Monthly Archives: February 2013

News That’s Fit To Punt – 19/Feb/2013

Just For The Record On Prisoner X

A couple of days ago, I posted up the notion that the Rudd Removal by the faction bosses might have been linked to Prisoner X more than the bad polls surrounding the Mining Tax at the time. That is to say, Kevin Rudd looking in to the passport used in the Dubai Hit may have triggered a sequence of events that led to Mark Arbib being activated as a CIA asset.

I admit, I don’t really know that to be true or even likely. For all we know the CIA paid Mark Arbib to tell them which brand of socks Kevin Rudd likes to wear. We’ll never know unless we beat the truth out of Mark Arbib, but we don’t really support torture do we? Or do we?

Anyway, here’s something that fits the jigsaw a bit more today:

Australian Jewish community leaders were privately highly critical of what they considered to be an overreaction by former prime minister Kevin Rudd and then foreign minister Stephen Smith to allegations that Israeli intelligence used Australian passports in an operation to assassinate a militant Hamas leader in Dubai in January 2010.

Following the Government’s decision to expel a senior Israeli intelligence officer from Israel’s embassy in Canberra in May 2010, Mr Rudd and Mr Smith attempted to defuse tension by inviting six Jewish community representatives, including then Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, for discussions at a private kosher dinner at The Lodge. The meeting was also attended by Labor MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus.

So Kevin Rudd and company weren’t fooling around. They were really looking into it and rattling cages. That this might have been uncomfortable for some (or many) espionage agencies is not that much of a leap. The Jewish community leaders of Australia were unhappy about it – Imagine how Mossad felt about it.

What would they have said to the Prime Minster? “be careful what you go looking for Mr. Rudd”…maybe? While this doesn’t prove anything, you can chalk it up as another piece of the jigsaw.

Is The Jig Up For Julia?

The polls were indeed terrible, and suddenly there’s a tidal wave of opinion consigning her to the dustbin of history. It’s one bad poll, people! Except that’s all it took to remove Kevin Rudd, so you wonder why the Caucus drags its heel to what was blindingly obvious one year ago.

Most senior ministers contacted on Monday appeared to be sticking with the Prime Minister but many said the numbers in the poll could not be ignored.
”It’s simple arithmetic,” said one. ”We can’t go to an election with these numbers.”

Asked if the situation would come to a head when Parliament resumed, one minister responded: ”I don’t see how it can’t”.
He said he remained loyal to Ms Gillard but conceded there had been a discernible shift in momentum towards Mr Rudd in the past fortnight.

This so called momentum shift is pretty stupid and late in the game. The opportunity to fix this was March last year. Instead they trashed Kevin Rudd and hobbled any notion of riding his popularity to the polls. He’s saying now he’s out – which doesn’t mean much in politics except he does seem to mean it – so I don’t really know how they think they’re going to swing a Rudd return.

Best guess is they’ll attempt a Crean return or they’ll draft Bill Shorten – anything but Rudd, they’ll say – and watch the polls continue to suck for the ALP because “not-Julia-Gillard” isn’t going to get it done for the electorate if they want to retain office. At this point in time, the question isn’t if they’ve screwed the pooch, but how many more times will they get to screw the pooch before 14th September when we’ll be mercifully rid of these bastards.  This is going to be a new kind of social torture, all the way down to the bottom of the metaphorical hill with the light at the top, where there’s probably a cesspit of corruption and backstabbing; and you couldn’t say they didn’t have it coming.

Things are so bad I think we deserve to be punished by a Tony Abbott Government. And I’m still going to donkey vote.

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‘Killing Them Softly’

Let’s Drive 1970s American Cars And Shoot People

This is a weird one. It’s a cross between a badly formed Quentin Tarrantino movie and that rather tedious Ryan Gosling hit movie ‘Drive’, but it stars Brad Pitt doing his Tyler Durden nihilist routine. The 1970s Amrrican cars feature big time in this film so if you are into spotting old Cadillacs, Dodges, and Oldsmobiles, this film will tickle your car porn fancy.

