- The Adventures of Tintin. ***1/2 (out of 4)

If any fictional character deserves the extravagant, big-budget, Hollywood treatment it’s Tintin. The colourful comics by Herge are jam packed with rollicking adventures that are tailor made for big screen adaptation. And no less than Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have lined up to direct and produce (respectively) this magical debut outing for Tintin and friends. This film is pure popcorn entertainment at (close to) its best.

Our eponymous hero comes into possession of a model of a 17th century ship called the ‘Unicorn’ and he is immediately thrust into a dangerous mission to find a lost treasure before the sinister villain, Sakharine.  I say ‘immediately’ because there is not a lot of waiting around in this narrative.  Spielberg maintains a breathless pace as the heroes are catapulted from one white knuckle encounter to the next.  This is both an asset and, as will be discussed later, an unfortunate weakness.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of ‘Tintin’ is the art design and the motion capture animation.  The characters all sport photo-realistic textures and the lifelike animation lends an uncanny feel to the film.  This is juxtaposed with the faithful ‘cartoonish’ design of the faces that closely resemble Herge’s hand drawn style.  The combined effect is akin to a sort of magical realism.  The audience ignores the implausibility of the action and the human intelligence of the animals in favour of full immersion in the fantastical adventure (A facet which the Pirates of the Carribean franchise misplaced years ago.)  The animated form allows for amazing chase scenes such as the Morocco sequence which is absolutely one of the very best action set pieces I’ve seen and one that has been specifically and skilfully designed to accentuate the benefits of 3D.

The world of Tintin has a unique flavour that encapsulates both boyhood wonder and the perils of adulthood. Tintin seems impossibly young for his level of journalistic success and capability.  He is not unlike a Hardy Boy or a character from one of Enid Blyton’s adventure novels. I like the fact that he carries a gun and is not afraid to use it if necessary.  Spielberg has refrained from sugar coating the series for Hollywood consumption.

Unfortunately the film stumbles just when it seems close to reaching perfection. The ending is underwhelming both because it serves as a lead off point to a sequel and because the pacing of the narrative buckles in on itself. The climactic events at Morocco render the concluding sequences redundant and rather tame by comparison. Sadly the film ends with a whimper and the production as a whole falls short of greatness. In spite of this I’m awarding the film 3.5 stars because, ultimately, this is the kind of film that makes going to the cinema fun!

 

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- The Guard (2011) **** (out of 4)

The Guard is a quirky Irish comedy that oozes wit and charm from every possible cinematic orifice. The cracking dialogue had me snickering in glee and I can’t help but admire the inventive narrative. This is the best comedy of the year and, perhaps, best film overall of 2011!

This is the Brendan Gleeson show. He plays ‘Boyle’, the titular guard. Gleeson tends to show up in memorable supporting roles (with ‘Braveheart’, ’28 Days Later’ and ‘Harry Potter’ prominent) but in this film he takes centre stage and, boy, does he shine. Ostensibly the plot is a derivative of the buddy cop genre with Gleeson playing off of Don Cheadle’s straight man, FBI agent Everett. The combination even features the familiar mismatch of ethnicity and culture. Except Boyle is as anti as anti-heroes get. He’s fond of prostitutes, he’s prickly, he’s ignorant… or is he? Part of the charm of Boyle is that you just don’t know how canny he really is. As Agent Everett remarks: “I can’t tell if you’re motherf***ing stupid, or motherf***ing smart.”

This ambiguity of intelligence is the backbone of some truly memorable dialogue. In a fabulous scene Boyle gets blackmailed and bribed by a drug dealer in a diner while he dismissively downs a chocolate milkshake. When the druggie leaves and Boyle finishes his milkshake, the resulting exchange between himself and a lady friend is absolutely priceless. It’s funny but it also makes you wonder just what Boyle’s internal reaction to the set up really is. The script continually engages the audience is this fashion and the result is a story that is unpredictable and utterly absorbing.

