ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Oscar Winners in Review – Argo

MV5BMTc3MjI0MjM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTYxMTQ1OA@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_

Right,

This is somewhat potentially embarrassing for me – as someone who has always considered himself a film buff I always used to be on top of awards season. Before the ceremonies I would have always seen the nominated films, talked them over and made my picks. This year though a multitude of things got in the way and when the Oscar ceremony rolled around I realised that I had seen hardly any of the big films that had picked up all the nominations. So, over the next few weeks I’m going to try to remedy this, by retrospectively looking over all the critical beloved movies of 2012 and seeing what all the fuss was about. I figured I may as well start with the big winner this year, Ben Affleck’s third film, Argo. Whilst it may not have won as many awards as some films in years past this film has been the concluding part of Affleck’s career second act as he makes the transition from fairly flaky actor to one of the leading directors of popular cinema in America. With an Oscar win for best picture (and a historic snub for best director) under his belt the critics are rubbing their hands with glee at where Affleck will go next. But how does this film match up? Does it really deserve the hype and has Affleck managed to escape things like this?

In short the answer is…yes. Following a little explored angle of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 the film follows six Americans who escape and are taken in by the Canadian ambassador. Whilst the country outside becomes ever more fervent in the quest for American “spies” the 6 low-level diplomats are left cowering in the crawl space. At the same time the CIA are desperately trying to find out some way of extracting them and from every side threats to the six become more and more extreme. The film follows the CIA’s top exfiltration expert, Tony Mendez, as he comes up with the ‘best worst idea’ they have. Fly in Iran as a Canadian producer; recruit the six to act as the crew on a location scout and then all fly out together.

Did I mention this is based on a true story?

Well…it is.

One of the most impressive things about this film is that it genuinely captures the not only the mood of tension but the look and the feel of the late seventies. Everyone smokes, everyone drinks, all the time and the fashion and design is accurate down to the last detail. In a way the film feels like it came from another age of action movies too – no dumb explosions or unnecessary action but rather a story that expertly ratchets up the tension at every single opportunity. That isn’t to say that there are not cool action sequences, far from it. The opening sequence that details the fall of the embassy is done with a terrifying realism and the action emerges organically from the quality of the story. It’s the quality of the story that makes this too, as instead of wasting time of showy explosions the story is given urgency and the characters depth so that watching them drive through Tehran becomes edge of your seat excitement. Technically the film is great too; the editing and direction from Affleck are simply superb and the skills that Affleck showcased with Gone Baby Gone and the fantastic The Town have been honed and refined to a really high level. There isn’t an unnecessary moment, or pause to the film’s narrative and the editing just wrings every single drop of tension from every single sequence.

The film is also quite darkly comic too –mainly thanks to the fantastic performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the Hollywood insiders who help Tony Mendez set up the legitimate production company to make his cover stand up. Arkin especially gets ALL the best lines, especially his fantastically rude response for why the fake film is called what it is. It’s the Hollywood scenes that probably help explain why the film was so beloved by organisations like the Academy, as it indulges the idea of a film about the power of cinema. Fans of film will have fun spotting the references and the little glimpses of insight into how the movie business worked back in the day. It feels like Affleck enjoyed directing these scenes too, allowing him to get in a few subtle digs at how the film industry and Hollywood works. The only moments where the pace slips a little are the scenes with the six people trapped in a house – as the story can’t allow anything to happen before the rescue the time is used as a chance for characterisation but the film picks up when the story can move forward again.

As I said, Affleck has proven that he is a director and an actor with the chops to handle material that results in high quality and intelligent entertainment, and the details of just how much was based on the historical record only increases my admiration for the film. Whether or not it deserves to have the title of best film of 2012 is a little difficult to judge right now, but if you’re looking for something smart, nail-bitingly exciting and expertly done it looks like the former Mr Jennifer Lopez is now the man to go to.

Kudos Ben. You’ve earned it.

Game of Thrones Month

It’s Game of Thrones month over at houseofgeekery.com and this is my take on one of the most evil characters in the whole show.

Funk's House of Geekery

If you’re new to the world of Westeros you’ll quickly learn that in the vast parade of characters there are many that you’ll love and some that you’ll love to hate.  Amongst the parade of horrific villains there are none more committed to generally unredeemed bastardry than the Crown Prince (later King) of Westeros, Prince Joffrey Baratheon.

What follows us the top 5 reasons why Joffrey Baratheon is the character you shouldn’t love to hate – you should just flat out loath him. Of course, spoilers follow but I hope it’ll serve as a way to get you interested rather than spoiling the fun

5. He’s probably a psychopath

Season 1 Episode 2 – The Kingsroad

The climax of the first episode features one of the best final five minutes of any pilot episode of any series I can think of and it concludes with the young Bran Stark being…

View original post 721 more words

Elementary, or, Guy Ritchie being Guy Ritchie

Sherlock Holmes (2009 film)

Sherlock Holmes (2009 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Right,

There are certain characters that lend themselves to repeated adaptation, certainly once a character has passed a certain age they become part of the cultural landscape, and thus open to repeated re-examination and when the character in question becomes iconic things become even more difficult because, well, that’s when adaptations just have to get it right. Given how popular his adaptations have made him they really don’t come more iconic than the one we’re talking about today –Sherlock Holmes.

