From Corbyn to Trump: Are we voting for illusions and backwardness?

I scoured the library reading list the other day, as I often do, and found myself cluing up on the 1992 US election campaign in which Bill Clinton scored a thumping win in the Electoral College for the Democrats. This is the kind of thing I do when I feel intellectually out of depth and detached from world events, as happened last Wednesday (thanks Donald). I came across the following paragraph when reading a chapter on the psychology and rhetoric of the 1992 election:

“Charisma is not the property of individuals. It is a system, a lock-and-key-fit between leaders with particular personality qualities and ideal-hungry followers that occurs at moments of historical crisis. Sometimes the political followers are so wounded, their yearning for a leader who will provide strong and confident leadership and rescue them so palpable, that they create a leader in their desired image. In these charismatic leader-follower relationships, the followers perceive the leader as superhuman, blindly believe the leader’s statements, unconditionally comply with his or her directives for action, and give that leader unqualified emotional commitment”1.

“A leader in their desired image”. I’m probably guilty of that. I voted Jeremy Corbyn twice for Labour leader because he seems to have the compassion I want to see in a political leader. Does his compassion make him right to lead the Labour party? I’m not sure. Perhaps I molded him within my imagination into a savior of British politics, as if our country needs saving in the first place (I’m not sure things are that bad). So here’s a guy who seems to get stuck in to important world issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian discourse and climate change. But was I kidding myself? I read the stories before the second leadership election about Labour MPs complaining of inefficiency and an inability to do their jobs in the shadow government well. That was worrying, but perhaps I see the Labour party as a conglomeration of ideas, with Jeremy representing some of the best bits of its legacy and possibly its future. Hopefully inefficiency and malpractice can be ironed out and improved upon.

I could be completely wrong of course. Are the tens of millions who voted for Trump flawed too? Were they utterly wrong to vote for him? “Yearning for a leader in their desired image”? I’m not sure Donald is a leader. I think he has a vague vision for his Presidency based on growing the size of the U.S. economy and hoping good stuff happens from there. He wants to be show some kind of strength, that’s fine, but does he have “unqualified emotional commitment” from his followers? He’s said and allegedly done things that would destroy most political campaigns, at least in the civilized world. The wall for example. Or attitudes to women. He’s a change; a big ball of loud emotion that shouts vague things like “build a wall” and “make America great again”. He speaks with such slow passion, emphasizing every key word of his rhetoric, that it becomes hard not to be pulled in at least a little bit. I’ve thought to myself: “What if this guy is talking enough sense to warrant four years? What if he’s the next step? Is Hilary strong enough to be seen as better?” I think it all comes down to how you see progress being achieved in the world. Inhumane and mentally dysfunctional people taking the lives of human beings and targeting certain countries is a truth, but is Donald’s brutally emotive campaign the answer? I think you need to understand how people who want to do harm such as terrorists think, and then focus on creating effective policies that work in reality and actually ease or remove problems.

Problems such as stress-inducing working hours. I’m not sure Donald can improve the real lives of most Americans. Cutting taxes doesn’t necessarily result in the betterment of people’s homes, families and lives does it? It feels like Americans have opted for a another political fight. Their lawmakers and custodians of society are so split. How will the government affect hundreds of millions of lives for the better?

References

1.”The Clinton Presidency: Campaigning, Governing, and the Psychology of Leadership”. Westview Press (Oxford: 1995). pg 39.

 

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Relationships Trump Hate and Fear. Reach out and touch faith.

When mysterious or scary forces flow and bite outside of your control, you can hold those close to you a little tighter. You can look loved ones in the eye and say “We’re going to be Ok”. Relationships can be a constant in life. Presidents and leaders come and go. Your values can stay the same and they can always be as good as make them. Somebody can ban you from entering into a certain collection of borders but they can’t make you a bad person. A law may ban you from wearing certain garments on your skin but it doesn’t have to change your internal culture. You can always try and wear a smile.

I’ve probably stated the obvious here but sometimes the obvious good stuff can take a back seat if you’re full of emotion or sadness. Empathy and compassion and love will never end, Presidencies will.

