Zombies. Again. Cars. Also again.

Battle of the Damned.

Dolph Lundgren was not only the executive producer of this zombie romp, but also starred as Major Max Gatling. His mission is to get Jude, the daughter of the man who is responsible for the zombie apocalypse, out of the zombie zone.

There are, of course, complications. She’s part of a cult-like community of survivors led by some Australian (who according to the IMDb was in Home and Away about twenty years ago), she’s pregnant, and her boyfriend is the nerd behind  that and the virus. Also, the zombie zone is going to be fire-bombed and thus the major has a deadline.

Sounds like fun? Well, it gets better because there aren’t just zombies, but also killer robots who come clumping into the zone and start wasting zombies. Gatling takes command of the robots who seem to have a little more personality than the usual bunch of sidekicks with whom the hero is normally saddled in a film like this.

There’s a mad dash to escape the zombies and the bombing.

Yeah, don’t worry – the right people survive.

Verdict: drinks coaster.


Fast and Furious 6.

Vin Diesel is back again with all his chums in another OTT instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise. This time they’re up against a mercenary who like Xavier Bardem in Skyfall is a preternaturally meticulous planner so that no matter how complicated things might become he’s always one step ahead of everyone.

Do we have stunts? Yes. Are they so ludicrous that even Bond would be shaking his head? Yes. Do we have cars with an infinite number of gears? Yes. Do we have a massive cargo plane? Yes. Do we putatively have the world’s longest runway? Yes.

How is this not the best film evah?

But could the series get better? It could. Han’s girlfriend dies in the battle against the gigantic Russian cargo plane. Back in Tokyo he’s in a race when his car gets taken out by a Merc. The door opens and out gets… Jason Statham, who blows up Han’s car. Jason rings Vin. “Now can I be in Fast and Furious 7?”

Back in Vin’s office. “Woohoo! Eric Cantona is going to be in our film!”

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Now, 007, this plot should be quite familiar to you

Skyfall.

James Bond's Aston Martin DB5The movie opens with a long chase sequence in which some villain gets away with vital data on Britain’s agents inside various terrorist organ­is­ations, and Moneypenny (her identity isn’t revealed until the end of the film) shoots Bond – on M’s orders. 007 is dead.

Or so everyone thinks.

Then someone blows up a bit of MI6 HQ and Bond reappears. He gets sent to China1 where he wanders into some sort of retro gambling den which has Komodo dragons in a pit for some reason. He gets captured by Xavier Bardem, a former agent who overstepped his remit and wants his revenge on M for letting the Chinese get their hands on him. Bond turns the table’s, but it’s all part of Bardem’s plan.

Back in MI6 HQ in London, Bardem soon escapes after Bond tells Q (now played as a neo post-adolescent nerd) how to decrypt the <insert technobabble description here> algorithm in exactly the same manner which I spotted long before Bond did.

Bond chases Bardem across London, but after throwing a Tube train at his pursuer, he escapes.

The business is so serious that Bond breaks out the DB5 and takes M to Scotland to the ancestral home where Bardem eventually turns up with his gang of extras and makes a mess of the house. He only really gets a reaction from Bond when he makes a mess of the DB5 – 007 isn’t just gritty; he’s annoyed, and gritty.

M gets mortally wounded and flees to the old chapel with John Brown [I think that was in the other film. –ed.] where Bardem tries to arrange a mutual suicide pact with her, but gets stabbed in the back. (“Oh no, not again.”) M also dies and is replaced by Ralph Fiennes.

I thought Skyfall was Bond-by-the-numbers. I bought the film months ago, but felt no great urge to watch it. It was much like the other Bond films starring Daniel Craig in that it felt retro. (“Modern retro” might be a better phrase.) The theme song could’ve been sung by Shirley Bassey 30 or 40 years ago; the DB5 was a nostalgic touch; the implausible events (e.g. Tube trains turning up just at the right moment) made it feel like a 70s film.

Skyfall is a decent enough outing in the Bond series, but it really is just more of the same sort of thing from the most recent incarnation of the franchise. Perhaps Moneypenny can shoot Bond for good next time. (“Can you do gritty and dead, Daniel?” asked the director.)

Notes.

  1. I seem to have been watching the international rather than Chinese version of Skyfall. Nonetheless, Shanghai was curiously shiny, glittery and pollution-free. The gambling den should’ve been a KTV with special services on the third floor.

1. Emancipate slaves. 2. Go to theatre

Lincoln.

Lincoln focuses on the passing of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the US. After that, Lincoln goes to the theatre.

That’s about all there is to say about Lincoln. There’s a lot of talking and while some of it in the Congress is snappy and bitchy, it waffles along. (Did Tommy Lee Jones get any sort of award for his efforts? He seemed to get all the best lines.)

I’m sure Daniel Day Lewis deserved a gong for his performance, but this is really one for American history buffs.

Take one capsule twice a day

Side Effects.

Side Effects is a psychological thriller in which Rooney Mara becomes depressed after her husband, Channing Tatum, is released from prison for insider dealing. After she tries to kill herself by driving into a wall, she encounters a psychiatrist, Jude Law, in the hospital. He takes on her case and prescribes an anti-depression drug called Albixa.

One of the side effects of Ablixa is sleepwalking, and soon after, Mara stabs Tatum to death. The resulting trial has an adverse effect on Law’s professional and personal life, but it is eventually agreed that so long as Mara can be locked away in an asylum, she won’t be convicted of the murder.

Law starts becoming suspicious about Mara, and doses her with saline solution while pretending that it’s some other sort of drug, but she acts as if she’s been injected with the drug he describes.

After some further research, Law finds that Mara’s former psychiatrist and lesbian lover, Catherine Zeta Jones, has not only visited her, but also wrote a paper about the effects of Ablixa. Law concludes that Mara is quite sane, but the pair are up to something and he arranges to be seen with Zeta Jones, thus spooking Mara into believing that those two are working together.

Law gets Mara out of the asylum by claiming that she is no longer a danger to herself or others. Wired up, she stitches Zeta Jones up a treat. Later, she goes to Law’s office because she must visit him for therapy as part of the terms of her release. Instead, Law provokes her into an outburst which results in her being re-arrested and sent back to the asylum – forever – where she’s dosed up with zombie drugs.

Meanwhile, Law resumes life with his wife and son.

The film is not a conventional thriller. There are no threats, no chases, and no narrow escapes. Law may be the hero, but he is just as devious and manipulative as his enemies because it’s in his interest after the murder for Mara to be locked away. Even from the beginning I wondered how much of what I was seeing would turn out to be wholly imaginary. Perhaps the audience is meant to feel some slight preference for Law’s character because his life falls apart.

The absence of action and the somewhat murky clarity also make it difficult for Side Effects to maintain the viewer’s interest. It is necessary to persist with the film because it lacks the charisma to hold the audience’s attention.

I wonder what the message is meant to be. Is it a satire on psychiatry? Is it meant to be some message about the use of anti-depressants in American society? What is the point of Mara and Zeta Jones being lovers? (It’s not really titillating and doesn’t play a significant part in the film; perhaps it’s meant to explain why Mara killed Tatum; I don’t know, and it certainly wasn’t a necessary element of the story.) Are we meant to be on Law’s side and if so, why?

Side Effects is the sort of film which gets watched and forgotten. I’m sure all the members of the cast bought themselves nice cars from the money they earned.

Time for topical trivia

Preface.

I’ve been coming here quite a bit, but mainly to see who’s been reading what and then either editing the formatting of old entries or deleting the entry because it should’ve been posted on Facebook because it was topical and trivial.

It is with this in mind that I’ve been dithering over this entry because it will be topical and trivial.


Holiday in Chengdu.

I meant to write something about the holiday in Chengdu much sooner because I knew that much of what happened would quickly fade from my mind.

The weather was generally grey and dry, which was in contrast to the heavy rain and flooding from which Sichuan had been suffering. There was one nice day when we saw blue sky and sunshine, and it started raining again on the day of my departure.

Global CentreLinda and I went to see the Global Centre (环球中心), the largest building in the world, which is on the south side of Chengdu (get off on the second-to-last stop on line 1 of the Metro). The building is vast, and also vastly un­finished. There were some shops, but like Raffle’s last year, so many premises were unoccupied, and the cinema was still being built. The artificial beach was also unfinished. But it seems to be standard practice in China to open some building long before it’s actually finished.

The picture above was taken with my new camera, which I bought because I knew I’d be going to the Global Centre and didn’t want to rely on the paltry camera on my phone. The new camera is a Sony HX 200, which is something like the great grandson (possibly great-great grandson) of my old camera. The only problem is that I can’t get pictures off it at the moment. I accidentally gave Linda the USB cable instead of the USB cable for her Walkman. It’ll have to wait till I’m at school before I can get the right cable back.

We mostly pottered around. Went out to Raffle’s a couple of times; went to the computer centre next door because Linda needs a new computer; went shopping for sunglasses from the camping shops on the other side of the road; and bought a new pair of sandals to wear inside so that I can wear the old ones outside.

I did notice an odd trend, though. One day when we were on the bus, I saw that some girl had gauze pads on her knees, and when she alighted, it was done very awkwardly. I then saw at least two more girls with sores on their knees as well.

I can only guess that this is a result of them tripping over in their stripper shoes. When we were in the Global Centre, I saw a girl with pea-stick legs clinging to her grandma on the escalator for fear of toppling over.


Merlin, the whole thing.

I’ve had a small pile of DVDs sitting on my bed for months, but because I mostly listen to music these days, I don’t bother watching them. I did, though, plough through the entirety of Merlin after I got back from Chengdu.

The story is roughly based on Arthurian legend, but in this version, Uther is mostly alive and fierce opponent of magic. Merlin is Arthur’s servant, and Gwenevere is the blacksmith’s daughter. Morgana, Arthur’s half sister, camps it up as an evil Goth chick with Helena Bonham Carter’s insane hair.

The tone of the series changed over time from being fairly light to being much darker. Evil Morgana was joined by evil Queen Gwenevere, and there was a cameo from the ghost of evil Uther.

The relationships between the characters also fluctuated. It seemed odd that Merlin and various other underlings were quite familiar with Arthur, addressing him by name. In a later episode, the writer seems to have decided that Arthur should be addressed formally throughout, and then in subsequent episodes, there was a mixture of formal and familiar.1

In the end there was a battle at Camlann where Merlin in the guise of Emrys hurled bolts of lightning at the Saxons. Mordred, who had gone over to Morgana’s side after Arthur had hanged his fanatical girlfriend, mortally wounded the king, but was killed himself.

Merlin tried to get Arthur to the Isle of the Blessed, but the series had already been axed, which meant that Arthur would never make it in time to be healed. He did remain alive just long enough for Merlin to inform him that he was a wizard.

The series ended without ever fulfilling the prophecy which the dragon (voiced by John Hurt) kept mentioning, viz. Arthur will unite the kingdoms of Britain to establish Albion.


The weather. I just had to mention it, didn’t I?

Last year the finally two weeks of July were clear, hot and sunny. This year we’ve had less clear and sunny, but more hot. I cannot recall the last time the high wasn’t 37°, and yesterday, it was 39°.

While the weather in Britain has been “scorchio”, it can’t really compare with the searing temperatures which we’ve been “enjoying”.

Is this going to last into August or, like last year, is some ruddy great typhoon going to slam into us?


The new chair.

I got back from Chengdu determined to do something about going to Ikea here. I had learnt a thing or two since my first failed attempt to get there.

The 328, which is really the bus for Metro, only runs from 6.40pm and would only reach Ikea in time for the place to close. The correct stop was the first one on the far side of 县前街, although I was beginning to have my doubts until I saw the Ikea bus going in the opposite direction and turn right onto 县前街. In other words, it doesn’t even go past the Far Eastern.

But the bus did eventually arrive and I travelled all the way to Ikea (about 10km, I estimate) for ¥2. Since it was a weekday, the bus was lightly populated, and Ikea was also quiet, which is in marked contrast to either in Chengdu.

I found the chair I wanted (the Markus) and arranged for it to be delivered to me the next day, which it was after some sort of hiccup. I think the deliverymen possibly went to the wrong building.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a decent chair to sit on, one which I can lean back when I want to watch something.


Speaking of watching something…

I watched Warm Bodies last night. Basically, girl meets zombie and he turns into a real boy. It’s a bit Pinocchio and a bit ugly duckling.

