Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief Uma Thurman as Medusa? Interesting choice! She's been a much more believable Aphrodite in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Despite its brilliance and humanity, this film suffered from two major flaws. Firstly, when Percy begins to realize his destiny and heritage, the dialogue is a mish-mash of cliches and emotionless nonsense. Secondly, this film christianizes the underworld. The ancient greeks didn't believe in fire and misery in their afterlife (well, maybe some misery sometimes, but fire and brimstone seem to be the invention of Calvinists), but a place of coldness and stone: a place of sleep and death. Persephone hated the darkness because she was tied to the warm earth, and her mother Demeter, the goddess of the harvest.

Aside from these two awkward aspects, I enjoyed the film.

Warning: Impending Rant

Unfortunately, one of the great accuracies of this movie captured one of my biggest objections to greek mythology (and most current young adult literature). I dislike fantasies in which the heroes are distinguished for aspects over which they have no control. Greek mythology, and fantasy novels now, sadly, are based on the premise that all men are born unequal, and that  some children enter the world with more rights and privileges than others. Disenfranchised teens and pre-teens want to be special, but they want it now, and without any effort. They want to be born magic, or demi-gods, or impervious to telepathy. They want wings, or telekinesis, or any one of the hundreds of paranormal skills currently in vogue. What they don't want is the tragic reality that every child is born with some kernel of a gift (some with more, some less), and it'll wither and die without decades of hard work.

I think we have become disillusioned with the idea of self-making. I think we cannot always make ourselves what we want to be, even though what we are might be somebody's idea of a hero.

Warning: Another Impending Rant!

The ancient Greek ideas directly contradict the aims of civilization. More precisely, this type of ideology was invented to support an aristocracy - an inherited ruling class. Although thinking peoples cannot deny that even in the U.S. today we still have our own ruling class created from moneyed peoples and based on the commercialization of higher education (partially, anyway), we can deny the efficacy of it. We can remember the principles upon which our nation was founded, and we can do what is necessary to combat a complacency that would allow us to sink again into the barbarism of ancient Greece, where common people endured catastrophe after catastrophe, and pointed their fingers impotently at Olympus.

Taken

Taken (Single-Disc Extended Edition) I remember this film being much more exciting, but to be fair, the first time I saw it, I actually watched, rather than glanced over every once in a while between rounds of spider solitaire.

Did this movie remind anyone of the first season of 24? That is to say, I'm sure it did, but did it you?

While glancing through other critics' comments, I noticed one who seemed to notice the same thing I did. Thematically, this story is about a man who will go to any lengths to rescue his mortally imperiled daughter. With time as a serious factor, he escalates his violence to an extreme.

Although there is no possible way we might sympathize with the antagonists (they're selling girls into sexual slavery), I still found the level of violence somewhat disproportionate. A contemporary audience needs that level of violence, yes? If we remove that as a factor, though, and assume that internally, that level of violence is the only way to save the helpless teen, can we still look the character in the eyes and feel relief?

Think of Serenity, Joss Whedon's movie conclusion to the television show Firefly. During the final confrontation, the supremely violent and unstoppable antagonist admits that when he has finished his deadly and distasteful job, the empire he will have created will no longer have a place for him.
That displacement, that unease, concluded this movie as well.

When his daughter was safe, when everything was cleaned up and this determined father (miraculously, or magically) escapes justice in Paris, he returns to America, and I find that the blissful conclusion doesn't seem to allow him in, despite how affectionate his daughter's step-father seems to the man who has just saved his step-daughter. The character now carries around this aura of extremism that doesn't quite fit civilization.

What SHOULD he have done, though? Could one iota less violence possibly have saved his child?

Well, yes. There were several moments when the character stepped beyond that which was truly necessary. After he had tortured men to get information, killed the ignorant and injured the innocent, he continued.
Perhaps I should argue that leaving live men behind is an invitation for future trouble, but could I not then argue that he wasted valuable time killing people when he could have been moving toward his daughter? (not much time, admittedly. It doesn't take but a few seconds to fill a bastard full of bullets). Still, though, if rescuing his daughter had been his true aim, and not bloody revenge, things might have looked just slightly different.

