Tag Archives: CONFLICT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

Directed by: Spike Lee

Produced by: Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin

Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman etc.

Music by: Terence Blanchard, Marvin Gaye

Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel

Distribution: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has been a prolific actor, director, producer and polemicist for some time now. An ultra-talented and outspoken cinematic artist, he has directed thirty fiction and documentary films since his debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Plus, all manner of promos, commercials, music videos, short films and television series. An energetic firebrand of a director he has made films in many genres and is a risk-taker in subject, theme and style. Whether you agree with what he has to say he is a filmmaker who is always creating situations and characters who must be heard.  

His latest film, Da 5 Bloods (2020), is a timely Netflix film release which encapsulates crime, heist, political, war, drama, Blaxploitation, comedy, documentary, love and experimental film genres. Lee has never been afraid of taking risks and sometimes his films have not worked because of it. However, with BlacKKKlansman (2018) he succeeded in making one of the best films of 2018 and should have won Best Film Oscar in my view. Da 5 Bloods (2020) grabs the power baton of Lee’s prior film and runs with it, delivering an entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, stylish and brilliant genre-blending story full of sustainable socio-political arguments in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.



The narrative begins by establishing four aging Vietnam veterans, portrayed by the magnetic ensemble of Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. They meet in Ho Chi Minh City in order to venture into the jungle and locate the remains of their squad leader. During some very stylised, richly colour-saturated and impactful flashbacks, it is revealed their friend, “Stormin Norman” (the charismatic, Chadwick Boseman), was killed in combat. Furthermore, and this is the money reason they are back in ‘Nam – there is army gold in those hills. Thus, the comrades set out to locate their friend’s body, and the gold, in order to find reparation and hopefully some form of redemption.

The film begins warmly as we enjoy the company of these great actors portraying reunited friends on an old boys outing. However, the film, as it introduces further subplots involving Jean Reno’s suspicious businessmen, Desroche and Delroy Lindo’s Paul crumbling mental state, moves into far darker territory the further the men get into the jungle. Lindo himself gives arguably the best performance of his career as a soldier grieving for his lost friend and desperate to get compensation for the unjust loss of so many lives in Vietnam. His character’s downward mental trajectory is one of the most powerful elements of Da 5 Bloods (2020). No doubt Lindo will be nominated come awards time and so he should be.

The cinematic excellence on show too from Spike Lee and his production crew is to be applauded too. Lee’s box of magic tricks includes: jump cuts, aspect ratio switches, colour saturation, Shakespearean soliloquies, documentary footage, flashbacks, conveyor-belt camera tracks, stills photography, slow-motion, direct address and many other devices. The exceptional cinematography is drenched in an opulent score from Terence Blanchard and the incredible voice of Marvin Gaye. I guess my main reservations about the film would be the elongated running time, with some scenes indulgently over-running. Moreover, there were also a couple of convenient plot coincidences which could have been ironed out. Nonetheless, with Da 5 Bloods (2020), Spike Lee has delivered another bravura mix of genre and socio-political filmmaking which, like classics such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and Apocalypse Now (1979), stare into the dark heart of humanity and find greed, war and death there. Unlike those two films though, Da 5 Bloods (2020), also contains hope, light in the tunnel, and the idea that togetherness brings strength in the face of adversity.

Mark: 9 out 11


NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

Directed by: Gideon Raff

Executive producer(s): Gideon Raff, Sacha Baron Cohen

Producer(s): Alain Goldman

Screenplay by: Gideon Raff & Max Perry based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël – written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Yael Eitan, Nassim Si Ahmed, Moni Moshonov, Alona Tal, Mourad Zaoui, Alexander Siddig, Marc Maurille, Waleed Zuaiter, Arié Elmaleh, Hassam Ghancy, Uri Gavriel etc.

Distribution: Netflix



There’s a wonderful scene in a later episode of The Spy (2019) where Sacha Baron Cohen’s undercover Israeli agent laments his split identity. Taking on a Syrian alter ego in order to infiltrate their military and government infrastructure has meant Eli Cohen has sacrificed his safety and family life to become businessmen, Kamal Amin Thaabet. After years of successfully inveigling his way into the Syrian system, these battling personalities have created a psychological rift. As Eli spills his guts to handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich), he is so conflicted he feels Eli is lost and Kamal has taken over. He no longer knows who he is from one moment to the next. It’s a great scene and, like he does throughout this compelling drama, Baron Cohen excels. Indeed, given he has portrayed different comedic creations over the years, there is startling truth here.

