Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where's My Django Unchained Review? AKA My Django Unchained Review

I have failed you, dear reader. It's been weeks since Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained came out and yet there's been nary a word from MaxRambles about it. Tarantino's last flick, Inglourious Basterds, stands as one of my favourite movies of all time, and I previously said that Django was one of my most anticipated films of the year, so what gives? Where's the bloody review?

Believe me, it's not for lack of trying that I've failed to write a review. I've seen Django twice since it came out, and on no less than three occasions I've started to write a review of it for this blog. Hell, I even re-watched Wild Wild West to try to give myself a comparative angle (pro-tip: don't re-watch Wild Wild West, it's far worse than you remember and not in a fun way). But each time I end up second-guessing myself and ultimately unsatisfied with what come out.

The truth is that the reason I can't seem to write a Wild Wild West Django Unchained review is that I just didn't care enough about the movie to have much worth saying about it. I didn't like it anywhere near as much as Inglourious Basterds, nor did I find Django comparably intelligent and nuanced, but I didn't hate the movie either. The title of my review was going to be "Django Unchained: More Kill Bill Volume 1 than Inglourious Basterds 2," and to be honest that kind of says it all. The movie had style and was entertaining and interesting, but beyond that I just didn't feel there was much there. Certainly Django had Tarantino's characteristic layering of film history and references, but on its own that's not enough to elevate the movie from good to great. My expectations undoubtedly had a lot to do with that perception, but regardless I just didn't think Django had as much going for it as I hoped it would/Tarantino is capable of.

To quickly give credit where credit is due, Django was quite well executed. The performances were all quite effective, particularly those of Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz (whose callbacks to his role in Basterds stand as my favourite part of Django). The soundtrack was entertaining, and John Legend's "Who Did That to You" has permanently entered my iTunes collection (listen to it on the YouTube embed above). I also found the movie a lot funnier than I had expected, and most of it worked quite well (though not all *glares at the overly long lynch mob masks discussion*).

But execution can only do so much in the face of a poor script, and while I haven't read the actual script I can say that the written words behind what ultimately ended up of film were severely lacking. More than any of Tarantino's other films, Django suffered from scenes that went on too long, pointless tangents, and (most surprisingly) boring dialogue. The film is almost completely barren of Tarantino's hallmark flare for writing, and with a few exceptions all of the speeches were terse and uninteresting. Those that did rise above the rest were almost exclusively performed by DiCaprio and Waltz, and there's a part of me that attributes it more to their acting abilities than the writing.

I have other problems with the movie but I'm getting dangerously close to the problem I mentioned above with my previous attempts at writing a Django review. I think I've made my point that I both enjoyed it and didn't find it particularly memorable or noteworthy, and hence don't care enough to write about it beyond this post. The only other thing I'll say is that the passing of Sally Menke was felt quite strongly, and that might be the root of all Django's problems. What we saw onscreen was a mess, both in terms of the pieces that were chosen and how they were fit together, and Django worked in spite of this only because Tarantino is just that talented. I certainly hope he finds whatever his co-operation with Menke used to give him, because I for one would love to see him rise to the level of Inglourious Basterds once again. Maybe Django Unchained could have done so, but what the movie ultimately became falls well short of the high-water mark.

So that's generally my take, sound off below and let me know what you thought of it/that you think I'm crazy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anonymous Petition to get DDoS Reclassified as Lawful Protest

Recently, the hacker collective/activist group/thing known as Anonymous launched a petition on the White House's We The People website to have distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) reclassified as a lawful form of protest. The petition analogizes between DDoS and the occupy movement, arguing that
Instead of a group of people standing outside a building to occupy the area, they are having their computer occupy a website to slow (or deny) service of that particular website for a short time.
Moreover, the petition calls for anyone who has been jailed for a DDoS to be immediately released and have their "record" cleared.

While interesting and thought-provoking, my gut reaction is that the analogy the petition calls for is fundamentally untenable. There are simply too many differences between the contexts for the comparison to work, and it relies on an unsophisticated understanding of the Internet in order to succeed.

