The Human Centipede III (Final Sequence) [2015]

I liked the first one. I hadn’t seen the second one, but I made the judgment it probably wasn’t going to matter if I went ahead and watched the third. And I think I was right.

reformists

Dieter Laser’s performance in the original as an extra-bad bad scientist was overblown and ridiculous enough to make the story of abducting people, surgically attaching them in a line, anus to mouth, so that when the one at the front does a shit it passes down through all of them and out the backermost end, into a surprisingly lighthearted romp. Without his overacting and unhinged rage, ‘The Human Centipede (First Sequence)’ would have been little more than the gimmick many have accused it of being. It’s not a film I’d particularly defend, except to stress how it’s more of a comedy than might be expected. A comedy of questionable taste, but still funny if that’s your thing.

So here’s the third one, existing in a world where the first and second installment are known films. Laurence R Harvey, star of part 2, teams up with Dieter Laser from part 1, now playing the respective parts of US prison accountant and warden. Eric Roberts also shows up as a Governor demanding improvements at the institution, which distracted me into thinking about his career. I hadn’t seen him in anything for ages, even though his IMDB list of roles is pretty enormous, so that was nice. Hi, Eric Roberts! How’s it going?

I’m no big fan of the industrial prison complex, but even I know there’s better reforms to be carried out than attaching all the inmates together in an enormous centipede chain. Maybe it’s true that it would be a firm deterrent against crimes being committed, but my antisocial-behavior-is-a-product-of-a-failed-society, rehabilitationist outlook makes me think we should try other avenues first.

cents

So the tagline on the poster is ‘100% politically incorrect’, and this tells you a lot about what to expect. There’s something almost comforting about a film which just goes through a series of situations purposefully designed to be repugnant, and I find it ultimately less offensive than a work which seems unaware of how disgusting it is. ‘The Lion King’ doesn’t seem to know how horrible its politics are, and that makes it far worse. ‘The Human Centipede 3’ has a schoolchild’s list of fucking awful things its eager to check off, and does so with workmanlike persistence. And it’s that singlemindedness of purpose that made it sort of charming, in a thoroughly basic way. Waterboarding a prisoner with boiling water, sexual abuse, racial abuse, limb breaking, circumcised clitoris eating, someone getting raped in the kidney, close-up castration, the centipede surgery itself: it cycles through the lot of them. A purpose for the work had been clearly set, and then unremarkably met, in C-student fashion.

it might just work

I could just erase all of these words and have the sound of me slow-clapping for a couple of minutes, and then saying ‘Fine’ in a flat tone when I’m done.

The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World – Ken Alder

Seems like there’s a lot of things you can learn out of books, and this one taught me how metres aren’t as long as they ought to be. They started to begin existing absolutely ages back in 1792, three hundred years after America was invented. But America doesn’t even use metres. Spooky.

i've got the measure of you

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre was busy being an astronomer, and it was his job to go north to look for metres. Pierre-François-André Mechain was also getting on with being an astronomer, and he got asked to do the same, but to go south. What a race! They both left from somewhere inside France, and were allowed to go all the way to the border, and if they hadn’t worked out what metres were by then, they had to have a long hard think about what they’d done. All they knew was metres were one ten-millionth of the distance between the pole and the equator. They got given some Borda’s repeating circles, and had to promise they knew how to draw triangles all over a map. Is it any surprise their final calculations were about 0.2 millimetres short?

They spent years over it, as well. So many delays, not helped by a cultural mistrust of men with funny measuring equipment doing suspicious stuff during military actions. If your job is to go around catching metres in the wild, it’s pretty impossible to judge how big your traps should be.

find me some metres - GET ON IT

Late in the game, deep down in the south, Mechain realized the whole project was in error, for reasons they hadn’t foreseen. This made him very, very, very troubled indeed. Delambre didn’t even find out until after Mechain’s death, while he was reading through his papers. And by then, there was pretty much nothing to be done, as everyone was saying how much they loved these metres they’d come up with, and they’d even made one out of platinum for them. And how do you break bad news to someone who’s made you a metre out of platinum?

This gets the author into a discussion of changes brought about in science, error theory, and not trusting everything to the brilliance of individual savants. Precision gets compared with accuracy – internal consistency or factual correctness – and it goes into how this distinction got more explicitly recognized in later times.