Of course, portraying larger than life, and hilariously offensive characters, such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno marks Sacha Baron Cohen as a provocative comedic genius. His risk-taking-celebrity-baiting-devil’s-advocate-controversial television shows and films have been very successful commercially. Moreover, he has also won many awards in the process. While he was mooted to portray Freddie Mercury at one point, other than Les Miserables (2012) and perhaps Hugo (2011), Baron Cohen is obviously best known for his comedic work. However, the deft and nuanced performance presented here in The Spy (2019), I hope, leads to more dramatic roles for Baron Cohen. Because, he is absolutely outstanding in this split role.


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Following the beats of espionage and undercover police narratives, Gideon Raff, who created the original Israeli drama which would become big TV hit, Homeland, has delivered a gripping and stylish period drama. The 1960’s set era is evoked expertly from the washed-out hues of the scenes set in Israel, to the more colour-drenched sequences set in Syria. Recruited by Mossad, Cohen trains, adopts his new identity as Kamal, and is transplanted to Buenos Aires. There he uses Israel-backed wealth, chutzpah and business acumen to further cement his Syrian cover. Eventually moving to Syria raises the stakes for Cohen/Kamal and the danger levels increase as his contacts become more dangerous and powerful within the Syrian government.

Overall, The Spy (2019), buoyed by Baron Cohen magnetic performance, is highly recommended. Further, I was constantly on edge for Cohen/Kamal’s safety as he transmits messages to Israel via Morse code and photographs exported in furniture out of Syria. Conversely, the process of being a spy is brilliantly developed and presented. While it is based on a true story, I’m sure many liberties have been taken by the writers to condense the years of espionage work Cohen/Kamal achieved for Israel. Similarly, the political complexity of Syria and Israel’s conflict is arguably glossed over in favour of more generic thriller leanings. Having said that, the Syrians are not shown in a negative light, but rather with much believability and humanity. In fact, it’s Cohen’s actions who I questioned more. He seemed to take too many risks and his obsessive nature, while working well for the Israeli cause, ultimately costs him, his identity and his family dearly.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 4 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, , Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Shari Goodhartz, Timothy DeHaas, Randee Russell, Ira Steven Behr, Rene Echevarria etc.

Season 4 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Robert Legato, Tom Benko, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, John De Lancie, Dwight Schultz, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****



My simultaneous retrospective and futuristic journey into space and time continues, and I have finally finished watching Season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s commonly admitted to being one of the most consistently excellent seasons of TNG. I very much enjoyed the mixture of sci-fi concepts, drama, humour and tragedy within the well established formula of the Starship Enterprise boldly exploring various galaxies.

Major themes of the season related to family, honour, love, espionage, war and divided loyalties. While the Wesley Crusher character left for the Starfleet Academy (Wil Wheaton left the show), the majority of our favourite characters remained. Indeed, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) was given more airtime and a marriage subplot. More dramatically the Klingons and Romulans featured heavily as pillars of conflict, with many of the best episodes featuring Romulan deceptions and Klingon brutalism.

Star Trek: The Next Generation continues to be a compelling show to watch and look back on with respect and nostalgia. While I continually enjoyed pretty much all the episodes, here are six of the best ones featuring Picard and his devoted crew.


THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – PART II – EPISODE 1

A continuation of Season 3’s cliff-hanger episode found Picard in the grips of the Borg. Even more thrilling was Riker, Data, La Forge and the rest of the crew have to stop the evil machines from launching a deadly assault on Earth. With dual battles of the mind and in space occurring simultaneously, this episode is memorable in so many ways. Patrick Stewart as Picard gives a fantastically intense performance as he battles the evil within.



FAMILY – EPISODE 2

Gentler in approach than the opening episode, Family, has a brilliantly written script with three very emotionally charged storylines. Wesley Crusher must decide whether to watch a video recorded by his deceased father. Worf is met by his adoptive human parents who seek to console him following his Klingon discommendation. Lastly, a still shaken Picard returns to Earth and reconnects with his brother. The trio of narratives combine to forge a highly satisfying and emotionally charged episode.



