Rio 2016; The Perfect Games for Our Times

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International sport is ‘war minus the shooting’, according to George Orwell.  When reflecting upon the brutality of the 20th century, Orwell may well have been right. Propaganda, wild  national chauvinism, and sport combined to create an international spectacle that vaunted the virtues and superiorities of nations.  The Cold War did little to dampen international one-upmanship and transformed the Olympics turned into a political theatre, a battleground for ideological pre-eminence.  Today viral nationalisms are rare but Orwell’s key observation remains:  the Olympics are an insight into world affairs. Rio de Janeiro was a microcosm of world and national issues; most notably elitism, corruption, and crony corporatism.

One can imagine the IOC’s vision of a Rio Olympics back in 2009; Christ the Redeemer the spectacular backdrop to the cycling; Copacabana the arena  for the beach volleyball,  providing an iconic tableaux for sporting eternity. Brazil’s world-renowned culture – from striking visual art and funk dance parties in the favelas to street dancing – would infuse the Olympics with a raw democratic energy. Brazil could afford the arenas and transportation costs; heralded as one of the BRIC’s, the South American powerhouse was destined for prosperous sunny uplands,  a glorious spectacle and prestigious Olympic debut for the region. In 2016 Brazil would emphatically announce itself into the Pantheon of great world democracies by hosting the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’; the Olympics!

That was the vision, the reality was exceptionally different!  Brazil is an economic, social, and political basket case.  Massive expenditure/budget cuts have decimated public services, universities are on strike, police stations are without stationary and road-worthy vehicles, half-a-million state workers received their wages late, and unemployment is increasing.  Healthcare spending has decreased significantly at a most inopportune time; during the height of the Zika epidemic. The Olympics will fade into insignificance when a generation of children are born with serious deformities.

To  fund the Olympics, the Brazilian federal government undertook a bail-out of the city of Rio de Janiero to the tune of one billion dollars.

To exacerbate this precarious situation there has been an increased prevalence of violence from which not even Olympians were immune. The murder rate for police and citizens is at a record high.

The establishment that oversaw these catastrophes is now embroiled in unprecedented corruption scandals.  Between 2002 and 2008, profits soared in Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras; from $2(US) billion to $19 billion. Since then successive governments have somehow squandered billions of dollars so much so that today Petrobras debt stands at $100 billion. In the greatest political scandal in Brazilian history, politicians siphoned off $2 billion into their own coffers. Instead of distracting the general public the Olympic Games agitated public distrust and scepticism.  The Rio Games  exceeded its $13 billion budget long ago and the final figure is yet to be determined.

Demolition Of Rio Favela Continues Ahead Of Summer Olympics

The Signs of Inequality

Ironically the IOC mirrors Brazil’s political degeneration; they  share a culture of elitism and corruption governed by an entitled capitalist aristocracy. Norway’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid illustrated the dysfunction, decadence and hubris of the organisation. The Olympic Games contract requirements are more akin to requirements of Victorian royalty or a self-indulgent musical diva than to sporting ambassadors. They demanded:

‘to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony; afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception, the drinks should be paid for by the royal palace or the local organising committee; separate lanes shall be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation. A welcome greeting from the local Olympic boss and the hotel manager should be presented in IOC members’ rooms, along with fruit and cakes of the season.’

Asking for your own personal road, is this not the height of megalomania? Donald Trump appears humble in comparison to these self-anointed and sanctified elite.

In many ways, the Ryan Lochte robbery fiasco exemplified this attitude of privileged entitlement. Lochte and his frat house douche bag cronies; too much slang) acolytes believed they could arrive in Rio and treat it as their own. Turning up in a financially broken city, Lochte decided to cause more damage. Taking inspiration from the Simpson’s episode ‘the Simpson’s Go To Brazil’, the American swimmer spun a convoluted yarn about being robbed in a cab at gun-point by assailants dressed as police officers. The  scanty attempt to cover his tracks unravelled quicker than a Taylor Swift relationship. Lochte had actually urinated all over a gas station, kicked off a toilet door, and then, like some 18th century feudal lord, flung some money at a gas attendant in a token effort to offset any inconvenience.

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Homer could Teach Lochte How to Behave

Corruption stained the Rio games well before the opening ceremony. The IOC was guilty of ignoring doping allegations and revelations. Its failure to eliminate Russia for state-sanctioned doping was a dismally toothless response that failed to protect clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympics. The IOC’s inaction was evidently influenced by the possible financial implications of one the largest nations not competing and consequently they abrogated their responsibility by cunningly transferring the final decision to individual sports’ federations.

