Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts on Rioting (Ferguson and Beyond)

This is how I see it:

In countries where a dictatorship or junta system of government exists, we applaud as we watch crowds of revolutionaries voice their anger at their governments by toppling statues of tyrants or storming palaces of corruption.  They have symbols of power on which to focus their anger, and on which to wreak their destruction...and what do we have?  What does England have?  What does America have?  We live in democracies under capitalist systems of government - where are our idols, our monuments, our great palaces of corruption?  Our symbols are the every-day...shops and banks and economic powerhouses.  And so, when our people rise up in revolution and find that their anger cannot be contained anymore, certain factions will begin to smash and destroy these capitalist monuments.  It's the only place that truly makes sense, raised (indoctrinated) as we all are a system of government that demands that we consume, that we spend, that we keep the economic bubbles inflating and bursting, inflating and bursting, forever more.  And then they wonder why, when people who have been oppressed and degraded for far too long rise up, it's the big shiny expensive stuff that they have told us time and again represents our value in society that are the first to go.  This form of government tells you that you are nothing f you don't have the latest iPhone, most unique (expensive) runners, seasonal/yearly changes to your wardrobe, skincare products to keep you pretty, gym membership to keep you buff, huge mortgage on a massive house, new car every year...the list goes on, and the common denominator is money.  Those at the top have it, those at the bottom don't.  The indignities keep getting heaped upon you - student debt, no access to college or university, low standards of education, the poverty trap, job-bridge and unpaid internships instead of work, apprenticeships closing doors, unskilled labour becoming the only option, depression, anxiety...anger.  You can't quite grasp why it is life seems so much more difficult for you, that you can't attain the markers of success (all consumer driven), that justice doesn't operate for you the way it does for others, and that the odds are always stacked against you everywhere you turn.

When you're not well educated, and you can't express this anger in beautiful words that will sway, then by this reasoning your anger doesn't have validation.  Hence during the England/London riots in 2011 the news stations continuously broadcasted interviews with young men (usually of colour, but certainly of lower socio-economic classes) who were either angry at 'the government', but couldn't explain their anger any further than that, or were laughing about how they had just robbed some great gear.  Either way the point was to reduce the reasons behind the riots to something other than what it was - unjust treatment of the people at the bottom.  Instead we could all sit in our sittingrooms focusing on how animalistic the riotors were, how they were just looting, how they didn't even know what they were at and were just following the crowd, how they're social welfare wasters who just had nothing better to do.  Then we can comfortably switch channels, safe in the knowledge that those who are rioting will swiftly fade away because they don't really have anything to hold them together.

Which is, of course, exactly why they don't hold together.  Those on the outside will sit back and allow police to swarm in using any measure of force, we'll allow national guard and military intervention, we'll allow the prisons to fill up with uneducated, young, economically nonviable men and women.  And the wheel will keep on turning.  The shops will be fixed, we'll all go back to consuming, but there will be a nagging feeling that something isn't quite right.  And the anger won't go away, it'll just stay beneath the surface, waiting for an opportunity to show itself again.  This has happened in every country in the world; this happened in Ireland, in England, and it's happening in Ferguson and all over America right now.

Those who riot instead of peacefully protesting don't negate the reasons for the protest, despite what the media would have us believe.  Let's face it, that would be the easier thing to swallow - we wouldn't have to question our government, or take a hard look at our own privileged position in society and how precariously it's built on the subjugation of others.  It's the same for those at the other end of this spectrum, the ones screaming in the streets to be heard, but their voices are so deformed by anger and terror that they can't form the right words.

Just because somebody can't tell you why they are angry does not mean that they don't have a right to be angry.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Feminism at the Lunch Table

I'm not going to get into a massive essay here, because I live it and speak it every moment of my life anyway, but I just want to share a little story.

The other day I was sitting in the canteen at work with three other women and one man.  During our lunch, the man began regaling us with the latest scandal of 'that girl' in Magaluf who 'sucked off' over 20 guys for a free drink - and about how he had watched the video, just to 'make sure' he knew what he was talking about.  Cue laughter, from my fellow female lunchmates too.  End of conversation?  Not while I'm at that, or any, table.  I proceeded to explain that I was very uncomfortable with the attitude of people towards that girl; that slut-shaming was a major issue in our society, and it disturbed me greatly that he was referring to the story only in terms of the what the girl had done, without any reference to the 20 or more guys who had lined up with their trousers around their ankles, waiting for 'some girl' to give them a blowjob while throngs of people cheer.  I've written about this before in reference to the whole 'Slane Girl' situation a few months ago, and what I said there still applies: "That girl should have truly known that she is worth more than a public blowjob in a muddy field, instead of somehow thinking it makes her sexually expressive and adult.  The boys involved should feel more worth in themselves than to allow that situation to arise, and certainly feel that she has more worth than that.  Those taking and sharing the photos should understand the consequences of their actions, that somebody’s whole life can be ruined for the sake of a ‘funny’ Facebook or Twitter upload."

