The Curmudgeon


Friday, August 31, 2007


Danny Boyle 2007

In George Romero's The Crazies (1973), a deadly chemical weapon is accidentally released, causing an outbreak of horrific, random violence. The military's reaction is swift and sure. Ordered to transport the first relevant scientist they can find to the scene of the accident, the army does just that, thus isolating the one man who might be qualified to find a cure in the middle of a disaster area with primitive facilities. When the scientist argues, the GIs who are renditionising him refuse him any contact with their superiors and threaten him with force if he fails to comply.

In John Wyndham's novel The Day of the Triffids, derided by Brian Aldiss as a "cosy catastrophe", the hero speculates that the plague of blindness which has afflicted the human race might be the result of a military accident. After many ordeals and difficulties, he and his friends isolate themselves in a rural farmhouse, try to keep the deadly plants at bay and hope mainly to be left alone. When the British army turns up, it is to inform the hero that the land at his disposal can feed twenty "units" (blind people) provided they are fed on mashed triffids, and to renditionise the little girl whom he loves as a daughter. He and his adopted, extended "family" immediately do the sensible thing and clear out, having sugared the soldiers' petrol tanks to forestall pursuit.

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002) is essentially a remake of The Crazies in which the talent and imagination have gone into the CGI effects rather than the script. It is not a bad film, but there is no particular reason to see it more than once, and in a pinch even the once can be dispensed with at no very great loss. The most potentially interesting characters (a troop of animal rights activists and a team of scientists experimenting with the rage virus) appear only in the film's brief prologue, as Boyle and his screenwriter Alex Garland ditch every interesting possibility raised by their theme - righteous anger versus scientific objectivity, animal rights versus military necessity, antisocially intense emotion as a subject of rational inquiry, and so forth - in favour of a conventional disaster-movie plot with some ordinary decent folks as characters. Towards the end, the institutionalised stupidity and callousness depicted by Romero and Wyndham is updated into a quarter-barrel of rotten apples consisting of a psychotic major and a handful of squaddies who can't even shoot straight enough to injure the hero fatally. The surviving characters isolate themselves in a rural farmhouse and, when our boys in blue come looking, rush out joyously to announce their presence. For all his middle-class characters and 1950s outlook, John Wyndham is a good deal more frightening, not to mention subversive, than 28 Days Later even tries to be.

Boyle and Garland's Sunshine is in many ways much better than 28 Days Later; but in other, possibly more significant ways, it is also much more disappointing and much more annoying. It starts with a voiceover in which Capa (Cillian Murphy) explains the premise, namely that the sun is dying and that he and his crewmates aboard the Icarus II have been sent to re-ignite it using a bomb with the mass of Manhattan. Offhand, I can think of only three contemporary writer-directors who use voiceovers to enrich their films, rather than summarise them for the mentally Hollywood: Stanley Kubrick, Paul Schrader and, best of all, Terrence Malick. Boyle and Garland may have some little way to go before they join this august company; and, true to the Hollywood form, Capa's voiceover is totally unnecessary, since all the information he gives us can quite easily be gathered from the dialogue and action.

Still, for about two-thirds of its running time, Sunshine is a highly watchable, entertaining and even intelligent film, raising a number of intriguing possibilities. They are all dumped, but they are at least dumped after sixty minutes rather than, as happened in 28 Days Later, after six minutes. One of the crew spends much of his time simply staring at the sun which, dying or not, can only be viewed at two per cent of its actual brightness. When the first, lost Icarus expedition turns out to have been sabotaged by a religious maniac, an intriguing argument between sun-worship and Jehovah-worship might have come about. Garland and Boyle, having raised this idea, promptly drop it. When the Icarus II suffers a disastrous loss of oxygen, there is some argument about the demands of the mission versus the right not to be killed in order to preserve one's crewmates. Garland and Boyle skate over the issue by arranging a convenient suicide and a few murders.