REUNION – EPISODE 7

While Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard often garners the acting acclaim with his fine performances, I think Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf always gives great portrayals too. Worf’s conflicted cultural identity – between Klingon and Starfleet – always provides constant moments of explosive and introspective drama. In this episode his former love, K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) returns to oversee, with Picard, the fight for the Klingon leadership. It is revealed that Worf also has a son by K’Ehleyr as the episode delivers excitement, intrigue and tragedy.



THE DRUMHEAD – EPISODE 21

This brilliant episode is unlike many others as the Enterprise crew are not faced with a divisive alien enemy. Instead, Picard and his crew come under Starfleet suspicion from the formidable Admiral Satie. Jean Simmons as Satie gives a memorable acting masterclass, as her over-zealous paranoia causes a witch-hunt culture to poison the court proceedings. I’m a big fan of the courtroom drama and this expertly paced and written episode reminded me of a reverse-engineered version of, The Caine Mutiny (1954).



THE MIND’S EYE – EPISODE 24

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is a very under-rated character within the TNG crew. He’s a brilliant engineer with a likable personality, so when he is “brainwashed” by the Romulans to commit an assassination it was intriguing to see his character go over to the dark side as it were. I especially liked the suspense and plot twists of this episode which paid homage to films such as: A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).



REDEMPTION – PART I – EPISODE 26

This brilliant season culminated with a superlative episode which brought together all of the plots and subplots involving the battles with the Romulans and Klingons. Lt. Worf has a particularly difficult choice between his Starfleet commission and family honour. Ultimately, he chooses to fight for honour and in a wonderful conclusion to the episode joins the Klingon fleet to fight alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. Despite the out-of-the-box temporally strained twist involving, Sela (Denise Crosby), a Tasha Yar Romulan lookalike, the episode was full of dramatic moments and provided a compelling cliff-hanger for the next season.



ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2

Created and written by: Lisa McGee

Directed by: Michael Lennox

Cast: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Siobhan McSweeney, Tommy Tiernan, Ian McElhinney, Kathy Keira Clarke etc.

Original Network: CHANNEL 4 – (Available on ALL 4 and Netflix)

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



There have been many dramas over the years on the stage and screen about the “Troubles” in Ireland. For decades, civil war had divided the Catholic and Protestant people of Ireland, precipitated by the English occupation of Northern Ireland. Many lives were lost in the fighting and the tragedies. It unsurprisingly drew attention from writers, artists and dramatists. Recently though Lisa McGee created and wrote a comedy called Derry Girls, which was also set during this era; and very funny it is too.

Set in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the 1990’s, Derry Girls introduces us to four teenage girls, their families and friends during these difficult times. The main characters are: the vocal and passionate Erin (Saoirse-Monica-Jackson); the voice of reason Clare (Nicola Coughlan), often crude, anti-authoritarian, Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); and detached eccentric Orla (Louise Harland). Joining them is James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid who has to join the girls’ school for fear of what the Irish boys may do.



As well as the British army’s occupation of Derry and the divide between Protestants and Catholics providing a backdrop to the girls’ everyday lives, they also manage to find themselves in loads of other trouble too. Episodes centred around: family squabbles, romance, sex, music, drugs, school projects, religious artefacts and holidays create a relatable familiarity to many episodes. The events and energy evoking the girls’ school days reminded me especially of another Channel Four hit comedy, The Inbetweeners.

While the performances by our lead protagonists are very good, scenes are often stolen by the older supporting cast. Siobhan McSweeney as the deadpan and jaded Sister Michael is really funny. As is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, Tommy Tiernan. His downtrodden Dad tries to keep the peace, but often finds himself at the butt of abuse from Ian McElhinney’s contemptuous remarks. Nonetheless, the humour is always good-natured and not nasty, especially toward faith or authority figures.

Overall, Derry Girls is a fast-paced and very funny situation comedy. It’s well written, acted and directed comedy, with loads of fun and eccentric characters to enjoy. While not overtly political in its representation of the “Troubles”, it uses that situation intelligently as part of the narrative and wider social context. Above all else, however, it shows through many fine comedic episodes, that despite the ongoing divide within the country, humans will strive to overcome adversity through friendship, family, community and humour.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 6 REVIEW – DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 6 REVIEW – DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Vinay Patel

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Leena Dhingra, Amita Suman, Shane Zaza, Hamza Jeetooa etc.