Nobody in this Magaluf situation comes out unscathed, yet it's the girl who is the 'slut', and yet again she deserves everything she is getting.  So, I said all of this in one big outburst - in all honesty, my face going bright red in an effort to get it all out there at once.  One of my female co-workers lightheartedly said 'Wow, you really feel strongly about this!', but I wasn't sidetracked - I said again that, yes, I really do feel strongly about things like this, and that we owe it to our media-saturated world that we think about things a bit more before we talk about them as mere gossip.  I also mentioned that I had a teenage niece, and I didn't want to perpetuate a world where she is told that her sexuality is the only thing that she is worth on the one hand, while she is persecuted for every sexual 'transgression' on the other.  Two of my female table-mates suddenly began vehemently agreeing with me (and seemed to remember that they had daughters too), as did my other co-worker.  The man made some quip about knowing his audience, to which I replied that these things aren't jokes...and we have to take them seriously.

So, there we go.  A short story that put me in that place where I'm the one who can't take a joke - the famous 'humourless feminist' at the table - who didn't giggle along with what this man was telling us should be our opinion of the whole Magaluf situation.  Instead, I argued my point.  And, surprise surprise, the three other women agreed with me.  Once someone had said it as it should be, they agreed.  Which means that they didn't agree with him, they had giggled along with his jokes because they didn't want to be aggressive, or humourless, or antagonistic, or a 'bitch', or any number of the million tags associated with women who don't just 'go with the flow' and who won't just 'laugh it off'.  And that is why feminism is still needed - because there are still plenty of women out there who are feminists deep down, and who struggle with the public perception of feminism, and who worry that having a strong voice or an opinion on something makes them someone who others will avoid.

Being a Feminist colours everything I believe - and being a Marxist Feminist means that every world issue is filtered to me through that lens.  From Gaza to Magaluf, I see a fairer world when these tenets are taken into account - the capitalist system of power has led to an unfair society for women and for men, and yet we continue to divide and conquer each other on the basis of sexuality.

I still sit with all of these people, that particular man included, because I'm not preachy and I'm not rude.  I simply will not allow topics of conversation to pass without comment when I feel strongly about it.  These people are my friends and coworkers, and will continue to be my friends and coworkers.  And I will continue to not compromise my beliefs for the sake of giggling at the lunch table.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Oscar Nominations 2014: Predictions and hopes for this awful awards ceremony

Yes yes, it's a really terrible ceremony that doesn't reward ingenuity or creativity...and avoids anything remotely resembling controversy.  But I'll be watching it as usual...and more importantly, the mark of 'Oscar' on any movie tends to get viewers flocking to screens, so it's important stuff for movies whether I like it or not.

So, here they are - the main nominations, who I'd like to win, and who will probably win, and what I think of movies I haven't even seen yet!  My frustration will be clearly apparent throughout, as usual!

Best Picture
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
The Wolf of Wall Street

Nice long list this year!  And actually, it was a pretty alright year for movies...apart from 'The Place Beyond the Pines' which sucked the life out of me.... Anyway, on to predictions!

Who Should Win:  I'm torn about this one.  I haven't seen Her, Nebraska or Philomena, but I'm pretty sure they're not troubling the 'Best Picture' category (even though they all sound like excellent movies).  So, from the others I think I'd have to say that 'Dallas Buyers Club' was the best overall movie - it looked great, was excellently acted, told a really solid story and the pace and direction were really quite beautiful.  I thought '12 Years a Slave' was not very well done at all - as sometimes happens with true-life biopics, they tried to fit in absolutely everything that had ever happened to Solomon without allowing him any opportunity to connect with other characters, thereby denying the viewer the opportunity to connect with him.  'The Wolf of Wall Street' is an embarrassing addition to this list, and is clearly only there because Scorsese directed it - considering David O Russell directed what was basically a rip-off of 'Goodfellas' this year (do we call it homage?!?), he out-Scorsesed Scorsese, because 'Wolf' was just a waste of my time.  'American Hustle' was pretty good overall, but not better than 'Dallas', so for that reason I relegate it.  'Gravity' was beautifully shot and had some great acting, but it was not the best film of this category - there was too much reliance on CGI and on Sandra Bullock's fantastic ability to carry a scene.  TLDR: Dallas Buyers Club

