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