Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

POLITICAL REVIEW — John Boehner & Benedict Arnold: Traitors or Enlightened Self-Interest?

In civics, history, ideology, politics on August 21, 2011 at 12:34 am

A lot of people reading this will wonder how I dare to compare Boehner with Benedict Arnold — that arch-traitor of American history — never mind include them in the same sentence. Granted, it looks like Boehner tried a lot harder than General Arnold to damage his own country, and on a lot bigger scale — not to mention the rest of the world. Now old Benedict begins to look like smallfry. Billions around the world will suffer that bit more from the action Boehner led in the US House of Representatives to prevent tax rises for his money-hording constituents. Maybe Boehner thought, looking at the plight of dying children in Africa, Hey already, Dead is dead. Can’t get more deader’n that…

U.S. President Obama speaks during a bipartisan meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House

Benedict Arnold, once a battle hero of the new United Colonies, switched sides and betrayed his fellow colonists for personal glory — believing he wasn’t credited enough for his efforts: vain to the ultimate. Boehner’s actions can no way be associated with glory, willing to sacrifice against all democratic precedent the common welfare of his own countrymen and women, and untold ‘foreigners’ (maybe a bonus he didn’t count on) largely for the sake of the wealthiest 1/10,000th of the electorate and the so-called Tea Party movement. Many of this ilk like Bachmann, Palin and Perry maybe think the original Tea Party was at the Vanderbilts’, Rockefellers’ or J. P. Morgans’ one afternoon in their golden age of the Robber Barons. Their ‘God’ is definitely a punishing one who not only lets the poor fend for themselves but is all for siphoning off the little money they have to humble them and build their characters even further.

Little Johnny claimed afterwards to be pretty happy because he got 98% of what he wanted. But I imagine it’s a pretty dry, cheerless, childish, selfish kind of happiness that satisfies him: seeing so many of his countrymen and women suffering just to make him happy. I can’t imagine, for instance, him ever having the largeness of heart to tell a joke against himself, like the time-honoured classic I have adapted just for him, it seems so apt:

“Little Johnny Boehner went to the cupboard to fetch poor Rover a bone. When he bent over, Rover took over, and gave Johnny a bone of his own.”

It’s curious how Republicans these days are so obsessed with sex but seem to find such little joy in it — more like a means of punishment, or something to be hidden away… Is that why he calls himself “Baner” by the way? So people won’t insert him into that and other rhymes?

No less than Obama called Boehner a man of “good will” after all the carping from the other side. What’s going through the President’s mind has left the US’s best political pundits guessing, so I won’t attempt it. Just seems like Obama could have found a nicer playmate to pal up with when the future of the world is at stake.

I’ve recently discovered that Obama thinks he’s modeling himself on Abrham Lincoln, by listening to all sides equally, then letting the most powerful, ruthless faction win. Couldn’t be further from the truth… On a post on the Alternet website I saw Obama’s behavior described as “Appeasement” and I can’t do better than that. He reminds me of that champion of Appeasement in 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper containing a blackmailed agreement signed by his enemy — as if in triumph. Let’s hope none of the enemies of America are as monstrous as the accommodating “Herr Hitler”.


In film, literature, television on August 16, 2011 at 11:44 pm

This theme has been brewing in me for a while. How to explain to screen fans what good writing is? It is not George Lucas in Stars Wars

What sticks in my craw most is two worthwhile actors like Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law lending their talents to what is supposedly meant to be a Sherlock Holmes movie. Arthur Conan Doyle is not considered on the highest level of writers, rather among the best of the “nonserious” writers. But he was among the greatest mystery/detective writers and went to a great deal of trouble to create a character who is still the most memorable of all sleuths — Sherlock Holmes. Try looking for him in this latest film, which will corrupt the character for an entire generation of film-watchers wanting to know who Sherlock Holmes is.

Maybe to this and recent generations it doesn’t matter — just like the dumbed-down cardboard-cutout portrayals over the past 20 years of the original 1966-69 Star Trek characters. The original writers were thinking people who came from theatre and the Golden Age of Television in the Fifties and early Sixties. They knew what it was to conceive and create characters and genuine Science Fiction concepts and relate them to reality. The line between Science Fiction and soap opera fantasy is the difference between Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock and whoever it is playing a cutesie nonhuman called “Data” in that more recent series and the banal lines Data is called on to utter and the faces he pulls.

Since I began this piece, so-called writers of the screen have gone far past the point of even trying to maintain a facade of integrity or nodding acquaintance with creative truth. A prime example of this is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter — which poses that the 16th president of the United States had not nearly enough on his plate and trained himself up to Ninja standard with a silver axe, all the better to slay those pesky vampires that are everywhere these days, and apparently always have been. Worse, this turns out to be merely one of a series that has old Honest Abe concerned with everything but preserving The Union and freeing the slaves.

