About the IAAF’s idiotic new testosterone rule

I begin with a warning that there is bad language in this post, because the decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Caster Semenya’s appeal against the IAAF’s new testosterone rule is egregious bullshit.

Let’s begin with the obvious. If they felt that there needed to be a rule change, the IAAF, the governing body for athletics, could have changed the rules without naming the athlete involved. Choosing to name her has led to the intimate medical details of a young woman being published across the world’s media. That’s a pretty shitty thing to do and Caster Semenya is dealing with it with a level of grace under fire that most of us would fail to achieve.

And the rule is obviously targeted at her. The IAAF have made a new testosterone limit that only applies to athletics events of distances from 400 m to 1609 m (1 mile). These are the events in which Semenya races. It does not include shorter distances, where athletes regularly fail drugs test for anabolic steroids, because they’re useful for sprints. But apparently the IAAF doesn’t care about that. It also doesn’t care about introducing these limits to the throwing events in the field, where so many champions have tested positive for anabolic steroids. No, the only events they choose to put this limit on are ones that Semenya might run in. Including the 400 m makes that obvious. Because she doesn’t normally run it, but she has run it. They’ve literally only chosen events she might run in. Because it’s not about fucking fairness, it’s about punishing Semenya for a quirk of her birth.

The IAAF claim they’ve chosen these events because there aren’t enough athletes with DSD in the other events (1). Which pretty much proves they’re lying about why they’re doing it. If it was about protecting female sports, they’d introduce this stupid rule across the board to safeguard those events in the future. But they’ve only introduced it in the one set of events where an athlete with a DSD has been successful. It does suggest that DSDs are not the advantage the IAAF are saying they are. They are not protecting sport, they are punishing Semenya for her successes.

It’s interesting to see what the IAAF choose to regard as an unfair physiological advantage. We’re all mutants. How do you decide what is an unfair advantage, and what is not?

People with advantageous mutations and physical properties are found throughout sport. Murali’s elbow in the cricket, Andy Roddick’s shoulder in tennis, Mia Hamm’s ability to sweat less than anyone else and Michael Phelps’s reduced lactic acid production (2,3).

(section removed by the legal department)

If Caster Semenya was American, there wouldn’t be a rule change, she’d be on Ellen being praised for her bravery.

I want to focus on the different way in which Semenya and Phelps have been treated. Semenya is being hounded for her ability to train harder and to run faster than her competitors. Phelps was lauded for the results he got, because he could train harder and swim faster than his competitors. He was never expected to take lactic acid injections to make him perform like “a normal man”.

Why are some performance advantages alright, and others not?

I don’t have an answer for that, but I would love to know what the IAAF’s answer to the question would be, because as it stands, they have created a very poor rule for reasons that make no sense.

References:

1 – https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/apr/30/caster-semenya-runners-discrimination-case
2 – Game On: How the Pressure to Win at All Costs Endangers Youth Sports, and What Parents Can Do About It by Tom Farrey
3 – https://www.smh.com.au/sport/is-it-a-genetic-flaw-that-makes-phelps-the-greatest-20080816-gdsqwk.html

Advertisements

Some thoughts about the Keeper, having only seen the trailer.

I should be happy.

There is a German main character, played by a German actor.
This German is the hero of the film, yet he’s not played by a Dane or a Swede.

The actor they have chosen actually looks, more than slightly, like the real life person he is portraying.

I *should* be happy.

Unfortunately, this time it’s the English half that’s causing the problem. Bert Trautmann was associated my English home town. And I’ve made my peace with them not using the two-up two-downs that are still there to film in. What I can’t make peace with is the accents. We don’t sound like that!

St. Helens’s accent is somewhat peculiar (an example – our beloved rugby league club captain who is born and bred) and varied, but it is very much ours and is significantly less Mancunian/East Lancashire than John Henshaw’s. I wouldn’t make such a fuss, but my Grandmother, who was around at the time, said that you could narrow down where someone lived to within 3 streets, just from the way they talked – and she could, which was terrifying.

Mostly I worry that my home town is going to be portrayed as the place with the bad people who are mean to our lead character, which it really isn’t and wasn’t. Read any interview with Bert Trautmann for evidence of that. He would always say how open and welcoming St Helens was, especially given the circumstances.