Who Will Win:  I think Oscar might go the way of the Golden Globes, and pawn Best Picture off on '12 Years a Slave', because they're not going to reward it in any other category.  It's similar to the holocaust situation in the movie world - because it's telling the story of slavery (and a true story, at that), it's almost impossible to go against the movie in any way.  I'm not saying it's absolutely awful, but for me it just wasn't good enough - and the real Solomon Northup deserved much better, including telling his journey after his 12 horrible years in the South, when he joined the abolitionist movement and spoke all over America trying to ensure this wouldn't happen to other free black men.  They could have done a far better job of this biopic, and I was disappointed in it.  However, the Academy will feel duty-bound to reward it I think.  TLDR: 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Who Should Win:  I'm going to stick with Matthew McConaughey on this one - I was absolutely blown away by his performance in 'Dallas Buyers Club'.  It certainly helped that I'd watched 'How to Survive a Plague' during 2013, so was familiar with some of the obstacles facing those who were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in the 80s, but this film brought it home to me in the way that fictional (or almost-fictional - this was based on a true-life story too) accounts often do.  His performance was outstanding, and for that I would definitely say he deserves to be rewarded with an Oscar.  Christian Bale was great in 'American Hustle', but at this stage he's just so good in everything that it's almost difficult to recognise how good it is anymore...if that makes sense.  Anyway, yes he was great, but he wasn't as good as McConaughey.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is another story - I have actually liked him in very few movies, and find him to appear quite stagey in films.  Since he is a theatrically trained actor, maybe this isn't such a strange thing, but I find it off-putting and generally feel that he's over-acting.  He was excellent in certain parts of '12 Years a Slave', but the film didn't do him any favours in how rushed the biopic was.  I haven't seen 'Nebraska' so can't comment on Bruce Dern, but from what I've seen I still think McConaughey was better.  The only possible reason Leo could have done 'Wolf of Wall Street' is because Scorsese, his admitted mentor, had asked him...I felt his performance, whilst kinetic and outlandish, was not something I would count as being above the norm.  I feel a bit sorry for Leo being nominated for this film, of all the films he has done.  TLDR: Matthew McConaughey

Who Will Win:  I actually think Oscar might get it right on this one!  They definitely feel sorry for Leo, and will love Dern's age, but they might be a little sick of Bale and will probably consider giving Ejiofor a nomination is enough for this role.  In the balance, and considering the fantastic performance this erstwhile-fool has put in, I reckon he might nab it!  There has also not been an onslaught from publicity on this one - something that damages potential winners chances, when the Academy is sick of them before the show is even near.  TLDR:  Matthew McConaughey

Best Actress
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Who Should Win:  What a year for women in acting, it has to be said!  The Golden Globes showed it stronger than ever, with the fantastic Amy and Tina keeping everyone on their toes, but all of the women nominated were put there for strong roles, and they were without fail strong women in each simpering and eyelash-flitting in sight!  For this one, I think I'll have to go with Amy Adams.  I thought Sandra Bullock was absolutely great in 'Gravity', the film itself let her down a bit as it wasn't fantastic, and I wouldn't be completely devastated if she got it, but I think this year Amy put in the better performance overall.  She commanded the screen, and her face directed you to every feeling you needed to hit in every scene.  I loved her in 'American Hustle'!  I think it's pretty much a no-brainer that both Judi Dench and Meryl Streep were fantastic in their roles - when are they not? - but since I haven't seen either of those movies, I have to stick with what I know.  I'm sure Cate Blanchett was great in 'Blue Jasmine', as she's a fantastic actor, but I'm on the outs with Woody Allen, what with the child abuse and whatnot.   TLDR:  Amy Adams

Who Will Win: with the Best Actor category, I tend to lean towards the Academy going my way this year.  Amy Adams put in a stunning performance in a movie that homages the greatest era of filmmaking (the 70s), in some ways referencing 'old Hollywood' - which they will love.  The only fly in the ointment is the fact that Sandra Bullock is America's that could happen.  Ah, I'm as torn as my predictions, but I reckon Amy'll get it!!  TLDR:  Amy Adams

