Archive for Review

Propaganda Comics

Posted in about the blog, Culture, Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 06/11/2011 by arabrhizome

I wasn’t able to do any work today. I decided to buy some comics to read in order to do something, as academic reading was just not happening, let alone writing. I ended up buying a few comic books called Men of War. They’re part of the DC Comics New 52 relaunch. I had a feeling I wouldn’t like them, as they are about the US military. It turns out that not only do I not like them but they made me angry beyond words. They are the most barefaced propaganda I’ve ever read. I cannot urge you not to buy them enough.

Basically the first three issues include two stories, one main one and a secondary one. The secondary one was a three issue thing and was this complete and utter bullshit story. Basically it’s about some Navy Seals who are illegally in some unspecified arab country and are about to blow up a school filled with explosives. One of them gets injured and so they need to get a chopper to evacuate him but they’re afraid that someone has an RPG and is about to blow the helicopter down. It turns out some evil arab men are using a family as human shields and so the brave american soldiers liberate them. While doing that, and I’m not making this up, they help a woman give birth just after shooting a man with an RPG who was in her room. How fucking disgusting is that?

The main story also involves army units doing covert and illegal actions. Of course non of this is ever questioned. The fact that this flies in the face of every form of international law is completely overlooked. Then comes the third installment where the group goes to Somalya and are then attacked by locals, remember they are there illegally, and they go one to shoot a bunch of them. Of course the bad black people are evil simply because they exist. I was sick to my stomach. This kind of shit is despicable. I wanted to tear the comics but then felt bad for the paper that was used to print them on. Please do not buy that shit. It is offensive and completely and utterly morally reprehensible. It must not be supported.

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A Game of Thrones

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on 20/06/2011 by arabrhizome

So I haven’t written a proper post in a very long time. I’m probably not going to write proper posts regularly for a while now, as I am really swamped with work. I have some deadly deadlines to meet. However, I thought that I would write one today. The reason for that is that I watched, during a break, the last episode of the series “A Game of Thrones”. I thought I might as well review it here and make this post a proper post. I have to warn you though, it might contain some spoilers. I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum but I’m not sure I will be able to. I’ll flag any paragraph that contains major spoilers.

A Game of Thrones is a series based on the series of books by George R. R. Martin “A Song of Fire and Ice”. There are to be 7 books all in all. The first of these books is called A Game of Thrones, and I believe that the first season of the series is based on that book in particular. Before going further into the review I’d like to point out that the fact that a book has been adapted into a 10 part series means that the characters and storyline get to be explored in more detail then they would have been if it was adapted into a film. I think that the future of book adaptations, particularly complex novels, is in television rather than cinema.

That is, in fact, the first thing that strikes you when watching the series. It is a very complex story with an incredibly vast cast of very complex characters. The story develops slowly and unfolds over the episodes. As each episode unfolds we learn more about the world, the characters, the mythologies, the politics, and the various factions in the story. This series isn’t for people who like self-contained episodes. It is a televised novel, very much like the Wire or Battlestar Galactica. Except this particular story is set in a medieval fantasy context. It is for the people who enjoy things like The Lord of the Rings.

The other striking thing about the first season, and therefore the first book, is that we are keenly aware of a magical/super natural presence in this world. In fact, the first scene of the first episode sets up the world as a place where humans aren’t the only inhabitants. There are clearly evil creatures and forces around in this world. However, they are not the focus of the series. In fact, as its name implies, the series focuses on politics and political intrigue. The whole thing is also very sexy and sexual intrigue plays a major role in the development of the story. It is definitely not suitable for younger viewers.

The characters are all fantastic. There are dozens of key characters and I will not attempt to expose or talk about specific ones. That would be impossible on here as there are no simple characters. Each and every character has their own very developed storyline. Each goes through many experiences that shape them and makes them who they are. Also, they are all damaged. This is not a story filled with good and bad characters. Watching the series one can see their allegiances shift. Some characters who might seem evil or just unlovable develop and the viewer might end up feeling some empathy towards them. The same can be said of characters that seem to be good.

