling yet and so most of the best players play full team, and also because some of the teams would have to stay in the bubble for the next tournaments and, as the commentators noted, the best place to get practice on what the ice might be like for them given everything else going on was in the bubble, so they might as well try mixed doubles and see what happens.

And then one of those teams actually managed to win it all.  And most interestingly, it was a team of two skips.

See, as you can tell in mixed doubles in general both players need to do the strategy and need to sweep.  In the four person game, in general skips and thirds do the strategy and the “front end” of leads and seconds do most of the sweeping.  However, when the leads and seconds are throwing the thirds are the ones who fill in on their sweeping spot.  So as the commentators noted thirds would be the ones that are best for mixed doubles because they spend a lot of their time sweeping and also planning out the strategy with the skips.  The worry about an all-skip team is that the strategy aspects would be there — if the two of them could agree — but that they wouldn’t be as good at sweeping and so would be at a disadvantage there.

So Brad Gushue and Kerri Einarson — who won the Scotties for the second year in a row with a four person team formed from former skips and so non-traditional as well — actually won it this time around, the first time the two had played together which was rather obvious because it was the first time Einarson had ever played mixed doubles, at least in those championships.  They defeated a team that was more dedicated to playing mixed doubles in Colton Lott and Kadriana Sahaidak, running out to a 9-2 lead and holding on for a 9-6 win.  Einarson, then, seems to be bent on proving wrong the adage that you need people in dedicated roles for your teams and that instead if you stick the best players together on one team you’re going to be really, really good and win an awful lot.

Now, I watched mixed doubles curling in the Olympics last time around, and thought it was okay.  What did I think of it this time?  About the same.  Because of the reduced thinking time and the fewer rocks to throw, the main strategic elements of the four person game are pretty much lost.  You really aren’t building up a strategy rock by rock as much anymore.  This is heightened by the fact that without someone holding the broom and without full sweepers there are more misses in mixed curling than there are in the full team game, and so it’s more difficult to work out a full strategy when you aren’t sure what you’re going to be seeing after the shot.  Heck, there tend to be a lot of up weight hits through that are there just to clear rocks out of the centre, and often no one can predict what will happen with that shot (especially since it can’t be swept at all, usually, as it’s moving too quickly.  I remember with amusement some shots where the person who could sweep the rock was no where near it while the other person was calling for it to be swept).  However, the game does retain the suspense aspect of curling, where especially towards the end you are watching to see what this shot will do and what will be the result and what impact that will have on the teams.  In fact, because there are more misses that aspect is actually enhanced, because you don’t know what will happen and, moreover, more shots really are “Let’s toss it here and if it’s really good things will be great and if not it won’t hurt us too badly”.  So as I noted last time it’s more tactical than strategic, which isn’t bad.  To be honest, while I’ve compared the full team curling to chess before, it would be reasonable to think of mixed doubles as speed chess:  faster, more tactical, with more mistakes and less overall strategy.

It’s also interesting to talk about the power play, which is where instead of the first two rocks being placed in the centre, they are placed out in the wings and each team can only do this once a game.  Last time around, I commented that while it was portrayed as being for offence it was obviously more of a defensive tool: you were probably going to get two points out of it unless you screwed up but were quite likely to not give up a steal either, while piling things in the centre tended to be the ones that led to the huge scores.  The commentators noted that it was in general being used for offence in the past but now was being used more defensively to keep the centre open and to guarantee at least one point … and then even in that game it was used to generate a lot of points, which carried on at least in the early rounds (but as the commentators noted was not used as successfully in the later rounds).  I think some of the increase in points is due to the fact that the teams have introduced a “tick shot” to it, trying to move the guard into the rings to open things up.  If it works, it will pretty much guarantee no more than two for the team with hammer (throwing the last rock) but if it misses it’s a completely wasted shot and in mixed doubles you don’t really have any shots to waste.  But that’s just a theory, and I haven’t watched the game enough to say for certain.

Now, Canada, despite winning the gold at the Olympics last time around, has not yet qualified for the next Olympics in mixed doubles.  So we have to hope that this new team can keep up their hot play and do well enough that Canada qualifies for the Olympics … at which point there’ll be another trial and so the Einarson/Gushue team might not be the team that goes to the Olympics.  Curling is funny sometimes.

