Your Car’s Dependability

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The most automobile magazines will tell you about the car you plan to buy is how well it drives, what space there is inside, and how good it looks. A few provide a bullet point run down of miles per gallon, and value for money usually long after the car has been in production. They are slaves to car manufacturer press release and free test drive.

For the majority of us whose car is the second biggest purchase to our house, (for students its their higher education racking up tens of thousands in debt) we want to know how much value remains in a car come time to sell it, and how reliable it is.

It might surprise readers to learn that automobile manufacturers build a car to last a certain number of hoursnot years or miles driven – but hours after which parts need replaced. It’s calculated on the fact that you car sits unused 90% of its life. A Mercedes offers 150 hours of trouble free driving. For years most British cars offered no more than 80 hours, or fewer. This was the reason British drivers traded their car for the latest model ever two years. They guessed correctly when it would begin to be a money pit.

Some status brands, premium models, are the least reliable “in the world” – as the belligerent Jeremy Clarkson might say. Range Rover is one such brand. Not all models in a brand’s output are lemons, but there is a tendency for a car manufacturer to have failings in most models wherever they are built.

JD Power

The independent institution J.D. Power tests cars annually and publishes a chart of which brands are good investments.  The Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) examines issues reported by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles sold in the USA, but many of the cars are also sold in the UK, and made in the UK.

This study measures car reliability such as: features and controls; engine and transmission; entertainment and navigation; heating and cooling; the overall driving experience. It ranks them bad to average to good and excellent.

Top of the list is Lexus, followed by Porsche. Porsche will never tell you how many Japanese parts it uses for fear of undermining the carefully constructed myth of German super-efficiency, but install Japanese parts it does.

Jaguar has pulled its socks up from its days of iffy build quality and now holds a place in the top ranks, demonstrating improvements that benefit the buyer – and by reputation and greater sales the manufacturer – can be achieved. BMW hold the average ground, with Audi struggling below. The humble Mazda MX5 sports car is a long time winner of JD Power’s survey, as are most of Mazda’s products. Mitsubishi is at the bottom.

The Toyota Prius reaches high marks consistently for reliability. No wonder so many Über taxis are a Prius.

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Japan’s high speed trains given inferior engine parts, and some British locomotives

More reliability woes

After Diesel Gate comes Kobe-gate. Now that you are aware your German owned or built diesel car or SUV is a confidence trick polluting the environment when you were told it was emission friendly, it transpires Japan’s third-biggest steelmaker, Kobe Steel, is embroiled in a deepening scandal over the quality of products including aluminium and copper used in cars. (And aircraft, space rockets, trains, and defence equipment.)

The company said it had found a case of falsified data on iron ore powder – mainly used in vehicle parts such as gears – “that had been shipped to a customer”. It follows Kobe’s admission that it had falsified figures about the strength and durability of its aluminium and copper products, which are used in the transport and defence industries. The company is checking its records going back a decade. Be warned, admission of cheating by corporations always begin by minimising them.

The steelmaker has begun an investigation into Kobelco Research Institute, which tests products for the company, and found 70 cases of tampered data on materials used in optical disks and liquid crystal displays.

The company supplies materials to carmakers Ford, Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Subaru as well as aircraft-makers Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Exactly how you can find out if your car is affected means relying entirely on the goodwill of those manufacturers to advise you in a timely fashion to take your car to a dealer to have the faulty parts swapped for sound parts.

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The Toyota Hybrid Prius, ugly but one of the most reliable cars you can buy

Don’t by non-brand parts’ was their slogan for years, after-market copies were inferior. You can see what good following that advice to the letter has done. It makes matters so much worse to know Westminster has long since dismantled the UK testing facilities to ‘save money’. Car manufacturers, like banks, have been deregulated.

I believe we are seeing the results of misplaced employee loyalty, and big business intimidation. In an effort to reach strictly imposed targets – and probably receive a large bonus – employers falsify their research, just as VW employees did with diesel engines.

I don’t see the difference between that and a balls-high vanity personified Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin omitting to carry out due diligence when buying the toxic Dutch Bank ABN, surely the worst take-over in corporate history, and ruined the Royal Bank of Scotland’s reputation and existence for all time.

Kobe executives explain their problem this way: “Data in inspection certificates had been improperly rewritten … products were shipped as having met the specifications concerned which was improper conduct”. Improper conduct? Who knows what deaths or injuries have been the consequence of improper conduct/ And how many car owners have had to pay up for replacement gearboxes not realising they are ill made with inferior metal.

Kobe, one of Japan’s oldest industrial companies, said it was contacting its customers and working to establish whether the products it had supplied were safe. You, dear reader, are not a customer – they mean the car parts manufactures they supply.

Remember, car makers are one of the biggest lobbyists of government on the planet. They also pay billions in advertising revenue annually to television companies. Broadcasters are not quick to tell us about manufacturing failings. Instead we get inane car shows such as Top Gear. And magazine publishers are just as slow to point up concerns. They keep car enthusiasts buying useless car magazines by seducing them with photographs and breathless prose of the latest super car they can’t afford to buy.

I hardly need to add that Kobi has set up an external investigation. That ‘external’ investigation consist of Kobi employing a firm of lawyers. Yoshihiko Katsukawa, a senior official at Kobe, told a news conference: “We can’t rule out the possibility that the external investigation will find other cases.”

Kobe is under pressure from the Japanese government to resolve the crisis quickly. You bet it is, just as the Royal Bank of Scotland was ‘under pressure’ to put its house in order, given fifteen years and no sanctions to do so by George Osborne, the then chancellor of the Exchequer.

 

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Posted in Transportation | 3 Comments

A Confident Nation

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We’re right behind you, Nicola! (US: We’ve got your back)

The world’s nations are governed by a remarkable clan of women, from Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of cash rich Norway, and Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland, to Angela Merkel commanding Germany’s prosperous economy.

Like men, some are good at their job, some outstanding, and others like Theresa May bereft of leadership qualities or a single good idea. “Let women rule the world and we shall have no wars” goes the epithet but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee professional ability or Utopia is the outcome. Luckily we have the best in Scotland’s politics, a product, our enemies should acknowledge, of our much derided education system.

Here in Scotland we have Nicola Sturgeon, whom our scavenging press are determined will become unpopular by the simple masterstroke of telling their readers she must be unpopular largely because they says so.

I have no idea why the SNP decided to hold their annual conference at the start of a week rather than finishing on a Saturday, other than it stops the right-wing press filling the weekend’s papers with opinionated drivel in an obsessive effort to belittle Scotland.

