Monday, December 30, 2013

Great Captains - Alexander

I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone who attempts to identify, let alone describe, the greatest commanders in history. The man in consideration today did so 124 years past in the grand old year of 1889 (not to be confused with 1898, Remember the Maine). He is our present day prototypical military history "buff" with a great attention to commanders of the west and none whatsoever considering the east. He also has a short lived military career, as one might expect; a veritable American Clausewitz with not so impressive an impact (though certainly deserving of no disparagement on the line of Clause either). He gave 6 hour long lectures considering Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Frederick, and Napoleon and eventually went on to write books about each of them, dying before completing the last sections on Frederick the Great. The term "Great Captain"* appears to be Napoleonic in origin or at least frequency, now we haven't such exalted terms to deal with commanders. I shall write a critique of each of Dodge's six lectures in order, beginning with Alexander; both as a better means to digest the information therein and as an exercise in potential future endeavours (though I do consider the east in my own deliberations).

* Napoleon himself identified Turenne (and possibly Prince Eugene) also as a Great Captain, whether this be French bias or an actual veritable selection is worth consideration.

Firstly, I fully admit to not knowing a great deal about Alexander and this continues to be a bit of a gap in my scope of knowledge (though knowing a great deal about Toyotomi Hideyoshi, King Wen, Wu Qi, and Cao Ah Man should suffice). But there does seem to be this pervasive element that persists even today citing Alexander as the "greatest," while he may have been the first of his kind in the West he was also facing largely inferior tactically incompetent commanders. Now this is where the argument begins, does his being the first ingenious tactician make it implicit that all other such tacticians stem from his accomplishments. Can all tactical innovation stem from one man? In a word, no, but the great leaps forward no doubt come from individuals of extreme competence placed in fortunate positions. The slow methodical evolution of warfare is undeniable, but so is its stagnation in the absence of true greatness.

Dodge's descriptions of Alexander focus on one key battle at the Hydapses; perhaps against Alexander's most skilled foe, Porus of India. Here he executed an exceptional strategic maneuver in crossing an ostensibly unfordable river unopposed and further executed a masterful tactical maneuver in outflanking the opponent's nigh invincible front (composed of 200 Elephants and 30,000 infantry); however it does seem that the opponent failed miserably on both the strategic and tactical fronts. This does not disparage Alexander's extraordinary performance nor the importance of the battle itself in a historical context, it simply brings forth the question: What if Alexander had faced a truly competent opponent? One can never say.

Following the descriptions of the battle Dodge quickly goes into a slew of praises and mild criticism, the lack of permanence of the Greek Empire evidently falls solely on Alexander's shoulders here; as does a certain over-lust for war in place of cultural innovation. This is a common theme no doubt, but I think the main issue is that Alexander died young, not that he would be incapable of creating a massive cultural restructuring of the known world. He also highlights that Alexander was prone to anger which is kind of crippling on the military front against a truly skilled adversary; however Dodge also says that "we can discover in him no military weakness." Thus, Dodge is too prone to praising Alexander on the military front and too prone to criticizing him on the domestic front, this is a very common historical outlook on Alexander and no doubt at least partially stems from Dodge's source materials; but I think it is somewhat short-sighted. A man of Alexander's competence could perhaps achieve almost anything if he set his mind to it and received no great ill-fortune along the way; but he was extremely fortunate in war and battle in terms of the capabilities of the opposition and extremely unfortunate in terms of the circumstances of his death (though perhaps his own excesses caused this premature downfall).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Begging the Question

I've been reading Aristotle's Metaphysics, which is in some sense the basis of Western philosophy. In the present translation by one Hippocrates G. Apostle (yes that's the name of a dude who lived in the 20th century) there's an inclusion of the concept of begging the question. When I took philosophy courses this was one of two constant paradigms that we would come across. The first is that Determinism is both universal and indefatigable. You can deny determinism but you can't disprove determinism so that the end result suggest something akin to determinism is extant. The other is that one can't make a philosophical argument that doesn't conclude with the same precise reasoning that initiated the argument (if p therefore q, q being a derivation of p).

This was always interesting to me, that every core philosophical argument like John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism or Bentham's irrefutable nonsense has this same issue. You can sort of disguise this or create an elaborate web in which other reasonings are included, but the core principal lies the same; the human brain seems unable to create a boundless argument in such a way that the beginning formulation is not in some way reflected almost exactly as a core component of the ending formulation. What I mean by boundless is that the argument in and of itself doesn't occur in a physical reality; it doesn't utilize or base itself on things that happened or will happen, it bases itself on the general descriptions of things as a whole.

Note I don't think either Determinism or Begging the Question negate the need for Philosophy; all men seek some sort of greater purpose in their actions, no matter how fleeting or frivolous. I simply think that we are incapable of doing so without using the basis of our own knowledge; in some sense "Thinking outside the box" is an impossibility; of course your core thought processes will be based on your own experiences. It is quite an interesting conundrum. Philosophy is something I value quite highly though I doubt my capacity to improve upon this all-encompassing flaw.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

If there's one thing you can rely on with extremely stupid titles it's that they'll state the title verbatim in the movie somewhere, and this middling middle chapter is no exception. This movie has the same problems that the first film did but I think there's a little less action on the whole so it winds up being slightly worse. I suppose you could also say that nothing actually happens over the course of the movie other than they walked for a while; the LoTR paradigm, but it's probably the worst in this rendition.

However apart from the obvious issues I still enjoyed my time watching the film. The action scenes are entertaining, the movies is reasonably humorous, and the Jesus imagery is now split between two characters instead of emblazoned on the Oakenshield solely (note: every human male hero in Peter Jackson's Tolkien adapatations is basically an image of Jesus). I don't necessarily mind this it just gets a little overbearing a la the Matrix Revolutions. A film like Gladiator does Jesus imagery pretty damn well (if unintentionally), and Braveheart does it pretty good too; nothing wrong with pseudo Jesus archetypes, but if you drag it out for too long it just gets sort of cheesy and irritating.

The Elves are probably the coolest cats in the movie because they're not boring ass elves like they were in every other movie; Thran is a mean, greedy, old isolationist (which is semi-accurate) and speaks authoritatively, Lego is pissed off the whole time and the poor goblins/orcs don't stand a chance, invented Elvish chick is sort of swashbuckling. They don't have an overbearing tragic arc like the Dwarves do and they're just fun to watch. Want to watch Legolas casually murder 30 dudes? This is the movie for you!