I think I liked this bit the best:

The savants said the new measures would be ‘natural’ because they were based on the size of the earth. For these savants, a metric unit was natural when it could be defined without reference to human interests. The meter, they said, would be independent of all social negotiation or temporal change, transcending the interests of any particular community or nation. These men invoked nature as the guarantor that all people would benefit equally because no person benefitted in particular. This spoke to the ideal of justice as blind. Indeed, the Enlightenment project has often been read as an attempt to displace personal relations as the foundation of the social order, and in their stead substitute a universal metric, imported from the natural sciences, by which the social world might be subject to dispassionate analysis – and schemes for improvement. But the people of the Ancien Régime also considered their measures ‘natural’, in that they had been built into the dimensions of the lived world and expressed their needs, their values, and the history of their shared life. Their anthropometric measures sanctified man as the measure of all things, and expressed a different notion of justice, one which governed not only the domain of productive labor, but also the realm of economic exchange.

borda made this repeating circle and he won't fucking shut up about itThe Ancien Régime was governed by a ‘just price’ economy, in which basic foodstuffs were sold at a customary price set by the local community at a level which most of the people in that community could afford. The just price was enforced by a moral sanction and ultimately by the threat of violence.

… In such an economy, the diversity of weights and measures greased the wheels of commerce. In an age where bakers dared not charge more than the ‘just price’ for a loaf of bread for fear of precipitating a riot, bakers who wanted to preserve their livelihood when the cost of flour rose simply baked a smaller loaf. The same ruse allowed monasteries to circumvent Christian restrictions against profits by buying wine in large barrels and then selling it (for the same price) in smaller barrels. Sometimes this could lead to accusations of fraud, as when the petitioners of Notre-Damme-de-Lisque complained in 1788 that their abbot’s tax collector had increased the measure of grain. More probably, he was simply trying to maintain his own revenue during a time of rapidly increasing prices.

… In many towns, Ancien Régime officials themselves served as the ‘fair mediators’ who interposed themselves between buyers and sellers, setting the just price for essential foodstuffs like bread, meat, wine, and beer. Indeed, superintending the economy in this way was one of the obligations of a benevolent monarch, and among the principal justifications for his rule. In setting the just price, local officials generally took market conditions into account. The price of bread, for instance, was governed by tariffs, numerical tables that translated the current market price of wheat into the just price for a four-pound loaf of bread of a specified quality (white bread, brown bread, second-class bread, and so on). In major towns, these tariffs were drawn up by aldermen and bakers, who jointly estimated the cost of milling and baking bread, and outfitting a shop, while guaranteeing a modest return for the baker. These regulated prices, however, were ‘sticky’ in the sense that bakers could not fine-tune their prices to meet daily fluctuations in the cost of wheat. Also, bakers tended to set their prices in round numbers because of a persistent shortage of small coins. Instead of adjusting prices, bakers then altered the weight of their loaves of diluted their ingredients. Such practices were illegal, but even consumers who were aware of them generally tolerated them so long as everyone could still afford a ‘pound’ of bread. Equity mattered more than efficiency. Yet in times of dearth any attempt to raise prices or to ‘short’ bread too egregiously could spark violence. Price was not the paramount variable in the Ancien Régime economy, but merely one variable among many, including quantity, quality, the cost of production, and local custom.

i dunnoIn short, the diversity of weights and measures, far from being irrational and unnatural, formed the backbone of the Ancien Régime economy. These measures did not simple define a distinct kind of economy, they defined a kind of human being. Today, we assume ‘the market’ consists of the aggregate of innumerable one-on-one private exchanges, the sum total of which set prices. We might call this the market principle. The Ancien Régime operated according to the idea of the market as a place, which one might imagine as a kind of bazaar or village fair in which buyers and sellers met in public to conduct exchanges under the watchful eye of a third party. That third party – typically an emissary of the king, a town alderman, the local lord, or the nearby abbot – justified the taxation of these transactions by ensuring that the needy did not go hungry and the producer got a fair return for his troubles. Thus, in addition to providing peasants and artisans with a ready guide to the value of their land and labor, the weights and measures of the Ancien Régime also provided shopkeepers and consumers with some guarantee that their marketplace transactions would be fair.

