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The Unthanks thing I wanted to go to was sold out, so we looked at what was on at the cinema instead, and after thinking there was nothing Andrew spotted something called Going in Style, about three old guys who rob a bank.

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin play three friends who worked together at the same factory and thus all find out at the same time that their pensions have been stopped. The company is in debt and using their pension funds to pay off their debts.

Michael Caine's character had just been in the bank (to ask about the foreclosure letters he was getting and the direct debit that stopped going into his account) when he witnessed it being robbed. He's impressed at how quickly and smoothly the thing is carried off, and the robbers don't get caught. This is what gives him the idea.

It's a joy to watch these three actors, their characters established easily and quickly in relation to their families in two cases (and the third gets a love interest as the movie goes along) and even more importantly in relation to each other. They've been friends for decades, one lives across the road from the apartment the other two share, and there's something really touching about the love they display for each other (like Morgan Freeman tucking a blanket around a sleeping Alan Arkin, making sure his feet get covered), something so unusual to see men do in real life or in the movies.

And the motives behind their crime are certainly ones most people would be sympathetic to: they're stealing from the bank that's sending their pension money elsewhere, and intend to give to charity anything that is more than they expected to receive. When he's trying to convince his friends to join his crazy plan, Michael Caine says
These banks practically destroyed this country. They crushed a lot of people's dreams, and nothing ever happened to them. We three old guys, we hit a bank. We get away with it, we retire in dignity. Worst comes to the worst, we get caught, we get a bed, three meals a day, and better health care than we got now.
It's funny too, of course: the scene where they're the worst shoplifters in the world had me in fits of giggles with its physical comedy and sheer absurdity. But a lot of the humor is a little more complex than that,

Much is made too of society's tendency to underestimate its older people. Their alibis depend on old men being doddery, indistinguishable from one another if they're wearing the same hat, or likely to be in the loo for a long time. Yet we the audience underestimate them too, laughing at them doing things we expect only younger people to do, like smoke a joint and then ride in a car with their heads out the window, or shout at each other and the TV about The Bachelorette which man the woman should choose.

Or, of course, like robbing banks. We think that's a young person's game too so it's delicious to watch the juxtapositions: they have to exercise to be able to pretend to be the kind of young spry people who rob banks, but they can also disappear into a crowd on a bus because they look so harmless and unmemorable..

Like any heist movie part of the fun is watching the plan come together, and then inevitably not go quite as planned. And like any heist movie it's not exactly unpredictable, but it was incredibly enjoyable and on the bus ride home Andrew and I agreed it was just what we'd needed today.

One note on the audio description, though: Michael Caine's granddaughter plays softball and twice the bloody audio track told me she was bowling when she was definitely pitching! It was so weird! Definitely jarring. I had a whispered rant at Andrew the first time this happened. I know it's a British recording but dammit, as somebody who can pitch but couldn't bowl I am quite certain they are not equivalent things!
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Thursday was an oasis in a week that otherwise led me to share this picture when I saw it on Facebook:

I had my usual but abbreviated visit to Yorkshire because I had to get back to take my friend's place at an event she couldn't go to with her partner and...I can't remember if he didn't want to go alone, or if they just knew I'd appreciate free wine and nibbles, or what, but anyway I got asked to go.

All I knew from a conversation I'd only half paid attention to (I was trying to cut a cake at the time...) was that it was an LGBT thing and it was at Steve's work. He's on the LGBT steering group there and indeed someone else from the group recognized me as having been to other events of theirs -- I did a presentation with someone else about biphobia and I went to a Bi Visibility Day event a couple years ago. I had no idea who he was but he said "you had multicolored hair then" so it probably was me! (Though Em J pointed out when we told her this story that she's also been to things and also has had multicolored hair, so I might've been confused for Steve's partner again.

Apart from the posh sandwiches and bottles of beer (mine was called Cwrw so now I know the Welsh word for beer!), it turns out we were there for a screening of some short films from the Iris Prize, an LGBT short film festival.

The first one, "Mirrors" was described as "about two straight men connecting in a gay club." It was probably my least favorite of the night, partly because I've seen enough young skinny white northern lads on nights out already, partly because both Steve and I thought that to describe it as "two straight men" was rather bi-erasing.

Then there was "In the Hollow", about a woman who was shot and her girlfriend killed on a hiking vacation in the late 80s. Dramatization of their young selves is interspersed with the woman who survived going back to that place in the woods for the first time since. Seeing their normal coupley selves -- arguing, making plans, holding hands -- interrupted in such a ghastly way was really powerful, and to see the woman who survived become an activist for hate crime legislation kept the movie from being unbearably painful.

Then "Vessels", a graphic and grim account of what happens when trans people can't access health care they need and resort to the black market. The film's very well done, which means it's scary and sad and I had to close my eyes for some of it.

Then "Aban + Khorsid", which in a more linear form tells a similar story to "In the Hollow," except the terrible ending is mutual and apparently state-sponsored. Filmed from their own points of view, as if on their phones, the young couple are so endearingly normal and coupley that the longer this goes on the more you can feel the inevitable ending. I could hear lots of sniffles in the audience by the end.

It was time for well-deserved break for a quick pee or nabbing more wine or whatever -- and someone even rolled in a trolley with ice creams on it, leading me to joke it was like a proper theatre interval...though I ate a Flake out of a cone instead of the posh ice creams with little wooden spatulas to eat it with. And the last two films were much more fun and light, a good way to end the evening.

My absolute favorite of the whole evening was "Private Life". Sadly I can only find a terrible-quality YouTube copy of this one, but it's great -- the cutest, funniest cross-dressing night out in Manchester in the 1950s with a (very welcome by this point in the evening) sweet ending.

