Category Archives: Film reviews

Brexit: the movie

Director  and narrator Martin Durkin

Running time 71 minutes

As an instrument   to rally the leave vote  Brexit: the movie is severely flawed.  It starts promisingly by stressing the loss of sovereignty , the lack of democracy in the EU and the corrupt greed of its servants (my favourite abuse was a shopping mall for EU politicians and bureaucrats only – eat your heart out Soviet Union) and the ways in which  Brussels spends British taxpayers money and sabotages industries such as fishing.  Then  it all begins to go sour.

The film’s audience should have been the British electorate  as a whole.  That means making a film which appeals to all who might vote to leave using arguments which are not nakedly  politically  ideological. Sadly, that is precisely what has not  happened here because Brexit the movie  has as   director and narrator Martin Durkin, a card carrying disciple of the neo-liberal creed. Here are a couple of snatches from his website:

Capitalism is the free exchange of services voluntarily rendered and received. It is a relationship between people, characterized by freedom. Adding ‘global’ merely indicates that governments have been less than successful at hindering the free exchange of people’s services across national boundaries.

And

Well it’s time to think the unthinkable again, and to privatise the biggest State monopoly of all … the monopoly which is so ubiquitous it usually goes unnoticed, but which has impoverished us more than any other and is the cause of the current world banking and financial crisis.  It is time to privatise money.

Unsurprisingly Durkin has filled the film with people who with varying degrees of fervour share his ideological beliefs. These include John Redwood,  James Delingpole, Janet Daley, Matt Ridley, Mark Littlewood,  Daniel Hannon, Patrick Minford, Melanie Phillips Simon Heffer, Michael Howard and  Douglas Carswell , all supporting the leave side but doing so in a way which would alienate those who have not bought into the free market free trade ideology. The only people interviewed in the film who were from the left of the political spectrum are Labour’s biggest donor John Wells and Labour MPs  Kate Hoey and Steve Baker.

There is also a hefty segment of the film  (20.50 minutes – 30 minutes)  devoted to a risibly false  description of Britain’s economic history from the beginnings of the industrial revolution to the  position of Britain in the 1970s.  In it Durkin claims that the nineteenth century was a time of a very unregulated British economy, both domestically and  with regard to international trade, which allowed Britain to grow and flourish wondrously .  In fact, the first century and half or so of the Industrial Revolution  up to around 1860 was conducted under what was known as the Old Colonial System,   a very  wide-ranging form of protectionism. In addition, the nineteenth century saw the introduction of many Acts which regulated the employment of children and the conditions of work for employees in general and  for much of the century  the century  magistrates had much wider powers than they do today such as setting the price of basic foodstuffs and wages and enforcing apprenticeships.

Durkin then goes on to praise Britain’s continued economic expansion up until the Great War which he ascribes to Britain’s rejection of protectionism. The problem with this is that   Britain’s adherence to the nearest any country have ever gone  to free trade – the situation  is complicated by Britain’s huge Empire –  between 1860 and 1914 is a period of comparative industrial decline  with highly protectionist countries such as the USA and Germany making massive advances.

Next, Durkin paints a picture of a Britain regulated half to death in the Great War, regulation which often  continued into the peacetime inter-war years before a further dose of war in 1939  brought with it even more state control. Finally, the period of 1945 to the coming of Thatcher is represented as a time of a British economy over-regulated and protected economy falling headlong  into an abyss of uncompetitive economic failure before  Thatcher rescued the country.

The reality is that Britain came out of the Great Depression faster than any other large economy, aided by a mixture of removal from the Gold Bullion Standard, Keynsian pump priming and re-armament, all of these being state measures.  As for the period 1945 until the oil shock of 1973,   British economic growth was higher than it has been  overall in the forty years  since.

Even if the film had given a truthful account of Britain’s economic history over the past few centuries  there would have been a problem. Having speaker after speaker putting forward the laissez faire  position, saying that Britain would be so much more prosperous if they could trade more with the rest of the world by  having much less regulation, being open to unrestricted foreign investment   and, most devastatingly,  that it  would allow people to be recruited from around the world rather than just the EU or EEA (with the implication that it is racist to privilege Europeans over people from Africa and Asia) is not  the way  to win people to the leave side.

The legacy of Thatcher  is problematic.  Revered by true believers in  the neo-liberal  credo she is hated by many  more for there  are still millions in the country who detest what she stood for and  for whom people spouting the same kind of rhetoric she used in support of Brexit  is  a  turn off. To them can be  added  many others who instinctively feel that globalisation is wrong and threatening and talk of economics in which human beings are treated as pawns deeply repulsive.

There is also a  truly  astonishing  omission in the film. At the most modest assessment immigration is one of the major concerns of  British electors  (and probably the greatest concern  when the fear of being called a racist if one opposes immigration is factored in), yet the film avoids the subject. There is a point  towards the end of the film (go in at  61 minutes) when it briefly  looks as though it might be raised when the commentary poses the question “Ah, what if the  EU proposes a trade deal which forces upon us open borders and other stuff  we don’t like?   But that leads to no discussion  about immigration,  merely the  statement of  the pedantically  true claim that Britain  does not have to sign a treaty if its terms are not acceptable. This of course begs the question of who will decide what is acceptable. There a has been no suggestion that there are any lines in the sand which will not be crossed in negotiations with the EU and there is no promise of a second referendum after terms have been negotiated with the EU or, indeed,  with any other part of the world. Consequently,   electors can have no confidence those who conduct  negotiations will not give away vital things such as control of our borders.

As immigration is such a core part of  what  British voters worry about most ,both in the EU context and immigration generally,  it is difficult to come up with a an explanation for this startling omission  which  is not pejorative. It can only have been done for one of two reasons:  either the maker of the film  did not want the issue addressed or many of those appearing in the film  would  not have appeared if the  immigration drum had been beaten.  In view of both Durkin’s ideological position and the general tenor of the film,  the most plausible reason is that Durkin did not want the subject discussed because the idea of free movement of labour is a central part of the neo-liberal  ideology. He will see labour as simply a factor of production along with land and capital. Durkin  even managed to include interviews conducted in Switzerland (go in at 52 minutes )which  painted the country as a land of milk and honey without  mentioning that the Swiss had a citizen initiated referendum on restricting immigration in 2014 and are pushing for another.

The point at issue is not whether neo-liberalism is a good or a bad thing,  but the fact that an argument for leaving the EU which is primarily based on the ideology is bound to alienate many who do not think kindly of the EU, but who do not share the neo-liberal’s enthusiasm for an  unregulated or under-regulated  economy   and  a commitment to globalism, which frequently means  jobs are either off-shored or taken by immigrants who undercut wages and place a great strain on public services. This in practice results in mass immigration , which apart from competition for jobs, houses  and services,   fundamentally alters the  nature of the areas of  Britain in  which  immigrants settle and,  in the longer term, the  nature of Britain itself .

The excessive  concentration on economic matters is itself a major flaw, because  most of the electorate  will  variously not be able to understand , be bored by the detail  and turn off or  simply disregard the claims made as being  by their  nature  unknowable in reality. The difficulty of incomprehension and boredom is  compounded by there being  far  too many talking heads, often  speaking for a matter of seconds at a time.  I also found the use of Monty Python-style graphics irritatingly shallow and  a sequence lampooning European workers compared with the Chinese downright silly (go in at  37 minutes).

What the film should have done was rest  the arguments for leaving on the question of  sovereignty.  That is what this vote is all about: do you want Britain to be a sovereign nation ? Everything flows from the question of sovereignty : can we control our borders?; can we make our own laws?  Once sovereignty is seen as the only real question, then what we may or may not do after regaining our sovereignty is in our hands. If the British people wish to have a  more regulated market they can vote for it. If they want a neo-liberal economy they can vote for it. The point is that at present we cannot vote for either . As I mentioned in my introduction the sovereignty issue is raised many times in the film.  The problem is that it was so often  tied into the idea of free trade and unregulated markets that the sovereignty message raises the question in many minds of what will those with power – who overwhelmingly have bought into globalism and neo-liberal economics –  do with sovereignty rather than the value of sovereignty itself.