As usual, I issue my spoiler alert. But if you’re the type that you’ve read the book and want to see this film, then I don’t know what my spoiler warning does for you.

What’s Good About It

The film is unsentimental about the murder and mayhem that goes on. There’s no clever irony about the violence, there’s no big speeches as people kill one another. This is refreshing because it shortens an otherwise meandering story about gangsters taking care of business.

Some of the dialogue scenes between Brad Pitt’s Jackie and James Gandolfini’s Mickey are genuinely disturbing and profane. Gandolfini’s mien is made for this kind of mobster prattle. It’s a shame he missed the glorious parts of Scorsese’s career. Ray Liotta also makes an appearance as exactly the kind of gangster he always plays – callow obnoxious, patronising and pathetic. He usually mixes up the combo of the elements, but they’re all there.

Richard Jenkins is back working with Brad Pitt, and that alone gives the film echoes of ‘Burn After Reading’ where the two of them played “the league of morons”; which probably isn’t fair for this film – That film was too bloody funny and you keep expecting the dialogue to veer that way but it doesn’t.

Ben Mendelsohn as the transplanted Aussie derelict Russell is very funny. he totally eats the scenes he’s in with Scoot McNairy playing Frankie.

The juxtaposition with the 2008 election of Obama vs McCain offers up a very big question mark until the very end. It’s a very good speech. In that sense it lends so much meaning to the violence and carnage in the film.

What’s Bad About It

The system where a film can only be put together if stars are involved  makes it so that you can tell the relative importance of characters by who is cast in the part. It helps in one way that you know who the main character is because, look, Brad Pitt is playing him; but when you see some of these other actors, you know they’re just going to get killed.

You just know Ray Liotta’s going to get killed when it is revealed he masterminded a heist on his own card game. Nobody can come back from that kind of caper, no matter how funny, but at the same time knowing it’s Ray Liotta’s character, you know he’s going to buy a small plot of land with a tomb stone on it. Which takes the surprise out of it. In a sense, regardless of the plot, by casting to type, the film gives away the relative strategic portions of the story. The casting is in of itself one big spoiler.

I don’t know how to fix this, but it’s particularly a pronounced problem in this film.

What’s Interesting About It

The scene of Jackie’s hit on Ray Liotta’s Trattman is the most stylised street corner hit. The slow motion and the CGI bullets and slowly shattering glass make it the kind of ballet of action reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ movies. The irony of the beautiful music as the slow motion unfolds the grisly action is played out to the utmost anatomised detail. You wonder if as an audience we will ever tire of this sort of thing, or whether in the future these sequences are going to be even more stretched out and slowed down and made even more ironic with say, lullabys playing. I guess that’s the ramification of the style.

Economic Crisis

The novel the film is based on was apparently published in 1974 but the film was brought up to date because the director Andrew Dominik saw a parallel in the economic crisis in the book with the Global Financial Crisis unfolding around him. It’s an interesting draw because in the film, Trattman basically robs the table where everybody is playing which shuts down all the card games in the city because nobody can trust anybody. Then, gradually trust comes back as the games start up again and everybody goes back to normal. They even laugh it off.  And if that isn’t what;s happening with the banking and financial sector, then I don’t know what a better description would be.

The way the story plays out, the inferred future is that the likes of Goldman Sachs will be pinned for future crises because next time, people will have to blame somebody and they will blame Goldman Sachs automatically. The story seems to be saying that if you rob your own card game, then you have to get out of town and not stay playing. Well, Goldman Sachs and the like have stayed int own to keep playing. It will be interesting to see if the next Government sitting at the crisis will accept the “too big to fail” argument, or whether they will take Jackie’s advice and make a showing of Goldman Sachs by metaphorically taking them out and shooting them. In any case, the GFC has put a bullseye on the backs of the banks.

The Cars

The 1970s cars are a bit of a curiosity. They’re probably the last generation of cars where American design was unhindered and broad. During the 1970s with two oil shocks and competition from fuel efficient Japanese cars turned 1980s American cars into ugly austere boxes. Compared to those, the unfettered lines on the Buicks, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Chryslers and Fords do hark back to a different time when America was confident in its power. It’s the kind of industrial design that’s in line with Fender and Gibson and Gretsch and Guild guitars. The designs have broad, powerful strokes with ample, wasteful use of space. You can hide a corpse in the trunk easily.

