Despicable Me 3 – a review

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Gru meets his twin brother, Dru. But is Despicable Me 3 new or boo?

Pixar animations – we’re not able to call them cartoons these days, though they are – Pixar animations are invariably excellent to outstanding, those from other studios less so. Spielberg’s stable, bought by Disney, tends to pick winning stories aimed at adults as well as children, though their quality varies.

Entertaining as Universal Studios Despicable Me 1 and 2 were, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to see the third iteration. Movie sequels repeat formats and run out of ideas losing fresh appeal. To keep the interest of succeeding generations studios completely alter the original; they will say evolve.

Anyhow, duty and grandchildren called; it’s the school holidays, the cineplex a good place to take a rambunctious kid on a dreich day. I took Ethan, six years old, and his brother Quinn, all of four-and-a-half years of age, (mentioning the half is important) to see Despicable or Captain Underpants. They chose the former. The intriguing thing is, as critics they liked and disliked the same bits as I did.

This instalment sees a permanently cravat attired Gru, the Despicable of the title, implausibly kicked out of spy bureau because of incompetence. He failed to capture Balthazar Bratt, a madcap singing, dancing villain, who’s stolen the world’s biggest diamond. Balthazar is a former ‘80s child TV star now turned to a life of crime. Nobody can stop him. Like all super-villains, he lives grandly on an island all of his own making.

Gru’s plan to capture Balthazar, regain his boss’s trust and get his job back, is diverted by the surprise advent of a twin brother, Dru, more successful that Gru, but madly frivolous, not at all serious or grave. Worse, he flaunts a head of thick blonde hair, the envy of Gru with his bald dome. Dru wants to be like Gru, a villain, but he’s too late. Gru explains he has been domesticated, given up his bad ways to look after his three adopted children, the oh-so adorable, terribly well behaved, Margo, Edith, and Agnes.

As the story unfolds we learn the twins love for each other is not quite what it seems, and their wicked mother has a lot to do with their flawed character, and their physical separation from birth.

Well, if the formula works why change it? Despicable Me 3 offers up more of the same: more Gru – Gru x 2 if you count his twin brother, Dru; more Minions, though not in as many scenes as expected; more cartoonish sight gags; more pop-music, and pop music references; and more terrific Pharrell Williams songs.

Perhaps the writers should have written another draft of the script. The main characters we have grown to like, the children and the Minions, barely get a look-in to the various comedy capers. And the happy home with the three girls, (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel) is soon abandoned in pursuit of the villain. The Minions too are at  a loose end, without projects to keep them occupied in Gru’s cellar workshop.

The animation is full of overlaid garbled chatter, everything is really noisy, even for young ears, and the story is thrown at us at break-neck speed. We switch back and forth between storylines, not quite getting to grips with the one before us before the next drops in. I’m pretty sure young minds will not follow any of them coherently, they will only remember key sequences.

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The Minions are as funny as ever, and half the attraction

The don’t-fix-it approach is fine if all the elements fall into place naturally. As an adult I couldn’t get my head around the disjointed layout, jump cuts, and 200 mph editing.

Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig are back to voice a pair of lovey-dovey superspy parents out to rid the world of evil yet again. Actually, I was surprised to note the original film’s enticing premise, about a bad guy who can’t help turning good, is all but lost.

Series creator Pierre Coffin, (with Kyle Balda and co-director Eric Guillon) tries to gives us some family interaction as a reminder of what binds them altogether, but in the attempt side-lines the Minions, the very characters the glue of the first two films, the funniest characters by far. They are just as hilarious in this episode but restricted to two heavenly inspired sequences, and bits parts in the final chase.

I liked the villain beating off Gru, Dru, the Minions, the police and army by blowing giant gum bubbles at them, sticking them to buildings and each other. Even after the third and fourth scene it’s just as clever, and of course, nobody is really hurt. The opening reel is full of those antics, Tex Avery-style hit and miss stunts, over-laid with terrific music cues ranging from Michael Jackson to Van Halen to A-ha.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot tossed from the screen at us at once, yet Carell – with an even more pronounced Dracula-Slavic accent that last time – and Wiig, manage to anchor the Keystone Cops antics with voice gymnastics that meet their over-the-top characters, but are also emotionally true.

There are plenty of clever and outlandish jokes, too many passing you by in a mad rush, and a French character that I think is modelled on Gerard Depardieu. But by far the two laugh-out-loud Minion sketches are deliriously funny: one on a stage at a television singing competition, and the other a prison break, timed to Pharrell’s hit “Freedom.”

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Some credit is due to Heath Robinson for the comically complicated gadgets

What did my young companions think?

Ethan giggled at the funny bits, and sat rock still all ninety minutes, a model of a child at the pictures, never bored, nor running up and down in the aisles. The speed of the action kept him enthralled. He thought the Minions the best characters of all, as I did, the others not so good, again as I did. Maybe the Minions should get a movie of their own.

Quinn, on the other hand, found the cross-referenced villain dressed in purple scary, an Elvis-Prince mismatch, and soon turned away from the action. Afterwards he said he only liked the Minions, and would have preferred to have seen the latest Cars animation. I think they sum up my own opinion perfectly.

So, not a film for the under six’s.

A lot of the story and action is absolute bonkers. If the animators had a great time creating the film they’ve not managed to convey all their enjoyment to us. The pace is far too fast. You don’t have time to sneeze, or ask your child if they’re enjoying it.

There’s a ton of toy product animation out there now, from Lego to My Little Pony. It all looks like over-commercialisation and kiddy exploitation. The Despicable franchise has netted $1.3 billion worldwide. It doesn’t look set for retirement any time soon. Somebody is laughing all the way to a tax haven, and it isn’t the kids paying to see the films.

  • Star Rating: 3 stars
  • Cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker
  • Director: Kayle Balda, Pierre Coffin
  • Writer: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
  • Music: Heitor Pereira, songs by Pharrell Williams
  • Duration: 90 minutes

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Globalisation

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Mine! No, mine! No, I saw it first!!!

I got caught up in a mild spat on Twitter with an individual who voted No to Scotland re-joining the rest of the world, and Remain for the UK staying with the rest of the world. A psychotic contradiction if every there was one: keep your tyrannical neighbour powerful but your own nation subservient. His replies were full of non sequiturs and hogwash ideology. My statements were disconnected. It made me question the detail of the disagreement – globalisation.

To save readers the trouble of a few days reading in the National Library, I’ve gathered my thoughts, and checked them against the opinions of social scientists and economists.

In the beginning

The notion of globalisation is normally restricted to economies driven by ‘the market’. If only it was that simple and uncomplicated.

You can say globalisation began with Marco Polo and the Silk Road. As soon as he discovered Chinese linen and ceramics, and paper, East traded with West openly and vice versa. Everyone was happy, from the makers to the traders to the buyers. Cut to the great clipper ships and world trade was on in a big way. In time, market forces took over the price of what we wore and ate and bought to use, values decided by wealthy merchants, but you could still haggle a price that suited you. Sometimes market forces were on our side, sometimes they were on the seller’s side.

