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Film Festival Day 5, 29/07/2014

I’m going to Diplomacy on the 1st with C.  Unfortunately, the automatic seating did not seat us together. Fortunately, someone noticed, and put us together.  Unfortunately, they put us together for Dior and I at the Roxy on the same day, instead of Diplomacy at the Paramount.

Fortunately, I was able to come into the box-office, and got the new tickets.  Unfortunately, they weren’t that great.  Fortunately, someone in the back office also noticed that we were originally not seated together, and sent me an email saying that they’d fixed it.  Unfortunately, that meant that it wasn’t clear which tickets were the valid ones — the ones they “fixed”, or the ones I organized.  Fortunately, the ones in the email (which are much better seats) turn out to be the valid ones, and I was able to collect them yesterday.

And I hope that this is the end of that particular story.

* * *

The universe may
Be as great as they say;
But it wouldn’t be missed
If it didn’t exist.

That is a poem called “Nothing Is Indispensable : Grook to warn the universe against megalomania” by Piet Hein, and is one of the most pithy summaries I’ve ever seen of the Anthropic Principle — basically, the idea that if you’re examining the universe, then you must be in a universe that has settings that mean that you can exist to examine it, otherwise you wouldn’t be there examining it.

The worry in physics, of course, is that asking, “Why are the fundamental constants set up the way they are?” is the same kind of question as asking a lottery winner, “What did you do to win the lottery?”  If there are innumerable universes that don’t support intelligent life, then they’re like the millions who don’t win the lottery — and we won’t see any deep reason for why things are set up the way they are, because there is no deep reason.

This is the story of Particle Fever — CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, and the experiments designed to find some of the properties of the Higgs boson, to see whether there’s likely to be a deep underlying reason for the  fundamental constants (like supersymetry) or there’s no actual pattern (like the multiverse interpretations).

The film makes the very sensible decision to focus on the people, and the things they are looking for, and the consequences for those people, rather than the underlying reasons why the different theories expect the different values.  It was also good at showing how much the Large Hadron Collider is a feat of engineering, and a feat of human organization, as well as a physics experiment.

I liked it, even the bit where it went “full Peggle” at the end. (Thanks to the Crate & Crowbar podcast for that particular term.)

As an aside — in case you thought the “physics rap” was a new thing, according to this article the first photo ever put on the World Wide Web was of an all-girl doo-wop band called “Les Horribles Cernettes” that sang songs inspired by particle physics.  It’s good to know that the web started as they meant to go on.

* * *

I don’t know why the central conceit of Patema Inverted worked for me, where The Light Harvester didn’t.  Maybe being animated grants a certain amount of poetic license to a depicted world’s reality for me?

There’s not much to say — it’s a good, but not overly surprising, anime.  It didn’t pass the Bechel test, but it didn’t have gratuitous panty shots.  It sort of reminded me of 50s sci-fi, in the way that the world felt, and the belief in the inherent decency of people (and the cartoonish-ness of the villain), though you probably wouldn’t get such a complex female character in a 50s film. I enjoyed it.

* * *

“Cinema of Unease” is how some people describe that thread of NZ film that often stars Sam Neil or Bruno Lawrence – the sort of thing where you can see that things are going to go horribly wrong, but (if the film is working) you don’t want to look away.

Once it is obvious what is going on in Everything We Loved, it is also obvious that things are going to end badly. The question is only how badly, and in what ways.

I liked the details of the main characters’ lives that are revealing in passing (like the tape of old Dutch pop), and a bunch of little touches. But if I had been randomly watching it on television, I’m not sure I would have made it to the end; and I can’t imagine watching it again for fun.  It was good, but hard.

* * *

How do you fix corruption?

I mean, NZ is consistently rated as relatively free of corruption — but as an example, when my neighbor organized the fence to be put up between our two properties, the builder he found insisted on being paid in cash, and did not want to give an invoice.

Big Men examined two different situations — the maneuvering between Kosmos, the American company who financed the discovery of off-shore oil deposits in Ghana, and the government of Ghana; and the situation in Nigeria.  This was made more interesting by the fact that filming started during the bull market, went through the global financial crisis, and ended up around last year.

(I suspect Ghana is much better off dealing with Kosmos than with a large conglomerate, if they’re going to deal with an American company, since Kosmos probably doesn’t have enough clout to influence the American government; I would not be super-shocked to discover that the U.S. legal miasma that hung around Kosmos during the middle of the film was in part encouraged by Exxon-Mobile to drive the price down, for example.)

Many of the people in Nigeria that the documentary maker interviewed said, “Of course I want lots of money!  Everyone does!  You do too, don’t you?”  (Which makes me suspect that they don’t know the typical ROI for a independent documentary film.)

I was very surprised at the level of access that the documentary had with various people; the film-makers didn’t narrate, but sometimes made their attitude towards various speakers clear by what they chose to focus on (the flashy gold and diamond rings of the Nigerian energy minister, for example).  And how they got the Nigerian rebels to talk to them, I do not know.  And the Ghanian governmental officials said all the right things, but… let the money come in, and then let’s see how things go.

I thought it was a really good documentary, and I wish Ghana well, and I also wish there was an easy way to fix corruption.

* * *

There’s a saying about secrets: “Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

In Night Moves, we see a eco-activist cell making gestures at the sort of compartmentalization that you need for a successful conspiracy, but they don’t seem as serious about it as they need to be — they cut corners, and reveal things about themselves to to each other, and generally show that the kind of discipline that you’d need to be properly invisible is very, very hard.

We see them conspire; but that’s just the first part.  The main meat of the film is not the act, but the consequences of the act — how do you deal with unintended side-effects of your actions, how do you act in a way that’s not suspicious, can you trust the people that you thought you could trust?

The film isn’t dismissive of the ecological concerns, but it is dismissive of “eco-terror as theater”, which agrees with my already existing prejudices.  I enjoyed it, but it was tense.

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