Tuesday, May 3, 2011

none.

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Our nation's best and the brightest catch a bootlegged version of Atlas Shrugged (up yours movie studio exploiters of talent and imagination!).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Super Bowl Ads: Groupon Genius

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Ah, aside from rising a bit out of an otherwise unfunny crop of Super Bowl ads, Groupon got its troll out and reeled in a great deal of good ol' American Moral Outrage (TM). And for being such good sports, the average Super Bowl party-goer wrinkled his nose, shook his head, and snuck a few furtive glances at his neighbor, and after pausing for an awkward silence doled out the usual tripe about bad taste. And if our party-goer happened to be some first-rate hack he would churn those words out the next day for an editorial piece.

But of course what was exactly in bad taste? Surely it was not the disgusting flavor of first-world hypocrisy that we greedily lick off our greasy plates. Perhaps it was that of having the knife tickle our ribs a bit too much for our liking. But even then the point was still put rather tacitly (tacitly enough to let the superficial outrage make a couple of rounds among those less perceptive). Perhaps it was a sense of infringement on a spiritual time uniquely marked out for consumerism worship epitomized by a pop music star selling luxury cars by milking the last drips of oozing pus out of an already dead city. "Raw emotional impact" indeed.

At heart, as the Groupon ads suggest, all we want to buy, eat, sight-see, wax, but not before purchasing the relevant bits and pieces to convince our neighbors of our moral standing. Perhaps it's time to stand-up, own up, and to take a side. As the commercials show there are two sides: the first half or the second; Liz Hurley doesn't hide from the fact that the ad pays her bills. On the other hand, what has been pointed out is all so true that I really don't think that there is a lesson to be learned at all other than to laugh, shut the fuck up, and visit groupon.com. Job well done.

Groupon "Tibet" ad:


Groupon "Rain Forests" ad:


Groupon "Whales" ad:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Missing (Costa-Gavras; 1982)

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I saw Costa-Gavras's Missing (1982) pretty much thinking that I knew everything that was going to transpire. And after seeing it, my expectations concerning the political message and the whole story of the father trying to find the son turned out to be largely correct. In most cases this predictability would be good enough mark out a film as a poor one, yet in the case of Missing this wasn't the case. Instead, Missing is a good film precisely for this reason.

Gun Shots

Missing's plot of an American father finding a missing son in a country (presumably Chile) undergoing an American backed coup comes dangerously close to falling into the traps of a banal conspiracy movie. Yet what stands out with Missing is that most of it carries genuine bite. For instance, the intermittent shots of gunfire are not merely part of the soundtrack to bring atmosphere, but each and every one has the intended effect of getting the audience to jolt up as if to the crack of a whip; it is meant to bother us. This response is also well-mirrored by the figures inhabiting the screen. Every gunshot seems to conjure an awkward moment of silence as if to mourn whichever poor bloke was brought face first to the pavement. As a reminder or a representation of how the violence cannot be shoved into the background, the gunshots are equivalently not something we, and the characters, can be desensitized of over the course of the film. 

It is quite interesting how the above weaves in with the father's quest to find his son. In the film it is often the case that when Jack Lemmon's character wants to say something, there is a violent background reminder of the strife. At first, Lemmon's character treats these distractions as annoyances, or as one might imagine as problems of the natives. Yet as the film progresses, the line between the big picture and the small can no longer be drawn. The father's single-minded quest in search for his son dissolves into an acknowledgment that finding his son is not simply a matter of pushing the right buttons in a sea of chaos; the chaos determines what buttons can be pushed at all. This in turn gives the gun shots new meaning, any single shot could be the one that brings his son down, and every shot is one that brings someone's son down.

The essential progression of the father character is his coming to terms that the power of the state and its manifestations of violence cannot be dissociated (or ignored) from the livelihood of each and any individual subject to that power. Thus, the film provokes the idea that here is no apolitical or indifferent path to be chosen, where there are innocents, perpetrators and victims; there are no innocent bystanders because everyone is or will eventually become a victim.


