Monthly Archives: October 2011

Contagion

A film with three of my favourite actors in is a treat that I don’t think I’ve ever had before. However it turned out not to be much of a treat. It was just OK, and I agree with the reviews that say that there’s not enough characterisation and that breadth has precedence over depth – which weakens this story.

I didn’t agree with the billings about the disquieting reality of the film. The only chill I got was from an air vent in the cinema,
and the thought of how much control is exerted by authorities, making the crisis worse. I can see the rationale behind quarantine and isolation, but this soon leads to economic problems, and the lack of what creatures most need –  connection.

I can believe that there would be looting – this is the nation that rioted over stocks of Cabbage Patch kids, so the final food and medicine is hardly a surprise.

The film feels like an authorised version where the officials are the good guys. It’s got some grey areas and tries to show a variety of issues (too many) but feels like the end of Source Code where the immorally resuscitated corpse gladly submits to serving America. (Knowing that story is written by an Englishman whose first film was a conspiracy story, I am now suspicious). This was another America speaks for the world movie, although it contains more than one European actor.

It reminded me of the last world war where peers as well as authorities imposed the desired behaviour on citizens, making them feel they let down their nation by not conforming.

I dislike the idea that the outspoken blogger is the villain, when he could have been the saviour. There’s no government cover up or disturbing bio-warfare after all – the movie feels like it has been an advert for wash your hands. The blogger’s critique is shown to finally be as dangerous and corrupt as anything he posts. But it is true that animals are sacrificed in the name of getting us a cure; and that the production of medicines and rare commodities became very lucrative during the times of disease and disaster. The public are controlled and what we know is controlled.

I am also suspicious of the medical world. I am sure many in it are genuine in the quest to make people well and to help, but it crushes anything that challenges it with the support of the legal profession and the government.

Alterative therapies are gaining recognition but have to defer to conventional western medicine to avoid law suits and being closed down.

The film has characters based on the real life Centers for  Disease, who collaborated with the film. Looking on CDC’s website, I’m appalled by the statement under Global Regional Centers for Disease Detection, end of para 1:

“Most importantly, none of these outbreaks became a health threat to the United  States”

The CDC run round the world, intervening (or is that interfering) in other countries, imposing a beast practice (interesting typo, I left that in), and yet saying that their job is well done because no one at home got hurt – as if Americans are more valuable  than Scots or Mexicans.

The CDC site feels very public relations – ‘we work for you 24/7’,’ read our real life stories about why we do what we do….’ it’s all emotive, sensationalist, reading like a party political broadcast. It’s advertising.

Another disturbing quote is:

“The United States had a choice: gamble H1N1 would not kill in high numbers, or work as fast as possible to develop a vaccine and make it available to as many Americans as possible. In fact, there was no choice—the vaccine had to be made and distributed” (italics mine)

But what of the cynical view that vaccines make money?

My thoughts are – why is vaccine the only way to deal with  illness? The film says that it is slow to make vaccines – it took 6 months to control the disease. Methodologically, growing a disease to play with it and see if you can work out how to reverse or nullify it seems a very limited and quite strange way to tackle a problem, yet it is the prevalent if not only method of science.

I am horrified that viruses are created by government paid scientists – how can that ever be justifiable?

Can’t diseases be more than just hygiene related problems – what about a deeper problem?

What would spiritual alternative healers make of this?

What of ancient and native medical wisdom?

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We Need to Talk about Kevin the Gerbil – and Tyrannosaur

Does anyone else want to read this book/film title in the sarcastic regional tones of 1980s puppet star, Roland Rat? I will add a sketch to remind or inform. This bombastic rodent presented British children’s TV along with Kevin the Gerbil et al. Roland and his insistently high-pitched companion would have brought welcome lightness to an intense story, which on page and screen is self important and humourless. Perhaps a comedy spoof in the making? You heard it here first

I recall Lionel Shriver’s book as one of the most important I read that year; though truly I read it in one sitting into the small hours because I didn’t want the pompous novel to take up another day of my life, and I skimmed heavily.