Marvel Comics and their many modern colleagues must be licking their lips at the trend to breaking all fidelity with character and the coming bonanza in modern art, as a steroid-pumped Albert Einstein travels forward in time to take on and lock biceps with The Terminator; Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela team up to use their native arts to quell the next rise of the zombies; and Stephen Hawking rides forth on his nuclear-powered wheelchair to deal to a werewolf pack — the evil ones not the good ones.


In film, psychology/psychiatry on August 16, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Suspension of disbelief is the willingness, probably unconscious, of the viewer to believe what he sees on screen. What is seen is so involving that he is swept up in participating in the production. It used to apply to special effects in the old days. Convincing ones were very expensive. But then, no way do today’s super-whizbang computer-generated graphics representing explosions or gunfire come across like realistic, everyday life. They’re meant to come across like a game of Dungeons & Dragons.

Movies of yesteryear have it all over modern films in that for biopics the subject was always someone long dead and so the acting depicting the central figure had a good shot as coming across as believable as that real-life person. If a still-extant prominent figure was significant in the story but not central the writer would include a key but very short scene in long shot or acute-angled close-up of the back of his head accompanied by what he hoped was a reasonable facsimile of the person’s voice.

In the Eighties a series of biopics of rock’n’rollers were hailed for the portrayals from Gary Busey as Buddy Holly, Lou Diamond Phillips as Richie Valens… but Kurt Russell as Elvis? All due credit to Kurt’s chutzpah for taking on this project, but why would an audience want to see a well-known actor pretending to be Elvis? A pretence was all it could be because “The King” had only died in 1977 and there were dozens of his movies in circulation featuring (too much of) the real thing.

Great credit must go to the convincing performances of the actors more recently portraying Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Idi Amin… But in Frost vs Nixon, Frank Langella as President Richard Nixon comes across more like he is trying to play Mr Ed: “I am not a crook, Wilbur.” Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock is just as ridiculous. king_georgeviKingClive

And, The King’s Speech — Colin Firth as George VI?! Maybe if James Fox or his brother Edward had been available or of half-suitable age, they could have at least portrayed the King’s special sanguine stolidity… Having seen just clips of Firth in the role, at no time was he able to suggest even a hint of an impression of George VI — still a well-known persona to history buffs — in looks or in his distinctly reserved manner. How is this an award-winning performance?

Probably, Firth (and Langella and Hopkins) gave an actorly performance par excellence — uninhibited, energetic — of the kind you might see on the West End stage, resembling the pupil in Pygmalion and so impressing many members of the Academy.


In art, sport, television on August 15, 2011 at 10:41 am

After watching last year’s World Cup on tv, I could swear English soccer is a different game. Having just seen several of the opening games of English Premier League (2011-12), featuring its top teams, I am already beginning to regret signing up for Sky Sports (at a steep extra $26 a month). And it’s not all because the first home match of my favorite team was postponed due to the ‘Tottenham’ Riots of August 7th.

I can see why the English Premier League is called the toughest in the world. Any number of brilliant players from overseas are forced to play the English way — faster, more physical, and less skilfull, typically pushing the ball and running in hope. Or lofting the ball far upfield, often to no one in particular as a (low) percentage shot. Of the ones who choose to tone down their skills for the English game, many still never adapt and end up labeled failures — until they are sold back to any one of approximately 200 countries where The Beautiful Game is played.

Of those who stay on and “tough it out”, injuries lasting three to five months through the prime of a nine-month season are becoming more and more the norm. Of course, English players too are more prone to injuries in the modern game. There’s only so much punishment week in, week out, that flesh and bone can stand. Even a moderately successful Premier League side will play the required 38 league games, plus a run of up to half a dozen FA Cup games, the same number of Carling Cup games, and maybe up to ten or a dozen games in European competition.

Under these conditions it is no surprise that, for example, Tottenham Hotspur, that rarely faces European competition, has no less than 22 full international players in its squad of 33, quality players from an array of countries — most of whom will spend months on the bench, loaned out to other teams, or injured, without the fans getting to see them. A sighting of these top-quality international players — Spurs fans can name them from Mexico, Russia, Croatia and Brazil — in a Tottenham jersey is about as rare as a 14-year-old virgin.