I assume that there’s a message here, but the question is what the zombies and skeletons (extreme zombies) represent exactly. Some sort of underclass in the US? The proletariat is not entirely irredeemable?

If you’ll forgive the irony of such a comment, the film had promise, but never quite seemed to come to life.


When in Rome?

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the GlaxoSmithKlein case, wondering exactly what is going on. Whenever some foreign company gets criticised for dubious practices, I suspect that it’s the Chinese people running the show here who are responsible. In this case, it appears to be the foreigners who are at fault and yet I also suspect that they were just doing what everyone else does here. (Long-term readers, if there are any such, may recall advertisements for “Brain Boost” at the school in Benniu, which were passed off as safety warnings.)

Why aren’t Chinese pharmaceutical companies being targeted? Why a foreign company? One suggestion I’ve seen is that this has something to do with the previous emperor’s relatives.


When red songs become the blues.

Bo Xilai is finally going to be tried. This provoked some rather robotic pro-government tweets on Weibo. As for the trial itself, I assume the outcome has already been decided. I suspect Bo will survive to spend the rest of his days in the same comfy prison as his wife.

I assume that the decision about his fate has already been made, and that the rest of the trial will be stage-managed.


Georgie Pordgie. Pordgy?

The new future king of England has been born and has been named George Alexander Louis.

At a rough guess, I think I will’ve been long dead by the time he’s king. If QEII lives to be 100, Charles won’t be king before he’s about 80, which means that William may not be king much before he’s 50, and by the time George VII gets his go on the big chair, most of the century will probably be over. I might just live long enough to learn who George’s successor will be.

Notes.

  1. This has me wondering how Dark Age underlings addressed their superiors before Celtic Britain became Englalond. We see Arthur through the lens of how we see the Middle Ages when the servants would not, presumably, have dared to address their masters by name and English got saddled with that ridiculous and artificial Continental custom of tu vs. vous.

The King’s Revenge

By Don Jordan and Michael Walsh.

This is the story of the other Charles II, the one who was less witty and libidinous than he was vengeful and vindictive as he pursued the regicides who had con­demned his father to death.

I think I’m correct in believing that Charles I was the first English king ever to be publicly tried whereas various other monarchs such as Edward II met secret, grisly ends.

Although Charles II claimed to have no thoughts of vengeance when he was restored to the throne, he rapidly abandoned such moderation in favour of a vindictive campaign against the regicides who had condemned his father. The resulting trials were a legal farce and the defendants were doomed from the start. Yet it was unequal in that some of the regicides who had the right connections were never tried at all, and others, who should have been suspect according to the rather broad criteria for determining who should be tried, ended up on the Royalist side.

The executions, the usual sort of butchery in a barbarous age, were a coup for the condemned who gave powerful speeches and died with dignity.

Some of the regicides fled to Europe and others to America where Charles’s agents hunted them. Some of them were murdered, while others were snatched and taken back to England. In America, the hunt was made more difficult by the colonial authorities and the colonists, who felt a degree of antipathy towards the govern­ment in London.

The way in which the hunt was conducted ranges from farcical (assassins are a little obvious in small villages) to ethically repugnant (show trials and the 17th-century equivalent of extraordinary rendition).

Neither the Royalists nor the Parliamentarians have much to recommend them. Charles I’s belief in the divine right of kings looks woefully blinkered at a time when it seems parliament was taking a more leading role in the governance of England. Charles II’s may seem to be a more attractive monarch, but he was clearly not as easy-going as history has painted him to be. The religious fanaticism and radicalism of the other side is just as unattractive. 1066 and All That got it right by describing Parliamentarians as “right but repulsive” and Royalists as “wrong but wromantic [sic!]”

While I am relatively familiar with 17th-century English history, I was less familiar with the fates of the regicides. Although I doubt whether I would have liked too many of them as people, Charles II also emerges as someone who was much less likeable than history makes him seem to be. Ultimately, parliament won because although the monarchy was restored, the genie of autocratic rule had got stuck halfway out of the bottle and would never escape again.

Jordan and Walsh are both writers and film makers with credits in television. In spite of this (which I say because other books by journalists and their ilk often have a distinctively journalistic stamp to them), The King’s Revenge strikes just the right tone, holding the reader’s interest in an impersonal style. There is still some subjectivity underlyingly, but the book doesn’t read like some extended feature article. Well worth reading.

Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim

By John Guy.

Thomas Becket (what happened to the “à”?) rose from non-noble origins to first be Lord Chancellor of England and then Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II during the 12th century before some knights decided to take the king at his word, and rode to Canterbury to murder Becket, thus making a martyr of him.

Becket, as becomes apparent from the book, was an unlikely candidate to become a martyr and saint. If he wasn’t quite as licentious as St Augustine had been in his youth, he was no model of devotion, either. He had been a lazy student in Paris, and had no great competence in Latin.

He also had to contend with the apparently quite clever, but also devious, manipulative, and brutal Henry II who might’ve split with the Roman Catholic church not because he wanted to remarry, but because he was obsessed with controlling everything in his kingdom – including the church. When Becket became archbishop, Henry seems to have believed that he would be able to exert control of the church through him. Instead, Becket resisted, which illustrated the problems of a multinational church which dogged Europe.

There was also the added complication of two or even three popes at the time, and the secular interplay between the papacy and the countries which more immediately mattered such as France and the Holy Roman Empire. While the pope might interfere in the business of the rest of Europe, the rest of Europe returned the favour.

The picture which Guy paints of Becket is of a man who should probably have gone along with Henry II’s plans, and who was never really that pious. A lot of the dispute between the two was about the autonomy of the church, and the matter of who should punish clerics who committed criminal acts.

Here I must go off on a lexical tangent. Guy uses the phrase “criminous clerks” about 36 times in the book, but does not explain why he uses “criminous” (which is an archaic word) and not “criminal”, leaving the reader to guess that this is some sort of petrified legal formula. At times it gets so overused that it ceases to be some quaint Anglo-Norman phrase and merely becomes irritating.

(Aside: I checked the Anglo-Norman Dictionary on line to see whether this phrase was used in Anglo-Norman French. It wasn’t, which makes me suspect that this is some post-medieval expression.)

Henry II wanted clerics who had committed especially heinous criminal acts to be tried by a secular court once they had been ejected from the church.

Ultimately, this is another tale of the tension between the church (which was a little like the heir of the Roman Empire) and individual European states. Henry came close to the obvious solution, but it was to be another tyrannical Henry, the VIIIth, who finally led to the creation of a national church. While Becket won the one battle by becoming one of Europe’s most popular saints, he lost because Henry II wriggled out of doing any real penance and Henry VIII destroyed him once and for all.

Overall, Guy’s book is engagingly written (apart from the presence of too many “criminous clerks”, an instance of “elide” where “glide” might be intended [transcription typo in Kindle?], and the use of “process” meaning “parade”) for an amateur audience. He analyses the records from the time, picking away at the fiction to try and uncover some of the possible facts in an age when only the king appeared to know what the acceptable truth was.

A Daughter’s Love

By John Guy.

This ought to have been called something like Sir Thomas More, England’s Last Man of Principle, but I assume the publishers wanted a title that might appeal to a female audience. In truth, the book says comparatively little about More’s daughter, Margaret, although I kept waiting for Sir Thomas to be executed and for Mrs Roper (as she became) to step into the limelight. It never happened.

The subtitle, The family who dared to defy Henry VIII, is sensationalist and, I judge, wholly unnecessary.

There is much about More that I did not know. I was unaware of what a greedy, grasping, litigious, and vindictive group of people comprised his family and relations. The rest, however, is old news, although I assume Guy played up More’s doubts before his execution so that Margaret could steady the ship.

There were extensive discussions of some of More’s writing such as Utopia, which were discussed as a combination of quotations and paraphrases, but these dragged a little even if they were of some importance in understanding the man.

Margaret is obviously not the only woman from history who has not left behind enough to fill a marketable volume. As I was browsing Amazon, I found that a lot of comments on books about Anne Neville, Richard III’s wife, observed that such works said little about her because little is known.

A Daughter’s Love is not without interest for a first-time reader who at least knows the main facts about More and would like to know more. (Pun not wholly unintentional.) But for anyone hoping to learn about Margaret, they will be slightly disappointed by the general paucity of her involvement in the book.