I have always liked fantasy, but I have also had some problems with the genre. It can very easily fall into the predictable. There are a few formulas that authors tend to follow. There are heroes who go on a great quest to defeat some malevolent force, some of them die on the way, but eventually good triumphs over evil saving the world in the process from some great cataclysm and impending doom. Not with A game of Thrones. What we have here is a world that is very human, but with a constant invisible supernatural threat. The doom is brought by the humans and their political games. It is a story of power and the various lengths people go through to obtain it, maintain it, disrupt it, or regain it. It is also about the various motivations that lead people to seek power or to seek a certain configuration of power relationships.

All in all this series is some of the best television has to offer. The acting is fantastic and makes the whole thing completely believable. There are times when several minutes go by without a single word being uttered and very little action, yet the viewer is transfixed. As I said it is one f the greats. If you are into fantasy you will love it, if you are into historical dramas you will love it (because it feels like a historical drama, along the same lines as Rome or the Tudors), if you like good story telling and complex characters then you will love it. In fact, I think that the only way you wouldn’t love it is if you don’t have any attention span and are easily distracted. I highly recommend watching it. I have started reading the books and so far they are also amazing. I will let you know if I think the books are better, worse, or just as good as the series.

The Body

Posted in Culture, Palestine, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on 13/05/2011 by arabrhizome

I watched the film “The Body” last night, some of you who follow me on twitter might have caught my tweets about it. I thought I would review it more thoroughly here, rather than in chunks of 140 characters. I also have had a whole day, much of which was spent sleeping, digesting it and honing my thoughts about it. The reason I didn’t write a post straight away is because I am a little conflicted about it. You see I think that it works very well in certain aspects but really fails in others. So without further ado here are my thoughts about it.

So let us start with the central concept. A Palestinian shopkeeper wants to have some work done in his back yard. However, a tomb is uncovered and an israeli archeologist is called in to figure out what it is about. She seems to be a secular left wing type, although that’s a bit confused and unclear. Anyway, she makes an incredible discovery as a body is discovered in this rich man’s tomb that is crucified. What makes this discovery so remarkable is that some markers in the tomb date the body to 32 AD and while crucifixion was common around that time, it wasn’t usually a punishment handed down to rich men. There is only one person that has been talked about who was crucified and buried in a rich man’s tomb around that time and that is Jesus Christ.

Obviously, if this body turned out to be the body of Jesus Christ then that would be disastrous for the biggest world religion. It would mean that Jesus was not divine and was never resurrected. All of this is surrounded by a difficult political situation where it seems that Palestinians are about to ask the UN to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state but israel isn’t happy about it (I don’t know when this is supposed to take place as I thought that was a given in the UN, which is a first bump for the film). The israeli government’s official who realises what is happening calls the Vatican and informs them, and only them about the situation. They send a priest to investigate it. At the same time a Palestinian fictional terrorist group is snooping around and trying to discover what is happening. Both the israelis and the Palestinians are trying to use this discovery to black mail the Vatican into siding with them in order to get what they want on Jerusalem.

I’m not going to go on about the story more than that in case you decide you want to watch it. As I said I’m a little conflicted about it. Let’s start with the positives. What does it do well? Well first of all the concept and founding premise of the film is very interesting. What if we found the body of Christ? What would that mean for the church and the millions of followers of christianity? How would they react? Would it be the end of a religion that has thrived for over 2000 years? That to me sounds like a great idea for a film. Also, the way in which the film portrays the crisis of faith that is experienced by the different priests is very compelling. The conflict between searching for the truth and wanting to protect the faith/church is very well shown. Being Caught between the idea of the resurrection and all it means for christians and the idea that “the truth will set you free” is a very interesting dynamic.

So that’s what it does well. Now let’s look at the problems of the film, of which there are many. First, on the theological level. Anyone who knows their theology would know that before the establishment of the new testament in its current form there were many different sects of early christians. Some of them didn’t believe that Jesus was in fact the son of god but that he was a prophet. Of those sects some believed that he was crucified and died on the cross, and never resurrected. Others believed that he wasn’t crucified, but that one of his disciples was crucified in his place. That disciple had sacrificed himself to save Jesus. He looked very much like him and so deceived the Romans. This later version of events is the one adopted by islam. It is interesting to note that the theology expert priest never even considers this hypothesis. It never crosses his mind that this is not necessarily a blow to christianity but only to his form of christianity. Or let alone that the muslims might be right.

