Friday, 30 December 2016
Welcome once again to this most glamorous and esteemed of events. It's the definitive epilogue to a year gone by, considered by some to be greater than Spiderman, Superman and Space Ghost combined. It is of course The Ephemeric's famous annual tradition. It's The Debbie Awards: the year ends when we say it does.
Congratulations, you made it through 2016. This is not a year that will be missed by many, and with good reason. I've made my own feelings perfectly clear as to where things are headed, and it's not good. But for one night we will forget about all that and take a moment to appreciate the good things in this world, and indeed there is still much to be excited about. For all its ills, 2016 has been another year of great cultural achievement, and tonight we will look back on the best examples.
So without further ado, let the curtain fall upon 2016 as we begin our definitive review of the past 12 months:
2016 Debbie Awards
Cinema & TV
1. The Debbie for TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Black Mirror
The easiest Debbie to award this year. Stranger Things has won critical acclaim from all corners for its nostalgic tribute to the 1980s and the movies that filled the formative years of so many of today's generation. But the inherent sense of fun, the quality of writing, and excellence in its production has universal appeal, and that makes this an obvious winner for the best TV of 2016.
Picking a runner up, however, was a very tricky decision, and honourable mentions must be given to the second season of Mr Robot, as well as the wonderful Hulu miniseries 11.22.63, both of which missed out on my top three. Ultimately the closest competitor for this award has to be Netflix's spellbinding The Crown, a show with absolutely unparalleled production values, quality in every part of its conception, from Peter Morgan as writer and creator to a cast that features big name stars in Claire Foy, Matt Smith, and John Lithgow, among many others. Excellent TV and a huge statement of the spending power and ambition of Netflix's original content team.
Following in third place is the return of Charlie Booker's excellent Black Mirror. As always, Black Mirror prides itself on inventive speculative plotlines that carefully straddle the line between real and fantastical, creating situations that boast some of the finest writing on TV today, and are all the more terrifying for their believability.
2. The Debbie for New TV Show of the Year
Winner: Stranger Things
Runners Up: The Crown, Westworld
We're seeing this a lot lately, the best shows of each year often being newcomers. Whether it's the increasing prominence of the miniseries format, the success of the new-media video streaming networks, or simply the freshness of their ideas, for the second year running we have a double winner of best TV show and best new TV show, this year in Stranger Things.
The Crown, naturally, also makes the top 3 here, along with another newcomer, HBO's newest mega-hit, Westworld. It's been a long time in production, but from the stellar cast featuring Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, and many other hugely acclaimed actors, to the writing of the award winning Jonathan Nolan, the first season of Westworld was well worth the wait. The pace may drag in certain places, and certain side stories seem a bit inconsistent, but the concept and production are so excellent, and the surprising crescendo of its finale so masterful, that one can't help but be won over. But most significant, Westworld scratches a specific itch in mysterious, addictive sci-fi that hasn't been seen arguably since Lost aired all those years ago. Many shows have tried to hit that sweet spot, but Westworld is the first that has succeeded.
3. The Debbie for Film of the Year
Winner: La La Land
Runner Up: Sing Street, Weiner
A richly deserved win this year for La La Land, the great passion project of Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Riding high on the success of his previous film, Chazelle had the freedom to pursue his audacious vision, a modern broadway musical, a tribute to the artistic process, the sting of ambition, and life in Hollywood. La La Land is a storming success against all expectations, and the nailed on favourite to sweep awards this year.
I've picked something a bit different for the first runner up, 2016's indie darling Sing Street. Another musical of sorts, but of a very different style. Sing Street follows a group of state school children in inner-city Dublin forming a rock band in the 1980s. This is a film about all the great exuberances of youth: wanting to break out of a dead end town, win the girl, and the importance of brotherhood. A treat of a film, and a very lovely surprise to see this pick up a well deserved Golden Globe nomination.
And if that wasn't different enough, just you wait! Weiner is the documentary about the fall of rising political star Anthony Weiner. A tale of hubris, addiction, and pure self destruction. The documentary itself is rendered with great style in an entertaining production, but the real meat is in the behind-the-scenes scrutiny of the mind of Weiner; what made him simultaneously a great politician and a flawed person. Weiner's fall is compelling not so much for the scandal itself so much as the sheer inconceivability as to why someone with seemingly the world at their finger tips could screw up, not once, not twice, but repeatedly, and still to this day. An astonishing character piece.
4. The Debbie for Variety Show Host of the Year
Winner: John Oliver, Last Week Tonight
Runner Up: Jerry Seinfeld, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
At first I was tempted to award this Debbie to our runner up, but the troubling events of the past 12 months have made clear now more than ever just how important a figure John Oliver is in the world today. His show is remarkable not just for being hilarious, but for his tackling of the major issues of the day, often delving into the sorts of topics that mainstream journalists and other talkshow hosts won't touch with a 10 foot pole. Essential, influential television.
But a worthy runner up this year is Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. 20 years after Seinfeld, here at last is the ultimate 'show about nothing'. A series of laid back interviews with other funny people, actors, comedians, politicians alike, often insightful, always highly watchable. Perhaps most notable for the calibre of interviewee, which often includes some of the legendary names of the industry, and for one glorious episode extends its purview to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
5. The Debbie for Hollywood Rising Star of the Year
Winner: Adam Driver
Runner Up: Idris Elba
This is always a fun one to pick. There's no obvious choice as there has been in the past few years, but it's fair to say that 2016 has been a particularly strong year for Adam Driver. Just a year or so ago he was the star of some silly TV show, being taunted as "a joke" in leaked emails from certain Sony producers. Now he's the star of Star Wars, and in 2016 he finds himself starring in a Jim Jarmusch movie, as well as the new Martin Scorsese film. Nominations for various awards are likely to follow soon, as surely enough Driver is becoming seen not just as a serious actor, but a bankable one.
Another good shout would be Idris Elba, a man who has forayed into films as of late, but is perhaps still best known for his exploits on TV. Now, however, he is becoming recognised as a bona fide film Star Trek film, as well as a slew of huge Disney films, including Zootopia, Finding Dory, and most notably The Jungle Book. His $5 billion or so grossed may in fact be a record for a single year. A good year for sure, and hopefully some more meaty roles to follow in the future.
Music & Theatre
6. The Debbie for Best Theatrical Production of the Year
Runner Up: Groundhog Day
A return to greatness for the Donmar Warehouse with this year's excellent production of Elegy. Written by Nick Payne, of Constellations fame, the subject matter is both timely and uniquely insightful, with an emotional quandary that sticks with you long after the final curtain. A highly memorable production.
