The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Yesterday I had a compulsion to go to Unity Books and buy The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had seen the movie years ago, and in spite of the poor reaction to it by someone important to me at the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not sure where the urgency came from, it was just like the compulsion to get Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and read it before sunrise. Or the earlier time I read Lolita. When these forces arrive in my head they must be obeyed. And so at ten to four this morning I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 

My impressions are raw, and I have to trust any skill I have to write this in a coherent manner. As in most books the words are not merely downloaded by the eyes, but recited aloud by an inner narrator. In this case the narrator was Charlie, the central character, who was played by Logan Lerman in the film and it was his voice in my ear from start to end. I guess this means he did a good job in the film, because I never imagined Charlie as anyone else. Truth be told I imagined the characters in the book as exactly the same as their movie counterparts, and have come out of the book even more confident of my impressions of the film.

But what of the guts of the book. I suppose I am waffling on. The structure is simple, and the story is told through a series of chronological letters over the first year of Charlie’s high school life that he writes to someone anonymous who is never revealed. Nothing complex and I am grateful for that. The myriad of thoughts and feelings that cross an adolescent’s consciousness in every moment need a solid anchorage of some sort. I think too that the book is not meant to be read piecemeal. Each letter functions as a piece of something larger, but they are not chapters. Instead the story is broken into four parts, and as far as the flow of it goes I would advise one to read it all in a single sitting (which I did and now can barely lift my arms because I am so tired and read so slow) or in four sittings. Stopping between letters is not ideal because you might miss the contrast between them. How in a single month Charlie can go from desperately lonely, to irate with someone, to suicidally depressed, to extremely happy, to infinite. On that last I refer to the classic scene in the movie where Sam (whom Charlie is in love with) played by Emma Watson stands up on the back of a pickup truck while her step brother drives through a tunnel and Charlie sits in the passenger seat. David Bowie’s Heroes is blasting out of the car speakers and Charlie feels a sense of belonging he’s never felt before. In the book the scene is very similar except that the song isn’t Heroes. I am glad they changed it for the movie for reasons I trust you already know.

The chronicle of Charlie’s year contains moments in common with me, and undoubtedly since we were all in the passage of youth once. Some still yearn for it, some try to forget it, and some barely made it out alive. There were girls at my school like Sam, and there were boys like Patrick, and I (and most people went on to study arts) felt similar to Charlie in the sense that thinking was synonymous with living. That is his challenge with Sam, ultimately she tells him that she doesn’t want to be anyone’s crush because she can’t feel what someone else feels if they lock it away to themselves. Of course he has other challenges as well, but what is vital is that he cannot begin to deal with them until he has dealt with this.

His connection with his English teacher Bill (played by Paul Rudd in the film) is particularly touching, as a new teacher finds and tends to the gifted mind of his pupil. It is not a coercive relationship, nor does Bill attempt to mould Charlie’s mind. Instead he acts as the waterer of seeds that are already there, and the succession of books he gives to Charlie become a structure for him amid emotional turmoil. I hope there are real teachers like this, and that if you found and benefitted from one that it was good. I did not, but a literary awakening can occur at any point in life, it is never too late.

What is rather sad to note is just how much stress and demand the US education system puts on kids. The fact that they must apply for as many universities as possible and have back-up “safety schools” in case they get rejected. I have seen the process of applying close-up and it isn’t pretty. For any American’s reading this I am almost afraid to tell you that I applied for one university at the end of high school and was guaranteed a place because I had passed university entrance requirements that were rather straightforward. No ridiculous amounts of homework (I refused to do most homework on principle), no extra-curricular activities for the sole reason of filling up an admission letter. Why the American system puts so much pressure on people at their most vulnerable time of life is a question I’d like to see answered.

