Thursday, November 29, 2012

Skyfall - a review and a reviewer's unease

I watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, recently with my cinebuddy, Connor (shout out to him!). I know the critics seem to have been lining up to praise it to the rafters, but it left me feeling a real sense of unease.

***From here on in there will be spoilers, because this is a critique***

Technically and cinematically, there's not much to criticise, but I don't want to do that thing of saying how well it was made and then raise a few queries about the content. Instead, I think that's part of the problem with films, people see the stunts, and the nicely framed, well-lit scenes and it stops them thinking about what they are really watching.

Bond has become an antihero. An alcoholic, remorseless killing machine, who describes his employment as murder. He is so emotionless in this film he may as well be a replicant. People criticise Daniel Craig's woodenness, but alternatively, he is playing a character who has gone so far through trauma he has emerged on the other side of insanity.

Bond has always been a rogue, but in this film his character is truly amoral. He promises to save a beautiful woman who has been used as a sex object since childhood, but then doesn't even flinch when she is brutally executed in front of him, mere seconds before the cavalry show up to rescue them.

Along the way Bond assumes she wants to have sex with him and joins her in a shower. It's not exactly non-consensual, but this scene turns Bond into another person to use her sexually. She obviously didn't mean anything to him, even if as the man who promised to save her, he meant something to her. Krish Kandiah has pointed out how uncomfortable this made him feel. And it should make us feel uncomfortable, otherwise we are ourselves halfway to reducing women to vessels for sex.

I found the relationship with 'M' as disturbing. After she admits that she handed over the one-time spy who is now the 'villain' of the piece to another country's secret police, who tortured him to the point where he tried to kill himself, Bond says nothing. There is no judgement made of M's actions. She shows no remorse for betraying someone else's trust.

What are we meant to make of that? The film doesn't ask whether M deserved to be targeted for revenge. It seems to imply that doing something wicked for the greater good is acceptable, but I don't buy that. Betrayal is always betrayal, just as murder is always murder. Killing in the name of the greater good is just as morally reprehensible as killing in the name of God, profits or 'the people'.

So, that underpinning ethic left me feeling very uneasy. And then, there's Bond himself. When he returns to London M asks him where he's been and he says 'Enjoying death'. But that seemed to ring hollow. We'd seen his preceding activities and he looked to not be enjoying himself at all.

For me, it would have been much more satisfying if he had been reintroduced playing football and bantering with some new found mates on a Brazilian beach rather than trying to outdrink a scorpion (or whatever that was). Then he would hear about the bombing in a copacabana sports bar surrounded by rejoicing team-mates who loved the fact he'd just scored the winning goal over their fierce rivals, and realising that he had to leave this new life behind to go back to save Blighty again. That would be a heroic giving up of an 'enjoyable afterlife'.

But, no. The real reason he went back was because he had nothing else to do in his life, but gun up and start killing again. He doesn't seem bothered that M lied to him about his fitness for duty - another betrayal in M's catalogue of crimes against her own agents. He doesn't care about his own safety because he doesn't care if he lives or dies.

And that. ultimately is what depressed me most, that we are supposed to root for a man who is despairing. There is nothing heroic about nihilistic self-destruction. It is the ultimate form of narcissism - to declaim that there is nothing worth loving in the world, including yourself. And I just couldn't bring myself to buy in to that bleak view of the universe.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cardiff South & Penarth By-Election - it's polling day!

Just a quick catch-up. Since my last review round up of all the people standing, we have had even more electoral communications, from the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, and Labour.

The Conservatives leaflet didn't really say anything new, but it does include a photo of the candidate looking gormlessly star-struck shaking David Cameron's hand. Bit of a vote turn-off.

The Liberal Democrats have definitely found their theme - their candidate lives LOCALLY, is a LOCAL activist, is for LOCAL people and LOCAL businesses and so on. The huge emphasis on local-ness is at least a bit of a relief from the relentless badmouthing of Labour. The LD's sound like an obsessed, embittered ex trying to turn you against their former partner the way they go on. Also, they have no pictures of Nick Clegg, but they do have one of Gordon Brown who is apparently to blame for everything.