Gleeson and Cheadle are supported brilliantly by a cast of unfamiliar faces (and Mark Strong – a bad guy again). I especially enjoyed the performance of Fionnula Flanagan as Boyle’s dying mother and Katarina Cas as a stricken widow. The bad guys are fairly stock gangster types despite a generous injection of philosophical dialogue while Boyle’s cop colleagues serve as bungling, corrupt foils to his own wavering moral compass.

If I have one complaint about the film it’s that the script at times tries to be too clever. Typical exchanges between gangsters and cops are subverted with dialogue that seems distractingly self aware. “Why ask such a stupid question?” This is only a minor gripe though as I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

This is a fantastic little film that showcases the talent and appeal of its star. Rush out and see it at once!

 

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- Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) *** (out of 4)

As a rule of thumb I try to avoid films that have a colon and a dash in the title. Fortunately this, the latest outing for secret agent, Ethan Hunt, is a film directed by none other than animation impresario, Brad Bird (of Pixar fame). This is Bird’s first live action film and his flair for storytelling elevates Ghost Protocol to new levels of action and excitement.

For this particular impossible mission-which Hunt inevitably decides to accept-a rogue Russian nuclear strategist must be stopped before he detonates a nuclear warhead designed to ignite global conflict. The hokey spy film premise is merely an excuse to string a series of increasingly outrageous and thrilling action set pieces together.

Some of the sequences are genuinely exciting and Bird takes special care to distil a distinct sense of peril and suspense. In one scene the audience is subjected to the dizzying heights of the Burj Dubai with Tom Cruise dangling precariously from a sheer window pane. In the next Hunt’s team is engaged in a daring double impersonation in an attempt to con the bad guys. The fact that the execution of these crazy stunts is entertaining is a credit to the editing and production design.

No secret agent would go to war without a horde of whiz-bang gadgetry to aide him in his work. The ‘Mission: Impossible’ series is notorious for it’s outlandish devices. Thankfully the confusing face-mask disguises of previous entries have been largely abandoned here. Bird evens winks at the audience when the mask-making-machine malfunctions. The film is much better for it. Still, at times the technology takes giant leaps toward science-fiction territory and it can be distracting although this is tempered, somewhat, with some playful sight gags. (Hunt’s rogue sticky glove comes to mind)

I enjoyed the characters. Simon Pegg appears to have typecast himself as ‘Scotty’ in two major franchises now. Paula Patton smouldered on cue. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. Jeremy Renner, on the other hand, continues to impress me. He possesses a raw intensity and assured confidence that makes for compelling viewing. His role seemed a touch superfluous but his presence is undoubtedly an asset.

This is ultimately an unashamed action flick and the action works because the villains as well as the heroes are smart and capable. All the exhilarating special effects and hair-rising stunts are merely tools in service to an intelligent and thoughtful film-maker.

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- Due Date (2010) **1/2 (out of 4)

A review by Arcanix

Due Date is an interesting but ultimately disappointing attempt at throwing two mismatched actors into a confined cinematic space for comedic effect. This is a common high concept studio tactic normally reserved for the buddy cop sub genre. (Rush Hour leaps to mind) On this occasion the protagonists, Peter Highman (Robert Downey Jnr) and Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), find themselves on an unexpected road trip to Los Angeles. Peter is a high flying, no-nonsense professional type while Ethan is a socially inept buffoon (Galifianakis reprising his The Hangover persona) with aspirations of making it in Hollywood.

Watching this film I was reminded of Dumb and Dumber. Add one flavour-of-the-month comedian, throw in one established ‘serious’ thespian, combine with a funny if nonsensical script and allow to simmer. While Dumb and Dumber was successful in generating regular laughs on its own terms I felt that, in contrast, Due Date could not sustain any sort of comic momentum. In particular the film was weighed down by the implausibility of the supposed camaraderie between the characters. Downey Jnr is believable as the somewhat gruff straight man on a trip from hell but there is very little reason for him to grow fond of his bumbling travel companion.

