Hitman

SCIARIO

(Or ‘Hitman’)

Director:

Denis Villeneuve

Writer:

Taylor Sheridan

Plot:
An idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force (Brolin, Del Toro) to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

*Please note: The storyline is discussed form here on in*

TERRIFYING, BRUTAL, AND THOUGHT PROVOKING - SCIARIO 2015

This movie is disturbing. Its incredibly visceral and describes the true nature of the war on drugs. It makes clear how there is absolutely no way the so called ‘War on Drugs’ can ever be won, namely it is too profitable . Theres that, and the fact that people take drugs, lots of drugs. Some become hopelessly addicted. Others do not. But people will never stop taking drugs. Josh Brolin’s rather unsavoury CIA character laments how one fifth of the US population at one time or another are consuming drugs, with no indication of ever stopping.

Its also a business. The drug business is a high yield low investment business with high mobility and an infinite demand. With such a unimaginable profit margins the providers of such illicit drugs as Heroin, Cocaine, Crystal Meth, and so on, can continue to operate no matter how many times the drug leaders get arrested or shot or disappeared. If you are a drug trader and you make a mistake, you are killed. Someone more skilled will replace you, until they are killed. And so on with a kind of Darwinian inevitability. Their already labyrinthine business operations are highly portable. And due to decades of experience and connections, they know how to shut down shop and start elsewhere very quickly indeed. They know how to hide in plain sight (and people will, for instance, hide their local dealer mainly because, well, they like drugs and they might be killed if they tell the police). So vast are drug operations they could be floated as a huge multinational Corporations on the Dow Jones or the NasDaq (An estimated 1% of total global trade is in illegal drugs).

The global reach of drug traders is legendary. The fight for global dominance in this trade is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Shut one down and others will start up again with the full knowledge that they or others like them can at any time find willing accomplices with sufficiently highly developed skill sets to continue to operate a business that has always and forever and unto the end of time a viable highly motivated market, an unlimited number of recruits that will ones bidding to be paid such monies, and the possibility of unlimited expansion so long as you are willing to stop all opposition. In the movie one of the purposes of the ‘raid’ the CIA conducts into Mexico is to actually ensure that the is only one new drug lord in the area. To have more than one drug king is to risk a horrific cycle of slaughter. Its interesting that the notion of eliminating the drug trade in the poverty stricken areas they flourish in doesn’t even enter the picture.

So, in Sciario, a revenge raid is conducted by US authorities into Mexico in order to neutralize a brutal drug lord and stop all opposition and install a new Columbian based drug lord. I use the word ‘stop’ in the last sentence rather euphemistically. This means levels of violence and horror that would fill our nightmares forever. The drug business, since it is illegal and unmonitored and free of taxes and government control despite the best efforts of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, continually learns from its mistakes, refines its technologies, bribes the highest and most influential members of whatever governments they operate in, do deals with literally anyone, and continually find ways to launder their cash in ever more imaginative ways. As their market never goes away, they, like the proverbial Gorgon, keeps growing new heads. The sociology and economics of drug addiction, its areas of production and the socio-economic poverty visible in such regions, are all the subject of fierce debate. The history of prohibition shows how profitable for criminals and how disastrous the idea of making illegal drugs that are commonly consumed. Considering that alcohol-like cigarettes, are far more dangerous than many of the banned drugs, it all seems more and more peculiar, as if making either of those drugs illegal would stop us consuming them. One thing is clear. People take drugs and always will. Keeping it illegal lines the pockets of the worst people imaginable. Addiction can be treated, but not with prohibition, and far more lives are destroyed by incarceration than the drugs they are being incarcerated for.

EMILY BLUNT ENTERS THE HELL OF SCIARIO
EMILY BLUNT ENTERS THE HELL OF SCIARIO

Speaking of truly bad people, in  Sciario, Benedicio Del Toro plays probably the worst person imaginable. The worst person imaginable is the man (in this case, a man- named Alejandro played by Del Toro) who has had everything taken from him and has become poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge. He becomes as evil as those who has hurt him. He is entirely washed of all humanity, and while he remains intelligent and perceptive and knowledgeable and able to operate seemingly normally, there is literally nothing of which he is incapable. Del Toro’s character, Alejandro, is a drug cartel operator whose wife was decapitated and daughter was thrown into an acid bath by a rival cartel members gang, is taken on by the CIA to be the hit man for an operation into Mexico in order to send an unforgettable message of revenge to the Mexican Drug Cartel who had recently kidnapped and horribly murdered twenty people and blew up two police officers. They go into Mexico and as Josh Brolin’s character says, they ‘wildly overreact’. They also murder and torture with impunity, use police officers as live bait for corrupt cops, beat corrupt police officer to a pulp for information, execute other corrupt cops without trial, kill just about anyone who gets in their way with ruthless highly skilled efficiency, murder unarmed civilians including women and children, and break so many international laws one simply loses count. Naturally about half way through this lengthy and breathtakingly paced thriller, its impossible to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Like all good revenge stories, the futility of revenge and the endlessly upward mobility of degrees of horror is ably demonstrated in a movie that’s brilliantly and horrifyingly written and paced, that’s beautifully and rawly shot, and wonderfully and convincingly acted, and a message that’s by no means forced down the throat of the viewer. Some who watch this no doubt would see the cops as the good guys and the criminals as bad and that sometimes one has to do terrible things to do good. The film, being an excellent one, takes a sympathetic approach to both sides.

