freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

Whedonesque on Tumblr yesterday made the comment that "Rogue One is an excellent Star Wars film and in some ways the best Firefly movie since Serenity." Hah, I thought. Flip, I thought. Smart-arse. Also, in the event, after watching the film this morning, I am forced to conclude: correct. I loved this movie, although in a very different way to Force Awakens: it's a denser, darker, chewier, less swashbuckling thing, all political sweep and gritty, desperate acts of resistance. I very much like this review, which contends that the film basically both rehashes the manifest iniquities of 2016, and offers some sort of potential antidote. But there are also definitely Firefly echoes; ragtag team of jaded misfits and hopeless causes struggling against fascist empires, leavened with one-liners and driven by strong character interactions. Also, spaceships. Spaceships are cool.

The film doesn't merit a Pros and Cons list, because there weren't too many cons, so have a sort of random listy thing. Spoilers! here be spoilers! )
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)
Saw Force Awakens yesterday. Three things. Non-spoilery things.

  1. That was Star Wars. That felt like Star Wars. That was, in fact, so much like Star Wars it was almost comical. It's like JJ took a judicious sampler of the most Star Warsy character archetypes, tropes, plot points, flavours, conflicts, visual cues, scenes and confrontations from the original trilogy (we do not speak of the Prequels of which we do not speak), and simply remixed them. It's like a concentrated essence of three Star Wars movies in one. He must have simmered it for ages. Some of the world-building is a bit perfunctory, I have absolutely no sense of how this political landscape has developed after the fall of the Empire, and I suspect JJ himself doesn't really know, but it's such an intense burst of Star Wars on the palate, it's easy to forgive.
  2. That wasn't just a film, that was a statement of creed. Its ultimate upshot is to ally itself so closely to the original films that it effectively obliterates the Prequels of which we do not speak. Those were, it is delicately suggested, an inexplicable error of taste. JJ has managed, in fact, to give us something resembling an address to the horrible Darth Vader plot of the prequels - a reworking of the teen angst rebellion theme with more actual human content and a far better actor. (I love, incidentally, how few of the main cast are classically Beautiful Hollywood People. Ren possibly qualifies, but she has a bit of a girl-next-door quality; mostly we have fascinatingly craggy or characterful faces, and a non-WASP aesthetic preponderates to a pleasingly large extent. I adore Finn to a slightly unseemly extent, he has that broad-faced, honest, slightly perplexed thing going. I can't help but feel that JJ is infinitely better suited to the swashbuckle of Star Wars than he ever was to Star Trek's more thoughtful spaces, but across both franchises one of his huge strengths is his casting.) This is possibly why it felt a bit like set-up - we have rehashed the originals now, which has cleared the decks, and hopefully the next two films will be able to strike into slightly newer territory.
  3. We have a female lead. We have a self-sufficient, efficient, geeky female lead who consistently and effectively rescues herself, and whose accurate tech-babble has as its direct cinematic ancestor Kaywinnet Lee Frye. We have not only a girl-hero, but random women in the background busy being doctors and techs; we have a female Asian pilot in the Resistance wing. (Although Captain Phasma was criminally underused, I hope she's heavily in the sequel). The partial-Yoda-analogue (who I loved) is female. Carrie Fisher is doing her thing with Leia. And the film is breaking box-office records. Take that, Hollywood patriarchy! Women can too lead a blockbuster action franchise. Which we already knew, but allow us to gleefully rub your nose in it.

In short, if you hadn't already gathered: squee. Slightly qualified squee, in that I slightly wish the film had given us something new in addition to stating its faith, but it's a good faith, and there's lots of space for newness in the sequels. Apparently this generation's Star Wars is no longer Guardians of the Galaxy, it's now Star Wars. Which is as it should be.

By way of celebration, this is one of my current favourite things in the universe ever, neatly conflating my Star Wars fangirliness with my love of a capella harmony. It's a thing of joy.

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.
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)
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.


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.


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 [ 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)

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)

Arcade Fire, Reflektor. Arrived today. Here are dispatches from the front.