Galifianiakis’ shtick is wearing thin fast. His antics may have brought the house down in The Hangover but, here, there is the unmistakeable whiff of staleness setting in. At every turn his clumsy behaviour directly causes gross misfortune on the hapless Peter. Peter is, initially, incredulous but, counter intuitively, as the inanity ramps up we are led to believe that a degree of affection between the two has set in. I fail to see how an ill-advised and life threatening rescue from the Mexican border authorities constitute grounds for reconciliation. The wavering chemistry culminates in a warm and fuzzy ending that reeks of uninspired formula.

Despite the problematic character development there are laughs to be had. Peter’s solution to an unpleasant encounter with an obnoxious child is a surprising, albeit isolated, moment of genuine humour. Galifianakis does possess a degree of comic timing but he needs to broaden his range if he wants to join the ranks of Adam Sandler and Co. Jim Carrey, for example, was able to capitalize on his signature physical slapstick in vehicles such as Dumb and Dumber before moving into serious dramatic territory.

I would recommend this film as lightweight entertainment best viewed on DVD on a spare evening. There is enough comedy here to generate a few laughs but, given the talent on display, it could have been a much better film.

 

 

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- Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) 1/2 (out of 4)

A review by Arcanix

Resident Evil is a film franchise that doesn’t bother with such trivial nonsense as ‘numbered’ sequels. I am reliably informed by Wikipedia that Afterlife is the fourth instalment of this particular videogame-to-film series. I suppose the fact that I had to look up this piece of trivia is evidence that I don’t belong to the target demographic; indeed I ended up watching it by accident. It was the only available film that no-one in our party had seen yet.

Resident Evil is a schizophrenic franchise that borrows heavily from the superhero and zombie apocalypse genres. The film begins with an army of super-powered Alice clones (Milla Jovovich) assaulting the fortified underground lair of the evil Umbrella Corporation. Conveniently the facility is destroyed along with the Alice clones leaving the ‘real’ Alice alive along with villain, Albert Wesker (Shaun Roberts). Alice proceeds to fly around America searching for survivors, fearful that she may be the sole survivor of the ‘zombifying’ T-virus. Eventually she stumbles upon a group of survivors atop a building in Los Angeles at which point the film reverts to standard survival horror fair.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been subjected to a real cinematic stinker and this film is right up there with the worst I’ve seen. Director, Paul W. S. Anderson, has a reputation for hokey sci-fi nonsense and he’s on top form here. The plot is a mere contrivance that serves as a platform to stage impossibly outrageous and ultimately boring action sequences. Alice’s exploits are made more unbearable to watch by the insistent use of super slow motion. I was under the impression that the Matrix-style bullet time fad had died out years ago. Clearly Anderson can’t get enough of the stuff.

The cast is headed by Jovovich and Prison Break star, Wentworth Miller, whose character (imaginatively) starts out in a prison cell. Most of the remaining cast are along for the ride as monster bait for the mutant zombies. I recall one hilarious scene in which Jovovich and Miller are joined, at the last minute, by a random supporting actress on a daring mission to collect weapons from a flooded basement. No prizes for guessing the fate of said random actress. I could bore you with my incredulousness at the stupefying dialog or the impeccable makeup of the ‘post-apocalyptic survivors’ but that would be merely scraping the surface of a colossal cesspool of bad ideas and incompetent execution.

I’ve already mentioned that I probably don’t qualify as someone who is meant to enjoy this type of dreck but this is in spite of the fact that I’ve played through the Xbox games Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5. Admittedly the storylines of those games weren’t much better than the one on display in Afterlife but they were at least able to generate some exhilarating action and genuine white-knuckle suspense. This is the type of game-to-film conversion that gives video games a bad reputation as source material. Unfortunately the trend is set to continue with an ending that inauspiciously suggests more sequels are on the way. Bugger.

milla

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- More stuffs coming soon for consumption by the multitudes… yeah

Starting with a scathing film review! What fun.

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- Why is Video Gaming a Man’s World? An Essay.

This essay will closely examine Larissa Hjorth’s concept of “female playbour” (270) and its possible link to gender inequality in the video game industry. I intend to show that there is indeed an undercurrent of male-aligned influence in video games in terms of audience, text and industry. However I contend that, although playbour is important in the empowerment of females in the gaming industry, the problem of exploitation of gamers is not necessarily limited to female consumers. I also intend to show that the lack of empowerment of females in video games is an ongoing issue in the industry and is linked to a larger movement in the information technology industry rather than just specific gaming aspects such as playbour.

