freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Some Things About Doctor Strange:
  • I am resolved to be more organised in my movie-watching experience so I never have to go back to Canal Walk as the only place a film is still showing. Their sound is always cranked up too high, and their projection is always too dark. Even in a 2D version. This does detract from one's experience of the film, particularly the night scenes, in that really one can't see what's going on. Also, my ears hurt.
  • Conversely, on a Sunday morning, even the one just before Christmas, I was the only person in the cinema, allowing me to put my feet up on the chairs in front of me and to apostrophise the screen with some vigour at whim. I love doing this. It's the best possibly movie-watching experience.
  • Significant swathes of this film were tragically miscast. My love of the Cumberbatch is a pure and abiding thing, but he's just wrong with an American accent, it's seriously distracting. The perfect fit of the gaunt lines of his face with the magician archetype wasn't quite enough to carry it. And the character's weird mix of driven egotistical ambition and irreverent one-liners never really gelled. Also, while my love of Tilda Swinton's particular brand of individualistic androgyny is an even purer and more abiding thing, a white woman should not be representing Nepalese mysticism. However elaborate the backstory that claims the Sorcerer Supreme as a global figure, a whitewash in this context has profound implications for representation and it bugged the hell out of me all the way through. Mordo, on the other hand, was great. Chiwetel Ejiofor is always great.
  • My profound fondness for spaceships and exciting techie gadgets notwithstanding, it's clear that, however flawed a film is involved, by gum at heart I'm a fantasy creature. Magic does it for me. It really does. Memo to self, fantastic beasts, eftsoons and right speedily.
  • Notwithstanding which, the film was so busy going "whoo!" at the special effects team as they had at the fractal nature of visual reality with both hands and cool glowing spell diagrams, that it really wasn't paying much attention to the plot. It offered a weird degree of emotional disconnect. I never quite cared about anything. If done properly, an over-arching cosmic threat should explicate and resonate (shut up, stv) with the protagonist's own issues and arc, and... not so much. It felt patched together. I do not think that this was a good script.
  • The Cloak of Levitation stole the show. Flirty thing. Like the best cats - sleek, self-possessed, wayward and pleasingly homicidal when not being affectionate.
  • This film failed the Marvel Test, viz. whether or not I'd sit through the credits to see the final easter egg. In a word: no. Was not sufficiently interested. Tragically, more and more recent Marvel films are actually failing the Marvel test, because, regrettably, more and more they are rehashed, homogenised, money-making artefacts whose actual content is dictated by a marketing committee and thus lacks inspiration, spark or narrative coherence. Yet another in the Giant Commercial Superhero Line, ho-hum. Yawn. With a side order of tone-deafness to issues of race and gender and the like. It's enough to make me, an almost entirely Marvel-fondling comics fan, eye DC edgeways with an awakening interest. The whisper flies around the clubs, could they be worse? I fear they could, yet still I am tempted.
  • Marvel test, failed. Bechdel test, failed. Sexy lamp test actually not failed on the second go (the female doctor's first appearance arc could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "Doctor Strange Is A Dick" stuck to it on a post-it note, but on the second try she actually did plot-relevant stuff. Her third appearance could have been replaced by a sexy lamp with "SPOILER is SPOILER" stuck to it on a post-it note.). Furiosa test failed in spades, good grief, this was a movie about a man's struggle with ambition and power, MRAs drool at it.
  • I was prepared to love this film, on account of its confluence of several happy buttons, but no. I am disappoint.

My subject line is what happens if your dodgy memory mashes up two Shakespeare quotes, namely "passing strange" (Othello) and "indifferent honest" (Hamlet). I stoutly maintain that the conflation was irresistibly conjured by the quality of the film. Also, while the quote is possibly orbiting my brain randomly as a result of having seen BC in Hamlet (he was great), now I want to see him do Iago.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the things I did while I was on leave was actually to watch some movies, in an attempt to reduce the reproachful, tottering Pile of Unwatched Doom. (Currently embarked upon Star Wars: Clone Wars, which is so far vaguely cool, although its Anakin may be unduly... chiselled.) Two of the actual movies were the most recent Studio Ghibli offerings, both of which were lovely in rather different ways.



Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers, which I ended up re-reading before I watched the film. Lord, I'd forgotten how harsh and claustrophobic and threatening a story it can be - the world of tiny little people living in the corners of normal human existence is precarious and paranoid, and the books are rather despairing about human attitudes to things that are tiny and powerless and vulnerable to being categorised, diminishingly, as either "vermin" or "cute". The Studio Ghibli version is slightly less cruel, but the story still fits naturally with the usual Ghibli preoccupations with environmental destruction, and with the sense of a fragile species watching their specific niche eroded inexorably by unthinking humanity. That being said, the film is beautiful, particularly in its sense of nature, and in its visual fascination with the contrasts and whimsies inherent in very small people interacting with very large things. It manages to retain the spirit of the Norton ending while still providing a sense of uplift, which is quite a feat. I enjoyed it, but it also made me realise that "enjoy" isn't really a word I ever applied to the books, they're too uncomfortable.



The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is very much more folkloric, and I've added it to my considerable list of fairy-tale things I should probably write papers on. Unlike Arrietty, which has a very standard Ghibli aesthetic and animation style, Princess Kaguya is something of a departure, its visual feel far more impressionistic and watercolour, and astonishingly beautiful. The recognisable folkloric motifs of the peasant man and wife who find a tiny, magical child in the bamboo grove very quickly give way to an exploration of the mannered artificiality of the Japanese medieval nobility - "Princess" as social construct rather than naturalised fairy-tale icon. (Don't worry, the mad fantastic elements snap right back into place). It's a sad story, and one which is as concerned as Arietty was with the importance of unfettered identity, and the idea of agency in, and celebration of, the natural world. It also has sweepingly fantastic sequences which are simply breathtaking, and it packs enough of an emotional punch that it made me cry at a couple of points. I loved this; it's very much its own thing, difficult to find comparisons, but I'll re-watch this over and over.

(My subject line is Bowie's "Glass Spider", which is weird and fairy-tale all in its own right).
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We haven't had a proper movie club in ages - movie club being, by definition, a session where we watch two movies with a putative thematic link, back-to-back, while eating Stuff On Rolls and imbibing alcohol to the level prescribed by the quality of the cinematic offerings. Sunday night wasn't technically a movie club, as we only watched one movie, but I propose to follow the principle of thematic linking between unlikely and disparate narratives by comparing the film, which was Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer, with my current state of work existence. (I'm glad I checked the director's name, incidentally, I'd remembered it as Boon Jong Ho, which is quite possibly a dreadful insult in Korean).

Given that Snowpiercer is (a) a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, extremely violent semi-thriller, (b) graced by Bearded!Chris Evans doing a surprisingly dark and driven tone which is the antithesis of his American Captaining, and (c) batshit insane and completely surreal, I should hasten to add that it doesn't have that much in common with my current state of work existence. My life right now is tragically missing any iteration of Chris Evans and is neither violent, dark, nor, currently, particularly surreal. What it does have in common with the film is a certain thematic tendency to a habitat characterised by continuous and ongoing movement which is dictated by Powers That Be who are severely above me in a hierarchy and whose dictates cannot be resisted without Negative Consequences. Not that my boss has a machine-gun or anything, but still.

Snowpiercer is (apparently extremely loosely) based on a graphic novel, and has as its bizarre premise a reverse-global-warming experiment gone wrong, plunging the world into catastrophic global winter in which the only survivors are hurtling around Europe/Asia in a very long, very socially stratified train on a circular train track. It is quite mad, and very dark, and very tense, and very beautifully filmed, and its culmination is cathartic beyond belief after the build-up and the increasingly horrific revelations. Its grimy lower-class protagonists fight their way up the train in balletic, impressionistic outbursts of extreme violence, and the upper-class train carriages are surreal pockets of hallucinogenic, heightened colour and bizarrely artificial life - they feel more like Doctor Who alien scenarios than anything else. Bonus Tilda Swinton being an almost unrecognisable caricature, and an overall impression of vivid nightmare. It's a very good film, for a given value of "very good film" which assumes "is a total mind-fuck."

