Boyhood (2014)

21 Jul

Positive reviews abound, hence the current 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There is little need to go into great detail only to rehash much of what’s already been said. It is though, hard to stay silent when any movie leaves such a rare, profound afterglow.  It’s a simple movie in the end, and it’s appeal is an emotional one. No amount of wordy intellectualising, positive or negative (for those unfortunate un-touched) can truly undermine that defining formula, and nor should it. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian put it perfectly:

There is hardly a better, or nobler thing a film can do than inspire love

Boyhood certainly does that, in wholly unique ways. It’s a simple movie, about simple things, with a brave method. It’s a masterpiece. Check it out if you can. If it connects, you’ll be very happy you did.

Overall: *****

Sherpa Photo Fund

23 Apr

It’s a story very familiar to anyone with an involvement or interest in mountaineering or alpine pursuits. To others it may be a story that slipped into the background after only one short day of news coverage. The Everest avalanche of April 18th, which killed 16 sherpas, was a true disaster. To forget it and those affected would make it all the worse, and to go on any further without learning from it would be tragic.

Good people are making great efforts to contribute to the cause. One of which is The Sherpa Photo Fund, which has gone live today.  Take a look and spread the word for a good cause.

West of Memphis (2012)

24 Mar

If you are unfamiliar with the case of the West Memphis 3, read and take in the story at the earliest opportunity. The case has been covered like few others ever have, and rightly so, as it has to be one of the worst examples of failed justice that has ever been.

Amy Berg’s 2012 documentary West of Memphis does a stellar job of organising the messy web of failings and lies into a painful and concise account. It unravels a story so intricate it leaves behind an unmatched ambivalence. For those who experienced The Wirethere will be a recognisable undercurrent, although subject matter differs. It lays out in painful clarity (the obliviously guilty parties deliver it in their own words) the lengths weak and ultimately immoral individuals will go to protect their own interests, regardless of the consequences for others and the world around them.

Animal nature takes precedence in the decisions of individuals and communities all around us—racism, homophobia and xenophobia are constants in our world today. But this case and examples like it present, for all to see, how that weakness of mind finds it’s way into the very structures that are supposed to uphold reason and morality in our societies.   

Short Term 12 (2013)

3 Feb

Short term 12 is a film rolling in cliché, with a classically hammy centrepiece to it’s story and more than one overly ambitious scene that invites disaster…

But it’s easily the best film this viewer has seen in a long time!  Positive reviews litter the internet (99%  on Rotten Tomatoes) and so it’s safe to assume every last incredible dimple has been studied. In short, what look like weaknesses and potentially damaging moments beforehand, turn into the most affecting in the hands of an apparent master. The script stands out as meticulously crafted and the directing is equal to it. And that’s not to mention the performances or the music.

So where did The Academy misplace their copy? Maybe it’s in the same place as Fruitvale Station. Who knows.

Overall: *****

Paxman vs Brand

26 Oct

If you’ve not seen it, check it out.

It seems to have been the ‘share’ of the week and has garnered a lot of attention. It’s not undeserving of attention but as is typical with discussions of it’s nature, it looks, from this perspective at least, to have polarised and to some extent simplified audience reaction into derivatives of “Champion!” or “Lefty idiot!”.

In terms of dominating the argument and emerging ‘on top’, Russell Brand firmly took it, and so those on the left rejoice and circulate it as a symbol of victory.  On first viewing, it could have gone on for an hour and kept a solid grip on my attention but on reflection,  that must be fuelled by the entertainment value of watching a captivating character speak passionately, rather than the depth or substance of either side’s argument. That’s not to say that Brand’s political standpoint is invalid or without value but the time that the debate takes is not dedicated to articulating values but rather to argument and the pursuit of self-defence.