At this year’s annual conference Sturgeon delivered a powerful speech full of common sense and caring, a speech following on from other senior female politicians of her party. If she missed anything at all it was the memorable phrase. In that she is deficient, in all else highly proficient. She speaks direct with an uncomplicated honesty, a determination to serve her nation and no other.

One orator was the doughty Mhairi Black, the 23-year-old SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire, who has an unerring ability to speak with unadorned clarity, straight from the heart, no contrivance or rhetoric.

For those unable to attend the conference I’ve reproduced below the salient sections of Black and Sturgeon’s speeches. Each reaffirmed their belief in a society fit for Scotland, not  a second-hand one handed down by England.

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Mhairi Black, forthright and prescient

Mhairi Black made a straight talking attack on Jeremy Corbyn, saying his leadership of the Labour party has bitterly disappointed her despite her initial high hopes. She was pleased to see Corbyn elected as Labour leader in 2015, a “normal, sensible” person for the SNP to work with in Westminster.

However, in a pointed section of her speech, Black reeled off a list of reasons why Corbyn has let her down since he was elected as leader in 2015, including his party’s support for the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons.

“Jeremy Corbyn and I actively agree on quite a lot of things which is why I hope what I’m about to say is taken with the sincerity with which it’s intended,” said Black to the conference. “I am so disappointed with Jeremy Corbyn, so disappointed. I was heartened to see Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour party because I thought ‘finally someone normal and sensible to work with in London’. But instead we’ve got more of the same London spin and nothing more than talking a good game.” She was  disheartened to see Corbyn come to Scotland to spread “fear and utter drivel” about the prospect of an independent nation, and she rejected Corbyn’s facile accusation of independence leading to “turbo-charged austerity.

If you’re going to call for an end to austerity, don’t release a manifesto scrapping only £2 billion out of a total £9 billion’s worth of planned Tory cuts. Don’t tell the vulnerable that you’re fighting for them while you choose to keep 78% of Tory cuts.

Don’t tell young people you’ll scrap tuition fees but turn a blind eye to Labour who hike them up in Wales. Don’t tell us you’re different and then still sign up to waste billions of pounds on nuclear weapons.  Don’t come to Scotland like so many before you and condescend to us by claiming the Scottish government with 15% of welfare powers can somehow undo Tory austerity when your party voted against devolving the real powers that matter.

But most of all … don’t dare spread fear and utter drivel about an independent Scotland meaning we would suffer turbo austerity because while you’re doing that, our Scottish government is saddled with paying £453.8 million mitigating and protecting people from the very worst of the Tory policies that we never voted for in the first place, and they have a cheek to say it’s our fault.

I’m sick to the back teeth of British nationalists perpetuating the myth that Scotland could not afford to thrive in the world as an independent nation.”

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Sturgeon began her speech with a playful  reminder of May’s misfortune

One of the shortest slogans in political history sat atop the lectern for Nicola Sturgeon’s  speech – “Progress”, a succinct summing up of Scotland’s determination to achieve the antithesis of England’s regressive ambition to remake itself as an island.

In essence Nicola Sturgeon let us know independence reinstated is the written goal of her party for the manifestly unassailable reason it is the only way Scotland can develop. We are a country expressing itself as a nation state awaiting only full democratisation.

Here greatly abridged are the main points from her speech.

“Ten years into government, the verdict of the Scottish people is clearer than ever. They trust the SNP to deliver for Scotland. And we will work each and every day to retain that confidence.

It may take us a bit of time to fix Labour’s mess [from decades governing Glasgow] but I make this promise today. Fix it we will. The injustice suffered by low paid women in this city will be put right. Equal pay for equal work, denied for too long, will be delivered by the SNP.

The racism, misogyny and sectarianism within the ranks of our political opponents has been on full, ugly display. The disgusting views that have been expressed by too many Tory politicians have no place in public life. It’s time Ruth Davidson found some backbone and kicked the racists and bigots out of her party.

We have rebuilt the country’s infrastructure too. From Lerwick harbour in the north. To the Border Railway in the south. From the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the west. To the magnificent new Queensferry Crossing in the east. And what an amazing feat of Scottish engineering that is. Look and travel across our wonderful country – the evidence is all around us. Improved rail connections the length and breadth of Scotland. The new Aberdeen bypass, upgrading the M8. Dual-way the A9 and making it our first electric-enabled highway. Superfast broadband being extended to 100% of premises.

Last week, Theresa May said she would freeze tuition fees in England. She said they won’t rise above £9,250. I can announce today we will match that commitment. We will also freeze tuition fees. But we will freeze them at zero. 

We will establish a publicly-owned, not-for-profit energy company to deliver low-cost renewable energy. We will fulfil our manifesto commitment by delivering a government owned energy company to work for the collective good. The company will buy energy wholesale or generate it here in Scotland and sell it to customers as close to cost price as possible. 

To deliver transformational change in early years’ education and childcare, by the end of this Parliament we will have doubled spending to £840 million. We have already increased free, high quality childcare to 16 hours a week for all three and four year olds and extended provision to vulnerable two year olds. We will now extend provision to 30 hours per week – saving working parents around £350 a month on the costs of childcare.

We will deliver new support for children leaving care, by exempting care experienced young people from Council Tax. Last year the First Minister announced an independent, root-and-branch, review of the system that supports children in care. That review is already underway but we won’t wait to act – we’ll help young care leavers financially by exempting them from Council Tax. 

Free sanitary products will be provided in schools, colleges and universities from the beginning of the next academic year. Scotland is already one of the first countries in the world to tackle ‘period poverty’ through a pilot scheme in Aberdeen. We will now provide free access to sanitary products to students in schools, colleges and universities from August next year.   

We are committed to delivering 50,000 affordable homes over this Parliamentary term – including 35,000 for social rent. If councils don’t use all the funding allocated to them to deliver new housing, the Scottish Government will take back the balance and give it to one that can. 

The Scottish Government has given consent for a community right to buy bid to proceed for the Island of Ulva. The residents of Ulva, an island off the west coast of Mull, have sought permission to buy their island. The Scottish Government will now give the go-ahead for their community right to buy bid to go to the next stage.  

A new fund will support popular tourist destinations in rural Scotland.  Scottish tourism is going from strength to strength.  To help our most popular rural destinations deal with the additional pressures of increased tourism, over the next two years we will establish a £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund to help meet the pressures.   

We will protect our public services from Brexit, by ensuring we continue to benefit from the estimated 20,000 EU citizens who help deliver them. If the UK government imposes charges on EU citizens forced to apply for settled status, we will ensure that devolved public bodies meet these costs for those working in our public sector. This will give practical help to the individuals concerned and it will also help us to retain the doctors, nurses and other valued public servants that we need.