My working life is characterised by a faculty administrative restructure, which has necessitated a sort of frantic game of Musical Offices as we all attempt to keep working while repeatedly relocating. I moved my stuff out of my office on Friday, along with my next door colleague's stuff as she happened to be in New Zealand, so they could knock a new door into the wall between us. My attempts to delay this process by a vital few weeks were steamrollered quite handily by various managers and Deans and what have you, because apparently this needs to be done Right Now owing to the inscrutable whims of builders, and the devil take the end-of-term pressures which have both me and Colleague at the mercy of continual angsty students in all this. The work should have been done over the weekend, but predictably wasn't. We are both squatting in temporary offices in the fortuitous absence of their rightful owners, but may, builders willing and the creek don't rise, relocate by Thursday or so. This will be temporary, as in the next couple of weeks both of us will have to up sticks and move completely to totally different offices in the opposite corner of the building. Since the necessary renovations haven't been done in the new offices, we'll move into offices a few down the corridor from the eventual location, and then move again when the new offices are ready. Colleague's move will be even more transient, as she's resigned and is moving to New Zealand at the end of the year. I am rather discombobulated by the change, and by the weirdness of being in someone else's working space.

Fortunately, as stated, my boss doesn't have a machine gun, and moreover looks nothing like Tilda Swinton, but I am nonetheless more than slightly inclined to see myself as hurtling indefinitely into the cold. Things would be materially improved by Chris Evans, even the grim and grimy version. I find Chris Evans curiously comforting.

furioser and furioser

Friday, 22 May 2015 11:57 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am suspicious of Mad Max: Fury Road. Deeply, deeply suspicious. And I've thought about this rather hard, but I don't think I'm simply reacting with sheer bloody-mindedness against the contextual responses - the buzz, the expectations, the claims of feminism, the gender slapfights. If half Teh Internets hadn't tried desperately to claim this as a Feminist Masterpiece, I might be less inclined to see its "feminism" negatively, but I don't think so. On the whole, panicked MRA horror at the thought that Girl Power Cooties might have got all over their cherished Man-Genre is largely irrelevant, if only because one shouldn't trust MRA insights with a ten-foot electric cattle prod1. And I'm not really swayed by the acclaim of a lot of female viewers who share my desperation for representation in a male-dominated Hollywood. I don't want to negate their responses, but I think they could stand to dig a little deeper. I don't think this is a feminist film masterpiece. At best, its somewhat self-congratulatory attempts at feminism are deeply, deeply flawed.

They're also part of the overall sense in which this is a very loud film, both literally and in its fumblings at message. I saw this in a cinema which had the sound turned up so far that it was itself an assault - the war rig engine note made my breastbone vibrate, and I emerged at the end of the film battered and literally shaking. This is not, however, an inappropriate response to the visual and conceptual assault the film offers. It's very much about violence, a far-future scenario of desperation and conflict, in which violence is both normalised and religiously ritualised. It's beautifully shot. The landscapes, the rolling sand and twisted rocks, the sense of desolation, are exquisite. The action choreography is breathtaking. A lot of it takes place at high speed, aboard fleets of perverse and unlikely vehicles speeding across the landscape - it's viscerally exciting, unexpected, demented, desperate. I liked the world-building, the random inexplicable detail, the bizarre social codes, the sense of all-out crazy as an up-yours in the teeth of despair. Why the hell there should be a rig specialised to a rack of giant kettledrums and a guitarist whose sole purpose is to supply a war-fleet soundrack of riffs from a flame-thrower guitar is anyone's guess, but it fits right into the post-apocalyptic aesthetic and it's effective as all get-out. In action-movie terms it's a hell of a ride.

This bit is spoilery, so skip it if you haven’t seen the film. )

Overall, as an action film it's pretty darned good: it gets additional points for (a) not chopping its action sequences up to hell and gone with delirious camera movement so you can actually determine tactical cause and effect, and (b) doing it mostly For Realz, with minimal CGI (apparently about 90% of those sequences were actually filmed, they had Cirque du Soleil performers and Olympic athletes in there doing those crazy stunts). You can tell. It feels very real.

But really feminist? not so much. Let's, children, let's talk about representation.

So. Misogynist post-apocalyptic dystopia. Men are In Charge, women are "breeders" if they're attractive and not deformed, and mostly ugly extras if they're not. Until we meet the Vuvalini towards the end, Furiosa herself is the only beautiful, damaged and kick-butt exception. Which is, if you think about it, itself a problem. You can't say that instrumental femaleness resides entirely in your ability to be Charlize Theron, it kinda dooms the rest of us who weren't actually born in Bloemfontein. (Nor, in fact, should it reside in your ability to perform the hackneyed male genre role of violence, much less violent protection of helpless women). While the Vuvalini are less stereotypical and allow a sort of grizzled middle-aged agency, it's fairly limited: they're depicted as marginal in both the world and the plot, generally sliding into a decline and resurrected only by Furiosa's and, ultimately, Max's leadership.

There's a weird body-sense driving the film in some ways: clearly the frantic desire by the warlord for non-deformed babies is because of high radiation, mutation, the usual post-apocalyptic nastiness. But there's no attempt whatsoever to rationalise the fact that almost all of the men in the film are damaged or deformed in some grotesque way, while the rescued "breeders" are model-beautiful, unblemished, firmly within the contemporary media ideal. Even Furiosa herself is disabled (and that's nicely done, a kind of by-the-way normalised representation we don't see often, as this response notes) but still beautiful, and her departure from the media body ideal is in terms of absence (missing arm) rather than impurity - missing arm or not, the rest of her is still very much Charlize Theron. The only non-deformed instrumental male character in the film is Max himself, whose damage is psychological; the icons of masculinity (warboys, warlords) are weird-looking or actively monstrous. The instrumental female characters are at worst aged, and a very high proportion of them are beautiful bodies. At the heart of the film is an unquestioning conformity to the old, ugly assumption of patriarchal Hollywood that only male viewers are important, and male viewers don't like to look at ugly women.

The cinematography is at least partially to blame for the weird beauty messages, because it works flatly against the film's superficial message of "woman are not things" to be ultimately objectifying. That initial scene with the escapee women, where they're gratuitously wasting precious water by hosing each other down, is shot and posed like an advert for, I dunno, boho punk clothing, or shampoo, or possibly girly hygiene products. Those are impeccably tanned, lithe, skinny bodies, their clothing a well-judged combination of revealing and femininely filmy and flowing. That camera gaze is as male and objectifying as hell. There's the same problem with the pregnant girl displaying herself to inhibit her pursuers - they try to co-opt the patriarchal objectification, to use their value as "breeders" against their pursuers, but as a feminist technique that's dangerous, running the risk of conformity to the tropes they're trying to subvert. It's a flawed strategy because in that moment, your gaze as audience is that of the girls' owners and rapists. Ultimately, it's difficult to see these as empowered women when the camera is complicit with their oppressors.

And the problem is that the narrative ultimately supports a view of women as reductionist stereotypes - not just the "breeder" trope it tries to overthrow, but both the "woman as visual object" and "powerful woman" images. Their power is either co-opted stereotypical male violence (Furiosa) or it's stereotypical female "power" which perceives their value as in their healthy bodies - their procreative ability and thus their sexuality. Hell, even the Vuvalini is a matriarchal all-woman group who stands for and holds the generative powers of seeds/life/birth. It's basically reductionist: the various women in the film are mostly rushing to embrace something that's simply another facet of the gender essentialism they're trying to escape. I invoke my patron saint, Angela Carter, to mutter "all myth is consolatory nonsense! Mother goddesses are just as silly a notion as father gods."

