Monthly Archives: June 2011

Transformers – Dark of the Moon: Having its cake and smashing it

Struggling under the sheer weight of super-awesomeness emanating from the screen before me, breathless and aghast, I attempt to verbalise my complete and utter ecstasy. Five minutes later I give up, only managing to find satisfaction through a stolen high five from a fellow super-awesome cinema-goer. Our moist palms, lubricated by robot-induced hysteria, meet for but a second, our eyes wide, forever fixed firmly on the screen before us. Ten minutes later I frenziedly scramble to find purchase for my legs which have suddenly turned to jelly as the hardcore robot on robot action becomes a bit too much for me. Twenty minutes later I sit sputtering drool everywhere as the camera pans up some beautifully lit legs, I manage to utter the requisite ‘phwoar’ under my breath before passing out from sensory overload. After two and a half hours I lie comatose, a willing victim of this visceral orgy of awesome. As I awake I fear life will never be the same again. Well, not until the fourth instalment at least.

As much as I don’t wish to cast aspersions (and I do), one cannot help but get the impression that this is what his arrogancy Michael Bay expects of his cinema-going public. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not so much a film as an ode to excess, it’s Caligula for the 12A blockbuster generation, a pornographic display of computer-generated excellence and casual Maxim-esque pop culture. Things such as ‘acting’, ‘characterisation’ and ‘progressive attitudes to the role of gender in the modern action movie’ most definitely take a back seat to all of the smashing and slow motion ‘splosions.

Well before I get down to reviewing I’m going to make like Michael Bay and quickly dispense with the plot. The film’s opening act plays out the Apollo 11 moon landings with the cleverly tacked on idea that the space race of the 60’s was instigated by the landing of a mysterious alien craft on the dark side of the moon. Cut to the present day and our ever present hero Sam Whitwicky can’t find a job despite saving the world twice already. Sure enough however the evil Decepticons are back and the contents of the strange craft on the moon are soon called to earth. All that matters however is that it ends up with a massive smash-off in Chicago. Job done.

The acting by and large serves its purpose efficiently, facilitating the non-stop, one-note carnage with consummate adequacy, so I’m going to gloss over the majority of the overwhelmingly underwhelming cast to dwell on someone who’s acting skills make Megan Fox look like a more gifted Robert De Niro. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as love interest Carly delivers what must be one of the most laughable performances I’ve ever seen in a cinema and despite all of the times her relationship with Shia LeBeouf’s Sam is invoked, I must admit to never having been particularly emotionally attached to solid planks of wood, no matter how much lingerie modelling they have supposedly done. One thing that Bay needs to learn is that you can’t varnish a turd, but I think he knows that, and he really doesn’t seem to care.

As was often cited of its predecessor Revenge of the Fallen, the third entry in the franchise seems to have a cold-heart coated by the stifling veneer of commercialism. The director’s pen of box-ticking must runneth dry, ‘hot’ lead girl, ‘hot’ cars, patriotic clichés, just enough violence, swearing and leering camerawork to push the limits of the 12A certificate, funny interludes for the first hour of the film, one long climactic battle with plentiful explosions at the end. Check. It’s all just a shallow exercise in marketing, so the question remains; why did I enjoy it so much?

Something that I begrudgingly admired about the first two Transformers films is that they unashamedly went about their business with a cynicism that was wholly backed up by their professional delivery. Yes, they seemed inherently misogynistic and good God did the action drag on and on, but they committed to their facile ambition and somewhat pulled it off. Transformers: Dark of The Moon represents the best effort of the so-far-so-tedious series so far and the visuals (which are what we’re here for let’s face it) are more astoundingly crafted than ever. The special effects on show are first-rate and some of the action scenes (especially earlier on) are focused and delivered with the sort of dynamism that many directors can only hope for.