But Sciario is not just about drugs. Its about death. About how war breeds killers and killers breed death, and death breeds more death and the cycle of horror, the horror of war, goes on through the cycle of hatred and revenge and atrocity. Dead bodies hang everywhere, torture is everywhere. Emily Blunts character, with young swan like frail innocent idealism, is horribly violated and we see the death of innocence at the hands of the monstrous Alejandro, for whom in true Shakespearean fashion, we feel a level of sympathy for despite his crimes, and we realize somewhere along the line the madness began when this insane war on drugs was first declared.

*Sorry about the over-dramatised footage above. It was the only one I could find with Nixon’s famous Declaration of war on Drugs.*

 

 

The Queen And I

    The Queen (2006)

Directed by Stephen Frears. With Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell, Alex Jennings.

The notion of any kind of hereditary monarchy simply incomprehensible to me. It is a system of government so riven with problems as to be potentially catastrophic for a country. This is why the UK have reduced the monarchy to figurehead status. That being the case, the UK remains with a Queen, and Helen Mirren (who won an Oscar for her role in this movie) plays Elizabeth II just after the death of Diana Spenser in 1997, formerly Princess Diana. Diana Spenser is named by Blair as the peoples princess (Tony Blair is played by the creepily brilliant Michael Sheen who also should have gotten an Oscar for his role as the obsequious power hungry worshipful Machiavellian Tony Blair )


Blair, though ostensibly promising to modernise the UK, in many ways sees his path to power along the road of maintaining the status quo. Blair wants power and is intelligent enough and a gifted enough politician to be no socialist revolutionary anti monarchist. He is not long in office and Elizabeth II is wary of him. Diana is dead and she refuses to treat the death as a royal affair despite a very public outpouring of grief and the fact that Blair refers to her as the ‘people’s princess’ – a divisive term to say the least and something that causes a deep division in the Royal household. Elizabeth couldn’t compete with Diana in terms of popularity, or even her capacity to communicate with people. Diana was a girl chosen to be the wife of Charles, who was already deeply in love and in a long term passionate relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. Not a recipe for a sound long term arrangement.

Diana Spenser 1961-1997
A portrait of the princess as a young girl

Diana surprised the royals. She was beautiful warm and charismatic and was unafraid to display her many flaws in public. Elizabeth was the polar opposite. She was precise and cerebral, cold and driven by duty. There was a sense that she loathed this person, this Diana, who had invaded their carefully controlled royal cosmos and refused to conform to its mores. In some ways the movie is more about the ghost of Diana Spenser and her effect of Elizabeth II than anything else.

Blair pressurizes the Queen to come down out of the hermetically sealed forty thousand acre estate in Balmoral in Scotland and meet the people in London. The sheer distance between the Royal Family and the lives of the ordinary people becomes apparent as the Queen reads the news day by day, watches the interviews Diana gave after her divorce, unprecedented interviews which broke the code of silence, and sees her own ratings plummet as the tabloids turn on her. She concedes to Blair’s entreaties and returns to Buckingham Palace and meets the people and looks and the swathes of flowers and expressions of regret and she is horrified. It is obvious that many hold her and the machinations of the Royal family household personally responsible for Diana’s death. Which is both interesting, tragic, and at the same time not unusual. A much loved public figure with royal connections dies in a Parisian tunnel with her boyfriend while being chased by rapacious paparazzi. The driver of the vehicle was drunk. Had he not been drunk the crash may not have happened. Anyway when a terrible unforeseen tragedy occurs, such as this one, there is an outpouring of grief and of anger and people look for someone to blame (something I can understand only too well from my own life experience). They blamed the Royal Family and particularly Elizabeth II.

We are tearful....
We are tearful….

