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Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard’s classic novel to the screen after a long wait.

It’s set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants’ needs: there’s a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories.

Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building’s odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large.

He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell.

A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard’s sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners.

It’s an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley’s skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment’s awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower’s vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale) as society’s hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos.

But there are some conceptual misteps, I think, that garble Ballard’s anxieties—and the power of his storytelling.

In particular, the movie counterposes superficial social realism against dreamy surrealism in an attempt to triangulate the novel’s hyperreal quality with its period setting and the presumed ironic sensibilities of a contemporary audience. Clever as this is, the result has a weird 1980s artsy zaniness to it, as if directed by Peter Greenaway or Ken Russell or (sorry) whoever did the Pet Shop Boys movie. Ballard is about games that turn deadly serious, but this is just a deadly game. Among other things, it makes its cruelties (which often involve animals) seem self-satisfied and spiteful.

Wheatley also tries to achieve too much though implication; even as a fan of the novel, I felt a little lost and could have done with an establishing vignette to establish the scenario. Motivations are often unclear, too. Though this is rather the point, the depraved psychic hygiene of the tower’s world is only lightly sketched before it erupts. It’s as if the movie is only interested in people who already understand its message.

Ballard’s writing is cold and sharp, yet lurid in how it draws out the entrails of our discomfort. This movie’s script is just drawn out. I like the film, and it’s full of arresting images. It is a tribute, a floating world of its own, but a metaphor too distant and too arch to draw much blood.

Thumbs up, ish.

High-Rise (2016) [Amazon]

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Aliens destroyed life on Mars, now Trump’s poised to do the same to Earth, in this week’s tabloids

It’s good to see this week’s tabloids getting back to the really important news.

“Aliens Nuked All Life Off Of Mars!” proclaims the ‘National Examiner,’ which also brings us the more earth-bound revelation that disgraced President Richard Nixon, while happy to meet with Elvis Presley, “ordered hits on Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison.”

It’s important news like this that distracts us from the ‘National Enquirer’ cover this week, which with characteristic restraint screams: “World War 3 Is Coming!” But fear not – the ‘Enquirer’ brings us a “step-by-step” guide to “How Trump will crush our eight enemies!” Eight, indeed. No slouch, our Commander in Chief will “launch a coordinated campaign across five continents that will wipe out America’s enemies in one fell swoop!” And those are the best kind of swoops.

It’s the sort of bombast we’ve come to expect from North Korea, but it’s troubling to find such bellicosity (yet again) in the pages of a publication that boasts better connections to the White House than ‘The New York Times.’ Our enemies? North Korea and ISIS, naturally. Syria will be nuked – that’ll put Trump in the history books, if there are any that survive the ensuing global conflagration.

But then the ‘Enquirer’ battle plans get a little hazy. Iran will be hit by severe sanctions. U.S. troops will maneuver along the border with Russia to prevent their intervention. Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Shabaab in Somalia will be targeted. ISIS and al-Qaeda cells in Spain, France, Germany and Italy will be hit. (By this point, we might be wondering if any nation’s sovereignty is to be respected.) And while they’re at it, U.S. forces will destroy the drug cartels’ narcotics operations “throughout Mexico and South America.” I can’t wait to hear Donald Trump announce that he’ll achieve all that within his second 100 days in office.

The ‘Enquirer’ seems to be having a special homophobia edition this week, with three major gay-shock-horror stories in its first seven pages. ‘Gay Travolta New Squeeze’ yells the grammatically-challenged headline above a story that amounts to John Travolta being photographed giving a thumbs-up sitting next to another man, in what looks like every fan photo ever taken with a celebrity, and nothing more. Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi and Drew Barrymore’s ‘Love Triangle Exposed!’ declares the ‘Enquirer,’ which claims that the former ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ cutie has come between Ellen and her gal. Oh sure, Ellen and Drew are partners working together on a new TV series – but that can only be a front for lesbian sex, right? The ‘Enquirer’ team of trained psychics know these things. And then there’s “Oprah & Gayle’s Gaycation With The Obamas!’ Because being on a yacht with the former President and First Lady, along with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Hanks, screams lesbian, because two women couldn’t possibly just be friends, could they?

