Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Democracy



I often find it hard to describe people my political leanings, especially since I have an interest in news and politics I realize that they are more complex than just naming a party or a wind that I associate myself with. I had a hard time adding my politics entry to my face book page as it seems too complex a question to assign a single word to.
The current so-called "perfect storm" in the US midterms, our first hung federal parliament for some time and the possibility that Victoria may go the same way in the state election has caused many professional politicians and commentators to rant about "unelected" and "unrepresentative" governments. I must say that I find the urge to strangle people on TV who use the phrase "the will of the people" as a supporting argument for personal political opinion X or Y; as if the perceived or implied will of the electorate is a form of evidence supporting these opinions. (Such as when Tony Abbot decries the govenment for being unelected, despite that fact the opposition were not elected either...)
What also disturbs me is this is a small version of the larger issue of history being edited via so called public opinion. It is becoming a well versed political tactic to insist an untruth as true and continue to do so in the face of any reasonable evidence. This is a simple mutation of the spin doctored answer, the old political tactic of reciting your parties talking points as answers to simple yes/no questions. The media's habit of parroting these answers creates a sort of public cognitive dissidence, quickly the public starts to echo back...
Now this has hit plague proportions in the US of late, the current round of mid term elections seems to have created a parallel reality of fact free political discourse. Not only rewrites of recent history, but of the laws and constitution of the country itself. While I can see trying to walk back a gaff or a candidate wanting to forget something stupid he or she has said in the past, how does one claim to be a strict "constitutionalist" and start just making up stuff about your country's founding document? Especially when the founders of the united states wrote a hell of a lot about their intentions in framing that document.
This article is a wonderful discussion of the founder's attempts to create a democracy free from any form of tyranny, and they saw many in the world at that time. Worth a read...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The smell of strawmen in the morning...

It's nice to see that our new PM is fighting the good fight and throwing straw man arguments against all who would deem to disagree with the current Labor party policy of Filtering the Internet. It's hardly unexpected, Labor is doing anything to get reelected later this year; and it will be hard with State Labor in shambles and the brand tarnished by their perceived "flip-flopping".

But, sarcasm aside, Gillard is proving to be a master of the Straw man argument to defuse criticisms of her Government's positions. She managed to defuse Abbott temporarily on Asylum seekers by calling the "pro" boat people argument politically correct; though she suffered the same issue as all like policies in that the other governments in our region do not want to be holding pens for refugees bound for Australia. (Naru is virtually a client state, so doesn't really count. We bark and they will jump.) This week also saw the wonderful Straw man against criticism of the Internet filter:
''Images of child abuse, child pornography - they are not legal in our cinemas,'' the Prime Minister said.

''Why should you be able to see them on the internet? I think that's the kind of moral, ethical question at the heart of this.''

(From The Age 8/7/2010)


Implied is the idea that if you are against the Internet filter, you are pro child porn and that child porn is legal on the net. Well it isn't, the web's dark corners are as hidden as any den of inequity in a city; and they will still be there as accessible as ever once Conroy's wall comes down.

This, and the other policies coming out of this current government with reference to new media, show that policy makers have fundamentally no idea as to how the internet or communications work. As one who works in IT, and one who worked in IT at a High school in the past, URL based filtering is almost useless.

But that is not what really gets my goat. The bigger issue is not that X people will not be able to get the crazy prons they love, or that kids may not be able to torrent the latest Twilight film. No it's the gradual erasure of the traditional freedoms of western democracy.
Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of belief, along with a free press are the rights that enlightened democracies are made up of. Post 2001, our anti-terrorism legislation basically crippled freedom of association, and the Internet filter moves seek to take out the other leg. Currently a Minister, not the Parliament, not a Judge not the Governor General, but a Minister can declare a group or organization to be undesirable. If you associate with that group or organization you can be arrested and detained without charge or trial. Even if found innocent, you can have your movements restricted by the Federal police.
In the same manner, the Minister can ban websites and does not have to inform the public he is doing so under this legislation. This is fine when it's the "Bad Guys" being hit, but these laws have no checks against abuse of these powers. In effect, if we one day elected a government the likes of which we have seen at state levels (*cough* Queensland *cough*) in this country before to a Federal level, we could see all sorts of groups and ideas put on a "Ban" list. What if a Prime Minister with a majority in both houses, wanted to declare the opposition a "terrorist" organization? Of course that sort of thing never happens, and neither does Torture in US custody or Dictatorships that are unpopular with their subjects...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Double Whammy!! (Shutter Island 2010)