The pain of this very public condemnation struck her to the core, but like all leaders and political figures, she summoned the resources necessary to survive, to maintain her distance and her dignity and to keep the Royal Family as a central facet of English life and culture at a time when a Labour Government was in power, a time when there was real talk of abolishing the Royal Family as a historical anachronism. Mirren shows the intelligence and the depth and the coldness of Elizabeth II. Michael Sheen shows Blair as the untrustworthy nasty piece of work he seems by all accounts to be.

All in all this is a great film, an ensemble performance about a truly surreal world, the world of the Royal Family and how deeply dysfunctional they are. I was glad I saw it. I switched on the TV and there it was. How Fortuitous.

Crucifixion?

Calvary (2014)

Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh

“Killing a Priest on a Sunday, that would be a good one.”

A Catholic Priest, especially on a Sunday, while he celebrates Mass, acts In Persona Christi  (in the person of Christ) transforming the bread and wine in to the body and blood of Christ, re enacting the transforming healing and redemptive act of Jesus through his life death and resurrection, all focused on the moment of Crucifixion and resurrection, which is were the point of Mc Donaghs title Calvary comes from. This is a movie about death and resurrection, about the death of an old order, the condemnation of corruption, and the on-going self analysis and self questioning Irish Society must go through in order to resurrect itself. Its also funny.

Dealing with more issues relating to contemporary Irish society than one could shake a stick at (the decline of faith, the corruption of bankers and their non subsequent imprisonment, the consequent increase in affluence and education on the population, bankruptcy, the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Clergy  and its devastating effects on belief in the Church, the erosion of a cohesive sense of identity in Irish Society, the decline of Catholic Culture, Suicide and its after effects, the meaning of marriage, forgiveness, love, sex) starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly ReillyAidan Gillen, Dylan Moran and Isaach de Bankolé, this is a must-see despite its flaws:  for the writing is as excellent as are the performances by the actors.

I use the word flaws because the movie gives a somewhat unbalanced view of both society and clergy in order to make its many sharp edged points. Set in a small Sligo town whose windswept countenance truly gives an uncomforting feel to every encounter with its population, one experiences a portrayal of the Catholic Clergy, with notable the exception of Gleeson’s warm wise and lovable character, as idiots or corrupt, which is unfair. The other problem with the film is its reduction of the society which Fr. James mixes in as representative of archetypes rather than real substantial people, mainly for the purposes of portraying the black comedic elements in the film. One has the atheistic doctor scientist, the sensitive daughter of the priest who has tried to kill herself because of her despair at an unloving world, the depressed soulless self loathing corrupt property owner, the furious bankrupt pub owner, the world weary writer finishing his final masterpiece on a lonely island and the victim of horrific sexual abuse. Where are the mothers and the fathers and the cinema goers and the ordinary shoppers and the tourists and ‘the lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows’ (to crib T. S. Eliot) who comment and chat and come and go and for whom life goes on as it always has? This is a film filled with intellectual pyrotechnics and lacking in a touch of everydayness.

So in the first moments of the movie the aforementioned victim of horrific sexual abuse confronts Fr. James in the confessional and says he will kill James the next Sunday, because James is a good man and it would be worse for the Catholic Church than killing a bad priest. The other point being that the real criminal, the true abuser, is dead. This is Fr. James’ personal Calvary. James has seven days to his death. He knows he will die in seven days and though he can get out of it, he doesn’t. Just as Jesus knew he was going to die for others’ sins, so James too will accept death for the purposes of atonement for the  crimes of others. He goes through his week seeing his church burned down, his dog killed, his sobriety wrecked, his integrity and authority as a clergyman treated with disdain, and the final awful moment when he too is treated by a worried father as a possible paedophile simply because he is a priest. Its too much. James goes on to his Calvary on the beach. And there in the final moments of the film we reach a kind of resolution. The incalculable psychological, spiritual and  personal devastation that child rape leaves upon  its victims is played out in the final scenes of this film, the betrayal, the pain, the loss of selfhood, the loss of power, the bleeding and the horror, are beautifully portrayed in the moments as the movie closes.

Watching it as someone who long long ago lost his faith but understands the mythology and the poetry of this cult of death, this is a powerful and beautiful piece of work, a call for honesty and truth and reconciliation, and most of all the imprisonment of those who abuse children.

