Fill Your Heart with French Fries: dark comedy about grief, social media celebrity and exploitation

Tamar Glezerman, “Fill Your Heart with French Fries” (2016)

Based on an actual incident in China, in which a woman jilted by her boyfriend ended up staying a week at her local KFC outlet, this comedy short is at once sad, sometimes bitter, a little bit too cute and biting in its social commentary. It seems at once profound in its examination of the nature of grief, particularly in exploring how dealing with grief needs time, a sympathetic ear and even rational examination to come to acceptance and only then can the grieving person face life and move on. At the same time the film appears a little shallow in how it addresses the way society itself deals (or not) with grief and other significant and complicated emotions, and its playing time of 20 minutes ends up wearing quite thin.

Emma (Lindsay Burdge) is rejected by her girlfriend Amy at a FryBaby’s outlet; too depressed to do anything and in obvious shock, the young woman lingers at the table for several days and nights. An employee, Samantha (Auri Jackson), takes pity on Emma and offers her free food while fellow employee Craig (Scott Friend) takes photos of Emma and uploads them to social media platforms where her plight captures the attention of hundreds, if not thousands, of viewers. Before long, Emma becomes the cynosure of all eyes at the FryBaby’s outlet and on social media. Two women surreptitiously film her. An evangelist takes advantage of Emma’s downbeat state to try to preach the gospel. An acquaintance tells Emma to go home, look after herself and “move on”. A salesman makes a proposition to sponsor her if she will promote an eccentric anti-romance product. In the end, a police officer (Tom O’Keefe) shows some sympathy and compassion for Emma’s feelings and a little boy (Finn Douglas) unwittingly shows her how to get out of her depressed fug.

Burdge does good work in conveying Emma’s grief without overacting and the general tone of the film is respectful in its handling of the grieving process. It is not quite so good in dealing with the parade of people who impinge on Emma’s grief and mourning, and the social issues that arise with each and every intruder are toyed with briefly and in a shallow way. Evangelical religion and the way in which it preys on vulnerable people get short shrift, as do commercial exploitation and social media voyeurism. Only the police officer breaks a stereotype about the nature of law enforcement by refusing to arrest Emma for loitering or trespass. The film reaches a surreal level once the small boy starts addressing Emma. While Emma is eventually able to come to a resolution and resolve her problem, the way in which this process is initiated seems unreal and too tidy.

The world in which Emma’s dilemma plays out seems rather bleak, which adds to the bitter atmosphere of the film, and when she finally leaves the fast food outlet, she steps into an environment that seems even more sterile and uncaring, with dog poo left on the pavement and snow that the local authorities should have removed still on the street.

Little character development occurs and viewers are not privy to Emma’s feelings and emotions beyond what is conveyed on her face, leaving the protagonist blank and flat at the end of the film. Nevertheless there is potential for a full-length movie out of this film: a definite character study could be done and each new encounter the protagonist has while in the fast food outlet could be the basis of a sub-plot or an examination of an aspect of modern life.

Trunk Space: familiar and predictable story and plot elements redeemed by good performances

Max Silver, “Trunk Space” (2016)

As surely as the sun rises in the east, birds fly in the sky and fish swim in the oceans, so also do films that begin with two people driving through a barren desert and stopping to collect a strange hitch-hiker turn out to be terror-filled affairs in which one of the people in the car turns out to be a serial killer. So begins director Max Silver’s short film “Trunk Space”, in which best girl buddies Anna (Jessica Jade Andres) and Priss (Kate Krieger) are fleeing dreary work lives in the eastern US on a road trip holiday to California in their car, and are flying along a lonely highway in the Nevadan desert. They talk about all the guys they’ve seen and picked up along the way. They notice a guy (Jordan Turchin) standing next to a car that’s run out of gas and Anna offers him a lift over Priss’s objections. While Anna and the stranger make eyes at each other while Anna drives, Kate fumes in the back seat and fiddles with the stranger’s bag – she finds women’s bracelets inside. The conversation between the women themselves and between the stranger and the women becomes ever more tense and starts to take a weird and dark turn when the stranger, prompted by Kate’s discovery of an odd tattoo on his neck, tells the women a strange story about wolves. Finally the stranger takes control of the situation by telling Anna that she should have listened to Kate in the first place.