In a quiet sort of way that leads me to the more controversial parts of the book. Controversial because some schools banned the book on the basis that its content might be too mature for adolescents, who shouldn’t know about the horrible damage done to a significant proportion of them, and should not ask awkward questions about sex, and homosexuality, and rape, and other abuse. Better that the kids learn what is taboo and put walls in their minds. Truly the land of the free. Charlie has been abused as a younger boy by a person very close to him. He has repressed this, and the effects of such repression permeate his life and experiences. He overcomes that and recognises the causes and the nature of these things. That the abuser was themselves abused, and their own parents were too. In recognising the cycle and going through the breakdown it causes he ends the cycle. He still loves the (long deceased) abuser, and he loves Sam (who was abused as child too) and he loves Patrick (whom he saved from five jocks Patrick was fighting for calling him a faggot), and he loves his sister who called him a pervert and told him not to tell when her boyfriend hit her.   

All of this echoes like musical notes in our lives. I use the plural on the basis that I am certain there are common struggles and elements in everyone’s lives that are built on in this book. The desire to be seen by someone else, and vindicated. The desire to be happy, and the willingness to be unhappy if it means that someone you love can be happy. I am sorry if my thoughts do not make sense. I decided it would be better to get this out while still in the wake of the story than try something more cerebral when the water settles. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly to anyone (especially if you are at high school). If a book is too much I recommend the movie also. Since it was directed by the book’s author Stephen Chbosky it has to be immune from the usual crap people claim about the quality of adaptations, and disagreements over interpretation.

With that I rest.

Ghostbuster thoughts 

Over-thinkers and vacuous shits abound. When I consider the average film critic I imagine a malodorous and disgruntled chap with dark rings around his eyes, a knitted jersey specifically chosen to clash with his tweed jacket and bright orange socks (I live in Wellington after all, it’s hipster-ville), and the superior air of one who cannot make anything useful with his hands, but has a talent for transposing dull thoughts into readable sentences. Critics are the sewer of the film industry, but unlike a good waste disposal system they dump as much fecal matter as they can find into the ocean where it can wash around us simple mortal creatures bathing in the tide.

Not content with prejudging the all-female Ghostbusters before its first teaser, they had to go and dump on it again after it came out. Now, I have not read a single review, because it is one less thing I have to do and am content with being both a foe to critics and a consumer of film who does not consume their scribbling. It is fun to deny them, makes me live longer and I think strengthens my own position in appraising films with a clear mind. I do know that anti-feminist rhetoric has pervaded and in some cases masqueraded in the reviews and opinions of many, and I want to oppose that. I am also rather aghast that actress Leslie Jones was abused on Twitter for her part in the film. She was, arguably, the most important part of the story. The one character from the real world who thus is the most effective stand-in for the audience. None of us understands the pseudo-science and neither does Jones, and she often says what we are thinking. To think that she has faced sustained abuse on social media because of her role is discouraging. I think there is a race element, and that well-meaning white people are taking offence (whether truly or just faking it) at the fact that the black person in the group is the only non-scientific one. I have explained why this is the case and believe that the offended whites have missed the point entirely.

Onto the next point. This is a comedy so the first test should always be whether it made you laugh. The next is how much. Ghostbusters made me laugh. Heartily. More than once. Therefore it has served its advertised purpose as a piece of comedic entertainment. Was it full of nostalgia? Yes, that’s why I bloody well went to it in the first place. I think these pricks who whine about remakes and sequels of old films as being too nostalgic utterly miss the point of the whole enterprise. The Force Awakens was saturated with nostalgia, which is why I lined up with everyone else and saw it again and again. Watching a film that recalls ideal moments of your childhood which have been gilded in memory to a point where your remembrance is greater than the actual moment was at the time, that is a great pleasure. How dare critics complain and try to advocate the deprivation of it! Get out of the castle of my memories! So I loved the intertextuality, the numerous cameos of the original cast and ghosts, and the riff of the old theme tune.

This isn’t the best movie, but who really would want to see the best movie? If I saw the best movie of all time I would be very sad because afterwards I would have to die, or change my whole life to never see another film,. There’s no such thing as the greatest film so the critics constantly looking for it are trapped in a pathetic game they can only lose. It is as if you pay someone to find a needle in a haystack in a world where needles don’t exist.