In this context, the French savants’ scheme to reform weights and measures was a revolutionary rupture, far more radical than the sort of translation involved in the switch from, say, Anglo-American units to the metric system. Indeed, the revolutionaries intended the metric system to eradicate the assumptions underlying the old just-price economy. Their goal was to make productivity the visible measure of economic progress, and to make price the paramount variable in commercial exchange. They saw the metric reform as a crucial stage in the education of modern Homo economicus.

The Babadook [2014]

The most unsettling horrors for me are the most domestic. Plenty of people look down on it, but I’d put ‘Paranormal Activity’ up there as one of the best. And if you’re not into that, what about BBC’s ‘Ghostwatch’?

Local TV Presenter: Do you think Mr. Pipes has come to hurt you?

Kim Early: I think he’s come to hurt everybody. I think he wants to do nasty things.

GET. OUT.

shitting christ

In ‘The Babadook’, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman deserve all the praise it’s possible to give for their performances as widowed mother and young son. Here’s the trailer so I don’t have to write down the set-up, and then I’ll be shoveling out more spoilers than the script’s got.

Amelia starts out as a worn-down, stressed-out single parent, and Samuel is beautifully repellent as the verbal irritant child she has mixed feelings for. The relationship between the two is ‘The Babadook’’s greatest feature, a fully believable piece of realism that meshes perfectly with its more fantastic parts. It’s rare enough to see on-screen parenthood held up as a soul-draining inconvenience, but considerable sympathy is also established for both mother and child. Samuel has been failing Charisma checks his entire life, but we understand why he is why he is. An obsessional terror of monsters and social failure to navigate adult conventions has shaped his character, and there’s enough flashes of decency shown to avoid writing him off as one would with that Damien kid.

Direction, acting, editing, and design come together to show a clearly informed understanding of what sleep deprivation and emotional stress both looks and feels like, and the same can be said all the more so for the film’s implicit representation of the horrors of sleep paralysis. Anyone who’s experienced it will see how accurately it’s shown here, which adds a further level of questioning as to what extent The Babadook is a real being, and not ‘just’ a creation of Amelia’s mental damage.

There’s more than half a chance The Babadook doesn’t have any objective existence. But there’s not much comfort in a subjective monster, as something which exists only in your experience can shit you up no less than if it’s wholly external to your mind. The Babadook could well be a manifestation of Amelia’s grief for her husband, overshadowing everything in her life and all she does – it’s in a word, and it’s in a look.

babbers

Why’s the book called ‘Mister Babadook’ and Samuel refers ‘The Babadook’? If it’s right to think of the monster as Amelia’s loss for her husband, it makes sense for marital status to be inferred in the book-Babadook, as it’s through the book she is particularly targeted. Especially so when it returns after she rips it up, to now feature her as the focus of the haunting, giving the fresh warning that ‘The more you deny me, the stronger I get’. The Babadook’s demand of Amelia to ‘bring me the boy’, at one point made through her vision of her resurrected partner in the basement, suggests a surrendering of the relationship with her son to the relationship with her dead husband. Amelia is (understandably) letting the circumstances of his death block out her love for her son, an emotionally complex story that most dramas wouldn’t go near.

dookers

The ending shows the creature confined to the basement, Amelia now finally able to relate to Samuel as a person, and not just a reminder and cause of her husband’s death. Her apparently routinized journey down the steps to feed The Babadook a bowl of earthworms, briefly pushed down by its force before getting on with her day, can be interpreted as one of loss’ recurring waves, getting weaker and less frequent over time, but never truly disappearing. The loss of a loved one will always be there. Her refusal to let Samuel into the basement shows a desire to keep him separate from these feelings, a necessary move if they’re going to move on together. But you can’t get rid of The Babadook.

This resolution moved the film away from being frightening, and The Babadook hasn’t – against my expectations – come to be one of the many cinematic creations to check in the corners for between three and four AM. The fear in the first two thirds of the story is replaced with sadness, and the need/ability to carry on despite it. The year’s best horror film might not even be a horror.