This is perhaps why these gangsters in gangster movies prefer these cars. The trunk space and sense of waste.

The juxtaposition with the Obama election then has greater meaning because in the bail out process, the US Government temporarily nationalised GM in order to save it, restructure it and put it back on its feet.

The strange thing about our contemporary world is that GM probably do make decent cars for the American market today, and yet the GFC ripped through its market and distribution disproportionately. By bailing out the Big 3, the Obama administration essentially underlined that if banks were too large to fail, they weren’t going to survive by ripping the heart out of American manufacturing.

The symbolism of these dinosaur 1970s cars driving around then is much more than style for this film.

Thomas Jefferson And The Speech

The film is very pointed about what America is. The closing speech by Jackie is emblematic of the contradictions inherent in American society. It’s really quite a cool speech. The film is worth catching for that moment as it ends abruptly right there.

The Americana shown in this film is quite something.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 16/Feb/2013

Prisoner X

The big news of the week is in fact this business of Prisoner X. What we can glean from the various headlines is that Prisoner X who committed suicide in solitary confinement in Israel was an Australian national who was also a Mossad agent. As the days have progressed, what’s come to light even more slowly that the Australian Government didn’t exactly rush to prisoner X’s defence. They offered no consular legal assistance (which is the becoming norm it seems); and because Israel assured Australia that everything was fine, they just let that one go right by.  The story keeps changing from DFAT as to what they exactly knew or did.  Embarrassed, now they’re ordering a review into the case.

In a nutshell, the Australian Government just Israel have away with one of its citizens in Israel’s answer to Guantanamo Bay. In Australia, the story is being reported around the mystery of how Ben Zygier ended up in such a situation, but the most important article I’ve read on this is over at Time in the USA.

What Zygier — the name on his tombstone – did to bring arrest is not known. Nor is it known what he did for Mossad, though the numerous passports he held from his native Australia suggest possibilities. Agents with dual nationality are useful as scouts, moving freely in enemy countries such as Syria, Lebanon or Iran without the lingering concern that comes with traveling on forged documents. Australia turned out to be particularly helpful; by law, a citizen could legally change his or her name once a year.

Zygier changed his three or four times. The first was after he decided to become an Israeli, in 2000. Many immigrants take a Hebrew name. The country’s founding president, David Ben-Gurion, was born David Grun in Poland. Zygier chose a name that implies steadfastness; Alon is Hebrew for “oak tree.” Why did he change it again? And again? That was the question Australian authorities asked Zygier early in 2010, when a dramatic event prompted a closer look at the use of Australian passports by citizens who also claimed Israel as their nationality. The event was the Jan. 19 assassination of a Hamas arms buyer named Mahmoud Al-Mabouh. The Palestinian was killed in his bed in a luxury hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, by Mossad agents who were exposed, first, on hotel security cameras, and then by their passports. Some were forged, others were valid travel documents issued by Britain, France and other countries, including Australia, where officials were livid that Australian sovereignty was used as cover for a hit.

That official is what brings me to ask a few questions out loud. One would imagine that the passport business in the Dubai hit would reverberate through the corridors of DFAT, but also in the head of the Prime Minister of Australia who was a career diplomat at one point in his life. It’s hard not to imagine Kevin Rudd letting the use of dual nationalities and Australia passports for the purposes of foreign espionage and kick murders.

At the time, the Australian Government expelled an Israeli diplomat, which is neither here not there.  Here’s the crucial bit:

It’s unknown whether Zygier, who was 34, played any role at all in the Dubai assassination. But even if he did not, the Melbourne native apparently came under scrutiny in Australia as officials scoured the records of dual nationals in the wake of the killing. Zygier was in Australia at the time, studying for a master’s degree. The scrutiny could not have been pleasant, and it was not confined to official channels. After being interrogated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, he got a call from a reporter. Jason Koutsoukis indicated in the Sydney Morning Herald that intelligence sources had directed him to three men suspected of using their Australian citizenship as a cover to spy for Israel. Koutsoukis wrote that the men operated a “shell” company in Europe to sell electronic gear to Iran – something that, by several published accounts, Western intelligence agencies have indeed done, in order to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program through the sale of deliberately defective equipment.