The Labour leaflet is a bit run of the mill, but the guy who knocked on my door was amusing. "Hi I'm Brian," he said, handing me a leaflet. "Are you thinking of voting Labour." I was non-committal. Then he earnestly told me what a good candidate the Labour guy was before adding, "Sorry, I'm a bit biased. I'm his dad."

Well, fair enough. I'd like to think my dad would be a bit biased if he was canvassing for me. Brian seemed a nice guy and he was out in the dark and the cold asking people to vote for his son. And, sentimentalist that I am, I was impressed by that.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The most disturbing 'If' in advertising

Cathy pointed this out to me yesterday. An advert for Aptamil came on and she said 'listen for the most disturbing sentence on an advert.'

The Narrator starts talking as a woman brestfeeds her baby... "There's nothing better than breast milk for your baby. But if you decide to move on, then use Aptamil follow-on milk." (is the general gist of the ad).

The problem is the 'If'. 'If you choose to move on...' - Does anyone choose not to? Surely the right word here is 'When you move on...'

Monday, November 12, 2012

An alternative voting system

A conversation I had with Cathy after reviewing the electoral bumf that came through the door...

Me: "It looks like the BNP aren't standing this year."

Cathy: "Yay! I don't have to vote."

Me: "But UKIP are..."

Cathy: "Awww. Now I have to vote."

Just to clarify - it's not that Cathy won't vote unless there's a right wing party to vote for. Quite the opposite. Not being a fan of any of the main parties, she feels it's important to vote for someone other than the people she really doesn't like. She's voting to keep the BNP out.

Which leads to an interesting idea. What if you don't have a preferred candidate but there are some people you definitely do NOT want to win? Would more people get involved in voting if we had the choice on the ballot paper of marking the candidates we hated the most, even if we felt there was nobody we actually wanted to vote for?

That would surely temper some of the politicians' arrogance as well. It's not that you were considered the best, you're just the least hated.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Candidates contact details put to the test

I tweeted yesterday's blog post and got a tweet back from Luke Nicholas, the Plaid candidate. I was impressed, because I'd tagged all three parties who put a Twitter handle on their bumf and he was the only one to reply directly. He also retweeted it, which I guess he would as Plaid topped my rating system.

Ashley Govier, representing Labour, also retweeted it, which was brave as I didn't rate Labour very highly. I also got a cynical anonymous comment on the blog saying that minority parties can promise the world because they know they won't have to deliver. That's one way of looking at it. Or you could say mainstream party candidates make vague promises so that they don't have to deliver anything if they get elected. Tomayto, tomarto.

I'm going to award some bonus points for interaction, because if you're going to have contact details on your stuff, then you should respond when people use them. In the past I emailed people and awarded bonus points if they got back to me. I haven't got time to do that, so we're going to go for the social media bonus points, adding +1 for an interaction. That takes Labour up above the Lib Dems in my ratings and extends Plaid's lead at the top.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's a by-election this week

After many years my local MP Alun Michael is waving bye bye to his constituency as he bids to become the new Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales. So, it's a rare event - a by-election in Cardiff this week. And that means the Pantperthog to Knockando tradition of rating the candidates based on the stuff they've stuck through my letter box.

This time I'm going to rate them according to the number of pieces of post through the door and the number of definite promises they make, and the candidates contactability (all the ways they offer you to get in touch, not including generic websites) minus the number of other people they blame for the mess we're in, and the number of negative comments about other parties. I'm also going to award some arbitrary bonus points for things I think are noteworthy. I'm going to list them alphabetically by surname

Hey, ho, let's go...

Candidate: Stephen Doughty
Party: Labour
Info: 1
Promises: 5 vague promises, but only 1 definite one - a new watchdog on energy prices, so 1 point
Contactability: Phone, email, Twitter = 3 points
Blames: "Tory/Lib Dem cuts" = -2 points
Negative comments: 5 references to "Tory/Lib Dem cuts", although two of these are in 'quotes' from concerned members of the public. Still, -5 points.
Grand total: 5 positive and 7 negative = overall score of -2

Candidate: Rob Griffiths
Party: Welsh Communist Party
Info: 2
Promises: 9 (including cutting VAT, closing tax havens, nationalising utilities, withdrawing from Afghanistan)
Contactability: Post, email, phone, FB and Twitter = 5 points
Blames: Bankers, career politicians ("Please don't vote for me if you want a Blues, Yellow, or Pink Tory who's looking for a cushy career"), and "an arrogant, rich and corrupt elite" = -3
Comments: 4 jibes at politicians of any kind = -4
Total: 16-7 = 9