I haven’t discussed plot, or structure, or the characters other than Leslie Jones, but I don’t think I need to. You can draw your own conclusions about all of it without my involvement. Perhaps the really pernicious thing about film reviewers is the unconscious assumption that people cannot form opinions and conclusions and must be given ones by film majors. That’s bunk, and it conceals the fact that reviewers are unnecessary. Theatre relies on reviewers to get the word out about them and encourage people to see plays etc. Film marketing needs no such help, it is done via social media, cinema advertising, billboards and TV. So dear reviewer, should your opinion be negative (which it possibly is) and unnecessary (which it probably is) I implore you to keep it to yourself. And remember to silence your phone during the movie, honestly in the middle of a screening who you gonna call?

What’s not to like? 

Critical F*ckery 

Suicide Squad is not a great film. But if you pay attention to critics you might think it is worse than terrible. I saw it on Sunday night, and my impression is mixed, but it is not negative.

First of all, the point of the project was the characters. To get a great cast together to play some iconic roles. The plot was always secondary, and criticisms of the plot are therefore missing the point. We didn’t buy tickets to be blown away by an ingenious narrative. Hell, any lame excuse to get Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Killer Croc, and El Diablo together is worthwhile. We are there to see some good action, Will Smith being witty, Margot Robbie being gorgeous, and Jared Leto as the Joker weaving a bit of chaos. Did the film deliver on those points? Yes, it bloody well did. So don’t dismiss the film with vague assertions that it doesn’t hold together, that the plot is tired and poorly written, or even that too many of the characters are two-dimensional. You do know how many dimensions there are in a comic book right?

I made the experience of seeing the film hard. I was alone, and I had no food or drink. That means at no point could I slurp some sugar into my system to enhance the pleasurable parts of my brain. Even then I enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed it because there was enough of Ben Afleck’s Batman to redeem his part in Batman v Superman — that is hardly any.

I got annoyed by Jared Leto’s Joker, which I think was way overdone, but was intrigued by a development in his character that I will elucidate below. Leto played the Joker as much more of a Victorian gothic character, with his brooding and Shakespearian mutterings. However, the costume and makeup was far more modern, with tattoos and silver teeth that made him look more gangsta. I fault the director David Ayer for that, and it was indicative of everything I didn’t like about the Joker. At one point he is sitting at a table in a fancy club talking to the rapper Common who presumably is a high-ranking criminal. The Joker mutters about how Harley (who is exotic dancing in the background) is the fire of his loins. Harley comes over and it turns out that Common does not like her. The Joker kills Common. Now, why was the Joker in that club? Does he own it, or have a share? Is he scoping it to rob it? What was the basis of the conversation with Common? It is quite possible that I missed something, but in a nutshell this is my problem with Suicide Squad, much like Batman v Superman putting Gotham and Metropolis right next to each other so that both could be shown in a single shot and Lex Luther could gesture from one to the other, cool shots are prioritized over common sense. The Joker at one point is talking to one of his henchmen in a modern highrise building. The Joker is sitting in a large room with hundreds of knives and other weapons (and a few baby onsies by the looks of it) arranged in a spiralling circle around him. I could only imagine him spending hours arranging the items just right, or maybe handing a detailed specification to his henchmen on how he’d like his room arranged. It is stupid, and eroding to the character, who is not supposed to make sence, but still needs to be somewhat consistent.

So with that verbal puking of some of the things I didn’t like, what did I dig? Margot Robbie of course, she was exactly as entertaining as the marketing promised. And aside from being outrageous eye candy (hey I’m not the only one who was monitoring just how far her short-shorts would ride up her crack) she was way more powerful than in the comics and the games. She really kicked ass, which is important because otherwise she would too easily become a damsel in distress being constantly rescued by the Joker. Throughout most of the story she has an unshakable confidence and cheerie attitude, it is only when she thinks the Joker is dead that her facade is shaken. This is no shallow character. Her motivation is always clear, and her methods to achieve her ends make sense. As I said before, there is an intriguing development with the Joker’s character. He is genuinely in love. We have not seen this before at the movies (I cannot speak for the comics) and it is a huge change because suddenly there is something predictable about the Joker, he is always going to get his girl. That is a vindication for Harley Quinn as well because to date she has been little more than a pleasing appendage to the Clown Prince of Crime, something that can be cut off if necessary. Her survival as a character I think has more to do with the fact that fans like her. She is villainous, but not in the way that Poison Ivy, or the Enchantress, or Talia al-Gul are. Those three are exotic, whereas Harley Quinn is more mainstream. She is like Catwoman, and just as Selena Kyle genuinely has her claws in Bruce Wayne’s heart, Harley has captured the Joker’s.