None of the three men or the company were named in the Feb. 27 , 2010 story, but Koutsoukis this week told Britain’s The Guardian that he spoke with Zygier at the time. “Who the f— are you?” Zygier asked the reporter, denying everything. “What is this total bullshit you are telling me?”

When Zygier returned to Israel, his bosses had him arrested, Israeli officials tell TIME.

So if that assembly of events is correct, Kevin Rudd ordered a screening of all dual nationals. This would have potentially dug up many espionage agents, not just Israeli agents. Inadvertently, this would have been like flipping the carpet over to find a metropolis of rats nests. Is it any wonder then that Mark Arbib, who we know was on the CIA payroll orchestrated the removal of Kevin Rudd in order to take the heat off all the spies using Australian passports?

The question I am asking is, is this the real reason why Kevin Rudd was removed from office in the manner in which he was removed?

More On The Minig Tax And Morbid Obeidity

The continuing ICAC hearings are turning into the most in depth revelations of just how little the ALP NSW Right faction stood for in principle and just how much they were into making money for themselves. What’s disturbing today is that it is this rather rum (pun intended) lot that gave the numbers to Julia Gillard to ascend to being Prime Minster.

Yes, I know it seems really awful to emphasise this, but it is what it is. Mark Arbib got the numbers through the faction machine, together with the Victorian Right and Bill Shorten and that mob. Yet, it never would have happened if Arbib had not consented to the coup, and by default there lies the lever that brought about Julia Gillard’s time in office. She is a net beneficiary of the morbid Obeidity as Bob Carr is a net beneficiary of Julian Assange’s exploits in leaking cables, which smoked out Mark Arbib as a CIA informant.

And the first major thing Julia Gillard did was to ‘negotiate’ the mining tax with the miners, and now the results of that negotiation are in, we know that it was no negotiation at all, it was more like getting dictated terms for surrender.

Gathered on one side of the cabinet table were the newly-installed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, her Treasurer Wayne Swan and her Resources Minister Martin Ferguson. On the other were the heads of Australia’s three big mining companies: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

Absent were the key people from the Treasury – the ones who really understood the tax being discussed.

As the then Treasury head Ken Henry later told a Senate committee: “We were not involved in the negotiations, other than in respect of crunching the numbers if you like and in providing due diligence on design parameters that the mining companies themselves came up with.”The smartest people were kept out of the room. They were ferried draft agreements and asked to examine them quickly. They were unable to test with the miners the propositions they were putting to the government.

That sounds like a recipe for a disaster, and the mining tax has been nothing short of a disaster in as much as the estimated 2billion has shrunk to 126million – Rio Tinto didn’t pay a cent. Together with BHP they got a $1.7billion mining tax ‘credit’.

Now, regardless of whether you agree with Kevin Rudd’s stance at the time, putting in a mining tax was a matter of principle. To hobble that Prime Minster and then ‘negotiate’ (and again I use that term loosely) the current version is nothing but political expedience. It doesn’t matter how well you are seen to ‘negotiate’ (it embarrasses me that I keep using this word to describe this process of hers) if you sell the country’s stake down the river. In all honesty – and in principle – you have failed to look after the interests of the people.

We all suspected this was the case at time, and now that the report card is in, this stuff really should be damning Julia Gillard. She’s a terrible Prime Minister, and the proper people of the ALP should be removing her. Except if the ICAC hearings are any guide, it’s hard to see if there are any decent proper people amongst those who installed her.

I want to finish off by saying that Niccolo Macchiavelli wrote that the one thing a prince or a politician should not invite upon themselves is contempt, not fear, or anger. This is because according to Macchiavelli, there is no coming back from being held in somebody’s contempt. The problem I have is that the ICAC hearings have exposed significant portions of the ALP as being entirely contemptible, and really, can there be a way back from that?