I suppose that leads into another problem the film has, the villains just have no credibility up until Smaug, Smaug is great but he's only in like 30-45 minutes of the movie; for the rest of the time any obstruction or sideplot is just like a measly tapestry flailing in the wind; swiftly passed and swiftly forgotten. I thought they did the Nazgul really fucking well in Fellowship, enough so that they had credibility when they were in CGI land later in the series; Saruman was intimidating, the Eye was kind of cool. I guess ultimately I know that Dol Guldur doesn't really amount to anything in the course of the Hobbit so that whole bit falls flat since they're just alluding to shit that doesn't happen for 50 years the whole time.

Overall I like this movie, but it could be an hour shorter and they could have done the Hobbit in either 1 3 hour bigass movie or 2 1 hour 40 minute tightly paced movies; you don't need 3. They sure made it to Erebor though! It is worth noting that the visuals and cinematography are excellent, and the music is different enough to be interesting, but you kind of need something momentous to happen over the course of the plot. The Two Towers was way better.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Heart of Darkness and Leadership

I've been rereading this masterpiece by one Joseph Conrad and as one is want to do while reading exceptional literature have reflected on it. Heart of Darkness is extremely influential in all forms of media, the dichotomous representation of the Congo vs the Thames, the deterioration as one nears the farthest reaches away from civilization, and the awe inspiring presence of an exceptional man in an exceptional place. Kurtz, or perhaps simply the descriptions provided by Marlowe discussing Kurtz, is one of the greatest characters in literature. Unlike say Iago from Shakespeare's Othello, Kurtz is much more well founded let's say, a man of rarity but not impossibility. Iago has total, even supernatural control of men's fates in Othello, but Kurtz is limited and even waylaid by misfortune despite his incredible capabilities.

It is impossible to say who Conrad was describing in this, a person he knew, himself, or some one he believed was pertinent to society? There are many great leaders throughout history and they all have that sort of insatiable charisma that Kurtz had, the ability to inspire even senseless devotion even in a situation where society is no longer extant in any modern sense. Hitler, Napoleon, Alexander (who also died of illness), each of these men and more are reflected in Kurtz.

While self deification is a questionable practice there can be no doubt that one finds Kurtz to be the loftiest of individuals. He doesn't have any grand possessions, he simply has the capacity to inspire people through his personality and his fearlessness; if one wishes to become an exceptional leader one need only follow the example of Kurtz. Perhaps you will not be so unfortunate as to catch debilitating sicknesses along the way.

A most interesting facet of Kurtz is that he does not possess anything save for power, and modern representations of "great" men in American society certainly have wealth but they do not have real, impressive power.  Indeed, Wealth is something that people covet, they lust for, they yearn after. Power is something that people fear, they stray from, they quiver in the face of. Power is elusive in American society because everything is a nonsensical mesh of mysteriousness, who can say what organization wields actual power and what solitary figure controls those machinations. There is no such figure, there is no potential for such a figure, no need for a great leader at any point save when society begins to break down at which point one might arise for a brief period. Even in other countries this is a frequent occurrence. So what then do great men do when there is no viable use for their existence? Only to wait and hope I think, to wait and hope.

Aside: I found this article to be interesting, though the point is an obvious and unnecessary one the writer still conveys the necessary deference to Conrad prior to disparaging him.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

AC4 Multiplayer Map Discussion

I've been playing ACIV lately which has just stupendous singleplayer but the multiplayer is a little screwy at present, that said the maps are fairly decent and I posted a large review of them on their feedback thread here if you're interested (I'll see if I can get it modified so it doesn't look like crap on the blog).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Counselor

The Counselor is written by Cormac McCarthy, he of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Road and Best Picture winning No Country For Old Men. It is directed by Ridley Scott, director of Gladiator and Alien. Suffice to say expectations for this film are quite high, and I guess the question is are you prepared for what the film has to offer? This film doesn't follow the traditional narrative structure or even really a 3 act structure; it just kind of goes. Personally I have no issue with this, the story is fine, the dialogue is transcendent as one might expect from the greatest living author; and if you can get behind randomly philosophical scenes and characters you can certainly get behind this movie.

The film also doesn't have a dominant character, we have a titular protagonist played quite well by Fassbender but he's only in say 30-35% of the movie. This is not uncommon for Mr. Cormac, given that Llewelyn Moss is only in 40-45% of No Country For Old Men. However the "villain" isn't really clear cut, most of the scenes occur with no direct narrative explanation. The film does not have exposition pretty much, it has foreshadowing to be sure but it is somewhat misleading foreshadowing. So if you're wondering why it has a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes, that's why.

This is a great movie, mainly because of the dialogue; but there's also some excellent art direction and cinematography; the whole film is well acted. But it isn't traditional in any way, there is no redemptive nature to the plot, it doesn't follow a standard tragic arc. If it was a book it would likely be rejected for 50-100 years and then widely read and accepted, such is the nature of the proceedings. This could still happen given the ridiculously high caliber of the writer and the ridiculously low caliber of modern literature; I'll certainly watch it several more times just to listen to the dialogue again.

I'd be careful if you love this movie and want to call everyone else stupid, let's say they're just used to the standards of cinematic process, and if something does it differently they are unwilling to accept it until the overwhelming majority reaches consensus. Note I'm not saying this film is for "Hipsters" or people that like Fight Club or whatever, actually Fight Club is downright standard compared to this film in terms of design. It is a difficult movie to reconcile or rather there is no specific reconciliation. One of the characters has a conversation via phone with Fassbender and he basically explains that you should prepare yourself for every eventuality mentally, and that this is a difficult thing to do. In much the same way Hollywood and Cinema should prepare themselves for the reality that various things up to and including the 3 act structure aren't necessarily the only or "best" way to tell a story.