I wondered how a film could be made of such a heavily epistolary novel whose prose, like the family’s surname, runs to several syllables. Without the irritatingly grandiloquent writing style, the film feels like a vital part is lacking, especially as the film is near taciturn for much of the beginning. To translate the words into images doesn’t work and is unsatisfactory. I have always resisted the notion that film should privilege the visual over speech. Film has many tools – why use just one in a standardised way?

It seems that Lynne Ramsey has opted to adapt the novel in the style of The Tree Of Life crossed with Dogme. It’s all closeups of bits of ravaged faces and strange visual effects. She did the scrubbing the red paint off motif too often.

The film is alienating and boring. If I didn’t know the story, I would be lost – not only confused, but my attention and interest evaporated. I wished I were watching at home so that I could meander about, like so many cinema goers do, and didn’t care whether I missed bits of the film or not.

The book explores the why of Kevin’s actions – the film feebly says that he doesn’t know.  And there’s very little of the title  isn’t appropriate in the film – there’s little talking and the dialogue about Kevin is all but a trickle compared to the voluminous verbiage or outpourings penned by Madame Shriver.

The book drew me on the premise of what it would be to not love one’s child, not the rather obvious ‘nature or nurture’ that the film guides speak of. It feels that they’ve missed the point and the nuances of the story.

The other missing part is that the blurb of the book deliberately gave too much away. You knew what Kevin ‘s crime is – the shock is the missing facts. Being epistolary makes the reveal more surprising; but having no substitute for that device in the film loses the ‘killer twist’ (Picturehouses) its sting. The British Board of Film Classification once again forgot important details in their Extended Classification Information; it mentions sexual scenes and language, but nothing of the carnage of Kevin’s acts. Although brief, the last bodies might be quite upsetting. And I think it’s easier to guess whose they are in the film than in the book.

This is the second British gritty arts film I saw in a week (yes it is a US story, but Tilda and Lynne are both in Scotland and there’s BBC money in it). The other was Tyrannosaur, another of the kind of export we like to send round the European arts circuit, giving the impression that we of GB all live in mining towns on rough housing estates, killing ourselves and others, swearing every other word and shooting up our arms in misery.

Paddy Considine must have a thing about evangelical Christians. He writes and acts very convincing prayers but can’t resist making the born agains hide some sexually abusive hypocrisy. He also gets his types of God Shopper confused – this one prays like a Pentecostal and yet has a scared heart picture on the wall – which is very Catholic. It’s another outing for the weirdness of Eddie Marston, and is sometimes difficult viewing.

Both Kevin and Tyrannosaur deal with punishments for brutal murder. But while Kevin attacks innocent people (the film doesn’t ever speak of his targets and why they are chosen), Tyrannosaur’s ‘murderer’ is a monster (and no that doesn’t seem to be why the film is so called).  I am firmly opposed to capital punishment, but advocates would take the behaviour of Olivia/Hannah’s husband and say that prison is too good, why should he be kept at the tax payers expense, possibly to be let out and reoffend? His wife did us all a favour. And knowing the brutality inflicted on her, we can sympathise. I contrast this film with the Millennium trilogy, where a brutalised woman takes revenge and is never put in prison for it, and that – to my shock – we are meant to think ‘good for her’ for vilely raping the man back. His reputation is posthumously destroyed, but is seems that only  Hannah pays for her act that we can be sympathetic of if not condoning. Joseph who has killed 2 dogs and possibly his large ‘Jurassic’ wife spends less time in prison than the premeditated murder of Kevin, hiding under the guises of being a minor.

I go to the cinema to be challenged and inspired. I felt neither by the end of these films. The ‘lighter’ Woody Allen once again gave something wise that I could relate to, on a sense of place, idols and restlessness. I know which evening I valued more.

There is a another recent release with a Eva in it from Scotland – where’s Perfect Sense? – its tiny theatrical exhibition is making none.