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Cultural Differences

No Leaks

It’s been a weird week in Australian sport, what with the big press conference saying ‘This is The Blackest Day in Australian Sport’.

AUSTRALIA’S top sporting codes have been rocked by revelations that organised crime is behind the increasing use of banned performance-enhancing drugs by ”multiple athletes” across sporting codes and possible attempts to fix matches and manipulate betting markets.

The heads of all the main professional and participation sports expressed shock after being briefed on a 12-month investigation by the Australian Crime Commission that found professional sport in Australia was ”highly vulnerable to organised crime infiltration”

The article goes on to say that all of our codes of sport probably have had doping going on. Lance Armstrong’s name came up and some anonymous football player in some code even piped up during the week with an article saying what an edge it was to have the injection.
The declaration sent all these bodies scurrying for cover (how else do you explain the rush to declare “We’re clear!“); and swimmers saying they refused injection in fear it was contaminated with banned substances.

It’s interesting how the sport bodies have responded. the NRL has put together an ‘Integrity Commission‘, which suggests, they’re up to their eyeballs in the doping problem. The Minister for Sport says it’s ‘game over‘ for the cheats, but again you’d expect her to say it without any follow through – what else would we expect a Minister for Sport to say? “We give up?”

The strangest call of them all may be the call to name names mentioned in this one:

The Australian Crime Commission’s chief executive John Lawler hit back on Saturday at critics to clear up ”confusion” as to why he did not name names, given the explosive nature of the allegations.

Mr Lawler said classified strategic assessments had been sent to all police agencies around the country and Commonwealth agencies, which were now responsible for pursuing action.

”Very detailed information, the names of the clubs, the names of all the persons, the details of how, when and why and where, based on the intelligence, the persons suspected, has been provided to the anti-doping agency ASADA and to the police. Particularly the NSW and Victorian police,” he told Fairfax Media.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare echoed Mr Lawler’s comments as a number of sporting identities and commentators questioned the investigation and motives behind the report’s release along with its veracity.

Given the nature of the witch hunt that is about to ensue it seems entirely understandable that some people want the messenger shot. But really, with Australia’s insane libel laws, it would a brave ACC CEO who would start naming names. The way this normally goes is through leaks, starting at the biggest names in the various sports.

If this were America, somebody somewhere in the chain of information would leak to the press. After all, tat is how we found out about Barry Bonds and the clear and the cream; Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte using HGH; A-Rod being on some PEDs in his peak years in Texas; and ultimately Lance Armstrong as well. The cross-hairs a re firmly on performance-enhanced athletes now and the witch hunt is in full swing over there.

That such leaks have not happened seems to indicate that the ACC investigation was pretty subtle and went very deep. There also seems to be a cultural difference here as opposed America that the press are not willing to tarnish the names of the stars just yet. It maybe the case that the culture is about to change and professional sport will never again have the cozy relationship with the media as it does now.

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‘The Samaritan’

Grifting Is Harder Than Comedy

Every few years somebody makes a movie about grifting. Sometimes the long con is elegant like the ‘Oceans 11’ movies, and sometimes they’re even quaintly charming like ‘The Sting’ but mostly they’re tragic affairs like ‘The Grifters’ or ‘Matchstick Men’. If they’re done well, these things vault to the top of the consciousness but in more instances they end up being delineations of a certain kind of criminal consciousness.

The later entries in this genre have been less impressive. ‘Tower Heist’ and ‘The Brothers Bloom’ aim high and crash land hard. If you put your mind to it, it’s actually a very difficult genre to pull off well.

With that out of the way, today’s movie is ‘The Samaritan’ starring Samuel L. Jackson, a rather downbeat, grim and gritty movie about an ex-con who isn’t allowed to go straight.

Spoiler alert!!

What’s Good About it

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t screaming “motherfucker” in this film. It’s a character study kind of thing instead where he unknowingly fucks his daughter and finds out she’s his daughter afterwards. It’s pretty gross out but you sort of hang with it because the set up is so extreme.

Okay, I’m not sure that bit is really all that good, but it’ll be the one memorable thing in this film.