Will the film help the leave cause? I think it is the toss of a coin whether it will persuade more people to vote leave than or alienate more with  its neo-liberal message.

Film review – Steve Jobs

Main Cast

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc

Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and NeXT and Jobs’ confidant in the film.

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and creator of the Apple II

Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993.

Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ former girlfriend and Lisa’s mother.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team.

Makenzie Moss, Ripley Sobo, and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa Brennan-Jobs (at different ages), the daughter of Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan]

Director: Danny Boyle

Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin

Robert Henderson

The film is not about the entirety of Jobs’  life or even all of his adult life as a computer entrepreneur. It runs from the launch of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 to that of the  iMac in 1998. Consequently, it  misses arguably the most fruitful part of Jobs’  business  life which ended with his death  in 2011.

Running through the  film are two themes from outside of  the IT world. The first  is the impact of the knowledge that he (Jobs) was adopted at birth, rejected by his first would-be adopters after a few months and the adopted again.  Jobs’ inept handling of  human relations is attributed to this.   The second theme is a remnant of Jobs’ rather chaotic social life which in the film he runs on the same dysfunctional basis as his work. The remnant is his  one time girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston)  and their daughter Lisa whom Jobs tries not to acknowledge initially  as his child, but whom he  gradually accepts as his daughter.

Those are the circumstantial bare bones of the film.  The film’s distinction and energy comes from a remarkable turn by Michael Fassbender as Jobs. Fassbender  has a talent for portraying obsessive characters. He did it in magnificently in  Shame as a sex obsessive and he does it here with his portrayal of Jobs  as an unrestrained control freak with a adolescent grade  ego the size of Jupiter.  He is constantly bullying and appears to have  little if any moral  sense. When he does behave more reasonably it is invariably not because he feels guilty,  but either as a result of  Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet)  thrusting what he is doing wrong so firmly in his face that he cannot ignore it or because someone treads on his  personal territory , as when  he discovers that Andy Hertzfeld  (Michael Stuhlbarg)  has paid his daughter’s first semester fees after Jobs in a fit of temper told  her he will not pay them.  In short, Fassbender’s Jobs is very like a particularly fractious  teenager without any  adult brake on his bumptious behaviour.

Whether  Fassbender’s Jobs is a realistic portrayal  of the man is another matter. It is disputed by many who knew him  and certainly this filmic Jobs is a monstrously unsympathetic character, the sort of person who continually brings gratuitous stress into the lives of those around him.     Nor is he shown to be an  infallible  entrepreneurial wizard.  Jobs got many things  right with Apple, especially after his return to the company, but he also got a great deal wrong by relying on his judgement of what would appeal  to the public and taking little account of what his programmers and hardware engineers told him .

His worst mistake was  the original Apple Mac which he deliberately had made so that it could only take programs written for its operating system (which was incompatible with that of Microsoft),  could not readily  accommodate add-ons to improve functionality and, just to put the cherry on things, the AppleMac case could not be opened to repair or enhance except with special tools  which were not available to Apple Mc purchasers .   At the time it was launched I remember thinking it was a bonkers way of proceeding.  It was an act of supreme egotism on Job’s part because he wanted the system to be entirely self-contained, that is to be a system  he envisaged  and controlled.  With Jobs in this characterisation it was always his way or the highway.

The Wozniak character expresses his frustration at Jobs’ lack of technical knowhow most vividly when he says “What do you do? You don’t write code. You’re not an engineer.   You’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail.  I built the circuit board. The graphical interface was stolen from Xerox Park, Jeff Raskin  was the leader of the Mac team before you threw him of his own project. Someone else designed the box.  So how come  ten times in a day I read  that Steve Jobs is a genius?  What do you do?”

Jobs’ reply is a facile “I play the orchestra, and you’re a good musician. You sit right there and you’re the best in your row.” Fine if the tune Jobs is conducting is a hit with the public but quite often it was not.

This scene is one of the best in the film. The problem is that the real Wozniak denies ever confronting Jobs so directly: “Anybody who knows me will tell you I just don’t say negative things to people, and could not have said them, and didn’t.”

There is a very strong acting performance across the board. Steve Jobs is splendidly   cast and apart from Fassbender,  there is a dominant  turn  by Kate Winslet (does she ever give a poor performance?) as Jobs’  right hand woman and confidant  while  Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley,  Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team are all very convincing because they are just the type of personalities with just the type of looks one would expect in such jobs.  Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan is, Jobs’ former girlfriend and Lisa’s mother is by turns convincing  as a single mother justifiably  angry at Jobs’ failure to acknowledge his daughter denied  and pathetic inadequate  .

The screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the screenplay for the  Social Network.  This is not anything like as good a film as the Social Network, which retained its taut energy and constantly  evolving storyline  throughout , whereas Steve Jobs  is much more dependent on Fassbender’s  bravura scenes which in general tone do begin to have a certain sameness towards the latter stages of the film. Nonetheless Steve Jobs has much of the Social Networks quick wittedness in its dialogue and the relationship between  Fassbender and Winslet is constantly sparky.

This film is not as good as it might have been but it will not bore you.

 

Film review – The Revenant

Main cast

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald

Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry

Will Poulter as Jim Bridger,

Forrest Goodluck as Hawk, Glass’s son

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Robert Henderson

The Revenant is a tremendous disappointment . Like so many modern  films it substitutes a catalogue of frequent action for character development and condemns the plot to a distinctly mechanical unfolding of one damn thing after another  as the protagonist Hugh Glass  (DiCaprio) survives the hostility of the environment, Indians, some of the men he works with and most spectacularly an encounter with a grizzly bear.

The  year is 1823. A band  of trappers  by  Captain Andrew Henry  (Domhnall Gleeson) are in what is now the Dakotas and what was then  a still wild and largely unsettled (by whites)  part of the Louisiana Purchase, populated by  Indian tribes who varied from the friendly to the warlike.  Glass is the most experienced trapper and   knows the territory best.  His half Indian son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck)  is also a member of the hunting party.

The trappers  are attacked by a band of Arikara Indians who  are armed with bows and arrows. But this being  the age of  the single shot muzzle loading muskets and pistols the trappers do not have an overwhelming superiority  in weaponry. They  suffer heavy losses and retreat from the fight by  boat down a river.   After making their escape Glass  persuades Henry that the party must come off the river and make their way back to the trading post overland.   This decision does not go down well with some of the remaining trappers including John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy).

Glass is then mauled by a grisly bear which leaves him  unable to walk or speak and seemingly on the verge of death.   After carrying him on a makeshift  stretcher  it becomes apparent that they cannot take him with them. Glass ‘s condition also worsens.  Eventually Andrew Henry  accepts that Glass will die but wants him to have a decent burial so asks for two  men   to remain behind and bury Glass properly. Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter)  agree to undertake the task for  additional pay.  Hawk  also stays.

Bridger leaves Fitzgerald alone with Glass. He persuades Glass  to signal by blinking that he wants Fitzgerald to put him out of his misery. Glass  blinks and Fitzgerald begins to suffocate him. Hawk  catches Fitzgerald in the act  and Fitzgerald kills him in a struggle. Bridger then returns before Fitzgerald can kill Glass. Fitzgerald  lies that he has seen a band of Arikara  Indians nearby and persuades Bridger to flee the scene leaving Glass to die. The pair then head for Fort Kiowa. On their  way Bridger discovers that Fitzgerald not seen any Arikara and gets a bad conscience. When they reach the  fort Fitzgerald lies about Glass dying and being given a decent burial. Bridger doesn’t like it but keeps mum.

