Monday, February 8. 2016
There are a few interesting points from the opening round of the Six Nations I think. For some nations of course (particularly France with a new coach and a lot of changes in their team as well) we're seeing the start of a new rebuilding phase towards the next world cup, although all of the sides are doing this. Wales and Scotland, with the coach and much of the team remaining are the least affected, Italy with coaching continuity and a chunk of players remaining, Ireland with coaching continuity but a bigger player turnover and England with a lot of player continuity but a new coaching staff are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
So, while it is early days, what do I think we might have learnt?
Overall I'm disappointed. I suspect Noves and Jones are relieved rather than happy at their wins. (England's often delusional fans will doubtless be much happier.) I'm sure both Gatland and Schmidt are disappointed at the chances that got away to win in Dublin, while relieved they didn't lose. But the points largely came from the boot, not tries and the weather wasn't that bad for any of the matches. Not a promising start although a few glimmers.
Monday, February 1. 2016
If you will forgive a terrible, and ungrammatical, play on words, Spooks: The Greater Good fails to live up to its name: it is neither Greater nor Gooder than a typical episode of Spooks the TV show, although it is longer despite the presumably larger budget. (It's not lesser or worse either mind you.) If you want to look this up on IMDB, it's listed as MI5 by the way.
The reason for this is actually quite simple to identify. As a TV show each episode of Spooks had an identifiable enemy that, right or not from a real life MI5 perspective, is reasonable from a spy fiction perspective: we had tensions between MI5 and MI6, tensions between MI5 and the CIA, sleeper agents within MI5 from the KGB/FSB, and then over the many years it ran on the BBC various other MOTW-type baddies from the IRA to Islamic extremists to Russian nuclear terrorists to anarchists to animal rights activists to a 1% clique that wanted to depose the government to... well you name it, they were probably there. The length of the run also typically gave it a season-long big bad too, which varied as the geopolitical situation changed, the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, Al-Qaeda and more were the big bad for various seasons. Being a spy series, the secret war was on-going and the victories were always temporary.
In the course of the film they picked up a number of these standard tropes from the series, tossed them together and made a plot. Now, in all fairness, they made a perfectly serviceable plot but not something that was really better than the plot for any of the episodes. They stretched the plot to make extra steps in the unravelling of it, extra complications to make this movie length rather than TV episode length. If you were a fan of the show, you'll probably enjoy watching the film. If you didn't know the show I think it stands alone well enough to be a spy thriller as a sort of modern The Spy Who Came In From The Cold style rather than the James Bond style so if you like dark, paranoid, fairly downbeat spy movies you'll probably enjoy it.
Bechdel test: There are five named women roles and at least three of them have chances for a conversation but I don't remember them ever actually talking. Two of them do, briefly, interact on screen but you can't hear a conversation, you just see them together and see they're meant to be saying something but over the alarms etc. you can't hear anything. There are 17 named male characters (1 uncredited). The director was male. Quite a few of the female characters are strong in the door-kicking sense (they're MI5 agents in the Spooks world) but they shuffle on and off the screen like good little soldiers in this very male-dominated movie and none of them leave a lasting presence beyond "Oh, that's her from..." which is a shame because some of the 'her from's are really good as are the actors portraying them. But none of the named female roles are actually big enough to really consider how strongly drawn they are. That's quite an indictment given that one of the female characters appears in every scene that Tim McInnerny's character does, plus one more, yet he is a much more clearly drawn character than her.
Russo test: No, it's not even hinted at. In fairness we don't see anyone's sexuality portrayed, although we hear mention of the death of Harry's wife and the baddie's wife is a key plot token.
Tuesday, January 19. 2016
The first thing to say about The Hateful Eight is that it is a long movie, made longer by an interval that is an integral part of the film. Door to door for me, for a short journey each way, it was pretty much four hours. For my companion, who gives me a lift, it was certainly over 4.5 hours. Fortunately the interval means old fogeys like us can get up and move around so unlike some other long movies it wasn't bone-crunchingly, bum-numbingly long.
The next thing to say is that even if you didn't know what you were watching, this was incredibly obviously a Quentin Tarantino film, even before the mayhem inevitably ensues. Not only, like so many of his films, could this easily be adapted to be a stage-play, you have distinct chapter titles (very Kill Bill), the film messes with the timelines (hello Pulp Fiction) and has a storyline with a group of killers and confused allegiances in confined space with them trapped together by circumstances (more than shades of Reservoir Dogs) as well as looking at the same sorts of idea of race as Django Unchained albeit with a different eye and a from a later period. Add in a scattering of Tarantino favourite actors and you really would be in no doubt.