What’s Bad About It

It’s slow, it’s long-winded and spends all too much time forcing Samuel L. Jackson’s character Foley into committing to the grift. And then when you find out what the grift is, you think to yourself “how is that supposed to be a clever grift? That’s only going to get you killed!”

The film looks gritty, the story is grim, the mood is grimy, the characters seem to come from the gutters and it’s about a bad grift. There’s very little upside to this film. The script is generally flabby and seems to be interested with the wrong sorts of things, like bad car-through-red-lights scenes. It’s amazing it got made, actually.

At one point Foley delivers a long lecture about what a little knife can do as he threatens Ethan. It seems really redundant. Most people in the audience would be familiar with the concept of the severed carotid artery, so it seems incredibly stupid that Foley makes a long speech about what the knife could do. Sure it could – but it can also cut fruit. Give us a break.

The sound mix is abysmal. It’s not only bad, it is out of whack. The dialogue is hardly audible in key scenes so you have to strain and roll back several times to figure out what on earth is going on. The sound mixer ought to never work again. It was that bad.

Deborah Unger’s plastic surgery is pretty awful.

What’s Interesting About it

As grift movies go, it’s very under-done and a touch weird.

The film is interestingly enough, not about revenge. It kicks off with a murder which gets explained as Foley having to kill his best friend and partner when a grift went wrong. The son of his partner comes back to twist his arm into going back into the long con. If it were about revenge, you’d think the son would set up the daughter-fucking thing and then shoot him, but instead he enlists him into the con. It’s so convoluted, it needs so much explaining and that essentially eats up half the film.

It’s interesting that nobody in development picked this up because it’s a terrible choice. Grift movies should be about putting the long con together in the second act and not, having your arm twisted into doing it reluctantly. It’s just one of those films you put down to experience.
“Yup, I saw it.”

Honour Among Thieves, And Other Miscellany

A lot of the time, the honour among thieves thing creeps in to the grift movie. In this film, it never has the chance.

Instead, the throwing up thing makes it in. Samuel L. Jackson leaps out from the taxi and hurls up chunks on the street. As I’ve pointed out before, this is the hot new trend in movies: Vomit. Maybe this film deserves it.

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Himizu

One May Well Wonder What It Means

Turns out this film that did well in Venice last year is a lot more warped than even the trailer presented. The title refers to a mole in regional dialect. It means, one who does not see the sun. The main character is a boy who aspires to being like the mole, quiet and underground, unmolested and unconcerned with the way of world. If that doesn’t seem like a downer of a starting point, wait ’til you see the rest of this movie.

It’s available at the moment on Fetch TV if you have that subscription. otherwise you might have to trawl through some Asian DVD shops in Chinatown or wait until SBS shows this one. They will. It’s pretty different.

As usual, spoiler alerts apply.

What’s Good About It

Sometimes a film comes along with the emotion dial turned up to max. The characters in this film have huge emotional commitment in everything they do. There is no subtle deflection of the mind that cannot be put under the microscope and characters simply lash out with wild abandon in the wake of the Tsunami devastation of 2011. Two years on from the event we’re seeing films about the emotional impact the disaster had on people, and in many ways it is not as one would expect. The constant buzzing geiger counter in the ruins is more than spooky, it is like a semiotic bomb.

In this film, there are no pat answers, there are no easy solutions. There is a lot of human ugliness front and centre while it is difficult to understand if there ever is going to be a kind of moral centre to the film. It’s nothing like a Hollywood film in that sense and I imagine that is why it won its plaudits.

Also, there’s a lot of people slapping each other around. it’s a bit like ‘the Three Stooges’ but without the laughs.

What’s Bad About It

Some of the acting is cheesy; especially the young actors who are barely in command of their performance. There’s too much form without meaning. They make gestures and do things but all it does is seem like they don’t know what they’re doing. The older actors are equally stagey and peculiar. The gestalt is great but there are too many different styles and modes of acting to form a unified whole. Instead, it comes across as a cluster of acting ideas and performances.