Eliot Roger’s Last Video

The Mass Shootings at UC Santa Barbara campus in California on Friday night, 9.30 pm the 23rd May 2014

Elliot Oliver Robertson Rodger (born 24th July 1991) was a 22 year old socially maladjusted youth who subscribed to a number of pick up artist and ‘men’s rights’ accounts. A deeply lonely person who was born in the UK and grew up in Calabasas and the Woodland  Hills in California, he wound up living in the San Fernando Valley in his twenties. He was bullied in school and had an obsession with Dungeons and Dragons. He began a long agonizing teenage years with little social contact and no relations with the opposite sex which grew to the level of a profound misogynistic obsession. Later on he acquired a BMW car a  Sig Sauer P225 P6 9mm German Semi-Auto Carry Pistol, and three Glock 34 hand guns, all legally purchased. He had some contact with the police. Once when his family called the police when increasingly worried about his behaviour and the videos, and one memorable occasion he called the police, having performed a citizens arrest on a roommate for stealing candles. The room mate was later charged with petty theft. If this was any indicator as to his personality and social skills, it is little wonder why Eliot Roger was without friends.

There is also some indication that suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition which if not properly treated can inhibit ones ability to function in society, depending on the severity of the condition. His videos about his lonely life have all but disappeared off the web, why he feels women hate him so much, how being alone on spring break is an unspeakable agony, and why he would drive around and avoid areas where he would see couples together kissing or embracing, which would arouse intense feelings of anger and jealously. Despite saying this he also videoed couples kissing. So disturbing were his posted videos to his family  that they went to the police fearing he might act out his rage and sense of personal injustice.

There are problems associated with the notion of future crime, as in one cant arrest someone because of an intent to break the law. However you can sit them down and interview them and see what their intentions and their state of mind is based on years of experience and investigative skills. You can also keep an eye on them. Rodgers’ family were terrifyingly correct in their predictions, despite the fact that seven police did turn up at their son’s apartment, took him outside and gently questioned his intentions – asking if he had suicidal thoughts. He was quiet and rational and convincing and assured them he was not suicidal, despite the fact that in the apartment carefully hidden were several guns, two of which he intended to kill himself with, machetes to hack people with, and hammers to smash in their brains with, along with a 144 page manifesto detailing his murderous and torturous intentions.

The flatmate Cheng Yuan Hong, 20 years old, whom Rogers previously arrested for stealing three candles worth $15, was later hacked to death with a machete, along with Weihan Wang, 20, of Fremont, George Chen, 19, of San Jose, in the apartment Rogers intended, as he wrote in his 144 page manifesto or autobiography to turn into his killing room cum torture chamber.  I think he succeeded to some extent in his intention.

Generally speaking the autobiographies/manifestos of lonely psychotics are usually incredibly tedious inflated nonsense, and Rogers’ efforts do not disappoint this expectation. One would truly wish they would take a few classes in creative writing before they embark on writing lengthy monomaniacal tracts they are going to post mortem inflict on the police investigators and court systems. I say this especially because Roger, on his Google+ page, modestly describes himself not only as a philosopher but as a writer as well. “I consider myself a sophisticated, polite gentleman, unlike most boys my age. My father is of British descent, and my mother is of Asian descent, so that makes me Eurasian.”

Actually the only really well written manifesto that got wide publicity and made me think was the Unabomber’s manifesto. (I believe he has come out with another book since) . Rogers tended towards a slightly bombastic epic style, depicting himself as the lonely hero planning a day of retribution against a world that had wronged him horribly,  that day of Retribution being May 24th 2014 wherein he would kill as many people as he could around Isla Vista, having first of all dispatched his housemates.

“After that, I will start luring people into my apartment, knock them out with a hammer, and slit their throats. I will torture some of the good looking people before I kill them, assuming that the good looking ones had the best sex lives.” 

Not very polite nor gentlemanly. This he did not do, mercifully.

So Eliot Roger, having hacked and tortured and murdered his housemates, leaves his apartment and drives around and makes one last video.

“Hi, Elliot Rodger here. Well this is my last video. It all has to come
to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will
have my revenge against humanity. Against all of you. For the last
eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to
endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires.
All because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their
affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I’m
22-years-old and still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve
been through college, for two and a half years, more than that
actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.”

Eliot Roger then goes on to say the following:

“I will take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male. Yes, after I have annihilated every single girl in the sorority house, I’ll take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there. All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasure while I’ve had to rot in loneliness all these years. They all look down upon me every time I tried to join them, they’ve all treated me like a mouse.”

Rogers, displays all the symptoms of paranoia, self aggrandizement, blaming the world for his ills, blinding himself mentally to any sense of personal responsibility. This worldview extended to thinking that the world and women in particular are ‘out to get him’ by denying him sex. There is never a moment when his delusional narrative slips, when he might for a moment think there is something in himself that is stopping him achieving a healthy life and a healthy sex life. His illness is fed more than anything by a misogynistic ideology, a view of women as ‘sluts’ and an object of sexual seduction and manipulation, which in turn demand from him that he be an ‘Alpha Male’ in order to be attractive to these creatures, hence the use of pickup artist websites and the filming of couples which in turn fed his revulsion and jealousy of happy couples.

