Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Shakespeare

The Running Man: One of the less subtle of the late-C20 media-dystopia genre, but an entertaining one. In a faceless totalitarian world borrowed from Soylent Green (and a dozen others), the public are kept in check through edited news media borrowed from 1984 and a violent, entertaining pro-wrestling-style game conceptually based on Rollerball and populated with characters from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; Arnold Schwartzenegger, a policeman with no acting ability who decides that Society Is Wrong, finds himself inevitably forced to participate in said game (scenario borrowed from Year of the Sex Olympics) and also aiding a resistance movement wandering in from Terminator. Where the movie shines is in its shameless use of postmodern irony: by encouraging the viewing public to enjoy the violence of the game, the movie makes them one with the audience members baying for blood, and also ends the story on an ambiguous note which questions whether Schwarzenegger's revolt will change society or be assimilated into the media juggernaut. Ahhh, the 1980s, nobody knew how to have their cake and eat it better than that decade. Co-stars Jesse Ventura, making this the only blockbuster movie I'm aware of to contain no less than two American state governors.

Four Lions: Hilarious black comedy about an inept cell of British would-be jihadis, made all the more biting by the fact that most of the humourous episodes appear to be drawn from real-life stories of domestic terrorism, and taking swipes at Special Branch, politicians, orthodox Islam, university students, mainstream misunderstandings of Muslim culture, and marathon runners in the process. The Daily Mail worried that it would offend Londoners; as a Londoner, I can assure them they're wrong.

O: The success of the Baz Lurman Romeo + Juliet spawned a number of Shakespeare-updated-to-relate-to-modern-teens movies, and this is unfortunately not one of the best. The premise is fine-- the story of Othello, set in a Deep South private prep school with Othello as the star basketball player and sole black student at the school. The problem is that the execution misses out on most of the subtleties of the Shakespeare play: Shakespeare's Othello is not just a warrior, but an intelligent, cultured and well-read man, whereas this movie's iteration simply had him as a dumb jock. Iago, similarly, is one of those Jacobean characters who is less an actual person than a personification of some kind of social force (e.g. Vindice in The Revenger's Tragedy), and simply having him as a psychopathic emo kid with fairly obvious motivations (envy, racism and some father issues) lessened him somewhat. As the movie contains a prep school, a dim blonde, an emo kid and some doves, I found myself regularly reminded of the Literal Total Eclipse of the Heart video.

Movie count for 2010: 78

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fraud, fraud and football

F for Fake: Orson Welles semi-documentary on art fakery. A strange film in that it is totally unlike any other early-seventies film I've seen, and yet somehow manages to feel completely and totally of the period. Extra marks for sweetly charming scenes of Orson Welles performing magic tricks.

Hell Drivers: A rewatch this one, but still entertaining. Although the story is cleverly told (with the crime which the protagonist has committed never being totally revealed to the audience, who are forced to figure it out through hints and allusions, and with the villains' scam being carefully worked out), it carries extra amusement through the fact that most of its cast would go on to be known for far different things. Just ten years later, who would believe a girl would turn down Sean Connery in favour of Stanley Baker? Or that Doctor Who and Number Six had gone in together on a complicated business fraud? Actually, perhaps that one's not so unbelievable.

The Damned United: I'm not a serious football lover so I was surprised when I wound up quite enjoying this movie, a drama based on a true story about Brian Clough, a football manager who specialised at taking poorly-performing teams and turning them around, who gets the chance to manage top-of-the-first-division Leeds United and fails. The characters are well outlined, with no one being terribly likeable and yet everyone's motivations being completely understandable, and the whole thing had the feel of a Greek tragedy rather than Golden Gordon.

Movie count for 2010: 75

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doin' the French Mystique

Gran Torino: Marketed as a "get off mah lawn!" white-old-man's-revenge-fantasy movie, in fact this turns out to be an interesting exploration of race and migration in the Midwest. The initial racism shown by Clint Eastwood's character to his Hmong neighbours is tempered when he finds himself siding with the same neighbours against a Hmong youth gang, and indeed there is the implication in the later stages of the film that the Hmong are simply undergoing the same process of integration that Eastwood's own generation went through (he, and his friends, are all clearly the children or grandchildren of European migrants). The ending is reminiscent of The Shootist and The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, and yet also manages to be anti-violence.

