A Tribute to Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)

nelson_mandelaThis week, former president, activist, and “father of the nation” Nelson Mandela died in his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. Having spent the last few years battling with failing health, he finally succumbed to a lung infection and passed away, surrounded by his family. He was 95 years of age, and his life and accomplishments reach far beyond the nation that considered him its mentor, leader, and father figure.

Today, in response to the news of his passing, President Zuma has announced a national mourning period of ten days, with the main event being an official memorial service to be held at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on December 10th, 2013. Mandela’s body will lie in state from the December 11th to 13th at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and a state funeral will be held on December 15th.

mandela_southafricaAs current President Jacob Zuma said today of South Africa’s founding President, he was an:

international icon who was a symbol of reconciliation … love, human rights and justice in our country and to the world. The outpouring of love … illustrates the caliber of leader that Madiba was …, The week of mourning will also celebrate a life well lived.

Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, said he was strengthened by the knowledge that his grandfather was finally resting.  He also said that the late statesman was the embodiment of strength, struggle and survival. As a grandfather, Mandela would always be remembered as kind-hearted, generous and wise. Mandla also expressed gratitude for the national and international support his family had received during Mandela’s long health problems.

mandela_RIPIn a statement, the grandson of the elder statesman said the following:

All that I can do is thank God that I had a grandfather who loved and guided all of us in the family. The best lesson that he taught all of us was the need for us to be prepared to be of service to our people… We in the family recognize that Madiba belongs not only to us but to the entire world. The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us.

Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant for almost two decades, said the elder statesman inspired people to forgive, reconcile, care, be selfless, tolerant and to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances. She said in a statement:

His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country, but particularly how we relate to one another.

mandela_tutuIn a church service in Cape Town, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu – another major South African activist and humanitarian who embodies the spirit of reconciliation and tolerance – said the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president would want South Africans themselves to be his “memorial” by adhering to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied.

Recalling how Mandela helped unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, and prepared for all-race elections in 1994, Tutu said that: “All of us here in many ways amazed the world, a world that was expecting us to be devastated by a racial conflagration.” In closing his prayer, Tutu said: “God, thank-you for the gift of Madiba.” Mourners also gathered outside Mandela’s former home on Vilakazi Street in the city’s black township of Soweto.

mandela_deKlerkeAlso speaking of Mandela’s legacy was F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president who negotiated an end to apartheid with Mandela. By finding common cause in often tense circumstances, the two men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In summarizing Mandela’s legacy, de Klerk told eNCA television: “Never and never again should there be in South Africa the suppression of anyone by another.”

Helen Zille, leader of the country’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and premier of the Western Cape, the only province not controlled by the ANC, commented:

We all belong to the South African family — and we owe that sense of belonging to Madiba. That is his legacy. It is why there is an unparalleled outpouring of national grief at his passing. It is commensurate with the contribution he made to our country.

mandela_RIP1Mandela leaves behind a legacy that is virtually unparalleled in modern history, comparable only to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Also known as “Madiba” – a clan name that is considered of greater importance than a surname in Mandela’s ancestral Xhosa culture – Mandela was not South Africa’s first black President, but the first man to be elected in a fully representative election.

Having spent his life fighting against Apartheid, Mandela’s also spent his time as President – from 1994 to 1999 – focusing on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. From 1991 to 1997, he also served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) and was the  Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement – a group of states not aligned to any specific power bloc – from 1998 to 1999.

Nelson-Mandela-by-Eli-Weinberg-1961But what is especially poignant and significant about Mandela’s life is the fact that from 1964 to 1990 (a period of 27 years) he conducted his campaign for reform and racial inclusion from a prison cell. After being arrested for high treason against the government. This was the culmination of many years of agitation and resistance against a government that was becoming increasingly racist and authoritarian, and opposed to the winds of change that had been blowing through the country for years.

Due to his involvement with the ANC and the organization’s adoption of increasingly militant tactics in order to fight against the Nationalist pro-apartheid government, and its institution of martial law, Mandela was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government and made one of his famous “I am prepared to die” speech (inspired by Castro’s “History will absolve me” speech):

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Despite official censorship, this speech and the trial proceedings were broadcast around the world and numerous organizations – including the United Nations and the Word Peace Council – petitioned the South African government for clemency. These were ignored, and Mandela spent the next 27 years in a series of prisons before finally being released in 1990.

