Sociological Watch: Don’t Look Up @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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Netflix released a film called Don’t Look Up. The story employs tons of exaggeration in addressing how people resist bad news that affects their way of life, though it’s clearly referencing once issue specifically too heavy for this goofy blog. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect to the script that seems to be lost on many people.

As you may know, I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), as well as a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law (Go . . . Scarlet Hawks?). Both fields suffer from the same disease: We don’t know how to communicate well with non-experts. As issues become more complex, they become not only harder to grasp for the uninformed, but also, to be blunt, more boring. This renders the task of communication herculean.

Take for example my first and second RPG copyright posts, which addressed a specific topic. As I’ve explained, my analytics tell me that the first post received 18,952 hits to date (as of 12/30/2021). The second post? Only 1,158. The second post is 2/3 of the argument. That means that people read the first post and then 94% of them gave up (note: this is bad math), missing out on most of what I was trying to say. This was so even though the first post included a caveat that I was nowhere near finished with my argument.

Would it have been better for me to have made a shorter, easier-to-digest, and more direct argument? I don’t think so Despite my disclaimer at the end of the first post, I had a non-negligible number people viciously (i.e., with personal insults) criticizing my first post for making incomplete arguments. These were apologists of WotC (and perhaps RPGs in general) that just didn’t like the consequences of what I was saying, so they were going to criticize me anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t be publishing the second post for a week, that gave them one week to discredit me. I’m not sure if it worked. Did people not read the second post because of a successful campaign to stop it, or did people just get bored? I suspect it’s far more the latter, but both are important phenomena for this discussion, and in other situations, the balance may be different. By the way, I reread the second post while writing this one, and even my eyes were glazing over.

This leads us to science. Scientists run into the same problem, but probably even worse because of the math inherent in their work. As a physics student, I studied areas of math that many people haven’t even heard of, and many of the issues scientists face today can only be understood in terms of math. Scientists try to simplify using analogies, but analogies by their nature will always be incomplete, giving each critic an opening to cast doubt on the science. (“How can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive? This guy’s a quack!”)

Politically connected scientists face additional pressure. Again, I don’t want to get caught up in politics here, so I’ll just say that many scientists depend on financing from politicians, and politicians need to keep their bases happy. When the truth is ugly, very few people want to hear it, and this cascades down to the scientists who must control the tone and content of their statements.

Scientists also face their own social inadequacies. I can’t speak to the modern generation, but going through the physics program, I can assure you that there wasn’t a lot of social skill on display. The stereotypes are valid. Nerds are generally not social butterflies. That makes it difficult for us to communicate even if we’re discussing the price of apples.

Don’t Look Up did a great job of showcasing this difficulty. Going back to attorneys, in legal writing we’re taught to start each paragraph or section with the conclusion, and then back it up with supporting arguments. The scientists in Don’t Look Up should have used that technique. Notice in the talk show scenes how long it took the scientists to make their point. They presented their supporting arguments first. Why? Because they knew some asshole was waiting in the wings to say, “That’s an assertion without an argument! He’s not backing it up!” Well, yeah, not yet. Let them finish. But by failing to start with the statement (spoiler alert!), “A planet-killing asteroid is coming to Earth in six months,” it gave the talk-show hosts the opportunity to interrupt and turn the interview into a farce. By the time the conclusion was stated, it made the scientists look like lunatics to the few people that were still paying attention.

Sometimes you need to lead with the conclusion, and sometimes you need to lead with the supporting material. It’s often difficult to tell those two situations apart, but when your audience is the entire world, maybe you should just get to the point.

Even this post was probably too long.

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Pretentious Watch: Matrix Resurrections @TheMatrixMovie @hbomax #GoodWatch #Matrix

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Reviews for the latest Matrix movie have been all over the place as far as my social media streams go. I’m adding my voice to the choir: It annoyed me. Note, however, that there’s something I find interesting in my reaction to it. I really hate the pretentiousness of the wardrobe and dialogue. The latter is made even more grating by the fact that everyone is either whispering (presumably to sound cool) or yelling (presumably to force dramatic tension without necessarily earning it). There’s rarely any in between, or at least so little of it that I took it for granted. That kind of movie makes me want to punch everyone involved, both in-character and out-of-character. And who wears sunglasses indoors and at night? Someone I want to punch, that’s who.