As for Glass he does not die and gradually recovers both his mobility and voice. He then engages in  a wildly improbable journey to Fort Kiowa most of which  he conducts at first by crawling, then by  staggering with  the aid of a rough staff.   Most of the  action takes place in a wintery snow filled landscape. Yet not only does Glass survive the cold on land, he has several episodes when he is in what must have been water which was close to freezing . Yet DiCaprio is frequently seen in water which must have been icecold. In one scene he is swept away by the current of a fast flowing river encumbered with a heavy fur poncho-style garment  which is his own real guard against the cold. In real life Glass  would  have  rapidly died from hypothermia.

There is also no consistency in the extent of Glass’ supposed disability following the grizzly mauling. There is one scene which is truly absurd when Glass having been moving slowly with the aid of a staff suddenly regains the full use of his legs and runs.

These types  of wildly  improbable events would not matter in a fantasy such as XMen, but it does matter here. The  Revanent (meaning one who returns and especially one who returns from the dead) is  inspired by the allegedly  true story of Hugh Glass.  Apart from the fact that it is meant to have its roots in reality, the film takes great pains to look authentic, the screen being filled with filthy clothes, unshaven faces with dirty  ill-kemped beards and hair, bad skin and  inexhaustible   amounts of mud, all this set against a bleak background of  birch  forest.  The  absurdity of much of the action is horribly at odds with the  tenor of the film which is  deadly serious.

Then there is the question of historical  veracity.   Much of the important plot elements have no solid basis in fact. There is no evidence that Glass had an Indian wife or a half Indian  son.  Hence there was no son for Fitzgerald to kill. Glass was not helped by an Indian  after being deserted by Fitzgerald and Bridger. Glass did not kill  Fitzgerald let alone that seek him out  because Fitzgerald had either vanished or enlisted in the US army,  which meant he could not be safely killed because it would be treated as murder.   Take away those parts of the story and the story has lost much of its energy.

Some of the invention is also plainly designed to fit into the politically correct envelope.  The invention of an Indian wife and half-Indian son,  the depiction of Glass’ survival as being in part due to the help of an Indian, the running thread of an Arikara  chief attacking  the  trappers not for  the simple booty of the  furs but to trade them for  horses and guns  to enable the recovery of his kidnapped daughter all have no basis even in the tale that the real Hugh Glass told.  It is also true that little is known for certain  of Glass , who was  the only witness to what happened after he was left for dead and who may well have greatly embellished the story.

But even as the story is told in the film there is a curious deadness and inconsequentiality to the tale.  The dreadful truth is  the film is rather boring. The episode with the bear and the attack on the trappers by the Indians are undeniably thrilling, but there is the lack of characters who can engage the audience’s sympathy or even interest.  DiCaprio does his best with the material he is given but the it  is pretty frugal fare, not least by the fact that he is either alone or unable to speak for much of the film.   He is neither villain nor hero  but  a drab, dour unsympathetic  personality in a perilous situation.  That does not make for sympathy and the lack of sympathy means one cannot really care about how if at all  Glass will save himself.

Of the rest of the players  only Tom Hardy makes any real  impact. He is ostensibly the villain but might be seen more as a victim of circumstance  for,  after Glass fails to die of his wounds Fitzgerald and Bridger are left in in an impossible position. They cannot carry  Glass nor is Glass in any fit state to walk.  Their lives are at risk. Fitzgerald behaves badly in one way by pretending that he and Bridger have carried out their task and buried Glass after he has died a natural death, but to leave Glass was not unreasonable. Domhnall Gleeson as Andrew Henry  is sadly y miscast because he is positively wooden and horribly far from being a leader.

This is a film which is too  self-consciously important, the sort of film which one can imagine would-be Oscar winners grasping fondly  in the belief that it had Oscars galore written all over it. It may well be such a film for it has already made its mark at the BAFTAS,  but if it is it will be a triumph of promotion over substance.

 

Politically incorrect film reviews – The Martian

Main cast

Matt Damon as Mark Watney (botanist, engineer)

Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson (Director, Media Relations)

Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders, Director of NASA

Michael Peña as Major Rick Martinez, astronaut (pilot)

Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut (system operator, reactor technician)

Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, Hermes flight director

Sebastian Stan as Dr. Chris Beck, astronaut (flight surgeon, EVA specialist)

Aksel Hennie as Dr. Alex Vogel, astronaut (navigator, chemist)

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director

Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist

Benedict Wong as Bruce Ng, director of JPL

Director Ridley Scott

Imagine Robinson Crusoe without  a Man Friday  and stranded on another planet  rather than a deserted island  and you have the plot of The  Martian in a nutshell.

Botanist Mark Watney ( Matt Damon)  is part of  the Ares III mission  which has landed on Mars and set up a temporary base there. A dust storm blows up while the crew are out on the surface and Watney is hit by some flying debris. The rest of the crew are sure he is dead, but they also have a major danger  to distract them from searching for him: the dust storm is threatening to blow over the rocket that  will take them back to their orbiting Hermes  spaceship. If the rocket topples over the crew will be stranded on Mars.   Consequently, they make an emergency take off  without Watney, get safely to the Hermes and  head  for Earth.

But Watney is not dead. He has been injured by  the flying debris,  but not mortally. The facility which sheltered the crew on Mars, the Hab, is still functioning  and there is a large Mars rover vehicle intact.  Watney sits down in the Hab and does  exactly what Crusoe does, takes an inventory of what he has then sets about working himself out of the monumental hole he is in.  This he achieves  in a series of   ingenious ways   including, again mimicking  Crusoe , by scavenging equipment  from  wrecks, in this case  from abandoned equipment  left  from previous missions, manned and unmanned, to  Mars.

Most of the film  is taken up with Watney’s efforts  to overcome  one daunting  obstacle to surviving  after another long enough to have any chance of rescue.  He starts from the bleak  point of knowing that NASA  think that he is dead.  Hence his   first need is to establish contact with Earth to let them know he is alive.  He eventually does this  by cleverly  tinkering with equipment  intended for other things until eventually he has an email  link with NASA.

After making contact with NASA,  Watney’s  most pressing problem is  having enough food   to last long enough to keep him alive until Earth can attempt to rescue him. It will take several years to send another spaceship to Mars and Watney  has food for nothing like that long. Luckily he is a botanist so he works out a way of producing water and this,  with the excrement from the astronauts acting as fertiliser, allows him to grow potatoes inside the Hab with sufficient success  to allow him to survive for considerably  longer but not long enough for the next Mars expedition, Aries IV, to arrive and save  him.

While Watney is problem solving on Mars NASA is problem solving on Earth and meeting with disaster. Their attempts to   launch an unmanned rocket with extra supplies to allow Watney to survive until Aires IV can get there  ends in disaster and all looks lost.  But eventually  the Aries III mission ship Hermes ship is re-provisioned a in space and then turned around on its flight to Earth and sent back to Mars to rescue Watney. This is done only with the help of the Chinese (note the glib  internationalism and/or kotowing to the Chinese).

After further adventures including a disaster with the Hab and a long ride across the Martian surface in the Mars Rover the film culminates in a hair raising exercise to rescue Watney. Does he make it? Well, you will need to see the film to discover that.

Damon’s performance as Watney  recaptures  the engaging boyishness of his early films like Goodwill Hunting and Rounders.   He is also decidedly funny. Without him the film would be pretty dull,  for apart from Damon the plot involving the rest of the cast is rather predictable and even those with  the larger parts such as Jeff Daniels as Theodore “Teddy” Sanders,  the Director of NASA and Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis,   the Ares III Mission Commander, are distinctly one-dimensional.  Sean Bean is horribly miscast as Mitch Henderson the Hermes flight director speaking what lines he has with as much verve as a speak-your-weight-machine .

