Category Archives: Reviews

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Before Mid-life

Cinema romance rarely gets a chance to play out as naturally and completely as in the case of Richard Linklater’s “Before…” series. We’ve now spent 19 years with Celine and Jesse (played again by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), getting to know them again and again, at different stages of their lives. Each of those films has been an unique entry. The first part introduces you to the youthful idealism, and the second film deals with slight disillusionment and the revisionist quality of time. At that stage we were still exploring a concept of unrequited love. Which makes Before Midnight particularly interesting, for the actual romance is at its very heart.

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Jingo All the Way

Propaganda in Hollywood blockbusters isn’t the most sophisticated beast. The adulation of the military; extolling the virtues of “might makes right” while breaking the rules to “get the job done”; the simplistic deliniation of good guys (the Americans, of course) and bad guys (whichever target the Empire has its sights on at the time, and whose people it wishes to dehumanize) – these tropes are as instantly recognizable as the stars on the screen.

One of Hollywood’s great directors who could be said to have defined what it was to be American more than any other film maker, John Ford, became a top advisor to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, forerunner to the CIA) following World War 2. 50 years later and the relationship between Hollywood and the American military and intelligence establishment has become closer and more blatant than ever, with their direct involvement in movies like Zero Dark Thirty about as subtle as a Die Hard explosion.

This year’s summer blockbusters are proving to be no exception – Olympus Has Fallen ranks as one of the most egregious examples of Hollywood propaganda lighting up the big screen.

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Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue (Full Album)

With the recent release of Bibio’s latest album Silver Wilkinson I thought I’d revisit an earlier release, Ambivalent Avenue. If there’s one word which sums up Stephen Wilkinson’s style it’s eclectic – here is a producer equally comfortable with experimental electronica (the kind Warp Records have a well earned reputation for releasing) as he is with laid back guitar-inflected retro songs.

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Stoker and the Curse of Hollywood

Well it seems as if my optimism over the release of Park Chan-Wook’s first American feature film Stoker was ill-founded, and that the Vengeance trilogy writer-director has fallen prey to the curse of Hollywood. He isn’t the first high-calibre Asian director to be courted by Hollywood only to produce sub-par material, and I’m sure he won’t be the last.

John Woo went from making elegaic, hyper-stylized action cinema, injected with a sense of Jean-Pierre Melville’s brooding existentialism to bland action star vehicles with all the charisma of a car advert (although I’ll put my hands up and admit to Hard Target being something of a guilty pleasure – if only for Van Damme’s exceptional mullet).

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A Triple Bill of Deception

Sometimes you watch something with a premise so implausible, so outrageous it has to be true. Some things remind you of the reality of the human condition: our willingness to accept and live lies; the ease with which we can be deceived and manipulated even when everything points to a con. It is hard to say whether this psychological trait is a product of gullibility and stupidity. Perhaps it is neither – perhaps it says more about our readiness to accept things at face value based on the assumption that people are basically decent and wouldn’t tell such obvious lies. More than a few people have found out the hard way the naïveté of this outlook, as the documentaries The Imposter and Catfish and the film based on a true story Compliance clearly show.

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Searching For Fingerprints of the Gods

A great venue for a music festival – or perhaps the occasional weird occult ritual…

I visited Luxor back in 2005. The power and grandiosity of the ancient temples and tombs, covered in a mass of hieroglyphics, was impossible to deny, barely diminished by either the passage of time or the hordes of tourists who’s presence seems completely contrary to the air of reverence implied by the immense structures. My fellow sightseers and I wandered through row upon row of huge columns at Luxor Temple, illuminated by spotlights and the constant flash of cameras, necks craned trying to grasp the scale of the construction. Even the American boy by my side in Tutankhamun’s tomb, pointing up at the hieroglyphics and observing to his parents, “Wow! It looks like loads of things and stuff!” did little to temper the air of majesty. We’ve all seen the photographs in school textbooks and endless footage on National Geographic and History Channel documentaries, but none of it compares to actually being there, contemplating how the people in this ancient civilization lived.

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Zero Dark Thirty or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Torture

During the era of George Bush and the increasingly widespread use of torture by the CIA and their associates, often at secretive blacksites located on the soil of repressive regimes, the debate as to the effectiveness of torture raged throughout the media. As much as the supporters of the Bush administration and others – predominantly on the right – remained staunch advocates of torture (or “enhanced interrogation” as it became euphemistically known), the reality remained clear: torture doesn’t work.

Not that this fact was problemmatic for the supporters of the use of torture working in America’s entertainment industry – Jack Bauer tortured his way through episode after episode of 24 and found it to be hugely effective. Now, hot off her Oscar-winning success with US military recruitment video The Hurt Locker, Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty manages to serve up yet another ringing Hollywood endorsement for torture in a film that claims to be “faithful to the facts”, “truthful”, “journalistic”, and “living history” even as it wilfully distorts the facts.

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