And last of all, "Skallamann" ("Baldguy"), the best Norwegian musical celebrating the virtues of snogging the follicly-challenged that you will ever see. The song is catchy as all hell too, unfortunately: be prepared for "skallamann" to be the only word you'll remember in Norwegian for the rest of your life.

Apart from its joy and silliness, one of the things I loved about "Skallamann" is that it's the only movie I saw all night that wasn't about being gay or trans. The kid who comes home and confesses to his parents he's made out with a bald guy is a boy, but (apart from maybe redirecting the stereotypical shock and disapproval of finding out your son fancies men to the ridiculosity of finding out your son fancies a bald man) it's not the gay story of Coming Out, or The Consequences of Homophobia or the voyeuristic transition story. It's just a story with someone not-straight in it.

I really wish there would be more stories like this: just, non-straight and/or non-cis people getting a puppy or inheriting the kingdom or fighting the baddies or whatthefuckever kind of stories people who get to think of themselves as the default get to tell.
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I saw Notes on Blindness on Saturday evening as part of the National Media Museum's Widescreen Weekend. Unusually for me, I was by myself since Andrew was too sick to go with me like we'd planned. (Irony of ironies, for a movie about bilndness, the house lights weren't up enough for me to find my seat when I got into Pictureville Cinema, even though I was early and there was a panel discussion before the movie so no reason for it to be so dark. And this was the one time I didn't have Andrew with me to be my seeing-eye human. Luckily a woman who was already helping the mobility-impaired person she was with spotted me and helped me find where I needed to be.)

It's definitely one I'm going to have to watch again (got the DVD on my wishlist already!) but for now I just wanted to remind myself, and tell you guys, of one of the things I found most striking about seeing it in the cinema with a lot of other people (most of whom had the lanyard of weekend-pass festivalgoers and were the kind of people I'm used to seeing at the Media Museum's cinematic events: mostly older, almost all white, chattering about things like what materials different kinds of cinema screens are made of in between movies).

The movie's based on the non-fictional audiotapes of a man, John Hull, a middle-aged academic whose second child was just about to be born, who lost his sight in the early 80s. He started keeping a sort of diary on cassettes as he came to terms with his blindness, and the movie's audio is composed of these recordings, lip-synced by actors but the actual voices are that of John and his wife and other family members on the tapes.

It's very well done -- I really like the way it's filmed so that even after John loses the last of his sight the cinematography makes you feel like you're getting things from his perspective even though there are of course images on the screen throughout the movie. I know I'll have a lot to say about it, but I think I need to see it again before I do (ideally with the audio description, which I don't think the media museum has? or anyway a combination of their staff being kind but not overly well-trained and me being all anxious and brainweasely meant I didn't ask).

In the meantime there's one little anecdote I wanted to tell.

Early in the movie, John has a little sight. He is as anyone would be upset when he learns he will lose that too. "How will I lecture?" he says (all of this is paraphrased from what I can remember!) "How will I read?" He seems to consult a library, whose audiobook collection is all detective-stories and romance. Then he's on the phone to someone asking about this, explaining the contemporary social texts he needs for his work and clearly not getting answers he wants.

Finally he asks in frustration, "How do blind people read big books?"

I had time to smile at the child-like nature of that phrase, "big books" and to mutter out loud, "they don't" before the answer came from the other side of his phone call.

"They don't."

And I was already smiling in that half-recognition, half-rueful, half-I-might-cry (yes that's three halves, yes this is a movie that gave me All The Feels, as the kids say) kind of way before the rest of the audience responded.

They laughed. They chuckled anyway. It didn't sound mean, it sounded more surprised -- which of course was the last thing I was -- and that actually surprised me. Maybe I expected the skewing-older audience of mostly-vintage movies (this was introduced as the one "contemporary" title in the festival) to be a little more sympathetic to sight loss since as people age they are more likely to find it among their peer group if not themselves. Of course things are better to some extent now (though the RNIB library I subscribe to doesn't have the "social history" I really like, but it's keeping me in science-fiction and horror so I think there's still more truth to this than people expect!) but still.

Maybe because I was "blind," albeit as a tiny child, at this time that I remember it. Maybe I recognize this in everything from other kids at the summer camp for blind kids to the steering group I'm leading after the first meeting I attended of it because no one else was going to write the e-mails and make the phone calls that didn't seem like a big deal to me. There's a institutionalization endemic to some kinds of blind people, this sense that they're easiest for sighted people to deal with when they don't do much and that they find it easier not to fight all the time to make things accessible. Stay at home, wait for people to take you places if you must go, listen to some nice cozy mystery from the library.

This part of the story has a happy ending -- John gets people to read books onto cassettes for him, he learns to make audio notes for his teaching, he recognizes his students by voice, all that -- but man. I didn't like being surrounded by people who were laughing at his plight. (And I hope that would've been true even if it weren't to some extent mine as well.)

I wonder what made them laugh. I really do.
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* It pleases me that I started coveting this shirt while I was holding a boy's hand.


[personal profile] magister told me about a t-shirt he spotted when we were out today (which of course I missed, so I'm glad he did tell me!) that said "Girls don't like boys, girls like ghosts and Jillian Holtzmann."

This is a convention I learned about from this slogan:

but quick googling tonight found me this and now I want it so much.
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Watching this movie called The Swarm. It's about a killer bee attack, but it's from the seventies so there's meeting where they argue about whether they're African bees or Brazilian bees. There's clashes between the military and civilians trying to stop the bees. There's a nuclear power plant they can't shut down because millions of people rely on that power.

