With Bin Laden dead and a Presidential election imminent, is it time to drop costly and invasive airport security?


Without wishing to be too dramatic, it seems clear that the world is entering a phase of transition between eras. The parameters of a post-9/11 world are fading and blurring. Osama Bin Laden, the symbolic figurehead of the terrorist threat, is dead and (controversially) buried. A huge financial crisis has sparked a political shift towards liberal, hands-off and most crucially, cheaper government. Things that looked essential in 2001, such as a military presence in Afghanistan, are far harder to justify in 2012. Barack Obama’s first term has been one of stepping back in terms of foreign relations, in an attempt to cool America’s volatile image, despite rising tensions in the Middle East.

Yet domestically Obama has struggled to deliver the hope and change he promised in 2008. He has failed to erase many of the reactionary creations of the Bush administration. People remain detained on dubious legal grounds at Guantanamo Bay, despite the President’s election promises to the contrary. His pledges on greener energy have fallen short. Ambitious and divisive bills on health care and the economy have been sanitised by the American political system. And as governments across the globe tighten their budgets, Obama’s administration has come under increasing attack for spending too much and failing to deal with waste.

One striking example of a wasteful post-9/11 hangover, that needs a rethink in a changing world, is the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. The logic behind this agency was clear back in 2001. The hijacks that enabled the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York represented a massive security breach. Perhaps what was needed, especially in a country as busy and powerful as the US, was a coordinated national approach to airport security. Private companies with loyalties to specific airlines might take their eyes off the ball, or fail to communicate with the authorities in time in the case of an emergency.

Anyone who has been on a flight since 2001 knows about the restrictions now in place. Adapting your luggage for security is a chore, but one most of us have grudgingly accepted. Harder to accept, however, are invasive procedures and the failure of such security measures. In Britain, the introduction of scans that render you practically naked on a screen caused a media storm. There have been high profile security lapses on both sides of the Atlantic, whether it be something slipping through as cargo, or someone smuggling a knife on board.

There are always going to be two sides to this debate. Some will argue that the security measures are ridiculous infringements on personal liberty, which also cost millions, if not billions, of dollars and pounds. Others will say that whilst the threat appears to be diminishing, it will only return if security is seen to lessen in any way. But in America at least, there appears to be a third, middle way emerging. Scrap the TSA, which is riddled with flaws and bureaucratic clutter, and bring in cheaper private companies.

The benefits of one agency coordinating a national approach, are perhaps outweighed by the TSA’s failures. They are shockingly detailed in this infographic from OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com.

TSA Waste
Created by: OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com

What are your thoughts? Do you trust private companies to protect you? Do we even need as many checks anymore?

Hours away from certain Oscar glory The Artist remains underappreciated and misunderstood


(Published over at Flickering Myth on Oscar night)

The infamous and incomparable Academy Awards are about to launch their annual global invasion. Nothing will be able to resist the onslaught. Facebook and Twitter will be colonised, blogs occupied and living rooms stormed. Of course, every year, one film is promoted to lead the assault by a mixture of critical buzz, hype and hyperbole. This year The Artist, an outside bet when it emerged on the festival circuit way back in 2011, leads the charge for golden Oscar statuettes. And yet everyone remains baffled by it.

For a throwback to yesteryear The Artist has been pretty controversial, certainly a lot more than last year’s juggernaut, The King’s Speech. There was the furore surrounding the cinemagoers who asked for their money back when they discovered that the film was silent. Then, more recently, there have been the attacks on The Artist’s Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Ignorant sceptics scoffed at the irony of a film without dialogue getting the chance to win recognition for its script. Soon their infectious dribble was plastered all over the web, in the form of tiresome tirades too numerous and forceful to argue with.

The Artist’s script, written by its director Michel Hazanavicius, is in my view the most deserving winner in its category at tonight’s ceremony. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’s screenplay, in the adapted category, is in some ways a greater achievement because of the way it condenses the original novel. But the idea that because The Artist is silent it does not tell a compelling story or craft magical moments is plainly ludicrous. There is far more to a screenplay than dialogue, as most film fans will know. Its main competitors for original screenplay are crude (Bridesmaids) or sporadically charming (Midnight in Paris), and not that original.