  1. Wait, do I have the right disk? Is this Arcade Fire? This isn't the usual textured indie pop/rock sound, it's danceable. Lots of beat, synth, electronics. When did Arcade Fire start doing disco? Or is it more 80s dance? Must have wrong disk in sleeve.
  2. Oh, wait, yes, that's Win Butler's voice. And the classic Arcade Fire layering and texturing and instrumental density and general tendency to head off in new, complex directions without warning. Characteristic melody lines swing in occasionally.
  3. Am bopping quietly in seat.
  4. Sounds a bit like the Bowie reinvention circa Scary Monsters or so, with a touch of Outside.
  5. Wait, wtf, was that a David Bowie vocal for a line or so?
  6. Quick google reveals that it was indeed a David Bowie vocal for a line or so. *awards self fangirl Cold Recognition merit badge*.
  7. This is an extended and rather dirty flirtation with rock and pop history.
  8. I miss their violin.
  9. Nice drums. Not quite African, perhaps Caribbean? Keep cropping up.
  10. Why do I love this? Not my usual thing at all.
  11. That was thrash punk, but only very briefly.
  12. Wait, end of the disk already? They've split one massively-long album into two short disks. Seems a bit unnecessary.
  13. Oh, hello Arcade Fire, there you are. Disk 2 is apparently gentler/lighter, less danceable, more like the Arcade Fire we know and love and are generally intimidated by.
  14. Still very electronic, but at least the violin swims by occasionally.
  15. I love this track, it has the classic Arcade Fire build and soar, what is it? "Awful Sound". Are you fucking with us, Arcade Fire?
  16. 80s synthpop flashbacks. That that didn't go so well for Bowie in critical terms, but I'm really enjoying their take on the sound, possibly at least partially because nostalgia. They seem to be stuffing around with Orpheus/Eurydice motifs.
  17. These tracks should feel overlong, but really don't.
  18. The fuck? The end of this track is apparently six minutes of vague, ethereal electronic improvisations over what seems to be the sound of a tape rewinding. Strangely soothing.
  19. OK, hooked. I love this. It's not an album so much as a sort of explosion; it jolts you out of your expectations on a more or less ongoing basis. This album does not deal in comfort zones other than momentarily, and only because they lull you into a false sense of security. They're doing fascinating things with lyrics and theme which I'm not even properly aware of because I'm so submerged in the sound, and which I may start to unwrap after a few (dozen) more listens. This is an album to swim in.
  20. I mostly love Arcade Fire for their texture. This definitely delivers. It's also, of course, a direct pandering to my deep-in-my-bones and only semi-intellectual love of anything which consciously stuffs with genre and structural expectation. The Orpheus/Eurydice motifs are semi-ironic, because this sure as hell doesn't lose anything when it looks back.

Subject line is that warning they put on rear view mirrors. Arcade Fire seems to be generally fascinated by reflection and light. Black mirrors, neon, flashbulbs. And with things not being what you expect.
Chunks of this post ganked off my Twitter, incidentally, assembled here for your convenience, or possibly mine.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

I've upgraded my home movie-watching apparatus recently, with a Blu-Ray player and home theatre system which I'm really enjoying (as, in fact, are the EL and the ELG, who have just finished Firefly and embarked on The Middleman, indoctrination clearly proceeding as planned). It's lovely to have good sound, and the Blu-Ray resolution is clearly better, especially for the large-scale visual spectacle movies (superheroes, sf, fantasy) to which I am unrepentantly addicted. It'll be even better when I upgrade the TV to a larger model, a project rife with difficulty as the TV cabinet is a specific size and I can't go any larger until the EL has modified the hell out of it. Which is OK, as I can't currently afford a bigger TV anyway.

So, one of the films I recently acquired on Blu-Ray was Man of Steel, the recent Superman remake. Re-remake, if you count the Christopher Reeve versions, which one does, because they're the Christopher Reeve versions. I actually liked the Bryan Singer one with Brandon Routh and Bald!KevinSpacey, it's a relatively thoughtful film, as is characteristic of Singer, and is quite faithful in tone and partially in plot to the first Reeve one. I wish I could say the same of Man of Steel, but I can't: I emerged at the end of it with an unambiguous conviction that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. Which I rather fear is the result of the ineluctable fact that Zach Snyder is a two-bit hack. A two-bit drunken hack, in that he gets drunk on his own CGI. (On the upside, I also re-watched Star Trek: Into Darkness last night, and was forced to the realisation that JJ Abrahams is rather less of a two-bit hack by comparison - that script, while not strictly Star Trek, could certainly have been worse. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch has a good voice for villainy, Smaug should be fun.)