You never get enough of this mundane stuff in modern movies. They'd just blow the bees up or send them into space. But mundane bureaucracy is so much more entertaining.
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Having been less than impressed with Pixar's last movie (I'm apparently the only person who didn't like Inside Out that much? it seemed a movie about a little girl's depression and the only thing that really stands out about it to me was the girl's mother saying something like "we want our happy little girl back" which freaked me out; being happy for your parents' sake is no way to live), and not knowing much from the impressionistic trailer for this one, I was still happy to give something called The Good Dinosaur a try.

I love dinosaurs, and good ones are the best kind! The following is possibly mildly spoilery (though I don't think it's a story that's spoiled by knowing what happens).

I especially love the idea that the dinosaur-killing meteor was deflected enough that they carried on and became farmers. The eponymous dinosaur and his family are green sauropod-ish dinosaurs, the gentle herbivorous type that I've thought were friendly since I first watched The Land Before Time when I was small. The rest of their ecosystem is recognizably the one we have today, though; apparently the dinosaurs' agricultural revolution converged with ours, because the corn they farm looks very familiar, there are deciduous trees, fireflies, bison (kind of?), and so on.

The protagonist, Arlo, hatches from an egg twice the size of his siblings', but is himself tiny, and this sets up the themes of his upbringing. While his brother and sister excel at the chores they're given to do, Arlo struggles to feed the chicken-esque theropods the family keep on their farm, and in general is afraid of everything.

So far so kids-movie, but when Arlo's fear of killing a "critter" he's been asked to trap means he lets the little thing escape, his warm and gentle father gets angry and says they're going to track the vermin. They get caught in a storm and, after getting Arlo to safety, his father is swept away and killed before his little son's eyes.

Seeing the little critter again later, Arlo rages at it because he blames it for his father dying, and in chasing the tiny brown hairy thing around he gets knocked unconscious and swept down the river and is lost. So he has more kids-movie adventures trying to get home, finding both friends and foes along the way, most importantly the "vermin" (which ends up looking like a human child but also barks and howls and sniffs like a dog, and does not speak), who saves Arlo from starving when he wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings and panics.

I like how grown-up the movie is, for all its cuddly characters and simple story. Arlo has PTSD-like reactions to future storms, with flashbacks to his father telling him to run that leave him fleeing blindly from Spot, his little human-dog friend. The nonverbal Spot and Arlo communicate to each other the families they've come from: Spot very deliberately knocking over the two big twigs that apparently represent his parents and gently covering them with dirt, has probably left me closer to tears than any wordy explanation of his orphanhood would've. A big allosurus-like-thing tells Arlo "if you aren't scared of a crocodile trying to bite your face, you aren't alive." This shift from the kids-movie theme of "banish your fear" to the slightly more subtle "you can't wait until you're not scared to start doing things" was most welcome to me.

Then there's a point where Arlo is again knocked out after some baddies have stolen Spot away, his dad comes to him, doesn't speak but rescues him from the vines he's gotten tangled in, and starts to lead him away, in the opposite direction from Spot. Arlo is overwhelmed at seeing his father walking around again, but also is insistent they need to go back because he has to save Spot. He's learned the lesson about doing things even though they're scary just in time, because he's scared of the baddies that have Spot but he also says "I love him."

The moment where it seems like Arlo has to choose between his little companion and his beloved father back from the dead is actually heart-wrenching. Arlo notices his father isn't leaving footprints in the mud like he is so realizes that he father isn't really there. When Arlo says he's going to help Spot, his ghost-father turns around and gives Arlo a few warm words and a smile before disappearing into dust, and Arlo wakes up still tangled in the vines but now determined.

After Arlo has found Spot and is just about home, telling Spot excitedly about how great their lives will be and how it'll be Spot's farm too, Arlo and Spot's delighted howls attract a group of human-looking things making similar howls. There seem to be a male-female couple, and male and female children, all of whom Spot is smaller than, making this dynamic exactly like Arlo's own family. Arlo and Spot both have to make a difficult choice; Arlo nudges Spot toward his fellow humans a few times, who cuddle and coo over him, but more than once Spot comes back to Arlo again, and more than once Arlo nudged him back to the humans. I was surprised at how much I got swept up in this, and as Spot was nudged inside and then ran back outside the circle Arlo had drawn around this family, I briefly couldn't be sure whether the story would fork down the "people must be with their own kind" leg of the Trousers of Time, or whether it would be the "friendship transcends" leg. I ended up wanting Spot to just stay on the little circular trench Arlo had dug, but I think I may have been projecting a little bit there.

When Arlo finally returns to his family's farm, the shots are all parallels with the beginning of the movie, when it was his dad we saw going outside to his work. Arlo's mother is working in the fields and even whispers "Henry?" as she sees Arlo striding over to her, but then realizes it's her missing son, who may not be the only one to imagine that Henry is not dead after all.

I worry what was sweet and affecting in the movie sounds dull and clichéd here, but it had the unblinking intensity, heart and charm of the good Pixar movies, and a much more accurate and helpful portrayal of what it's like to lose someone you're so close to and how difficult it is to get past disappointing yourself and everyone else than I am used to seeing in movies, kids' or otherwise.
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The dog and I have the house to ourselves (Andrew's at a gig), I poured myself a whiskey (shamefully I still have some of the Yamazaki 12 I got for my birthday/Christmas last year; I don't drink enough at home!) because I promised myself a drink in Chris's memory.

And I've also decided to combat loneliness by watching my family's favorite Christmas movie: as I said on Facebook earlier
Along with my wee dram of Japanese whiskey, tonight I'm watching my family's traditional Christmas movie, which I've always been pleased is not It's a Wonderful Life or anything but National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I think it says a lot about us as a family.