Edit: I should note that the film features very little on screen violence against women despite tremendous opportunity to do so and thorough implications of such activities. This is very uncommon in modern films/media as there is always some sort of dehumanization or just straight up violence toward women; it is good to see a film that isn't opaquely misogynistic.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Way of the Pilgrim

This was a book I voluntarily read in 7th grade I believe, so over 12 years ago or "half a lifetime ago" as one might poetically say. I recently wrote an email in response to the question "What would aliens do to us?" and it follows:

"A classic question no doubt. The assumption is that if Aliens took all the time to travel here to find us primitives they'd either enslave us or destroy us. Eating us is sort of a mixture of those; maybe we'd be kept in pastures and work as slaves until someone wanted to eat some good ol' human pizza. Coexist doesn't really make sense unless we were already space-faring. There is some slight hope that these Aliens are religious folk or just conveniently alienane (as opposed to humane) like the Federation in Star Trek. For a race to be space faring there has to be total control of public opinion; there might be slight power struggles on the power council or what have you but in gneeral a race would act as a cohesive whole, there can be no time for public dissent if half of your resources are spent off world. Colonies might rise up occasionally but the actual core planet(s) is probably invincible to derision. Since there's no public opinion a lot of the weird sensational media type things that go on at present in our world simply don't exist. Soldiers die because that's what soldiers do as a point of fact, tears may be shed by close family members but there isn't any weird sense of "bring our boys home" and all that gibberish. Thus, the Aliens probably wouldn't care if they commit various genocides on new races or enslave them or make them subservient, unless we had some sort of technological rivalry with the invaders.

This book was all about an alien takeover of Earth, essentially 1 warrior from the opposing side was completely unharmable even by our nuclear weapons and thus all they had to do was have a few soldiers across the entire planet to keep us subservient. They basically manipulated our entire way of life so that we would live to support the aliens. They commit to no grand atrocities in this and are relatively alienane/humane with regards to the servants, but we are basically stripped of all power in the process. The book is almost entirely philosophical I suppose; it's all about talking your way out of the problem, convincing the "Aalag" overseers that the planet isn't worth the trouble because they'll eventually rise up MLK Jr. style. It's sort of a weird cris-cross of USSR criticism combined with the pacifist resistance of the civil rights era. At the time when I read it I still enjoyed reading shitty Sci Fi so reading something vaguely high-brow was a bit odd but still interesting. For instance the main character of the book is a talented linguist and he keeps that trait from birth. Young children learn languages at an extremely fast rate and apparently some small percentage of people are still able to learn at that rate for their entire lives; the protagonist is simply one of those. This is an interesting thing, I'd definitely seek out one of these people were I in a position of power just for their overall usefulness in regard to communication. Because of his capacities as a linguist the leader is able to serve the aliense well and work from the inside out to gradually lead a peaceful revolution. This book doesn't have the brow-beating absurdly pro capitalist notions of something like The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged so I don't find it despicable. Even if it was anti-communist/socialist I still found it generally interesting.

In terms of "Humane-ness" something like socialism can not be argued against; equal income for all people leads to equality in every other area over time. It is simply a matter of not having incompetent leaders like Stalin destroy the system before that happens. Now it can be suggested that Socialism is too idealistic, it's too impossible to actually implement. However this argument doesn't stipulate an alternative that functions better. Essentially something like socialism is what all governments should strive to achieve as long as there are governments. If there were no governments and the world was literally pure capitalism wherein everyone murdered each other than so be it. But to simultaneously try to regulate society while still collecting wealth in the hands of a few you're creating an inherently unstable system which is in the process of collapsing. If you look at China's system they have total control of public opinion and even a massive event that happened shortly after the writing of the aforementioned novel (1987, Tian an Men square was 1989) that says pretty plainly "Don't fuck with us." Since China already has ethnic homogeneity they much more receptive to the idea of equal subservience to a government and don't have to deal with various dissenting parties. While uniculture is a frightening thing and I personally would much rather live in a diverse society it still gradually leads to the great empowerment of whichever large society has it. This combined with the absolutely atrocious handling of the United States' economy and foreign policy since WW2 has led to our gradual decay and the utterly unstoppable rise of China. The assumption is that China too will eventually decay and that seems somewhat likely; however our stay of power at the top was merely 75-90 years which is one of the shortest reigns in history as the pre-eminent world power. Even the Golden Horde's swift decline after Genghis and Kublai Khan still led to mongol control of much of Europe and the Middle East for centuries. At best we'll have movies and professional sports as our legacy; there have been no great military commanders or public leaders other than Martin Luther King and a handful of others who didn't have de jure power. Nothing really to remember us by except incompetence."

I would like to point out my random inclusion of a vaguely political topic at the end whilst only having some small amount to do with the book is not intended to be seen as political in any regard. It is simply a set of observations about what will happen over the next 20-25 years and how America will be seen in the history books, barring some miraculous reversal of fortunes and methodologies.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Napoleon In Egypt

Book Frenzy continues! In the previous book review I mentioned the flaws with Ralph Sawyer's sort of explicit historicity in making his work somewhat dry to read (I even received a response from Sawyer, though that was tied to the omission of the Battle of Muye). However here we have a fine example of a converse of this; a book with extreme narrative qualities which endeavours to avoid actually making any significant point on either a historical or hypothetical basis. This just isn't a particularly stellar effort from the beloved Paul Strathern.

The popular historical narrative and understanding of Napoleon's invasion of Egypt is as follows: Napoleon arrives in Egypt, wins the Battle of the Pyramids due to technological and inherent tactical formation superiority. Nelson annihilates his fleet at the Battle of the Nile, Napoleon is from then on cut off from France. Bonaparte chills for a while and eventually finds the Rosetta stone spurring the massive resurgence of Egyptology (which directly caused the creation of the Stargate fiction, an achievement only attributable to Napoleon himself). Napoleon abandons his army and returns to Europe to much fanfare, forms the consulate and becomes essentially a dictator until his coronation as Emperor Napoleon I.

This leaves out quite a lot about the expedition, its original purpose and a whole lot of "what could have beens," however the key to Napoleon's "defeat" in Egypt is still the Battle of the Nile. Strathern seems to ignore this for the most part, alotting a brief section to that battle and a very short discussion of Nelson. The author treats both Napoleon and Nelson with some degree of disdain; Napoleon in 1798-1800 may not have been nominally the greatest commander in European history yet but he was still Napoleon so there has to be some discussion of his tactical merits and efficiencies. Instead Strathern focuses on just incredibly irrelevant things like his love life; this isn't a biography and Egypt wasn't a campaign of indiscretion as opposed to a military venture.

Nelson is hardly discussed outside of the chapters concerning the Battle of the Nile and there is absolutely no doubt that Nelson is the finest Naval commander in the history of the planet so this is again very bizarre. A step by step comparison of Nelson's practicality and efficiency compared with Napoleon's brilliance and sense of destiny could easily have been done but none such exists in this work. There is no single person more decisive in the failure of the Egyptian campaign than Horatio Nelson and he is barely discussed in this book; I can't really expand on how utterly foolish this is except to just point that out.