Also worthy of note is the new Groundhog Day musical. Writer Tim Minchin, of Matilda fame, continues to go from strength to strength with a beguilingly inventive new stage production of something that few would ever have imagined would make a good musical. Yet this is every bit as solid a production as you are likely to find on the London stage this year, with the original source material's depths brought to life in new and evocative ways.
7. The Debbie for Album of the Year
Winner: Wildflower - The Avalanches
Runner Up: Love & Hate - Michael Kiwanuka
It was enough of a shock to see The Avalanches make their long rumoured comeback after 15 years, but surely no one expected such a strong return. Wildflower was a stormer of an album, a critical and commercial success, and a testament to the artists' strength of vision and will to push this thing through over such a long, drawn out battle. From the gorgeous psychedelia of Colours, to the more Beatles-infused Harmony, or maybe you prefer something a bit folksier like Saturday Night Inside Out; this is an album with great individual songs that gel together into a mesmerising celebration of different influences and musical eras. Easily the essential album of the year.
Honourable mention to Love & Hate, the sophomore album for London songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. If his debut four years ago was the toast of the UK music scene, the follow up, sublimely produced by superstar producer Dangermouse, will cement his name among the royalty of popular music. Opening track Cold Little Heart is an epic journey, but there's more classic understated folk here in I'll Never Love, while title track Love & Hate and Father's Child are emotionally wrought masterpieces. A Mercury Prize contender, but more importantly, a Debbie Award runner up. Fantastic album.
8. The Debbie for Debut Album of the Year
Winner: Do Hollywood - The Lemon Twigs
Runner Up: Chaleur Humaine - Christine and the Queens
In a year with only a handful of notable debuts, our pick of the bunch goes to The Lemon Twigs, the brother-brother duo from Long Island, New York, who peddle in low-fi pop, heavy on the retro influences. Their debut album, Do Hollywood, wears these Beatles/Beach Boys/Wings influences so clearly that for every note the listener might well think they were listening to an authentic recording from the 1960s, right down to the amps and hardware used. Some might say it sticks too closely to the old masters, but ultimately there's no denying the quality of the songs, key tracks being Baby, Baby, How Lucky Am I? and These Words, but really the whole album is excellent.
Also worthy of note was the English release of French band Christine and the Queens' debut album Chaleur Humaine. Long time readers will recognise this as one of our picks for 2016 from the start of the year, and it pleases us to say that they did not disappoint. Definitely check out Tilted and Jonathan, but there's plenty to like on the album. A strong success then, both critically and commercially, and I look forward to seeing what they produce in the future.
9. The Debbie for Song of the Year
Winner: Burn the Witch - Radiohead
Runners Up: Cold Little Heart - Michael Kiwanuka, Odyssey of the Streets - Gypsy & The Cat
Always a tough category, but with the long-awaited return of Radiohead, they were always going to be in with a shout. The clear standout is the brilliant new single Burn the Witch, a manic whirlwind of strings and falsetto that's every bit as bold as the very best the band have ever produced. A mesmerising descent into madness.
Going in a different direction for our first runner up is Cold Little Heart, the opening track of Michael Kiwanuka's excellent new album. A 3 part journey stretching over 10 minutes in the mould of a Pink Floyd epic, employing expansive strings and intimate soul choirs, an extended intro, and Kiwanuka's vocals at their very finest. There are many great songs on this album, but perhaps none as stunningly beautiful as this one.
Lastly, and along the same vein is Odyssey of the Streets by Gypsy and the Cat. The Australian duo are typically known more for their catchy, traditional pop songs, but Odyssey sees them in a dizzying, orchestral piece over three movements that might just be their most impressive work yet.
10. The Debbie for Live Performance of the Year
Coldplay are past their best as a band, there's little question of that. The new albums are decent, sure, but not a patch of their old work. Despite that, they still put on a hell of a live show. 2016's tour had everything from confetti, huge glowing inflatable balls, fireworks, and perhaps most ingeniously, light up wristbands for each audience member that connect wirelessly and flash in different colours in time with the music. In a 90,000 seater stadium like Wembley the result is a dazzling array of colours and energy. An unforgettable experience.
Videogames & Technology
11. The Debbie for Greatest Technological Innovation of the Year
Winner: Driverless cars
It's been coming for a long time, but finally Driverless cars are here. From early attempts with Tesla's autopilot mode, to the Google car and now more fully functional models in production among the industry's major parties, the technology is here and has been tested. Over the next few years driverless technology will be rolled out in major cities all over the world. This is a world changing technology, from the impact on public transport and taxi services, to big businesses like Uber which will certainly move away from human drivers, and presumably pass the savings on to the consumer. Most important of all though is the effect this will have on road safety, removing human error, which is by far the most common cause of road accidents. It's not far fetched to believe that in 50 years time dense city centres will only allow driverless cars.
12. The Debbie for Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Year
Winner: First ever detection of gravitational waves
When the LIGO observatory announced the first ever recording of gravitational waves in February of this year, it made world headlines for a few days and then faded away. Most people probably didn't even realise the significance of the story, just that it was some kind of a breakthrough. This is a big deal, this is like the discovery of the camera or the microphone. Just as a camera records light, and a microphone records sound, the ability to record gravitational waves gives us an entirely new way to observe the universe around us, a new sense. I can't wait to see what this entirely new form of perception teaches us.
13. The Debbie for Videogame of the Year
Winner: Stardew Valley
Runners Up: XCOM 2, Final Fantasy XV
It's been a year full of excellent videogames, and as such this was arguably the most difficult Debbie to award for 2016. Let's begin with an honourable mention for Starbound, Battlefield 1, and Stellaris, all excellent games that any other year would have made the top 3. But in this year's packed field they did not make the cut.
So let's get to it. The award of the 2016 Debbie for videogame of the year goes to Stardew Valley, giving us an indie winner for the second year running. Stardew will be familiar for anyone who has ever played the Harvest Moon series; players build a farm, grow crops, tend animals, sell their produce, and make friends with the locals. But this is much more than simply a Harvest Moon clone, with a depth of world building, character development and endless charm that puts even its illustrious inspiration to shame. Delving into this game world feels almost like a vacation, peaceful and relaxing in a way that few games have ever been. Add to that a robust quest system, a surprising amount of backstory, secrets and other surprises, and Stardew is simply a joy.
In stark contrast, our two runners up are some very high quality, big budget, AAA titles. First is XCOM2, the sequel to 2012's excellent reboot. XCOM2 takes the series into an entirely new area of turn-based strategy, beginning with the premise that the player in fact lost the previous XCOM game and is now in charge of the resistance movement to overthrow alien rule. It's a novel idea that adds a new dimension of clandestine tactics, and the ability to move around the battlefield in the shadows. Carefully preparing and executing a perfect ambush in XCOM2 is one of the most satisfying gaming moments one can have.