So, Things I Liked About Man of Steel:
  • The cast. Henry Cavill is likeable, he has a certain gravitas and manages to be both clean-cut and a bit broody - a good sense of suppressed power. Amy Adams is always lovely. Even Russell Crowe only slightly gnaws the scenery. And if Michael Shannon's Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain, I think that's because Zod is a cardboard cut-out villain and the script is very definitely a cardboard cut-out script.
  • The visuals. The Krypton sequences are full-on space opera: the visual feel is striking and effective, all bulbous spaceships and strange multi-winged riding beasts. It has my vote. As, in fact, does Superman's new outfit, which is darker and more textured in tone, and feels rather less spandexy.
  • Clark discovering flight, which he does joyously, by speeding madly around the earth. Pure wish fulfilment, very happy-making.

Things I Didn't Like About Man of Steel:
  • The fact that they gave it to Zach Snyder, see above. The Superman mythos is dear to my heart as a result of indelible teen imprinting, and should be cherished rather than ravished.
  • The script. They do this unbelievable thing in the Krypton introduction where there is what appears to be an entirely random confluence of (a) Zod's eugenics-inspired attempted coup against the Council with (b) Jor-El and Lara's defiance of Krypton's pod-baby status quo to engender the first natural birth in thousands of years, and (c) the planet exploding, and I found myself sitting there thinking, good grief, that's a plethora of completely disconnected plots, can't you pick one? But apparently not. The same gratuitous proliferation of motives characterises the rest of the script, which is also prone to emotional beats which are no more than half-arsed and more than somewhat tone-deaf. Christopher Bloody Nolan has script credit, he should damned well know better. Although I suppose I never liked his Batman very much, either.
  • Profoundly and centrally, the film's gratuitous neglect of proper Superman morality in favour of completely unexamined swathes of excessive and gleeful destruction. Central to the Superman mythos is the exploration of superhuman power: what it means, how to use it, the responsibility it implies to protect the weak and innocent. Superman vs. Kryoptonian bad guys are really OTT action sequences, in which they can't simply punch each other, they have to punch each other through half a dozen skyscrapers or into random trains, factories, helicopters or articulated trucks, see subject line. By the end of it the city is almost skeletonised - I have never seen so many toppling skyscrapers in my life, and I have a serious disaster movie fetish. You cannot have Superman kill thousands and inflict billions in property damage as a backdrop to his fights, without apparently noticing. Nor can you pay token attention to it by putting a random group of hammy extras in front of Zod's eye-beams for five seconds while Supes looks anguished. Sheer tokenism. Destruction of the city by Old Kryptonians duking it out should be a profound moral dilemma right there, not an item of scenery. It is a profoundly disturbing aspect of contemporary blockbuster film and its reliance on CGI that it's become easy to destroy things wholesale - you no longer have to work for your violence or justify it in terms of the plot, you can just slosh it in there as though it means nothing. Zach Snyder's always had a torrid and obsessive affair with his CGI, but he can't do it to Superman. Not cricket. This film made me snort in disgust a whole lot, and apostrophise Zach Snyder as a drunken two-bit hack rather more than I care to. Which is a pity, because Krypton's pretty.

Subject line from Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing the classic Disaster Area song lyrics, boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon etc. This is a favourite catch-phrase of mine, although I tend to misremember it as "which then, for no adequately defined reason, explodes", which I honestly think has a better cadence, anyway.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

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.

live fast and prosper

Monday, 1 July 2013 02:33 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)

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.

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.

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)

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 [ 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.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
The Dark Knight Rises

I should say up front that I've never really gone for Batman, at least not the Nolan film version. I like a bit of splash and spandex with my superheroes, not this tortured, gritty, brooding thing, this tone of relentless angst. I am willing to concede that Nolan's first two Batman movies were excellent films which brought a new seriousness to the genre and all that jazz, and were extremely well cast and filmed. I just didn't enjoy them very much. Given that it's just taken me a week to drag myself into eventually watching the second half of The Dark Knight Rises, I'm forced to add that in addition to its unrelenting grim, this wasn't even a particularly good film quite apart from its failure to pander to my personal superhero proclivities. I'm going to cut this, because it's a big black flappy bat-winged spoiler on a kicky bike. )

This film went further with the industrial-military feel than the previous ones, and lost, to me, some of that beautifully visual sense of the Gothic cityscape. It also failed dismally, to my mind, to render Batman himself as a compelling physical presence: even with the film's insistence on injury and damage, that costume doesn't quite cohere, appearing stiff and awkward and the cape simply absurd. I did like the bike's cornering capabilities, though. Cute. And Catwoman's headset ears. But that's symptomatic: the bits that worked were the ones that were fun, that nodded, even momentarily, to the comic-book identity of the myth. The rest was an overblown and badly-contained wallow in its own sense of angst.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)