Every praise of Napoleon is limited to one or two sentences such as "Napoleon once again demonstrated his supreme caliber, both as a man and as a military leader" (p. 392) , it's anyone's guess what skill at being a man entails and telling us that Napoleon was a great general doesn't exactly inform the reader of anything he wasn't already aware of. Indeed the title of the book is such as to draw attention to Napoleon whereas the contents do essentially nothing but detract from him; his various victories during the Egyptian campaign are given short discussions with very little focus on the tactical merits of each conflict and essentially no elaboration on the composition and tactics of the opponent outside of the Battle of the Pyramids. I, with very little knowledge of this component of Napoleon's life, could easily assert various things in narrative fashion with regard to Napoleon's various victories over the Turkish and Mameluke forces and the tactical merits therein; and since this book is basically nothing but vague narrative assertions I fail to see how the author couldn't manage to produce anything of that sort.

Now, perhaps the most interesting and most celebrated parts of the Egyptian campaign are the exploits of the various savants brought along for the expedition; and indeed Strathern discusses these elements reasonably well. His background as a philosophy (a field for which I have the utmost respect) professor undoubtedly aids his portrayals of these various individuals and they're all pretty interesting to read about. The problem is this only entails about 20% of the book or so; so we've got maybe 10% of the book discussing Napoleon as a commander, 5% discussing Nelson, and 20% discussing the scientific merits of the campaign; what are we left with?

Strathern focuses uncannily on extremely minor players in this whole affair; a completely unheard of and indeed predominantly irrelevant classmate of Napoleon's is discussed at some length. This guy alongside Kleber and various other military figures are discussed at some length and given direct parallels to Napoleon (with only Nelson deserving any such comparison). While both Kleber and Desaix deserve at least a chapter to discuss their merits basically every one else the author focuses on is basically meaningless. The author's intense focus on Sir Sidney Smith upstages any discussion of Nelson; but Smith doesn't actually do anything decisive over the course of the campaign. The siege of Acre fails, however Napoleon's roughly 10,000 strong force at that point would have been unable to do anything particularly aggressive in either the direction of Istanbul or India; he was under provisioned and simply undermanned for any such expedition; thanks in large part to the Battle of the Nile's destruction of his fleet. If anything taking Acre would merely have prolonged Napoleon's stay in the Orient and thus lessened his impact in France; effectively Sir Sidney's tactical (but in no way decisive) victory partially led to France's domination of Europe for 14 years.

 However the author insists on emphasizing the siege of Acre and the subsequent retreat; but the problem is a siege is a largely attritive process which entails little or no tactical brilliance. If you besiege a numerically superior force chances are you'll lose said siege; now if Sidney Smith had led a heroic charge to break the French army immediately following one of the failed Grenadier charges or something that would be impressive and worth extensive discussion; Smith would prove himself at least on some level on par with Napoleon. But he didn't, Napoleon simply ran out of the necessary materials for continuing the siege and retreated; it wasn't a loss of his army; no Austerlitz or Jena-Auerstadt was inflicted upon him (nor was there ever such a situation); the defeat was not due to any prevailing failure on his part apart from misjudging the abilities of 10-15,000 men on an extended campaign in unfamiliar territory; a recurring fault in Napoleon's logic.

Overall I just can't recommend this book on any level; while I'm still really interested in the campaign in Egypt there's only about 100 of the 400+ pages worth reading; the rest is irrelevant tripe pretty much. This is a bit scathing of a review I will grant; but I do think if you're going to discuss Napoleon on any level other than Biographic you need to discuss what can be learned from his tactical shrewdness. Similarly any chance to discuss Nelson's revolutionary and innovative methods on the Naval front quite simply must be emphasized; because unlike Napoleon (who has various historical parallels) there is no one even close to achieving the level of success that Horatio Nelson did on the seas. This just isn't a book that should be written by a philosophy professor unless he explicitly has some understanding of military tactics or alternatively wanted to discuss at great length the scientific aspects of both the campaign and Napoleon's approach to governing the Egyptian intellectual institute.

Edit: A sort of academic inspection of one thought process in this book: "...all in the vain attempt to impose European civilization upon a backward people whose religion encouraged them to regard all change and all foreigners with the deepest suspicion." This sentence is fine except for the one word "backward," which implies an inherent superiority on the part of Europeans. This is the sort of thing that would be common 100 years ago or more but nowadays people are generally prescient of the fact that no culture is inherently "superior." While the various misogynistic traditions discussed in the book can certainly be condemned in no way can you proclaim that the entire civilization is "backward." It's hard to say what he specifically wants to say here but the point is certainly undermined by the diction.

Sunday, August 18, 2013


Ah the mighty triumvirate of “Earth sucks lets go somewhere else” movies is finally over, concluding far above the dismal depths of After Earth and falling short of the excellent Oblivion. This film is very solid, but yet the flaws are sort of glaringly obvious when they appear. The action is well shot and very interesting, the acting is by and large perfectly adequate, and the design of the world is superb. However it just doesn’t have a good script nor a good plot, and those two things harm the movie’s efforts at being anything more than a relatively smart action flick.

Matt Damon is a factory worker on Earth who used to be Nicolas Cage from Gone in 60 Seconds (so it is implied), but he’s gone straight trying to make enough money to make it up to Elysium, where all the rich people live. Rich people evidently live forever and can overcome any ailment including a grenade to the face (but perhaps not a throat slit?), so after Matt Damon gets fully radiated he wants some of the good stuff. Now he endeavors on a terrorist pursuit to save himself and coincidentally his childhood love gets involved and needs her daughter cured.

The plot goes on as you might expect. Sharlto Copley (protagonist from District 9) plays the primary villain while Jodie Foster plays the aloof in space villain. Copley puts a lot of heart in the performance but it would be kind of nice if his accent wasn’t quite so harsh. Jodie Foster is one of the 2 or 3 best living actresses but they just didn’t give her a very interesting role to play to display her considerable talents. The supporting cast is reasonably solid, including the chief terrorist guy who is simultaneously humorous and weird while seemingly being the only character with any non-selfish motivations.

This movie has an incredible level of attention to detail which I appreciate very much. In one scene Matt Damon fires a future-y Rail Gun through a wall which is displayed on screen impressively, immediately following this in about 1-2 seconds he discards the emptied first gun and acquires another from the wall. The camera doesn’t highlight this or anything but it seamlessly explains where he got his new gun without dumbing it down to the audience; that sort of thing is very rare in action movies.

