Top 7 Films of 2017 – Explanation

The best film that was new to me that I saw last year was “Sleepless In Seattle.”

It’s so good, it’s got these little realistic touches and I found myself yelling at the screen, repeatedly.

It should be noted that the person who complained about me putting this in the post objected to me not putting “M” the year it was also the best film I saw that year. I just can’t win.

As usual, my criteria for films are:

1 – did the film do what it set out to do? (The Ebert rule)
2 – did it use it’s resources to it’s 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. It’s basically 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? And I am aware that this is the most subjective of subjective criteria!

This year, most of the films were failing on point 3.

Let’s start at the top:

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Yes, I am mostly rewarding the opening. But the opening contains more hope, joy and wonder than the rest of the films on this list combined.

The rest of the film was enjoyable, and I am a Cinema du Look girl, have been since I was young, so I found the visuals enormously appealing. Was it perfect? No. It needed better dialogue, Dane deHaan and Cara Delevingne are not quite strong enough actors to pull it off, and you can see the influence that the original Valerian comics had on The Fifth Element so bits of this feel like a re-run of that.

But still, it was solid and enjoyable overall.

Next come two films, where, despite their flaws, I wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

My comments for GotG 2 and Thor 3 are very similar. They did their thing and did it hard and to the best of their abilities. They’re fun.

After them is where we start to get to ishy films.

4 – Blade Runner 2049

The visuals are good, the acting solid. The parts that tie it back to the original Blade Runner are the weakest parts (although that scene with Rachel is the best scene in the film), which is odd, but not as odd as the choice to explicitly say that “to be human is to reproduce” which is a peculiarly regressive message for a science fiction film.

5 – Assassin’s Creed

Things in this film I will not knock. The actors, the fight choreography, oh my goodness, the cinematography. No, really, there are shots from this film I’d have as stills on my wall.

Things I will knock – the complete lack of characterisation, or indeed names, for people who are not Aguilar. You know the how to deal with a large cast thing that Mad Max: Fury Road did really well; this did it really badly. To the point that I cannot remember Aguilar’s modern name, and modern name is the main character of the film.

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Partly its that so much money was spent making a film that was so bland in its vision of the future. There was none of that visual magic you got with the original films, which was disappointing. The plot was overwrought and stupid. It’s the stupidity I object to more.

Not as the much as I object to the stupidity of Atomic Blonde.

7 – Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde actually made me angry. The stupidity of the plot wastes so much.

It wastes an exceptional soundtrack and fight choreography, production values that are amazingly detailed (seriously, I had the same coat as Spyglass’s daughter at the same time 500 km to the South) and some damn fine performers, all for a “clever” twist. The twist is stupid, makes no sense and is significantly less cool than the writer thinks it is. It wastes everything to no good effect. It’s so … frustrating.

This could have been an excellent film, and it’s been ruined by the writer’s hubris.

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Top 7 Films of 2017

Slightly fewer films than usual because 2017 was weird year. I hope to get the number up for 2018.

1 – Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

2 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

3 – Thor Ragnarok

4 – Blade Runner 2049

5 – Assassin’s Creed

6 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

7 – Atomic Blonde

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Somewhat jokingly, after I’d watched it, I suggested other names for Star Wars: The Last Jedi on twitter. They do sum up my problems with the film quite well.

Star Wars: This Could Have Been So Much Better

None of the problems are with individual actors or characters, indeed, I’d like to single out Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver for praise. None of the problems are due to the SFX or technical stuff. Very few of the problems are due to the director. Most of the problems are due to the writing. The writing, in terms of plot and cohesion, is bad. That leads to…

Star Wars: Poor Communication Kills

In the original trilogy, you had evil doing its thing; doing it bureaucratically sure but at least being vaguely competent. The forces of good, meanwhile, were outnumbered and outgunned but using their resources wisely.

Then came the prequels, where yeah, the forces of good were hubristic (I agree with Luke about that) and kept making every possible wrong choice in any given situation, but hey, evil was competent and skillful, and the Emperor basically played the entire galaxy like a fiddle.

