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Psychological Warfare – Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

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For anyone who thought that American Sniper was a sickening, nationalistic rewriting of history, you haven’t seen anything yet. For next January’s patriotic blockbuster that will highlight the heroic courage of that one indispensable nation is Michael Bay’s – yes, Michael Bay’s – 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Is this the new normal, where the CIA and Pentagon attempt to whitewash their war crimes via the medium of Hollywood?

Obviously this is nothing new – during the Cold War the US government harnessed the film industry in order to churn out anti-communist propaganda; producing such ‘classics’ as I was a Communist for the FBI, which portrayed the Communist Party of the USA as being behind 1943’s race riots in Harlem and Detroit – therefore drawing a connection between the African American struggle for civil rights and political subversion.

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The Cold War films were used to shape public opinion, to ‘win hearts and minds’ in the battle against communism and the USSR, however 13 Hours is a much more sinister operation. As with American Sniper, it is presenting itself as a story based on true events, but the events are in reality merely those which the US government wants the viewer to believe are true. Eastwood’s film implied that al Qaeda and 9/11 were responsible for the invasion of Iraq; this was what Chris Kyle himself believed, however in presenting this false narrative Eastwood undoubtedly reinforced the idea in the minds of uneducated viewers.  At a preview screening Kyle’s widow told interviewers that Chris was ‘fighting terrorists’, despite Iraq not having an al Qaeda presence prior to the war.

13 Hours is based on the book of the same name by Mitchell Zuckoff, who co-wrote the text with one of the contractors involved in the operation at the US embassy in Libya to rescue Ambassador Stevens. Zuckoff’s Wikipedia page says of the book:

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (2014) was co-written with the security team members who were involved in the 2012 Benghazi attack. It tells the story of the 13-hour Benghazi incident from the perspective of the security team who were involved in the fighting, without discussing later political controversies.

Thus it is highly likely that the film will not delve into the real purpose of the Benghazi embassy, why the CIA were stationed there; the history of the militia who killed Stevens and Libya’s political climate. What is guaranteed is a high dose of American exceptionalism, and the dehumanisation of Arabs – or as they were referred to in American Sniper: Ragheads.

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Writing at The Intercept, Peter Maass writes:

The early reviews—I mean the early tweets—are highlyfavorable. If the trailer is an accurate indicator, or the director’s filmography (Bay also brought us Pearl Harbor and Transformers), the star-spangled hype is probably on the money, and we will be the poorer for it.

The main hints are the attention-getting trailer (please take a look) and the cast of characters on the IMDB site. There is apparently no Libyan character who merits a last name—there is just a “Fareed” and “Fareed’s wife.” The other apparently Libyan characters have no names at all; one of them is described as “Bandolier Militiaman” and another is “Camo Headwrap.” Who knows, perhaps 13 Hours will be loaded with rich historical context, but Bay, whose films have grossed $6.4 billion, according to his Twitter bio, is known for other things.

The film is also likely to increase popular support for American militarism and the ever-expanding ‘War on Terror’.

What’s next? The story of how the US military came to the rescue of 60 ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, who heroically made their way towards Raqqa in order to battle the Islamic State, but on the way were unmercifully hit by barrel bombs stuffed with chlorine, thus leaving General Martin Dempsey with little choice but to crush the regime of Bashar al Assad in response? Directed by Gore Verbinski?

Ultimately, 13 Hours is an insult to the 50,000+ Libyans who died in 2011, and to the millions who continue to suffer today as a result of US, British and French imperialism.