Candidate: Andrew Jordan
Party: Socialist Labour
Info: 2
Promises: Lots of vague references to opposing things and wanting more jobs, but only two definite ones - to get the same funding for Welsh schools as in England, and also to bring vacant council housing stock up to Welsh Quality Standards. Mentions closing tax loopholes, so a generous 3 points.
Contactability: Public meeting, phone, YouTube, email, Twitter = 5 (it also included a general UK address for the party, but I'm not giving them a point for that)
Blames: Nobody
Comments: Describes all candidates from the other four parties as "another nodding head in Westminster" if you vote for them, so -4
Bonus Point: Endorsement by Ricky Tomlinson = 1 point
Total: 7

Candidate: Bablin Molik
Party: Liberal Democrat
Info: 2 (although one of them was a 'survey')
Promises: No congestion charge in Cardiff, raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 = 2
Contactability: Post, phone, personal candidate's website = 3
Blames: Labour for all that is wrong locally = -1
Comments: - 6 digs at Labour, including calling their candidate a "career politician" and a "spin doctor", plus dismissing the Conservative and Plaid candidates as non-local careerists as well = -8
Total: -2

Candidate: Luke Nicholas
Party: Plaid
Info: 7 (the most of any party)
Promises: Semi-nationalisation of Welsh railways, a Welsh Procurement Bill, green energy = 3 definite promises among vague stuff about apprenticeships and jobs. 3 points.
Contactability: twitter, facebook, email = 3 points
Blames: "the establishment parties" for ignoring Wales and "the Government in Westminster", so -4
Comments: Digs at Westminster, but no direct comments on other parties, so 0 points.
Bonus point: Luke mentions that he follows the Welsh football team home and away, so 1 point for that! (I told you the bonus points were arbitrary!)
Total: 13

Candidate: Craig Williams
Party: Conservative Party
Info: 1
Promises: Electrification of the railways, £546 in tax cuts in 2014 = 2 points, also mentions the Police Commissioners as a Government way of reducing bureaucracy. (But that's not a promise)
Contactability: Phone, email, freepost address = 3 points.
Blames: Labour for local problems = -1
Comments: Attacks Labour for 'cutting' the NHS in Wales, and says they "have failed the next generation" on education. Claims Labour caused the rise in police bureaucracy. "Cardiff has been let down badly by a complacent Labour party" and Gordon Brown. 4 negative comments = -4.
Total: 1

Candidate: Simon Zeigler
Party: UKIP
Info: 2
Promises: "Investing in UK public services instead of wasting money in the EU" is the kind of vague statement that earns you nil points. No definite promises = 0.
Contactability: Phone, web-page = 2
Blames: "The tired old parties" / "The career politicians in Westminster" = -2
Comments: Has unflattering photos of the three main party leaders, and blames career politicians, so -3.
Bonus point: The phrase 'Kick them in the ballot box' was quite amusing. +1.
Total: 0

So, in conclusion after this unscientific review, how did they do?

Plaid Cymru - 13 points
Welsh Communist Party - 9 points
Socialist Labour Party - 7 points
Conservative Party - 1 point
UKIP - 0 points
Labour - -2 points
Liberal Democrats - -2 points

I'm not sure any of this will make a difference to who I vote for, but it's interesting to compare it to last time around. The Liberal Democrats are a lot less negative, possibly because they have a new candidate for the first time in ages. The Communists and other redder then red parties do well because they make lots of specific promises. Overall, though, the vagueness of what people promise, or even just raise the issue without making any comment on how to solve it, is frustrating. There's still time this week for more leaflets to influence my decision. I'll update as we go.

I've done this before, if you'd like to look back.
The 2010 election
2009 Euro Elections
Welsh Assembly 2007 elections plus update 1 and update 2

Friday, November 09, 2012

Move over Optimus

I'd like to see this character in the proposed Transformers 4!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Nothing says Christmas more than festive packaging

It's November 2nd. Already the stores are full of Christmas stuff. Argos is already playing Jingle Bells.

But I'm not sure why we need Christmassy packaging on these...