For anyone unaware (really? You guys are still reading this?) Sherlock Holmes is pretty much the iconic character of traditional British literature and culture. Phenomenally popular ever since the first appearance in 1887 Holmes has been immortalized in film and other mediums for generations, taking his place in the pantheon of great literary and filmic detectives. Strangely though it seemed that Holmes wasn’t going to make the jump to the big screen again after the hugely successful TV show where Holmes was superlatively played by the talented Jeremy Brett during the series run from 1984-1994. In fact, Brett was considered to be the finest Holmes since Basil Rathbone in the 1940s. I could wax lyrical about Jeremy Brett as Holmes, (one of only four actors to play both Holmes and Watson professionally) but it isn’t the classic Sherlock Holmes TV show we’re here to talk about.

We here to talk about Guy Ritchie.

Brace yourselves.

The reason I say that, is that Guy Ritchie is, in my opinion, not that great as a director. He’s…very much OK. Now, I know that criticising Ritchie may well be sacrilegious but before the mob assembles and ignites the torches, allow me to explain. He started his career in 1995 with the short 20 minute film, The Hard Case. Thanks to some contacts (Mathew Vaughn for example) Ritchie built a career on making essentially the same film over and over again. Lock Stock? It’s OK I suppose. Snatch? Very similar really. And then? Well, then he decided to marry Madonna, and it is here that much of the evidence for Ritchie being an unexceptional director comes from. Swept Away. Oh good god, Swept Away…And then he tried to salvage it with Revolver (for those who think this is one of Ritchie’s more coherent films I would point out that the Wikipedia summation of the plot is over a THOUSAND WORDS LONG.) He does his best but the plot of his films seems to constantly be of secondary importance to anything else meaning that audience interest has to be sustained by character, action and sheer charm. His track record suggests that he can only manage it sporadically.

Yes, he possesses a good aesthetic sense, and of course he knows how to stage an action scene (the very least you could expect from a gangster movie director) so when he was announced as the director in charge for 2009’s big budget film adaptation I was a little sceptical. And I’ll happily say upfront that all of my assumptions about Ritchie producing a poor quality film were completely wrong.  This is the wonderful thing about cinema – artists can constantly surprise you, and happily, Ritchie got it just so right.

Don’t get me wrong – this is still a film where Ritchie does what he does (big action, some whip crack dialogue and a plot with holes so big you could drive a cruise-liner through) but I can’t hate this film. Before explaining why, let’s deal with the big negatives around the film and get them out of the way. Firstly, the plot is pathetic and of all the film’s elements it is the least deserving of being in a Sherlock Holmes movie. It revolves around a mysterious cult featuring the enigmatic Lord Blackwood who has a fondness for grisly murders. Played ably by Mark Strong (the villain de jour is seemed a few years ago) once you strip away the weird occult window dressing the plot is really just an elaborate assassination plot that really isn’t all that difficult to figure out. Aside from this if you find Ritchie’s faux-Cockney irritating then you’ll probably put your foot through the TV screen.

I’m not doing a very good job at saying why this is good am I?

There is an awful lot to like here and as per usual with Guy Ritchie movies the good comes when the casting and the chemistry work. Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson click so well that not until Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman would another Holmes and Watson match them in terms of on screen chemistry. The two are clearing having the time of their lives, and really seem to enjoy acting against one another. Encouragingly this incarnation of Watson is actually the more faithful from some of the on screen adaptations. The script plays up Watson’s military background and his intelligence so he doesn’t just wander around scenes looking at Holmes admiringly and being generally a bit dim. If anything this film makes the two a much more equal pair – Watson the lawful good muscle and Holmes the chaotic brains. The film tweaks Holmes a little too, naturally. They play down the drug taking but keep the obsessive natures, the gadgets (amped up obviously) and the brief mention of Holmes’ boxing skill allows the opportunity for Holmes to get in a fight scene without a shirt.

What am I driving at here? What’s my overall, overarching point? It’s just fun – it’s a fun, unashamed popcorn munching blockbuster and if you accept it on those terms there is a lot of light hearted enjoyment to be had here. But is it a good adaptation?

Well, here’s where things (out of necessity) get a little more subjective because there are things here that may well annoy the more die-hard of Holmes fans. The subplot with Irene Adler proves the film will be joining the list of different versions that cannot get her right and the set up to the sequel is more obvious than the one at the end of Batman Begins….BUT!

But…

All of these changes? All of these tweaks are not that “BAD” per se, because all of them can, (and have) been supported by the text. Characters like Holmes and Watson just can’t be static cut-outs once they have been around for as long as these two have. Culture evolves and so to pick holes in a fun piece of film making would be trying to stop culture evolving and shifting its representations. You just can’t do that, so you have to take the good and the bad together on it’s own terms and with that piece of perspective, go away, get some popcorn and just enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even if Guy Ritchie screwed it up with the sequel.

