Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Last Day of Summer

The new wave of US comedies with a knack for social observation is spawning one gem after the other.

If Little Miss Sunshine or Juno represented the more Hollywood-friendly side of it, more somber productions like Greenberg and Last Day of Summer seem more focused on the darker end of the spectrum.

Directed by Vald Yudin and starring the excellent DJ Qualls of Roadtrip fame, Last Day of Summer is the minimalistic story of a fast food employee (Gregory aka Joe) who's just about to reach tipping point as he endures daily taunting and humilation at the hands of his sadistic boss (Mr Crolick).

Initial build-up aside, the plot takes place within a day only, with Joe attempting to perfect his plans to finally take revenge on his appalling workplace bully.

But before the film can develop into a modern-day version of Taxi Driver or Falling Down, on the day of reckoning things take an unexpected turn. Cue the arrival of a fast-food customer (Stephanie, herself with her own baggage), a botched abduction and the growing empathy between kidnapper and captive - all ingredients that take this endearing film to unexplored territories.

While peppered with a number of funny moment, Last Day of Summer stands out for its deptiction of the day-to-day squallor of the life of a fast-food employee, the suffocating grip of a dead-end job and the insecurity and the lack of prospects that come with it.

A far cry from a contemporary pop culture too often stuffed with bigged-up success stories, happy endings and assorted proto-darwinistic tales of self-made men (especially in the US), Last Day of Summer is one of the best indie releases of the year.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Hague and this world of geezers

What does the storm over William Hague's own private life say about society and the media?

Surely the news should be packed with reactions to important things i.e. a certain company deciding to make another 3,500 staff redundant from across the UK in spite of their recent £1.1 billion half year profit.

Well no. Wrong. What the press and assorted politicians are currently going hysterical over is the fact that two blokes, one being the Foreign Secretary, shared a twin hotel room together. Surely, the bigoted buffoons conclude, this chap having no kids and a twin room shared with another bloke makes him "one of them", right?

But instead of telling the creeps, the gossips and the homophobes to get stuffed or preferably set themselves alight, instead of retorting that there's something deeply wrong with society if two blokes are supposed to hang their heads in shame for the mortal sin of sharing a twin room, the Foreign Secretary comes up with the brilliant idea of issuing a statement that basically says:

"Look, but I am a geezer. I am one as much as you are! It ain't my fault I don't have kids! I have been sleeping with my wife but she had a series of miscarriages".

Now, Hague, fair enough you must've been well pissed off. And, sure, as far as Tories go you actually seem fairly alright and you defintely get all our support against the various Tebbits and Redwoods. But, really, was there any need to drag and your wife's and your own private life and fertility issues into the media pits?

Or is this perhaps just a case of karma striking back (see here and here)?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Tony Blair, a repulsive individual

The former PM, also known as the Master at the art of wriggling out, is back.

We must have been out of practice.

For three years we forgot what it was like to be regularly subjected to that patronising, oily, messianic style, self-righteous arrogance and self-pity. The subtle, three card trickster-like manipulation of the truth. The ideological dogmatism. The spectacular lack of analytical depth, so blatant that you may even start wondering if the guy is for real.

Now, suddenly, Tony Blair is back and his words are hitting the political world like puke showered all over a toilet seat.

With the publication of his own memoirs A Journey, the former PM reignited a series of controversies: from the Iraq war to his feud with Gordon Brown, or from Labour Party politics to Princess Diana.

Most striking of all is how shallow and black-and-white Tony Blair's reading of events appears to be. Let's look at some of the former PM's revelations.

1) Blair claims that Labour won three elections "when it was New Labour" and lost in 2010 "because it stopped being New Labour".

Like many a time in the past, his reading of history is two dimensional. In his view, Labour's victories of 1997, 2001 and 2005 are to be credited exclusively to his own Midas touch and his New Labour pet project. The 2010 defeat, instead is the obvious "disaster" wreaked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Nice, simple and linear.

The reality is that Tony Blair is conveniently shunning at least 900,000 other factors. For instance, the fact that between 1997 and 2005 the Tories reached rock bottom, torn apart at the seams with infighting and lack of leadership.

It's common knowledge that, especially in 1997, even a donkey at the helm of the Labour Party would have mopped the floor with what was left of John Major's Conservatives.

Similarly, Blair glosses over the fact that voters anywhere tend to be fed up with parties who've been in office for a decade and a half. Which, combined with an unprecedented economic crisis (but that's too complicated, isn't it Tony), may have just about played a part in Labour's partial defeat on May 6.

Most importantly, he mentions nothing of the decimated party membership and the 4 million voters (that is FOUR MILLION) that Labour lost between 1997 and 2005 - that is to say, under Tony Blair's expert watch.