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Caravans, coasts and councils

I went for a lovely walk yesterday by the sea. It was a bright autumnal day and all seemed very pleasant. I could see the next town from the top of a hill and thought that it would not take too long to reach it along the coast path. Except that the National Coast Path is no such thing. Beware acorn symbols if you trying to get anywhere quickly. The coastal path was diverted due to some sad caravans who wanted the sea view without the distraction of unsightly walkers spoiling it. Then there was the £1000 fine threat if I did not close the gate after crossing the railway. It amazes me that so many country paths send us across a working railway line, and yet I was threatened with a £600 fine if I crossed to catch the train that was standing on the opposite side of the road but which I couldn’t reach due to faulty level crossing barriers. Neither the police nor the rail company would give permission to cross for fear I would injure my dear little legs and sue them, even though it was originally a designated pedestrian crossing. So I had to miss my train and wait an hour. That was 3 years ago and I’m still cross.

I decided to ignore the acorn signs and pick my own way – sadly without sight of the sea  towards mt destination as directly as I could. (Checking a map later showed me that this hunch was completely right and the acorn walk is distinctly inland and meandering). I did find an opportunity to rejoin the cliffs, only once again to be confronted by more rows of dull white caravans, and a sign saying: the Permissive Path is closed due to coastal erosion – and we’re not going to let you across our precious holiday park. Sorry for the inconvenience.

And that was the end of the sign.  No map, no arrows – once again I had to use intuition to continue my journey and get there before dark fell. I have never been so glad to see a pier, knowing I had at last arrived, having taken considerably longer than expected. I did not predict that I would need to scramble up  a meter high bank to avoid the incoming tide, the eroding cliffs and rejoin the promenade. (There is a ladder but this is only about a foot wide – skinny walkers only, then).

Before my walk, I had sat in a cafe and read the newspaper and how £8m has bene spent on aggressively evicting squatters. And that we might have secret courts, should that elusive phrase ‘national security’  be deigned to suffer otherwise.

I thought, again – what a crazy country and world we live in. Our priorities are all about money, control, property, and we behave in ways that fly in opposition to our supposed own national values of open justice and supposed rule by the people. We nanny about safety and fence off the cliff tops with numerous signs; but the caravan park won’t shrink – the public have to get trapped and lost instead. So yes I enjoyed my walk, but what a shame that  something as innocent and relaxing as some sea breeze and exercise stil doesn’t let you escape the deeply imbalanced world we live in.

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The Truth about Benefits

I’m really disappointed with my country right now. I’ve been on the official Government Petitions website, and looked up benefits as I feel strongly about the cuts, caps and workfare mentality being introduced.

There are many petitions there about benefits, and most of them do not say what I thought they would. I was actually disgusted by the attitude of the petitions’ authors, so much so that I am posting on it immediately.

There is a myth being fuelled that people on benefits won’t work. We are told to hate these claimants because these lazy scroungers are sucking out resources from the hardworking rest of us, contributing to the recessional shortages and cuts. If only we could get rid of these clingons, we’d have more public money to go round the rest of us. Ministers tell us of a large annual welfare bill to be incendiary to those whose image of a claimant is the feckless thick drug using jobcentre loiterer.

In my experience, people who claim benefits don’t enjoy doing so. If they could manage another way, they would. They are desperate to be able to have their own income. I think people who think otherwise have never been to a jobcentre or housing benefit call centre. They’ve not had to fill in a huge Incapacity benefit form or attend an invasive medical to see if they are fit for work. They’ve not had to bring in all their wage slips and bank statements for a stranger to peruse and copy. They’ve not had someone aggressively ask why they were unable to actively seek work at the time of their parents’ death. They’ve not felt the powerlessness of sitting in that chair across a corporate desk with security gaurds lurking, while jobs are suggested which show utter ignorance of the signing clerk who doesn’t understand many qualifications or careers. They’ve not spend hours on a phone trying to get through to rude, impervious staff, or had to queue up amongst the ‘feckless’ to get a giro for their hungry family. They’ve not had the dark parrot on their shoulder, asking them was their something else they could have done to get work – even as they lay in bed, or watch a film; asking them to justify why they are going out, fearing what the DWP will say on their next visit, or if they might ring and demand you attend an unsuitable interview or lose your money. It’s not even nice meeting people, being asked that inevitable question, what do you do – only to answer (however elusively or euphemistically) that you’re on benefits. Friends greet with the same sad ‘Any luck this week?’ as if they are an extension of government staff. To claim, you are meant to declare all your activities which really means you justify the interests you have – being treasurer at the sports club, the church, or making cuppas for your local theatre company – all of which might cost you your benefit.

