Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

September 30, 2013

Tweet, tweet, tweet

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:35 am

As it happens I had just finished writing a piece on teens and social media, touching on cyberbullying when the perfect storm of media idiocy broke out.

It began when Amanda Carpenter, a speechwriter for Sen. Ted Cruz, tweeted that Republicans could defund Obamacare.

Allen Brauer, communications chairman of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, tweeted in response, “May your children all die from debilitating, painful and incurable diseases.”

When some people evidently protested that this was a bit out of bounds, Brauer went on in the same vein for about an hour.

“I’m being attacked on Twitter for wishing one of Ted Cruz’s pubic lice to experience the pain her boss is inflicting on Americans,” Brauer tweeted. “Yes, your party takes bread from the mouths of starving children and medicine from the sick, and I’m the problem. Got it.”

Wiser heads ultimately prevails and Brauer apologized.

“I am truly sorry for my tweet. I was very upset and lashed out. Your kids are not fair game either. My apologies.”

Carpenter tweeted in reply, “Thank you, I appreciate it.”

The National Rifle Association was not so forgiving after David Guth, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, tweeted after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.

“#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

Guth however, is not apologizing.

Guth told Fox4KC.com. “I don’t apologize for it because I’m not saying in the tweet that I want anybody harmed, and I expanded on it in my blog. I defend the NRA’s rights first and second amendments and I hope they respect mine.”

Actually he did say he wanted someone harmed in his tweet, someone’s children in fact, and the Kansas State Rifle Association is calling for his dismissal.

According to the university Guth has been placed on “indefinite administrative leave pending a review of the entire situation.”

That is, the university would like him to keep out of sight until the furor dies down.

I actually have a Twitter account. I opened one for reasons I forget, but have never tweeted anything. Nor do I follow anyone’s tweets.

I’m one of the most interesting people I know, but even I don’t think anyone would be interested in a minute-by-minute account of the thoughts running through my head. If I ever forget this my children are there to remind me. Because I’m a writer I tend to think out loud in the car, that’s how I do the first draft of much of what I write. My children assure me the process is not fascinating.

I concede Twitter has some uses for public figures and people organizing enterprises that require constant updates.

But there’s something I learned a long time ago when email was new to me. The technology to compose and send a message to a large number of people within the space of a few minutes creates endless opportunity to make a conspicuous fool of yourself.

Email created the opportunity, Twitter made it easier still.

At times like this I think of the movie “Notting Hill” (1999) with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. At one point in the movie papparazzi take a picture of Roberts leaving Grant’s house in the early morning hours.

Robert’s character explains to Grant that the immediate furor may die down, but that picture is not going away. Not ever. It’s going to remain in files and be brought out whenever a rumor or hint of scandal about her arises.

Back in 1999 that was life for movie stars. Now it’s the reality for all of us.

Teens have no cognitive ability to grasp what “the rest of your life” means, and a lot of grownups who didn’t grow up with this kind of tech haven’t grasped the implications yet. Or maybe they’re just idiots with a lot of anger issues and little self-control.

Let’s face it, all of us have engaged in a lot of cringe-worthy behavior from time to time. But nowadays it’s harder to forget and impossible to walk away from.

I don’t know how this is all going to shake out, but I wonder if we’re going to become both more tolerant and more reserved in our public demeanor.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

September 23, 2013

Review: Una Noche

Filed under: Movies,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:22 am

Film making is changing. One sign of this is when an unknown brother and sister team who have only made shorts before come out of nowhere with a feature-length film that knocks your socks off and sweeps the awards at the film festivals of Tribeca, Berlin, Brasilia, Deauville, Athens Ft. Lauderdale, Stockholm, India, and Oaxaca.

The other is that you can actually see it even if you don’t live in a city with an art house cinema. You go over to Amazon.com and rent it for $6.99 to watch on your computer or Kindle.

The latter is remarkable because “Una Noche” (“One Night”) has an underlying theme that is not popular in Hollywood, where luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Jack Nicholson make the pilgrimage to Havana to schmooze with Fidel and dine out on stories of what a hell of a guy he is.