Paul Clement won on points, but not football

Recently-sacked Derby head coach Paul Clement had an excellent statistical record. He won 42.4% of his games as boss. Most football fans would be thrilled if their manager won almost half of their games. Especially in the Championship, the most competitive second-division in the world due to its intense, physical, tactical and technical prowess. Clement spent millions on players, but so do most teams in the Championship. It’s a playground for multi-millionaires who’d rather throw their chequebooks at the chance of promotion than buy Premier League teams that cost a fortune or six. Better to spend 3-10million on players with Championship experience or talent with silky-skills honed internationally. But what happens when everyone does it? The league is full of ex-Premiership sides with ex-Premiership players and the parachute payments to keep them. The only way to get promotion is to keep a settled side for two seasons with the same manager and budget that most Championship teams would be happy with, or ride on the momentum of victory in League One by adding a few astute signings. Derby have a fairly settled side. They’ve spent big but consistently influential players like Richard Keogh and Chris Martin have held down their places for years. Recent quality signings like Bradley Johnson would get in any Championship side. So why sack a statistically-successful head coach? Because of the “Derby Way”. Or the “West Ham Way”. They mean the same thing- attractive football with good results. Derby’s primary investor publicly backed Clement two weeks ago, but sacked him this week because the football on display soured.

I agree with the decision. As a Leeds fan. I’d much rather have a coach that’s prepared to work a team into exciting football then a Warnock-Allardyce hybrid willing to sell a kidney for three points. Points don’t mean prizes in English football anymore. Watching a team that wins a lot of the time yet does so in a boring way isn’t fun for fans, owners or players. Clement was sacked because his financer didn’t think he was taking his long-term plan of golden football seriously. Hes’ a very successful coach but I wouldn’t want him at my team unless he was prepared to invest in my footballing experience- show me youth players hungry to play and build a career, tough-tacklers who’d give their left legs to stop a goal. “It’s just like watching Brazil” is a song used occasionally at many grounds to signify a temporary switch from a war of attrition to art de la football. Teams like Blackpool that pour resources into a short-term vision of Saturday’s three points suffer in the long term. You can win, draw or lose Paul, but don’t sacrifice the beautiful from our glorious game.

Initial thoughts on Star Wars (No Spoilers)

I couldn’t resist seeing Star Wars on it’s opening day. I was confused that Banque Scotia Cineplex in Montreal had showings starting at 7pm- wasn’t it supposed to come out on the 18th? Was I going to some kind of special showing? I eventually worked out that 7pm Canadian time is 12am in the UK, so I suppose release schedules are fit around trusty GMT, giving me a reminder of home.

I decided to arrive for about 8.20 for the 9pm screening. (I managed to snap up a ticket to after I realised my social life would return to ground zero upon my better half flying home for Christmas- better give myself something to do!) I’d visualised myself sauntering up the stairs and planting my behind on the back row, centre stage- my favourite spot. But alas, more eager beavers than I waved me off with plastic lightsabers and I settled in discretely elsewhere. I was a bit dissapointed that I could only see one Wookie costume, with everyone else (including me) being extremely normal, but my spirits (or ways of the force..) were lifted by the clapping and whooping that accompanied the best film score of all time by John Williams, the greatest soundtrack maestro of all time (well at least top 5!)

I hadn’t watched the trailers our of fear that I’d see too much detail, as with many trailers these days, so I was intrigued to devour the yellow writing that begins the best Star Wars experiences. I won’t give anything away, but I had the feeling when reading that the film was going to be a basic bad vs evil plot as with the previous episodes. But of course that’s OK, Star Wars thrives by being a dumb childish space opera that’s rip roaringly fun. And it is fun. I had a fantastic time, probably more so than with any of the previous films. There are so many whooshing battles and set pieces with inventive obstacles that you can’t not enjoy yourself.

Indeed, it has a very video gamey feel. This was one of my favourite films visually I’ve ever seen, the best I can think of at the moment. One of director JJ Abram’s biggest strengths is his ability to play with and create a massive visual scope in his pictures. By example I refer to the Falcon soaring through ruined Star Destroyers that jumps flawlessly from the grounded action that saw characters leaping about evading stormtroopers that just arrived ominously yet fluently in a fleet of stunning crafts. The operatic elements are done brilliantly. The mix between CGI and practical effects is perfect. The production design and cinematography are also among my favourites of my film-watching life. The only time CGI was thrown at my face was in a really good way, with the computerised (technical term) planets being aesthetically stunning. JJ used technologies (that George Lucas abused in the last three films to create a childish cartoon) to make this film totally Star Warsy.