Markets took lots of forms, barter, selling from a stall outside the walled city, village-to-village trader with a horse and cart, the blacksmith or carpenter or basket maker to whom you went for something special to be made. Today we call it the “free enterprise economy.” When you think about it that’s not quite true.

So, what’s new?

The big difference between then and now is, huge corporations control our market economies, effectively tyrannies that look to government for protection. And they get it. You can see how they are treated in comparison with the Grenfell Tower survivors, the casualties of that conflagration treated with disdain by the London’s local authority.

Look at any industry, technology, automotive manufacturing, whatever, invariably they were supported at inception with grants and subsidy, government and local, money paid from the public purse. They are expecting tariff subsidy when Brexit is in full force.

We pay the cost. It boils down to social subsidy, private profit. That’s neo-liberalism in a nutshell. Market forces discipline our spending, but not the spending of the power elite.

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MS Herald of Free Enterprise, symbol of all that’s rotten with neo-liberalism, and now Brexit. It capsized as it left Zeebrugge, bow doors wide open

There but for the grace of …

I think one of the things that motivated normally sensible people to vote against remaining in the EU, even a reformed EU, was the way it treated Greece.

First of all, it wasn’t the EU that cracked the whip. It was the EU Bank, itself guided by the IMF. People talk about the IMF bailing out Greece. It didn’t do that. It bailed out the lender banks and the investors. That’s made plain in Yanis Varoufakis’ published journal, ‘Adults In the Room’, telling of his negotiations with those bodies, the so-called Troika.

The poor of Greece paid the rich of Europe to stay rich. Varoufakis tried in vain to have that money used productively to re-energise the Greek economy. Most of it went from one bank back into another. We don’t want to be another Greece, shout neo-colonials without realising the same could be imposed on the UK.

The reason we seem inured to some extent is because we are one of the G7 countries. ‘G7’ stands for the Group of seven: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The EU is automatically represented because three of its nations are members of that group. G7 countries have a summit to decide on economic policy. Russia joined late and then was ejected for annexing the Crimea.

It is an ad hoc group.

No one elected them to do what they do. They are not accountable to the electorate. No voter ever said, we should have only the wealthiest nations dictate economic systems to the remaining nations. The politically aware have spotted that anomaly and protest outside G7 summits. Their views are taken into account by riot police and water canon.

G7 decides on economic policy for – you’ve guessed it, G7 nations. To the rest of the world some states are more equal than others.

It’s like something out of Blade Runner

To recap: if you live in a poor, deprived area, or live in an underdeveloped country, you will get market forces rammed down your throat. That happened to South Korea, a country whose economy rose faster than a mercury thermometer in a blast furnace, until in the 1980s the USA moved in and destabilised it in order to buy up its banks and car makers at rock bottom prices. It’s only now recovering.

Our economies are controlled by the IMF, the World Trade Bank, and The World Trade Organisation. They dominate us, and they in turn are controlled by the USA. The USA delights in seeing European economic independence knocked for six. Farage and UKip did their job extremely well. (Ergo, Farage’s first stop was to glad-hand Trump.) The Tory Party couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

With middle-England voting to leave Europe, the Tory party could have decreed the outcome of the EU referendum null and void, merely indicating immigration control wanted greater reform. But it pursues it’s nefarious, anti-democratic goals because it hopes to gain much more than we realise, including permanent dominance of the devolved parliaments – us, Scotland. In that regard, Nicola Sturgeon is quite right to warn its nothing more than a blatant “power grab”.

Eat your cereal

Colonials keep telling us we must learn caution and responsibility. They tell us welfare must be cut, the NHS contract, pension age rise. But those changes never apply to them. They squander millions, secrete millions in tax havens, and avoid bankruptcy rescued by government subsidy. Globalisation works for them, not for us.

What we, the voter, have allowed to happen over a period of decades, is to have power concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, giant companies, financial institutions, and conglomerates that are essentially transnational in activity, making them almost unaccountable for their actions.

As I publish this essay a £14 billion class-action lawsuit against MasterCard for allegedly overcharging more than 45 million people in Britain over a 16-year period has been blocked by a British court. How’s that for protecting the power elite/

They don’t only control our economy alone, they control the international economy. Where they appear not to exist, they do by owning affiliates. This situation is unprecedented in the history of capitalism. Companies own politicians who in turn protect and enhance company profits by removing restrictions on their behaviour.

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It’s estimated the equivalent of $1.5 trillion USD flies around the globe every day

Goldfinger lived in the stone age

The damnable aspect is, very little of the ebb and flow of capital is productive. Foreign exchanges fly trillions a day this way and that, very little staying in one place more than a day. Old Auric Goldfinger shifting gold bullion by car across Europe is history.

By ensuring only a tiny percentage of capital lands in our pockets – 5% according to Nobel economists – our economies are denied investment. Money that used to be circulated in the community, dispersed to aid development, is kept in the tax exempt accounts of speculators. Put another way, 95% of the money is destructive. When Tory politicians lament the loss of an investment company from the City they tell us such institutions create most of our wealth. They do, but not for us. Thatcher saw to that, followed by Blair, Cameron, May, and now Corbyn who won’t dismantle a thing.

That’s the reason we see so many lawyers and investment personnel moving into politics. Their money, their backers, seek power. UKip has never explained where a lot of it’s election finance came from. It didn’t come from its membership. In Scotland, boss of a water bottling company, Highland Spring, let’s it be known voter empowerment can go to hell. His company is what must prosper. No one thought to ask him how much in grants his company received from local sources, or from banks, banks we subsidised.

For my part, I wonder how the global internet was privatised. I watch documentaries telling me of this or that clever computer boffin who invented bits of the Internet, and then handed it over to the nation to use for free. But it isn’t free. We pay to use it.

How did that happen? I can’t tell you. It just happened over time.

A concentration of power

So, we have a vast concentration of power in investors and speculators who control money, and in turn control government policy. What they don’t like they block or have over-turned, or watered down.

The SNP does all it can to regain civil rights for all of us in Scotland, to bring power back to the people, but is faced by a hostile Labour party blocking every new power we could gain. The Tories are happy to let labour do its worst.

Labour in Scotland is highly successful blocking powers that could lead to stopping capitalists currently free to undermine the economy in all sorts of ways, like massive export of capital.  This is ominous for a Scotland thinking of reverting to that party. All Jeremy Corbyn is selling is tins of  English air marked ‘Manufactured and Packaged by Westminster’.

The last thing the Labour party is, is a socialist party. They even halt or slow down social programmes, union rights, welfare entitlement, spending on health and education, and then have the temerity to claim the SNP isn’t doing enough to install those programmes.

Is there hope?

Leaving Europe is a guaranteed disaster because so much of our economy is foreign owned. Scotland independent, governing its own economy, recirculating wealth within Scotland, offers the best start to any nation reborn, particularly if it refuses to take any of rUK’s toxic debts, and institutes its own currency.