I’m also not a fan of the ending where you’re led to believe one thing and then they turn it around the other way without a successful explanation. We’re meant to guess at the  reasons for the transformation, but acting is so wild, you don’t know if any of it really amounts the action that happens.

What’s Interesting About it

You can watch a lot of movies and never come across a film as wildly played as this film. Some of the interactions are laughably big, while others are disturbingly big; but it’s always big. Even the quiet moments of contemplation are captured in menacingly tight closeups. Not only are the characters larger than life, they’re explosive angry figures. there is very little hierarchy of characters’ importance to the story, just a wide circle of cause and effect coming from violent and rude acts.

The Slapping

The characters in this film have no problem slapping each other around. The girlfriend slaps the main character around a bit, even in fun and games and he’s not too shy about returning the favour. They do it so often it really is like the Three Stooges although I doubt there’s any reference point to that kind of comedy act.

We live in very genteel times where we eschew physical and corporal punishment with children. It naturally follows that we think the children don’t do violence unto one another because they haven’t been ‘violentised’ and inured to violent acts. Casual sadism is everywhere in the world of children. This seems to be the backbone of the slapping in this film, where kids are just naturally intrusive of one another’s space.

Or it could simply be a business device to increase the general level of action. This wouldn’t be surprising given that the source text for this film is a manga. There’s a certain level of violence that is affirmed in manga fiction so it comes as no surprise to the reader that people slap each other around. it’s only when you see it as a live action film that you are taken aback by the rude frequency of the slaps.

The Tohoku Disaster As Symbol

For some years there have been screen stories about how Japanese society is crumbling or falling apart from the edges. It’s almost a cliche about Japanese films where the family is dysfunctional and the central action denounces the social structure. Every year there seems to be one of these films out at the Japanese Film festival, and they ave been building in ferocity for some time.

What’s interesting about this film is that the film shows the aftermath of the disintegration of the family, but ties it in with the image of the ruins after the disaster. The mass of crushed buildings and vehicles and junk serve as an objective correlative to the action we see on the screen. It works very well on an image level except I get the nagging feeling that it is a bit exploitative of the disaster. The crumbling family we see on the screen goes through some Freudian ructions out of the necessity of its characters. The disaster doesn’t really touch upon the character arc in any significant way.

The other characters surrounding the main character are all somehow marred by the disaster and have become dissociated urban homeless. It seems to be a kind of cheating to swap out one problem with the other and draw equivalences.

Schooling In Japan Sucks

I’ve said this elsewhere but schools in Japan are really terrible institutions. They average about 40 kids in a class and teachers run a line of discipline first teaching second. The worst teachers work in middle school where they wield inordinate amounts of power and tacitly support bullying structures of Japanese society, basically saying it’s the acceptable norm. year after year middle school students commit suicide or refuse to go to school and everybody wonders why. It’s quite pathetic given that a lot else is quite liberal in Japan. It might be the case that middle school is where the Japanese learn the double-think hypocrisy of what needs to be said and what needs to not be said.

With all that in mind, the most interesting part of the representation of society might be that the school never comes to check in on the two students who one day stop coming to school. There’s nary any interest on the part of the teacher closest to these kids, who in turn is busy inciting idealistic nonsense, which is quite a cutting critique of Japanese political discourse about hope and the future. If the future was so important and the kids are going to grow up to be the leaders of that future, why is the school so structurally disinterested in their welfare today?

This isn’t like the only film to cover this terrain, but in this instance I have to say the film goes a long way towards illuminating just what is wrong with the way people are educated in Japan. It’s not the war atrocities everybody wants them to teach but don’t, it’s the tacit approval of hierarchical bullying and an utter lack of interest in being any other way.

Freud Comes Knocking

The central action beat in the story that really pays off nicely is how the son comes to killing the father. It is setup so that the father comes around drunk to tell the son he wishes he had died as a young boy, how he hates the son, and wishes him dead. Which is to say it’s straight out of Freud; and so the slaying of the father fits right into the oedipal complex routine.

The only exception is that the son is not wanting to resolve his feelings for his mother and sublimate them; on the contrary, he probably wants to kill her too. The killing of the father is shot beautifully in one long shot that covers a great area in front of the camera. One imagines it would have taken all night to get that one right.

