Annabelle Creation (2017)

David Sandberg

Annabelle Creation is the latest film in what is now being retconned into The Conjuring universe (rather than franchise). Annabelle Creation is a prequel to Annabelle, which itself was a prequel to The Conjuring. As a tacked-on universe prequel I thought it would be safe to expect that Annabelle Creation would follow Rogue One and Kong: Skull Island and be serviceable and good while completing a task.

With little interest in rushing to Universe connectivity the movie revels in the early twentieth century American gothic. There is nothing to fear at the start of the movie but the very landscape itself provides a sense of foreboding. Director David F. Sandberg sets the scene for a conjuring against the back drop of a prairie land full of rusted farm machinery and technology such as lights and cars which are primitive and unreliable. Anthony LaPaglia constructs handmade dolls in an isolated and large farmhouse which he shares with his wife, played by Miranda Otto, and daughter. The family exists in this gothic bucolic bliss until the daughter dies in a road accident.

Oddly the trailer outlines the entire plot of the movie and arguably spoils its most compelling element which is the very slow reveal of not just the extent of the evil hidden within the house but the how it came to be there in the wake of daughter’s death. The movie proper starts when, twelve years later, a nun and her six orphan girl charges are invited to live in the house with the still grieving couple.

As soon as the nun and orphans arrive there is a feeling of a growing restrained threat and violence. As the children voice or attempt to ignore their fears the movie becomes about the idea of faith and the power of evil in the world and its ability to consume and destroy the innocent without caring about what should or deserves to happen. The setup of isolated farmhouse is naturally terrifying, the use of the doll and ghost child eminently chilling and the main pre-pubescent girl protagonists are especially vulnerable.

The film could have gone further and been as socially analogous as Get Out if it had chosen to twist the knife deeper and allude to the evil which existed, and exists, within the church. The demon and/or its existence could have been portrayed as analogous to predatorial priests preying upon the weak. Perhaps realising how close they are to this territory the filmmakers go to pains to ensure viewers that the demon is a demon is a demon and as such too much of the monster is shown in the third act of the film and rather than a terrifying wraith of the imagination some of the terror is dulled as the conjuring of inherit evil is rendered into form on too many occasions.

There are also either a lot of conceits or no limit to the demon’s power which is simultaneously frustrating and serves to heighten the threat and feeling of helpless ness with which the audience is shown the film. In service to universe building there is an Easter egg for the next Conjuring Universe movie, The Nun, and the epilogue of the film feels a little to complete as, like with Rogue One, it is forced to fit too well and, again, leave nothing to the imagination as it runs on seamlessly into Annabelle.

These small faults aside Annabelle Creation is still a film which is better than the sum of its parts. The script, acting and direction are well done and it maintains an enthralling pace and doing a lot with a relatively low kill count.

Don’t watch the trailer before seeing it. Destroy all porcelain dolls afterwards.

 

 

Overthinking: Can Contemporary Journalism Exist in a Bond Film?

It has recently been reported Daniel Craig will star in two more James Bond films.  This after he infamously claimed, ‘I would rather slash my wrists than play James Bond again’. The current run of Bond films, which was rebooted with Craig in 2006 with the gritty Casino Royale, will now continue more than one film beyond Craig’s contract and make him the oldest actor to play the role.

With Daniel Craig locked in the rumour mill has started on who will direct. Sam Mendes directed the last two instalments but will not return for what is currently working titled as Bond 25 or its sequel which is expected to be a reboot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Favourites include Christopher Nolan, Ben Wheatley and Susanne Bier.

Will this mean that the last two Daniel Craig Bond films will be a sort of sub-reboot to the franchise?

Possibly, as certainly Mendes provided a distinct new feel to his instalments. After the relatively lacklustre commercial and critical performance of Quantum of Solace Mendes brought a sense of the aesthetic and pace to Skyfall while also subtly steering the rebooted Bond away from a rapidly changing contemporary world.