 

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Dredding Part II, or, He is the LAW

Dredd by Pete Travis

Dredd by Pete Travis

Right,

What’s that? A Follow up review to something I’ve already done?? First off, this is a first for the PageBoy site, and if there is anything the internet is good at it is getting people to try new things and new expressions of the things they love, (that and cat gifs right, everyone loves those…) So without further ado, let’s start talking about ‘THE LAW’ and it’s personification in the form of Judge Dredd. As a life-long nerd I’ve always loved the comic character from 2000AD, and whilst the Stallone film was a guilty pleasure of mine (I gave it a good review, promise) I also always felt like the film completely missed what it was about the character of Dredd that made him so compelling, and a great way of exploring difficult themes.

This version was written in 2006 by Alex Garland despite the film itself not being announced until 2008 (now THAT’s optimism!) and after Duncan Jones passed on it directorial duties went to Pete Travis. Karl Urban takes on the role of Judge Dredd, Olivia Thirlby takes on the role of the rookie Judge Anderson and Lena Hadley is the bad guy, drug lord Ma-Ma. It’s usually here that I give a run down on plot, trying to avoid spoilers but as the plot is so simple I don’t think I need to worry about giving any major spoilers. In the future lawless metropolis of Mega-City One a new drug is causing havoc, two judges are sent into a high rise controlled by the drug lord who seals them inside and the two have to fight their way out. I’ve simplified a few of the details there but that is pretty much the long and the short of it. As with the best action movies the stakes, characters and motivations are set up early leaving the rest of the run time for the action. If there’s one thing this film gets right it is that – the action is gorgeously choreographed and brutally violent and when coupled with the simply jaw dropping design and VFX work make this one of the best looking slices of action violence you are ever likely to see from the past few years of mainstream cinema. The design work, especially the Slo-Mo sequences are wonderfully put together and the subtle details (making Dredd’s suit seem like it could take a blow or two) make the world seem compelling and absorbing – a dystopia that could actually occur.  Karl Urban does a great job as Judge Dredd, managing to convey emotion without using his eyes at all as, thank goodness; he keeps on his helmet throughout the film and doesn’t scream ‘LAW’ like Stallone did.

So is it a good film? Yes. Absolutely and the fact that it didn’t do that well at the box office is a crying shame as it meant that any chance of a sequel was dead in the water. It’s slick, well done and tries to be an action film with a good aesthetic standard.

Whether or not this is a good adaptation though is another thing entirely, as, arguably, it isn’t possible to condense the complexities of a character that has been in existence since 1977. The initial drafts of Garland’s scripts dealt with things integral to the world of Dredd too, such as his relationship with Judge Death but these were rejected because it would have been just too much work for audiences not used to the world of the comics. Another adaptation criticism is that the comics used Judge Dredd as a tool for satire – the violence and over the top style was a deliberate choice – a way for the writers to make specific points about the rule of the law, the power of the police and how authority is used against citizens. If the film has done anything wrong it is the whole thing is played far too straight-faced. The violence and action is over the top and incredible to look at but the exaggeration is never something questioned by the film and thus audiences just get to accept Dredd as another action hero who can kick ass and take names without ever getting the deeper level of meaning the writers of the original character intended.

That may well be nit-picking however as whilst cinemas are buried under a slew of grey, dull, mechanical action films Dredd was a blast of bloody good fun. It’s just a shame we won’t get to see anymore.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Fantastic? Or, Yes but not really

fantastic_mr_fox

Right,

Whenever anybody looks back at their childhood there are a few things that tend to form your cultural backbone. The books and films and music and art and experiences that were important – the things that helped form who you are and the specific tastes you have. As you grow up, it is these things, these important and special things that you become protective over- things that you don’t want to see people neglect or not understand the way that you do. With that as the beginning here, let’s talk about Roald Dahl. The Norwegian born and British adopted author is, for me, and countless others who grew up at the same time and place, an incredibly important writer. As per usual I’m just trying to be honest and when it comes to Dahl and his books I can’t really be impartial.

The magic and genius of Roald Dahl was his ability to accurately capture the dark side of a child’s perception about the world. The world as Dahl and many, many children (myself included) was magical, yes, but could also be deeply unfair, mean and even dangerous. Dahl’s novels are full of brave and intelligent characters that have to deal with grotesque monsters and unfair conditions in order to get their happy ending. And grown up people? They can often be the biggest problem rather than any kind of help.

The book/film under consideration today probably isn’t one of Dahl’s best known and it is definitely one of the shortest and, on an initial reading, simplest stories – Fantastic Mr Fox.  If you’ve never read the book (I’ll stifle my cry of disbelief) it is classic Dahl, rich and funny yes, but deeply disturbing and set in a world where death lurks behind every corner. The plot follows the adventures of Mr Fox (imaginatively named) and his family as he makes his living stealing from the three mean and greedy farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The farmers find out what the cunning animal is up to and, after nearly shooting him to death, try to dig him out. I won’t spoilt the books ending but the good guys are OK and the bad guys….well, let’s just say that with the three farmers their ending will perfectly appeal to a child’s occasionally jet black and ironic sense of justice.

