With that Douglas Adams-y pronouncement, Londonist offers a handy Google Map of all the places in London where Doctor Who has saved the city. “We’ve also, because we’re nice like that, colour coded them by which Doctor it was that defeated them.”
In similar news, and as seen in the comments of Charlie Pierce’s post on this subject, a dig in the center of London uncovers the ancient Roman city beneath. “The area has been dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the north’ due to the perfect preservation of organic artefacts such as leather and wood. One expert said: ‘This is the site that we have been dreaming of for 20 years.’”
In any case, Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013. As I said when Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms passed, I’m of the Hunter Thompson on Nixon school when it comes to political obits. Let’s not diminish what Thatcher passionately stood for throughout her life by engaging in ridiculous happy talk at the moment of her death.
This Prime Minister has lot to answer for, from bringing free market absolutism and trickle-down voodoo economics to England, with all the readily preventable inequality it generated, to supporting dictators and tyrants around the world — Pinochet, Botha, the Khmer Rouge — to, of course, the Falklands War.
Much as with Reagan here in America, England still lives under Thatcher’s shadow. To quote today’s Guardian, “her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.” But to her credit, at least Thatcher (a chemist by training) was very vocal about the threat of climate change in the last years of her life.
Update: Salon‘s Alex Pareene has more evidence for the prosecution, including graphs of the rise of inequality and poverty on Thatcher’s watch:
“Britain no longer ‘makes’ much of anything, and when those lost jobs were replaced, they were replaced with low-wage, no-security service industry work…Really, it’s hard to argue with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who remembered Thatcher on Sky News yesterday: ‘She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis…In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.’” (Last quote also birddogged by Dangerous Meta.)
Before Mulder and Scully, there was Steed and Peel: In the AV Club, Noel Murray sings the praises of “The Avengers’ stylish, lascivious vision of Britishness. I’ll confess that Mrs. Peel remains one of my earliest and enduring fanboy crushes. “[T]he secret to The Avengers’ ribaldry was that it isn’t just about sex: It’s also about power. Gale and Peel didn’t just flummox men with their beauty; they also had brilliant minds, and they kicked gents’ posteriors, routinely.” (Images via Heather McLendon.)
It used to be a central tenet of progressivism was working to shorten the work week. Now, even unemployment-soothing innovations like workshare go nowhere, and, as Mother Jones‘s Monika Bauerlein and Claira Jeffrey explain (with handy graphs), we are all victims of the Great Speedup…but not the beneficiaries. “For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top…In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on — the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games — paid off. For them.”
So, apparently, a stammer was the least of King George VI’s worries. As the Oscar field is announced with The King’s Speech at the head of the pack, Martin Filler muckrakes the rest of the King George story in The New York Review of Books, and Christopher Hitchens piles on over at Slate: “The King’s Speech is an extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot, very prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer and the latent Anglophile. But it perpetrates a gross falsification of history.“
Part monarchical bromance, part speech impediment Rocky, Tom Hooper’s impressive if Oscar Bait-y The King’s Speech — about King George VI of England’s attempts to overcome his debilitating stammer — is, in its own way, as edutaining and well-made a recent royal micro-history as the film concerning his daughter, Stephen Frear’s The Queen. The acting is on point, the writing is keenly-observed, the direction is crisp and well-paced, and if Colin Firth gets a Best Actor Oscar for this to make up for his A Single Man loss (much like Jim Broadbent won for Iris after being overlooked for Moulin Rouge), well, no harm, no foul.
The point being, if in doubt, go see this film. You probably know if this sort of thing — a BBC-ish historical production with a feel-good, sports-movie narrative arc — is your cup of tea, and if it is, have at it, good fellow. Still, chalk it up to haters gonna hate, but I left the theater feeling a little underwhelmed by The King’s Speech. Yes, it is well-made. But it also didn’t do anything that surprised me — wait, so Geoffrey Rush’s speech therapist is both wacky AND wise? Irreverent AND endearing? What a delightful combination! — and I ultimately found the stakes to be rather small.
The film opens in October of 1925, as the shy, discomfited Duke of York, Prince Albert (Firth), waits within the bowels of Wembley Stadium with his doting wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). Third in line to the throne behind his father the King (Michael Gambon) and his rapscallion brother David (Guy Pearce), the Duke is about to deliver an address — to be broadcast worldwide — at the closing ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition. This, alas, he bombs painfully: Albert’s pitiful, strangulated attempts to overcome his stammer make the speech a chore for speaker and millions of listeners alike.
Cut to a decade later, and the poor prince is still prisoner to his unruly glottis. And so, with the Duke at the end of his rope, Elizabeth (who we know better as the beloved “Queen Mum.”) seeks out some aid from a commoner who’s ostensibly trained in the arts of speech therapy, one Lionel Logue (Rush). An Australian transplant to the isles, Lionel is a congenial family man far removed from the etiquette and ostentation of the Crown: The closest he’s ever gotten to royalty is his well-reviewed portrayal of Richard III — another “rudely-stamped” Duke of York, as it happens — back in Perth. But is it possible this scampish, egalitarian therapist has the wisdom and the potential to break through to the future king where others have failed? Gee, you think?
