Saturday, July 22, 2017

Diversity and Disintegration

By Mark Steyn
July 21, 2017

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The Spanish health official Fernando Simon on Sept. 1, 2016 addressing a case of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever at a hospital in Madrid. Credit(Javier Lopez/European Pressphoto Agency)

The most important determination the media make is deciding what category a story falls into. For example, NPR recently ran a report asking the following:
How Did Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Pop Up In Spain?
Oddly enough, despite the headline, the reporter doesn't seem that interested in answering the question. What follows is a public-health story:
The disease is a tick-borne, Ebola-like virus. Because it's a lesser-known illness, it is often misdiagnosed. So there aren't very good official statistics on the number of cases in many parts of the world. 
It's normally found in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. But in 2016, two cases cropped up in Spain. 
Last September, a 62-year-old man in Madrid died after being bitten by a tick while walking in the Spanish countryside. Doctors determined he had contracted Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, which causes headache, fever, nausea, bruising and bleeding. In severe cases, patients experience sharp mood swings and confusion as well as kidney deterioration or sudden liver failure.
Up to a third of patients die, usually within two weeks of contracting the disease.
Oh, my. That's not good news for, say, all those Brit celebs who retire to the Costa. What could it be?
In a study published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers speculate that the ticks carrying the virus sneaked into Europe by latching on to migrating birds from Morocco or imported livestock.
But migrating birds have been crossing the Mediterranean for millennia without bringing Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever with them. Go back to that sentence up above:
It's normally found in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. But in 2016, two cases cropped up in Spain.
Hmm. 2016. Did anything happen round about then that was different? As opposed to things that are entirely unchanged, like bird migration patterns. Why, yes! Millions of "refugees" arrived in Europe from ...go on, take a wild guess: "North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia". Could that possibly have anything to do with the appearance in Spain of a hitherto unknown disease?

Ryan Kennedy thinks so - because he writes for VDare, which is a website that focuses on immigration, so that it seems fairly obvious, if millions of people from the Third World walk unprocessed and unmonitored into First World countries, that pretty soon the First World countries will have Third World diseases. I speak as someone who, as a condition of moving to the United States, was required to be tested for tuberculosis, Aids and whatnot. But the strictures they impose on a Canadian apparently do not extend to Libyans and Gambians and Afghans.

So perhaps the migrating birds are blameless, and this public-health story is really one of migrating humans.

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~Now consider a second story: A law-abiding unarmed woman makes the mistake of calling 911 and, when the responding officers arrive, they shoot her dead. The American media's reflex instinct is that this is an out-of-control murderous police-brutality story. To be sure, it's more helpful if the victim is black or Hispanic, but in this case she is female and an immigrant, albeit from Australia. And certainly Down Under the instinct of the press would also be to play this as an example of a country with a crazy gun culture and the bad things that happen when innocent foreigners make the mistake of going there, even to a peaceable, upscale neighborhood. Or in the shorthand of the Sydney Daily Telegraph front page:
In both Oz and the US, the next stage of the story would be cherchez le cop - lots of reports of a redneck officer with a hair-trigger temper and various personal issues.

But there's a complicating factor. It's so complicating that The Washington Post finds itself running a 1,200-word story on the death of Justine Damond without a word about the copper who shot her - nothing about his background, record, habits, behavior. Not even his name.

Because his name is Mohamed Noor. As Tucker Carlson pointed out on Fox News the other night, the reason you know the officer's identity is significant is because the Post went to all that trouble not to mention it.

Mr Noor was born in Somalia, and these days, aside from being home to the fictional Lake Wobegon, Minnesota is also home to the all too real Little Mogadishu - mainly thanks to generous "family reunification" from a country that keeps no reliable family records. (Last year, I had a Somali minicab driver in London who was planning to move to Minneapolis "because my brother lives there. Well, he's not really my brother," he added cryptically.)

If you take seriously Sir Robert Peel's dictum that "the police are the public and the public are the police", then, if your town turns Somali, you're going to need some Somali policemen. And, just like Garrison Keillor's radio tales of old Minnesota, the new Minnesota also requires its heartwarming yarns. In the deft summation of Michele Bachmann (a favorite guest on The Mark Steyn Show) Officer Noor is an "affirmative-action hire by the hijab-wearing mayor of Minneapolis".

Mayor Hodges doesn't wear a hijab because she's Muslim (yet) but to show she's cool with it - and, if you're not, you're a bigot. Yes, it's a bit hot under the hood and it cramps your peripheral vision, but the new Minneapolis is all about embracing discomfort:
Running for re-election in November, Hodges said the city must embrace the discomfort of transformation, a theme of her campaign, and work tirelessly to create "One Minneapolis" that "works for everyone," and where everyone contributes to making the city work for everyone else. 
She invoked the metaphor of the seed, breaking apart to make way for new life, to describe what's happening in Minnesota's largest city. 
"Minneapolis, our shell is cracked. And from that will come the full flower of our potential, whatever we are destined to be," Hodges said. "To some, who can only see this moment, it may indeed look like complete destruction. In reality, it is transformation."
So don't worry, it may look like "complete destruction", but any moment now we'll be in full bloom. For her, the recruitment of Mohamed Noor, the ninth Somali officer on the force, is a good-news story, about the glories of "embracing the discomfort of transformation".
For others, including those on the receiving end of his ministrations, Mohamed Noor is a bad-news story. A few days before he shot Justine Damond, a complaint was filed in federal court by another Minneapolis woman, who also called 911 and claims she was assaulted by Noor. Disinclined to embrace her discomfort, she has instead sued.