So strangely, most of us are keen not to be in that system.

I consider it something to be proud of that one’s country recognises that their citizens need support sometimes and as a society that we want to help each other out. ‘Society’ and ‘community’ get used regularly, but our neighbourliness is not meant to extend to the undeserving – which often is those the government think are undeserving and so use the media to get the people to agree with them.

Those anti benefits prophets are subscribers to capitalism, for they are propounding the belief that one’s worth is through money – not a very spiritual belief and not a very evolved one. Our worth is not through earning and certainly not how much. I love the many spiritual writers who remind us that  we are ‘human BEINGs’. Money is human created – animal and plants exist without it, as do some human societies. We have made it a necessity and also a shame if we do not have enough of it so that we have to borrow, beg or default on our debts. That’s an unhealthy and corrupt value system.

Our society is also saying: some work is better than none. A right wing minster said that there is greater worth in earning than in not, in any job. As a well paid man doing the job he wants (if he isn’t, he shouldn’t be a servant of the people), this is a hollow speech. Doing a job you hate is more than the 40 hours a week you spend at it – it’s the focus of your life. Why do we expect work to be hard and unpleasant, a grind necessary to exist and have status? I recently spoke with a business counsellor who said that for her – work you want is the only kind there is. It doesn’t make sense, from even the right wing Functionalist sociological perspective, to put ill matched people into work they hate. It benefits no one – for then the employers are getting the wrong staff, staff are ill and depressed, and society is full of sick leave bills – or even hospitals and suicides.

What perhaps the government hates most is those who live outside their system. Perhaps many of us hate that too – and I think it is partly about wishing people to conform and partly resentment that others have the courage and freedom to do what we are not.

I’m also disturbed by the amount of petitions asking foreigners to be repatriated and benefits to be withdrawn from them. My pride in my nationality is not in ostracising others, especially if this might cause them poverty or even harm.

We do need a reform of benefits but we need a system which helps those who need it, and does not penalise for working (as often this makes you worse off), or not having a career path that isn’t on a drop down menu on a civil service computer. The fear, bullying, intrusion and humiliation of the current system with whipped up frenzy about lazy bleeders needs to end. We need this recession as a value reassessment, and to see that the world we’ve created in many countries is about as far from our souls’ calling as it is possible to be. And yes, souls do come into policies and statecraft. Why else would we be here?

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Further thoughts of Melancholia

I’m not done with Melancholia yet.

Whilst scheming getting to a suitable cinema where I can enjoy it fully for a second viewing, I have been thinking about it a full 2 days. In the middle, I saw another film, and the contrast was interesting.

I’m glad I only paid 99p to see Super 8. I only got the value of half of that. But what struck me was the difference between how Melancholia and Super 8 dealt with disaster. In Super 8, the train doesn’t just blow up – it carries on exploding. I think the train’s carriages all blow up twice. I wanted to shout: please! This has gone on too long. I felt like that when I first saw Titanic. We had to watch every detail imaginable. We had to see the plates smashing. I recall thinking – what a wasteful shot.

If Hollywood had made Melancholia, the village would have gathered for a vigil amid emotional squeals and they’d bond with their estranged Dad. The president would have spoken on behalf of the whole world. We’d see every shrub in the grounds and every utensil in the house be consumed by fire.

I liked the microcosmic approach, the lack of panicked radio chatter and running troops and no sirens.

I am not impressed by how much journalists say predictable things and how they have all likened Melancholia to a certain film.

I would like to say which 2 films it reminds me of – neither have been mentioned by any reviews I’ve read.