The notion of playbour takes into consideration most forms of creative work performed by gamers outside of the intended boundaries of the video game itself. The two primary examples of playbour are game modifications and “machinima” videos. The game modification trend began, in earnest, in the mid nineties with the popularity of the first person shooter titles, Quake and Half-Life. New weapons, levels and even stories were developed independently by enthusiasts working on their own personal computers. The expertise required for this additional content was substantial. These pioneering hobbyists operated before the advent of bundled development tools. Gamers were inspired to learn 3D modelling, texture creating and computer programming. Despite this enthusiastic activity game researcher, Julian Kucklich, notes that playbour struggles to “free itself from the negative connotations of play: idleness, non-productiveness and escapism.” (Kucklich np) Kucklich continues by saying that the perception of modding as play contributes to the exploitative relationship between gamers and the games industry. “This ideology contributes to the precarious status of modders, as it disguises the power structures within which the modding community operates.” (Kucklich np)

The ambiguous relationship between modders and game developers is no better illustrated than the example set by Blizzard Entertainment. In 2003 the pre-eminent game developer behind the phenomenally successful World of Warcraft Massively Multiplayer game sued a group of open source game hobbyists who had used material from Blizzard’s 1995 title, Warcraft II: The Tides of Darkness, to develop an open source game of their own called Freecraft. (Wen np) A possible explanation for this aggressive action is Blizzard’s perceived lack of potential exploitation of the playbour of Freecraft’s creators; the project was open source, and by definition, not commercial. This is in contrast to the successful modification, Defence of the Ancients, created using the development tools packaged in Blizzard’s 2002 title, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. This mod was created strictly within the boundaries of Blizzard’s End User Licence Agreement. All intellectual property rights were relinquished by the modders. Arguably as popular as Counterstrike, Defence of the Ancients ensured the extended popularity of Warcraft III and in so doing, helped to build Blizzard’s prodigious Warcraft brand. Additionally this is an example of creative risk being outsourced to modders. The game’s design proved so successful among players that at least two commercial games were developed based on the original modification. With a player base already established by the community, the industry capitalized with the successful commercial copycat games, “Heroes of Newerth” and “Demigod.

These examples show that the playbour phenomenon is not particularly discriminatory in terms of exploitation of one gender or another. Quake, Half-Life and Warcraft (the strategy games) are traditionally thought of as male oriented games. However, Hjorth specifically refers to “female playbour” in discussing gender inequality in gaming. The concept of gender inequality is both real and complex; particularly when considering information technology industries. The statistics suggest that, though females represent as much as 40 percent of gamers, as little as 12 percent of game developers are female. (Hjorth 270) This is the clue that explains the association that Hjorth derives between playbour and a lack of female empowerment. This further becomes evident when considering this quote from Tom Mustaine, a modder who acquired work in the industry on the strength of his mods: “The secret desire of every mod creator is to get recognition from the companies who are making the games.” (Quoted in Kucklich np) Playbour is perhaps the primary avenue to employment in the games industry, university degrees notwithstanding. I understand Hjorth’s argue as a an assertion that if girls are not inspired or empowered to engage in the various forms of playbour then they will continue to be excluded from game development process thus perpetuating the male influence of video games.

In order to understand female playbour it is necessary to investigate feminism and how it relates to video games and information technology. The traditional feminist debate centres on the equality-versus-difference argument. Equality proponents argue that females are identical to males whereas difference proponents argue that females are both special and complementary to males. An alternative to these standpoints is the French Paritѐ movement. The theory points to the unsexed neutral human harbouring male bias, especially when considering the equality-versus-difference argument. Instead the paristaristes argue for a fundamentally sexed neutral individual. “The paristaristes rejected the masculine norm, and claimed equality based on the always present, but essentially meaninglessness, of sexed bodies.” (Corneliussen 64) Corneliussen argues that these feminist arguments have been implemented to varying degrees in the gaming industry. In particular she points to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft as a game that successfully implements the Paritѐ viewpoint. Each race of playable characters in the game has both a male and female model. The first decision in creating a character is race followed immediately by gender. Corneliussen praises the game for largely avoiding the hyper-sexualised female body that the gaming industry is notorious for. (67) In addition, some of the activities in the game are traditionally associated with the female gender role; activities such as sewing and cooking. World of Warcraft is not–from a feminist perspective–perfect, but it does point toward a gender-inclusive design, proving game universes to be an interesting playground for challenging cultural perceptions of gender.” (Cornelliussen 82)