What’s more it was occasionally (and surprisingly often, intentionally) really quite funny and against all of my better judgement I left feeling like I had been thoroughly entertained. Features such as cameos from Bill O’Reilly and from Trump Tower as the chosen seat of the more villainous characters are as wryly hilarious as they are at odds with the more imperialistic tendencies of the script. It may come as no surprise therefore that Dark of the Moon comes off as wanting to have its cake and eat it, and by and large it seems to pull it off. It’s ambitions may be childish and puerile, it’s acting mediocre to terrible, and its intentions as cynical as they come, but as a work of sheer unadulterated spectacle I enjoyed it for what it was. I can only ask that you do not judge me too harshly.

JFK’s death: it’s USA against Them

Twenty years ago, an unreleased film was embroiled in a controversy that still resonates.   The film in question – Oliver Stone’s JKF – was not even finished, let alone screened, before a tirade of attacks began.  The Washington Post condemned JFK based entirely on the first draft of the screenplay.  The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times did much the same, as though Stone’s movie would be nothing but a three-hour mendacity feast destined to rock the status quo.  Veteran critic Pat Dowell was one of the few who imagined the forthcoming film in a favourable light, only her article was rejected by The Washingtonian because the editor refused to print a positive review for a film he felt was “preposterous”.  Remember this was a film that had yet to be seen by anyone other than Stone’s cast and crew.  So what was it about JKF – a film that would be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture – that so unnerved the mainstream media?

Before I go any further, I feel obliged to point out that I am not a ‘conspiracy theorist’.  So, for the record, I do not believe the Apollo moon landings were staged in Hollywood, nor do I believe that Princess Diana was killed on the orders of the Duke of Edinburgh, or that Elvis works in my local supermarket.  I’m pretty sure Osama bin Laden is dead and if people talk in hushed tones about reptiles secretly controlling the planet I assume they mean politicians or Simon Cowell rather than lizards dressed as the Queen or various heads of state.  This, however, is a necessary preamble for anyone who believes that John F. Kennedy was assassinated as part of a conspiracy rather than the official theory that one man, Lee Harvey Oswald, conducted the whole operation himself.  The term ‘conspiracy theorist’ is now a derogatory phrase, whereas twenty years ago it was often a byword for being logical and inquisitive.  This change is a corollary of Stone’s film, as despite its popularity with the public, and eventually the media, a backlash was inevitable, and it is a counterattack that has tried, desperately at times, to prove that Oswald did, after all, manage the most incredible shooting feat in history.

Stone’s hypothesis on the Kennedy assassination was not the first challenge to the findings of the 1964 Warren Commission Report, the deeply flawed government investigation conducted after the accused man, Oswald, was conveniently slain (or let’s face it, silenced) just twenty-four hours after Kennedy’s death in November 1963.  JFK is even based on two books that castigate the Warren Report, and with documentaries aired in the years preceding the release of JFK, the film entered a cultural field that would soon become a maelstrom.  But it was a combination of cinema, subsequent Oscar nominations, and a cast that included Kevin Costner, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, and Hollywood royalty such as Jack Lemmon and Donald Sutherland, that made the key difference, as suddenly the belief that Kennedy had been killed as part of a conspiracy was being endorsed by the famous, and to some extent, the establishment too.  The concept was potentially embarrassing to America, hence a tentative or prejudiced media that shied away from the idea that JFK had been murdered by the CIA, and the plot covered up by forces that included Kennedy’s replacement, Lyndon Johnson.

Despite its faults, many of which Stone acknowledges, JFK remains a far more credible theory of events than the much derided and frankly comical Warren Report, which includes the absurd ‘magic bullet theory’ that tries to sell the notion of Oswald being able to fire three shots in six seconds using a bolt action rifle with a defective scope, with one shot missing the motorcade, another shot causing Kennedy’s devastating head wound, and the other bullet – the magic one – causing seven wounds, breaking five bones, and then being found in almost pristine condition on a hospital stretcher a few hours later.  If you believe that, you’re probably the kind of person who thinks Elvis really does work at my local supermarket or that flying saucers make frequent pit-stops in the desert.  As Woody Allen once quipped: ‘Sorry I’m late on stage but I’ve been working on a non-fiction version of the Warren Report’.  After him, Bill Hicks would joke about the accuracy of the ‘sniper’s perch’ in the Assassination Museum, Dallas, where Oswald is alleged to have fired the shots.  As Hicks said of the ‘sniper’s perch’, it is arranged with painstaking accuracy, including the fact that Oswald’s not there.