And as well as knowing most of the dialogue off by heart, I can't help but hear the comments my parents and brother would always make, the lines we'd anticipate, the things we laughed at most.

It's our version of the Rocky Horror Show, really, except we don't have to dress up because we already are an average Midwestern family.
(Of course now I'm wanting to write the script for it.)
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I finally, after desperately wanting to since I first knew what it was and two months of vague plans to see it going awry or being out of the question amidst how busy I've been, saw The Martian.

[personal profile] magister went to see it right away I think, and texted me me tell me I had to, that I'd love it -- no surprises there -- and that there was one bit in particular he wa sure I'd like. I think he's been waiting ever since for me to see the movie so he could find out what my reaction to this was.

I told Andrew this, as part of my late-night holding-hands excited post-movie babble as we walked through the city centre toward our bus stop. "All through the movie, I was trying to guess what he had in mind." It made it extra enjoyable for me, always wondering if something especially delightful to me especially was about to turn up. "But I'm not quite sure what it was," I told Andrew.

"It's the part where he shaves his beard off, isn't it," Andrew replied, as usual completely matter-of-fact. I was probably a little hysterical by that point, it being so late at night (we were at what seemed to be the last showing in Manchester and it was at an inconveniently late time) and me not having had any dinner, but I still thought that was hilarious.
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"Film about whether Test cricket is likely to survive or not," James called it when he e-mailed me the link to Death of a Gentleman. That was pretty much all I knew about it when we sat down in the Media Museum to watch it today.

I hear a lot of debates about whether test cricket will survive because most of the ones I encounter, getting all my information about cricket (that I don't get from James) I get from listening to the radio. Of course Test Match Special is of the opinion that shorter ‎forms of cricket, especially Twenty20 and most especially the Indian Premier League, are to blame for the downfall of Test cricket. 

These arguments, as might be expected from old white English men, usually seem to me tinged with racism and even ageism: not only is cricket more popular and profitable in India where T20 matches have the production values of Bollywood movies -- which makes them kind of scary and weird, obvs --young people these days with their youtubes and their phoneternets just don't have the attention span for a game that takes five days, and probably also are insufficiently dedicated to the ideas of fair play and sportsmanship and so on that would have been inculcated in them if cricket had been allowed to work its magic on them.‎

For you see, cricket is magic. Cricket is synonymous with all that is good, play up play up, things can be "just not cricket," etc.etc. There was a bit of this at the beginning of the movie, which worried me because this kind of sentimentality can be caked on pretty thick to put a respectable face on some nasty colonial and post-colonial mindsets. (This is one of the reasons my favorite book about cricket is written by an American Marxist.) But luckily there wasn't too much of that in the movie, and it did end up serving the point the film was trying to make: cricket should be about those things and not about nepotism and selfishness and a few rich, powerful people destroying something a billion people love.

Also, unlike a lot of things that start out waxing lyrical about cricket, the movie manages to make the case for test cricket be less racist/post-colonial. Cricket need not be a zero-sum game where the success of one format will doom the others. Sure, fans at a Twenty20 match in Mumbai, when asked "Twenty20 or Test cricket?" said Test cricket was boring, but that doesn't meant Test cricket shouldn't exist alongside it (not to mention the self-selecting sample; depressing as that was for a Test cricket lover like me to hear, I must remember that they'd get a different answer on the first day of the Ashes at Lords or what-have-you).

It also made the (terribly-interesting to me) point, which I think I might previously have come across in one of the cricket books James lent me, that test cricket isn't something that could be invented now. If we don't keep it, we can't get it back. Like it's an endangered species, or something. Spoiled by the modern world, I'm used to thinking I can have anything I want: something I thought about on a whim yesterday and bought from Amazon is turning up at my house today. I can go to the nearest store and buy fruit and veg out of season and spices that people would have paid fortunes for in previous centuries. Formerly lethal diseases are now just an inconvenience as a matter of course. I'm not used to thinking that there's anything -- anything good, anyway -- that my world cannot provide...or at least that is couldn't given money and the choice to pursue it. Test cricket is a valuable reminder that some things are precious, and can't be regained if they are lost.

I like that the importance of cricket was explained in a couple of different ways in the movie: one interviewee explained his problem with Twenty20 by calling it entertainment rather than a sport. This was not a snobbish declaration but the beginning of the explanation: sport endures, entertainment shows get canceled.

And, in a kind of business context, another interviewee explained that while insider trading (which is basically one of the facets of the modern cricket scandal) happens all the time, it's "only" about greed and injustice...and it affects adults. I thought that was an odd way to phrase it until his following sentence: Sport, on the other hand, descends all the way into emotions and childhood. And I think this is why such mistreatment from those who control world cricket -- or world football, or any such thing -- feels so much worse than finding out that a bank or financial conglomerate has done the same thing: no one watches bankers at work, flies across the world to see them, follows their every move on the radio for days on end. Other things don't infiltrate our lives like sports do.

To some extent the old cricket rift between gentlemen and players still seems to exist: there are still people who want to provide for themselves and their families as well as they can in the short time they're able to play professional cricket, and those who think that money sullies the game and cricketers should be content with poetical evocations of sunny afternoons and the sound of willow on leather and playing for their country and so on.‎ Now it's between the traditional international cricket that carries all the sentimental attachment overseen by the ICC on one side and the glitz and cash of the IPL on the other, but the old patterns are still there: money is thought to sully the "true meaning" of the game, people who have any concern for their salaries are looked down upon by the more sentimental and snobbish...but should the game be limited only to those who don't need to worry about making money?