The best scene for me demonstrates this. The Joker and Harley Quinn are talking on a ledge above several vats of acid. It is implied that these may be the same vats that the Joker fell in to become the character we know. He asks Harley if she would die for him, and she says yes. Would she live for him? Again, yes. Then she dives backward into one of the vats, and the Joker looks down at her and turns away. Then, with conflict on his face he throws off his coat and dives into the vat, pulling Harley to the surface, and kissing her. This is the most human Joker I have ever seen, and dammit I want to see more. With all the criticisms; the overacting, the Heath Ledger voice imitation, and the fact that with white make-up, darkly hooded eyes, ratty tattoos and silver teeth, and forty-four years on this earth; Jared Leto is still so outrageously pretty, I am sold for a sequel. And one is already on the way, with David Ayer tempted to go R-rated. The implications of that on Margot Robbie’s shorts are almost too much to be considered in the daytime, and a second crack at this may bell yield something better.

Don’t expect the critics to be merciful with their opinions though. They are so far up Marvel’s arse I expect their bleating to drown out Jarvis in Tony Stark’s helmet. If a film is entertaining don’t let the critics convince you that it is poor. It may not be the best thing in the world, but hell Hollywood is never going to be.

Hitman with a heart, and you know what the film needed that. Will Smith plays the villain looking for personal redemtion, and is the character the audience can identify with. Film 101 guys, it makes total sense.
Way overdone, yet narratively interesting. Leto tried a little too hard with this one, he might want to tone down his method acting.
The Enchantress AKA Cara Delevigne. She did a solid job playing a difficult part. I swear her eyebrows increase the production value by at least 10 percent…
There is nothing Margot Robbie cannot do. Will we ever fall out of love with her?

The Wretched Society 

The Guardian published an article about the 600 children living without parents in the largest refugee camp in Calais. Every night they try to get on the backs of lorries and get to the UK. Most are from Afghanistan, and their parents sent them away from the conflict between the Taliban and Isis. They told their children that the UK is a good country that will take care of them and educate them. But not even an act of parliament has been enough to spur Theresa May’s  jaundiced government into any action at all.

Use the link below to read the article about this in The Guardian.
Hungry, scared, and no closer to safety: child refugees failed by Britain

What has happened here? Well something that has to certainly changed is the evolving foreign policy of the United Kingdom and the eroding of it’s politics in general. Remember when Tony Blair looked at the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo and the genocide perpetrated by Slobodan Milosevic. Tony Blair decided that the horrors of World War 2 would not be repeated in Europe ever again. Parliament agreed and so did the public. They were persuaded by Tony Blair that this was a just cause. The refugees in Calais are not European, so Britain doesn’t care, because Britain doesn’t even care about Europeans anymore.
Last week someone told me that the Brexit has given Britain control over its immigration. How sad that the control they sought was to deny basic human rights to 600 children who come from a country they bombed with post 9/11 evangelical aplomb. 

But of course they do not claim responsibility for the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was Tony Blair’s folly, he is the war criminal and the rest of the country will spit on him long after he dies. But it was acts of parliament that sent Britain to battle in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the absent weapons of mass destruction do not change the fact that what was happening was a colossal human crisis that Britain decided to try and stop. Say what you want about Tony Blair, the man had guts and determination and the country at large no longer has either.