Next up is the men’s World Championships, which I won’t pay much attention to.  Then there are some Grand Slam of Curling events, the women’s World Championships, and the mixed doubles World Championships, all of which I’ll be watching.

Thoughts on “The Nanny”

March 25, 2021

She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens when her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes …

Oops, wrong “The Nanny” …

No, this isn’t the sitcom starring Fran Drescher, but is instead a relatively recent horror movie that’s kinda about a sinister nanny.  Except it isn’t, since it’s really about fairies.  And some weird sinister monster.  And an anti-fairy father.  You know what?  I don’t think the movie actually knows what it’s supposed to be about, which is a weakness in the story.

The movie starts with the aforementioned father — played by Nicholas Brendon — having a lovely moment with his daughter, who is scared of something, and is then abducted.  We then move on to a new family where the boy is having problems and his slightly older sister is trying to get him out of trouble.  The mother then decides that she needs help — as she’s a single mother — and so wants to hire a nanny to look after him and the daughter, which the daughter is strongly opposed to, so she tries to sabotage the effort which, once it’s discovered, really ticks off her mother.  At that point, a nanny suddenly appears on their doorstep and is hired on the spot, but comes across to the daughter as being sinister.  Then the father from the beginning shows up and seems to agree with that, but he ends up kidnapping the daughter in order to hurt or kill her because he thinks she’s a fairy and fairies kidnapped her daughter.  Well, it turns out that both the children are fairies, but when the father’s child comes back it turns out that there’s a monster who took her and wants to take the other children, who ends up killing him, but the nanny and the daughter use their fairy powers to defeat it, and then the daughter stays in this world with her family instead of moving on — at least not yet — to the other world where fairies live.

Now, what a typical movie of this sort would do is focus on the mother, so that when the new and strange nanny shows up we’d have the daughter complaining about her strangeness but the mother torn between believing her daughter or thinking that she was making it all up.  When the father showed up and seemed to corroborate the daughter’s story, the mother then could have doubts.  The best thing about this sort of set-up is how easily it supports either the nanny being evil or the subversion of having her really be trying to do good that the movie actually went with.  Since the mother wouldn’t be seeing any of this and the daughter didn’t want a nanny at all, her trusting the nanny but also becoming suspicious as the movie went on makes perfect sense and can be used to build suspense, especially if we do see a little bit more than the mother does.

However, the daughter is the focus character, and she is seeing a lot of what happens directly.  This means that they have to make the nanny’s actions far more sinister than they would have in the typical set-up.  Thus, she can’t be just potentially a little odd and a little strict, but instead has to come across as, well, completely sinister.  So the movie gets caught between us wanting us to feel that the focus character is reasonable in her suspicions and not just being paranoid and needing to ensure that at the end we are willing to believe that the nanny is not, in fact, actually evil and really is acting in the best interests of the children.  This is only made worse by the fact that we have the father as a character who opposes them and we need to overcome the fact that since he’s reacting to the loss of his child he’s going to be sympathetic, if mistaken.  So while she needs to be strongly unsympathetic to build up the twist, the nanny also by the end needs to be completely redeemed to fill the role she needs to fill in the movie.

The movie also doesn’t handle the father character very well.  As noted above, we’re going to feel some sympathy for him because he’s reacting to the loss of his daughter.  While we won’t support him attempting to kill all the children that he thinks are fairies, we can see why he opposes them.  Again, in a typical movie what they’d do is either have him redeem himself at the end and save the children from the monster once he learns that the fairies aren’t responsible for his daughter’s abduction — possibly dying in the attempt — or else have him get the information and look like he might be able to be redeemed but to instead have his long-standing hatred cause him to deny that truth and so attack them, dying because he could not let go of his hatred.  But the movie doesn’t really do either.  He never realizes that the fairies are not responsible and so never attempts to protect the fairies, but he’s killed incredibly quickly by the monster offering him his daughter and so never really dies out of hatred.  He just kinda … dies in the movie.  Since again a father pining for his lost daughter which leads him to blame the fairies incorrectly — and possibly have killed some of them — is actually going to be a sympathetic antagonist, we really needed the closure that one of the typical options would have provided.  Without that, the character seems extraneous, as the character doesn’t get a proper arc but also doesn’t seem to play a large enough role in the plot to justify its presence.  The movie would have been simpler and better if the character had been left out entirely.