One is Solaris (2004). Both Solaris and Melancholia are named after fictional planets and use CGI but often sparingly. I recall the makers saying in the  extras of  Solaris that they could have chosen background shots of the planet to be in full view, to better justify the expensive effect. But they chose it to be a blue slice in the corner of the screen. Both planets are blue and have mysterious properties that bring behaviours of people in contact with it. They’re both melodramas and psychodramas, despite a potential sci fi label. George Clooney also falls prey to the planet at the end – this time by choice – but in both cases, protagonists unite united with loved ones. In both, it’s a powerful finale. The hypnoptic other worldy music of Solaris was used on a trailer prior to Melancholia’s screening. I have been listening to The Planets, wondering why LVT chose Wagner’s music for his film, and what the effect would be of playing Holst’s Mars over the  world’s end instead.

The other film that the first part reminds me of is After the Wedding, by another Danish director, though one key difference is humour. I recall Susanne Bier’s excellent piece being quite intense. The only thing I laughed at was its Danish title. As I said before of Melancholia, it’s not often I laugh that hard at the cinema. I only wish its trailer showed those laughs instead of showing the worst whispery lines of irritating children and a non stop intensity which is not representative.

The other thing I would like to comment on is Lars’s apparent critique of rituals: wedding day cake cutting, how one should say goodbye to the world (I laughed at Justine’s response to Claire’s idea for that)… and then having one anyway with the open to the sky space ‘tent’. I share a dislike of ritual to some extent.

I liked too that melancholiacs hate fakery and want the world to be real.

I’m also intrigued by the notion that melancholia was thought to be to do with humours and bile and planets. Humans have always believed (sometimes rightly) that heavenly bodies affect us – our tides, our periods, werewolfs. The planet Melancholia was thought to actually exist.

I’ve read more and thought again about the opening images and now I realise the grey treacle at the start is how Justine sees her depression, and that she sees herself as Ophelia, lying in water, drowning romantically.

I can see the romanticism with being melancholy – as did Anne of Green Gables and a pen friend I once had who billed herself thus…

I don’t agree with LVT’s doom and nihilism – or the sound of his next film. But I certainly enjoyed this and I am pleased that several other reviewers agree, although some of them were surprised at enjoying it too.

I would like to end with another plea to show this in suitable auditoriums. I wrote to a local cinema asking them to swap it from their 40 seat living room screen to their c200 seater main screen. They said that the other film they’ve booked is likely to be more popular, but Melancholia is gaining alot of attention at present, and is likely to appeal more widely than just to the audience who normally like LVT films. If I see that an epic film is not shown in suitable surrounds, I won’t go. Melancholia needs to be enjoyed as big and full as you can get. So at present I am stuck that no cinema in travelling distance is offering that and so my second viewing is not looking imminent – which means I and the box office lose out.

 

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Erosions of liberty and privacy

Perhaps this should have been my first post, in the About Me box.

I stand for freedom of speech and the right to reveal as much or little of myself as I wish. This latter right is constantly being eroded. The reason this blog is not tied up to more directories is that I don’t wish to have anonymous huge domineering companies verify me and harass me with marketing. I don’t want to be a part of Google, any more than I want to give my custom to Tesco’s. We’re in a world obsessed with identity checks and the internet makes it all too easy for anyone – an employer, an acquaintance, let alone security and police – to find out about us on unsolicited levels. A blog is an internet presence by choice, but it is also a choice with parameters I should choose. It means I can choose who sees me with what hat on. I wont be subjected to the intrusion of verification. We have that in hotels now – how does anyone stay with a secret lover when they ask for your passport? We have it when we apply for work – even if it is a casual one off shift – and we even are being checked on dating and friendship sites. And the irony is – the checkers are faceless and opaque, claiming to be acting in public interests, as if facades take away genuineness. But on another level – the one that counts – facades allow greater openess and verisimilitude. Do we feel cheated that an author has a pseudonym? Does it lessen their work? Of course not! Perhaps what is sad is that many people do not feel free to be themselves without one. But layers of the self are interesting and also natural and vital. We don’t share every facet of ourselves with everyone we meet, that is a priviledge and it respects that by being in different settings mean we can show our full personality. We are obsessed by seeing photographs but then we judge on a few traits – forgetting that blind people manage without this need, and it is possible to correspond in business or person without having seen the other person.