You might say that The Artist is not at all original. Before I saw it I suspected it to be an exercise in nostalgia, pandering to critics pining for Hollywood’s golden age. After you’ve seen it, you know that the film does a lot more than look back charmingly into the past. It does copy classics from the past with its gimmicks, flourishes and rise and fall structure. But it has its own completely unique perspective. The frustrating thing for fans of the film is that still, on Oscar day itself, The Artist is talked about only in terms of charm, musicality and entertainment.

On Friday Lisa Allardice posted to the books blog of The Guardian, inspired by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris to speculate about which literary era would be the best to travel back in time to. In her introduction however a casual reference to The Artist irritated me. She says that in “direct contrast” to The Artist, Midnight in Paris is all about words. The thing that most surprised me after seeing The Artist was how much it is completely about words and language, despite being silent.

Hazanavicius uses his film’s modern day vantage point to look at the lost era of silent cinema, but he also uses silent movies to look at communication in the present day. Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin struggles throughout the story to express himself; as a professional, a lover and an artist. The scene where sounds suddenly burst into Valentin’s dreams is a perfect example of both this commentary on the saturation of modern day culture and the analysis of one character’s battle with the human condition.

The Artist is delightfully sweet, endearing and moving. I know this, even now, because as I write I am listening to tracks from Ludovic Bource’s sublime soundtrack. However, it is also about the limits and boundaries of language, what it can and cannot do. It is about much more than people give it credit for and there are many more meanings to discover from its simple story. It is worth bearing this in mind as its glamorous tidal wave washes away the competition at tonight’s Oscars. It’s the most interesting winner in years.

The Woman in Black


Daniel Radcliffe takes some unexpectedly large strides towards banishing the ghost of the Potter franchise from his CV, with this taut and traditional thriller from horror studio Hammer. The Woman in Black is absorbing, atmospheric and absolutely terrifying.

I looked at the trailer for The Woman in Black for X-Media Online last year. Aside from assaulting Radcliffe’s new project with pathetic Potter puns, I decided that, on the basis of the conventional trailer, cinemagoers were unlikely to be falling off their seats in terror on its release. How wrong I was. There is a chunk of The Woman in Black’s running time, perhaps half an hour in length, which consists of nothing but back to back scares in a big haunted house. I’m not sure precisely how long this section of the film was because I was writhing in my seat, reduced to a nervous wreck by the tension.

The trailer was so underwhelming because the story seemed so familiar. The empty house with ghosts lurking in the shadows has been done to death (pardon the pun). It’s impressive then that The Woman in Black hits all the right scary notes. Other reviews have argued that the film is ‘jumpy’ rather than frightening. There are certainly shocks aplenty via the usual tricks of reflections and whatnot, but these moments are elevated beyond a mere ‘jump’ by the quality of the execution and the intrigue of the story.

Gradually Radcliffe’s character, a lawyer called Kipps fighting for his job, begins to piece together the web of betrayal in the past of Eel Marsh house, eerily cut off from the nearest village by a causeway. Strange and tragic goings on start to connect around one woman’s dark and depressing life, as hysteria and hostility towards Kipps escalates in the village. The chilling scares are so unsettling because of their power to disturb as well as shock. The opening scene of the film hones in on creepy period details, like the faces of dolls, before three little girls do something inexplicable.

It’s perhaps not surprising that The Woman in Black doesn’t disappoint with its gripping story, given its pedigree on the page and stage. It’s a reminder that a simple tale, well told, can be cinematic gold, with the film comfortably beating The Muppets to top the box office. You could argue that Radcliffe has little to do, besides run around and look confused. But he does what’s required of him well and surprisingly convinces as a father (to an impossibly cute child actor). At the climax of the film we care about their fate and feel satisfyingly high on horror.

Birdsong: Part Two


The concluding part of the BBC’s grand adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong struck some emotional chords but ultimately felt like a sanitised version of the book’s raw honesty.

This adaptation has been swamped with praise from virtually all corners. It has a lot going for it, with fresh faced young leads making a name for themselves in Hollywood, lavish locations and high production standards. But for some reason I never really embraced it as I would have liked to.