Overall the action uses quite a few different techniques including the dreaded shaky cam, however it is comprehensible shaky cam, it isn’t like the first Expendables movie or the Bourne Movies; you can for the most part tell what is going on and the superb sound design helps greatly in that regard. This movie is good, and it couldn’t really have been better without a serious redesign of the plot and characters; it is basically as good as the movie could get within the constraints it had to work with.

Edit: Woops forgot one of my main points: The main character in Elysium becomes "superpowered" without becoming a superhero; he's still vulnerable and human in the process. If you compare this to something like Drive (a movie with much better acting/music/script) there the hero becomes completely invincible to the point of it being absurd and even though Elysium has a similar level of shock-violence you never feel absolutely secure of some magical heroic victory at the end.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ancient Chinese Warfare

Ah another book read amidst the excitement of volunteer work. This was written by Ralph D. Sawyer who is one of the most respected Chinese Military Historians in the world and it would seem with good reason. A previous work that I had read of his Seven Military Classics of Ancient China is utterly superb though it is mostly translation (albeit in the process of translation inevitably the translator becomes almost a second author). I won't go into particular detail about that book here but suffice to say it includes writings from not simply Sun Tzu (Sun Zi) but also from the T'ai Kung, Wu Qi and several other "Great Captains" of Chinese history.

I am not positive but I believe Pinyin was the latin alphabet style chosen for Seven Military Classics but for some reason a different type is utilized in Ancient Chinese Warfare. Having read and re-read Moss Roberts' Three Kingdoms translation and taken a few rudimentary Chinese courses I'm used to reading Pinyin which led to some confusion. Presumably almost anyone reading this book would be at least somewhat familiar with Pinyin which is definitely the dominant form utilized in China itself; as Chinese typing would show (you can even test this yourself using the alternate language features of Microsoft Office).

Ancient Chinese Warfare is a fairly interesting book covering an enormous span of history in just a few hundred pages; this inevitably leads to some glossing over of various periods and of course the admittance that not much is fundamentally known about the era apart from assorted legends. The Yellow Emperor and such Three Kingdoms-mentioned examples as "Yao yielding to Shun" are referenced and Sawyer does at least attempt to justify how such a myth would come into being, be it a pure fiction based on history or a fictionalized version of a historical persona. I was most interested in these aspects of the book, those sections that dared to assert different ideas and theories; but the book does not consist entirely of these.

I realize conjecture is not a particularly good basis for history but it is definitely a more interesting way to discuss history about which not much is known. When dealing with limited facts painting something of a picture by yourself via such assertions isn't the worst thing and one can easily get bogged down in pedantry if you stick merely to what is "perfectly" known and understood at the time (though certainly some aspects of history that are supposed to be fact are disproven in wide swaths in future publications). There is a lot of discussion of minute details such as the approximate yet seemingly exact dimensions of various Shang and Xia settlements; which I do find somewhat valuable. However they are repeated in the case of every individual city; instead some sort of comparison or frame of reference could have been utilized to expedite this process. I eventually started simply glazing over these.

There is however a very important and interesting point that Sawyer makes regarding the massive walls of Ancient Chinese cities. In the era prior to Siege equipment walls were only needed militarily up to a certain point yet some of these constructs were utterly massive. Sawyer suggests that this was a way of forcing the local culture to embrace ethnocentrism; as they existed in proto-Urban environments that kept out the various "barbarian" civilizations that roamed the steppes or wilds of China. This is an interesting sociological foundation for the eventual massive uniculture in China which exists today; a single extremely assimilation prone culture with only some mild amount of variability. While diversity is hailed as the reason for America's success with some regularity (and no doubt some cynicism) it is nonetheless impressive how efficient a group which is 90% one ethnicity can function. Again this is not a proven fact but in stating this interesting element Sawyer posits a thought provoking theory which seems to have a great deal of validity; this is what makes historical writings much more interesting and indeed useful.

Sawyer goes on to discuss the development weapons and chariots based on archaeological evidence. Horses especially are discussed and their usage as a sort of prestigious and terrifying presence on a battlefield. While horses themselves may be skittish their sheer size is often enough to inspire terror and cause men to break from defensive formations (though if said formation simply held its ground it would likely be victorious). The bow and arrow too is well documented and discussed and various Chinese tales regarding particular archery performances. Both of these things have reflections in Three Kingdoms in the person of Lu Bu; who's feats of archery put an entire army to halt and who was matched with an enormous and impressive horse Red Hare (later to be granted to Lord Guan).

Perhaps the biggest fault in the book lies in the abortive discussion of Shang's downfall at the hands of Zhou; instead a sort of "product placement" paragraph is placed that suggests reading the as of yet unpublished successor to this book discussing Western Zhou. However it strikes me as absolutely mandatory to discuss the downfall of Shang in discussing pre Spring and Autumn period China; as the politics of King Wen, King Wu, and the Duke of Zhou are extremely influential in China to this day. The battle of Muye may well be one of the most important events in the entirety of Chinese history and while much of the details remain difficult to discern exactly it is essential to discuss it in any history concerning either Ancient China or simply the Shang; if you are to discuss the mythical Yellow Emperor or Yao yielding to Shun it then becomes paramount to discuss the (much more likely to be) historical descendants of them and their further example of supposed "Virtue."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim is basically an ideal version of “Monsters vs Robots” and is just as dumb as that sounds but is extremely self aware of its own dumbness. If you compare it to Transformers it utterly annihilates it but that’s sort of a useless comparison because the Transformers movies are by and large horrible. The film has extremely well constructed action scenes and CG and is probably the most coherent prolific amounts of CG action picture out there. Note I still don’t think that necessarily makes it the best nor does it compare to non CG action movies; but it’s certainly miles better than the shaky cam Michael Bay action type of film.

The humor in this movie is not bad but it’s sort of all cliché driven; which is fine there’s just not an original scene of humor that breaks new ground or anything. Nothing really iconic and no particularly original characters either. Idris Elba is fucking incredible as per usual but he’s also by far the best actor in the film (apologies to Ron Perlman who is also awesome in a 5 minute role). And that’s where this film sort of starts to run into trouble, the whole affair is completely predictable and while it is visually stunning with very few flaws I still want some amount of creativity in the mix.

