Hello, world. I’m MacDara Conroy, and this is my blog.


Weeknotes #699

Getting these notes done early today. I’m feeling tired and burnt out after a stressful, frustrating first half of the week, ending with a long day on Wednesday putting the paper to bed, that may have caused by first bout of sleep paralysis in years. Fun times.

Still, other work is chugging along fine: things are being written, music is being listened to, films have been seen and scheduled to see.

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Should critics see films more than once?

It's not a notion that I subscribe to. Are you a critic writing for a general audience, or a critical theorist writing for film readers? I think most, like me, would be the former, writing for people who will likely only see any given movie once in the cinema or wherever (unless they love it so much they'll buy it) so will judge, like the critic will, based on that first and only impression. That's not to say there shouldn't be time for reflection (Mark Kermode even advocates for waiting a few weeks before putting fingertips to keyboard) but critics who evaluate new releases based on repeat viewings aren't seeing the same film everyone else is seeing. I think AO Scott, as quoted in this piece, has the best approach in trying to watch "twice in one sitting". #link


Royal rumblings

Some quick thoughts on last night’s Royal Rumble, then. First off, the WWE Network live stream worked great throughout, with only a handful of pauses for buffering that didn’t distract from the show. I can’t even blame the network for that as it’s more likely my ISP’s fault, considering the connection dropped in the last 20 minutes and even after a reboot we were stuck with a low-res stream for the end. Thanks, UPC.

Aside from the Royal Rumble match itself, it was a one-bout card, although it was interesting to note the undercard comprised all tag-team matches. Weekly TV calibre matches, yeah, but still. I’ve got my quibbles, particularly with the Ascension angle (why the hell are JBL and the other old fogeys going out of their way to bury them when the whole point is that they’re being booked like an old-school tag team that squashes jobbers?) but they served as a decent warm-up for the World Title triple threat match, which I’m gonna watch again because it was a Cena match and I naturally tuned out but that was unfair to Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar, who put on a hell of a show in the final few minutes (the only bit where I paid attention).

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My Letterboxd reviews of Inherent Vice, Somewhere Between, and Wild

Went through very unofficial channels to see this one, but I’m glad I didn’t leave the house or cough up the cash because Inherent Vice isn’t worth it:

Adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is Chinatown in the gonzo sensibility of the Coen brothers or Terry Gilliam, except it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film so it’s a million hours long, overly enamoured with its talkiness as it meanders from scene to scene, with an unnecessarily unwieldy cast to boot.

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My Letterboxd reviews of See No Evil 2, The Lair of the White Worm, and Apples of the Golan

A couple of bad horror choices to kick off the new year, starting with WWE-produced slasher sequel See No Evil 2:

I expected much more from this sequel, coming from hot horror prospects the Soska sisters, and with a cast including genre stalwarts Danielle Harris and Katharine Isabelle. Only Isabelle really stands out as a knowing parody of the drunk party girl archetype, but she’s in a completely different movie to everyone else: a self-serious slasher with no plot to speak of, set in a bland, sterile environment, and with depressingly underwhelming kill scenes. The first film was pretty bad, but at least it had a semblance of a story, and a decent performance by Kane; this one’s so boring, it’s actually worse.

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Weeknotes #697-698

Besides my review of Whiplash on Thumped, and a few of my quick news bits for Afloat taking off with hits in the hundreds, which is always nice, there’s little remarkable to report in terms of the work side of the work/life balance.

So let’s talk life, and more to the point, my consuming passion: since Wednesday last week (after finding out about the soft launch) I’ve been mostly spending countless hours watching WWE Network, trawling the archive of WCW pay-per-views and shows that I never saw back in the day. I’ll be writing about it in greater detail soon.