As noted, the movie doesn’t really seem to know what sort of story it wants to be, and so shoves a whole bunch of tropes into the movie loosely aligned around a nanny but never really joins them up properly or develops them properly to make a fully-functional movie out of them.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again, and will likely stick it in my box of movies to maybe sell.

Further Thoughts on “Ring Fit Adventure”

March 24, 2021

I had kinda been planning on waiting until I finished the game since I had thought that I was pretty close to the end, but it turns out that there is a lot more story to it than I expected and so it has gone on a fair bit longer.  So let me take the time to stop here and consider how “Ring Fit Adventure” has been working for me since my first comments on it a couple of months ago.

What I originally wanted this thing for was to give me some more up-tempo exercise that would keep me entertained for about a half an hour to go along with my normal daily long walks.  In the past I had tried using an exercise bike but even watching TV while doing it was too boring for me and so it was difficult to maintain.  Ring Fit Adventure works really well for that.  It has set areas to work through, which makes it easy to decide to two about two of them or so to fill out my half an hour.  The story is just interesting enough to keep me entertained while doing through it.  For the most part, both of them keep me flowing and moving so that I don’t really notice how much time I’ve spent doing them and so am not watching the clock.  And because of where it’s set up I can also have the TV on while exercising to distract me when the game itself is being a bit boring (making smoothies, for example).  So it really is ideal for that half hour exercise run that I’ve been looking for for a while.

For the longest time I had a ton of issues with the leg strap.  I was tightening it as much as I could and it would still pop off at the worst times as I was going through the areas.  Eventually I noted that the fabric that the velcro attached itself to was fraying a bit and so wouldn’t attached properly.  So I’ve started leaving it a bit looser and a bit higher, and that works pretty well.  When the strap is tight, then if you move it pulls on it more and if it isn’t quite attached right it pops off, but if it’s looser movement doesn’t pull on it as much and so it stays attached.  It will, of course, slide down the leg more if you do that, but it’s easier to adjust it back up as you go along than completely reattach it, especially if it pops off at the exact wrong time.  So that’s one frustration that was lessened.

I find that I would have liked it a little bit better if it was a bit more customizable.  It’s good that it allows you to set the exercises that you want to use while encouraging you to use a good variety of them — each exercise has a colour mapping to a general exercise group and if you use one of those on monsters that have the same colour you get a bonus — but inside the areas it will make you overcome challenges that you might not want to overcome.  For me, I loathe the conveyor ones since I’m only after a light job and you usually need to do more than that with them, and plus sometimes you can’t tell if you’re moving at all which makes it very frustrating.  And there are a number of them.  To compare it to Wii Fit Plus, Ring Fit Adventure is more structured but less customizable.  Still, I prefer it because it isn’t dependent on light as much as Wii Fit Plus, so I can do it pretty much anytime (although I tend to do it during the day anyway).

Because of its lack of customization, the game portion, at least, isn’t something that you can use to tone specific muscles or achieve very specific fitness goals.  But at least for me it works well to get in a quick bit of exercise to get me moving without boring me to death.  The story is interesting enough to keep me interested in it while not so interesting that it pushes me to go beyond myself and work out longer than I’d like.  So it’s easy to fit into a schedule and I don’t find that I’m approaching it with trepidation like I often did with the exercise bike, but at a minimum am just thinking of it as “It’s time to do Ring Fit Adventure and then do my other things”.  That’s better than I’ve had with anything except walks, so that’s pretty good.

Thoughts on “Slipstream”

March 23, 2021

So, as mentioned last time, I’ve ended up with a lot more science fiction to watch and so am expanding that category a bit.  This movie is one of the first ones that made me decide that that was useful (outside of a 10 pack of science fiction that will be coming up in the near future).  This one is part of a pack of 11 movies called “The Deadly Beyond”, which looked like a pack of 11 horror movies.  So when I started to watch “Slipstream”, I obviously noticed that it was far more science fiction than horror, and so decided that I didn’t want to talk about it as part of my normal horror posts.  So it gets slotted into my general discussions of science fiction, along with a couple of others that will be more science fiction or fantasy oriented.