Returning characters all appear with glorious comic and dramatic timing, with new characters given plenty of screen time and space to assert themselves on the galaxy. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley are hilarious, with Ridley being given the transformative journey that put Luke at the heart of the original trilogy. Harrison Ford genuinely deserves a nod for Best Supporting Actor. Whilst Ridley felt like a natural new face, Harrison (may I call him Harrison??) was so invested in every line that Han Solo really helped me feel back at home with the franchise and firmly aboard this new journey.

Star Wars was great- it would be difficult not to be given Abrams and co. had the freedom to create completely new storylines and adventures. But I’m a critic at heart, and whilst Star Wars is a solid 8/10, there are elements that I wish had impressed me more. Whilst the script was hilarious, the story was pretty dumb, and incredibly unoriginal.  This is a brilliantly produced film, all across the board, from directing to shooting and editing, but it chickens out. It relies on easy hooks- with returning characters being given the kind of roles and storylines that a five year old would immediately think of. Simplicity is great, but there were a shameful number of rehashing of former major story elements. I accuse scriptwriters Abrams and the returning Lawrence Kasdan of a lack of vision and creativity. Abrams sets his story alight in a fantastic way, but it’s a very predictable premise. They fail to give the franchise a convincing new threat. They force the story in to a simple Rebel vs Empire concept too early, giving high threat without much gripping drama. Twists are made obvious, and Star Wars fails to take your breath away beyond the fun and massive visual quality.

There is also a major, major event that was played out a little poorly, but I don’t want to spoil anything! It was the kind of thing that you didn’t mind happening, but you feel the motives and way it came about seem a bit weak on character. This was a sad, yet frustrating moment. I’m annoyed at the film for the way it turned out in the end, and I’m not crossing my legs in excitement for the next film just yet.  I’m also a bit peeved at how sentimental the whole film was without creating a convincing new universe to drive new arcs to be invested in. There’s plenty of emotion to be fair, but I felt a lot more towards individual characters and their performances than the new overall premise. I’m also not excited about the next installment in the way that I was at the end of New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, where we can see the rebels were in for a big fight, and Han needed rescuing, Luke was bound to have a final meeting with Pops, etc. I don’t feel that anticipation, probably because Force Awakens was eager to wrap itself up in quite a conclusive way, leaving the creative slate almost entirely clean for directors on both the next couple of episodes. In a similar way to the Hobbit films, I’m not sure if this trilogy will have an enduring appeal with sufficient new elements, dramas and threats in each episode. I’m worried Star Wars might just become sentimental fun.

In the Heart of the Sea- Didn’t quite have a whale of a time

In to the Heart of the Sea begins by introducing us to Herman Melville, a chap who decides to spend the last of his money persuading a tortured sailor to describe the rumoured tale of man vs whale that has haunted the shores of Nantucket for decades- the world’s former capital of whale oil and it’s frightful industry. The film takes us on a journey through the seamen’s recountings, a story that leads a desperate whaling crew, led by their high-born but novice captain, into the jaws of a really big Sperm whale. Heard this tale before? Yes, the film is based on the true story of the Essex, which would subsequently inspire Melville’s Moby Dick, regarded as one of the greatest works of fiction of all time.

I often recommend readers take time to absorb the books that films a based on, often because the paper-version is almost always more full-some than the picture. I haven’t read the non-fiction The Tradegy of the Whaleship Essex or Moby Dick, but again I feel let down by a film based on an apprently great story. In the Heart of the Sea has a naturally interesting premise, but this visual retelling feels very artificial. The characters are dull. Director Ron Howard and co. had to “upgrade” real-life protagonists into box-office juggernauts. They decided to change various details from the true story, and set the Heart of the Sea as an average mix of  Castaway’s survalism and Jaws man vs monster sea-faring tension.