Blazing Saddles: An old favourite of mine, but also part of the general questioning of the Western which took place in the 1960s and early 70s. Where Sergio Leone, at the same time, was showing us a real, more brutal West, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was challenging the genre's boundaries, Blazing Saddles holds the implied racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and general pro-establishment sympathies of the traditional Western up to savage ridicule. That, and it's really funny.

Movie count for 2010: 72

Friday, July 09, 2010

Sound of Silence

The Graduate: A story which uses a minimal plot (young man just out of college and trying to find his way in life sleeps with the wife of his father's business partner and falls in love with her daughter) as an exploration of character, suburban 1960s morality, and social criticism. There is also a further metacriticism in that the two young people's rebellious act in running off together at the end of the story is in fact is exactly what their parents wanted them to do at the start of the story (namely, marry and continue the business dynasty), questioning whether the youth rebellions of the 1960s really were instigating a social change, or just echoing wider patterns of middle-class social reproduction (children are forced into roles by their parents, rebel, but marry people like themselves, and eventually find themselves reproducing their parents' lifestyles and values); Mrs Robinson, after all, no doubt thought she was being rebellious when she slept with her boyfriend as an undergraduate and started this whole mess.

Pale Rider: A disappointing rehash of elements of several much better Westerns (mainly A Fistful of Dollars, High Plains Drifter, Shane and Once Upon a Time in the West), featuring Clint Eastwood as a gun-toting preacher With No Name who comes to the aid of a group of California gold-miners under threat from a local developer who is Evil and engages in environmentally unsound mining practices (no, really, this is an actual plot point). Between the bigging up of the preacher as hero and the simplistic environmental message (hydraulic mining bad, but mining by smashing up rocks and diverting streams perfectly OK, it seems), it appears to have been jointly funded by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Sierra Club.

Brighton Rock: Archetypical British film noir about gangsters in Brighton, which clearly disturbed Brighton Council enough that there's a disclaimer at the start of the film to the effect of "it's not like that anymore, really!" Scarily, it actually is, even now.

Movie count for 2010: 70

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Red King's Dream

Alice in Wonderland: OK, but not really Burton at his best; he seems to be just ticking boxes (Gothic imagery? Check. Childhood imagery? Check. Helena Bonham Carter? Check. Checkerboards? Check) rather than really innovating, and even Johnny Depp lacks his usual sense of madness and just looks like Ronald McDonald after a bad Friday night in Camden. "Alice in Wonderland" is one of those children's stories which lends itself well to adult reinterpretation; the problem is that it's been done before, twice (Dreamchild in 1985 and Něco z Alenky in 1988), both of them bringing a sense of twisted menace and peculiar sexuality which this film is completely missing. Also drags in a linear throughput plot thread which seems to be stolen in equal measures from Dragonslayer and The Wizard of Oz (Alice must slay the Jabberwock and restore the White Queen to the throne, thwarting the evil Red Queen) which Lewis Carroll would hardly have approved of. It passed the time well enough on an eleven-hour flight from Brazil, but I wouldn't have paid money to see it.

Movie count for 2010: 67

End with a Bang

Apologies again for lateness; I've been in Brazil and only just saw this last night.

The Big Bang

Idea Proposed but Not Used in the Davies Era: Ending the Doctor Who universe.
Central Premise Recycled From: Back to the Future.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: River Song borrows the Doctor's "I'm the Doctor, look me up" schtick from "The Forest of Gump," and Moffat borrows his own "the Doctor seeking help from a small girl who is really the person controlling all this" schtick from the same story.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: Amy's parents are a pair of Scottish stereotypes: a tall, ginger-haired and nervy woman married to a short, fat, curly-haired man who's terrible at speeches.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Yep. Amy reconciles her Wuv for Rory and her Wuv for the Doctor, and goes off to have the TARDIS' second long-term polyamorous relationship (don't tell me Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor weren't all at it like knives). The Big Bang, indeed.
Tennant Line: None, but we do get the return of "Geronimo."
Star Wars Bit: A seven-year-old child with a Special Destiny, and a special relationship with some kind of universal force.
Nostalgia UK: The Doctor attempts to channel fellow big-chinned media personality Tommy Cooper by donning a fez, though River and Amy both agree that's a terrible idea.
Teeth!: None!
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: At first I thought the stone Dalek, but then I noticed the prototype figures for the Amy and Rory Get Married gift set placed on top of the wedding cake...
Something Gets Redesigned: The Earth, though one could also count the stone Dalek.
The Crack in the Universe Is: Closed.