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Intelligence Is The Only Frontier
...And Its A Frontier Worth Braving
Fresh Blood 
17th-Oct-2016 08:03 pm - Leaving
I frequently think that if I were to vanish tomorrow, no-one would notice or care. I don't matter to anyone and therefore its not important. Sometimes, I feel like packing myself and the bird up, and the two of us just going. Because by the time anyone did bother to notice, we'd be long gone.
11th-Sep-2016 04:21 pm - Land Of The...
Cinema Paradiso
21. Joy (dir. David O'Russell, 2016)

I originally watched this a couple of weeks ago, mainly because I like Jennifer Lawrence, and also because her previous collaborations with O'Russell have been good. And it is pretty good - the story of Joy Mantango, who went from near-broke housewife to millionairess inventor via a cable shopping channel - is well thought out, well written, and well directed. Like all O'Russell's films, there are equal parts of comedy and tragedy, and if you liked his prior releases, you might want to give this a try.

22. Where To Invade Next (dir. Michael Moore, 2016)

Michael Moore is possibly one of America's most interesting, and most irritating filmmakers, due to his starting from a big premise - Ban guns! Don't invade! Bring in free healthcare! - and then pulling in all sides of the argument. However, this films falls down quite badly. Whilst I completely agreed with Moore that America could learn a lot from European countries about education, prison reform, holidays, and workers' rights, there is also the fact that there is a lot about America that's really pretty good. It also failed to note that part of the reason for free tuition in Slovenia, and the Finnish education system, is due to the massive taxes. Plus, whilst I like the idea of a two hour lunch break, he also failed to note that in Italy the cities, such as Rome, are moving more towards a London/NYC style. A slightly odd film, that frustrated me more than it educated.
Lots of books
Just a vague shape hovering on the edge of people's field of vision.

This beautiful little novel is one that once you start, you can't put down. Guylain Vignolles is an isolated man, working at a paper pulping factory, living alone aside from his goldfish, cut off from humanity. Except he likes to read aloud, to those commuters he encounters daily on the 6.27 train. And by doing this, he finds a USB stick, that draws him into the path of another lonely soul, also working a shadowy job that most people choose to ignore. As her story unfolds, a genuine connection is forged.

This novel really does bring the mundanity of life to life, from its descriptions of the factory to his co-workers. There are clever sub plots - his attempts to help an older ex-colleague who unfortunately becomes a double amputee, and how he becomes part of an old folks' home. But this is a portrayal of how lonely life can be, and the beauty of genuine emotion. Sparingly written and carefully drawn, everyone should read this book.
Lots of books
This is what happens to people when they lose their identity, when they stop being themselves...the person doesn't develop, it gets swamped, and it happens to communities, to villages, to countries under invasion, however benign the intention.

This, Du Maurier's last novel, is a surprisingly prescient and topical piece of work. Set in the late 1970s, the British people have voted to reject the EEC, only to find themselves joined in an alliance with the US. The residents of a small town in Cornwall wake one morning to find marines in the bay and a town under seige. Its a family saga, as it focuses on a family consisting of a grandmother, her six adopted sons, and her granddaughter. It also satirises the Kernow seperatist movement - and having houseshared with two Cornishwomen whilst at University, this does exist, with very strong views. However, the naivety of the central character grates, and it does contain elements of racism which I wasn't overly comfortable reading. However, if you want to try something different, and a little bit frightening, you could give this a try.
21st-Aug-2016 04:50 pm - The Good, The Bad, and The Strange...
Cinema Paradiso
In the last couple of weeks, I've watched 4 films, and 1 boxset, so here are the reviews...

16. Deutschland 83 (dirs. Edward Berger and Samira Radsi, 2016)

This eight part series is something I wanted to watch in one go - and then being sensible kicked in and I managed to stretch it over 4 days. Unlike the increasingly tiresome The Americans, which boasts stunts and disguises but is light on plot, this German series really does expose how frightening - and dangerous - the early 80s were. A young man in East Germany is smuggled into the West, to act as a mole. What follows is a volatile game of espionage, involving honeytraps, family secrets, and broken loyalties. The acting is superb, as is the script, and the clever use of archive footage really does bring home how the world was teetering on the edge of nuclear annihilation. Highly, highly recommended.

17. Lars and the Real Girl (dir. Craig Gillespie, 2007)

Watched a week ago, on a warm Friday.