Paxman came at the interview with an under thought stance and a patronising and condescending attitude and got an articulate response that put him on the back foot.  From there on, he scrambled for the last word, a way to dig himself out from his initial failure and regain his footing. In response to that, Brand continually worked to reshape a well developed argument, which he did perfectly well, in order to subdue his ‘opponent’ into acceptance. Without having any better way to articulate it, this is what one would describe as a debate collapsing into an argument. A dictionary would likely list those as synonyms but for the sake of explanation it is useful to understand a debate as a discussion that pits considered, opposing viewpoints against one another, and an argument as a war of words in which people work to defend their egos rather than their ideas.

Brand’s ideas are considered but are nothing particularly fresh, and importantly, he makes no assertion that they are.  The reason it developed into a fiery dialogue, I would suggest, is because of Paxman’s devaluation of Brand as a political commentator and his initial, ill considered argument about the value of the political opinion of a non-voter. From the point at which Brand has debunked that argument, Paxman works hard to defend, regardless of having little considered thought to add, labelling him ‘trivial’ and attacking with a condescending tone and comments like “you don’t really believe that…”.  His favoured route of counter-attack comes across as equally ill-concieved and defensive—after intially questioning Brand’s right to comment on politics at all, he then moves to devalue his standing because he can’t provide an end to end breakdown of a new political system.

Russell Brand’s suggestions aren’t new and he clearly emphasises that himself, pointing out that there are far more detailed ideas than his, and that he is simply drawing attention toward them and the individuals that develop them. The elongation of the argument is a perfect example of ego seeping into what should be a discussion of concepts. Consider an alternative reality in which Paxman enters the interview with respect for his counterpart and his ideas and makes no attempt to defend once his line of argument is deconstructed.  I’d suggest that it lasts around 3 minutes and ends cordially. And that it would not receive the same attention or have the same polarising effect, but importantly, would contain the same fundamental ideas and political content. Of course, this is an assumption, and no assertion of fact, but I’d suggest to anyone at the extremes of public opinion on this, that they consider whether their intellect values the substance, or whether their ego values the fight.


Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman

14 Jul

It appears from afar that the tribal attitudes of the emotionally out-of-control majority are defining the legacy of the case of George Zimmerman and the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  It is a predictable outcome but nonetheless difficult to observe, particularly given that there are true and valuable lessons the be learned that will likely go unheeded, despite the monumental amounts of attention and scrutiny being afforded to the case.  The death of Martin was a tragedy, not only for those who new and loved him but for the USA and the civilised world as a whole.  But the substance of that tragedy is not an issue of race and it is abhorrent and mindless of political and social figures to make it into a divisive race issue.  Certainly, race could have played a part in the events but the core of the problem does not lie with racism or the persecution of any particular ethnic group. The substance of the tragedy, the root of it, lies with gun control and moral values.

The key concerns must be legal process, logic and learning.  Regardless of divisiveness and flared passions, no man can be assumed guilty and condemned to penalty without proof beyond reasonable doubt.  There was no solid case by which to convict Zimmerman or override the case for self-defense.  The verdict was the only reasonable result by the systems that we uphold in the civilised world. Conjecture such as “If it were a black man that stalked and gunned down a white man, no way would he have walked”, serves no purpose.  Such assertions detract from the truth of the case, which is, regardless of race, the evidence was not there to convict a man of murder or manslaughter.

When focussing on the lessons to be taken from the case, it has to be noted that the events were fuelled by a bad cocktail of factors combined with bad decision making (evidence suggests) from both parties.  Judgement based on race and clothing was one of those factors, but most importantly, not a deciding factor.  Although those judgements may have set the chain of events in motion, the proposed injustice did not take place at the beginning but at the conclusion.  The indisputable factors that played a part in the conclusion were violent conflict and the presence of a firearm.  Without violent conflict, there would have, according to the evidence available, been no need for gunfire, and without the legal framework for gun ownership, there would likely not have been a firearm present to be deployed.

An unfortunate mixture of ingredients, both in the form of cultural and legal frameworks and previous events (robberies in the neighbourhood, escaped perpetrators etc.), combined with understandably flawed decision making, set up the conclusion.  The key ingredients, which took events from being a case of suspicion and possible unfair judgement, to the untimely death of a teenager, were:

– A lack of solid moral value, to avoid voilent conduct toward others in favour of diplomacy.