As per usual with Dahl it is the details that make the story so great – the three farmers are beautifully sketched grotesques, one of them surviving on just cider, one of them only eating chicken and the other eating nothing but livers mashed into doughnuts.  The three make  compelling villains, arrayed against the simple animal just trying to keep his family safe.

I remember being initially sceptical when news of a film initially broke – it seemed like the plot was too slight to sustain a whole feature film. But then I found I out who was directing – Wes Anderson. Perhaps counter-intuitively once I knew the hipster god-king of American indie cinema was going to be involved I relaxed a little, because if there is one thing that Anderson has consistently proven he can do is interesting aesthetics married to characters facing an occasionally dark and scary world.

So onto the film, made as a stop motion animation (thank goodness, a live action version would have been unspeakably creepy) it makes the correct judgement of not trying to spread the books plot too thin. Thus, the film’s second half is really the plot of the book and the first is Wes Anderson playing around with the characters and giving them his own particular spin. Here Fox, voiced by George Clooney is a man (animal?) who has given up on stealing chickens and has settled down for a quiet life with his wife – voiced by Meryl Streep and son played by Jason Schwartzman. Mr Fox runs into a bit of a midlife crisis and hearing the call of the wild side of his own nature starts stealing from the three toughest and scariest farmers in the valley.

So, is it a good film? Most definitely.

A good adaptation?

Well, that is slightly more complicated….

Strictly speaking the answer would have to be no, the plot and characters are changed significantly and the overall style is very different. Some scenes are quite jarring in how out of place they are (the scene with the wolf being a text book ‘big lipped alligator moment) but the film is certainly more than just the sum of its parts. For one thing the script is excellent, managing as Dahl did to capture the childlike story without becoming patronizing or overly romanticizing. When Fox’s wife realizes what he’s done and the consequences, her response of ‘I love you but I shouldn’t have married you’ shows how the script pulls of simplicity and sophistication. Yes, this is, I suppose, a kid’s movie but it isn’t a movie made AT kids. It depends upon them being familiar with the harder stuff, the drama and dark side of life when you are small and vulnerable. It may sound a little vague but it is this that makes the film a ‘good’ adaptation – the sense that the original message of the book is being carried onwards.

At its core the film celebrates the uniqueness of the individual. Though Mr Fox is a thief, he does it because he’s a wild animal and that is just who he is. His son isn’t as athletic and outgoing as his father – and that’s OK because that’s who HE is. So, it may not be a traditionally great adaptation but it is one that treats its source material with respect and no little amount of joy. It looks gorgeous, has a great cast (Willem Defoe being a highlight for me) and a story that captures some of the spark that made youngsters like me love Dahl. It’s fantastic alright, but like nothing else I’ve reviewed – just as it should be really.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

PageBoyPolitics – Online Abuse Is The Refuge Of A Coward

I wrote this originally for the great web site http://www.scotspolitics.com but the range of applications this has never fails to blow my mind. I wrote something similar for funk’s house of geekery too and I’m going to keep talking about this from now on. Some things are just wrong.

One of the down sides of being a vociferous fan of free speech is that you often end up defending things that are not really very good – overly-violent horror movies, poorly written music, badly done art – but all of that is more than worth the good stuff that freedom of expression grants. I’d go as far as to say that the internet has made things infinitely better and more complicated all at the same time.

Firstly, the good. The internet has been the greatest democratising force possible in terms of engaging people. An artist? A musician? Or even if you’re just someone who wants to comment on things, the internet has given everyone a voice, and for those of us lucky enough to experience it in all of its freedom, free speech has never been freer.

Sadly though, free speech online has a dark side, just as it does in traditional, non-internet culture. As the internet becomes more and more the miasma that hangs over everything written, read and thought, the dark side of free speech has become a weird, twisted funhouse mirror of what we all may have been familiar with. For example, the situation with Mary Beard illustrates the vicious poison that can be spewed all over the internet when internet anonymity meets general misogyny.

For those who don’t know, Mary Beard is one of the foremost classicists in the country – a lecturer at Cambridge and blogger for the Times Literary Supplement. Her books and TV appearances make her probably one of the best known academics in the country. She was invited recently to appear on Question Time; asked about the impact of immigration she, (as per usual for an academic) cited a report that showed the benefits of immigration outweighed the potential problems. Innocuous enough, you might think and so it may have been in a previous generation.

However, the now defunct web site Don’t Start Me Off decided that she would be their latest target. Rather than take issue with her ideas and point of view, the sites members directed a torrent of vitriol at her and her appearance. The abuse was foul, crude and sexual and completely unrepeatable here. Beard refused to let it fly and instead wrote about it on her own hugely popular blog and as a result of the attention it received the website was shut down.

Sadly, this is just the latest episode in a long list of women who have been subject to horrendous abuse and vile threats for the heinous crime of being a woman. Being female and having an opinion was enough to generate thousands of words of abuse. As Beard accurately and succinctly noted, the issue was that “a woman, 58 and looking it, saying what she thinks, against the grain, is explosive’ to some people, and through the freedom of the internet this punitive rage found its horrible outlet.