The basic premise is, Cuba is a rotten place to live.

Since 1959 when Cuba traded the corrupt but easygoing Batista for Fidel and his crew of murderous psychopaths, Havana, once one of the most beautiful cities in the Western Hemisphere, has become a decaying corpse rotting in the tropical sun.

Everybody hustles to make a living. Since the subsidy from Fidel’s patron disappeared with the Soviet Union, Cuba has been turned into a brothel where rich tourists come to take advantage of poor and desperate Cubans. “Una Noche” shows this brilliantly with few words and a lot of inspired camera work.

“Una Noche” was written and directed by Lucy Molloy, an Englishwoman and Oxford grad who studied film at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. It was produced by her brother Daniel among others.

Molloy spent years in Cuba gathering 35 mm film footage and worked entirely with non-professional actors. Someday the story of how this movie was made is going to be a fascinating documentary in its own right, because it could not possibly have been authorized by the Cuban government.

In 2010 during production, Molloy was awarded a Spike Lee Production Grant Award. I haven’t felt good about Lee since he essentially publicly solicited the murder of George Zimmerman’s parents (and got the address wrong), but this was a good thing.

“Una Noche” is the story of three teens: Lila (Anailín de la Rúa de la Torre) and her twin brother Elio (Javier Núñez Florián) who share a bond closer than anyone can imagine. Until Raul (Dariel Arrechaga) comes into Elio’s life.

Lila and Elio are the children of a soldier and his wife. Raul’s mother is an aging HIV-infected prostitute.

Raul wants to escape to Miami where his almost-forgotten father lives. Elio would like to go with him, but is torn by the need to protect his tough but vulnerable sister on the cusp of womanhood. Lila is afraid of the sea.

Raul is collecting the materials for a raft to make the 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits. He barters for inner tubes. He steals scraps of lumber and breaks into a car to steal a GPS.

He buys black market anti-HIV drugs for his mother, and medical glucose solution to provision the raft from a nurse out of the back door of a clinic.

“Don’t let anyone see that list,” the nurse cautions, “or they’ll know you’re leaving the country.”

Then Raul is accused of assaulting a tourist, a crime only a little less serious than subversion in Cuba, and his desire to leave becomes an urgent necessity.

“Everyone in Havana knows you can’t run from the police,” Lila says. “You can choose to hide or make the most of the time you have left.”

Everything leads up to “One Night” at sea on a makeshift raft. Where the nature of Elio’s love for Raul comes out, and Lila’s womanhood ripens in the midst of confusion and catastrophe.

There have been many films that have attempted to show what life under tyranny is like. Notable ones from Latin America include “El Secreto en sus Ojos” (“The Secret in their Eyes” Argentina, 2009) and Cuban-American Andy Garcia’s “The Lost City” (2005). Most of them are about affluent, intellectual people who can discourse on the meaning of tyranny. Few have captured the “nervous desperation” of life under tyranny like “Una Noche.”

“Una Noche” is about the lives of poor, superstitious, entirely unpolitical people.

When the boys determine they are going to risk the trip across the Florida Straits that have claimed an unknown number of lives, they don’t discourse about freedom, they consult a witch to tell their fortune and make them a good luck charm.

When “Una Noche” premiered in the U.S. at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Javier Nuñez Florian and Anailin de la Rua de la Torre, disappeared, reportedly defecting.

UPDATE: I found out recently the film was actually shown in Cuba to wildly enthusiastic response from audiences – then it was banned.

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.

September 18, 2013

Seen from the side of the road on Monday

Filed under: Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:34 am

IMG_6453

This is why I always have a camera somewhere near. I have my professional camera I take on assignment and I have a smaller camera in my glove box as a backup.

I was on my way to Montevideo to sit in on a session with Congressman Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) and saw the sun coming up behind the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol plant.

My editor put it on the front page of Tuesday’s newspaper.

September 17, 2013

America gets Red-lined

Filed under: News commentary,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 7:24 am

You want to know how I think Vladimir Putin feels these days? I bet he’s feeling pretty sick right about now.