Nothing, however, displays Blair's lack of touch with ordinary people as much as his belief that 30 million UK voters were going to interpret the 2010 ballot as a battle centred around whether Labour was still "New Labour" or not.

Leave aside the fact that, like John Prescott confirmed today, the Brown government "didn't disown" New Labour: most people who turned their back on Labour didn't give a flying thought over the semantics of the word "New". They were just fed up with a very tired government dulled by years of u-turns, dodgy decisions and one betrayal too many.

2) Tony Blair endorsed David Cameron's handling of the financial crisis, adding that he still opposes Labour's 50p tax rate. He praised the coalition as a "Tory version of New Labour" and claimed that rather than simply attacking the coalition's cuts, Labour must offer plans to make different but "more radical" savings in government spending.

But while the former PM repeats the mantra that anything remotely to the left of New Labour would be electorally damaging, he fails to mention that the 50p tax rate is backed by the clear majority of voters. It's no coincidence that even the Tories are not laying a finger on it.

As for the rest, it's further evidence that Blair went down in history as the party leader most at odds -ever- with the views of his own Party's members. What the fuck he was doing in the Labour Party in the first place remains one of the great mysteries of late 20th century politics.

Of course, Tony would sooner mouth off about some unspecified concept of "reform" than face up to the risks of constantly humiliating Labour's traditional supporters with the only purpose of retaining power.

Yet history is staring at him in the face. He stayed at the helm right until the moment when his party haemorraged one vote too many and the Tories started looking electable again. That moment he conveniently made for the exit door.

Whoever was going to succeed him had to mop up the mess of a hollowed-out party grappling with an identity crisis and a reinvigorated opposition.

3) "Britain got what it wanted in May 2010 - a Tory version of a centrist government", Blair said in an interview this morning.

Did it really? And yet a glimpse at this page will show that the Tories were picked by just 1 out of 3 voters, while parties campaigning under a "progressive" manifesto were chosen by at least 55% of the electorate. But don't you let your analytical skills stand in the way of sloganeering, Mr Blair.

4) Blair warned that "the danger for Labour now is that we drift off, or even move decisively off, to the left. If we do, we will lose even bigger next time".

Again, the old mantra. Fair enough the 1980s have been going through extensive reappraisals, but Blair seems to be seriously obsessed with the era of the Cold War and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In his view, anything that isn't stealing the Tories' clothes is tantamount to guaranteed electoral wilderness.

Yet Blair could do with remembering the one humiliation that hit him in 1999-2000 at the height of his power, when he used every trick in the book (or not) to stop Ken Livingstone from running as London Mayor.

Nevermind every single opinion poll pointed at Ken winning any contest hands down. Nevermind the overwhelming majority of the London Labour Party wanted him to run. Tony Blair publicly repeated that Livingstone as Mayor would be a "disaster" and a return to the "old" and "extremist" policies of the 1980s. Such was the hostility and the control freakery that Ken was kicked out of the Labour Party.

To cut a long story short, Livingstone ran as an independent and still triumphed - alone - in a three-pronged battle against the official Labour candidate, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems.

Talk about Tony's magic touch and political acumen, eh?

5) On to the most devastating legacy of the Blair years, Iraq. While only the most deluded of people may have expected the multi-million-making former PM to apologise or engage in a factual step-by-step analysis of what went wrong, absolutely nobody could have anticipated the following idiotic comment:

"I can say that never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded".

Because of course, Tony, a Prime Minister who's just decided to go to war while signing away the future of thousands of servicemen and god knows how many civilians is just supposed to "guess", right?

Sod forecasting complications, plan B and plan C, let alone looking at intelligence without twisting it to the point of ridicule. He just "never guessed", the twat.

While Tony Blair was busy not guessing, like Mehdi Hasan wrote in the New Statesman, "[s]ix of the country's top academic experts on Iraq and international security warned TB, in a face-to-face meeting in November 2002, that the consequences of an invasion could be catastrophic" and "the Joint Intelligence Committee warned TB in February 2003 that the threat from Al Qaeda would be heightened by military action against Iraq".

6) Finally. You may remember that Tony Blair became Labour Party leader and then PM because his predecessor John Smith died of a sudden heart attack in 1994. So what does he write in the most cringeworthy, psychotic, delusional, tactless fashion?

"Of course, I had no knowledge that John would die prematurely. Except that, in a strange way, I began to think he might... I said to (Cherie): 'If John dies, I will be leader, not Gordon. And somehow, I think this will happen. I just think it will.' Is that a premonition? Not in a strict sense; but it was strange all the same. On Saturday afternoon we went to see Schindler's List..."

What a prick.