Last year, I spoke to many Muslim police officers in France and Belgium. Not all of them were happy to speak back, but a lot of them did. To reprise Sir Robert, the police are the public and the public are the police. So a semi-Muslim public is entitled to a semi-Muslim constabulary. There are potential difficulties here. As I wrote in March 2016:
'A Belgian municipal security officer is facing dismissal after saying he would kill "each and every Jew" during a debate on Facebook this past Friday.' 
That's some "debate". 
'"The word Jew itself is dirty. If I were in Israel, frankly, I would do to the Jews what they do with the Palestinians — slaughter each and every one of them," wrote the officer, who was only referred to as Mohamed N. in Belgian media.' 
That's Mohamed N standing next to the mayor of Molenbeek, Françoise Schepmans, in the picture at top right. A year before Mohamed N's "debate", four Jews were gunned down at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. This week the authorities told Brussels Jews to forget about Purim because they can't guarantee security. That's hardly surprising when "the authorities" include chaps like Mohamed N... Indeed, if you're higher up the security chain, how do you tell the difference between the chatter of the "radicalized" "extremists" and the views of your own men?
But there's an intervening stage, long before you descend into the madness of Molenbeek. The police are the public and the public are the police: civilized policing depends on an instinctive understanding of the rhythms of your community, of its social norms. "Diversity" - particularly the yawning chasm of Minneapolis-style diversity - is an obstacle to that, because "diversity" eliminates the very concept of "norms". Being an Australian living in a pleasant low-crime neighborhood, Justine Damond saw in the police cruiser the happily prompt and efficient arrival of the friendly local constables, and so went up to the vehicle in her pajamas. Officer Noor fatally shot her in the abdomen, firing from a sitting position in his cruiser across his partner in the adjoining seat and straight through the open car window. The dashcam and bodycams were switched off.

So in this instance the police were not the public and the public were not the police: Justine Damond was not Mohamed Noor and Mohamed Noor was not Justine Damond. Their views of the situation were entirely different, and irreconcilable. Is it a Black Lives Matter/Hands-up-don't-shoot story? Or is it a story about the "discomfort of transformation" that Mayor Hodges wants us all to embrace?

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Mohamed Noor (center)

~Last year I spent a few days in the German town of Reutlingen, in a refugee house with some affable Gambian men not quite as young as they were pretending to be nor as North African as they were claiming, but perfectly upfront and amiable about their gaming of the system. I found them agreeable company, although the amount of pot they smoked gave me a bit of a headache in the confines of their rooms. As for the town, the narrow winding pedestrianized streets of old medieval Reutlingen are not unattractive, if nowhere as pretty as nearby Tübingen, where I went next. Reutlingen had just seen a brutal, fatal machete attack by a "refugee" upon a pregnant Polish lady working at a kebab shop. Tübingen, by contrast, is a university town, once the home of Hegel and Hölderlin, and, enjoying its cafe life after the stresses of those Reutlingen refugee centers, I found myself humming the Serenade from The Student Prince (though that's actually set in Heidelberg).

Alas, a not so friendly Gambian has made his way to Tübingen, and gone on a savage rape spree. Whether or not you want to "embrace the discomfort of transformation", sometimes the discomforts embrace you. The Mayor writes:
In Tübingen, there has been a recent and conspicuous accumulation of crimes against sexual autonomy. An asylum seeker from Syria has tried to rape a ten-year-old girl. A group of blacks - the likelihood that there were no asylum seekers, I consider to be less than five per cent - harassed women at a festival, spitting, grabbing and threatening them. A Gambian asylum seeker is arrested because he is accused of two attempted and two fully accomplished rapes. That's just the last eight weeks. At the same time, the trial was held of an asylum seeker who killed his lover with a kebab knife.
Mayor Palmer is not a right-wing loon, but a leftie from the open-borders Green Party. But he understands, as his counterpart in Minneapolis does not, that the sexual-assaults story is a demographic-transformation story. I found Tübingen pleasant and relaxing after talking to sexual-assault victims in Cologne, and yet the story followed me there, to a small, placid university town.

"Embrace the discomfort of transformation": The mysterious-disease story is a migrant story, the police-shooting story is a migrant story, the sex-crimes-epidemic story is a migrant story. But all transformational discomfort is local, and there are far more western leaders like Mayor Hodges than like Mayor Palmer.

In a developed world where the low-skilled service jobs are automating, there is no economic rationale for mass immigration. That leaves only the cultural consequences. Those few politicians with occasional moments of clarity - like Mayor Palmer - should not be given a pass when party HQ prevails upon them to lurch back to "diversity is our strength" bromides. After all, "sharp mood swings" are a well-known symptom of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

[UPDATE: The Minneapolis police chief has now resigned over the death of Justine Damond. The Mayor's press conference, at 8.15pm Central Time, has degenerated into rather too vibrant a celebration of diversity.]

~Tomorrow Mark will be joining Abby, Pete and Clayton on "Fox & Friends" live across America at 8am Eastern/5am Pacific. We hope you can tune in!

The "discomfort of transformation" and other demographic matters are the subject of the next edition of our Clubland Q&A. If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Cluband you've a question on the subject, please log in and leave it for Mark down the page here, and he'll try to get to it in a marathon session.

As we always say, membership of the Steyn Club isn't for everyone, but it does ensure that our content - such as Mark's recent SteynPost on the biggest issue of our time - remains available for everyone, in print, in audio, in video, out there around the world, and maybe once in a while changing a mind or two. 
For more information on The Mark Steyn Club, see here.

