Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8 1/2 movies

Watchmen: The 3.5-hour director's cut version, with The Black Freighter running through it, and believe me it didn't feel anywhere near that long. While the theatrical release was good, it really does benefit from the extra time, which allows for more worldbuilding and layers of detail (and don't miss the "Under the Hood" DVD extra, featuring a "Where are they now?" profile on the Minutemen). Anyway, it does for the superhero movie what Watchmen did for superhero comics twenty-five years ago, and the world needs it.

Castle Keep: Another Vietnam-through-the-allegory-of-an-earlier-war movie, and like M*A*S*H* ultimately about the blackly hilarious pointlessness of it all. But it's grimmer and more surreal than M*A*S*H, acknowledging the strange beauty of war, with Major Falconer, on his pale horse, becoming an allegory of Death leading the youth of the nation to their collective demises, and presiding over the destruction of Western culture.

Nobel Son: Black comedy about a sociopathic academic and his dysfunctional family. Starts well and carries on being great for about two-thirds of the film, but the final bit feels seriously rushed, with a lot of necessary character development and narrative progression being ditched in favour of a quick voice-over and a resolution that consequently doesn't feel properly earned. It would actually have made a pretty good six- or twelve-part TV series, a sort of Six Feet Under for the Ivy League set perhaps, but 106 minutes wasn't really enough to allow the sort of tension and ambiguity the narrative needed.

The Black Hole: An underrated hybrid of Fifties and Seventies sci-fi; the use of greenscreen, computer graphics, animatronics and some really well-staged weightless sequences form the backdrop to a deeply Freudian story about the fear of female and gay sexuality (represented by the Black Hole itself). It's like Forbidden Planet crossed with equal parts 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Psycho.

Bambi: Seen right after the Adam Curtis documentary All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, which lent a strange subtext to the experience of watching a balanced ecosystem of herbivores in a mechanistic steady state, intruded upon only by the occasional intervention of humans. Also, continuing the theme from the previous entry, there are some strange Freudian messages to the story, with every single character apparently having a distant father and close-bearing mother. Despite that, the forest is beautifully realised, and the death of Bambi's mother genuinely tragic even for a non-child audience (and, really, how many other cartoons seriously address the inevitability and finality of death in terms that a child can absorb and understand?).

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides: Really a lot better than I was expecting, given the lukewarm reviews. It gained points in my mind for a surprisingly subversive approach to organised religion (with the religious characters being either vandals or deluded), for excellent casting (Ian McShane FTW) and for some lovely surreal uses of voodoo-inspired magic. The set pieces weren't as much fun as those in the second PotC film, but I'm willing to overlook that for a good piece of storytelling that didn't bore me.

V for Vendetta: I remember really disliking this when I first saw it in the cinema, but was willing to give it a second go. The first half-hour or so, I thought I'd changed my mind, but it sort of went downhill from there and wound up a curate's egg. Good points: Natalie Portman was better than I remembered her being, and a Britain in the grip of right-wing demagogues stirring up fear of epidemics and hatred against Muslims and gays has if anything only got more relevant. Bad points: John Hurt as one of the most boringly one-note dictators in cinema, Stephen Fry somehow managing to play an embittered, suicidal closet homosexual celebrity as a cosy, cuddly uncle, and an ending which is too stylised to be credible, but not stylised enough to be postmodern. Still, the mask is cool.

Kick-Ass: Noticing a theme here? Anyway, this is another film based on a subversive alternative comic, which is pretty good up to a point and then compromises itself. The story is, effectively, one about the dangers of fantasy: a lonely, inept teenager starts to live out his daydreams of being a superhero only to discover that in fact that's a really stupid idea; unfortunately the film provides a justified revenge plot and a happy ending which are all out of keeping with the original comic's downbeat tone. Oh, and the Daily Mail as usual has the wrong end of the stick about the portrayal of Hit Girl, the 11-year-old assassin: it's not exploitative, it's tragic.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 Remake): Pointless and tedious. And an insult to the original.

Movie count for 2011: 83