Nearly a decade ago this was released? Wow! This is one of Ryan Gosling's early indie films, before he became a huge star, and I never thought I'd think the subject content of this was sweet - but that's what good performances and scripting do. Gosling is the titular Lars, a lonely young man from small town Minnesota, who following a colleague's advice, buys a real life, real size doll - Bianca. At first his neighbours and family are schocked, but under counsel of a wise psychotherapist, excellently played by Patricia Clarkson, the community colludes and leads Lars to a place of more social integration. Its a very sweet film, and lightly played - and there is a happy ending. If you like interesting indie flicks, this is one to check out.

18. Anna Karenina (dir. Joe Wright, 2012)

Watched on the wet Friday just gone.

Trying to cram an 800 page novel into a 2 hour film is ambitious - and despite the beauty of the cinematography and costumes, this doesn't quite work. I found it a bit superficial, as it loses the depth of the novel, and characters which are central are sidelined in favour of it being a love letter to Anna. Keira Knightley is terrific in the titular role, and the conceit of setting it in a theatre, to underline the pomposity and stageiness of imperial Russia is a brilliant idea, but its more a patchwork of set pieces than a cohesive narrative. Still, enjoyable for a wet afternoon.

19. Welcome to Leith (dir. Michael Beach Nichols, 2015)

I watched this documentary last night - and its certainly preyed on my mind. Leith, a tiny hamlet in the wilds of North Dakota, got a shock a few years ago when White supremacist Craig Cobb, a man whose ideas seem to be a xerox of Hitler's, started buying land to house a white supremacist community there. What unfolds is the story of people who are deluded in thinking their ideas will work - but also the delusion of a community who believe that they are insulated from the outside world. The biggest twist is that Leith, a community suffering from social and economic isolation, reject Cobb's ideas, despite the fact that his ideas are most popular in communities like Leith. A strange portrayal of what happens when you blame the wrong people for misfortune, Welcome to Leith is chilling and compulsive viewing.

20. Sensation (Dir. Tom Hall, 2010)

I watched this this afternoon, and its not what I expected. A film about a lonely, recently bereaved, and socially awkward Irish farmer going into business with an attractive Kiwi call girl sounds like a crude sex comedy, and I have no doubt that were this made by an British or USian director, starring the likes of Jonah Hill or Simon Pegg, it would be. But its an Irish film, starring Domnhall Gleeson (which was a pretty key reason for it going on my Cinema Paradiso list) with a cast of relative unknowns - and as such its a pitch black and quite touching film about a lonely man trying to make a connection with someone who shies away from the connection he's trying to make. There are some dark moments in this - the opening scene brings home just how much of an isolated character he is, plus there's a painful scene which reveals his lack of social standing. But there are moments of genuine sweetness, and the ending is somewhat happy. Rather like Secretary and Don Jon,its not for everyone, but if you like stories of redemption, and also, like me, believe there really is someone out there for everyone, try it.
Lots of books
That is the excitement. We catch only glimpses, a burst of movement, a flap of wings, yet it is life itself beating at shadow's edge. It is the unfolding of potential; all of what we might experience and see and learn awaits us.

This is a phenomenal book - the type of book that immediately made me want to flip to the start and read all over again. Set in Alaska at the tail end of the 1880s, its a story of discovery. Lt Colonel Allen Forrester, and his young teacher wife Sophie, are in Vancouver when he sets off on an expedition to discover the wilds of Alaska. The tortured history of America's greatest state is laid bare in this - previously owned by Russia, then sold to the USA, the indigenous tribes faced humiliation when "the white man" came.

Framed in modern times, by letters sent by an elderly relative of the Forresters, to a young museum curator living in Alpine, Alaska, the novel takes the form of diary entries by both Allen and Sophie, letters between Walt and Josh, and interspersing texts that I thought were from one other character, but having read it, I now think its another. Both the Forresters have their own journeys to make. As Allen copes with the unforgiving harshness of Alaska's beauty, leading him and his men to find the Indian villages, treacherous lakes, and, astonishingly, a baby. Meanwhile, Sophie grapples with two lots of grief - one concerning her father, the other her child. Through this she discovers photography, and at this point the narrative veers into an interesting look at the strict roles for women in the late 1880s. There is also the bitchy backbiting of the other officers' wives to contend with. In the same way Allen forms bonds with Pruitt and Tillman, his two accompanying soldiers, so Sophie becomes friends with her Irish house-girl, Charlotte, and Evelyn.