Meanwhile, for existing members, if you take issue with me re Minneapolis, Tübingen, or anything else above, please have at it in our comments section...

A war film that dares to celebrate a British triumph: After decades of movies lionising the Yanks, MAX HASTINGS says Dunkirk should be required viewing for all schoolchildren

21 July 2017

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Think how many years have passed since there has been anything like it: British audiences expected to pack cinemas to see a British movie about one of the great British moments of World War II: Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan’s deafening epic about the evacuation from the northern French beaches in May 1940 provides an answer to fans who have demanded for years: ‘Why are we always given Hollywood films about how the Americans battled Hitler all on their own?’

The war movie is such a staple of popular entertainment, a huge element of modern culture, that it is amazing the British have for so long stayed out of it, preferring to make genre pictures about gritty life in northern cities, or rom-coms about smart London.

Part of the trouble, of course, was getting the money for any movie that did not star Americans, and having to pay the cosmic expense of getting hold of tanks, warships, Spitfires or Flying Fortresses.

I once had a conversation about this with the great film director Stanley Kubrick, who was enthusing about a real-life 1944 episode in which the French Resistance battled with Nazi Panzers. I asked why he wasn’t making a film of the story. He replied: ‘Have you any idea what it costs to hire even one German tank for a week, never mind 20 of them?’

Computer graphics have changed all that. Nowadays, giant action scenes and ship-sinkings such as those that feature in Dunkirk can be shot for a fraction of the money Cecil B. DeMille spent on thousands of live extras on movies such as his The Ten Commandments (1923), or Lew Grade wasted on his ruinous Raise The Titanic.

The Dunkirk film shows more ships sinking than stay afloat. And praised be the Lord, here at last is a film without even a token American.

Some of the best war films of the past have been compromised by the need to appease the U.S. box office. The Great Escape (1963) included Steve McQueen, whose motor-biking stunt makes for terrific viewing, but outraged all those who pointed out that no American remotely like him was involved in the real 1943 Tom, Dick and Harry tunnelling out of Stalag Luft III, and no bikes either.

Back in 1957, The Bridge On The River Kwai offered a stunning study of British PoWs on the Burma railway, led by Alec Guinness as their mad colonel. But the on-screen hero had to be the American William Holden, who played the saboteur who destroyed the bridge the stupid British had built for the Japanese.

Richard Attenborough, who should have known better, made the Americans much smarter than the British — headed by a super-snooty Dirk Bogarde as Lieutenant General ‘Boy’ Browning — in his 1977 epic A Bridge Too Far about the September 1944 dash for the Rhine bridges.

Robert Redford played the heroic American paratroop officer Major Julian Cook, who stormed across the Waal river at Nijmegen under German fire. The on-screen Cook treats the sluggardly, tea-brewing British with contempt — as, too, in many respects, does the whole movie.

The ultimate Hollywood crime against British wartime history was U-571, a 2000 movie that hijacked the Royal Navy’s heroic 1941 achievement in salvaging an Enigma cipher machine from a stricken U-boat, and portrayed this as an all-American achievement.

For my taste, and for that of many others of my generation, most of the best of our home-grown war movies were made in black-and-white, during or soon after World War II. Mrs Miniver, Target For Tonight, In Which We Serve and suchlike were designed as propaganda, and intensely sentimental. But they captured a mood of the time which even seven decades later brings a lump to many throats.

So, too, do the greats of the Fifties: The Dam Busters, Reach For The Sky, The Cruel Sea, The Colditz Story, Ice Cold In Alex.

I have always thought that an important element in their credibility is that those who made them had been there. Cast, directors and writers alike experienced the war.

The men who played the aircrew in The Dam Busters were contemporaries of the real-life fliers: Richard Todd, who starred as Guy Gibson, served with the Parachute Regiment in Normandy.

The Cruel Sea — and especially stars Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden — brilliantly captures the mood and look of the Battle of the Atlantic, an especially fine achievement because it was made long before modern special effects were available. I have never seen a film — not even the excellent German U-boat epic Das Boot — which matches its portrayal of the salt-soaked privations of the men serving in small ships in poor weather, which meant most of the weather, even before the enemy entered the story.

John Mills, Hawkins, Todd and their generation of actors brought to British war movies an intensity of feeling, an absolute belief in the people they were portraying, that their modern counterparts find hard to emulate.

When 21st-century stars don khaki or blue, they almost always look exactly what they are — thespians doing their best to take seriously something that really seems to them remote and absurd. A critic might react to my observations by saying: ‘Yes, but in those old films there was never any blood. Everybody was either alive or they were dead.

‘Today’s movies are far more realistic about showing what war is really like, with people’s arms blown off on camera — as in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan — or their guts trailing all over the screen.’

That is true enough. Yet many of the bloodiest modern American war films, which movie-goers love, most notably Platoon and Full Metal Jacket (both about the Vietnam war), seem grotesquely melodramatic.

Nobody has ever produced a shred of evidence that in Vietnam the communists forced prisoners to play Russian roulette, as in The Deer Hunter.

I recoil from all Oliver Stone’s movies, but especially Platoon, which has precious little to do with real life, or even real death, as I understand this as a historian and past witness of wars. Although Band Of Brothers (the story of Easy Company of the U. S. Army 101st Airborne Division in World War II) was a TV mini-series rather than a straight-up cinema film, it represented one of the finest attempts of recent years to depict soldiers in combat.

Historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the original book, and producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, share a more romantic view about warriors than I would myself adopt, but they are not wrong that comradeship is war’s sole redeeming feature.