As reported on countless channels and news sites , a deadly shooting happened near the UC Santa Barbara campus in California on Friday night, 9.30 pm the 23rd May 2014. The police confirmed the mass murder’s identity as 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, son of Hollywood producer Peter Rodger, assistant director on The Hunger Games movie franchise. Just before going out to embark on his mass shooting Eliot Roger emailed his 144 page manifesto to around 30 people, including his parents. They heard about the shootings on the radio.

Occupying the ground floor flat of the Capri apartment building about 500 metres from the Alpha Phi sorority building, Rogers left the flat at about 9.15. At about 9.27 the shootings began. Eliot Rogers attempted to get access to the Alph Phi building but failed. He intended to kill everyone in there. Instead he killed Katie Cooper, 22, Chino Hills, Veronika Weiss, 19, Westlake Village, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, San Luis Obispo, and then he killed himself. As well as the dead, he wounded 13 people, all of whom remain unidentified as yet.

‘I Cant Feel Anything’

NYMPHOMANIAC I [LARS VON TRIER](2014)

I have always considered Lars Von Triers movies excessively apocalyptic in the most black humour sense imaginable. Its like as though he premises every story with a worst case scenario and pushes it to the limit to see what might happen. He does movies about the end of all life on Earth or  horrific Injuries of loved ones or parents dealing with the accidental death of a child or the consequences of living with nymphomania. Having  watched a few of them already, I sat down to watch this one with a certain apprehension. The thing about sexual addiction is that its an unknown. No one really know what the origins of the addiction is, in this case the addiction is that of a person having between seven to ten sexual encounters a day as well as having a full time job, but the nymphomaniac, played by Charlotte Gainsborough (and her younger self by Stacy Martin), is deeply concerned about the havoc and destruction her behaviour has wreaked  upon others, a pattern of behaviour she felt unable to stop. Her foil in this lengthy story telling is Stellan Skarsgård, who plays an excessively open-minded intellectual who ruminates endlessly on fly fishing, the prose of Edgar Allan Poe, and in the most reasonable easy going manner imaginable, how Gainsborough’s character must in some way see her sexual compulsiveness as simply that – an addiction.  While carefully detailing the experiences and encounters of her life, from the sexual games played as a teenager to characterizing her lovers in musical components of a Bach polyphony (an unforgettable and beautiful piece of cinematography), Gainsborough neither abdicates responsibility for her actions, seeks easy psychological explanations for it, or does anything else save tell the truth of her life. She recalls one moment in her childhood, a moment where she feels utterly alone in a vast and unforgiving cosmos, utterly empty, beyond sadness. She couldn’t feel a thing. and this is an ambiguity one feels throughout the movie, sometimes shock, sometimes hilarity, sometimes profound sadness – even and especially when the heights of eroticism are being reached. The beauty of this kind of good storytelling is that one is left with an awareness that, as always, there are no short easy explanations for the human condition, which is in its own way very satisfying to see on screen. Moreover the injection of humour into Von Triers style of storytelling has added much colour to an already multifaceted brilliant palette.

Is The Matrix the World that Blinds us To The Truth?

The 1999 movie the Matrix was filled with puzzles. In some ways it was really mind blowing. For instance the biggest question, stolen from Alice in Wonderland was this:

What is the Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?

Neo: Yes.

Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.

Matrix-World-Map

 A good film, and, despite the fact it was a big budget blockbuster and had Keanu Reeves’ rather wooden performance, it asked interesting questions. The Matrix was indeed the world that people thought was real. Life, all of it, was a dream. Nothing one ever though was happening, was actually happening. So the question might be asked is this : What if we are in the matrix? What if none of this is real? Or more to the point, what if reality is being controlled? The notion behind the movie is one of the oldest puzzles known to sceptics like myself. What if we are not living, but dreaming we are alive in a world with a life and a partner and a career and a history? What if we are simply brains in a jar being fed impulses by mad scientists performing a devious experiment? The mad scientists in the movie were machines using people for an energy source, people who were living out their lives inside a vast machine that was feeding them impulses. By extension the jar that I am envisaging is rather like a skull, your skull, and my skull, and we are experiencing a delusion. I am not really here. I exist merely in your mind. So if we think about it, the ‘world’ or what the think is the world, is electrical signals feeding our brains impulses all the time and we are reacting to these impulses, living and thinking and reading and sleeping, and we have no way of ever getting past our senses to check to see if anything we know or think we know, including all the scientifically verifiable knowledge that we have collected, or indeed think we have collected, for the past number of millennia, is true or real. Scary stuff.