The Martian has been criticised in some quarters for Damon’s role being too comic.  That is a mistake. Whether  or not someone in such a desperate and isolated position  would be able to maintain such an upbeat  persona with the sense of both his utter physical isolation and desperate circumstances  pressing upon him is of course debatable . But that is to miss the point. The same objection could be levelled at Robinson Crusoe.  But in both cases what counts is whether there is a good story to be told and in both cases the answer is yes.   Moreover, the attitude of Watney  is that of those with the  “right stuff”, an epitome of American can do. Nor is he  utterly alone for most of the film. To keep him sane  he has his contact with Earth for most of the time and eventually  the Aries III ship Hermes . He also records his progress on a video blog, something which would provide a sense of purpose.   It is Boy’s Own stuff but none the worse for that. Nor is it  utterly unbelievable. Think of the tone of the diaries kept on Scott’s doomed return from the South Pole or the resolution of the crew on Apollo 13 after an oxygen tank  exploded  two days into the mission and crippled the spacecraft.    Boy’s Own behaviour is found in real life.

The  depiction  of Mars is unnecessarily sloppy.  It  looks convincing as far as the scenery is concerned, but  there are   anomalies. The gravity on Mars is one-third of that on Earth yet when Damon moves around  there is no  indication of this  in his  walk ,which one would expect to be at least mildly bouncing. Nor when Damon moves things does he do so with unexpected ease as one would imagine he should with only one-third Earth gravity.   Then there is the atmospheric pressure which is around  one-hundredth of the on Earth. Would the storm which causes the Aries Mission  crew to leave really have had the energy to hurl debris as violently as it did or threaten to knock the rocket over?  The answer is no because it is the density of atmosphere which provides the “weight” behind a dust storm. On Mars the dust storm would be a  breeze not a hurricane.  As the dust storm plays a significant role in the plot this is not a small thing.

For politically correct casting  fans The Martian provides a feast.  The commander of the Aries II mission is a woman; the Chiwetel Ejiofor is  Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s Mars mission director, Benedict Wong is  Bruce Ng, director of JPL and there  are ethnic minority and female  bodies all over the place in the NASA control room scenes.  Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astrodynamicist, s the whizz kid who produces  the maths which allows the  Hermes to turn round and head back to Mars is black.  (The overwhelmingly  white  and male  reality of NASAtoday  can be seen here).

Despite its flaws  the film  is genuinely  entertaining.  You will not leave the cinema feeling you have wasted a couple of hours.

Film review- Legend

Main cast

Tom Hardy  as Ronald “Ronnie” Kray and Reginald “Reggie” Kray

Emily Browning as Frances Shea

Christopher Eccleston as Leonard “Nipper” Read  A Detective Superintendent in charge of taking down the Krays

Taron Egerton as Edward “Mad Teddy” Smith – A psychopathic gay man rumoured to have had affairs with Ronnie

Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson

David Thewlis as Leslie Payne The Krays’ business manager

Chazz Palminteri as Angelo Bruno – The head of the Philadelphia crime family and friend and business associate to Ronnie and Reggie.

Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson

Director Brian Helgeland

This biopic of the East End gangsters  of fifty years ago, the Twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray,   contains a great deal of technological wizardry and an unusual  performance by Tom Hardy who plays both  twins.  The technology is so slick that it allows both Krays to appear on the screen at the same time without any sense that the scenes have been faked,  even when the twins  have an extended fight.

But technological marvels do not equal a good film and Legend has severe weaknesses.  Like many biopics it  tries to cover too much ground, thinking that by ticking off a large number of incidents in a life this in itself produces  the ideal telling of a life.    That may have some merit in a written biography but it is death in a film.  The Krays being violent to establish their claim to be hard men,   Reggie having a brief spell in prison, the murders of  George Cornell and Jack “the Hat” McVitie, and a good deal more simply  flash by. This gives precious little opportunity for character development or a proper examination of  any part of the biographical  subject’s life.

It is true that Hardy’s performance as the twins is remarkable in as much as he invents  two distinct personas  for the Krays; an almost rational albeit violently amoral one for Reggie and a declamatory  character with the hint of a lisp  for Ronnie, who spends the film in a perpetual  state of violence, both suppressed and realised, while hatching crackpot plans for the establishment of a Utopian community  in Nigeria or  saying things which utterly discompose other characters such as  his habit of loudly announcing that he is a homosexual.   Hardy also gives Ronnie a rich behavioural wardrobe of tics and bulging eyes that  seem to be perpetually on the point of shooting out of their sockets. This creates a problem because Hardy’s  Ronnie is so off the wall that he comes across not as a real human being, however flawed, but as a monster created for theatrical effect.

It is true that gangster films often  have a cartoonish element  because of the mixture of  the normal with the abnormal,  for example,  characters frequently engage  in incongruously  normal conversations about, for example, their wives and children during which they often assume a moral position, then engage in some horrific violence.  But such scenes do not dominate films and are often deliberately funny. The depiction of Ronnie in Legend  is neither amusing nor truly threatening.   It also detracts from Hardy’s depiction of Reggie – which is convincing enough when  taken in isolation – because  it is difficult to take seriously either of the characters when one is palpably ridiculous. ( Try to imagine Bond or  Jason Bourne acting against  Norman Wisdom playing  a villain in his  most popular character guise of Norman Pitkin).

But the main  problem with the film is there is simply too much  Ronnie and Reggie .The best gangster  films are those where  there is  strong ensemble playing. Think of the Godfather series or Friday the Thirteenth.  Apart from Emily Browning as  Reggie’s girlfriend and eventual  wife  Frances Shea  (the most convincing scenes are those  between Hardy in his guise as Reggie and Francis Shea)   and (just about)  David Thewlis as Leslie Payne the Krays’ business manager,  the other characters simply do not have the chance to develop because they have so little screen time.  Bewilderingly, the personality who supposedly loomed largest in the Krays’ minds in the real world, their mother Violet (Jane Wood) barely appears, while two  actors  with  substantial  film careers –  Paul Bettany as Charlie Richardson and  Christopher Eccleston as Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read  – are variously barely used (Bettany)  or given only a series of scenes so short that their effect is  minimal  (Eccleston).

At the end of the film my thoughts turned to the  1990 film The Krays in which the Kemp brothers from Spandau ballet played  the twins.  In some ways  this was unintentionally  an extremely funny film  because it was set in an unbelievably clean East End;  Billie Whitelaw in the role of the Krays’ mother produced the worst attempt at an East End accent I have ever heard from a professional actress – right up there with Dick VanDyke’s “Gor blimey, Mary Poppins”  – and   Steven Berkoff  enjoyably went an astronomical distance over the top as George Cornell.

But the saving grace of  The Krays was  characters other than  the twins being much more developed. Moreover, the portrayal of the difference between the  Krays was less contrived. Indeed, considering their lack of acting experience at the time  the Kemp brothers  were surprisingly, indeed from their view point, perhaps worrying convincing as the Krays, with Ronnie being a much more believable  character than he is in Legend.  Hence, for all its absurdities  The Krays  is both a more convincing evocation of the twins and considerably more entertaining  than Legend , which  truth to tell becomes rather boring as the film progresses because it is all rather one-dimensional.

Legend is a not  howling flop merely  mediocre. I say this with  regret because Tom Hardy is a charismatic  and accomplished actor, probably the best English  film actor  of his generation.  The subject matter also suits him because he is a convincing hard man with a fine talent for portraying violence.  But in the end the film is too unbalanced, too unbelievable to be either a meaningful biopic or simply a first rate gangster film.