I don’t want to make light of Prince Albert’s stammer, because it seems like a cruel fate indeed for a man born into a family business of speechifying to be afflicted with such a curse. (And Firth does a great job of conveying the sheer horror of it all. At any moment, you can see his fear that he might once again be betrayed by his tongue.) Still, perhaps it speaks to a failure of empathy on my part — I usually do well on the Voight-Kampff, I swear — but the question of whether or not an extraordinarily wealthy and catered-for man can manage to overcome his embarrassing speech impediment was not one I found all that engaging in the end. (This is sorta the same problem I have with Sofia Coppola films, and I fear Somewhere will be no exception.)
It seems the writers recognize the problem here, so to square that circle they invoke the encroaching thunder of World War II. Albert (later George, of course) is more and more explicitly contrasted with that eloquent demon on the Continent, Adolf Hitler, who is mustering a frightful army by virtue of his silver tongue. How will England’s monarch be able to stand against the wrath of Nazi Germany, if he too is not possessed of royal gravitas and a kingly p-p-p-p-poker face? Well, ok, that does raise the stakes some, and, yes, from his decision to stay in London during the Blitz to his 1939 Christmas speech (not featured in the film), the dignity and fortitude of King George VI was indeed a rallying point for his people during the Second Great War.
Still, from watching this movie you’d never get the sense that John Bull already has a great orator in his pocket, in Winston Churchill. (Here, Timothy Spall, who sadly comes off like a guy in a Halloween costume.) At the end of the day, it’s Churchill’s speeches — “their finest hour, “blood, toil, tears, ands sweat,” “we shall fight on the beaches” — that stand the test of time, which, for all its good intentions and attention to craft, makes the central tale in The King’s Speech feel like even more of an historical footnote. (And, as Dangerous Meta points out, Churchil himself was a stammerer. That’s mentioned briefly in the movie, but perhaps not given as much due as it could’ve been.)
In the end, though, the question of stakes is less important than the nagging suspicion throughout The King’s Speech that it was basically just a sports movie for the Merchant-Ivory crowd. There may be a Big Speech at the end instead of a Big Game, but we’re still playing in the same old ballpark. We even have a training montage at one point.
Speech is very well put together to be sure, and if this genre speaks to you then do go see it. Still, I left the theater feeling like I’d seen this exact same sort of tale — adversity overcome with determination and the aid of a kooky-but-wise mentor — way too many times before. Adding British accents, and a stammering one at that, doesn’t really change the tried-and-true Rocky/Remember the Titans/Great Debaters equation at work here in the end.
I haven’t read the original novel — which was chosen as one of TIME’s top 100 books of (most of) the 20th century — but I’m guessing that Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishigoro’s Never Let Me Go is probably pretty faithful to its source material. A sparing, muted, and low-key affair throughout, this is basically a Merchant Ivory science-fiction film, and, much like the butler in Ishigoro’s The Remains of the Day, the movie is a model of delicate — some might even say pained — restraint. That, ultimately, is its strength and its weakness.
To be honest, I found Never Let Me Go rather slow-moving for its first two-thirds, and I have some issues with the basic storytelling here — Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I suspect the book may just be “top-shelf” sci-fi for artsy lit-crit types who think regular genre sci-fi is for dweebs. (I could very well be wrong, of course — Like I said, I haven’t read it.) Still, I wouldn’t go far as to call it haunting, but Romanek’s film has burbled back into mind several times in the weeks since I saw it (and not just because I’ve already seen Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield in separate outings since.)
Set in an alternate England not too dissimilar in dystopic drabness from the one in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, Never Let Me Go begins amid the halls and fields of Hailsham, a country boarding school headed by the always-striking presence of Charlotte Rampling (recently of Life during Wartime.) The name of the school, like Rampling’s character, is reminiscent of Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, and there’s certainly a Dickensian feel to this first third of the story, where events are set in motion that will redound over the course of our protagonists’ lifetimes. (I’m probably overthinking things, tho’. Hailsham is also just the name of the town.)
In any case, although possessing none of the colorful antics or magickal je-ne-sais-quoi of Hogwarts, Hailsham too is a school for very special children. Here, a young girl named Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small), her friend and rival Ruth (Ella Purnell), and Tommy (Charlie Rowe), the strange, vaguely feral lad they both take a shining to, come of age. Wearing wrist monitors wherever they go and deeply fearful of leaving the school grounds, the children are nonetheless heavily trained in the etiquette of the outside world. They are also encouraged to create art — art which is closely monitored by the powers-that-be. But for what, exactly? What is going on with these kids? Only when one of the younger teachers (Sally Hawkins) experiences a twinge of conscience over her students are we clued in to the real goings-on.