So is World of Warcraft an example of a game that empowers females and inspires playbour? Certainly it is renowned as an engaging and time consuming game with an undoubted cross-gender audience. The problem is that it is a Massively Multiplayer game run on the developer’s central server. As such the developers maintain a strict monopoly on game modification. Indeed one of the chief selling points of the monthly payment business model is the developer’s promise for continual production of new game content, a business model that does not allow for independent modders sharing their own content. It is arguable, however, that there is different sort of barrier preventing girls from engaging in meaningful playbour. Cornelia Brunner suggests that the Information Technology industry in general does not allow for the differing sensibilities of girls and boys. While accounting for the fact that boys may be effeminate and girls, masculine, she describes a kind of spectrum of sexual sensibility toward technical industries and products.

“…butch sensibility is relatively sanguine about the ability of new technology to solve unanticipated social, ecological, or biological problems created by new inventions. It is deeply interested in the machines themselves, in their power and speed.” (Brunner 36)

On the opposite end of the spectrum:

“Femme sensibility… wants small, flexible, multifunctional objects that allow us to share, communicate, and connect. It worries about the unanticipated consequences of new technologies on the human, social, and natural environment, and it is far less interested in the machines that allow us such connectivity than in their function.” (36)

This acts as an explanation, of sorts, for the “male” tendency to take an interest in the inner workings of a machine. I am reminded of the clichéd anecdote of the young, tech-savvy kid taking apart his dad’s fm radio and then putting it back together again. This is an essential inclination in initiating playbour. The process is fraught with technical hurdles and requires an interest in the machine itself. So is Hjorth incorrect to blame industry exploitation for the lack of female empowerment? Brunner argues that the root of the problem is the insensitivity toward femme sensibility in education and the Information Technology at large. “Our hypothesis was that… IT… described in schools is too exclusively butch, placing more emphasis on the machines rather than the problem solving.” (Brunner 41)

A common example used in the female-empowerment-in-games debate is The Sims. The game and its sequels are estimated to have between forty and fifty percent female players. Additionally the production and design teams have equal numbers of males and females. (Hayes 225) The cross-gender appeal of the game leads me to dismiss the cynical label typically applied by hard-core gamers: “virtual dollhouse.” The game emphasizes goals that are sensitive to both butch and femme sensibilities. Relationships are presented as problems that need to be resolved, cultivated and maintained. The characters engage in activities that have personal consequences. In many respects the game is much easier to relate to than the bombastic, heroic action games that send the player on endless quests to save the world. What is more, the game is extremely user friendly for playbour enthusiasts.

An integral part of the game itself, of course, is the design of avatars, home decor, buildings, and landscapes, using built-in tools. Electronic Arts encourages players to experiment and share their creations through a variety of mechanisms. For example, the EA site for The Sims 2 includes a section where players can post and download user-created objects, avatars, lots, and stories. (Hayes 226)

The modding community for the Sims franchise is large and diverse. Women are well represented among the users who submit player-created content. Hayes argues that The Sims is a good starting point for female empowerment in the gaming industry. Second Life is another title that can boast a broad cross gender audience while nurturing an active playbour empowered player base. Furthermore the developers are unusually lenient in terms of ownership of user-created content. Gamers have a stake in their creations. (Hayes 226) The important consequence of these successful cross-gender games is the creative incentive induced in both the butch and femme sensibilities. Girls will be so inspired to create their own games that they will overcome the technical barriers and assume important roles in the industry. I understand this to be Hjorth’s notion of female empowerment in the games industry.

