The English Patient (US, 1996)

Flawed romance

I’ve not read the novel so can’t comment upon the efficacy of this adaptation but it seems flawed. As in my post on Tamara Drewe, I had to (try to) suspend any class prejudice when dealing with characters who are posh but I think I was genuinely unconvinced by elements of the relationships between the protagonists. When I first saw the film, Minghella’s direction seemed functional or designed for David Lean-like spectacle. Maybe I’ve mellowed, but that bothered me less this time. And this time the power of the romance did ‘get’ to me, the irrationality and absoluteness of intense passion did convince. With a cast of Ralph Fiennes and Juliet Binoche (both massive favourites of mine) it would be difficult to fail to convey intensity; and Minghella does use locations well.

Now the film hasn’t changed in the seven years since I originally saw the movie, when I didn’t like it, so differences in perception are obviously my own. In that time I’ve been divorced and had relationships with other women. Those events will, inevitably, affect my understanding of the film. Indeed, the power of cinema surely resides, in part, in its immutability and so it remains a touchstone whilst the spectator changes. And so, in this we can, maybe, understand better who we are, and, who we were.

Bechdel test: Pass (13/9)
Protagonist: Male (5/11)
Lacey test: Pass (0/4)

Paranormal Activity (US, 2007)

A normal place

It’s taken 10 years for a credible follow-up to The Blair Witch Project (1999) suggesting that the ‘realist’ generic innovation doesn’t really work with horror; however, Paranormal Activity is an interesting addition to the horror canon though whether the forthcoming sequel can escape the fate of the Blair Witch follow-up remains to be seen.

[Rec] (Spain, 2007)  also utilises the this-is-really happening trope, however it’s framed as a TV report and so lacks the ‘unadulterated’ access to reality of home video. It’s interesting that so little in Paranormal Activity can be spun out into so much; emphasising that what’s not seen (but often heard) is the most frightening. It’s good to see a less than svelte female in the lead (though whether I should actually note that point is debateable) and anyone who can ‘buy into’ horror hokum (I include myself) should find this er… enjoyable.

Bechdel test: Pass (13/8)
Protagonist: Male (6/11)*
Lacey test: Pass (0/3)

*This is debateable as Katie is the central character, however in narrative terms she is passive (until the end); Micah is the one who tries to affect events.

Tamara Drewe (UK 2010)

Characters in search of a narrative

A heavily marketed, by poster at least, British film, that’s taken £1.5m in 10 days of its release, is hopefully going to be a good one. And there are several interesting characters but, unfortunately, Tamara herself isn’t one of them. It’s a peculiar narrative that can offer well-drawn, and engaging, characters and leave – this spectator at least – desperate for the end because I didn’t care.

Maybe class prejudice is at the root (I try to avoid it – a bit) so a film with the protagonist called Tamara is therefore bound to fail. Possibly the source material, a strip in The Guardian, is the cause; maybe the episodic nature failed to cohere into a narrative-driven feature film?

Bechdel test: Pass (13/7)
Protagonist: Female (6/10)
Lacey test: Pass (0/2)

Gypo (UK, 2005)

On the run

This Dogme 95 movie slipped under my radar and turns out to be a terrific melodrama about racism and migration in contemporary Britain. The story is told from three perspectives and while this is a useful device in the creation of suspense, I’m not sure it adds anything to the narrative. As a realist film, in its adherence to Dogme 95’s dogma and its focus on a social problem, it might be expected that presenting the events from three characters’ experiences might make a point about subjectivity and reality. However…

Any anti-racist message is to be welcomed even if we have to suffer some clunky dialogue. Pauline McLynn is particularly good as the ‘good mother’ and there are some beautiful shots of the sun and the sea (it’s shot in Margate and Ramsgate). These aren’t gratuitous as they emphasis Britain as an island nation that makes migration a more potent issue then it might be in landlocked nations.

I’ve decided to institute the Lacey test; does a film feature two named men who talk to one another about something other than women?

Bechdel test: Pass (13/6)
Protagonist: Female (5/10)
Lacey test: Pass (0/1)

Mother (Madeo, S.Korea, 2009)

Mum’s the word

While I thoroughly enjoyed Joon-ho Bong’s Memories of Murder (2003) I struggled to appreciate The Host (2006) and the film under review. All three films take a genre, Mother‘s a melodrama, and approaches the narrative askance. In other words, he allows the genre to set up expectation but doesn’t deliver it straight. This is absolutely fine in principle, in practice though – I recognise I’m in a minority of those who’ve seen the films – it fails to engage me; to such an extent that I did nod off at one point during this film’s two hour plus length.

That said, the direction, cinematography and performances are excellent and it does pass the Bechdel test!

Bechdel test: Pass (13/5)
Protagonist: Female (4/10)

Salt (US, 2010)

Picture Tom Cruise

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 2004) meets Bourne equals Salt: and it isn’t any the worse for that. An entirely absurd plot that rattles along (it is a quite old fashioned thriller) quickly enough to prevent viewers speculating too much about its verisimilitude. Apparently written for Tom Cruise, the gender-change fails to pass the Bechdel test but there’s no doubt that we have a powerful female protagonist; though Salt’s unlikely to follow Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley – also written for a man – into the pantheon of great female roles.

Bechdel test: Fail (13/4)
Protagonist: Female (3/10)

The Secrets in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Argentina-Spain, 2009)

An awkward lift moment

This Oscar winner needs knowledge of Argentina in the 1970s, a CIA backed military dictatorship, to make full sense of it but I suspect it’s tale of underdogs taking on the system for justice would entertain anyway. There are some excellent set pieces – such as the one above where our protagonists meet their prey – and performances are strong. This review suggests the protagonist is gay something that I totally missed but the argument’s convincing. It’s also interesting that though the film features a strong female character, it still fails the Bechdel test.

Bechdel test: Fail (12/4)
Protagonist: Male (2/11)

August additions

Films I’ve seen in August but haven’t blogged:
Looking for Eric: Bechdel: 0 Protagonist: M
Let the Right One In: Bechdel : 0 Protagonist: M
From Here to Eternity Bechdel: 0 Protagonist: M

Bechdel test: Fail (11/4)
Protagonist: Male (2/10)

Avatar (US, 2009)

An unbelievably convincing alien world

I don’t have much to say about the biggest non-inflation adjusted movie of all-time (Gone With the Wind, 1939, is the top adjusted) as the brilliant special effects v corny plot argument has been well rehearsed. However ploddingly presented, it’s good to see an anti-colonialist/capitalist message emerge in a blockbuster film but what was most striking, I think, was the portrayal of Pandora as Gaia – James Lovelock’s idea that Earth is a living being. When I was pulling up potatoes, the following day, Pandora was with me: weird!

Bechdel test: Fail (9/4)
Protagonist: Male (2/8)