It really doesn't help the essentialism, either, to have a random romance flung into the middle of it all - mercifully they didn't try to ship Furiosa with Max, but apparently you can't have an action movie without someone getting a girl, however temporarily. It seemed to me to be utterly problematical to have one of the fleeing women suddenly turn around and romance, in terms of the visual and narrative coding of their interaction, a representative of the masculine war-cult which is out to capture her. If that was meant to be an attempt at exploring the damage of a misogynist war-cult does to its own male participants (which is itself a perfectly legitimate goal), it happened too suddenly and with too little scaffolding to be valid or likely.

This was not, I reiterate, a feminist film masterpiece. This was an extremely entertaining action film, which was self-conscious enough to try and subvert some of the gender poles of the genre by by surfacing and attempting to combat the idea of woman as object, and by inserting a woman into the classically male role. But not, you note, as the main character, a point this article makes at rather more length. I don't want to take away from the film's success as action movie, as spectacle, as aesthetic - there were many ways in which I thoroughly enjoyed it. But it's not particularly subversive. I don't think it's more than the sum of its parts, and its parts, while they've been creatively re-arranged, have largely been hauled intact out of Hollywood's misogyny vault.

1For those of you who have been blissfully unaware of the recent cultural shenanigans in netspace, Men's Rights Activists, an icky, icky bunch who are doing their utmost to spoil notions of masculinity for the remainder of their (comparatively) innocent gender.

NOTE: I have mildly edited at a couple of points after mature reflection (hence strikethroughs), and to address the inherent problem in attempting to dictate what "feminism" is for anyone other than me. I think you can read feminist elements into this film, for a given and somewhat simplistic definition of "feminism", and it's certainly a hell of a lot better than the average action film in its positioning of women. But it's definitely not a feminist masterpiece, and it's definitely still problematical in a lot of ways. It's dangerous, I think, to accept its ideologies uncritically, and to think that that's enough, because of all the misogynistic baggage that's accepted in the process; and it's very sad to think that female viewers are so starved of representation that they'll swallow it whole.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This is an utterly simple, somewhat perverse, ridiculously absorbing mini-game. I think its appeal is a sort of transference: as a cat owner, there's something weirdly seductive in projecting yourself into the persona of the #(*&$*)! feline who wakes you up in the morning by meeping, kneading and knocking things onto the floor. It'll take you five minutes to play and will content some weird, vindictive corner of your soul. Unless that's just me.

In other news, last night we watched Interstellar. While I darkly suspect that I shouldn't be thinking about it too hard, because its manifest plot holes would infallibly present themselves (inevitably, with black holes and time at the heart of it), I very much enjoyed it, and in particular its vision of the creeping, dust-laden, inexorable death of the Earth. But it pushed my annoyed buttons a little in its uncritical adherence to the tired old sf trope of "we stuffed up the Earth, let's leave and find another planet."

Because, see, here's the thing. It's not even about my inner Victorian governess who believes that destructive children should bloody well deal with the consequences of their actions, although she definitely believes that. It's actually a logical problem. We live in a biosphere into which we have evolved over ridiculous amounts of time, and to whose atmosphere and organisms and substances and what have you we are absolutely adapted. Even so, people die every day from anaphlyactic shock as a result of an allergy, a systemic and cataclysmic disagreement with our very own environmental niche, suggesting that we are, evolution notwithstanding, somewhat fragile. However badly we crowd and poison and superheat our Earth, how logical is it that we'll find a completely unrelated planet somewhere the hell out there where the environmental challenges of an alien biosphere are somehow more welcoming than the screwed-up versions of the one we've evolved in? In terms purely of economies of effort and resource, surely it's going to be cheaper and easier and less potentially fatal to simply sort out our own planet? Honestly, I don't get it. I have the same problem with giant artificial environments in space. Earth may be a mess, but there's more to work with than the interplanetary or interstellar void offers, and it's less likely to kill you on the turn if you accidentally break a window.

My subject line, incidentally, is Death Cab for Cutie, since Narrow Stairs is playing in the car at the moment - from "Grapevine Fires", which seems thematically appropriate to all this destruction.

grrr, aargh

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 02:57 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night was deeply annoying, because (a) lights, none, and (b) so many legs! As well as (c), residual Age of Ultron grumps.

I am narked with the City of Cape Town because they confirm a load-shedding session so much at the last minute. I checked the loadshedding page four times yesterday, and every time it was "load shedding suspended until further notice." Then they cut us off at 8pm, at the point where I'd assumed we were safe for the day, right in the middle of the first episode of Daredevil, which is a new Netflix series which is doing a slow build thing that definitely doesn't need to be arbitrarily suspended. Although, in retrospect, having to feel my way across the living room in the pitch dark was at least thematically appropriate. (I'm reserving judgement on Daredevil for the nonce, I kinda like what they're doing, it's gritty and real and Charlie Cox is marvellous, but it's currently moving very slowly and I hope they sort the pace out a tad).

"So many legs!" is a quote from Cole in Inquisition upon meeting the giant albino spider which lives under the Crestwood keep. There was a sudden, huge and inexplicable spider in the corner of the bathroom last night, just above the shower. Arachnids are clearly evil because they choose to manifest (a) in the moment when the room is illuminated by flickering candlelight which most efficiently conceals them in shadows until you're really close, and (b) in the room in which you are most likely to be wandering around naked, and thus unprotected from arachnid multi-hairy-legged scuttling by any form of civilised armour. Bastards. Having stripped completely and wandered towards the shower, I spotted the spider, thought, "Hell, no", backed away slowly and went to bed unwashed, shutting the bathroom door behind me so the wretched thing couldn't infiltrate the house. It was gone this morning, hopefully out the window rather than into a dark bathroom corner from whence it can more unexpectedly pounce. I am a wimp, but somehow it all seems more horrible when you're trying to eject spiders without the benefit of electricity.

I have worked out why Age of Ultron annoyed me so much. It's not actually because of the final, headcanon-ruining upshot of the story. It's because absolutely none of the narrative and character arcs which led to that outcome felt earned, deserved or properly explored. I could adjust my headcanons if the film gave me any bloody grist whatsoever to my imaginative mill. But it doesn't: the romance isn't substantiated, the death isn't justified in any thematic sense, the departures are glossed over, the whole thing feels like random events cobbled together randomly, rather than an actual plot. Joss can do so much better, and I tend to agree with this article, which argues that the Marvel meta-marketing drive has constrained the director to the point where he is completely hamstrung in trying to give the story any sort of satisfying shape.

Also, while Joss Whedon is definitely still my master now, I can't help thinking that his particular brand of feminism, which resides mostly in strong female characters, is in a weird sort of way slightly out of date. He was groundbreaking at the time with Buffy and Firefly, but levels of feminist awareness have overtaken him - simple strong female characters simply don't cut it any more, we need a more pervasive critique which the Marvel straitjacket certainly doesn't permit. (See: leaked CEO email giving a demonstration of beautifully spurious logic: bad female-led superhero movies bombed, therefore all female-led superhero movies are bad and will bomb. To which we answer, succinctly and pointedly, "Ben Afflek's Daredevil". Because really.)

In other news, my mutant foot has died down to its usual shape and is only rather red and mottled. Antibiotics and two days with my feet up have settled its hash onetime quick. Now all I have to deal with is the nausea occasioned by the antibiotics...
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Mostly my movie-watching life has been on hold lately, because Inquisition. Turns out there is no contest between gaming and watching DVDs: gaming wins. However, apparently the grip of the game loosens a bit when I'm on my, what, seventh or eighth play-through? So I have both gone to the movies, and watched some of the Pile of Unwatched Reproach, which is probably twenty DVDs high, in between navigating a Qunari mage through a by now incredibly familiar Thedas. Leading to a scorecard which looks something like this:

Big Hero 6. Disney animated thing with cute bulbous robot. It's a cute bulbous superhero film which I thoroughly enjoyed, because it's both cute and science-positive. Also, its deliberate rip-offs of Iron Man, among other films, are hilarious. Bonus cool swarms of evil microbots, cool nerd stereotypes and cool affirmations of non-violence. A-, because fluffy, but relegated to "probable comfort re-watch" pile.