Titles

Another interesting point about Missing is how the "based on a true story" titles is treated. Instead of opting for merely written titles, they are accompanied here with  a narration by, I think, Jack Lemmon. As a result, it is another rather ingenuous way of getting that done and over with. The narration clearly lends the element of opinion rather than the intention of presenting fact. Coming from the mouth of the father figure, the realities proclaimed to be depicted in the film are leveraged by the intended effect of the audience's acknowledging the narrator's subjective bias. In Z, of course, there is famously also the use of an intrepid method to deal with the insipid assertions of factual reliability.

When compared to a great film such as Z and without Raoul Coutard, Missing appears to lack the sorts of virtuoso moments and energetic camerawork. However, Costa-Gavras's Missing is in many ways more unsettling. Perhaps the most memorable shot in the movie is the one in the corpse ridden morgue that gradually lifts up to the glass ceiling revealing the darkened forms of even more bodies. The slow deliberate upward movement of the camera isn't meant to surprise us or offer commentary but to merely depict with a certain deliberate resignation that this is what men do to one another and what power does to many thousands.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Loach, Ken; 2006)

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The biggest problem that I had with The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Loach, Ken; 2006) was how sparse it was in filling in the social-economic and political climate of Ireland in the 1920s. Like a painting done in water colors when it should have been done in oil, the film lacks the lush brush strokes of style, atmosphere, and worse of all content. The narrative elements that are present hardly cover the film satisfactorily. And even where it does there is nothing special with how the material is presented, which is somewhat of a surprise given that it won a Palm d'Or at Cannes.

The plot is pretty much as follows. The British are painted as brutish oppressors who beat, torture and murder the rural residents of hamlets. The Irish are the not-so helpless oppressed who quickly organize themselves in resistance and exact an equal amount of violence on their oppressors. When the British are finally evicted, the Irish start to fight among themselves and literally brings meaning to the phrase of 'brothers killing brothers'. When we need to see footage of guerrillas training it is given, and also when they are tortured as is the customary scene with the pulling out of finger nails. Throw in a socialist message and that pretty much sums up the film (as well as the history and will-be history of the third world).

But all this isn't quite enough to prop up a film about the conditions that gave rise to the IRA, the war of independence, and the divergent politics found within the IRA. In the film, when the first Irish court is set up the first judgment is against a local businessman who has accumulated 500% interest against a helpless old woman. How very glorious. Yet the whole scene smirks of pitiful Marxist propaganda. Thank you, but instead of telling us how it is like why not show us what it is like to live in Ireland 1920. Show us the abject poverty and from there we can understand the circumstances that gave rise not strictly to a nationalistic movement but a social one. Instead, the usual tripe of  the oppressed v. the oppressor is fed to us and the revolution loses anything that would render it distinctly Irish. In spite of the nice costumes, accents, and shots of the green hills, the film doesn't place us there, and this is the element that it desperately lacks.

The presentation is also helplessly episodic and I had a problem feeling the constitutive parts gel together into a cohesive whole. As a drama, there were no climatic moments or ones that dragged at ones heart. Even in the torture scene, hardly anything registers; we've seen that before countless of times, now let's move on. The same goes for the final execution. As a whole, the movie failed to hit a note and was considerably less fun than something like The Patriot, though regretfully I must say.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thorbjorn Jagland's talks bullshit, therefore he is a cow

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In my previous post I have already written on the issue of why Liu Xiaobo winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize makes a complete farce of and denigrates both the Nobel Peace Prize as well as Mr. Liu's cause. There is also the inevitable controversy with the PRC, especially concerning her somewhat heavy-handedly orchestrated political/economic fall-out with Norway. Arguably due to this matter, Thorbjorn Jagland (the head of the Committee) has felt obliged to write an explanation/defense of the decision, which was recently published as an Op-Ed on the New York Times website.Unfortunately, in the piece Mr. Jagland merely takes a further step to demonstrate what an utter disgrace and humiliation he is to civilized and reasonable people around the world. 
This painting is my biggest accomplishment, so says my mommy.

