From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Inception is dumb junk
Margaret’s dreaming, David’s lost the plot and Paul lives in a teenage fantasy

27 July 2010

I have hated more movies on Margaret Pomeranz recommendation than I care to remember, but it’s not often the rectitudinous David Stratton has let me down. Alas, in a rare show of solidarity they both gave Christopher Nolan’s Inception four and a half stars.

I let my guard down when the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Byrne gave this lightweight guff four stars. Come in sucker. Not since Baz Luhrmann’s Australia has a sillier, more hyped, less satisfying, confection been foisted on an unsuspecting public. Unless you’re a teenage boy with a serious computer game problem, this one has fleas. It scratches with its hind foot. It’s a dish licker, a poo shooter, a leg humper … in short, a dog.

The giveaway  was “Cinemas everywhere”, but I missed it. Those words signal a marketing strategy used on dog blockbusters: If it’s going to pall really quickly, you force it up big, simultaneously, on as many screens as possible.

The Herald headlined Byrne’s review “Dream weaver casts a mesmerising spell”. He called it “intellectually tantalising … an action adventure for the brain as well as the eyes”, which says more about Paul’s concept of “intellectual” and “brain” than anything else.

The cutting edge intellectual subtlety they’re all raving about is risibly blunt. First, there’s a McGuffin – a nifty bit of technology in a suitcase that enables several people to dream a common dream and interact within it – thus equipped, the group can enter a dream and then a dream within the dream and even a dream within the other dreams. Challenging stuff, huh.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s character , Dom Cobb, is an industrial espionage mercenary whose team specialises in stealing secrets locked in the brains of their targets.  But can he do something more difficult – plant an idea is somebody’s brain? Well, duh, of course he can. And you’re certain, right from the get go, that he and the team are going to pull it off. And of course, he’s got a guilty secret involving luuurve.

Actually the premise and the plot are just an excuse for an avalanch of car chases, glitzy sci-fi special effects and loud gunplay in a variety of exotic locales. And speaking of avalanches, there’s one of those as well. As always, the bad guys are hopeless shots. So in essence this is a carefully constructed formula movie designed to appeal to small boys aged from 13 to 30. Far from being challenging or intellectual the whole shebang appears to be the product of a marketing focus group. The Inception computer game cannot be far behind.

Okay, perhaps the focus group were just ‘projections’ of Nolan’s subconscious, but you don’t need to be in a dreamlike state to imagine them sitting around workshopping it:

“Now, we got a shootout in a Japanese temple thingy, we got a shootout in a Moroccan Bazaar, we got a shootout in the snow …”

“Chris, the kids expect car chases too, but we gotta have some new angle. How about a car chase and then a diesel locomotive comes down the street and smashes into everything? I mean it’s a dream movie, right, so we can do anything.”

In the result, Inception (like so many other recent action adventure flicks) is also a sad reflection on the generations for which it’s been lovingly crafted. It’s a movie for kiddies who think avatars are really cool and sophisticated and whose idea of glamour is a five star hotel room or a symmetrical city of glass façade office towers.  It’s for generations who’ve never handled an actual firearm of any sort and whose concept of war and violence comes from computer games. There is, for example, an interminably long battle scene in a snow-covered  mountinous landscape featuring a huge industrial facility. It brought to mind the WW2 commando classic, The Heroes of Telemark. About a million rounds are fired off in unconvincing heroics but I couldn’t help remaining completely detached and remembering that in the actual Telemark operation they blew up the objective and escaped without firing a shot.

Long ago, I noticed an interesting thing. Film critics tend to be kind to new releases. It’s something to do with not being a grinch. I mean, if they were honest, they’d pan at least half of all new releases. So almost everything gets more stars than it will ten years down the track when it’s on late night TV and Doug Anderson (bless his soul) is the sober voice of history.

Time winnows out the chaff. I remember seeing, as a young possum, Barbarella, and thinking it was very hip, but when it came up on late night TV thirty years later I was embarrassed. It was truly ghastly. I’d just been in lust with Jane Fonda.

Allow me a brave prediction. In 2020, Gerald McMorrow’s debut feature, Franklyn, which played last year on just a few art-house screens, will scrub up well as a mind-games mystery thriller while Inception will be remembered as dumb junk. It cost just $9m (against Inception’s $180m budget), but was all the better for that.  

Perhaps I’m wrong about Inception. Perhaps you can plant an idea in somebody’s unreceptive mind. Perhaps that’s the kindest way to explain that three grown adult reviewers have actually endorsed this crap.