I said that what happened to Mary Beard was just the latest in a long list of depressingly repetitive episodes of women with an opinion being told to sit down and shut up. Not for saying anything wrong, but just because they were women. They can be subject to rape ‘jokes,’ online harassment, belittlement – and myriad other small and mean tricks to try to bring them down and shut them up. For those subject to it, it must be like death by a thousand cuts for your self-esteem.

Enough is enough.

I can’t begin to express my admiration for women who have used their public platform to call out these cowards who hide on message boards and fake names, but it shouldn’t just be down to them.

As a man and a feminist there is something so profoundly depressing to see these men (and it is predominately men) vent their anger and feelings of inadequacy on women in the public sphere. The sheer engrained misogyny has to be called out by the vast majority of men who are NOT terrified and infuriated every time a woman articulates an opinion about anything.

There will be some, no doubt, who think of it as their right to free speech to threaten murder and fantasise about raping whatever hate figure du jour they have fixated upon this week. Some have even claimed that the ‘block’ button on Twitter infringes their right to be heard, as if someone ignoring them is somehow equivalent to censorship. These cowards shouldn’t be censored; they should just be drowned out by other voices. Drowned out, not just by women who refuse to be cowed but by men too. Men who have realised what these trolls and rage filled people haven’t – that women are not men’s property, but equal, deserving of the same respect given to them and not belittled simply because they’re walking around with ladyparts.

I talked a few weeks ago about the internet as a new cultural frontier – a place where the rules of how and where and when we interact with one another haven’t quite been settled yet. It’s this fact that makes the internet such an exciting place to be, but it is also what has given rise to cowards and misogynists hiding behind avatars rather than learn how to deal with someone of a different gender. There will be a time when this kind of abuse, this hatred just won’t be acceptable anymore and the people who still do it will be thought of as we think of fanatics with megaphones in public spaces. However, if the latest incident has proven anything it is that collectively we need to move towards that day even sooner.

ThePageBoy Reviews – ‘Discordia’ by Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple

Laurie penny and Molly crabapple

Laurie penny and Molly crabapple

Words by Laurie Penny

Art by Molly Crabapple

Publishers: Random House

‘Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official.’ –  George Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature

It’s easy to see why some people get irritated by Laurie Penny. The shock of red hair, the abashedly strident feminism, the radical politics, the tea, the cigarettes and the sheer bloody minded refusal to act and talk like middle class white women are supposed to. She’s an anomaly in modern British political commentary – someone who has built her name as a journalist by working hard, writing well and putting her principals above her copy. The response from traditional journalists has been disdain; lucky white men sniffily call her a privileged girl, she can be self-righteous and didactic. These sneers and put downs clash incongruously with her editing The New Review, The New Statesman and regularly contributing to the Independent (amongst others) and reveal that all the vacuous epithets they fling disguise an impotent rage at a reporter who is truly distinctive. If the traditional media critics veil their disapproval behind patronising language Laurie Penny has provoked naked hatred from some of the darker recesses of the political web. Streams of vile abuse, comment threads of death threats and even stalkers have given this gifted writer plenty of reasons to give it all up.

Instead she’s produced this – not a book so much but somewhere between an extended essay on everything from geo-politics, liberalism, austerity and the power of art and a series of snap-shots of a specific historical moment. I first came across her name on Twitter a couple of years ago as she tweet- reported from the front lines of the student protests. To be blunt she was a shock to the system. I didn’t know writers could do this. I didn’t know then, that this was what journalism could become; I didn’t know that journalism and activism weren’t mutually exclusive and that to report and change the world around you all you needed was the desire to say something and the courage to do something.

After the protests and simmering violence of London she went out of the country and landed in New York during the summer of Occupy Wall Street. There she filed her copy from the frontline of what people believed could be this generations revolution. New York must have been a surreal place to be that summer, full of writers and activists, rebels and dreamers and artists. It was there that Laurie Penny met Molly Crabapple, (yes, really) and once the summer of idealism faded the two of them jumped on a plane and came to Greece. The two of them are a radical odd couple, one very English, the other with New York engrained in her DNA. Penny is the wordsmith and Crabapple the illustrator. Both unashamedly radical in their own ways, talented and deeply political; charmingly the two have a deep affection for one another that at times border on the fangirlish (Laurie at one point sweetly claiming she wanted to follow her friend and make her coffee)

It’s here that this book? Essay? Memoir? kicks off, as these two unlikely friends pitch up in Athens to find out what makes the dogs of Athens howl in the night as it is slightly pretentiously phrased. What follows is a beguiling cast of characters, ordinary people – often doing quite extraordinary things in a nation that seems to have forgotten what normal really is. Journalism is, as much of society and culture is, an exercise in power and how it works. These interviews are with the powerless, the disenfranchised, normal people suffering an economic death by a thousand cuts. Instead of painting them in the usual narrative of journalistic interviews, (you know, that ‘these people are suffering’ brand of miserablia) here, the people get drunk, and angry, talk about their life and dance to blow off some steam. Rather than follow the rote of how these things should go, the people met seem human and more real than any ‘normal’ journalistic interview.