Inside Out does not know its audience

Main Voice cast

Amy Poehler as Joy

Phyllis Smith as Sadness

Bill Hader as Fear

Lewis Black as Anger

Mindy Kaling as Disgust

Richard Kind as Bing Bong, Riley’s long forgotten imaginary friend

Kaitlyn Dias as Riley Andersen

Diane Lane as Riley’s mother

Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s father

Director: Pete Docter

This is a film with high ambition. It is an  attempt at explaining the workings of the human brain whilst tugging the heart strings of adults and children  by telling the story of an unhappy and insecure child.

At the centre of the film  is an  11-year-old girl named Riley. Her parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. As a consequence Riley feels isolated and lonely because she has left all her friends behind and everything else which was familiar.

Most of the action takes place inside Riley’s mind, although there are occasional  forays into the interior consciousness  of her  parents.  Headquarters is Riley’s conscious mind which contains  five emotional  personifications: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. Memories are  represented as orbs  which can be changed by contact with the five personifications.   There are core  memories  housed in a hub in Headquarters  which power five “islands”, each of which reflects a different aspect of Riley’s personality: Family Island, Honesty Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island and Goofball Island.  The Islands sit over a memory dump where unimportant or unwanted memories are placed.   Aside from all this is an area storing  long term memories.

Joy is the dominant personification and acts as the organiser of Riley’s personality and emotional balance. . Sadness is the other important personification.  A theme running through the film is the fact that   sadness is  not just an unwonted  quality  producing misery  but sometimes  a creative force  which shifts the momentum of the mind by making memories which are sad to be flavoured with poignancy of melancholy so that they become more than just sadness.

There is an oddity with the personifications. Riley’s personifications are divided between  entities which are clearly male or female. Joy, Sadness and  Disgust are female and Anger and Fear male . On the occasions when the personifications of the parents are see the mother’s are all female and the father’s all male.  Was this just slapdash or a conscious decision? I rather suspect slapdash, but either way as the difference goes unexplained it undermines the film’s pretensions to be more than just a cartoon about a child’s negotiating of a difficult period of her life.

Joy and Sadness get accidentally swept into the maze of long-term memory along with the core values.   The rest of the film is devoted to Joy and Sadness struggling to make it back to Headquarters, which they eventually do,  while  Fear, Disgust and Anger are trying incompetently  to keep Riley’s mind  normal, there attempts resulting in the personality islands collapsing into the memory dump leaving Riley without the psychological structure to keep her on the straight and narrow and temporarily depriving her of the better angel of her personality.

Treated as an Odyssey  that is simple enough  and potentially attractive as a storyline.  But there is an insuperable obstacle to the film being enjoyable  and  developing into a well  loved Pixar classic. Inside Out  is very didactic.  To understand what the film is about it is necessary for the audience to take on board the animation’s  instruction on how the mind works or at least the film’s  version of how it operates. That raises  a very awkward question, namely, what is the natural audience for the film?  Will children of Riley’s age honestly follow what is happening?  Will adults for that matter? Or will a somewhat baffled boredom be the result?

Of course there is a second element to the film, the emotional journey of Riley. Will it appeal to pre-pubescent girls  around  Riley’s age? Perhaps but  the portrayal of the girl is what girls of that age would probably see as parents being  patronising superior and “just not understanding them” . That could  either alienate them or be something which  enlists their empathy.  But I doubt whether  it will have any attraction to  boys in the Riley age group because they would  be at best  uninterested in what girls think  and at worst actively hostile.

It is also difficult to believe that either  girls or boys of Riley’s age would have found the storyline exciting.   There is a bit of routine improbably physical cartoon action with Bing Bong , Riley’s imaginary friend  from long ago, helping   Joy and Sadness  to return to Headquarters, but there is little of that and not terribly thrilling at that. The film is so intent on showing how clever it is   – gee, whiz, we’re showing  everyone how the brain works – that those producing it have lost sight of the fact that they are in the entertainment business and their clients are first and foremost children.

That leaves adults. In many modern animations there are a host of knowing jokes for adults but here there are next to none. In fact, make that there are precious few jokes for children or adults.  That leaves emotion engagement. Critics and various mediafolk have made great play about tears flowing as they watched Inside Out,  but the sentimentality is too contrived to be entirely  convincing.

As a serious exposition of how the brain works Inside Out  is a non-starter.   To be a serious exposition it is necessary to properly understand concepts like short and long term memory. Most people will simply think that one lasts  longer than the other, when   short term memory is very short indeed (a few  seconds ) and the relationship between short and long term memory is still much debated in academic circles.  The film gives an impression of certainty where there is no certainty.

There is also a problem with the personified emotions, joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust. These are presumably meant to be the primary  emotions  which can combine to produce secondary emotions  in the same way that red, blue and yellow are primary colours which can be  mixed to produce other colours. But is it  true that the five personified emotions are really the only primary emotions?  For example,  how would jealousy be created out of  two or more of them? Anger, Disgust  and Fear might be components of jealousy, but there is far more to jealousy than those emotions, for example, greed and  desire.

The animation has met with widespread , indeed fulsome, praise   from critics who see  the film as a penetrating and intelligent drama daringly dealing with the difficult and nebulous subjects of brain function and consciousness  as well as depicting an 11-year-old girl’s  interior world. This judgement I find utterly misplaced. Why has critical opinion been so adulatory? I suspect that it is a film which the chattering classes  feel obliged to praise because of its self-consciously serious intent.

Technically the film is first rate as one would expect from Pixar.  It looks superb and the actors providing the voices do their best to  imbue the characters with distinct personality.   But truth  be told the film is curiously  bloodless,  and whisper it quietly,  distinctly  dull.  In fact,   Inside Out has the tone of the kind of book  Victorian children had  vainly thrust upon them to instruct the child in moral improvement . There was a large component of children of the Riley age group  in the audience when I saw Inside Out . They were remarkably silent.  Was that because they were entranced or because they were unengaged?  I rather suspect it was the latter.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Dear White People broadcasts the wrong message

Main cast

Tyler James Williams as  Lionel Higgins

Tessa Thompson as  Sam White

Kyle Gallner as Kurt Fletcher

Teyonah Parris as Colandrea “Coco” Conners

Brandon Bell as  Troy

Malcolm Barrett as  Helmut West

Dennis Haysbert  as the Dean

Justin Dobies as Gabe

Peter Syvertsen as President Hutchinson

Director: Justin Simien

Dear White People  cannot make up its mind  whether it should be  a comedy  out of the National Lampoon Animal House stable  or a serious drama.  At one moment there are halfway decent jokes such as a college radio  broadcast  announcing  that the minimum  number of black friends a white person must have if they were not to be called racist had been raised from one to two  with white listeners  reacting in panic-stricken fashion and at another ritual  expressions of  PC horror because a blackface party organised by white students is going to be held. This is a shame because the subject  – black students in a white dominated Ivy League university – has considerable possibilities for either form of film.

The film is  set in Winchester, a fictitious Ivy league university where the majority of students are white. The university’s white President Hutchinson (Peter Syvertsen) has decided to place students in  campus  accommodation on a colour-blind basis.  This is met with resistance  in an all-black  residential house  known as Armstrong/Parker.  A film production major and mixed-race  girl Sam White (Tessa Thompson)  unexpectedly wins the election for who is to be head of Armstrong/Parker  beating  Troy (Brandon Bell),  the son of Winchester’s  Dean and uses her position to begin  agitating for  Armstrong/Parker  to remain  all black.

Sam also  has her own college radio station named Dear White People which   unblushingly pushes black stereotypes of whites such as her broadcast requests  “Dear white people … please stop dancing”, “Dear white people please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you? “  When  the black dean  of Winchester (Dennis Haysbert)   tells her that the Dear White People broadcasts are racist  she responds  “ Black people cannot be racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race “. When challenged by her  boyfriend  Gabe (Justin Dobies ) about how she would feel if someone started  Dear Black People broadcasts,  her  smug black victimhood response is “No need. Mass media for Fox  make it clear what they think of us.”    You get the idea of where she is coming from.  Except you do not get the full picture because  her boyfriend is white and she has a secret liking for Taylor Swift, a distinct no no for a right-on black.