I don’t think this movie has to be so dumb either; it’s overthinking it to say that giant robots are completely unnecessary but in the world where you make giant robots wouldn’t you use them as military assets?  Basically in the movie they send robots out 1 at a time against monsters in 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 fights; but they could easily send 4 or 5 for each and probably never would have resulted in their apocalyptic situation (also "spawn camping" would work wonders).

Additionally every mech is a melee fighter with occasional ranged weaponry; why aren’t there support mechs and ranged mechs in addition to melee ones? I get melee in order to occupy the monster in a tank role but why not use some sort of logical military tactics in your approach to fighting these monsters? The two auxiliary mechs (of 4) introduced in a really great montage sequence have less screen time in their action scene than they do while being introduced! What would make the final action scene much better is if they fought the really huge monster with all 4 mechs at once and suffered casualties there; but instead it’s just this weird series of mano-a-mano type fights.

All of that said this is a great dumb action movie, it’s not as intelligent or humorous as something like the Avengers and it’s not as funny and stupid as something like Independence Day but if you really like well put together CG action sequences or Idris Elba than this is the film for you. Personally I think unintentional comedy mixed with actual comedy is just straight up funnier so I’d basically always pick Independence Day (which is also much more original) to watch, but it is a little longer than Pacific Rim so if you only had 2 hours and 10 minutes I guess this would be the film to see. It’s probably the third best film I’ve seen this year next to Oblivion and Mud (or fourth best if you count The Last of Us) and is certainly the best giant robots movie ever made.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Man of Steel / The Lone Ranger

Well here’s two films I’ve seen recently that were similar in their merits and faults. Both received largely negative reviews and both were kind of undeserving on that front. These aren’t masterpieces by any measure but they certainly are entertaining action movies that are a little too long and not as smart as they’d like to be. However they’re still perfectly competent and indeed superior to many films that have received better reviews in the same vein.

Man of Steel is a Goyer/Nolan collaboration directed by Zack Snyder of Watchmen fame, and it sort of has all three traits combined in the film. The action is over the top and ludicrous, the care for collateral damage is utterly minimal unless there’s actually visible people dying, and there’s a fuckload of exposition but it’s not super interesting and integral exposition like one might expect from a Nolan picture.

Lois Lane, played by Amy Adams, is terribly written; which is kind of a shame given they got one of the best actresses to play her; but this is also a common theme in Nolan pictures. It isn’t directed by Christopher Nolan and thus its mere slightly above averageness isn’t a pockmark on his as of yet perfect career.  Russell Crowe, still awesome in everything and still one of my personal favorites is excellent, and it very much has that Robin Hood vibe where the actors are all acting well and the action is great but it isn’t at its core a very compelling story.  This serves to make it a perfectly fine but not great picture.

The Lone Ranger is a Western and I fucking love Westerns so it’s difficult for me to dislike it on principal. The film is pretty good though to be honest, there’s some nice references to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as well as to Once Upon a Time in the West and I love that shit. However there’s a musical cue that’s pretty much dead taken from Once Upon a Time in the West that means a whole lot for that movie but isn’t really that meaningful in this; which is sort of moderately disappointing. It’s another well acted film with over the top ludicrous action and a fair amount of okay Gore Verbinski/Depp Comedy. It is miles better than the last two Pirates movies but also not as good as Curse of the Black Pearl.

Now the interesting thing is which one of these to watch? Well since the Lone Ranger is a western it’s almost destined to do somewhat poorly so if you’d like to see a sequel (and I would) then go watch that, it is for the most part a better movie. Man of Steel has more impressive action sequences but the Lone Ranger has a semi-interesting plot even if they don’t evoke all of the emotions they’re trying to. There’s no “Half man from the train” for Henry Fonda to brutalize and no amazing comic relief villain but it still tries to do some good things that happened in other Westerns and you have to give it points; the film’s got heart. Man of Steel is guaranteed to have a sequel and does also have the potential to get better but I think it's slightly worse on the whole.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NBA Finals

I've watched quite a bit of this year's playoffs; having watched every Pacers - Heat game and up to now every Finals game. The series is now tied at 2-2, the Heat having responded to a 3 point massacre on Tuesday night with a resurgent game from Dwayne Wade. For some reason the popular narrative for the Heat is that Wade is suddenly Methuselah and on the verge of keeling over at all times. Wade is not having a great playoffs but he was still one of the most efficient players in the league by PER. As if to verify this Wade was kind enough to rattle off 31 points just to prove that the reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

Overall this has been a strange series to say the least; the first game was superb, very few turnovers on either side and generally smooth play throughout. Parker hit a "dagger" shot right at the end of the game that was awesome. Game 2 was also pretty solid up until the end of the third quarter when the Heat started to dominate; the game wound up having ~10 minutes of garbage time during which Lebron had a beastly block. Game 3 was a blowout for the Spurs in the second half, winning by one of the largest margins in finals history, most of the second half was garbage time here as well. San Antonio won on behalf of their 4th and 5th best players and a ridiculous 3 point shooting performance. Game 4 was back and forth until the last 6 or 7 minutes of once again garbage time though fortunately Tracy McGrady's cadaver didn't make an appearance, the new Human Victory Cigar taking over for Darko Milicic.

The Pacers Heat series went to 7 games and was sort of a back and forth of one team fucking up; in the case of the Finals it's a little better as you see ridiculously good performances from key players instead of just college level play because of Hibbert and separately Miami's suffocating defense. It's certainly more interesting to watch up until the garbage time sequences. The Spurs are incredibly poorly rated historically and if Miami didn't make it to the Finals it could have been the worst rated Finals of all time; they have a really interesting and fluid team that's held together for a decade and been successful the entire time. However they don't really do anything particularly flashy, they pass well and shoot well and lay-up well, but they don't have any absurdly good athletes to do anything ridiculous.

Contrast with Miami who is by far the most interesting team in the league and has several physical paragons and you wind up with a pretty interesting narrative. Instead of pushing the athleticism vs style argument ABC is pushing some weird false dichotomy suggesting that the original "Big Three" were Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan; but while they've been fixtures in that organization most of the onus is on Duncan with Parker playing a very strong supporting role; Ginobili is a good player but far from on par with the other two and aside from Duncan none of these players would rate super highly as Free Agents. It'll be interesting to see how this series continues, hopefully we get more game 1's and less game 2/3's and Wade is more demonstrative of his talents to disprove idiotic critics.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More Rommel

Just a few random quotes from the aforementioned book:

"I don't know which I should admire more, your courage before the enemy or your courage before your superiors." ~ In reference to Major Sprosser, Rommel's CO for much of World War I who was often receptive to Rommel's various suggestions; pretty much the ideal CO for capable subordinates; even if it was counter to overarching orders from command (I know it's called OKH/OKW in World War II, not sure what the equivalent is in WWI).