Once upon a time Bond films raced to include technology and visions of the future. In the 1970s, Bond, his allies and those

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Bond had the first smartwatch?

he sought to foil travelled and fought in Jetsons-like amphibious cars, jets, submarines, and individual space shuttles. It wasn’t just transportation which the films invented but general technological gadgetry which didn’t exist then and still doesn’t today due to either impracticality or sheer implausibility. A possibly exception is Bond’s communications methods which were sometimes prescient when they were at their most simple.

The Daniel Craig Bond was rebooted to be competitive with the Jason Bourne films. The aim was to remove the far-fetched gadgets and add a sense of realism. This worked in the mid 2000’s but became difficult as the decade progressed. International decentralised terrorism posed a bigger threat than any villain in a volcano lair and the advent of smart-phones meant that we all had gadgets in our pockets as powerful as anything Q had ever provided to Daniel Craig or his predecessors. Rather than try to keep up with or predict the future of gadgets or villainy Craig and Mendes took a polite side-step of avoidance.

In Skyfall Daniel Craig operates without gadgets and drives a sixtiejamesbondskyfalls Aston Martin (the same model as driven by Sean Connery). The film’s showdown takes place against the backdrop of nature, the Scottish Highlands, rather than a space station. The heroes use ancient rifles and booby traps rather than lasers or rockets.

In the latest film, SPECTRE, Mendes double dipped in his avoidance of the contemporary by using the old-world settings of Mexico, Tangiers and the Moroccan dessert and the retro villain of Christopher Waltz’s Blofeld as the threat to Bond and the world. Aesthetically, SPECTRE is a beautiful film but fails on a story level with its desperate desire to connect Bloomfield’s villainy and menace to the events of the preceding films.

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Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux looking suave after a murderous train trip and ride in a 1948 Rolls through the Morroccan desert.

Unsurprisingly SPECTRE also avoids tackling modern international terrorism and its religious fundamentalist connections. Instead the looming threat to the world and freedom is the idea of surveillance and technology. This threat rings false though as the film refuses to ever fully examine real contemporary internet culture or even show the ubiquity of smart-phones. Indeed pivotal plot points where the media indicate Bond’s movements are detailed via printed newspapers rather than any form of MOJO.

An aside:

In contemporary journalism MOJO, mobile phone created and curated journalism, is increasingly becoming the most common and efficient way of reporting breaking news. Stephen Quinn in Mojo and the Mobil Journalism Revolution writes that the ‘revolutionary aspect of “full” mojo is the fact that all work is done on the device (a smartphone) – filming, interviewing, editing and creating the voice-over (6)’. Smartphones are able to act as the tool of transmission and often the end user will view the report on a similar device rather than traditional news mediums with push notifications able to alert users to breaking news in almost real time.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives for weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican
Pope Francis surrounded by phone cameras(CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters) (May 15, 2013)

MOJO allows journalists to operate on a more mobile basis and with far less overheads then required by traditional camera equipment and crews. News can be compiled and filed or published quickly in the instance of breaking news events and the flexibility of MOJO allows reporters to easily story-build around events.

Another advantage is that since mobile phones are ubiquitous they are generally less intimidating for interview subjects. A phone can be operated by one person so that an event can be filmed inconspicuously and interviews can be conducted one on one. Most people have filmed or been filmed with a phone and will be more relaxed in front of a phone than a video camera.

It will be interesting to see whether a new director decides to do a soft reboot on the series so that it once again feels exists in the contemporary world. Some people are saying Bond will struggle to remain relevant in a post Trump world and the increased pace of political events. By the same token in a world where the president is responding to reporters on Twitter can a contemporary spy drama continue to avoid smart-phones and the story-building strength of mobile journalism?

Embracing rather than avoiding the issue could be the best thing that ever happened to the franchise. To avoid aping Mission Impossible and the conceit of prosthetic masks perhaps Bond will become a darker and more underground John Le Carré type of spy operating in the shadows and on the periphery of society and only irregularly rather than habitually showing up at gala balls. If nothing else perhaps in his last two films Daniel Craig will be a little more circumspect about telling all and sundry his name is Bond, James Bond.