The second problem is the portrayal of the Palestinians in this film. Basically there are two types of Palestinians: The evil cynical violent terrorist type and the nice naive stupid caught in the middle of something they don’t really care about type. On the other hand israelis are represented as either very rational and compassionate, the archeologist, or violent and extremist although open to rational thought, the orthodox, or cynical and calculating, the government representative. Oh I forgot there is also a Palestinian child who steals from the ruins because he is asked to by the cynical leader of the made up terrorist group. Now, clearly this is very reductive and problematic. Anyone who watches this film without any knowledge about the situation would come out thinking either “oh they’re all as bad as each other but at least the israelis are rational and more like us”, or that “the israelis are rational and nice and the Palestinians are just violent thugs”.

Also the fact that the christian population of Palestine is in its majority arab, or at least Palestinians (I’m thinking of the armenians and other “ethnic” minorities), is completely left out. If someone didn’t know any better they would think that the only christians in Palestine are European. That really pissed me off. But going back to the representation of Palestinians. It is absolutely insane to say that some Palestinians are caught up in things over their heads and that they are not politicised. Every Palestinian in the occupied territories or in israel is highly politicised and has an opinion about the conflict. Every Palestinian cares about the political situation and everyone has an idea of how it should be solved. Some might disagree but no one is uninformed or uninvolved in one way or another.

There are more things to say but that would involve writing more, I don’t feel like it, and spoiling more bits of the film. So in conclusion, do I recommend it or not? That’s hard to answer. On the one hand the good parts of the film are really good, the acting is decent, the characters can be compelling, the main concept is interesting. On the other hand, the bad parts are really bad, the Palestinians are either absent or violent or naive, the Palestinian christians are completely erased, and no Palestinian is shown to be rational and reasonable. It’s really annoying. So I guess I give it a very mixed review. I’d like to know what you think about it actually. If anyone has watched it or wants to watch it after reading this let me know what you think in a comment on this post. In the mean time stay safe, Love you bye.

Doctor Who Series 6

Posted in Culture, Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 30/04/2011 by arabrhizome

Right, as you know I’m a huge Doctor Who fan and so was looking forward to the start of the new season last week. Season 6 was to open with an episode called “The Impossible Astronaut” this was to be the first part of a two episode season opener. The second episode “The Day of The Moon” aired earlier today. I didn’t want to write about it before I watched both episodes. The reason for this is that I didn’t want to write an incomplete review. Also, I wanted to watch both episodes and so have a proper perspective on the story being told. Both episodes were written by Steven Moffat who has consistently written the best episodes of the revamped Doctor Who. So my hopes were high. Were they met? Were they exceeded? Let’s find out!

So as I said Steven Moffat has consistently written the best episodes, from “The empty Child” and “The doctor Dances” in series one, to “The Girl in the Fireplace” in series 2, and “Blink” in series 3, and “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead” in series 4. All these episodes were terrifying and wonderful. Moffat’s writing in these episodes placed the seeds of what was to come when he took over as head writer for series 5 and now 6. He is a great story teller and has clearly been planning the Doctor’s adventures for a while now. Series 5 saw the arrival of a new Doctor, Matt Smith. We were all unsure of him as he was relatively unknown as an actor and had taken over from David Tennant who’s portrayal of the Doctor was seen by many as the best so far. However, the first episode of Series 5 put all our fears to rest as the writing was unsurprisingly magnificent, but more importantly Smith’s performance was breath taking. This scene at the end of the episode cemented him as a great Doctor.

Series 5 followed an arch story about a crack in space and time. The problem of the crack was solved at the end of that series. However, there was something unanswered. Throughout the series there were hints, hints that something was behind what was happening. A faceless threat, it was called the silence. From episode 1 of series 5 we heard that the silence was coming. We all assumed that the silence meant the end of time and space as caused by the crack. The erasure of history and the universe, but we were wrong. The last episode of series 5 made it clear that there was still a treat out there and that series 6 was going to address that. So we were all looking forward to the start of this series of Doctor Who, the trailers made it look great but was it going to live up to the hype?