Silly little things irritated me. For example the sun drenched trenches. We had to wait thirty four minutes for some appropriately miserable rain in this second episode and it turned out to be nothing more than a slight shower. There was a similar lack of precipitation in the first half. Granted the Somme offensive took place in the summer but Birdsong as a whole tracks Stephen’s progress through the entire war. More than the lack of rain, it was the constantly bright blue sky that unsettled me. I’m sure the outlook didn’t appear quite so sunny to the men.

Predictably the Somme sequences reined in the scale of horror and death presented in the book, although it’s impossible to tell whether this was an artistic choice or one necessitated by a lack of extras or BBC sensibilities. The setup to the battle worked well and I felt a truly moving attachment to the story for the first time, although this was largely squandered by the underwhelming brevity of the “big push” itself.

The key scenes with Jack Firebrace and Isabelle that followed were also disappointing in one way or another, meaning that the story fizzled out somewhat for me. However thanks to impressive period detail and a mostly assured performance from Eddie Redmayne Birdsong remained a worthwhile watch. In the end my hazy, idealised recollections of the book hindered my enjoyment of the story but there was little wrong with it overall.

Birdsong: Part One


Exeter graduate Abi Morgan has hit the big time of late, penning scripts for a number of high profile projects, with mixed success. In my view the dementia driven structure of The Iron Lady didn’t work at all, leaving Meryl Streep’s eerily accurate portrayal of Britain’s only female Prime Minister as the film’s only saving grace. Shame, her collaboration with Steve McQueen, missed out on Oscar nominations despite significant critical buzz. The Hour, set in a BBC newsroom covering the Suez crisis, was enjoyable but also not without fault.

She continues her preoccupation with the past and narratives that flash backwards and forwards in time with a long awaited adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ bestselling Birdsong. Her task in bringing to life one of modern literature’s most talked about and analysed books was daunting. The filth of the battlefield and an illicit affair had to be conveyed in equal measure, and in a manner fit for broadcast on the BBC. A balance had to be struck between the horror of war and the urgent beauty of love. The book is so adored by many because it got the mix right and reconfigured the way we think about the trenches with a hefty dose of humanity.

That said the book was not perfect. Morgan wisely chops away completely, as a previous stage adaptation also did, the sections where a modern day granddaughter pieces together the story of her war hero ancestor.  The action of the plot in general is accelerated and streamlined. But inevitably something essential that gave the novel such emotional resonance is lost.

Morgan chooses to flit between the pre-war and battle scenes of the book. By the time we reached the trenches in the novel we were already immersed in Stephen Wraysford’s life but here we do not care enough when we first see him onscreen, in inexplicably sun baked trenches, already a hardened veteran. Eddie Redmayne is convincing as a soldier, less so as a lover. Harrowing at times, touching at others, this adaptation didn’t seduce me in the pre-war scenes of intense romance.

The Artist


After a great night at the Golden Globes this homage to a bygone era of cinema looks set to cement its position as the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars. But is its charge for award season glory based upon anything more than charm and nostalgia?

When a film has been hyped as enthusiastically as The Artist, nagging doubts and suspicions are always likely in the minds of those of us forced to wait for its general release. We brace ourselves for disappointment. No other outcome seems possible once the high minded critics have finished hoisting our expectations into the heavens, so we look to cushion the fall. At least I do, but then I might be overly cynical.

The subject matter and execution of The Artist added another ingredient to the usual pre-release hype however. It’s the story of George Valentin, a silent movie star, toppled by talkies. In one of the opening scenes the lost magic of cinema, and the lost mystique and glamour of celebrity, is perfectly illustrated at the premiere of Valentin’s latest movie. At the end of the screening he bursts onto the stage, hogging the limelight to toy with the rapt attentions of his audience. This is show business, as it used to be. At it’s thrilling best.

Some critics lust with every cell in their body to be transported back to this time of cinematic birth and discovery. Many regularly rant at the failures of the modern film industry. Few, in short, are going to be able to resist a well executed slice of nostalgia pie. It’s always hard to keep a balanced perspective before seeing a film with rave reviews. But The Artist is a film about Hollywood’s golden age, praised by hordes of reviewers who have longed for a second coming of this filmic Eden for their whole lives.