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The return of the remaindered links (sort of)

I've been thinking of ways to improve my front page for a while now, and Jason Kottke's post on his own changes was just what I needed. When I first started Soon after starting my link blog it was pinned right after the first main post, basically copying what Kottke did then, and is doing again now. So why not steal from the best once more? (My rejigged front page also has the added bonus of introducing some colour (via the category banners, which I'll be tinkering with in due course) that's been lacking, I think; all these blacks and greys were bumming me out.) #link


New Impact’s bad impression

I complained on Twitter a few days ago about the way Impact Wrestling is being shot for TV now, going by the newest episodes taped recently at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Completely aside from the precarious booking (forgivable; the company’s still ironing out kinks in its new creative direction) and the terrible lighting (ostensibly a decision by producer John Gaburick to put more emphasis on the ring but come on, it’s really to hide the poor attendance, a few hundred in a room that seats over a thousand), I was constantly distracted by the amateurish camerawork and direction (blame for which has to lay at Gaburick’s feet as well).

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Girls Fight Out

You might expect the perspective of this outsider who meets some of the tough-as-nails women vying for a spot in the UFC to err on the superficial, to play up the 'bloodsport' angle and decry the sexism and general bro-ness of big-time MMA. And Taffy Brodesser-Akner doesn't leave any of that out, because it's all there for the taking, but she's also savvy enough to see the UFC as showbusiness, as entertainment as much as if not more than the sporting championship it professes to be. It's funny how much Dana White, the Vince McMahon of MMA, and his ilk constantly rag on the 'fakeness' of pro wrestling when the UFC's recent success is mostly down to the oldest tricks in the kayfabe book. Brodesser-Akner doesn't make any explicit comparison, but it's impossible to miss the parallels between, say, the hooded, menacing Ronda Rousey marching to the ring to the strains of 'Bad Reputation' and the glass-smashing, ass-whooping heyday of Stone Cold Steve Austin. #link


The Legend of Panther Girl

Even if this tale is as embellished or kayfabed as the world of wrestling it depicts, it's still a wonderful story of rivalry among the top gals of grappling in the heyday of the territorial era. #link


Roads Were Not Built for Cars

Did you know Henry Ford ripped off the idea of the assembly line from bicycle factories? There's plenty of tidbits like that in this review of a new book busting the myths of road ownership. #link


My Thumped review of Whiplash

I have to say, I wasn't blown away right after seeing this, but it stayed with me over the next few days, more for the range and quality of JK Simmons' performance than anything else #link


What 800 Nerds on a Cruise Ship Taught Me About Life, the Universe, and Snorkeling

"If the JoCo Cruise is a church, I am apostate. That’s why I couldn’t stop worrying and love the Sea Monkeys. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a nerd anymore. It was that I did. Or rather, that I already, inescapably, was. That boat and those people? They were my hometown. Like everyone’s hometown, mine embarrasses me. I have worked hard to lose my accent. I know every back-alley shortcut and every bit of secret gossip. I couldn’t leave soon enough. I miss it ferociously. I’m always happy to meet natives and always trying to avoid them. I’ll defend it with my life against any threat, even when I’m wrong." Is it really about 'losing the accent', or being embarrassed by others who seem too conspicuously enthusiastic about their chosen obsession? If everyone relaxed a bit and didn't try so hard, maybe we wouldn't be so hung up about it. #link


What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs

Disappointing that this piece embellishes the valid criticism of Mayer's tenure at Yahoo! by putting across her general distrust of people without a third-level degree (strangely irrational for an engineer, that) as a specific dislike of other women-with-currency like Gwyneth Paltrow, handbags at dawn and all that. It's just one of a few asides and examples that lend this text an distasteful, condescending tone. #link


The case against human rights

Or rather, a motion for a different, non-hypocritical basis for human rights, because the system as it stands is constantly undermined by politics for good and for ill. #link


More thoughts on Charlie

Further to my comments the other day, here are a few other, related articles to consider. First, there’s Will Self writing for Vice on “the awkward truths about our fetish for ‘free speech'”:

The memorial issue of Charlie Hebdo will have a print run of 1,000,000 copies, financed by the French government; so, now the satirists have been co-opted by the state, precisely the institution you might’ve thought they should never cease from attacking. But the question needs to be asked: were the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo really satirists, if by satire is meant the deployment of humour, ridicule, sarcasm and irony in order to achieve moral reform? Well, when the issue came up of the Danish cartoons I observed that the test I apply to something to see whether it truly is satire derives from HL Mencken’s definition of good journalism: it should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. The trouble with a lot of so-called “satire” directed against religiously-motivated extremists is that it’s not clear who it’s afflicting, or who it’s comforting.