‘Dying Queen Collapses!” yells the ‘Globe’ cover, with a series of photographs that appear to show her fall, helpfully captioned “Going . . . Going . . . Gone!” You have to credit the ‘Globe’ for its extraordinary photojournalism, capturing images of a Royal collapse that was missed by the entirety of the British media. Of course, ‘Globe’ editors probably don’t expect their readers to do the research to find that these photos of the Queen were actually taken in July 2015 at the christening of Her Majesty’s great-granddaughter Charlotte, at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Sandringham, England. Nor do they expect readers to find that the photo of the Queen bent double as she apparently collapses is actually Her Majesty bending down to greet great-grandson Prince George outside the church. Look closely and you can see Royal nanny Teresa Borallo standing right next to the Queen. And the photo of a handful of soldiers standing around looking down at the ground – supposedly at an unconscious monarch, though we’ll never know because she’s not in the camera frame – could easily be looking at one of the Royal Guardsmen who routinely faint after standing to attention for hours during major public ceremonies. But not that day, when nobody collapsed, least of all the Queen.

Fortunately we have the intrepid investigative team at ‘Us’ magazine to tell us that Kourtney Kardashian wore it best (which I suspect has something to do with the fact that she was naked and bra-less under her Saint Lauren dinner jacket, while Emma Watson opted for an elegant shirt), that NBC anchor Lester Holt “could eat Mexican food every day,” that ‘American Housewife’ actress Katy Mixon carries a teasing comb and hair spray in her Gucci bag, and that the stars are just like us: they spray on sunscreen, walk their dogs, and play golf. Extraordinary. The magazine devotes its cover to “20 Slimdown Diet Tips Stars Are Using,’ featuring a slew of stars who barely have a spare ounce of body fat between them, so their diets must clearly be working.

‘People’ magazine devotes its cover to TV’s ever-popular ‘Bachelorette’ series, under the headline: “Life After Bachelorette.” But the headline seems to be missing the question mark I would have added at the end of that sentence. The feature story tells how six former Bachelorettes found love, and are raising new babies (no doubt because it’s just no fun raising old babies). Admittedly, only two of these six have married men they actually met on the show, so that doesn’t speak well for the program’s ability to bring loving couples together. And fulfilling their dream of finding a husband seems to have had an unexpected dark side. “We used to stay up late and party,” says former Bachelorette Ashley Rosenbaum. “Now we all have bags under our eyes, pushing strollers!” Who could have guessed?

Onwards and downwards . . .

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Imagine you work by paying $425 for artificially mud-stained jeans

Nordstrom’s is selling artificially mud-stained jeans that look like they’ve just gotten in from a few hours’ laboring in the yard. The $425 mud isn’t mud: it’s paint.

Details & Care

Heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans in a comfortable straight-leg fit embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.

Previously: Clear plastic jeans

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The Humble Unicorn Bundle, get great, DRM-free fantasy novels, support environmental causes

Steven Boyett writes, “Humble Bundle has released a unicorn-themed Bundle, with proceeds to benefit the World Wide Fund for Nature and Fauna & Flora International. For as little as $1.00, you can get Ariel, by Steven R. Boyett (full disclosure: that’s me); Unicorn Mountain, by Michael Bishop; Homeward Bound, by Bruce Coville; and Unicorn Triangle, by Patricia McKillip.”

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Obama to end silence with first post-presidency speaking appearance in Chicago

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have been enjoying an extended post-presidency vacation around the world, but that’s about to end. Barack Obama is slated to break his silence in Chicago on Monday, April 24. If you’re hoping he will rip into Donald Trump, we’ve got sad news for you.

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Why Sony PS4s get roach-infested so easily

It’s not your imagination: Sony’s Playstation 4 really is unusually vulnerable to cockroach infestation. The reasons why remind me of airline disasters: a combination of several individually-trivial mistakes that combine to form something awful. But the results are so gross Sony won’t repair PS4s with roaches in them, writes Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio, sending mystified owners into the arms of disgusted local repair shops.