Cut to several years later, and our trio — now fully cognizant of their special purpose –has grown into Carey Mulligan (good, but, as in An Education and Wall Street 2, doing the world-weary-with-dimples thing that’s fast becoming her trademark), Keira Knightley (actually kinda terrible — as in The Jacket, she just twitches and twitters to signify emotion — it’s very possible she just can’t act), and Andrew Garfield (with Parnassus, Red Riding, and The Social Network, having a breakout year, but the part is unfortunately a bit Rain Man-y. He does have one amazing scene with Rampling late in the film, tho.)
I can’t say anymore really without giving away the game, other than that the earlier-established love triangle dominates the second part of Never Let Me Go, and the inevitable implications of this trio’s special-ness comes to the fore in the third and most satisfying section of the film. But this final forty minutes or so, while no doubt the best part of the flick, poses problems for the movie as a whole.
The minor, more quibble-ly concern, and one I’m willing to concede for the sake of the overarching theme — we are mortal, and death ineluctable, so use your time well — is that the characters all seem rather resigned to their fates here. Granted this is a civilization accustomed to queueing, that some here do attempt one gambit to buy some time, and that we don’t really need an Americanized action movie version of this story anyway — Bayhem already made it. Still, the fact that a Logan’s Run-type alternative isn’t even suggested at any point highlights some of the overall story flaws here. (In fact, the whole idea of the school doesn’t really make sense, when you get down to it.)
But, you know, in any sci-fi story, you have to take certain basic premises for granted, so I can run with that. The bigger problem here is that a full two-thirds of the movie are spent tracing out a love triangle that barely reaches soap opera levels of sophistication, and one that only holds together at all because two of the parties are as passive as Stevens the Butler about the way they feel. Yes, the ending is haunting in its own way (if a bit overwritten; The final monologue pretty much tries to punch you in the face with the subtext, just in case you missed it.) But why did we have to sit through an hour of Knightley biting her lip or Mulligan third-wheeling it to get to this point?
I don’t want to sound too harsh about this movie, because, overall, I’d say it’s worth seeing, and it has some moments of quiet power. (Like I said, there’s a scene with Rampling, Garfield, and Mulligan over tea near the end that’s a showstopper.) But, partly because the characters in this world are so clipped and distant, and mainly because the love story here is never as interesting as the world it takes place in, I didn’t find Never Let Me Go as gripping in the end as either the hype or the title would imply.
Ninety-one years after the terms were first agreed to, Germany makes its last WWI reparations payment this weekend. “Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, France, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following defeat in the war, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.”
As the new government in England announces plans to abolish it, The Playlist makes a cinephile’s case for the U.K. Film Council. “Recent successes have included ‘Man On Wire,’ ‘Fish Tank,’ ‘In The Loop,’ ‘Hunger’ and ‘This Is England,’ films that, to be frank, may well have remained in development hell were it not for the UKFC…In fact, as a funding body, the UKFC is remarkably successful, returning 5 pounds for every pound that the council invests — a rate of return that any studio would be jealous of.“
“She knew that her husband was gun-running, she knew that he was accompanied by rebels and at one point she used her yacht to decoy government boats and aircraft away from the direction which her husband was taking.” The Dancer Upstairs? Newly-released documents suggest ballerina legend Margot Fonteyn was more active in a failed Panamanian coup than anyone knew at the time. Said Foreign Office Minister John Profumo (later of the Profumo scandal): “I had to pinch myself several times during her visit to be sure I wasn’t dreaming the comic opera story which she unfolded.”
Continuing a hallowed tradition of Olympic mascot #fail — Fret not, Iz’, you’re still the worst — the London 2012 powers-that-be unleash Wenlock and Mandeville, the 2012 Olympic mascots. Like other Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville are meant to evoke the spirit of the Games and the host country, but also connect children with sports. At first glance, these non-mammalian characters seem far from achieving those goals.“
“Could I offer one piece of serious advice?…Start thinking now about you want your legacy to be.” Having made peace with The Queen, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen once more) now contends with President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton (Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis respectively) in this brief teaser for Richard Loncraine’s The Special Relationship, written by Peter Morgan. (This is the fifth Morgan/Sheen collaboration after The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Damned United.) With this, Treme, The Pacific, Song of Ice and Fire, and Boardwalk Empire, the reasons for re-subscribing to HBO seem to be mounting.
After a cantankerous election that got positively (In the) loopy at times (or, if you prefer, Coakley-esque), Prime Minister Gordon Brown has resigned, ending thirteen years of Labor rule, and Conservative David Cameron is the new PM of a coalition Tory-Liberal Democrat government. [Bio.]
According to E.J. Dionne, “Cameron’s decision to ally with the Lib Dems could have a far-reaching impact on his own party. Many on the right end of the Tory Party are wary of the alliance — a mirror of the reaction on the Labour left. Cameron’s eagerness for a deal suggests he really may want to remake the Conservative Party along more progressive lines. I guess we’ll soon find out.