ApartheidSignEnglishAfrikaansUpon his release, Mandela went back to advocating against apartheid and found a willing partner in President F.W. de Klerk. Together, and over the course of three years from 1990 to 1993, they dismantled the racialist apparatus of power installed by the Nationalist Party and opened up the franchise to all South Africans. In the 1994 General Election, the first free and open election in South Africa’s history, Mandela ran and won, becoming the first black president in the country’s history.

And despite what many observers and angry Afrikaners believed, that the election of a black president would signal a race war, Mandela presided over a period of peace and reconciliation between all of the nation’s people. Though the transition was not easy and there were bumps along the way, the next five years were marked overwhelmingly by progress and optimism as the country moved towards a truly free and open state.

mandela_lifeFrom all this, Nelson Rolihlahla “Madiba” Mandela has forever been known as a man who defied the odds and remained stalwart in his commitment to improve the lives of his people, regardless of their race, creed, ethnicity, or background. In response to his passing, the Nelson Mandela Foundation – a charity devoted to social justice, peace, human rights and democracy – posted the following message on its website:

It is with the deepest regret that we have learned of the passing of our founder, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – Madiba. The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa will shortly make further official announcements.

We want to express our sadness at this time. No words can adequately describe this enormous loss to our nation and to the world.

We give thanks for his life, his leadership, his devotion to humanity and humanitarian causes. We salute our friend, colleague and comrade and thank him for his sacrifices for our freedom. The three charitable organisations that he created dedicate ourselves to continue promoting his extraordinary legacy.

Many world leaders are expected to converge on South Africa to witness the funeral of this elder statesman and advocate for peace and human rights, amongst them President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They will be joined by people from all over the world who will bear witness to the passing of a man who is sure to be remembered as one of history’s greatest.

Rest in peace Madiba. The world was made better because of your time within it. And we could sure use more people like you as we step into the future!

Sources: cbc.ca, (2), nelsonmandela.org, businessinsider.com

Dredd 2012

dredd_2012_movie-wide-1024x640

Hey all! My apologies for my absence of late, but life has been very busy on the teaching front. Cold season always brings big stretches of busy work, and I’ve been on call steadily for the past three weeks. Luckily, I find myself with a day or two to catch up on other things, and so I decided I’d get back on this horse and start things off right.

Today, I’d like to share a review of a movie I recently enjoyed, the summer remake known as Dredd. Based on the graphic novel Judge Dredd, this movie was an attempt by writer John Wagner and director Pete Travis to reboot the franchise after the semi-disastrous 1995 adaptation that starred Sylvester Stallone.

Though the film failed to recoup its production budget at the box office, which was expected, it was reviewed much more favorably than the original and earned a small following. What’s more, it is expected the movie will continue to gross now that it is released on DVD and will be available on cable and home movie providers.

Synopsis:
dredd-1920x1080-1024x576The movie opens in the streets of Mega City One, a post-apocalyptic urban environment that stretches from Boston to Washington DC. Dredd’s voice provides voiceover, describing the urban environment in all its bloody, crowded, and dirty glory. We then cut to a scene where Dredd (Karl Urban) is pursuing three criminals that have been spotted by an aerial drone. A tense chase ensues, during which time multiple civilians are killed. After taking out their vehicle and chasing the last man into a Block – one of the cities many massive apartment structures – Dredd concludes that the men were carrying a new drug known as Slo-Mo.

dredd_mamaWe then cut to Peach Trees, another major block, where we meet Ma-Ma (Lena Headey). She is a notorious crime boss that runs Peach Trees and is responsible for the manufacture of Slo-Mo, and who is plotting to expand production and bring it to the rest of the city. We get a glimpse into just how ruthless she is when she dispenses justice against three men who have been dealing in their Block and that she decides to make an example of. This consists of skinning them and then dropping from the top floor to the bottom level, but first giving them a hit of Slo-Mo so it will seem imperceptibly long.

dredd-anderson-2Dredd is then called back to the Grand Hall of Justice to inspect a new recruit named Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who is reportedly a psychic. She and Dredd are dispatched to Peach Trees as part of her final evaluation to investigate the dead bodies. After the paramedic examines them, he explains that they all had Slo-Mo in their system, and gives them a rundown on who Ma-Ma is and how she came to be the master of the Block.