Odd as this may sound, to me that superlative comedy M*A*S*H has more truth in it about war, and especially Vietnam — though it was supposedly set in Korea — than some of the biggest and noisiest American epics such as Midway and Pearl Harbor.

So much that happens on battlefields is black comedy. Indeed, it sometimes seems to those taking part that the very nature of war is God’s most terrible joke against the cruelty and folly of mankind.

I am currently writing a book about Vietnam, and yesterday found myself describing a moment in a 1968 fire-fight in which a U.S. Marine ran to the rear under fire, humping over his shoulder a buddy who had been hit, apparently oblivious of the fact that the man lacked his head.

That is the sort of thing that happens in wars, yet somehow did not make it into the final cut of The Longest Day, The Dirty Dozen or The Guns Of Navarone. Ah, yes — The Guns Of Navarone. Here is one of everybody’s all-time favourite war movies including mine, with Gregory Peck stitched into the cast as the 1961 obligatory Hollywood star, though his character in the original Alistair MacLean thriller was a New Zealander.

We can link this movie about a British team sent to cross occupied Greek territory and destroy the massive German gun emplacement with other gee-whizz war movies such as Where Eagles Dare.

In the latter, the most believable line comes from hero Richard Burton, who tells Clint Eastwood he is getting too old for death-defying stunts in Nazi castles.

MacLean got the germ of his idea for Navarone from a 1943 episode in the Aegean, when in a season of allied victories, Winston Churchill made a serious blunder: he personally insisted that the islands of Kos and Leros should be seized and held, though the Germans were still strong in the area.

In the ensuing real-life drama there were no big guns, only a few heroes, and no dramatic rescue: but tragically, six British battalions were written off. The Gregory Peck/David Niven movie, like Where Eagles Dare, makes terrific viewing for retarded adolescents like me, of whom there are many millions.

But the stories are really Superman thrillers rather than ‘proper’ war films, because the stars perform feats against the stupid Nazis that no mortal men could match — no, not even the modern SAS on a good day.

Contrarily, one of the wonders of the Fifties black-and-white movies was that almost all told stories that were amazing, but true.

I have been studying World War II all my life, yet my jaw still drops in awe when contemplating what 617 Squadron, the Dambusters, did in May 1943 — flying their Lancasters level through darkness, 60 ft above the water of the Mohne and Eder reservoirs to drop Barnes Wallis’s brilliant bouncing mines. And so, back to Dunkirk. It was, indeed, a miracle that the British Army was allowed to escape France — not through any Nazi expectations of a peace deal, but because the Fuhrer and his generals were overwhelmingly preoccupied with smashing the much larger French army.

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It was a second miracle, that the Channel sustained an almost glassy calm through the evacuation. And a third one that sailors, uniformed and civilian, braved the Luftwaffe’s dive-bombers to rescue the great bulk of the Army, albeit stripped of its weapons, vehicles and equipment, which took years to replace.

The British movie industry is now morbidly frightened of making films that might be thought jingoistic or glorifying war. This makes it all more heartening that the makers of Dunkirk have brought to the screen a great moment in our history.

Winston Churchill warned the House of Commons after Dunkirk: ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’ But outright defeat was averted only by that marvellous rescue.

The film version has no meaningful dialogue, but that scarcely matters when the spectacle is the thing. The audience in the cinema where I saw Dunkirk burst into spontaneous applause when the ‘little ships’ first sailed across the screen. I hope I shall not be accused of party-pooping for pointing out that in reality it was the big ships, not the little ones, that carried home the overwhelming bulk of the 338,000 men rescued.

Of the 39 Royal Navy destroyers involved, most survived repeated shuttle trips, many of them by night. Just six were sunk, though 19 were damaged.

What was amazing about the real Dunkirk story was not how many British troops the Germans contrived to kill, but how relatively few — around 3,500. Total British dead in the whole 1940 French campaign were only 11,000, against almost five times that number of French troops.

But people will flock to see the Dunkirk movie not for real history, which it assuredly is not, but for an old-fashioned patriotic weepie spectacle, with whizzo special effects by land, sea and air — the sort of thing Steven Spielberg has been making for decades.

His films, of course, are enfolded in the Stars and Stripes. Now that we have one wrapped in the Union flag, it should be made compulsory viewing for all our schoolchildren, who grow up almost totally ignorant of what their great-grandads and great-grandmas did.

What next? In a 2017 in which we seem to be overdosing on gloom and doom, when we go the cinema we deserve to be cheered up. We need another brilliantly-shot ‘finest hour’ story, in which the British triumph in a just war. How about the Falklands War? 

Film Reviews: 'Dunkirk'

Christopher Nolan puts audiences in the middle of WWII in the intimate and epic 'Dunkirk'
July 20, 2017

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Kenneth Branagh
Very much like the pivotal historical event it celebrates, "Dunkirk" confounds expectations. Both intimate and epic, as emotional as it is tension-filled, it is being ballyhooed as a departure for bravura filmmaker Christopher Nolan, but in truth the reason it succeeds so masterfully is that it is anything but.
What happened at the French coastal town of Dunkirk between May 26 and June 4, 1940, was perhaps World War II's unlikeliest turnaround, as a complete military fiasco transmogrified into a stirring psychological victory capped by Winston Churchill's stirring "we shall fight on the beaches" speech.
This battle has fascinated writer-director Nolan for years — he once crossed the English Channel on a small boat specifically to get a sense of the setting — and he's brought a multifaceted examination of it to the screen in a way that's both structurally daring and evocative of old-school David Lean-style storytelling.
Using a cast that adroitly mixes young actors making their feature-film debuts (including former One Direction member Harry Styles) with canny veterans such as Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy, "Dunkirk" resembles previous Nolan films like "The Dark Knight" trilogy and "Inception" in concrete as well as thematic ways.