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What are the Bugles Blowing For? a.k.a. The Bugles Blowing (1975)

Nicolas Freeling

The plot of the tantalizing titled What are the Bugles Blowing For starts interestingly enough with, in the first few pages, a high-ranking French civil servant, named La Touche, calling the police to confess to the murders of his wife, daughter and their lover. La Touche finds all three in bed and promptly fetches a gun to put single bullets in his spouse and offspring and four in their mutual lover.
There is no mystery or doubt to La Touche’s motives or guilt but detective Castang, Freeling’s protagonist of this and several other books, is ordered to ensure there are no political aspects to the crime. The dead lover was Jewish and so in the first quarter of the novel Freeling appears to be setting up the potential for international political stakes between Jewish and Arab interests. Then these stakes are abandoned. Detective Castang travels to England to investigate the potential connections to drug cartels and anarchist rings. These connections are also abandoned, quickly and dismissively, while Castang eats lunch and ruminates on the differences between English and French police. Detective Castang stands out as a detective character by being very bland. He has a measured and not overly dedicated work ethic, quiet home life, and shy wife. Castang does a lot of thinking and there are several subsequent mediations and asides about the nature of crime, the accountability of the elite and the meaning of the death penalty. Freeling touches upon the Nazi death camps (specifically Ravens Bruck) and the post-holocaust question of Jewish existentialism. In these sections, it seemed that the book had the potential for real importance and that it’s difficult style and meandering plot may have been motivated by an either Pynchon-esque obtuse brilliance or a Phillip K Dick-like struggle with focus. But then, the tide would turn to boring diatribes about food or anti-perspirant.
Unfortunately, ultimately, the book is just too hard to read for too little reward. The story is bleak and lacks any sort of narrative arc. The writing seems as if it were translated from another language or as if an editor had wanted to cut pages by carving out pronouns and prepositions. Sentences seem to start mid-way through and are followed by non-sequiturs, or run-ons, or whole paragraphs which are only tangentially related.
I finished the book feeling frustrated that I had wasted my time with it. A similar feeling, I had to when I finished Infinite Jest. I’ve since come around on the idea of Infinite Jest and David Foster Wallace and appreciate a lot of how that book treats the reader. Obviously, Freeling was writing on the same level but I wonder if he was writing with contempt for his readers? I don’t think he really cares about the reader with this book. I’d even say that the book was probably written quickly and dismissively over the course of a week to make him some cash. Which, unfortunately for me, only makes me more intrigued by Nicolas Freeling and his output. As an author, he won several awards and, even today, many of his books are still in print. So, is this book an exception or the rule to Freeling’s style? The work of angry rushed genius or misguided rushed ambition?
I guess the only way to find out is to once again strap myself in for another not so thrilling adventure with the non-descript and meditative Detective Castang!

OVERTHINKING: Is Vice TV post-convergence journalism?

I watch most of the new Vice TV shows at least sporadically. I would watch more often but I’ve gotten out of the habit of viewing traditional network tv. It’s only the shows which existed before the TV channel on YouTube that I have kept up with regularly, Matty Matheson’s Dead Set on Life and Action Bronson’s Fuck That’s Delicious. I’m expecting too that I’ll watch Damien Abraham’s new wrestling documentary when it is released even though I don’t like wrestling.

I watch these shows because I like the hosts and I realised recently I liked each of these personalities before they started tv shows. The Vice tv shows are almost a by-product or a side-hustle to each presenter’s original vocation. Matty Matheson is a successful chef and restauranteur, Action Bronson a successful rapper and Damien Abraham (an outlier to the argument) is the singer of the band Fucked Up who were successful but are less prolific than they used to be (though just as good) and is an increasingly successful podcaster.

The conventional wisdom in modern media would suggest these shows would not only need to build upon the established brand of the respective presenters but also cross promote the network shows and serve a set of sponsors to monetise the show and turn profit for the channel. This doesn’t seem to be the case and my impression is that these shows are a by-product of Matty Matheson’s food related appearances and Action Bronson’s music tours.

