Ruairidh MacLean

Soane by candlelight

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John Soane was an architect who came to prominence in the late Georgian era. During a career that straddled one of the greatest periods of social unrest in British history, Soane was responsible for a number of iconic neoclassical designs - most notably the Bank of England.

Among them was his house at Lincoln's Inn Fields, where he not only lived and worked, but assembled an incredible collection of antiquities.
The house and its collection were bequeathed to the public in 1833 as Sir John Soane's Museum. On the first Tuesday evening of every month the curators illuminate the collection by candlelight.

Capitalism and the caped crusader

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The success of movies based on iconic "costumed heroes" can hardly have escaped the notice of anybody who has been awake in the past ten years.

As such the endless "rebooting" of these characters is easy to understand. Christopher Nolan may have been excited by Batman's reinvention as the Dark Knight, but not as excited as Warner Bros by the return of at least $372 million for the first movie alone.

The popularity of these film franchises is more difficult to explain, but the sheer overabundance of chiselled vigilantes battering their way through Nazi supervillains and colourful outcasts ought to make us question why the appeal of these films is growing, and what they say about the world that is churning them out.

A strange effect

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Science fiction computer game Mass Effect has won acclaim from critics and gamers alike for its innovative approach to interactive storytelling.

But what is truly exceptional about the game is that it has come under fire, not for programming its supposedly squishy-brained audience with violent behaviour, but for promoting same-sex romance.

The controversy arose when producer Electronic Arts (EA) was inundated with messages condemning the "homosexual content" of its games. A number of EA titles were targeted, but it's the final chapter of the Mass Effect trilogy which particularly captured the frenzied imagination of homophobes. Predictably, "family" and "faith" groups were quick to turn the affair into a media circus.

Playing the Empire's game

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Computer games are now a massive industry, with a huge reach into many people's lives. Ruairidh MacLean discusses the political significance of some recent games and asks how socialists should engage with this expanding cultural industry

Not long ago video games were seen as being exclusively the refuge of children and of men unable to escape their childhoods. Perhaps little has changed, but the huge profits recorded by the industry over the last decade have proved, if nothing else, that for many video games have become a medium of choice. Moreover, games like Braid and Penumbra have proven that, even when commercial, games can still present challenges that test not only players' reflexes, but the nature of the medium itself and even the society that has produced it.

Inside Job

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Director: Charles Ferguson, Release date: 18 February

Inside Job, aided by the voice of Matt Damon, provides a rigorous assault on the complexities of the financial sector and aims at penetrating the crisis that broke in 2008. To some extent, the first half suffers from the turgid nature of this material, but should ultimately be lauded for patiently unravelling its mysteries for a lay audience.

Of Gods and Men

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Director Xavier Beauvois, From 3 December

Focused on the austere lives of a small monastic community in mid-1990s Algeria, Of Gods and Men dramatises the days leading up to the real-life tragedy that saw seven of their order taken hostage and eventually killed in mysterious circumstances. The film concerns itself primarily with the monks' choice to remain at Tibhirine at a time when foreigners were coming under attack from paramilitary groups. In the process it calls on us to consider the nature of communalist violence and the meaning of community itself.

The Ghost

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Director: Roman Polanski, Release date: 16 April

There is much the viewer will find familiar in Roman Polanski's The Ghost, adapted for screen with the aid of author and screen writer Robert Harris. The fallen prime minister facing investigation by The Hague for war crimes, desperate to control his legacy, his every move dogged by angry protesters; the anguished father whose son died in his "illegal war"; the foreign secretary who opposes his own government. These could be newspaper headlines from almost any week in the last decade.

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