Until we regain self-governance, efforts to stimulate the economy, reactivate North Sea oil revenue in our favour, redistribute income in any manner, our efforts will be wasted. The money men of globalisation can stop us in our tracks simply by withdrawing capital from the country. They are Westminster by another name.

I am certain a good many who voted No to independence sensed that, but were deluding themselves if they thought linked to isolationist England we are protected.

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A few of the multi-nationals that control our children’s destiny

 

 

Posted in Scottish Independence Referendum, Scottish Politics | 9 Comments

Dunkirk – a review

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Sitting ducks. But what is the point of the film?

This is a film promoting the myth of English Exceptionalism, and by default, the efficacy of splendid isolationism. The people languishing on beaches are not refugees fleeing from wars we started – there’s no armada of rescue ships for them – the people we witness in survival and in death are the British Tommy, Jock and Taffy.

This is the third English war movie this year. There is more war-war and jaw-jaw to come: another film about Churchill, and yet another about Queen Victoria. Ridley Scott is reportedly working on a war epic. The story of Dunkirk has been told on film before. Leslie Norman, director – father of the film critic Barry Norman – shot the same-titled feature in 1958. You could call this one a reboot.

Director Christopher Nolan’s version covers the same territory but it does not follow specific lives. It’s an exercise in pure style.

We don’t fight wars anymore like we did in Europe, or organise evacuations like Dunkirk, not these days. We send killer drones to specific destinations, or do battle by proxy armies, and in the event displace and kill innocent civilians.

Dunkirk is a safe subject to dramatise, out of date. When Nazis were helping Franco bomb his own people into submission Picasso was painting Guernica. That’s how swift your conscience should motivate you. Or you can teach the sources of betrayal in war as Gillo Pontecorvo did shortly after the event depicted in The Battle of Algiers, (1966).

As soon as I heard Nolan say, “It’s got things to say about what we can achieve about community” I was wary. What community? Blairgowrie? Barra? Balornock? No, none of those. It’s about the British stiff upper lip. Nolan can’t free himself from that stereotype.

What is the film saying to us – that even the worst individual can be a Good Samaritan when the moment presents itself? Man’s inhumanity to man is unstoppable? Do we need a re-enactment of the British war spirit to tell us that? If readers think I’m carping, here’s the real objection:

The grotesque irony of Dunkirk is the film opens in the UK when English suspicion of Johnny Foreigner sees them jettison Europe – we Scots included in that insulting category of ‘alien’. The movement’s leaders cite Germany as ‘the enemy’. Brexiteers quote Churchill at every opportunity. He has become their patron saint. England is intent on securing the best deal for itself, grabbing maximum powers, while excluding ‘the colonies’ from involvement. Colonies will take what they get, if they get anything at all. I can’t see any unification of community there.

The unfortunate thing for the film’s producers is its release coincides with the disaster that is Brexit, the Brits leaving Europe. Irony is everywhere. Your mind asks if thousands of men on the beach at Dunkirk died so that a large part of the United Kingdom could have the civil liberties of its citizens curtailed. We live in an age where xenophobia as an officially blessed policy. Did that occur to Christopher Nolan when he thought Dunkirk a subject not fully explored? I doubt it.

So, what’s left to attract us to an evening at the flicks? Spectacle? Good acting? Understated heroics? An obsessive attention to historical detail that entices us into the drama? Seductive cinematography? Well, yes, all of the above.

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Real actors, not CGI, a real beach (filmed in Holland) and real boats, 60 of them

Christopher Nolan is a London lad, English father, American mother. He’s an extraordinarily successful writer-director, not in the French mould, not a Truffaut or Godard, but in the big picture special effects mould, and just as pioneering in ideas. His films have a similarity of content, alienated main characters, the shifting of time and space. When he first appeared in the picture house scene with Memento, you knew a new cinematic talent had arrived, an unusual talent able to handle a complicated storyline.

Memento (2000) is relentlessly impressionistic, Nolan’s trademark style seen in Inception (2010), the politically muddled The Dark Knight Rises, (2012) and Interstellar, (2014). Dunkirk follows that impressionistic technique to the letter. It weaves several stories together, but like Memento the players are for the most part anonymous. None of the young soldiers are given a name. Cillian Murphy’s soldier rescued from the sea is credited as “Shivering Man.” One you take note of because he’s a pop star, Harry Styles, is a misstep in casting. Readers might want to check if Warner Music owns One Direction.

There are no hand-to-hand combat scenes. There are no exploding guts, viscera-strewn sands, blood red tides, or severed limbs dropped in front of the camera lens.

You’re held captive by what you see, immensely impressed by the sheer craft of the film, accepting this is a male-centric story. However, if Nolan is to be considered a true auteur, he has to write well for women as he does for men. The few women seen are handing out cups of tea and jam sandwiches.

Dunkirk was a hell of the Second World War. Fleeing the advance of Hitler’s army as it marched through Belgium to France and on to Paris, 400,000 British soldiers retreated to Dunkirk sands. There they awaited rescue.

Large ships couldn’t reach the mass of humanity in such shallow waters, so the heroic set off from England’s quiet south coast to reach the beach in a flotilla of small craft. Those boats aimed to ferry as many soldiers at a time as they could carry. All were sitting ducks for German fighter planes.

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Extras, don’t look at the camera or smile – ACTION! Oh CRAP!

I’ll deal with the film’s weaknesses first. It has quite a few.

In no special order: The intricate cross-referenced storylines makes things confusing. As soon as the visceral sequences are halted for a quite passage your mind wanders. Time to go for a pee, or buy another ice cream. There’s a strong air of over-intellectualisation, (confirmed in interviews with the director) as if Nolan is reaching for the Pseuds Corner of movie makers.

Having the majority of characters anonymous is an audacious idea, but being fearless doesn’t mean being successful. The long studied shots of groups of men huddled together for safety, like penguins in a storm, convey less about humanity’s folly as they do about  a lot of young extras hoping their mother will spot them.

I expect to get castigated by passionate Zimmer fans for this opinion. The next error, in my view, is Hans Zimmer’s music. He and Nolan are old collaborators. While I marvel at Zimmer’s inventiveness, here the amount of music Nolan lays on adds massive unwanted weight where none is needed. Nolan surrenders his film to Zimmer’s endless cacophony. Within minutes I felt like shouting “Shut up!” at the screen.

Listen carefully and you’ll spot Zimmer’s score is based on a ticking clock. There’s a surfeit of reverberating drums, groaning vibrato, moans and groans, bashed piano strings, and weird electronic effects that get in the way of the vivid images.

Much of the score is superfluous. And when Zimmer feels the time is right to raise patriotic feelings he judges Elgar superior to his own musical efforts.

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Salvation is a small sailing craft and the white cliffs of Dover

So, what’s to like? A reader reminds me the sight of a Spitfire gliding silently, effortlessly is quite beautiful, engine off, petrol tank empty.

