Friday, January 28, 2011

Seal of approval

The Seventh Seal: Ninety-minute-long metaphor for the brevity and absurdity of life and the randomness and inevitability of death.

The Big Heat: Film noir ostensibly about a good cop trying to put away a well-connected mobster amid a web of corruption. However, it's directed by Fritz Lang, who can't resist putting a slight shadow of ambiguity over said cop's morality-- specifically, whether the vengeful actions engaged in by a gangster's wronged girlfriend at the climax of the movie were her own idea, or whether the cop manipulated her into it.

Goodfellas: Sort of like a cross between "Mean Streets" and "Casino," a morality tale which follows the career of a mobster from his first entry into crime in the 1950s through to the catastrophic implosion of his criminal network in the 1980s. Predictably good performances all around, but particular credit to Joe Pesci, who is simultaneously funny and terrifying.

Movie count for 2011: 11

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fridge moment

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Possibly my second-favourite film of the series, because it does for the 1950s what Raiders did for the 1930s, presenting us with a kind of collective unconscious of the decade while playfully riffing through the films of the period. An example: the Nuking of the Crystal Fridge not only plays like a knowing parody of the nuclear-test footage I reviewed earlier (watch them and you'll see what I mean), but also reads less like an accurate portrayal of the nuclear tests than like the contemporary mythologising of them: there was no "town" in the desert, but certain government propaganda films made out that there was, and hiding in the fridge is if anything less daft than some of Bert the Turtle Says Duck and Cover's suggestions for how to survive a nuclear blast. Also continues some of the playful self-parody of Crusade, for instance Indy referring to the Bhagavad Gita inaccurately as the "Hindu Bible" (suggesting he knows a lot less about Hinduism than he thinks). The film also has a huge unacknowledged debt to Quatermass and the Pit. My three main problems with it are that: 1) the Cate Blanchett character should have continued for another few films (heck, scrap Indy and give Spalko her own series-- Irina Spalko and the Men Who Stare at Goats, now that's a sequel); 2) the father issues are much more conventionally played than in Crusade, and 3) I still think models are better than CGI. Though it mostly worked OK here.

Movie count for 2011: 8

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Parenting issues

Juno: Non-judgmental, unsentimental yet upbeat tale of teenage pregnancy, which consequently felt believable. The film doesn't sentimentalise Juno's condition (binge-eating, hormonal surges, constipation, plus the most amazingly distended pregnancy prosthetic I've seen in a movie), but at the same time doesn't make it out to be some kind of punishment for her misdeeds (Juno's parents are disappointed in her but supportive, and the ending of the film implies that Juno will go on to an otherwise-normal late adolescence and early adulthood), while adoption and blended families are given a good press. The gradual unfolding of the characters of the adoptive parents, also, is touchingly done, and the whole thing is a portrayal of flawed, but generally good, human beings which, well, the whole family can enjoy.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: I was looking forward to this as it was my favourite of the trilogy when I was a kid, but found it a little disappointing this time round. Although much, much better than the second film, it is mostly a rehash of the first, with a few changes rung on it for variety. It's a good film for a game of spot-the-thesp (can you find Ronald Lacey among the Nazis?) and has some good lines; even the father issues worked fairly well as Spielberg plays them almost like knowing self-parody (although there were one or two cloying bits towards the end). However the film referencing is much thinner on the ground (mostly coming in the witty casting of an actress with a strong resemblance to Lauren Bacall as the treacherous Nazi Dr Schneider), and most of it felt fairly tick-the-boxes to me (quest for Judaeo-Christian mythological object? Check. Nazis played by Brits? Check. Dieselpunk-style souped-up Thirties techno-porn? Check. High-larious scene indicating what a terrible teacher Indy is? Check). Still, I've spent worse evenings. Next: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Nuclear Fridge.

Movie count for 2011: 7

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Repeated Meme: A Christmas Carol

Must... resist... temptation to make "Jump the Shark" jokes...

Idea Proposed and Used to Death in the Davies Era
: Christmas specials. Gratuitously Christmassy Christmas specials. With snow. Which, unfortunately, look really stupid when they get repeated on BBC3 in July.
Central Premise Recycled From: Go on, guess. Though they're also ripping off Blade Runner visually. Oh, and Torchwood's episode "To the Last Man" (look it up, I'm not summarizing it for you). And "Voyage of the Damned", of all things. And Amy and Rory's outfits are clearly Make Do and Mend.
Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: Where to start, where to start...? The Doctor forming a relationship with an adorable moppet in the past and also with the same moppet as a grownup in the future, conversing with a TV picture that's somehow connected with the changing timeline, the Doctor rewriting the story as he goes along by nipping back and forth along his own timeline, airborne sea-life.
Gratuitous Scottish Joke: None actually. I think they may have done with that bit.
Amy Saves the Day with Wuv: Amy and the Doctor appeal to Sardick's Wuv for Abigail to Save the Day.
Star Wars Bit: Freezing someone to pay off debts, plus Abigail's blue hologram-recording.
Nostalgia UK: Space Dickensiana.
Tennant Line: Sardick says "I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry" to his younger self.
Murray Gold's Festive #1: Well, if you're going to hire Katherine Jenkins, you may as well get value for money by having her sing something vaguely classical.
Inside Joke List: A Tom Baker scarf on Matt Smith, plus photos of Matt Smith visiting the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower.
Teeth!: On the Shark!
Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: Didn't have to guess at this one, as Forbidden Planet London's already got a Christmas box set, consisting of.... Amy, the Doctor, and the Tardis. Seriously? You couldn't give us a lousy Michael Gambon in a bowtie, to say nothing of a pull-the-string-and-she-sings Katherine Jenkins? Or a half a sonic screwdriver? Oh well, go to The Entertainer or Tesco or wherever, spend £1 on a plastic shark and a Santa-and-his-sleigh-set, take five minutes to customise it and you've got your own Christmas Doctor Who toy.
Something Gets Redesigned: Sardick's life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Goats and Cheese