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies. Um. Martin Freeman is still a tiny hobbitoid acting god. Bard wants to be Aragorn when he grows up, and probably could be. Thorin's downward spiral wasn't as heart-rending as I expected it to be, possibly I'm becoming old and cynical. Peter Jackson still suffers from irredeemably self-indulgent narrative bloat and completely inexplicable plot choices, and IMNSHO he stuffed up the actual battle something 'orrible. Wasted Fili and Kili's sacrifice, weird relocation of Thorin's confrontation to unnecessary and rather lame towers rather than the battlefield, and it made absolutely no tactical sense whatsoever. Did he run out of budget for background fighting? Also, no Bilbo shouting "The eagles are coming!", rotten swizz. B-, visually cool but overall strangely uncompelling, Martin Freeman notwithstanding.

Basil the Great Mouse Detective. This was, weirdly, teaching research, on account of how I'm teaching Sherlock again this year and am becoming unduly fascinated by the endurance of the Holmes/Watson mythic archetype across different iterations. This one has a classic Watson and a rather annoying Sherlock who has surprisingly large numbers of points in common with the current BBC one. Amazing how the tall&thin vs short&solid visual image is retained in so many versions. Entirely predicable Disney film in the slightly less accomplished pre-Aladdin mode. C, but will will show clips in class because the parallels are interesting.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Saw this on Sunday morning (about 10 people in the 9am showing, score!) in sheer self-defence because my Tumblr feed is trying to spoil me. I am entirely unable to say whether it's a good movie or not because my ships and personal headcanons have been so thoroughly Jossed that I'm all quivering with outrage, injury and sulk. I've read a lot of Avengers fanfic, and it turns out I'm really invested in the Avengers as they currently stand, and I want to keep on thinking of them like that, living together forever in Avengers Tower and fighting crime, not with the new team make-up going in the new direction. It was certainly a fun film, visually exciting, good character interaction, amazing fight choreography, but bleah. I decline to assign it a score on the grounds that I'm not reasonable about it. I spent most of Sunday unconscionably depressed and killing things in Inquisition with more than the usual levels of vindictive satisfaction. Phooey.

On the upside, they also gave us the new Star Wars trailer in big-screen 3-D, and it made me weepy. Apparently I'm imprinted on that universe, but also the new images are correctly gritty and feel like Star Wars in a way the prequels-we-do-not-mention did not. A new hope!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I can't say that it was official Movie Club, because Rule 1 of Movie Club is that we compare two movies, however tenuously connected. However, Sunday night's spontaneous movie-watching with jo&stv did fulfil one of the secondary functions of Movie Club, which is to make us watch movies we otherwise wouldn't. I have randomly and without justification re-watched both Star Trek reboots in the last couple of weeks, in an outbreak possibly not unrelated to randomly and without justification reading rather nicely-characterised slow-burn Kirk/Bones slash I happened randomly upon, but there is nonetheless no real way I would have seen Space Station 76 unprompted. However, now I have. And I have Thoughts.

This is billed as comedy, but it's only really comedy in the blackest, most parodic sense; it's satire, verging at times on allegory, and what it most resembles is a dastardly fusion of Star Trek and The Ice Storm, supposing you'd allowed the resulting horrific miscegenation to be scripted by Chekhov, or possibly Kurt Vonnegut. (It also shares some distant, cousinly DNA with both Galaxy Quest and Pigs In Space). It's a 2014 film set on a space station in a future imagined from the vantage point of the 70s. This of course means tacky special effects, plastic asteroids, Tupperware spaceships, sexual liberation, cigarettes, and mad outbreaks of 70s boots and mini-dresses. However, it also allows for the actually quite powerful essentialising of issues - primarily sexuality and gender - through the exaggeration which inevitably happens when you view 70s caricatures through a contemporary lens. The space setting strips away extraneous detail, leaving the deeply dysfunctional relationships to enact themselves starkly against the pastel plastic of the background and the isolation of space. The film was developed from a stage play, and you can see it in its scale, its minimalism, its horrible intimacy.

Space Station 76 is quite often funny, but one seldom laughs without wincing - the humour is close to the bone, frequently productive more of discomfort than amusement. (Some of the few places where both Jo and I unabashedly laughed were the therapist-bot sequences, which are both horrendously cynical and irresistibly funny to anyone who's ever been in therapy). The cast is generally very good, despite representing archetypes rather than actual personalities (the Sad Captain, the Unfulfilled Career Woman, the Monstrous Mother); the whole thing is played with a sort of deliberate, tongue-in-cheek self-awareness which never quite allows you to immerse yourself in the characters. I say "allegory" because the whole thing is so self-consciously artificial that it positions the viewer very interestingly in a space which denies the possibility of willing suspension of disbelief: you are poised in a critical space outside the events, ejected equally by discomfort and unreality.

I wouldn't say this is a great movie, and its black humour at times is deeply unsettling, but it's an interesting one, and one I'm glad I've seen. It's really doing things that are far more sophisticated than they appear at first glance. Also, clearly, sexual liberation does not equal happiness, and in fact exaggerates unhappiness with resentment that pressing sex button A does not produce happiness at the vending machine slot as it clearly ought to. Which is clearly true today, and clearly the point.

(My subject line is David Bowie, because that's where I am in the Great Car Sound System Alphabetical Trek. Arcade Fire, Bed On Bricks, Belle and Sebastian, Crowded House, David Bowie. (Apparently all my Clash is under The rather than Clash). We're going to be here for a while. The quote is from "Slip Away", quite my favourite track on Heathen, which is sort of early late-period-Bowie. The alphabetical order of album is disconcerting me slightly as I do prefer listening chronologically, particularly with Bowie; as it is, we've gone Aladdin Sane (later early-period rock(ish) with jazz bits) to Diamond Dogs (early middle-period apocalyptic glam rock, Black Tie White Noise isn't on this mp3 player because it annoys me) to Heathen (early late-period, lord I don't know, regressive alt-rock with an electronica element?) to Heroes (late middle-period Brian-Eno-shaped Berlin Years) to Hunky Dory (early early-period folk/rock/pop/who the hell knows, at any rate I've wandered around the department all day singing "Quicksand", as one does because it's a bloody earworm of note). As whiplash goes it's rather enjoyable, in fact. Weirdly enough, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Bowie.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
coriolanus

I have, what with one thing and another, been reading Coriolanus recently. Oh, all right, the one thing or another is the appearance on our local Nouveau movie circuit of the film of Tom Hiddlestone's recent run in the play in London, which earned rave reviews from a lot of people who weren't actually drooling Loki fans. (It also earned rave reviews from drooling Loki fans, although the presence of Tom Hiddlestone stripped to the waist and bathed in blood may have been partially implicated in the response. Also, massive homoerotic subtext. These days, show me a text which doesn't have a massive homoerotic subtext and I will politely remove the earplugs and blinkers you unaccountably appear to be wearing. We live in a deeply repressed society.)

Anyway. Shakespeare is, of course, a highly pleasing thing to one who is guilty, as I am, of a serious addiction to language. I don't know the play at all, and have been happily skip-reading through it in preparation for seeing the film. Conclusions: (a) Shakespeare is still the good stuff in terms of linguistic high, (b) Coriolanus is kind of an arrogant dick, and (c) wow, but is this a topical play right now. The first scene entails Roman senators interacting with a mob of commoners who are all agitating about overpriced grain and Senator privilege, and features a citizen ranting about senators in a speech which made me sit up and go "Whut?"
Care for us! True, indeed! They ne'er cared for us yet: suffer us to famish, and their store-houses crammed with grain; make edicts for usury, to support usurers; repeal daily any wholesome act established against the rich, and provide more piercing statutes daily, to chain up and restrain the poor. If the wars eat us not up, they will; and there's all the love they bear us.

This, children, is the contemporary USA. Or, in some lights, the UK. This is the particular flavour of rampant and unchecked capitalism which characterises the Western world, where the gap between the obscenely rich and the poor widens daily, where governance repeatedly privileges corporations over people and bails out banks. And where world powers make war because it's profitable. (See this interesting article on the change in US policy over the last few years). Human nature apparently doesn't change much. That Shakespeare, he knew.