One thing I did wonder during the film -- which I noticed had no women in it, except the wife of one cricketer whose career was being followed a bit in the film, but you only had her talking about her husband and reacting to seeing him play -- was what the situation is like in women's cricket. It'll be a smaller and newer institution, and thus one would hope set up with more governance and ethics and regulations? I don't know. I asked James and he didn't know either. I know this movie was really just about one thing, men's international cricket, but even a compare-and-contrast reference to how it's the same in women's cricket, or how it's different in ways the men's could model itself on, or whatever, would've been nice.

So yeah: watch this if you are interested in cricket, international webs of intrigue, or documentarians doing their best to be the Bernstein and Woodward of this subject. They have a website and a petition and everything. They're going to have a silent protest at the Oval on Thursday, during the last (Men's) Ashes test. I've signed the petition; I wish them well.
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"I must be doing worse than I thought," Andrew said as we were on our way out of the cinema after seeing Mr. Holmes. "I actually started tearing up at the end of that!"

I smiled. "That is not a sign of any problem."

It's a marvelous film, emotionally powerful but no overwhelming, as my anxiety leads me to find so many stories these days. Ian McKellen's performance is so tremendous I think I might have to add him to my usual list of favorite Holmeses -- Merrison and Brett. I never expected that duo to become a trio.
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I joked to [personal profile] magister upon leaving the cinema that Mad Max was accessible.

I've got "accessibility" on the brain lately. It's a relatively recent addition to my working vocabulary, actually, arriving only a few years ago after a previous few years of hearing friends I thought of as "properly" disabled use it about events, places, communication and institutions. Since I've expanded my definition of "disabled" to include myself, despite my upbringing encouraging me to be "normal," I've found myself using it a lot more, too.

Just at the moment I'm in the middle of trying to apply for disability benefits and access other services for partially-sighted people like me (just tomorrow I have a follow-up consultation at Manchester Eye Hospital's low vision clinic, someone from Henshaws calling me about their hiking group because I've shown an interest in it, and I have to chase up some paperwork with the council's sensory team so I can get training on using the white cane they supplied me with.

So perhaps this gives you an idea of why such language permeates even my time at the cinema.

I remember the then-poet laureate of the U.S., Billy Collins, giving an interview in which he said that he doesn't like it when his poetry's called "accessible" (unfortunately I think his explanation of this at the time involved an ableist comment about not wanting his poetry to sound like it needed a wheelchair ramp, and I'm really not sure what's so bad about being anything like an inclined plane in any way!) and that he prefers the term "hospitable." Poetry websites like the one linked above gush that "the experience of reading his work is indeed akin to being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host." While the last thing I want is to perpetuate any negativity about accessibility or particular things like wheelchair ramps which foster it, I do like to ponder on the overlapping connotations of these two words. I ponder to what extent Mad Max: Fury Road felt hospitable to me.



Having read those tweets a week or so ago, I was even more excited about [personal profile] magister's and my plan to go see this movie today. He was one of the first people I knew who watched it, and immediately afterward he said he wanted to see it again.

Since then, the praise for this movie has poured in; the only criticism I've heard of it is that the post-apocalyptic world is thoroughly, implausibly white, something that really did bug me while I was watching the movie.

Feminism can't ignore race if it is to be worth anything. Precisely the things that made me feel so positively toward Fury Road are keeping others from feeling that way. It was easy for me to identify with Furiosa, loving as I do to imagine myself as smart and tough and capable even as I know that really the only thing I have in common with such a character is that I've sometimes had my hair cut like that. Even though she kept her (sensible!) clothes on all through the movie and didn't even snog anyone, it really affected my experience of the film to have her, and so many of the other main characters (Bechdel-test fans keep pointing out that at one stage there are twelve named women on the screen who are having a conversation that is nothing to do with men), played by a woman.

It actually had a surprisingly emotional effect on me, seeing this movie full of women who were for the most part not calling attention to their gender but fulfilling the old cliché about feminism being the radical notion that women are people too.

I don't even know if the story about Alien being written with the expectation of a man as Ripley but nothing changing when Sigourney Weaver was cast instead are true or not, but when you watch the movie they feel true. And it feels true for Fury Road too: most of the the parts played by women could very easily have been cast as men (with I suppose the exception of the "breeders" but c'mon, futuristic dystopia; surely the nuclear apocalypse could've given us seahorse-like male-incubation genes, right?) with no apparent detriment to the movie.

But there would have been some detriment to the movie. I can tell because I had this weirdly emotional reaction to just the sheer number and qualities of the women in this movie. I felt good. I felt...like I was "being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host"! If this is what the cis white straight able-bodied dudes get to feel like whenever they consume practically any cultural artifacts, no wonder they don't want to give this up! Or even share. It's a rush, to feel that something has been tailored to suit you. This "hospitable" is some powerful stuff!

Even more powerful, perhaps, was the realization that I got to enjoy this action movie the way most people get to enjoy most action movies. I was actually stupidly grateful for this.

At the James Bond exhibit [personal profile] magister and I went to last week at the London Film Museum, I noticed I got a lot more out of the clips of the older James Bond movies than I did of the newer ones, even though I like the new ones, just because they're easier for me to follow. The quick cuts and close-ups more common in modern filmmaking just mean that I'm presented by a series of contextless colors and shapes that my brain can't process quickly enough to make much sense out of them.

[personal profile] magister said that even he couldn't follow something like the beginning of Skyfall completely well, and then when I saw this tweet saying something similar about the new Avengers movie a few days later I started to realize that even though this was a problem I'd never heard anyone talk about before and had only recently started articulating myself, this isn't just one of my Blindy McBlinderson problems.