What’s really scary about this film is that at the heart of the issue is this horrible act for which we cannot help but feel great sympathy and understanding. And once we are there, we’re trapped with the boy in a society of hypocrisy and rampant corruption and criminality. There is no single act that can balance out the greater evil that is society. It is as if the Tohoku Disaster broke open a part of Japan, showing the inner workings; and none of it is all that pretty.

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Morbid Obeidity

‘Obeidity’: A New Word For Rampant Corruption

We knew the NSW branch of the ALP has been very odd for a long time. The depths of the corruption that is coming out in the ICAC hearings is at once unsurprising and yet so repugnant. From what we are to understand from the hearings, Eddie Obeid held the NSW Right faction hostage, placed Ian MacDonald (‘Sir Lunch-a-lot’) in a position where he would have inside knowledge, then used that inside knowledge to stake out a position wherein they would have to be bought out in order for a coal mine to be built, finagled his family trust into owning the mining concern that would win the tender on the back of knowing where the coal was, and by having Ian Macdonald decide who would win the tender. In the process, Ian Macdonald had side deals with Greg Jones and a cast of characters have either opted in (and out); all of it as a result of the shenanigans carried out by Obeid and Ian Macdonald.

The surprising thing in all this is that the fast and furious chopping and changing of Premiers from Morris Iemma to Nathan Rees to Kristina Kenneally may have been done to preserve Obeid’s advantages in the various deals and had nothing to do with:

  • Points of public policy
  • Policy differences on public policy
  • Inner ALP politics and machinations for political advantage
  • Inner NSW Right factional politics for political advantage.

No, no, no, no, no! Eddie Obeid was pulling strings and throwing his weight around just so he could have his snout firmly entrenched in the comings and goings in these deals. That all the public incredulity and angst about the state of the ALP over these changes had sweet fuck all to do with anything of actual importance. It was all about the Obeids getting more out of the public purse. So, it may well be that since Bob Carr left office as Premier, NSW politics has essentially stood still, unable to do anything because these corrupt toads were  busy filling their own pockets and making out like bandits. And if nothing else it explains how the extremely insufferable and stupid Kristina Kenneally came to be our Premier. The Obeids played us all for suckers and stuck a muppet with hair up there, knowing full well that voting was just some kind of popularity contest when the real deal was the deal making to stuff one’s own coffers.

The true tragedy in all this is that the ICAC can’t lay charges, and that the DPP won’t be able to prosecute the Obeids unto a conviction because the ICAC evidence won’t necessarily fit through that tight door into the courtroom. That’s right. Eddie Obeid and his family just might get away with all this. I *hate* saying this but the Angry Fat Man is right: this is moral turpitude at its most flagrant worst.

And we’re all the poorer for it. All those policy points we’ve argued about and waited for our government to action, such as public transport or infrastructure spending never really took any part of Eddie Obeid’s greedy little mind. It didn’t matter who lobbied whom, none of it was ever going to happen (and didn’t) because frankly this guy did not give a shit about public policy – at all – And he just rope-a-doped his way through office, hardly turning up, pulling down his salary (and the Parliamentarian superannuation now), just being generally obstructionist so that nothing that got in his way, got done.

So the question today is this: given the Obeid/ICAC thing, the Craig Thomson thing, and the Nova Peris/ Trish Crossin thing, (not to mention the Rudd removal) how can we bring ourselves to even contemplate voting for the ALP in all good conscience? How do we know the next candidate they put up in Dobell to replace Craig Thomson won’t be some union hack or some low grade party apparatchik? How do we know Nova Peris won’t become a corrupt politician with her snout firmly embedded in the public purse, and un-removable by dint of her ethnicity? Forget high ideals and lights at the top of the metaphorical hill; where the heck are we supposed to find any faith in this mob?

It’s bad enough that we’re confronted with a 2-Tax Systems Tony Abbott and his attack-poodle-of-death Christopher Pyne. Just what the hell are we supposed to do? Vote for these muthers?

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