With most of the plot taking place in the car, the tension and mystery arise from the conversation and the conflict between Anna and Kate over the stranger’s presence. A familiar horror story feeding on familiar elements – two friends fleeing the city for unknown reasons for a supposed paradise, the friends falling out over an intruder who then manipulates their strained relationship, the stranger’s mysterious past – is refreshed by good performances from the three actors. The tension is heightened when Kate discovers on her mobile phone news that police have found decapitated bodies along the highway they are travelling.

As a result, when the plot twist comes, it does hit the viewer quite hard even though the viewer can guess what is about to happen. Now we realise what happened to the men Anna and Kate had picked up on their trip earlier and whom they rejected, and we also now know why they are fleeing to California. The plot twist is done very deftly and quickly, and before we know it, the two girls are on their way again and the film ends there and then.

The film is rather repetitive and drags on a bit too long which results in some over-acting from Andres and Krieger. Better dialogue, hinting at dark secrets in all characters’ pasts, perhaps a history of abuse for one character, or some desultory conversation about how the police are hunting for a murderer and Turchin’s character answering to the description of the man being pursued, might have strengthened the plot and made the film even more tense and horrifying. If the film had been made as part of a proposal to movie studios for a longer film, the bean counter executives would have been wise to ask Silver for a stronger and deeper concept

Last Requests: quiet naturalistic character study gives insight into US prison culture and the people it exploits

Courtenay Johnson, “Last Requests” (2017)

A sombre character study of a prison worker on her last day in a program that supplies last-request meals to death row inmates just before their executions, “Last Requests” explores and questions the inner lives and motives of people who in their own small ways maintain the prison system in Texas, sometimes with humanity and sometimes not. Widowed Maggie (Dale Dickey) prepares a roast chicken with all the trimmings for a death row prisoner who is to be executed for the mass murder of young children. She lovingly washes, marinates and cooks the bird, and arranges the food neatly on the tray while her co-workers (Lindsay Pulsipher and Michael Abbott Jr) ridicule what she is doing and tell her the inmate does not deserve any kindness or sympathy for what he has done. She persists anyway, telling the co-workers of how her husband was denied a proper last meal in the hospital where he died of an incurable condition. The roast chicken dinner is eventually taken to the prisoner who rejects it.

Through their conversations about the prisoner and his crime, the ending of the last meals request program, and how long Maggie herself has worked in the program (30 years), viewers come to see how Maggie needs the program to justify her own worth in a society that is otherwise indifferent to her existence as well as to the existence of those it spurns. It becomes apparent that she cooks as much for herself as she does for the prisoners she defends to her co-workers. When one co-worker reminds her that young children killed by the inmate deserve consideration, Maggie is at a loss for words. Does she regret never having had any herself? Are the prisoners a substitute for the children she never had? When the roast chicken dinner is returned to the kitchen, Maggie is devastated: could this mean that she finally realises that the system she has served faithfully for 30 years has always taken her for granted and has always treated her as something less than human?

The actors’ performances are naturalistic and the general tone of the film is minimal and subdued. Interspersed with kitchen scenes are scenes of the death row inmate being prepared for his execution by prison guards and taken to the execution room where he will be injected with poisons. In its own way the film is a quiet observer and commentator of US prison culture and its disregard for the people who work in the prison industry and the prisoners the industry processes.

