Archive for the ‘Politics/ Society’ Category

A New Hope?

May 12, 2011

More than a week after the raid against rebel Leader Obi-Wan Kenobi, there are still unanswered questions concerning his death. Here is The Galactic Empire Times with more.

(By the way, be sure to read the comments section of the article as well. Rather well done!)

Wanted: Film, Fascism and Angelina Jolie

April 1, 2009

I’ll take a short break from my Studio Ghibli series. Rest assured, new chapters will soon follow.

There are times I can find myself in agreement with W. Somerset Maugham’s semi-witty tenet that “Excess on occasion is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit“. However, I’m pretty sure that should Maugham have had the misfortune to be transported in time only to be forced to sit through the almost nihilistic action film Wanted (stranger things have happened… or perhaps not), he would use the word excess with indeed more careful moderation. For excess is the key word in introducing this film, perhaps assisted by other terms of a Darwinian slash Nietzschean order.

wantedWanted is made by Russian/Kazach director Timur Bekmambetov, known for his vampire films Night Watch and Day Watch. which were huge successes in Russia and moderately popular in the west as well. It stars James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. None of these perform their roles better or worse than one should expect. It is based on British writer Mark Millar’s comic book miniseries, which was slightly satirical in its approach to the amoral violence of the characters. The film is content to forego said satire.

I can’t really fault the direction of the film beyond saying that the different set pieces at times lack coherence, not to say logic, and what would otherwise have been impressive stunts disappear in a haze of CGI and breakneck editing. I mention the set pieces, for this is a film that almost doesn’t exist when it is not moving. Fast.

I remember seeing Terminator 2 for the first time and how awe-inspiring I then felt it was. Much of this awe had to do with how Cameron was able to utilize state of the art technology while at the same time making sure that we could actually see everything we were meant to see: We could follow the T1000‘s jump into the helicopter and study each transformation made by the then ground breaking use of CGI.

For some reason many films these days opt to cut so quickly from angle to misused angle, to push the camera into our faces until what we see has little semblance of reality and thus removing us from the illusion that film is indeed a kind of reality. Without this illusion, films become only spectacle and not a very well made spectacle at that. The ability to combine fast action with judicious amounts of CGI in a tangible and understandable manner is an art quickly becoming lost in the action genre. (Let me add that I don’t object to fast editing per se, and neither is the practice particularly new. I recently watched Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930- film Murder!, in which the cuts were at times much faster than in most modern films, particularly in scenes where the directors of today tend to linger if they at all venture there; e.g. reaction shots and transitional scenes).

murder

However, Bekmambetov is an accomplished visually oriented director (as opposed to intellectually oriented?) who does have the ability to show us some scenes we have not seen before. The biggest problem I have with the film is the story he chooses to tell, and how he tells it is merely an extension of some deep faults within the story.

James McAvoy’s character starts out as an everyman, although one by far more apathetic than most of us. He hates his job and his girl friend and his life and so on. The fact that he is impotent, both virtually and metaphorically is made clear for us through some unpleasantly juvenile scenes. In fact, let me interject here, that I’ve seldom had a stronger feeling that a film must have been written by a thirteen year old with severe revenge fantasies. The little there is of psychology is so infantile in its insights that it beggars belief. I admit that I laughed out loud a couple of times during the delivery of dialogue in the film, but unfortunately not where the film wanted me to laugh, which I hope was nowhere. “I can now stand in my father’s shoes” was one such line. – I guess you have to see it…

wanted_wanted_jolie__44008bOh well, our not so lovable loser is quickly torn away from his mundane loser life (yes, the film repeats quite some times that he is a loser) when a mysterious and heavily tattooed woman in the shape and form of Angelina Jolie (which means, I guess, that it must be her), warns him that he is about to be killed, and off they go in a blaze of speed and death defying acts while shooting at the bad guy. Our man learns that she is part of an ancient order of assassins (The Fraternity, they call themselves) that are killing people to maintain some kind of balance on earth dictated by “the fates”. The manner the fates have of dictating to the Order which people to kill is through a somewhat unorthodox medium: A giant loom – the Loom of Fate, no less – is weaving small errors that can be interpreted as binary code. This code spells out the names of the people that need to be extinguished by the assassin order. Of all the ways I have ever imagined the gods to communicate with people, this has to be the most obscure or – all right – most lame.