The late Canon Kenyon Wright once said this: “There is another way. It is marked ‘The Road of Hope’. Hope for a new nation at ease with its past, confident in its present and hopeful for its future.” This is the time to believe in and work for that better future. To put ourselves firmly in the driving seat of our own destiny. That is what the people of Scotland deserve.

That is what we will deliver.”

And in the interests of gender equality here is one extract from John Swinney’s speech, Deputy First Minister for Scotland:

“We rededicate ourselves to Independence – the best possible future for Scotland. We rededicate ourselves to a future filled with possibilities for our young people and for our nation.”

 

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 6 Comments

Not Unity, but Democracy!

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Theresa May proves disaster follows her like fleas

Does the electorate, does anybody in Scotland enjoy the daily dose of tosh beamed at us of Theresa May and the jostle for power in the Tory Party? Who is running the UK?

England’s self-inflicted woes erupt on Scotland like a neighbour’s blocked sewage pipe. The British economy has not grown in a decade and we are told all is well, dumping Europe a major achievement. We can take time off to watch a Punch and Judy show.

Political nonentities swirl around us like diced carrots in soup. In Scotland the unprepossessing foghorn Tory manager Ruth Davidson asks that we leave poor Theresa May alone. Her colleagues must stop trying to depose her for another useless politician … that’s Ruthie’s destiny.

There is no argument; May is grossly inept, out of her depth, without personality, and slow-witted. If English voters want her, they are welcome to her, but please don’t force this nonentity on Scotland’s future.

For all her false protestations of a caring Tory party May puts the ‘ass’ in compassion.

A natural heir to Brian Rix

Her annual conference was a farce not even Georges Feydeau could have written. Disregarding her embarrassing coughing fit from justified nerves, letters falling off blue screen behind her while her lectern bore the contradictory legend “working for everyone”, her wearing a Frida Kahlo bracelet, and handed her P45 by a professional prankster – what in hell’s name did she actually say in her speech of any importance?

The answer is, nothing but cliché and empty rhetoric.

May’s speech in epitome

She wants a country [England] “based on merit not privilege”. Her vision is for “a Great Meritocracy”. This is Orwellian doublespeak. Her party is doing all it can to reinstate private schools, disenfranchise state schools, “investing in fee paying schools to improve state schools” she mysteriously calls it. The Tories are obsessed about privatising the English health system, handing her nation’s hard earned wealth and political power to corporate business, and allowing banks and finance houses freedom to drag us all into a second economic pit. Free trade the world over is to be encouraged but blocked to Scotland if Scotland takes its future into its own hands.

England is to “take control of its destiny” while withholding Scotland’s. This is her agenda for a “new, modern Conservatism” so obviously a continuation of  brutal, self-centred American-style neo-conservatism.

No hamburger inside

Like the speeches of her colleagues it was woefully short of solutions and English obsessed, with a condescending gesture at George Osborne’s ‘powerhouse of the North’ – meaning Newcastle, for which Scotland’s taxes will be used to subsidise England’s domestic plans. Scotland is greater England, after all, and should expect the scraps.

She talked of a “Global Britain” while telling us we are not going to be European ever again. We are to be a remote island where people come begging to us, if we like them we might trade with them or even allow them in to the UK. This is British neo-colonialism that can only end in humiliation. Has the woman an ounce of intellect sufficient to warn of the stupidity of her utterances?

Her latest headliner slogan has all the reassurance of a wet patch on a bus seat. “The British Dream” was presented as some sort of social renewal. Who among us was aware Brits harboured a Martin Luther King dream? Tories keep reminding us that they’re the party of political realism.

National unity empire style

As expected, May found a moment in her calls for [British] national unity to separate the people of Scotland from it. She denounced the SNP, Scotland’s elected administration.

We are one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and I will always fight to preserve our proud, historic Union and will never let divisive nationalists drive us apart.”

“Divisive nationalists”, the very same advocating continued integration with England, but not governance or having our wealth stolen and squandered. May’s media and press pack back her up every day concocting stories of SNP disarray and falling popularity. The fabricated distraction isn’t working. If it was they’d be silent instead of scared.

What May and her catastrophically inept UKip closet followers don’t understand is, as soon as they condemn nationalism, meaning ‘separatism’, they are demanding we all become adherents to the dominant English political party.

We must follow the Tories whatever the cost, even if that means dragged into wars.  They are the party par excellence, the party of unity. (Corbyn and Labour advocate the same doctrine.) In reality, they’re an English colonial social class imposing their values on the rest of us. That is what I oppose. Unequivocally.

It is not about unity – it’s about democracy.

England has every right to choose its destiny, and so has Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. England cannot appoint itself master of the universe accountable to no one.

The right to self-defence of small nations is practical only by the right to self-governance. You can’t cajole and constrain simultaneously and call that political freedom. That holds true for Catalonia, Corsica, the Kurdish, Palestine and Ireland.

There are enough Tory and Labour supporters in Scotland to frustrate Scotland’s democratic progress for the equivalent of two generations, your children never knowing any politics other than extreme Toryism.

The people, not the state

The state is there to protect people’s rights not to repress them. If there’s a constitutional issue – they must discuss it. Scotland is bound with England only in a renegotiable Act of Union. The right to establish a separate political society with its own traditions, ethics and values is the ultimate proof of democracy.

Democracy articulates the right of the self-defence of minorities, and it defines this right as a right to political separation. If you deplore Scotland’s politics you believe the British majority can impose its will on any social category it dislikes or wants outlawed.

Unsurprisingly Tories do not denounce UKip supporters, a misguided group the majority of Scots reject outright. Instead the Tories assimilated UKip’s worst, most obnoxious, reprehensible policies. In order to retain power the Tories have  French tongued fascism, racism, and the loathsome DUP, going as far as to use our taxes to bribe the DUP for its support. The Mafia must be watching Tory tactics with envy.

To reduce Scotland’s politics to ‘nationalism’ not only narrows the debate severely, but also automatically adheres you to the party of the state, the Tories, irrespective of your beliefs. Just ask Catalonia how they feel faced with Rajoy’s right-wing supporters invalidating very progressive policy they vote for.

Two peas in a pod

The Scottish question, like the Catalan question, is not a national question, nor a question of a nation state, but a question of democracy.

The people of Scotland can see the future now under England’s governance, its priorities and agenda. It will crush Scotland’s ideals of social egalitarianism. By predicting the inevitable we have to be imaginative and alert so that we can seize the day and take us out of the hell of England’s making.