Which is great! Because it gives me hope that something will be done about this. Like all the people who hate 3D and won't pay for it, they're helping my cause of removing this scourge from movie theatres and leave room for more 2D showings so I can actually go see stuff I want to!

I expected to enjoy this movie, but I didn't expect a car chase to elicit such emotional responses! Between the ease of following a two-hour car chase (I was so cheerful at the end because this movie had been no work at all for me, visual-processing-wise, which is so weird you have no idea) and all the women making me glad I'm a woman ([personal profile] magister pointed out that the old lady who, upon examining one of the "breeders" exclaimed "this one has all her own teeth!" is probably the Granny Weatherwax of the Mad Max universe), this was really a remarkable movie for me.
hollymath: (Default)
When Andrew got home from the cinema, he told me "...and my mental state clearly isn't very good."

Since he didn't elaborate, I wondered how he'd determined this. Then I remembered what he'd been to see, The Muppet Christmas Carol. "Did you cry?"

"Little bit," he said. "When Tiny Tim died."

"Everybody cries at that!" I said. "That's not a sign of a bad mental state!" I mean, I'm not doubting that he is feeling bad, if he says he is. But a few little tears shed at the demise of Tiny Tim aren't themselves a cause for concern. The good that humanity manages to do for itself is often motivated by such tears as those.
hollymath: (Default)
Love is apparently a quantifiable force.

Wondering to [personal profile] magister how love should be quantified, I decided it should be measured in nolans. Which will be very small.
hollymath: (Default)
"So, what'd you think?" [personal profile] magister asked me as we left the cinema.

We'd just seen Million Dollar Arm.

"Well, it's okay, I guess," I said, "if you like...racist Frankenstein."

I hope I'll be able to summon the energy to review it properly before I forget or lose heart, but in case I don't, I wanted to make note of the "racist Frankenstein" headline, because it made James laugh.
hollymath: (Default)
There is something so plausible about the "stone tape" theory it makes for very effective horror. You hardly have to suspend your disbelief at all to get swept up in the premise -- and thus the heartbreaking and horrid conclusions it would lead you to if this was really how the world worked.

It's deliciously compelling. This theory (which also goes by the less poetic name of "residual haunting") is used by real-life parapsychologists now -- I just saw the stone tape theory mentioned in the book I'm reading, Richard Wiseman's Paranormality, yesterday. On the DVD commentary for The Stone Tape, its writer Nigel Kneale says that during the filming he made a "stone tape" to trick the director -- just took a regular tape apart and replaced the magnetic tape with a sliver of stone, but apparently it really unnerved the director who seemed to think it was something sinister rather than just the joke Kneale had intended.

And who can blame him. As Kneale's co-commentator Kim Newman (who now that I think of it wrote the other book I'm reading now, actually: The Hound of the d'Urbervilles) points out, there's an irony in a story about a group of scientists searching for a new recording medium being released on a recording medium that would've been unimaginable when The Stone Tape was made in 1972. That the stone walls of a building record past events that took place there hardly seems, to the uninitiated like me, more outlandish than that my laptop is using light to play me this movie. And before the lasers of DVDs, the movies I watched were played back with magnets. I'm as likely to be able to explain how stone can record events as I am light or magnets.

Newman calls The Stone Tape forward-looking, saying "This feels like the beginning of something we're still living," in terms of computer research and "the kinds of people who work with computers." Kneale observed a real BBC computer research and development department, and said that inspired him to create the characters in the way he did: they're all men except The Girl One, whose plot-driving feminine weaknesses are contrasted with the boisterous, boyish men, absorbed in their intellectual pursuits (though she is the computer programmer and the leader of the team tells her "I need you for your brain," which hopefully would please the ghost of Ada Lovelace, who used to own the house where this was filmed).

"I don't believe in the supernatural," Kneale says in the commentary, "but there were reasons for people to believe in the supernatural. So it's interesting to try to put in a guess as to why." I remember one of the things I'd complained about to [personal profile] magister about The Quiet Ones was that it cheated: like so many horror stories about "finding the scientific basis of" whatever horrific thing is the story's theme, there is a banal explanation, terrible, if at all, only in the "man's inhumanity to man" kind of way. I'm sure my little rant on this subject would've been reason enough for him to lend me The Stone Tape, even if it weren't for all their surface similarities (spooky old house, set in the 1970s, team of scientists and a "sensitive" woman who's the conduit for the supernatural...).

Because while The Quiet Ones ends in a pointless, unsatisfying jumble of cliches, The Stone Tape follows its premise through to its logical conclusion. Which does mean it's rather bleak, of course -- if there really were records of traumatic events in building materials, it would be very difficult to deal with being anywhere something terrible had happened and, if you wait long enough, something terrible will happen anywhere -- and usually I don't like bleak but I like The Stone Tape because it's honest. It doesn't cheat.

And I rather admire a writer who's very clear about his lack of belief in the supernatural still going where the idea takes him (for instance Kneale says, "If you accept the idea of a ghost, does he know he's a ghost? Or is it a purely mechanical effect like switching a machine on and off?") without writing something ironic or cynical. "Once you've thought of ghosts," Kneale says when asked about other stories similar to The Stone Tape, "they all crop up, they all appear, saying 'can I have a job?' The ghosts all want to be in things, and they're ready, and obliging."