Matt Zieminski, who works for console repair suite IFixit, told me that most of the time, the consoles aren’t sent in for roach cleaning—the users don’t know they’re infested. The PS4s just stop working and the owners don’t know why. Turns out, the PS4’s internal power supply fries roaches onto its components, which can stop the PS4 from turning on. When the bugs have made little homes in there, and have little roach kids, those roach kids and their feces can melt onto the hardware.

Zieminski knows a PS4 is infested because “Roaches leave traces,” he says. “Their poop color is distinct and has a certain smell to it. We kind of know right off the bat if there are poop stains on the vent of the fan—we assume it’s bug-loaded.”

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Create a personal surveillance state!

Home security is important, but installing a full-scale security system can be some expensive overkill. For apartment dwellers, especially, that’s a complete non-starter. However, if you’re looking for a versatile home security solution or just need a simple way to make sure your dog (or teenager) isn’t wreaking havoc while you’re gone, the Oco camera offers excellent utility with minimal setup.

This HD, WiFi security camera is easily installed with a screw-in magnetic mount, and can be up and running in under a minute. With real-time streaming via the free app, you can keep constant tabs on what’s going on at home or the office. Not going to be near the app for awhile? Oco’s free cloud service stores footage automatically for remote access, or you can also add an SD card for local storage in case of network failure.

Its 140-degree wide-angle view can capture most of a room in crisp, 1080p resolution, day or night so you’re always in the know. The Oco WiFi Security Camera is currently available in the Boing Boing Store.

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Strollers suck so these designers made their own amazing, lightweight, compact marvel

Tim from Windfire Designs writes, “We got excited about making our own stroller after getting sick of trying to choose between really giant expensive and clunky strollers, or putting up with cheap, throw away strollers. We made our own — which is always great — because we could decide what was cool, rather than being told and sold. This thing goes everywhere, and the kiddo loves it. This video should show others the path to not accepting the de facto standards in stroller design.”

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Youtube artist SamuraiGuitarist does music from Final Fantasy VII

I’ve been a huge fan of Steve Onotera, a Canadian Youtube vlogger and musician, since David posted his earlier video last year.

I decided to support him on Patreon, and as one of the perks of my support, I got to choose a song for him to do a version of. Of course, I chose Final Fantasy, specifically the Bombing Mission theme from Final Fantasy VII. Not only did he do an awesome bluegrass rendition for me, he presented it complete with in-game combat visuals!

Patreon has been a great way to support independent artists across a huge spectrum of genres, and a great way to discover and support musicians, authors, artists, and makers.

See more of SamuraiGuitarist’s work on Patreon, or his Youtube channel for more of his videos.

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Mar-a-Lago kitchen inspectors: potentially dangerous fish, meat too warm, and other violations

If you’re about to order a fine meal at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s fancy club-turned-winter-White-House, make sure to steer clear of the fish. And the meat. And you might want to offer the server some hand sanitizer while you’re at it.

Restaurant inspectors recently found 13 violations at the private Palm Beach, FL club. Among them, according to Miami Herald:

▪ Fish designed to be served raw or undercooked, the inspection report reads, had not undergone proper parasite destruction. Kitchen staffers were ordered to cook the fish immediately or throw it out.

▪ In two of the club’s coolers, inspectors found that raw meats that should be stored at 41 degrees were much too warm and potentially dangerous: chicken was 49 degrees, duck clocked in a 50 degrees and raw beef was 50 degrees. The winner? Ham at 57 degrees.

▪ The club was cited for not maintaining the coolers in proper working order and was ordered to have them emptied immediately and repaired.

The other violations weren’t so serious. Water at the sink where employees wash their hands was too cold to sanitize hands. And Mar-a-Lago was also written up for keeping rusted shelves inside walk-in coolers.

This is the most violations the kitchen has ever received. In the past, Trump used to check in on the kitchen to make sure things were running smoothly, and inspections came out pretty clean. But since he turned Mar-a-Lago into his political office (ethics conflict, but save that for another story), inspection results have soured. And this is a club that charges $200,000 just for initiation fees.