Runner up number 3 is Final Fantasy XV. The series has been on the wane for many years now, but what a comeback, finally putting right all the mistakes of FFXII and FFXIII. Open world in a way the series has never been, with a near endless amount of radiant gameplay. But the key thing here are the characters, Final Fantasy has always been about the core characters and the friendships that develop between them, and FFXV finally seems to have remembered that, with wonderful group of stars that talk and banter with one another, take selfies, and much more. At the same time an entirely new battle system, and an abundance of clever game design ensure that this feels like much more than a rehash. A beautiful game that truly understands what makes Final Fantasy great without being too stuck in the past.
14. The Debbie for Videogame Console of the Year
The PC gaming renaissance remains in full swing. Particularly now with today's streaming capability and wireless peripherals, there is increasingly less and less reason to focus on console gaming so long as your computer is powerful enough. Steam remains the key app for gaming, a position strengthened by Steam Link and the new generation of TV-compatible Steam Boxes, but even similar competing platforms like EA's Origin are becoming usable. Bottom line: as gaming hardware becomes increasingly decentralised, the difference between one box of hardware from another becomes less distinct, and the superior kit is determined by which has the best software, which is the most customisable, and which has the access to the greatest range of games. Right now that's PC.
15. The Debbie for Company of the Year
It started off as just another fast food delivery company, but Deliveroo ended up changing the entire face of the industry in London. The master stroke was figuring out a way to deliver not just food from your typical takeaway places, but real restaurants too. While just a few years ago your delivery options in London were limited to cheap pizza and Chinese, now even the high end restaurants can be delivered right to your door. I myself have Deliveroo access to Kurobuta, Sophie's Steakhouse, Brinkley's, and many other extremely high quality places in my neighbourhood, while at my office I can get Burger & Lobster among others. It's a golden age for getting food without having to pick your lazy ass up off the couch, and I for one welcome it.
16. The Debbie for Gadget of the Year
Winner: Amazon Echo
Apple may have gotten the ball rolling with Siri and its still incubating range of Home products, while Google are hot in pursuit with the purchase of Nest, but right now Amazon look to be on the front foot when it comes to intelligent personal assistants with Alexa, the software interface of the Echo system. Like Siri, Alexa can set your reminders, bring you real time information, and respond to voice commands, but what Echo currently has above its competitors is powerful multimedia compatibility, meaning you can use the system to control all your devices, television, music, videogames, all from a single point of contact. Impressive though this kit may be, the most significant takeaway this year is the proof of concept for how such a system can work. A few years from now this will surely be commonplace, whether its through Amazon's system or one of their competitors.
17. The Debbie for Footballer of the Year
Winner: Luis Suarez - Barcelona
Is there a front three in all of football as impressive as Barcelona's trio of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez? Between the latter two in particular it's hard to choose a winner. I'm going with Suarez as The Ephemeric's player of the year. For whatever else you may think of him there really isn't a more lethal player in the world, with an astonishing 59 goals in 53 games last season and 20+ assists. Suarez showed at Liverpool that he's the sort of player that wins you games singlehandedly, and while at Barcelona he may get somewhat more overshadowed by his superstar famous teammates, he remains just as effective. He contributes as much to the team as even Messi, and is arguably the more complete player with a brute force, strength and physicality that his teammate lacks.
18. The Debbie for Under-21 Footballer of the Year
Winner: Renato Sanches - Bayern Munich
Renato Sanches is shockingly talented for a 19 year old. Signed by Bayern Munich for 35 million in the summer and a part of Portugal's European Championship winning squad, Sanches plays with the polish and consistency of a more experienced player, but the swagger and panache of a young star in the making. Can play centrally or on the right, in a deep playmaking position or more advanced. High on the stamina and power. This man will be a big name for years to come, for both club and country.
19. The Debbie for Football Manager of the Year
Winner: Claudio Ranieri - Leicester City
This really has to go to Claudio Ranieri after his crazy title win with Leicester City. No one in their right might would have expected the relegation-threatened club to win a league that had previously only been won by a small selection of elite clubs, but Leicester blew apart everyone's expectations and completely rewrote the rules of domestic football. It's a sporting accomplishment the likes of which will likely not be seen again for a long time, and indeed this season finds Leicester struggling in the league, but nevertheless this success will not lose its lustre any time soon.
20. The Debbie for Football Club of the Year
Winner: Leicester City
A double prize for the most remarkable achievement in modern football. Leicester City was more than just a one man success story of the manager, it was a team production with a number of players really performing well above expectation and as a unit. Certain key performers like Jamie Vardy, N'Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez are now household names and worldclass stars. It's a great story with many individual success stories, and a team which as a whole deserves great recognition.
21. The Debbie for Politician of the Year
Winner: Sadiq Khan
Through this whole Brexit mess there's little in the way of heroes or anybody escaping with even a shred of respect. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is one of the few to have enhanced their reputation during this time, becoming a unifying voice for those who feel betrayed by the decision to even hold the referendum or outraged by the Government's disingenuous conduct since the vote.
His popularity has risen so high that at one point there was even a (only half serious) petition to create an independent London with Khan as President. Khan has managed to win over a lot of his doubters in the capitol just by doing a good job as Mayor. Lord knows I didn't vote for him, and I remain hugely disillusioned by his party, but Khan's genuine, even handed approach to common sense governance is exactly the type of progressive leadership of which this country needs more. Open and inclusive, pro-business, forward thinking. The sooner we ditch the fake liberals of the Corbyn Labour party and move more towards Khan's brand of modern progressivism, the better.
22. The Debbie for Scandal of the Year
Winners: Donald Trump
Well this is an obvious one. Much has been written about Donald Trump's litany of scandals, probably-crimes, misdemeanours and various pending court cases that he has desperately been trying to settle before taking the Presidency. It's a bit like the three stooges syndrome, each of them individually is enough, but all put together prevents any single one from having an impact. So really in giving this award I can't just pick a single one. The fraud trial, breaking the Cuba embargo, Trump University, Trump Foundation embezzling funds, sexist videos, racist videos, questionable connections to dictators... all of these are well worth a Debbie, so instead I'll just give one blanket award to Donald Trump.
23. The Debbie for Cause of the Year
Winner: Resisting the return of radical right wing politics
Pretty much a summary of the last two Debbies. From Brexit to Trump, to Le Pen, to the unbelievable normalisation of racism and extremism, reactionary right wing politics is making a big comeback in the developed world, and really, truly, that is something to be frightened about. The Ephemeric published a piece on this situation recently and it bears reading for anyone who needs a little background. For sure there are many crises in the world that could rightly take this award, but not one of them can be adequately dealt with if we continue to trade in our humanity for the frothing insanity of hatred and division that currently threatens to overwhelm civilised society.