I fear it's official: I am Peter Jackson's bitch. He has me right where he wants me. It needs only the swelling strains of that Shire soundtrack, and I'm all misty-eyed and lump-in-throat and ready, once more, to be charmed. Which I was. I had very mixed expectations of The Hobbit, and it's a deeply flawed film, but I loved it nonetheless - why, yes, children, you can revisit Middle Earth, and it's just as beguiling as it was the first time round. I am down with this. I participate shamelessly in this shameless manipulation. It's fine by me.

Mostly, though, I left thinking, slightly weak-kneed, wow but this is going to be spectacular when all six films are done - a seamless, integrated storytelling artefact which even without extended versions will fling at us something over sixteen hours of loving, sprawling, coherent and unified vision. Unexpected Journey is so tightly woven into the LotR trilogy, it's basically meaningless considered separately. This is not a film version of Tolkien's The Hobbit, this is a structuring of a prequel to The Lord of the Rings around the backbone of Bilbo's story, but essentially and intrinsically fleshed out with history, backstory, foregrounding of minor story elements, wholesale ripping off of appendices, logical extrapolation of action for people from LotR, and other acts of gratuitous fannishness. This is a geek's film, built for the joyous recognition of those of us who have altogether too minute a knowledge of Middle-Earth.

This rather elevated project does some very specific things to the feel of the film. It's not about the children's book. It doesn't, other than in some slightly jarring moments, even try for the tone of the children's book: it's in a weird way rather more true to Tolkien's overall epic, rather dark-edged, elegiac Middle-Earth world-building than the children's book ever was. The violence and battle which are glossed with a certain childish innocence in the novel are here given the almost-full LotR grim and grit, and the broader implications of history and event which the book refuses to contemplate are damned well contemplated. If the result is a wee bit schizophrenic, I think that's inevitable, because the book is as well.

Above all, I am completely fascinated with what they've done with Thorin Oakenshield, who becomes the epic warrior hero counterpoint to Bilbo's little guy. Film-Thorin is a brooding, tormented, gothy figure with a Tragic!Backstory well upfront, prone to dramatic, solitary posing against interesting backdrops, à la Draco in Half-Blood Prince. He is an extremely compelling figure, and also ridiculously hot. Ridiculously. The sheer toe-wriggling appreciation of my own viewing experience (brooding intense men buttons firmly hit!) is backed up by a frothing online fandom frenzy approaching Legolas levels. (Fili and Kili are also incidentally firmly in the "wouldn't throw them out of bed for gratuitous bass-line part singing" camp). Most interestingly, I don't see this version of Thorin as in any way a betrayal of the book version. Book-Thorin always was fascinatingly flawed, a complex mix of heroism and dignity and focused intent and a chip on his shoulder the size of the Lonely Mountain which makes his avarice and defensiveness all too likely. Film-Thorin is something of a redemption of the Comic Dwarf elements of Gimli: no-one would dare to think of tossing Thorin Oakenshield, and I'm very happy the film picked up on the book's insistence on his dignity. He embodies "Tolkien Dwarf" both conceptually and physically in a way which at least partially compensates for the broad comedy of some of his brethren, for which, bitch or no, I will not really be forgiving Jackson any time soon.

While I loved the film, it was not an unmixed viewing experience: I don't think it's up there with the LotR movies in terms of absolute quality. It's a sprawling, self-indulgent piece, and some of its attempts to negotiate the clashes between childlike and epic elements are not wildly successful. While I'm still on a bit of a fangirly high, I'm also exceeding even Two Towers levels of slightly enraged incomprehension at some of the adaptation choices that were made. Therefore, a Swings and Roundabouts comparison seems called for. I shall also cut it in case anyone doesn't want to be spoiled for adaptation choices, although if you're spoiled for the novel as a whole I am shocked and horrified. )

All things considered, I am immeasurably relieved. The response to the film has been so mixed, I was rather afraid that Jackson-bloat would have crushed the life out of the world I love. But it hasn't. It's still Middle-Earth, and the visit is still magical. The kind of carping I'm doing is very much that of a fan, levied at the work of a fellow fan with whom I'm comfortable enough to wrangle affectionately when our visions differ. Thank the cosmic wossnames.