The basic premise of the movie is that we have a post-apocalyptic world that was caused by some sort of shift in the weather patterns, especially the wind patterns.  So due to things like sandstorms and the like we have isolated settlements, but in general people travel from place-to-place in various types of small aircraft hoping to catch the new “slipstream” to make their way around, although this is supposed to be very dangerous.  At any rate, Bill Paxton plays a mercenary-type survivor who gets an opportunity to try to take an android — played by Ben Kingsley — in for murder and get a big reward, while pursued by Mark Hamill who plays some sort of law enforcement agent who mixes his desire for justice in with old-time religion.

This movie, to my mind, shows what you can get if you take a bunch of decent-to-good actors and give them roles that play to their strengths.  Paxton plays the precise sort of jerk character that you somehow still feel some sympathy for perfectly as he normally does.  Kingsley works very well as the emotionless android that nevertheless is probably more human than anyone around him.  Mark Hamill chews the scenery quite well as the over-the-top officer who may not be quite sane.  For the most part, we can put the plot aside and get some decent enjoyment out of these actors acting in their element.

Which is good, because the plot is pretty much non-existent.  But I noted while watching that it doesn’t really need to be, because its plot is the standard, basic plot that science fiction can get away with:  a plot that allows them to explore the society they are in and visit different areas and cultures to see new and different ideas of what a society should be like.  It’s the equivalent of the “slasher” plot for horror movies:  a simple, basic plot that will probably keep people who like the genre interested if it’s done even remotely well, but that you can do more with as well.  “Star Trek” had that basic plot of going out every week and exploring strange new worlds and telling a variety of stories based on them.  I also think that that might be reason why “Logan’s Run” is now a bit of a cult classic (which I saw once but remember more from Chuck Sonnenberg’s review of it), as it has a similar plot of running that allows for an exploration of odd worlds.  “Slipstream” pretty much has that as well, which makes it entertaining to watch the performance of the actors while being a little bit forgiving of the rather thin and ridiculous plot.

In fact, the biggest issue with the movie is that it sets up more things than it pays off, as Hamill’s religious leanings and sense of justice is ignored at the end and he meets an unsatisfying end, the android loses a love but that is also not explored properly, and Paxton’s character ends up with the woman he was flirting with for the entire movie but we are given no real reason why she would go with him.  The plot and characterization, then, are too thin compared to what it could have been and compared to how well the actors hill out their own roles.

Still, it’s actually fairly entertaining, although in no way a classic.  This is a movie that I might watch again at some point but as usual am not actually planning on watching again in the future.

The Case of the Dangerous Detective

March 22, 2021

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is “The Case of the Dangerous Detective” by Ronald S. Green and D.E. Wittkower.  It is essentially a dialogue where they ask why detectives might be considered dangerous, starting from Holmes and working their way through gumshoes and film noir detectives.  They then relate them to people like Socrates who were considered dangerous because their ideas challenged the basic ideas underpinning the societies and so they were a threat to the established order, both in the sense that they challenged those who were in power and in the sense that they risked overturning the basic beliefs that kept the society running.  They finish comparing them to some Asian traditions that have similar themes of overturning the basic ideas and beliefs of a society.

However, I find it quite strange that they used Holmes as an example here.  To the audience, Holmes is not at all a dangerous figure.  We are in no way frightened of him or his view of deduction, and in fact we very much admire him even if we cannot be like him ourselves.  Moreover, he doesn’t actually pose any threat to the established order of his time.  He works closely with the authorities and his reaction to them is not one of cynicism about how they are too corrupt, but instead of exasperation over how stupid and unobservant they are.  Ultimately, Holmes is a case where the authorities need and rely on him, and through both him and Mycroft they maintain the established order by doing the things that the authorities need doing but can’t do themselves.  So rather than subverting or challenging the established order, Holmes instead supports and maintains it.