Image by tommietheturtle

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Dom Flemons, late of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, plays music that makes me very happy

I was listening to the latest Judge John Hodgman podcast today (as I do every week!) which was performed live in Washington DC; as with every live show, there was a musical guest, and this guest was so completely awesome I made a note to post about him when I got home.
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Yet another Great Pyrenees escape video

General the Great Pyreness decided he didn’t want to stay in the Aquia-Garrisonville Animal Hospital, so he left. Opening serveral doors, all caught on security camera, on his way out. His family has him again.

Via InsideNova:

The dog’s amazing escape from the Garrisonville Road facility — opening several doors before exiting the building — screens like a jailbreak from the best Hollywood blockbusters.

And the story has a Hollywood ending, too. The hospital reported late Monday that General was found safe and sound, resting in a neighbor’s yard.

Hospital staff discovered Monday that the dog was missing, but how? Security video from the 4 a.m. escape was shared by WJLA.

My Great Pyr, Nemo, does this an awful lot too.

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West African migrants are kidnapped and sold in Libyan slave markets

The UN’s International Organization for Migration says that human traffickers paid to smuggle migrants out of sub-Saharan Africa are selling their “clients” to slavers in Libya, who ransom them to their families, starving them and working them to death while they wait for the money to come in.
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11 obscenely optimistic songs for ukulele

Jeremy Messersmith writes, “I have a new record coming out on Friday and I’ve released it early as a songbook over at my website (free with an email). It’s called ’11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs For Ukulele: A Micro-Folk Record For The 21st Century And Beyond.’ It has songs about kittens, unicorns, wealth redistribution, critical thinking, and the power of love. I wrote it to be an antidote to all the toxic news as of late; a musical unicorn chaser. I’m also embarking on a 50 show, Atlas Obscura inspired sing-along tour; all free and in scenic public spaces. I’ve compiled a collection of songs that fans have covered so far into a YouTube playlist over at my website. Thanks for considering!

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Transparent refurbished Super Nintendo consoles

Rose-Colored gaming’s producing a limited run of transparent Super Nintendo consoles, refurbished from cosmetically-damaged originals. The guts are painted and polished to be pretty behind the new acrylic enclosures. [via]

These SNES consoles have been treated to a 100% brand new, hand-built exterior, all while retaining complete original function. Each is assembled by hand with the care and attention to detail that you have come to expect from RCG. The housing consists of laser cut and etched acrylic components which have been drilled, bent, bonded, threaded, & assembled using all new anodized aluminum hardware. Many internal components have been slathered in various finishes then etched in order to accentuate items which were never meant to be seen. All hand-built, these units will only be available in VERY limited quantities upon release, with each being treated to a unique serial number.

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Livejournal's Russian owners announce new anti-LGBT policy, fandom stages mass exodus

Mitch Wagner writes, “LiveJournal is a venerable online community that predates Facebook and even blogging. It got acquired by a Russian company a few years ago, but some of its American and British users hung on, including sf and fantasy writers and fans. Lately, I know one of my friends was scrambling to leave, but I’d been too busy to look into why.”
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First non-white judge at top UK court used to be mistaken for defendants

Anuja Ravindra Dhir, the first non-white circuit judge at the Old Bailey, says “she was often mistaken for a witness or defendant when she started working as a lawyer” in the 1980s.

The 49-year-old said at first, most clients did not want to be represented by a young Asian Scottish female.

She also said that, when she wanted to go to university in the 1970s, she was told to be a hairdresser instead.

Judge Dhir said she once had to produce her wig and gown before security allowed her into court.
“I got used to turning up at courts and people saying to me ‘Witness? – no – Defendant? – no’ and looking rather surprised when I said I was the advocate,” she said.

Now the youngest Central Criminal Court justice, she talks of the “incredible changes” over the last 30 years.

“There is one glass ceiling that’s in our minds, that’s what we think we can achieve so perhaps we impose our glass ceiling and that has happened to me several times.”

The Old Bailey houses 15 judges, of whom 10 are men and five are women, including one who is due to start soon. And of the recent intake of Old Bailey judges, three out of six are women.

Judge Dhir said: “Child-friendly policies I think are important. As a society we are better at raising that now than we ever have been before.”

She praised the Recorder of London, Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, for his commitment to change at the Old Bailey, a building steeped in history and tradition dating back to medieval times.