The problem with Star Wars: The Last Jedi where you have incompetent evil versus useless good.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to watch the sci-fi office sitcom where someone (probably Captain Phasma) has to cope with their 3 variously incompetent bosses and their perpetual bickering, but it’s not very convincing as an evil empire. Why should I respect/fear them if their underlings don’t?

On the other side, you’ve got good guys who have managed to go from a position of power at the end of Return of the Jedi to being a very small rump against the Empire redux. They’re also marshaling their lack of forces very poorly.

The Resistance are tactically inept!

There’s no good reason for Admiral Hoda not to tell Poe about the plan. Not telling him almost lead to the whole plan failing. It also creates a giant plot hole about how come DJ knows about the plan when Poe doesn’t. Even if we presume he’s read the computer files that suggests it’s only Poe that they’ve deliberately not told which is an odd tactical choice!

I do wonder how much of that is Hollywood having issues with portraying heroic guerrilla warfare.

I couldn’t help but feel that if both sides were lead by robots, like BB-8 and BB-Hate (sorry, I have no idea what the evil robot’s name is), fewer stupid mistakes would have been made.

The story is very fragmented; Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren are the on-going Jedi-Sith-Skywalker saga, the idiot plot with Poe is the driving force of this episode, while Finn’s bit is interesting, and at least emotionally fulfilling even if it moves the plot forward not one iota.

Slimming those three plots down to two would make it a much better film (and I’ll let you guess which one I would get rid of).
Star Wars: ‘Talyn, Starburst’

The feeling that this could have been a better film is not helped by the way it feels like it has borrowed bits from other better films – like the last stand at Helm’s Deep/Krayt or Hoda’s/Crais’s big dramatic sacrifice. That last one wasn’t helped by the graphics looking so similar to the starburst scene.

That was one of the more visually appealing scenes.

Rian Johnson did seem to be trying to do things, but the film seems to be hamstrung by this being A STAR WARS FILM and therefore it NEEDS TO LOOK LIKE A STAR WARS FILM. I think it would have been a much better film if he’d been given more room for artistic expression.

Although, if he was being hamstrung, the script department were too. Which led to …

Star Wars: Maybe We Shouldn’t Have Been Mean About George Lucas’s Dialogue, They’re Stealing It 40 Years Later

Serious recycling, and dull and virtuous recycling at that. Really, who didn’t know that “if you strike me down” was coming in the end fight. Okay, so in the screening I was in, matters weren’t helped by D having a coughing fit right at the least opportune moment – D insists it was an accident.

The film was more interesting when it played with the formula; DJ’s thing about who do you think the Rebels get their weapons from, DJ being a Han Solo who didn’t come back and Kylo Ren not accepting the chance of redemption that his grandfather did take.

I’m not sure how I feel about Kylo Ren being beyond redemption. Or rather, I am not sure how I feel about Star Wars saying a character is beyond redemption, given who has historically been redeemed.

The heavy weight of the franchise, and its effects on the plotting and scripting really spoiled what were excellent performances by the cast.

I ❤ Rey, like beyond all reason <3, and I understand Finn.

I ❤ Rose, the way the film wants me to.

I want to smack Poe, probably more than the film wants me too (I have a low tolerance for charming but feckless), but I accept that the stupidest mutiny ever was not his fault.

I think Admiral Hoda is awesome, if strategically stupid (please film, if you’re going to tell me someone is a great general, don’t have them screwing up that much).

General Organa continues to be the only sensible person on both sides.

DJ is oh, he’s interesting, because yeah, he’s what true neutral actually looks like and it’s not a good look. And yet … basically, casting Benicio Del Toro is always a good idea.

Over on team actually evil, um listen, I cannot be reasonable about Domhnall Gleeson. He’s one of those actors who attracts my attention, and Hux only works because he’s a damn good actor and turns froth-mouthed ranting space spiv into someone with motivations. Like that little grab for the gun when he thinks Ren is down for the count and how quickly he moves his hand when it becomes apparent Ren is not unconscious. Because that man is a terrible, terrible coward (as well as being a space spiv).