The Incident at Benghazi: a good summary of an ambitious diplomat’s career bites off more than it can chew

Carlton Meyer, “The Incident at Benghazi” (31 July 2020)

As short reports go, this one on the lynching death of US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens by terrorists in Benghazi, eastern Libya, in September 2012 is a real eye-opener which all but leaves viewers hanging off a cliff (figuratively of course but it sure feels real) as it concludes with Hillary Clinton as US State Secretary before a Congressional hearing in 2015 denying her involvement in the trafficking of weapons and jihadists to Libya from the Middle East (and beyond) to overthrow the Gadhafi government in late 2011 and then from Libya to Syria once Colonel Gadhafi was dead and gone. From the get-go, this film gets stuck into business: Chris Stevens is revealed as having volunteered to participate in overthrowing the Libyan government in 2011; he travels to Libya secretly on a Greek cargo ship with CIA help and starts directing operations in Benghazi to bring illegal supplies of weapons into Libya and to coordinate jihadist attacks on the Libyan army. After the Libyan government’s downfall, Stevens becomes US ambassador to Libya and moves to Tripoli to oversee the shipment of weapons to Syria to bring down that nation’s legitimate government. In September 2012, Stevens goes to the Benghazi consulate – revealed as not an actual consulate but more like two sets of buildings put together into one compound – where he and other Americans are surprised by terrorists who bomb the compound, capture Stevens and take him away. He is later found in a dreadful state by local Libyan people who take him to a hospital where he dies.

Contrary to the MSM view of Stevens as a hero, Stevens is revealed to be as much a criminal as others including Hillary Clinton in organising the overthrow of the Libyan government and then targeting the Syrian government for overthrow. When details of this elaborate plan, known as Operation Timber Sycamore and operated under CIA auspices, become known, arms contractor Marc Turi who had been selling arms to Qatar (which then supplied these arms to jihadis in Libya) is blamed and charged with illegally supplying weapons to Libya. The charges against him are later dropped in the dying days of US President Barack Obama’s second administration in 2016 when the case against points towards Hillary Clinton’s involvement and her use of an unsecured mail server to conduct government business.

The video does a good job of covering Chris Stevens’ criminal participation in the US government and CIA plot to overthrow Colonel Gadhafi and bring down Africa’s most prosperous country. Where it goes awry in trying to bite off more than it can chew in just under 11 minutes is when it gets bogged down in Clinton’s Congressional hearing where she is questioned by US Senator Rand Paul. After this little episode the video ends very abruptly leaving viewers wondering what actually came out of these hearings, other than that Clinton somehow escaped jail-time and was able to start campaigning for the US Presidency in 2016.

A much longer documentary is needed to cover Chris Stevens’ career as “US ambassador to Libya”, in particular how he used his post as a diplomat as a cover for helping to destroy Libya and then Syria, and how ultimately the US government in its own way abandoned him and others at the Benghazi compound by not properly securing it and thus enabling a terrorist attack to take place there. For the time being, this installment in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series will have to do, informative though it is as an introduction to the subject of US-coordinated regime change in Libya. If there is a moral to the story of Chris Stevens and his death, the moral is that people who agree to work for the US government and the CIA in dangerous work for money and career advancement, as Stevens did, are walking into a Faustian trap from which they will be lucky to escape with their lives. Stevens was not one of the lucky ones.

The American Annexation of Okinawa: an overview of the post-1945 history of the Ryukyu Islands under the US military

Carlton Meyer, “The American Annexation of Okinawa” (Tales of the American Empire, 24 July 2020)

In a little over ten minutes, this documentary presents a good overview of the history of Okinawa under US domination since the 1940s. Essentially the US saw the Ryukyu Islands, lying in an arc from the southwestern islands of the Japanese archipelago all the way to Taiwan, and with Okinawa the largest island smack-bang in the middle of these islands, as an ideal spot to park a massive military base so as to contain China and the Soviet Union, should those countries ever contemplated moving their militaries into Western Pacific maritime territories. To this end, the US not only occupied Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands, to the dismay of local Okinawans hoping for independence from Japan, but also in building its military base on Okinawa and some years later returning Okinawa and other Ryukyu Islands territory to Japan so as to maintain control over the base since Japan’s Constitution forbade that country to build up its armed forces beyond what is necessary for self-defence. The continuing occupation of Okinawa by US forces has had serious consequences for the island chain’s security: as the film notes, stalking, raping and murdering young local women and girls seem to be a common pastime of US soldiers stationed in Okinawa and other parts of eastern Asia where there are US military bases.

