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