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Doctor Who Demons of the Punjab

This season of Doctor Who is now settling into a strong mix of diversity, narrative simplicity and emotional resonance. I’ve read some negative comments bemoaning the quality of the writing and weakness of the stories in general, however, as Sunday night teatime entertainment goes the show is a success in my view. Indeed, the latest episode, Demons of the Punjab was another involving and fascinating watch.

This week it was Yaz’ character which took centre stage as her curiosity about her grandmother, Umbreen, found the Doctor breaking time-travel protocol. If you’ve seen the Doctor Who episode Father’s Day and film classic Back to the Future (1985) we all know how dangerous it can be for anyone to cross their own timeline. Indeed, while the Doctor has actually crossed her own timeline before many times she should really know better!


Doctor Who India

Thus, Team TARDIS travelled back to 1947 as the Partition of India took place. Here Yaz gets to meet her own family members as her grandmother is about to marry. Of course the path of true love and time travel rarely goes smoothly and the course of history is threatened by Yaz’ presence and her and the Doctor must attempt to not interfere with events. Of course, it would not be a Doctor Who episode without some kind of alien threat and this is provided by the Vajarians; a mystical race who appear where chaos is ensuing across the universe. Their presence adds an air of mystery to the episode, but ultimately they are an emotional subplot to the main conflict relating to how the Partition of India affects Yaz’ family.

Overall, Demons of the Punjab successfully combined political, historical, romance and drama in amidst the usual science fiction concepts. It was especially strong from an emotional perspective. By the end as a family is torn apart by the situation I felt a real sadness in my heart. The division of India by the British Empire was an event which divided people based on their religion and ethnic background and created a huge schism between families, colleagues and friends. Doctor Who merely skims the surface of the impact it would have and the lives affected by the subsequent conflict. Yet, what the episode teaches us is that while we may not be able to change history we must learn from it. We must learn that division and conflict can only lead to heartache and pain.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CONTRASTING DREAMS: REVIEWING THE WORK OF AUTHOR – PHILIP K. DICK

CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK 

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

― Philip K. Dick

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INTRODUCTION

For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.

The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.

With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.

I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works.  How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?

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NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS

Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat.  The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.

The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.

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CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES

**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**

Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is…  both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner.  Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.

Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.

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Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.

Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.

Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise.  Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.    

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

CONCLUSION

Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.

*Article originally appeared on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com*

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DUNKIRK (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Firstly, the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, during World War II was simply put one of the most incredible acts of survival and escape achieved. From the historical articles and documentaries I have read and seen the Allies were on the ropes and pinned back by the German army causing 400,000 beaten, starving and bedraggled human beings to be trapped on the beach waiting desperately for rescue.  It’s no spoiler to state that many brave people enabled that rescue creating that well-known phrase “Dunkirk spirit” to enter our vocabulary.

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Put yourself in that position for even just a minute and the fear drains one cold and feeling so lucky that I will never have to feel that threatened. These are people, young soldiers fighting against a fascistic foe who are backed into a corner and whose lives are about to be extinguished. So, think about that when you wake up in the morning because Christopher Nolan’s epic film, as do many other films, books and television shows about the war, give your life meaning about how lucky we are to not have to live through that. Count your blessings you’re not in a war and the life we live has relative freedom.

These and many more emotions flashed through my being while experiencing the incredible epic that master director Nolan and team have delivered via Dunkirk. Throwing us immediately into the action we are shown the hell of war from three perspectives: land, sea and air. Nolan works from a simpler focus and premise compared to his other works and this makes it all the more powerful an experience. Where films such as Inception (2010), Interstellar (2014) and Memento (2000) had complex, shifting narratives relying on heavy exposition, grand concepts and plot twists, Dunkirk deals with one simple sterling idea: survival!

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I found the whole experience immersive and pulsating from a cinematic perspective. Christopher Nolan, and his production team, have in the: editing, cinematography, composition, colour, acting, framing, sound, score and movement created pure and poetic cinema. From the safety of my comfy seat I felt real danger, peril and claustrophobia. The narratives’ drive comes from fragmented moments of fear and blasts of explosive danger. The impressionistic style was full of scenes containing quiet doom as well as noisy, confusing and fiery terror. Even the smallest situation such as the locking of a cabin door takes on great significance, sending a chill down the spine. As the enemy closes in from above and below and water fills the screen and lungs of our heroes, then death moves in for the kill.

