Ridley Scott is of course a celebrated Hollywood director, even if he is actually British, especially notable to me for such films as Alien, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down. Unfortunately his recent output is of more questionable merit. Like many people, I was enthusiastic when Prometheus was first announced, but ultimately didn’t bother to watch it because its reviews were so uniformly bad.
Despite the extra care and seriousness with which I’ve taken to watching films recently, my knowledge of cinema remains sadly inadequate. There remain an endless number of classics of world cinema that I really should watch but have never done so. I must include in this the entirety of the work of Ingmar Bergman, a film-maker whom I have always found to be too intimidating and perhaps inscrutable to approach.
Japanese horror films have a reputation for being both creative and being actually scary. Most American horror films by contrast aspire to little more than gore and jump-scares. This one was recommended by a regular on Broken Forum and because it has been a while since I have watched an entry in the J-Horror genre, I decided to give this one a whirl.
Like most comic book fans, I was impressed by Marvel’s courage they announced a film based on this obscure property but skeptical that it would turn out decently. Then I was all hyped up when I saw how responses to it on Broken Forum were overwhelmingly positive. But now that I’ve seen for it for myself, I’ve ended up being only lukewarm about it.
The Nanking Massacre is well known as a rallying call for Chinese nationalism and a sore point of contention in Sino-Japanese relations. Given the prickliness of Chinese pride in recent years, it was always doubtful that China could be capable of producing an even-handed account of the tragedy. City of Life and Death however has been excellent reviews by a number of foreign critics so I thought it might be worth watching.
The Coen brothers have a mixed track record for me. I included No Country for Old Men in one of my lists of favourite films, thought Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading were great fun, but couldn’t really connect with O Brother, Where Art Thou? Since Inside Llewyn Davis is another music film, I guess it’s not too surprising that I ended up not liking it very much either.
Only four articles this month and they’re more on the speculative side than the solid science side than the norm:
- This Ars Technica article needs to be thoroughly and carefully read to be fully understood. It summarizes recent work by physicists that pushes towards the view that the wave function of quantum physics really does represent the observed system itself rather than represent we know about the system. In other words, it is yet another nail in the coffin that reality is classical, deterministic and local.
- This article from CityLab was apparently inspired by a blog post by Charles Stross. It discusses the feasibility of building a human colony on Venus, specifically a floating city about 50 kilometers above the surface of the planet. At that altitude, atmospheric pressure and temperatures would be roughly equivalent to those on Earth even if the air is poisonous. The best thing about Venus compared to the most popular candidate is that its gravity is very close to that of Earth while Mars would have only a third of our gravity.
- I’m not sure how the researchers covered in this article from The Washington Post thought up this experiment but I guess the results are interesting. The test subjects were led into an area free of any distractions and invited to let their mind wander. The only thing that they could interact with was a device that would administer a mild electric shock when a button was pressed. Surprisingly most of the men chose to use the device, repeatedly even, rather than be bored. The authors frame it as people hating having nothing to do except think but personally I’m sceptical.
- The last one is a post on a blog called The Mitrailleuse. It argues that first conscious machines will probably be created as a result of financial firms creating ever more sophisticated algorithms to parse various information from the real world and use the results to perform financial transactions. Since the rewards of getting it right are huge, the firms routinely spend large amounts of money into perfecting their algorithms, in the process making ever closer to thinking beings.