Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 27, 2012

A funny thing just happened on Facebook

Filed under: Personal,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:33 am

Just now I logged on to Facebook and on an irritated whim I commented on a remark posted by a friend who has been somewhat estranged lately for reasons not germane to this.

Or perhaps they are. I often wonder how ideology affects one’s personal loyalty, ethics, etc. I haven’t seen a direct one-to-one relationship, it’s more complicated than that, but still…

At any rate, what this person posted was:

“Unregulated free market capitalism looks suspiciously like China…..”

I posted:

“Stephen W. Browne: Dumb on so many levels. A free market is not and cannot be “unregulated” by definition. A market systems cannot function without rules: against fraud and force, misrepresentation in advertising, enforcement of contracts,”

Then I hit the ENTER key, which I do often on Facebook. On some sites ENTER gives you a paragraph break. On Facebook it actually enters what you’ve written, and I often forget that. (And by the way, how do you get a paragraph break on Facebook?

So I continued to write:

“Stephen W. Browne: China has moved away from a totalitarian system that outright murdered tens of millions of people and caused mass starvation of similar numbers through the sheer economic idiocy that has resulted from every attempt at centrally planning the economy. And have you seen China? Nor have I, but I have taken the trouble to get to know a fair number of Chinese with first-hand experience of both countries. Some in the context of helping them defect. I have seen and lived in not one, but three countries which were in the process of moving from controlled economies to at least freer markets. In each case I saw first-hand the explosion of prosperity that followed immediately afterwards. I have visited at intervals several more, and seen reliable reports of still more. In contrast as a country, ours in this case, has fallen lower on the economic freedom index maintained by the Canadian think tank Fraser, well we see the results around us. This is so silly that, as one scientist said, “It’s not even wrong.” How China and the U.S. resemble each other is not in being “an unregulated free market” but in us moving towards the kind of crony capitalism of China. One where the government allows a minimal market, but picks the winners and losers through preferential regulation, complicated tax codes, awarding government contracts to favored supporters, and outright subsidies, bailouts etc.”

Then I hit ENTER, and this popped up:

“Sorry, you may not have permission to add this comment or the original post may have been deleted.”

January 25, 2012

Review: Underworld Awakening

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:17 am

Note: Published in the TV Guide issue of The Marshall Independent.

I must confess, I am kind of tepid about vampire fiction as entertainment, but as a jackleg social scientist I find the recent social phenomenon of “vampire as good guy” fiction fascinating.

Underworld Awakening is in chronological order the third movie in a series of four of the Underworld vampire/werewolf saga and set in the near future. A prequel, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” filled in the back story of the origin of vampires, werewolves, and the war between them back in the middle ages.

The first two movies: “Underworld,” and “Underworld Evolution,” are set in the present. “Underworld Awakening” is set in the near future, when the existence of vampires and werewolves has become known and the authorities have waged a war of extermination against them.

Now in a previous generation of vampire films, that would be taken as a given, “Well duh.”

A lot vampire/werewolf flicks of the past, such as the Hammer films of fond memory, would have a plot subtext of the valiant vampire hunter desperately trying to prove to skeptics there are such things, precisely so we could get together and exterminate them.

In the Underworld world, vampires are a virally mutated species who have learned how to produce artificial blood, or just live off animals, and coexist with normal humans while they fight werewolves (“lycans”) with hi-tech weapons. Except sometimes they yield to temptation and just have to dine on traditional vampire cuisine, a la the Twilight series.

The central character is again Selena (Kate Beckinsale,) a beautiful 300-something vampire trained as a death-dealer, i.e. a superhuman martial arts master who kills lycans.

Selena had previously found out the secret behind the centuries-old war, and the death of her family at the fangs of the vampire elder who turned her. Vampires and lycans it turns out, are sort of cousins, descendants of twin brothers who got bitten by a bat and a wolf respectively. By the end of “Underworld: Evolution” Selena has mutated again to the point she can stand sunlight, and is partnered with the first vampire-lycan hybrid.

At the beginning of “Awakening” Selena has been in cold storage in a laboratory for 12 years, and evidently had a daughter (India Eisley) while she was on ice. The daughter is a hybrid like her father. The lab is run by secret lycans who want to vivisect her daughter Eve (get it? First of a new race, Eve) to create a race of bigger, stronger lycans who are immune to silver.

Selena’s mate, Eve’s father Michael (Scott Speedman) is AWOL in this flick, though present in spirit and presumably will be reunited in the future.
There’s lots of slam-bang action, gun fights, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat in this one. My 10-year-old son loved it of course, “Because I like movies with hotties in them.”

The plot alas, is a bit thin, though to be fair it does advance the series story line in a way that promises more sequels.