They then proceed to the nearest distribution center on the Block and take it down, securing one of Ma-Ma’s men (Kay) in the process. Anderson probes his mind and deduces he was the one who threw the men over the balcony and they decide to take him in for interrogation. When word reaches Ma-Ma, she has her thugs seize control of building security and lock the entire Block down, which consists of external shields closing in around the structure to resist a nuclear blast. All communications with the outside are cut off, and Ma-Ma announces over the PA system that she wants the Judges killed.

dredd_gunsDredd and Anderson begin fighting their way through several groups of armed residents with Kay in tow. Eventually, Ma-Ma orders her men to bring out their greatest weapon, a bunch of Vulcan cannons, and use them to shoot up an entire level. Dredd and Anderson narrowly survive by breaching the outer wall and calling for help, and Dredd then tosses Caleb, one of Ma-Mas henchmen over the balcony in full view of her. Down below, two Judges show up on the scene, but are unable to get through the Block’s sealed walls, and Ma-Ma’s hacker insists this is all part of a security drill.

Retreating to a school house, Dredd concludes that Ma-Ma is desperate to kill Kay to keep him for revealing her secrets and begins beating him. Anderson intervenes and begins mind probing him instead, learning that Peach Trees is the center for the production and distribution of Slo-Mo. Shortly thereafter, Dredd and Anderson are distracted by some armed teens, which allows Kay to kidnap Anderson and escape using the freight elevator to get to the top levels.

Judge Dredd Still ImageDredd continues to work his way towards the top, prompting Ma-Ma to call in four corrupt Judges. They relieve the men at the front, enter without incident, and agree to take down Dredd for one million credits. Meanwhile, Kay attempts to kill Anderson using her gun, and loses his hand in the process. She escapes and begins working her way down, and becomes a target of the crooked Judges as well. Between the two of them, they manage to take out all four and meet up in the Slo-Mo production lab. Dredd is wounded by Lex, the last of the Judges, but Anderson saves him and the two carry on.

After finding Ma-Ma’s hacker, they manage to obtain the code from him to her private cell. Rather than Judge him, Anderson sees that the man only worked for Ma-Ma out of fear, and that she was the one who took his eyes, forcing him to get bionic enhancements. She lets him go, even though Dredd tells her it could result in an “automatic fail”. She responds by saying she was already taken hostage and her gun was confiscated, which is also grounds for an a fail grade, and they move on.

dredd-lena-headey-ma-maThey finally reach Ma-Ma’s cell and take out the last of her men, though Anderson is also wounded in the process. Ma-Ma then tells Dredd she has the upper levels lined with explosives and the detonator is mounted on her wrist. If her heart stops, the device will go off and everyone in the top 50 floors will die. Dredd shoots her in the stomach and responds by saying the he doubts the device has a range that can reach from the ground floor to the top, and Judges her. Sentencing her to death, he gives her a hit of Slo-Mo and tosses her from the balcony. She falls in slow motion to her death, and the building doesn’t blow up.

Convening with reinforcements and paramedics below, Anderson hands her shield to Dredd and walks away. However, when the Chief Judge comes to him and asks how she did, he replied that she passed. The movie then ends with Dredd providing voice over once again, about how the city is a corrupt mess, and the only thing standing between it and total chaos are the Judges.

Summary:
dredd_mega_city_oneConsistent with what I heard in advance, this movie was actually pretty good. And even though it didn’t do well at the box office, the result of the meme working against it, I can see it developing a cult following and becoming something of a personal classic to many in the coming years. Despite some flaws, such as the excessive gore and some self-indulgent special effects, it had some noticeable signs of quality.

For starters, the look and feel of the Megacity environment was pretty awesome. The gritty, grimy nature comes through immediately, and without any of the overdone campiness of the original movie. Rather than shooting it in a massively constructed environment with flying cars and lavish costumes, the movie is shot in Cape Town and Johannesburg and uses real locations as a backdrop and relies on CGI and models only to supplement the already dense and dirty urban environment.

dredd_atriumAnd of course there was the attention to detail with the centerpiece of the movie, the building known as Peach Trees. As a Mega City Block, this building is essentially an arcology where all the basic needs of the residents are taken care of in-house. This includes schools, medical care, food, entertainment, and all of these were illustrated at one point or another in the film. And you’ll notice that in all cases, their was graffiti on the walls, garbage on the floor, and metal bars on everything, signifying just how dirty and dangerous the environments are.