The people we get to know are played by well known actors and they acquit themselves well. Tom Hardy, he of little screen magnetism, plays a British Spitfire pilot, another role where his face is mostly hidden, this time behind an oxygen mask. Whatever he is saying you can’t understand, it’s muffled. He does it all with his eyes.

We follow a British soldier, (Fionn Whitehead) on the beach at Dunkirk, as he tries to find a way off the vast dreamlike landscape. We empathise with every step he takes though the near death incidents he escapes from seem more and more contrived.

Soft spoken Mark Rylance, forever immortalised as the soft spoken Big Friendly Giant, shows us how completely he’s monopolised the archetypical role of soft spoken Mr Average from the leafy village of Nothing-to-See. He’s soft spoken Mr Dawson, owner of an old wooden yacht Moonstone, a man who knows right from wrong, and what sacrifice means in war, and speaks of it … softly.

There is a riveting scene of a soldier thinking his England that he can see across the water is so close he can swim there. That’s a truthful moment for others thought the same and drowned. But a lot of the dramatic moments are fictionalised events.

What resonates throughout the film is a kind of hope. There is compassion in Nolan’s vision. He and editor Lee Smith juggle the timelines deftly. The director has found a structure that enhances the film’s subjectivity. Shooting enough film to encapsulate seven days waiting to be rescued on the beach captures the agony of uncertainty. Spending a day on a small boat shows us hell is no place for a pleasure craft.

Hoyte van Hoytema’s suffocating camera work, weaving in and out and around soldiers, keeps us alert for danger; we are with the soldiers as they walk waist deep to boats, or die amid a strafing of bullets and bombs. This time Nolan eschews plodding exposition for minimal dialogue. What’s scripted could fit on a tea towel. He’s dropped spelling things out as if we’re slow learners, a common failing in past work.

What little dialogue we hear we remember and pass to others:  “The tide’s turning now.” “How can you tell?” “The bodies are coming back.”)

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Images like this linger in the mind but not the intellect

For all the film’s epic nature Nolan gives us a lot of welcome understatement. The death of one major player happens off-screen, its impact resonates for not witnessing it. In another scene, a boat slamming against a pier causes a muffled scream suggesting a soldier has been crushed between the two. Then there is Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton, playing the Stiff Upper Lip, a lost, lonely figure trying to come to terms with the aftermath of military humiliation, and knowing he never will.

I appreciated Nolan never refers to Hitler or Nazi’s once. (Maybe I missed a reference? Readers will correct me.) The film is about loss on a gigantic scale, military accuracy is not altogether relevant.

Thinking about what I saw, the various switches in place and time, has Churchill’s fight speech take on two meanings: we will fight the enemy on their territory, and if invaded we will fight the enemy on our own teritory. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets.”

In summation:

Not a disaster movie, nor a disaster of a movie, but a study in survival. Passages are repetitious. In parts, the film’s narrative is confusing, a Nolan hallmark. Hans Zimmer’s music is a terrible intrusion.

Good critics can fall into the trap of patriotic correctness. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian has gone apeshit over the film, awarding it 100 gold stars. This decade’s generation of youth short of historical perspective might think the film profound. Teen fans of Harry Styles will  project themselves onto his role. All in all, there are parts I admired, there are sequences I did not. Only once does Nolan touch on English racism, (depicted against French soldiers) a bold move, but not developed.

As for the masterpiece British nationalists are calling it, well, they would, wouldn’t they?

The film’s subtext is, Brits stick together in adversity to be stronger in the world. If that’s not simplistic apple pie propaganda I don’t know what is. To my mind, the film is honest if rather too self-indulgent. In the end it’s two hours of nostalgia.

  • Star rating: Three-and-half stars
  • Cast: Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Fionn Whitehead,
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Writer: Christopher Nolan
  • Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema
  • Composer: Hans Zimmer
  • Duration: 1 hour 47 minutes

 

Posted in Film review | 12 Comments

The Mummy – a review

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Tom Cruise in The Mummy – but Brendan Fraser got there first

Readers will spot this is a very late film review. To be candid, I saw the film was a turkey by just seeing the trailer, which is a lot better than the film. I duly delegated my notes to the Out tray. Also, I’d published three consecutive bad reviews and didn’t want to add a fourth. Then again, maybe I was fearful of being confronted by Tom Cruises’ minders, representatives of Scientology, who knows, but here it is.

As a child The Mummy was the first film I can recall seeing that scared the hell out of me. For the price of three ‘returnable’ lemonade bottles you got in free to the Saturday matinee, there to see films as old as Methuselah, all black and white and a bit beaten up, such as Flash Gordon, or a Tarzan movie. (One Tarzan movie had a skinny Sean Connery in it.) The films were well out-of date when shown but that didn’t matter to us poor kids.

As soon as the Mummy stepped out of its sarcophagi, leg bandages trailing, and walked stumbling towards the unwary archaeologist, arms outstretched to throttle him, I was under the seat, hiding till the scene was over, fingers in my ears to blot out the screams  from other children around.

I can’t vouch for how the experience unhinges a child’s fragile imagination, but from then on I was convinced there was a bogeyman under my bed, and the only way to avoid his clutches was to lie rock still. This I did most nights, to my mother’s evident relief. As an adult, I noted how quietly I lay in bed on my back, undisturbed, not snoring, my arms folded across my chest. Films do have an affect on us.

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The County cinema, Craigmillar, now demolished. Art deco on the cheap

The original film, unearthed, and rejuvenated, so to speak, was shown in a cinema in a council dumping area outside Edinburgh where they sent undesirable citizens. My stepfather wasn’t one; a gardener for the council, he’d been given a ‘tied’ cottage nearby. The local cinema was in Craigmillar.

The County had seen better days by the time I patronised it every Saturday, and showing films unfit for children didn’t stop them letting us in – the owner needed the shillings.

It was not the first film I’d seen in a cinema. I was taken to see a war film, but I must have made so much of a protest at the sight of men blowing bits off each other that we left the film early. I saw Cruise’s Mummy on my own and thankful I did. I’d feel guilty if I’d dragged friends with me.

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Hollywood loves its predatory woman – they’ve remade ‘The Beguiled’

Tom Cruise always plays safe. He chooses film subjects that are one small step advanced from his character portrayed in his last film. You know what to expect from Cruise. He’s either Mr Super Tough Guy who always triumphs, as in the Mission Impossible series, or Mr Average caught up in an extraordinary situation, as in the War of the Worlds.

He’s done the odd cameo, the last I think was Tropic Thunder, and he’s played against type, as in the excellent hit man thriller set in Los Angeles at night, Collateral, but he never loses his on-screen persona. That’s his magic, his star quality.

As an actor Cruise has three weaknesses, his lack of height, and a strong tendency to overuse his hands to help express what he’s not all that clever at saying with his voice. There’s nothing still about Cruise. He’s on the move every which way all the time. He is good at running, very good. Almost ever film he’s stars in has to have a running-chase sequence. And he has one other inability, he can’t do Harrison Ford’s rascally cockiness, or Kurt Russell’s sullen roguishness, though he tries, and try hard he does in this film.