Using historical film archives, detailed maps, videos and photographic stills, this film lays out a case for withdrawing all US troops from Okinawa and returning them all to the United States where they might be of better use. The money required to keep military bases in far-flung parts of the planet surely must be a drain on US taxpayers’ money. As in other parts of the world, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, the presence of US troops seems to increase the possibility of outright violence and lessen the likelihood that real freedom and democracy might one day thrive in Okinawa and the Ryukyu islands. The use of visual aids to illustrate narrator Meyer’s points is done well.

The local people’s reactions to US military occupation look quite feisty on film, no matter what the age of the video is. It is probably a pity that Meyer did not include any interviews with Okinawan local people who could have offered their opinion of the impact that US troops have on the Ryukyu Islands, and what should be done. Some of them surely would have proffered their opinions on the movements of jet fighters and other military equipment around the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, and the behaviour of US soldiers. At any rate, Meyer is firmly of the opinion that the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa particularly belong to the local Ryukyu Island people, and not to the US or to Japan, implying that the islands should be independent. Given the value of the islands to the US as a launch-pad for future invasions of the eastern Asian mainland, the Ryukyuan people need all the support they can get to achieve independence or at the very least self-autonomy.

Chappaquiddick: character study deprived of its wider historical background and significance

John Curran, “Chappaquiddick” (2017)

A thoughtful and well-acted film, as the metonym title suggests, this work revolves around the drowning tragedy of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick island, Massachusetts, in July 1969 while participating in a reunion of former political aides to US Senator Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy who had been assassinated a year earlier while campaigning for the US Presidency in Los Angeles. Kopechne had been riding in a car driven by Kennedy’s younger brother Edward, known as Ted, himself a senator for Massachusetts and under consideration (and pressure) from the Democratic Party to run for the Presidency in 1972 against incumbent Richard Nixon, when the car sped off a wooden bridge and plunged into the water that surrounded Chappaquiddick. Edward Kennedy escaped from the car as it sank but Kopechne, apparently asleep in the car’s backseat, drowned.

All the action in the film takes place over a period of roughly seven days from Friday, 17 July 1969, to Friday, 24 July 1969, and the film divides into seven or eight chapters based on the significant events that happen on each day. In its first half-hour, the film deals with the reunion of Kopechne (Kate Mara) and her fellow “Boiler Room Girls”, Robert Kennedy’s 1968 campaign aides, all brought together by Edward Kennedy (Jason Clarke) in the hope of persuading them to work on his 1972 Presidential campaign, running up to the accident and Kopechne’s drowning. The rest of the film deals with the fall-out from the tragedy and how Edward Kennedy, his close aides Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), and the Kennedy family and its immediate supporters and advisors confront that fall-out and work with it – or against it.

Edward Kennedy comes across as the spoilt youngest son of a formerly powerful and not at all pleasant patriarch Joe Kennedy Sr (Bruce Dern) who is regarded as something of a black sheep yet is also expected to carry the legacy of his three older brothers, of whom the eldest died in World War II and the other two died by assassination, and become US President. In awe of his father, crippled by stroke though the old man is, Edward delays reporting the accident to the police in spite of his aides’ advice and spends much of the film trying to save his own skin and escape responsibility for the accident and the legal punishment he must face.

In a significant scene, Edward Kennedy is confronted by a virtual war council of men-in-black spin doctors and advisors led by former US defence secretary Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) who craft out a strategy aimed at minimising the damage of Kopechne’s drowning and the legal consequences (a possible manslaughter charge and the prison sentence that came with it) to Kennedy and his family. This scene illustrates how far the Kennedy family was prepared to go to shield its youngest son and the one remaining hope for the US Presidency from the consequences of his drink-driving actions. Through this scene, the calculating, manipulative and ruthless nature of US politics and its effects on a leading political family – and by implication, other families closely associated and involved with US national politics – are revealed.