And I really enjoyed the whole “lock down” procedure, which was more than just a convenient plot tool. In a world where nuclear holocaust has already taken place and every Block acts as a self-sustaining arcology, the concept of shield walls was just plain genius in my mind. Visually it was quite cool, but it also made perfect sense and it beautifully illustrated the shock mentality and survivalist instincts that are so common to this world.

Dredd-1And of course the movie was thematically consistent. On the one hand, you had the nature of the city, which was packed to the brim with 800 million people and with a homicide rate of 1700 people a day. Whereas Dredd is the perfect symbol of social fascism in this context, a man who has little faith in people and absolute veneration of the law, Anderson is the bright-eyed rookie who wants to help people and believes there is good to be found, even in an overcrowded block like Peach Trees.

dredd_peachtreesThese archetypes are offset by characters such as Ma-Ma and Lex, the leader of the crooked Judge. As her back story presents it, Ma-Ma is essentially a sociopathic product of the Mega City environment, a former prostitute who killed her pimp after he cut up her face and who has been on a non-stop mission ever since to bring her own sense of order to the city. Lex, meanwhile, is an embittered veteran who has lost all faith in the system and helping people and is simply looking out for number one.

Through it all, Dredd is softened somewhat by his encounter with the corrupt Judges and Anderson’s gentleness. Naturally, his war of ideology with Ma-Ma ends with him taking her out, but not before a long battle of wills takes place. This is exemplified by the way the two dual for control over the hearts and minds of people in Peach Tree. Whereas Ma-Ma uses their fear to obtain their help in hunting Dredd, Dredd fights back with his unflinching dedication to take her down and anybody who gets in the way. Ultimately, Dredd wins in part because Ma-Ma’s insanity and willingness to kill her own convince people to keep out of the way and let Dredd do his job.

JWhat’s more, the movie was well cast. Karl Urban fits the bill as the surly, sour-faced Judge who never shows his face and is never to be found doing anything other than his job. And Thirlby pulls off the role of the green, untested rookie who comes through in the end quite well. And Lena Headey, whom fans know from 300, the Sarah Conner Chronicles, and (best of all) as Cersei Lannister from a the HBO adaptation of A Game of Thrones, was also very convincing as Ma-Ma.

I was surprised really, seeing as how the previews kind of lent the impression that her role was overdone or just too plain evil. But it is a testament to this woman’s ability to act that she pulls off the psychotic crime boss who knows no mercy. Somehow, between her cut up face, evil eyes and bloody grin, you become convinced she was a victim who turned her abuse into complete madness and shouldn’t be messed with! What’s more, Urban’s usual combination of deadpan frowns and monotone voice worked in his favor, much like how Keannu Reeves same combination of method and monotone allowed him to pull of Neo.

dredd_slomoAnd of course, there were the visual effects. There are those who would say that this movie was just an ultra-violent gorefest with overblown special effects. But to that, I’d say it was a lot more genuine that the original, and much of the gore and violence was appropriate given the setting and tone of the movie. Mega City One is a massively overcrowded, decaying cesspool of humanity, where thousands of murders happen a day and human bodies are recycled for food and goods.

Such a place is neither safe nor sanitary, and violence is a constant, pervasive element. And sure, the concept of Slo-Mo may very well have been an excuse to employ some over the top 3D and slow motion sequences. But after watching the movie, I was forced to admit, it was a pretty damn good one! In the end, you can’t help but feel that these two factors are somewhat excessive but still appropriate.

Naturally, the original movie tried to gloss over this since they wanted to give it as wide an appeal as possible. This failed, as much of the material was just too adult for kids, but the tone and feel of it was too cartoony to be taken seriously. Basically, the movie tried to hedge its bets and ended up flopping for it. But this time around, the directors and producers were going for a cult appeal and stuck to their guns, which I have to respect. By aiming for a smaller range of consumers and a less broad appeal, they were able to keep the movie honest and truer to the source material.

In short, I give it a 7.5/10. And man, I want to see more of Mega City One! That urban landscape had a kick-ass art team putting it together! I’d recommend the movie for that much alone, especially to fans of the Blade Runner, urban noire and post-apocalyptic series’, but the rest of the movie is fun watching too. So get it and contribute to the cult following people. The producers still need to recoup their dough!