Adam Driver is damn good. Like, he almost makes me want to sympathise with Kylo Ren, while keeping him the whiny, angst emo sith we all know and want to dip in a lake of lava. I am really impressed.

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The acting is good. The SFX, the CGI-is-not-good-enough-to-do-feathers-yet of the Porgs notwithstanding, and a couple of Leia scenes that I suspect suffered due to the unfortunate occurrence, was solid. Ditto the direction.

That’s why I get annoyed, because so much of this was good, and it’s let down by the incoherence of the plot.

Rugby League World Cup Final Thoughts

Yes, I know the World Cup Final was in December, but I’ve been busy with two fencing competitions, Christmas and New Years since then. The gap has helped to crystalize the moments that really stood out in the final and the tournament as a whole.

The 2017 World Cup Final

General Points

Any sport with pretensions to having a World Cup should be able to provide neutral referees. I know the general line is that the non-Australian or English refs are not as good as the Aussie or English refs, but it’s not fair on the ref that he’s asked to referee his own national team.

Separately to that, I don’t care what people say about Henry Peranara, he couldn’t have been worse than Gerrard Sutton was. It wasn’t just the high hits on English players he missed, or his interesting interpretation of the forward pass rule, it was the general air of ineptitude throughout. If his decisions were so wrong that the Australian co-commentator was saying that the rub of the decisions were going Australia’s way.

About Australia

That is a team that knows what it’s doing. Which I know sounds obvious, but it’s something to see. It’s a machine designed for winning World Cups. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be spectacular but it will be successful.

Mal Meninga, the rest of the coaching team, and the senior players realised that there were areas where they weren’t as strong as England, and made sure England couldn’t get to that soft underbelly. There was some magnificent in-play kicking under pressure which set up the platform for Australia to build on, so they could put more pressure on England’s defence in turn. It was something England didn’t manage.

Australia’s play was admirable.

Frustrating if you’re cheering for the opposition, but admirable.

Also admirable was Cam Smith mentioning the Jillaroos during the victory speech he made.

About England

In many ways, it’s all Zak Hardaker’s fault that England lost that final.

Work with me on this.

If he hadn’t managed to get himself banned through his own stupidity, Gareth Widdop could have played at stand-off, where he actually plays for his club. If England had a stand-off who can kick (apologies to Kev Brown, whose heart and effort I do not doubt, but his kicking isn’t as good as Widdop’s), this would have opened up more of the pitch. Australia had Cam Smith and Billy Slater, so that if the defence were on top of one of them, the other had room to manoeuvre. England did not have this. That put a lot of work on Luke Gale. Which is sub-optimal. It meant Australia knew that if it got late on in the tackle count they could just swarm Gale and that it would lead to a kick. They also knew more or less where the kick was going.

Widdop in the halves might also have meant more ball to Ryan Hall. Who was playing as a spare prop in the final. I don’t know if Wayne Bennett told him to go there or he did it himself because he was getting no ball on the wing and he thought he might as well make himself useful. I do know that by playing at prop-ish, he got more of the ball than he had in 4 previous games. Unfortunately that also meant one of England’s wingers spent most of the final further inside the pitch than his centre.

That should probably be “alleged centre”.

This World Cup saw a most disturbing occurrence. Saints and Wigan fans sticking up for each other’s players. Wigan fans were saying, “yeah, maybe Percival would be better at centre than Bateman. Because he is at least a centre.” In response Saints fans were saying “Bateman probably could improve on his ball handling skills, but it’s not his fault he’s been picked at centre.” (Bateman plays at second row for his club team.) It’s pretty much cats and dogs living together levels of unlikely.

There are certain flaws in Bateman’s game. But he isn’t picking himself at centre. I have no idea why Wayne Bennett insists on picking Bateman at centre, a position which only exposes those flaws.

I also discovered that my mother has no problem with people calling other people a “cheating (industrial language)” providing that the cheat in question has actually cheated. Aaron Woods needs to be aware that my mother is fond of James Graham and of making voodoo dolls.