Also, hot dwarves. I'm just saying.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It was a slightly madly busy weekend, which I'm only getting around to describing now because I've been spaced and elsewhere all week. Possibly because of actual alien abductions. There certainly seem to be moments when I look up and great tracts of hours at a time have passed without me noticing or actually doing anything in them other than desultorily reading fanfic. (Hilarious fact of the day: the Hawkeye/Coulson slash ship is known as "Bowtie". Hee.)

At any rate, we Salty Crackered on Friday, with mixed results. Then on Saturday we did another installment of the Great Me/Jo LARP-writing pact, which is causing that Wild West LARP to actually be written at a rate currently not one microsecond faster than two hours per week, but that's just under two hours a week more than it's been doing for about the last decade, so score.

Then on Saturday night we movie clubbed. Movie club was Jo's choice, and we watched Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, which is a strangely inevitable pairing requiring much bolstering of my nerves with booze and a monkey pillow behind which to cower fetchingly because I really don't do gore. Really. And there was a lot of gore. A lot. (Collapses on fainting couch in girly fashion at the mere horrible memory of all the sprays of blood). Cabin in the Woods is, of course, Joss Whedon (fangirlfangirlfangirl*) doing his usual genre-savvy, hyper-aware, meta sort of stuff, with enough panache and general out-thereness that I spent the first half hour of the movie going "WTF is he doing?" in tones of fascinated dread. It's a brilliant (if bloody) script and has a bloody brilliant cast, I'm really enjoying Chris Hemsworth's slightly tongue-in-cheek jock thing, and Fran Kranz is a weird and lateral acting deity all on his own.

And the film, apart from being self-conscious pervy genre-fondling of the most extreme type (and therefore making me very, very happy) is also a beautifully dark and incisive exposition of the night's theme, which was, of course, The True Nature Of Evil. (Jo thinks it was about Horror Cabins In Woods Revisited Ironically, but she's wrong, or at very least less right. If these films do anything, it's to insist that evil isn't what you think it is and, in particular, it may actually be what you're doing when you think you're fighting evil, something the American Republican party would do well to consider. And horror has, after all, absolutely the best box of tropes about confronting evil.) Whedon's take on this is intelligent and pointed enough that it made the efforts along similar (and more slapstick) lines of Tucker and Dale look like the semi-comic hackery I darkly suspect they actually were, Alan Tudyk and some reasonably funny lines notwithstanding. Possibly I am prejudiced against it because of the gratuitous stereotypes. And the woodchipper. Aargh. Woodchipper.

In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say that the night's theme was The True Nature Of Evil As Explicated By Oblivious Teens In Gory Horror Cabins In Woods, Revisited Ironically By Joss Whedon And/Or Alumni. But it's a bit of a mouthful.

Sunday morning I did tea in Kirstenbosch with my sister and Da Niece, who just turned seven, good grief, and scored thereby Ursula Vernon art and various subversive works of kiddielit including Dragonbreath, just because. Then Sunday afternoon/evening we trotted out to Fish Hoek for a braai with [ profile] rumint in his ceremonial biennial visit to these shores, and it was lovely to catch up. But I am dead this week. Dead. I am not designed by nature to be a happy socialiser in any sort of extended format. And there's book club tonight. Oh, lord. *girds loins*. I love book club and its lovely ladies, but my socio-metre needle is quivering on "full".

* obligatory
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
So. Jane Eyre. This is actually a favourite novel of mine; partially for its lovely Gothic elements and atmosphere; partially because of the amazing feminist analyses which enrich my readings of it (Gilbert & Gubar and madwomen in attics); and partially because of Jane herself, who I find both interesting and appealing. She's an amazingly self-contained spirit, Jane - someone who has risen through really quite awful circumstances of deprivation and mental assault, to become nonetheless a decided entity in her own right, a person with intelligence and will and opinions which are all the more powerful for being hidden by her generally self-effacing reserve. I love watching her vivid mental life spark out of that reserve. She's a fascinating icon for female suppression, and I like her for some of the same reasons I have a soft spot for Austen's Fanny Price.

I have to say, I never quite attained the requisite literary crush on Rochester - he seems to me to be an odd, abrupt, rather narcissistic individual whose conversational roughness and cruelty always prevent me from trusting him enough to like him. He's tormented, sure, but it never quite excuses his behaviour. (I like him a lot better if I imagine him played by a mid-career Alan Rickman; it gives him a complexity the book never quite manages).

