Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Should be Wookiees

Return of the Jedi: In this movie, Lucas starts pastiching himself. We get a return to Tattooine with shots of decadent aliens enjoying themselves, the return of the Death Star, the death of one of Luke's mentors, a confrontation with Darth Vader complete with revelations, and a really big battle with fancy Imperial technology (in a forest not a winter landscape this time). It's not a bad movie (at least not compared to things to come), but it's not as good as the first two, and suffers from the fact that a) Han Solo was originally supposed to die, and thus mostly spends this movie as a fifth wheel or someone for Princess Leia to rescue, b) it really should have been Wookiees as the primitive but friendly race in the climactic battle, not Ewoks-- they're less cute, and it would have given a nice bit of narrative closure to the presence of Chewbakka in the team. Oh, and c), they never seem to quite get the scenes of decadence in Jabba's Palace right-- I can understand why they'd want to give them the CGI treatment as the version done entirely with puppets and animatronics is a bit unsatisfying, but adding a kind of singing muppet plus Greedo with breasts just turns the whole thing into a Saturday morning cartoon. And both versions of Sy Snootles look equally ridiculous, but for different reasons.

The Phantom Menace: If I'm going make it through the franchise, unfortunately I have to do this one. To be fair to it, there are only two things really wrong with it on a story level and one on a directing level, but unfortunately they're all pretty major:

1) The Child. If this had been a movie where the focus had been on the political situation surrounding Naboo, concentrating on the two Jedi and Queen Amidala, oh, and somewhere briefly, almost as an afterthought, they acquire some little kid named Anakin who might be special but nobody realises just how special, it would have been a better movie. OK, it would have been basically The Hidden Fortress starring Jar Jar as both of the peasants, but Lucas is at his best when he's pastiching. As it is, the precocious wee lad gets way too much screen time, and it's just irritating at best and a drama-killer at worst.

2) Naboo's WTF Political System. Five minutes into this movie, I thought it made sense. A fourteen-year-old queen suggested to me that we had a Henry VI/last emperor of China situation, where you have a ruler dying suddenly leaving an underage monarch who is weak, inexperienced and thus prey to every unscrupulous vizier looking to be the power behind the throne. But no. Naboo is a democracy which apparently elects monarchs too young to drink to rule the planet during a crisis, and Lucas seems afraid to let any of the blame for what follows to fall onto Amidala, even through ignorance or inexperience.

3) And the directorial problem: Nobody's giving a performance, barring Ian McDiarmaid. Not even Samuel L. Jackson or Liam Neeson. When these two are being outacted by the Voice of Frank Oz as Yoda, the movie's in trouble.

Oh, and I'd also like to give a brief shout-out to the racism and anti-semitism in the film, but they've been commented on so often I don't feel I really need to bother.

Movie count for 2011: 103

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Repeated Meme: Let's Kiss Hitler

Idea Proposed and Not Used during the New Series: Russell T. Davies famously suggested that Hitler would make a good Doctor. Evidently the current production team decided to have some fun with that.

Central Premise Recycled From: Not really so much recycling this week so much as retconning-- tying up a lot of loose ends from explaining why the Ninth Doctor regenerated when he did, to how it is that River Song is both a mortal archaeologist and an immortal regenerating time-traveler.

Reference to Moffat's Back Catalogue: River Song's backstory is now all sewn up. Plus we get a trio of Moffat Moppets (and a virtual one), a lovesick boy who reckons he'll never get the girl, [fill in the blank] lipstick, and getting the Doctor's attention through creating a crop circle he'll read about later (sort of like the Doctor's getting Amy and Rory's attention in "The Impossible Astronaut").

Amy Screws Up the day with Wuv: Amy wuvs her best friend, and effectively raises her best friend, and she grows up to be, well, River Song. I blame the parents.

Joss Whedon Called...: He wants his snappy montages of explanatory flashbacks back.

And from Lawrence Miles: Drawing a blank this week I'm afraid.

Murray Goldwatch: Not quite so bad this episode, though Pachelbel's Canon has to be a pretty damn banal choice for the restaurant.

Nostalgia UK: World War II, crop circles.

Inside Jokes: Why did the Titanic sink again?

Teeth! Not so much.

Hats! Toppers are cool.

Fish! No, unless I really stretch the metaphor and assume that at least one of the people eating in the classy restaurant is having the sole meuniere.

Small Child! Three real small children (in the flashbacks of Amy, Rory and Mels) and a virtual one (the Tardis' visual interface of little Amelia).

Item Most Likely to Wind Up as a Toy: No monsters that we haven't seen before this week, so let's get creative! I'd love a little Hitler action figure, wouldn't you? Or the Amy and Rory pull-back action motorbike. And this episode just completely reinforces my call for a Bionic Woman-style River Song with a range of dress-her-up outfits and accessories.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Continuing the British Urban Violence and Star Wars mini-seasons respectively.