It is that innate pleasure in killing that makes the character unfit for the society he is saving, and that makes the ending of the movie just that little bit less satisfying.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Walk the Line

Walk the Line Everyone saw this movie when it came out, yes? I'm certain of it. This film needs no critique. Both Phoenix and Witherspoon undoubtedly channel their characters straight from the fifties and sixties.

I'm not a Johnny Cash fan. I'd never heard of June Carter until I saw this movie. (I'd never heard of Johnny Cash either, but it's not the sort of thing you start a paragraph with.) I'd been raised on The Kingston Trio and much more mellow stuff. An album cut in a maximum-security prison isn't the sort of thing we'd mix with our Andrew Lloyd Weber.

I liked it anyway. I like the music, and the story. I don't enjoy watching imminent train wrecks, but it's nice to know that the aftermath cleaned up nicely, at least on film. The broken homes and drug abuse stupidity made me cringe, but I pitied the characters, and developed an affection for them. I cared - which means that something in the film was working well.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusLike most Terry Gilliam films, this one verged on the incomprehensible. It came out like a succession of bizarre images pumped haphazardly into a plot. With this movie, though, I cannot be sure which were genius, and which necessity, as Heath Ledger's final performance was necessarily subsidized by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and finally, Colin Farrell.

I loved the movie, though. I loved the message, and Tom Waits as the devil, against Christopher Plummer as a very old man with a very rich ability to let people see their own dreams. Instead of neatly-ordered Hollywood gift-wrapping, this film embraced chaos. The acting seemed scattered and drunk, even. It worked, in a way. The characters all felt off guard, and haphazard. It made the movie, and life by extension, seem unsettled and uncertain.

The themes in the film were extremely dark. Nooses abounded. It didn't feel dark, though. It felt colorful and wild, until the end, when Colin Farrell took over the Tony character, and took him to new lows of statutory rape and abuse. Under all the violence and depression, though, I sensed an almost theological depth that the film never plumbed.

After some consideration, I think I know what happened. I think the film rested on a balance of characters, but Heath Ledger's untimely death upset that balance, tipping too much of the attention away from Lily Cole's character, where the plot and ending would make more sense.

Rottentomatoes.com likes the film, especially as it feels like a return to Terry Gilliam's earlier work. Critics were largely positive in favor of Gilliam and his wild imagination.

See the film and decide for yourself.

Hogfather

HogfatherAnother British miniseries! Yay! I think I'm on a sort of bender with these things.
Terry Pratchett on film always turns into a mix'n'match of imagination and actors. It's a sort of game to see if the actors fit what you think they should have been, from when you read the books (see the discussion on Shelfari).

Hogfather is funny. It's not as funny as the book, obviously, but it has some really funny moments. Michelle Dockery played a beautiful and brilliantly deadpan Susan. There were moments when I wish she had put a little more bitter energy into the lines, but perhaps it would have seemed out of character.

I enjoyed David Warner's brief cameo. Ian Richardson as Death worked well enough. He has a great voice for the purpose.

There were moments when the low budget showed through, but I didn't mind them. Often enough, the set and costume were beautiful and creepy. The bent poker at the beginning seemed stupid. It could just as easily have been bent to be more like the laws of physics instead of the laws of Saturday morning cartoons. Fantasy realism seems ridiculous to those who don't spend much time in those kinds of novels, but to those of us who live there, it's essential.

I may not get very excited about this miniseries, but I'd certainly recommend it. I'm holding all the excitement for Going Postal.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit This miniseries (really LONG miniseries, thank-you Charles Dickens), amazes. It astounds. It appalls. Although I highly enjoy both the leading and title roles, the actor whose true talent shines here turns out to be Andy Serkis.