Fifteen consecutive Catalan laws designed to make easier the lives of Catalonians were struck down by Spain, include a living wage and no disconnecting domestic utilities for indebted families. That’s called a tyranny. So, when Westminster says they will hold back our annual funds if we do this or that that they dislike, or they will stop a second plebiscite, it’s no wonder there is affinity Scotland with Catalonia.

Scotland is a nation state held back by a belligerent, colonial neighbour.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 4 Comments

Blade Runner 2049 – a review

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Ryan Gosling, except for traveling shots, he’s in every scene

When Blade Runner was premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival it was not the wildly successful film that people fondly assume it was. In fact, it was something of a mystery. Bits of the plot went unexplained, the pace was slow, Vangelis’s score was decidedly odd, and the story and characters oh so bleak. The film got mixed reviews and staggered out of cinemas swiftly.  It took years to become the cult classic it is today.

The overall impression was sadness for the loss of hope, yet its search for profundity never quite matched the language we heard, a frequent disconnect in Scott’s movies.

If Blade Runner had one glaring fault it was a complete loss of narrative drive. Scott gave the script scant regard, a telling trait in a TV commercials director. You sell the brand by quick-fire images in commercials, not the story behind the brand. That didn’t seem to matter. It was visually and aurally arresting, altogether riveting. This was dystopia from the minds of gifted art and design graduates. The film’s stature grew in time.

It took director Ridley Scott’s later released director’s cut to make better sense of who was a replicant and who was not. Only then did you really appreciate the care taken of intricate visual details, and how much of it was unscripted and improvised. For example, the oft repeated death scene of  Rutger Hauer’s replicant, seeing things in his short life we ‘cannot ever imagine’ is the actors own additional dialogue.

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Is this a good screenplay I see before me, with a fat fee pointed at my hand?

Harrison Ford’s introspective movie schtick was at its peak, his Deckard the detective the film’s centre. Television commercials trained Ridley Scott was at the pinnacle of his visual style. His dystopian cityscapes were developed and heightened from visiting Japan’s neon lit cities, toothy women flashing seductively from the sides of skyscrapers, moving news shots, a neon about every store and restaurant, a mega-metropolis harred by constant fog and rain under doom-laden clouds, steam rising from manhole cover.

Insider gossip reports the snowy landscape at the end of the released version of Scott’s original was actually lifted from the editing floor of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, stuck on by Scott against his better judgement to carry out the instruction from the studio for an upbeat ending. That section was deleted in subsequent reissues yet the enigmatic quality of them hinted at the film’s visionary realisation of a society broken and fractured wholly run and owned by the very rich we will never see. (Bit like today.)

I loved Scott’s use of the ground-breaking moulded concrete architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright exploited for the villain’s lair, and the way he gave life to the city’s walking dead. This was science fiction of a high order. And that brings me to the new film.

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Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins on 2049 set

I am please to report that I know this movie’s gifted cinematographer Roger Deakins, a three-time Academy Award winner and tribal elder to directors of photography. He’s sported a mop of white hair ever since I first met him, and no hint of a Hollywood persona. His philosophy for shooting scenes is minimalistic: “I have an interest in seeing people within their environments,” he says.

He insists on handling the camera himself, something most cinematographers delegate to a camera operator. He likes shooting on handheld and without zoom lens. “I like to feel someone’s presence in a space.” He doesn’t like any format in which the depth of field is too shallow or anything in the frame out of focus; background, he seems to feel, tells the viewer as much as the actor in the foreground.

The cinematographer’s job is to act as an intermediary – a translator – of his director’s vision. Deakins is  modest when he says he’d rather have his art go unnoticed; as a cinematographer, it’s professionally unwise to develop a recognizable style. I agree, but in the end a film can stand or fall by the cinematographer’s practiced eye or lack of it and the editor’s delete key.

Deakins has a second-to-none track record, Fargo and a dozen Coen Brothers films since and up to the more recent Shawshank Redemption, and then Sicario, testament to his outstanding skill. This sequel belongs to him, to production designer Dennis Gassner, and art director David Snyder. Without Deakins who knows what we might have got.

Visual elements are dazzling. Switch off the sound you’ll still be captivated.

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A wild eyed Jared Leto plays arch villain Niander Wallace

Blade Runner 2049 is crammed to the brim with drug induced hallucinatory images, frame after frame of impossible, ominous vistas. The Hollywood love of scrapyard locations and empty Escher-like factories are there; overhead shots of a dulled down Los Angeles skyline; brief glimpses of those neon screens; desolate, arid wastelands; entire abandoned cities littered with neoclassical ruins like Egypt and the Pyramids.

The first Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, was shot by Jordan Cronenweth, his imagining of a dying world also visually striking. Villeneuve and team stay true to the feel of it while presenting us with something new. They strain hard for the exceptional.

So, did I like this new rendition or not?

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Looking at that scene tells us only a nuclear war could have brought it about

The screenplay is puerile, to the point of disastrously silly; city scenes are not joined up, the drive for unusual locations take us on unconnected journeys; and the pace is glacial, ponderous as if wearing diver’s lead boots. There’s nothing enigmatic about this film, one full of annoying loose ends. What it tries to say about loss of identity is pretentious.

2049 also fails the Bechdel Test which requires a film to feature two named female characters talking to each other about something other than a man. One woman is a sadistic killer, one a hologram, one tough as any man, one lost for a dad, the rest are slappers and hookers. What no sex dolls? Still, there’s enough of Hollywood’s de rigueur soft porn to enjoy.

Let’s look at the new storyline which turns out to be the age old one.

2049 follows KB36-3.7, also known as K, (Ryan Gosling), who (much like Harrison Ford’s in the original) is a blade runner who hunts down and kills, or “retires,” rogue androids, known as “replicants,” despite the fact that he’s one himself. He eliminates his own kind. Nevertheless, the plot is standard commercial plot choice for sequels – make the hero similar to the original but forty years younger. Anyhow…..

“How does it feel, killing your own kind?” K is asked by Sapper Morton, (Dave Bautista), a former cyber-soldier now hiding from the authorities on a protein farm. “I don’t retire my own kind because we don’t run,” K replies matter-of-factly. “Only older models.” Gosling’s acting style, self-contained and tight lipped, lends itself perfectly to replicant behaviour. He has a face onto which you can project your idea of what’s in his mind. Indeed, his face, usually beaten and bloody, is almost the whole movie, plus the visuals.

It comes as no surprise that replicants hate him for being a blade runner, while everyone else hates him for being a replicant. “Fuck off, skin job!” a fellow cop yells at him en passant down at LAPD headquarters.