– Gun laws that allow anyone to carry a gun in public.

Whilst most scream and shout over race, they ignore the fact that yet again, we have a prime example of what can go wrong when, rather than tackling the problem of violence in society, we allow people to arm themselves against it.  Gun laws in the USA create a platform for fighting fire with fire and tragically, lives will continue to be lost through misunderstanding and misjudgement.  Meanwhile, we jump on tribal bandwagons and neglect the logic underlying what should be one of the biggest eye-openers of recent times.

Bear – Get it while it’s hot

2 Feb

Follow up short to Nash Edgerton’s awesome Spider. Bluetongue just keeps giving.

Life of Pi (2012)

28 Dec

For those who come without having yet seen Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012), I would recommend catching it, not only so that the following makes sense but for its marvellous visuals and technical craftsmanship.  For that alone I reward the film 3 out of 5.  Beyond that, it can score no more, based on fundamental flaws in it’s very core – flaws that existed long before it became a screenplay and then a movie and flaws that unfortunately were never treated.  What follows is relevant only after seeing the movie and so it is recommended that those who haven’t divert attention now.

It can quickly get long winded when passing comment on this picture.  The most efficient and perhaps fitting way around it is to employ conversation.  A review by Ed Whitfield at The Ooh Tray sets the ball rolling in concise fashion.  My further thoughts follow closely behind.


The most extreme side of me agrees with Ed’s review, and it certainly runs closest to my own ideas of the film of all the reviews I have read. I also, however, understand where David Griggs is coming from in his response to the article (see 3rd comment beneath Ed’s review).

It seems to me that a story such as this, told in a world without organised religion and its evils would hit a different note among strictly rational and secular viewers. The film works around the idea that the results are the results and the effects are in place already, and therefore, you are free to take or fabricate whichever story works best for you. That’s not a terribly offensive idea in itself but the film, rather than feeling like an endorsement of personal imagination and individual beliefs, still feels like some sort of excuse for all of the religions it mentions. I feel that, had the early scenes places more emphasis on the abandonment of organised religion (particularly for its ignorance and crimes), in favour of a personal, inconsequential practice of imagination, the end wouldn’t have fallen so flat. It’s steers neatly along the fence but its set wobbling by the setup and comes clean off by the end, distinctly in the direction of religion.

Of course, as covered by the review, it only takes a real, bold look to see that what is there already is as, if not more, magnificent that the imagination could muster.


6 Oct

This morning I was told a passing story about a girl turning down a commitment after considering that she is likely to be hung-over on that particular Sunday morning.  Doesn’t sound like anything unfamiliar, in fact it sounds pretty damn common.  What makes it noteworthy for me is that the protagonist was 13 years old.  Without attempting to sound like some sort of class obsessed snob or stereotype swinger, I have to mention that this person was not from an underprivileged background, nor a rockstar ‘Hollywood hills’ setup.  This was from what I understand to be the example of a British middle class school child.

Now, I am not convinced that this kid was actually making plans for, or accounting for, being absurdly drunk saturday night but that is almost completely besides the point.  The fact that a kid that young and of said mold would choose to pad out their image with talk of hangovers is a dire reflection of our culture.  I am in danger of sounding like some out-of-touch conservative here, I know, and I am more than aware that children are rather stupid on the whole and are highly skilled when it comes to making idiotic comments–but it shakes me to know that our alcohol culture is dripping down to children that young.

This may be the first time that I have been on the old side of a generation gap, at least relating to something more significant than the size of mobile phones or changing entertainment fads (Pokemon cards – remember those?).  I envision a sort of invisible barrier separating the ‘kids’ from the ‘aspiring adults’, and when I was 13, that barrier sat above my classmates and I.  I would say now that that barrier seems to have dropped a little further and it shows little sign of slowing its slide.  Of course it is unlikely to cross the primary-secondary gap quite so easily but it concerns me that children this young, children without a grasp on the world outside their bubble, without a grasp on drugs, addiction and the future, could be pulled into this mess we sustain with our collective dependency on alcohol to pull us through the discomforts of contemporary western life.