Of course, I still haven't seen Coriolanus despite all efforts to do so - we had tickets for last night, but arrived in the Waterfront only to be told that the scheduled load shedding power cut for the evening would cut the movie off half an hour before the end, and strand us in a darkened, zombie-apolcalyptic mall. We went and had tea and cake instead, which was rather pleasant, but not nearly as highbrow as the intended evening. Tom Hiddlestone notwithstanding. Ster-Kinekor owes us a replacement viewing, though, so we may yet get to see the damned thing. If the power cuts permit.

My subject line is not only Simon and Garfunkel, it's a direct quote from a Daily Voice billboard this morning, which made me laugh rather a lot.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The weather is officially absurd: Cape Town traditionally does February heatwaves, but usually not for so long, or so hot. It was pushing 40 for a couple of days, and I survived the weekend only by spending a portion of it submerged in jo&stv's pool, sipping champagne. I'm insomniac and headachy and stressed and tend to lie awake in my superheated bedroom panting gently and wishing for a nice comfortable death, preferably by hypothermia or freeze-ray. It's like the sultry heat before a highveld storm, only continuously, relentlessly, and without the catharsis of the actual rain. Am not happy. Am clearly on the wrong continent. I know the northern hemisphere is having a horrible winter, and I'm sorry if you're frozen or flooded or snowbound, but honestly, this is its own kind of unspeakable.

I shall proceed to avoid the horror by somewhat belatedly chronicling our last Movie Club, which was the weekend before last. Jo's choice: theme, Abused Sexualised Girls Strike Back And Kick Butt, although to variable effect. The films, in a classic whiplash configuration, and encompassing frankly improbable extremes in terms of thoughtfulness and political acumen: Sucker Punch, and Hard Candy.

Sucker Punch is a terrible film. I'm really glad to have seen it, because as a pure distillation of ingrained Hollywood sexism and exploitation it's an extremely powerful document, but it's an astonishingly bad piece of storytelling. I have to admit it has a certain amount of visual style and the germ, somewhere in the putrid depths, of a potentially interesting idea, but it's otherwise without redeeming feature. The most terrifying thing about it is, I think, the fact that watching it gave me the sneaking, inescapable fear that Zach Snyder, its perpetrator, is actually under the delusion that he was celebrating female empowerment. Which he really wasn't. The premise involves skimpily-clad girls incarcerated in a variety of institutions under highly sexualised threat, and escaping from it into layers of fantasy in which they fulfil video-game-style quests with the maximum possible amount of stylishly-shot action sequences, guns, swordfights, leering villainy and massive explosions. Given that the film skips between giant samurai statues, Nazi steampunk zombies, orcs, dragons, planes, zeppelins and Bioshock-style Big Daddies, the whole thing boils down to what Stv defined as "MashCeption: The Music Video". Or, possibly MashCeption, the Video Game. Something entailing lots of mash-ups and multi-levelled dream sequences and loads of visual style at the expense of plot, at any rate.

And in the final analysis it's about absolutely the opposite of female empowerment. It does no good whatsoever to take abused women and give them big guns and swords and allow them to kick butt if (a) all said women are vacant, childlike blanks whose abuse at the hands of lecherous monsters is dwelt on with slavering fascination, (b) they're all hyper-sexualised and skimpily if not fetishistically clad, (c) their every move in the "empowering" fantasy is dictated by benevolent, rescuing male figures, (d) the bulk of them end up dead, and (e) the whole thing is shot like a particularly hyperactive and clichéd wet dream. It's ultimately a deeply ugly film that spat me out the other end in a state of stunned disbelief. But also with a sort of horrible satisfaction, because after all the film simply takes to the logical extreme the kinds of objectifications and exploitations which are actually at the heart of a frighteningly high proportion of Hollywood blockbuster movies, in which women are ravaged, empty things splayed across the screen for the gratification of a gaze which is assumed to be entitled, unconstrained, heterosexual and male. Our cultural systems are pretty broken; this film should not be excoriated as an aberration but as a symptom of a system whose darker corners, thus mercilessly exposed, are nauseating.

Hard Candy is a very good film. We watched these in the right order, because after Sucker Punch it was a bracing blast of fresh air. Its take on the theme highlights Sucker Punch as the bizarro mirror world thing it is: Hard Candy is still about male sexual predator versus pubescent girl, but the power poles are ruthlessly dissected, examined and reassembled. I'm not going to talk about the film's plot detail, because its effect is very spoiler-vulnerable, but it's exquisitely cast, shot, paced and constructed. Compared to the gratuitous CGI sprawl of Sucker Punch it's a minimalist work of art, effectively two characters and one set. Ellen Page is revelatory (also, mad props to Ellen Page for her recent coming out as gay, both a brave and an important thing), and Patrick Wilson is as good as he always is, which is very. The cinematography is amazing: the house which forms the set is all clean lines and modern, blocky colours, and the camera lingers on these for moments of full-screen primary colour which punctuate and pace the action, underlining the film's overall mood of analytic contemplation. It's also a very tense viewing experience, full of build and shock and horrified expectation and, I have to say, a fair amount of vindictive satisfaction.

Watching it in tandem with Sucker Punch highlights the differences, particularly the extent to which Page's character is almost entirely unsexualised, with a matter-of-fact thoughtfulness about her which undercuts potentially flirty moments and allows her to swing between childlike innocence and tomboyish determination. But the juxtaposition also demands that the film be subjected to the same questions: is this about female power? does it escape the exploitative presentation of women seen in the blockbuster? And of course you have to be aware that the highly-charged power relationship the film depicts is fully capable of being sexualised even given Page's performance; of mining the young body under the lens for purposes of titillation rather than thought. It also, despite the film's plot twists, runs the risks of demonising the victim, presenting her as damaged and inhuman: the film's violence is both more restrained and more real than Sucker Punch's. But on the whole I think my vote is for success rather than failure on political grounds. It's an uncomfortable watch, but for the right reasons - because it shakes up your assumptions, explores and redefines rather than adopting, externalises the rot in our cultural constructs rather than either eliding or exploiting them. I'm not sure "enjoyed" is the right word, but this is a good film, and I respect and admire what it achieved. Although, my pervy fairy-tale fancying heart being what it is, they could have done a lot more with the Red Riding Hood motif. I'm just sayin'.

My subject line is from the Eurythmics, "Wide Eyed Girl", mostly because I automatically think of Annie Lennox when I think of women kicking butt. Also Buffy, River, Phryne Fisher and Captain Marvel, but song lyrics are traditional.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I went back to work yesterday, after three weeks of holiday1, and more or less as a last desperate splurge before going back to work I gave myself a slightly mad Tuesday during which I saw two movies in actual cinemas and everything. The first was by cunning plan, viz. braving the holiday crowds for a morning show at the mall to see The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, which I have unaccountably missed seeing earlier. The second was a random last-minute invitation from Pam & Lloyd to see Gravity with them, which was a splendid idea.

The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-Smaug-Movie-2013

I have a sort of sneaking feeling that I shouldn't really have enjoyed Desolation of Smaug as much as I did. I didn't adore the film utterly, but it was fun, and full of hot dwarves and beautiful landscapes and Martin Freeman being endearing. Even so I'm faintly surprised that its adaptation choices didn't nark me off more than they did. There's some odd stuff going on there, a weird Jacksonesque abandonment of perfectly cinematic bits of the book (the staggered introduction to Beorn, for example. I was looking forward to that. They didn't do it. Phooey. And Beorn himself was simply lame.) in favour of brand new sequences which don't seem to serve any particular purpose (like Thorin and the lads scurrying frantically around dwarven forges for no other reason than because the director wanted an action bit right there.) And the spider battle was frankly pedestrian. I loved Smaug, visually and particularly his voice, although it's effects-ridden enough that it doesn't really sound like the actor (a pity because Benedict Cumberbatch's voice). The dwarven halls of the Lonely Mountain are spectacular. I really didn't have a problem with the introduction of Legolas, it gives a face to all the anonymous wood elves. Nor did I balk at the, hooray!, actual female character such as Tolkien didn't include at all in the novel. Tauriel was pleasingly kick-butt and it's just a pity that her potentially gender-corrective presence was utterly undercut by her immediately being slapped into a love triangle. Because clearly female characters can efficiently kill orcs all they like, they are nonetheless incomplete without a sexual function. Jackson and Stephen bloody Moffat are of the same casually sexist ilk. (Also, is it just me, or are Elven/dwarven relationships simply weird?)