"In a man to man fight the winner is he with one more round in his magazine." ~ While still on the Western Front Rommel wound up in a situation where he was outnumbered 5 to 1; the 1 being himself alone. He killed 2 men but then his rifle misfired so he decided to charge them with his bayonet and wound up wounded in No Man's Land; one of numerous perilous situations described in the book. Rommel's experiences were in several different fronts so it isn't exclusively about Trench Warfare as one would expect; thus  making the breadth of the novel much more engaging and interesting. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in military history, while the strategic lessons to be learned are somewhat limited the tactical analysis is almost unparalleled in other modern war memoirs.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


On to another military post! Rommel is sort of a mixed bag in terms of acclaim; his successes in World War 2 were exceptional for a time but he did eventually lose; the extent to which his losses were due to Hitler's incompetence is not quite as clear. Rommel was the golden goose and thus received much more support than Manstein did on the Eastern front; both had a demonstrated tactical competence of the highest level. However they both fall short when compared to Napoleon, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, and the other "Great Commanders;" and nominally fall into the 2nd category of exceptional military leaders but not quite pre-eminent; alongside amongst others The Duke of Marlborough, Wellington, Cao Cao, and Robert E. Lee. Generals that are worth studying but not necessarily beyond reproach.

However, Rommel's exploits in World War I are absolutely incredible and this book describes them in great detail. His tactical awareness, shrewdness, and efficiency at the front in extremely stressful situations is incredible; and there is no doubt that he had the capacity to become as irreproachable as Napoleon; he simply was never in a commanding enough position to do so. I want to focus on one particular even and contrast it with a few other events and then make a stipulation regarding them.

Amid the 12th Battle of Isonzo Rommel led a significant detachment of around 500-600 crack Mountain troops; he was still just a Lieutenant at the time though his accomplishments should have put him on track to much greater success (though oddly his advancement was not especially merit based; where he was meritorious he did not advance swiftly, only being the equivalent of Lt. Colonel by 1933. Instead a fondness from Hitler is what resulted in his eventual elevation to Field Marshal). He led these troops against fortified Italian positions and captured 9000 men over the course of 3 days. At one specific point he breached enemy lines, unbeknownst to the enemy, and held a meandering road, capturing the unaware piecemeal supply trains of the enemy for a time.

Eventually an Italian brigade, 2000 strong, approached his position and he attempted to make them surrender; but they would not and instead attacked. However Rommel's position was so impressive that with only 150 men he was able to greatly depreciate their morale after several failed assaults and eventually capture them. With superior terrain, men, and tactical awareness he was able to improvise and capture a full brigade with little more than a company. Essentially he was able to defeat a foe 13 times his size.

There are other similar tales in history, Thermopylae is often well regarded as a smaller force holding a larger one. But Thermopylae was still a defeat, even if it was a militarily significant one. Much more impressive are those cases where a smaller force defeats an enormous one. Zhang Liao is said to have fought of an army of 100,000 men with a force of 800 at He Fei; Hao Zhao is said to have held off 300,000 with 1,000 at Chencang; both of these victories securing. Now both of these figures are almost certainly apocryphal; so the question becomes; with what size of force can one defeat a much larger force in a realistic circumstance.

We have a clear documented case of 13 times that was done with relative ease, the fighting was fierce but not astoundingly so; can an army of 30, 40, 50 times the size of the other be defeated? Well given enough incompetence I would say almost any military force can fail; but realistically given two opponents of similar technological capabilities 20 times is the cut-off. Rommel's case is probably the best I've found to demonstrate how this is possible; even given not an extensive planning session beforehand.

Utilizing superior troops, terrain, and morale one can force the opponent into a disadvantageous position and cause them to capitulate. While completely eradicating an enemy many times your size is often impossible simply destroying their morale and will to fight is not; destruction of the opponent's morale is what one should focus on. Imply that your force is larger than it is by presenting a fortified front or by using decoys; at the crucial points of impact place the greatest amount of firepower and deliver a sort of lethality only thought possible by an equal or greater force. Deception is of vast import on the military front; and in order to utilize deception the commander must have the "General's Mandate;" a free hand to do whatever he wants with no political machinations to stop him or delay him.

If it takes hours or days to verify a simple military order than any and all efficiency on a strategic level is lost and the only thing that is left is technological advantage and attrition; one does not want to fight attrition based battles in a case where one is outnumbered. Ingenuity is the route to success; not simply brute force. Generals and men of the military should be men of the highest standing in society; so well respected and thought of as some of the most intelligent men of their age; Frederick the Great was a well regarded philosopher prior to his turn as an incredible general; Julius Caesar was an exceptional politician in addition to being a superb marshal. When the term "Military Intelligence" becomes a joke or a pun you've run into quite the troublesome situation; lack of respect and lack of meritorious advancement and competence at the highest level will only lead to catastrophic defeats when faced with an opponent of equal strength.

Friday, May 31, 2013


I was just thinking, what person is there that's simultaneously dumb enough to buy into societal systems and functionalities while still being useful and intelligent on an efficient level in their work environment. It doesn't strike me as possible; in other words not only is the correlation between merit and success non-existent it is even reversely correlated; because you can't have someone smart who is also a patriot; you can't have someone truly intelligent who's motivated by something like greed. Wealth at some point becomes a liquid mysterious substance. It isn't actually valuable for anything; it's not like the old days where you had a pile of gold or something; it's literally just a set of numbers and bank accounts containing nothing of physical value. There may have been a few countries who for brief instants in the past were worthy of extended amounts of respect and loyalty but that certainly isn't the case now; even the desired victor is still horribly flawed just a better choice than our end.

So there's two core detectable motivations for someone like me, survival of course and perhaps filial devotion. But the problem is that you are accultured in the United States to dismiss most aspects of filial devotion so I for example am lacking in this field to be sure. Now I do have wide reaching moral structures thanks to having a religious upbringing and those are somewhat motivating but the pure agency of logic still overrules that for the most part. But it doesn't take much to survive in the US so there's really not much of a motivation. It's a cliche that geniuses don't succeed  but I don't actually think this is random chance; there's a few situations to be born in where I would be given power via nepotism sure but if I was born upper middle or even lower end upper class there's still a fair chance that I would be rejected out of hand.