She said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by the commitment to change that I have seen people here at the Old Bailey have.

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A year later, no action from Chinese company whose insecure PVRs threaten all internet users

It’s been more than a year since RSA’s Rotem Kerner published his research on the insecurities in a PVR that was “white labeled” by TVT, a Chinese company and sold under over 70 brand-names around the world. In the intervening year, tens of thousands of these devices have been hijacked into botnets used by criminals in denial of service attacks, and TVT is still MIA, having done nothing to repair them.

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New principal resigns after high school student newspaper challenges credentials

Amy Robertson was set to be the $93,000-a-year principal of Pittsburg High School in Kansas. But she quit before her first day after the student newspaper found that her Masters’ degree and Ph. D. were from a diploma mill.

“She was going to be the head of our school, and we wanted be assured that she was qualified and had the proper credentials,” said Trina Paul, a senior and an editor of the Booster Redux, the school newspaper. “We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials.” …

Pittsburg journalism adviser Emily Smith said she is “very proud” of her students. “They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”

Students journalists published a story Friday questioning the legitimacy of the private college — Corllins University — where Robertson got her master’s and doctorate degrees years ago. U.S. Department of Education officials, contacted by The Star, confirmed student reports; the federal agency could not find evidence of Corllins in operation. The school wasn’t included among the agency’s list of schools closed since 1986. Robertson earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa.

Robertson insisted “all three of my degrees have been authenticated by the US government,” whatever that means, and that she would not respond to students’ questions about he credentials “because their concerns are not based on facts.”

You’d think “look them up on Google” would be part of the hiring process, but no!

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This book helped me manage my back pain

Abuses in my youth have left me in a lot of pain. Robin McKenzie’s Treat Your Own Back helped me more than any doctor.

I was desperately searching for an option other than letting doctors I do not trust operate on my spine. In response, a friend sent me a copy of this book. Spine, neck and lower back expert Robin McKenzie’s Treat Your Own Back delivered enough information to let me hold off on the surgery and return to a fairly functional life.

Treat Your Own Back gives a lot information about why the pain is happening, and what posture can do to alleviate it. Simple exercises that’ll help relieve pressure on nerves, and build core strength. Common sense approaches to dealing with back pain, rather than running right for surgery.

Someday I think I’ll end up under the knife. I have some good friend who have had wonderful success with it. Until I find I really need it, and I’ve run out of self care options, however, I’m going to keep looking for books like this one.

Treat Your Own Back by Robin McKenzie via Amazon

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Happy Socks make it cool to be a sock person

Working in an office with a straight-khaki dress code doesn’t mean that you have to eschew all forms of aesthetic expression. Even if the bossman won’t let you mock the liminal formality of work wear with your tuxedo t-shirt, you can still let your personality shine around the ankles. (Or in the secret place that coworkers don’t see unless you want to have a long meeting with HR.)

Happy Socks has a massive selection of unique socks and underwear for men, women, and unisex styles. From cartoon flamingos to pared-down dress patterns in a variety of colors, they have an enormous collection of fashionable socks and undergarments for anyone feeling like their outfits are missing that “it” factor. And they regularly partner with style icons like designer Iris Apfel and the Billionaire Boy’s Club for limited edition runs.

These Swedish darners definitely have something fun for everyone. You can get $40 of site-wide store credit for just $24.99.

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Hanging your headphones keeps them handy, but not smashed

Anyone who prefers the superior sound quality of over-ear headphones is all too familiar with the hassle of keeping your gear accessible but still out of the way when you aren’t using it. Instead of ruining your headphones by repeatedly shoving them in a drawer, why not hang them up to have them ready at a moment’s notice without crowding precious desktop real estate?

The Anchor is the perfect answer to your equipment clutter woes. This silicon hook sticks underneath your desk with industrial-grade adhesive to hold headphones and cables. Sturdy enough to hold even the bulkiest sets, its flexible material won’t send you into a cascade of pain when you inevitably bump your knee against it, unlike coat hooks.

Keeping your gear neat and tidy doesn’t mean you need to install extra shelves. Usually $19.95, you can get The Anchor here for $9.99.

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