24. The Debbie for Person of the Year
Winner: Vladimir Putin
As a reminder, the Debbie for Person of the Year doesn't necessarily go to someone who earns the award by doing good things, it's in recognition of influence and singular impact during a year. This year that man is without doubt Vladimir Putin.
As loathsome as his actions in world politics may be, there is no doubt that Putin has returned Russia to prominence in the world stage for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. An economy that was growing prior to the recent sanctions, increasing power projection in theatres of conflict, most prominently the Middle East. But his crowning achievement of course was his victory in the US Presidential election. America has spent decades installing puppet leaders in countries all over the world, but never has any nation succeeded in swaying the election of such a powerful rival. The leader of one of the most powerful nations on Earth, now with one of his lackeys in charge of the other most powerful nation on Earth presents Putin with a level of power unparalleled in the world. Time Magazine chose to name Trump man of the year, somehow ignoring the man pulling the strings, the rightful winner of this award.
Social & Lifestyle
25. The Debbie for Restaurant of the Year
Winner: The Sportsman
Despite having been open a couple of years now, The Sportsman is a restaurant whose star has rapidly been on the rise in just recent history, and seemingly out of nowhere has begun featuring on "best restaurant in the UK" lists all over the place. As was my duty, I decided to go under cover in order to figure out exactly what was going on here, and my word.
A tiny, nondescript pub just a few feet away from the beach on the north coast of Kent; the setting is charming enough and the pub has that old fashioned allure about it, but once you sit down and taste the food, you'll see exactly what the fuss is about. These are exquisite, Michelin star quality dishes right up there with any restaurant in the world. A delightful shock, and one that I can't wait to experience again, if only one didn't need to book several months in advance (as of 2 weeks ago their next available Saturday lunch is in April).
26. The Debbie for Nightclub/Bar of the Year
Winner: Kona Kai
The award for good times, good dancing, and fruity cocktails with little straw umbrellas (I think, it's a bit hazy). Kona Kai has all this, and friendly service to boot, whilst not charging the customary arm and two legs that one expects from a drinking and dancing establishment in central London, much less Chelsea. The fact that it's only a stone's throw away from my flat is a bonus.
27. The Debbie for Mixologist of the Year
Winner: Alessandro Palazzi
My annual shout out to The Duke's Bar owner Alessandro. Famous across London for making Ian Fleming's drinks, and in particular his flair for unique martinis turn heads. Whether he's making his signature Fleming 89 or whipping up some original creation on the spot, there's no finer cocktail around. This year's special creations include the white truffle martini, and now for the first time, actual snacks with which to line your stomach.
28. The Debbie for Destination of the Year
Winner: Algarve, Portugal
A high tension year such as this calls for nothing more than sun, a good beach, and some quality R&R. The Algarve in Portugal has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with calm waters, gorgeous caves and rock formations, and soft golden sand. Add to that a climate which is pleasant and sunny right up until at least October, and a fantastic array of fresh local cuisine, and it makes for a difficult to beat vacation destination.
29. The Debbie for Wine of the Year
Winner: Lamole di Lamole Lam'oro
The vineyards of Lamole di Lamole are a long-time favourite, despite being among the hardest to reach in Tuscany, way at the top of the hills around Greve, requiring a lengthy drive. Boy is it worth it though, and this year's pick of the lot is their esteemed Lam'oro selection. A blended Sangiovese/cabernet sauvingon wine, as with many Tuscan reds, but produced only in certain years when the conditions are suitable to produce the required complexity. Strong berry flavour with an extremely elegant finish.
30. The Debbie for Champagne of the Year
Winner: Guy Charlemagne, Cuvée Charlemagne
And lastly, to the champagnes. Many strong contenders, but this year I'm awarding the Debbie to Guy Charlemagne, specifically the Cuvée Charlemagne. An up and coming champagne factory, the Cuvée Charlemagne is their grand cru blanc de blancs, meaning 100% chardonnay with a crisp, dry finish. This is a fantastic champagne, finessed with delicate bubbles, like drinking a glass of stardust.
Well there you have it. 2016 will go down as a troubled year for sure, but here's to the next one being better!
Tuesday, 20 December 2016
2016 has been a bad year for social progress. Inequality is at record levels. Xenophobia and racially motivated violence are on the rise as reactionary right wing politics takes to the mainstream for the first time in 50 years. Fear continues to erode at our civil liberties and the peaceful order of modern society amid a perceived chaos of terrorism, fear, and relentless war. These appear to be dark times we live in. But the young and optimistic should take heart; things will get better.
We were already facing a great number of problems in the world; ISIS and war in the Middle East, extreme inequality, our struggling environment. But a collective dysphoria, no doubt fuelled in part by these crises, has invited an additional self-inflicted misery which promises to have grave consequences in the short term. The disastrous Brexit vote, built on ignorance and fear, threatens to break the historic peaceful union of European nations, something that had been fought hard for over centuries. Then the Trump election, an emphatic vindication of mainstream insanity and the politics of hate.
These events have been mirrored all over the globe by the rise in influence of those who represent our baser natures; a primeval level of paranoia and aggression, the de-humanising of those who are different. It's the kind of division and barbarism that until recently appeared all but dead in the civilised world. There can be no doubt that these events represent major victories for those who would seek to damage western society from the outside, but more troubling is the seeming frailty they expose in the values that hold that society together.
We have lived through an era of historic peace, prosperity, and stability. In the final decades of the 20th Century we have seen our artificial barriers begin to disappear as the world opens up for all people to travel, trade and communicate with one another. United Nations, European Union, world trade, the Internet. At the same time, racism and hatred ostensibly receded into the crevices, an archaic relic on the wane from acceptable society. Recognition of the common humanity of all people had become the norm. Certainly not some post-nationalist utopia by any means, but nations and cultures nevertheless in a state of cooperation and co-existence in a way that had never been seen, and as a result, the opportunities of the entire planet fully open for the first time.
For an entire generation this was the seeming reality we grew up with: the idea that with a new millennium approaching humanity might finally start to look past labels and arbitrary divisions, progressing into an ever greater state of unity. Now that's all been shattered, with society looking on the verge of a hard step backwards. But what we are seeing now is not the dawn of some new dark age or the end of western civilisation, it's simply a reversion to the mean.
World War II brought unprecedented horror to this world: the senseless slaughter of millions of soldiers and civilians alike, the racially motivated murder of millions more, an absolute rock bottom for human civilisation. Everything that happens invariably has a proportionate reaction, and it's now clear that what previously looked to be a historic and rapid movement towards a more united world was simply the proportionate but temporary reaction to this dark period. Unimaginable violence being pushed back against by unprecedented peace, extreme racism being pushed back against by the political correctness movement.
