Archive for Film & DVD Reviews

Film Review: Belfast

One of the most anticipated films of 2022 for this reviewer was Kenneth Branagh’s evocation of his hometown, Belfast. Branagh grew up in a predominately loyalist area of North Belfast just as “The Troubles” were beginning to take off. Your reviewer lived on a vast housing estate a few miles north of his area. How, I wondered, would his recollections tally with mine? What would audiences in Great Britain and abroad think?

A film that packs a real emotional punch

Branagh’s alter ego is nine-year-old Buddy.  He lives in a tightly knit area where everybody knows everyone else when out of the blue, a violent mob comes into the area, attacking the homes of Catholic neighbours, rioting, and erecting barricades. Soldiers appear on the streets, vetting who moves in and out of the area.

Some loyalists have criticised the film, claiming it doesn’t show context and portrays the Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) community in the worst possible light. However, for a nine-year-old, there would be no context, the child would be swept up in the bewildering events unfolding around him. Jude Hill, the young actor who plays the part of Buddy, brings out this sense of innocent confusion, bewilderment and grief magnificently.

Branagh’s decision to film most of the 1969 action in black and white really pays off. I was eleven then and all my recollections of that time are in black and white. Colour television sets didn’t really take off until the late seventies.  So much of this film resonated with me as I was only a couple of years older than Buddy at the time; Buddy’s interest in the Apollo space programme, his Thunderbirds International Rescue uniform, and the old route numbers on the buses. It all came flooding back. It could have been me and my family forced to leave the country if I’d lived four miles up the road.

Judy Dench was quite disappointing in her role as Buddy’s granny. In contrast, her screen husband, Ciaran Hinds, almost stole the show as Buddy’s wise but ailing granddad, Pop.

This film packs a real emotional punch; it left me shedding a few tears for those who had to leave, those left behind whose lives have been screwed up forever and for those who died. Please God, that we in Ulster don’t ever go through all that shit again.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Benediction (2021)

Ivor Novello and a young Sassoon as portrayed in the film. Novello stands out in the film as an utter b***ard,

Benediction is a deeply depressing film. Benediction is the invocation of a blessing but if a blessing was invited by the characters in this film it never came. Superficially the film tells the story of Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden / Peter Capaldi). Sassoon was a complex man a soldier decorated for his bravery on the battlefield who became a vocal critic of the government’s continuation of the First World War. Benediction, however is not a biography of Sassoon. Many of his key life events, such as his father’s early death and the bequest he received from his aunt and his Jewish background are not mentioned.

It’s more a meditation on loneliness, regret and self-loathing. The self-loathing may partly be traced to the aftermath of his Soldier’s Declaration of 1917. When faced with a court-martial and possible execution Sassoon allowed his influential friends to arrange, instead, that he was committed to the psychiatric ward of a military hospital (Craiglockhart in Edinburgh). At Craiglockhart we see Sassoon talk to a sympathetic Psychiatrist about his sexual attraction to men. The Psychiatrist shares Sassoon’s sexuality but seems more at ease with it. At the Sanatorium he also meets the doomed poet Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson) who he mentors and encourages.

Sassoon’s fame spreads and when released his fame spreads he is welcomed in artistic circles. Some of the members of these circles become lovers, including Ivor Novello (Jermy Irvine). None of the portrayals of the gay relationships are positive. The only humour in the film comes from the bitter, caustic remarks they make about each other. None of the characters are likeable.


Terence Davies is quoted as saying “I have hated being gay, and I’ve been celibate for most of my life. Some people are just good at sex, and others aren’t; I’m one of them who isn’t. I’m just too self-conscious.” It seems that this view has informed the Director’s approach to the “shadow life” featured in this film.

Ivor Novello stands out as a real piece of work with his catty wit and brutal treatment of lovers. He eventually decides to marry Hester Gatty (in her youth played by Kate Phillips and later by Gemma Jones). This is a steady relationship and they have a son but Sassoon still appears unfulfilled and distant failing to find comfort or salvation within the conformity of marriage and religion.

.So the film is miserable. Apart from the clever but cruel wit the main redeeming feature is the music, poetry and footage from WWI woven throughout the film. That has a dreamy, hypnotic quality which has a strange beauty. I was particularly struck by no-man’s land during snow with ‘Silent Night’ playing over the top, first in German and then English.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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The Northman (2022)

(15)
2h 17m
Director
Robert Eggers
Stars
Alexander Skarsgård Nicole Kidman Claes Bang

The Northman is a star-studded production.

The Northman tells the story of Amleth, a young prince of a Norse king who goes into exile after his father is killed by his uncle, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who then usurps Amleth’s kingship and marries his mother. As Amleth leaves he vows to avenge his Father by killing Fjölnir and saving his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). After being raised abroad by Viking raiders as a berserker, Amleth, with the help of a Slavic slave-woman, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy), seeks out his uncle in Iceland and mete out revenge. Robert Eggers co-wrote the script with Icelandic poet and author Sjón.

Eggers’ film is very, very violent. It made me wonder how this brutal film got a 15 certificate. It seems that violence is kind of OK with UK censors but portrayals of sex are considered more of a problem. What does that tell you about our society? The harsh, bleak life depicted in the film is probably accurate. The depictions of violence are also probably accurate. What interests me is that the consequences of this violence (as in other films) are distorted. Recovery times for serious injuries are skipped over. In one scene Amleth is badly tortured but seems to regain full health almost miraculously.

Neil Price, a British archaeology professor who specialises in the Viking Age, was brought in to advise on The Northman

He says, “This is by far the most accurate depiction of the Viking Age I’ve ever seen. I was on set during pre-production when they were in the process of bringing all of this to life and I found it overwhelming – I’ve never seen this level of attention to detail in an historical film before.”