Poor K only has only one friend, sexy and shapely is the good news, the bad news is she’s an artificially intelligent hologram named Joi, (Ana de Armas), but a caring companion, a constant comfort, sold to K by the Wallace Corporation, the company that took over where Tyrell Corporation, which built the androids of the first film, left off. You could call it, Androids R-us.

On one job, K discovers a crate filled with the bones of a woman who died during childbirth. Analysis reveals one bone has a serial number stamped on it, suggesting the woman was herself a replicant – a profound shock because synthetic humans supposedly can’t get pregnant. We soon realise the bones belong to Rachael, (Sean Young), the original movie’s love interest. “This breaks the world,” says Lieutenant Joshi, (Robin Wright), K’s superior. She isn’t happy about the situation, not one bit, and neither was I hearing that clunky line.

To preserve order, she tasks K with wiping out any trace of this ever having happened; that means finding the child and killing it. Others, too, are interested in Rachael’s offspring, chiefly Niander Wallace, (Jared Leto), a glassy-eyed, slicked back hair, messianic weirdo with no discernible personality, a kind of Bond villain wearing a Learner plate. He is head of the Wallace Corporation. Curious how movie super-villains are invariably head honcho of a giant corporation.

Wallace is terribly fond of coining pretentious aphorisms and variations on Bible verses. “An angel should never enter the kingdom of heaven without a gift.” (Groan!) “Before we even know what we are, we fear to lose it.” (Double groan!) Wallace wants to build an army of synthetic slaves but lacks the knowledge to perfect his creations. Not  a wonder, really, because he appears able to afford only two employees.

Wallace is a trier. He’s tried for years to make a replicant that can procreate. Why, he doesn’t say, although one supposes he has a compulsive God obsession. Well, at least it keeps him off the streets and out of churches.

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Director Villeneuve, producer and original director, Scott, stars Ford and Gosling

There’s a lot more plot but I’ll leave it there, other than to add Harrison Ford makes a welcome appearance, looking his age and still speaking in an intense whisper.

For better and for worse, Blade Runner 2049 is a visual feast and Gosling at his monosyllabic best, but not much of any significance happens. The climatic ending seems to be from another film entirely. I thought the first film was fine as a stand alone project – we get two-and-three-quarter hours of the new vision and a lot of weary emptiness.

As for music, there’s echoes of Vangelis’ 1982 soundtrack amid the Japanese drumming, electronic hiss and ocean liner yowls of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score. Don’t look for melody.

Expertly crafted, a labour of love and a loving homage, Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t achieve the sublime impact of Scott’s masterpiece. Am I surprised? It’s impossible to top El Greco even if an ardent student of El Greco.

Can any filmed drama justify $150 million spent on its making? I’ll leave readers to make up their mind when they see the film. The film is playing to sparse audience numbers in North America, as disappointing as the box office receipts on the first release.

  • Star Rating: Three and a half.
  • Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
  • Director: Denis Villeneuve
  • Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Philip K. Dick
  • Cinematographer: Roger Deakens
  • Music: Hans Zimmer Benjamin Wallfisch
  • Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes

 

Posted in Film review | 7 Comments

A Plug for Dyson

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One of Dyson’s earliest inventions, the Ball Barrow

Sir James Dyson is one those people for whom your admiration has limits. You applaud his inventiveness, his eye for clean, colourful design, and his determination, but recoil when you study his ethics close up.

I’ve never been wholly convinced by Dyson’s inventions ever since his earliest, the ball barrow arrived in B&Q stores. The Ball Barrow was a lightweight barrow fitted with an inflated ball instead of a wheel. It gave the barrow the ability to tilt and shift direction with ease. But like all inflated objects, (other than politicians) it lost air in short measure, and the skin punctured easily when carrying a heavy load over sharp ground.

Just when you thought he would stick to garden tools he branched out into all sorts of domestic products, the outpourings of a fertile mind seeking ways to improve things we use every day. He became a billionaire by selling grossly over-priced vacuum cleaners in the crest of the free-market tsunami. His hoovers are status symbols.

To be fair, today he produces some of the most beautiful, simple design airblade space heaters, hair dryers and hand driers. From the success of the Ball Barrow he attracted good designers to his company and a lot of publicity for each new product.

He reused the ball as wheel idea on some of his hoovers. We loved them and made him stonkingly rich, prepared to pay whatever he charged, giving him enough loot to open a University in England to encourage new entrepreneurs, thus reaffirming his chosen credentials as a caring businessman, that and moving much of his production to China, and one presumes, a great deal of his tax liabilities.

Dyson dropped further in my estimation when, in greedy billionaire fashion, he enjoined the lumpenproletariat to ditch the EU without mentioning the EU was about to put limits on the worst aspects of his hoovers and for good reasons. Suction kills.

At the point the EU as a group decided to ban powerful hoovers Dyson ducked out. The new rules help tackle climate change. A reduction in the size of the motor cuts Europe’s energy usage. Tougher maximum power levels of 900W and a cut of the maximum noise level to 80dB is the aim. Dyson sells his vacuums on the basis they are more powerful than all others. Well, they will be if they have a bigger motor.

He gets my grudging vote, however, for inventing hoovers that need no dust bag, a £100 million annual rip-off by the hoover industry. They got fat and lazy, stopped developing their vacuums. Then again, to beat the big boys Dyson became one himself and adopted the big boy’s trading tactics.

You admire his design skills and determination but recoil from his me first ethics.

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Dyson in a cut-away version of the original Mini, a design he admires but not the size of car he plans to manufacture

Dyson has announced he’s about to produce an electric car having denied it for some years. We can let that fib slide for the moment; he was protecting his interests. Insiders believe Dyson will develop the vehicle and all future Dyson cars in Britain, but build them in China. They have a point. It is not only cheaper to manufacture a new car in China, it is also where the market is. Dyson confirmed their prediction.

“Wherever we make the battery, that’s where we will make the car,” Dyson said. “We see a very large market for this car in the Far East … We want to be near where our markets are and I believe the Far East has reacted [to electric] more quickly than the UK or Europe.”

Like his hoovers, this presupposes Dyson is about to create a very expensive luxury car that can hold a lots of battery power. China is by far the biggest market in the world for EVs and also the biggest market for luxury cars. And with China currently burning up its own oxygen with car pollutants they are keen to go electric fast. In 2016, 507,000 EVs and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) were sold in China, a 53% increase from 2015.

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Honda’s cute EV reinterpretation of a Peugeots 1.9 is guaranteed for 2019 sale

As far as I can ascertain Dyson is developing two solid-state batteries, which don’t contain liquids like the lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and existing electric cars. Those batteries are safer, can be recharged quickly and hold a charge for longer. (Toyota are working along similar lines.) Dyson insists the venture will make a profit. But, the right technology and compelling offers of state support still don’t guarantee success. Tesla has benefitted from huge US subsidies dished out to EV buyers. Despite this, the poster child of the EV sector remains loss-making.