Update: Speaking of In the Loop, the man himself, Armando Ianucci, weighs in: “Nnnyaaaaaghwooohaaooooororarararararghhhhhhh. That’s the message the electorate gave on Thursday. A long, angry, discordant noise that eventually became silly…[F]or a result that so perfectly expresses the public’s mounting mix of contempt, confusion, and sheer bloody-minded desire to see the political classes sit down to eat humble pie, stand up to get thwacked on the head with the remainder, and then shoved into a corner to be locked in a dark cupboard to sit in their own mess, Thursday’s result was sheer comic genius.“
Consisting of Julian Jarrold’s Red Riding 1974, James Marsh’s Red Riding 1980, and Anand Tucker’s Red Riding 1983, these, unlike the various threads of Brooklyn’s Finest, are three interlocking crime stories than actually enhance and deepen one another, all the while telling one story. And, like The Wire and unlike Brooklyn again, nothing is spelled out for the audience, and all the pieces matter. Over six hours, it all adds up to a grim, complicated, and often harrowing portrait of the Evil that Men do in deepest, darkest Yorkshire.
In the first and arguably best installment, it is the Year of our Lord 1974, and a young girl has gone missing. On the case right away is Eddie Dunford, an enterprising journalist just back from a long stint in London (Andrew Garfield, late of Gilliam’s Imaginarium), who very quickly — too quickly, for the cops on the case — ties the disappearance to two earlier murders. But when the child’s body is found, with swan wings stitched into her back, no less, the case officially passes into the hands of Jack Whitehead (Eddie Marsan, late of Sherlock Holmes), the paper’s lead reporter and something of a worthless drunk.
Regardless, Eddie’s interest is piqued, and he continues to follow the leads where they take him — from the arms of a beautiful-but-sad Girl of the North Country (Rebecca Hall) to the clutches of the local developing magnate (Sean Bean), who holds grand ambitions and no small amount of pull in the community. And, while Eddie first thought his drinking buddy Barry (Anthony Flanagan) was a wee bit paranoid for ranting on about disappearances and death squads in li’l old Yorkshire, he starts to wonder about it some when Barry becomes the victim of a horrible sheet glass accident. Was Barry in fact murdered? And if so, how deep does this rabbit hole go?
Deep enough that Detective Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is still trying to sort things out six years later, in the Year of our Lord 1980. A Manchester cop reassigned to this beat to help catch the Yorkshire Ripper, or at least to figure out why he hasn’t been caught after thirteen victims, Hunter and his team (Tony Pitts, Maxine Peake) uncover some…discrepancies in the case files of one of the victims. Either the police work is exceedingly shoddy, or the Yorkshire Ripper now has a copycat — or maybe it’s just convenient for some murders to look like Ripper victims.
This all brings to mind the last time Detective Hunter found himself in this godforsaken corner of the North. That would be six years earlier, when he was assigned to look into a bloody crime scene that left a few extra bullets and lots of unanswered questions. The problem is, some folks in town don’t seem to want either of these mysteries looked into anymore, and Hunter has left himself dangerously exposed by recently engaging in an illicit office romance. Something’s gotta give, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the wall of silence that surrounds so many of the sinister goings-on in this riding…
Cut to the Year of our Lord 1983, when, just as the Ripper’s bloody swath through this area is at last fading into grim memory, another local girl goes missing. This conjures dismal memories of the case nine years earlier for Detective Superintendent Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey, a.k.a. “The Next Doctor“), one of the higher-ups on the Yorkshire police force, who we’ve seen engaged in some dodgy behavior in the first two installments. (He’s known as the Owl, not to be confused with the Wolf, the Swan, or the Badger.)
Meanwhile, on a visit to his late mother’s home, a local solicitor (Mark Addy, soon of Robin Hood) is guilt-tripped by his old neighbors into revisiting the case of the developmentally disabled man (Daniel Mays) convicted of the 1974 child murders. Suffice to say, there are some troubling holes in the prosecution’s story, and they seem to point right back at “enhanced interrogation” practices in the Yorkshire PD. And when another local man (Gerard Kearns) is taken into custody for this new child disappearance, well, it starts to seem like this has all happened before — and the good lawyer’s father might have been deeply involved.
In all honesty, the story skips off the rails a bit in 1983 — A medium becomes involved in the previously played-straight story, and the original village conspiracies get to be a bit too baroque for plausibility. (Even notwithstanding the huge body count at this late date, there would now seem to be [spoilers-highlight to read]two different and almost-completely unrelated shady operations at work by now.) And, in any event, the overarching three-film plot becomes so byzantine at times that it does get quite hard to maintain the thread. (I’m still unclear as to why [same]the cops shot up the Kirachi Club after Eddie left in 1974. What were their intentions anyway?)
But taken as a whole, this glum trilogy has an admirably dark mojo to it. I mentioned The Wire early on, but perhaps the best analogue for these films is to think of them as sort of an extended British version of Zodiac. If you can handle the violence, the accents, and the unrelenting Yorkshire gloom, the Red Riding trilogy is worth the trip…just be careful who you talk to while you’re there.