Cruise plays the hero often but here in The Mummy, anybody could have played the role. It doesn’t need Cruise’s presence. Morgan Freeman could have played his role, Charlize Theron, or damn it, Brendan Fraser reprise his version.

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Cruise and director Alex Kurtzman, but it’s debateable who was in charge

Apparently Cruise took control of the movie when things went awry. It’s not the first time he’s done that – exercising a stars pulling power. He tried to get behind the camera on his first blockbuster Days of Thunder, but got his ass kicked to the dressing rooms by a ten times as tough production manager.

Planned as the start of a new franchise, Cruise reportedly took firm control of nearly every aspect of the Mummy’s production and post-production, having the script re-written, and the film ultimately re-edited at his command.  If Cruise did meddle with the script it shows. He’s got himself saddled with lines like “We are not looters! We are liberators of precious antiquities!” Yuck!

Depending on who one talks to, Cruise is either the main reason The Mummy failed, or its saviour. Whatever the truth, he certainly had his role beefed up, a sure way of knocking other elements out of kilter. In addition, the project has a team of writers following on from its main author, Christopher McQuarrie, another way to knock a project to pieces.

In this Cruise vehicle he plays Sgt. Nick Morton, a treasure-hunting U.S. soldier in Iraq who, a man full of bull and bluster, alongside beautiful (they are always unlikely  beauties) archaeologist Dr. Jenny Halsey, (Annabelle Wallis), comes across the ancient Egyptian tomb of Ahmanet, (Sofia Boutella), a princess who once made a pact with Set, God of Death, in an attempt to gain power. By some quirk or typo this Egyptian tomb is buried in Iraq. Don’t ask my why.

Unchained, Ahmanet is a wrecker of worlds, an asteroid on a collision course with earth, and a right Royal pain in the ass, a Queen harpy. She can bring down planes with sandstorms and flocks of birds. She enjoys sucking the life out of innocent bystanders, their corpses magically coming to life again as her personal army of the undead. She one hellova predatory woman.

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Cruise and Crowe – both looking as if they’d rather be somewhere else

To cut a sad story to it basics, The Mummy is a plodding, drab, illogical mish-mash. It leaves you hoping the appearance of Russell Crowe will beef things up, but alas, he doesn’t. We get a clunky sub-plot involving Dr. Henry Jekyll, (Russell Crowe), CEO of a very secret organization that “plans to contain evil” (it says in press hand-outs) but seems damn sinister in its own right.

The films lacks a good script, the sweep of Arabian deserts, clever camera work, and some decent humour. A lot of the jokes are weak. There is nothing you can describe as scary, not anything close to that old flick of my childhood. It’s as if Cruise got everyone together on a Monday to tell his creative team his latest great idea, and how it should be incorporated in the already completed script.

With a reported production budget of $125 million and A-Lister Cruise in the lead, Universal Studios expected The Mummy to be a big summer blockbuster in the U.S., but the filmed opened to a very weak $32 million USD in its domestic territories. Looking at it as objectively as possible, a Mummy reboot is one issue, an aging Cruise another.

  • Star rating: Two-and-a-half stars
  • Cast: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe
  • Director: Alex Kurtzman (Some of the time!)
  • Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, David Koepp plus four
  • Cinematographer: Ben Serisin
  • Music: Brian Tyler
  • Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes
Posted in Film review | 3 Comments

A Belly Full

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If not mixing metaphors, this has been one of those jam packed, bullshit weeks.

Andy Murray limped onto Court 1 at Wimbledon from a hip ailment, the great white hope of Brits United and, beaten by a serial American lobber of no great subtlety, limped off again as a failed Scot, at least that’s how the newspapers predictably described him.

For a day Joanna Konta became the on-off honorary Brit, ‘real’ Brits happy to ignore her parents are Hungarian and she born in Australia. In fact, she had represented Australia in 2012. Then again, Australia incorporates the Union Jack in its flag, making Konta more acceptable to unionists than Murray who’s Scottish, a nation that has its own flag.

To cap it all a Spaniard won Wimbledon’s women’s singles, Garbiñe Muguruza, just the type of Jeanny Foreigner the Brits dislike.

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The fire ravaged Grenfell Tower – a symbol of our age

Meanwhile casualties of the Grenfell Tower conflagration found themselves emblematic of  our times through no fault of their own. Treated as if a mob from the French revolution intent on murdering London’s aristocracy, they’re pushed from pillar to post. They demanded homes where they had once lived, a full and wide ranging inquiry into the reasons for the destruction of Grenfell Tower, and a bed for more than a few days. If you listened hard you might have heard Theresa May whispering “Now is not the time”.

The blame for the fire that engulfed their lives is shared by so many who made money out of them that we can expect the British establishment to close ranks and protect the guilty. The absence of any organised, concerted official help for all the disorientated, traumatised families and individuals is a good example of neo-liberal Britain.

Cheap high rise blocks are human filing systems. Had Boris Johnson got his way and bought water canon to quell annoying proles it’s far from certain he’d have ordered the canon used to help put out the fire.

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Theresa May, proving even robots can laugh

Somewhere in a lonely television studio, a journalist asked Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, if she’d prove to viewers that she was really human and not the automaton she appeared to be, the one that repeats vacuous slogans, and thinks Scotland a naughty child to be ignored.

May duly obliged, and admitted she’d shed a tear on seeing the results arriving of the smash and grab election she herself had called. Her tears were not for the dead of Grenfell Tower, or people living here for decades taken from their homes in the middle of the night and deported, or for anybody who had had their welfare withdrawn and committed suicide.

She cried a little because she was as grossly inept as a prime minister as she was  a home secretary and a lot of people had noticed.

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Scottish Conservatives, hard to know what they are for as opposed to what they are against

Back in the UK’s northern territory, sometimes referred to as Scotland, a group of smug, self-satisfied new Tory MPs posted tweets of their hard working day. Admiring crowds referred to in the tweets assembled to greet them were mysteriously few in number.

According to their tweets Tory MPs lead a hectic life. The list of visits to game fairs, raspberry farms, prosperous Perthshire businesses, and inevitable selfies with the right-wing fisherman’s union, tell us all we need to know about their priorities and prejudices.

“Here we are fighting Scotland’s corner”, they tweeted, gritting their private dental care implants, only to be told by their own party in London, Scotland will get nothing, nada, zilch, so for Christ’s sake, look as though you’re busy doing something in the community.

Hence, the plethora of photographs of grinning men in suits shaking hands with other grinning men in suits, and not a poor person in sight.

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The man’s daughter defended her dad’s tattoo as not what we think it is

BBC Northern Ireland decided that the penis waving festivities of Loyalist marches and their attendant bonfires held all over blighted Northern Ireland make good wholesome entertainment for the masses. BBC duly devoted shameless hours to Orange antics. This is what the BBC like to call balance and objectivity.