The book manages to strike a good balance between these human moments and the liberal politics of the two authors. Occasionally the tone does stray into the kind of thing heard around liberal students drinking late at night but what sticks out from the prose are the snapshots of singular moments. The stray dogs running from riot police. The explosion of tear gas. The scrawl of graffiti. It’s things like this that grounds the book in a tangible reality which when coupled with the beautifully emotive art and sketches from Molly make this a fascinating and compelling read. The art is perhaps what makes this book so distinctive – the prose alone would be too bleak to hold together or hold the interest, but the sketches and drawings serve as a natural binding and holding together of this series of snapshots. She might be new to many but Molly’s art is just beautiful to look at, capturing the desolation, the emotion and the damage done to the people written about.

For those seeking a comprehensive history of Greece’s financial woes look elsewhere, this isn’t emotionally uninvolved writing pretending to impartiality either. The historical debris hasn’t settled yet for this to be that. What it is, is something very different and thrilling – the images and prose are the scrawled attempts of two artists to capture history happening around them. So, to sum up – a book for anyone who wanted to know what it’s like to be there whilst the young attempt to make a new and better world. It’s infuriating to read what these people have been through and inspiring to see them survive. It’s people like Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple who help show the humanity of a kind of politics that all too often can degenerate into schism over semantics and ideology. The young, the angry and the desperate of Greece deserved a chance to have someone listen to their struggle, and Discordia documents it in all of its imperfection and anger. It’s strange to think that we were in the same country at roughly the same time and I’m just glad to get to join in with what they saw. Great stuff.

Download it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Discordia-ebook/dp/B009HVQ1JW

Or here:

http://www.amazon.com/Discordia-ebook/dp/B009HVQ1JW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359390585&sr=8-1&keywords=discordia

PageBoyPolitics – The New Frontier

ReligionPolitics

Right,

Since starting this blog I have tried to keep the focus fairly specific – to help me become a better writer and to make sure that people who are interested in one thing don’t have to wade through a vast morass of things not really relevant to their interests. As time has worn on though, I have let a few extra things come into this space. One of the things that has come up, but I haven’t really spoken about is the fact that I do quite a bit of writing in other little digital spots that I tend not to mention here and after giving it some thought I’ve decided I want to bring things into closer integration.  To that  end, I’m going to be adding a few posts, as and when they get written, on topics that I think are interesting. Obviously, a lot of what I write for other sites has a specific audience so I won’t be posting that here but ever so often there is an issue that has a wider audience so when it’s appropriate I’ll share it here.

This is something I originally wrote for the amazing website at scotspolitics.com, about the tragic death of Aaron Swartz and the free flow of information across the web. I hope you like it!

The New Frontier

This article comes with a Trigger Warning for discussion of suicide, rape and sexual assault.

Aaron Swartz was by all accounts a spectacularly gifted young man. He came to public knowledge as one of a small group of internet activists and developers who were part of the first generation to romp around in the digital playground of the early internet. Like many who find their fame online he was preternaturally talented at a young age, discovering new ways of keeping internet users connected to content. One of his most famous pieces of work was the incredibly widely used RSS 1.0 protocol which he authored when he was just 14 years old.  After revolutionising one part of the web, he went on to be one of the co-founders of reddit, which became one of the most successful websites of all time. When reddit was bought out Aaron sold his share making him incredibly wealthy at a very, very young age. He started dedicating his time to the free flow of information, building links with famous free culture figures such as Lawrence Lessig – and when the US government threatened to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act it was Aaron who was one of the architects of the movement that stopped the bill being enacted. Despite the successes, the corporations he founded, the causes he championed, on the 11th of January Aaron Swartz was found dead in his apartment in New York City, after publically documenting his long struggle with serious depression. He had hanged himself; his body was found by his girlfriend. He was only twenty-six years old.

There are many details of Aaron’s life worthy of discussion, and for those seeking a more personal reflection both Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow have written beautiful obituaries to someone they admired and worked closely with. Even Tim Berners-Lee was moved to write a beautiful piece in which he noted “I’ve not known anybody else who is so ethical: who has thought, all the time, about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done and what should not be done.” There have been some who have tried to place a link between Aaron’s mental health and his personal circumstances, and whilst there should be no attempt at simplifying the complexities of anyone’s mental health when the details of what this man was facing come to light it certainly cannot have helped. As I’ve initially mentioned Swartz had dedicated a huge portion of his time and wealth to making information available for anyone who wanted it for free. As noble as this aim may sound, it was an aim that brought him into conflict with powerful authorities across the planet. His first legal fight came when this whiz-kid computer prodigy wrote a program that downloaded and released approximately 20% of the mammoth Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database. He’d done it because, even though the PACER documents are not covered by copyright, people wanting to access one of their documents had to pay 8 cents a time. The whole system was essentially a huge money making online scheme – with a profit of $150 million.

