Friday, October 20, 2006

The end is near...

With the political tide now turning against the occupation of Iraq, it seems only a matter of time before troops are withdrawn. Once senior politicians and advisors in the White House start talking of comparisons to Vietnam and of 'losing the battle for Baghdad' you know that it means it's over.

I read the other day that military advisors were considering a whole host of options, including moving US troops out of Iraq and carrying out long range strikes at insurgent strong-holds. This would be a clear sign of failure and amount to a retreat on the scale of that in Vietnam. One of the more ironic options being thrown around at the Pentagon involves asking Iran and Syria (amongst other nations in the region) to assist with shoring up support for the Shi'ite leadership. This one must be a red herring, as the pure notion of the Americans going 'cap in hand' to the Iranian and Syrian leaderships asking for help with Iraq would be the ultimate humiliation for them.

The sad case now, is that stay or go, Iraq will stay in turmoil. Bush and his allies have turned Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists. They have given Al Qaeda a reason to exist and a place from which to grow. Ironically, Saddam Hussein always banned Al Qaeda from entering his country prior to his removal. It would seem that Bin Laden and Hussein were exceedingly hostile towards one another.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iraq again...

We hate to say 'we told you so', but the situation in Iraq is now beyond saving. With over 650,000 Iraqis dead (that's more than Saddam killed in 20 years), 3000 coalition forces dead and major swathes of the country no-go areas for either US/UK or Iraqi security forces, it seems that only 2 men in the whole World feel that a change of strategy is not necessary. It just so happens that the two men in question are Bush and Blair.

The sad thing now is that the damage is done. Stay or go, Iraq will remain a mess. And don't get me started on Afghanistan.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Children of Men

Every once in a while a movie comes along that has avoided the media hype machine and thus is a bit of a mystery when you finally go to see it. While I'd seen the trailer to Children of Men, which was half depressing dystopia and half happy 'ray of hope' style mercy mission, I still didn't really know what to expect.

Set in 2027, the World order has collapsed due to women becoming infertile some 20 years before. Only Britain retains some semblence of order, through its totalitarian governments use of brute force to keep the population in check. Foreigners are scum and to harbour one is illegal. Immigrants fleeing persecution abroad are thrown into disease infested refugee camps.

Kidnapped by a terrorist group called The Fishes, Theo (Clive Owen) finds himself face to face with his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). The Fishes demand equal rights for foreigners and have hidden a young pregnant girl, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey); the first known pregnancy in nearly 20 years. What follows is a gripping and poignant drama as Theo struggles to get Kee out of Britain to 'The Human Project', a safe haven in the Azores.

The film is shot in various styles, but what really stands out is the raw intensity during many of the scenes. From the panic-driven set-piece involving a car being chased down by terrorists, to the sheer brutality of the final chapter in the refugee camp of Bexton Hill, this is a masterpiece. Indeed the final chapter seems designed to be a not too subtle pointer to the current situation in certain war-torn lands in the Middle East.

With some superb co-starring performances from Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor (of Serenity fame), this is a movie that never fails to disappoint. It is crammed full of research and it is clear that the makers have gone to incredible trouble to make every set authentic. In a scene were the set is walled with windows covered in old newspapers, everyone tells a different story of this fall of humanity, even including the sports pages (look for 'FA Cup Cancelled' as a headline!). The refugee camp is a massive complex of burnt out buildings reminiscent of the ones we have seen so many times in Lebanon, Palestine, Somalia et al.

Touching yet brutal, funny yet depressing, Children of Men is a must-see movie. Easily one of the best of 2006.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Departed

Is it a remake? Is it a re-imagining? Is it a totally separate movie in it's own right? I'm still not entirely sure.

4 years after the stunning Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs breathed cool back into cop movies, Martin Scorcese's US version has arrived. And I'm left in a quandary over how to review it.

It's impossible to take a serious look at The Departed without comparing it to Infernal Affairs. The scripts are very similar; many of the key plot points are the same; most of the characters follow the same path. And after seeing both I can honestly say that Infernal Affairs is by far the better movie.


Compare The Departed with other Scorcese movies, like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas and it more than holds it's own. Despite it's origins being in the Far East I still left the cinema feeling that I'd seen a tense, dark and gritty commentary on Irish-Americana. When viewed in this way, The Departed shares little in common with Infernal Affairs. This new movie has as much to do with the ethnically driven tribal warfare going on in South Boston than it does about tracking down moles in the police and mafia. Indeed, the director spends considerable time looking at the backgrounds of not only the two moles but also the gangland boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

I had been worried about which version of Nicholson we would see on screen, but I wasn't disappointed. It's a great performance, the kind that Nicholson excels at (Nicholson playing a darker version of Nicholson). It isn't OTT, it's just plain nasty.

I was equally worried about seeing two of Hollywoods pretty boys (Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio) playing the two moles. However, I again couldn't fault either of them. While Damon didn't exactly set the world on fire, his performance took a different slant to that of Andy Laus character in Infernal Affairs. Colin Sullivan (Damon) is much more of a weasel than Lau. It's less subtle, but it fits with the style of the film.

DiCaprio, meanwhile, proves that he seems to have put the spoilt kid from the days of Titanic and The Beach behind him. Like Robert De Niro before him DiCaprio has become a mainstay of Scorcese's films. While clearly outshone in Gangs of New York by Daniel Day Lewis, his performance in The Aviator was a tour de force. Now in The Departed, he puts in another strong performance as the violent, tortured soul, used by the Police, to bring down Costello.

Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin both deserve mention; playing new characters not seen in Infernal. Martin Sheen, meanwhile, puts in a subtle, but poignant performance as Costigans (DiCaprio) Captain, and main contact in the police.

Now onto the bad. The Departed suffers from that classic Hollywood need to notch up the love interest factor. While in Infernal Affairs Tony Leung is forced into seeing a psychologist, only a platonic relationship (with hints of more) develops. In The Departed, Costigan is forced to see Madolyn (Vera Farmiga), a cop psychologist who is also girlfriend to Sullivan. A needless love triangle ensues which adds nothing to the movie and for me lessened the impact of the main story.

Similarly, while I enjoyed the character of Dignam (Wahlberg), his addition seems only to serve the directors desire to change the ending. Oh yes, Scorcese changed the ending. You can see it coming, but even when it does it feels tacked on and rushed. I can see why Scorcese made this decision, it fits with the style of the film. But I'm still not sure whether I like it.

So in summary, I'd definitely recommend seeing it. It's dark, violent and harsh. If you compare it to Infernal Affairs (and you will!), you may be disappointed, particularly with some of the changes. However, if you can view this film as a different beast, one that highlights the ethnic divisions and violence throughout South Boston you may find yourself saying it's his best work since Goodfellas.

"The call that a paradox" - Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

North Korea to carry out nuke test

North Korea's foreign ministry has announced that the country is to carry out a nuclear test in the near future, in an effort to counter what they call US military hostility.

I know this news is hardly surprising, as it only confirms what we all expected, but it does show how a nation can suitably avoid being invaded by the US... just get the bomb and they won't come near ;-)