Alongside that realism there are strong supernatural themes centering on fate and destiny as well as hallucinogenic/dream sequences. It’s a heady blend.

I found this a disturbing film to watch but also a beautiful one. Amleth’s life is filled with horror, sorrow, and bitterness. He is twisted by his desire for revenge. Even his relationship with Olga fails to redeem or transform him. The theme repeated time and time again is that a man cannot escape his fate. Let’s hope that bleak message is not true.

The beauty to be found in this film is the way it is shot, the music by Sebastian Gainsborough and Robin Carolan and the spectacular scenery.

Watching the film left me undecided and with many questions. It’s certainly worth seeing. In fact I will have to watch it again before I can say I really understood it!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Review: Unbreakable

My own Unbreakable Origins Story began one Saturday Afternoon, circa 2012, when I was listening to Jonathan Ross’ BBC Radio 2 show, as I was in the habit of doing at this time. Ross, a keen collector of comic books, mentioned a new book by the well-known comic book writer Grant Morrison. The book was called SUPERGODS, and was essentially a history of the Superhero genre in comics and film, from the so-called Golden Age of the nineteen thirties to the present day, as well as an exploration of the way that the classic Superhero God-like archetypes – Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the Hulk, Thor et al have come to serve as fictional replacements for actual Gods within our secular, post-religious society.

At this time, I was attempting to write (an as yet still unfinished) novel on the theme of Chaos Magic(k). The fact that Ross mentioned that Morrison, in common with his fellow superstar comic writer Alan Moore, was himself a dedicated practitioner of Chaos Magic was an added incentive for me to go out and purchase a copy of SUPERGODS as quickly as possible.

I devoured Morrison’s book quickly and still highly recommend to it to anyone with an interest in the subject.

At this point in my life, I was what might be called a lapsed, collector of comics. As a child, I have fond memories of being taken to a particular shop in Grimsby (the name of which I’ve forgotten) once a week to pick up a selection of the latest Marvel and DC editions, though later I would ‘progress’ to football comics like Scorcher and Score and its offshoot Roy of the Rovers. Since then, I had mostly confined myself to watching the Big Screen adaptations, such as the nineteen seventies Superman movies starring the ill-fated Christopher Reeves , Tim Burton’s Gothic tyle series of Batman movies (I’d enjoyed the camp Adam West version in the sixties), the more recent and more serious Dark Knight trilogy, and the various and not entirely successful attempts to bring the likes of the Hulk, Spiderman and the Famous Five to life on the big screen.

One thing SUPEGODS did, as well as to deepen my interest in Chaos Magic(k), was to introduce me to the Graphic Novel as an artform in and of itself. For instance, to Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, a beautifully conceived, written and illustrated postmodern exercise in world-building, a world where Superheroes are real and suffer the same human foibles as the rest of us (a book which Zak Snyder would, against Moore’s protestations, make a fair-fist at adapting for film).  This book is now so highly regarded critically that is not only often cited as the greatest Graphic Novels of all time, regarded as not only generally regarded as the greatest Graphic Novel of all time, but is also frequently listed by critics amongst the top ten or twenty greatest books ever, full stop. I also read Moore’s follow up to Watchmen, From Hell, his excellent take on the Jack the Ripper murders, with its marvelous black and white recreation of Victorian London, plus some of Morrison’s heavily Chaos Magic(k) influenced series The Invisibles, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the best book I’ve ever read on the Holocaust, and Red Son, a reimagination of the Superman story, where the infant, alien, proto-Superhero crash lands in a small town in the Soviet Union rather than in Smallville, Kansas, USA, and thus grows up fighting for International Communism rather than ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way.’

SUPERGODS concentrates mostly on the literary development of the Superhero genre, but Morrison also, perhaps unavoidably, touches upon the movie and T.V. spin-off’s,, from the now laughably bad attempts to adapt Superman for American T.V. in the nineteen fifties (starring the equally ill-fated George Reeves (no relation), to our modern Marvel and DC cinematic blockbusters.

 It was of some surprise to me that Morrison mentioned the movie Unbreakable, directed by M. Night Shyamala and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, as being his favourite Superhero movie of all time.

Although by this time the film, having been made in 2000, was already over a decade old, and I was a regular user of the Love Film DVD postal service (remember that?), as well as a fan of both Willis and Jackson, it was a film of which I was completely was unaware.

I sought to rectify this immediately, my first viewing being, if I remember correctly, via Amazon Prime.

The first thing to be said, and this is also stressed by Morrison, is that, whilst it deals with the familiar Superhero trope of Good Vs Evil, Unbreakable is far from being a conventional Superhero film. There is no ostentatious Superhero costume, although as we shall see, there is subtle uniform of sorts. The super-powers’ of our hero’, Willis’ professional security guard David Dunn, though real enough, do not emerge suddenly, full formed through, to use a long over-used cliché, a sudden exposure to radiation, but are allowed to become apparent slowly, and again subtly, and to the initial disbelief of the hero himself, as the film progresses.

As a black disabled man, our Super-villain, Elijah Price, AKA Mr. Glass, is not quite your typical Superhero arch nemesis either. Perhaps we are fortunate that the movie was made when it was, at the turn of the millennium, as the fact that Glass is black is simply that, an incidental fact, not a weapon to beat us over the head with for our Original Sin of Whiteness. Elijah’s disability on the other hand, is intrinsic to his character and to the development of the plot, and is not used as a device for highlighting the horrors of being ‘differently abled’ in world built for the benefit of those fortunate enough to be born able in body and mind.