The whole thing feels almost as wooden as the Essex. The posh-boy Captain comes across as ridiculously stupid and petulant, and there’s nothing here that hasn’t been covered before in better films, apart from the odd gloriously-blue underwater shots of some of natures mightiest creatures, albeit in artificial CGI. Very little is offered thematically apart from the whole what-would-you-do-if-stranded-at-sea premise. It’s wasn’t interesting and it wasn’t surprising. Moby Dick seems to offer tales of revenge, of over-confident humans vs the power of nature, of the depths man will go to achieve their aims. Heart of the Sea falls into various cliches- out of its depth, fish out of water- and shows that perhaps some tales should be left alone until studios are prepared to tell them faithfully and in the manner that befell the actual true stories, not some super-imposed Imax venture with very, very shaky American accents.

Thoughts on the new Macbeth- Chilling story poorly translated for cinema

Shakespeare’s famous story of Macbeth is blood-bloodcurdlingly chilling, delivering a profound warning of the dangers of ambition and heeding against taking a dark path in pursuit of it. Director Justin Kurzel’s adaptation captures the play’s bleak nature astoundingly well, with Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw’s mysterious smoky, crimson shots set against forebodingly glorious Scottish hills portraying Macbeth’s demons in a beautifully pungent way. Grand interiors of Scottish castles, dressed in the golden royalty that the Macbeth’s desire so crudely, also create devastating images for the soul. Shots in this adaptation are frequently incredible on the eye because they feed from one of the most twisting and gruesome tales in the history of Literature. But there a too many ill-conceived cinematic problems that left me wishing I’d read the full play for two hours rather than watched this film.

The direction is poor. Whilst I didn’t quite grasp the chasm-deep meaning of some of the script, which is always delivered in the words of Shakespeare, I’m not sure many of the cast did either. There are flashes of brilliance- lead Michael Fassbender’s crippling smile when discussing the “scorpions” on his mind being my favourite- but the words feel hollow for the most part. Too many supporting actors came across to me as failing to grasp the flavour and intention of their lines- which is where more clear direction and alternative takes would have lifted the piece. Most shots feel like a static  platform for the always powerful soliloquys, demonstrating little dynamism between the characters and Macbeth’s inner and outside world. Early battle signs are accompanied with eloquent gore, fullsome slow-mos and a haunting score that twists bagpipes into tartan longswords delivering powerful blows throughout. But alas, the images are eye-popping without being magical or truly mysterious. Each turn in the story is revealed too quickly after another without being given time to build a profound world on screen. Even those that do not know the story may find it boring because of dull, obvious sequencing. I can remember few moments where actors raise their voices in grandeur, or whisper in a piercing manner. Shouting can lead to hammy acting, but in this case the lack of overall gravitas is openly betrayed.

It’s hard to recommend this Macbeth because it’s little more than an occasionally powerful , very basic re-hash of a story that might have been best left on stage. The film-makers decision to chop characters and simplify the plot results indirectly in a lack of visual drama, and is my final complaint towards a memorable (thanks to the durability of Shakespeare) yet flat experience.

I render thee 5/10, and I curse thee forever for making Shakespeare dull and almost very boring.

Generation Y-not

I am very, very proud of my generation. I could reserve the amount of “bad” people I know to the fingers on my right hand. In fact, I believe very few people are rotten to the core, but perhaps that’s an article for another time. This is something new for me, my first journey into the form of travel writing. Having arrived in Montreal 15 days ago I have embarked on the most exciting chapter of my life. It has been glorious thus far. I am at an incredible stage of young adulthood where I have been granted the freedom to broaden my horizons, to spend 8 months in arguably the world’s most popular city for international students and to study enriching courses at the world’s officially 21st “best” university. Whilst thousands of migrants search for a life in Europe war; escaping the horror of war-torn areas, their disgusting situations trivialised by cold-hearted bureaucrats and lives ridiculed by poison-penned editors, I sit in my pristine downtown apartment, typing an article aimed at introducing my thoughts on my own world in a time when words must be replaced by compassionate action. Why am I here in Montreal? Why have I delayed joining the 9-5 workforce for another year? Well, I have an answer. I have a focus that I’ve never felt before. I suppose this is what “finding yourself” looks like! I want to make the world a better place. I want to do my bit to further the human race. And I think most of my generation does too. I see so many of my peers living this “new-age”, “post-modern”, “you-only-live once” choice of life that is based on bettering and exploring yourself, rejecting the possibly crippling monotony of a 40 hour working week, refusing to read the Sun over their cornflakes and buy into the societal ideas that may have preceded them. I see the wonder in their pictures. They visit places, yes, but they open their eyes and reach out beyond the allure of a peaceful swimming pool or an sex-shop filled club strip. So many selfies of mountains, of new foods, of new peoples and their rituals, of their children, of the temples they visit, the stray animals that they afford a precious 5 minutes of compassion to, of the surprise trips home to see Mum on Mother’s day. I see a fruitful and progressive future, a group of people that could make a Jeremy Corbyn-style world work. The next stage in societal evolution.