“[N]obody knows who the faceless figures, who often appear as motionless couples are, or why they are turning up at high profile events. Theories include the possibilities that they are limelight-seeking pranksters, performance artists or that they are at the centre of a viral marketing campaign for an as-yet unknown product of forthcoming horror film.” I, for one, welcome our new faceless overlords.
“This is a very unusual theft and I am confident that someone locally will have knowledge about who is responsible or where the memorial stone is at present.” By way of Ted, someone has walked away in silence with Ian Curtis’ tombstone. (Here’s the scene of the crime.)
“When she saw William playing a game after lunch at Sandringham she thought the Nintendo looked tremendous fun and begged to join in. She played a simple ten-pin bowling game and by all accounts was a natural.” Hey, Helen Mirren, how much ya bowl? By way of Web Goddess, it seems Queen Elizabeth has taken to the Wii. “Although she is 81 the Queen’s hand-eye co-ordination was as good as somebody half her age…She showed all the signs of becoming a Nintendo addict.”
Speaking of US-international relations, with Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and rewrites of State of Play and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy under his belt, British writer Peter Morgan now plans a sequel to The Queen “which will examine former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s relationships with U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.” Michael Sheen is set to reprise his role as the PM, although director Stephen Frears is not returning.
“I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that — the end.” So long, Tony (and good luck in the Middle East.) ‘We’re very glad to see him go, because he’s the most dangerous opponent that we’ve had in a couple of hundred years,’ former Conservative leader William Hague told the BBC afterward.‘” That may have been true for awhile, I guess. Too bad Blair decided to pull an LBJ and mar his otherwise-sound progressive legacy with an exceedingly ill-advised foreign war. But, time marches onward, so, with that in mind, Hello to Gordie and the New Labor Order.
“I am going to say something that few people in public life will say, but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today – outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else – is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms.” In his final weeks as prime minister, Tony Blair addresses the problem of the media, calling it “like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits.” (Full text of remarks.) “The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by ‘impact’. Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.“
I wouldn’t say the feral beast metaphor gets right at it — until last year, most of the major news media, in this country at least, was rather well domesticated: It let Dubya lie his way through just about anything, including building a case for war in Iraq on false pretenses, with impunity. But, clearly something is broken with “this relationship between public life and media,” as Blair put it. In the midst of a conflict that’s been dragging on longer than World War II, you’re still likely to hear more about Paris Hilton’s jail travails (Prison sucks? Our criminal justice system tends to favor the wealthy? Who knew?), Don Imus’s racist bromides (A bile-spewing racist on talk radio? Wherever did they find him?), or the winner of American Idol, to take only three recent examples, than anything of use about the status of the conflict, or our actions, there. And even coverage of the horrifying tragedy at Virginia Tech, obviously a legitimate news story, descended into exploitation almost immediately (and provoked very little understanding that this level of tragedy has become virtually a daily occurrence in Iraq.) They’re just giving us what they want, I suspect the comeback is, and that’s almost assuredly true. But, still, it’d be nice to see a little more daily recognition from our major journalistic outlets that the mass media in our society performs a crucial — if not the crucial — function in informing the electorate on current events and providing the information indispensable to maintaining an active, responsive citizenry, and that other factors should come into play in their coverage than just the corporate bottom line. Update: From the press box, Slate‘s Jack Shafer cries foul.
If you didn’t catch 28 Days Later, no worries: The eerie prologue of this film, which takes place back in the early days of the “Rage Virus” outbreak, will give you the basic gist. We begin with a couple (Robert Carlyle of Trainspotting, Catherine McCormack of Braveheart) holed up in an English cottage somewhere in the countryside, counting their canned goods and waiting, with a handful of other survivors, for the storm to pass. But, pass it doesn’t, and soon enough the virus, which turns one almost instantly from well-meaning human to ferocious, bloodthirsty monster (Think the Black Smurfs. Gnap!), is extant in the cottage, and tough split-second decisions must be made. Flash-forward to 28 weeks later, as this couple’s two children (Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots) — thankfully at summer camp in Spain during the outbreak — are returned to the “Green Zone” of a nearly-empty London. England’s capital, as it turns out, is now being run and reconstructed by the United States Military, under the auspices of a no-nonsense Gen. Stone (Idris Elba, a.k.a. Stringer Bell. No Slim Charles around, tho’, which is too bad for everyone else.) Life proceeds somewhat normally in the Emerald City, thanks to the watchful eyes of army snipers such as the Cpl. Hicks-ish Doyle (Jeremy Renner of Dahmer) and savvy military doctors such as Scarlett (Rose Byrne of Troy.) But, partly due to an ill-advised expedition by the children to their old home — you just knew somebody was going to do something stupid — the Rage Virus breaks loose in London again, and the American military presence finds that really drastic actions may be necessary to win the worldwide war on zombies…