With regard to the Ginger Hulk, that image of him bleeding might as well have been invented by the advertisers. Because short of whichever Burgess twin that was (they both look like the pre-Raphaelites decided to design a rugby player) doing the same, it’s hard to think of someone it would stand out on more.

The worst of being an England fan is the hope. It will kill you. That moment where Kallum Watkins ran, and he got past most of the Aussies and he’s almost away and … then that tap tackle.

You can see it here. You’ll note they too went with “the hope will kill you.” It is a truism. England’s many ways of losing is somewhere beyond swearing.

I disagree with the commentators who said it was as bad as the New Zealand semi-final loss four years ago. This was losing to a better team, which Australia were. The New Zealand loss was losing to a team of a similar quality to yourselves, due to one small mistake, in the last 30 seconds of the match.

I am very sad for Graham, Roby, Burgess S., and the others who probably won’t make it to another World Cup. Because oh, do those boys deserve something. Especially Roby, who made a complete mockery of the talk before the match about “can he do 80 minutes?” He was about the only person on the pitch who looked like he could play another 80 on top. But that is because he is awesome.

As was the World Cup in general.

It wasn’t perfect, rugby league urgently needs two more teams so there are even numbers in the pools. I would have said that even if Ireland hadn’t been the ones stuffed up by the uneven pools this time round. The present system also meant we knew who was going to qualify from group A after the first 2 matches.

RL also needs the not-Lebanon northern hemisphere teams to step up. Because Ireland notwithstanding, they were embarrassingly poor.

Papua New Guinea deserved to host one of the quarterfinals. For instance, the one they were in!

I think that’s the sum total of my complaints.

There’s been such a leap forward since 2013. So many of the Pacific Island have improved so much that the nonsense that only Australia, England and New Zealand had a chance was blown out of the water.

The most pleasing thing was seeing players as good as Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita choosing not to play for the Tier 1 nation they could have played for. Previously, if a player opted to play for a Tier 2 side it was because their Tier 1 side didn’t want/need them, but Taumalolo and Fifita are damn good players in their prime. It’s such good news for rugby league, and it needs to keep happening.

As an England fan, I want England to win, but as a rugby league fan, I’ll be damned if Fiji or Tonga winning wouldn’t make me almost as happy, and if PNG win, they’d have to pull me down off the ceiling.

If the RLIF can keep enabling this sort of progress it will be great for the game. Hopefully it will mean World Cup 2025 in North America will be excellent.

Rugby League World Cup Final Network Data Visualisation

First, the semifinal highlights.

The BBC haven’t bothered to put their “funny” one up yet, so instead, have the 5 minute highlights of Fiji vs Australia, of which the important details are Fiji were in the lead and they did score a try this time. That Australia won is a completely unimportant detail.

In much the same way, of the Tonga vs England match, the 70 minutes that England were way ahead are unimportant when you consider Tonga’s glorious near-comeback, which involved 3 tries in 10 minutes. The third try in particular was a thing of beauty. If only they didn’t keep giving other teams a head start!

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Final Network Data Visualisation

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Going into the final, the team closest to the centre are Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. The other teams which would have had World Cup winners no matter who won are St George Illawara and Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks.

Interestingly, all of Canberra and South Sydney Rabbitohs representatives are playing for England, Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead for Canberra and Sam and Tom Burgess for the Bunnies.

The team with the most players in the final are Melbourne Storm, with 7, all for Australia, with their two Fijians having gone out in the semifinals. Next are Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Warrington and St Helens with 4 players each. The Sharks lost 1 Tongan in the semis, Warrington 1 Fijian, while Saints have the same number in the final as they had in the semis.

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The community view makes little sense, as it tends not to when down to only two teams. Most of the English and Australian players are the same colour as England or Australia, the players that play for teams that join the two countries are coloured by club but for some unknown reason so are Leeds, Canberra, Wests Tigers and Penrith, all of whose players play in one country. If that was because there’s a large number of them, you’d think Melbourne Storm would be coloured a different colour too, because they’re a (relatively) large community. One day I will understand how the community concept works in Gephi!