I have certain reservations when discussing this topic. The central problem is the issue of gender inequality and pre-defined gender roles in society at large. Certainly the games industry and playbour is but a small fragment of the larger feminist movement. Fullerton (et al) states that “women are less interested in pursuing computers and games as a career because they seek a more balanced lifestyle and are not as willing to work the long hours that have become standard in the games industry.” (Fullerton 164) Additionally Hayes points out that “it is still not socially rewarding for females to identify themselves as gamers.” (Hayes 221) These problems are almost entirely independent of the games and information technology industries. It is arguable that video games, in particular, suffer from negative stereotypes and gender roles in terms of female perception.

Another issue when investigating female playbour is the misleading statistic that women make up “around 74 percent of the paying consumers of mobile games.”(Hjorth 268) Mobile games are almost exclusively casual in nature. The notion of playbour does not apply to strictly casual games as, by definition, the involvement of users is limited. Hjorth briefly addresses this by stating that the “rise in the importance of interactivity and participation has resulted in an erosion of the old binaries such as casual games versus serious games.” (Hjorth 260) This is a relevant point but the fact remains that the actual empowerment of gamers is more likely to occur in playbour associated with “serious” computer games where access to development tools are more readily available. Mobile games present very little in the way of opportunities to enter the industry.

In conclusion, my interpretation of Hjorth’s notion of “female playbour” is that it comprises those activities that appeal to the femme sensibility and therefore the female audience in general. Games such as The Sims and Second Life are current examples of games that successfully incorporate this concept. These games emphasize human, social and natural interaction. My understanding of Hjorth’s reference to female empowerment is that empowerment exists in the link between playbour and roles in the games industry. Hjorth identifies female playbour as a source of gender inequality in the industry. I understand this to be a partially true statement. Game developers can do more to encourage female playbour but the gender inequality problem that is evident in the industry is the result of a combination of several factors including gender roles in society, and the femme-insensitive Information Technology industry as a whole.
List of Works Consulted

Kϋcklich, Julian. “Precarious Playbour: Modders and the Digital Games Industry” FibreCulture Issue 5

(2005). 03/06/2010 http://journal.fibreculture.org/issue5/kucklich.html

Wen, Howard. “Stratagus: Open Source Strategy Games” LinuxDevCentre (07/15/2004). 03/06/2010

http://linuxdevcenter.com/pub/a/linux/2004/07/15/stratagus.html

Hjorth, Larissa. “Computer, Online and Console Gaming.” The Media & Communications in Australia.

Ed. Stuart Cunningham and Graeme Turner. Crow’s Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2010. 259-272

Corneliussen, Hilde. “World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism.” Digital Culture, Play and

Identity. Ed. Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg. Massachusetts: Massachusetts

Institute of Technology, 2008. 63-86

Brunner, Cornelia. “Games and Technological Desire: Another Decade.” Beyond Barbie & Mortal

Combat. Ed. Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Y. Sun. Massachusetts:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008. 33-46

Hayes, Elisabeth. “Girls, Gaming, and Trajectories of IT Expertise.” Beyond Barbie & Mortal Combat.

Ed. Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Y. Sun. Massachusetts:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008. 217-230

Fullerton, Tracy. “Getting Girls into the Game: Toward a ‘Virtuous Cycle’.” Beyond Barbie & Mortal Combat. Ed.

Yasmin B. Kafai, Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Y. Sun. Massachusetts:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2008. 161-176

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- The Importance of Wide Sargasso Sea

By Arcanix

It’s a man’s world”.  James Brown’s “biblically chauvinistic” lyrics in his 1966 hit record have always seemed comically ironic.  Consider, for example, that 1966 was also the year that Jean Rhys’s feminist masterpiece, “Wide Sargasso Sea” was first published.  It is a piece of writing that emphatically subverts the concept of male superiority.  Moreover, it achieves this ambition in a style that is distinctly feminine.