The action begins with the derailment of the train Eastrail 117. It is a horrific event from which David Dunn is the only survivor. This is set up nicely, with Dunn surreptitiously removing his wedding ring so as to hit upon the attractive lady seated beside him, thus showing that this hero is no Superman/Spiderman type goody-two-shoes. In any case, his sexual advance is spurned and the lady in question turns out to be the last of the passengers to die, as Dunn, with hardly a scratch to show for the ordeal, anxiously awaits news in the hospital.  

I don’t wish to spoil too much of the plot, but Dunn’s survival is our first indication of his special nature as a human being who literally, aside from through his own, earthly, mundane equivalent of Superman’s Kryptonite, plain old water as it turns out, cannot die, become seriously ill or even be seriously injured.

Soon, we are introduced to Dunn’s polar opposite, Elijah. We first see Elijah as a child, a child who suffers from a rare condition, osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease, which means that even the slightest injury, a broken bone for instance, could prove fatal. It is this condition that leads Elijah, brilliantly played by Jackson, to acquire the nickname Glass from the typically cruel children of his locality.

Coddled at home by his loving, protective mother Cassy in a small but pivotal role brilliantly performed by Charlayne Woodard, Glass, unable to leave the safe bubble of his house, begins to obsessively read and collect comics, and it is this theme that gives the movie its pleasingly meta-aspect, making it as much a commentary on the geeky sub-culture of the comic book collector as a straight Super-hero v Super-villain battle between good and evil.

 Indeed, the film itself begins with plain text upon screen, informing us of the price range of the average comic, and the amount of time and amount of money the average comic book reader spends in pursuit of his hobby/passion.

The next time we see Elijah, he is the curator of an exhibition of original comic book art, pointedly refusing to sell a ‘priceless’ example of such art to a patron with more money than aesthetic sense, who wishes to buy it for his four-year-old son. This is a scene that reminded me strongly of the scene in the film High Fidelity, where the independent record shop owners show their indignation towards a middle-aged man who asks to buy a copy of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ for his fourteen year old daughter.

As mentioned, Dunn’s realisation that he is not as other men, builds slowly, culminating in a brilliant scene where he continues to lift weights in his home gym, observed and egged on by his awestruck young son Joseph, until he reaches levels well beyond human possibility. Later, this son, convinced of his father’s superhero status much more quickly than the father himself (but then aren’t all fathers’ Superheroes to their sons?), has to be talked down from shooting his dad at point blank range, by Dunn and his wife, in order to prove his hunch correct.  

David’s growing realisation is aided by his various meeting with Glass, meetings that at first sight seem accidental, but are actually manufactured by Glass himself, to the point that the two almost seem to become friends.

It should be mentioned that as part of the back-story, and as a part of the build-up to Dunn’s moment of self-understanding, the filmmakers throw us a delightful red herring with the idea that Daniel can indeed be hurt, and that this was in fact proven by the College football injury that ended his highly promising Football (of the American variety) career. In reality, we later, this was in fact a feigned injury, designed for reasons I won’t go into here, in order to retain the love of the woman who would eventually become his wife.

During the meetings between Dunn and Glass, Elijah does his best to convince Dunn of his destiny, and of his need to realise that destiny: ‘Do you ever wake up with a feeling of sadness, without knowing why?’ He asks, before pointing out, when Dunn replies in the affirmative, that it is because he is not doing what he is meant to be doing. ‘Is it an accident you work in places where people may need your help’, he says in reference to David’s job as a security guard at big stadium football matches and concerts. He also says ‘These are mediocre times. It’s hard for people to realise there are amazing powers, inside themselves, as well as inside others.’

Unbreakable is a movie of many such memorable sayings, mostly from Elijah/Glass

Incidentally, it is David’s hooded security man uniform that does, given certain cinematic lighting and vantage points, at times resemble a Superhero costume, as is mentioned in the Grant Morrison book.

The only notable weak point of the film is the montage of footage of David doing what Superheroes do, after he finally accepts his true nature and his mission in life. For me, these Superhero exploits were never quite Superhero enough to fully illustrate the importance of Dunn’s transformation.

It is through the meetings between David and Glass that the central theme of Unbreakable is revealed.

Essentially, the movie is a meditation on the mutual dependency between good and evil, Light and dark, the Superhero and the Super-villain., on how one cannot exist without the other, by each necessary to the definition of its opposite, Rather in the manner that many Theologians attempt to explain away the Problem of Evil in monotheistic religions.

Again, I don’t want to give away too many plot points, the macabre truth is that, since he had became aware of his fragile physical nature, and especially since his discovery of the Comic Book as a means not only of escapism, but as a guide to living, Glass has spent much of his life scouring through reports of accidents that resulted in mass fatalities, searching for those that had one single survivor. Through this means, he hoped to find his opposite, the super-strong, seemingly invincible hero against which he, the weakling turned self-invented Criminal Mastermind, can test his Dark Genius.

‘The scariest thing is to not know your place in the world, to not know who you are,’ he says.

Elijah is the Joker looking for his Batman, Lex Luther seeking out Superman.

As the film finally reaches the inevitable showdown, he exclaims ‘I am not a mistake…I am the complete opposite of the hero,’ and by implication every bit as necessary, the one who fights the hero, in the word of his mother Cassy, purely with his intellect.

It is at this point, as the showdown reaches its final, bloody culmination, that Elijah, the sad, sick boy whose only view of the world was through a window and the panels of a comic book, fully embraces the nickname given to him by his childhood tormentors:

‘They called me Mr. Glass.’