Noir detectives and gumshoes, however, are a better example of that sort of thing and so do mostly exist in a more cynical world where the authorities are instead corrupt.   The gumshoe is well aware that the authorities are corrupt, but is in general driven mostly if not entirely by self-interest.  How they end up challenging the authorities is in general not from any real desire to overturn this corrupt world — since at a minimum they think it impossible for them to really impact it — but they get drawn into the conspiracy in general when they try to solve a murder that is itself connected to the conspiracy (the board game “Android” explicitly embodies this in its mechanics, as any piece of evidence can be placed on the conspiracy or on the murder, and players get points for solving the murder and for linking to the conspiracy and having accrued elements that can be impacted by or impact that conspiracy).  Usually, they find that the corruption is much deeper than even they thought it was which forces them into taking a stand and actions that they wouldn’t normally take.

So what is the same between gumshoes and Holmes is that in some sense both of them are independent operators, taking on cases for their own reasons and not out of any real sense of loyalty to the state or to the authorities.  But gumshoes are entirely self-interested and want to stay completely out of things, while if Holmes believed things were as corrupt as they generally are in film noir he’d take steps to correct it.  Another important difference is that Holmes would be able to ferret out any such conspiracies if he put his mind to it because of how intelligent and observant he is.  So in Holmes stories he is free to have the authorities be “stupid” in the sense that they are at most as intelligent as we are and are far less intelligent than Holmes because he can be superior to them without being any kind of threat to them.  However, in film noir that won’t work.  We need the conspiracy to be at least as smart as if not smarter than the detective because we have to be able to believe that the conspiracy is capable of building such a conspiracy that needs lots of effort and even luck to unravel and that seems impossible to deal with.  While having the power certainly contributes to its success, it can’t be just that they have the power and other people don’t.  They have to be smarter than most of their opponents and so better able to hide what is going on, and often the detectives don’t start to unravel it because they are so much smarter than those running it but instead because the powers-that-be either push things too far or get unlucky when trying to do something that they need to do in order to maintain the conspiracy.  Thus, the detectives are usually not geniuses, and often only solve things through dogged determination rather than through brilliant deductions.

Ultimately, though, what makes them the threat they are is that they ultimately don’t care about the established order, at least not at first.  They don’t benefit from the conspiracy and so have no interest in maintaining it.  This also aligns them with loose cannon detectives in that they are not only outside of the established authority, but are often actively opposed to it.  In D&D terms, they are ultimately entirely Chaotic in outlook and approach.  Compare this to Holmes who morally and in terms of thinking is far more Lawful, even though at times he will bend the laws and rules if he thinks it appropriate.  This is another reason why gumshoes and even loose cannon detectives would fit as being a threat to the establishment, as they don’t care about it and have no interest at all in maintaining it.

However, what we see in such works is that while in general they are considered “dangerous” to the authorities, the audience themselves don’t in general consider them at all dangerous.  We, instead, actually cheer for them.  For gumshoes, that’s because they are opposing corrupt authorities.  For loose cannon detectives, it’s because they are breaking the rules in order to do what needs to be done and get justice.  In essence, they are a threat to authority in a world where either the authorities are corrupt or where the laws are being abused by those who are evil or corrupt, and so the fact that they as individuals are standing up on their own and opposing that is something that the audience wants to see.  But then, we’re an individualistic society, and so are more willing to see an individual triumphing over a corrupt or unconsciously oppressive society as a necessary victory.  If we lived in a society more like the Cardassians from Star Trek our views of them might well change, as we saw when Garak compared literature with Bashir in Deep Space 9.  A society where we are expected to subordinate the individual to the society will be far more skeptical of individuals who “play by their own rules”, because the rules will be there to benefit everyone and those who want to question that will risk tearing down that which allows for the benefits that society grants them.  In a noir world, there may be benefits to the individuals in society but that come at a great cost, but a more communitarian society likely will tend to present the individuals as those who want to cost others for their own shallow personal gain.  So the gunshoes would be a threat to both the established order and the audience in that case.

Holmes, as a detective, isn’t dangerous to either the audience or the established order.  Gumshoes are a threat to the established order but not usually to the audience itself.  The philosophers and the like Green and Wittkower compare them to are perceived as being dangerous to both, mostly because the authority is not seen as overtly corrupt and the benefits of breaking down the established order do not seem to outweigh the benefits.  Ironically, while in fiction we are more individualistic in reality we seem to be more communitarian, unwilling to challenge the established order and risk losing its benefits.  And perhaps that is why our more individualistic society enjoys that so much in its fiction, where that can happen in a way where we, ourselves, are not at all threatened by it, and where the “danger” is not at all our own.


March 19, 2021

In my obviously copious spare time, I was following and posting on a post over at Cross Examined on a version of Soft Theism, and came across a number of comments talking about naturalism and supernaturalism and repeating the old canard that people claim that things are supernatural and so therefore outside of science because they don’t want to have to subject their beliefs to scientific scrutiny.  The comment I replied to is here, but there are at least three comments with the same theme, a common one among atheists.  And as I noted, it’s completely untrue.  It’s almost never purported supernaturalists who claim that the supernatural is outside of science or even, in general, that the things they believe in are supernatural.  Or, at least, they aren’t the ones that start it.  No, in general what actually happens is that they believe that something exists that naturalists say would violate the natural laws, but since they do think it exists that forces them to accept that it is supernatural.  And then when naturalists insist that the supernatural is outside of science — or that science rules it out — they are then forced to place the thing they believe in outside of science as well.  The entire conflict is driven by naturalists and naturalism; most purported “supernaturalists” wouldn’t believe in the supernatural at all if it was proven that the things they believe in were actually natural, and they’d be happy to use science to demonstrate their beliefs if naturalists would stop insisting that it couldn’t be done.

And we know this is true.  Take ghosts.  The only reason those things are considered supernatural is because naturalists insist that they must be.  This has never really been a major point among most people who study or believe in ghosts.  If someone could prove that ghosts as they conceive of them exist — disembodied spirits of the dead — but that those things were wholly natural, pretty much everyone who believes in ghosts would shrug their shoulders and accept that the best way to study them might well be with science.  We know this because, well, ghost hunters and the like have been trying to study them with science for ages.  In fact, the entire field of parapsychology was invented entirely to attempt to scientifically study such things.  They’ve tried to do scientific investigations.  They’ve tried to come up with proper scientific experiments.  And from what we see in the studies of parapsychology and in the movies and TV shows that rely on it, they’ve come up with some tools and some correlates to study.  The field of parapsychology is not denigrated because it’s trying to hide from scientific scrutiny, or because it isn’t at least trying to do things scientifically.  No, it’s denigrated for no other reason than its subject matter.  Traditional scientists just don’t think such things exist and dismiss out of hand any attempts to study it that don’t start and end with dismissing it as delusions and hoaxes … even attempts to show that it has a real, natural explanation.

And this is revealing about the natures of naturalism and supernaturalism.  Naturalists treat supernaturalism as if it was the same sort of thing as naturalism, and so treat it as a worldview or ideological commitment.  But there is no supernaturalist worldview.  Nothing follows from “supernaturalism”.  All “supernaturalists” have is a belief that at least one thing that naturalists think can’t be natural really does exist.  They don’t claim that the supernatural exists in general.  They don’t necessarily think that anything else that is claimed to be supernatural exists.  They don’t necessarily think that anything else that is claimed to be supernatural really is.  They don’t necessarily even think that the thing they think exists is necessarily supernatural.  They don’t necessarily think that anything else that is considered supernatural can’t or shouldn’t be studied by science.  They don’t necessarily think that the thing they think exists can’t or shouldn’t be studied by science (as evidenced by parapsychology).  “Supernaturalists”, then, don’t have an ideological commitment related to their purported “supernaturalism”.  They may have them related to, say, religion or other things that underpin their supernatural belief, but those are separate from or ground their purported “supernaturalism”.