Sure he’s just humiliated the president of the mighty United States, made us a laughingstock among nations, frightened our allies, heartened our enemies and with one stroke vastly diminished our influence in the Middle East while vastly increasing Russia’s. And I bet the victory tastes like ashes in his mouth.

Putin is former head of the KGB, the dreaded secret empire of Russia and one leg of the troika that formerly ruled: Party, army and KGB. He’s a stone killer and would-be Czar of a reborn Russian Empire, the Third Rome.

A man like Putin wants a man as an opponent in the Great Game.

Right now he’s thinking, “History will say I humiliated Barack Obama, and how hard was that?”

Astonishingly there seem to be any number of people in denial of the glaringly obvious fact that the president of the United States just got owned.

Obama made a threat he didn’t have the guts to back up and panicked. It’s that simple.

He waffled and equivocated and bleated, “It wasn’t ME who drew the red line, it was the world.”

John Kerry, secretary of state and born-again hawk went off-message, “It’s going to be a pin prick, you’ll hardly notice you’re being severely punished for gassing a thousand people or so.”

Gassing people to death is somehow far more heinous that shooting them with small arms fire or blowing them up with artillery like the other 99,000 or so Syrians over the past two years it seems.

Then Kerry went further out in left field and remarked as how if Assad gave up his chemical weapons maybe something could be worked out.

Putin leaped on it and offered to help take them and dispose of them. Like it wasn’t Russia giving the Syrians weapons to begin with.

To add insult to injury Putin then published a column in the New York Times which reeks of subtle mockery. He genially cautioned Americans about how dangerous it is to think of ourselves as an exceptional nation. He told us his relationship with Obama is one of growing trust.

To anybody who’s knocked about in the lands where the looming presence of Russia is a historical constant, the message is plain, “Your time as a great power is drawing to a close. The leader of the free world is weak, vacillating and in way over his head.”

You see Putin understands something Obama doesn’t, nor do many Americans for that matter. That the world is a dangerous place.

Consider. Putin was head of the KGB, the Soviet secret police. But the KGB is actually older than the Soviet state.

A secret police organization has a head, a mid-level bureaucracy and a vast network of street-level informers. When there is a regime change the head may get chopped off, and what head of a secret police expects to die in bed of old age? But the bureaucracy and network of informers is not something lightly thrown away.

The Russian secret police has an organizational continuity going back centuries. Its purpose is to protect a tyrannical state by maintaining a constant level of terror in the population. This is the sea Putin swims and thrives in.

Obama? Exclusive prep school in Hawaii. Harvard on a scholarship. World travel essentially as a tourist. Chicago community organizer, a town where politics is for sure dirty – but the price of losing is seldom death these days.

His knowledge of history is superficial and error-ridden. He has no military experience. He has never risked death for himself and his family for picking the wrong side of a political conflict. He has never killed a man he could see die.

Right now, anyone who isn’t worried isn’t paying attention.

September 13, 2013

Review: ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:04 am

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” is the film adaptation of a book in the young adult urban fantasy genre. The book is the first of five, soon to be six, in a series. There is also a prequel trilogy set in the Victorian Era, and a planned sequel trilogy set in the near-term future. So fans will have a lot to look forward to if “City of Bones” is a box-office success.

I haven’t read any of them.

This presents a problem only insofar as I can’t speak to how well and faithfully the movie was adapted from the book. I can say I haven’t yet heard any reports of an outraged author, Cassandra Clare (nee Judith Rumelt).

Interestingly the books include some references and cross-characters to works by Clare’s friend Holly Black, author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and other children’s fantasy.

There is, as several critics have noted, virtually nothing original about the plot devices in “City of Bones.”

That’s not necessarily bad though. Mythic material is part of our common heritage, stories we’ve heard many times before and never grow tired of hearing. Writers like Charles DeLint and Stephen King have done wonderful treatments of old familiar stories such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Monkey’s Paw” respectively.

What matters is how well the material is adapted for modern audiences, and here I’m going to have to say the jury is still out.

The plot elements are all there: the tribes of faerie, the hidden world coexisting with our own, the young hero unaware of her heritage coming into her own and discovering her powers, the identity of the true father, the quest for the objects of power.

