War Machine (2017)

film still
Brad Pitt as General McMahon and Ben Kingsley as President Hamid Karzai

In 2010 I remember reading about US General Stanley Allen McChrystal, the warrior monk runner, eating only one meal a day, and subsisting on four hours’ sleep in every 24. Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings painted him as a bizarre figure, like George C Scott’s Buck Turgidson, or perhaps just as a consequence of Hastings’ antipathy for the military in general and McChrystal in particular.

Continue reading “War Machine (2017)”

Citizen Cohn (1992)


Watching this old favourite again reminded me that US history is littered with corrosively corrupt people, some of them still inexplicably alive to continue damaging their nation and the people they ruin. Some are thankfully dead and unable to spread more of their virulent influence. One of the latter was Roy Cohn.

James Woods plays the malevolent Cohn with a relentless ferocity that made me wonder whether the actor hadn’t lost his mind when I first saw his performance in the early 1990s.

Continue reading “Citizen Cohn (1992)”

Luther (2010-2015)


English television at its best. Idris Elba as the leading man. Ruth Wilson as the delectable psycho killer bitch Alice Morgan. What more would you need to recommend this piece of television history?

Nothing really, but for me it’s all about the sub-text.

You can never be sure that others see what you see. You can’t even be sure that what you see is what the creators intended. But it’s all there regardless. Once it’s released, the mise-en-scène and dialogue don’t undo and recreate themselves in some alternate fashion.

What I see is that Luther and Alice are the same person. Split personality. Two halves of a whole. Yin and Yang. Call it what you will.

Continue reading “Luther (2010-2015)”

Assassin’s Creed (2016)


The two halves of the film don’t really fit together: contemporary evil corporation manipulating duped experimental subjects, and Renaissance intrigue, murder, and mayhem. Welded together with the crude device of a conspiracy plot more at home in a Dan Brown novel than in a sane mind: The Catholic Church seeks to enslave mankind with evil intent. Presumably giving all the Anglo Protestants in the USA justification to arm themselves to the teeth, form militias, and destroy civilisation to save it from destruction by the Catholics. A fine piece of contemporary American logic.

Worse, from my perspective: there is a substantial portion of dialogue in Spanish, forcing me to turn to sub-titles, which I have always thought of as destroyers of a film. Both for distracting from the visuals, and for usually being the work of illiterate gremlins guessing at original meaning rather than translating it.

Continue reading “Assassin’s Creed (2016)”

The West Wing S02E05: And It’s Surely to Their Credit


My West Wing review hiatus is a reflection of my contempt for politicians and my disgust with politics as practiced in Australia and the USA.

I cannot remember being this appalled since Emperor Bush I went to war against Iraq and left the job unfinished, making sure there would have to be a repeat of the whole disaster. Especially the financial haemorrhage of public funds into private blood banks.

Continue reading “The West Wing S02E05: And It’s Surely to Their Credit”

Robber barons rule Star Wars VII


In 1977 I was eager to accept the massive marketing blitz promoting the first film to me, and to adults who should have known better. And the firestorm of marketing was like nothing I had ever seen. Down even to Star Wars bubble gum with ‘trading cards’. It was more like a propaganda campaign than a promotion. I don’t have my hands on the data, but I wonder whether the marketing for Star Wars outstripped the cost of the film itself, which was not inconsiderable for its time.

Even then, though, I thought the film was a disappointment. I guess my expectations had been built up too highly. So highly that not even a masterpiece film could have met them. and Star Wars was not so much a masterpiece as a juvenile script populated with cardboard characters, and big budget special effects that started the trend for the effects to be the real stars of American films, and almost always as destructive forces. Continue reading “Robber barons rule Star Wars VII”

The West Wing S02E04: In This White House


The themes of embracing the enemy and big pharma screwing the world are ambitious, and easy to trivialise.

Picking Emily Procter as the faux Southern Belle Republican who embarrassed Sam Seaborn on morning television almost failed at the outset. The dialogue she gets, and the scene in which she talks over Seaborn, make her seem less like a serious person than a spoilt brat with no manners rather than a serious rhetorical opponent. But maybe the ethic of talking louder and faster has always passed as impressive in American politics.

Continue reading “The West Wing S02E04: In This White House”

West Wing S02E03: The Midterms


Series creator and principal writer Aaron Sorkin put a lot of kinetic energy into the episode to show us that things are back on track in the Bartlet White House after the chaos of the shootings.

Opening with CJ Cregg being barraged with interruptions and information thrown at her seconds from a press briefing, taking it all in her stride—all except remembering that people working on the grand unified theory are physicists, not psychics—is the definitive statement that she has found her equilibrium again after being the symbol of disarray in the previous two episodes.

Continue reading “West Wing S02E03: The Midterms”

The West Wing: S02E01&E02: In the Shadow of a Gunman


If there is a ‘legend’ of The West Wing, these episodes are its bedrock, working emotional triggers and prompting the kind of sympathy for the characters normally reserved for the survivors of real and historic crisis situations. A mark of the writing and acting calibre is that these emotional triggers haven’t been eroded over time, despite the lacking surprise about the outcomes. Maybe because the kind of crisis we are presented with seems much more likely today than sixteen years ago, mainly because of Republican complicity with deregulating gun ownership.

Continue reading “The West Wing: S02E01&E02: In the Shadow of a Gunman”

The West Wing S01E22: What Kind of Day Has it Been


It feels like this episode is a long introduction for the next two. Padded out by playing the introduction as a fast-forward opening, and replaying it again at the end. An amicable ‘town-hall’ speaking engagement for the president in Rosslyn, Virginia. Its sole purpose: to set up a cliffhanger ending.

The word cliffhanger has a disputed parentage. There is a school of thought tracing it to a literal cliffhanging episode in 19th century literature. An equally devoted school of literalists insists that it came into common use in the USA in the early 20th century, albeit without specifying the original intent, beyond crude methods to ensure patronage for continuing serials.

Continue reading “The West Wing S01E22: What Kind of Day Has it Been”