To my mind Dyson’s timescale is highly ambitious, unless his car is well advanced in production. He claims his car will be “radically different”, from what he doesn’t say. According to Dyson, 400 engineers in his Wiltshire factory have worked on the £2.5bn project. Some manufacturers manage it in under five years if a basic sports or racing car but usually if they are using technology already in existence. The last thing Dyson wants is to wheel on a Sinclair C5 after a fanfare of trumps and kettle drums.

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Unless Dyson ‘s car as a radical new styling it’s liable to end up looking like this 

 

No prototype exists. “We don’t have an existing chassis … We’re starting from scratch. What we’re doing is quite radical.”

At this point in his announcement he confirmed my fears, that his electric car will not be the everyman’s affordable runabout.  He warns it is an expensive vehicle to purchase. “Maybe the better figure is how much of a deposit buyers will be prepared to put down.” There’s that Dyson neo-con creed again – charge what people are prepared to pay to the maximum.

What we can be sure of is, Dyson will market his car as a British invention, developed in Britain, and a British export. Excuse me while I express some cynicism.

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Dyson’s recycle boat. It can retrieve seabed detritus, plastic bottles or carry two cars

Dyson has invested in robotics and AI research for its existing products, but the Dyson vehicle is not likely to have any greater degree of autonomy than other new cars.

The inventor sounded a sceptical note over driverless cars: “I think that total hands-off driving is some way off.” He’d better get a move on.

All established British car manufacturers are moving towards building purely electric vehicles. Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans to go all-electric or hybrid by 2020, with a fully electric car on sale next year, while BMW-UK has said it would built an electric Mini in Oxford – all following Nissan’s bestselling Leaf, built in Sunderland.

What we are seeing, hence my sarcasm, is car manufacturers aiming the majority of their vehicles at the best heeled customers and leaving the rest of us to take a bus or forego travel altogether, a neat neo-liberal curtailment on out current freedoms.

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An early electric car, the Baker Electric (1911). 80 miles on four batteries

Posted in Transportation | 2 Comments

Catalonia Then and Now

People face off with Spanish Civil Guard officers outside a polling station for the banned independence referendum in Sant Julia de Ramis

One of the ‘peaceful’ images from the Catalonian Referendum, 01 October 2017

“In Spain, the dead are more alive than the living”, Frederico Garcia Lorca – poet.

I’ve lost count of the number of visits made to Spain, to all points of that vast multifarious, humble, exotic land, but not the memorable journey across it by car north to south across the great Plain at 120 degrees in the shade in an open topped car. They were all work related but also a time of learning and relaxation. Only on one occasion was it unpleasant, cheated out of apartment rent given a mosquito infested room with no air conditioning by a snivelling bankrupt English estate agent.

Spain is a great land. But it was never one nation. Anybody going to Spain for a holiday to spend all of it on a beach or the local bar might as well save themselves the trouble and visit a pub in Blackpool instead. Spain is the land of the Moor, the Roman, the Greek, the Jew, and great Spanish painters. Forget paella and sangria, immerse yourself in its history.

What is Catalonia today?

The tourist guides tells us Catalonia’s traditional agriculture was centred on the production of wine, almonds, and olive oil for export, as well as rice, potatoes, and corn (maize) as staples. Slightly more than one-third of Catalonia remains under cultivation, but olives and grapes are being supplanted by fruits and vegetables. The raising of pigs and cows is the dominant agricultural activity.

The main reason Spain is doing all it can to stop Catalonia moving from an autonomous state to one full independent is simple – like Scotland is to the UK, Catalonia is to the rest of Spain, a wealthy region. It is the richest and most highly industrialized part of Spain. Today Catalan boasts metalworking, food-processing, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. Textile, papermaking and graphic arts, chemicals, metalworking industries are mainly concentrated in Barcelona.

One of Barcelona’s plants produces electric cars for Nissan. Spain also builds Seat cars and trucks for VW. Pegaso sports cars was once a greater threat to Ferrari than Jaguar cars. Fuel and petroleum products has led to a huge expansion of Tarragona’s petroleum refineries. And as any visitor knows tourism is paramount.

Catalonia banned bull fighting, but the highest court in the land overruled the ban in 2010 saying the autonomous region could not interfere with national heritage.

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Catherine of Aragon

Some ancient history

Spain was not always Spain but a group of principalities once referred to as the Iberian Peninsula, self-sufficient states, factions often in contention with each other. Catalonia was formerly a principality of the Crown of Aragon. We learned a little of it at school.

Our student days remind us of Shakespeare’s Prince of Aragon in The Merchant of Venice, the Prince suitor to Portia. Catherine of Aragon had the misfortune to end up as the first abandoned wife of Henry the VIII, luckily the one who didn’t get her head chopped off. She gave birth to his heir, Mary.

What we were not told, most likely, was that from the 17th century Catalonia was the centre of a separatist movement that sometimes dominated Spanish affairs as it has done in the 20th and 21st century.

So, it’s fair to say Catalonia has had a rough time when it comes to being invaded and dominated: it was one of the first Roman possessions in Spain; occupied during the 5th century by the Goths; taken by the Moors in 712, and at the end of the 8th century by Charlemagne who incorporated it into his realm as the Spanish March, ruled by a count but not for long and soon rejected. For the serious tourist of history Spain is a paradise.

A long separatist history

Once Isabella of Castile (1469) brought about the unification of Spain, Catalonia became of secondary importance in Spanish affairs. It tended to be seen as a troublesome region, rather like England’s territorial view of Scotland. Though it retained its autonomy – as now –  and Assembly, (Generalitat) by the 17th century its conflict of interest with Castile, along with the decline of the Spanish monarchy, led to the first of a series of Catalan separatist movements. Yes, like Scotland, it’s been a 300 year old struggle.

In 1640 Catalonia revolted against Spain and placed itself under the protection of Louise XIII of France, a revolt quelled in the 1650s. In the War of the Spanish Succession Catalonia declared its support for the archduke Charles and resisted the accession of the Bourbon Dynasty, but in 1714 it was completely subjugated by the forces of the Bourbon Philip V who abolished the Catalan constitution and autonomy. Back to square one.

The pace quickens

The resurgence for nationhood really began in the 1850s. Serious efforts were made to revive Catalan as a living language with its own press and theatre – there’s that cultural aspect again that England’s unionists detest whenever Scots raise the same issues – a movement known as the Rebirth. Once the Catholic church lent its support to full autonomy the war of attrition began in earnest.