Now I will try to avoid spoilers as much as I can, I would have been gutted if someone had given away some of the things we find out so I’m going to try to avoid it for any whovians who haven’t had the chance to watch the episodes yet. So the episode starts quite gently at first. We gather that the Doctor has been off on some adventures on his own, leaving clues throughout history to Amy and Rory. Then they get a TARDIS blue letter with map coordinates and a time. We see River Song get the same thing. They all end up meeting the Doctor in the US. The doctor is clearly much older now, not that he looks it but he has been away for a while from his perspective. Then something absolutely mind blowing happens. I cannot tell you what it is but within 5 or 10 minutes of the start of the episode something huge happens and everything changes.

From then on it’s an wonderful adventure that introduces a new kind of monster, and like all the Moffat monsters it’s terrifying. It’s not terrifying in a visual way, although it is quite ugly, but in a more primordial and deep way. His monsters have always been brilliant. From the Weeping Angels, to the Vashta Nerada, he has a real knack for tapping into one’s deepest fears, fears that come from childhood. This new monster is no different: The Silence. The first episode proceeds with the usual mix of running, humour, and brilliance and ends on a very good cliff hanger. So the first episode did everything you want from a season opener. It captured the imagination, posed a number of questions, and set up the arch story. However, this episode did a lot more in many ways. It was one of the best season openers of any Doctor Who series so far, at least in my opinion.

So today we got the chance to get some of the answers to the questions raised by the first episode. Moffat did what every great writer would do. He answered some of these questions, but in answering them simply raised more. The episode was one of the best so far in every aspect. The last scenes of the episode made sure that everyone would want to watch this season, as if we needed convincing. Basically Moffat has done it again. He has taken Doctor Who to new heights with his brilliant writing. I know that the series will have a few self contained episodes, that goes with the territory, but the arch story promises to be one of the best so far. I can’t wait to see what he has prepared for us.

Before I leave I just wanted to say a few words about Matt Smith’s Doctor. David Tennant established the tragic nature of the character in a very powerful way. Matt Smith has clearly built on that. However, Matt’s Doctor is a lot more interesting to me. He seems to accentuate the power of the doctor a lot more. The Doctor is terrible and wonderful all at once. He burns with fury and can be as cold as ice. He is “the oncoming storm”. He is everything the doctor should be: eccentric, brilliant, caring, loving, powerful, peaceful, threatening, tragic, terrible, and a genius all at once. I think that Matt Smith has done the impossible and become the best Doctor so far.

Sexy History (Part II), The Tudors and Desperate Romantics

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 29/04/2011 by arabrhizome

So this is the second part of my series of reviews of the new trend of sexy historical costume dramas. In this one I will look at two series which are the Tudors and Desperate Romantics. Those two series are the next two I watched, chronologically speaking after I watched Rome. As I said in the first part of this series Rome introduced a new way of dramatising history. The Tudors and Desperate Romantics seem to be the first series that used that formula. I have to admit that it took me time to get used to both these series but I eventually got caught up in the story and enjoyed them for what they are.

So first let’s look at the Tudors. Much has been written about the series, both positive and negative. I’m not interested in picking a fight with anyone who’s written about it. This is not meant to be a polemic, simply it is a way for me to think about these series in the context of this new trend. I am aware of the historical inaccuracies of the Tudors, and the various criticisms of the series. However, I think that it works despite all these short comings. So what is the Tudors about and what are it’s defining features? Well like Rome one of the most striking things about it is just how sexy it is.

The Tudors follows, more or less accurately, Henry VIII’s reign from a little before his first meeting with Anne Boleyne. The story follows Henry’s various marriages and the sometimes bloody, sometimes amicable, sometimes tragic, relationships he had with his wives. While many people pointed out that the series isn’t always historically accurate, it is important to remember that this is a dramatisation of history and not a documentary. I don’t think that this criticism stands as the broad historical facts are there and are used to tell a story of love, hate, sex, power, and lust. The fact that sometimes the writers take a bit of liberty with the facts is not only to be expected but I think necessary to make the series entertaining.