Exit through the Gift Shop: Meta-documentary about a documentary filmmaker who set out to make a film about graffiti artist Banksy, then, when the film proved terrible and Banksy patronisingly told him to go out and make some graffiti art instead, promptly became a huge international art sensation, with art selling for millions of pounds, despite having no artistic talent whatsoever: however, he astutely noticed that a lot of graffiti art is about marketing, reproducibility, and the use of particular iconic images over and over. Simultaneously a celebration of contemporary art, a scathing critique of contemporary art, and very funny.

The Empire Strikes Back: Still my favourite film of the whole series, with its noirish dialogue, downbeat story, sweeping direction and snow planet. This episode, Lucas is going more into mythology than film history, pastiching the Ring of the Nibelungen famously, but also I saw strong elements of The Aenead (a young hero, encouraged on his destined quest by the ghost of his mentor, taking a trip to the underworld partway through where he learns something pretty sobering). However, we've still got a lot of The Hidden Fortress (the middle section of both films, where a general and two comedy bumpkins escort an irascible princess out of a war zone), and Dune, plus lots of visual nods to chapterplays (the snow planet/cloud planet/swamp planet imagery, plus I swear the architecture for Bespin appeared in an early Flash Gordon). Yoda reminded me strangely of William Hartnell's take on Doctor Who. It's also structurally the inverse of the first film, where the action began with Luke finding out something dramatic about his family and ended with a set-piece battle. Somebody also apparently had a word with Lucas about the fact that the first film has only one woman and no non-white men, though it's a bit depressing that Bespin is apparently the only place in the universe with any ethnic diversity.

ETA: Somewhat nonplussed to learn, while googling for information on the production of this film, that Admiral Piett (you know, the goggly-eyed bloke who gets a field promotion when Vader puts the strangle on Michael Sheard) has a seriously huge fandom. The heck?

Movie count for 2011: 101

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Naked gangsters

In honour of the London riots, I'm holding a mini-season of films about British urban violence!

Get Carter: Seminal British gangster film, which Michael Caine does not so much star in as bestride like a colossus, looming through a series of tiny, dingy houses and bleak industrial landscapes as a Geordie gangster, returning to Newcastle from London to avenge his brother's death, only to find his London partners are implicated as deeply as his Newcastle rivals. Bleak, but curiously beautiful and poetical as well.

Sweeney!: Spinoff of the well-known British cop show, which continually drops visual namechecks to Get Carter (scenes in car scrapyard, scenes on industrial site, scene where protagonist appears in public stark naked....). Basically a cool Seventies political thriller exposing oil companies' attempts to influence international politicians and dealmakers through the corrupting actions of a supposed PR agent, though loses points for a ridiculously melodramatic ending and for some cringeworthy examples of Seventies fashion-victimhood.

Movie count for 2011: 99

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shotgun wedding

Hobo with a Shotgun: Reminded me very much of Jacobean drama, particularly The Revenger's Tragedy. It features a man who wants to live a peaceful life, but then is confronted with a society which is so evil that the only course of moral action open to him is to take up arms, but, in doing so, is also committing evil acts and must ultimately himself perish rather than return to normality. The sheer level of violence is also pretty Jacobean.

Se7en: Enjoyable mystery, revolving around murders committed on the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins and consequently having an air of literacy and creativity to it. Made in 1995, the film is notable for the absence of mobile phones, PCs or the Internet, all of which would have been unavoidable even two years later.

A Clockwork Orange: Film about feral teenagers looting, raping and murdering for kicks in the Greater London area (not to be confused with current reports on the 24-hour news channels). The book is disturbing for its personal exploration of Alex and final suggestion that Alex can, indeed, grow up to have a normal life as an ordinary member of society; the film, instead, is disturbing for its exploration of the way Alex's bloodlust is fueled and given a kind of tacit permission by the society around him, with its violent sexual popular culture, its lack of support for parenting, its opportunistic politicians, trend-driven scientific establishment, and rigid bureaucracy. Part of Nyder's British Urban Violence Season (see following post).

Movie count for 2011: 97

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Translated from the Japanese

Star Wars (A New Hope): Watching this again now, after having done a lot of relevant re-reading and viewing, the thing which strikes me the most is the fact that this movie is, in all its elements, mainly a clever pastiche. The core of the story is indeed "The Hidden Fortress" (with at least one scene almost shot-for-shot identical and Leia clearly the American cousin of Kurosawa's princess), but the sequences on Leia's ship and the Death Star owe the most to Flash Gordon, particularly as regards dialogue, and Lucas was actually sued over the resemblance between his cute droids and the ones in Silent Running. Meanwhile, on Tattooine, substitute "Confederate Army" for "Academy", "cotton plantation" for "moisture farm" and "slaves" for robots, and you've got a Civil War coming-of-age drama, which then morphs, rather logically, into a Western the moment Obi-Wan turns up to pull everything sideways into The Searchers. There are a few elements of Die Nibelungen (the quest of a young blond hero, whose mentor is keeping some rather important secrets from him), and of course 633 Squadron and Fifties angry-young-teen-makes-good movies, just to round things out. Between this and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, I would argue that Lucas' best films are inherently postmodern.

Movie count for 2011: 94