His activities got him investigated by the FBI before the case was dropped. The next time he came to the attention of the authorities the case attracted even more attention. In 2012 and early 2011 Swartz downloaded about 4 million academic articles from the online academic publisher JSTOR. Once he had downloaded them he uploaded them to the internet for free. Once again he was prosecuted and once again the case looked shaky at best. As a faculty member of Harvard University Swartz was perfectly entitled to access the material – the only thing that he could be said to have done wrong was breaking the terms of JSTOR’s service for downloading too many articles. Why Swartz had decided to do this was for reasons as his PACER exercise. To access JSTOR either one has to pay roughly $30 per article or be lucky enough to be a member of the right academic institution. To someone like Swartz, passionately committed to the idea of free information for all JSTOR’s fees were just not tolerable. To the court prosecutor and JSTOR’s attorneys this was violation of copyright and intellectual property theft. The chance to see how the court ruled, and whether either side could mount a strong case can now never be taken because as the case  was within weeks of trial, Swartz was found dead. It is extremely tempting to join the dots here, and blame Swartz’s tragic death on the pressure that the legal system had placed him under. To do so would be overly simplistic, reducing the complexities of mental illness to an unfortunate side effect of fighting for one’s principles. Swartz deserves better than that – he also deserved the opportunity to defend the right to free information in court, and the court’s verdict would have had wider repercussions than just the sad case of Aaron Swartz. What was going to be on trial was not just one man and his attempts to widen access for all – rather, this was perhaps the most high profile occasion when the rules of the internet have come into direct conflict with the old rules and the dynastical guardians of culture and information.

Before the rise of the internet all of the bastions of culture be they publishers, art, books, music and knowledge itself were tightly controlled and monetized for economic gain. In return for our money we were given access to what they had, and we trusted them to be accountable and honest, because we thought we controlled the purse strings. The internet, and people like Aaron Swartz, liberated vast swathes of information art and other culture from under the traditional controls – for better or worse. Instead of operating under the old model of giving us what we pay for, artists and creators have found new ways and systems for making a living and making culture widely accessible like never before. In news and information the revolution has been just as drastic; where once we needed to trust our institutions, politicians and leaders the free flow of information can hold people to account like never before, allowing electorates across the world to be more informed and democratic. One only need to see the difference that organisations like Wikileaks have made to understand that the internet has forever changed the rules of how information works, moves and is exchanged. Whether that is a good thing or not, still remains to be seen.

The story of Aaron is not the only tragedy involving access to information. A darker story has been breaking in recent weeks from Stubenville Ohio. It recently came to light that members of the famous ‘Big Red’ football program had been at a party. A 17 year old girl was there, and after drinking too much she passed out. The rest of the night she was carried around by members of the program who treated her as their own personal rape toy. She was raped multiple times and the attack was filmed. When the story broke, it garnered precious little attention and it looked very much like the case was going to be dropped, and yet another group of perpetrators allowed to get away with they did. They were high school athletes, feted in the community and inured from the consequences of their actions. However the story was picked up by a local blog and found its way online. It came to the attention of KightsSec, a sub-division of the hacking collective known as Anonymous. They threatened the accused with dire repercussions if they did not apologise before the 1st of January and when the deadline passed the hackers started leaking information. Firstly they released a video of a baseball player recounting what he saw at the party in between giggles.  Then came the report which among other things accused the sheriff of being close to the high school athletics coach and complicit in a cover up as well as more horrifying details about the victim and what happened to her.

What the hackers did, was internet vigilantism, and sadly, given how easy victims of sexual assault have been to ignore and neglect, it was probably necessary. If it hadn’t been for the local blogger the story would have been forgotten. If the internet hadn’t been outraged by what happened, who would have noticed something that so many people wanted to go away?

Information has changed permanently with the advent of the internet. It’s a place not unlike the old frontiers of the Wild West. The old rules can now longer apply because so many people are out THERE, in the spaces of the online world all trying to build something. As a cultural object the internet is really only adolescent and conflicts like these are to be expected as the internet becomes more and more integral to how this world works.

If these two cases have anything deep or profound to teach people it isn’t anything nearly as basic as the evils of copyright infringement, or the necessity of free information. Rather, all these stories highlight is the humanity of those avatars you see online. Aaron Swartz wasn’t just a campaigner, a tech wizard and an online hero he was also a 26 year old with depression. Those hackers who leaked the names of teenagers who had done perhaps the worst thing they could do in their young lives were not just people acting as heroes to the weak. They broke the law too. In short, until the rest of our culture catches up to the new frontier of online life, we would all do well to remember the reality of someone else, on the other side of that monitor.

I hope no more 26 year old men with so much to live for don’t kill themselves to escape from the blackness of depression. I hope no more 17 year old girls are raped by boys at parties and I hope that intuitions are accountable without needing the threat of hackers and the leaking of information. Until then we have to keep hoping that the internet can be a where people can do good, whatever that turns out looking like.

 

Jumping the Shark, or, ‘Pointless Milestone’

john-mcclane-zippo-lighter-die-hard-blu-ray-cap

Right,

Firstly, let me get a little bit of shameless bit of self-congratulation out-of-the-way. I started this blog after a slightly drunken chat on New Year’s Eve 2011. A friend challenged me to start writing more regularly and, as with most people who start something for their New Year resolution I never thought it would last longer than a month or so. I thought that, like millions of blogs out there in cyber-space it would splutter along for a little while then fall silent and dormant – just, sitting there occupying a domain name. Thankfully, there were people who seemed interested in this idea of talking about books, films and how the two interact and it was that interest that encouraged me to keep writing.  Along the way I like to think that my writing might have gotten a little better and the ideas talked about became more interesting. So, yes – this might well be a little noticed blog on the critiquing films and books part of the online world, but this is the 50th post, and if there is anything the internet is good at, it’s celebrating possibly pointless milestones. If you’ve ever dropped by this little digital house of mine – thanks a bunch, and here’s to the next 50.