But please don’t take my Bill or Woody’s word for it.  On the fortieth anniversary of the assassination an ABC News poll concluded that a staggering 83% of Americans did not believe that Oswald acted alone, if at all.  He was, just as he claimed to be, the perfect “patsy”; an ex-Marine who defected to Russia, proclaimed himself to be a Marxist-Leninist, and when allowed back to the US (with notable ease) supported left wing causes in aid of Cuba.  If you cherry-pick the facts, Oswald looks guilty of anything.  If you look at the picture in its entirety, he was clearly framed.  Either way, twenty years later, Stone’s “counter-myth” continues to be the nearest truth we may ever know.

OUSU and postgraduate representation: time for a change

By Luigi Prada, MCR President, The Queen’s College

Next year will see a shocking rent increase for postgraduate housing in University-owned accommodation (in some cases, up by more than 10 percent). This is particularly troubling since the University hasn’t given any reason for this increase, and the large number of postgrads who previously found University accommodation to be a cheaper housing option than that of their own college are now faced with serious financial issues.

Until very recently, OUSU was completely unaware of this matter, which was brought to its attention only by the MCR Presidents’ Committee.

OUSU’s leadership showed a lack of awareness of the specific nature of accommodation issues affecting postgrads. This is particularly disconcerting in comparison with the level of effort it has instead put into supporting students living in College accommodation (i.e., mainly undergrads) through the annual process of rent negotiations.

But the rents situation is not the only time when OUSU and representative bodies of Oxford postgrads seem to speak different languages.

The question to ask, and the question that increasingly more postgrads are asking themselves and their representatives, is why? Is there a way to make a difference?

The number of postgrads at Oxford has been steadily increasing in recent years: students reading for a postgraduate degree now make up 45 percent of the total student body, and in the near future the ratio between under- and postgrads will be 1:1. Despite this figure, postgrads feel and appear to be heavily underrepresented in the political life of Oxford University and its Student Union, when compared to their undergraduate peers.

The reason for this is normally put down to ‘postgraduate political apathy’, whatever that means. But the real reason is that postgrads have needs, responsibilities, and schedules that radically differ from those of undergrads. It is thus hard for them to find their place in a system of representation that was originally created to meet the needs of a population at a time when postgrads were an overlooked minority within the student body.

This is particularly true in the case of OUSU, our Student Union. Postgrads are rarely seen getting involved with OUSU, or attending its meetings: their political life is too often invisible from the outside, as it most often occurs within the walls of their MCRs and, at an upper level, at the MCR PresCom meetings. Despite the presence of OUSU offices existing specifically for them, starting with the OUSU Vice-President for Grads, postgrads often ignore their existence, or don’t think they satisfy their needs.

On the other hand, OUSU itself often appears unaware of the interests of postgrads. OUSU is there to represent and serve all of Oxford’s students, but, as it stands now, it is failing to do so with regard to its entire postgraduate constituency.

The fault is neither with OUSU’s leadership nor with the MCRs and their executive committees, but with the system as it is, which is largely inadequate and unable to accomplish one of its core functions: postgraduate representation. Only close collaboration between MCRs and OUSU offers the potential to change the current situation.

This is why, at the beginning of this term, MCR PresCom passed a motion recommending a review of OUSU’s postgraduate representation structure. This has now been approved by OUSU Council as well. The first step has been taken, the review is officially established, and its running committee is being put together. This shall incorporate representatives from MCRs (including, but not limited to, MCR Presidents) and Academic Division Boards, flanked by the OUSU VP for Grads.

The task of the review is to establish how OUSU can best engage with postgrads and represent their concerns, and this will be done by collecting and incorporating postgraduate views and feedback on current and proposed OUSU postgraduate representation structures. Through this effort, we will decide upon what we need to ask OUSU to do directly for postgrads, and how to integrate other postgraduate structures, such as the MCR PresCom and the Academic Division Board Representatives, into an overall scheme where they can easily and efficiently collaborate with OUSU to represent postgrads within the Oxford student body and the University.

