Friday, January 19, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Film Review

By Brent Cutler

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2007). PG-13; 119 minutes.
Director: Jake Kasdan, Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers. Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart.

Essentially a US teen movie, set in what is commonly referred to as Middle America. The film explores issues of modern society such as over-dependence on mobile phones as well as the role of computer games. It also goes into the possibility of individuals changing personal characteristics and even taking on different personas.
At the start of the film the heroes, doing community service for breaching High School rules, become trapped in a computer game. The theme of the story is to get out of the game, Jumanji, and to do this they must succeed at all levels of the game and complete the quest.
The question I asked myself was whether elements of the film expressed America’s view of the world as a Game. Part of the game is set in a jungle – perhaps reference to Africa.  More poignantly there is a scene set in a bazaar that resembles a Middle Eastern city, Baghdad perhaps. The villains are mindless automatons, with their faces covered, a possible reference to Middle Eastern insurgents. This could be said to show how the USA views the outside world; essentially as an exotic game in some kind of separate dimension.
The idea of viewing the world as a Game is not as ridiculous as it sounds. In the 1950s at the height of the Cold War the US mathematician, John Nash, developed the concept of Game Theory. Game Theory, based around the idea of the zero-sum game, was used as a guide to US foreign policy for a number of years. Perhaps now it has descended into popular culture.
The film contains elements of Indiana Jones and Harry Potter , as well as aspects of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Some of the scenes resemble those from earlier films; for instance, the heroes are chased by stampeding rhinos, this very much resembles the 2005 adaptation of King Kong, also starring Jack Black, which features stampeding Brontosauruses.
Although essentially a teen film, it can be enjoyed by films lovers of all ages. As someone who has been watching films or going to the cinema for some years, I can remember when the only items on sale in the foyer were bags of sweets and, obviously, popcorn. I was about to say in my day, you went the cinema and then followed it by a visit to a nearby restaurant or pub. Now I notice film-goers entering the auditorium carrying what appears to be their dinner.   

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Communist thoughts from India

By Robert Laurie

Revolutionary Democracy: Vol XXIII, No 2, October 2017. £5.00 + £1.00 p&p from: NCP Lit, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.
The latest issue of the biannual Indian journal Revolutionary Democracy has arrived. As one might expect, the issue for October 2017 has plenty of material to mark the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution to supplement the usual range of materials on contemporary Indian affairs and historical materials from the Soviet archives.
This issue opens with the horrifying case of at least 21 patients at an Indian hospital dying because a commercial company cut off supplies of oxygen. The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, in whose constituency the hospital lies, has denied knowing about the situation despite clear evidence of repeated warnings from doctors.
That this single example of the state of health provision in India is not an isolated one is seen in another article that takes apart the recently announced national budget. It accuses the Hindu nationalist government of dismantling India’s welfare system. Amongst other points it highlights the dire state of India’s schools, citing the fact that on an occasion when there was “deprioritisation of education” a fifth of schools have no drinking water facilities. India’s tribal peoples and ethnic minorities get an especially raw deal, a subject expanded upon in another piece about the situation of the Naga people on the border between India and Myanmar.
Two articles criticise the support given by the Indian Government to the attacks on the Rohingyas in Myanmar, which is only the most recent example of long-standing links between the ‘Hindutva’ nationalists in India and fascist Buddhist groups in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
A lengthy review of a recent book – Chirashree Das Gupta’s {State and Capital in Independent India} –  provides a useful survey of economic development in India from 1947 until the 1980s.
Turning to the 100th Anniversary of the Great October Revolution there are two main pieces: one on the benefits for women in the Soviet Union and another on education, which deals not only with the great expansion of educational provision in the early days of the Soviet Union but also with earlier Marxist and pre-Marxist socialist education thinking.
From the Moscow archives there are hitherto untranslated materials from Stalin in his capacity as Commissar of Nationalities in late 1917. These deal with the nationalities and military problems in the Ukraine, and others assure the Muslim population of the former Russian Empire that their religion, formerly oppressed by the Tsars, would be respected. Promises were made, and speedily fulfilled, that historical relics seized by earlier Tsars, then in Moscow, would be transferred to Tashkent.
The Naxalite movement, which began 50 years ago as a result of a split with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI (ML)], occupies several pages. Named after a West Bengal village, and taking inspiration from Mao Zedong’s experiences in China, it has waged guerrilla war allegedly on behalf of the tribal peoples of western India. An article on the history of the movement, and the conditions from which it arose, appears from a member of the CPI (ML). This is complemented by a 1970 article from a Bengali communist leader Parimal Dasgupta dealing with disputes within the rival communist parties of India, which is notably critical of the Naxalites.
Stalin makes two more appearances. The first is a 1935 interview with the French novelist Romain Rolland, which focuses on the danger of counter-revolutionaries smuggled into the country to assassinate Soviet leaders. Some internal counter-revolutionaries used children who were below the age of criminal responsibility. Another important point discussed was Stalin’s observation that at times different positions would be taken by communist parties in capitalist countries and the Soviet Union as a socialist state. This was an alive issue when the mutual assistance pact of that year between France and the USSR could put the French Communist Party in a difficult position.
The final piece from Stalin, written just weeks before his death, is a letter to a leader of the Indonesian Communist Party about strategy and tactics in a country that despite having evicted Dutch colonialism was still largely under the colonial yoke. His reflections, as editor Vijay Singh points out, have relevance for much of the  so-called ‘Third World’ today.
Whilst one might not agree with the general thrust of International Conference of Marxist Leninist Parties & Organisations (which greatly admires Enver Hoxha) there is, as always, much worthwhile reading in this issue.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Film Review
 By Brent Cutler

Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Director: Rian Johnson; Writers: Rian Johnson, George Lucas  Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill. Certificate PG-13; 212min.

The film is episode eight of the Star Wars series. Episode six, The Empire Strikes Back, saw the Evil Empire of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine defeated by the rebel alliance. In episode seven, The Force Awakens, we see the Empire reconstituted in the form of the First Order. We also see Kylo Ren, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, turn to the Dark Side; meanwhile the rebels return to being rebels, an inter-galactic example of permanent revolution perhaps.
The Last Jedi shows a mixture of good cinematic effects, which perhaps can only be appreciated on the big screen, a complex story and an array of new characters.  There is discussion in the film about the past mistakes of the Jedi Order; an order that bares many similarities to the Warrior Monks of the Middle Ages.
The new characters emanate the middle and lower ranks of the resistance, and have a tendency to disobey orders and act independently; after all they are rebels. There is one section of the film where a rebel duo visit a planet inhabited by the super-rich, dominated by a mega casino and private security guards. It is later explained that these people obtained their wealth by selling weapons to both sides in the conflict; a possible attack on the arms trade? Must I not remind readers that good science fiction is as much about the present as about any imagined future.
The use of CGI (computer-generated imagery) enabled the film-makers to use the late Carrie Fisher to continue to play General Leia. Some may argue about the efficacy of this – are there not better ways to honour the memory of someone who may have led a somewhat tragic life but was still an outstanding actress? It also poses the question that if the recently deceased can be reused in films, why not bring long-dead actors back to life?
As someone who has seen every Star Wars film since 1977, it probably is worth a trip to your nearest multiplex. Which, unlike in 1977, you may now find surrounded by an array of overpriced restaurants staffed by 20-somethings on zero-hour contracts.