The novel is, ostensibly, a meditation on the post-colonial racial dilemma.  The setting is 1834 British-owned Jamaica in the wake of the abolition of slavery.  The protagonist is Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole woman.  As an heiress to her family estate she is obliged to marry an Englishman, Mr Rochester, who legally assumes full ownership of her possessions and inheritance.  In this farcically unfair relationship, Rochester slowly deprives Antoinette of her selfhood.  Conflicted and stricken by rejection, Antoinette is driven to madness.

Rhys is skilled in the art of narrative mode.  She cleverly projects the opposing points of view of Antoinette and Mr Rochester.  Both characters feel trapped in different ways.  Rochester is presented with the prospect of marriage to Antoinette as a consolation prize. (His elder brother is to inherit the entirety of his father’s estate.)  On the other hand Antoinette has no sanctuary from her husband’s derision.  Poignantly, she has no materialistic ambition.  While she is content for Rochester to take ownership of her estate she instead becomes stricken by fear of rejection and the absence of love.

So, from Mr Rochester’s point of view, from the male point of view, we see Antoinette as unreasonable, hysterical and weak.  Mr Rochester is warned (maliciously) that Antoinette’s family has a history of madness.  Ironically, his resultant distrust causes her to descend into the very insanity he is so concerned about.  Her ensuing wretchedness is viewed with contempt by Rochester and he curses having been “forced” to marry her.  We, the readers, know who the true victim is.

Rhys wrote the book as a response to the influential 1847 novel, Jane Eyre.  Contained in that book is an unflattering portrayal of a violent madwoman, Bertha Mason, the first wife of Mr Rochester.  Rhys chooses to give that madwoman a voice of her own.  She paints a heartbreaking portrait of a delicate young woman who is stripped of her identity.  Antoinette’s fear and despair become apparent as her very name is slowly taken away from her.  Her maiden name, Cosway, is changed to Mason when her mother remarries.  Then she takes the name of her husband, Rochester.  Finally Rochester symbolically deprives her of her first name (He renames her Bertha).  Psychologically she is an empty husk.  We begin to understand the sad circumstances that underlie the miserable figure in Jane Eyre.

Hamlet famously lamented: “Frailty, thy name is woman!”  Rhys responds to this misogynistic view by subtly revealing the influence of patriarchal tyranny.  She does this while endowing her heroine with a distinctly feminine tenderness; Antoinette balks at the thought of leaving her poisonous husband.   This is important because it shows male and female readers alike that a shift in expectation is necessary when considering the opposing point of view.  Rhys’s landmark novel is an invaluable asset to the feminist movement.  Thanks to her we can better understand how and why the world belongs to men and women equally.

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- King Lear is Shakespeare’s Magnum Opus

by Arcanix

Image is everything.  Our nature compels us to associate a meaningful image or perhaps some discreet symbol to a concept for the sake of summary or categorization.  Human nature is also the central theme of William Shakespeare’s play, “King Lear”.  Of his many great literary works, Lear is arguably most deserving of the label, magnum opus, and therefore should be the image or symbol that best encapsulates the work of the “Bard of Avon”.

The notion of choosing one Shakespearian play as a defining image of The Bard is technically absurd.  However, in the case of the literary layman, the quintessential Shakespearian play is typically selected from one of two popular options, either ‘Hamlet’ or ‘Romeo and Juliet’.  Indeed the humble layman may be hard pressed to name any works outside of this esteemed pair.

Far be it for me to denounce the qualities of these two unique and powerful tragedies.  The conjecture remains that they have outstayed their welcome in the realm of public consciousness as the flag bearers of Shakespeare’s worth.  King Lear tends to be nominated as the logical successor to Hamlet among Shakespearian enthusiasts and scholars.  The reason lies in the concept of a transcendental work; the idea that a work of art can speak to us from across the ages.

