19 October 2013

Debating delights: Are we The Fifth Estate? (review)

How much should we know? Is there a line between transparency and privacy? Can there be too much information?

Fifth Estate poster in the London Underground
The opening titles to the film The Fifth Estate take the viewer through the evolution of communication. It begins with stone and a tool and takes us through all forms of communication from the written letter, printed page, telegraph, a typewriter,  wireless radio, television, computers, the internet and everything else in between.  This was a title sequence I wasn't expecting and for a moment I thought I was in the wrong screening room until I saw the name I was expecting to see...in all honesty, the initial reason I went to see the film was because one of the main characters, website founder Julian Assange, was being interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch, and in any other circumstance this reason alone would be a good enough reason for me to see something.  However, coming to that decision for this film was something in itself.  In the end, I was glad that I made the one I did.

The media frenzy that surrounded the release, and indeed making, of the film is no surprise.  It is timely.  It depicts a story of real people who made a significant change to our society. And, it is a story that continues.

I had seen the stories on the news and heard about information that whistleblowers provided to the website, Wikileaks; however, those things can seem a world away from an average Jane, like me.  We are all consumed by our own world: our work, our family, our friends, our interests, our problems.  Therefore, the in and outs of this phenomena were foreign to me, so before rushing out to see a movie with one of my favourite actors I took a few steps that I normally wouldn't before seeing a film.

First, I read and paid attention to reviews.  Those I read seemed to be saying the same thing: brilliant acting  by Cumberbatch (I already expected that), but a weak script and overall story.  Hmmm, I thought, a story is very important to me maybe it won't be worth it.  However, as interviews began making their way to the press, it was clear one of the main characters in the story itself, Assange, was against the film and had communicated this to the actor about to portray him. This also made me stop and think...why would one of the main figures be against the story?  Again, listening to both sides made the difference.  As much as the argument against the movie was convincing, Cumberbatch's response and reason for doing it was just as intriguing and viable argument, in my mind.  So, with mixed reviews from critics and two opposing thoughts from the man and his portrayer, I went to see it.

Many reviews have compared The Fifth Estate, for better or worse, to The Social Network. Having not seen that movie, I cannot make that comparison.  The stories, in general, appear to be similar so I can see where the comparison comes to play, but I can't comment directly.  The Fifth Estate is a visually impressive film.  The use of colour and lightening makes it a really pretty film. This combined with the quick-paced editing, text popping up on the screen (a la BBC Sherlock to me), and an equally fast paced, thumping, memorable soundtrack makes for an enjoyable movie-going experience.  As mentioned, the performances from all players is perhaps the strongest part of the film. Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl give commanding performances in the role of the two major characters.  Even smaller roles such as Guardian journalists played by Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame), Peter Capaldi (best known for The Thick of It and soon taking the role of the 12th Doctor Who), and David Thewlis (Harry Potter's Professor Lupin) make brief, but memorable contributions.  But, yes, the story itself felt disjointed and lumpy. Even though the lovely on-screen text continually shows the viewer where they are in the world--from London to Africa to Berlin and Liege--the story brings in bits of other pieces such as Manning and US government officials, but leaves the viewer hanging...perhaps because these pieces are still unfinished...as is the whole story.  

In the end, The Fifth Estate is a film--a story from one particular perspective and interpreted by actors. It is not a documentary about Wikileaks.  It isn't a biopic about Julian Assange.  These are important factors to keep in mind.  I didn't go into it expecting to learn all there was about Wikileaks or its founder.  I went to see a film with excellent actors, commenting on a timely and important subject in our society: that is what I got. It is a film worth seeing, but you have to know what you want to get from it because it can go both ways--much like many of the important issues in our society.  I certainly got me thinking...

06 October 2013

Dartmoor Delights (Part 2): Indeed, I will say more.

Hound Tor from afar.
Hound Tor
Guide books outlined walks and sights, but I found, when the guides ended up being a tad confusing to me, my own explorations and walks suited just as well.  I wandered about the rock forms, down to the remains of a medieval settlement and through the flora.
Medieval settlement remains with Hound Tor in the distance.
The formations at Hound Tor seemed to jut out from every direction.  The wind continued to blow and the occasional shower came down.  Yes, this is England.  In refuge from the wind and rain, I found shelter among the rocks and decide to read a bit from that famous story and am transported to the 19th Century.