Working with repeat collaborators including cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, production designer Nathan Crowley, editor Lee Smith and composer Hans Zimmer, Nolan demonstrates his all-enveloping skill with the tools of narrative, a deep understanding of and commitment to craft as well as — witness his telling actor Styles that his boots were laced wrong — a willingness to care about the myriad details of filmmaking.
Shooting with both Imax and 65mm cameras, some of which were specially designed for small spaces, Nolan not only dazzles us with immersive, God's-eye perspectives, he understands, as always, that a big screen image pulls you into details like cigarette butts left on a windowsill, that huge close-ups can enhance intimacy and increase immediacy. If you don't see "Dunkirk" on the biggest screen you can find, you'll be missing the heart of the experience.
As he's said in numerous interviews, Nolan has conceived of his film not as a historical drama but rather a Hitchcockian thriller where, aided and abetted by Smith's razor cutting and Zimmer's crescendoing score, clocks are relentlessly ticking on any number of fronts.
And though much has been made about "Dunkirk" being Nolan's first film about historical events, on examination that feels like a distinction without a difference. Almost all of his films, even the Batman ones, can be looked at as involving ordinary people being thrust into extraordinary circumstances. That is the case with a vengeance here.
Because of the complexity of what happened at Dunkirk, Nolan has divided his film into three distinct but interlocking narratives, intercutting between actions on the ground, on the sea and in the air — and making it all fit into a crisp 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Though Dunkirk was an enormous event, with close to 400,000 British and Allied troops trapped on that French beach with the Germans about to pounce, Nolan has concentrated on small groups of men whose stories stand in for the larger whole.
What keeps "Dunkirk" from being completely straightforward is a kind of temporal sleight of hand. While the action on land unfolds over a week, what happens on sea takes place in a single day and the air battles unfold in a mere hour. By placing these different time frames on an equal footing, "Dunkirk" enlarges our experience and keeps us on our toes.

It's the land war we encounter first, watching Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) running for his life as German bullets pursue him though deserted streets. Suddenly the vastness of the Dunkirk beach, as surreal as a Di Chirico landscape, opens up in front of him. (Nolan shot on the real location, which was swept for unexploded ordnance as a precaution).
The land part of "Dunkirk" is called "the mole," another word for the beach's stone breakwater with a wooden pier built onto it where long lines of troops are waiting patiently to be evacuated.
Tommy and the other impossibly young soldiers he meets, including the quiet Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and the edgier Alex (Styles) employ a range of stratagems in their desperation to get on a ship that will take them home. But because safe places can become deathtraps in a heartbeat, feeling secure and out of danger as German planes periodically attack with bullets and bombs is not in the cards.
While the soldiers are young and not really sure what is going on, older and wiser heads fill us in, primarily Navy Commander Bolton, finely done by a gimlet-eyed Kenneth Branagh decades past his own young hero days as Henry V.
It is Bolton who explains that because of the shallow nature of Dunkirk's beach, small vessels would be needed to rescue the men. A call had gone out to Britain's boat owners to help, and in fact hundreds of self-motivated small ships (a dozen of the real craft appear in the film) took up the task.
Among those is the Moonstone, owned and piloted by a man named Dawson (Mark Rylance, letter-perfect as always). With him is his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his son's friend George (Barry Keoghan), but their task is complicated when they pick up a shell-shocked survivor who wants only to go home (Nolan veteran Cillian Murphy).
The most exhilarating "Dunkirk" episodes, not surprisingly, are the aerial battles fought against the Germans by a trio of Spitfires. The aerial panoramas cinematographer Van Hoytema and his crew capture are truly dizzying, and having Tom Hardy, an actor whose presence makes the most of confining spaces, as one of the pilots is a major bonus.
Although tension about who will live and who will die is always front and center in a film like this, one of the confounding things about "Dunkirk" is that behind the scenes Nolan and company are quietly building a surprising amount of emotion. By the close, just like those of the troops that did survive, we're taken unawares by how moving what we've been through has been.
For the surpassing accomplishment of "Dunkirk" is to make us feel an almost literal fusion with its story. It's not so much that we've seen a splendid movie, though we have, but as if we've been taken inside a historic event, become wholly immersed in something real and alive. Like a debacle turned into a triumph, that is something that doesn't happen every day.

