Thor (US, 2011)

Oedipal shenanigans

Yet another male having to prove himself to his father… yawn. Oedipus and Freud are probably the fathers of Hollywood. Are Hollywood execs yearning to prove themselves to their fathers? Are their lives so empty that they constantly seek self-realisation in the resolution of the narrative? So why am I bothering to blog this film?

I’m not familiar with the Marvel comic source material but the film version does offer, at least, a slightly more subtle version of masculinity than, say, Schwarzenegger’s Conan. Chris Hemsworth’s pretty boy musculinity does manage to find a non militaristic way of being a man. I won’t be giving the film away by telling you that the catalyst for this is a woman: Natalie Portman’s attractive (under-statement) scientist.

Visually the film’s OK; by that I mean it’s pretty stunning but CGI’s ability to do anything has rendered it virtually incapable of creating genuine spectacle. I ended up in the 3D version which only confirmed that, for this type of cinema, it is entirely unnecessary; something multiplex audiences are starting to agree with by choosing the cheaper 2D versions this summer over the 3D offerings.

Alice in Wonderland (US, 2010)

Evil v good? Yawn.

I don’t know the original well enough to comment on what’s actually been changed in Tim Burton’s version, but clearly  the episodic nature of Carrol’s fantasy has been replaced by a conventional good v evil narrative. The boredom this instills is epitomised by the way the Jabberwocky pauses to roar like all CGI monsters.

What a disappointment from Tim Burton and the cast seem to be going ‘through their numbers’ though I think Mia Wasikowska, as Alice and seen in the first series of the brilliant In Treatment, could be a star in the making.

Bechdel test: Pass (7/4)
Protagonist: Female (2/6)

Pleasantville (US, 1998)

Postmodernism with meaning

This is an audacious film that melds the comedy of laughing at the myth of the American ’50s to social commentary on discrimination. Siblings David and Jennifer find themselves in a ’50s black and white TV programme but, particularly through her behaviour, they soon literally bring colour to the characters’ lives.

Jennifer is sexually predatory whilst David is the virginal nerd who knows everything about the TV show. So it’s Jennifer who initiates the youngsters of the hyperreal world of Pleasantville to the pleasures of the flesh. Add the fact that there’s no sense that Jennifer is doing ‘wrong’ then we have an usually positive representation of female sexuality from Hollywood (though it’s a pseudo-indie film made by Warners’ division New Line).

However as David (‘Bud’ in Pleasantville) notes it’s more than sex that brings colour into people’s lives (though his onscreen mother’s self sexual awakening brings a coup de cinema when a tree explodes into flames). Previously anti-book Jennifer starts reading the classics, DH Lawrence of course to start with, and finds the world of books even more enticing than sex. Here the film’s ideologies clash: on the one hand, the conservatism of (mythic) small town America is mocked; on the other, canonic literature is good for you.

The film’s postmodern playfulness is, as in the same year’s The Truman Show, deployed to meaningful effect. Art is portrayed as a subversive and enriching activity which challenges the patriarchy of the television programme in which the characters ‘live’. The book burning sequence, and the ‘no coloreds allowed’, are chilling reminders of the real world of suppression of ideas and discrimination.

Postmodernism usefully flattened the distinctions between high and low culture in a democratic move. However, the ‘anything goes’ destruction of the meta narrative of the canon reduced the common cultural  inheritance that we experience. Indeed, the invention of Literature as a subject was intended (see Matthew Arnold) to cement social values in the face of the decline of religion in 19th century Britain. So while the anti-elitism inherent in destroying the canon is good (who chose the canon in the first place? we didn’t) the common points of reference in contemporary society seem primarily to rest upon celebrity. Such that we can’t be presented with a documentary of street kids in India (and this is after Slumdog Millionnaire!) without it being Lindsay Lohan’s India. I’m not arguing for the return of the canon, which Pleasantville is, but it was better than what we’ve got now.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (UK-Canada-France, 2009)

Ladies and Gentlemen! We present nothing new!

This was Heath Ledger’s final film, his death during shooting brilliantly finessed by having Depp, Farrel and Law also play his character. It’s also a Terry Gilliam film and we can expect, like Tim Burton, a visual feast. However, whilst the cast is good, and some of the visuals are startling, I felt I’d seen it all before. The film presents a coagulation of music hall, Heath Robinson contraptions and the Faust story – so he have seen it before but unlike, say, Wallace and Gromit, it’s done is such a cliched and clunky way that the visual sheen cannot disguise the shortcomings of the script. Even having Tom Waits as the Devil – perfect casting for his raspy voice – doesn’t compensate for the ridiculous ending.

It was a troubled production but maybe Gilliam, like Scorsese, has run out of things to say. Or maybe I’m turning into a miserable old git who thinks he’s seen it all before.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe (US, 2005)

How can such a big budget movie have such ropey special effects (they’re not all bad but some of them are back-projection city)? Anyway, it gets the effects it deserves. (OAR) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363771/

Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, Mexico-Spain-US, 2006)

261029-pans_labyrinth_image_2A brilliant fantasy combining the brutal realism of the Spanish Civil War with a young girl’s escapist (after a fashion) fantasies. There’s a brilliant line describing fascism (accepting orders unthinkingly) and Sergio Lopez plays evil brilliantly. Visually stunning (all on E15m apparently) and emotionally gripping. One of the movies of the year. (Pictureville) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457430/

Update:

I’ve just seen the film for the fourth time and it gets better with viewing (and age). The protagonist, Ofelia, is ‘coming of age’ during the dying embers of the Civil War which, we know, Franco has not only won but will rule for another 30 years. Her escape into her fantasy world is entirely rational. I thought, when I first saw it, that the film might be dallying in the ‘fantastic’, where the fantasy may or may not be true; however, subsequently I’m convinced it’s not. In addition it becomes clearer that the story is as much about Cpt Vidal as Ofelia. The psychopathology of fascism is engraved in his pained expression and inability to relate to others, other than through violence. It is painful that such pathologies are starting to thrive in Europe, in Greece in particular, in response to economic austerity. Of course the response of the oppressed would better being of the ‘left’ than the ‘right’ but the Establishment prefers to deal with the latter, knowing it so well.

Ofelia’s is about becoming an adult, she has to complete the faun’s (or Pan’s) tasks before the full moon (of her first period). She is an active protagonist, unusual for a female, particularly a pre-pubscent one (unless we are in Miyazaki Hayao’s universe). Mercedes, who becomes a surrogate mother to her because her own is incapacitated by pregnancy, is also a dynamic character; particularly in the scene when she confronts Vidal. However I do wonder about the film’s sexual politics when we find Ofelia in the fairy tale world told to sit beside her father, who’s positioned highest in the mise en scene. Fairy tales are, of course, patriarchal; maybe that’s del Toro’s point.

Add a beautiful mise en scene, thrilling battle sequences, a villain to viscerally hate and an ending that… well just in case you haven’t seen it… you have a magnificent film.

Night Watch (Russia, 2004)

I think this is the first contemporary mass audience Russian film I’ve seen and it yields nothing to Hollywood and, because of its national difference, is more interesting than much Hollywood genre fare. The battle between good and evil is given an interesting twist as it seems the evil ones are the equivalent of the Russian gangsters (one, though, looks like a chav!). Not sure what side Putin is meant to be on.

Some great visual effects and good performances. (DVD) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0403358/