Nashville (1975)

I knew going in that this was a kind of musical, albeit a very long one at two hours forty minutes. What I did not expect was how insanely complex and ambitious it is with its large cast of characters and multiple interleaving storylines. As you might expect, there are many, many musical performances in here but all of it is original music with satirical lyrics and apparently much of it was written by the actors and actresses themselves. It’s a little overwhelming at first as you don’t quite get what it is trying to do but it can’t be denied that it makes for brilliant political commentary.

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Kingdom (2019)

This post refers to a Japanese wuxia film released last year that was adapted from a manga and not the better known South Korean television series of the same name. I probably will watch that show sometime as I hear it’s good but I haven’t done so yet. Meanwhile its existence makes searching for information on this film difficult due to the shared single-word name and I suspect helped cause this to somewhat fly under the radar.

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Nobel Prizes 2020

Many of the major events this year has been cancelled but the Nobel Prizes have been awarded even if fewer people than usual are still paying attention.

The prize for Physiology or Medicine this year is probably the easiest to understand. It goes to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for their work in isolating and identifying the virus that causes Hepatitis C. Alter was a colleague of Baruch Blumberg who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1976 for the discovery of the Hepatitis B virus. The team realized that blood transfusions were still causing hepatitis even after screening for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Alter proved this by showing that chimpanzees developed hepatitis after being given blood free of Hepatitis A and B but attempts to isolate the new virus proved futile. In was only until 1989 that Houghton managed it by amplifying genetic material drawn from infected chimpanzees and using human antibodies to identify which portions of the genetic sequence they attached themselves to. However this cloned, purified version of the virus still could not infect chimpanzees and it was Rice who in 1997 noticed a mutable portion of the new virus and realized that it might be hindering replication. After he used genetic engineering to stabilize the virus, he proved that it was indeed the cause of Hepatitis C and which is why we are now able to reliably screen for it.

The prize for Physics will probably get the most mainstream attention because it is for the discovery of black holes, awarded to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez. Penrose is practically a household name for fans of science-fiction so it’s a little funny that he is only now gaining mainstream fame. Black holes were always a theoretical possibility ever since Einstein published his general theory of relativity but Einstein himself never believed they really existed in the real universe. It was Penrose who worked out the detailed mathematical proof that real stars and dust clouds can indeed collapse to form black holes.

Black holes are by definition invisible to direct detection but their presence can be inferred from the effect of their gravity on visible stars. Genzel and Ghez each lead separate teams. They used the world’s largest telescopes to track for decades the movements of the brightest stars at the center of our galaxy to show that they are all orbiting a massive, invisible object at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, what we now call the Sagittarius A* supermassive black hole that has 4 million times the mass of our sun.

The subject of the prize for Chemistry will be a familiar one to those few who regularly read this blog, the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique. As it goes to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, this has been lauded for going to an all women team but I think it’s also significant for how recent the discovery is and yet how obvious this award is given that everyone now uses the technique.

This story begins in 2011 when Charpentier noticed that the immune system of the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria possess a mechanism that cleaves the DNA of viruses in two. She then collaborated with Doudna to recreate this pair of genetic scissors in a test tube and simplified it. They also proved that it could be reprogrammed to target any DNA molecule instead of just viral DNA, turning it into a powerful, general purpose tool.

Finally the prize for Economics goes to Paul Milgrom and Robert Wilson, both of whom advanced the understanding of auctions. This takes into account the format of auctions, differing levels of information available to the participants and how participants expect other participants to behave. In particular the novel auction formats they devised were used by countries to sell off radio frequencies to telecoms operators.

The Mandalorian

So it was inevitable that I would get around to watching this eventually even if it’s so much later than everyone else. I was amused that our cinephile hated this with uncommon intensity earlier this year. For my part, I love how it absolutely nails the Star Wars aesthetic, perhaps better than any of the new films, and it makes for a rather fun romp. However it is admittedly very shallow so it’s best to take this as light entertainment which is great as the episodes tend to be rather short.

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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

This has been a year without summer blockbusters and I’ve read plenty of accounts from people online about how it feels so weird that there hasn’t been a Marvel or Star Wars tentpole film this year. Anyway this one is from last year and I heard good things about it plus we do like to watch the occasional action movie. I have not of course watched any of recent ones in the franchise and have totally lost count of what number they’re up to now. Turns out that this film ignores the existence of anything past Terminator 2 as well, which is fine by me.

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Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

The spoken dialogue in this film is almost entirely in English but that doesn’t change the fact that it is essentially a French film. The title refers to a remote village in Switzerland where most of the scenes were shot and which provides plenty of spectacular scenery to serve as a backdrop. But however beautiful the cinematography is, the real draw remains the scintillating character analysis that is the heart of this film, written and directed by Olivier Assayas.

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It’s embarrassing how late I am in playing games and in this case, it’s not even because I waited for it to go to discount. I was actually a Kickstarter backer on this one but kept putting off actually playing it, at first due to the many complaints and later balance changes, and later just because I had other games to get to first. It just goes to show that there really is no point to me buying new games at full price.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living