Those Oovie machines and their free DVD hire sure makes doing this sort of thing easy...
Normal Spoiler warning, also I have never read the book the movie is based on. (So don't email me and tell me how it works better in print etc.) Adaptation is a funny and not entirely modern concept, and I generally attempt to view an adapted work on it's own merits and in context with the original rather than comparing the two works. (Otherwise I'd be like my mother and like the Mini Series version of "The Shining". Don't worry I endless rib her about that one to her face as well as on the interweb.)

But onto an island of shutters. I do get sick, when watching modern film of reviewing with the single line; "It fell apart in the third act.". Which is unfortunately what Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller does, not with a bang but with a silent whimper.
The opening of the film is a nice, if not slightly overblown, setup for what promises to be a creepy journey down the psychological rabbit-hole of 1950's mental care. Like any good mystery the first act sets up many questions, why is a Mental Hospital guarded by correctional officers? Why do they and the doctors seem to ignore the remit of a pair of Federal Marshals? What crazy fucked up shit is happening in ward C? The second gives us complications, Nazi experiments? Is Marshal Daniels being used? A hurricane hits etc. The third, in the old book of three act structure should deliver the resolution, or in modern films the screw you twist.

Here we hit one of the two problems with the movie. Too often I feel that modern film attempts to outwit it's audience, whilst not being so complicated that it makes them feel like they are being outwitted. The result outwits no-one, shocks a few and bores the rest. That is the issue with Shutter Island. The twist is telegraphed early on, not that hard to guess, and not all that satisfying. It suffers that standard issue with many modern film that question the nature of reality, that it removes doubt when the plot is resolved. The CG and the Green screen phantasmagoria disappear and the film itself becomes stable when the protagonist learns of the secret of the island, characters that were threatening are no longer so.

The second is to do with digital production. Sometimes I feel that big budget films have this endless toolbox of digital post and CG effects, such a large toolbox that film makers have started to loose the language of film making whilst using it. Whilst the de-saturated palette makes for a great mood, and dreams and nightmares can be vividly created on screen using CG, in the process the language gets garbled. Some of the dream symbolism is inconsistent and often misleading, I assume deliberately as many of the other aspects of the movie seem very deliberately planned. (Subtle things like the Green screen boat ride, the wife being always covered in water, the subtle use of language in some places.) But why for example is the vision of the woman who drowned her children bloody? I could understand after the ending that the woman is bloody and the children aren't... But that ain't so. So I can only assume the loads of blood are either misleading deliberately OR are for shock.

But that is a minor quibble about symbolism, the majority is quite effective when it is subtle and not so when it isn't. (Bloody kids, Wives turning to ash etc.) Ultimately the mystery is far more interesting then the solution. Leonardo DiCaprio's character is just a little too hard boiled for us to care about his past as more than a vehicle for the mystery.
One thing I do like is that the point of view is firmly fixed on the protagonist, we don't see behind closed doors or outside the character's senses. To often is the temptation to do just the opposite which is the downfall of many "nature of subjective reality" films. (ie. The Matrix and that F#$*ing steak scene)

Overall, refer to the one line review above...

Tell next time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Return of the Movie review (Alice In Wonderland)

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I always said I wanted a blog so that I could tell teh Interwebs how much I love/hate a book/film/whatever...

In other words, reviews.
A warning; this review may contain some spoilers....