Loserboy is told that his increased heart rate is not a matter for the doctor, but rather a symptom of his adrenaline granting him superhuman speed and agility and – for some reason – the ability to make killing shots from extremely long distances as well as curve the trajectory of the bullets. Morgan Freeman tells him gravely that “If you had not been told that bullets go straight, wouldn’t you have trusted your instincts to let the bullet find the target in other ways”, or something to that effect. Yes, the film is indeed this stupid.

Then follows the obligatory training sessions for our man, as he is punished and beaten until he is at least as accomplished in the art of killing as his new comrades and Angelina. He kills some people as part of early assignments, having few qualms to do so. (As soon as he learns to trust the Fate, he accepts the rightness and infallibility of the giant weaving apparatus). To turn an inane story short, the person he is told killed his father turns out to actually be his father and Morgan Freeman is evil. On the way to this insight, he has killed his father and an entire train of innocent passengers, seemingly without any regret whatsoever.

buckleI won’t reveal the outcome of “the final battle”, except to say that it turns out that the killing orders that the Fraternity has received for these last years had less to do with any fates and more to do with Morgan Freeman’s ambitions. The film now tells us that to kill for personal gains is wrong, and I actually felt we were on the brink of some US criticism at this point, though of the heavy handed variety. But then the film makes a case for the nobility of killing people if The Fates tell us so (read God), which again is a view not completely beyond the pale in some US presidential administrations, nor in some other countries, for that matter.

No matter, soon the former loser, now super hero assassin James McAvoy stumbles out of the rubble, musing: “Six weeks ago I was ordinary and pathetic. Just like you.“ I can’t imagine a clearer way for the film to signal it’s view on people and humanity; on normality. The last reel of the film has the protagonist, now super human, saying: “This is me taking back control of my life. What the fuck have you done lately?”, thereby again stepping out of the reality of the film, so to say, and involving us, the spectators.

This is also where the film becomes interesting, and a part of me almost wants the entire film to be one big hoax, one giant misleading manoeuvre. It reaches this point, spelling out its contempt for everyone watching the film, and instead of giving us a classic end, subverts the relationship between protagonist and viewer. If I had felt there had been present an iota of intelligence at other places during the narrative, I could give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the film is indeed a critique of its own audience.

The film and its protagonist in effect says at this point: “Don’t look at me, look at yourselves. You have seen a film celebrating the more unpleasant notions of the Ubermensch and fascism; it is, after all, good to kill if God tells you so. And you have stuck with me, rooted for me“. What this ultimately means is that the film is now stuck between two positions, one being: “Now, go out and kill. It is liberating.” The other alternative is “You fools, I am no hero for you. I despise you.” Needless to say, the average moviegoer is not likely to want to take the latter to heart, and one can only hope they avoid taking the former statement seriously.

And of course, one probably shouldn’t take seeming fluff like Wanted seriously. But on the other hand, perhaps it is exactly this kind of mindless summer entertainment that is most interesting to subject to at least a minimum of critical analysis. As well as reflecting the needs of society, maybe these types of film also show society as they want it to be.

Who Shall Lead Them?

October 2, 2008

Dear friends, romans and non-romans! I hate to do it, but now is not the time anymore to run barefoot through fall leaves while home and hearth awaits eternal. Now is the time for politics and truths so close to lies that no man alive can hope to know the difference.