So, there it stood. I watched Unbreakable perhaps twice, and thoroughly enjoyed it both times, as a fascinating and unusual stand-alone take on the Superhero genre. Then, in 2016, I heard about a new film called Split, again directed by Shyamalan, and starring James McAvoy as Kevin who, through a rare dissociative disorder, has acquired twenty-three alter egos who battle for supremacy within him. The film was marketed as the second part of a trilogy, sometimes called the Eastlrail 117 trilogy, of which Unbreakable would now form the belated opening salvo.

This trilogy was finally completed by the movie Glass in 2019.

I won’t say too much about these latter two films here.  Split has only a tangential link to Unbreakable, the Bruce Willis/David Dunn character making an appearance only at the very end, where he refers briefly, whilst watching news of Kevin’s murderous rampage in a bar, and it has to be said rather gratuitously, to Glass, and the fact that he has now spent almost two decades in an institute for the criminally insane.

The film Glass itself, brilliantly brings together Dunn, Kevin, and the returning Jackson as the eponymous anti-hero in one of the great comic book/superhero showdowns of all time.

Unbreakable can still be enjoyed as a movie in its own right. But it now works best as the opening part of a cinematic trilogy that deserves to be regarded as one of the very best.

Reviewed by Anthony C Green, March 2022 

Unbreakable (film series) – Wikipedia

https://g.co/kgs/MJ52qK#

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Don’t Look Up: a response to a response

Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Adam McKay (screenplay by) David Sirota (story by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes

Reviews of the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up have been mixed. Whilst some have accepted it for what is, an enjoyable satire on the issue of climate change and coincidentally, given it was written before the beginning of the current pandemic, the response to the world-wide covid-crisis, there have been more politically inclined criticisms from both the Right and the Left of the political spectrum. Critics of the Right have tended to see the movie as hopelessly ‘woke’ and alarmist, buying into a catastrophic mindset that is both unwarranted, and ultimately a threat to a civilisation that is wholly dependent on constant technological progress, a progress that is also seen as ultimately providing humanities’ greatest chance of salvation from the looming climate crisis, if indeed there really is a looming climate crisis.

The Left, on the other hand, see the great weakness of the film in its unwarranted pessimism, primarily through its dismissal of ordinary working class people as essentially stupid (clearly modelled on Trump’s working class social base in the film)  and easily led, and thus incapable of themselves being the agents of the kind of necessary change that is seen as essential if a catastrophe is to be prevented. The review under discussion here, by Jim Poe on his Under the Paving Stones blog-site, is unusual in that, whilst itself emanating, through its own words, from a ’revolutionary socialist’ perspective, it takes a very positive view of the film, and in so doing dismisses most other leftist reviews of it as being hopelessly fatalistic.

A film to be enjoyed but watched critically

I should say right off that I don’t really have a dog in the fight here (except for as a human being who’d like to see the human race survive, and for my children to do likewise). As someone who has spent most of my own political life on the Far Left, I’m sympathetic to the idea of Eco-Socialism in theory, whilst also accepting that ‘small c’ conservatism, what some might call Paleo-tonic conservatism, is inherently ecological, as are such fringe political movements as Anarcho-Primitivism, though I’m not sure I would particularly like to live in a society dominated by either philosophy. I also believe it to be a basic duty of good citizenry to be as green as possible in one’s our personal life.

But I don’t pretend to know nearly enough about the science of the subject to make even an informed guess as to the reality or otherwise of the ‘climate emergency.’

All I wish to say really is that, as a movie, I found Don’t Look Up to be entertaining, funny in parts and thought provoking; and Poe’s lengthy review is one of the most interesting I’ve read on the subject.

However, I do believe that both the film itself, and the review under discussion, suffer from the same central inaccuracy and weakness; that is, the underlying assumption that our world leaders, in politics, in business, and in the means of mass, mainstream communication, what we might call ‘the Elite[L1] ’, or in Marxist terms ‘the Ruling Class’, are deliberately ignoring the ‘climate emergency’, and encouraging us, the general population, to do likewise. The demand from their fictional representations in the film, to not look look up towards the gigantic comet growing ever bigger in our skies as it comes closer and closer to a catastrophic collision with our fragile planet, is thus, to Poe, a more or less accurate metaphor for the ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ attitude that is supposedly hegemonic amongst our globalist leaders.

But is it true that this is the dominant real-world narrative? If so, what was the recent ‘Cop26’ gathering in Glasgow all about? We can dismiss such gatherings, as many on the Left do, and not without justification, as mere hypocritical theatre but, such show-piece events of this type aside, aren’t we in reality being constantly fed an alarmist narrative that assumes that 1) Climate change is happening, 2) it is happening as a result of human action 3) it will have disastrously negative consequences for human civilisation, perhaps ending it entirely, 4) certain forms of human action, as long as they are taken immediately, can begin to reverse or at least alleviate the worst of these potentially catastrophic consequences, and 5) that the most enlightened of our leaders know the forms, at least in general outline, that these pre-emptive human actions must take?

Poe is guilty of the same mistakes as most other contemporary leftist analysis, that is of not really understanding the vision of reality we are being sold, and through this lack of understanding he actually ends up as a defender of the elite-narrative, with criticism being confined to little more than ‘not far enough, not fast enough’.

If the five points listed above are more or less correct, then such a criticism is of course fair enough. But what if some or all of them are wrong, and are in fact little more than a smokescreen for a much more nefarious agenda, one designed merely to further strengthen their own wealth, power, and control of the Earth’s resources, free from democratic control and accountability?