I read three novels in seven weeks like some kind of genius

THE THREE MUSKETEERS – ALEXANDRE DUMAS

Like St. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, this was funnier than I expected it to be. And I learned that some women are really evil, even if they look nice. But some of them are just nice all over. And those ones get poisoned by the other ones. Women, eh?

that'll do

DRACULA – BRAM STOKER

Not funny at all, except for Van Helsing’s accent. And I learned that women can only truly attain purity and virtue when they’re also nice looking, and if they do have this combination of qualities you should go on about it for fucking ages. But some nice looking women also want to eat children. Are women worth the risk, I wonder?

vampire lads

FOUNDATION – ISAAC ASIMOV

Notably lacking in jokes of any kind. And I learned that in the future, women basically aren’t a thing, unless they’re a silent secretary or a nagging wife who loves techno-space jewelry. I’m glad that issue basically resolved itself.

base superstructure

Oh yeah, and it wasn’t until just then I worked out the reason they’re called musketeers is because they’ve got muskets. It seems so obvious now.

SpaceCamp [1986]

Lea Thompson is competitive and finds it hard to let others take control. She learns some important space lessons in space about being competitive and letting others take control in space. She has no time to almost fuck her own son or a talking duck, making ‘SpaceCamp’ one of her lesser works.

howard the duck is actually quite good

Kelly Preston does more extravagant things with her hair and makeup, meaning she’s less competitive and has no control issues. On top of that, she also wants to be a space DJ, which means she’s proper stupid, but she also remembers literally everything she reads, which means she isn’t. None of this matters, as she ends up spending her time tapping out Morse code messages that nobody pays attention to. No lessons are learned, or even offered.

i've got even less to do here than i did in twins

Kate Capshaw is sad she doesn’t get to go into space this year, because some fucking guy got the job she wanted, and is also sad she has to spend the summer with these annoying kids in space camp. But as it goes, she does get to space this year, and she becomes thankful for her time spent with the young ones, probably learning an important lesson just as she’s slammed into a wall by an exploding oxygen canister. The best bit of the film was when you think she might be able to fit through the bars in the space station, but she can’t. This is tension.

this is like a spaceship... of doom

Joaquin Phoenix (in earlier variation of Leaf Phoenix) is a child allowed to play with the seniors. His best friend forever is a robot called Jinx, who’s like Johnny Five off of ‘Short Circuit 2’, but smaller in size and bigger in assholery. If I were NASA, and I’m currently not, I’d be least likely to enroll someone who actually thinks he’s Luke Skywalker, The Force is a real thing, and there’s laser guns on space shuttles. I wish he could have gone the way of Newt’s brother Timmy. But he doesn’t. Nor does he learn anything, as the way the bigger kids motivate him to rise in their hour of need is by pandering to his repetitive ‘Star Wars’ fantasies, instead of doing the right thing and sticking his head down the nozzle in the space toilet.

i liked the village a lot better

Tom Skerritt finds himself at that midway point of his career between getting eaten in an airduct by a monster, and telling Campbell Scott there will absolutely be no big train going across Seattle. He learns that also being in ‘Top Gun’ the same year was probably more of an event in his life.

oh god no not the nostromo argh whyThere’s some talk among reviewers of ‘SpaceCamp’ that its lack of financial success can be attributed to an uncomfortable closeness in time and content to the ’86 Challenger shuttle disaster. That may have something to do with it, but it being shit must take some of the credit too.

The Tribe [2014]

Was this made as a gift for me? Seeking ever more obscure and difficult films is getting harder and harder. Internet resources may have increased the accessibility of cinema for all, but if there’s one drawback to democratization, it’s that it benefits the masses. There was a time when people thought you were trying too hard and showing off just by watching something contemporary and French, but that passport to film snobbery has long expired. Fucking hell, in an environment where Japanese animation is considered normal, how am I supposed to sneer at anyone’s choices?

tribe1

So here’s a Ukrainian film, which is odd because the other day when me and Edward Said were having a McDonalds, he casually mentioned how he’d never even heard of the place, and even if he had heard of it, he doubted very much they’d have something like a film industry. I started to say how it’s not cool for him to say stuff like that, but he just gave me that smile he does, and said that actually one of his friends was Ukrainian, so he can say whatever he wants and, anyway, it’s not like there’s anyone Ukrainian in here, why can’t people take a joke these days?

tribe2

Possibly even better for me is that ‘The Tribe’ isn’t even in Ukrainian, it’s in sign language. Although that might make it more English, because we have that over here. But good for them, though, because they’ve left out any translation. This might be down to them being on a tight budget, because they didn’t hire anyone to do any music, either. That made it difficult to know what to feel about what was happening, so I simply decided to feel great about everything. This went so well, I haven’t stopped doing it. The power of the mind!