So I am here in Montreal, writing a blog that may be erroneous, idealistic, silly…but it’s honest. I’m having a darn good start at changing the world. I’m reading furiously, filling my head with dynamic ideas  and little chunks of enlightenment every hour. And yet I need to remember that not everyone is as ridiculously lucky as me. Not everyone my age has the opportunity and freedom to watch incredible films each day, or sacrifice income for learning. I would not be here if my Mum and Dad had not worked hard in what I call the “monotony of a 40 hour working week”, making sacrifices and building a life for me. Mum and Dad want to travel Australia, and I hope I’m not bankrupting their dreams as they finance mine! I want to make the world a better place for them, and also for the families that live in the shadow of constructed borders. Human beings that are kept behind cages living lives that bomb-happy nations like Blair and Cameron’s Britain have helped to create. But alas, I voted Green in the election. I voted Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson in the Labour leadership elections. I’m an optimist, clearly, and I can’t wait to see the world that me and my generation help to create. I hope our parents are around to see the results, and I hope they’re proud.

12th September 2015

Mr Robin Williams- A Beautiful Story of Man, Mind and Mental Mania

Robin Williams sadly passed away yesterday at the age of 63. Like most people born in the 90s, Mr Williams’ vibrant screen presence delighted and enthralled me. The likes of Jumanji and Mrs Doubtfire stand as pertinent reminders of the wonderfully eclectic nature of the world we live in and tease the possibility that adventure may be just around the corner.

Unfortunately, Robin’s enchanting persona lived alongside a dark and murky spectre that manifested itself in the form of alcoholism, depression and drug addiction. Whilst it would be inappropriate to wildly speculate on Robin’s cause of death, various reports are suggesting that Mr Williams may have taken his own life. It would be easy, but sadly wrong to look at somebody such as Williams and think ‘Why would this guy be depressed? I’d love to be a comedian and have my own star on the Hollywood Boulevard! Why didn’t he just stop drinking and earn a million dollars on a new film?’. If only life were so simple.

I recently came across the hugely popular ‘Chimp Paradox’ written by Dr. Steve Peters. I was entering my final weeks of my first year at University- revision for my Summer exams was going well, I’d made lots of friends and was keeping fairly busy- so why was I unhappy? This was my ‘Chimp Paradox’. Dr. Peters explains the presence of a ‘chimp’ within our minds. This powerful ‘being’ is an erratic animal that shapes our thoughts and actions with pure emotion, both positive and negative. As soon as I was made aware of the difference between the ‘chimp’ and the mind’s less powerful rational, prudent, and essentially ‘human’ side I could begin to understand why I wasn’t as happy as I thought I should be. I wouldn’t dare to pretend that I was ‘depressed’ per se or anywhere near as conflicted as Mr Robin Williams as that would be an inappropriate comparison, yet I couldn’t seem to fully embrace the blatant positivity in my life.