Shelter from the wind and rain and a bit of reading.
"'It is a wonderful place, the moor', said he, looking round over the undulating downs, large green rollers with crests of jagged granite foaming up into fantastic surges.  'You never tire of the moor.  You cannot think the wonderful secrets which it contains.  It is so vast and so barren, and so mysterious'". --The Hound of the Baskervilles
Granite formations on Hound Tor.

"Large green rollers" on Dartmoor

Hayne Downs and Bowerman's Nose
Still the winds blows on day three, as it seems to always blow on my visit to the moor, but this time it was much gentler like a low voice saying hello rather than screaming by ones ears.  My rambles today took me through the tors and formations on Hayne Downs.
Fading morning midst on the formations near Hayne Downs.
 I arrived early enough to see the midst settling upon the highest points, fighting with the sun that eventually came out.  I sat, taking in the view.  I loved it.  Peaceful. Calm.  Beautiful.  Nothing but some moor sheep and an early-risen family out for their walk as well.

I spot Bowerman's Nose, a well-known moor landmark/formation.
Bowerman's Nose in the distance. 
 A legend behind the granite formation tells of a hunter that lived among the moors and came across a group of witches as he and his hounds were hunting a hare, interrupting the ceremony.  As punishment, the next time they hunted upon the moor one witch pretended to be a hare and led them into one of the deadly mires, swamp-like areas, on the moor finally turning them all into stone.
Bowerman's Nose--
see the lovely nose?
The hunter sits on Hayne Down, his large nose prominent; his hounds are among the granite formations on Hound Tor that can resemble dogs.

Midst and sun battle for the day.
As the sun came out in the afternoon, I travelled to a little hamlet in the moor, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, for the local cider and some wifi connection; I did want to get away from the technology, but couldn't do it.  Like Moretonhampton, the town church dates back many centuries and still seems to be the center of life in the small community.  The sun was now out and tourists, like myself, were abound scuttling through the little shops, lounging in the park, and eating in the pubs.  It was a warm and beautiful day after the midst lifted, but in England the weather is an ever-changing thing as evident by the clouds started to gather once again...
Church in Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
Walking around Hayne Downs, I was able to see the remains of another local moor-related story.  I visited Jay's Grave.  While it is only a small mound and headstone, the local story says it is the marking of  the remains of a local girl who committed suicide in the 19th century.  While no one is sure if the story is true, there are always fresh flowers on the grave and no one has ever claimed to know who keeps the grave adorned. There have also been reports of a dark shadow or figure near the grave during the dusk hours of the day...kind of spooky to think about it. More detail on this local story: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay%27s_Grave.

Princetown and the attempt to reach Grimpen Mire (or FoxTor Mire):

A view of Princetown from the pathway.
One of the beauties of Dartmoor is its diversity.  One will find woodlands and streams, Tors, rolling hills, and vast expanses of barren, flat, grassy plains...that is the only way I can find to describe the bit of the moor that I explored on this day.  It began from the town of Princetown, an interesting place in itself for this Conan Doyle fan.
The hotel, now a tourist office and local museum, where
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have stayed during
his time in Princetown. 
  This town certainly had to inspire bits of his work as it is said that he stayed in this building, which is now a tourist centre and local museum.  The city has been the site of a prison since Conan Doyle's time and remains so today.  This fact could have inspired the addition of the wandering prisoner out on the moor who was, at one point, mistaken for Sir Henry Baskerville.

I began my walk from this town and the goal of finding the inspiration for the infamous Grimpen Mire, an area called Fox Tor Mire.  After walking for what seemed to be many, but likely was only a few, miles I sat down to take in the view, the expanse, the quiet.  My solitude was only occasionally interrupted by groups of hikers embarking on the same trail I did, but getting quite further.
The quiet was almost deafening.  I strained my ears for the slightest sound over the remote landscape of this part of Dartmoor.  It seemed like a great grassy desert where, I imagine, if the fog were a little less abundant, I could see for miles.  My plan of heading out to Fox Tor Mires, the inspiration for Grimpen Mires, did not come to fruition this time.  It will have to be for the next time.

Quite in contrast to the previous days, when I searched through the formations for a bit of solitude among the the tour groups and visiting families, this area gives one a feeling of such solitude that the occasional school group or hiker on the path was a welcome sight and chance to say 'hello'.  Not even the wind whistles past my head on this day, simply more of a gentle whisper. Once again some inspiration hits me:

From boulders, to hills and woodlands galore,
That is the beauty that fills Dartmoor.

