Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Watching the crows

I saw on the internet that they are planning a remake of the Crow, not a variation or a sequel but a remake. My first thought was, here we go again – instead of choosing one of the poorer films and remaking it to be good one, they're taking the one that was damn near perfect first time out, the one that doesn't need a remake, and making it again. It seems to be the pattern.
My second thought was that maybe I should watch the four Crow movies again.
So I did.
The first crow movie is, as I said, damn near perfect. It's visually stylish. Underneath the violence it has heart and even a streak of sentimentality. Brandon Lee's performance is excellent and the only thing that mars the movie slightly for me is that there is a small but significant change to the original comic book. In that, the original crime was genuinely motiveless – mayhem and murder for its own sake. The movie adds a reason in the interests of plot and to my mind that undermines the actions of the Crow. Still, it's a small point in an otherwise favourite movie.
Crow: City of Angels and Crow:Salvation are the second and third movies in the franchise and there are a couple of serious flaws that they share. The first is that the directors (Tim Pope and Bharat Nalluri respectively) both choose visuals over sense. Sensible and consistent plotting is secondary to whichever visual conceit has crossed the director's mind. So, for example, in City of Angels the Crow erupts out of the water where his mortal form was drowned and hangs in a crucifiction pose hovering in the air. There's no explanation and moments later he is apparently back in the water and dragging himself painfully up onto the pier. It looks good but it makes no sense. Similarly in Salvation the villain likes to insert screws into his arm causing the major scarring that's the main plot driver but no reason is ever given for it, just as no reason is ever given as to how or why he has a secret and rather gruesome taxidermy lab completely unnoticed in the police station.
The second flaw is that both directors seem to have got the idea that a vital element of the Crow mythos is sexual fetishism. It's less of a problem in Salvation because it's at least vaguely connected to the story – in City of Angels it just forms a seedy backdrop to the action – but in either case it's a prominent feature of the movie.
With all that said Salvation at least tries to take the story in a new direction. Eric Mabius' Crow is both more menacing and more nuanced than Vincent Perez manages. City of Angels is just a pale, failed retread of the first movie with vastly inferior performances and scripting and that sexual fetishism is just about the most pointless thing in a pointless movie.
So, what about Wicked Prayer?
It's bad. It's excruciatingly bad. From the text-on-screen introduction of the bad guys to David Boreanaz ludicrous overacting to Edward Furlong's portrayal of the Crow as a petulant goth teenager, the whole thing is awful. And that's before we get to the stone bonkers plot about Boreanaz wanting to become the antichrist and bring hell on Earth or Dennis Hopper visibly making plans to fire his agent in every scene he's contractually obliged to appear in. It has about as much in common with the other Crow movies as a pet goldfish has with a great white shark. It's a bad Crow movie and it's a bad movie in it's own right.
For all that I don't hate it as much as City of Angels. Wicked Prayer is just utterly incompetent, City of Angels seems to have willfully distilled everything that was great about The Crow and then thrown it away and kept and amplified everything else. It rehashes the whole of the first movie in such an inferior form and with so much gratuitous rubbish that I actually find it offends me.

What, then, of the proposed remake?
Personally I'd rather see a new take on the tale but if the have to remake something, why not Salvation. Imagine how good it could be if it were remade with all of its flaws fixed; with the weirder plot points expanded and explained, with villains who weren't just cardboard cutouts.
That would be a movie worth seeing.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Driving: A Mystery Solved

One thing that baffles and terrifies foreigners living in China is the driving. It baffles us because we cannot see how anyone - driver, motorcyclist, cyclist or pedestrian can survive for a week without getting, at the very least, seriously injured. It terrifies us because crossing the street becomes an activity more dangerous than juggling chainsaws, and riding in a taxi leaves us deposited at our destination as a quivering nervous jelly, vowing that we will never ever set foot in any vehicle again.

Drivers seem to apply one very simple rule. Look only straight ahead, ignoring all other road users, and assume that everything else - on wheels or feet - will get out of the way.

They pull out of intersections without ever looking at the road.
They change lanes without warning, heading into gaps that you would swear weren't wide enough for a skateboard.
They hit the pedals as if they are mentally playing an especially complicated piano sonata rather than hauling round a couple of tons of metal.
They happily ignore traffic lights, one way systems and marked lanes.
They treat pedestrian crossing as being purely decorative.

In short they are terrifying.

And now I know why.

