Thursday, 30 September 2021

Movies: No Time To Die (no spoilers) review

FILM REVIEW

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

NO TIME TO DIE
Dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Stars: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Rami Malek, Ben Whishaw 
Running Time: 163mins

No Time To Die arrives a year shy of the venerable Bond series' 60th anniversary and concludes the tenure of Daniel Craig in the lead role. Though all but Goldfinger of the original six films contained some degree of serialisation, Craig's time in the lead role has been characterised by plots more tightly interwoven with each other than ever before, all concerned with answering the question of who James Bond is, what role he has to play in the modern world, and what, if anything, that means.

If any conclusions can be reached from what No Time To Die has to offer, few feel satisfying and most outright misguided. Nine years ago, Skyfall - then a standalone film, since uncomfortably retconned into the increasingly incoherent Craigiverse continuity - delivered a self-assured and conclusive answer: Bond as the modern Arthur, an eternal defender forged in the best values of old but existing in a cycle of rebirth and evolution to deal with the threats of changing times. No Time To Die's version of Bond also exists somewhat in legend - one character refers to himself as a 'big fan' of the temporarily-retired spy - but looking at how he's characterised this time around, one can only wonder why.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Games: No More Heroes III (Nintendo Switch) review


GAME REVIEW

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

NO MORE HEROES III
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Marvelous
Platform: Nintendo Switch
 
Goichi Suda, alias: Suda51, remains a rarity in the world of game design: a true auteur. That's not to suggest there's a shortage of well-known or talented designers out there, but few have back catalogues which feel as much a result of a singular artistic vision. As is the case with his stated or assumed influences from the film world, artists like David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky, Suda's games presents worlds which are outwardly insane, but inwardly purposeful. The original No More Heroes was, on the surface, about a lightsabre - sorry, 'beam katana' - wielding geek slaughtering his way thorugh an array of eccentric bosses to reach the top of an assassins' ranking list, all in hope of getting into the pants of a sexy femme fatale. Underneath, it was a story about letting go of past traumas, about how a life of killing destroys the soul, and the emptiness of pursuing external glory rather than personal fulfilment.

No More Heroes III marks a return for Suda to the director's chair of a major game, having withdrawn from the spotlight for over a decade following an extremely difficult experience with EA Games developing Shadows Of The Damned. A small-scale warm-up to this game, 2019's Travis Strikes Again, was the first time Suda had been credited as a game director since the original No More Heroes in 2007. Despite NMHIII's flaws, it is a bold and exciting a reminder of how much the gaming world has missed him.

Friday, 3 September 2021

Summer Movie Mini-Review Roundup, Part Two (including Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings)

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Although cinemas have only just started to reopen as mass vaccination takes the edge off the COVID pandemic, there has been no shortage of movies of all shapes and sizes to watch over the past months. From comic book blockbusters like The Suicide Squad or Black Widow, to more niche genre pieces like Censor or Pig, there has been a satisfying variety of offerings compared to more traditional cinematic summers, which tend to be dominated by major studio releases alone.

Rather than review each individually, these round-ups comprise short reviews of several films released to UK viewers over the past few months. The reviews in Part Two are The Suicide Squad, The Green Knight, Zola, Free Guy, Gunpowder Milkshake, Pig and Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings. Part One, published last Monday, comprised Black Widow, Another Round, Reminiscence, Censor, Jungle Cruise and Old.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Summer Movie Mini-Review Roundup, Part One

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non-Functional.

Although cinemas have only just started to reopen as mass vaccination takes the edge off the COVID pandemic, there has been no shortage of movies of all shapes and sizes to watch over the past months. From comic book blockbusters like The Suicide Squad or Black Widow, to more niche genre pieces like Censor or Pig, there has been a satisfying variety of offerings compared to more traditional cinematic summers, which tend to be dominated by major studio releases alone.