Nolan eschews the solid build-up of traditional characterisation to create emotion through the visual form with a chopping style which serves to heighten the panic. There are so many haunting images as men and boys are stuck behind doors and ships and in boats and underwater and in the air and on moles and piers, compressed, suffocating and unable to breath as bullets, torpedoes and bombs pepper their souls. The coruscating soundscape, montage and hypnotic score from Hans Zimmer only add to the dread within the non-stop action. The dialogue is spare and at times muffled as character development is also sacrificed due to the compressed timeline. Yet, for me, empathy was garnered through verisimilitude, form and style rather than a conventional storytelling and a simplistic three-act transformational arc.

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The characters are archetypes but serve the story very well. Kenneth Branagh’s noble sea Commander brings gravitas while Mark Rylance brings a naturalistic humility to the stalwart and duty bound Mr Dawson. Aneurin Barnard’s silent soldier allows his haunting eyes to dominate, while the pathos emitting from Barry Keoghan’s young George is incredibly powerful. Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, while inexperienced actors, represent the palpable fear any young man would exhibit when faced with certain death. Tom Hardy adds star quality in his role of RAF pilot, Farrier, and the image at the end of his plane burning in the sunset is indelibly etched in my mind.

But, overall the film belongs to the masterful direction of Christopher Nolan who, in delivering 106 minutes of pure dramatic exhilaration demonstrates he is more than just a genre filmmaker but a cinematic artist echoing the works of Sergei Eisenstein, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick within this war and disaster film masterpiece. Dunkirk was a savage defeat for the Allies but it rallied the nation against the enemy and Nolan has produced a film that stands as a worthy tribute to those who lost their lives and those brave people who survived.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #5 – POLITICS

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU #5 – POLITICS

With a General Election coming up I thought I’d diversify my post and continue my Ten Things I Hate About You series which to date includes reasons why I hate: Zach Snyder, the Cinema, Found Footage films and Movie Hair!? So I thought why not write a slightly more serious one about politics.

I don’t propose to be an expert on these things so most of these thoughts are emotional and scattered blasts at the system. It’s just a rant more than anything so please don’t take it too seriously. What with another General Election coming up I feel saturated with all things political and the massive changes to come with the cluster-fuck of BREXIT!  So this is just me letting off steam.

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Politics divides!

In the U.K. we have two main political parties – Labour and the Conservatives – who fight and bitch each other and switch places every four years or so and end up undoing the work the previous party had done. I realise it is a bloody tough thing to run a country but just wonder whether this the best system we have?

I mean why can’t we join together and work as a collective rather than in constant conflict. Can we not put aside our differences to work toward a common goal? The current system pits us AGAINST each other – left versus right and up versus down and black versus white and green versus blue! Divide and rule seems to be the favoured system to maintain the status quo! Could this change or am I just dreaming!?

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Politicians are liars!

This isn’t a simple criticism – this is almost a necessity for survival. Imagine if you had to run the country you have to lie because if you told the truth then you’d probably create wholesale panic across the country. Politics seems to thrive on fear but not hysteria thus lies and manipulations are fed via the politicians and the media to arguably control the populace. What does drive me nuts though is the hypocrisy that ordinary people must live their lives to a certain standard while those in power lie and cheat and get away with it.

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I mean, how many crimes and lies have been committed by politicians and either covered up or, aside from the odd scapegoat, avoided legal incarceration. How many campaign lies have been told in order to gain power? Perhaps they aren’t lies in the first place but naïve beliefs they can change things for the better? Maybe politicians are just all honest and never fiddle their taxes or expenses? Oh, hang on a fleet of pigs just flew by my desk as I type this?

Politics as a necessary evil!

The biggest anxiety I have quite often is that we may have to accept that this is the best system we have!  I mean my life is very good. I have food, a roof over my head and my family are doing okay so I have little to complain about. However, political decisions the world over are doing severe damage to the environment, the poor and the society as a whole. However, there are many good things certain governments achieve such as in the UK. Over time we have achieved a general standard of living which, for the majority is good. Plus, while crime and corruption occur regularly we’re not in the Wild West or back in the Dark Ages. So, the scariest thing could be that politics and democracy do work to some extent. Even with the food banks, austerity, overseas conflicts and Brexit on the horizon maybe this is as good as it gets! Gulp!