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Hmm.... First a disclaimer, I am a fan of the writings of Lewis Carroll, I have been for as long as I remember. My father had a big green hardback copy of the works of Lewis Carroll which I read to the point of it falling apart when I was a child. So a new adaptation of any work of Mr Dodgson (Carroll) is something I always have an eye out for. I'm sure I am one of the few people who possess and enjoy a copy of the Musical version of "The Hunting of the Snark" for example.
So the six months of teasing that Disney put out ahead of "Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland" was something I followed with some eagerness...
Until I saw the trailer and was thoroughly disheartened. The initial reviews were not promising either, that combined with my love/hate relationship with movie theatres meant I did not go out and see it in dazzling 3D.
But it's out on DVD now, so I hired it from the Oovie machine at the supermarket with mind to give it a good English try.

So once again, Hmm... There was part of me that wanted to like this film, the same part of me that enjoys the 1951 Disney version; I knew they would make too much order of nonsense and that they would give it a moral...
The very modern vision of a Victorian garden party, the pseudo feminist Alice, great globs of clich├ęd characters and attitudes; from the weak chinned lord-ling to Alice's dashing by adulterous brother in law. Even the dreaming old maid of an aunt, waiting for her prince, made me cringe just a little but not as much as the god awful script.

I hoped that, once she fell down the rabbit hole it would change, that it'd be a visual feast of crazy Tim Burtonisms and Surreal characters with that dark edge that we had been promised in the advertising. Well at least they'd stop madly de-saturating the film...

But no, while the vision is inspired by Carroll the resemblance to his story seems to end there. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing if the film has an ability to stand on its own merits. (The Shining is a great example of this) What we are given is a sad rework of a Narnia story, complete with Reepicheep, I mean the Doormouse. But the central plot thread is the same as a dozen other fantasy movies, our hero has to restore the rightful (?) ruler of the realm and banish the evil Red Queen. It even has a retrieve item (Vorpal sword) and slay end boss (Jabberwock) plot for our heroine.

Burton's design give us some very lovely vistas, from the garden of flowers to the Red Queen’s moat filled with stone heads and the final Chessboard by the sea surrounded by ancient ruins. But his character design is flat in all but a few cases, and many fine actors just seem to be terribly directed or just not wanting to be there. The Cheshire Cat and the March Hare are brilliant CG creations, Stephen Fry's voice for the cat is just brilliant and the Hare is just a nut case. (If there were any wonderland character who would climb a clock tower with a rifle, my money has always been on the Hare) But the other character designs, and the new characters, are just odd and ill fitting. Unfortunately Depp's Mad Hatter is front row center for this; he is either just retorting lines from the story mindlessly (Such as the oft repeated "Why is a Raven like a writing desk?") or he slips into the mystifying "Rob Roy" alternate personality. Helen Bonham Carter's Red queen seems to consist of this normally fine actress doing an impression of Miranda Richardson from Blackadder II, complete with the childish lisp. Crispin Glover does well as the Knave of Hearts, having fun in the role of a good ol uncomplicated villain, but then they CG stretch him to appear thinner and the effect does not quite work but make him appear two dimensional much of the time.

The thing that really bugged me that either Disney or Burton or both have no idea about Surrealism. Burton has always been a fantasist, but his visions though fantastic have rarely been lodged in the Surreal. So the movie tries to name things, and explain things and grant everything a logical sense that is the antithesis of the original tale. The characters have names as well as titles; the mysterious "Eat me" cake and "Drink Me" bottle are put in context and named, Wonderland (or Underland) is given a history and moral order. In the process the whimsy and wonderful illogic is squeezed out of the story and we are left with a dry soulless CG epic to be put on the shelf next to Eragon, The Golden Compass and the rest.

The film is just dull, it's not a wholesale beating of my beloved childhood in the way that the Star wars prequels were*, so I don't totally hate it. I'm just disappointed more than anything else...

*When I say Beating, I mean watching Attack of the Clones was like watching George Lucas rape my childhood in a bathtub whilst being videoed by Jar Jar Binks.