BBC NI executives, accountable to MI6, must have decided that, since the DUP are now running the UK by proxy, it’s time to show their supporters in the best possible light. Just as the BBC are solely responsible for popularising the odious UKip and all its bigotry, hatred and violence are long overdue a make-over, a case of whitewashing orange extremists.

The photograph of one member with a swastika tattooed on his neck reinforced the general view that Propaganda Central should be shut down immediately, and only loveable old presenters such as David Attenborough or Monty Don allowed to continue broadcasting.

In another act of judicial balance an unemployed man was given six months for stealing a bottle of water in London, while a Unionist zealot was given praise for threatening to take up the gun and bullet should Scotland ever revert to self-governance.

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Nicola Surgeon meets Carwyn Jones to warn of the British Empire 2

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined forces with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to fight the great land grab and extinguisher of human rights that is the Repeal Act.

The Act will effectively snatch all powers from the European Union and put them in the hands of Westminster, completely undermining the sovereignty of Scotland, its Treaty with England, and any fervent Welsh nationalist who thinks the plodding sentiment “Bread of Heaven” cringeworthy.

Sounded every inch owners of a shoe retailer chain, Sturgeon and Jones said:

We have repeatedly tried to engage with the UK government on these matters and have put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK, safeguard our economies and respect devolution. Regrettably, the bill does not do this. Instead, it is a naked power grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.”

The grandees of the Tory party fell on the their backs in hysterical laughter, amazed that no one had realised leaving Europe had the sole purpose of making England great again, Scotland and Wales a province, and Gibraltar a bargaining chip in the Craps game of life.

Earlier in the week, Boris Johnson was quoted as saying the EU could “go whistle” if it expected Britain to pay a hefty divorce bill. The cynical in Scotland were reminded of the threats by friendly England of death to all our first born when independence debaters dared suggest an autonomous Scotland need not accept any of the debts accrued by rUK.

Irony was everywhere, but most of all at Theresa May’s door as increasingly belligerent Remainers in her own party encircled her with nets and harpoons.

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The assumption is, those are all bodyguards dancing around Commander Davidson

A candid shot of Tank Commander Ruth Davidson living it up in the Embra’s basement drinking dive, the Piano Bar, hit the internet. Bathed in a lurid red spotlight, the place had all the allure of Beelzebub’s kitchen.

At first I thought I was looking at the unfortunate gecko a nasty little oik chopped in a blender for amusement, but no, it was Rum Tum Tugger Ruthie cutting loose.

Had Nicola Sturgeon been caught gyrating with a bottle of booze in her gob, the shocked of Scotland, plus all the hacks, and all the Queen’s men, would gather around to disassemble her again. You can imagine the headlines: calls for her resignation adorning tabloid front pages: “Undignified Behaviour for a First Minister”. “Disgusting.” “Atrocious Example to Our Children.” BBC Radio’s ‘Call Kaye’ would mount two hours of inane open phone debates asking “Should a First Minister Get Pissed?”

Of course, Commander Ruth is given a free ride by the media despite being devoid of empathy for anything but her image. Her day job is almost wholly monopolised with plotting how to halt Scotland’s democratic progress, brightened here and there with the task of recruiting repulsive Loyalists she needs to accomplish the task of sedition.

Incidentally, but germane to the story, last time I drove by the Piano Bar at 2am in the morning a drunk was pissing down its steps, an age-old habit in Scotland’s capital, surely on the increase ever since the city voted ‘No’ to its own nationhood.

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Presenter and know-all Kirstie Allsop, always ready with a  smile and a tip

A television presenter who looks like a farmers wife, told the rest of us where to put our washing machines. A far as she’s concerned they’re unhygienic kept in a kitchen. Presumably keeping our toothbrushes next to the toilet bowl is also unhygienic.

Kirstie Allsop, daughter of a baron – and boy, does she sound like one – was shocked at the overwhelmingly negative response to her off-hand twitter of wisdom. “My life’s work is in part dedicated to getting washing machines out of the kitchen.”

Some people don’t have a washing machine or can’t afford one, that’s why there’s laundrettes. Some would like one, but their kitchen is too small. Others don’t have a home to put a washing machine in.

Television is crowded with self-appointed do-gooders telling the rest of us how to live our lives. They see life as a page from an Ideal Home’s magazine, perfect, tidy, with a bit of bought-in designer character. Kirstie Allsop thinks she inhabits such a page, when in reality she’s well on her way to becoming that infamous condescending home maker, the discredited American Martha Stewart.

Poor Kirstie’s leaving Twitter because of all the “abuse”, a glassy television celebrity who doesn’t like being told how to run her life.

“If it wasn’t clear to me from the Brexit referendum, it is very clear to me now that the British think the way we do things is the right way – better than anyone else’s.”

Well, yaa, Kirstie.

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Salmond at the Edinburgh Festival – not a man to stay in the shade

Slipping by almost unnoticed was the terrible news that the Kermit the Frog is to be given a new voice. Puppeteer Steve Whitmire who played Kermit for 27 years is devastated. For him it was easy being green.

I identified with Kermit very early in my arts career. Founder and first Artistic Director of Scotland’s National Theatre for new talent meant leading a life like Kermit, planning shows and musicals, juggling with big egos, bastard bureaucrats, and stroppy audiences. Kermit’s pleading voice is imprinted in my soul for evermore and a day.

Pitching for the job is Scotland’s own Kermit. Alex Salmond announced he’d booked a venue at the Fringe, the up-market Assembly Rooms, for an afternoon of political banter with guests and audience. Unleashed from the restraints of public office, Salmond is free to show his wicked sense of humour, his opinion of Donald Trump, and why anybody who writes off the movement to self-determination has their head in a bucket.

I’d get in line for a ticket now if I were a reader, sleeping bag and all, but I hope to interview the man after seeing the show and publish it here later.  Roll up, roll up! See the man who thought Scotland should have the same rights as England! Marvel at the audacity, scream at the result.

 

Posted in General, Scottish Politics | 5 Comments

Okja – a review

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Giant pig and unlikely friend in Okja, a Netflix blockbuster

This review won’t be easy to write. I attended a birthday party recently for which a large suckling pig had been slaughtered and roasted for the many guests. It was a sad sight.

What is the film about? Well, though there are two wonderfully original films about a normal but hyper intelligent pig called ‘Babe‘, this might be difficult to accept as a follow-up subject for a film – it’s about a giant, oversized pig. A really, really big pig.

That’s not altogether true, the pig is a hybrid, part hippopotamus.

The last film of Korean director Bong Jung-Ho’s that left an indelible mark on the imagination was his monster movie, Host, a ludicrous plot on paper but a terrifically enjoyable story on film. This has to be described in similar vein, part monster, part horror, part science fiction. Like Host, a story that had a strong thread of anti-imperialist sentiment in it, (symbolism I missed first time around) Okja contains a great deal of satire, a lot staring you in the face, some veiled, and some too Korean to be useful to western sensibilities.