Rugby League World Cup 2017 Final Thoughts

(This was written when the original England team for the finals was announced, after Hodgson’s injury, but before O’Loughlin was announced as being unavailable. I still stand by most of it, even Jonny Lomax can only add so much flair on his own. The original team was here.)

You remember how I promised I wouldn’t complain about Wayne Bennett’s squad pick because he had at least picked Walmsley and Percival? Some of his recent choices are making that hard to stick to. Even at the time, his decision not to take more than two hookers was, interesting, brave and other insults from Sir Humphrey Appleby. Now that Josh Hodgson is injured, it looks particularly foolish. I know Roby can do 80 minutes, but I am a Saints fan so I am equally convinced that Roby can play 80 minutes followed by walking on water and feeding the five thousand.

Given the lack of hooking back up, the Bennett hasn’t picked a single back on the sub’s bench is … worrying.

To an extent, I can see Bennett’s plan. There are two kinds of coaches, ones who think that their formation of choice is *the* one and will squeeze their players into it, and then ones that look at the players they have at their disposal and try to get them to play in whatever formation suits their skills the best. Bennett is definitely of the second type. I can see why he’s going with “bringing back the biff” because, man for man, the England forward line *is* better than the Australian one. It’s just that he’s sacrificed the scoring power of one winger (Ryan Hall who is getting zero service because the centre inside him is John Bateman who is actually a second row) and any chance of explosive flair for this plan.

I want to believe that England will win. I know everyone keeps saying we should back our boys and I would love to. It’s just, as a whole, and Watkins and McGillvary being honorary exceptions, there’s a distinct lack of creative flair in this squad as a whole, never mind the 17 men chosen for the final.

This is not a classic Australian team. For most positions, man for man, they’re not that much better than England. The problem is that in those few positions where they are better, they are significantly better, and all of those positions are the creative roles. After umpteen years in the NRL I don’t think the three musketeers are going to be put off by a few hard tackles, no matter that they’re creaky with age and short a musketeer.

The other reason I don’t want to believe is that I’ve been here before. I was there for that loss to New Zealand, that horrible moment when Shaun Johnson scored and then converted and Pompeii by Bastille blared out of the loudspeakers, at just the wrong moment for a song encouraging me to be an optimist about anything. If hoping leads to that again, I don’t want it.

Rugby League World Cup Semifinal Connectivity Diagrams

The BBC’s quarterfinal micro-highlights video is here. Obviously they can’t show the entirety of NZ vs Fiji, despite it being 80 minutes of gloriousness and far more entertaining than any 4 – 2 rugby league match should ever be.

Do, however, spend 5 minutes watching the start of the match. Not just because Fiji have an entire squad that can sing.

The semifinal diagram is much simplified due to New Zealand and Samoa’s removal.

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The club team nearest the centre are now St George Illawarra, while the national team nearest the centre are Australia. England do stick out somewhat.

The club team with the most players left are Melbourne Storm with 9. The players they lost between the quarterfinals and the semifinals were 2 New Zealanders, 1 Samoan and 1 Papua New Guinean). They are followed by Brisbane Broncos and St George Illawarra with 6. Brisbane are missing 2 New Zealanders, 1 Samoan and 1 Papua New Guinean from before while St George are missing 2 New Zealanders, 2 Samoan and 1 Papua New Guinean.

The community view is interesting.

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In the community view, the four countries are all different communities. Clubs which link players from more than 1 country (Sydney Roosters: Boyd Cordner (Australia), Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou (Tonga) and Kane Evans (Fiji); Wests Tigers: Aaron Woods (Australia), Tuimoala Lolohea (Tonga) and Kevin Naiqama and Pio Sokobalavu (Fiji); Manly Sea Eagles: the Trbojevic brothers (Australia) and Apisai Koroisau and Akuila Uate (Fiji) and Huddersfield: Jermain McGillvary (Eng) and Ukuma Ta’ai (Tonga)) are also each their own separate community, which makes some sort of sense.