This type of  blurring of character is used frequently  in the film to demonstrate not that  everyone is the same under the skin,  but to offer an excuse for  further wallowing in black victimhood. The black students at Winchester U cannot complain of lack of opportunity or of being treated in a demeaning way, but they can still have a great appetite for  playing the victim.  This means they have to be  inventive. One of the ways is to claim that even privileged  blacks like them are under tremendous strain because  whites expect blacks to both conform to a stereotype  and be experts on black culture,  or at least experts on  what is perceived by both black and white as black culture. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) as a black gay student  who does not feel very black is the prime example in the film as he admits “I listen to Munford and sons and watch Robert Altman films”  and is told by a white girl on the student newspaper he wants to write for  that “You’re only technically black”.

Simien  is both black and gay and  judged by the screenplay he has produced, so obsessively  concerned about both that the need for basic  dramatic structure is tossed aside.    It is also a problem that he  wrote the screenplay as well as directing. This is always a difficult duality, particularly as the film is his first attempt at feature length direction.  It was also crowdfunded so there was not the usual  studio oversight.  Having a free hand as writer and director may sound fine in theory but it rests a great deal  on the individual who has the free hand.  In this case it is a serious mistake, not least because Simien is  very green as a  director.   This  inexperience shows because he  is  clearly under the impression that cramming in everything about a subject will result in a good film. The problem with this approach is that it destroys any plausible narrative as scenes  streak by without any continuous dramatic coherence holding them together. One can imagine Simiens  whilst directing ticking off one by one the  “what blacks think of whites”  set pieces he has created.

Examples of these set pieces are :

Mixed race light skinned blacks do better in a white world that dark skinned blacks. This is hung on the difference between in treatment of mixed race Sam White  and  authentically black Coco Connors (Teyonah Parris) by a white TV producer  of  TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” following Sam’s story but , rejecting  Coco pitch for a show  “Doing Time at an Ivy League”.

Troy has a white girlfriend which is seen not as integration but simply as a ploy white girls pull when they want to annoy their parents.

There is a good deal that is deliberately  non-PC  in the  film. A  white   hoax invite to the  party which causes outrage  is sent out  with an invocation to  “Liberate Your Inner Negro”, Sam White is described as “like the pissed off child of Spike Lee and Oprah”  and   Sam’s white boyfriend says “ I’m sick of your tragic mulatto bull” . But it has very little effect both because  there are too many “outrage” words and storyline  (even the most committed liberal or black activist can only be outraged so many times) and because of the unconvincing  nature of the outrage  shown.

On top of this jerky narrative there is the crude realisations of both the  characters and the drama such as it is.  The film  is littered with clumsily constructed stereotypes. Troy (Brandon Bell )  is the non-threatening black  who says things such as “I really don’t see the issue. Never ran into any lynch mob.” ; Sam White the threatening black;  Troy’s father ( Dennis Haysbert )the paranoid black parent  desperate for his son not to give whites  a chance to belittle him by  trying to make a career as a comedy writer instead of  being in a  respectable professional  occupation;  Kurt Fletcher ( Kyle Gallner) is the arrogant white boy with a hint of racism.

The comic book nature of the film as it moves swiftly from satirical point to satirical point robs  the actors of any chance for substantial character development. Within those confines  they all make a good fist of things with  Kyle Gallner and Brandon Bell being  especially convincing as the stereotypes they were asked to portray.

What is fascinating about the film is that  it contains  considerable anti-white racism,  but  Simiens seem to be oblivious to it.  The  white characters are allowed only subordinate parts   while the black characters remain centre stage. Black characters  have many jibes against whites while the white characters are allowed only a few token ripostes  but they are very token, for example,    Kyle Gallner  ventures “Sometimes I think that the hardest thing to be in the American workforce is educated white guy”. Consequently, the portrayal of whites in the film is  ultimately derogatory  whereas the blacks who are shown in less than a flattering light are in a different category. They may have prejudices about whites but these  are presented as being a consequence of  white racism both historical and present day.   The message of the film is that blacks may be ostensibly  racist  but the should not be censured or even mildly disapproved of because of the historical legacy, but whites are there to be pantomime villains to be booed at every opportunity.  Most probably this is not  a deliberate propaganda ploy by Simien but simply an unconscious  reproducing what is the default position for politically conscious blacks and white liberals.

There is a sharp  comedy of manners to be made of the relationship between whites and blacks in a privileged situation but this is not it. Ditto a really biting satire on white liberal mores when faced with  racial questions and the comfort blanket of black victimhood.  What the viewer is left to view  is a cinematic and ideological mess which is too soft centred to even provoke outrage.

Film review – Ex Machina

Main cast

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb

Alicia Vikander as Ava

Oscar Isaac as Nathan

Sonoya  Mizuno as Kyoko

Directed by Alex Garland

This is yet another film exploring the potential of digital technology to radically change our lives. The  subject  here is the relationship between advanced humanoid robots and humans, but with a twist, namely,  can sexual attraction arise between a human and a robot and can that attraction move on to something resembling deep emotional attachment?

The basic  plot is simple. A young  computer coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) thinks he has won a competition at his workplace, the prize being  a week  on an isolated  research station with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the boss of  the company for whom Caleb works.   In fact, there is no competition and he has been chosen simply as an experimental subject.

When Caleb reaches the research station he finds it occupied  by  Nathan and what he thinks is a female  Asian servant  Kyoto.   There are no other people on the research station. In fact there are only two humans for Kyoto is a robot.

Nathan asks  Caleb to  perform a Turing test. The classical version of  the test  consists of a human interacting with an artificial intelligence (AI) without knowing whether they are dealing with an AI or another human being.  The test is passed if  the human is convinced the AI is human. But this is a Turing test  with a twist.   Caleb knows what he is dealing with, a humanoid robot called  Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Caleb’s ostensible task is to see whether Ava convinces as a human interlocutor, despite the fact that he knows she is a machine.    But his real function is to see how readily  a human being will accept a machine that he or she  knows to be a machine  as a quasi-human being, or at least an intelligence which a human can relate to  as they would relate to another human being.

To make matters more complicated  Ava is physically  portrayed  as  a machine.   She , for want of a better word, is humanoid, but her  non-human   status is made only too visible with every part of her but  the  face, hands and feet  being   rather obviously  those  of a robot rather than a human,  for example, by having some of her machine components nakedly exposed.   As a further barrier to emotional involvement  there is no physical contact between Caleb and Ava because  a transparent screen separates  them.

As the film progresses Ava becomes more and more human to Caleb not only because of the developing relationship between the two f, but in the  way Ava  presents herself physically. She puts a wig over her skull and wears a dress which obscures her machine structure.  With these accoutrements she resembles an attractive woman.

That Caleb should develop  an emotional relationship with Ava is extremely plausible. Just think of the emotional investment that people make in their pets. Reflect on the habit  humans often  have of adorning inanimate objects with some of the qualities of they respond to in humans and animals or on their  sentimental attachment to objects which are associated with those they care about or of events which are important to them.  Humans have a strong innate desire to form  relationships with the external world.   That they might form  deep emotional relationships  with intelligent machines is utterly believable.  (The recent film Her which featured a highly intelligent operating system forming a relationship its male owner covers exactly this ground.)