Clarissa “Clary” Fray (Lilly Collins) is a teenage girl living with her mother Jocelyn (Lena Headey). She has no father but mom’s boyfriend Luke Garroway (Aidan Turner) serves as a father figure. Her best and only friend is Simon Lewis (Robert Sheehan) a nerdy boy who is, obvious to everyone but her, smitten with her.

Clary is having more than the usual teenage problems though. She starts to compulsively sketch a peculiar rune and she sees people others can’t see. Then she sees one of the people only she can see kill someone only she can see.

That person is Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower) a shadow hunter.

Clary it seems is also a shadow hunter, a race of half-angelic beings who hunt demons. Furthermore, her mother has had her memory blocked by a powerful wizard.

Events move swiftly. Clary returns home to find her mother gone and her apartment trashed. Then she’s attacked by a demon, a really icky one. Jace arrives to save her. Pretty soon she’s seriously crushing on Jace.

Of course the course of true love can never run smooth. It seems there’s a teensy little problem here, Jace may be her brother.

Oh yes, and Jace has a partner, a guy who’s secretly crushing on him (Kevin Zegers). Gay is evidently a big no-no among shadow hunters.

Not to mention they are apparently the children of the main villain, Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers).

Valentine is a former shadow hunter who wants the objects of power, in this case the Mortal Cup that can change mundanes (that’s us normal folks) into half-angels. Valentine is willing to deal with demons to get it.

There is much to like about “City of Bones.” The magic starts out visually understated without an over-reliance on special effects. The transition from Brooklyn to the hidden world is quite stunning. The characters are appealing enough. Lilly Collins is still the adorable pixie she was in “Mirror Mirror” it’s hard to realize she’s 24.

Some stuff doesn’t jibe. What are all the British accents doing in New York?

When Jase and Clary are enjoying a first kiss at Clary’s door and Simon opens it on them, Jase reacts like an child rather than a warrior seasoned by a life of fighting demons. It’s quite frankly painful to watch.

There are said to be three objects of power, the first of which is the Mortal Cup. I’ve peeked at the book blubs and another is a sword. That’s two out of four suits of the Tarot cards, which figure prominently in the movie. The others are wands and coins. So is there a fourth?

This series has promise, even if you haven’t read the books.

Quibbles? It’s nothing I wouldn’t be perfectly happy with my children seeing. I just wish there was more heroism and less teen angst and I wish the mythic material hung together a bit better.

And I think it’s kind of chickenpoop to have angels and demons, but no mention of God or Satan.

Note: This appeared in the print-only TC Guide of the Marshall Independent.

September 11, 2013

My son got his name on 9/11

Filed under: Personal,Uncategorized — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:35 am

It seems 9/11 is one generations defining memory, as in “Where were you when you heard about…?”

For my generation it was the assassination of President Kennedy. (Seventh grade home room.)

For my parents generation it was Pearl Harbor.

But 9/11 for me will always be the day my son got his name.

Actually his name had been kicking around for a while. I was living in Poland then and his mother wanted “Jerzy” for an uncle she liked. I suggested “Jerzy Waszyngton” – that’s George Washington in Polish, as a joke.

We were by the way, living not far from “Rondo Jerzego Waszyngtona” at the time. That’s the George Washington traffic circle which has a bust of Washington nearby.

Then one day, a few weeks before our son was due to arrive my then-sister-in-law called up and said, “Turn on CNN right now.”

We turned the TV on and saw the first tower smoking.

I said, “It could be an accident, this once happened to the Empire State Building.”

(On July 25, 1945 to be exact. A B-25 Mitchell bomber hit it.)

Then we saw the second plane hit the other tower.

“It’s terrorism,” I said.

That’s when it was no longer a joke for me. I vowed that my son would be named for a man of rigid honor and inflexible purpose who led his country through its greatest crises.

The tragic irony of it all was, not long before I had lectured at the Ethnographic Museum of Belgrade in Serbia on “Weapons Technology and Culture.” In my presentation I pointed out that an airplane with a pilot willing to die is a cruise missile.

It gave me no pleasure at all to be proven right.