There are ostensibly few if any obvious sponsors. The locations and venues could, in rare instances, be a form of brand placement and there does seem to be a sort of eco-system with which Vice operates within and which producers occasionally double dip upon but I think more than anything the aim is to shirk conventional wisdom and provide candid and often rough food and travel television in the manner of traditional network tv.

       Impact of convergence:

In news reporting convergence has impacted journalists by requiring that they be skilled at multi-media reporting and can use the best platform or platforms available. Journalists can no longer specialise in just one form of reporting (i.e. print or radio) but must use multimedia to meet time or contextual demands of news for modern news consumers.

Another key impact of convergence is the need for adaptability. In Convergent Journalism: An Introduction (Flak, 2014) and The 21st Century Journalism Handbook (Holmes, 2014) convergence is examined in the context of the rising prevalence of smartphones and prevalent use of twitter. Technology and internet culture evolves so rapidly and in unexpected directions that, in 2017, the financial future of Twitter is uncertain though tools such as the GIF which were expected to become obsolete are now commonly used in meme imagery which, itself, has led to different semiotic signifiers. The Snapchat model of temporal consumption has affecte

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A meme about signifiers from a meme generator website. Author Unknown.

d the speed of image consumption and the perception of permanence. This model has spread to other platforms and is still being experimented with by big and small news providers as a method of reporting.

Increased internet literacy is constantly impacting on the idea of convergence and the role of the modern journalist. Clickbait journalism is an example of how quickly users quickly learnt the literacy of headlines and how to avoid clickbait articles. With the rise of the snapchat model of temporal imagery and meme language will journalists need to learn how to convey news in more rapid image based mediums?

Matheson and Bronson both benefit immensely from living in a digital age. They self-market with social media and the increasing popularity of their shows and their own social media documentation of filming along their tour stops adds also to the allure of their tours. It helps too that their shows, while roughly presented, look great. Dead Set on Life in particular looks amazing because of the frequent sweeping aerial shots from drone cameras. The accessibility of this technology to Matheson and crew means that their show looks better than all but the top tier (i.e. Attenborough) of previous travel shows.

Both shows have now run their third seasons. Where will they go next? Can they keep this sort of candid feel? Perhaps this is a new level of convergence which sees journalists required to not only multi-skill but also multi-career and side-hustle in this way? Will the hosts need to adapt and evolve with the VICE as a channel and their own career progressions or is the long-term goal of Vice to buck the trends and adapt a style that seeks to ignore convergence and continue to provide network style television? If so, and if this is post-convergence journalism/media it plays eerily like the pre-convergence.

Trumbo (2015)

Jay Roach

Such an amazingly mundane film and amazing because while assumedly isn’t hard to make a boring film it is surely difficult to make one so boring out of such interesting source material. The two-hour running time to this movie drags as an eternity as the film struggles with the formation of the red scare and McCarthyism in America in the wake of WW2 and the beginnings of the cold war.

I think most people are aware of the film because Bryan Cranston was nominated for best actor in the 2016 academy awards for his portrayal of the titular Dalton Trumbo. Knowing parts of the story of Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 from the You Must Remember This podcast and having also read about Trumbo in Steve Martins auto-biography Born Standing Up I’ve been eager to watch this film ever since I missed it in cinemas. Amidst the many amazing brushes with historical figures in Steve Martins book his interaction with Trumbo during the time Martin was dating his daughter stood out the most. Martin wrote that it was the first time he had been around such intellectual radicals and described Trumbo as an intense and passionate man despite the troubles he’d gone through with the Hollywood black lists and his time in prison.

On the screen, the film does many things well. It seamlessly interweaves original archival footage and recreates similar footage where necessary. The film is always well acted and the cast, one and all, do a great job of portraying some of the most influential players in Hollywood history.

But there is never a sense what it is to live in America at the time. Kong: Skull Island managed a better job in it’s opening credits with short introductory montage of news clippings and footage. Trumbo never seems confident enough to dive too far into history or examine closely why the cold war lasted for so long or why communism was pursued so vehemently domestically.