I’ll make it clear here that I’m not a ‘climate change denier.’ Such people do exist, and in general tend to be tied to sections of the business community which have a vested economic interest in continuing with ‘business as usual.’ And, as I’ve mentioned, my knowledge of the relevant science is less than adequate for the forming of a judgement either way. But what I am is someone who is concerned at the increasing use of the word ‘denier’ as a means of closing down public debate and restricting individual thought.

This tendency of course begins with ‘holocaust denier,’ an easy target as the vast majority will naturally and rightly agree that the belief that the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler didn’t deliberately set out to exterminate millions of people, most of them, though not all Jewish, in occupied Europe in the nineteen forties, is irrational, is contradicted by a mountain of evidence and eyewitness testimony, and is also often motivated by a desire to continue where Hitler and his henchman left off.

I leave aside here the question of whether or not Holocaust denial should be punishable by law. Personally, I don’t think we need laws against irrational belief per se, though if someone wishes to advance alternative reasons why this particular instance of irrational belief should be outlawed, then I am prepared to listen. The point here is to raise the question of whether a ‘climate change denier’ is really in the same category as a holocaust denier, and to question the motivation for applying the word ‘denier’ to those who question the prevailing narrative on an ever-growing number of issues.

We should also question as to how and why this word little ‘denier’ is applied specifically on the issue of climate change, to not only those who doubt that any kind of negative climate change is occurring at all, which would be a very small number of people, but to anybody who questions any of the five bullet points I listed above.

There is a radical, socialist, environmentalist critique of the elite climate change agenda to be made, but that can only be based on an understanding of what that agenda actually is. It appears to me that far from a ‘don’t look up/’ignore it and it’ll go away’ narrative being pushed by big tech, big capital, and their political hirelings, what is instead being fostered is 1) An attempted ramping up of public fear, and 2) a sleight of hand designed to discourage us from looking too closely at how the new ‘green technologies’ that will apparently be our salvation are owned and controlled by the very same people who owned and controlled the industries that did much environmental damage in the first place. I.e., we are being asked to trust the globalist polluters to end global pollution.

Hand in hand with these two points of course goes the recognition that the ‘fear factor’ will provide these elite individuals and corporate entities with sweeping powers to control our movements, limit our freedom of speech, and our access to alternative, none-corporate sources of information. The Online Safety Bill, currently under process of becoming British law, is but one of many similar pieces of legislation being passed throughout the western world, and is but one of many measures designed to bring a totalitarian-liberal-technocratic dystopian system into being.

The top-down approach to the ‘climate emergency’, and how we can expect it to develop, can already be seen in embryonical fashion in the global response to the current, ongoing covid ‘health emergency.’

It’s worth mentioning here that, although the satirical target of the writers’ of Don’t Look Up was undoubtedly, and by self-profession, the supposed inaction over climate change, the coincidence of its release occurring after almost two years of covid lockdowns has certainly played a key part in its success, giving it a resonance with a world-wide audience that it would likely otherwise have lacked. But that is merely an aside. My main point here is to note once again the widespread use of the word ‘denier’ to those who challenge the officially sanctioned narrative on covid. That is, to note that it is not only being applied to the handful of cranks who actually do ‘deny’ that the virus exists, and/or that the vaccination program is an exercise in mass population control, perhaps even a form of mass population cull, but also to those who, like me and many others, have come to believe, from a starting point that was originally more or less in agreement with our government’s emergency measures,  that ‘mask mandates,’ and especially lockdowns, do more harm than good, worry in particular about the effects on other areas of our health services brought about by our over concentration on a single health issue, and believe that our best protection against the worst effect of this virus is achieved by maximising our personal health and fitness, whilst of course still protecting, as best we can, those who are, through age and/or other health complicating factors, the most at risk from the virus in our community.

These views can still just about be found in our mass media and popular social networks, but they are increasingly marginalised through the cavalier use of that word, ‘denier.’ Some might argue that ‘covid sceptic’ is a term that is more often used, and is much less toxic than ‘denier.’ To this, I would reply by simply asking the reader to consider what would pop into their head if someone were to be described as a ‘holocaust sceptic’? Would it be very different to the image elicited by the phrase ‘holocaust denier’?

Essentially, the suffix ‘denier’ (or indeed ‘sceptic’) in reference to any given issue serves the same purpose as the phrase ‘conspiracy theorist,’ that is, of acting as a means of closing down debate, a quick and easy way of signalling to the majority that this person or organisation’s views can safely be disregarded, without the need for debate or close examination of what is actually being saying.

To those who still don’t accept that such a process of the marginalisation of alternative viewpoints is occurring, I’d suggest a close look at the (at the time of writing) ongoing pressure being applied against Spotify (a company I have little sympathy for in other regards) to ‘cancel’ or at least to censor their star podcaster Joe Rogan. Rogan is not a ‘Covid denier’ either, but he is a person who chose not be vaccinated because he trusted in his own level of fitness and in the efficacy of his immune system, decided himself what medications he would and wouldn’t use when he did contact the virus, and has been prepared to discus with those, from within and without the scientific community, who question the dominant, officially sanctioned approach to the virus. At the moment, Rogan is, like perhaps J.K. Rowling on the ‘Trans’ issue, probably ‘too big to cancel’. But the fact that he can be attacked in such dishonest terms, accused of holding views he does not hold, is an indication of the increasing limitation on what can and can’t be publicly said.

OK, I seem to have drifted a long way from Don’t Look Up. But the way Poe treats the Covid issue is instructive of the general leftist failure to question ‘actually existing’ dominant narratives. Note how the reviewer himself makes use of the term ‘denier’ in relation to both covid and climate change.