To say that one is "occupying" a website by visiting it and/or refreshing the page from a browser is to ignore the actual ways in which the Internet operates. There was a time when legal/political minds looked at the Internet like a space (as it's often conceived in fiction or theory), but such views have long since been replaced by more literal appreciations of the Internet as a series of connections between users and data. As a result, the notion that one is "occupying" a web page by visiting it is not really accurate since you don't go anywhere on the Internet so much as you request and are sent data from elsewhere.

However, even if such a spatial conception of the Internet succeeded, there are (good) reasons why the comparison is still unjustifiable. Forgive me if I reveal my lack of technological sophistication with this explanation, but as I understand it DDoS attacks/protests/whatever-you-want-to-call-them are regularly orchestrated using various technological multiplication methods whereby targeted servers are hit with more requests than there are participating individuals. This can happen if those involved use rented/owned servers, create botnets, use something called DC++, or whatever, the point is that the usual approach is to create more requests to a server than there are actual people making the requests. This is important because in order for DDoS to succeed it has to overwhelm the receiving server with requests such that it can't fulfill them all and ends up shutting down/failing. In order to overcome the kinds of servers typically employed by the types of sophisticated websites often targeted (i.e. those of VISA, Amazon, or PayPal), DDoS necessarily requires many more requests than there are people involved.

To use the physical occupation metaphor, in order to bring the targeted space (website) to a halt there need to be an unbelievably large number of people (server requests) involved, to the point where access/movement becomes impossible. Imagine Grand Central Terminal in New York: in order for an occupy movement to shut that place down you'd need a huge number of protesters to fill the entire hall so that no one could effectively use the space. In the context of the Internet, the kinds of halls being "occupied" are exponentially larger and so they require many more "people." So many people that it's -- practically speaking -- impossible to succeed without using technology to simulate the existence of many more people than are actually involved. Although you could theoretically go out and hire a huge number of people to occupy a space with you, limiting factors like money, timing, and peoples' availability would necessarily limit your ability to essentially buy an occupy movement.

You'd need a whole lot of people to bring this place to a halt

These differences/reasons why the metaphor isn't realistic aside, the comparison is interesting from an intellectual standpoint. For one thing I like the comparison between visiting a web page and visiting a physical space, as using the Internet does feel like travelling to different (notably privately-owned) places from the comfort of your computer screen. But I just don't see it flying in a legal or political sense since the idea of the Internet as a place is kind of antiquated, and again it ignores the reality of how the Internet works. In terms of redefining DDoS as a form of protest, while I like the notion in terms of how it re-situates power back into the hands of Internet users I can also see how the technological methods described above make it potentially dangerous: DDoS can/must be carried out by a small number of people in such a way that it mimics the existence of a large number of people. This necessarily limits our ability to look at it as a form of politicized speech, and so while I believe that DDoS probably is a form of protest in its most widely publicized instances I don't think we can effectively redefine it as such.

All that said, the idea is interesting in how it reflects back on the actual occupy movement on the theoretical level. When we "visit" a website we don't actually travel to it so much as make a request for it to give us its information, and so how does this exchange compare to physically occupying a privately-owned space? Does going to Grand Central Terminal constitute more than just a physical act but also a request for information from that place? Given the assumptions underlying most advertising and the related fact that we live in a capitalist society, I'm inclined to believe that there is some truth to the comparison: when we go somewhere like Grand Central Terminal we are inundated with information about the services offered there and by its advertisers, which is not unlike what happens when you the place's website. I say this all to draw out the fact that Anonymous' comparison, while perhaps not effective or practical for the aforementioned reasons, may in fact be illustrative in changing our perceptions about how we interact with physical spaces. While "visiting" a website might not be analogous to occupying a physical space, there's more going on when you go to privately owned locations than merely being in that place. DDoS might not be more appropriately conceived of as a form of protest, but maybe the physical occupation of space needs to be reconceptualized in order to realize the kinds of relationships thereby established.

What say you, Internet?