Now I want to make clear I don’t for a moment think we are all brains in Jars. Besides it being paranoid thinking, the problem is this: If a mad scientist  put my brain in a vat and hooked me up to a vast computer and fed me a fake reality, how would I know? Its impossible to know or ever realize or even conceive of being a brain in a vat if one actually is. It would be a delusion within a delusion, and it could never lead to anything other than an infinite regress of thinking. It would involve my own consciousness being able to examine itself, realize somehow that everything I was perceiving and experiencing was all fake, Maya, and then unplug myself. One has to be shown something like that. Reality has to be disconnected, then another, ‘real’ reality has to be re plugged in. The question then arises, how do we know the difference between the  former real and the second supposedly ‘real’ reality? A devilish problem. The simple fact is that the real is what we have been given before our eyes as real. Reality is as we have been given it. It is what our senses and our knowledge gives us, with all the misconceptions and faulty thinking attendant to that. Now we all live with various degrees of misconceptions about reality, and I agree, there is a lot of delusion going around and mistaken and faulty thinking, all of which we try to correct but to draw from that we are all sitting in some lab somewhere being fed illusion, is besides being unhelpful (except as a thought experiment perhaps), its something of a road to nowhere.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this movie review

The movie Gravity 2013, at the time of writing, has grossed over $700 million world wide. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Also, at the time of writing, it has collected up more awards than you can shake a stick at.  Gravity  won seven awards at the 86th Academy Awards, the most for the ceremony, including Best Directorfor Cuarón and Best Original ScoreBAFTA Awards, including Outstanding British Film and Best Director, the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, and seven Critics Choice Awards, which I will at this stage pass over in silence.

Gravity is a disaster movie. Gravity is a space chase movie where the main actors are escaping orbiting space debris travelling at speed. A triumph over adversity movie. A movie about new life. A movie about the overview effect: that cognitive shift of awareness where one sees the whole of the earth before one and one experiences a kind of spiritual awareness.

In this movie the  brilliant medical scientist (Bullock) and veteran astronaut (Clooney) are disconnected from mission Control, separated from their crew and  blown into space due to debris flying faster than 20 thousand miles per hour. This all happens during Bullock’s first mission aboard a fictitious space shuttle mission. The shuttle is destroyed by space debris and with oxygen running low the Principals move from one derelict space station to the next till eventually Bullock lands on Earth having experienced a new lust for life and inner rebirth and gotten past the trauma of losing her daughter (despite the fact that everyone else is dead except her) –this is including her co-star.

The acting in this movie is matched only by the story I have just outlined. Even the catch phrases ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this mission’ is stolen from the brilliant movie ‘Aliens’ (1987) when Frost talks about getting a bad feeling just as the ship goes into orbital drop of LV 426. 

Frost: Man, I’m telling you, I got a bad feeling about this drop.

Crowe: You always say that, Frost. You always say, “I got a bad feeling about this drop.”

Frost: Okay, okay. When we get back without you, I’ll call your folks.

Aliens is a brilliant thrilling beautifully paced action movie with a great plot and equally wonderful effects. Gravity on the other hand is an appallingly acted, appallingly scripted, poorly paced, badly written movie. It looks simply spectacular but looks in this movie are truly deceiving.  One gets beautiful sweeping views of the earth, fantastically accurate shots of interiors and exteriors of space stations,  lingering shots of Sandra Bullocks buttocks and gym toned body (irritating and sexist). One also gets  a truly two dimensional performance from the usually excellent Clooney, who reminds one more of Buzz Lightyear than a grizzled witty thoughtful veteran Astronaut. There were so many times through the movie one longed for the demise of the principals : Burned up on re entry or blown to pieces by space debris,  drowned in water or suffocated by oxygen deprivation, lost forever in space or burned alive – at least one limb cut off by debris. Thankfully Clooney suffers a merciful release, and in a truly ridiculous twist to the story. But Bullock had to survive – with nothing more than a beautifully crafted  scratch on her perfectly made up face. Why? because its part of a story arc. Despite the fact she had been smashed around several space stations and flung through space and bounced off countless bulkheads, there she stands  heroically on the beach: unburned, unbruised, and not a hair missing on her head.

Gravity is just so lightweight. Its a movie filled not with real emotion but sentiment, not with a powerful script but hackneyed phrases, not with acting but re acting. And the worst part was, it won all those awards. 