Clarke does convincing work as the troubled Edward Kennedy, forced to carry a burden he should never have had to carry and at a loss as to his place and purpose in the world (let alone US national politics), and wavering between conflicting advice from his aides, of whom Gargan also happens to be his cousin, and his frightful father. Dern is excellent as Joe Kennedy Sr, conveying the old man’s terrifying presence in just a few words of dialogue while stuck in a wheelchair. Helms and Gaffigan are also good as Edward Kennedy’s conscience, fallible though they are. Mara portrays Kopechne as an intelligent young woman, with the result that Kopechne’s death becomes all the more tragic, that such a person with the brains, talent and experience she has should have been thoughtlessly abandoned to die, and then after death treated as an inconvenience to be brushed aside.

The film’s low-key and sober style may be very underwhelming for a mainstream audience and its subject matter may not mean anything for American viewers for whom even Bill Clinton (US President from 1992 to 2000) is just another historical figure. Strangely the wider social and political context in which the Chappaquiddick incident and its repercussions for Edward Kennedy, and the Kennedys generally, take place is completely removed from the film; viewers will get no sense of the rivalry existing between President Nixon and the Kennedys, or of the ongoing Vietnam War at the time, and be able to relate those events to the current rivalry between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and the ongoing wars in their various forms (actual physical war, cyber wars, propaganda wars among others) being prosecuted by the US in Afghanistan, Syria and other parts of the world.

The fact that the Chappaquiddick incident and its aftermath seem to take place in a world divorced from the real world of the US in the late 1960s, and that such a separation effectively alienates the incident from those who most need to know it and learn from it, and to understand something of the nature of US politics in the way it shields certain people and throws away others like Kopechne as if they were no more than used paper napkins, is a major fault on the director’s part. Without this wider context, the film loses historical value and is likely to be used to demonise Edward Kennedy’s character now that he is dead and his legacy as a US Senator for Massachusetts for nearly 50 years recedes into faded memory.

Breaking an individual to intimidate others in “Not In Our Name: The Psychological Torture of Julian Assange”

John Furse, “Not In Our Name: The Psychological Torture of Julian Assange” (July 2020)

Making good use of archived video material and photographs, current news reels and interviews with mental health experts and former Ecuadorian diplomatic personnel, this timely documentary makes an excellent case for investigative journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange having been harassed, humiliated and bullied over the past decade, not just by governments but also by media outlets that turned on him, to the extent that his treatment past and present constitute torture as defined by the UN. The film looks at various forms of known psychological torture and applies UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer’s definition of the phenomenon to Assange’s case, using examples to demonstrate its argument.

The video is broken up into segments on the basis of the various types and characteristics of psychological torture. In each segment that deals with a particular aspect of such torture, the film finds an example in Assange’s life that conforms to the characteristics of a type of mental torture, such as learned helplessness and hopelessness, constant slander of his reputation, and sensory deprivation and isolation. Many such examples in Assange’s life turn out to conform to several different types of torture at once: trashing his reputation, impugning him as a rapist and narcissist, is not so very different from actual physical isolation and alienation. Constant fear and anxiety about your place in society, and whether people might be inclined to be hostile, even violent towards you, can have a huge bearing on your physical health. At the time this video was made, Assange was being held at Belmarsh Prison in London, itself hit hard by the SARS-CoV-2 disease and there are very real fears that he is extremely susceptible to the disease’s worst ravages due to his psychological state having an impact on his physical health.

The film does its homework very well, interviewing a former Ecuadorian diplomat, and following Assange’s biological father John Shipton to rallies and Nils Melzer at conferences. Clinical psychologist Lissa Johnson, a strong supporter of Assange, puts forward powerful arguments that Assange’s treatment by Swedish and British authorities amount to bullying and psychological torture – and physical torture to boot, as constant stress, anxiety and fear about what the future will bring combine to lower a person’s immunity to disease in the long term. Most interviewees are very co-operative and willing to be interviewed about Assange and what he is supposed to have done or engaged in.