Yes, my dears, Gollum. How ridiculous to pin him down to such a role! His thespianic (did I just coin a really stupid word?) talents rival Johnny Depp. Let me explain.

So I was watching Little Dorrit for the second time quite late last night when I just happened to begin reading the back of the DVD case. I glanced through the cast list. I think I recognize Claire Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, a few others, and then I saw Andy Serkis. Just the name, and I thought, "isn't he that weasely fellow on 13 Going On 30?" I pondered for a moment. Yes, he certainly is. I remember. That guy played Gollum too, although I'm sure he had a ton of help from SE. That trilogy was pretty CGI intensive.

Then I thought, "I don't recall any weasely fellows in Little Dorrit. None that look like HIM, anyhow! so I pondered a bit more. Wait. . . the French guy has dark hair. . .

I could barely believe it. I paused the film and rushed upstairs to check the computer. Sure enough, IMDB.com declares undeniably that the same actor who played Tesla's humble assistant on The Prestige also played our unfortunate Rigaud.

He's brilliant. Everything about him in this film differs widely from his other characters. His voice is completely different. His shoulders, his expressions, everything has been poured into this pitch-black villain.

I sing the praises of the actors craft, and I laud the skills of the character actor. Leading men so very often neither require nor use such extraordinary genius, but the character actors must pare themselves down into such extraordinary roles!

Andy, I am a fan.
Also, you owe much to your make-up artist and costumer :)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost in Austen

Lost in AustenMy co-worker warned me about Lost in Austen. She said it was cheesy, and from the few clips forced on me by a very fanatically-inclined little sister, I would have completely agreed. In context, though, I think it all sort of fit, although it's not exactly Emmy material.

I really liked what they did to this story, but my reasoning is a bit complex.

I have read Pride and Prejudice perhaps seven times. The only books I have read more often are Heart of Darkness (8) and The Book of Mormon (?). That doesn't mean that I like the work, just that my professors did. I admit, I liked the book very well the first three times. The romance was classic and endearing, and the language was fluid and fun. Then came Austenmania, and I jumped ship. Jane Austen wrote some enjoyable stories, but I wouldn't rank her any higher than Georgette Heyer (this coming from the same person who ranks Shakespeare with Steven Spielberg). And at this point, having seen every version of P&P ever filmed professionally, and several staged versions, I can honestly say that although I know the story in and out, I'm finished with it.

So why did I ever bother watching this one? Because I'm NOT that kind of purist. I took several months to warm up to the idea, but I've finally decided that even P&P and Zombies was a brilliant idea. Really. Anything's better than another damp Colin Firth. Um. . .

Anyway, this BBC film follows Amanda Price as she totally bungs up P&P after Elizabeth Bennett shows up in her loo and switches places. Amanda (Jemima Rooper) truly does a real number on the whole story, including a beautiful moment when she finally knees Collins in the nuts; something women have longed to do for two hundred years.

Just like that moment, Lost in Austen fulfills wish after wish, including a rather off-the-wall reprise of some nearly Jemima-on-Christina action, reminiscent of Hex. Although that particular wish wasn't mine, I can see why it made the final cut. I'm not sure if I like where the Caroline/George thing was going, though. He's much too good for her.

Anyway, whether or not you'll like this film is pretty well entangled by your relationship with Pride and Prejudice. Either way, I'd recommend giving it a go.

Astroboy

Astro Boy Large portions of this brilliantly animated film resembled the grittier AI: Artificial Intelligence completed by Steven Spielberg. The ending, though, resulted in much more happiness, and much less endless endgame.

Although Rottentomatoes.com gave the film a sorry 48 (which isn't nearly as bad as it could be) the main objection seems to be the political agenda, which pretty much went over my head. That miss reveals more about me than the movie, though. I seem to have caught all, or most, of the literary allusions.

The film itself was enjoyable to watch, but not original enough for the grown-up audience. I expect it to have been a hit with kids, but only tolerated by the adults tending them.