I’ve thought long and hard about what would be the best way to mark the 50th post and after putting in some effort in I realised I couldn’t do any better than one of my favourite films – a Christmas classic too. That’s right people, today; we’re talking about ‘DIE HARD!’

AND THERE IT IS! THEPAGEBOY JUMPS THE SHARK AND GIVES UP ON HIS OWN NICHE!

Yeah. Of course.

Some news for you friends – Die Hard is based on a book.

Ready? Well, let’s begin…

For those of who you don’t know, (possibly you’ve only just awoken from a prolonged coma) Die Hard is a 1988 action movie starring Bruce Willis. The plot centres around the world-weary NYPD cop John McClane (played by Willis in a star making role) who goes out to California on Christmas Eve to try to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly. Holly works in the Nakatomi tower and that night the Tower is taken over by a group of German terrorists led by the charismatic Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman. Yes, really played by Alan Rickman and, if you haven’t seen it, believe me, it is glorious to watch the man chew scenery and put on a MAGNIFICENT fake accent. McClane then dedicates himself to thwarting the bad guys plans and the action and dialogue is just top notch.

As for the rest of the plot, there really isn’t one. We get the good guy, we get the bad guy and we get the conflict. In a sense that’s all the film needs to do, and then the plot (in terms of exposition at least) takes a back seat and we get action. Great action too – for anyone fed up of dour, overly serious action films from today Die Hard shows how to do action properly. John McClane is a fantastic action hero – not a superman, just a regular guy trying to do what he thinks is right. Looking back from the slurry of grey mush like the new Total Recall and the contemptible Expendables movies this film’s approach to action is old-fashioned but so refreshing and FUN to watch.

The film is generally really well made – the setting, exposition and characterisation all work in perfect synch ensuring the film is slick, entertaining and focused on what needs to happen. Again, comparing this film to the flabby, obnoxious action movies generally produced today it is just great to see an action film that synthesises action with story and good character. Now that I’m thinking about it the only other film in my memory that does that even partly successfully lately has been the Avengers.

And yes, believe it or not – this is based on a book.

This is where the story gets interesting though, because the background to the book is slightly more complicated than other adaptations. So, allow me to explain…

In 1966 the thriller writer Roderick Thorp wrote a novel called ‘The Detectives,’ detailing the life of the hard-boiled PI Joe Leland who gets drawn into a noir style investigation. The book is the literary successor to the old Sam Spade books and films and was adapted into a 1968 film of the same name. The film was designed as a vehicle for one of the most famous men in the world at the time, with the part of Detective Joe Leland being played by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself – Frank Sinatra. As opposed to some of the films Sinatra starred in, the film went on to be a huge success and is widely considered to be one of the strongest performances of his film career. Emboldened by his success Thorp wrote a sequel. Inspiration came in 1975 when he went to see The Towering Inferno at the cinema and that night had a dream about a man being chased around a skyscraper by men with machine guns. From this dream Thorp wrote Nothing Lasts Forever, a direct sequel to his first Joe Leland novel and it is Nothing Lasts Forever that was turned into Die Hard.

Yes, that’s right – Bruce Willis plays a character originally played by the legendary Frank Sinatra.

You will never watch Die Hard the same way again…

Thus, we come to the main question – is this a good adaptation? Somewhat surprisingly the film is really faithful to the source material. Altered by the screen writers to be a standalone story all of the main plot elements are kept the same. True, a few names are changed – the book stages the action in the American Klaxon Oil Company and the gang led by Gruber are Cold War Era terrorists. The amazing action scenes of the film are in many cases lifted directly from the novel. Willis crawling through elevator shafts? Done in the book. Willis dropping a C4 bomb down the shaft? Done in the book.

Really I have to say that by most of my criteria this is just a great adaptation. So it looks like I have yet another reason to love this film. With that then I’m going to dig out my DVD and enjoy Bruce Willis blowing stuff up, and if anyone dare complain I can, with my integrity intact, claim to be appreciating culture.

Thanks guys

ThePageBoy

My Wish for 2013

Got some really nice feedback on this piece – my wish for 2013. Hope you like it!

Funk's House of Geekery

Right,

Seeing as we’re now in the bright shiny year of 2013 (only two years away from the future according to Back to the Future II!) it’s time to talk about something that we really need to get rid of. It’s true that 2012 was a great year for a million reasons with the Avengers, Sherlock and Doctor Who all being among my personal highlights. That said there was one thing about 2012 that we shouldn’t miss. Sadly, 2012 was the year that stories like this, this, this and this all broke into wider consciousness and generated a wide amount of anger and, more bafflingly, a backlash to the stories. It’s been a bit of an unspoken truth for a while now, so let me come out and just say it – we need to talk about how geek culture treats people who aren’t men. Or…

View original post 723 more words