Caleb learns  more and more about what is going on. He discovers  that Kyoto is a robot and  sees  unanimated bodies of earlier model robots. He finds out that he did not win a competition but was chosen by  Nathan not for his IT skills but for his personality and personal  circumstances, for example, Caleb  is heterosexual and   single (which makes him vulnerable to female attention). Nathan  has also used  developed Ava to appeal to Caleb by basing  Ava’s general physical appearance on Caleb’s  Internet  pornography searches to make her attractive to Caleb.

Caleb is fascinated by Nathan’s AI techniques but disturbed the way he  is being manipulated. After he has already become seriously  emotionally involved with Ava, he  is naturally upset when Nathan tells him that if Ava fails the Turing test  she will  be updated  with her memory wiped. This  will destroy her as the  personality he knows, in fact, be the AI equivalent of death.  Consequently,   Caleb plots with Ava for the pair of them to escape .  In fact, this is the  real  Turing test which Nathan has devised, namely to see if Ava can be convincingly human enough to trick Caleb into helping her escape, an escape Nathan smugly but wrongly believes is impossible.

Ava makes choices for herself in a way which is both human and inhuman. Her final actions at the research centre would be seen as  psychopathic  in a human because she single-mindedly seeks  her ends without regard to what she has to do to attain them. Ava  has  manipulated Caleb without any emotional  investment on her part.  But at the same time she has  a fundamental  component of consciousness, namely, her  own  desired ends  which go beyond mere mechanical programming. Ava wants to escape to satisfy her curiosity as well as to retain her existence as Ava.  She is not a quasi-human but something new, neither insensate machine nor  organic life.

The film ends with Ava showing what a difference there is between a machine intelligence and a human one. Caleb does not escape nor Nathan live to see the end of his experiment. Only Ava  leaves the research station and leaves it without any sense of loss or shame at her betrayal of Caleb.  But because the character is a robot her behaviour does not seem heinous as it would do in a human. It merely seems as innocent of blame as a predatory animal killing its prey.

The performances of  Gleeson, Isaacs and Vikander are all strong, not least because the film is very well cast. . Gleeson has an  appropriately  shambling geekiness  and clumsiness in his relationship with other people and   Isaac is a  dominant brooding psychopathic  presence.   But the real star  is Vikander . She  is weirdly convincing as a being who is at least half the way to being human.   Her realisation of the role  makes the robot flicker in and out of her performance. Vikander, a professional dancer, gives Ava a fluid grace of moment which does not seem quite natural; she speaks in a pleasantly modulated and controlled way but with little variation of emotion; her face is not expressionless but there is a very  restricted range of expression. The overall effect is of an  ethereal other-worldly being. The film is worth seeing for her performance alone.

The Emperor’s New Clothes (2015) – It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame.

Robert Henderson

Narrator: Russell Brand

Director:   Michael Winterbottom

This documentary shamelessly mimics  Michael Moore  with a large dollop  of  “The smartest guys in the room” thrown in for good measure.  The end  product is a tepid imitation of Moore’s style   and a rather better pastiche of The smartest guys in the room.

Like a Moore documentary there is much in the film which is shocking: the greed and irresponsibility of the bankers:  the overt or tacit  collusion of  politicians which allowed  bankers to be effectively unregulated  in the run up to the 2008 crash; the failure to punish  with the criminal law any of those who were responsible for the banking crash; the ability of the likes of  Fred Goodwin  (the erstwhile CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland)   to walk away with a pension worth hundreds of thousands a year after wrecking  through his megalomania for expansion  one of the largest banks in the world. More generally the film also makes much of the  growing inequality in Britain.

Sounds intriguing? But the problem is Brand, unlike Moore, never manages to get to quiz any of those responsible or even to  embarrass them  by getting close enough to shout questions at them.   This is in large part simply a consequence of Brand /Winterbottom choosing a subject – bankers’ recklessness –  where getting to speak  to the culprits was a  obvious non-starter.  But  that makes a large part of the  film’s  approach  an anticipatable and hence avoidable  mistake.

A fair bit of the film features Brand arriving at the head of office of, say,  a high street bank, daringly entering the  public foyer  and then hitting a brick wall of indifference as he is left to grill receptionists and security guards on the wickedness of their employers.   The result  is  underwhelming the first time he uses the ploy, but moves from underwhelming to  irritating as the  device is repeated several times.  The nadir of this  “beard them in their lairs” tactic  is  Brand’s  arrival at the home of  Lord Rothermere  (whose family own amongst other publications the  Daily Mail) to tackle Rothermere about his non-dom status. After  Brand  had vaulted over a wall to show his rebel devil-may-care  tendencies, the scene ended with him conducting a meaningless conversation with a bemused housekeeper via an answerphone.  There was a vapidity about all these scenes which robbed them of their potentially humorous situational content based on the incongruity of what Brand was asking rank and file employees.  In the end it was simply Brand behaving boorishly.

All of this tedious , ineffective and self-regarding guff is wrapped within an ongoing theme of  Brand  “going back to his roots”   to  his childhood  town of in Grays in Essex.  (Brand is part of what Jerome K Jerome  called “Greater Cockneydom”).   He is  certainly much  friendlier  in his dealing with the  white workingclass than the vast majority of those on the Left these days who  tend to approach them  with all the delight of someone trying to avoid dog excrement on a pavement,  but there is a cloying quality to his relationship with those he meets as though he is playing in a rather ham fashion  the  part of a cockney sparrow returning  to its  long deserted nest.   He is also rather too keen to prove his street cred- there is an especially  cringeworthy episode where Brand  vaults a underground barrier and claims he has dodged the fare.  More damagingly perhaps, was that  hanging over his  words on the state of the have-nots and the misbehaviour of the haves hung  the fact that Brand is a rich man, a fact he tried  to address by trying to make a very feeble  joke indeed  about the fact.

Ironically Brand  displays a strong conservatism with a small ‘c’  when he laments the change from the Grays of his youth as a place where  the shops were run by local people and  “all the money spent in the town stayed in the town” to a modern Grays of boarded up shops and multinationals who suck the money and by implication the sense of community out of the place.

That is too black and white a view of then and now, but I can sympathise with Brand’s general nostalgia for the not so distant past. My memory tells me  that people were generally more content  forty years ago.  The trouble is that Brand completely fails to do is address the thing which has most dramatically changed places such as Grays namely, mass immigration, which of course is all part of the globalist ideology he purports to loathe.    That he should avoid the immigration issue is unsurprising because it is part of the credo of the modern Left that it is nothing but an unalloyed boon, but it does undermine horribly the credibility of the film as  an honest representation of reality .

The most nauseating part of the film involved Brand using an audience of  primary school children (at his old school) to  get his message across  by feeding them with the most intrusive sort of leading questions along the lines of  “Bankers earn zillions of pounds a year while the person who cleans their boardroom takes home fifty quid a week: is that fair?”  The children were charming, but using children as ideological props is a cheap shot at best and abusive at worst.

The film is at its best  when Brand is working from a script with  crisp graphics and commentary  in the style of The Smartest Guys in the Room. The  cataloguing of  the excesses of the financial industry and the stubborn refusal of the authorities in Britain to bring criminal charges against any board member of  the institutions which were responsible,   even the banks  which required  bailing out by the taxpayer, was  angering. Comparing this escape  from punishment  by high ranking bankers (who invariably  left  loaded with huge amounts of money on their departure from the offending banks)   with the many, often quite severe,  custodial sentences handed out to the 2011 rioters for stealing items worth at most a few hundred pounds and often for much  less  showed a reality that lived up unhesitatingly to the old refrain  “It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame” .

There is also some strong stuff about the growing inequality in Britain and the thing which with frightening speed is creating a massive generational divided, namely, the grotesque cost of housing which has removed from most of this generation any chance of buying a property  and forcing people  increasingly into extremely expensive  private rented accommodation.   But here again, the immigration issue was left untouched.