What is striking about this series, as opposed to Rome, is that the violence isn’t that graphic. We do not see the most violent acts, as we did with Rome. There is some violence of course, but it is mostly suggested rather than seen. The other striking thing is that the focus is on sex. Everyone is gorgeous and a joy to look at. Every episode, especially in the first season, has Henry, or someone else from his court, having sex or doing some sort of sex act several times (although to be fair he usually has sex acts performed on him, know what I mean? Hey? Huh? you know? Right?… I am such a sad individual). In many ways the Tudors stresses sexiness over all other aspects. And it works, Henry VIII looks good and throughout the series remains looking like a sexy Greek god, even though we know that he became quite large later in his life. But it doesn’t matter as the point is not accurate representation but a more titillating account of the time.

The other series that I wanted to talk about is Desperate Romantics. This was a BBC 2 Series that dramatised the lives of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of nineteenth century English painters, poets and critics. The Pre-Raphaelites are an interesting artistic group. They have been categorised by some as one of the first avant garde groups. I don’t know much about them which made me enjoy the series as a drama without worrying about how accurate or not it is. This I think was the purpose of the writers of the series. I think that it wasn’t aimed at people who knew the history, but that it hopefully would lead them to investigate a bit more afterwards.

Now, this series, I have to say, while being excellent, is not as good as the others I have written, and will write, about in this series of posts. It’s focus, very much like the Tudors, is on sex. The Pre-Raphaelites appear to be a group of horny twenty somethings who are trying to make a name for themselves in the art world. However, the series doesn’t have very graphic sex, like Rome or the Tudors. The sexiness is more atmospheric than visual. That being said, there are a few scenes of full frontal nudity and quite vigourous sex. The characters are very interesting and quite complex. They are all driven by both personal ambition and more venal desires. All in all it is an interesting series.

That’s it for me for today. I have to admit that I found it difficult to write this post for some reason. I don’t why exactly but I wasn’t completely focused while writing this post. I apologise if it is not one of my best efforts. I will continue this series of posts, I’m not sure if I will write the nest one tomorrow or later on in the week. I have other stuff to talk about as well. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it regardless of my bad focus. I’ll see you all tomorrow for a new post. Take care and be safe. Love you bye.

Sexy History (Part I), Rome

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 28/04/2011 by arabrhizome

So I thought I would write a few posts, I don’t know how many yet, about a newish trend in television drama: the sexy costume/historical drama. Now, costume dramas have been with us for a very long time. They are usually thought of as stuffy and boring, at least by the younger viewers. I remember trying to watch a historical drama when I was in my teens and even though I am a genius and a very clever person (I know I’m not but I’m trying positive thinking. If I say it enough times then maybe I’ll start believing it. I don’t think that deconstructing the statement in parentheses right after I write it is the best way to achieve it, but it makes me happy) I kept getting bored and couldn’t go through watching the whole thing.

Now, unless you’re a history buff or an old person costume dramas didn’t seem to be too cool. I’m not saying that no one like them, it’s just that the seemed to be geared towards a specific audience that I wasn’t really part of. But something happened a few years ago and all of a sudden historical costume dramas became cool and sexy and edgy. Now, I might be wrong about when it started but my feeling was that it all started with Rome. Rome to me seems to have set a precedent that many series are trying to emulate. In fact I would go as far as to say that every new historical costume drama of the type I’m talking about wants to be Rome. Some succeed, some get close, some don’t, and some are even better.

So I thought I would start this series of posts by talking about Rome. It is after all the first one of its kind and is, as I said and at least in my opinion, the bench mark of modern historical costume dramas. Now the first thing about Rome that jumps at you is how sexy and full of sex it is. From very early on in the series someone gets naked and has a lot of quite graphic sex. This trend is maintained throughout the whole of the drama. I don’t think that there is a single episode that doesn’t involve some sex act. The graphic nature of these acts will vary. However, as we’ll find out later there is a series that goes a little further with the graphic sex, but that’s for later. This sexiness can feel exploitative at points, but I think that without it the realism of the series would have been impaired.