There are, as I have said, many fine touches in Sunshine, not least in the number of cold, dark deaths which take place closer to the sun than man has ever gone before; but Garland's creative laziness causes an appalling fizzle at the end. The murders are committed by the last survivor of the Icarus, a broiled religious lunatic called Pinbacker. Sunshine plunders a number of better films for imagery and plot points; sometimes rather neatly, as with the leap across space pioneered by Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and sometimes rather crassly, as with the name Pinbacker, a pointless and inapt reference to Carpenter's Dark Star. Pinbacker manages to sabotage the mainframe computer aboard the Icarus II by lifting it out of its coolant and causing it to overheat - has the future never heard of access codes? Pinbacker is given no background or characterisation at all; we get no hint of his past and therefore no tragedy; he has almost no dialogue, and thus no possibility of insane but insidiously persuasive argument; nothing but some rather silly old-dark-house-style chasing around, followed by Friday the Thirteenth in space while Boyle, apparently pushed to his imaginative limit, throws in a lot of freeze-frames. These scenes are a tedious, galumphing, deplorably unenterprising insult to the viewer's intelligence, and they almost completely dissipate the impressive effect of the scenes which have preceded them.

As readers of my fiction will testify, I am not one of literature's great masters of plot; but I spent much of the last act of Sunshine thinking how I could have developed it better myself, quite possibly on a lower budget. It bothered me enormously to see so many interesting ideas quite simply thrown away.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Discipline and Punish

The Glorious Successor has decreed that the past ten glorious years of low inflation, economic growth and very large pay deals for corporate paunches is the result of "the discipline of pay awards". He was referring to a staged pay award of less than nothing which has caused the Prison Officers' Association to take strike action. The Glorious Successor has frozen the pay of almost the entire public sector; which, since he has not frozen inflation, means the pay has been cut. The Government plans to make the award to prison officers in two parts - one of less than nothing in April, and another of two-thirds of less than nothing in October. It appears that New Labour, which so enjoys putting people in prison that it has created a new criminal offence for almost every day of the Vicar of Downing Street's ministry, treats its prison officers even more contemptuously than it treats nurses. As a sample of joined-up thinking, this rivals the Conservatives' plundering of British Rail, which involved selling off the tracks, the stations and the rolling stock to various different companies which did not communicate with one another. The Glorious Successor has not frozen the pay of military personnel, although the improving security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq does mean that there are fewer claimants these days.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Shock of the New

Daveybloke the Cuddly Conservative, whose opposition to New Labour's wars has been something less than strenuous, has declared violence a Bad Thing so long as it is fake. While condemning New Labour's "knee-jerk" approach to dealing with crime, Daveybloke blamed the country's decline into tabloid hysteria on video games and promised to deal with it by putting more people in prison and by encouraging family values.

Daveybloke's policy of putting more people in prison will differ from New Labour's policy of putting more people in prison, because New Labour's policy is a knee-jerk reaction while Daveybloke's is a "long-term generational change". Thanks to New Labour's knee-jerk approach to the policy Daveybloke has just thought of, the prisons are virtually full to capacity; as a result, we "may have to ask the prison estate to double up more prisoners in cells". Prison estate? Other options, apparently, include prison ships and/or disused army camps. When we've filled those up, perhaps there are one or two disused hospitals we could use.

Daveybloke has previously published "plans to incentivise couples to stick together through the tax system", which will also "assist the law and order agenda". Think of the pillow talk. Darling, in spite of the fact that we despise the sight of each other I've decided to stick with you for the sake of the tax breaks. Darling, what a beautiful thought - and it won't do the law and order agenda any harm either. Well, I bet no Conservative leader has ever thought of that before - not even the New Labour ones.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Genetically Modified

Well, who would have thought it? The Government has admitted that at least 550,000 files on its terrorist-busting, crime-obliterating, police-friendly, ethnic-minority-enhanced, child-proof, suspect-efficient database are "false, misspelt or incorrect". This is about one-seventh of the total, which includes rapists, murderers, a hundred and fifty thousand children, and other undesirable persons such as those cunning fiends, the "suspects arrested but not charged". Certain elements of the police, who are presumably paid by the hour, would like to see it expanded beyond the present four million names, in order to include "people caught dropping litter, dodging rail fares or failing to scoop up their dogs' waste". However, the cunning of a certain type of criminal fiend knows no bounds. Some people have actually given false names or failed to make clear how their names are spelled; obviously, it is a very good thing that these untruthful persons are on the database, so that the public can be protected against whichever ones actually exist once the Government can find them. Others have simply been mistranscribed; and the Government does not know how many more files, beyond the 550,000 already identified, enjoy a similar degree of typographical flexibility, so that "MPs have questioned whether the false data could lead to innocent people, whose names may have been maliciously given to police by suspects, being questioned about crimes they have not committed". Of course, such a thing can never be: according to a spokesbeing for the Ministry Formerly Known as Unfit for Purpose, "the police and DNA custodian unit, which oversees the database, [are] working hard to get rid of inaccurate files". This is certainly reassuring.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Home Office Responds on Iraqi Collaborators

From the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Meg Hillier MP, to Dr Rudi Vis, my MP:

Thank you for your letter to the Home Secretary of 26 July on behalf of Mr Philip Challinor of [blue pencil]. I have been asked to reply.