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Weeknotes #696

So yesterday I ran into a weird bug in InDesign, where the up-and-down-arrow boxes for changing the font size in single point increments were greyed out for no reason (and just those buttons; the similar adjusters for leading right underneath were just fine). A little rooting around with Google and the Adobe forums threw up a fix that worked for me, but for whatever reason I can’t link directly to the forum thread in question, so here are the steps I followed:

1 Draw a text box (2″ x 2″ is plenty big).
2 Fill it with some text – just make sure the text doesn’t overflow the box … yet.
3 Select a portion of the text.
4 Enter a number in the Text Size box that is large enough to make the text overflow (500 pt. should do the trick).
5 Click outside of the text box to finish editing the text.
6 Click the Selection Tool (Keyboard Shortcut “V”).
7 Re-select the type tool – the arrows should now function properly.

Such a weird glitch, but great to have the solution in case it ever happens again.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Bloodfist, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

My most recent movie viewings have been all about the action. First up, the excitingly titled Bloodfist:

Shoddy acting and atrocious editing abound in this zero-budget, Corman-produced knockoff of Bloodsport. But there’s a lot of charm here, even if unintentional (the foley artist must have been taking the piss), and the fight choreography is decent enough to keep the pulse racing to the end.

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Je suis Charlie

These days I’m generally loath to be a knee-jerk bandwagon hopper. I say that because, after reading with disgust about the murder of 12 people in yesterday’s attack on the Paris-based satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, I admit that it set off alarm bells, a distress signal warning of an incipient new wave of Islamophobia of the kind that polluted the cultural waters in the wake of the last cartoon controversy.

And one can read all sorts of motives and reasonings into the situation at large. At the top of my mind, there’s the privilege of self-professed non-conformists in poking fun at any and everything around them, in possible/probable ignorance of the very tangible effects of a society that’s marginalised those of minority ethnicity, both figuratively (cutting them out of the public discourse) and literally (encouraging ghettoisation in the banlieues). On closer view the Charlie Hebdo team probably mean well, and publish in good faith, but everyone has their blind spots.

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Why nerd culture must die

A harsh way to put some salient points, though it seems more and more reasonable if this is what defines nerd culture. Still, I think there's too much apology for those who don't take the time to care about basic security and privacy online, like knowing why you shouldn't click on this or that, being careful with passwords, etc. It's a shared onus, on those with the know-how to be encouraging, and on newbies to get to grips with learning how to behave online; something like the European Computer Driving Licence but just for basic internet literacy/proficiency. #link


My Letterboxd reviews of Annie, Ida, Macho Man, Johnny English Reborn, and Tootsie

The accidental names edition, beginning with the original film of Annie:

John Huston’s gregarious musical – with plenty of strong singers, and a spirited lead – loses the plot quite literally as it stumbles into its turgid second hour, all but ditching the songs for a dull chase sequence that goes nowhere.

One of 2014’s most acclaimed films was Ida, and I concur:

Composed like a short story – starkly photographic in appearance, economical in script and length – Ida is ostensibly the tale of a young nun-to-be who discovers dark truths about her background, and her place in the world at large. But as always with such things it’s about so much more than that.

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My Letterboxd reviews of Brian And The Boz, The Bay, Kickboxer, and I Am Santa Claus

Catching up on viewings again, starting with my Letterboxd review of sports doc Brian And The Boz:

Another good 30 for 30 – this time on notorious American football bad boy Brian Bosworth – but when are they ever bad?

I was pleasantly surprised by The Bay:

This eco-horror from Barry Levinson (yes, that Barry Levinson) makes its found-footage format work by being fashioned as a mock documentary released to the public via a WikiLeaks-style website. It’s replete with all the unsubtle political overtones you can imagine, but the results are above average for the genre and the budget, so it’s definitely worth a watch.

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