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Politics is Big Business!

The system we have seems to favour big business over the working person.  But it’s always been like that I guess. This thing called capitalism is a survival-of-the-fittest-driven-by-greed ideology. Politics is fed by the banks and corporations and vice versa the banks and corporations feed the politicians at one massive trough! Moreover, politics itself is a big industry. Labour and Conservative Parties employ many people and elections create many employment opportunities. But they also receive hefty donations from corporations and Trade Unions. So, is it really an impartial and democratic system? Besides, even the most basic history books will show our society is grounded within a feudal system where peasants tend the land and keep of the Lords and Ladies in the high castles. Thus, politics essentially is global gangsterism and run by the big bosses.

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Power corrupts absolutely!

Well, where do you start!?  Okay, so mostly I think there are many politicians who try to do good but many do not go into it to represent the people. They go into it to represent their own best interests. Because, I believe, the edict that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely to be true!  Hitler is probably the most horrific example of this. So, while I am far from being a fan of politicians I also feel that the system itself is flawed. Of course the democratic system we have has been in place for centuries and even when you change it as the Russians did circa 1919 the idealism and hope the change ultimately gave way to Stalin’s dictatorial regime. So, perhaps it is humanity which is flawed and not simply politics; power is an addiction and as such must be handled very carefully.

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Politicians are Evil!

Whether they set out to be or became that way the likes of: Thatcher, Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Blair, Franco, Mao Zedong, Mugabe, Saddam Hussain, Mussolini, Gaddafi etc. have in their own way made decisions that have caused the death of many, many lives and communities over the years. How they have been able to live with themselves is beyond me as I feel bad if I accidentally step on a bug. My theory is that some politicians and leaders must have the psychopathic tendencies of serial killers, because how they sleep at night is beyond me.

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Politics = War!

How many wars does politics cause?  Well, along with religion, loads of them!  Be it fighting the rise of fascism; attempting to defeat communism; conflict over territory and resources; and the current war against terror are just a fraction of the kind of conflicts we have had in the last century or so. The worst excuse we’ve had lately is when the powers-that-be argue that the war is necessary for humanitarian reasons. We’re constantly fed a diet of misinformation by the puppet-masters and even rallying against it gets ignored; as seen when Blair’s Labour government disregarded over one million protestors to take us into another war in Iraq. What a liberty! Oh, no – it wasn’t liberty but more death and destruction!

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Media saturation!

Oh my God what with Brexit and now the General Election hovering like a giant eagle about to lay a big brown rotten egg over the nation I’ve kind of already had my fill of politicians asking for my vote. Elections are just a big pantomime of lies and big clowns telling us how they’re going to make things better when really we know running a country is all about damage limitation.  I guess we have to have the illusion of democracy as the alternative is anarchy and a possible ‘Mad Max’ future where everyone is fighting over oil and gasoline. Hold on that’s just like now!! Aaarrggghhh!! I just want the election to be over!

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Personality Politics

What really annoys me is when Politicians get defeated at elections or retire and then go on to become celebrities or reality TV stars!!  Because a plethora of insipid excuses for human beings have used their once political power to carve out careers on the television e.g. Ed Balls, Anne Widdicombe, Michael Portillo to name a few have now humanized themselves as reality stars or travelogue celebrities and it sickens me.  It actually worked the other way round with Donald Trump, the billionaire reality TV show businessman has, god help us, somehow become United States President. Stop the world I want to get off!

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Douche and Turd Politics!

South Park has it right all along – all we have when we vote is a choice between a Douche and Turd – so why vote?  Because I am stupid and human I am still optimistic on occasions and maybe I can actually make a difference?! So I will vote as people lost their lives for the vote and democratic change! But who will it be this year: the Giant Douche or the Turd Sandwich? What a choice?!  I guess overall we’re lucky we still have a choice.

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SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL: CULTURAL UPDATE

SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL –  CULTURAL REVIEWS

I’ve been very busy culturally speaking this year and here’s a rundown of the various things that I have experienced in the last month or so.