Why? Well the people in power want to stay in power but the problem is even if they were meritorious in the first place natural replacement dilutes the intellectual capacities of those in power. In essence, they give power to their sons who may be competent for one generation (this is a typical occurrence throughout history, the first son of a great man is often the most competent, the next generation is a crapshoot and so on); men who are otherwise competent overrate their capacity to parent and pattern their children after themselves and fail to simply find or tutor a non blood relative meritorious successor. At this point we're 7, 8 generations in and there is almost no clear cut competence at the top; the financial disaster of 2008 is more than clear evidence of that. They fear someone like me, that I might be disruptive or revolutionary; and to be fair this is a reasonable assessment of my capabilites and tendencies. However to resist change in this fashion actually destroys the creative usefulness of our society and deteriorates our position on a global scale.

So basically there's I don't know several hundred to several thousand people like me out there that could potentially secure the US as the world power for years to come but the people in power are either too stupid or too fearful to embed us in effective positions and instead we're left to twiddle our thumbs. This isn't conspirational bullshit it's just a set of obvious facts aligned in the most logical fashion; I, for being born too smart, am selected against because of it. Not only is being smart not particularly useful in American society it is in fact a detriment to your success. Sure if I was in position of power I might be able to do all sorts of wonderful, interesting, and innovative things but as I am not and likely will not become so I have nothing except for my philosophical insights to show for it. Of course at this point I'm supposed to blame God or something since I do have a strong religious background and continuous faith. But I have respect for God as an experimenter; God throws a lightning bolt down like Zeus and is curious what will happen. I am a functional thought experiment trying to figure out a way to break out of said experiment, even though the boundaries are seemingly limitless. I suppose I could write a book about this in the off chance that someone vaguely intelligent reads it; of course it probably wouldn't get through publishing and editing.

Monday, May 13, 2013


Mud is a limited release picture (so far) which I was fortunate enough to have released in my city. If perchance it is in your area I highly recommend seeing it as it is easily the best film that’s going to come out for another 4-6 months and could well be the best film released this year. It centers on Matthew McConaughey playing a would be homeless person on an abandoned island in the middle of a water moccasin infested river; a dangerous place to be sure. He’s visited by 2 young strapping middle schoolers and he immediately begs them for food. Yet, Mud is a mysterious individual and intrigues the boys who continue to help him for the rest of the film.

I won’t spoil the rest of the plot but suffice to say it deals with numerous powerful themes and has multiple extremely well done father-son relationships that contrast with each other remarkably. The film’s other message is basically “don’t trust women,” but it isn’t done heavy handedly and it’s not universal. Obviously the director or writer or someone had issues with a divorce as either a youth or an adult and this is his way of dealing with that period of his life.

This movie could have been bad for a huge number of reasons, the subject material is difficult, the acting had to be good from almost everyone, and it still delivers. The script is excellent, several of the scenes are extremely memorable and scream “Oscar worthy performance,” and the film ends well even though it easily could have gone off the rails. Even the one mediocre scene in the picture is used to tie up another loose end and teach another morality lesson; while that entire subplot is perhaps unnecessary it does serve to better flesh out the teenager’s character (who is the protagonist).

In addition to the basic more obvious thematic elements there are also very strong rich vs poor, urban vs rural, and law vs vigilante dichotomies that play out in the picture. One of the last fringe elements of rural American life is  being threatened both internally and externally; but it is wisely constructed in the sense that there is no over-arching political message that the film embeds here (as would usually occur); it’s simply a sort of mournful look at the late game impacts of Manifest Destiny gradually destroying the locals’ way of life. Mud is superb, well-acted, well-constructed, and badly advertised; I can only hope someone goes to see it as a result of reading this.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Iron Man 3

Ah summer movie season begins. Actually this year had a pretty loaded pre-May slate, the best of the bunch was Oblivion and that is probably the best movie that’s going to come out; so go see that before it goes away. Iron Man 3 is the best Iron Man movie, but eh it’s sort of dicey describing why that is. The movie is a very solid action flick with good CG, excellent acting, and superb usage of humor. But it doesn’t have anything that elevates it over Avengers and certainly nothing that scrapes the surface of the Dark Knight. Guy Pearce could easily deliver a “Joker” performance but this movie didn’t want to do that quite clearly. Trust me when I say Guy Pearce is a better, or at least more proven, actor than Heath Ledger was and probably one of the top 5 working actors around; it’s a shame that he wasn’t in more mainstream movies to this point but at least he finally seems to be getting his due.

The plot of this film is odd to say the least, it’s just not very good. However the writing (or improvised dialogue) is excellent and almost all of the character interactions are done extremely well. Basically there’s some DNA magic that makes people into Superheroes, but they’re evil superheroes so Iron Man has to stop them! It uses worldwide style of events and scale but then uses Ironman to save the world when the Avengers had just done so only recently; I don’t think the choice of villain type really fits. Another tech genius, sure, but just plain old superpowers is weird.

The pacing of the film is also just a bit off, there’s an extended sequence with only a few action scenes and even though that section of the film is well constructed and superbly well-acted (the best kid – hero interaction bar none) it just doesn’t fit with a big blockbuster action flick. It’s mature and intelligent comedy crossed with “dumb” action, almost every scene has at least some humor and some of that is ridiculously great. Ben Kingsley is awesome, Guy Pearce has incidental dialogue that is amazing, Robert Downey Jr. has the best “Troll” humor line maybe ever; but the design and character of the action doesn’t jive with it. As someone who can appreciate mature humor (it’s much less over the top humor as was in the previous Iron Man films) as well as dumb action movies I can’t say I desperately wanted both in the same picture.

Lastly the final battle sequence is a bit anti climatic in how it ends, the action itself is fine; above average CG combat with odd fighting game parallels; but it doesn’t have a Terminator 2 style ending equivalent scene to punctuate it. Not to say the action is as good as T2 in general but the villain(s) are basically terminators and you have to deal with them as such.  This is a good action movie that will make you laugh, and for a lot of people that is really all they want out of the first week of May. I re-iterate: go see Oblivion, it’s a cross between 2001, The Truman Show, Tron Legacy, and Star Wars; what could be better?