Film Review: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (with SPOILERS)

Arts

In what is perhaps his most subversive work to date, Quentin Tarantino delivers his 9th feature film with the usual sharp dialogue and scenes of controversial violence in what is essentially a satire of late ’60s Hollywood peppered with an alternative history of actual events.

As one would be led to believe, there are no gangsters to be found, unless you’re including the infamous Manson family, which is something unusual for a Tarantino film. Instead, the audience is presented with a stellar cast, including the star duo of Leonardo DiCaprio as an actor in Westerns perpetually afraid that his career is on the rocks and Brad Pitt as his stunt man and de facto personal assistant; Margot Robbie is uncanny as Sharon Tate and Al Pacino and Dakota Fanning also make appearances, to name but a few.

Tarantino is more than just a filmmaker. As many who are acquainted with his life story will know, he is something of a scholar when it comes to film, with a deep appreciation for all the various genres and periods in cinematic history. I think it is this film which really brings his expertise to the fore. For the first time in his career, he has made a masterpiece of a film about the thing he loves most: films.

As usual, a Tarantino film raises questions about violence. I’m not going to get up on the soapbox and go off on a moralistic diatribe about the issue, because that’s just basic beyond belief. The violence itself is not excessive, but where it does feature, it is usually hyperbolic and amusing. Whether it’s Bruce Lee being smashed into the side of a car and leaving a huge dent in it after picking a fight with Brad Pitt, or the ridiculously hilarious climax, where what seems to be that fateful night in 1969 when Sharon Tate was murdered ends with the perpetrators breaking into DiCaprio’s house instead and being bumped off by Pitt and his dog, with DiCaprio making the finishing touch at the end, the violence is actually entertaining.

One thing I will say though is that without the context of actual happenings (i.e. the Manson family and the murder of Sharon Tate), all of which were tragic and not at all funny, this reimagining of events may not strike the same chord or be as amusing to those who are not in the know.

This was the film I will remember from summer 2019 and I really hope it’s not going to be Tarantino’s last film, as he has implied. But then again, if it is, what a way to go.

Featured image courtesy of Radio Times.

On Being Lonely

Psychology

I sit here in bed in the early hours of what is a Monday morning. And there is no other way to describe what I’m feeling than sheer loneliness. There is a sense of emptiness and melancholy in the air and tonight there’s no escaping it. So naturally I turn to the best antidote and play one of the singles from Lana Del Rey’s latest album. Great start.

But after a while, as the piano plays and Del Rey’s soulful voice works its magic, I genuinely start to feel okay. What ultimately seems like the worst kind of music to play when feeling emotionally vulnerable, starts to be therapeutic and so I relax.

We’re often told that loneliness is an unbearable feeling that should be avoided by hanging out with other people and being true to our nature as ‘social animals’. However, I have come to believe that loneliness is invaluable in measured doses and that it builds character. For if we can handle ourselves in our own company, then when tough times arise, we are often more equipped to deal with them.

It is important, though, to stress the difference between loneliness and solitude. Solitude is a pleasant experience, where engaging in activities alone is fun, and we all need solitude to maintain a basic level of sanity. Doesn’t matter if you’re more introverted or extroverted, it’s just a fact. Loneliness, conversely, is the flip side of the coin, where being alone arouses feelings of isolation and an overall sense of disconnection from other people. People who feel lonely are eager to spend time with people and to have meaningful connections with them, whereas people who are enjoying their solitude are content in their own company.

So whilst solitude is a good thing, loneliness seems to be problematic at first glance. The thought of a lonely person or someone experiencing loneliness usually conjures sympathy, perhaps even pity, for loneliness itself is almost always regarded negatively. Need this be the case, I ask?

To put it bluntly, loneliness is something I have personally struggled with for much of my life. I have many friends and some people who are very dear to me, but this does not stop me from feeling, at times, completely alone in the world. And it must be stressed that I am by no means the only person who feels this way. In fact, I would argue that almost everyone feels this way from time to time.

The point is not that loneliness is universal (it is), but that it’s not always a bad thing. Learning to suffer with our own company is one of the greatest gifts we have and, as I said earlier, being lonely from time to time builds character. Life is shit sometimes and there will be times where you have to deal with it on your own. In dealing with things by oneself, you learn to be mentally strong and self-sufficient.

Before we continue to demonise that feeling called loneliness, let us step back and reconsider the stigma attached to being lonely every now and then and, perhaps, allow ourselves to be vulnerable in that way. It might just make us appreciate the important role people play in our lives and strengthen our resolve along the way.