Okja is one of those film titles you gloss over when checking cinema movie schedules. What does it mean? A child’s cartoon? A marshall arts film from Hong Kong? The story of a prize winning race horse? A fantasy? Gloss over it I did when it appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, until I heard it had been booed by audience and critics. Then I took notice.

A quick phone call discovered the audience like the film a lot; they got shirty when the Netflix logo appeared on screen in the pre-title sequence. Within the industry there’s a groundswell of resistance to Netflix’s foray into movie making essentially designed for the small screen and swift online transmission. Netflix appears to have oodles of money to throw at projects – $50 million USD for Okja and its special effects. The company doesn’t need to rely on film competitions to generate publicity. Some people felt the to-TV project ought not to have been chosen for such a prestigious competition.

Now released in selected UK cinemas, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is garnering five star reviews.  For a Korean film, that’s very good news. For Netflix it’s the sound of money in tills. For my part I try to avoid other critiques until my own is written, but now and then use one as a whipping post, a review I think well off the mark. That won’t work this time because so far reviews are universally excellent. In this instance it’s safe to say the film is good, but I take issue with five star ratings.

'Snowpierce' Photocall - The 39th Deauville Film Festival

Tilda Swinton and director Bong Joon-ho

A reason for me, personally, to give a film a miss is Tilda Swinton. I readily admit she’s an excellent actor, but she’s not the kind that has me certain of a moving cinematic experience. Her screen persona is ice cold, her looks boyish to the point of androgynous. I’m usually impressed by Swinton’s technical performance, never moved by it.

She makes a good villain. And indeed, that the sort of character she tends to be cast as, that or the harassed mother. In this case she’s the arch villain in the Cruella de Ville mold, but because she’s such a very clever, dedicated actor, she offers us a three dimensional personality. Indeed, she offers us two well-hones roles as sister. Jake Gyllenhaal, her co-star, doesn’t do so well, but more of him later.

The plot is basically one of the unaccountable conglomerate against the man in the street. The institution scheming to make maximum profits, and skewer animal rights at the same time, is the fictitious Mirando Corporation, a multi-national agro-chemical conglomerate. The CEO in charge is none other than Lucy Mirando, (Tilda Swinton) playing a character more narcissistic than Grayson Perry, and in more garish frocks, if that’s possible. (She also plays her sister, Nancy.)

She displays to the world Okja as a super-pig discovered in darkest Chile, clearly one that managed to evade the killer squads of Allende despite its humungous size. The film begins with a bravura musical video made by the Mirando company. Lucy explains to her workers the pigs are made for the modern age: they are human friendly, they have a small environmental footprint, they don’t eat much, (really?) or poo much, and are destined to be a fabulous revolution in livestock. But best of all – they taste just great!

She announces an international contest to which farmers can have a piglet each to raise the finest super-pig. The winner will be the farmer who fulfils a number of strict criteria. The most important, the key criterion for selection, the winning factor will be that the pig, “needs to taste fucking good.”

From then the chase is on to save Okja from the slaughterhouse.

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Jake Gyllenhaal – more crude pantomime than black comedy

So, there you have it. Mirando Corporation will bring home the bacon. No sooner has the public ordered theirs crispy than up jumps our wee heroine, little orphan Mija, (Seo-Hyan-Ahn) to save the giant pig from the slicer.

That too isn’t altogether accurate. Mija has been looking after the pig for ten years in the high mountains; they are best friends. Their world is turned upside down when Miranda takes Okja to New York on a publicity gig. That scenario we’ve seen a hundred times before, the hick from the sticks in the metropolis, or King Kong taken to New York. Why New York? It’s full of Jewish people who don’t eat pork. Well, New York is where the super-pigs are to be judged before the world’s media, except maybe Israel.

But plucky wee Mija is determined to rescue her porcine pet and get him home again. To add potatoes to the pork broth the Animal Liberation Front, (AFL) are also out to rescue the pachyderm-sized pig. The AFL is an environmental gorilla group, its leader the sartorially  fashionable and exceedingly well mannered Jay. Jay is one  glorious creation. He’s played magnificently by Paul Dano as the most ultra-sensitive, revolutionary leader since Che Guevara in his quiet reflective moments.

As the rescue melee conflate into a morass of strange bedfellows doing battle with Miranda the mega-corporation, the story takes a handbrake turn from adorable family action fable to vegetarian call to arms, lets do clowning stuff, let’s make it a comedic free-for-all. That’s when it falls apart.

Two things lift this film out of the ordinary. For about sixty per cent of its length it’s a whopping good movie, fast-paced, original in conception, utterly absorbing. But the second half  deteriorates into old jokes, rehashed car chases, over-the-top acting, and silliness. Bong just lets go of direction and everybody takes their cue and goes bonkers. Look out for projectile excreta, yes, even that.

There are a few inspired moments. Going by Bong’s Host, you can expect more than mere exhilarating cinematography and plausible special effects. One scene in particular offers us a glimpse at Bong’s thinking. The director goes so far as to recreate Barak Obama’s war room photo, the one of the White House during the Bin Laden illegal assassination raid. The whole film seems to be about how the United States and its corporate allies project power across the world.

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The giant pig as entertainment, Quasimodo fashion

The political message I think Bong is identifying here concerns US imperialism’s way of making itself look benign, on our side, but the opposite is true. It’s a malignant force. To be honest, Okja’s politics are all over the place, his centre of focus wobbly, the human story cloying.

However, if you think that opinion a load of bull, not to say, pig, and you’re not inclined to look for meaning in a film, well, there’s lots to enjoy at face value. What might rankle are those performances that descend into clowning. One crude dude is Jake Gyllenhaal as a Mirando-sponsored TV personality. He adopts a high-pitched squeal of delivery, staggering about as if Captain Jack Sparrow. Why Bong let him to do that is a mystery.

You could say this film is subversive, or you could say it’s half-good and half-infantile. And yet it still grabs you, rather like the audience seeing ‘Springtime With Hitler’ for the first time in The Producers, mouth open, stunned at what they see and hear. You either guffaw or  surrender to it. I just wish it had been all good.

As far as Bong is concerned, it is all good, “If you want to make something strange Netflix is a good place to go.”

  • Star rating: Three-and-a-half stars
  • Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun
  • Director: Bong Jung-Ho
  • Screenplay: Bong Joon-Ho (Spelling varies) Jon Ronson
  • Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
  • Music: Jaeil Jung
  • Duration: 118 minutes
Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Volvo, Chinese Driven

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Volvo, not quite ahead of the pack, but definitely so in specialising

Keen car drivers will have noticed Volvo’s announcement that from 2019, the company famous for its introduction of now common safety features, will produce only electric cars or hybrid cars, that is, petrol-electric. All in all, a nice piece of advertising, one up on other car manufacturers. However, there are a number of things they didn’t announce.