Dunkirk Review: Heart-hammering and heroically British, this is Christopher Nolan at the peak of his powers
By Robbie Collins
21, July 2017
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Of the many things that stun and convulse you in Dunkirk, the smallest might have the most lasting impact. Early on, as the camera surveys the British soldiers stood along the French shoreline in thin, straggling columns, one thought – they’re so young – jams in your head like a door stop, and gets driven in harder with every passing minute. 
Christopher Nolan’s astonishing new film, a retelling of the Allied evacuation of occupied France in 1940, is a work of heart-hammering intensity and grandeur that demands to be seen on the best and biggest screen within reach. But its spectacle doesn’t stop at the recreations of Second World War combat.
Like all great war films, it’s every bit as transfixing up close: at the wheels of the civilian boats scudding across the Channel, inside the cockpits of the fighter planes tearing overhead, and most of all on the beach, with those uniformed boys barely out of their teens, wrestling with the strange notion of defeat with honour even as they fight for their lives. 
The land, sea and air strands of the story unspool simultaneously, even though each one spans a different period of time. It’s one week for Fionn Whitehead’s pointedly named Tommy – as in Atkins, presumably – and the other common troops huddled on the beach, one day for the civilian sailors, like Mark Rylance’s Mr Dawson, his teenage son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his schoolfriend (Barry Keoghan) sailing from the English coast to Dunkirk, and one hour for Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden’s Spitfire pilots, thinning out the Messerschmitts that dart and dive overhead like buzzards scenting blood. (In an unnerving piece of streamlining, the film keeps the enemy troops themselves almost entirely out of sight: they’re only present as falling propaganda sheets, swooping aircraft, bombs and bullets.)
It’s a structural device that sounds confusing on paper but is creamily intuitive in practice, creating an unshakeable sense that these scattered events are somehow driving towards a single pivotal historical moment. It’s also about as self-consciously ‘clever’ as Dunkirk gets: the film is so differently ambitious from Nolan’s earlier work, it makes you wonder where on earth he’ll go next. (Please God, not Bond.)
There’s arguably something of the Inception spinning top to the juxtaposition of two images that ends the film – about which I’ll say no more here, other than it may be the single most haunting cut in Nolan’s filmography to date.
But the questions it poses, about the actual substance and significance of the British ‘Dunkirk spirit’, both then and now, are asked in a spirit of total seriousness.
And Dunkirk is every inch a British film, with no detectable concessions to the international market. There isn’t, for instance, the commercially fortunate presence of an American face among the cast – although there is a bright, convicted, and unexpectedly not-at-all-jarring performance from Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, as one of the young soldiers on the beach.
Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh also appear in prominent, true-to-type supporting roles. But a couple of context-setting spiels are as close as things come to the swelling rhetoric the presence of Branagh – or Hardy, or Rylance, for that matter – might lead you to expect.
Amid the moment-to-moment heroism and struggle for survival in Dunkirk, the dialogue is sparse and functional at most: think barked orders, cries for help, stoic radio chatter as tracer fire whistles past canopies.
What matters above all else is the actors’ visceral engagement with whatever seemingly insurmountable task is facing them in any given moment. (Hardy, who spends almost the entire film behind a flight helmet, has only his eyes and eyebrows to work with, and of course they’re more than enough.)
You could describe Dunkirk as a silent film at heart – and the superb Hans Zimmer score, battering, surging, metronomically counting off the seconds, is such a constant presence it’s more or less an accompaniment.
Yet there’s also something rivetingly present-tense about it all: the period detail is meticulous but never fawned over, the landscapes as crisp as if you were standing on them, the prestige-cinema glow turned off at the socket.
At one point, when the British soldiers are strafed by the Luftwaffe, Tommy throws himself on the sand, and huge geysers of sand rush up into the air behind him, closer and closer, until the debris beats down on his head like hailstones. It’s an indelible shot that takes on an extra waking-dream lucidity in Nolan’s preferred field-of-vision-flooding IMAX format.
Turning the world on its side is a signature Nolan camera manoeuvre, and it happens repeatedly here – albeit more subtly than in Inception’s corkscrew corridors and origami skylines.
Its use during the scenes of aerial combat is as exhilarating as you’d expect, while in an extraordinary sequence in which a battleship takes on water and capsizes, the sea and the vessel’s hull seem to fold together like the closing covers of a pop-up book. It’s almost like something out of Eisenstein or Vertov – mad angles, teeming compositions, and completely unlike a special effect.
Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, that double-bill of masterpieces from 1998, rewrote the rules of engagement between cinema and war, and changed the way many of us think about both.
Dunkirk is as unlike those films as they are each other, but all three fall into a tradition of capturing real, enormous horrors at intimate quarters that can be traced as far back as Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
That task – perhaps more than any other in cinema – takes a filmmaker at the peak of their powers. This is the work of one.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The fatherly advice that changed author Michael Connelly's life