The piece, titled "Why We Gave Liu Xiaobo a Nobel", allegedly offers a defense of the Committee's decision. Yet this begs the question of why they should feel obligated to defend themselves at all. It is their award after all. Even more so, shouldn't winning a Nobel "Peace" Prize inherently say something about the "why"?

In my previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Liu's being awarded the prize was that he had no accomplishments to warrant it. Simply put, that is the problem. And from what I can understand, the title of Jagland's recent piece clearly suggests that this massive elephant has not yet left the room. If we were only to award the Peace Prize to people who undoubtedly helped make strides in global human development, then the explanation of "why" would only need a line or two and a big "fuck you" to Beijing. However, Mr. Jagland's explanation takes thirteen paragraphs of sophistry to respond to the equally silly and insubstantial accusations by the dictatorial committees in Beijing.

In the piece of sophistry there are two points to which Mr. Jagland responds: i) the argument that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has no right to interfere with China's internal affairs; and ii) the argument that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo only sets China's human rights development further back. Yet as silly as these arguments might seem they don't touch on the real issue of Mr. Liu's accomplishments. In regard to the PRC's points:  i) people can interfere as much as they want in as much as romping around a fire in tribal uniform counts as interference; ii) the persons/group most capable of setting back human rights development in China is the CCP. So naturally, Mr. Jagland attacks the CCP's whinings with a relish, far more preferable than to sit face to face against his own inanity.

So where exactly is evidence of Mr. Jagland's stupidity? Look no further than the ammunition he himself provides: "China has every reason to be proud of what it has achieved in the last 20 years. We want to see that progress continue, and that is why we awarded the Peace Prize to Mr. Liu." But there is no logic here short of the assumption that Mr. Liu will somehow manage to sustain Chinese progress into the future. Giving the Prize to Mr. Liu will "see that progress continue" because ...? What reason do we have to think that this is the case? From all known facts, Mr. Liu has had no hand in helping China "progress" in the last twenty years (a least not the sort of base progress insinuated). Furthermore, Mr. Liu has not demonstrated any capacity for assisting China's development into the future. I cannot identify any element of Mr. Liu's past behavior that would suggest Mr. Liu being causally efficacious in China's future development (and he is after all in jail). If what was really desired is "that progress continue", then there are surely better candidates. And among better candidates why look further than whoever was responsible for the past growth, the proviso being that an individual can be identified at all.

Perhaps we should read more into Mr. Jagland's words. Could it be that what Jagland really meant was that if one were to make a sacrificial goat of Mr. Liu then this would trigger further progress in China. Having the blood of Mr. Liu drip onto a sacrificial altar would surely appease our wrathful Gods. Supposing that the Gods also seem to agree with this line of reasoning, Mr. Liu would really be quite useful in affecting change and progress. In spite of the Gods, the reeking smell of thoroughly unscientific reasoning makes me wonder whether we should abandon it. Nonetheless, or at least according to Mr. Jagland, Mr. Liu's hidden magical attributes seem to have surpassed our wildest expectations. If that is so, a close eye must indeed be kept on this as Mr. Liu might be of some use after all.

Alas the whole point goes back to the simple question of: "Why We Gave Liu Xiaobo a Nobel." A sign that something has clearly gone ajar is when awarding a prize of this magnitude needs a belated op-ed explanation. Picking "human rights" off of a tree and taking a bite out of it is not a justification. Then realizing that the fruit tastes like bullshit should not trigger a feeble attempt at explanation that speaks eloquently about one thing while evading the matter at issue. Yet this is exactly what Mr. Jagland has done. Giving the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Jagland, the explanation for this behavior could very well be mind-control nanobots, or mysterious magical properties, properties that make Mr. Jagland completely incomprehensible to an ordinary human being. Or he could just be dense.