The video runs at a steady pace, not too slow or too fast, and viewers will get a clear view of just how determined the US and UK governments are to make an example of Julian Assange, how prepared they are to harass him and break his body and his spirit, to intimidate other journalists and reporters and force them to self-censor and stay away from questioning authority and speaking truth to power. By exposing UK / US imperialism in all its ugliness and viciousness through his work in leading Wikileaks and publishing information provided by sources such as Chelsea Manning (herself subjected to past torture and present harassment), Assange crossed an invisible red line for which he is being punished constantly. John Furse has made a very impassioned work whose importance cannot be doubted.

The Power of Falun Gong: a timid presentation of a dangerous and deranged fascist cult

“The Power of Falun Gong” (Foreign Correspondent, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 21 July 2020)

Purporting to be an expose of Falun Gong’s activities as a secretive religious organisation with very disturbing cult-like tendencies, and its promotion of current US President Donald Trump during the 2020 US Presidential election year, this episode of Foreign Correspondent ends up flogging the organisation with a light feather. A very brief sketchy survey of how the cult arose in China in the early 1990s starts the program, with very little information about how the cult’s founder Li Hongzhi began the organisation or about his background prior to becoming a government clerk. The program claims that Li’s ability to rally thousands of Chinese to his cult, using a mix of Buddhist and Daoist ideas that include taijiquan exercises and meditation practice along with Scientology-style beliefs about aliens coming to Earth and conservative politics, was what led the Chinese government to outlaw Falun Gong and persuade Li Hongzhi to flee to the United States. (Another source I read says the Chinese government shut down Falun Gong for persuading its followers to abstain from medical therapies and rely entirely on meditation and conforming to Li’s teachings to recover from illness. This is backed up at this blog here.)

Skipping from interviewing a young defector from the Falun Gong cult, whose mother raised her in its beliefs, to a family who lost their grandmother to the cult whose teachings on shunning medicine led to the grandmother’s death, the program presents some very heart-rending stories in a superficial way. We do not learn how the defector managed to make her own way in the world after leaving the cult and her mother. Reporter Eric Campbell meets two activists living in upstate New York, where the cult has built a huge compound that continues to grow and devour local properties, who are campaigning against Falun Gong’s greed to acquire more land and build more structures that violate local environmental laws and building safety codes; but even the activists’ story is dealt with in a vague way. We never learn if they and their followers have ever won a lawsuit against Falun Gong or managed to have much influence on their own communities and others beyond their area.

The last and most interesting part of the documentary concerns Falun Gong’s media empire, known as The Epoch Media Group, centred around flagship newspaper The Epoch Times and its increasing forays into social media platforms and advertising on Facebook. The report looks at how Falun Gong companies and websites create false social media identities and accounts on Facebook, often for the purpose of astroturfing (running fake grassroots campaigns with support from fake accounts). Unfortunately the program fails to ask where the money comes from to finance The Epoch Media Group and other media and entertainment-related groups such as the Shen Yun Dance Company, and other activities. At least the source I referred to earlier comes to my rescue with the revelation that Falun Gong’s media empire and other operations, including its compound in New York state, are funded by the US government and its agencies (possibly including the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy) which use the cult as a de facto attack-dog propaganda outlet.

Foreign Correspondent significantly fails to connect Falun Gong’s support for Donald Trump with its worldview which believes the End Times are close by and that Trump is a divinely inspired warrior committed to ending Communism in China. How the program could have missed this damning aspect of a cult says much about its mealy-mouthed and timid approach in covering the organisation, such that Falun Gong comes over as an eccentric cult with a reclusive leader, instead of the dangerous and deranged fascist front for the US government it actually is. At the end of the day, the producers of Foreign Correspondent and the reporters who work for the program must ask whether flaying a dangerous cult like Falun Gong, which happens to be anti-Communist, lightly with a feather is more moral than lambasting China for having a style of government and a particular political ideology that its people want but which the West fears and resents.

