Smile (2022)

First time feature writer/director Parker Finn takes Val Lewton’s bus on an extended tour, that’ll make viewers of a nervous disposition watch from behind an open hand.

Workaholic psychiatrist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is haunted by he mother’s suicide. When she attends to a disturbed woman, who claims she is being followed by malevolent smile, Rose must uncover the cause of the woman’s trauma, while confronting the ghosts in her own past.

Supernatural creepiness in the tradition of Ring (1998), It Follows (2014), and The Outsider (2020).

Evil is a virus with no cure.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15474916/

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Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

For those who don’t care, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) is another in the prequel universe of Harry Potter. In this well executed, visually stunning iteration, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlist the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a trusted coven of wizards and witches, to thwart the continued plans of Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen), who intends to start a war with Muggles. The timeframe and plot invoke the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Concerns about bloodlines and racial purity underpin Grindelwald‘s intentions. Themes that continue into the Potter stories. This film resolves itself adequately, with enough loose ends to guarantee yet another in the franchise.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022)

There is one thing that disconcerts me. In the original Potter films, made in the naughties, Dumbledore is an old man, long white hair, trailing beard, the quintessential wizard. In Fantastic Beasts, set in the 1930s, he’s a dashing gent in his late forties, who is at least three hundred years old. Seventy years later Dumbledore looks like someone in the twilight of his life, when he should be a wizard in late middle age. I’m probably missing something, already there in the other films, but it feel like an inconsistency that needs explaining.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4123432/

Mastodon rejects funding to preserve nonprofit status

As Twitter implodes under the weight of Elon Musk’s ego, Mastodon has grown significantly, making it very attractive to investors, who no doubt would pump tonnes of cash into the fediverse, and seek to centralise the decentralised. We should all tip our hats to Eugen Rochko the German software developer, who is the sole shareholder of Mastodon, for refusing the money, and keeping Mastodon open source.

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2022/12/twitter-rival-mastodon-rejects-funding-to-preserve-nonprofit-status/

Amsterdam (2022)

Amsterdam (2022) is a film with some interesting parts that falters under the Preston Sturges of it all. Burt (Christian Bale), Harold (John David Washington), and Valerie (Margot Robbie) are brought together by injuries sustained during the First World War. After doctor Burt, and lawyer Harold, are nursed back to health by the mysterious Valerie, the three friends head for Amsterdam, where they find freedom from the expectations of the class, race, and sex, for the first time in any of their lives.

Years later they’re thrown back together, and tasked by circumstance, to expose a conspiracy of shady business interests, intent on bringing fascism to America, by replacing president Franklin D Roosevelt, with retired general Gil Dillenbeck (Robert De Niro). As fanciful as that sounds, it’s the truest part of this complicated plot, based on a real conspiracy exposed in 1930s America. It’s hard not to draw parallels between a ninety-year-old conspiracy and contemporary political happenings, but I’m sure that detail, much like the rest of the film, is more coincidence than deliberate.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10304142/

Will geoengineering scorch the sky?

I came across this MIT Technology Review article by James Temple outlining plans by controversial start-up Make Sunsets, and it’s a little terrifying.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/12/24/1066041/a-startup-says-its-begun-releasing-particles-into-the-atmosphere-in-an-effort-to-tweak-the-climate/

The company wants to disperse huge quantities of sulphur and particles into the atmosphere, mimicking a massive volcanic eruption, that’s supposed to reflect sunlight back into space, hopefully easing global warming. This kind of geoengineering is controversial, and Make Sunsets’ approach, to me at least, sounds way too casual. It’s almost as if no one has told them, they just haven’t bothered to find out, when you release toxic chemicals like sulphur into the atmosphere, they fall back to earth as acid rain.

Acid rain was the hot environmental topic of the seventies and eighties. The heavy industries of Britain and Northern Europe released tonnes of pollutants into the atmosphere, that fell as sulphur dioxide spiked rain across southern Scandinavia, causing all kinds of environmental damage, from deforestation to water pollution.

As neoliberalism stripped heavy industry out of Britain, turning the country into a service economy, acid rain became less of an issue, and receded from public view. But a couple of years ago Paul Brown in The Guardian, reported that one “previously underestimated cause of acid rain is nitrogen oxides, produced partly by farming and motor vehicles”. To counteract nitric acid in rainfall, Norway is forced to pour tonnes of lime into their waterways.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/may/13/weatherwatch-how-uk-vehicle-emissions-affect-norways-fish

On a more hyperbolic tangent, deliberately releasing sulphur into the atmosphere sounds too much like the plot of a dystopian science fiction film. It makes me think of the “desert of the real” speech by Morpheus in The Matrix (1999). Humans, faced with an existential threat from machines, try to starve them of solar energy, by deliberately scorching the sky.

Machines may not be plotting our enslavement, not yet, but we are facing an existential threat from a man-made, machine-enhanced, climate catastrophe. What’s being proposed by Make Sunsets falls squarely into “desert of the real” territory. Morpheus’ speech is a warning about the unforeseen consequences of desperate actions. It’s telling us not to do anything that will have long reaching, unforeseen consequences. Like scorching the skies with sulphur.

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