The movie ends with Selena, Eve, and a young vampire David (Theo James) escaping just behind and just missing Michael, promising they’ll be back. Back to what is only hinted at, but perhaps to being the secret masters of the world or something. Not an appetizing prospect for us mere humans, but could hardly be worse than the current crop of blood-sucking politicians who run things.

So what is it about vampires and why has the modern incarnation of the legend mutated so far from its origins as a walking, blood drinking corpse?
Well for one, they’re immortal, and they’re super strong and fast. For another, they’re scary when they want to be. If you’re a vampire guy, you can offer the ladies something nobody else can, eternal youth and beauty. And vampire chicks are hot.

Vampires it seems, have replaced Superman as the hero we would like to be. Perhaps it’s because becoming a vampire is doable, while to be Superman you have to have been born on Krypton.

And vampires are powerful in an age when many feel we have lost power over our own lives.

So what the heck, take your kids (10 is about the lower limit I’d say,) they’ll enjoy the action and noise. And dad, watching English actress Kate Beckinsale kick butt in a skin-tight leather jumpsuit is the best English import since Emma Peal in “The Avengers.”

January 13, 2012

Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:33 am

Note: Published in the TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.

Critical reactions to “The Adventures of Tintin” seem to be either love it or hate it, I confess to mixed feelings.

I have been passingly familiar with Tintin longer than Spielberg actually, because as a boy some of my best friends were French and had the books around. But I was not a fan myself, so the character was sort of new to me, and entirely new to my 10-year-old son.

Tintin was directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, based on the long-running series of comic books by Belgian artist Georges Prosper Remi (1907 – 1983,) better known by his pen name Hergé.

You’d think a combination like that couldn’t be beat. Indiana Jones meets Lord of the Rings, via one of the most popular European comics ever.
Spielberg became a fan in 1981 when he read a review comparing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to Tintin. Herge returned the compliment when he declared Spielberg the only man who could bring his creation to the screen.

Tragically, Herge died a few weeks before they were to meet.

The film, Spielberg’s first animated feature, was made in 3-D using motion capture, the technique where the movement is recorded and translated on to a digital model. I saw it on flat screen but didn’t feel I missed anything.

The major supporting character Captain Haddock was played by Andy Serkis, famous for his uncanny mocap performance as Gollum in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings.”

The film follows young reporter/adventurer Tintin (Jamie Bell) who discovers a secret clue to the location of a pirates treasure in an antique model ship he buys at a flea market. A villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel “Bond, James Bond” Craig) immediately shows up and attempts to buy, then steal the ship, and then kidnaps Tintin and imprisons him on a ship bound for Algeria. There he meets Captain Haddock and through a series of non-stop action scenes discovers the history of the families of Sakharine and Haddock, the location of part of the treasure, and a map to the rest of the treasure, whereupon the movie ends on the promise of at least one sequel.

The reviewers were right, the action of Tintin is uncannily like Indiana Jones adventures. So much so that I automatically assumed this was Spielberg doing Spielberg with someone else’s character. Not so, it was evidently the meeting of kindred spirits in a match made in Hollywood heaven.

And yet, though I certainly don’t mind movies depicting newspaper reporters as action heros, there was something underwhelming about it. Something I can’t quite put my finger on.

The action was slam-bang, the plot convoluted enough to keep one mentally occupied. There are moments of maddening tension, as when the bumbling Interpol detectives Thompson and Thompson are admiring Aristides Silk’s “wallet collection” and you’re jumping up and down waiting for these two idiots to realize the fellow is confessing to being the pickpocket they’re after.

But I left the theater in a mood not much different than I went in, and my son had nothing to say about the movie from that moment to bedtime.

Steve Rose, movie critic from The Guardian said the film entered the “uncanny valley.”

That’s the hypothetical point at which a robot or 3D computer animation starts to look too human. When a character looks human-like but not too humanoid the theory goes, it inspires affection. At the point it starts to look too human, it inspires revulsion.

Not quite, I think. What I felt was not revulsion.

What I think it was, was that when you see Indiana Jones doing these wildly improbably but barely possible stunts, like doing a balancing act between two speeding vehicles or hitching a ride on a submarine by clinging to the periscope, you can suspend disbelief enough to be thrilled by the danger and excitement.

The trouble is, Tinin is neither cartoon nor human. The action does not suspend the laws of nature like a cartoon. You don’t see any character walking off a cliff and not falling until he notices he’s walking on air for instance. But when he does these Indy Jones type of stunts, I was left with a feeling of, “Big deal, he’s a cartoon.”

Maybe I’m wrong, box office has been great around the world. Maybe I’ll get used to this eventually. But for now, though I’ll probably see the sequel, it didn’t smack me right between the eyes like Raiders or Lord of the Rings.

On the other hand, what else does?

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