Reconstruction, an American occupation gone horribly wrong, Green Zones irrevocably infected by viral terror from the surrounding areas…I don’t really need to draw a map, do I? Still, one of the strengths of Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later, like BSG and the best in sci-fi social commentary, is that it doesn’t really align to any easy 1-1 reading of current events. When the US army stops distinguishing between zombie and civilian and shoots at will, or firebombs the city in an attempt to stem the outbreak (not a huge spoiler — it’s a major selling point in the trailer), it’s hard not to grimace ruefully and think of other occupations-gone-bad in our recent history. Yet, things aren’t so simple here: One of the things I admired most about this very dark film is its sheer remorselessness. From its opening moments and throughout, it instills a visceral fight-or-flight dread in the audience and refuses to let us off the hook, inviting us less to tsk-tsk about the hubris of American military overreaching and more to ponder what measures — moral, immoral, amoral — we might take to ensure our own survival in this nightmarish universe. Time and time again in 28 Weeks Later, compassion is absolutely the wrong answer to the problem at hand, and — though there’s less of this as the characters crystallize into horror-movie stereotypes over the course of the film — people surprise you with the decisions they choose to make with their backs to the wall. Maybe the scariest thing about Fresnadillo’s film — and the zombies are at times pretty damn scary — is its dark take on human nature, and what it ultimately suggests about the usefulness of good intentions under extreme pressure. To wit, they’re not very useful at all — if anything, they’re the road to Hell on Earth. So before you offer that helping hand, the relentlessly grim 28 Weeks Later suggests, buy some good running shoes.
“I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history.” Jimmy Carter calls out Dubya’s foreign policy as the worst ever. (As noted earlier, several prominent historians have already come to that conclusion.) “Asked how he would judge [Tony] Blair’s support of Bush, Carter said: ‘Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient.‘” Well, maybe he’ll do better at the Bank. Update: Or does he? Carter backs down.
“Within the next few weeks I won’t be the prime minister of this country. In all probability a Scot will become prime minister of this country and that’s someone who built one of the strongest economies in the world and who I’ve always said would make a great prime minister.” With recent tough defeats for Labor in Scotland punctuating his closing weeks, Tony Blair announces he will make an announcement tomorrow concerning his forthcoming resignation and likely replacement by Chancellor Gordon Brown. And, across the channel, France elects Nicolas Sarkozy as its new president, a conservative who’s seen as both US-friendly and Dubya-friendly. Meanwhile, E.J. Dionne wonders what recent events mean for European — and American — progressives. Update: Tony Blair announces his last day: June 27.
“What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it does mean that the next chapter in Basra’s history can be written by Iraqis.” While the Dubya administration continue to press for its “surge,” Prime Minister Tony Blair announces the withdrawal of 1600 troops from Iraq, leaving approximately 5,500 British soldiers in the now Shiite-controlled region of Basra. [video.] “Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said though the British and American strategies appear to be opposite, they will achieve the same end: a consolidation of Shiite power in Iraq. The British have already acquiesced to a ‘situation of quiet sectarian cleansing’ in the south, and their decision to pull out of Basra simply marks ‘acceptance of a political reality’ of Shiite control in the region.“
Just as I didn’t have much hankering to see a film about United 93 at first, I’ve been presuming that not much would interest me less than a movie about the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in 1997. (Obviously, the loss of any relatively young person in a car crash, particularly one as committed to international concerns as Diana was, is tragic. But in all honesty, when I think of the hubbub and hysterics surrounding her untimely death, it reminds me of the “Baby Diego” sequence in Children of Men.) That being said, I’m happy to say that Stephen Frears’ The Queen is, like United 93, a surprisingly good depiction of recent history. Less a paean to “the people’s princess” than a sharp-witted rumination on changing social values and the effect of global “Oprahization” on contemporary politics, The Queen is an intelligent, discerning and enjoyable slice-of-life that’s well worth catching.
As the film begins — after a wink similar to the one opening Marie Antoinette — the young, charming, and recently-elected face of New Britain, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen), ventures to Buckingham Palace with resolutely anti-monarchist wife Cherie (Helen McCrory), in order to request of his sovereign Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) that he be allowed to form a government. A study in contrasts, the emotive, familiar prime minister and the punctilious, reticent Queen get on less well as exemplars of New and Old England than, say, Peel and Steed. Reared and residing in a bastion of venerable tradition, where faxes are still delivered in a wicker basket and feelings are not discussed, Queen Elizabeth has little patience for Blair’s studied informality and populist bonhomie. But, when tragedy strikes several months later, in the form of Princess Diana’s death at the hands of the loathsome paparazzi, the Crown finds itself soon embroiled in a downward spiral of their own making, as — the Prince of Wales (Alex Jennings) notwithstanding — the royal family shows little inclination to convert their grief into a public display (or to honor someone they’ve come to perceive as an impulsive and manipulative interloper.) And, when England’s people begin to surround Buckingham Palace with wreaths and bouquets that come to seem as menacing as torches and pitchforks, it falls on the prime minister to attempt to instruct the Queen on the vagaries of politics in the Tabloid era, before permanent damage is wrought upon the monarchy.