If you lie to me, I will hurt you

 

I have real difficulty seeing what the reason for the furore around the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow’s latest movie. Martin Sheen has come out in opposition to it. Naomi Woolf had come out in the Guardian calling Bigelow the latest Leni Riefenstahl, and the torture scenes themselves are rather tame in real terms compared to what really went on. There is no justification for torture expressed in this film. On the other hand there is no pornographic lingering on the inhuman brutality meted out to the prisoners. Over and over again the torture victims are told that if they lie to their torturers, their torturers will hurt them, a horrifying thought, and even more horrifying to endure. Rest assured also this is not a film that will leave you riveted to your seat in unspeakable horror – its not a horror movie. It is clever,  extremely entertaining, well paced, and the writing is top notch. The acting too, is simply wonderful. Bigelow deserves a best director Oscar, and it is a big snub she didn’t get it. What is depicted in the movie is what the CIA was ordered to do, that being to get the information by any means necessary. When watching the movie itself we only get snippets of the unspeakable physical and psychological horror endured by the prisoners, before they were disappeared or executed or in some cases returned to their families to tell stories about how they were tortured by persons unknown in locations unknown for time periods unknown with no evidence whatever to support their claims. It’s not without significance that the various conventions, Geneva or otherwise, expressly forbid torture. Aside from the enormous stupidity of using torture, an unreliable means of getting hard evidence, the information one does get is legally useless and therefore has what one might call a questionable actionable status to it. One needs to amass a sheaf of corroborations before it emerges into the light of any degree of credibility. Torture is about power. It’s about the torturer, in this case – the state, telling its enemy- in this case the prisoners, we have absolute power. You will give us everything, the contents of your mind, your emotions, and when you have given us everything, then we will allow you to die, maybe. Torture is an act of terrorism. In a war on terrorism this surely is the greatest of ironies. Torture creates a hatred that will last from one generation to the next. It is never forgotten and never forgiven. Bigelow does not come down in favour of torture. To think that from this film is to hugely underestimate an enormously skilled and intelligent artist who is telling a story, not recreating history, or trying to make a kind of propaganda movie. Basically it is a revenge story, and the ruthlessness by which revenge is exacted in the mafia style hit on the Bin Laden compound at the end is truly appalling. Before you make up your own mind, go see it. Bigelow’s interest in powers structures and the military goes a long way back. Let’s hope her next movie is even better than this one.

O Superman – the Man of Steel Reboot

 ‘Man of Steel’ (2013) is the reboot, as they like to call it in these computer literate times, of the endlessly fascinating myth of Superman. Zack Snyder directs, with Christopher Nolan producing, and Henry Cavill starring as Kal El .

Amy Adams co-stars as Lois Lane. Michael Shannon as General Zod. Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

The planet Krypton is dying, mostly due to poor environmental maintenance. Jor-El decides on a radical move to save his people, the people of Krypton. All the other species on the planet seem to have been forgotten, which seems a tad strange for a scientist with environmental concerns.

He steals an artefact which contains the genetic heritage of the Kryptonian race, and without taking a backup gives it to his son Kal-El, the first non-genetically programmed naturally born child in centuries, a risky undertaking which seems to have worked out well.

Imbued with the genetic heritage of his race, Kal El is put on a tiny life pod and journeys to earth to be raised as a farm boy in Kansas by good people and grows up to save the world. Jor-El has already decided that it really is not best option for his boy’s future stability to have the love and support of his birth family on his son’s journey to Earth, or indeed his new life on Earth. He ignores his wife’s pleas about not wanting to leave the boy, does little or nothing in the line of seriously arming himself or having some type of preparatory escape pod for the family ready when being attacked by the angry rather one dimensional General Zod and his cohorts, and finally in a moment of the most ludicrous self immolation, allows himself to be killed by Zod, whom he must know, being a super smart very limber scientist, he hasn’t a hope against in battle. Furthermore I wonder if Jor-El had thought through the consequences of his son being brought up by psychopath or someone hell bent on world domination on Earth. Imagine if some imperialistically minded politician had found him and saw Kal-El’s powers and sheer potential . Kal- El was a lucky baby to be found by the Kents. It’s also quite amazing Jor El, an extraordinary person with an extraordinary mind by any standards, manages to fuse his people’s genetic heritage in seconds into the baby’s DNA, with no side effects whatever, plot a course for earth, and yet leaves the boy’s fate literally to the vicissitudes of space, with a genetically trained army gunning for the child that is the key to Krypton’s future. Kal El calls Earth a planet with intelligent life, a planet where his boy, so Jor El says, will be a god to the earthlings. This is not what one would call optimal parenting thinking on Jor El’s part. Being a god comes with serious problems, sometimes of the insoluble kind. Its a life sentence of misery and Atlas like obligation.