In a sense, this is an eighties leftist approach. Back then, left activists, of which I was one, took it as axiomatic that capitalism couldn’t function without the ‘divide and rule’ tactics of racism, sexism and homophobia. Now, who can seriously deny that being seen to be strongly and openly ‘anti’ such evils have turned out to be an even more effective weapon of division? We are now clearly living in the age of Decadent Authoritarian Woke Capitalism.

As I said earlier, the Left’ critique of the ruling elite ends up as little more than ‘not far enough, not fast enough,’ thus relegating themselves to the role of outside cheer leaders for what Naomi Klein correctly identified as Shock Doctrine/Disaster Capitalism. For Poe, and for most of his leftist co-thinkers, nothing less than ‘Zero Carbon,’ will do on climate change, no matter the resulting impact upon our living standards, our civil liberties, and our access to information. On covid, of course, only ‘Zero Covid’ will do. This leaves them with no alternative other than acceptance of the draconian measures currently being implemented against the Freedom Convoys by the Trudeau government in Canada, or of any such future measures enacted elsewhere.

Given two years’ experience of on-off lockdowns and general popular compliance with dictacts from above, is a future of ‘save the world’ restrictions on our remaining freedoms, based on a science that has moved from being a never-ending and falsifiable process of rigorous investigation, into becoming an all knowing, infallible ‘The Science’, really so fanciful?

The future is to be marked by the rule of the ‘experts’, and only a genuinely populist movement can develop the power to challenge and avert this, the kind of movement that can best be see developing through initiatives like the Canadian truckers, as well as of the French Yellow Vests.

On a slightly lighter and more general point, a point that was well made in our recent and excellent Counter-Culture film group discussion on the movie, I’m not quite sure that the meteor works particularly well as a metaphor for a coming climate change catastrophe. Whatever the truth or not of the general assumptions of the environmental doom-mongers, the fact is that the reason most of us don’t spend large chunks of our lives worrying about the effects of climate change is that it still seems, to most of us, like an event on the distant horizon, which if it happens at all will almost certainly happen once most of us are dead and gone. The unremarkable passing of several ‘tipping point’ dates already, dates when we had apparently already reached the point of no return, hasn’t exactly helped to reverse this tendency towards indifference.

 But, if we really could ‘look up’ and see an apocalyptic event growing closer by the second, would we really choose not to do so, simply on the say so of certain sections of the elite who believe they can make profit from this biblical-like disaster, before literally making their escape to a new Garden of Eden in a far-off future?

 Isn’t the suggestion that a large proportion of us would choose this course of action a real insult to our intelligence, a fact which the reviewer, not very successfully, denies?

 I don’t pretend to know what the reaction would be if a gigantic comet could be seen in the sky, heading rapidly towards impact: mass panic; fatalism; a brief, final flowering of spirituality; a violent ‘last days’ reckoning with those who could have averted the disaster if they hadn’t put their own selfish interests above those of humanity as a whole? Probably a combination of some or all of these. But continuing denial in the face of the evidence of our eyes? I don’t think so.

So yes, good film, excellent central performances from Leonardo de Caprio and particularly from Jennifer Lawrence, some good political points, most of which have been covered in in Poe’s review, in particular the extent to which the American President (and of course, in good Hollywood style, apart from a couple of quick references to elsewhere, America IS the world in this film) is in the pocket of the composite Jeff Bezos/Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk, Zillionaire character. And, in very brief response to the Rightist critique of the movie, I didn’t find it to be overly woke. I actually found the movies’ critique of the increasing trivialisation of western culture, where even the most serious event imaginable is turned into a glorified ‘Reality’ show, to be the one of movies’ strongest points, and one that is essentially conservative in nature.

In summary, it’s a film to be enjoyed, but to be watched critically, with due thought given to how far its central assumptions reflect the real-world viewpoint we are being constantly sold from on high.

All this aside, I highly recommend Under the Paving Stones as a website, and its host Jim Poe as one of the more interesting leftist cultural critics and writers currently out there in blog land.

Anthony C Green, February, 2022


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Eternals (2021)

PG-13
2h 36m
Director
Chloé Zhao
Writers
Chloé Zhao (screenplay) Patrick Burleigh (screenplay by) Ryan Firpo (screenplay by)
Stars: Gemma Chan Richard Madden Angelina Jolie

Eternals follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), and features the Eternals (ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years) to come out in the open and come together to fight against mankind’s ancient enemy, the Deviants. Straightforward enough story and I’m a big Marvel fan, so I should have enjoyed this, right? Wrong. I largely hated it. Here’s why.

Too long, too many characters and an unconvincing version of diversity. A mess but an interesting one!

The film is just too slow and long. Two and a half hours where I found it difficult to take much interest or empathise with any of the characters. It has far too many characters and it promotes an unrealistic version of diversity.

Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos) is the Marvel franchise’s first openly gay superhero. As Jenna Benchetrit · CBC News points out: “Previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have featured “gay moments,” like Avengers: Endgame’s brief scene in which a non-superhero character, portrayed by director Joe Russo, describes a same-sex date. In other cases, characters are canonically LGBTQ+ in the comics (including Asgardian warrior Valkyrie) or in other Marvel properties outside of the realm of films (like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who hinted at his bisexuality in the eponymous Disney+ television series).

In 2016, Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool winked and nudged at the character’s pansexuality — but that’s where it stopped.”