There is a sense of grief about this novel. Every character reads as though burdened with secrets, and equally, all are fully formed. In the depiction of Josh, an idealistic young man shines through, whereas Walt is an elderly man, tired of life, but sparked into life by the correspondence of someone younger. The mythology of the native tribes pervades this book, from the use of Shamans to a raven and a silver comb. The stories of goose-women and a woman who married a man who turned into an otter.

Absolutely wonderful. Read it.
9th-Aug-2016 07:04 pm - Four by Four...
being at the movies
One of the many benefits of a staycation (aside from my local Costa, local gym, my cockatiel, being able to cook and eat food I like, sleep when I like, and no bloody jetlag) is the fact I can watch films. So, four films I've enjoyed over the last couple of weeks...

12. High Rise (dir. Ben Wheatley, 2016)

If you haven't read JG Ballard's dystopian novel, its safe to say some of this won't make much sense. Written as a diatribe against the trend for new high rise blocks in the late 1960s, Tom Hiddleston is a doctor who buys an apartment, only to find that he's increasingly institutionalised in a self-contained world where you never need to leave. As social boundaries blur and fray, he finds that people start to turn on each other. Filmed in hyper real, dreamlike state, this is a difficult film to like, but its underlying message about the fragility of civilisation is timely. Worth watching.

13. Jason Bourne (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2016)

Seen at the cinema, with Dad.

This is essentially three action set pieces, cobbled together with minimal dialogue and Matt Damon looking rather confused. However, as Bond seems to be sliding back into self-parody, its good to see a tough, gritty film that shows just how dangerous Black Ops is - and also how it has to be done with co-operation. Damon is typically excellent, but its Alicia Vikander who really steals the show as a Cyber division head with conflicted loyalties. If you've seen the other four films, you're good to go, but anyone who likes a decent action flick will find things to enjoy.

14. Suicide Squad (dir. David Ayer, 2016)

OK, its had terrible reviews, and people are screaming that it a massive let down - but I actually enjoyed it, possibly because I'm a simple soul, or maybe its because I recognise this for what it is - a big, lurid, trashy comic book fest that doesn't and shouldn't be taken seriously. There are weak spots - the plot is nonsensical, Cara Delevigne can't act for toffee and Jared Leto is really bloody annoying. But there's also Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot, and Viola Davis being totally badass - and they're all wonderful. Oh, and its also only 2 hours - which considering the bum numbing length of some comic blockbusters, is very, very welcome!!

15. Midnight Special (dir. Jeff Nichols, 2016)

This is a really interesting film - its essentially a chase movie, with an intelligent sci-fi concept underpinning it. It also features Adam Driver as a bespectacled FBI agent, so that was a win for me...but this is good. Stylistically, its very subtle - its filmed in a muted palette of colours, and I'm guessing that the setting is intended to be the late 70s/very early 80s. Its also a character driven film, so not much actually happens - but what evolves is a story of love and the desire to protect, and if you like clever, well thought out sci fi, you may want to check this out. Worth watching.
12th-Jul-2016 08:17 pm - Just to Say..
Yes, I am pleased Theresa May is going to be PM. Mainly because the alternative of Dolores Umbridge's less nice sister, Boris the Buffon, and Gove the Cove was fucking hideous.

So, yes, I'm pleased. End of discussion. Now I'm going to go and do something more exciting instead.

Except...Angela Eagle. Yes, maybe a woman should run Labour. As long as its not her.
27th-Jun-2016 08:19 pm - Oh, FFS...
Getting seriously pissed off with comments about "the British public." Just for the record:

1. 48% voted remain
2. 48% voted remain
3. 48% voted remain.
4. 48% voted remain.

So, yep, you really mean "half the British public." Actually, no, what you should really mean is "17 million out of a population of 65 million."

Yeah, I'm still angry and pissed off. Its a decision that affects my life as well. But this is democracy kids, so we have to accept what it is and work with it.
25th-Jun-2016 04:48 pm - Me and EU
Right. Time to stop panicking, crying, freaking out - time for a hard hat, cool head, and some thinking.

What happened yesterday shocked even me. And I speak as someone who witnessed Thatcher ejected from power in 1990. Yesterday really was historic, in the sense that a major decision was made at the ballot box, only it was the decision that 48% of voters did not want, and damningly, an increasing number of those in the winning 52% claim they did not understand the implications of. This is why I don't really like democracy. People voting when ill informed and not really thinking tends to equal chaos. However, this isn't about my technocratic tendencies, its about the EU. Me. You.