It’s a truth that matters to me, because I think biopics should reflect reality, and because it’ll be my home town that gets it in the neck!

Mission Impossible: Fallout is solid, but the fight scenes are exceptional

Because I am going to focus on the fight choreography, there will be heavy spoilers throughout.

As I said in the first part, the fight scenes in Mission Impossible: Fallout are exceptional, and fight choreography is clever. I don’t just mean how crisp it all looks, and the pleasing sense of barely controlled chaos, but the characters all fight the way someone with training and with their physical attributes should fight.

I’m going to use the John Lark fight as the example of this:

Right, now, if you could all tear your eyes away from Henry Cavill and instead focus on John Lark as embodied by Liang Yang.

You’ll note that he is the smallest guy in this fight. Normally films will have everyone in a fight scene fight in the same way. You might occasionally get one of them doing something cool and different to normal, particularly if the film is a film about fighting (e.g. Bloodsport). Most of the time though, you get guy A fights in style A, guy B fights in the same style and the same way, no matter what differences in height/weight/strength. This is particularly annoying when it’s clear that if B does that, B is going to lose, and lose painfully, but we’re still supposed to believe B knows how to fight.

This fight is different!

There is a smaller, shorter guy who fights like someone who has spent his life being the smaller, shorter guy. You’ll see how every time Lark gets a chance to get a hit in, he goes for throat or ribs (including one of the best uses of piping in a fight you’ll ever see). In the immortal words of my jiu-jitsu sensei, “everyone’s got to breathe”. It’s the sensible thing to do if you’re in a fight where people are bigger than you.

The other thing Lark does is that, every chance he gets, he shoves away one of the two people attacking him. That’s also what you’re supposed to do, because it means you have fewer people to deal with at any one time. It’s so nice to see in a film.

It’s interesting to contrast how Lark fights with how Ethan Hunt fights. Now, while, in real life Tom Cruise is of average height, if not slightly below, we accept that Ethan Hunt is taller than him and stronger than him because he’s the lead character. And so he fights more like a lead character. But, as another sign of the thought has gone into the staging of the fight sequences, they deliberately never have him face off mano-a-mano against August Walker so that we don’t ever have to question that. They let August Walker be obviously bigger and taller, because Cavill is enough bigger than Tom Cruise that it’s hard to hide. And then in the big end fight, they make it clear that Ethan Hunt wins by being sneaky, clever and lucky. Which are always better than being bigger and stronger!

The other character with an interesting fight style is Ilsa Faust. The interesting thing about her fight style is that it’s that of someone whose been taught to fight. Too often female characters who get to fight do so in a very flippy-flippy, kicky-kicky style, which leaves you open to counter-attacks. Ilsa doesn’t. She fights like someone who’s been taught how to hurt someone without being hurt yourself. It’s very simple, very direct, very effective. In the last fight against Solomon Lane, the way she slices through his hamstring is poetry because it’s so simple. It doesn’t matter if you’re the weaker person in the fight if the other person can’t reach you to cause more damage.

Everyone in this film fights with superhuman strength, power and resistance to damage, but it works because they fight in a way which is plausible within their characters. We still feel the tension and the danger because there is a desperation in the way our heroes fight. There’s risk and being worn down till only the things beaten into you during training are left. It makes it a very different film in feel to a lot of blockbusters.

Mission Impossible: Fallout is a good, solid film

This is very much a review of two halves so I have split it into two parts. The first is a more general review of Mission Impossible: Fallout, and the second is me raving about the fight choreography in the film.

The plot of the film is significantly baroque, with lots of frills and twists and twiddly-bits. I think they realised that they had a lot of set pieces and not a lot of plot and back-filled from that to try to link them together.

The bit with Wolf Blitzer is very like the series in a way the films often aren’t, but it’s an example of how the film is very bitty. There’s a cool bit, tenuous link, another cool bit and so on. Every bit works, but I’m not sure they all hang together.