My girlfriend is taking driving lessons and the description of them answers all of those questions. The process of learning to drive in China goes something like this.

First you take a written test where you answer a set of one hundred questions from a bank of nine hundred. You read the book, learn the answers by rote memorisation and take the test. At this stage you don't need to have ever sat in a car.

Then you take lessons. She is taking lessons at a Government sponsored driving school. The lessons are one hour but there's a catch. You don't take individual lessons you take group lessons consisting of someone telling you how to drive. In your group's time slot there will be about ten people learning. In any given lesson you will have a maximum of about ten minutes actually sitting in a car. It may or may not be moving at the time. These "lessons" take place at the centre, on simulated roads with no other vehicles present, and not on roads which bear even a vague resemblance to actual driving conditions.

Once you have started taking lessons you can book for one of the pre-scheduled driving tests. This is a short test on the roads immediately around the driving centre which is in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the actual city.

Then there is another written test on road safety and then you get a license. With such a haphazard and inefficient way of learning and with no exposure to actual driving conditions before they let you on the road is it any wonder that for 2010 China recorded more than 65,000 road traffic fatalities. The wonder is that it isn't orders of magnitude higher.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Loglan and lojban

A small correction - Lojblan ISN'T the language formerly known as Loglan though it did grow out of that language's creation. It's a separate language based on the same principles.

Lojban Alice In Wonderland

I recently discovered that there are a number of Lexicon Valleypodcasts that I hadn't heard and have been working my way through them. Episode 33 was entitled The End of Ambiguity and dealt with an artificial language that was originally known as Loglan and is now called Lojban. The aim was to create a language in which ambiguous utterances are impossible and it is, or sounds to be from this podcast, insanely complex. Possibly literally insanely.
To give an example from the podcast there are 25 different ways to say “and” in Lojban.
In the sentence “John and Mary carried the box” there is one word for “and” if we mean together and a different word for “and” if we mean alternately. A third word is used in “John and Mary are friends.” where it means that considered jointly they are friends.
The language, quite frankly, sounds nuts.

I was intrigued enough that I shall be reading more about it later. Lojban as such wasn't the main point of interest for me. That came a few minutes from the end when I discovered that there is a Lojban translation of Alice In Wonderland. Of course I had to check if I could find one. And find one I did.

Here are the opening paragraphs. To me it doesn't even look like a language, it looks like an especially complicated cipher.

1 ni’oni’o pamo’o mo’ini’a le ractu kevna
no’i la alis co’a tatpi le nu zutse le rirxe korbi re’o le mensi gi’e zukte fi noda
i abuboi so’uroi sutra zgana le cukta poi le mensi cu tcidu i ku’i cy vasru no
pixra ja nuncasnu i lu ji’a ma prali sei la alis pensi fi lo cukta poi vasru no
pixra ja nuncasnu li’u
i abu ca’o menli jdice to sekai le xagrai selka’e pe va’o le nu le glare djedi
cu rinka le nu abu lifri le nu sipydji je bebna toi le du’u xukau le nu pluka fa
le nu zbasu lo xrula linsi cu se vamji le raktu poi nu sa’irbi’o gi’e crepu loi
xrula icabo suksa fa le nu lo blabi ractu poi xunblabi se kanla cu bajra zo’a
i la’e di’u no’e ba’e mutce le ka cizra ijenaiji’a la alis jinvi le du’u ba’e
mutce le ka nalfadni kei fa le nu tirna le nu le ractu cu sezysku lu oiro’a
oiro’a mi lerci li’u to baku ca le nu abu pensi la’e di’u kei abu ri te sidbo le
du’u ei ri abu cizra i ku’i caku piro ri simlu le ka rarna toi i ku’i ca le nu le
ractu ca’a lebna lo junla le kosta daski gi’e catlu jy gi’e di’a sutra kei la alis
spaji sa’irbi’o ki’u le nu lindi pagre le abu menli fa le si’o abu pu noroi viska
lo ractu poi ponse lo kosta daski a lo junla poi ry ke’a dy ka’e lebna i bai
le nu kucli kei abu bajra pagre le foldi gi’e jersi ry gi’e u’adai viska le nu ry
canci mo’ine’i lo barda ke ractu kevna noi cnita le spabi’u
i baziku la alis mo’ine’i jersi ry gi’e noroi pensi le du’u ta’i ba’e makau
abu ba za’ure’u bartu”

Who'd have thought that randomly listening to an old podcast would find me such a strange new version of my lifelong obsession.