So having watched the opening games of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal on the first day, from whom great things are expected this season, there was no beauty on display, rarely even any excitement. It was 31 minutes, as told by the commentators before Chelsea’s $100 million superstar (Torres of Spain) lodged his team’s first serious shot at goal. Manchester Utd’s game, that was at least energetic and worthwhile to watch (thanks mainly to their opponents West Bromwich Albion), though I didn’t manage all of it, was won by a fluke goal that ricocheted in off a defender. This most famous football team in the world has many ways of being favored — and will probably win again this year, just because it’s expected. How powerful in the everyday ways of the world is the devious power of suggestion… Thanks be to the gods of football that when they came up against Barcelona a few months ago to play The Beautiful Game it was outside of England and with a non-British referee. Manchester Utd had no answer, just as the England team never does in the World Cup, all things being equal.

A day later I have watched Manchester City’s opening game, to confirm that this ‘ennui’ is a trend in English football. Sure enough, this most expensive team in Europe — from whom such great things are dreamt — in a home game took an hour to score against Swansea City, in their first first match ever in the Premier League. Highlight of the game — the magnificent performance and cat-like reactions of the young Swansea City goalie!!!

PHOTO: The better to ward off increasingly common season-long injuries. The future of English football with its physicality?



In celebrity, film on August 15, 2011 at 9:47 am

This is a new phenomenon — I mean new in showbiz terms, measured against the full 100 years movie stars and mass produced/distributed music have existed. It has only developed in music since the introduction of extremely narrow, dumbed-down sounds in music in 1974 — Europap ruled by Abba, Disco under the Bee Gees, Punk and Reggae — and on screen since the false dawn of Spielberg-Lucas three years later. Among stars, the Stallone-Travolta-Gibson-Schwarzenegger-Madonna era got underway in steps from 1976 to 1984, and has never stopped. Apart from various one-offs like Jessica Lange, Leonardo Di Caprio, Johnny Depp, Ellen Barkin, Sean Penn, Robin Williams, most new stars since have been spin-offs of them.

Who could ever have guessed, or wished, that the three bodybuilders Stallone, Arnie and Madonna would go on decade after decade at the top of the tree in sound bites and column-inches of coverage? — which, let’s face it, defines superstardom these days. Today’s vacuous mentality only requires these celebrities to exist to be celebrated, regardless of what they produce. The same of sell-out compromised ‘artists’ Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, who continue as celebrities while people as musically committed and talented as, say The Doors, The Byrds, Steve Marriott, rose and collapsed as stars in three years? Well over ninety percent of stars of the Twentieth Century were under-appreciated or had their careers curtailed

In the Golden Age of Hollywood only a handful of (invariably male) actors sustained superstar status for anything approaching thirty years: Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Cagney, John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, James Stewart. In casting a film, no producer or director ever mistook a Gable movie for a Cooper movie, or vice versa. All of them brought highly individual characteristics to a role, and were often able to raise ordinary scripts to something watchable. Today’s stars are all interchangeable, except when a film calls for a particular physique, then it can be faked anyway with computer graphics. But for a few, they tend to sink or float with the material, i.e. How many pyrotechnic effects can the budget afford to divert attention from them?

Actors who ooze a mind-numbing sameness of one-dimensional acting in role after role just go on and on: Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, George Clooney, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Samuel L Jackson, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black… In previous times actors had to capture the public’s imagination in their first two or three films or they were OUT — and without aid of special effects and other eye-catching gimmicks.

Rap music is another phenomenon that has carried on for more than a quarter century seemingly without changing, improving, developing into something that requires talent. It’s the ideal do-it-yourself ‘music’ for anyone who can fake a Bronx accent — and I’m speaking from New Zealand, where a Bronx accent comes about as naturally as did a Liverpool accent in the Beatle era.

After numerous box-office failures, repeatedly rumored to face forced retirement, Arnie, Stallone, Eddie Murphy, John Travolta have been given chance after chance to reestablish themselves until something clicks and they’re foisted back on us. The only movie stars I can think of that have fallen from the top echelon (outside of death or retirement) in the past 30 years are Burt Reynolds and Kevin Costner. The occasional tv star like Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, Shelley Long and that red-headed guy in CSI-Miami fails to make it in movies, but not very often. Generally, the rule is whoever is hyped by the promoters makes it.

Older female stars, as much as they gripe about the lack of roles for them, are much better off than their sisters of yesteryear. The Bette Davises and Joan Crawfords were automatically on the downhill past 40, no matter how good they were. Now 55, even 60, need not be a barrier. They might not be able to command $200 million budgets like wookies and hobbits can, but what producer with $30 million on his hands for an important subject would pass up Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jessica Lange, Glenn Close, Emma Thompson, Cher, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Ellen Barkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Maggie Smith or Queen Liz in the lead?

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