Trailer:

To learn more about what really happened in Benghazi, Libya, and the consequences for the rest of Africa and indeed the world, I recommend the following resources:

Seymour M. Hersh:  The Red Line and the Rat Line
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

Washington Times Exclusive: Secret tapes undermine Hillary Clinton on Libyan war
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/28/hillary-clinton-undercut-on-libya-war-by-pentagon-/

Cynthia McKinney: The Illegal War on Libya

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Academy Awards 2014 Highlights

It’s fair to say that this year’s Academy Awards marked a departure from previous years. Despite Ellen DeGeneres’ humour falling slightly flat at times, the event was considerably less of a snooze/cringe/misogyny-fest  in comparison to 2013’s We Saw Your Boob’s, the cast of Les Miserables’ ensemble performance and general hosting fail by Seth MacFarlane. The atmosphere – both viewing at home and in the audience, was a much more relaxed affair. Here are a few of the highlights:

The big winners were Gravity (7 awards) and 12 Years A Slave (3)

 Meaning that Alfonso Cuarón was the event’s first Mexican recipient of the Best Director award, and Steve McQueen its first black Best Picture winner.

Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress, meaning that J-Law can resume being adorable, as she did when attempting to steal Lupita’s gong.

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 Despite having 10 nominations, American Hustle walked away empty-handed.

This made The Wolf of Wall Street’s losses a lot more tolerable.

Cate Blanchett gave an inspiring acceptance speech – calling out Hollywood for its denial that women-led films can’t be box-office hits, saying:

I’m so very proud that Blue Jasmine stayed in the cinemas for as long as it did. And thank you to Sony Classics, to Michael and Tom for their extraordinary support. For so bravely and intelligently distributing the film and to the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.

Lupita, Meryl and Amy got their dance on.

And erm, Ellen achieved the most retweeted selfie of all time.

Winners:

Best Picture – 12 Years a Slave

Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Actress – Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Supporting Actress – Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

Best Adapted Screenplay – 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)

Best Original Screenplay – Her (Spike Jonze)

Best Animated Feature – Frozen

Best Cinematography – Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Best Costume Design – The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin)

Best Directing – Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

Best Documentary Feature – 20 Feet from Stardom (Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen, Caitrin Rogers)

Best Documentary Short – The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (Malcolm Clarke, Nicholas Reed)

Best Film Editing – Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)

Best Foreign Language – FilmThe Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)

Best Original Score – Gravity (Steven Price)

Best Original Song – Let It Go – Frozen

Best Production Design – The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)

Best Animated Short Film – Mr. Hublot (Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares)

Best Live Action Short Film – Helium (Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson)

Best Sound Editing – Gravity (Glenn Freemantle)

Best Sound Mixing –  Gravity (Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro)

Best Visual Effects – Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)


Watch Olivia Wilde Discuss the Role of Women in Hollywood

This clip shows actor Olivia Wilde discuss the limited roles available to women working in Hollywood as part of a panel titled State of Female Justice, noting the unwillingness of film distributors to green-light projects with female leads. Wilde demonstrates a great awareness of her position in the industry, stating that as storytellers, it is up to filmmakers (herself included) to educate the public on equality. She makes reference to Alien and Salt, as being two films starring female protagonists – Sigourney Weaver and Angelina Jolie – which had originally been written with male leads in mind.

As this chart shows, women make up half of cinema audiences (if not slightly more), rendering the old supply and demand argument for male-centric movie content invalid.

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As can be seen by the box office success of  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity and Frozen in 2013, audiences are not unwilling to watch female-led movies; however, as long as the majority of parts written for women are that of the throwaway love interest/long-suffering wife, cinema will continue to be created with male driven plots and male audiences in mind. This theory can not only be applied to women, but also to racial minorities: for example, most commercial productions still promote tired stereotypes of African Americans (see use of the angry black woman cliche in Anchorman 2), rather than as multi-faceted individuals. Diversity in Hollywood merely requires the formation of well-written characters, irrelevant of gender or race.