I am a child of the EEC. It was created in 1975, a year before I was born, and therefore the concept of the EU is one I grew up with, although I never did understand it when I was younger. When I studied politics at A-Level, it became more clear. The 1990s, the post-Thatcher Major Era, certainly defined to me a relationship of instability and bitter sniping. I am surprised that people are using the analogy of divorce for this, as I never really think we've been married. The EU and Britain seem to have regarded each other as a pityfuck that they go to when they need it but really can't stand for the remaining 80% of the time. In the early 1990s, the phrase "Europrats" was coined by the tabloids, as every other day seemed to carry a story about faceless bureaucrats in Brussels imposing horrible laws and taking money for zero credible reason. The Conservative Government under John Major became famous for their Euroscepticism, nearly bringing him down in 1994. I often feel that as a country, we've been grudgingly happy to benefit from the stability and security of Europe - but only on our terms. This is why, in 1995, Britain was warned they could be dumped in the slow lane of a two tier system.

I'll also point out that we are not the "core of Europe." The core of 6 countries, formed in the post-war 1950s, consists of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. These countries are Europe's heart, in a political sense. There is also the fact that we never joined the Euro and also avoided several treaties pushing for deeper integration. Then there's the Blair era, when Europe was treated as a doormat lover whilst he shackled himself to Clinton and then Dubya.

So, if we are not "core player", but rather a more peripheral one, why did Brexit become a reality? Couldn't we have just sighed and said "oh go on then, we'll stay, as long as we don't have to do this, this, and this?"

The reason lies in the fact the voter disenchantment has become a serious reality for any government, regardless of political hue. The areas that voted Leave that have sparked the most dismay are the Labour heartlands of the North and Welsh communities. But think about it - these are communities that were ravaged by Thatcherism, ripping the guts out of industry. Why should people vote to stay in a bloc that doesn't seem to bring them any benefit? One of the shocks for the Remain camp was the dawning realisation that people did not want to stay, because they do not see what they get for it. For them, Brussels is so irrelevant it fades in utter significance. And what they do get, they perceive as a danger and threat to their communities - immigration. Slating people as ignorant when they perceive people arriving and taking jobs is counter productive. A key problem for the Left is its tendency to damn voters as seeing politicians as sales people, offering things, who then get nasty when they don't get them. The rarified air of Westminster and Brussels means diddly squat when you don't have a job, your child doesn't have a job, and is unlikely to get a job, yet people playing with money they shouldn't have done means your life gets more difficult still. Carelessly reductive? Perhaps. But so is the argument that this is all about disliking someone's skin tone. When you feel shoved to the margin of society, it really doesn't matter who it is who has done the shoving. The towns are communities that voted Leave were trumpeted by Richard Littlejohn as "the forgotten towns" - the coastal towns, forgotten suburbs, and rural communities that frequently feel ignored by Westminster Glitterati.

However, the Right is no better. What has really disturbed me over the last couple of months is the ugly mood of psuedo-nationalism. Which certain agitators, including Nigel Farage, an un elected man who merely leads a party and has not a seat in Parliament, have whipped up. It is not racist or xenophobic to hate immigrants with this new logic - its justified, because "they're stealing your jobs." Never mind the successive failures of Governments since the late 1970s pretty much tanked the economy anyway. Never mind the fact that we live in a country that boasts an un elected monarch and still operates a class system dominated by money and primogeniture privilege. Nope, it is far easier to tell the poor and vulnerable to hate people who may be as poor and as vulnerable as they are. I am disgusted with the feebleness of the Labour party in this campaign, who despite being led by two Socialists, did nothing to alleviate fears in their own backyard. As a result, Europe become less something that offers strength and stability and more a bunch of unelected tosspots telling British people what to do, and we've had enough of it.

Brexit is a reality. Those wailing that they didn't realise what they were voting for need to stick a cork in it, because they get on my nerves. But, rather than castigating, time to start thinking about a progressive exit - a Progrexit. Time to bin the ugly nationalism, and also time to stop the nagging for another referendum. Its important that this public spat between three overgrown schoolboys causes limited damage. And its equally important people listen to those who voted to Leave what the other half considered a haven of security and stability - and listen, properly listen, to why.
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