Rather than review each individually, these round-ups comprise short reviews of several films released to UK viewers over the past few months. The six are Black Widow, Another Round, Reminiscence, Censor, Jungle Cruise and Old. Part Two looks at The Suicide Squad, The Green Knight, Zola, Free Guy, Gunpowder Milkshake, Pig and Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

The West's Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is A Shameful Betrayal And An Act Of Catastrophic Self-Harm

As Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan, follwing the lead of US President Biden, the country is on the verge of falling back under the control of the Taliban. Biden's decision, a rare instance of him maintaining the policy of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, appears popular among the American populace. The 2001 War In Afghanistan, which has seen a significant, if dimishing, presence of US and international troops in the country and vast expense poured into what has often appeared a black hole of corruption and directionless nation-building initiatives, has been a source of understandable frustration and embarrassment for the American people in particular at the myriad failures of reactionary post-9/11 policy.

Biden perhaps views the US withdrawal as a win-win. He can present himself as making a decisive, popular move while severing the sunk cost fallacy that the American presence in Afghanistan appears to be. Biden, for better or worse depending on your politics, is determined to build a new America. Departing Afghanistan, in all but a token presence, can be presented as his administration taking the nation forward, freed from its past mistakes. The decision to withdraw the troops by 9/11 is one of those garish pieces of useless symbolism which plays well in the part of the American psyche so constructed around sloganeered storytelling. Unfortunately, in common with so many decisions made since the West invaded Afghanistan two decades ago, a decision based on short-termist illusions of success, seemingly legitimised by domestic popularity, is likely to have destructive consequences not only for the people of Afghanistan, but the stability and moral authority of the West as well.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Difference Between Condemning Booing And Condemning The Right To Boo

England's national football team this weekend returned from their campaign in the Euros, having fallen in characteristic fashion to a penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately, the ugly streak of national team support which previously burnt an effigy of David Beckham for his getting sent off in the 1998 World Cup reappared through racist abuse directed at the black players who missed England's penalties, and the defacing a mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester. This prompted the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to condemn the abuse, only for Tyrone Mings, an England player, to accuse her of having stoked such abuse through her prior position of criticising the players' kick-off stance of kneeling against racism, and her stated belief that it was the fans' right to decide whether to boo it themselves.

As cynical as Patel and this UK government in general are, in that specific instance she was correct that fans are as entitled to boo players making a statement as players were to make that statement in the first place. Irrespective of whether one agrees with the message or the medium in either direction, it should be self-evident that allowing one group of people (players, staff) to communicate their beliefs while denying that right to another group (fans) - particularly when, for the national team, those players are supposed to represent the nation as a whole - is wrong. If the right to boo should have been denied, and possibly punished, then those who cheered ought to have been subject to the same treatment. If the players had decided to stand behind a message that 'All Lives Matter', would the fans have been wrong to boo that as well?

Friday, 23 April 2021

BS With Friends Podcast: On Her Majesty's Secret Service


I was privileged to take part in a very enjoyable podcast about one of my favourite James Bond films, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with resident hosts, Maxwell Roahrig and Xzyliac Ariel. We cover some recent entertainment news stories, Peter Hunt's borderline experimental editing, how Bond beat the Fast & Furious franchise to punch with a flying car (in addition to a double-taking pigeon), and On Her Majesty's gay influence, helped in part by writer Simon Raven, an old-school libertine who was expelled from school - and I quote said school's obituary - 'less for homosexuality than for the bravura with which he practiced it'.
 
Below the jump are links to articles I've written on this blog about Bond, including a set of film reviews and why OHMSS is the great unrecognised Christmas movie. Have fun!

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

The European Super League Could Save Football


Update: Chelsea and every other English club which had signed up to the Super League have now, thankfully and somewhat inevitably, rescinded their membership. Unfortunately, the Champions League reforms, which include their own anti-competitive protections for big clubs, have received little attention and are yet to be addressed. Nevertheless, in celebration of the Super League crumbling at least, I've added a few photos to the article from the protest I attended yesterday outside Chelsea's stadium.

For those who don't follow football - or soccer, if you're Stateside - the five biggest clubs in England, and Tottenham, plus the three biggest from Italy and Spain respectively, announced plans to break away from the major European club competition, the Champions League, in order to form their own, where they, the 'founding members', would be guaranteed participants. It is a cynical attempt to consolidate their power, increase and secure their already vast income streams, and mitigate the financial and symbolic risk of failing to qualify for the top table event in any given year. To put it bluntly, it is an entirely contemptible enterprise. It is so disgraceful that recent reforms to the existing Champions League, which themselves add measures to consolidate qualification for big clubs, have been largely ignored, despite being appalling in their own right.

That several European big clubs (putting aside the strangeness that half the founding clubs of an ostensibly European league are from a country which recently departed the European Union, but I digress) feel emboldened to do this speaks to how far football has strayed from its core purpose of being a working class sport driven by fans rather than corporate interests. In principle, I find it utterly reprehensible. However, I've argued before about how seemingly negative outcomes can produce unexpectedly constructive results, and how bad things can be an opportunity to change the status quo for the better. In that spirit, I'd like to present an alternate interpretation to the current consensus that the proposed Super League will mark the end of football, when it might present the opportunity to save it.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

In Life And In Death, Prince Philip Embodied The Value Of The British Monarchy

The past few years have been turbulent for the British Royal Family. A slew of controversies, from the links between Prince Andrew and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, to the departure of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and their subsequent accusations of experiencing racism within the 'Firm', have led to increased questioning among the young in particular about what the monarchy is for and why it exists in an age of democracy and representation. The death of Prince Philip yesterday, the man who dutifully stood two paces behind the Queen for over seventy years and did more than anyone to make the monarchs visible and accessible to the public, will plausibly only galvanise such questions once the mourning period has faded.

Though many monarchists may recoil at the question being asked at all, it serves an important purpose not only in testing the resilience of the nation's institutions, but the clarity of people's understanding of their usefulness. The Royal Family is not elected or directly accountable to its people, nor should it be, but it cannot persist unless the people feel proud to be represented by them and that the values they embody are the right ones. In this, the allegations surrounding Prince Andrew's close friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, and the Palace seemingly closing ranks to protect him, have been particularly corrosive. If the public is unsure why the monarchy remains important in spite of any controversies surrounding it, either the people in charge of maintaining our institutions, or the institutions themselves, are not doing their job. In this respect, while the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, may be the first step in a period of transition for the monarchy, the remembrance of his remarkable life may also serve to remind the British people of its immense value to the nation and the world.

Friday, 2 April 2021

Uncertainty As The Path To Resurrection In Dante's Commedia

The Christian holidays have become largely divorced from their original meanings. In some ways this is helpful, allowing them to be days of universal celebration rather than exclusively serving a single section of our theologically diverse societies. Christmas is these days about giving, gratitude, and reuniting with loved ones, rather than specifically a celebration of Christ's birth. Christ's story encompasses those qualities, but what is celebrated are the shared values rather than the event itself. Though most are aware of Christmas' religious origins - it's right there in the name - the connection is not necessarily made between those origins and the values it now represents. This inevitably leads to the hackneyed complaint that Christmas is just about 'capitalism', which says more about the complainer's inability to understand the value of giving than they might have wished.

Easter is further divorced from the reasons for its Christian celebration than Christmas. In part, this is because the name does not tie in so obviously. According to the Venerable Bede, a seventh-century monk known as the 'Father of English history' for his ecumenical writings, the month of Christ's resurrection was called Eostremonath in Old English, named for the goddess Eostre. The association between the two stuck even after the name of the month changed. Aside from the loose symbolism of eggs to birth, the idea of resurrection has been lost in how we celebrate Easter today. In search of that original meaning and how it relates to our contemporary lives, we should look to one of the great works of the global literary canon, whose narrative not coincidentally begins on Maundy Thursday, just before Easter Weekend: Dante Alighieri's epic poem, the Commedia.