By Amelia Lester
July 8, 2017
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Titus Welliver, right, poses with Michael Connelly at the season two premiere of Amazon's "Bosch." (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Michael Connelly loves free jazz, To Kill a Mockingbird and walks by the ocean near his Los Angeles home. He especially loves a good old-fashioned murder mystery, and has written at least one a year for the last 25. And he loves traffic. Or at least it sometimes seems that way from his books, in which his adopted city, and in particular its famously byzantine freeway system, figures almost as prominently as his hero, Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch.
So it seems especially fitting, or mortifying, that I am late to interview the American novelist at his house because my taxi driver is lost. On the way from the airport to Connelly's house we had passed fixtures of his whodunnits: pawn shops hawking electric guitars and surfboards; used car dealership with names like DREAM AUTO; Wilshire, Sunset, and all those magnificently grotty underpasses.
Nowhere does seedy like LA, but when you've sold 58 million books, and the film adaptation of one relaunched Matthew McConaughey's movie career (The Lincoln Lawyer), while others inspired a hit Amazon TV series now shooting its fourth season (Bosch), you live far away from that, amid the fragrant Hollywood Hills. The streets are so winding, the landscape so verdant, the gates so high, it's enough to make Mosman and Toorak jealous. Incredibly, in the birthplace of special effects and high-tech breasts, there's no mobile reception up here – which means no way to navigate our way to Connelly's aerie.
It's a good problem for a writer to have, I say to him when we finally arrive at his secluded bungalow. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the city, framing a view to the southeast so distracting that no work can be done unless the blinds are down. "You know that song, New York, New York?" he says. "If I can make it here, I'll make it anywhere? That's kind of like LA. 
"It happened in my own life, and now I'm sitting here looking at this great view. But I came here because I was a failed novelist and it wasn't working for me. It really was the last swing of the bat."
That's a baseball term, he adds quickly. "Three strikes and you're out probably doesn't make much sense in Australia." It's a typically solicitous gesture. So much so it's hard to keep in mind that this genial, bespectacled 60-year-old in a linen button-down shirt, who apologises during our conversation for the murmur of his dishwasher, has made a spectacular living dreaming up ways to kill people.
Connelly is exacting in his speech, self-editing clichés, quoting phrases which came up earlier, reassuring me that he's going to get to the point soon and that what he thinks of as a digression "actually ties in". This could be because he got his start as a reporter, first on the crime beat in his native state of Florida, then, following a move across the country in 1989, at the Los Angeles Times. The strikes he mentioned were the novels Connelly wrote in his 20s but never published: murder mysteries about runaway children in the resort town of Fort Lauderdale, where he grew up.
"Every time I visit Brisbane, I think, 'This is my childhood,' " Connelly says of that sunny, relaxed waterside city. "But the novels didn't work, and that was part of the process: I grew up here, I'm writing about where I grew up, maybe I should shake things up and move."
He describes his move to Los Angeles as happenstance, but Connelly's 1987 Pulitzer Prize nomination, for articles written as part of a reporting team on the aftermath of a plane crash, probably helped get his foot in the door at the LA Times. A love for Raymond Chandler's noir classics nurtured since university ("I bought all his novels, stopped going to class and just read them back to back") was another reason to head west. The clock was ticking for the aspiring novelist from the minute he arrived. "My wife and I wanted to start a family, and you can't do that if you're going to be in a room writing into the middle of the night."
Fortunately, on the police beat, inspiration for his fiction wasn't hard to find. "As soon as I got to LA," Connelly says, "there was this big crime where these guys tunnelled underneath a bank on a three-day weekend and went right up to the vault and emptied everything out." The robbery has never been solved, but The Black Echo, Connelly's first published novel, bears its influence. Beginning with a dead body in a pipe, the 1992 thriller introduces Harry Bosch, now the star of 23 books, as a Vietnam vet who spent the war as a "tunnel rat" chasing the Vietcong.
Bosch's ex-military status is key to his character. He's an unfailingly conscientious detective who never lets his superiors in the Los Angeles Police Department down, even when they frustrate him with their insistence on bureaucracy. Peace of mind, though, is elusive. The women Bosch loves leave; his old friends are corrupted; wracked with insomnia, he turns to alcohol and cigarettes. 
Connelly says he didn't set out to write about the effects of war. It was simply that "things fell together. When I was covering the LAPD [at the Los Angeles Times], 90 per cent of the force were Vietnam vets. It was a natural progression into uniform."
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Although his debut gained critical recognition, including the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America, it wasn't until Connelly's third book, The Concrete Blonde, came out in 1994 that he was able to quit his day job and focus on Bosch full-time. Sales were helped along when then-president Bill Clinton was snapped with a copy underarm, leading The New York Times to wonder, rather innocently in retrospect, whether "the alacrity with which the President snatched up this rough bit of goods would seem to indicate that he likes his genre fiction hard-boiled and a bit racy".
But although the Times was dismissive of The Concrete Blonde (a "blunt-spoken police procedural"), Connelly's assiduous research via sources from his experience in newspapers has earned him a grudging respect from reviewers. His latest Bosch book, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, which involves the detective stepping back into the city archives to solve the murder of a wealthy patriarch, received a particularly rapturous reception. The Washington Post declared that "Connelly has been brilliantly updating and enlarging the possibilities of the classic LA hard-boiled novel", adding that Wrong Side was an accomplishment in its own right: "Brooding and intricate, suspenseful and sad."
Much like the dystopic universe of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, Connelly has expanded his cast of Los Angeles crime fighters to include other characters who know and interact with each other. There's Mickey Haller, a maverick criminal lawyer who is Bosch's half-brother; crime reporter Jack McEvoy (subject of Connelly's favourite book, The Poet) and, most recently, a woman protagonist. In The Late Show, out this month, Renée Ballard works the night shift in the Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Police Department. As usual with Connelly, Ballard is based on a real-life person: in this case, Mitzi Roberts, an LAPD detective who has been a consultant for Connelly on his books for 10 years.
Connelly says Roberts was particularly helpful in crafting realistic dialogue. He gives an example, worrying that it might be too "R rated" for Good Weekend. "There's a scene where a character is at a rape treatment centre being examined for evidence. They don't find any, so I had the nurse say, 'There's no sign of semen.' And Mitzi says, the nurses always go, 'No swimmers.' So that's a great piece of dialogue." He pauses. "You see, I'm not a creative genius!"