Racism didn't really go away, it just became so commonly abhorred and publicly unacceptable in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust that it hid away in our deepest recesses. Gradually, enough time has passed for the post-war pain to subside, and these deep-seated prejudices to start rearing their ugly heads again. That has been the foundation behind much of the recent surge in far right extremism: the use of meme culture and online echo chambers in order to create a perception of acceptance. Shareable viral images, in-jokes, and disproportionate media presence to perpetuate an idea of community, and embolden those that harbour these prejudices to embrace those beliefs openly.
So indeed, the recent global upheaval may be the match that lit the tinderbox, but ultimately what this year has shown us is that these elements have been present in our society all along, and the reason we had begun to believe they were gone is down to a post-war reaction that moved the public consensus drastically far away from the type of thinking that had led to such global horror. Now it's back, and we are faced with the reality that maybe we haven't evolved as a civilisation over the past century as much as we had wanted to believe.
But that's not to say that all this progress has been an illusion. On the contrary, despite popular hysteria there has never been a more peaceful and prosperous time to be alive. Developed nations still don't go to war with one another like they used to, globally connected institutions are still intact, if severely bruised, and we as a whole are still more connected and cooperative as a people than we have ever been. Progress may be slow, but ask the LGBT community, or anyone of an ethnic minority whether things are no better than they were fifty years ago. The tragedy for the optimistic and young among us lies in accepting that it may not in fact be our generation that realises the full potential that we have as a society, that we are simply not quite there yet.
If things appear to be taking a step backwards at the moment, then remember this fact. The progress of the late 20th Century was preceded by two world wars, the Renaissance was preceded by the Dark Ages. Progress rarely moves in a straight line, it's a series of nadirs and apexes that still nevertheless trends constantly in a positive direction. Even if the worst happens and the European Union fails, something will eventually take its place. This was the first attempt at a union, it doesn't have to be the last. Even if Trump sets social progress back fifty years, his generation will be gone, and a new voice will take over some day.
This nadir is not permanent. We may not yet be at the state of enlightenment and unity as a people that many had hoped, but we are still getting ever more rational, more peaceful and empathetic. We will get there eventually. The short term trajectory might seem erratic, but the long term trend has been clear throughout human history.
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Developed by Frontier Developments
Published by Frontier Developments
Genre Theme Park Simulation
The "theme park" genre is one of those strange niches in gaming that has proven surprisingly successful. Hardly the most obvious of subjects for the classic "tycoon" business simulation treatment, and yet from its debut with Bullfrog's classic Theme Park to arguably its apex with the Roller Coaster Tycoon ("RCT") franchise the genre has developed a broad and devoted fanbase.
After three RCT games in the first five years of this century, the genre has since fallen from the commercial limelight. Yet throughout this time the popularity of the games has remained strong, so it comes as no surprise to see them making a resurgence, with no fewer than three prominent theme park simulation games coming in the next year. These include the independently developed Parkitect, inspired by the older 2D Chris Sawyer games that started the Roller Coaster Tycoon franchise, as well as the newest entry in that franchise, Roller Coaster Tycoon World ("RCTW").
Those of you with keen memory might remember this blog doing a preview of RCTW at the start of this year in our 2016 Hot List. Well part of being a good observer is recognising when you have made a mistake, rare though it may be. So let's get this out of the way early and warn you that RCTW is a cynical cash-grab and a poor game, featuring none of the original production team, and packed to the rafters with bad ideas and worse design.
Fortunately in an uncanny repeat of the 2013 Sim City debacle, where a poorly conceived sequel to a well known franchise ended up losing out to a much better made underdog in Cities Skylines, there is a plucky young team of upstarts here to save the day with a completely new IP. Do not buy RCTW. Instead, buy Planet Coaster. Here's why.
Let's begin by saying that while Planet Coaster may not have the name-brand recognition of Roller Coaster Tycoon, it does have developers who previously worked both on RCT2 and RCT3, and therefore a much stronger link to the original games that built the genre. But this review isn't going to be a side-by-side comparison to show why Planet Coaster beats RCTW, instead it's going to celebrate the game on its own merits, of which there are plenty.
The gameplay will feel immediately familiar to anyone who has played the genre in the past, particularly RCT3, from which Planet Coaster borrows heavily in the look and feel of its 3D engine and camera. All the staples are here: hiring entertainers and staff, building rides and roller coasters, paths and queues, shops and restaurants. You can change ticket prices, customise the balance of ingredients in food and drink, research new products and constructions, and spend money on marketing campaigns to bring in additional business.
It might appear that not much has changed. In fact, while the number of roller coaster types shipping with vanilla is impressive, the number of non-roller coaster rides and shops is actually surprisingly limited compared to the original RCT games. But here's the first masterstroke of this game: modability and expansion.
Frontier have designed this game to last far into the future, and will continue to roll out additional content. There's already an update due this month featuring a bunch of new rides, along with the usual patch notes and tweaks. Perhaps even more intriguingly is the addition of Steam workshop, which allows players to make their own designs based on the templates provided and share them with others. Even now at this early stage there are thousands of downloadable designs for rides, shops and scenery that can be quickly and easily accessed at the click of a button. Going forward, it's additionally planned to release full modding tools for players to create entirely new types of content. And the best part is that all of this slips seamlessly and instantly into your game, you won't even have to start a new park to be able to build that ride you just downloaded.
Which brings us on to the true shining light of Planet Coaster, its creation tools. Old games in this genre have always had an extent of being able to raise and lower terrain, plant trees and place certain standard decorations, but there has never been a game which offers such powerful tools for player creativity as Planet Coaster.
The landscaping tools are remarkable and allow the sculpting of just about any shape or configuration of terrain you can possibly imagine, all seamlessly in real time. But even more revolutionary are the building tools, which consist of the base components of buildings and other structures that players can piece together like Lego to form, again, really any kind of building they can imagine. The potential output of these tools is near limitless, and already there are some astonishing creations by other players. None of these are from pre-built templates, these are completely bespoke, using the basic building blocks Frontier have provided. And the beauty is that even if you aren't creative, or if you can't be bothered, or simply don't have the time to get into all this detail, you can just download other players' creations from the workshop as above, providing a theoretically limitless supply of new high quality content.
The result of all this is that Planet Coaster is a theme park simulator which affords a simply unprecedented level of customisation, creativity, and potentially endless expansion. The things you can do with this game are impressive enough now, and it's still early days. This is a game we could feasibly be playing for many years to come without running out of content.
Visuals and Sound Design
This is a game which oozes charm. The artistic style is well balanced between realism and cartoon without being either too dry or too silly, the in-game brands and characters are well designed and will draw you into the world, and the entire interface is just clean and pleasant to play around with.
This quality extends to the sound design and in particular the musical score, written by Jim Guthrie who some of you might know from having performed in a variety of bands including Islands. It's rare that I even notice a musical score in a videogame, much less comment on it, but this is quite possibly one of the best videogame scores ever written. It's not something you necessarily notice right away, but play for a little while and all of a sudden it will hit you how much you're enjoying the music, and you won't be able to get it out of your head. Extremely high quality stuff.
Bugs and Flaws
Despite all these very positive things, there are clearly a number of areas where this game still needs work.
As mentioned, the amount of shops and non-roller coaster rides is a little underwhelming. At the same time, the management side of the game is even more thin, with only rudimentary business options which often provides even less depth than games which came out over a decade ago. Staff management is based around finnicky, clunky menus, and the staff themselves ridiculously temperamental and prone to quit for no reason. Perhaps most unfortunately of all is that the game just isn't that challenging. Once you have a decent stream of income coming in, that's it, there's little strategy and not much depth.
Then there are the bugs. The path building tool follows a free-flowing analogue design similar to the road tool in Cities Skylines, as opposed to a simple grid system. This allows for much more organic, better looking park design, but the tool itself is incredibly fussy, and often just plain refuses to connect.
Worse still is difficulty in building underground. The 3D engine and impressively craftable terrain allows the player to build some extremely detailed and gorgeous looking underground sections, which is simply a must for anyone trying to match the theme immersion of a Walt Disney (I mean how many Disney roller coasters can you think of that are simply out in the open? None, they're in mountains and other themed structures). The problem is that the camera is wholly inadequate for this function. Getting the camera down underground is a massive headache, and keeping it there nigh on impossible. The camera can and will randomly shoot back above ground or bug out in some other way, making the construction process a much longer and more tedious process of wrestling with the camera than it really ought to be.
But these problems are far from game breaking. If, like me, you mostly spend these games designing the park rather than actually playing, then you won't even mind the lack of business simulation, while there is every indication that the current bugs and annoyances will inevitably be fixed, fleshed out, and streamlined further in the weeks and months to come.
So at the moment Planet Coaster is very much on the creative/design focused side of the genre. The design tools are inarguably the best ever made, but undermined by tycoon elements that are disappointingly shallow, as well as a few extremely irritating bugs.
The good news is that despite these flaws, I can honestly say that Planet Coaster is some of the most fun I've had in gaming for a long time. The genuine love and care that has gone into every single detail of Planet Coaster is plainly evident from the first moment, and the effortless charm is impossible to resist, even for a bitter old sod like me.
Add to that the innovations and potential for expansion and it's clear that this is a game by true fans of the genre, for true fans of the genre. They've made a highly impressive start, but I foresee even greater things in its future.
Monday, 7 November 2016
The final curtain is approaching for what has surely been one of the cleanest and most civil Presidential elections in US history. America is torn between two beloved and upstanding individuals, really either one of whom would be a fine and capable President. But enough about the series finale of The West Wing, we're fucked.
On Tuesday night, the final ballots will be cast, and we will hopefully know who the next President of the United States is going to be. The stakes are high: President Obama has stated in no uncertain terms that the fate of the world is in the balance, while Republicans have continued the doomsaying that they've been peddling basically since the 1990s. So going into this final day, who has the upper hand?
The media, as it predictably always does, has been working hard to play up the horse race, making this election look as close and exciting as possible in order to drum up viewers. The truth is that Hillary Clinton is the most likely winner. She has consistently and comfortably led in the polls throughout the entire election, and her state polls have almost always shown enough safe electoral votes to guarantee victory.
Now let's be clear, Donald Trump definitely has a chance, but there have been so few polls at any point in this election showing him in the lead that at this point it would certainly require a polling error of historic proportions. And not just one polling error, polling error across the many dozens of pollsters than have been producing numbers this election. The fact is that polls in American elections are generally very accurate. A lot has been made of polls missing the Brexit vote, but it's simply not true. The poll of polls showed Leave winning for most of the run up to the vote, with Remain only just eking ahead in the final days. The bettors got Brexit wrong, not the polls. If anything Brexit serves as a golden example of why not to argue against polls just because they seem unlikely. In order to predict a Trump victory, you once again must argue against the polls, and that's rarely a winning argument.
But let's get to it then, read on below for our forecast, including a full electoral vote state map, and further analysis.
Presidential Election Verdict: Hillary Clinton Elected President
"Safe" Democratic Party electoral votes: 278
"Safe" Republican Party electoral votes: 185
Key States to watch: CO, PA
The map is pretty self explanatory. The data all comes from poll aggregator Pollster, with blue states being those where Hillary Clinton has a significant and consistent lead, red states where Trump has a significant and consistent lead, and the grey states are the current battlegrounds, where polls are closest. The diagonal lines denote states where individual electoral votes are awarded by Congressional district, two of which are considered toss ups. Each state has a certain number of electoral votes, as determined mainly by population. It takes 270 electoral votes to win.
As you will see from the current polls, the "safe" blue states already put Hillary Clinton over 270. This is a very strong position with which to be heading into the election. This essentially means that she can afford to lose every single grey state there, all the toss ups and battlegrounds, and she'd still win the election. Donald Trump has to win every single one of them, and even then he has to take one or two blue states.
So while certain polls may be suggesting this to be a close race, it is very much an uphill battle for Trump, with only very few real possible routes to victory. Even assuming he wins all the battleground states, which is in itself unlikely, Trump can really only win if one of the following happens:
- Trump wins Pennsylvania
- Trump wins Colorado
- Trump wins both of Nevada and New Hampshire
The key states to watch on Tuesday are going to be Colorado and Pennsylvania, and I'll get into why that is in a moment. For now though I think it's important to highlight the state of Nevada.
Nevada has been polling quite close this election, and for a long while even appeared to be favouring Donald Trump. Winning this state would open up a very plausible route to victory for Trump by taking New Hampshire, which has also been close, but does not in itself have enough electoral votes to swing the election unless combined with another blue state.
Nevada is a strange state though, in that most of the population actually votes before election day. Some 60-70% of Nevada has already voted, and the numbers from that early vote are so strong for Clinton that many pundits are starting to suggest that the state might already be beyond Trump. Nevada is a notoriously difficult state to poll, but the key discrepancy here appears to have been an underestimation of the Latino vote. This potentially has a wide ranging impact on the election, because if polls are underestimating Latinos in Nevada, it suggests that we may see a similar effect in other states with large Latino populations like Florida, Colorado and Arizona, which would doom Trump.
So based on this information we're going to put this state in the blue column, but err on the side of caution and assume that this is a phenomenon isolated to Nevada.
With Nevada out of reach, that really only leaves two plausible routes to victory for Trump: win Pennsylvania or win Colorado. If we're very generous towards Trump and say he wins all the grey on that map, that leaves him with 260 votes to Clinton's 278. Now Trump actually only needs 269 to win, because in the event of a 269-269 tie, the election gets decided by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Republicans. In other words either of Colorado's 9 electoral votes or Pennsylvania's 20 would be enough to give Trump the win in this scenario.
There has also been discussion about whether Trump could also take Wisconsin or Michigan, but we're going to stick with these two on the basis that a) those states have been polling pretty consistently for Hillary and have a long track record of voting Democrat, and b) that if Trump really wins those states then probably he's also winning Pennsylvania or Colorado anyway.
At the same time, one could of course say that the battleground states are all key, seeing as if Hillary wins even one of them she will almost certainly win the election. Polls show her leading in Florida and North Carolina and competitive in Ohio. If any of those get called early in her favour then the race is essentially done. The distinction though is that Clinton can afford to lose all these states, so if Clinton wins them yes the election is over, but if Trump wins them the race is still on. On the other hand, Colorado and Pennsylvania are likely to be determinative in either event. So while the winner of Florida may not tell you the winner of the election, the winner of Colorado and Pennsylvania probably will. Whoever wins those states will almost certainly win the Presidency.
So yes, the key states to watch are Colorado and Pennsylvania, once they have been called we will probably have a good idea of who will be President. But how likely is Trump to prevail there? Difficult to say. The polls have generally been close, but consistently in Hillary's favour. Pennsylvania's large population of white working class without college education makes Trump a strong contender, but Democrats have typically been able to rely on the much more diverse voters of Philadelphia to carry the state. Colorado, it is worth noting, also polled at a tie in 2012, but Obama ended up winning comfortably. The problem there, just like in Nevada, was underestimation of the Latino vote. So while the polls are close there, there is every reason to believe that Hillary is a comfortable favourite.
So in summary, Trump's most plausible route to victory lies through Colorado or Pennsylvania, but he's behind in the polls in both states. As we said before, this election will require a significant polling error for him to win.
Saturday, 5 November 2016
As the 2016 Presidential election comes to a close, it's time to start looking back at what we have learned over the past several months, about our politics, our government, and indeed ourselves as a nation. The Ephemeric will publish a more in depth final forecast before election night, but for now I'd like to get the ball rolling on this.
Does this false equivalency make me sound cool?
If there is one thing I am sick of hearing, it's people who say things like "what a terrible election, both candidates are horrible!" or asking "they really couldn't find anyone better than Clinton and Trump?", and accordingly deciding that they won't vote this year, or will vote third party.
One of the strangest themes of this election has been how fashionable it has become to speak of Hillary Clinton with the same tones of revulsion as one discusses Donald Trump. This is a woman who had previously been one of the most popular politicians in America with sky high approval ratings. Wife of a very popular former President, a distinguished career in the Senate and as Secretary of State. On paper one of the most qualified candidates of all time, and someone who has dedicated a career to social progress. What has changed?
Clinton is more truthful than most politicians, but voters refuse to believe it
The numbers are pretty clear: Hillary Clinton has a trust problem, with polls consistently showing that voters trust her even less than Donald Trump. Yet it's hard to see how this image has been cultivated. After all, the fact-checkers show Clinton to consistently be one of the most honest politicians in America, with 73% of statements rated true, while her opponent has by far the worst record, with an astonishing 70% rated at least mostly false. Of course, simply being better than Trump doesn't make her good, but for comparison, Clinton's record is more honest than both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and better than every single Republican who ran for office this year.
So even setting aside her opponent's horrendous record for a second, Hillary Clinton is objectively more honest than just about any politician in America, and yet people don't believe it for some reason. This reputation hardly seems to be supported by the facts, and yet it's proven to be one of those deeply held beliefs that are hard to shake, to the point where I've seen people make some absurd excuses in order to dismiss information that appears to contradict that belief. When news broke this week of actors within the FBI leaking information on ongoing investigations to the Trump campaign, I actually heard someone defend them with "wow, Hillary must have done something really terrible to justify that".
To understand what in the world is happening, I decided to look deeper into why people dislike Hillary Clinton. I've spoken now with people of various backgrounds whose views range from "she's a murderer" or "sex pervert" (somehow) to "she's hiding something" or "she's a liar".
Let's get one thing straight from the off. Hillary Clinton is not a murderer. This website doesn't peddle in baseless conspiracy theories. She hasn't committed anything that could come close to being actions of sexual abuse or perversion. When pressed further on the vague "she's a liar" type statements, invariably the response comes back "something something emails".
Something something emails
Very few people actually seem to know what Hillary has apparently done wrong with regards to emails. They just know she's done something bad... with emails.
So, a little background: Hillary Clinton was accused of using a private email server to store classified information, something which is in itself not a crime if not done with intent to leak information, but would clearly show poor judgement if true. The FBI decided to look into this, and requested access to her emails. The FBI then ruled that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing, but her accusers have alleged that Clinton deleted a large number of the requested emails, with the implication being that she was trying to 'burn the evidence' as it were. This story has received a huge amount of media scrutiny this election, and indeed it seems to be the genesis of much of Clinton's trust problems.
There's just one problem, it's all nonsense. A complete non-scandal that has been fudged by her political opponents and blown way out of proportion.
Hillary Clinton did have a private email server, but did not store any information on that server which was deemed classified at the time of storage, although some of it was later classified after the fact. Clinton did not delete a whole bunch of emails requested by the police, and no official source has ever alleged as much, rather these were emails that were deleted over the course of her tenure, well before any investigation was ever started. I've deleted several emails today, not to hide anything, but just because that's what any sane person does with an email they don't need.
This most recent revelation that broke the news this week is even less substantive, a notification of new emails that weren't even sent by Clinton, were not stored on her private server, and may not even contain any relevant information.
Ultimately the FBI ruled that there was no evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever, and that "no reasonable prosecutor could possibly move forward with a case". No fact-checker or watchdog has ever endorsed these conspiracy theories, and even when these missing emails did leak (from the FBI's servers, ironically), there was ultimately nothing illegal in them. There remains absolutely zero evidence of any wrongdoing, and barely even the suggestion of any particular carelessness. The apparent contradiction of Clinton's accusers suggesting that she risked leaking information from her insecure server, while simultaneously complaining that these emails are hidden and unobtainable as a result of her tight security measures, seems to be lost on these people.
The political party who cried wolf
You might ask, why did the FBI even investigate something which isn't a crime, especially with such scant evidence? The investigation started, unsurprisingly, in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Hillary Clinton's political opponents, the Republicans. They, who have every incentive to accuse Hillary of wrongdoing, accused her of wrongdoing, and voted to open a full Congressional investigation.