This process won’t happen behind closed doors: it won’t be ‘invisible’, which is a common criticism of postgraduate politics. We expect to involve as many postgrads as possible in this review of OUSU’s system, and we hope that you will contribute to this process, determining an epochal change in the representation of postgrads in our Student Union, and consequently in our level of involvement in the life and the decision-making process in Oxford.

If you’d like to get involved, in any possible way, then please contact the chair of the review at christopher.gray@history.ox.ac.uk.

Police and colleges issue warnings over recent sex attacks

Kat Xu

Following recent reports of five sexual assaults on females in East Oxford in ten days, a statement has been issued by the Thames Valley Police urging people visiting the area at night to stay “aware”. Numerous Oxford colleges have followed suit, issuing similar warnings over the incidents, which all involved females who had been drinking and were walking alone in the Cowley area between 2.47 and 3.30am. The police have advised females not to frequent this area in the early hours of the morning whilst alone and/or under the influence of alcohol.  Balliol College has further issued emails encouraging students who are out late to make use of the OUSU/OBSU safety bus where possible. Other colleges, such as Pembroke, have issued emails reminding its students that it stocks rape alarms.

Thames Valley Police are encouraging students to call the police immediately on 999 if they notice anything suspicious. The police have also stated that they are currently undertaking “high-visibility patrols” in the area; although they do no wish to “cause unnecessary alarm and fear” they urge people to take the necessary safety precautions. They have clarified that there have been no reports of rape and also no new sexual assaults since the last incident of 5th June. Details of the attacks and an e-fit and description of the attackers have been made available online and in the Oxford Mail.

Ex-soldier sentenced for stabbing

Alex Moss

A 25-year-old former soldier has been sentenced to 26 months in prison after stabbing a teenager outside popular student nightclub Babylove.

The incident, which took place in October last year, followed a large fight in the early hours of a Sunday. The victim, aged 16, was stabbed 12 times by Mahesh Bennet, who wielded a pair of scissors after an estimated twenty people became involved in the confrontation.

Bennet, who is a former member of the Royal Logistic Corps, has three former convictions for battery and admitted having brandished a knife in a previous incident.

The victim, whose wounds were not life threatening, phoned his mother to say: “You need to get to the hospital, as I’m going to die” according to the Oxford Mail.

The incident is reported to have started in Baby Love nightclub, before spilling out onto King Edward Street, where the victim, unnamed, was stabbed.

Apology for £13k Ball loss

Rose Newman

Brasenose Ball President Crispin Royle-Davies has said he is “extremely sorry” for his management of last month’s “Dreams of a Golden Age” Ball, which lost over £13,000.

In an email sent to all JCR members on Sunday and read out during that evening’s JCR meeting, Royle-Davies apologised “for bringing the reputations of Brasenose, of this JCR, and of the Brasenose Ball, into disrepute” and called the event “a humbling experience” of which he was “not proud”.

A £13,597 loss was made by the ball due to poor ticket sales and sponsorship, and the unexpected cost of hiring country house Anyhoe Park because of building works in Brasenose grounds.

Having voted in favour of contributing £4,000 towards the bill, Brasenose JCR will use the bust of ex-JCR President Paul Gladwell bought for £500 as part-payment. The rest of the payment will be made by the College.

Royle-Davies said he would take steps to ensure that similar losses would not be made in the future. The apology continued: “I shall…endeavour to formalise the future liability of the JCR with the College, in coordination with the Presidents of the JCR and HCR. I am also willing to help amend the JCR Constitution to ensure appropriate JCR oversight of future Brasenose balls.”

This post was amended at 13.26pm on 24.06.11 to remove the sentence suggesting allegations were made about rooms hired about by the ball President for people he knew.

Royle-Davies said: “I categorically deny that I hired out rooms for people I knew. There were three bedrooms that we used on the night of the Ball: one for me, one for Georgie Aisbitt on my Ball committee, and one for my mother. All three of these were paid for by those that used them, these were not favours.”

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