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Scots and Irish volunteers who fought (and died) with the International Brigade against Franco

The Republic arises

In 1931 the then leader of a socialist-leaning Catalan proclaimed it a Republic. A compromise was worked out with the central government, and in September 1932 the statute of autonomy for Catalonia became law. In 1936 Spain began a genocidal civil war to reclaim Catalonia. The far-right Nationalists’ victory in 1939 meant the loss of autonomy by the hand of dictator General Francisco Franco’s government who put into force a draconian repressive policy toward Catalan’s socialist nationalism.

The struggle to reinstate full independence by Catalonia and Scotland has similar parallels with one inspiring the other, even after defeat.

In Catalonia’s previous Referendum over 80% expressed the desire for full independence, 45% in Scotland, but with many No voters demanding greater powers for Scotland. They didn’t get them, thus both Yes and No voters were losers.

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Picasso’s masterpiece – ‘Guernica’

To read and to see

Those keen to know of Catalonia’s 20th century history should read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, an account of all the betrayals, particularly by the communists, handing that troubled land to Franco’s fascists. Orwell sustained a bullet wound to his throat and was brought back to England. Over 500 Scots sacrificed their lives in Spain fighting Franco.

If not already familiar with the image and its powerful meaning, readers should try to see Picasso’s Guernica and stand before it in silence to take in all its meaning. You could write the rest of Catalonian history up to and including Franco’s regime as a series of take-overs followed by renewed rebellion for self-governance.

The pact to forget

The Pacto del Olivida was the commitment imposed on Catalonia by the Spanish elite after the fall of Franco. It was an attempt to throw a heavy blanket over civic unrest brought about by the violence of Franco’s fascist troops and his supporters, the intention being Catalonians should concentrate on being good peaceful citizens. (It included assassination campaigns of ETA, the Basque separatists of northern Spain and south western France.) We can see the result of that policy today.

How can Catalonia forget its past, the many conflicts, the very thing that propels its desire for a better future? Memory  is part and parcel of a nation’s culture. We in Scotland are forever told by unionists to forget out past. We are derided as claymore and kilt fanatics.

Looking both ways at once

How do you suppress spoken history of the past, from person to person, or history books written about the immediate past? You cannot contain remembrance of victims in a conflict to strict ceremonial days and ask for forgetfulness at the same time.

As with Scotland’s relationship with England, I argue confronting the past by all means possible is the only rationale, ethical, politically defensible process that aids movement towards full democratisation.

The only reason Scotland is where it is today with an impoverished Parliament of severely restricted powers is precisely because we are aware of the injustices economically and socially of our recent past, from Thatcher, to the 40% minimum vote of 1979 onwards. A pact to forget is a tactic to quell rebellion.

Cheated of greater powers when Scotland voted No in 2014 is yet another reason why forgetting the past is a colonial joke. The Spanish call it Encarnación. How can the Spanish forget the crimes of the Civil War? It is etched in the memories of an entire generation, some still keen on Franco’s authoritarian rule.

Taken to its logical extent, should we forget the Nuremberg Trials and the verdicts thereafter? To do that levels the victors with the defeated in the war against Nazism, the Nazis who, incidentally were allies of Franco.

Catalonia has been negotiating a path to independence for almost a decade. It has lost all patience and after the Spanish government’ s brutal reaction we can be certain it has lost tolerance!503Repression is repression

Scenes of Guardia Civil sent into Catalonia to beat up voters in the Catalan referendum must fill decent people with abhorrence. Exercising democracy in a vote has always been a threat to authoritarian administrations.

The brutal creed of Franco has never quite disappeared from parts of Spain, mostly among the elderly who benefitted from his rule in areas where socialism is akin to leprosy. What the Spanish government is doing now to frustrate the Catalonian referendum is repression, there is no other description of their actions.

The diversions begin

The right-wing of Britain and Spain is already hard at work trying to focus attention on the Catalonian Referendum as illegal. In fact, to my certain knowledge it is not. Only a declaration of UDI is illegal under the shared constitution. What the right-wing want us not to discuss is their other handiwork, the acts of repression:

  1. The Spanish cabinet has taken control of the payment of Catalonia’s creditors to prevent any expenditure on the Referendum vote.
  2. The Spanish Military Police (Guardia Civil) has closed down websites that provide information and commentary on the Referendum.
  3. Spanish judges have ordered the main telecommunication companies to prevent access to the Referendum website – and they complied.
  4. The Guardia Civil has raided printers and distributors in the greater Barcelona region and confiscated posters and leaflets.
  5. The Guardian Civil has served injunction papers against all pro-independence newspapers and web-based news office to block mention of the Referendum.
  6. The Spanish Post Office has opened ‘suspicious’ mail to check for Referendum material.
  7. Meetings in public places have been banned and some places raided.
  8. The Guardia Civil has inflicted severe violence against peaceful voters of all ages.
  9. Over three hundred voters have been admitted to hospital with severe wounds.
  10. At least 12 Catalan officials have been arrested – more by the time this is published – including the chief aide to Catalonia’s deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jove.

Contradiction fly everywhere

There is a glaring flaw emanating from the mouths of those who argue Catalonians are flouting Spanish law. They never know where to draw the line. If beating up peaceful voters is lawful in their bleary eyes, then so must be shooting them dead. That was Franco’s creed.

The Spanish Government demonstrates how afraid it is of losing Catalonia. Let no one claim the UK Government is unafraid of losing Scotland.

 

Posted in General, Scottish Politics | 12 Comments

Detroit – a review

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A Bigelow film guarantees truthful political events with some fiction added

This is a difficult film to dismiss as a lumbering beast, uneven and fractured, or to praise as powerful and a fine work of art.

Detroit runs for over one hundred and fifty minutes – it feels much longer if you actually watch it! – and is screaming out to be either an epic at three hours, or an incisive drama at ninety minutes. Add another three quarters of an hour for those boring commercials, trailers, and a that crass billion ball bearings advert tearing sound into your eardrums, and you might need to take a camp bed with you to the cinema and some earplugs.

It arrives courtesy of the politically motivated director Kathryn Bigelow working with screenwriter Mark Boal, the journalist who also wrote the director’s previous two films, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. It’s riveting and its a clunky mess. It won’t surprise me if there was battles in the editing room between studio and Bigelow.

This double decker bus of a movie has Bigelow crafting a portrait of the 1967 Detroit uprising that is highly controversial in the way it depicts the detail of historical events and gives us a history lesson. But just as you get engrossed in its racism and violence perpetrated by paid officials it splutters to a halt before it cranks up again to full speed.