I have been driven into a Jane Eyre kick by the lovely treatment of the novel in one of Sarah Rees Brennan's wildly amusing Gothic Tuesdays. ("THE PLOT: Suddenly, typhus!" Hee.) This has caused me to do the following:
  1. Repeatedly forget to bring my copy of Jane Eyre back from campus so I can re-read it.
  2. Order, acquire and re-read Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting, since my copy seems to have fallen to earth, I know not where. (If you're the one who borrowed it, consider it yours).
  3. Order, acquire and read Sharon Shinn's Jenna Starborn.
  4. Order, acquire and watch the recent film version of Jane Eyre featuring Mia Wasikovska and Michael Fassbender.
Lucky readers, you get a three-part review, whether you like it or not!

In loving Nine Coaches Waiting, I am utterly unrepentant. Mary Stewart romances are still a comfort read (far more so, in fact, than her Arthurian series). Nine Coaches is one of my favourites of hers, a loose Jane Eyre mirror featuring a French/English governess sent to a chateau in France (written late 50s, probably set contemporaneously) where she finds Lies And Shenanigans Afoot, possibly perpetrated by devilishly handsome Frenchmen. It's fascinating as a Jane Eyre response because it deals neatly with the problem of what Sarah RB calls "Edward 'Crazypants' Rochester" - i.e. he's both hero and villain, attractive and alienating, desirable and bloody dangerous - by splitting him into a father-son team who embody the two halves separately. This works beautifully. I spent most of my teens with a passionate crush on Raoul, possibly secondary only to my passionate crush on the chateau. But the novel also plays very nicely with the class issues in Bronte's novel, and the dangerous appeal of attraction in the middle of lies and cover-ups. It substitutes the standard Mary Steward thriller-tension for some of the Gothic moments, but still nods affectionately at the Gothic. It works.

Jenna Starborn is a far more up-front and faithful adaptation of the novel, but set in a far-future, multi-planetary setting where class divisions are those of citizenship and wealth rather than birth (although the characterising of the Jenna as a clone is a fascinating choice in terms of how it externalises difference and alienation). Lowly governess becomes lowly but essential technician; mad wives setting fire to houses become assaults on the containment and life support systems on a low-atmosphere planet. The "madness" of the hidden wife is beautifully translated, and I decline to spoiler it here, because it was effective in its unexpected revelation. However, the novel doesn't quite work, in part because its adaptation is too faithful: the constraints and strata of nineteenth-century British life are too wholesalely flung into the future, and there isn't much to account for why such retrograde social structures should be re-created. It also, given the update of the Jane-figure into a (technically) more enlightened era, spotlights the really gaping absences at the heart of the Jane/Rochester relationship, and the comparative lack of explanation for why Jane should fall for the ridiculous man when he's such a surly and uncommunicative bastard. I mean, please.

I watched the Jane Eyre movie last night. It's absorbing; slow, but beautifully made, and casting Mia Wasikowska as Jane was genius - she portrays that essential self-containment beautifully, playing right into my sense of Jane as all surface primness, all hidden fire. Fassbender also manages to make something almost human and understandable out of Edward Crazypants Rochester. The film is interesting, though, because it strips out a lot of the better-known Gothic moments to focus, instead, on relationship and feeling. Very little screaming from the attics, in fact. No Edward Crazypants Rochester in drag, therefore no gypsy figure. Absolute lack of the torn-wedding-veil moment, which I've always adored for its incredibly complex symbolism. You see the mad wife precisely once. Instead, the film gives you minute after drawn-out minute of beautiful landscapes, Jane trudging through them, rain, storm, high-angle shots of fields and downs and forests and fog and cliffs by the sea. It's landscape porn, which tries, I think, to use the landscape and environment as emotional indicators, but ultimately fails. The film feels as though it's been gutted, the heart stripped out of it; what makes Bronte's novel powerful is the way in which Gothic symbol and motif externalise and explore feeling and implication, and in a lot of ways substitute for character development. Rochester's pain and corruption aren't in what he says or does, they're in the figure of the mad wife, who also embodies the threat to Jane's integrity and safety, both mental and physical. You marginalise the mad wife and it really all stops hanging together. Which is sad, because the film is beautiful, and the actors are both beautiful and accomplished. (Total waste of Judi Dench, though.)

Thus endeth your dose of pseudo-lit-crit for the week. I must go and feed the cats, and water the garden, and possess my soul in patience until the second and third seasons of Veronica Mars hove to on the horizon. Twitch.


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