Predictably, corruption reared its ugly head during the games. In the pocket of Moscow, corrupt boxing judges cost Irish boxer Michael Conlan a gold medal.  Incredibly, Conlan (literally) beat his opponent Vladimir Nikitin so badly he could not compete any further in the Olympics. One would think the IOC would clamp down on such obvious sporting criminality.  Instead of decisive action the IOC passed responsibility onto the boxing federation. Although sent home, the cheats remained anonymous but were neither named nor shamed. Michael Conlan put it best in a tweet, ‘Wow, this says a lot about AIBA, sending judges home who ruin dreams, what happens 2 the ppl whose dreams were ruined?’ The message is clear: Money succeeds principles. Is it any wonder that vast swathes of empty seats were embarassingly visible in so many Olympic arenas? The Olympics is not a symbol of hope but of inequality and injustice.

Rio was the truthful Olympics; the perfect Olympics of our time. The unscrupulous Brazilian politicians that destroyed Brazil emulate the IOC ambassadors that are slowly extinguishing the Olympic flame. They could be twins separated at birth, they have identical features and manners; both are elitists, embroiled in unprecedented corruption scandals that threaten their very existence. We can draw this Olympics out into a global context. The same injustices that fuel Brazilian political discontent and antipathy to the IOC are the same wrongs that charge Trumpism and Brexit. Privileged elites are above accountability grazing in the good-paddock at the public’s expense, while the rest are forgotten. Perhaps many tuned out for this reason; perhaps it was the perfect Olympics for this time in history.

 

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War Dogs Review

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War Dogs is on Target with Performances but Misfires on Meaning

War Dogs is a divergence from Todd Phillips previous work. Mixing elements of Lord of War, Scarface, and the Big Short, Phillips attempts to scrutinise the shadowy world of arms industry with a comedic twist. War Dogs, rather loosely, retells the story of Efram Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), a pair of college drop-outs who make a fortune selling arms to the US government at the height of the War on Terror. Initially, their operation is small, manageable, covert and profitable. Predictably, the stakes rapidly escalate; they stumble into a massive contract selling 100 million AK-47 bullets to the American government. As reason subordinates to greed and power, the house of cards emphatically collapses and a reckoning ensues.

The true story of two confused males rekindling a bromance while ripping off the American government would have been attractive to Phillips; he has form in this field. He directed the Hangover Franchise and Starsky and Hutch, both of which pivot on the interaction and personality clashes of their male characters. This chemistry imbalance often has hilarious consequences; the straight-laced Starsky is corrupted by the free-thinking liberal Hutch; and Bradley Cooper’s Phil Wenneck instigated the moral descent of dentist Dr Price.

On this familiar ground, Phillips looks most comfortable, absurdity and reckless male ego hold War Dogs together. Both characters are directionless but for different reasons. Packouz is completely lost professionally. He works as a masseuse – his sixth position in two years- or as Diveroli likes to say “jacks men off for a living.” He needs a change and the arms trade offers a highway to riches. Diveroli is morally shipwrecked. Bloated, foul-mouthed, racist, vulgar and an unashamed financial braggart he thrives on emotional manipulation and financial exploitation. Jonah Hill is fantastic as this repellent machismo blob. At times his timing on a turn of phrase is deliciously devastating,“we drive all triangles, especially your mums” he tauntingly says to a GI. Packouz’s good-guy persona contrasts well with the despicable Diveroli; we can tell the difference between an individual who with good intentions sleep-walks into iniquity to a wicked, maniacal, miscreant.

Hill Excells as the Loathsome Diveroli

Comedic highlights include a pursuit through the Iraqi Triangle of Death. While under attack from Iraqi insurgents their guide screams “Must go faster! Fallujah bad! Must go faster Fallujah very bad!” to which Packouz incredulously replies “We stopped for fuel in Fallujah, bro?!?” Yes, indeed. Fallujah 08’ was not the site of the bearded craft beer revolution. It’s an absurd Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park moment with a War on Terror twist.

War Dogs is not trying to be an absurd male comedy, however; it’s trying to be a serious movie. In this pursuit, it falls into too many cliched traps. Firstly, violence is juxtaposed with a classic score. In one scene, Hill shoots an AK-47 along to Pink Floyd’s anti-war anthem Wish You Were Here, a contrived copy of Scorcese’s use of Cream or the Rolling Stones in Goodfellas. Teller’s voice over is also too forced. In one example, he calls an arms convention “Comi-con with grenades”; this is a script pleading to be taken seriously, desperately trying to frame the characters as witty raconteurs. Bradley Cooper looks buffoonish as the superstar of the illegal arms trade, Henry Gerard. Adorned with red sunglasses and slick-back hair he looks more like Bono’s evil twin.

Bradley Cooper as Bono's Evil Twin

The problem is clear: War Dogs is trying to be too many things at once to be anything meaningful. When their grand scheme inevitably falls apart the audience is told the duo can again sell guns to the American government in 2022, a development that surprises us, if for the wrong reasons. This statement doesn’t fit in with the trajectory of the movie: suddenly War Dogs is an indictment on the American government and the military industrial complex. For most of the movie, we have been invited to enjoy the journey and laugh with the characters. On shooting for meaning War Dogs misfires badly.