Book Review: “White” (3.5/5)

Arts

Written by George R. Jackson

In what is his first work of nonfiction, Bret Easton Ellis, author of the infamous 1991 novel American Psycho, shares his musings on a variety of topics, ranging from Hollywood and the characters in his novels to Trump and the US political landscape. Reading as a collection of essays, the book is part autobiographical, part rant. Renowned for the blunt amorality and impersonal style of his novels, it is interesting to get an insight into what the man behind the books actually thinks about the world and his examinations of popular culture, from Tom Cruise to Kanye West are both easy and fun to read.

He also stresses a preference for what he calls ‘aesthetics’ over ‘ideology’ in art and stresses that, as a writer, nothing should be off limits as far as freedom of expression is concerned. To some, this may raise alarm bells that Ellis, the man whose books they’d enjoyed reading, has become nothing short of a right-wing lunatic, but Ellis himself points out that he feels no affiliation with either side of the political aisle and, instead, acts as more of an observer in a world maddened by ‘hysteria’, particularly on the anti-Trump front.

I think some of my contemporaries have judged this work too harshly, perhaps jumping onto the bandwagon of shutting down anything contrary to the liberal agenda too quickly. However, whilst I agree with Ellis’ point that we are living in an age of oversensitivity towards, as well as complete rejection of, certain ideas, he often makes this point excessively and at times I couldn’t help but feel that I was reading the same copy over and over. More frankly, the work is repetitive and takes on a register that is ‘holier than thou’ in places.

If there is any lesson to be gained from it, it’s that we should not deny the humanity of others simply because they have opinions different to our own, nor should we needlessly break all ties with a person purely because they voted for someone we don’t approve of. Instead, it might be wiser to try and understand each other before rejection ensues. There are exceptions to rules such as these, nonetheless, reserved for people who vote BNP, for instance.

As the late Chistopher Hitchens once said, “Politics is division by definition, if there was no disagreement there would be no politics.” We are bound to be divided, but – in most cases – it’s not worth losing friends over.

Featured image courtesy of Lightbox.

Hong Kong’s Struggle for Freedom

Politics

Written by George R. Jackson

Hong Kong was under British rule from 1842 to 1997. After that, power was transferred to China, although the former colony maintains its own government and economic systems separate from those of the mainland. The idea was one of ‘one country, two systems’ and, hitherto, this appears to have been the case. Despite the fact that Hong Kong is technically part of China, many of its people regard themselves as Hong Kongers, as opposed to Chinese citizens. There has long been a desire for freedom and autonomy, which is ultimately being put in jeopardy by the overshadowing presence of Beijing.

Recently the Hong Kong administration proposed a bill that would enable the extradition of its residents to mainland China, which would subject those extradited to the law of mainland China. This has sparked mass demonstrations, causing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, to temporarily suspend the bill. Despite this suspension, protests continued on Sunday 16thJune, with an estimated 2 million protesters demanding that the bill be completely withdrawn.

After reaching out to several people from Hong Kong and mainland China to gain an understanding of how some of the people of both the autonomous region and the People’s Republic of China feel about Hong Kong’s current state of affairs, none of those from the mainland contacted have had much to say about the issue, although members of the Chinese national government have claimed that the coverage of the demonstrations has been ‘distorted’.  All in all, it appears that the people of Hong Kong want to maintain a sense of freedom and autonomy, rather than being in the hands of the Chinese central government. One source accused Lam of using the law as “a ‘gift’ to President Xi for the sake of political power and personal interest.” She added further that President Xi Jinping of China “is regarded as the toughest leader ever in the Chinese national government, so he tightens control over the whole of China, which is much more conservative than in previous leadership.”

Beyond these factors, the extradition bill would likely affect many businesspeople in Hong Kong, this perhaps being the main reason why the Hong Kong government failed to enforce it. Hong Kong is one of the world’s major financial centres and a tax haven for many Chinese businesspeople. It is likely that these factors are one of the driving forces for the bill being suspended, in addition to the mass protests.

As regards the ‘completely peaceful’ protests between 9thand 16thJune, the so-called Umbrella movement, which drove the protests for democracy in Hong Kong back in 2014, ‘affected’ the supposedly peaceful nature of the recent protests against the bill. It has been said that a lesson was learned from 2014 and carried through into this year’s demonstrations. The people of Hong Kong are ultimately ‘saddened’ by the response to the protests. A protest on 12thJune was labelled a ‘riot’ and led to 5 arrests and Lam has refused to retract the bill, leaving both the mainland Chinese and Hong Kongese people in the lurch. Naturally all of this is complicated for her politically, but it was her government that proposed the bill in the first place.