Mr Challinor asks us to grant asylum in the United Kingdom to locally engaged staff who have helped the British Forces in Iraq. We are extremely grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously. We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of locally employed staff. We keep all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide. The total number of Iraqis who have worked for us since 2003 with a claim to assistance could be at least 15,000. We therefore need to consider the options carefully in this genuinely complex area.

The Prime Minister has commissioned a trilateral Ministerial review to consider the options. The Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Foreign & Commonwealth Office are the members of the review group, which will present recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations. I hope this reassures you that we are taking seriously the issues that have been raised surrounding locally employed staff working for the UK in Iraq.

(Signed) Tony McNulty, pp Meg Hillier.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Doing Just Fine

Since the bicentenary of the glorious throwing-off of the brutal British yoke, nearly eleven hundred people have been executed in the greatest country in the world and global freedomiser, and just over thirty-six per cent of them in Texas. The Lone Star State now has one less Islamic nigrah sitting idle in a luxury hotel at the taxpayers' expense. In the usual Christian spirit, as displayed over another case closer to home, Johnny Ray Conner was killed by lethal injection at 6:20pm local time, to the tune of much bleating about his so-called human rights. Kathyanna Nguyen, whom Conner shot and killed in 1998 while attempting robbery, would obviously have been caused unnecessary suffering had her killer been permitted to live; and if there is one thing America cannot stand, it is unnecessary suffering. Furthermore, Kathyanna Nguyen is in the bosom of the Lord, and unnecessary suffering while in the bosom of the Lord is against the patriot laws. It may one day be possible to improve life in Heaven via the usual method of bombing the crap out of it; at the moment, unfortuntely, the logistical problems involved are prohibitive. Hence, it was considered cheaper and easier to give Conner the needle, and this despite an appeal by the European Union for a moratorium. "While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas," said a spokesbeing for the state governor, Rick Perry, giving the lie to Billy Connolly's dictum that "Fuck off, he hinted" is an impossible formulation. The European Union has banned the death penalty in favour of conniving at "extraordinary rendition" and, in Britain's case, asking nicely for a piece of paper, signed by a given human rights abuser, whereby the said human rights abuser promises to play nicely with a particular deportee, on pain of Britain's potentially becoming very irritated indeed. The global freedomiser executed fifty-three people last year, placing Britain's greatest ally in the war on evil in the august company of China, Iran, Pakistan, the Green Zone and Sudan. Kathyanna Nguyen apparently could not be reached for comment on whether her human rights feel better today.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Recycle Your Granny For Youth

The Minister for the Human Resources Scrap Heap, Ivan Lewis, has proposed a partial solution to the pensions crisis, the education crisis and the yob crisis: use pensioners as unpaid teaching assistants in schools. The minister's thinking appears to be as follows: This month a father of three was killed in Warrington. Four teenagers have been charged with his murder. The man was forty-seven, which has increased pensioners' fear of children. Also, the fact that fewer people are living in overcrowded houses with two or three other generations of their family has been disadvantageous to our sense of wellbeing, because "older people are living in communities without any real family networks or support". Hence, "At lunchtime in every school in the country, why couldn't older people be sitting down with pupils and sharing lunch instead of doing it at an older person's lunch club or at home?" In return for the free lunch, the price of which could be quietly recovered from what is left of the state pension, thus saving the taxpayer millions of pounds which wouldn't have to be spent on education either, the elderly "should act as role models for schoolchildren by going into classrooms to teach them about local history, British identity and values such as patience and hard work" - those values which have made growing old in Britain the bed of roses it is today. As an added bonus, many of them can "speak about life during the Second World War or postwar rationing", still the single most important aspect of our heritage, and useful for a healthy perspective on New Labour's wars. After all, what are a few thousand Asians or a few dozen public transport passengers when compared to the horrors of the Blitz, evacuation and tea rationing?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legion of Liberals

