Random Musings on Three Films with No Conclusion Asked or Given

‘Stoker’ is the third film I’ve watched this month to deal explicitly with male obsession in regards to women. The first and most overt was ‘Under the Skin’, that particular film intimately explores heterosexual male and female relations, giving particular focus to the role women have as sexual objects for men. It is at times, deeply uncomfortable and in so being forces the watcher to confront a darker reality than is usually witnessed in conversations in the light of day. It concerns itself with what happens in the darkness of a club or the predawn around suburban houses, the edges of existence. To a great extent the film conveys an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear in being alone and objectified.

The second is a film that I am a little confused by, the film is ‘MASH’, a film that is heavily critical of war as a practice, yet the characters who embody this viewpoint in one memorable scene, humiliate a woman, making her suffer for their amusement. My problem with it is that up until that point and even after, I watched a film with a perspective on war that found itself based on compassion. But in that scene the principal characters demonstrated such cruelty and callosness and had their actions rewarded and endorsed.

The third and final one that I mentioned earlier is ‘Stoker’, I won’t get too deep into the specifics of the film, as at least part of my joy in watching it involved unravelling the characters and their motivations. What I will discuss briefly is about the central figure of the film, India. She is throughout defined by her sex, and her sexual awakening coupled with the arrival of her Uncle leads to some disturbing violence. It’s also, out of the three, the one I have least of a handle on and I’m certainly going to try to find a decent article that gives a reading of this film.

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LEGO SPEAK

I just had a discussion with a mate of mine who adored ‘The LEGO Movie’, so much so that despite seeing it in the cinema he now also owns a copy on blu-ray. That talk made me work through my feelings on that particular movie, feelings of which I am going to to articulate/vent/spew here.

Firstly, I was intrigued by the film, I certainly didn’t loathe it, I even rewatched it, not only because I enjoyed my experience but also to figure out what precisely was nagging at me, why was it that when I watched the film there was this little nugget of conflictedness rearing itself in that squishy thinky part of me. The conclusion I came to, and a rather unpolished one at that, was that it felt like Toy Story with real, preexisting toys. This conclusion, while not incorrect, lacked a certain level of nuance. So the talk earlier with my ‘The LEGO MOVIE’ loving friend helped me flesh out those feelings and give a little more substance to my thought than I had previously.

Animated shows of the late eighties (which I wasn’t alive to see but regardless) and nineties (which I was) existed to sell shit, Transformers, Biker Mice from Mars, that one with the Sharks in a motorcycle gang, yet even when revisiting them I don’t get weirded out. Probably because I first watched them as a child, so at that time you’re not really thinking on any sort of ‘THESE SONS OF BITCHES ARE TRYING TO MANIPULATE ME!’ level. But also and I think importantly here, they exist on a level of abstraction, Transformers as far as I recall was never something I watched (it may not have been on British tv?) but in both the cartoons and Michael Bay’s films you aren’t watching the toys, what you are watching is either drawn or computer animated machines of alien origin. Whereas ‘THE LEGO MOVIE’ has the toys in a fashion that while slightly idealised (no chew-marks from difficult to separate pieces) are completely representative of the product you get out of the box. You could of course argue that like the Transformers, the lego characters move on their own, without a child’s hand to manipulate them. Except of course for the part of the film where a child does manipulate and play with the lego figures, and his developing relationship with his father, which then leads directly to a scene that epitomizes many toy commercials of my youth, that of the FATHER FIGURE PLAYING AND HAVING FUN WITH HIS SON! You actually root for this reconciliation during the film, you want that scene to happen and like a dog following a trail of treats, inevitably find yourself trapped in an upturned washing basket.

I know when I watch this film that I’m being manipulated and the film tells me; ‘HEY DUMB-ASS! HERE ARE A BUNCH OF LEGO PRODUCTS, DON’T THEY LOOK FUCKING COOL?’ The worst thing is that they do! The toys do look cool and fun, the film succeeds in persuading you that lego is a great thing to play with, especially as it allows you to FORM INTIMATE AND CLOSER BONDS WITH FATHER! And that’s what gets to me, it’s like a conman telling you he’s going to pick your pocket then you’re all surprised when you can’t find your wallet. You’re a little impressed but also annoyed, you’ve paid with whatever is in your wallet to be fooled and that, despite all the glamour and skill involved, rubs me the wrong way.

If you didn’t pay for this entertaining commercial, either through someone else buying it or literally ANY OTHER WAY that didn’t involve you giving money to film that tells you to BUY BUY BUY! Then you’ve won! For the rest of us, I feel compelled to re-purpose a quote from a classic;

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved ‘THE LEGO MOVIE’®

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A Sequence of Observable Events in Watch_Dogs, or Peeping Psycho

Due to the upcoming announcement of Watch_Dogs 2, I was reminded of this piece I wrote. I’ve gone back and edited it a little. I do hope that the next game breaks away from the monstrous but ultimately boring character that is, Aiden Pearce.

Watch_Dogs isn’t a great game, it’s not a terrible one either, this isn’t an original or controversial opinion, like the game itself, mediocrity is the consensus. There is one element of this lackluster game that I’ve taken quite a shine to, the ‘Privacy Invasion’ activity. This, one of the many side activities in Watch_Dogs, involves finding a junction box and hacking it. Occasionally it’s a little more complex but the basic formula of find the thing, follow a line until you find another thing to unlock the first thing, stands. What I’m intrigued by is what happens after that, you get treated to an extended tableau, or the alternatively, the first act of a play, an intrusion into the lives of the denizens of Chicago. They range, much like life itself, from the mundane to the creepy and occasionally the emotionally touching. You experience, like the voyeur you are playing, a snapshot into complex lives.