More more drivvle is spilled out everyday on how we are living through the second coming of the 1930s. The non-argument is so boring I am almost inclined to not mention it at all. But I will mention one very key difference between now and then concerning Britain. In the 1930s Jews fleeing Nazi persecution came to Britain including Sigmund Freud in 1939. Now Britain won’t even help 600 children a mere 20 miles from the coast.

One of the pacifist arguments against war and military intervention is that if you apply moral reasoning you are obligated to intervene in every crisis. But I don’t not help my neighbour because I can’t help every person who needs it in my city. Who would’ve thought that this sort of thing needs to be explained to the UK just so that they can rescues 600 children on their bloody doorstep.

I call this a Wretched Society, and sadly note that the condition is contagious. Below is a link to an article about the disgusting lack of kindness in Wellington society.

This is fear triumphant over love. Time to make an adjustment I think. Help your neighbour and perhaps the UK will find it’s moral backbone and rescue 600 children. Hell, that’d be a nice photo op on the beach Theresa May.

Let’s get real

Any way you slice it Hillary Clinton is probably going to be President-elect this November. For all the vociferous rabble rousing, or one’s opinion on the intelligence of the American public (estimates of severe idiocy tends to be based on the most tiresome collection of superstitions and delusions) the reality is — and has always been — down to cold hard numbers. Clinton has them. Bernie didn’t, and Bernie lost. Donald Trump doesn’t have the numbers, and he will therefore lose. This is very simple to explain.

Nationwide polling puts Clinton on 41% and Trump on about 36%. Troubling right, Clinton is in the lead, but she doesn’t even have a majority! In the USA you don’t need one to be President. I will repeat that, you don’t need a majority of votes to win an election. Crazy right? But, if you were conscious in 2000 you might remember the Presidential election in which George W Bush got a few hundred thousand votes fewer than Al Gore. There were problems in Florida with antiquated machines and a recount was demanded by the Gore camp. They thought they had narrowly won the state, which would give Bill Clinton’s Vice President enough electoral college votes to win the White House. But, the Bush campaign claimed victory and went to court. The result was that the recount was halted and Bush declared the winner. The Supreme Court thus decided that the popular vote was inferior to the electoral college vote which is a fundamentally undemocratic position.

Thankfully this kind of skulduggery is rare. Clinton is likely to get both more votes that Trump as well as the required 270 electoral college votes. How the electoral college works is that each state has a number of electoral college votes depending on the population within the state. California has 55, Texas has 34, New York has 31 and it goes on until we get to Alaska which has a tiny population and 3 electoral college votes. So basically, if you are a Democrat you need to start with California and New York, which Hillary Clinton is comfortably winning. Democrats have their support concentrated on the west coast and the industrial east coast, while Republicans are big in the south, the middle, and the agricultural mid-west. The real contest is not in those zones, but in a few key ‘swing’ states. Florida, Nevada, and Ohio. If those three support Hillary the race is over right there.

Yes, there are more than three ‘swing’ or ‘battleground’ states, but I am following the rule of three, plus have selected the states that have been important in recent elections. One could add Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, and New Hampshire. I’ll stick with my three.

Critically, President Obama won the three swing states in 2008 and 2012. Eight years ago they swung and have yet to swing back. It would be quite overconfident to assume that Clinton will win those states simply because they voted Obama, but what makes this election easy to follow is that you only have to know how those three states are voting, the Nationwide vote be damned. Now, Hillary does not need all three. In fact if she wins Florida it is likely to be enough to take her over the threshold on its own. But for Donald Trump to win he needs all three.

So, we can expect to see a large proportion of campaign funds being spent in the three swing states. At this point Clinton is winning Florida, and narrowly winning Ohio. Trump — whose personality matches Las Vegas better than a herpes ridden pokie stool — is winning Nevada. This is the battleground, and with the conventions over, Clinton ahead in the polls and Trump on the defensive over his statements about the family of a dead Iraq-war veteran, it would be inappropriate to conclude that this is too close to call.

If you want to game this out yourself, just take a look at the latest polls and run a simulation on the electoral map here.