Best Supporting Actor
Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Who Should Win:  Right, I've seen all of these, so I should be fairly certain here.  Jonah Hill did a great impression of an absolutely whacky man but, as many commentators have pointed out, you'd prefer if he'd gotten it for 'Superbad', in which he was genuinely fantastic.  He was let down quite a bit by the movie, as in any other situation that performance would have stood out - but in this shambles of shouting, he couldn't quite get seen enough.  So he's out!  I don't like Bradley Cooper.  At all.  I have never liked him in any movie.  So there's that - but genuinely, I didn't think this role was worth even a nomination, never mind an Oscar.  He was all over the place, and frankly outshone in every scene by those around him.  Michael Fassbender was pretty damn fantastic in '12 Years a Slave', benefiting from being one of the few characters who were fleshed out a little...but it still wasn't enough.  There wasn't enough connection for it to be worth the statue, and while his acting is excellent, it was par for the course for Fassbender.  Barkhad Abdi was amazing in 'Captain Philips', and was certainly a contender - he portrayed the tortured difficulty of being forced into a life of violence with heartbreaking accuracy.  So we get to Jared Leto, who I thought did a great job in 'Dallas Buyers Club'...the character of Rayon could have lapsed into hyperbole or even mockery, but I thought he did an excellently sensitive job of giving Rayon life onscreen.  So for me, it's Leto all the way!  TLDR: Jared Leto

Who Will Win:  Again, I reckon this could be the year Oscar does the right thing (in some ways), so I think Leto might get it.  A little suspicion in me thinks they might give it to Bradley Cooper because he missed out last year...actually, that suspicion is raging in me right now!  So I've changed my mind....they're going to give it to Bradley Cooper, because the Oscars hates me!  Also, the Academy is always loathe to support homosexual or transsexual representations Leto could miss out for being too far out of the mainstream.  *Sigh*.  TLDR: Bradley Cooper

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)

Who Should Win:  This is a tough one to call, because I have only seen the top two movies.  Out of both of those it's a tough call, because I thought Jennifer Lawrence was absolutely amazing in 'American Hustle'!  She held her own against some of the best actors knocking around, and was mesmerising for every second she was there.  However, Lupita Nyong'o was without doubt the best thing about '12 Years a Slave' for me, even if her performance did sometimes hit the stagey over-acting feel that blighted the whole movie.  I think we can discount Julia Roberts, even without seeing the movie, and again I won't be watching 'Blue Jasmine'.  June Squibb is pretty solid, but again I think the Academy will see the nod as being enough.  I reckon it's between Jennifer and Lupita overall, and I think when pushed to it I'll have to say that I think Jennifer should get it - overall, she just gave the better performance, more nuanced and more striking.  TLDR:  Jennifer Lawrence

Who Will Win:  This is a toughy, for whilst Jennifer is beloved, she also got an Oscar last year.  Because the best actor nod won't go to Ejiofor, they might give Nyong'o the statue instead.  However, we do have 'old Hollywood' rearing its head in the other nominations, so there's a possibility that ex-American Sweetheart Julia Roberts might get it.  Since I haven't seen the other three movies, it's too tough for me to make a decision, so I think Lawrence will get it, even with the competition!  TLDR:  Jennifer Lawrence

Best Director
Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) 
David O. Russell (American Hustle)
Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)

Who Should Win:  Hmmmmm....this is very, very tough.  It is not a good category, they have all put in mediocre to slightly-alright directing performances this year!  Apart from Alexander Payne who I, admittedly, can't comment on as I didn't see 'Nebraska'.  Which actually puts him ahead of the bunch!!  Should Russell get it for his impression of a peak-force Scorsese?  Scorsese for 'Jackass Presents Wall Street'?  Cuarón for spinning camera and CGI backdrop?  McQueen for 'look how this burning piece of paper is a metaphor for life'?  Based on my sarcasm, and my inability to really like any of their directing jobs, I can't decide!  At a push, I guess I'll go for Alfonso Cuarón, because at least my eyes were given a huge treat when I saw 'Gravity' on the big screen!  TLDR: Alfonso Cuarón