With something like The Quiet Ones you get the feeling that no one involved in it cared about it that much, it was just a string of genre tropes. And so I don't care about it much either. While Kneale seems to take a very workmanlike approach to his writing -- when asked what ratings The Stone Tape got just said "I have no idea!"; when asked if he was at the filming, said "Oh I was probably on to something else by then...I did drop by..." not seeming very interested in being involved; "you write a thing and it goes into production a year later or two years later, and by then you've forgotten what it was, almost, you're glad somebody else has taken it up" -- he does seem to respect his subject matter in a way that appeals to me, even when that means the story leaves me shivery and unsettled.
hollymath: (Default)
(This is mostly for [livejournal.com profile] strange_complex, who told me today that she'd have liked to go see this too but had to work yesterday. She's much, much better at film reviews than I am, but I thought I'd try a [livejournal.com profile] strange_complex-style review of it for her.)

The very first film I saw at the media museum -- and, I'm pretty sure, the first time I was there at all -- was in Cinerama, and I've been enchanted ever since.

How the West Was Won is much more my parents' kind of movie than one to my tastes (IMDb calls it "A family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the nineteenth century--including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads"), so I think it says a lot that something I wouldn't have tolerated for half an hour on TV I was happy to sit through all 164 minutes of in the Pictureville Cinema.



There's something about Cinerama that I find really endearing, possibly how difficult it was to make and how lucky we are to be able to see it at all now. These days there are only three places that can do Cinerama: one's in L.A., one in Seattle, and then Bradford.

And the logistical issues if one of the films should break down were clearly recognized enough even at the time that a little "breakdown film" was made to keep the audience happy while frantic fixes were attempted, and indeed I saw this film I think all three times I'd seen anything in Cinerama until yesterday.

Even when it's working, it's not like watching other kinds of movies. The screen is so curved that things can look distorted, especially if you have to sit at one of the sides of the cinema. To a greater or lesser extent, the joins between the three projected film strips are usually noticeable.

It has for me the joy that analogue things do: it's difficult to do well in ways that are readily apparent and understandable to me, meaning I appreciate the skill and craft of the process much more than I can with something like, to use another cinematic example, CGI, which I intellectually know takes lots of people and lots of computers lots of hours, but which can't mean anything to me beyond that so I have no sense of what's impressive or what's new or whatever.



The kinds of films made in Cinerama are to some extent dictated by the format. It was meant to overwhelm, to dazzle, as a medium and so its subject matter will be chosen for the same reason. Plus there are limitations to Cinerama too: it's impossible to do close-ups with the special three-camera setup needed to make the early Cinerama films like the one I saw, and it's not easy to show people on the screen looking at each other when they're having a conversation or something; the curve of the screen makes it appear they're looking past each other. So you don't go to see Cinerama to see a murder mystery or a period drama: you go to see spectacle.



For me the biggest drawback of Cinerama isn't any of its technical limitations, but the fact that it was made in America in the 50s and 60s. Which brings us to yesterday's movie, called Seven Wonders of the World.

Like the other early Cinerama movies, this one is just showing off what the format can do, trying to lure people out of their homes and away from the exciting new television. The first of these, This is Cinerama (which the media museum show but which I still haven't seen), includes scenes on a roller coaster, then the temple dance from Aida, views of Niagara Falls, a performance by the Vienna Boys' Choir, the canals of Venice, a military tattoo in Edinburgh, a bullfight, more from Aida, a sound demonstration in stereo, a water skiing show...you get the idea. The variety and diversity make great advertisements for Cinerama, even if they do make a jarring hour or two of cinema. Seven Wonders of the World is similar, with the conceit of "updating" the seven wonders of the ancient world by flying around the globe and filming, seemingly, whatever took Lowell Thomas's fancy.



Lowell Thomas was an American broadcaster and travel writer, who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. Apparently, a quarter-century later Thomas was still raving about Cinerama in his memoirs and wondering why someone wasn't trying to revive it. The expense and difficulty of it, evident to many others, never seemed to break through the enthusiasm that, while no doubt colored by the money he wanted to make from it, does shine through in the Cinerama films he presented: the breakdown film is him talking about how amazing Cinerama is, and at the beginning of Seven Wonders he shows photos and speaks fondly of places like Nepal, saying "I wish we'd had Cinerama with us then," sounding like a father who'd like to spoil his children more than he's allowed to. He really does seem to believe that Cinerama is somewhere between a gift and a service to the public.



And in 1955, there must have been some element of truth to that. Flying and Cinerama are the real wonders this film is about, and quite right too, as how else could American movie audiences expect to see into the top of a volcano, the biggest waterfalls in the world, a runaway train on the Darjeeling Railway, baby elephants being caught and tamed, a papal blessing with all the pomp and circumstance?



It is, unfortunately, a very fifties American sensibility driving the script, both in places chosen ("here's Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments" and lots of other Old-Testament and life-of-Jesus stuff presented as blandly factual as anything else) and in descriptions (literally the first reaction you hear when Japan is mentioned is "Geisha girls!"; Benares is "a city of strange religion"; even the poor Amazon can't escape unfair description as we're told it's "the green hell").

Seeing posters advertising Seven Wonders of the World in other countries makes me hope that the non-English subs or dubs were kinder to some of the places mentioned that are suddenly local!



This travelogue seems random and often very superficial, without much explanation or context given. A few shots of the Amazon and a clear fondness for Rio de Janeiro represent all of South America. Almost no one speaks but Thomas. Hardly anyone in the film gets a name -- leading to the strangest cast list I've seen: "Lowell Thomas, with appearances by His Holiness Pope Pius XII, Butera, Sherif Hussein"; Butera's one of a group of Watusi dancing for the camera, named as being the best dancer in Africa; Sherif Hussein is a leader Thomas greets with "This is like something out of the Arabian Nights!" to which Hussein says something in his own language and neither of the two seem to show much interest in understanding what the other has said. The papal blessing is clearly a big deal -- Thomas also says something about how he's always wanted to film this in Cinerama and he expects everyone to be as impressed with it as he is (but it goes on for ages and does nothing but reinforce my childhood impression that Catholicism is pompous and boring -- all the more so when it's in a language I don't understand!).