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Detroit doesn’t compromise on the violent images

Bigelow begins the film with an odd startling tableau, paintings by Jacob Lawrence, momentarily animated, depicting the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South during the period before World War I. Some describe the opening as crude. To my mind it had me confused into thinking the film was about to take a children’s book approach to key tragic events.

In reality this migration had an opposite effect. The “white flight” – American’s fear of black men – left many cities, including Detroit, in disarray, fomenting racial disparity between largely black urban neighborhoods and the white police forces patrolling them.

The riots in Detroit were front page news in the US and the UK during the time. That overload of information and facts weighs down Bigelow’s film with a duty it never quite manages to fulfil. I can see why she tackled detail. The events in Detroit are largely forgotten by the United States of Amnesia. Nevertheless, I can’t see any other way of giving us a critical insight into the despair that fed the chaos of 1967. Once the wide view has run its length the film’s field of vision narrows acutely.

The fury that unleashed the riots was sparked by police overreaction and brutality in an attempt to shut down an unlicensed drinking establishment. “Arrests for a private gathering? That’s police overreach!” one man helpfully yells in an early dramatization of that episode, as Detroit jumps through the historical timeline, with little attempt at characterization or plot.

We get a scene of local politician John Conyers, (Laz Alonso) exhorting a crowd to remain peaceful. “I need you to not mess up your own neighborhoods!” he yells. “This is your home!” The crowd’s response is angry and righteous: “Burn it down!

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Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal on the set of Detroit

We get a lot of dramatised moments, National Guardsmen shooting up at people in windows, interwoven with archival news footage, and the then governor of Michigan state George Romney addressing the press.

The story gathers focus when it alights upon the now infamous ‘Algiers Hotel’ incident. The hotel is the stage over which main characters in the drama pass back and forth.

Young white cop Philip Krauss, (Will Poulter) rides in a patrol car and laments the fact the police have “failed” the black community. He sounds our man, compassionate, but not long after uttering the platitude Krauss proceeds to blast a large hole in the back of a looter with a shotgun. The dying victim’s spilled bag of potato chips provides a suitable symbol between the surreal moment and the consequence.

The officer is later reprimanded by a senior detective and told that murder charges will be brought against him – right before he’s sent back out into the streets with a casual “Kid, calm down out there.” A curfew is imposed on the city with every copy ready to blast the skull of anybody still not at home.

Meanwhile, African-American security guard Melvin Dismukes, (John Boyega) is called in to protect a grocery store and finds himself compelled not just to keep watch over the establishment but also to protect black kids on the streets from the unhinged cops harassing them. Gradually the action around the hotel moves inside.

We first see the complex as aspiring R&B singer Larry Cleveland, (Algee Smith) and his young friend Fred Simple, (Jacob Latimore) duck inside to get away from the violence in the streets. At this point events take a tragic turn, both in the drama and in the real life event. Any sense of safety for Cleveland and Simple is short-lived once police and Guard respond to what they think are gunshots fired at them from the hotel. They blast their way in looking for the culprits. To this day no one is certain if shots were fired from the hotel or not. Misinterpretation is a calamitous thing in the heat of the moment.

What ensues is closer to a relentless, extended torture sequence, as the officers, led by the manic Krauss, force the men and women inside the hotel against a wall and take turns playing a “death game”. This is classic Bigelow territory – torture by ‘our’ guys, the good guys who are supposed to be better than the bad guys. Bigelow allows the sequence to go on and on and on, for what seems an eternity of raw, gut-punching tension.

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A still from the real 5-day Detroit riots

As we watch these horrified men and women vilified, ridiculed, beaten and degraded, and two instances murdered in cold blood, their police killers never charged, Detroit veers into exploitation. I found it hard to watch.

What point is Bigelow making? We know intellectually torture is vile and brutal, why extend the scenes? When you show a row of black women facing a phalange of riot police have one of them state her case not stay stoically silent. The National Guard was given the nod of approval by Obama, a constitutional lawyer. How did he manage to justify that? Perhaps Bigelow is conveying riots don’t come with tidy three-act structures or middle-class sentimentality. They are an endless nightmare. I wish I knew precisely what she is saying. Not knowing makes the film all the more unsatisfying.

The switch to the Algiers Hotel completely disrupts the pace and balance of the plotting yet it’s the core of the movie, and Barry Ackroyd’s hand-held shaky camera work makes the torture scenes feel all the more realistic.

Detroit’s later sections involve the mourning afterward and the court cases that followed, shown mostly in brief subjective glimpses to have a real impact. We are left not quite knowing what moral lesson we are being taught, but above all, what Bigelow feels about the behaviour of rioters, looters, police and National Guard. Surely she can’t be saying and nothing more that all police forces harbour a few bad apples?

I had the same disquiet watching Bigelow’s depiction of the Bin Laden assassination. The USA violated the territory of another nation. Had that happened in reverse all hell would be let loose. Few raised their hands in horror. Bin Laden was the big bad bogeyman and it was right and just to hunt him down wherever he hid. That was how the western press presented officially sanctioned assassination to us. Kill the opposing side’s general and the war will be won – a ludicrous naivety.

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English actor Will Poulter gives a powerful portrayal of a racist cop

Performances are all-round excellent as you’d expect them to be for such a violent tract. The stand-out performance comes from twenty-four year old English actor Will Poulter was last seen in The Revenant getting down and dirty, freezing cold and soaking wet. I noticed him some years back in an awful UK children’s comedy series. He had an odd face that stood out from the crowd, and a way of throwing himself into whatever was asked of him to do. In the intervening years both his face and acting technique have matured considerably.

“My internal monologue at that time was quite difficult to wrestle with,” said Poulter, interviewed about his sadist role in Detroit. “There was “no sense of enjoyment or relish in playing a role like this because he (Krauss) is so offensive and heinous.” Poulter said he was forced to “embrace ignorance” in order to play the racist officer. “You are having to convince yourself that just because some of us are a different ethnic group, (black people are) a threat to you, or they are immediately a criminal. You’re having to accept ignorance as the thing that informs all of your behaviours, a frightening place to be.”

Detroit is a film in which we witness real events not meted out by super-heroes. Bigelow forces us to confront the violence the state can use against its own people. And yet because of the imbalance in the film’s structure it all starts to look and sound like a sophisticated television documentary on a very big budget.

This annoyingly unreconciled screenplay does terrify and unsettle us enough to make us think being black and living in the newest democracy in the west is no cake walk. It’s a warped state of mind.

Star rating: Three stars
Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith,
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Cinematographer: Barry Ackroyd
Composer: James Newton Howard
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

 

 

Posted in Film review | 4 Comments