I also stand against jumping on bandwagons; just because some people want to make money out of an idea does not mean we all have to give in and use it. Technology is another area where freedoms are eroded. We can’t buy the old sort because it’s been discontinued  – the decision of someone who wants to make money from new ideas. This can be true of books, supermarket items (the two ought not to mix), music playing devices – and social media. It’s the biggest threat to how we communicate and badly dilutes relationships. On principle, I won’t use facebook and won’t be forced onto it because others communicate through it. They keep your profile and IP address, even after you leave. We allow too many of these erosions, and it is of major concern. Grave things always start little; it’s easy to say: it doesn’t matter… it’s the way the world is going… I can’t do anything about that. It does matter and we can do something and the cart can only gather speed if people get on it and push it. Empty the cart, untie the horse, and it is relegated back to the shed.

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Melancholia

It’s taken till the 10th month of the year for me to have found a film that was special. And I’m very suprised at it…

[plot spoiler alert]

I did not expect a film by Lars Von Triers with a title that means ‘misery’ to make me feel good, let alone laugh. Having been harrowed by Bjork’s prolonged hysteria at being hanged in Dancer in the Dark, and having read of the frenzied, bizarre tale of Antichrist that culminates in a graphic self clitoridectomy, I was ill disposed towards ever seeing a LVT film ever again. Yet I kept seeing images from Melancholia and felt myself being drawn towards this wedding melodrama coupled with an unlikely planetary disaster. Having checked the BBFC’s website and found that it contains nothing more shocking that Kirsten Dunst naked, I decided to pick my own path between the contrasting reviews and write my own.

I kept telling myself in the cinema: even if you hate it, at least you have enjoyed up to now. I loved the powerful images and music of the opening sequence. And then I laughed – a lot – particularly in the first part. From the limousine too big to handle on the winding roads to the impromptu golf buggy driving by the elusive bride, I was stifling snorts – and then not even bothering. So instead of coming away feeling like the film’s title, I am calm, happy and full of the endorphins of having had a good laugh. I’ve not had such a titter since Potiche – or Wonder Woman.

Anyone who says if you’re not a LVT fan you won’t like this is wrong. I have hated everything I’ve read and seen of his films up to now (Breaking The Waves being another example).  I often give harsh reviews and hate pretence, but I can truly say I loved this. I’m still not quite sure I fully understood the film. I sensed the see saw of emotions between the horses and the sisters, and how the family is pared down to just the sisters and child as all being significant. But I would be happy to go again to ponder further on the meaning of ash tasting meatloaf and baths.

The acting in the first part of the film felt very real, and then the second seemed to shift into a new style where we are no longer emulating real life. The reviewer who commented that the characters don’t do anything they should has missed the point. What can you do when a planet is due to hit? We would not be told about it – nanny decisions would be made on behalf of the public to avoid hysteria. That may be a metaphorical point, but it is also realistic. There are only two people who could have stopped Melancholia hitting earth – Superman and God. Neither are in the movie. And neither are these a factor for many scientists and world leaders.  I believe in God and the power of prayer, but it might be that stopping Melancholia is not a divine intervention She will make. LVT never mentions God, faith or an afterlife, but those who believe in those might see that the moment of doom is a catapult into a new, higher world.

When Kirsten’s character Justine accepts that death is coming, she looses her depression and becomes calm. Maybe there’s something in that as a world view – not just about when one will expire, but that in generally accepting what cannot be changed, there is a peace and letting go in any situation.

When the end came, it was amazing and beautiful. I just wished I had seen it on a bigger screen and sat on the front row. This is surely what IMAXs are for. But it’s the kind of film that rarely is given the kind of viewing conditions that it deserves. I saw it in a 100 seater auditorium. Yet it should no more be shown in such a setting than Avatar. Seeing Melancholia’s dramatic finale is a safe way to face annihilation. If such an extinction ever really comes, this is the way to experience it: looking full into it,  finding it exhilarating and savouring the moment, whether or not it is followed by silence and black as in the film, or as I believe, something even better.

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