The False Tale of Killing Osama bin Laden: duping the public with fake news for political gain

Carlton Meyer, “The False Tale of Killing Osama bin Laden” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 February 2020)

This short documentary makes a succinct case for the assassination of Saudi militant / founder and leader of global terrorist organisation Al Qa’eda Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in April 2011 as a staged stunt designed and timed to boost US President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects in the 2012 US Presidential election year. It notes that the official US government account of how a bunch of helicopters ferrying US Navy Seals members to the secret compound where bin Laden and his wives supposedly lived is full of holes. The video points out that two of the helicopters used in the raid would have been vulnerable to being shot down by people using MANPADs while the prospective assassins were rappelling down their ropes into the compound. The video notes that the compound would have been guarded by dogs that the American raiders would have had to kill to get inside. Neighbours waking up at the noise would have called police and the Pakistani police would have brought in the military. Indeed, since Pakistan was also after bin Laden, why was Pakistan completely left in the dark about the raid, and why was a joint US-Pakistani operation to arrest bin Laden and bring him to justice never organised?

The video also notes that bin Laden was most likely already dead some years before the 2011 Abbottabad raid. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told a BBC interviewer of bin Laden’s death back in 2007; sometime after that interview, Bhutto herself died in a bomb attack on her car. (There is the possibility that after blurting out news of bin Laden’s demise publicly, Bhutto made herself a target for assassination.) Even as early as 2002, the then US President George W Bush appeared unconcerned about bin Laden still at large, so it is likely that the Saudi fugitive was already dead, given his frail health and need for regular renal dialysis in a country (Afghanistan) where such treatment may be expensive and inaccessible for the majority of people, let alone a Saudi foreigner.

The video concludes by noting that US foreign policy is based on lies, propaganda and where appropriate (to its interests) denial and projecting denial onto others. A clip of former CIA director / current US State Secretary Mike Pompeo admitting publicly that the CIA regularly lies is shown. When so many US government institutions and agencies are deeply corrupt to the extent of fabricating stories, twisting facts and trusting in the ignorance of their general public audiences to advance their agendas in the dissemination of false news and disinformation, is it any wonder that people have reason to distrust this particular tale about the death of Osama bin Laden, especially when the official government account can easily be taken apart and shown for the fairy story it is?

Azarkant: a good-looking sci-fi piece short on plot and character

Andrey Klimov, “Azarkant” (2013)

Made as a proof-of-concept piece for a film, “Azarkant” understandably is short on plot and character to the extent that it plays like a generic sci-fi piece in which all the old “hard science” stereotypes appear. A group of cosmonauts on a 10-year voyage in space, their mission being to find planets capable of supporting life, come across an abandoned spaceship and investigate. One of the cosmonauts finds naught but human remains, even an old astronaut’s uniform, suggesting that this spaceship indeed has been floating in space for decades if not hundreds of years. The cosmonaut is ambushed by a robot whose last order is to kill every living being it finds. After a hard fight in which the cosmonaut finally disposes of the robot, he descends to a lower level of the abandoned spaceship where he finds a human body stored in liquid in an incubator.

There’s really no plot to speak of, and the film is remarkable mainly for creating a distinct sinister atmosphere in emphasising shadows, darkness and the barest hints that something dreadful occurred on the abandoned spaceship long ago. The cosmonaut shines his torch onto the surfaces of the spaceship’s interiors to partly reveal skeletal remains and a dead astronaut slumped against a wall. Tension slowly builds through the film as the cosmonaut investigates further, only for him to be suddenly sidelined by the creaky robot. The fight is massive though brief – but the tension itself starts to build again when the cosmonaut resumes his mission and falls through a floor into a deeper level.

The animation is very good, appearing three-dimensional, and seems almost realistic. There is little dialogue and the cosmonaut and robot express their characters through their movements. The cosmonaut seems hesitant, nervous at first, but bravely carries out his mission. The film’s conclusion may be open-ended; it seems that the cosmonaut is approaching a new, more sinister and powerful enemy posing as a human, or the body’s reaction to his presence may be nothing more than reflexive and instinctive.

At least the film looks good and has much visual technical detail, as there is not much more one can say in its favour.