A particularly weak moment slowly passes by when the gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper threatens to publish the real, Jewish names, of the studio heads and the aura of anti-Semitism which operates in tandem with McCarthyism is left to the audience to be interpreted as a general fear of foreignness. This lack of general political and national scope to the film is problem enough but the film is even less effective with its central subject. There is no indication of how Trumbo came to be where he is. The film introduces him in his thirties as the highest paid screenwriter to date. There is no explanation for his communism or stubbornness or exploration of his past as a war correspondent or even how he grew as a writer. He is birthed fully formed into the film and as such there is never any reason to like him.

Even as Trumbo is blacklisted and jailed there are no real stakes. On Trumbo’s release from prison he and his family move to a palatial house in the city whereas in real life, they moved to Mexico. It is these kind of disconnects which not only, biographically, make it difficult for the film to explain key moments (such as the inspiration for his second Oscar winning film The Brave One) it also is just one of many instances where an opportunity for crisis or real stakes for Trumbo and his family are side-stepped for convenience. Keeping the film in Hollywood allows the filmmakers to concentrate the cause and menace of McCarthyism into the single villain of the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as played by Helen Mirren.

The only real crisis the film bothers to present is that as a workaholic Trumbo might be at risk of losing his family and even this small stake is discarded as his drug and alcohol fuelled work is shown to not be the mission of a stubborn obsessive but the ultimate foil to his nemesis Hedda Hopper. The film portrays this outcome between these two individuals as the main cause of the end of the blacklists, the red scare, McCarthyism and the whole dark chapter of American history. Meanwhile the epilogue cards explain that the blacklist was still in partial operation for a further twenty years and negate even the flimsy premise of crisis and battle the filmmakers invented.

The film is a boring failure made by a director of bad comedy films (notably the Austin Powers sequels) and a tv writer. Though the acting within the film is good I’m not even sure that Cranston deserved to be nominated for work in a film weighed down by such an ironically bad script.

I know now why I’ve never really met anyone who’s seen this film. Very few did. Though I would say to anyone that was interested that they would better spend their time listening to Karina Longworth’s much more interesting, entertaining and accurate stories of Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten on the You Must Remember This podcast.

trumbo three

 

 

 

 

(The) 25th Hour

David Benioff

25th Hour, originally published as The 25th Hour, is a rare example of a novel which was adapted into a much better film. Other examples I can think of, off-hand at least, include Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which as a novella was great but as a film, The Shawshank Redemption, was enriched and perfected by extended narrative space. I would also argue Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is a better film as there are fewer digressions about genital surgery and lounge singers.

Both book and film versions of 25th Hour have the same plot, the same narrative beats and, for the most part, almost identical dialogue. The protagonist, Montgomery Brogan, has been convicted of drug trafficking. The story explores his last 24 hours of freedom before he is sent to Otisville penitentiary for seven years. Flashbacks through both his perspective and as focalised through those close to him unveil key events which led to the present. There are elements of a thriller as Montgomery wonders who informed upon him and weighs up his options in the face of his incarceration. Will he will run, commit suicide, or resign himself to the oblivion of prison?

As with Shawshank, the film version of 25th Hour has an unfair advantage over the novel. The setting in New York city forms a large part of the novel but plays an even bigger part in the film. Directed by Spike Lee the film was the first to be shot in New York after the 2001 world trade center attacks. In the aftermath of the attacks and as rubble is still being cleared there is an added element of anger, fear and confusion imbued within the story and the setting. The novel, written and set before the S11 attacks, is about Montgomery as an individual and his own feelings towards others and the city as he travels through it on the last day of his free life. In the film, there is a sense that the whole city is angry, scared and confused and this both reflects and belittles Montgomery’s own feelings.

The greatest accomplishment of the story is the moral ambiguity of Montgomery’s characterisation. Benioff writes Monty as a likeable character and the moral push and pull of reconciling the sources of his riches and reason for his pending incarceration is left to his friends. In this way, the judgment and empathy provided towards Month shifts with the different focalisation and character arcs of his friends and loved ones. The character driven plot provides a natural countdown and Benioff dips in and out of the story time with expert use of segues to provide Monty’s back story.