But while he might be able to hand off credit for his books' lifelike accuracy to others, the tightly constructed plots are trademark Connelly, and the momentum of his last few chapters reliably induces sweaty palms. The writing itself is perhaps less distinctive. "He's not a stylist, or at least not a subtle one," said prominent reviewer Janet Maslin in a 2015 New York Times review of The Crossing. (A phrase singled out in the review: "It all added up to spinning wheels, but they were wheels that needed to be spun.")
I didn't run this notion by him but I suspect Michael Connelly would be okay with this criticism. The most important thing for him is finishing the book. That's what he wants for the reader – he's in the entertainment business, after all – and it's also what he wants for himself. Rarely have I encountered a writer so exquisitely devoid of neurosis about the creative process. Connelly just gets it done.
"I like to keep to my schedule," he says with a shrug, showing me the small, neat study off the living room in which he does his writing. There's memorabilia from past triumphs (the biggest is a Lincoln Lawyer poster, with McConaughey perched on his character's namesake car), a Hieronymus Bosch print ("I think it's the last panel from The Ascension, showing the light at the end of the tunnel") and a record player on which he plays only music without lyrics. (Currently on rotation: John Coltrane's Lush Life.)
Connelly works between 10am and 2pm every day. He says he doesn't know where he gets his discipline from, adding that he flunked out of his first university course, in engineering. "One part of it might be the newspaper business," he says. "I was writing multiple stories a day, and after the pressure of that, writing fiction with one deadline a year is kind of a breeze." Oh yes – did I mention that he starts a new book every December, which is published the following November?
Various interviewers have tried to attribute this work ethic to a pseudo-psychological cause. Connelly's father was a frustrated artist, and was forced to take a day job in real estate to pay the bills. So, I ask, is it true? Were you conscious of needing to make a living from creativity?
"Sort of," he says. Like his alter ego Bosch, Connelly is ever wary of grandiosity. "When I went home at 20 to tell my parents I don't want to be an engineer, I want to try and write books, I was braced for, 'That's not gonna happen.' But I didn't get that response, and maybe it was because of my dad's experience of having an artistic dream and having to put it aside."
Not only was his father supportive, Connelly says, but he sat down with his son to make a plan for how he could fulfil his dream. This amounted, in essence, to deferral. "He said there were not a lot of 22-year-old novelists, and that you've got to experience, you've got to live." He suggested Connelly switch to journalism, learn the value of a steady salary and return to creative writing in a few years.
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Titus Welliver, left, plays Harry Bosch in the Amazon series based on the books by mystery writer Michael Connelly, right. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
He's glad for his father's advice: "We wouldn't be sitting here if I hadn't been a journalist." And yet, for someone who attributes his success to the news business, he shrewdly evades discussion of anything too topical.
Your novels are about the police, I venture. They are sympathetic to how hard the job is. (Connelly nods.) So how do you respond to the national conversation about police brutality, particularly towards black Americans, in recent years? Have events like those in 2014 in the city of Ferguson, Missouri – where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer and widespread riots followed – made writing about the police a little bit more, well, complicated?
"Last week was the 25th anniversary of the riots that we had here," Connelly says, referring to the civil unrest in Los Angeles shortly after he arrived in town. "Have we really come that far when we still have questionable things …?" He veers off course to tell a story about how filming of his TV series was interrupted last year when Black Lives Matter protesters in downtown LA thought actors dressed as police recruits were real. "But, um … the thing that is hard for me to explain is that I write about detectives, and almost all of these problems involve the uniformed police officers that I don't really care about in my writing."
This strikes me as a bit of a dodge. What about the broader culture of police departments, and how it seems to lead to the targeting of minorities? Does he have a responsibility to reflect that culture, even if it makes for a grittier read? 
"It makes the detectives' world harder because they're painted with the same brush," he allows. "So in a weird way these questions about policing the police are good for me, because it adds to the obstacles Harry Bosch has to get over."
Will there be a forthcoming Bosch book which mentions Black Lives Matter? "These [epoch-defining events] definitely have to be reflected, but you just run a fine line of being didactic," Connelly says. "In my last book I had one little paragraph that questioned whether it makes any sense at all to build a wall along the border. It's pretty clear this is going on in Bosch's mind and it's pretty clear that he thought it was stupid. People will find a way over, around or under that wall."
Connelly says he got "tons of hate mail" for that benign sentiment – just like he did when he suggested, via Bosch, that the George W. Bush-era Patriot Act was "sacrificing long-term freedoms for a quick fix". It's a sign of how polarised American culture is. And when you've got an audience as big as his, maybe it makes sense for Connelly to avoid politics.
Still, there is one ethos the writer is comfortable espousing: Bosch's. "Everybody matters or nobody matters," he reiterates in every book. That credo of basic fairness in policing is, Connelly says, "kind of an answer for all occasions if you ask me".
This is practically an invitation to think of Bosch and Connelly, creation and creator, as one and the same. How strange to think of them travelling together across the decades to this house in the Hollywood Hills. They are, after all, the same age, and although Connelly is married and Bosch is not, they have similar families, with daughters currently at university. (Bosch's daughter wants to be a detective; Connelly's a forensic psychologist. The latter is a fan of Law & Order SVU, her dad says, and doesn't really read his books.)
Even more surreal is when Connelly takes me out on his deck and points further up the hill to a little green place on stilts, almost like a tree house. It's Bosch's residence on his Amazon show, although according to his books, it is actually meant to be in a less glitzy locale a few suburbs over.
"I didn't realise I'd be able to see it from here," Connelly says, and there's a hint of awe in his otherwise slightly gruff demeanour. Then again, Connelly also didn't realise when he moved here as a young reporter that he'd one day live among houses owned by the likes of Katy Perry and Ice-T. He points to Perry's, which is a powder-blue palace stacked on many levels with a giant aquamarine pool out the front. There's an army of construction workers swarming around it.
Come to think of it, our entire interview has been dominated by the sound of mansions being built, torn down, renovated, realised. For a writer in constant motion, writing about a city in constant search of perfection, it's an elegant parallel.  
Amelia Lester travelled to Los Angeles courtesy of Allen & Unwin. Michael Connelly's The Late Show is released on July 12.