The film missed  several important ricks.  One of the scandals about the way bankers have been able to walk away from the 2008 crash without any serious action being taken against them is  that there has been no attempt to apply  the provisions in the Companies  Act  relating to directors behaviour. These provisions  allow the removal of personal limited liability  from  directors  where they have behaved in a reckless fashion. Remove their limited liability and creditors, including the government on behalf of taxpayers,  could seek  every penny they hold.

Then there is the extraordinary fact that the shareholders of the bailed out banks  still hold shares worth something.  The banks  were irredeemably insolvent when the Labour government bailed them out. The shareholders should have lost everything.  This fact  went unexamined.

But the film’s greatest  failure is to spend far too  little time role that politicians played in the economic disaster through their lack of regulation and the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  For example,  there was nothing on the  Lloyds TSB’s  takeover of  the HBOS which ended up capsizing Lloyds.  This takeover was done at the behest of Gordon Brown  and turned Lloyds TSB from a solvent bank with a reputation for prudence and caution into a bank which had to be bailed out by the British taxpayer. The bank is now the subject of a civil action by disgruntled shareholders who claim they were misled by  Lloyds about the state of HBOS.

Much of what Brand dislikes  I also dislike. Like him I deplore  globalisation because it is destabilising at best and dissolves  a society at worst ; like him I think it a monumental scandal that neither the main actors in the financial crash nor the politicians who had left the financial services industry so poorly regulated  were ever brought to book; like him I am dismayed  at the growing inequality in Britain  and the particular  disaster  that is the ever worsening British housing shortage.  But the film offers no coherent or remotely practical  solution to the ills of the age. It is simply a rage against the machine and like all such rages ultimately leaves its audience dissatisfied after the initial adrenal surge of sympathetic anger.

Politically incorrect film reviews – Selma takes the wrong road to watchability

Robert Henderson

Main cast

David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King

Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover

Tim Roth as George Wallace

Director Ava DuVernay

Selma is the latest in an ever lengthening list of  propaganda films in the politically correct interest. It is Alabama 1965. Martin Luther King is already internationally famous after his “I have a dream “ speech   in 1963 and  the award of the Nobel Peace prize in 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is meeting with resistance and black voters  are  finding they still cannot  register to vote because of the application of local electoral regulations  in ways which are comically restrictive.   King goes to the city of Selma with a clutch of supporters from the  Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)  to protest  about this thwarting of the law, but their  attempts to help  blacks  register in the city   fail.  As a consequence  a protest march  from Selma to Montgomery , the Alabama state capital, is planned.  The first march is stopped brutally, the second aborted by King and the third allowed to happen.

That is the skeleton of the film.  There is precious little solid  dramatic flesh put on the skeleton. To be brutally frank Selma   is boring. It is too wordy,  too cluttered with characters,  too  didactic and unremittingly earnest.  These are qualities guaranteed to lose any cinema audience.  The problem is particularly acute when, as here,  there is an large cast.   Disputes and debates between King  and his supporters or between King  and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) are so extended and detailed that anyone not familiar with the story would not know what to make of it  and, in any case, as anyone who has ever been involved with an ideologically driven political group will be only too aware,  of little interest to anyone who has not been captured by the ideology. Reflecting life too exactly  on film is not always the best  way to keep people’s attention.  Propaganda films do not have to be boring, although  they often are. The black director Spike Lee would have made a much less sprawling and vastly  more watchable film whilst keeping the ideological message.

There is also a woeful and wilful  lack of historical context.  This one has at its core  a  vision of wicked Southern good ol’ boys  oppressing  blacks.  White involvement is restricted to racists with a penchant for violence,  a few white sympathisers with the civil rights movement who  appear peripherally,  adorned with looks of sublimely smug  unquestioning  utopian naivety not see on film since the initial sighting of a hippy commune in Easy  Rider and Lyndon Johnson who  is shown as sympathetic to King’s views but not interested enough to risk his political future by wholeheartedly embracing the legislation which King says is necessary .  There is  no attempt to see things from the viewpoint of the whites who opposed integration, unlike, for example, a film such as In the Heat of the Night in which  Rod Steiger’s sheriff  attempts  to explain why whites in the South are as they are because of their circumstances,  for example, their  widely held and not unreasonable fear that a black population which has been suppressed may turn on whites . Instead  Selma just rushes in and  points the finger of moral shame at any white who does not uncritically embrace what King advocates with a complete disregard from the fact that  every human being  morally and sociologically has  to start from the  situation into which they are born.

The concentration of the film on a specific time and place is also  problematic, because King’s  ideological  career was a far more complex  thing than the film can show. It also  removes the embarrassment which would have hung around a straightforward biopic of King, such as  the  plagiarism which gained him a doctorate and  his marginalisation as a civil rights leader which eventually saw him reduced to going to support sewage workers at the time of his assassination.  Mention is made of his gross  womanising, but only in the context of a sex tape recorded by the FBI which was sent to King’s wife  Cora. The fact that some who were close to him said  he had a particular  liking for white women – which could be taken as evidence of racism in King if his motive was to revenge himself on whites by abusing their women –  goes unmentioned .  Indeed, it is rather odd that a man as celebrated as King is in the USA  and with a worldwide reputation should never have had a full blown biopic. Perhaps the answer is that King’s private life was too messy to deal with in a film depicting his entire public  life rather than a short period of it devoted to a specific subject.

More importantly the tight focus in Selma  means that the fifty odd years since Selma  go unexamined.  No honest  person  would deny that the position of blacks in the USA and particularly those in the Old South was demeaning at the beginning of the 1960s,  but is what has  replaced segregation and Jim Crow laws  really that much better for most blacks or, perhaps more pertinently, anywhere near what King hoped would happen? Perhaps  the answer to the first question is a tepid  yes, at least for  blacks who have benefitted from  “positive discrimination”,  but it has to be an unequivocal no to the  latter.   Segregation by choice has replaced segregation by law. Illegitimacy  and crime amongst  blacks has rocketed. A fair case could be made for  the  individual  personal relationship between whites and blacks being worse now that it was fifty years ago.

Tom Wilkinson is very decent  LBJ but  David Oyelowo  does not quite cut it as King. It is not that it is technically a bad performance, it is simply that he does not capture the charisma that King undoubtedly had.  His  portrayal of King keeps a question nagging away at one: why would any one have followed this rather drab character?  The rest of the cast do not really have time to develop their roles, although Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King and Tim Roth as George Wallace have their moments.

The insubstantial quality of the film can be judged by the  meagre  Oscar recognition and  its  popularity with the public by the money it has taken.   The film was nominated for  Best Picture  and best song but for nothing else, which is a rather remarkable thing.  Nor did it win as best picture. A public  fuss was made about Ava DuVernay and  David Oyelowo being left out of Best Director and Best Actor categories,  but only in the context of no black actors and directors being nominated.  Considering the public political correctness the American film business emits,  it is rather difficult to imagine that the tepid response to Selma by the Oscar granting Academy voters was the result of racism.  In fact its nomination as Best Picture despite having no nominations in the directing and acting categories suggests that the opposite happened, Selma was nominated for Best Picture regardless of its mediocrity as a sop to political correctness.

The public also responded in less than passionate fashion. As of 16 April Selma had taken $52,076,908 worldwide which placed it 57th in the top grossing films of the previous 365 days.  Not  bad in purely commercial terms  for a film which cost $20 million to make, but distinctly underwhelming  for a film lauded to the skies by most critics and many public figures.  The truth is that people both in the States and abroad have not been that drawn to it, whether  because of the subject or the indifferent quality of the film.  One  can  take the browbeaten horses of the Western world to the politically correct water but they can’t make many of them drink.

The pernicious nature of a film like this is not that it casts whites as the villain,  but that it gives blacks and excuse for anything that goes wrong in their lives, the prize of an inexhaustible victimhood

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