I really struggle to criticise this book. Though it’s not perfect or great. Um… how about, the structure of a short linear story time interrupted by flashbacks is arguably generic and played-out. That’s some form of criticism but, even that, is a stretch. I am incredible biased because of how much I love the film. That too is the point. This is a prime example of a book that must be read before the film. With Spike Lee as director and David Benioff as screenwriter nearly every page and line of dialogue is perfectly recreated in the film. Perhaps I’m wrong and it is a great book or an amazing book but with such a perfect storm of cast, crew, score, cinematography and use of the city as character this, like Shawshank before it, is an example of a book which becomes redundant once you have seen the film.

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Tech Waves and Evolution in Journalism

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Martha Gellhorn (L) and Kim Barker (R) reporting from different ends of the 20th century.

An initial goal of this blog and part of the meaning behind the name Pins and Strings was the intention for much of my writing to explore perceived or real connectedness in cultural influence and development.

In my upcoming run of reviews of foreign correspondent autobiographies, which began with John Simpson’s We Chose to Speak of War and Strife, I’m beginning to develop the idea different waves of journalism and journalist personality based upon the technology available in each journalist’s respective era. Simpson provides a very good history and evolution of journalism within his book but avoids defining eras. He is perhaps too close to the subject and his subjects to want to classify and instead hails all as iconic and heroic.

Which isn’t to say I think defining different waves of journalism based upon technology lessens the achievements of past or current journalists. It has however undoubtedly lead to different priorities and tactics in reporting. The autobiographies of Martha Gellhorn, Edward Behr, Marie Colvin and Kim Barker are almost representative, respectively, of each quarter of the 20th century. Barker and Colvin share many of the same personal qualities as Behr and Gellhorn but the latter spend much of their time dealing with manually typing stories and frantically searching for methods of mailing (Gellhorn) or wiring (Behr) their editors. Colvin and Simpson share occasionally similar frustrations as they struggle for satellite signals and Barker as she searches for internet. These searches are never as desperate as that of Gellhorn and Behr however.

In considering these eras or waves in the modern era it is not just the journalist and the methods and tools at their disposal but also the wants and needs of the news consumer which must be taken into consideration. Were Behr and Gellhorn subject to less from the end users of their news? If so was it commensurate with the challenges they face and the technology available?

Multimedia

The advent of the internet and smart phones led to the end of the telegram and much of the problems for journalists in lodging stories. It has also changed the way in which news is consumed. Today multimedia journalism, while not absolute, is increasingly the most common and widespread way of reporting and consuming news particularly for breaking and complicated stories.

In The 21st Century Journalism Handbook Tim Holmes explains this shift is due to the increased availability of high speed internet. This mean, he writes, that consumers can now ‘interact with what goes on around them like never before’ and are no longer ‘stuck with a local paper and a local radio or TV station’.

Gitner and Kennedy, in Multimedia storytelling for digital communicators in a multiplatform world, posit this ‘ability for the citizenry to talk back (18)’ means journalists must be ‘more flexible, faster and accountable even as technology makes this easier in a way’ and that this, in turn, only ‘Makes journalism richer and deeper’ (27).

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Journalists from various agencies in Libya

Looking forward news may become even more portable and instantaneous with the rise of snapchat like temporary stories and the provision of live streaming through various social media platforms. Developing issues in journalism may relate to how both professional and citizen journalists deal with the platforms curation and censorship of these livestreams.

Most ot of all I wonder what the likes of Martha Gellhorn and Edward Behr would have reported with the ability to instantly transmit, to provide background information through hyperlinks and film and edit video in the palm of their hands. With such media convergence what would someone like Martha Gellhorn have done with a smartphone as she embarked from her hiding place on a nurse’s boat onto the beaches of Normandy? What would we have learnt about Vietnam or Tiananmen Square if Edward Behr had live-streamed it? It’s easy to see why Simpson was reluctant to differentiate between generations of 20th century journalists though I think these few examples also illustrate just how much we take for granted in the age of multimedia journalism.