Despite all the whinging above, it's weird that I probably enjoy the film because of its departures from the original, not in spite of them. As with the first film, I love the expansion of the story, the filling in of the blanks - the sense that Bilbo's journey fits into a broader tapestry of history and meaning and plot, with Galadriel and the Necromancer and all - not just the whole world, but Jackson's particular vision of it. Middle-Earth is so huge and rich, the kiddied-down version of it we see in The Hobbit is a glimpse in a tiny mirror, and it's lovely to feel the vistas opening up. I applaud Jackson's vision, even as I wish the result had been slightly less ham-fisted and self-indulgent and, even, thoughtless at times. The project deserves a better execution.

2013_gravity_movie-wide

I am kicking myself that I left it too late to see Gravity in 3D, which I believe was spectacular. Even on the Labia's smaller screen and with their scratchy sound it's a phenomenal film, a virtuoso manipulation of tension, narrow focus and narrative control - such a simple, stripped-down plot to be so utterly engaging. It manages to be beautiful at the same time as it's gritty and real, with that minimalism of image and character despite the vastness of its backdrop. I loved the absolute absence of the kind of cuts to flashbacks on Earth which a more popular sort of film would infallibly have interspersed with the references made by characters to events in their past. Those actors had a hell of a task, to establish and maintain their characters with so little to play off. But they are amazing actors doing an amazing job of a highly skilled script, with jaw-dropping special effects that enhance rather than replacing the significance of the characters. The conveniently adjacent space stations all in the same orbit were a bit of a stretch, but the film-makers seem to have done their damnedest to actually replicate the physics of movement in space and the contemporary technology of the station and capsules. Science fiction at its best, if you accept the broadest definition of sf as fiction which is intrinsically about humanity's engagement with technological advancement, although of course [livejournal.com profile] strawberryfrog's point is valid, that from another angle Gravity isn't sf at all, but the purest contemporary realism. Bugger that. This is the sort of story sf should be telling, and I claim it with pride.

Subject line is from the dwarves' song in The Hobbit, of course - book version, not film. Film is the craft of light. I'm not sure Jackson is good at dwarves, actually: they're too bloody rude and slap-stick, even if the theme of greed and corruption is being nicely developed in Thorin. Dwarven dignity should not turn on and off like a tap.



1   In the exact opposite of celebration of my return to work, a random selection of my muscles have seized solid and my sleep patterns have been shot to hell for two nights. Last night I dreamed Moriarty turned me into a deer because of my refusal to assist in his nefarious criminal activities, resulting in my rude awakening at 5am this morning as I fled through the forests with his pack of werewolves at my heels. Hooves. Whatever. I need a new job.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
thor-dark-world

In the Department of Trundling Off Happily Alone To See Sunday Morning Movies (it's a thing), I saw THor: THe Dark World on Sunday. (For some reason those Hs really wanted to be capitalised so I'm allowing them to kick up their little heels). It was really rather a lot of fun, rating highly enough that it's probably not a bad film even given my superhero-metre's embarrassingly low threshold of enjoyment. The fast-becoming-traditional random observations follow, suitably vague so as to avoid spoilerage.

  • This is a particularly loopy mix of science fiction and the purely fantastic, but it pulls it off mostly by not quite taking itself seriously - there are some lovely moments of humour in the film, it's far less straight-faced than the first one.
  • There are enough plot twists in this that I rather enjoyably didn't see all of them coming, although to be fair it was a Sunday morning before my first cup of tea. (A deliberate strategic choice on account of how I hate having to duck out of today's really long movies because of a tight bladder).
  • The film offers, thematically, a complete mirror inversion of the Thor/Odin set-up in the first film. It's surprisingly thoughtful and makes interesting points about power and war. Also, I like both how Thor is being characterised, and how Chris Hemsworth plays him. He's kinda sweet and, like Riley, something of a doofus.
  • Is it just me, or does some miraculous Bechdel-test-passing miasmic force of not-actually-conventionally-awful-gender-roles somehow cling to the Thor franchise? It's by no means perfect, we still have Jane Foster being damselled all over the show, but she does continue to kick science butt and trade sarky dialogue with Darcy, and it was enormously refreshing that the only really gratuitous, lingering, objectifying camera shot in the film (apart from the Mercedes ad which preceded it, in which I disgraced myself with a fit of the giggles because, really, overcoded car porn) was the one of Thor's naked, glistening biceps. If we have to live in a media world given to objectification, at least it can damned well be equal opportunity objectification. Also, Sif. And Frigga being a warrior queen.
  • Loki is simply delicious. I do not at all get Tumblr's preoccupation with Loki as a desirable romantic option (because honestly, mass-murdering psychopaths are even less redeemable than most of fanfic's bad boyfriend choices), but he's trickster god to the hilt in this and has some really good sarky lines. Possibly I might be tempted to attempt to redeem a mass-murdering psychopath if he's sufficiently linguistic.
  • Extremely cool dark elf spaceships, interesting space-warping grenades, Christopher Ecclestone chewing evil scenery with commendable restraint, Heimdall kicking arse and taking names, incredible floating things, gravity inversions, and an extended action sequence which gives free play to the bastard offspring of a dodgy threesome between a superhero showdown, an Elder God summoning and a game of Portal.
  • A perfectly, deliriously wonderful cameo of Chris Evans doing an impression of Tom Hiddlestone's impression of Loki doing an impression of Chris Evans's Captain America. That man's actually a sneakily good actor, particularly when taking the mickey out of himself. (Still love his turn in Scott Pilgrim.)
  • It's worth sitting out the credits, because there are two easter eggs - one fairly standard just after the main credits, and one right at the end which gives a wonderful, whimsical, random closing image which kicked me out of the cinema in a happy state of giggle. As did the film, actually. Not profound, but fun is likely to be had.

Subject line is, of course, Buffy, about Riley, circa Season 4, "Something Blue", which is coincidentally quite one of my favourites because Buffy/Spike.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Pacific-Rim

Pacific Rim fascinated me for months before I'd even seen it - not because it's giant monsters trashing Tokyo (which I love) or Guillermo del Toro (who I also love) or at least a partial departure from Americanised Hollywood gender and race tropes (which I crave), but because of the fan response. My Tumblr feed is full of fandoms, skewing heavily comic book, Tolkien and TV show, and a substantial chunk of them seem to have embraced jaegers and kaiju and pilots in the drift with an instantaneous, full-on investment which is strangely heart-warming. Watching the film last night was an exercise in happy recognition, as though I'd become a fan of the film before I'd even seen it via a sort of dizzy second-hand joy.

This is particularly fascinating because it's not a conventionally great film. I have to admit that my enjoyment of it was severely compromised by Nu-Metro's traditionally ham-fisted and overstated attitude to sound production: films at Canal Walk are habitually both over-loud and shockingly badly balanced, so that you can't hear the dialogue properly because of the way the sound effects and music have stunned your ear canals. This blunted the film's effect, I think, so that it felt more like a big/loud/stupid monster blockbuster than it actually is - I'm strangely looking forward to seeing it again on DVD, preferably Blu-Ray and a nice big HD TV, so that I can escape both the noise assault and the manifest irritations of 3D glasses while still enjoying the spectacle. (I can't wear contact lenses. My long-distance sight is appalling. Glasses over glasses for 3D purposes are distractingly annoying, and I kick myself that I left seeing the film too late for it to be available on circuit in 2D). The noise thing is particularly problematical because the film's subtleties and appeals, of which it has surprisingly many, are entirely in the fact that it's a character-driven narrative. This is the anti-Transformers: while it has giant robots and monsters and lots of bashing, it's not about the special effects, but about a heart and soul which are quintessentially humanist.