Best of the Golden Globes 2014

Oh to live the lives of the rich and famous/beautiful. But still, the Golden Globes are a fun ceremony, and this year’s proved to be no different.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler continuing to perform a top-notch hosting job, poking fun numerous times at the Hollywood double standard:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitting with the film crowd instead of the lowly TV actors (she was nominated twice):

Julia Louis-Dreyfus eating a hot-dog:

Joaquin Phoenix showing up, and looked like he was having a genuinely good time:

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A drunk Emma Thomson took her cocktail onstage before throwing her Louboutin’s away:

Awkward moment between Bono and Diddy:

Bono quite happy to share a moment with Amy Poehler:

(who then won in her category):

The crew of Breaking Bad’s Best TV Drama acceptance speech:

Leo DiCaprio finally wins something (his last GG was for The Aviator in 2005 – in Dicaprio terms, that’s a long time…is an Oscar finally on the cards?):

So did Matthew McConaughey, who also gave an amazing acceptance speech:

Having up until now been overlooked in such a promising list of nominations, Steve McQueen and 12 Years A Slave walked away with Best Picture – Drama:


The Antichrist that is Lars Von Trier

After being left feeling astounded at the masterpiece that was 2011’s Melancholia, I took it upon myself to delve into this director’s back catalogue.

I started off with Dancer in the Dark, thinking this was going to be some uplifting tale of a blind woman who rose up from her difficult social circumstances to make it into the glamorous world of Hollywood, boy was I wrong…what I got was theft, murder and death by hanging, all to the hypnotising soundtrack of Bjork. It was brutal seeing the suffering this woman went through to try and prevent her son from suffering the same illness that she did, but it just left me feeling cold and empty.

My most significant memory of this film was this…which came years before I even saw it.

Next I tried Dogville. I read about the themes which interested me as well as the casting of Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany. However after about 20 minutes I gave up, unable to get to grips with the chalk lined setting. I’d like to revisit this film but its 178 minute long running time along with the ‘unrealistic’ setting doesn’t exactly spark my interest.

Afterwards I turned to Breaking the Waves, which I’m still avoiding. I’ve heard it’s Von Trier’s best work and although again the narrative themes sound appealing, just imagining these compared to what I’ve seen already fills me with dread.

This brings me to the main event, Antichrist, a film I’ve been daring myself to watch for at least a year and didn’t build up the courage until last night. Well, I had already read a scene by scene synopsis to really let myself know what I was in for – this actually made it sound much more gruesome than what actually unfolded.

The opening shower sex scene was horrible; I didn’t need to see that penetration. The actual death of the child left me completely unaffected. Without going into an ENTIRE plot summary, ‘She’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg) becomes deeply depressed and anxious after this death, which I forgot to mention occurred at the same time as the ‘act of love’ was in full action. ‘He’ (William Dafoe) is a psychologist who tries to help his wife through this, eventually taking a trip to ‘Eden’, a forest which She admits to being the place she fears the most.

This was where I expected an all-out gore-fest. What I got was a nasty scene where She masturbated underneath a tree, before having sex with He, then throwing a piece of wood, rock, or whatever onto his penis. She then proceeds to masturbate him, while blood spurts out of his penis. He remains unconscious the whole time, while She then screwdrives her way through his leg and pushes and pulls a finger out of the bloody hole. She then cuts off her clitoris with a pair of rusty scissors, He wakes up and strangles her then burns her body and attempts to make his way out of the woods.

Oh by the way, there’s also a talking fox.

Antichrist contains many elements which intrigue me – She wrote her thesis on the persecution of women through the ages, the work She read while researching this then led to her concluding that women are evil and I assume the burning of her body was some kind of metaphor for this. However I really don’t see what all the fuss was about apart from including gutsy performances by mainstreamish actors. I’m renowned for my fear of horror and was actually disappointed by the lack of extremity I’d heard so much talk of.

On the other hand, Melancholia is a genuine piece of art. Von Trier’s next project is ‘The Nymphomaniac’. Having just watched the trailer for this, I can’t see myself venturing out to the local Cineworld to view it, but will likely make the effort to catch it on DVD. It does make me wonder what torture he’ll plan for his female characters next. Think I’ll choose The Idiots as my next venture into this director’s work, apparently it includes some humour.

Here’s the Nymphomaniac trailer (I think we can all agree that the casting of Shia LaBeouf is enough to make us feel a little bit squeamish towards it):