Old granite quarries, tin-work and medieval stones,
That is the history that fills Dartmoor.

A Hound, a doctor and his friend Mr. Holmes,
Those and many more stories are full of  Dartmoor.

Sheep, cows, and ponies roam free as before,
Free from confinement out on Dartmoor.

The trip back takes me past moorland ponies grazing in the grass.  I notice a mare with its foal and a little further what seemed like an adolescent romping in the grass.  A time for fun and games.
A mare and its foal grazing on Dartmoor

I will return to one of the greatest delights that England has to offer: Dartmoor.  Though perhaps not on my own next time.  Five days

exploring such an amazing place was so delightful that it needs to be shared and continually rediscovered in good company.


02 October 2013

Dartmoor Delights (Part 1): Need I say more?

My first long-ish holiday since my arrival in the UK was a stop I had dreamed to do for a long time.  I had read descriptions of it, seen pictures of it, and dreamed of walking about its varied landscape.  For five days in August Iwas finally introduced to one of the most beautiful places in the world...in my humble opinion...Dartmoor National Park.

Leaving London an early, dreary Saturday morning I kept an open mind that the clouds would stay centered where they were and as I traveled southwest they might dissipate.  My hopes turned to reality; as I neared Exeter the clouds had cleared and the sun was making its way through. With the sun still shining, I made my way to my first round driving on what I know as the passenger side of a car
My transport in Dartmoor
and driving on the left side of the road.  Needless to say I was apprehensive, but not put off; I'd set my mind to it and me and my little automatic Vauxhall car were off to Dartmoor!

One lesson learned:  GPSs (or Sat Navs in England) suck for getting around in the country.  I should have known better, I'd seen them not work away from urban areas before.  But, an extra £20 got me a SatNav that got me to my destination--the lovely little Devon village of Moretonhampton--via the little back windy country roads...there was surely a more direct way.

The local church in Moretonhampton
Moretonhampton is how one might picture a typical English village.  A medieval church with its cemetery and headstones dating back to the 19th century (as least on those I could read).  Narrow streets wide enough for one.  Several small local pubs where one can grab some food and a pint after a day walking the Moor.  Interactions with locals who know each other and deal with the influx of visitors to their village from the UK and beyond.  I stopped at the tourist information center everyday before beginning to get the weather (and always changing feature on the moor).  They were always helpful, kind and curious as to where I was from--the state of Oregon via London was my response and I was surprised (and not so surprised) to learn that other Oregonians had made their way through Dartmoor as well.  Must be that pioneering spirit.  The five days spent in this quaint small village were as equally captiving and delightful than the Moor itself.
High Street, Moretonhampton

Upon arrival and settling I immediately set out to see what I had traveled all this way too see...the vast beauty I was sure the Dartmoor contained.  I arrived at the first Tor, undoubtedly the most well known, Hay Tor.  Needless to say I was a bit inspired:

I sit by the rocks, out of the moor
With the rushing of the wind
And many grazing sheep.
Blue sky, gray and white, the ceiling
Green grasses, purple and yellow, the floor

I hear the sheep, the birds, never a Hound.
But the jutting rocks and rounded mounds,
Easily tell a different story.

As far as I see, the scene amazes me,
Days of discovery are ahead.
A scene that inspired
Nothing prepares someone for the scene they behold upon arrival into the Hay Tor portion of the Dartmoor. Guide books talked about it and tried to describe it, but nothing can compare to actually rounding the bend and coming upon the sight of the largest rock formation on the Tor.  It is so well recognized that one book likened it to Australia's Ayer's Rock;  I could see why.  I walked among my surroundings and took it all in.

A windy day on Dartmoor.
Rock formations around Hay Tor

"The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet  and olive slopes, sprinkled with granite boulders."-description of Dartmoor by Dr. John Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The major formation on Hay Tor.  A rock climbers delight.

The moor continued to be an experience the following days.  At Hound Tor the rocks seemed to jut out of the ground from every direction.  The wind continued to blow making me wonder why I bothered to brush my hair that morning.  I wonder if it ever calms down.  I look around and decide to pull out one of the main reasons I came--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes--and read passages from the great Dartmoor adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, over 100 years ago.  It was then sitting in the place about which he wrote and seeing what he was describing.  Every word still describes the moor and it gives Dartmoor a sense of timelessness.

Part 2 to follow...