At any rate, that’s how my son got his name. We had a fair amount of difficulty getting his name registered because many European countries have laws about what you can name your children.

I told that story here.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

September 9, 2013

Review: We’re the Millers.

Filed under: Movies — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:28 am

“We’re the Millers” looks like it started out with some clever ideas and got assembled by committee.

Aw heck, it’s got some funny moments that are worth some of your time and you get to see Jennifer Aniston doing a strip tease, not too tacky! But overall it’s disappointing.

And do not take your children!

David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a pot dealer and has been since college. They’ve obviously made it about pot rather than harder drugs to generate some kind of sympathy for this loser. He deals pretty significant amounts, but the real money is made by his mega-rich boss and former college chum Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).

This seems somehow appropriate. Pot is the drug of choice of perpetual adolescents who don’t actively destroy themselves, but never seem to get anywhere in life either.

David gets all his stash and cash ripped off while doing something conspicuously noble, saving a runaway girl Casey (Emma Roberts) from getting robbed and maybe worse.

You’d think a street-wise dealer would have 1) put his stash away before confronting the hoods (And why is he carrying so much cash and weed anyway?) or 2) just offered them some to let her alone. Never mind.

Brad wants his money, but sees a way out if Dave will head South of the Border and bring back a major shipment in an RV. As in serious time in a Mexican prison major.

Dave gets an idea so brilliant you wonder why he’s not the boss. Recruit a very, very middle-class looking family to come along as cover. (I’d tell you mine but I’m hoping for a big-time offer.)

The wife: Dave’s neighbor Sarah (Jennifer Aniston), a stripper who quit her job in high dudgeon rather than take the next step down into actual prostitution.

The son: Kenny (Will Poulter), Dave’s neighbor whose mother left to go out with friends – a week ago.

The daughter: Casey the homeless girl.

Dave’s first order of business, get a haircut so he doesn’t look so obviously like a dealer and why didn’t he do that when he was wandering around the street with a man-purse full of pot and cash?

Complications ensue. They pick up the load in the RV – except it turns out they’ve unwittingly ripped off a powerful Mexican drug lord. Oops!

Get back across the border with an RV loaded with weed – and run into a vacationing couple who turn out to be a DEA agent (Nick Offerman), his flighty and somewhat kinky wife (Kathryn Hahn), and their beautiful redhaired daughter (Molly Quinn) who Kenny falls hard for.

OK there is plenty of good material here for a decent comedy of errors. The trope of being chased by bad guys while unable to go to the police can be used either for thrillers or comedy oddly enough.

It also falls within the “fake family bonding” genre, wherein a group of unrelated people are forced by circumstance to assume family roles and grow into them.

The acting is decent, much of the dialog is witty, and it does succeed in achieving some moments of knuckle-biting suspense. It just doesn’t hang together, and that’s all about the writing.

Dave’s character transformation is all over the map. He’s goes from unambitious loser to master planner. He does something inspiringly noble at the very beginning, and then tries to persuade Kenny to submit to gay rape to bribe a Mexican cop a few scenes later. Just a little after that he’s offering to die for the people he dragged into this situation.

Sarah is a hard-as-nails stripper, who somehow has kept away from actual prostitution and recoils in horror from it. She talks like a foul-mouthed hooker on occasion then goes icky-sticky gooey protective of the kids.

The narc Don starts out as incredibly dense and kind of kinky-weird, but comes through with courage and masterful fighting skills when needed.
Don’s wife Edie however remains in ditsy character throughout.

Out of this they’ve got to pull a happy ending, where the characters become real family or it wouldn’t be a comedy. “We’re the Millers” does that with an admittedly clever plot twist.

One has to wonder about the meaning of that. In a time where we have so many dysfunctional, so many broken families, was this intended as a message of hope? Yes you too can create a wonderful family out of the most hopeless situation.

If it was, I just wish they’d been more convincing.

If you see this on DVD or cable you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more than if you spend $8 apiece for it plus popcorn.

Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.

September 4, 2013

Can one silly girl bring down western civilization?

Filed under: News commentary — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:28 am

It’s official, I’m a square. I had to ask what “twerking” was.

I had assumed it had something to do with Twitter and “tweeting.” Wrong!

Turns out tweaking refers to movements of the hips and buttocks in suggestive ways.

There, aren’t you glad you know that now? I know I am.

I found this out of course, through all the outrage over Miley Cyrus’ offensively silly performance at the 2013 MTV Music Video Awards.

As you might expect, when the United States is again thinking of getting involved in somebody else’s civil war, with a rival great power warning us to back off and the very real possibility of some very bad stuff happening, the attention of the nation is riveted on a 20-year-old making an idiot of herself in public.

Of course the sky is falling over on the social conservative side of the aisle as the specter of Soddom and Gomorrah looms over the republic.

And of course Miley Cyrus is getting a lot more attention than her looks and talent would ordinarily command.

“I’m really effed up!” she was reported to have said. “I have lots of issues.”

Miley, lots of us are messed up and have issues.

“I don’t have a normal life,” she added.

Lots of us who don’t have the excuse of celebrity don’t have normal lives and can’t provide a “normal” life for their kids. And we don’t provide it on less money.

Amidst all the fuss, comic commentator Dennis Miller nailed it to the wall on Bill O’Reilly’s show on FOX.

“I’m bored!” he said. “I’m bored with all these kids who want to get attention by shocking us.”

Listen, we’ve had child stars around for a while now.

Some transitioned into adult roles. Ricky Schroeder and Mark Wahlberg have careers and judging by their absence from the scandal sheets, lives as well.

Some hit bumps along the way and overcame them.

Jackie Coogan’s parents spent all the money he made as a child, but he went on to have an adult career.

Some found their appeal faded as they grew older and gracefully withdrew from show business.

Shirley Temple, perhaps the first child mega-star, went into the diplomatic service eventually becoming ambassador to Ghana and the Czech Republic.

Others went into the production side.

Freddie “Little Lord Fauntleroy” Bartholemew became a television producer after his film career died.

And a lot of them destroyed themselves.

Anissa Jones, who starred as a child alongside Brian Keith in the TV sitcom “Family Affair” died of a drug overdose, aged 18. A fate eerily presaged by the MAD Magazine parody of the show, where the child actress was shown running up offstage.

Miley, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Something your daddy Billy Ray and a lot of other people should have told you. Something I believe you may have a suspicion of.

For one, talent is not rare. There are lots of people with heaps of talent out there.

They either aren’t interested in a show business career or they’re content with singing in the church choir or performing in community theater.

Professional success involves starting to train that talent and promote it starting young, growing up in the business, or just sheer luck.

You did all three, but you have to realize something. You’re pretty, but there’s lots of pretty people around. You sing well, but there’s a lot of people who sing well. There’s no evidence yet you can write songs or scripts, so you’re a performer, not a creator.

You’ve managed to get a lot of attention by shocking a lot of people by breaking out of your Disney image. But that’s a one-trick pony, how many times can you shock people once they’re grown to expect outrageous behavior from you?

The fact is, you didn’t look the least bit erotic up there on stage. You’re 20 but you looked 16 or younger, like a child doing an imitation bump-and-grind with less entertainment value than Abigail Breslin pulled off in “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Miley, get a life. Take your money, hire someone to manage it, go back to school, get out of the limelight for a while. Settle down, get a job, get married, have kids, and hope they never come across Mommy on video someday.

September 3, 2013

Review: Elysium

Filed under: Movies,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:52 pm

On the strength of precisely one feature-length movie, “District 9” (2009), South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2009, by Forbes magazine as the 21st most powerful celebrity from Africa, and by legendary director Ridley Scott as a “game-changing filmmaker.”

“Elysium” grossed $11 million on opening day, and $139 million box office to date. It’s already made back the $115 million production costs.

“District 9” was made for a paltry $30 million and did $211 million box office. So it’s a safe bet Hollywood is going to let Blomkamp make more films.

That is unless they catch on to what he’s up to. Then he’s toast.

“Elysium” is set in a very dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2154. The city is a third world slum populated by a massive influx from Latin America.

Max (Matt Damon) is the rare underclass Anglo. He’s a former car thief/convict who works in a factory which makes robot police. The same ones who beat the stuffings out of him for sarcastic backtalk.

Overhead in orbit is Elysium, a wheel-shaped space colony (technically a Stanford torus) populated by one percenters in the ultimate gated community.

Lots of the earthly poor would like to get there, not least because every mansion has med-pods which can fix anything short of death.

Most get shot down by Kruger (Sharlto Copley) an operative with a thick South African accent, employed by Elysium’s Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster).

The squeamish president of Elysium wants this to stop. Delacourt cooly asks him if he has any children, as she does.

Delacourt has a stake in the future, and is willing to protect it at any cost – including staging a coup.

Back on Earth Max is trying to go more-or-less straight, but is forced to hire on with a gangster in a job to invade Elysium when he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at work. He’s got five days to live and needs to get to a med-pod.

Max’s childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse, also has an interest in the job because her daughter is dying of leukemia.

Hollywood loves to hate rich people running evil corporations who get warm fuzzies oppressing and exploiting the poor and downtrodden.

Hollywood is of course the home of humble craftsmen toiling in a cottage industry.

Reviews have been wildly divergent. Some conservative media have dismissed “Elysium” as socialist claptrap.

On the other side of the aisle, Ben Kenigsberg at Roger Ebert’s site calls it a “class allegory.”

Me? I think Blomkamp is trying to make us think uncomfortable thoughts about problems which have no easy solution – or perhaps no solution at all. An unforgivable sin in Hollywood.

Blomkamp is an Afrikaner, descendant of Dutch, French Huguenots, and a mixed bag of European dissenters. He was raised during the last gasp of Apartheid, and saw civilization in South Africa start to unravel after it ended.

His mother took him and his siblings to Canada after a 17-year-old friend was murdered by carjackers in his own driveway. He once saw a black janitor beaten half to death by a gang of blankes (whites).

On a trip to Tiajuana, just across a thin line from San Diego, Blomkamp was kidnapped and held for $900 ransom – by the police.

Note the fictional Los Angeles of “Elysium” was filmed in the very real Mexico City.

What Blomkamp presents us with fictionally, is the reality that industrial civilization provides us with a lot of nice stuff, not least of which is medical care that prevents most of our children from dying in childhood.

But that’s not the case in much of the rest of the world. From our southern border to the tip of South America are millions of people who would like to have what we have. People who love their children as much as we love ours.

But what would happen if the borders fell?

Apartheid was morally repugnant. So is what happened after the apartheid regime in Rhodesia fell to the joy of all right-thinking peoples who don’t live there. So is what’s happening in Blomkamp’s native South Africa.

And maybe Los Angeles soon enough, the city Blomkamp calls “Johannesburg lite.”

Anyone remember that Cuban and Argentine working classes once had higher standards of living than the United States?

Blomkamp sees that civilization balances on a knife edge, and appreciates it more than those who’ve always had it ever can.

Hollywood evidently saw “Elysium” as a movie about the virtuous poor versus the villainous rich. They didn’t see that Blomkamp’s vision of the future is much more complicated than that.

Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell them, and maybe we’ll see more movies from this game-changing filmmaker.

UPDATE: OK, “Elysium” has been out for a while and I can indulge in a spoiler in good conscience. I just had a conversation with a bud who told me a conservative friend complained the movie was 10 minutes too long – referring to the scene at the end where the shuttles take off from Elysium full of med pods and land in the slums.

Joyous mobs of people rush to the shuttles to get all their ails fixed. Because of course the only reason the inhabitants of Elysium never did this of their own free will is that they are heartless one-percenters who enjoy being the only people who can fix everything that goes wrong with their bodies.

What struck me was, maybe the movie should have gone on for another ten minutes.

Millions of people rushing to… how many med pods? People who can neither build nor maintain them.

And how much energy do they use? How much computing power, if they are fixing things on the DNA level? How much rare or hard-to-get material do they use? How often do they break down and what does it take to fix them?

And what’s going to happen when the next thousand people in line, assuming these people do lines, hear “Beep, beep, beep. Only ten fixits left on this med pod.”?

Powered by WordPress