One thing I liked was the sense of place. Yes, there is no way there is that little traffic in that part of Paris at any time of day or night but it’s still recognisably Paris and not just tourist Paris. It’s something they did well in the last one too. Although I know you can’t actually run that quickly along the route in London (or drive across part of the race through Paris), I acknowledge their attempts at realism with joy, especially as they choose some of the less obvious bits of London and Paris (and Vienna in Rogue Nation).

What I also liked about the Paris bit is how many of Ethan Hunt’s problems were brought about by aspects of his character that were established all the way back in Mission Impossible 2.

The acting was uniformly solid, even if Wes Bentley playing nice but dull husbands makes me feel old. Very old. The film-makers make good use of their solid cast. I think having Tom Cruise helps, if you’ve got him, you know the anchor of your film will be sorted so you can concentrate on giving other people stuff to do. When those other people include Sean Harris, good things ensue.

SPOILERS START HERE AND ARE VERY, VERY SPOILERY

An example of how the film-makers give every character their own thing to do, is the ending in Pakistan.

The tech boys were so happy to see Julia, while recognising how awkward it is going to be for Ethan, referencing their shared history. Meanwhile, Ethan and Julia were all “hi, I still love you but we’ve both moved on and it’s kinda awkward and kinda great at the same time,” which reinforces what the rest of the film has said about Julia being important to Ethan. There’s a reason his subconscious has Solomon Lane threatening her as his worst nightmare. The other characters also got nice touches such as Erik knowing Julia is lying about something and more or less guessing correctly what it is. Then you have Julia and Ilsa both recognising who the other is or was to Ethan immediately. Although really, Ethan Hunt has a type and he has a type hard, because I can’t tell the actresses apart without a few clues. If she’s kicking someone, it’s probably Ilsa.

On team bad guy meanwhile, you get August Walker and his determination to see his plan through while thinking enough of his accomplice to ask if he’s sure about being left behind. It’s a nice touch, he’s a professional genocidal maniac. He likes to work with good people. He sees someone with whom he shares goals and methodology. There’s also that lovely bit of business earlier with August Walker, when he talks about Hunt’s motivation for turning traitor in the particular direction of the Apostles. It’s really his reason and there’s enough of a frisson that it’s obvious to us what is really going on, while it might not be to other characters.

Solomon Lane gets the moment of zen calm that is normally associated with heroes. He really doesn’t care what comes next as long as everything Ethan Hunt loves dies with him. It’s disconcerting in its totality. From this, we know that there’s is nothing the bad guys won’t do to win, and that if our heroes don’t succeed, they will be the first to be vaporized.

I was able to watch this in the cinema, so I got to see audience reactions. This time, watching this in the cinema gave me a better understanding of the whole “we all watch different films” thing. It was the bit the start where the bad guys are threatening Luther. My reaction was “oh no, they’re going to kill off a secondary character I am fond of to make the hero feel bad.” I was a bit miffed, because I think it’s a cheap ploy in films and I’m quite fond of Luther. In front of me were a bunch of enjoyably rowdy black teenagers who were, justifiably, more pissed off, because once again, it was going to be the black guy that got killed. They were very pleased when Luther did not get killed off. Pleased and amazed. Dear Hollywood, note the amazed there and maybe do something about it.
In short, most of Mission Impossible: Fallout is enjoyable and solid.

But the fight scenes are exceptional.

Advanced warning that I may be irrational about parts of the 2019 Formula 1 season

I like to be supportive of sportspeople who I admire. Certain of my friends would say that I am a little irrational about this, and unwilling to see flaws in their game – just ask L about my fondness for Mesut Özil. Actually don’t, he is unfairly mean about Özil.

When a sportsperson I like competes for a team I like, that somewhat amplifies the problem. Because, choosing a player at random, I do not like to hear criticism of Giorgio Chiellini. One day he is going to retire and I am going to cry.

But I don’t think either of those responses are all that irrational. When Charles Le Clerc, who I am fond of, drives for Ferrari, who are my team, I know I may be irrational, even by my standards. I have a horrible feeling I am going to be spending the 2019 season hissing and cursing every time Ferrari give him a car that doesn’t work, Vettel gets the car updates first, or anyone so much as taps Le Clerc’s Ferrari.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Antman 2, or to give it’s proper name “Antman and the Wasp”, is a cuddly jumper of a film, with likable characters.  And that’s fine, because that’s what I wanted it to be.  It doesn’t seek to revolutionise the genre or do anything different, it just gives us the further adventures of Scott Lang and his friends.