BOROUGH MARKET – LONDON SE1

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If you’re ever starving and skint (on a weekend) and near Borough Market then go there!  You can live like a King or Queen (of Lichtenstein – don’t get carried away!) on all the samples they give away from: cheese to meat to oils to bread to, curries to burgers to scotch eggs to cakes and so much more.  If you have money and DON’T want to live like a tramp then fill your boots; just don’t wear them after. Shut-up – it’s  a metaphor.   What I’m saying is the food is AMAZING – it’s an epicurean delight!

CONFLICT, TIME, PHOTOGRAPHY – TATE MODERN

This fascinating photographic exhibition showed past and present images of war ordering them as per their chronological occurrence.  It was an intriguing idea and many of the works were very moving indeed bringing home the horror of the multitude of conflicts humans have perpetrated on themselves.

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DEAD RISING 3 – XBOX ONE

From proper war to zombie warfare on the Xbox One, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing this videogame in my down-time.   It’s a stylish no-nonsense kill-fest with a reasonably coherent narrative unlike the mental horror game Evil Within.  Set during 2021 you are mechanic Nick Ramos, an unlikely hero, and you must get out of the quarantine zone (established in Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2) while battling hordes of the undead and the military and SAVE your disparate rag-tag bunch of fellow survivors. It’s bloody brilliant and as you’re a mechanic you get some amazing hybrid weapons and vehicles to massacre zombies with!

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LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – FESTIVAL HALL

Myself and my girlfriend once again went to a follow-up concert entitled: Rachmaninoff: Inside Out featuring the compositions of the great Russian genius. I have to admit that having been to a couple of recitals this is just not my bag. I appreciate the wonderful talent on show and the incredible ability of the orchestra but I find the experience TOO passive and without narrative.  I love classical music in films, radio, via the IPOD and even in adverts but not in the live environment. Weird!

THE OFFICE – AN AMERICAN WORKPLACE – FINAL SEASONS

After my comedy binges of South Park and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia in the last couple of years I set about watching all 200+ episodes of this amazing ensemble comedy giant starring Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson my favourite character Dwight K. Schrute. Of course, it used the British comedy classic as a springboard but for pretty much most of the episodes it was just gloriously funny. I think it peaked around Season 7 and lost something when Michael Scott left but the final seasons still had some wonderful times and gags and events. It was all wrapped up with many happy endings by the finale and will stand as one of the consistently great comedies of our time, in my opinion.

SPANDAU BALLET,  BRIGHTON CENTRE

To cut a long story short I went to see Spandau Ballet in concert in Brighton. No, I haven’t lost my mind because I went as a new romantic gesture for my girlfriend. I basically took one for the team guys! But you know what they were absolutely fantastic and a testament to the professionalism and talent of Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp, Tony Hadley, John Keeble, Steve Norman et al that they delivered a powerful show full of hits from their illustrious past. I personally prefer their early Depeche Mode synthy stuff over their slushy ballads but overall it was a highly entertaining concert.

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE SEASON 3 (DVD)

Preaching to the converted here but if you like Stewart Lee’s comedy then I’m sure you’ve seen this DVD of his 3rd season for the BBC. Comedy Vehicle 3  mixes incredible stand-up rants, opinions and intellectual ideas and routines with fine sketches/short films; all interspersed with Lee verbally sparring with another comedy legend Chris Morris.  32-Carat Comedy Gold!

A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE – WYNDHAM THEATRE

**SOME SPOILERS**

Oh this was just terrifically meaty drama.  I haven’t been to the theatre much in recent years but I was right in the heartland of culture here with a sinewy, socio-familial-gut-wrenching story driven by jealousy, self-destruction, masculinity-in-crisis, lust etc.

The setting is New York, 1955, and Arthur Miller’s emotionally complex script shadows Eddie Carbone, a longshoremen at the docks, as he comes to terms with the chaos of family life, hiding immigrant ‘cousins’ from overseas, and the fact his adopted ‘daughter’ is fast growing into a woman.  As Carbone attempt to control those around him his family are pushed further and further away until one act of treachery leaves him stranded socially and politically.  Mark Strong is incredible as the docker Carbone as he sees all he loves slip from his grasp and he is ably supported by Nicola Walker who plays his wife.

The sparse set made me feel like I’d walked into an intimate, yet  souped-up rehearsal and the ending was something to behold as the family literally go to hell in the final moments.  The play, not surprisingly,  has just won Olivier Awards for acting and direction by Ivo Van Hove.