I see it as a problem because, although children, and teenagers especially, can change course almost monthly, the alcohol-centric lifestyle is one that isn’t abandoned the same way heavy metal music or retro obsession or any of their distant cousins might be.  The culture of alcohol abuse (getting wasted for fun), transcends cultural boundaries.  The kids who hang out at the skatepark will do it just as much as those who hang out in the town square or the coffee shop.  And for that reason, it can quickly consume ones lifestyle as the genuine hobbies and interests fall into the background, eventually to be discarded as the appeal of fitting in and being universally ‘cool’ takes precedence, particularly when you don’t have to work hard or be skilled in any way to achieve it.  I fear that a child drawn into that lifestyle so soon is almost not given a chance to make a conscious choice.  Like a child indoctrinated with religion from their early years, they will be in deep before they are mentally developed enough to question their direction or their motives.  Everything that concerns us about our nation’s alcohol problem (to the government that is just health and crime; to some it is also the deadening effect it can have on ambition, intelligence and social systems) is of very little interest to the average 13 year old.  Once they are in, it can take some serious cultural change to get back out and all the while their lives can be shaped by the lifestyle itself.

I propose there is a collection of factors contributing to the problem.  It’s hard to order them by importance or effect.  In terms of influencing young teens directly it is clear to see that our ‘role models’ (hate the term but struggling for something better) are setting a terrible example.  I won’t say everyone; of course there are countless sports stars and performers that no doubt set a great example.  The problem lies with the ones that are apparently reinforced the most by the rest of us.  A song played on the radio, bolstered by it’s strong record sales (top 10 in the top 40), that asserts ‘your holding your bottle of Tanqueray, it isn’t even the weekend, baby that’s, how I know, you’re the one for me’, is a perfect example of how messed up we are.  Of course it’s just a song, it’s just for fun, but the arts have a clear molding effect on culture.  We demand certain things, and without an audience, these things wouldn’t reach the market but at the same time, these things won’t reach a market if someone deems them too damn stupid to create in the first place.  This system sustains itself through a mutual lack of rationality and responsibility.

The bigger factor in my opinion, however, is the one that creates the pop culture problem in the first place that then trickles down to impressionable youngsters.  We are generations deep into our alcohol problem.  There is a clear culture that has a grip on people from all generations alive today that holds alcohol at its core. We have antiquated traditions that place alcohol (A drug like the rest of the drugs available to us, legal or illegal), at the centre of celebrations and rights of passage.  That allowed for a steady transition from a generation that sat with whisky on cold evenings to a middle aged middle class with a clear cut alcohol dependency.  Our politicians condemn binge drinking and attempt to make changes by discussing price increases and other measures.  Whilst it is simply a guess, I am not hesitant to throw out the suggestion that many of those politicians go home after work and drink their alcoholic beverages of choice in large enough measure to take the edge off.  We hold things like wine in high regard and treat this drug like a symbol of civilised society (whilst hypocritically condemning cannabis, among others).  The blindfold that our adults wear in relation to this drug reflects on our children. Culture doesn’t stay stationary, and so without a significant presence among middle class adults or within pop culture of an opposing view, that treats alcohol as an unnecessary, extra curricular indulgence, younger generations will take it and run.

Children don’t aspire to be those people being arrested for drunken disorderly conduct or losing their jobs because of alcohol addiction.  That minority doesn’t dictate the culture of the majority.  The majority is quietly reinforcing this damaged culture whilst claiming immunity from responsibility, waving paycheques and four bedroom houses defence.  Pop culture icons are raking in the cash on the back of it and passing the buck back to a demanding audience.

We are well overdue some critical self-reflection.  It is time we took the difficult step of questioning ourselves, for the good of those that come after us.

Take off the blindfolds already.

Moneyball (2011)

16 Jun

Best sports movie since Friday Night Lights (although arguably not all that much of a sports movie).

Overall: ****