The only down side is that it doesn’t give us enough Wasp-time.  What Wasp-time there is is glorious, but I could have done with more.

I’m not sure how much any of it would have worked if you hadn’t seen Antman 1.  It’s very much chickens coming home to roost, for both Antmen.

Spoilers for the film underneath


Scott Lang’s impulsivity caused his original imprisonment, and another impulsive (if honourable) decision has caused his present house arrest, undoubtedly risked his present happiness (because Hope has every right to be cheesed off with him), and damaged everyone around him.

In Hank Pym’s case, if he weren’t quite so impossible, would one of his co-workers have gone rogue?  Would Bill Foster have hidden Ava’s condition from him?

The one interesting thing it does is have an antagonist for each of our heroes, but two of them really aren’t villains.  They all have their own motivations and character.  It means you don’t get that “too much plot, not enough film” thing you get with some superhero films.

Agent Woo is a dork, with less than zero people skills, but he’s only doing his job and he’s being even-handed doing it.  When the other agent tries to sell the good guys out to the bad guys, you know Woo would never do that.

Ava is not a villain.  She does bad things, but only because she’s desperate and it’s literally life or death.

Sonny Burch is a villain, and not just because he’s played with glorious relish by Walton Goggins.  But he’s very small time, he’s in this for the money, he doesn’t want to destroy the world.  I think they’ve deliberately dialled down the stakes for this film after how big they went with Avengers: Infinity War.

The thing I really liked (other than the SFX which were as good as expected) was that the reason Ava was saved was something she chose to do.  She could have gone ahead and killed Janet but she chose not to and that is why she was saved.  Doing the right thing worked!

Cassie Lang remains adorable, and the lengths that Scott Lang will go to in order to keep her happy is one of the reasons you understand why the other characters forgive him for being an impulsive idiot.  Even if he will never fix that character trait.

Team Minor Criminal remain in one piece (did I mention I am excessively fond of Luis, because he tells stories the way I do), which is all I asked of this film.  Even if they also wanted to scream at Scott for being feckless.  I did love the bad guys choosing completely the wrong guy to use truth serum on.

While we didn’t get enough of either Wasp, we do get to see how much they both mean to Hank, complete with some excellent ‘show, don’t tell’.  I loved the scene at the end where Hank grows the house because yes, he really does have everything he needs now.

It’s not brilliant but it is solid.

Spoilers for the film, the stinger, Avengers: Infinity War and the Avengers: Endgame trailer underneath


I knew someone would get wiped, but the way they did it!!!  We’ve just had a film and a half of how bad it is to get stuck in the quantum realm and that Janet only survived because she was made of awesome, in a way that, bless him, Scott Lang probably isn’t.  And we leave our hero in there with no way out, because everyone that knows he’s down there (and all but one of the people that can get him out) has been wiped.

That’s evil!!!

It’s also why I was so happy to see Scott in the Endgame trailer.  It means he got out (hopefully).

My top 7 films of 2018 … explained

I once again managed to not see all that many films. I think the excellent weather this summer is a very good excuse for that.

The overall quality of the films seemed to be higher this year. Unlike the last few years, there isn’t a single film that made me want to throw things at one of the creators because of how bad it was.

In keeping with tradition, I’d also like to highlight one film that was new to me but not new. “Ethel and Ernest” which is an old-fashioned cartoon, but it hits you straight in the heart. It’s absolutely wonderful.

I continue to use these 4 criteria:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do?
2 – did it use its resources to its best ability? Or, a £250,000 film is not going to have as good explosions as a £25,000,000 film, or it shouldn’t, and if it does, there’s something wrong with the £25,000,000 film. Basically, it’s a technical merit score.
3 – Intellectual satisfaction – does the film’s plot pull some really stupid move at the last moment? Does the plot rely on characters being stupid than they are?
4 – Does this work as a whole? Did it work for me? I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

In a slight change to the usual, I will be speaking about some of the films in groups, because I have things to say where either the comments for both films are similar comments, or because I am going to use the two films as contrasts to each other.