Lear is both Shakespeare’s bleakest play and also, perhaps, his most insightful.  The titular King Lear is driven to madness by the betrayal of his two, ambitious, elder daughters.  Despite opportunities for redemption, his foolishness tragically renders him unable to tell friend from foe.  The antagonists, meanwhile, achieve their goals through mental and physical brutality, devoid of remorse.  Shakespeare explicitly questions the true meaning of human nature. The relative lack of hope in the play suggests he had a very dark interpretation of that question indeed.  Shakespeare’s despairing thesis is alluded to in the line: “Humanity must perforce prey on itself / Like monsters of the deep.” (IV,ii,54-55)

For centuries Lear was either politically suppressed or performed in modified form.  As with many great works, the value of Lear was not fully appreciated until many years after its composition.  In particular, the 20th century provided bountiful evidence of the true alignment of man’s nature.  King Lear stands as a testament to Shakespeare’s ability to uncomfortably expose man’s subtle but very real weaknesses.

The greatness of King Lear cannot be denied and yet Hamlet ostensibly remains the centrepiece of Shakespearian canon.  It has been the case for centuries and perhaps deservedly so.  Hamlet is grand in scope and complexity.  It is a work of legendary intrigue and populated by many memorable and tragically realised characters.  Its prestige will not wane but can it match the sobering, personal introspection that Lear does?

Hamlet is the incumbent symbol of Shakespeare’s genius.  It is an image that does not do him justice.  People remain largely unaware of the uncanny achievement that is King Lear.  If we are to evolve as a thoughtful species we need to evolve our sensibilities.  King Lear, in all its doom and gloom, deserves to be the defining image of English writing’s finest exponent.

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- On Roger Ebert

By Arcanix

The concept of a blog as an inconsequential public diary is fast becoming obsolete.  Rather it is the latest frontier for the swift conveyance of ideas to a receptive audience.  It is frequently the preferred “second voice” for the discerning modern writer.  In the fascinating case of Roger Ebert, the weblog format represents his primary voice.

Ebert is, unquestionably, the most famous film critic on the planet.  He represents the surviving half of the successful film review TV show, Siskel & Ebert.  In 2006 severe complications from routine surgery to his cancer stricken jaw left him disfigured, unable to eat and, most distressingly, unable to speak.  Such an affliction is unthinkable for any scholar accustomed to the vocal transmission of his craft.

An ordinary 63 year old man suddenly beset by such an astonishing hindrance might be inclined to throw in the towel.  Ebert, however, being in possession of a stout heart and, more importantly, an insatiable enthusiasm for film, feverishly reapplied himself to his primary profession: writing.  A Pulitzer Prize winner, his film reviews are syndicated to over 200 newspapers worldwide.  More profound, though, than his prolific output of traditional published work is his blog.  Here is an example of someone who injects his very being into each entry.

Ebert’s loyal followers eagerly absorb his varied musings on film (obviously), politics, industry issues and personal developments.  There is enthusiastic dialog between Ebert and his readers following each post.  Though meaningful debate may be tempered by reverence, this aspect of blogging, “commenting”, is a microcosm of the immediacy provided by the internet.  This is the drawcard for Ebert.  His thoughts flow lucidly onto the computer screen, bypassing his decayed larynx, direct to a receptive and responsive audience.

Seeing him now, one can’t help but be reminded of Stephen Hawking.  The computerized voice supplement is clumsy and rudimentary.  His sentences are abbreviated and bare as his fingers frantically try to keep up with his thoughts on the keyboard in real time.  The medium of weblog is his true voice now.  Reading his elegant prose it becomes abundantly clear that his wit, insight and zeal for critical writing are undiminished.

He has been labelled an inspiring figure by cancer survivors. This praise is not undeserved.  Consider this extract from a blog entry criticizing the right wing commentator, Glenn Beck, on his radical views on church doctrine:  “I was on the brink of picking up the phone and asking Francis Cardinal George if he was down on this whole social justice thing, but then I recalled that I no longer use the telephone.”[1] Ebert’s sense of humour here is potent.  He has accepted his affliction; moreover, he has embraced it.  This new, online incarnation has taken the place of the old flesh and blood writer, and it is a fearsome, virile beast indeed.

As an aspiring blogger, I find plenty of inspiration to be had in considering Roger Ebert’s example.  The weblog is a powerful tool in the hands of a professional writer.  Though we may be struck down physically, as long as we have mental fortitude and the will to write, our contribution to the world will have lost none of its potential.

References

  1. “Jesus was a Nazi.  So’s your preacher.”

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