I’d like to talk briefly about two of these unsettling intrusions. The first happens in medias res, a man and his topless companion are playing Russian roulette, the woman holding the gun towards him and while the man eggs her on to pull the trigger, which she does, several times. Her nudity acts as a visual cue, the breaking of a taboo which signals the possibility of more broken taboos to come, that the gun held precariously could, before the end, expel a small but fatal shard of metal, ending in explicit violence. This didn’t happen, the scene ends in suspense with the woman putting the still presumably loaded and miraculously unfired gun to her own head.

The second is a far more subdued scene, the camera’s view isn’t total, partially blocked by a table or chair. A man, which the wonderful magic phone you carry with you is able, despite the obstruction of view, to identify him. It tells you that he’s a seventy year old man with cancer in remission. He remains motionless and you could, presumably, look on his prone form forever without the camera kicking you out. The only action you have is to hack a phone lying strewn on the floor. Doing so brings up an answerphone message, left just that morning from a concerned son who’s decided that his father should live with him and that he’d be by in the evening to pick him up. Usually these encounters end themselves quickly, kicking you out of the scene, but this one hangs on, I was starting to wonder whether I could leave it on forever and was consequently a little disappointed when it did, after an admittedly decent amount of time, lock me out. Yet that lengthening of the traditional time was done well and impressed me, these incidents were clearly created with some level of thought into the detail.

Neither offers resolution, we don’t know whether the gun will, as Chekhov is famously quoted as saying, go off in the second or third act. Nor do we know whether the man lying on the floor is alive and even if he is, we don’t know what will happen next. Importantly for a game we are unable to influence the future of these figures, we can’t call the police to get the first two arrested (hopefully saving their lives) nor can we call the ambulance for the old man. We are impotent, unfortunately these privacy invasions are not about helping people, they are about being a pretty creepy voyeur, which does suit the personality of Aiden Pearce, the role that you are supposed to inhabit, but is pretty unsatisfying if you wanted to play the game with any illusions that you were a good guy. Often, what little choice you have in these scenes make you anything but, with frequent opportunities to hack the bank account of those you surveil. This, while feeling like a twisted sense of justice against an objectifying misogynistic ass, becomes needlessly cruel against a couple fighting terminal cancer.

What this says about the lead character speaks to the pointlessness of moral choice in a game centered around an ignorant, self-righteous, psychopath.

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Extract from a most enjoyable text

The president, Jean Joseph Mounier, had gone to console the King leaving his chair to the Bishop of Langres, who was quite incapable of controlling the rabble. ‘Order! Order!’ the bishop called as the women clambered on to the platform. ‘We don’t give a fuck for order,’ they shouted at him. ‘We want bread.’
The French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert

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Why Tennis is Good or How I Learned That The Great Matches Are The Long Ones.

Tennis is on at the moment, Wimbledon and all that. I rarely find myself consistently rooting for a single team or person in any sporting event that I watch. Probably due to my inconsistency in watching, if I find myself close to a television with a rugby match on I’ll catch it but I don’t go out of my way to follow every match Wales plays, even during the highly publicized Six Nations, although big events do encourage, in me at least, a more proactive effort to watch play. So my choice and interest this year of which match to watch at Wimbledon and which to simply let slip by, largely rests upon which players I liked watching last year, Lisicki being one that’s going on right now. From last Wednesday’s match between Stepanek and Djokovic, the resilience and determination shown by Stephanek ensures that when he next appears at Wimbledon (assuming of course that he does), I shall gravitate towards his matches when I see them on the schedule. Which brings me to my next point, any match of tennis requires such a huge time investment to watch, with matches ranging from anything around an hour to three or in some cases a hell of a long longer. The shorter the match is, the more predictable the outcome, a match that’s over quickly is one in which one player dominates the other, so you find yourself more attracted to the closer competitions where both sides do their utmost to avoid losing a single point while scoring for themselves. It is this reason that tennis at it’s best is utterly captivating for me, we’re not talking about a sport where one player is guaranteed to wipe the floor with their competitors, at the very top it’s a bloody pantheon, with no clear Zeus or Hera to claim dominance but rather each player heavily and violently contests the mantle to attain, temporarily at best, the crown.

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The Shape of Things to Come

‘To a person finding himself at the beginning of an era, its simple fundamental structures may become visible like a distant landscape in the flash of a single stroke of lightning. But the path toward them in the dark is long and confusing. At that time [i.e., 1939] we were faced with a very simple logic. Wars waged with atom bombs as regularly recurring events, that is to say, nuclear wars as institutions, do not seem reconcilable with the survival of the participating nations. But the atom bomb exists. It exists in the minds of some men. According to the historically known logic of armaments and power systems, it will soon make its physical appearance. If that is so, then the participating nations and ultimately mankind itself can only survive if war as an institution is abolished.’

– Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, German physicist involved in nuclear research for the Nazi’s, found in The Making of The Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

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An Annoyance

I am, I’m afraid to easily distracted. Sitting here reading Richard Rhodes ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’ while my open door ferrets the sound of ‘Just a Minute’, try as I might, my focus is lost, spiralling into that quagmire that programming designed to be easy to listen to and follow, creates. If I’m honest, it’s not just that, the thickness of the book weighs on my mind, that nagging feeling that the time spent crunching the formidable length could be spent doing something else.

This something else is never clear to me, never revealed with a bright neon sign. Yet everything that upfront reveals how much time you need to invest to complete it inspires a similar dread in me. Its all very well to watch Friends as it aired, but if I had never heard of it and was one day given the collection, lock stock and barrels so to speak, I’d dare say that despite the quality, the length would distract and worry me. Ironically this post too, under the guise of writing something with substance, serves as another distraction, so I shall push Publish and return to that fascinating tome, hopefully with the regrets mitigated if not entirely allayed.

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