I welcome the fact that Marvel reflects reality by including gay characters. I don’t like the fact that some backward nations saw this as a reason to try to censor or ban the film. I dislike the way that Phastos is depicted as a ‘family’ orientated character. The family relationship between Phastos and his husband, Ben (Haaz Sleiman) and their son Jack (Esai Daniel Cross) is cloyingly stressed. Turning to my Woke Newspeak Phrasebook I would call it a hetreonormative portrayal of queer life. We will be making real progress when this vanilla coating isn’t seen as necessary. I look forward to the day the Marvel ‘universe’ is big enough to include bad gay people – even villains! I’m just not sure whether the studio’s promise that Phastos’ sexuality would simply be a part of his character and not a defining feature has been kept. The (no chemistry) kiss between Phastos and Ben has upset some but I’m glad that the studio refused to edit it out when they came under pressure – it’s just a part of life and really in this day and age is it something people should get worked up about even if they don’t like it? I don’t think so.

The hetrosexual sex scene in Eternals (between Richard Madden’s Ikaris and Gemma Chan’s Sersi) is a new departure too. The only thing close to a sex scene in any Marvel universe movie previously was early in 2008’s Iron Man. It’s very tastefully done and I believe it’s a good thing to show this as part of relationships even in Superhero movies. As the film’s Director, Chloé Zhao, said: ““For us to be able to show two people who love each other, not just emotionally and intellectually but also physically, and to have a sex scene that will be seen by a lot of people that shows their love and compassion and gentleness — I think it’s a really beautiful thing.”

The sheer number of characters means that characterisation is underdeveloped. This results in it being difficult to identify with or care about any of them. There are just too many characters that need backstories and motivations explained. The only character in Eternals I liked was Indian actor Harish Patil. He steals every scene he is in and I would have liked to have seen more of him as his appearances are brief.

All in all the film is a bit of a mess. It’s an interesting mess and there are some firsts which I applaud but I can understand why some Marvel universe friends say it seemed to last an eternity!

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House of Gucci (2021)

Director
Ridley Scott
Writers
Becky Johnston (screenplay by) Roberto Bentivegna (screenplay by) Sara Gay Forden (based on the book by)
Stars: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Jared Leto

House of Gucci is a difficult film to categorise. That’s led to some criticism. It’s a straightforward enough tale which centres on the love affair between Maurizio (Adam Driver) and Patrizia (Lady Gaga). Patrizia is the daughter of the owner of a truck company and Maurizio is an heir to the Gucci fashion dynasty. Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) doesn’t like Patrizia. He is a snob who reacts to the marriage of the two lovers by cutting them off. His uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino) sees potential in Patrizia and includes her.

An enjoyable film that switches between a dark drama and comedy.

The film chronicles the feuds, back stabbing, plotting and even murder in this high drama but at times it switches to comedy. This is particularly true when Aldo’s son Paolo is on screen (an incredible performance from Jared Leto). I laughed outloud at some of the scenes with Paolo. His strange fashion designs and interactions with the rest of the family were hilarious. I didn’t have a problem with the film switching between that and darker content.

Perhaps this is a perverse view but at the end I couldn’t help but think that had they listened to the streetwise and savvy Patrizia the Gucci’s might have fared better!

House of Gucci is an enjoyable and very watchable film with a great ensemble cast. The interactions between different cast members is fascinating to watch – Irons and Pacino, Salma Hayek (as the Psychic Pina Auriemma) and Gaga and Gaga and Driver to list just a few of the combinations. Keep an open mind and you will enjoy it.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Mark Kermode’s Secrets Of Cinema: Christmas Cinema Secrets

A festive edition of the series that entertainingly explains the inner workings of the Xmas genre. Christmas themes have often inspired writers and artists and Mark shows how these popular themes are reinterpreted in many different ways in different films.

Mark Kermode unwraps a glittering selection of Christmas cinematic treats, from much-loved classics to hidden gems, from Hollywood blockbusters to international films.

Mark puts it like this:

“As with every popular genre festive films share common themes and traits which can be combined, jumbled, and reconfigured in myriad different ways. Like snowflakes, each one’s different but somehow the same. And because Christmas is so deeply embedded in our lives and culture it’s a rich seam for filmmakers to mine. And tonight I’m going to show you how they turn our shared experience into the stuff of cinema gold.”

The themes analysed are:

  1. Scrooge Variations
  2. Countdown to Christmas
  3. Good Ghosts
  4. Dark Santas
  5. Family Christmas
  6. Nativity
  7. Far From Home
  8. Christmas Romance
  9. The Healing Factor

Mark Kermode’s knowledge, sweep and ability to group so many different films into themes and then discuss those themes with insight is impressive. It made me realise how much we take things for granted and don’t think about how films work or why we like them. It also left me with a long list of films I either wanted to rewatch (notably the Scrooge variations and my favourite Xmas film – Bad Santa) or that I had somehow missed like Divine in Female Trouble and Nativity featuring Martin Freeman as a put-upon Teacher.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Brief reflections on the politics of Dune

MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

You can listen to this article here

I read the six-book series Dune as a teenager. Dune has re-entered popular culture and consciousness thanks to Denis Villeneuve’s blockbuster adaptation (now in cinemas).


I think Denis Villeneuve’s Dune does a great job adapting the first half (or maybe two-thirds) of Frank Herbert’s original novel. It avoids two big potential mistakes: 1. To sugercoat its more complex and unsettling themes and 2. to try to compress the narrative into a more bitesize chunk. It’s a long film and there’s more to come.

The politics of Dune are complex and claims are made by both Left and Right

I knew that when it was first published it was seen as a countercultural parable warning against ecological devastation and autocratic rule. It can be seen that way but it also has darker themes. Paul Atreides, the main protagonist, is the product of a eugenics program. He is bred to have precognitive abilities that allow him to exert power over others. His Fremen army is the product of natural selection with the harsh desert environment of the planet Arrakis allowing only the best adapted and strongest to survive. Paul is not a hero. He has or develops a multi-millennia plan for renewal which accepts the sacrifice of billions. Herbert himself saw the series as a critique of authoritarianism demonstrating for his readers that “superheroes are disastrous for humankind.” Once Paul realises what he has done, what he has become, and how he has become detached from his humanity he plots to end his own despotic command over humankind’s fate.