Anyone who has been following politics these past eight years won't have been at all surprised by this. After all, this is the same Republican party that has conjured up frivolous scandal after frivolous scandal, seemingly every other week, to throw at their opponents, most prominently Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Acorn, Solyndra, birth certificates, death panels, Benghazi... The Republicans have spent years, and millions in taxpayer money, pursuing a seemingly endless series of baseless "scandals" against their opponents, and unsurprisingly every single one has proven untrue, and gone nowhere. It's important to remember these things, because the Republicans are counting on you to forget. This is the boy crying wolf for the thousandth time, and yet somehow Americans keep paying attention.
Lesson #1: Voters are apathetic and dependent on the media
This cuts to the real issue in this election. Most people simply aren't switched onto politics. Voter apathy is high, and being interested in politics is not "cool". People only tune in for the Presidential election years. Millions of voters are paying attention for the first time in years to find headlines about Hillary's emails all over the news, but without having the essential context that this is simply the latest in a long series of empty "scandals". For them, this is the first time hearing the boy cry wolf, so they don't appreciate that it's just noise.
Lesson #2: The media is obsessed with false equivalency
The media deserves a fair amount of criticism here. Clinton's emails have received the largest amount of media coverage this election cycle. More coverage than Trump violating federal law to break the Cuba embargo, more coverage than the dozen or so accusations of sexual assault against Trump, which Trump has been recorded on audio admitting that he did, more coverage than Russia's concerted effort to install Trump as a puppet leader, more coverage than Trump embezzling funds out of his charitable foundation, more coverage than Trump calling for his opponent to be jailed, or calling for his opponent to be assassinated. Each one of these are many orders of magnitude more serious than anything Clinton's been accused of.
Perhaps most damning of all, amid all this hyperbole over a Clinton case which doesn't even have enough evidence to go to court, the media has somehow completely ignored the fact that Trump has already been charged with fraud and racketeering, and will be in court defending himself a mere three weeks after the election. You would think the fact that a Presidential candidate is currently awaiting trial for fraud would be newsworthy... but then again something something HILLARY HAS EMAILS??!
It's a problem of false equivalency. If a news network reports a disproportionate number of negative stories about one candidate, they'll be accused of bias, and lose viewers, even if it's completely justified. News networks are therefore incentivised to create this false equivalency where they have a roughly equal amount of positive and negative coverage for each candidate, regardless of the reality.
So you really can't blame apathetic voters for tuning in, seeing both candidates portrayed in an equally negative light, and coming away with a somewhat warped view of the election, ie that both candidates are terrible. In particular, when they only have one negative Hillary scandal to run, but dozens for Trump, it stands to reason that Hillary's one story will get a lot more coverage than any single Trump scandal, so no wonder it's been a bigger issue for more people than Trump's much worse charges.
Of course comparison to Donald Trump does not vindicate Hillary Clinton, the weakness of the case against Clinton, as we have already outlined, does that already. But still, it needs to be pointed out repeatedly that Trump's scandals and alleged illegality are unprecedented in American politics, and yet the largest share of media coverage has been for a story which only exists due to rank partisanship and abuse of power by the Republicans, where Clinton has already been cleared of all wrongdoing. That is shameful.
The truth is, Hillary Clinton is about as clean a candidate as one will find. The strong fact-check ratings and the fact that this weak email nonsense is the best and only attack line her opponents can come up with after decades of vetting are proof of that. It's frankly a fairly unremarkable "scandal". What she did is nothing even vaguely unusual. President Bush did the same thing, Governor Bush did the same thing, Barack Obama did the same thing, and no doubt many other politicians did the same thing. Donald Trump, ironically, did the very thing of which he has wrongly accused Clinton. Frankly, in any other election this wouldn't even be a newsworthy story. Make no mistake, if this was Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders as the nominee, they'd just have cooked up a different scandal. They'd be harping on about Sanders having had pro-Soviet views in the past, or Biden doing something untoward while Vice President, or god knows what. You're fooling yourself if you pretend otherwise.
If this election teaches us one thing, it's the danger of voter apathy and a media that is incentivised towards sensationalism and false equivalency. When people don't pay attention to politics, they're more dependent on what they see in the news, and the news is increasingly incentivised to present a more "marketable" view of reality, rather than an accurate one. This inherently leads to the high level of misinformed voters that we are seeing this year. A lot of young people seem to think that rejecting both major candidates somehow makes you smart or informed, it doesn't.
Monday, 31 October 2016
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Written by Damien Chazelle
Produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, J K Simmons
Studio Summit Entertainment
Running time 128 minutes
Recently I had the good fortune of attending a headline gala at the London BFI film festival, at the entirely social hour of 10am on a Saturday. Unsurprisingly, this was a considerably dressed-down affair, few tuxes on show at the early hours of the weekend. That didn't make the occasion any less memorable as we were treated to a preview screening of La La Land, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling.
Film fans will know Damien Chazelle from his 2014 breakthrough with Whiplash, the unassuming film which came seemingly from nowhere to win critical plaudits and went on to garner five Academy Award nominations, including three wins. Sadly it missed the cut off for the Debbie Awards that year, otherwise it may well have won our coveted Best Film award.
Now with a huge hit to his name and worldwide recognition, Chazelle has found himself at last with the cachet to pursue his passion projects on a much grander and more elaborate scale. La La Land is nothing if not grand, a musical in the classical Broadway fashion, with intricate song and dance numbers, a star studded cast featuring Gosling, Emma Stone, and in a small role J K Simmons, who won an Oscar for Chazelle's last film.
Gosling is the starving jazz musician in an era that no longer appreciates his art-form, while Stone is an aspiring actress working in a coffee shop. It's a romantic film of course, and one steeped in Californian nostalgia, but at its core is about our life choices and the extent to which our ambitions clash with the things that truly make us happy. You read that and think to yourself "so what, another Hollywood love story?", after all the movie industry loves to kiss its own ass and does so in film form just about every year.
But this is not just some by-the-numbers self-congratulatory vanity piece. Strong performances far exceed whatever you might expect from such familiar archetypes, while whip-smart writing creates scenes that are genuinely funny, and tender when appropriate. The production itself is dazzling and the songs memorable. Sure, the story may tread well-worn ground, but it never succumbs to the obvious cliché that one might have feared, and its message is all the more powerful for it. This is a work of such high quality that it will win over all but the most hardened of cynics. I for one had a smile on my face the entire way through.
La La Land is that rare Hollwood tribute that manages to create the same kind of magic that it sets out to celebrate. Chazelle is a true talent in the making, and if Whiplash was the film that announced his arrival, then La La Land is the moment he takes centre stage. Without any doubt, the film to watch going into the awards season.