There may well be good reasons to be wary of The Artist’s gimmicks and charms then. However the reviews are right to say that most of the visual flourishes are irresistible, even and perhaps especially, the infamous cute dog. The wordless acting is touching as well as funny. The Golden Globe winning music has an impressive range and playfulness. Best of all, for me, was that the story had far more to say than a nostalgic and whimsical sigh. It grapples with emotional connection, the limits of language and purpose. Valentin’s gloomy fall from grace is far more than homage, but it isn’t automatically Oscar worthy either.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

DVD Review: Daytime Drinking


Daytime Drinking is a surreal Korean comedy following Jin, an average Joe who has just been dumped by his girlfriend. The film begins with Jin and his friends gathered around a table, with everyone in tipsy hysterics. Everyone except Jin, obviously. This prompts his friends to propose an impromptu trip to the mountains, during which they intend to get drunks as a skunk, make merry and forget about women.

Obviously things go awry for poor old Jin. After drinking into the night, he wakes up on an empty bus in the mountains. His friends remain unconscious back in Seoul. After confusedly stumbling around town he attempts to walk to his friend-of-a-friend’s guesthouse in the middle of nowhere. He gets there, tortured by cold, only to get a chilly reception from an owner he was told would cook for him and ensure his every comfort.

It’s here, at the less than welcoming guesthouse, that Jin stumbles upon his first female distraction of the trip. She is enigmatic, asking Jin for a cigarette, musing how they are both staying there alone, before disappearing bluntly into her room. Jin is left standing awkwardly. Many of the film’s more humorous moments are like this and are fuelled by Jin’s embarrassment. It does not feel as if we are laughing at Jin’s ineptitude however, merely people treating him cruelly, which is strangely unsettling. In any case there are few moments actually worthy of a laugh. When he goes to her room later with a bottle of wine, after summoning the courage from somewhere within his heartbroken self, a man answers the door.

This same girl continues to crop up as Jin lurches from one bad situation to another, digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble. The characters he meets tend to be more colourful and partially more interesting than Jin’s own self pitying, panicky state. Ultimately though the film seems to boil down to kicking a man while he’s down being funny and for the most part lacks the humanity to pull this off.

DVD Review: Moss


No one likes disappointing a friend. I’m sure “stop letting friends down” or “make more time for people I care about” will rank highly amongst the more realistic New Year’s resolutions made this January. Imagine my irritation then when, just days into this New Year, a film of my choosing was a source of both disappointment and bafflement as I met a friend for the last time in at least weeks, perhaps months.

There’s nothing quite like sharing fear. Love might come close, maybe, but fear is much easier to talk about afterwards and grows funnier with hindsight, whilst love’s sadness merely mellows with age. What could be better then, than a horror film send off? Where better to have it than a dark, secluded, silent spot in the wind battered countryside? What better concept for the story than a weird mix of mysterious murderers, seeking salvation from their sins in the supernatural, founding an isolated community and terrorising an outsider to protect their secrets?

I was anticipating a creepy, jumpy thrill ride through shocks and secrets of unspeakable evil. Or something to that effect. Moss is a Korean film and I was therefore expecting it to be free of any British sensibility or pretentious European limitations. I’d heard Korean horror was something to be genuinely feared and was expecting a double barrelled fright fest.

Instead I’m not quite sure what it was we got. It was certainly long. Only just less than 3 hours long, in fact. Moments in the film were clearly intended to be terrifying but I think that Moss’s marketing campaign, which places it firmly in the genre of horror, was misguided to the say the least. But then again I’m not sure what else to call it. The plot is evidently meant to be a complex web of revelations and reverses but I was left, at the end of the marathon runtime, feeling like I’d learnt nothing new. If this is a mystery there is precious little to start with and no more by the end.