At this stage the movie is hardly ten minutes running, and I have this sinking feeling that the producers, directors and screenwriters have opted for a movie that looks great but is devoid of even the merest simulacrum  of a coherent plot. The worst part of this movie storytelling disaster is the fact that the Superman myth is probably the most high concept one can work on.  If there is any myth (more than that of the myth of Jesus – which I agree with only to an extent) the myth of the Golem is the myth of the golem. The word means ‘formless mass’, literally matter – something not yet imbued with form, the golem is designed by man and imbued with the power of god and designed for a purpose. Kal-El is imbued with the powers of godlike strength, immense beauty, and has within him the future of his race, literally the genetic code of life, truly a gift of God. Interestingly Kal-el, despite his father’s brilliance (his mother seems to serve the purpose only of bearing him in her womb in this rather phallocentric movie) does not have a divine intellect, has no interest in art, science, music, politics, or thinking about the meaning of life.  One doesn’t see him out with an easel and paints drawing the beauties of Kansas, mind you he does like Plato, which is probably the only moment of contemplation one gets in this hyper violent movie. Zod inevitably tacks Kal-El to Earth and threatens genocide to get back the key to Krypton’s future.This is an entirely Americano centric movie, despite the plot being about the fate of the Earth. A horrific battle ensues and in scenes that made my stomach turn Zod is defeated. In imagery that reminded me rather too closely of the twin towers, thousands lose their lives as Zod and Kal-El fight it out till the inevitable predictable end arrives. An awful movie, and the kind of movie that makes one wonder how so much money and so much talent can be wasted so wantonly

You will be unprepared for how pretentious this movie is ….

 

SUCKER PUNCH

I have been watching the interesting, highly erotically charged movie ‘Sucker Punch (2011)” in effect it is an extended dream sequence about an abused young woman who is incarcerated in an asylum and then lobotomised. The lobotomy method is particularly gruesome, inserting a long spike up through the nose into the frontal lobe, in effect reducing the ‘Baby Doll’ to a vegetable. Obviously the pharmacological resources available to the doctors (the story seems to be set in the 1950′s) was somewhat limited. At the time a rather broad view was taken of the remedial methods available and acceptable for helping the mentally ill, which, I am sure has contributed to the fear and loathing of the mentally ill (‘possessed’ and ‘dangerous’) and indeed of the institution of psychiatry in general. This rather dark prejudice is capitalized upon in the unspeakably awful sexually charged Marquis De Sade atmosphere of the mental hospital, where ‘Baby Doll’ is taken, filled with lecherous aggressive misogynistic males, and enabling passive females living in fear mostly. ‘Baby Doll’ is, by the way, not a baby, but has a rather doll-like face, being twenty years of age, and she is wrongfully accused of killing her own sister. The central point of the story is around the lobotomy. Indeed the story seems to take place in the moments before the lobotomy actually happens. Just as the protagonist (Baby Doll) is about to have her personality irrevocably smashed with a shiny metal spike she begins to dream, of way out of this hell she is in, longing to be gone with her fellow inmates from this place not of of healing but destruction, this place that seems to have morphed into something between a dance club and a brothel where a beautiful madam presides over equally beautiful young women in order that they may entertain gangsters, and please general punters who come night after night to the club. As ‘Baby Doll’ dances, the world once again morphs and she fights huge oriental warriors, slays dragons, kills mechanized Germans in trenches, and slays robots in futuristic settings. What particularly drew my attention was these fight scenes, for in this movie more than any other I saw that fighting was in some way a substitute for sex. They are either sexually entertaining men, or they are killing and fighting to be free of this fruitless loveless destructive slavery. In a sense the world they are in gives them no identity beyond the beauty and perfection of their bodies, which is interesting indeed, and the lie at the core of their lives. These were young women fighting for a liberation from enslavement to a kind of misogynistic tyranny, a male based woman hating sexually empty slavery to the whims of their keepers, a kind of Stockholm Syndrome dynamic. This contempt for the power of the feminine has to mind its basis mainly in fear. These erotically charged fight scenes, the sexuality exuding from every pore in these brothel scenes, the heightened emotionality of the women’s interaction with each other seems more than anything to allude to some form of deep rooted sexual frustration that pervades not just this film, with its fantastic plot and fascinating visuals, but the plots of so many movies like this, the exchange of fighting for intimacy, particularly sexual intimacy, exchanging life giving or life renewing penetration with that kind of wound that destroys life. Don’t in any way think that I regard this film as kind of timeless classic. Its the kind of titillating fluff that one comes across now and again that underlines an age where we are drifting further and further apart, despite all the psychological and psychiatric technologies available to us, an age where career or duty is eating into our love lives, an age where our thinking is controlled increasingly by corporate propaganda, an age where science and technology is pursued only for money and weapons technology. That’s the real sucker punch, not this nonsense. That being said, I liked this film. It showed me something. In terms of art, I would prefer any number of episodes of the Simpsons, particularly from the first five seasons. Now that’s genius.