There are some stunning shots in it, the newly restored version I saw is perfect, with no visible seams and no worry that the fim would break. It is really impressive visually, but it's the kind of thing that reminds me why we had to invent political correctness, it would probably be more palatable if you wore earplugs...and let's just say I could make suggestions for RunPee times, some extending long enough that you wouldn't need to run; a leisurely stroll would be recommended.
hollymath: (Default)
1. Andrew's a good friend to someone having a bad day by helping them write a policy motion to tackle one of the things that made their day shitty.

(Lib Dem friends are the best friends.)

2. [personal profile] magister and I both chose the same beer with our lunch today, him because he liked the name, me because I liked the picture.



Every time we show an interest in one of the Oakham Ales, we hear about how the pub we're in is one of only eight in Yorkshire that has them, and how the brewery people come and check everything about the pub before they decide if it's worthy, and I think they like having the chance to brag so I'm happy to listen. Paranoid is apparently a beer Oakham brew only once a year, which is a bit of a shame because it's amazing and I'd love more of it. But there are always other nice beers.

3. There are always nice beers.

4. For the past few days I've been casting cursory glances at the pile of dirty dishes, the new-heights-of-untidiness in our bedroom, and the basketsful of clean and dirty laundry, thinking I know I have to sort all this out. Can't wait until I feel like that's a thing I can do.

Today, I sorted out all those things. And cleaned the bathroom. And made myself a proper dinner with vegetables in it.

(I can push myself to do a thing even if it's not a thing I can do -- sometimes things just have to get done -- but it tends to leave me neither mentally nor physically well, and I've learned that after a few days of feeling like such things are insurmountable, I'll wake up one day and just...be able to do them. I got all this done on a day when I was hardly even in the house! Whereas yesterday I was home all day and was barely able to feed myself.)

5. I watched "Baby," one of Nigel Kneale's Beasts (James was delighted that I liked The Stone Tape, which he lent me after I complained about the sexist, ableist, boringest film The Quiet Ones and I can totally see why, because The Stone Tape is basically the not-shit version of the same idea, and between my positive reaction to that and James's conviction that I need to see Quatermass and the Pit and then all the other Quatermasses, I think there will be a fair amount of Nigel Kneale in my life for a while, and on the evidence of what I've seen so far I'm perfectly fine with that.)

We talked about how good Kneale is at conveying a lot in a few words, something really admirable in any genre but absolutely great for horror. And a lot of the horror here isn't about the story's supernatural element at all, it's about the awful situation this poor woman would be in anyway, and the very mundanity of how badly she's treated by her husband, his boss, his wife, even the builders who upset and patronize her, makes it feel very claustrophobic and bleak even before the supernatural horror turns up.

This probably doesn't make it sound like much fun but I really enjoyed it, despite becoming so sensitive in my old age that I yell at Andrew for even just telling me anything that happens on Hannibal nowadays and got upset yesterday at the fate of fictional babies in an Onion article.
hollymath: (Default)
Yesterday afternoon was good because I was shown all kinds of televisual entertainment new to me.

I wasn't feeling great for a lot of reasons and was relieved and surprised that I actually managed to sit still (mostly) and enjoy myself rather than thinking about things I should be doing or things that are wrong with me or the other tediously common thoughts I'm susceptible to.

I'd asked for something simplistic to watch; I wasn't up to anything I had to pay a lot of attention to or that was likely to make me feel any worse. "Simplistic-funny? Simplistic-violent?" [personal profile] magister asked. We ended up with both, but that's about all our set of choices had in common.

First Jason and the Argonauts, with most of the latter pleasingly tubby and even balding, looking much more like normal guys than the shiny bodybuilders you'd get in such a movie nowadays. And ace monsters by Ray Harryhausen. Give me models over CGI any day.

Then a couple of Wallace and Gromits, which made me giggle a lot and were just the thing for the am-I-getting-a-migraine I'm-very-tired-and-prone-to-tears mood I was in.

Then an episode of the most recent series of Sherlock, which I adored. And that's after detesting the second series enough I didn't watch any of this one when it was on. Apparently a lot of people didn't like this wedding-speech episode -- [personal profile] magister told me it'd been deemed "plotless" and "rambly" -- but I thought it was wonderful, with some lovely intricate storytelling and a much better characterization of Sherlock particularly than that which had put me off the second series (though that "high-functioning sociopath" line can still fuck off). I'll never be the world's biggest Cummerbund Bandersnatch fan, but he had a lot to carry in this episode and I thought he did it very well.

We went for takeaway pizza after this so had lots of time to chat about how nice it was. Part of the fun is having someone to talk to about what you're watching.

And I'm told the intricate storytelling carries on to the next episode of Sherlock too, but we didn't watch that one because by this point James wanted to show me The Avengers. So we had an episode of that before bedtime, and went to sleep chatting about how nothing like it could be made today.
hollymath: (Default)
I wrote a long grumpy thing about the equivalent of the Magical Negro for mental illness (Magical Mentalist? I spent a lot of time the other day, while I was supposed to be watching a movie that finally solidified my dislike of this lazy and boring stereotype, wondering what its TV Tropes page should be called) but the accidentally deleted it.

Just as well, I suppose. I really wanted to write about something nice (thank you for all your kind and supportive replies to my last entry but thinking about the whole subject just depresses me so much I can't bear to reply to them any more), but I'm struggling to find anything. And sometimes it's still true that if you don't have anything nice to say you shouldn't say anything at all.

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