Volvo, that once proud Swedish owned company, is Chinese owned. It got there after Ford, on an imperialist buying spree late last century, bought an ailing Volvo among other car companies, found it had stretched itself too far financially, and sold off its acquisitions, Volvo for £1.8 billion to the Chinese. Geely are in the driving seat now.

There is a massive government drive by Chinese authorities to clean up their air from noxious car exhaust gases and smog. In a rush to dump their agrarian society they invited in western-style living and are now paying the price. The motivation for electric vehicles comes from Geely, but let’s not get mealy-mouthed about advances in the car industry – they tend to be few and far between. Car makers attitude tends to be, what sold last year will sell this year, just give it a different colour and a go-faster stripe.

I’m sure Volvo executives noticed the trend is moving away from large, thirsty, noisy, window cracking petrol engines, to something 21st century, and pushed their financial backers to become a company with a specialism again. After all, that what they were in the days when they hand-built all cars without a conveyer belt, “a more human and productive method”, and were first with great safety features such as inertia belts, toughened windscreens, and bumpers not made of puff pastry.

Last year one of their existing models, the SUV XC90, the plug-in hybrid version, sold well over the 10% the company had anticipated. Volvo took notice.

Between 2019 and 2021, the firm will launch five 100% electric cars, and ensure the rest of its conventional petrol and diesel range offers a hybrid engine of some form.

Hybrid usually means more miles for your buck. (Please make them elegant cars!) The perceptive will notice Volvo make no promise to ditch diesel engines, which supposes they’re not saying they won’t make combustion engines. Volvo is determined to end production of building models that only have an internal combustion engine.

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A Geely funded sports coupe. Geely want Volvo to compete with the likes of BMW

The press welcome electric vehicles – not

What is the right-wing British press saying about Volvo’s announcement, in particular, what is Michael Heseltine’s far-right leaning Autocar magazine saying?

The Guardian

But the pricing of [its SUV] model suggests drivers will pay a premium for future Volvo cars – the basic plug-in hybrid version of the XC90 costs £61,650, £13,250 more than the basic diesel edition.”  The Guardian fails to suggest Volvo could conceivably adjust its pricing strategy, or Geely underwrite additional start-up costs until sales pick up.

Next Green Car

It’s not quite the same as saying they will not make any internal combustion engines, but it’s obviously a key moment. The key thing is they’re investing in battery technology and they’re looking to get batteries with significant range on board.” Fair enough, Ben Lane, the director of Next Green Car, gives Volvo credit though he’d rather see combustion engines phased out.

Greenpeace

Good news. Other manufacturers should follow suit.” No faffing or messing about from Greenpeace, champions of environmental protection.

Autocar

Volvo can perhaps claim a semantic victory over its rivals, given that it doesn’t make smaller cars, where the cost of making them all electrified with mild hybrids is too great at that end of the market.” The cost is to great for small car? Autocar plies the  manufacturer’s line. Mercedes Benz produced an electric Smart. And you got government subsidy if you bought one. They’re almost impossible to find now.

The Telegraph

Volvo will become the first major car manufacturer to go all electric, with the Swedish company saying that every new car in its range will have an electric power train available from 2019.”  Wrong. Tesla are the first all-electric car maker. The Telegraph mentions what other manufactures plan to do, but again makes no mention of Tesla.

Auto Express

Bravo Volvo! Volvo’s upcoming, broad hybrid portfolio will see every car in the range offered with 48-volt electrified architecture and a choice of mild or plug-in hybrid assistance mated to both petrol and diesel powertrains. The firm also intends to release five all-electric cars between 2019 and 2021. Back in April, Volvo revealed that the first of those all-electric cars will be built in China by parent company Geely – for worldwide export.” Well, that’s a way to keep costs down for those ‘too expensive’ electric cars.

Car websites

You don’t want to read those. They are full of the automotive illiterate, polishing queens, and Luddites, some alarmingly young to be old fuddy-duddies. There will always be a residue of petrolheads who get high on the rasp and bark of a fat exhaust and think electric cars are for wimps.

The right road

Personally speaking, I’ve got no doubt electric vehicles will dominate most of this century before somebody invents a car that works on air. And there will be cars that take to the air. I can’t see me living long enough to drive a flying car, nor can I imagine how air routes in cities would ever be respected by hothead boy racers.

Currently, (pun not intended) boost time for electric cars is the problem, particularly if you are on a long journey and want to get there in one day. So far, the longest journey by battery store is around 300 miles. But super-capacitors will replace batteries in all-electric vehicles allowing them to be charged in a matter of seconds. That news comes from a research paper published by a group working with the University of Surrey and University of Bristol.

The group claims to have reached a breakthrough in its research into EV batteries and says super-capacitors (soon to be one word without the hyphen!) are proven to be between 1000 and 10,000 times more powerful than equivalent batteries.

This breakthrough will allow battery-electric vehicles to have ranges anxiety free, or at least the same as between petrol garage and petrol garage. We tend to forget the times we drive almost out of gas, desperately searching for a filling station. That aside, the university group state super-capacitors as more efficient and greener, suggesting that they may waste less energy and have a smaller environmental impact than regular electric vehicles. Laptops, mobile phones and tablet computers are all targeted by the group as areas for potential change.

Musk on the trail

CEO Elon Musk of Tesla electric cars has already backed super-capacitors but said “we need a breakthrough in energy density” on his social media site.

The research group suggests that this may be the breakthrough Musk was referring to. China already has a fleet of super-capacitor-equipped buses, although these do not yet have the considerable range the research group claims is possible with the further development.

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The Techrules Ren turbine-ator

What of Turbine-recharging vehicles?

The Techrules GT96 turbine-recharging electric supercar made its world debut in production-ready form at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show. The car uses innovative Turbine-Recharging Electric Vehicle (TREV) technology – a range-extending micro-turbine system, which generates electricity to charge the battery pack. The battery then powers the motors that drive the wheels.

The hypercar also features plug-in charging capability for markets with access to charging networks. Inside information indicates it’ll feature a lightweight carbon-fibre monocoque design, powered by six electric traction motors, each weighing 13kg. The front wheels are driven by individual single motors, while the rear wheels are driven by a pair to each corner. Peak combined power output of the concept is a claimed 1030bhp, and it can sprint from 0-60mph in 2.5sec and onto a top speed of 217mph – if the press hand-outs are to be believed.

So far the electric-only range is projected to be up to 93 miles, 13 more than a Smart car’s 80 miles, so no great advance there, but it is a serious attempt at creating a modern car with modern materials, that is environmentally friendly. And it’s Chinese.

The Beijing-based company claims the TREV system is a sealed-for-life powertrain solution, which requires almost zero maintenance throughout the ownership cycle, with the only service item being the air intake filter.

Tail spin

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention, Volvo’s owner, Geely, has investments in electric vehicles through its ownership of the company in Coventry building electric taxi cabs, a must for London, a city prescribing all-electric cars by January 2018. It takes the Chinese to show the west how to get ahead in the modern age.

 

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