There is also the issue of police brutality in the recent protests, one witness claiming that “the police used aggression to break up the crowd” through methods such as “firing rubber bullets, tear gas and often using excessive violence against peaceful protesters”. Another Hong Konger argued that “there’s a lot of coverage on the select few cases of police brutality, ignoring the fact that a lot of policemen acted professionally, with integrity, while being called various names, including ‘traitors’”. He added further that whilst many of the protestors are well-intentioned, “it’s important for protestors to protest not for the sake of it or for hating the mainland, but for clear and educated reasons.”

According to some sources, not all of the protestors have been peaceful. On 12thJune, when reporting from Hong Kong for the BBC, Gabriel Gatehouse interviewed a masked demonstrator who stated plainly that peaceful protest was ‘no longer working’. This suggests that the use of passive resistance may not have been on the minds of some of the demonstrators, hence leading to the backlash from police. One source confirms that on the protest on 13thJune, there was “definitely a lot of anger and resentment directed towards the police.” Whether or not this was expressed with physical violence is hard to say.

Ultimately, there is a real fear that the extradition bill, if passed, will change the state of democracy in Hong Kong for the worse. The vast majority of those protesting were doing so, not only in the hope that the bill would be scrapped, but for “autonomy, the right to a fair trial, a better future for Hong Kong, for themselves and their families.” To what extent the bill would actually curtail the freedoms of Hong Kongers is up for debate, particularly seeing as the ‘one country, two systems’ ideal is believed to be successful by members of both the Chinese central government and some members of the Hong Kong government. Notwithstanding what people think, it is clear that Hong Kong is struggling to maintain the liberty it enjoys relative to the mainland.

A Few Words on Gove’s Past Misdeeds

Politics

 

Written by George R. Jackson

Michael Gove, the current Environment Secretary for the UK and a candidate in the Conservative Party leadership contest, did something naughty 20 years ago. He used cocaine. Cocaine is a class A drug in the UK. The media, as well as politicians, on both sides of the political spectrum appear to be troubled by this fact, with Gove himself being forced to admit that it was a ‘mistake’ and that he was ‘fortunate’ that he hadn’t served a jail sentence for his misdeeds as a journalist two decades ago. With the leadership contest ongoing, it is suspected by a number of people that this is a spanner in the works for Gove’s campaign. I, on the other hand, think that it shouldn’t be.

From the outset, I think it is important for you to know that I do not support Michael Gove. To me, he is the prime example of a politician who is at once painful in all respects; he is treacherous, opportunistic and not easy on the eyes. Nonetheless, his drug habits of yesteryear are negligible. What somebody puts in their body prior to entering the political arena is of no importance and it would be wiser to judge politicians by their actions in government, rather than outside of it. If, on the other hand, he were to be struggling with a drug addiction whilst managing the tall order expected of a Prime Minister, then there would be a real cause for concern.

Gove is not an addict, however, or at least does not present as one. Even so, what people should really be paying attention to is what Gove could offer as Prime Minister. If he doesn’t pull out of the race from all the media attention, it would be interesting to see how he fares in the leadership debate on 18th June. That ought to be a better indicator of whether this man should be the next person to lead the UK’s government, rather than what he did when he was in his early thirties.

As was noted earlier, cocaine is a class A drug. This means Gove’s use of the drug was illegal. Whilst he concedes this was a ‘crime’, this begs the question of whether or not he should be punished. If he weren’t to be punished, would this make Gove above the law? Technically speaking, yes it would. Not punishing Gove for his admission would put him among the thousands of others in the country, including a number who sit in Parliament, that have a past of drug-taking without being prosecuted. If Gove were to be punished and serve a jail sentence, why not hold all other politicians who abuse(d) drugs and other drug-takers to the same standard? The answer is that people are getting away with taking illegal drugs all the time and punishing a man running to be the next PM for doing this 20 years ago would be as hypocritical as it is trivial. Further, it would be interesting to find out what the scale of current or historical drug-taking among those in high office is.

Ultimately it is Gove’s track record as a politician that should be open to the most scrutiny. If one is to criticise him, criticise him for his time as Education Secretary, or – more recently – his time as Environment Secretary, where he refused to admit that the UK is in a ‘climate crisis’ and it took a motion passed by the House of Commons for one to be declared. It is these things that should be of the most concern and, while I’m at it, perhaps it is the prevailing attitudes and laws concerning drugs that need to be re-considered. That, however, is a whole other issue.

Featured image courtesy of Sky News