Except Corey Hart. We cool.

What I find interesting about this reaction is that I had the same reaction to the other Matrix movies, but with the exception of a few notable quotables, over time the pretentiousness slowly disappears from my memory of them, leaving me only with the parts I liked. That’s a lot, which meant that my honest emotional reaction to those movies was overall positive. (Yes, all three of them.) Resurrections may not be so lucky, though. Part of what I liked about the original were the groundbreaking special effects and visuals, as well as a relatively new story. Resurrections doesn’t have that luxury. There was nothing I noted in there that could be deemed “groundbreaking” by today’s standards.

I’ll mention something that I did like about it quite a bit. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll simply say I liked how meta it was. I also liked a callback to a past character who’s all grown up. So, while the story was good enough, it was marred by a tone that always makes me sick to my stomach. I’m glad I watched it on HBO.

I’ll probably like it more someday. As always, YMMV.

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Good Watch: The Mind Explained on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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A while back, I talked about Brain Games on Disney+. It’s a great show, but there’s so much science behind how our brains work that close to 10 seasons can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Netflix’s The Mind Explained is a much more focused show — only two seasons so far — that’s a more manageable discussion of anxiety, focus, memory, and other aspects of neuroscience. The human brain is weird (some more than others), and this show does a good job of explaining that. It also targeted a specific issue that hits home for me. You may have a similar experience.

If you watch the episode on focus, maybe you can handle Brain Games. 🙂

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A “No Longer” Watch: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 4 @StarTrek @CBSAllAccess #StarTrek #DISCO

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Yesterday, I whined a bit, and I’m going to keep this going. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really annoyed by Star Trek Discovery. It’s probably still better than The Animated Series, but The Animated Series shouldn’t be taken seriously by adults, so it’s got an out. Discovery, on the other hand, should be taken seriously, and it’s finally gotten so bad that I simply don’t like it.

The Triumvirate

As an old guy, I don’t like the way modern storytelling has proceeded. This is meaningless, as I’m no longer the target audience, but I’m going to share why that’s the case. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy represented the ethos, logos, and pathos of Starfleet, all wrapped up neatly in three characters. Focusing on only three characters has the advantage of developing those characters so thoroughly that the viewers’ appreciation of them is maximized. Modern writing focuses on far too many characters, which means there’s less plot and more minutiae. For example, we know that Chief O’Brien’s wife’s mother was born in 2269; we didn’t know Sulu was born in San Francisco until the fourth movie.

I experienced a similar issue with the TV show, The Flash. Among several issues with the show, one that drove me nuts was that over half the show’s runtime (I’m not exaggerating) had nothing to do with the main storyline. Instead, presumably because the writers weren’t talented enough to produce a complex story, over half of each episode had the characters 1) saying how much they loved each other; and 2) saying why they had to leave and never come back. As for number one, I’m all for character development — that’s the strength of the Triumvirate — but as Kirk once told Uhura, “Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.” In this case, the “too much” isn’t character development itself, but rather how much of the runtime is dedicated to it. As for number two (huh-huh), there were a couple of characters that kept leaving “forever” but returning as soon as an actor needed another paycheck. It was maddening. (Note: The final straw for the Flash was a different issue altogether: A woman with no superpowers deflecting automatic gunfire with a sword. Even Deadpool couldn’t do that, and he’s utter deus ex bullshitina.)

This is what Discovery does. It spreads its development around the personal storylines of so many characters that the plot takes up almost none of the episode. This is easier writing, of course, which is probably why they write it that way. Most modern shows are like this, as have been past seasons of Discovery, but Discovery keeps adding characters, and it’s now unbearable.

The Characters

I know that Mary Wiseman, the actress playing Tilly, has caught a ton of grief for her continued weight gain. A lot of it has been mean-spirited, and I don’t like that. However, there’s something to be said for placing your trust in someone who’s clearly not physically fit to rise to the challenges Starfleet personnel typically face. In the real world, the US Army has engineers, doctors, and other specialized soldiers, and while they’re not all Ranger qualified, they must do PT and maintain a certain minimum level of fitness. There’s good reason for that. How does Tilly get around that? In season 3, they have her “jogging” around the ship and running laps around the physically fit characters. Is this because Mary Wiseman is in better shape than they? Nope. It’s because, well, the script says she does. Who cares if it makes sense? They want her to be one of the stars of the show, so . . . she just is despite everything cutting against it.

Her physical fitness isn’t her only issue. While I don’t like unqualified viewers flippantly diagnosing on-screen (i.e., make-believe) characters with conditions the scriptwriters don’t understand and probably don’t care to understand, it’s clear that the Discovery scriptwriters intend for Tilly to suffer from some mental disability, probably something along the lines of autism. This has been made exceptionally clear in the current season, where her condition has caused her to break inside. Rather than immediately remove her from duties, the script instead had David Cronenberg tell her that the mission she led showed how great she was. He completely ignored the fact that she created the situation in the first place, getting someone killed and almost costing the entire crew their lives. The scriptwriters could have written whatever unrealistic story of heroism they wanted, but they wrote that, and thought they were writing a success story.

The mission was a disaster, though at least the outcome was close to logical: Tilly’s incompetence led at least to one death. So, that particular scene was the worst of both worlds: It had Tilly “win” even though she shouldn’t have, yet their definition of “win” was laughable. There’s no good in there. None.

This is nothing new. For many stories on TV today, many characters succeed not because they employ the most effective and/or skillful path to success, but merely because the script says so. The writers want these incompetent and/or idealistic characters to succeed, so they just do. There’s no rhyme or reason to the success. They get what they want despite themselves, and that poor writing grates on me (as I’m sure mine does on you).

The Simpsons - Old Man Yells At Cloud on Make a GIF
At least I’m self-aware.

Obviously, some of my concerns are generational, so they may not apply to you, but some of it is logical, and if there’s anything a Star Trek fan should demand of a Star Trek series, it’s adherence to logic. As good as its season-opening episodes have been, I think I’m tapping out on Discovery. I’d like to see how the actual main storyline plays out, but it’s not worth sitting through 40 minutes of drivel. Besides, it’ll probably be a cheap ending relying entirely on deus ex machina.

I hope Strange New Worlds turns things around. I haven’t anticipated a Star Trek series this much since The Next Generation.

LLAP, bitches.

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Legendary Watch: The Green Knight @joeledgerton1 @ralphineson @BarryKeoghan @A24 @tracydeonn #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #TheGreenKnight #GoodWatch

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Last Saturday, I did something that I rarely do: I took a nap. It’s probably been about a year since I did that, and I haven’t taken naps more frequently than that since college. I also did something else that I hadn’t done since September: I went to the movies. I used to do that almost every Sunday, but with the pandemic, that’s non longer common practice.

I think these two things are connected. I took a nap, felt revitalized, and figured I see a movie at a late hour. I bought a ticket to Old and almost immediately regretted it. I wanted to see The Green Knight first and didn’t realize it had been released. Fortunately, Old ended right about the the Green Knight‘s start time. With previews, I didn’t miss a thing.

The Green Knight dragged at times, but I’ve come to expect that from movies about legend and mythology. We sometimes say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s certainly true of a movie. As a result, most myths can be told in 45-60 minutes on film. Filmmakers have two choices: borrow material from other myths and legends or fill in the story with creations of their own. I usually see the former, but in this case, it was the latter as far as I could tell. If they were borrowing from specific myths and legends, I didn’t recognize them. This is where it dragged, but for an apologist for such things, I still enjoyed it.

This also means that it’s probably not the story you know beyond the broad strokes. Besides the original filler, the filmmaker took some liberties with the story, but this can hardly be considered inappropriate. From generation through generation, Arthurian legend is essentially a collection of fan fiction. It appears to have changed with almost every telling of a story. Who’s to say that the filmmaker is wrong for doing their own thing?

The cast was great, BTW.

I give it a B+, but remember that comes from an apologist. YMMV. Old was good too, but I like everything M. Night Shamalamadingdong does, even including the much-maligned The Village. So yeah, YMMV.

So, now that this is over with, let’s gear back up for my continuation of my 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons revisit by asking why the hell haven’t I seen the Green Knight appear in any official D&D text after the original Deities and Demigods? Even in that source, there was very little provided by the description. What villain could provide a greater hook than one whose villainy is merely teaching you a valuable lesson? FYI, A24 created an RPG based on the movie, which they released about a year ago. Googling it provides several reviews of it from CBR.com, Polygon, and others.

I didn’t think there’d be a post-credit scene in a movie like The Green Knight, so I left too early. Oops.

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Disappointing Watch: Bill & Ted Face the Music @BillandTed3 @paramountplus #BillAndTed #ParamountPlus

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Two movies recently hit Paramount+. Yesterday, I wrote about A Quiet Place 2. Today, I’m really sad to report that Bill & Ted failed me.

I don’t think this is a case of growing out of the material. I’ve grown out of professional wrestling. I know what it feels like to just not care anymore because of who I am now. On the other hand, I haven’t grown out of Star Trek or Star Wars. Weirdly, I’ve absolutely grown out of the old Godzilla movies but love the new ones because I loved the old ones. I’m not sure that makes sense, but there it is.

This movie was atrocious. The pacing was terrible. The new characters were stupid. We all thought Station was stupid, but we didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We sucked it up and enjoyed Bogus Journey anyway. But here, I couldn’t do that. There were too may actors/characters added that were a second rate versions of the actors/characters they were replacing. What’s worse, the android was replacing Death even though Death was still in the movie. Death was a watered down version of his character in Bogus Journey, but my nostalgia kicked in and I was okay with that. But nostalgia couldn’t save this movie. Probably worst of all is that the heroes aren’t even Bill and Ted. Why did they name the movie Bill & Ted [anything] if Bill and Ted aren’t really the heroes.

It’s rare for me to be this disappointed in a movie that I want to love so much.

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Not-Quite-My-Thing Watch: A Quiet Place 2 @quietplacemovie @johnkrasinski @paramountplus #AQuietPlace #ParamountPlus

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Two movies recently hit Paramount+, and I’ve been dying to see them both. First up is A Quiet Place 2. I’m not a fan of horror movies, so when a few of the typical horror tropes reared their ugly heads, it took quite a bit away from my enjoyment of the movie. As with all horror movies, people make stupid decisions just to advance the plot (lazy writing), and are then saved because logic always gives ground to the needs of the script. If that doesn’t bother you as much as it did me, then you may like this movie a lot more than I did.

That’s important, because I still liked (not loved) it despite these flaws. As much as I wanted to punch the main characters in the face, I found myself really caring for them. I wanted them to win. The opening act was also very tense, and while it didn’t answer all the questions we have, it gave us some more with which to work.

I should warn you that the movie doesn’t really have an ending. I guess that’s to make sure there’s A Quiet Place 3.

Kylo Ren More GIF - KyloRen More TheLastJedi - Discover & Share GIFs | Star  wars sequel trilogy, Kylo ren, Star wars kylo ren

Next up: Bill & Ted Face the Music

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Good Watch: Ragnarok, Season 2 @jonasgravli @SunthDanu @netflix #MythologyMonday #Ragnarok #Jotunn #Thor #Loki #GoodWatch #tv

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Last week, I watched season 2 of Ragnarok. I previously discussed season 1, which I think I liked more than I should have. I’m a sucker for mythology, so I sometimes give modern dramatizations a little more credit than they deserve (though this is not absolute). This certainly applies here. The acting was rather sour at times, and I’m not sure whether that’s because the English is dubbed. However, I haven’t seen a better representation of mythology on film than this show, and that’s despite the fact that it intentionally (and appropriately) takes the “gods” and “giants” in a different direction.

The premise is that the war between gods and giants never ends. Both groups are continuously reincarnated but in different ways. You learn in season 2 that the giants know who they are their entire lives, even as they take on new ones through reincarnation. However, because the gods represent the interests of humans, they possess or are reincarnated as (probably the former, but unclear) humans, taking time to remember/learn who they are. This creates a foot race. The giants are busy destroying the world (in the most modern of ways in this show), searching for evidence that the gods are returning. Once they learn that the gods are back, they race to complete their plans, or even kill the gods, before the gods gain their full strength. The complication for the giants are that they’re bound by the rules of the game, which doesn’t allow them to act directly at times.

See? Giants aren’t all that bad.

Despite getting to the action this season, there’s still character development in play. For example, there’s an obscure character in Norse mythology, Járnsaxa (don’t click the link if you don’t want to be able to infer spoilers), whose role took me by surprise. Her character was in front of my face for two seasons, and I didn’t recognize her until the last episode of season 2. Based on the myths, her presence is important to how the series should wrap up. Some new characters were “born” in this season as well, including two extremely important ones, Loki and … something else.

The actor playing Loki is no Tom Hiddleston — who is? — but he does a good job, and the writing for his character is as good as any I’ve seen for any god from any mythology ever on television or in the movie theater. He’s exactly what Loki is supposed to be, which is hard to fit into modern storytelling. He’s not evil. He’s not even always selfish. He’s . . . Loki. Moreover, Thor’s reluctance to remove Loki as a threat makes a ton of sense, just as it does in Norse mythology, but not in exactly the same way, because this show takes place today.

Season 1 was very slow — all set up — but season 2 really got us into the mythology. Unfortunately, it’s only six, 50-minute (or so) episodes. I wanted a lot more.

I can’t guarantee you’ll like it if you’re not a mythology nut like me, so as always, YMMV.

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Good Watch: The Last Blockbuster @blockbuster @netflix #Blockbuster #GoodWatch #movie

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I finally caught the Last Blockbuster on Netflix. It was an interesting telling of how Blockbuster failed. Absolutely nothing was a surprise. Blockbuster died because technology changed; everyone knows that. I was disappointed that they tried to spin its demise, refusing to admit that Netflix, et al. killed it. The argument is that Blockbuster died because they didn’t have the capital to invest in streaming technology. Well, yeah. Duh. We know that. When we say “Netflix killed Blockbuster,” what we’re all really saying is “streaming technology killed the video rental business.” Nothing in the documentary proved otherwise.

Great. Now I’ve developed another nervous tic.

Nevertheless, it was, as I said, and interesting telling. I love learning about history regardless of how recent it was.

No Nostalgia Here

What surprised me the most about the show was my own emotional reaction. I really don’t care. That is, despite renting videos being a huge part of my teenage life, it was kind of a pain in the neck. I’m not immune to nostalgia. Most of the people who have ever read this blog have done so only because nostalgia brought me back to D&D 24 years after the Satanic Panic took it away from me. I have the same love of childhood garbage food that all of you have. However, renting videos wasn’t without cost.

First, my parents had to get with the program and actually buy a VCR. That took a while. Second, it was about a 1.5 mile (each way) walk to get to the video rental store. There are also occasional war stories related to renting videos. For example, I’m a middle child, and when I say I’m a middle child, I mean I’m the middle child, as in the poster child of middle children. Look it up in your dictionary. If my picture isn’t there, buy a new dictionary. Ergo, I never got to pick what movies I wanted unless I took matters into my own hands, and even then, I had to wait my turn for the VCR, which sometimes never came. That leads me to a specific war story. My cousin and I once rented Bachelor Party. We were in high school and didn’t have credit cards, so to rent it (without our parents’ assistance), we had to put down (IIRC) a $75 deposit (that’s $187 in 2021 money . . . for a high school student). We were dipshits.

Overall, I suspect I have more fond memories of renting movies than poor ones, but I just don’t miss it. I can imagine how inconvenient it would be if I still had to do that. As I type this, Netflix proceeded directly to Stowaway. I like being able to just grab movies at the touch of a button … errrr, click of a mouse. Of course, you all probably agree with that, but nostalgia isn’t really about actually wanting to go back, but rather about remembering what was going on in your life at that point. Well, I’m a big movie theater guy, so going to the movie theater is still a far more enjoyable experience than renting and watching a video at home. I suspect that’s why this documentary didn’t pull at any heartstrings. Perhaps I’ll have a nostalgic reaction when and if movie theaters die. (Fuck you, COVID-19.)

Still a good documentary. As always, YMMV.

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