My top 7 was
1 – Black Panther
2 – Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
3 – Avengers: Infinity War
4 – Mission Impossible 6
5 – Isle of Dogs
6 – Venom
7 – Antman 2

Let’s begin with the top two.

While I’ve put Black Panther above Into the Spiderverse, it is pretty much a toss-up. Like the year The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road came out, I’ve given top spot to the one I liked better. Noticeably, I said “liked better” not “enjoyed more” because Into the Spiderverse is the good guys doing the right thing and it is more enjoyable than what happens in Black Panther. But Black Panther has some lovely shades of grey, and people who are undoubtedly good people doing bad things, and the bad guy being allowed to be right about something things (if not in his methodology) and … okay so I am giving Black Panther the top spot just for Sterling K. Brown. Because he’s amazing as N’Jobu. With some serious assistance from Michael B. Jordan. And even months later I am all flail! on the topic.

Both films tell very traditional superhero stories but they tell them in an interesting way. Black Panther lets you sympathise with the villain a lot more than most do, while Into the Spiderverse plays with the medium in a glorious, vivid, colourful, fun way. The way Into the Spiderverse tells its story obviously looks more radical, but that’s in part because there hasn’t been another comic book film that’s been a cartoon and used that medium to its fullest. Very few cartoon films have used being a cartoon to their fullest. Because, OMG what Into the Spiderverse does is so cool. One of the things I really love is how it weaves the soundtrack and the music that Miles listens to into the way he moves. It’s just so kinetic that you can almost feel what’s on the screen. It’s magnificent.

I love both films a lot.

Avengers: Infinity Wars is less good than those two films. However, it does tell a subtly different superhero story to the usual. The difference is that the villain is defeated, but only after he’s won and the bad things happen after our heroes defeat him. I mean, the bad things that haven’t already happened. Many bad things happen in that film. I applauded Infinity Wars at the time and still do for allowing Thanos to actually love Gamorra (and, despite everything, vice versa) and still do the thing, and regret it but still think it’s for the greater good. He’s a villain with depth without sentimentalising him. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely good.

It’s after that where the ordering gets a bit haphazard and perfunctory. I’d be willing to listen to arguments for any of films 4 to 7 being in any position from 4 to 7.

I am giving Mission Impossible: Fallout position 4 because of how good the fight scenes are. Seriously, I would like to find out who choreographed the “John Lark” fight and thank them. It was excellent. It also gets points for Solomon Lane. I have railed, and will rail again, about how not every bad guy has to be the Joker from The Dark Knight, and they don’t all need to want to watch the world burn but Solomon Lane is my exception to that rule, because it works for the character and the story and they give the formula a twist. Sean Harris gives such a good blank, all-consuming evil. I also love what they do with John Lark (and that is the least spoilery way to phrase that).

On the other hand, the plot is over-convoluted to some ridiculously baroque extent.

Isle of Dogs is very Wes Anderson. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how you feel about Wes Anderson. One friend who really likes him loved it. One friend who hates him refuses to see it. That these two friends share a first name just makes it more amusing.

I am 50/50 on Wes Anderson, so I enjoyed bits of it, while finding it a bit too Wes Anderson in other parts. It is the one I was tempted to put in 7th, but I decided to give it points for not being based on something else.

Antman 2 (or Antman and the Wasp) and Venom are both stupid good fun. Venom was probably the better film, because Antman 2 had the air of being a Marvelverse filler film. They’re actually very similar in terms of lead character; charming, likeable screw ups forced to face the consequences of their actions. I loved the way they handled Spoiler and Spoiler in Antman (and all of Team Minor Criminal who I love beyond all reason). Meanwhile I adored Anne and Dr. Dan in Venom for similar reasons, and Tom Hardy appeared to be having all the fun as Venom (and Eddie in a weird way). Neither is a great film, but they are pleasing and enjoyable. So they’re coming bottom of this list, but as I said at the start, all 7 films were good and I’d recommend seeing any of them.