Naturalists, on the other hand, do have such ideological and worldview commitments.  For them, it is their naturalism that drives their rejection of purportedly supernatural phenomena and their insistence that the supernatural is unscientific.  Some shake that out as a claim that science could never study the supernatural, which then causes them to argue that since these things are outside of science then they can’t be studied and/or can’t be real.  Some shake that out with the belief cited at the beginning of this post, with an accusation that supernaturalists want to consider their beliefs supernatural to put them outside of science and so outside of scrutiny.  But in doing so they treat supernaturalism as a worldview when it actually isn’t.  This is why I have now become entirely suspicious of the claims of naturalists who want to say that we should by default prefer natural explanations to purportedly supernatural ones, because if they really wanted us to simply follow the evidence then it should only matter when the actual evidence itself would cause us to prefer the “supernatural” explanation, at which point it doesn’t seem like trying to calculate the probability of that claim being true on the basis that we’ve managed to prove some other cases where we eventually found a natural explanation that worked for them.  If the evidence is on their side, why the desire to discredit the supernatural explanations a priori?  And if the evidence isn’t on their side, then what’s the justification for ignoring what the evidence in this specific case is leaning towards?

But now I can see the issue:  they aren’t doing this on the basis of an evidence-based worldview.  No, they are doing this on the basis of a naturalistic worldview, and then accepting and rejecting claims and evidence entirely on the basis of that worldview.  And then in considering their opponents as doing the same thing, they invent a worldview of “supernaturalism” out of whole cloth and then claim that their opponents are acting on the basis of that invented worldview and so can be discredited on that basis alone.  But supernaturalists qua supernaturalists don’t have that sort of worldview, so naturalists end up invalidly asserting that their opponents are acting in the precise bad ways that the naturalists are actually acting.

This is also why I have been constantly insisting that I’m not any kind of supernaturalist, but instead simply reject naturalism.  You can reject the naturalistic worldview without adopting a supernaturalist one, and in fact other worldviews — like religious ones — will indeed cause one to do that.  As it turns out, almost no one has any kind of supernaturalist worldview, especially not the people that most naturalists think have one.  The naturalists are just plain wrong about their opponents.

We need to focus more on remembering that it’s naturalists that have and act entirely from their worldview, not those who think that at least some supernatural things might exist.  That, then, will allow us to point out that it’s naturalists who have tried to place the supernatural outside of science, not those who think those supernatural things exist.  They are making the invalid epistemological move here, not us.  We need to remind them of that.

Thoughts on “The Haunting of Sharon Tate”

March 18, 2021

I have an interesting relationship with this movie.  I had heard about this movie and thought that it might be interesting, but then had also heard that it wasn’t a very good movie.  So I kept coming across it and wondering if I should buy it, but ultimately always rejected buying it.  Well, at least, I did that most of the time, because it turns out that I actually had bought it at one point and had forgotten that I had done so, and only noticed that I had bought it when I was sorting through my movies to set up an order to watch.  Which means that it was very good that I rejected buying it all of those other times, since this movie was definitely not one that it would be worth buying more than once.

The main premise is a retelling of the last few days of Sharon Tate’s life, an actress who along with some friends was killed by the infamous Manson Family.  Tate has visions and dreams of the death she will suffer at their hands, and the movie bases itself around those visions and those implications.  The problem is that it doesn’t really seem to know what sort of movie it wants to be here.  You could have made a decent biopic out of this where we experience her life up to her untimely death, but the movie doesn’t focus enough on her as a character nor make her sympathetic enough for that to work.  It could have worked as a straight horror movie with the predetermined ending, but they reference the fated ending too much for that to work and attach a plot of different realities to make that more doubtful, including ending the movie with a scene where they actually escape.  It also could have worked really well as an exploration of alternate realities and even raise some doubts about which reality is really real, but they don’t do enough to develop that and the ending seems to have them more as ghosts than as live people in another reality.  So while there were things they could have done that could have made for a good movie, not committing to any of them leaves it as a rather meaningless movie.

Which then means that the movie is rather dull.  There’s too much horror and visions to really develop the characters, so we can’t really enjoy watching them and see it as a tragedy.  But there’s too much normal interactions and clashes among the characters that is ultimately meaningless and so we don’t really get to soak in the horror.  And it doesn’t actually have anything interesting to say that all of those scenes combined could be aiming at.  Add in the ending and my biggest impression of the movie is that it was mostly pointless, which isn’t a recommendation.

I don’t think I’ll be watching this one again.  It had potential, but ultimately isn’t about anything and Sharon Tate as portrayed in the movie is neither interesting nor sympathetic enough to carry our interest through the entire movie.  This one is going in my box of movies to maybe eventually sell.