More than United 93, the film that actually comes to mind when watching The Queen is Nixon. Like Oliver Stone’s film, The Queen attempts to humanize a oft-maligned world figure for whom much of the audience may have little sympathy. Like Nixon, it portrays a government increasingly besieged by its own people, and a bewildered political leader who finds they’ve lost touch with their electorate or subjects (Consider the scene of Nixon at the Lincoln Memorial, or all the perhaps over-the-top talk of “the beast” therein.) And, of course, the Queen’s relationship to the fallen Diana is depicted here much like Nixon’s (and LBJ’s) to John — and later Bobby — Kennedy. This holds true particularly in the later scenes of the film, as Elizabeth is forced to confront the fact that, for all her sacrifices, she’ll never compete with the fallen princess in the public’s esteem.
The emotions this sad realization elicits, along with many others in the film, are visible only in the margins of Helen Mirren’s mask of public composure, bringing home the conflict between restraint and immodesty (or, if you’d prefer, suppression and sensitivity) at the center of the film. Mirren, as always, is excellent here, and I’d guess her Oscar is already in the bag: She invests her monarch with grace and dignity even while frumpily walking her dogs down the lane, and rises above the very occasional clunks in the script (The buck stops here, indeed.) And Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair grows on you. At first, he seems off, but eventually you get the sense that he conveys Blair’s more notable qualities rather well: intelligence, boyishness, a way with people, and a potentially problematic penchant for deference. (Indeed, just when it seems the movie’s portrayal of Blair has grown cloying beyond words, Mirren’s Queen puts him in his place, and ties 1997′s hero of Labor to the more troubling Blair of today, one who could and should have more aggressively instructed his American counterpart on the vagaries of leadership in the reality-based world.)
“Saying, ‘Bring it on’; kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner, you know. ‘Wanted, dead or alive’; that kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. And so I learned from that.” In a joint press conference, Dubya and Tony Blair own up to some mistakes in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib — “the biggest mistake“, according to Dubya — and de-Baathification, according to Blair. “The prime minister’s examples appeared to be a direct rebuke of both the Pentagon’s insistence that a detailed “nation-building” plan was unnecessary before the invasion and the push by key members of Bush’s administration for broad de-Baathification.“
“The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.” The NYT relates the details of a January 2003 pre-war meeting between Bush and Blair, and it’s not pretty. Not surprisingly (and like the July 2002 Downing Street memos, the recollections of Paul O’Neill, and countless other sources), this new material confirms that Dubya and the neocons wanted a war in Iraq, come hell or high water.
“We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be ‘yes.’” Several internal Downing Street memos, recently obtained by the Guardian, suggest that our British allies have been wary of US mismanagement in Iraq since at least 2003, when Baghdad envoy John Sawers called the US post-invasion operation “an unbelievable mess.” (By way of Dateline: Bristol.)
“America, your head’s too big, because, America, your belly’s too big, and I love you, I just wish you’d stay where you is.” Oops…watch yourself, Morrissey. On the eve of a new album, the former Smiths frontman says the FBI and British Intelligence have come ’round his door.
It’s a good time to live in New York: Not only are the Knicks suddenly playing winning basketball again, but Match Point is, as rumored, a return to form for that consummate Manhattanite (and unabashed Knicks fan), Woody Allen. Mining the same misanthropic vein as Crimes and Misdemeanors, the movie nevertheless feels — aside from a few nods to Allen’s usual high-culture influences and the occasional Annie Hall-ish quirk by Emily Mortimer — unlike anything Woody’s done in years. Gone are the Upper East Side setpieces (we’re in London this time) and that quintessential Allen stammer. (Heck, Ewan Bremner, a British Allen analogue if there ever was one, is in this movie and even he’s not doing it.) Instead, we’re left with an increasingly dark amorality play about ambition, adultery, and the considerable, if not terrifying, role of blind luck in organizing the universe.