That’s the second thing one is struck with. It feels real. Rome and roman times are brought to life with the incredible sets, the great acting, and the wonderful writing. Everything blends in perfectly to make you feel like you are watching real Romans, albeit with British and Australian accents but still. The series is also violent. There is as much violence as there is sex. The violence is also very graphic, although again not as graphic as another series. The thing with the violence though is that it feel real. It feels realistic. Rome introduced a way of reimagining and telling stories through the medium of television. It is okay to say fuck, and shit and cunt if you want to make it real. It’s okay to show full frontal nudity, both male and female, and quite graphic sex. It’s okay to show violence. The point is that with Rome we all learned that all these things are okay if the story needs them.

What we ended up with is a retelling of the stories of Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and others on television. This retelling didn’t feel stuffy or boring, but sexy, and exciting, and titillating. The end result was one of the best series ever made for television and one that would change the way in which Costume Historical dramas are thought of. I do believe that there is a before and an after Rome. Now the rest of my blog posts in the Sexy History series will look at some of the other dramas that are in the vein of Rome. I will look at the ones I have watched, or am watching at the moment. I hope you enjoy this with me.

Community and Modern Family

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized with tags , , , on 18/04/2011 by arabrhizome

I thought I would use this post to review two somehow similar shows that I have been watching, both while I was ill and before that. The two shows are sit coms, but they’re the new breed of sit com. One is filed like a mockumentary, the other is a sit com without a laughter track. They’re both reliant on an ensemble cast, rather than a main character, and are very very good. I’m going to start by talking about Community and then move on to Modern Family. The reason I’m doing this is that this is the order in which I discovered them.

So Community is a sit com set in a community college in the US. The series follows a group of 6 new students who find themselves going to this college because of various reasons. One was a lawyer until it was discovered that he had faked his degree, another is a recently separated mother, one is a recovering pill addict, and so on. The cast is fantastic. However the ones who stand out are Abed and Troy. Abed has an autistic fascination with television in particular and pop culture in general, he is also half Palestinian which is fantastic politically speaking. His role in the series is very interesting as he provides a meta-narrative to many episodes. Troy is an ex high school football star who got injured and found his way in this community college. Their relationship is one of the highlights of the show.

The show works really well. I was a little sceptical at first, as the first few episodes didn’t seem to work too well for me. However, once I got in the right mindset and resonated with the rhythm of the show I started to enjoy it a lot. The fact that the show is so self-aware and doesn’t take itself seriously at all is incredibly refreshing. Everytime the show goes onto a used and abused sit com, or movie, terrain Abed deconstructs the episode by providing a meta discussion of it. Pointing out that this week seems to be a bottle episode, or providing a voice over voice. It’s really very clever. I also really love the way they deal with the would they/won’t they relationship by completely deconstructing it and resolving it very interestingly, and quickly. I honestly highly recommend it. If you don’t like it at first persevere as once you get used to it it’s really very good.

The second show is Modern Family. Now this show is much more traditional, in a sense, but is also part of the new sit coms ushered in by the likes of the Office. It is a mockumentary of sorts. We get to watch this extended family’s life with sometimes the characters sitting in a diary room-style situation speaking directly to camera. It is again based on an ensemble cast. There’s the father/grandfather who’s married to a younger hot Columbian who has a son. His daughter is married and has three children the youngest of whom is the same age as her father’s step son. His biological son is gay and lives with his partner and their newly adopted Vietnamese girl.

So the cast is basically three families who are also one big family. The best thing about the whole thing is that the complicated set up isn’t really the focus. Things are taken for granted most of the time, which is great. The adventures of the families are a lot of fun and as all good sit coms the viewer ends up developing a relationship with the characters. You want them to succeed even though they probably won’t. Also, it’s a fun study (I know that sounds pretentious but I can’t think of a better word for it) of how people perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others. It works very well and I also recommend it.

All in all these two shows are a great way to spend some time. They did make me laugh out loud a few times, as well as keeping a smile on my face throughout most episodes. Anyway, that’s it from me for today, I am going back to work now. I’ll see you all tomorrow for another post. I think it might be a short one, although that depends on how much work I get done tomorrow. Anyway, until then stay safe. Love you bye.