Herbert himself said: “I am showing you the superhero syndrome and your own participation in it.”
Herbert liner notes quoted in Touponce, William F. (1988). “Herbert’s Reputation”, p. 24.

Dune can be read (wrongly in my view) as a Messianic white saviour leading the universe forward. Writing in Counter-Currents Trevor Lynch says: “Herbert has quite compelling reasons for his belief that liberal democracy will not take mankind to the stars and that mankind can only spread across the galaxy by returning to archaic social forms like hereditary monarchy, feudalism, and initiatic spiritual orders”.
https://counter-currents.com/2021/10/denis-villeneuves-dune-part-i/

It’s certainly true that Dune heavily features archaic social forms rather than democratic or collective structures. Yet the Fremen rely on each other and have tribal rather than feudal features. Additionally, as Ong points out:

“Herbert’s series looks openly at authoritarianism and not only the burdens placed on those who are subjected to dictatorships, but also the inhumanity it demands of those in power. It remains critical of the forces that seek out charismatic powerful figures to solve all our problems. It demonstrates the dangers found in the “big man” syndrome of politics or messianic ideals of religion.”
https://thetempest.co/2021/07/24/books/dune-frank-herbert/

Some on the alt-Right offer interpretations of Dune to highlight aspects they favour. Yet Dune is not so straightforward. Ethnic influences are diverse in Dune. As Helena Ong points out:

“The series draws heavily from religious themes and Middle Eastern culture. The nomadic Fremen characters, who play a central role in the series, are not only dark-skinned, but they also use a language that has close similarities to Arabic. Herbert not only uses thinly-veiled references to the Arabic language, but also Sufism mysticism and history of the Arab world, including the Berbers of North Africa and Sunni Muslims. He drew from many sources, such as 14th-century Arab historian Ibn Khaldun and Lesley Blanch‘s travel biographies of the Middle East.

Villeneuve has spoken of the “beautiful idea” of Paul finding comfort and wisdom in another culture and having the curiousity to explore it. (IMDB On the Scene).

Perhaps that’s why Trevor Lynch (in a largely thought-provoking article) descends into a discussion of the ethnic make up of the latest Dune film.

Dune can appeal to both Left and Right in different ways. It’s a complex narrative.

It’s no wonder then that Dune is contested ground between Left and Right. As Joshua Pearson points out in Tribune:

“Some have decried Dune as an exemplar of the most toxic tropes lurking in science fiction, calling the novel an orientalist fever dream, a pean to eugenics, and a seductive monument to fascist aesthetics; others look at the same text and see an excoriation of hero-worship, a cautionary tale of revolutionary dreams betrayed, and a warning about Indigenous sovereignty subverted by a charismatic charlatan.”

https://tribunemag.co.uk/2021/10/dune-denis-villeneuve-frank-herbert-science-fiction-book-film

It’s also clear that some of the alt-Right interpretations may be closer to Herbert’s views than many of us would like to admit.

Like all good Science Fiction though it deals with a possible or imagined future it really makes you think about now.

As Kenn Orphan wrote:

“When Westerners (see: Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Brits, Australians) see Dune this fall, I wonder if any of them will have any idea that Arrakis is a perfect symbol for Afghanistan (or even Iraq, or Bolivia, etc.). Or that the much coveted and fought over “spice” is code for opium (or oil, or lithium, or whatever the Empire and its imperial houses demand or wish to control). Or that the imperial bad guys in the film, complete with their noble houses, obscene material wealth and military might, are symbolic of their own governments, corporate powers and armed forces?”
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/08/23/the-myth-of-empire-and-the-real-message-of-dune/

I certainly did.

By Pat Harrington

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Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser


Filmed at the V&A, London in July 2021 | Running Time 80 mins

I’ve seldom been hit by so many ideas in such a short space of time. This left me with so many thoughts and things I wanted to follow-up. It’s not just that there are so many ideas in the original two books but also the ways in which Alice has been interpreted since. Andi Oliver and V&A Curator Kate Bailey give us a guided tour through this highly theatrical and pretty comprehensive exhibition. We’re shown how Alice inspired creativity n fashion, film, photography and on the stage. So many artists have been inspired to create works that adapt the books by Carroll (the psuedonym for the author Charles L. Dodgson) or allude significantly to their language, themes, or characters.

The exhibition is ambitious. Take film for example. The V&A collaborated with The Australian Centre for the Moving Image – who mounted their own Wonderland exhibit a couple of years ago – to focus on Alice in film. The original ACMI exhibition featured more that 40 arthouse and blockbuster films, yet the V&A are presented even more.

I was surprised that there wasn’t more mention of music. The Alice books have served as the source for countless compositions both in the classical and pop traditions. I’m no expert on classical music but on pop know a little more. Even as I went into the film I was humming White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and I am the Walrus by the Beatles. Both are illustrations of how the counterculture of the 60’s embraced Alice. I would have liked to have seen that explored more. Perhaps it was in the exhibition and didn’t feature so prominently in the film.

There is something for everyone here. I loved the Mad Hatter outfits and learning about the ‘real’ Alice for whom the stories were originally created and later written down. I loved the enthusiasm of Andi Oliver who was clearly a big fan of the rebel Alice who wasn’t afraid to question authority or the basis for rules.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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