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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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West Wing S01E21: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics


There’s a return to focus in this episode. It’s on-message. Sorkin treats us to a conveniently cheeky stratagem to stack the electoral commission, some amusement to illustrate the tedious, nerve-wracking business of national polling, and the final instalment of the Sam Seaborn relationship with high class callgirl, and freshly minted law graduate, Laurie Rollins.

In its focus on electoral reform this episode shows its age. The game has entirely eclipsed the iniquities of the past to rise to new heights of partisan bastardry. For a long time, The West Wing was revered for proposing a Democrat agenda, should they ever reclaim the White House after Clinton’s less than glorious exit. It was part of the show’s lasting status as high quality television.

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The West Wing S01E20: Mandatory Minimums


The course of history has overshadowed some of the enthusiastic optimism of the fictional Bartlet administration, and no more so than for this episode, which features policy examples that have all worsened rather than improved over time. On top of that historical scuffing of the gloss, the episode is less a coherent whole than a roll-over continuity play. More like glue rather than the pieces it holds together, or a pause in the ongoing narrative, like a breath between sentences. I suppose it is testament to the fact the show had ‘arrived’ that it did not seem out of place for this episode to be a loose collection of anecdotes, none strong enough to be a unifying core theme, but all necessary to lead into future episodes.

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Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993)


For a high school story, the conception wasn’t bad at all. Far more lyrical than anything I wrote until decades after leaving behind that wretched age of half-manhood. But as a drama it was too weightless.

Steve Conrad’s script might well have pleased Hemingway, but it was too eventless to draw me in. I found my attention wandering repeatedly during the Odd Couple routines of Frank (Richard Harris) and Walter (Robert Duvall) in matching their old guy loneliness to different ways of trying to recapture some sense of machismo.

More than death, I’m terrified of loss of faculty, and more than the gradual fading away of sex and fighting instincts, I am afraid of losing my mind. Neither Frank nor Walter seemed excessively burdened with thoughtfulness in their pre-histories, nor in the present of the story. That made me distant to the premiss.

Harris was 63, playing 75, and Duvall 62 going on 70. MacLaine seemed about right for her 59 years. There’s no question they all did fine jobs at evoking their characters. It was just that their characters were shallow and not sympathetic. I see no merit here in trying to force my tastes through contortions to appreciate an absence of what engages me.

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