Some bleeding hearts in the Royal British Legion are trying to undermine our boys in Iraq and Afghanistan by claiming that the Government should do more to provide medical treatment, compensation, facilities for families and equipment more suited to dealing with roadside bombs than to being pelted with flowers. The Secretary for War and the Colonies, Des Browne, has "persuaded" the Danes to supply our boys with Merlin helicopters. These are made in the UK, so it seems only right that British troops should have the use of them, which must be why they are in Denmark at the moment. Nevertheless, the bleeding hearts persist with their whines, the Royal British Legion stating that it believes public sector workers such as soldiers, sailors and bombers "deserve more from their government" than the salary for which they contracted and the on-the-job training for social meltdown which Tony Blair has so kindly thrown in. "They deserve immediate medical treatment and just compensation if they are injured," fulminates the Legion further. Of course, it is all very well to make emotive appeals about the injured, but the Government, poor thing, must deal in hard economic facts. Casualty figures for the past eight months are "already set to outstrip the whole of 2006", owing to the improving security situation. The NHS spends endless taxpayers' billions attempting to provide indiscriminate medical care, and we all know what's happening to that. In any case, the Legion's own propaganda claims that members of the armed forces deserve this nomenklatura treatment by virtue of having "committed themselves to put their lives on the line for their country". Very few of our boys have committed themselves to put their lives on the line for Tony Blair, Halliburton and their chums; and in the absence of such commitment from the troops, and with identity cards and Son of Trident set to solve so many of our problems, is it really fair or British of them to expect preferential treatment from some kind of nanny state?

Friday, August 10, 2007

You Won't Get a Penny Unless You Think of the Embryos

The head of the US Conference for Catholic Bishops has echoed the call by the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Renato Martino, for Amnesty International to reverse its policy on abortion, or else. Cardinal Martino said that, if Amnesty continues to support the decriminalisation of abortion and support the right of access to treatment "within reasonable gestational limits, when ... health or human rights are in danger", then "individuals and Catholic organisations must withdraw their support because, in deciding to promote abortion rights, AI has betrayed its mission". Duncan Campbell, in the Guardian, reports this as a threat to withdraw "Vatican funding for Amnesty"; which appears to be a misrepresentation, since Amnesty says that it does not receive funding from the Vatican or any other state. What Cardinal Martino presumably means is that members of the Catholic church must stop donating to Amnesty, and organisations affiliated to the Catholic church must stop working with Amnesty, or else suffer the torments of hell and the wrath of Daddy Goodspeak.

Amnesty's general secretary, Irene Khan, states that Amnesty's policy is to "support women to be able to make the decision to terminate pregnancy without fear of violence in these limited cases of sexual violence or where the life of the mother or her health is very seriously threatened", but says that this "doesn't mean that we are in favour of abortion as a right", a claim so mealy-mouthed as to be worthy of the Church of England's general synod. If women have the right, under certain circumstances, to decide in favour of abortion, then presumably they have a right to abortion. If Amnesty's policy is to support them in exercising this right, then Amnesty is in favour of abortion as a right - a limited right perhaps, but still a right. The likes of Cardinal Martino and the Bishop of East Anglia, who believes that "the world needs Amnesty International" but promises that the support of Catholics will be "seriously threatened" if Amnesty persists in its error, are hardly likely to be swayed by any brand of hypocrisy which fails to match their own.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Eventually

I have somehow got myself into the throes of fiction-writing again, so posting here will be less frequent for a while. In the meantime, the sidebar contains much to amuse, entertain and edify, and those desperate enough to spend money can acquire some of my previous forays into literature by following the links under "In Print". Some idea of what you'll be letting yourself in for can be gained from informed opinions here, here and here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Disposable Iraqis Update

On this matter, a small result: I have received a note from the office of my MP, Dr Rudi Vis, to the effect that my email has been forwarded to the Home Secretary. When she replies, I shall be happy to pass her message on.

The petition seems to be growing rather well too, approaching three hundred signatures after just over a week.

Update: Dan Hardie has posted more information on the dangers these people face, as well as an encouraging response from the Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett.