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movie review::syriana


just got back from seeing george clooney’s ambitious epic syriana, the latest manifestation of my increasing fascination with the middle east, its oil and the politics of the region.

under the tag line “everything is connected”, the film weaves together the stories of a rogue cia agent (clooney), a smart but na├»ve securities trader (matt damon), the royal family of an unnamed arabian emirate, a young pakistani worker for a major american oil company discovering the meaning of his faith and a morally conflicted lawyer trying to investigate the merger of two oil companies and to negotiate for them. That’s a lot of plot to fit into two hours.

unfortunately, the net result of the elaborate plotting is that the movie is almost incomprehensible at times, with references that never seem to get sorted out. also, the sheer number of characters who have active roles in the movie make it pretty much impossible to get any who are well-rounded and developed. instead, there is a parade of caricatures for whom it is difficult to develop much sympathy (it’s hard enough to remember their names). There are good americans and bad americans. There are good arabs and bad arabs. there are good women, well, actually, there are no women, save lightweight amanda peet as the textbook american wife of the 21st century.

there are good elements to syriana to be sure and these may, in the end, outweigh its obvious flaws. british-sudanese actor alexander siddig (the real-life nephew of Malcolm macdowell) is impressive as the beatific prince nasir. his opposite number in the film is the appropriately malevolent chris cooper, playing an american oil executive a lot smarter than his southern drawl and cowboy act would lead you to believe. clooney himself is very decent and takes a few steps further towards cementing his position as this generation’s robert redford.

one of the most telling things about this movie is how little the arab characters are involved in the high-level machinations that control their lives. the film’s dramatic climax, when siddig comes face to face for the first time with clooney, is dramatic, because at that moment, the extent of the intrigue that has been going on around him becomes evident. however, for the most part, it is the americans who control all the action, manipulating the arabs to suit their own ends. at the moment when the viewer could level the criticism that it makes the same mistake as american films often do- making it all about the americans and not understanding the cultural others who are supposedly the subjects- syriana makes a chilling reversal in its final minutes. it can’t redeem the film entirely, but the last twenty minutes more than justify the price of admission.

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jihadvertising?

i keep seeing this ad for tictac candies:



am i the only one who finds the suicide bomber clown at the end a little unnerving? all the nice natural things like the bunny and the [extinct] woolly mammoth and the fruit get devoured by a trying-to-appear-nonthreatening-but-obviously-psychotic clown who then blows himself up. congratulations, tictac, i think this ad has landed you on about a dozen watch lists.

oh and by the way, showing me that your product will somehow cause my stomach to explode in a rainbow of wtf makes me believe that doing consuming tictacs would be a worse dietary decision than the time i ate two raw eggs and a half a bottle of hot sauce on a dare.

eat the pain away?

nearly twenty years ago, an emergency room doctor took a look at the crushing muscle tension i was experiencing [they were clenched enough that a doctor at my regular clinic couldn't get a reflex reaction on my left side and thought i might be having a stroke] and told me she believed that i had fibromyalgia. a couple of weeks later, i went to see a family doctor that a coworker had recommended to me. when i told him what the other doctor had said, he snapped that i was being ridiculous, because, if i'd had fibromyalgia, "i wouldn't be able to move". after i moved to toronto, i got a new family doctor and told her what the other doctors had said. she said that she couldn't be sure, but it was better just to deal with any symptoms i had one at a time. then i came back to montreal and got a new family doctor, who didn't really buy into the whole idea of fibromyalgia and said there was no way to do any definitive test anyway. that doctor passed away, and my …

long suffering

i've been meaning to write this post for a while, but, every time i get started, something happens that makes me rethink portions of it, to add or subtract or consider a different way of looking at things. the post was originally going to be my take on a #metoo statement, but i ended up making that post on my personal facebook page. [it's not that i don't love you all, but there are a few things i'm not comfortable putting in the entirely public sphere.] but beyond joining the #metoo juggernaut, i wanted to write something about the wave of sexual assault revelations that continues to swell over the north american media landscape that wasn't about me. then i realised that that was a little more complicated than just writing "so, lotta sex rapes happenin' these days, ain't there?" or whatever it was that i was going to say.

so i tried writing something about just a part of it: the media coverage or the entertainment industry or the politicians or …