The film's genesis is specifically in the traditional Japanese kaiju and mecha narratives, which are explicitly recreated with a nice balance of nostalgia with evangelism: del Toro hopes to introduce these stories he loves to a whole new generation. The plot itself is very simple, and is laid out via rather pedestrian exposition in the first ten minutes of the film: Earth is invaded by giant (as in Godzilla-sized) reptilian monsters who arrive, rather than from outer space, via an inter-dimensional rift on the floor of the Pacific. This means that they crawl out of the ocean to trash cities on the Pacific rim, in the approved kaiju style, to be beaten back by equally giant metal humanoids who are driven by two human pilots through a sort of rig thing which translates their movements to the mechanism's. Because the size and complexity of the mecha are too great for a single human brain, pilots are neurologically linked to manage it in tandem through a process called the drift. Shenanigans ensue.

And really, looking back at that simple summary, that's exactly why it works - exactly why it isn't the flash-bang Michael-Bay emptiness of Transformers. The kaiju threat attacks the Pacific Rim, which means it's international: cities have their own jaegers, so pilots in the film are Russian and Chinese and Australian as well as white and black and Asian and American, but the response is a co-ordinated one, not Amurrica Saves the World. The theme of co-operation continues in the drift, which is about compatibility and connection as well as co-operation, but it's interpreted in interestingly diverse ways - pilots include teams who are father/son or siblings as well as a married couple, so it's not just about Teh Romance. The central team has the expected white male American point-of-view character, but his partner Mako is female and Japanese, she kicks butt in a remarkably non-sexualised fashion (the stick-fighting scenes are simply cool), and their relationship is actually interpretable as sibling as much as romantic. The visual design of the film is spectacular and at times surprisingly subtle (see this very interesting fan analysis), but, unlike Transformers, it's not just about action spectacle. You feel connected to these characters: it's easy to distinguish jaeger from jaeger not only in their names and colours and differentiated abilities, but because their pilot teams are so distinctive, often solely because of visual and action cues rather than dialogue, and because the mecha in the end represents the individuals, it doesn't replace them.

These twin poles of diversity and connection are, I think, why this film speaks so powerfully to a fan audience, whose drive is always towards empathy and identification. The international nature of the team as much as the mechanism of the drift celebrate the idea of community, of diverse individuals joining together in the service of a shared experience and goal. That's what fandom is. And over and over again, the kind of fan who loves this film and saw it multiple times on circuit and is producing fan-art and fanfic and in-depth discussion about it, says upfront that it's because they can find themselves in it. Unlike the traditional Hollywood action blockbuster, it doesn't present for your identification only the heroic white American male and his adoring and skimpily-clad white women. Its motivating force is about internal drive rather than external stereotype; the film itself, and the attitude of its creators (as in the del Toro interview given by the director himself to a Tumblr fan community) recognise, reify and celebrate the importance of communal rather than individual action. This is why, despite its action focus and its sometimes clunky and minimalist dialogue and plot, Pacific Rim is anything but simplistic, and why it's ultimately absolutely worthy of the director who also created Pan's Labyrinth: it rises above its apparent limitations to speak an emotional language of exceptional power and grace. As a film about giant metal machines battling giant reptilian monsters it absolutely delivers, but actually it's about people, and what people can do together rather than apart. We need more of these. Hollywood has become very bad at them. It's nice to know it can be done.

not really cloud nine

Wednesday, 24 July 2013 02:22 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Movie club! Last weekend we watched Jo's choice, which was a pairing of Cloud Atlas with The Nines, the purported theme "films composed of separate, vaguely connected stories using the same actors as different characters and with weird science fictional elements". The food pairing: fancy artisanal sausage and mash, for no good reason other than it was good. (Usually it's something on rolls).

cloudatlasI'm glad movie club prodded me into seeing Cloud Atlas, I've been rather afraid of it. It's one of the averagely intimidating David Mitchell novels (i.e. very), and despite having read it a couple of times I cherish only the vaguest recollection of some of its detail. (The futuristic Asian setting and the 19th-century composer bit stick out, for some reason). The buzz on the 'net has also been somewhat varied: some people thought the film worked, others really didn't. I would have thought it fell into the general category of "cordially unfilmable", personally, but on the whole I was agreeably surprised. It kicked in as slightly over-long and slow to start, but the editing of the various strands of story together, and the highlighting of the thematic links between them, was brilliantly done. It was visually very powerful, and its images have stayed with me since I saw it. It was also very well cast, and while the weird re-racifying of characters jarred me a lot (white actors as Asian characters, black as white etc), I finally conceded that the blurring of racial boundaries was a sort of deliberate thematic effect which wasn't entirely lame. It's absolutely worth sitting through the first part of the credits for the quick picture gallery of the actors in their different roles - some of them are completely unrecognisable. It has a rather slow start, but on the whole it's an interesting and absorbing film, often cruel and tragic, but achieving a surprising level of fidelity to the mood, tone and focus of the novel. If something as disparate as Cloud Atlas can be said to have a focus. Discuss.

ninesI'm not entirely positive about The Nines. This was an odd indie thing starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa McCarthy, both of whom are extremely likeable actors; it featured three separate stories, all present-day LA, with RR and Melissa as different characters, and some really odd connections and resonances between the three scenarios. Overall, though, this felt like an interesting idea which the film-makers singularly failed to develop in any ultimately satisfying way. The first two thirds or so were creepy and interesting, the moments where the scenarios blurred together were genuinely strange and threatening, but the film's explanation of itself really didn't live up to the promise of the set-up. It felt both over-explained and unconvincing, somehow. But I enjoyed its self-consciousness about narrative, its focus on characters who were storytellers and worldbuilders, and whose lives and skills reflected the way in which the movie tried to deconstruct itself. I don't think it succeeded, but it was an interesting try.

Next up, possibly: random Shakespeare adaptations. Julie Taymor's version of The Tempest, and Ian McKellan's weird fascist Richard III. Or, if that seems too indigestible, one of the above plus something unlikely and only tangentially related. Taking suggestions.

live fast and prosper

Monday, 1 July 2013 02:33 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-

Took myself off to see the new Star Trek yesterday, which apart from anything else was a good excuse to drive my new car places. Which is just as well, because I'm not entirely sure the film justified the trip. It annoyed me. I'm a bit out on a limb here because I've never watched the original series1, but based on my voracious consumption of the entirety of Next Generation in about two months flat, I mostly think JJ Abrams has the tone all wrong. (And I don't think this is just because Canal Walk's sound balance and volume are habitually set by ham-fisted drunken gorillas).

Into Darkness was frenetic action from the get-go; loud, brash, violent, fast. In my sense of it, Star Trek is not a standard action narrative. The TV series (certainly Next Gen and the odd episode of TOS I've seen), and even the older films, are at least partially contemplative; they dwell on character interactions and evince a sort of leisurely, self-indulgent enjoyment of the utopian aspects of this futuristic society, both scientific and social. They have exciting action sequences, certainly, but they're interleaved at suitable intervals with slower sequences to give a very different sense of pace. The two new films don't have that; they're all action, with the contemplation (and there is some contemplation; I liked the examination of moral decisions, and the attempt to redeem the immature-twit-Kirk-should-not-be-in-charge plot holes from the first film) tacked onto action sequences in breathless gasps. JJ Abrams films are all chorus and no verse. They're exhausting.

This is a pity, because I think he has his cast absolutely right, they're really enjoyable to watch. And I spent most of the film giggling at inappropriate moments because the classic Kirk/Spock slashy subtext is so beautifully pandered to. Honestly, you can feel a thousand slash writers squeeing in the background in some of those sequences. I think the films have the Kirk/Spock dynamic pretty much down, particularly because their version of Kirk is such an impulsive, emotion-driven idiot, and I love these versions of Scotty and Bones et al. It's just a pity that the mood and pace (and the script, with its usual giant logic holes and reliance on cliché, good grief) don't match the characterisations.