With just some forty days to go before a handful of Americans are to vote for their next president, I thought it only fair to flag this blogauthor’s opinion about whom is best suited to lead the stumbling giant. I think that what one must foremost have in mind, is that it is not – as the Media and its owners would have you believe – a choice between John McCain and Barack Obama. I think they would both be vastly more competent for the job as leader in name than W., but who wouldn’t? More important than the election of a new president, is the election of an entire machinery; from the immediate white house staff to an entire system of propaganda. Thus, one should have in mind which apparatus of misinformation one prefers. I think I prefer to be misled by Obama rather than McCain, if not for other reasons than the childishness of the lies we have seen by the current republican administration – and of course the repercussions they’ve had on the rest of the world.

However, maybe the biggest tip of the scale towards the democrat side in this campaign, has – for me, at least – been McCain’s baffling nomination of Sarah Palin as VP. One would think that the good senator and former POW would have listened with more than half an ear to some of the concern that has been voiced about his age. People are fearing that he can die at any moment – or at least be rendered unable to pretend to lead the country – and the single most important thing he could do to remedy this fear was to appoint a more or less capable and more or less sane person as his candidate for the Vice Presidency. But no. Some of the people in his campaign – or even just one very loud smart ass recent graduate from the Ivy League with pretensions of understanding demographics, political correctness and “what the people want” – have evidently been adamant that since the other side had put the minority card into play, well then, by golly, so should they! … “Women are a minority, right, Jeff?” “Uh-huh. Think so.” “Ok, then. Senator McCain… we’ve looked at the numbers and they all point to one fact. You need a woman”. “Is that a fact?” “Yes, sir. It is”.

Of course, finding a woman in the Republican Party with a semblance of leadership experience, or abilities other than being able to appear solidly spousal, can’t have been easy. The quest for the woman made minutes turn into hours and hours into more hours. Then one day, after weeks of surfing on the Republinet: “Senator, senator! We’ve found one. In Alaska”. Prepare for Sarah Palin: (Go here for a summary of her “official” political positions. And take a look here how embarrassing it can be when she can’t think of a single ruling by the supreme court apart from the Roe v Wade (pro choice) they’ve already discussed…)

Let me now stress that I don’t have anything against Alaska or women – on the contrary – but this person gives me goose bumps, and not the good kind. Since I don’t know her personally, I shall not call her stupid, although all evidence points in that direction. (Here is an excerpt of Katie Couric’s “feature-interview” with her. Note how she can’t name a single newspaper and see how she refuses to answer a single question…) I shall, however, call her narrow minded, bigoted and a danger to the entire world. Just on evidence by the infamous Katie Couric-interview, I think we can safely say she is a liar and a religious zealot. Her talk about “the good guys and the bad guys” toward the end of the interview has to supersede even the poorer verbal blunders of W. I can’t imagine anyone less states(wo)manlike. Worse, of course, is the idea she proclaims, that if a country’s leader is bad – or “a bad guy”, in her words – then the entire people of that country might just as well die in a nuclear holocaust for all she cares. If the rest of the world put credence in such an idea, USA would’ve been in even deeper trouble these days.

Keeping this short, I shall take my leave of politics for now, and pronounce this blog’s support of Obama in the presidential “race”. Not because we believe in him, but because the other side is worse, and – I fear – by much.

By the way, speaking of race. Why are they always running? Why can’t they “ever walk for president”, or stroll slightly fast if they absolutely must speed up? I’m betting John McCain would’ve preferred a breather or two. I know I would.

(And finally; this clip from SNL might prove funny or alleviating if you’ve sufficiently perused the above links and become as embarrassed as I myself did while watching them).