The drawn out story follows Yu, who arrives in a remote community after his estranged father (also called Yu) suddenly dies. We learn through regular flashbacks that the older Yu had some sort of spiritual gift, which maverick Detective Cheon decided to harness in order to rehabilitate killers. For young Yu, arriving in an odd and small village of eccentrics, doubts continue to hang over the nature of his father’s death. Did he fall from the land of the living or was he pushed? What exactly was his father doing in the middle of nowhere with this man called Cheon, who everyone appears to worship despite an aura of danger surrounding him?

Moss meanders through themes as diverse as corruption and rape, spirituality and bureaucracy. It never succeeds as a horror because the monsters are in plain sight from the start, with most of them succeeding only at being hilariously inept. One character in particular is so bumbling that had the script tossed him a few innuendos we could have been watching “Carry On Korean Conspiracy”. The lighting undermines any potentially scary moment, even when the soundtrack is trying its hardest to initiate some jitters. The dialogue, at least when rendered as English subtitles, is expositional, dull and far from conducive to horror.

Moss fails to manage a single scare and even more importantly as the story drags endlessly on; it never makes you care either.

Why New Year’s Eve is not the worst film of all time…


What did you get up to on New Year’s Eve? Fireworks are standard fare on the 31st of December and I bet you at least heard a few, even if you were trying to avoid the garish explosions of tinsel in the sky. Booze is another requirement of the occasion; so that even those staying in alone to watch Big Ben on the telly end up cracking open the wine. Talking of Big Ben, there’s the countdown, which for 60 seconds binds us all together in dreary and slurred chanting. And of course there’s the kiss, or lack of, which makes or breaks your evening and sets the tone for the year ahead.

How many of you went to see New Year’s Eve on New Year’s Eve? I’d be surprised if any of you did and even more shocked if you’d heard some snippet of positive press to tempt you to the theatre. A carbon copy of his previous ensemble effort Valentine’s Day, Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall’s film follows the intersecting lives of a clutch of Hollywood’s biggest stars in New York City. It’s packed full of product placement, cheesy messages of hope and not a lot else, which has led to a unanimous selection of one star reviews relegating it to the lower leagues at the box office.

Critical legend Roger Ebert calls the film a “dreary plod” and bemoans its shameless commercialization, which even goes so far as to advertise other films, namely Sherlock Holmes 2, in the final shot. Robbie Collin describes the “utter ghastliness” of seeing New Year’s Eve, whilst Peter Bradshaw rants that post screening his colleagues had to wrestle a razor from his throat. On Rotten Tomatoes it appears to have done well to muster its measly 7% rating.

I don’t disagree with the charges levelled against New Year’s Eve. The big names on show, from Robert De Niro to Katherine Heigl, are clearly on uninterested autopilot. Zac Efron’s plotline seems to exist purely to showcase the wonders of New York to the world and suggest that life is better there, regardless of income or background. The dialogue is atrociously bad and the whole concept painfully predictable. New Year’s Eve is guilty as charged. But Xan Brooks of the Guardian and others have dared to label New Year’s Eve the worst film ever made.

Here I do disagree. I saw New Year’s Eve earlier this week with subterranean expectations. I emerged feeling confused and pleasantly surprised. Let me be clear, I’m absolutely not saying that New Year’s Eve is a good film in any way, shape or form. It is undoubtedly utter rubbish. But whilst it is the worst kind of junk food, sensibly plastered with serious health warnings, it can also be strangely satisfying. New Year’s Eve made me feel something. It tapped into personal memories of mine to provoke an emotional response.

This does not mean there is the slightest sprinkling of quality in the film and I’m aware I’ve been duped into sentimentality by a money making juggernaut. Some might say I should have resisted in order to combat the disgusting Hollywood culture of our time. I feel just as passionately as many of this country’s finest critics who have slammed the film that new voices ought to be heard in cinema, as opposed to this formulaic soup designed to generate dollar signs.

However I think critics that lazily label New Year’s Eve as the worst film ever are being dishonest. Some may genuinely have never disliked a film quite as much. Others must surely be snobbishly concealing their own emotional reactions or at least remaining ignorant of their audience’s views. Yes point out a film’s flaws, yes make the case for more worthwhile productions in future. But do not take a blinkered, negative view for fear of raising your head above the parapet and admitting that yes, actually, I did like something about New Year’s Eve.

2011 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,400 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.