I just wish they'd done more with the tribble. I was expecting trouble.



1 I feel the need to watch the original series, anyone have it?

Subject line: if I actually need to gloss my random concatenation of "Live fast and die young" with "Live long and prosper", I'm saddened, is all. Saddened and disappointed.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's like a saint's day, really. On this day we all watch really well-written television and superheroes. And possibly do the Dance of Joy. And curse the indifferent South African film gods who are not releasing Much Ado About Nothing anytime soon. Bugger.

The driver's licence seems to have been a weird sort of blockage in my life. Now that I have it, things are falling into place - some of them contingently, others coincidentally. The nice car people have approved my finance application, and sometime this week I should have a new car, into which they are currently putting an alarm system for which they are randomly not charging me anything despite the fact that it doesn't come standard. I'm not sure what to make of this. Either there's a hell of a lot of leeway in the deal they put together for me, or I'm a really good risk. I have also (this is the coincidental bit) suddenly found and sent to the nice agent lady in France all of the necessary documentation for a change of agent for the French house, which has been a sticking point for the last few months. Clearly it's enabling on some fundamental level to be all legal suddenly.

Let's hope that the sudden aura of Can Do extends to the various other things I should do in the next week before I go back to work: finish the Nesbit paper, fill the veggie boxes in the back courtyard, make some clothes. Also watch the new Star Trek, the new Superman, and mourn the fact that I've left it too damned late to re-watch the new Iron Man. Is it just me, or have superheroes actually taken over the world? As my final trick, I shall also find some way to stop Hobbit from sitting next to my screen and patting the cursor, it's adorable but not entirely conducive to productivity.

In the spirit of thematically-linked fanfic recs, the only Buffy fanfic I've ever really enjoyed is the Barbverse, which is all Buffy/Spike. It takes a sharp left turn at the point where Buffy and Spike are having naughty moments all over the show, and simply assumes that Buffy isn't a twit and doesn't try to deny or hide the relationship. The result is both entertaining and satisfying.

bump and grind

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 02:52 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, Jo and I had one of those Girly Movie Evenings last week, wherein, in the absence of stv, we watched Magic Mike. I am compelled to admit that, on the evidence, we probably don't get this Girly thing in the terms in which we possibly should. Because there we were: us girls together, a movie about male strippers, a bottle of wine, appropriately phallic hot dogs for supper, a general predisposition to giggle, and a completely unblushing tendency to pause the movie frequently at precise psychological moments in order to ... seriously discuss the implications for gender politics in the scene. As in:

"Gosh, the body language is interesting..."
"Yes, watch the women: open mouths, hands over mouths. They're shocked at themselves, caught doing something they shouldn't. Totally different to men at a strip show."
"It's still about male sexual dominance. Look at how often they use the women in the audience as props."
"I don't find them attractive. Should I be finding them attractive?"
"They're still filmed like sex objects."
"It's not about the sex. This is a sad movie."
"Millennial generation, it's all about drifting without meaning."
"Stripping is actually just a metaphor for empty display."

I found it very odd to watch: the cultural coding of almost naked men on display for a female gaze is radically different to that of men watching women strip. (We conducted further research by digging up clips from a bunch more male stripper movies, and they're all pretty much the same). It's not actually subversive of a gender paradigm in any way, because there is a clear sense in which the male stripper is getting off on the attention: that is, he's a subjectivity more than he's an object. As Jo pointed out, he has none of the subtext of shame which attaches to a woman in the same position, and a very clear sense that attention paid to his sexual flaunting is somehow his right. (Which is probably why I am profoundly not turned on by the display). The ramifications of this in the overall plot, and the development of the character called the Kid, were bloody terrifying.

Charming Potato, however, is moderately endearing in the actual story part of the lead role, and he's clearly a dancer - he moves beautifully. Matthew McConaughey made my skin crawl, as did the character development of the Kid. But it's not a bad film.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Scene: the local mall, wherein is showing Iron Man III, the which I trundled off to see this morning bright and early on the grounds of lesser crowds. (Result). A slightly fey little COSMETIC SALESMAN accosts me as I drift vaguely past on a superheroic high, and thrusts upon me a small sample sachet of lotion purported to contain diamond dust. (Which, I'm sorry, is just silly).

SALESMAN (scrutinising my countenance intensely): Can I just ask what make-up you're wearing there?
ME (beatifically, on account of aforementioned superheroic high): Oh, I don't wear make-up.
HIM (patiently): Well, what do you have at home for when you do wear it?
ME (with reciprocal patience): I don't wear make-up at all. For any reason.
HIM (with definite sales glint in the eye): Oh, that's so sad, what is it, allergies?
ME (bugger, he asked): No, I have ideological problems with the whole idea.
HIM (slightly flabbergasted): Oh. (Slight pause). May I ask what?
ME (slightly vaguely): Only women wear make-up.
HIM (indignantly, pointing to his own definite state of mascara, at least, and probably something very expensive and foundational): Hello!
ME: Yes, but you wear it for different reasons.

It degenerated a bit from that point, as I'm not up to snappy feminist rejoinders post-superhero-movie, early in the morning and on only one cup of tea. But, in l'esprit d'escalier, what I should have said, after thinking about it: actually, there's a weird sort of kinship here. He may not articulate it in precisely the same terms, but to some degree he wears make-up for exactly the same reasons that I don't: as a giant up-yours to the heteronormative tenets of our culture and its base and highly gendered assumptions about beauty and desirability. Because fuck that noise.

What I did manage to say, even through the haze, was that I'm completely comfortable with my ideological choice here, thank you, and it's not simply a matter of meeting the right make-up: I am not going to be converted by his fabulous samples. But I did see him waving his arms around as he clearly described the whole encounter to his glam little lady assistant (he was pointing at me as I drifted away). Clearly I'm a strange and fabulous creature quite unlike any he has ever seen before. Possibly mythical. I'm okay with that.

Oh, IM3.
  1. This film did neither what I expected it to, nor much of what I rather formlessly wanted it to do, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.
  2. Damn good script, much of it out of left field.
  3. Music was all wrong. I never thought I'd mourn the lack of AC/DC.
  4. Fascinating stuffing around with the comics canon, plot-wise, about which I shall burble at length in a subsequent post. It's still percolating.

Drive-in Saturday

Sunday, 28 April 2013 10:08 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Movie club! As you know, Bob, we (being me and jo&stv, occasionally with the EL) have a technically monthly movie club, whose simple and stated purpose is to watch two movies back-to-back, preferably films none of us have seen before, with a common theme or possibly "common" "theme" and excellent food of the eat-on-your-lap variety. The proceedings (and discernment of theme) tend to be well lubricated by lots of relaxing alcohol, which is very rewarding to the critical facilities. We rotate the responsibility for choice and cooking. We're terribly erratic timing-wise, but have managed to actually achieve two movie clubs in the last two months, the first of which I didn't ever get around to blogging on account of general wossname. I shall now proceed to Catch Up, TM. Reviews lurking under a cut, on account of length. )

Movie Club: dislocating your neck with rapid thematic transitions since 2009. Watch this space for further updates!
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Skyfall

Now I'm wishing I hadn't used the e e cummings quote for yesterday's subject line, because I should have used it for today's. Because, what the hell is going on with Skyfall? I finished watching it last night, having been distracted the night before at the point where the train comes through the ceiling by the sudden arrival of [livejournal.com profile] herne_kzn, and it left me with a rather scattered set of impressions mostly along the lines of "WTF??" WTFs elucidated under the cut on account of spoilerage. )

I can't say I hated this film; it was an entertaining few hours, and Daniel Craig is always watchable (although he also always reminds me of my dad, which is simply weird). But it's not a good sign, when I found myself doing a lot of this analysis and deconstruction while I was actually watching. Action movies should blow you away sufficiently that their flaws only occur to you once you've emerged, quivering and energised, from the showdown. Not so much.

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