In the business of flying, part 1

June 13, 2008

I’m not an habitual traveller. However, about once or twice a year, I do put myself – and my wife – on a plane, for longer or shorter excursions. A breath of something that is not stiflingly Norwegian seems to have a lifesaving effect on the organism that is me. Now, the idiocy of security checks thought up by paranoid minds and executed by officious henchmen – and women – can put a damper on any trip from the get-go. People with limited peopleskills and weak formal training in what they are supposed to accomplish, do their best to instill what can only be described as a prevalent fascistic mood in the security area. Some of us escape unharmed and undetected and can pass the gates to the overpriced paradise that is the waiting area of the airport. Kind of like getting into Switzerland. Behind us we glimpse an unlucky soul who – by some whim of fate – has triggered a detector or alarmed a functionary by making a harmless joke or dared to mention one of the hundreds of words that exists on a list of words the security guards are supposed to take offence to. I could mention some of these words here, but I don’t dare to. I’d like to say that this is merely paranoia on my part, but I’m too afraid it is not.

Google and other search engines send their little robots, millions of them, scurrying throgh the internet, looking for words and phrases. This is, basically how the internet works. You type a keyword, and Google can tell you the thousands of entries in which this word has been used. It doesn’t take much imagination to assume that one can also redlight certain keywords to look out for, and that these entries will find their way to a Pentagon mainframe. (I guess I’ve blown my cover now, by mentioning Pentagon…). In five minutes the FBI or another illboding acronym will be at my door (incert nervous laughter)… Of course, we already know this, but mostly choose not to think about it too much. It is too much like a dystopian fantasy (I was going to say a RIDICULOUS dystopian fantasy, but few dystopies strike me as fitting the adjective).

However, I’m disgressing. Airports, yes. It is one of the wonders of modern social engineering that such a large number of people has so readily accepted, in such a short time, to be reduced to cows every time we feel the need to travel. We get in line. If any of us possess some liquid or other – like water (scary water…), we hurriedly toss the bottle into a nearby container before the security gestapo can begin to suspect that we had a cunning plan to smuggle the water onboard the plane. We take off our belts and chronomatically engineered timekeeping devices (as I’m sure the White House would call it, or CETDs in short), we check our pockets at least two times for anything metallic – or slightly metallic looking (like the tinfoil-like wrapping on the bubblegum), and then we hold our breaths as we pass the detectors with heads held high, as if there is a certain pride still left in us. We wait for either the nod or the stalwart arms guiding us to the side, telling us to remove our shoes. We wait for the manual detector moving up and down our bodies, touching us lightly, but unhesitatingly, and not by invitation. There is a certain strangeness to the feeling of standing barefoot among people in uniforms, among other travellers. As if a part of us that we had not planned to when we left home that day, has been exposed. We leave our homes carrying a portrait of ourselves. Then, on that cold floor, some of that portrait is disfigured by people we never look in the eye. It’s many things, but it is not nice.

Still, we pass also this examination, and we are almost relieved. At least they didn’t find a reason to delay us further, to take us into another room to do what we hope we’ll never know. And why are we relieved? Because we have no rights whatsoever. In an airport, normal principles of “justice” don’t apply. If for any reason one of the security guards should deem us “suspicious”, I can’t see what’s to stop them from detaining us, give us the full body search, etc. So, a part of us is happy that we are not that unlucky, that we are not directly mistreated, that we have kept a smidgen of our projection of ourselves as free citizens in the unfree society that is the airport.

And who are the people performing these checks? The security guards are, at least not in my country, not even police. They are mostly private securiy guards, with a training that is nowhere near what it takes to be a police. If anyone ever wanted to do something seriously bad, my guess is that they would infiltrate this group rather than risk detection – even in the security system we had before 9/11. As it is now, the only reason I can see for the extreme measures “society” has taken, is to give us a sense of (albeit false) security inside the airports. Is it worth the cost?

Oh, well, with the price of oil showing no signs of falling, I guess it is just a matter of time before we all have to take the train, which is generally a good thing. And by the way: More people take the train every day than planes. Attacks on trains can have just as disastrous results as on planes (as in Madrid), but the security on train stations is nowhere near the same as on airports. Could it be that there are more rich people on planes, that they are more necessary for the corporate economy? Nah, surely not.