Luckily, these little slip-ups from the filmmakers allow you to pull a properly hilarious move on your uncultured friends, because when you’re planning what film to put on and they grunt “I’m not watching anything with subtitles”, you can honestly suggest this, and they’ll have to sit through the whole thing before they can agree you weren’t lying and that you’re better than they are for being so edgy and challenging.

tribe3

More like this, please. Just leave out plot and characters next time. Not everything has to be pitched to kids, you know.

Vegan potato provencale

Ok, right. I’ve left the recipe book at home, but I’m almost sure I remember part of how this goes. Let’s get started.

1. wow no wayHere’s some potatoes. They’ve been cut into bite-sized pieces, which isn’t the same as if they’ve been diced. Dicing makes them smaller. Never fuck up the difference in a recipe. Ever.

We’re going to be boiling these, but not for a while, as there’s all this other stuff to do first. So I’ve no idea why I did that before the other things which haven’t happened yet. This meal’s already ruined.

As a side note, in answer to the puzzle, “How long does it take two people unused to metric weights in cooking, neither of whom has a set of scales on them, to accurately work out how much 3kg of potatoes is?” the answer is, “Absolutely fucking ages”.

2. incredible scenesOoh shit, that’s a bit of a jump. What’s all this? We’ve got some red peppers, zucchini, onions, probably garlic, cooking in oil, all sliced up. Sliced. Not bite-sized. Seriously, don’t make them bite-sized, and don’t even talk to me about dicing them. Can you even imagine what that would lead to?

It was around this time in the production that M asked the question, “Why don’t you turn the flash off on your camera?”, like I’m one of these assholes who I don’t even know right here:

2.1 who the fucking hell are youI’ve had to live through some serious trauma with this camera, so I wasn’t prepared to go back into that touchscreen menu again. Deferring any and all responsibility, I passed it over, and was soon introduced to the ‘food’ setting, which I’ve kept it on ever since. Obviously it’s nothing short of ideal for pictures of food, but it also adds a deeper level of hot sensuality to any portrait shots I take of people, especially if I hungrily lick my lips while doing it. They know what I’m getting at.

3. unbelievableWine. There’s an amount of red wine in this recipe. What’s going on in this pot is sauce, thickened up a little by tomato paste, and it’s going to end up all over those boiled potatoes soon enough. There’s a shit-ton of herbs in there as well, I don’t know which ones STOP HASSLING ME

4. omg seriouslyThere, now you can work it out for yourself.

5. what the hellBut wine is a tricky matter. There are so many, so many years, so many grapes, so many regions, so many flavours. Whichever wine should you choose? I, along with all the people I’ve ever known that have meant anything to me, have but one answer: the cheapest wine.

The above bottle is surely a fine example of thunderously basic wine, but a greater highlight of vin ne frills pas was discovered up a fucking mountain in Switzerland. Here, I dip into my personal photography files, adding only a minor anonymizing edit for D (left) and S (right):

5.1 you will never know the truth

if they put a year on it, they’re just showing off

Don’t be thinking I’m some kind of seasoned international traveler, what with me going to Switzerland once. At the time, the Olympics were on back in London, so Switzerland looked like a good option. Even if it did mean camping, which I will never, ever do again, and will run into a corner with a book of calculations and measures to have a thorough relationship assessment any time a friend mentions ‘camping’ without preceding it with the phrase “You know what’s fucking stupid that I fucking hate more than anything, and only the worst kind of cannibalistic murderer could ever possibly enjoy?”

6. are you fucking kidding meAnd there, it’s done. Serve with a side dish of Greek beans, which you make by following a recipe for Greek beans.