Unfortunately, Match Point suffered from one of those three-minute summary-type trailers. If you’ve seen it, you probably already know more than you want about the story. If you haven’t, here’s the abbreviated version: Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, more believable as a tortured soul than a romantic lead), a former tennis pro who gives lessons at the club by day and reads Dostoevsky by night, befriends Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) one of his more dissolute upper-crust students, and, over opera and cocktails, wins the heart of Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Soon, with his good graces and acquired cultural literacy, Chris has managed to seduce the whole Hewett family, including Tom and Chloe’s father (Brian Cox, surprisingly not chewing the scenery) and mother (Penelope Wilton, surprisingly — to me — not chewing on flesh.) But, trouble arises in the second set when Chris meets a kindred spirit in Tom’s fiancee, the vampish American Nola (Scarlett Johansson, better-than-usual). Soon, Chris finds himself laying his new life on the line in order to get closer to Nola, with potentially disastrous results…
As the paragraph above attests, Match Point is in part a tale of scheming class climbers skulking about London’s higher social echelons, a conceit that still paid dividends in Henry James’ day but may seem relentlessly dated now, at least as it’s presented by Allen. And, indeed, what with the high-culture name-drops (Strindberg, Sophocles) and all the old-money accoutrements favored by the Hewetts, this often seems like London by way of Merchant-Ivory more than any real place on the globe. But, I think this stylization is forgivable, particularly since, ultimately, Woody is hunting bigger quarry than class and its pretensions anyway. Giving away the details of the third act would be a crime, but Allen aficionados won’t be surprised to find that Chris eventually finds himself wrangling with an — or the — existential dilemma. And it’s with this final act that the film itself leaps a notch and joins the upper ranks of Allen’s oeuvre. Who knows? Perhaps Woody just got lucky this time. After all, chance favors the prepared mind…or are we all just fortune’s fools?
As our GOP Congress looks to shoot the messenger over secret prisons, England’s House of Commons rejects an anti-terror bill pushed by Prime Minister Blair — his “first defeat” after 8 years in office — which would allow terrorist suspects to be held for 90 days without charge. Meanwhile, France approaches the two-week mark of youth rioting, despite curfews, increased jail time, threats of deportation, and the shutdown of instigating blogs, and the rest of Europe looks on with trepidation…
“This is a war of the unknown warriors; but let all strive without failing in faith or in duty.” Only a day after Olympic euphoria, London suffers its worst attack since the Blitz, resulting in 38 dead and 700 wounded. Many condolences to the people of London and the families of the fallen, and I hope these cowardly and reprehensible bombings won’t overly divert Tony Blair and the G8 from their larger agenda (even if Dubya refuses to play ball on global warming.)
“‘A post-war occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise.’ The authors add, ‘As already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point.’” Using the Dubya administration’s blatant lack of postwar prep as their news-peg, the Washington Post finally headlines the Downing Street Memo on their front page, over a month after the story broke overseas. Well, better late than never, I suppose.
Disgruntled supporters of mutantkind, take heart: X3 is in very good hands. I caught Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake this afternoon, and it’s a smart, stylish, and sublimely smooth British crime film that does Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch one better. Well, ok, Layer Cake isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as Lock Stock can be at times, but it’s much cleverer than Snatch and, frankly, better-made. And, for that matter, it takes less joy in violence for its own sake than Ritchie’s oeuvre (one grisly scene set to Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” notwithstanding.) In fact, in terms of tone,
Layer Cake centers on cocaine dealer Daniel Craig (burnishing his possible Bond credentials), a consummate smooth operator who treats his criminal enterprise like a business and, as per the usual, is just looking forward to an early retirement around the corner. But his best-laid plans are interrupted by two ugly developments: 1) His boss Jimmy (Kenneth Cranham) enlists him to track down the junkie daughter of even bigger crime-lord Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon, relishing the dark side), and 2) a loose cannon flunky known as the Duke (Jamie Foreman of I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead and Roman Polanski’s forthcoming Oliver Twist) has just rolled in from Amsterdam trying to unload a million doses of Ecstasy (a drug haul with a nefarious history of its own.)
The rest of the movie consists of Craig trying to navigate the increasingly narrow straits between these two troubles, with the occasional aid of muscle Colm Meaney, middle-man George Harris, and a host of other ne’er-do-wells. Essentially, you know the drill — this is a puzzle film in which you’ll have to listen carefully and learn to distinguish between various delinquents with names like Tiptoes, Kinky, Slasher and Shanks. And, while the final few grifts just get a bit too big to be believable, for the most part the story holds together with intelligence and verve, in no small part to Daniel Craig, who’s a magnetic presence here, and Matthew Vaughn, who displays a crisp, confident direction that’s all the more impressive for being showy without ever seeming flashy. To him, his X-Men.
Upon Tony Blair’s third election victory (albeit one that may well lead to his ousting), the WP‘s Dan Balz makes the case that the Dems could learn much from Labor “Blairism”. I don’t think simply moving to the center is the right answer for the wayward Dems — We need to focus less on that type of protective camouflage and more on articulating our own principles, particularly as they differ from those of the GOP, who routinely and as a matter of pride put corporate profits before the American people. Still, there is some food for thought here.
One intriguing passage: “Where Blair, Brown and Labor cannot help the Democrats is on the social issues or the intersection of religion and politics. There is nothing comparable in British politics. Howard tried to make abortion an issue at one point but quickly abandoned it under pressure from all parts of the spectrum. When Blair proposed using the words ‘God bless’ in a speech before the Iraq war, his advisers hooted him down.”
Filming on the new Doctor Who runs afoul of British anti-terrorism forces. The article also has one of the first pics up of Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. Between this and the Batman post above, I know I’m starting to sound like the fanboy Joan Rivers…but what’s up with the lousy costume? Surely, any Time Lord worth his salt would wear something a mite more quirky.