The Men who Stare at Goats: Valiant attempt to make a fictional story of an interesting documentary/book about the US Army's for-real attempts to research the existence of, and possible military uses of, the paranormal. The action focuses on George Clooney as a burnt-out former member of a unit set up in the 1980s to develop the psychic powers of soldiers, now wandering through Iraq convinced he's on some kind of mission, with Ewan McGregor in tow. Where the film fell down was: 1) it didn't go far enough in highlighting the absurdity of military culture and the so-called post-war situation in Iraq-- occasionally I was reminded of Buffalo Soldiers, for instance the sequence where two groups of civilian contractors accidentally start a firefight with each other, but it never got as good as Buffalo Soldiers in that area; 2) Clooney really does have psychic powers, where it might have been more interesting to continually play on the idea that really he doesn't, but he's convinced he does; and 3) the filmmakers clearly wanted the story to have a happy ending and wedged one into it, when in fact the ending of the story is clearly a sad one.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: Plotwise and conceptwise, pretty good, and with an interesting Freudian subtext (as the child-entity VGER moves from the oral-anal stage, in which it is represented by a suspiciously sphincter-like space anomaly, to the stage of adult sexual relationships through taking human form and joining with Commander Decker); had this been an extended episode of Star Trek: TOS, I'd've rated it as outstanding. Its big problem as a movie is that it's long and boring, with huge swaths of it divided between sequences which seem to be an attempt to copy 2001 without really understanding what 2001 is about, and sequences which amount to, basically, spaceship-porn. It's also the start of the series' fetishization (and yes, I use the term deliberately) of the Enterprise, which always bothered me a bit; in TOS, there was no real indication that the Enterprise was anything particularly special, but from here on there seems to be this idea that the Enterprise is somehow this really exciting, really special ship which everybody would give their right arms to be on. Sorry, not buying it. Next up, The Wrath of Khan.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: An almost total inversion of Raiders of the Lost Ark, being dumb, crass, racist, sexist, and not as funny as it thinks it is. There are far fewer knowing filmic references and, apart from the opening sequence's pastiche of Gold Diggers of 1933, also, and what I suspect is an attempt at referencing Black Narcissus later on, most of them are pretty banal and obvious. The religious side of the plot was also pretty crass, treating Hinduism as a kind of tribal superstition rather than a sophisticated world faith, despite an attempt to save it at the end by suggesting that the god Shiva exists and is pissed off at the mad Kali-cultists Indy is up against. The racism I found genuinely offensive, starting with the gurning sinister "Orientals" in Shanghai and going on through a corrupt and decadent India where people apparently eat live snakes, beetles and monkey brains while enslaving peasant children. Even on a plot level it didn't really hang together, with the opening sequence in Shanghai having no connection to the rest of the story bar providing a reason why Indy is traveling around with a dumb blonde and an eleven-year-old street urchin, and with set pieces which don't so much advance the plot as (to leap ahead a couple of films) nuke the fridge. Remember, this film was directed by the same man who directed Munich.

Movie count for 2011: 5

Sunday, January 09, 2011


The Social Network: Film about the development of Facebook, seen through the subsequent lawsuits between the various parties involved. It both a) reminded me a lot of Oxford (the complicated Darwinian patterns of alliances and fallings-out between the overly intelligent and the overprivileged) and b) helped me understand the appeal of Facebook more (it's all about giving people the university experience, by which they mean dating, embarrassment, parties and social one-upmanship). A lot more fascinating than a film about a website ought to be-- but then the website itself is more fascinating than it ought to be too, so that's appropriate.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: A postmodern masterpiece, and early example of proto-dieselpunk. Lucas and Spielberg go beyond simply pastiching 1930s adventure serials to creating some kind of perfect distilled essence of the 1930s adventure serial, tapping into the technololgical and social fantasies of that generation (producing a Spruce Goose and Nazi delta-wing plane which actually work, and playfully referencing the decade's obsessions with Egypt and Nepal) while knowingly referencing the films and novels of the era. Also, for a film focused on the Ark of the Covenant, manages surprisingly well to steer clear of religious issues; Judaism and Sunday School both get only passing mentions, Islam none at all (although at least one of the hero characters is implied to be a Muslim). For a film that's thirty years old, too, the effects still stand up well, supporting my hypothesis that a well-done physical effect lasts better than CGI. Next week, The Temple of Doom.

Movie count for 2011: 2