Who Will Win:  As with the above, this is a toughy.  The Academy could go any way on this - Scorsese for the fact that he's Scorsese and they have ignored his far better movies; Russell for the nostalgia and glory of 'old Hollywood'; Cuarón because 'Gravity' might not get any other awards; McQueen because slavery; Payne for digging into the American psyche.  This literally could go to anyone, but I'm thinking the Academy might actually pull a fast one on everyone and go for McQueen, because they won't be rewarding the actors involved, and if it got Best Picture too they could claim massive support for it.  And like I said, this is such a low-bar category this year, it could go either way.  TLDR: Steve McQueen

The rest of the categories I really can't comment hugely on, because I haven't seen enough of them (especially the documentaries and foreign film selections), so they might have to wait for my reaction vitriol post Oscar this year.  Here's my more succinct impressions on the rest!

  • For Best Adapted Screenplay I have a feeling that 'Philomena' SHOULD peg it, and that it WILL peg it.  I thought the screenplay for '12 Years a Slave' was absolutely awful - sounded theatrical and overblown when there were intimate scenes, and so it lost the intimacy.  'The Wolf of Wall Street' was a crazy script based on a crazy life, but with little real commentary - comedic for most of the film, it nonetheless slipped in a jarring scene of what was, basically, rape towards the end, giving a little glimpse into the world of those people (quite a lot of them women) severely abused by the culture of Wall Street.  Other than that short scene, women were dispensable for the rest of the time.

  • For Best Original Screenplay I think I'd have to go with what I have heard about 'Her' as being worth the I'll go with that as a SHOULD win.  I know it's strange to pick a movie that I haven't seen, but the premise and those involved has convinced me that it's the worthiest winner for this category.  I have a feeling that 'Nebraska' WILL win it, though, as it will probably be overlooked in so many other categories...and the Academy likes Bruce Dern more than it likes Joaquin Phoenix!
    • EDIT:  Having seen 'Her', I'm pretty sure it won't win...but it was a very well written script.  Don't think it's the best I've seen, though: pretty much a mash-up of 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' and any close-future fantasy ever written.  Probably too much masturbation (as per Joaquin Phoenix' instructions) in it to entice the Academy, too...

  • Surprisingly this year, I haven't seen a single one of the Best Foreign Film nominees...which is a bit shocking, so I'll get on that as soon as possible!

  • As with the above, I haven't seen a single one of the Best Documentary Feature nominees this year, which is startling considering how many documentaries I watch.  But I guess myself and the Academy have tended to differ quite a lot on what we consider to be good movies and documentaries...

  • I never really care too much about Best Animated Feature to be honest, and this year is no different.  I don't watch a lot of kids movies unless I'm taking my nieces and nephews out, so I've missed all of the nominees this year...and will probably not catch up on them.  

  • The musical awards are similarly not my bag, but I kinda hope 'The Moon Song' wins Best Song because I love that Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs did the music and Spike Jonze did the lyrics.  Also, if I have to listen to Bono telling us all how close he and Mandela were I might just kick the television....  I'd say they'll give the Best Score to 'Saving Mr. Banks', which was an awful movie altogether - just bloody stupid and narcissistic for everyone involved - but they have all sorts of loopy beautifullness recalling times gone by in the music, which the Academy loves, and the film won't get any other awards (what with not being nominated and all that).

  • Strange selection for Best Cinematography, as it always confounds me that this category doesn't echo Best Picture in some way, because sure the best picture is the one that contains brilliance in all the arts involved in filmmaking.  Clearly I'm in the minority of thinking that way, and since I haven't seen a lot of what's going on in this category I will say that 'Gravity' will only get it if Cuarón doesn't win for directing, and other than that I can't even remotely call it as I haven't seen the others.

  • I think 'The Great Gatsby' WILL get Costume Design, because they did an over-the-top flamboyant 1920s - which is exactly what was called for.  However, I'm inclined to think that 'American Hustle' SHOULD get it as the clothes were so perfectly fitted to the time, but also to each individual character, that it worked perfectly.

  • And last in my comments (as I haven't much to say on the other categories this year) is Makeup and Hairstyling which I'm finding beyond brilliant...the fact that we are watching 'Jackass Presents' written on the Oscar nominations makes my little heart glad!  And in fairness, he really did look like an 80 year old man!  So I think 'Bad Grandpa' should get it - purely for those dangling testicles!

So there we's not a terrible year for movies, but it's always a terrible year for Oscars.  Let's see if they surprise me this year (not holding my breath on that one...)!!