Archive for July, 2010

Justified. Top Quality Television

July 31, 2010

For the last three months, I’ve been watching FX’s Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, Fire in the Hole, it tells the story of cowboy hat-toting US Marshal Raylan Givens, played by Timothy Olyphant. Justified refers to his penchant for using his sidearm in the line of duty in what we might call an extremely clinical and efficient manner. He never points a gun without the intention to use it to deadly effect. The show starts, as can be seen in the trailer below, with Givens in Miami. He approaches a man having lunch at a table. It transpires he had given him 24 hours to leave Miami or be shot. The 24 hours are just about up. The result sees Givens transferred back to his home in Kentucky, where he soon comes into conflict with an old friend, and neo-Nazi, Boyd Crowder, played by the ever-excellent Walton Goggins. As fans of the absolutely superb The Shield will know, no-one does redneck better than Goggins.

The series then follows Givens’ tangled personal and professional lives, involving his criminal father, Crowder’s criminal father and sister-in-law, his ex-wife and her new husband, a sympathetic but exasperated boss, and gangsters from Miami seeking to kill Raylan. The various strands of the story are woven together over the course of the first series culminating brilliantly in the finale, while each episode contains its own strong main story as well. Although some of the clichés of the cop drama are present – the ex-wife for example – the show never feels stereotypical. It is very well paced, with each episode flying along, and never dragging (of course not watching it live and jumping through the adverts helps there). Add some top-quality acting, especially from Olyphant, to the strong writing, and you’ve got a great show.

That the show is so good is not a surprise when you look at where it came from. Not only is it based on Elmore Leonard’s work, but it was also part-written and executive produced by Graham Yost, whose credits include Band of Brothers and Pacific, as well as the greatly under-rated and much (by me) lamented Los Angeles cop drama, Boomtown. All in all, I can’t wait for the next series to start.

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Cuba Si!

July 26, 2010

More rubbish about World War I

July 20, 2010

I see our estemmed Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, has added his voice to those seeking to rehabilitate the Irishmen who fought in World War I. Actually, in his case, he is more seeking to rehabilitate those with a nationalist bent who fought in World War I.

It is also right to recognise in the period ahead the sacrifice of those Irishmen who fought in the First World War. While some may question the value of their actions no one can set aside the scale of the loss or doubt the personal tragedy.
Republicans have no wish to erase the memory of their bravery or their part in Irish history. Many working class Irishmen fought in the British Army at that time because of the unrelenting poverty that they and their families experienced. Their motivation and their experience were articulated by Tom Kettle, an Irish National Volunteer, who shortly before his death at the Somme in September 1916 wrote these lines to his daughter:
Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for Flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the Secret Scripture of the poor.
Among the courageous Irishmen who gave their lives in that war also were those who fully believed in their actions and the choices they took. Their sacrifice and their loss are no less worthy of remembrance.
The experiences of republicans, nationalists, unionists and all others form part of our collective memory. They are part of who we are as a community, as a nation.
While we must remember these events we also must critically engage with our past. The past one hundred years, while a fraction of the life of the nation, was taken up by partition, divergence, exclusion and conflict.
These failures must be consigned to the past. I believe that Ireland is now set on a course towards unity, convergence, inclusion, and lasting peace.
This is not a bland aspiration. In this way we will deliver equality, prosperity and reconciliation for all our people in all their diversity. In this way we will build a nation of which our children can be proud and a republic worthy of the name.

I couldn’t be bothered going on a long rant about this, but let me make a couple of points. Firstly, I’m amused that whoever wrote this speech saw no problem in citing Kettle’s clearly Catholic religious nationalism. Which in itself is enough to make one puke, rather than engage a desire to emulate it and respect it. Secondly, who cares if people believed in what they were fighting for? That doesn’t make it right. I’m tempted to break Godwin’s Law here as a fine example, but I’m sure we could all come up with answers closer to home. And lastly, some visual aids about what these people were really fighting for.

As I believe the saying goes,

Down with Imperialism!

A New Age of Liberty has Dawned

July 14, 2010

Irish Defence Forces Say No to British Army War Memorials in Barracks

July 12, 2010

As any long-time readers (and all the people who get here by searching for images of Nadine Coyle) will know, one of my favourite hobby horses is the poppy. More specifically, the way that the wearing of the poppy has been promoted in Ireland as some act of reconciliation. Here is some of what I had to say on the issue previously (previous posts here and here):

“In addition, I am sickened by the way in which a war that cost tens of millions of lives over the oppression of the peoples of other continents is trivialised and presented as a good things by idiots because Catholics and Protestants fought in it together, and we should all unite and honour their memory. Well no. We shouldn’t. We should condemn imperialism. And we should condemn the type of facile politics that produces the trivialisation of the greatest imperialist war in history. And reject them. If people want to wear a poppy, it should be a white one.”

The determined attempts to inject the commemoration of those who died in the furtherance of imperialism into culture across the island have a received a lot of support from influential people in the south such as Mary McAleese. And the southern army has participated in this as well. In its own words

The Defence Forces also give significant support to the recently established annual event organised by the Royal British Legion at the National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, with its emphasis on the Battle of the Somme and the Great War.

However, it seems that a limit has been reached, and not before time. Unlike the Guards, who essentially have long viewed themselves as having organisational continuity with the RIC (hence the Guards band playing songs associated with that era for example), the Defence Forces have recently rejected attempts to have a memorial to British troops placed in their barracks in Cork. The reason given was that the Defence Forces – whose Irish-language title of Óglaigh na hÉireann is a reminder of their self-image and origins in the Treatyite wing of the IRA – represented a different tradition to that of the British army.

In considering any monument or event commemorating the Great War, the department wishes to ensure that due regard be had to the separate traditions of the Defence Forces and membership by Irish people of the British armed forces.
“The dedication of memorials in Defence Forces barracks and churches to personnel and units of the British services could give rise to confusion in relation to the separate traditions.
“As a general principle therefore, it is not intended that any further memorials be erected on Defence Forces properties relating to military service other than with Óglaigh na héireann.

The Royal Munsters Fusiliers Association, a commemorative society, had wanted to put a window in the garrison church in Cork for the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. Its spokesperson had the following to say.

It does not seem to gel with what Taoiseach Brian Cowen has recently said with regard to honouring the dead on all sides.
“This is not a subject that is ever broached in our schools and it is only when you delve further, you realise how much a part of our heritage this is.
“A lot of these men went out to fight these wars in the hope of helping Ireland and I think now they are being hard done by. We appear to be heading in the wrong direction in remembering their sacrifice with this decision.”

I couldn’t disagree more with his final sentence. What we need to remember is that a lot of those who went out to fight, in WWI in particular (though note he talks about wars in the plural), did think they were helping Ireland. But they were also doing so as part of an imperial project to which the Irish Parliamentary Party was dedicated. If we are to face up to this period in all its complexity, the imperialist nature of the Irish nationalist elite – and probably a large proportion of its electorate – must be faced up to. Putting an end to the culture of celebration of imperialism through facile words about the different traditions in Ireland shedding blood together, and unyieldingly shining a light on Ireland’s imperialist heritage is essential, especially if we are to understand our island’s role in the world today.

UPDATE: WP Cork city councillor Ted Tynan has issued a statement on this issue warning that commemoration of the dead must not slip into glorification of imperialism and war.

The Pacific: The End

July 2, 2010

Back in April, I put up a piece discussing the first two episodes of the Stephen Spielberg/Tom Hanks World War II co-production The Pacific. As I noted in that blog, I was a huge fan of Band of Brothers, and had been eagerly anticipating this series ever since I had first heard of plans for it. To be frank, it was a disappointment. I’ve had the last episode ready to watch for about a month, and only just did so, and that in itself is a reflection of a lukewarm response to the show. In short, it failed to engage you as successfully as Band of Brothers did. It’s difficult to make direct comparisons, given the different nature of the shows, but they are inevitable, and can’t be ignored when writing or even thinking about The Pacific. The Pacific concentrated on a much smaller numbers of individuals, and had much more on the home front, including a final episode about the return of the Marines to the US. It told the three invididuals’ stories more strongly, especially that of John Basilone, but the consequence was that the surrounding characters were much less developed. I think that was a large part of the problem. Band of Brothers had a large range of engaging characters and an ensemble of brilliant actors. The Pacific simply paled in comparison.

The Pacific was tremendous at showing the horrors of the war in the Pacific, and the sufferings of the troops involved there (as usual with this sort of thing, not a great deal of how the civilians were affected). Whether it was the horror and brutality of combat, the food and water shortages, or the humiliating and debilitating diseases the Marines were afflicted by, it gave a much rounder picture of the soldier’s experience than did Band of Brothers, which was pretty much the soldier-as-uncomplicated-hero. But, with the smaller number of characters properly sketched and the amount of space devoted to time away from the war, it didn’t have the same impact as the combat scenes in Band of Brothers, being to an extent more about the spectacle than the effects. That was a key, and disappointing, difference. I think the film-makers made a mistake there. The home front stuff was interesting, and well done; but again, being focused largely on Basilone, detrimental to the impact of the show. I can understand that it was important to show the experiences of the Marines in Australia and the like (not least with Australia because it was obviously so important to the men themselves), but you don’t really watch a programme about World War II for the love stories. That may well be my problem, rather than the producers’, but it slowed everything down, and added not a lot.

At least until the final episode, which I thought sent the series out on a high, dealing with the different experiences of the veterans, and their different attitudes. The return to work, the search for women, the attempt to understand survival, and to fit back in to the community and civilian life. These are common themes I suppose of people returning from war, but they were handled effectively, especially Sledge’s experiences at the Polytechnic when he explained to the young lady behind the desk what the Marine Corps had trained him to do, and then his relationship with his parents.

Maybe part of my different reaction is due to the smaller number of veterans interviewed, inevitable after another decade had taken its toll. But watching the documentary at the end of Band of Brothers I think did re-cast the experience of the previous episodes and give them an added depth, that the lack of a similar one for The Pacific failed to do. This could of course be Sky’s fault for not showing it if it exists. One quick point about some of the spin coming from Hanks and co, that I alluded to before, which was the point about the programme reflecting a racial element to the struggle. I still felt this was dealt with in a tokenistic manner, and there is of course the question of whether thinking that the word “japs” is automatically more racist than “krauts” during wartime. This is not to deny that there was a large racial element in the conduct of the war, just to say that didn’t come out as strongly as expected from the hype. Despite the strong finish, it’s hard not to agree with Bakunin’s comment on the previous thread where he said:

I’m six episodes in and I think it is nowhere near as good as BoB. The acting, stories, and writing are not as sharp nor interesting. I think The Pacific drops off the longer it goes on.

Which is a shame. None of us can deny the importance of the sacrifice of those who fought against fascism in whatever theatre and in whatever way, and that it is a good thing to see their experiences recorded in this way. It’s just unfortunate to come away feeling that it could have been done better given what we had seen this team do before with Band of Brothers. I felt there were more interesting stories lurking there that failed to come out because of the decision of the producers to concentrate on a much smaller number of men.