Beautifully positive aspects of my life were always fighting for headspace alongside childish, inwardly constructed thoughts that caused immense frustration. Simply eating a meal with friends would become an introverted battle of ‘That was the wrong thing to say- WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY THAT PERFECTLY?’ or ‘Why can’t you be like everyone else, WORK HARDER TO FIT IN!’. I occasionally researched the symptoms for Aspergers believing that being diagnosed with a specific social condition might help my mind to settle down and embrace true ‘happiness’. It was only when I read ‘The Chimp Paradox’ that I realised that ‘chimpish’ and inwardly constructed thoughts are a natural product of the magnificent minds that we possess. Like everyone else, like Robin Williams, my mind mind was my own tool. I found that could instill a little more ‘happiness’ each day with a little mental TLC. Dr. Peters’ mind programme helped me to structure each day in a way that gave my mind the management and fulfillment that it craved and deserved. I often look back on some of the more sombre moments in my recent past and forgive myself for thinking that I had to process the world like everybody else. This was a sad misconception that now serves as a heartfelt reminder of my own individuality. I didn’t have to crave the carefree, joyous days of my childhood anymore. I had joined the human race again. Hopefully my inner child will be able to thank Robin some day for his beautiful existence, even if he couldn’t quite thank himself.

Rest in peace.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Review

It’s OK everyone, the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t dead just yet. Whilst Avengers Mark Two may almost be upon us, there’s a new ensemble in town. GOG is hilarious, fun, and a prime example of how the Marvel collection can benefit from a side-step away from Thor and Co. Almost every scene has a gag and it’s refreshing to see a beautifully crafted script that places maximum emphasis on the LOLs. Whilst Marvel casts have more stars than a Galaxy far far away, it’s Big Dave Batista (Drax The Destroyer) that steals the show in GOG. Every line is delivered with a perfectly-timed bluntness that makes the famed Downey Jnr-Hemsworth banter look mediocre. Forget the Agent Carter series, I want to see ‘Drax: The Sitcom’ immediately.

As with every Marvel product, you’re always entertained. There’s plenty of mucking about, dodging, shooting, and you can’t go wrong when a giant tree is beating up bad guys.

Lolling aside, Guardians doesn’t escape from the dreary episodic nature of the MCU. Yet again, the plot revolves around an ‘Infinity Stone’ with apocalyptic powers. Main-man Chris Pratt is hurriedly thrown together with his fellow ‘Guardians’ as they evade the clutches of Ronan The Accuser who is intent on capturing ‘The Orb’ and harnessing its powers. As with every Marvel film, it feels like hopes of a truly individual and spell-binding story are shoved aside in favour of bombastic CGI and endless commercialisation. I can imagine a bunch of important Executives sitting down with director James Gunn and asking him to make sure that there’s a bad guy wanting to do bad things with a magical object. GOG is a great film. It’ll make bucket-loads of cash and indulge millions of film-goers, yet I can’t see myself waking up in ten years and finding it on many ‘Greatest Films of The 21st Century’ lists. For a franchise that attracts wonderful actors and opportunities, their end products could feel a little less..well..product-ty. Cinema isn’t just a production line you know!

Rating: 4/5.

Sum it up: The Avengers don’t have all the fun! We’ve been introduced to a whole new galaxy of goodies- bring on Ant-Man, Dr Strange and any other Marvel ‘side-projects’- just levae the regurgitating story-machine alone.

See It If: You’re a giggle-a-minute kinda guy/gal.

 

 

 

Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie Review- Stick to the Telly Mrs B.

I’ve been to see two stinkers within a week and I aint happy. Transformers buggered my brain up with its boisterous barbarity and I was hoping for a little respite from stinky cinema with an Agnes’ Brown’s big-screen adventure. The wait goes on.

After a quick Wiki stop to remind me of the dull plot details I was dutifully informed that D’ Movie sees the Brown family-stall come under threat from dodgy dealers set on replacing Dublin’s prized Moore Street Market with a shopping centre. If that sounds like an exciting and breathless adventure then I’d avoid the thrilling final auction on Bargain Hunt if you value your underpants.

This filum tries painfully hard to be funny. Fans of the show may revel in the relentless foul-mouthed gag-flinging and slapstick shenanigans yet writer and star Brendan O’Carroll breaks one of the golden rules of cinema- make the story at least half-decent for fecks sake. I didn’t expect a beaming, lung-popping plot but Mrs Brown and her forgettable boys regretfully belong in a cliquey little corner of the BBC far away from the demanding world of big-screen entertainment.

If anyone can recommend a half-decent film that’s out at the moment then I’ll buy you a chocolate biscuit.