Having pointed out all those similarities it is worth pointing out that, unlike The Force Awakens, these are thematic and structural similarities, little nods and quirks that Tarantino uses rather than a full-scale lifting of any of them. And having said The Hateful Eight could easily be staged as a play, there are a lot of points where his cinematic eye comes to the fore and there are lovely wide shots of landscapes as well as some beautifully framed tighter shots which the stage version could never achieve: I have no regrets about having been allowed to see the cinematic version of this show first. It could be performed on the stage quite easily though.
The story itself is quite simple. John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a famous bounty hunter, is taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock to face justice and probably be hanged. He is famous amongst other things for taking in his bounties alive to hang. They are racing a blizzard but stop to pick up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and later the future sheriff of Red Rock who is a former rebel marauder (basically a Confederate who didn't surrender) and still a good ole pro-slavery racist. Because of the blizzard they can't reach Red Rock but have to hole up at Molly's Haberdashery, where they find Molly and Sweet Dave (the owners) gone but Bob (a Mexican that Warren instantly distrusts) is running the place for them, a retired confederate general, an English hangman (Tim Roth) and a wandering cowboy (Michael Madsen) are already there. The only other player is O.B. the driver of the coach. The blizzard closes in and the events unfold as the various players get to know each other and then, this being a Tarantino movie, kill each other in various bloody ways.
My biggest complaint about this film is that all of the characters feel like pawns - you might notice a lack of names above, that's because the names failed to stick because the characters are such ciphers (I had to look most of those up and decided not to list them all from IMDB). I actually feel like I know more about Minnie and Sweet Dave (whose names did stick, along with Bob, O.B. and Domergue's surname) than most of the characters who were present throughout the film. There are reasons for that in some cases that might excuse this but when that is applied to the top three characters by actor's name on the bill (Warren, Ruth and Domergue) and actors of the stature of Jackson, Russell and Jason Leigh you have to think it's a function of the script. They're written as caricatures or plot tokens more than characters and it shows. There is also a lot of violence towards the main female character but it's not clear that this means the characters are violent towards all women - they view her as a violent criminal worth $10,000 rather than a woman. There is, later some other violence towards women, but there are an equal number of men killed, and the particularly brutal killing is saved for one of the men - it is pretty clear this is not because they are women but because they are in the way and they would be killed whoever they are.
My complaint about the poor character development aside, this is a very pretty film in the beginning and although the parts aren't well drawn they way they interact actually works surprisingly well, perhaps because there is no depth so I found myself willing to believe each of the twists and turns because there was nothing to make me say "Hang on, that's out of character!"
I suspect if you like Tarantino movies, you'll like this one. If you don't, particularly if you find them too violent, you won't.
Bechdel test: Perhaps surprisingly yes. There is a flashback scene I haven't discussed because of spoilers, and I won't discuss now but there is, for example, a long discussion about how good the coffee is and putting it on to brew that certainly counts. It was part of the normal flow of the scene, so an organic pass. There are 4 named female roles and 13 named male roles. Only 1 of the females is significant enough to be considered and I'm going to say I'm unsure if she's strongly drawn. I want to say no, because in any other movie I would say she's really not strongly drawn, but none of the men in this movie feel more strongly drawn than Daisy, so I don't think I can say she's unfairly weakly drawn in the context of this movie. Hence I'm unsure. The director is male.
Russo test: There is a description of a gay sex scene but nothing about the character's actual sexuality - it is used for humiliation and it is quite possibly a lie, designed to provoke a violent reaction. This is pointed out within the film by one of the other characters. One of the other characters is shown to be married. For the rest, it doesn't really come up.
Saturday, January 16. 2016
Monday, January 11. 2016
Sunday, January 10. 2016
There is one massive issue some people will have about The Diary of a Teenage Girl that needs to be addressed first. That is the fact that it depicts sex between a 15-year old girl, Minnie, and a man, Monroe, old enough to be her mother's age-appropriate boyfriend.
Now, the film is based on a semi-autobiographical book and makes it clear that not only is Minnie willing but she initiated it. Whatever the law says about her ability to consent she knew what she was after and actively sought it out. That doesn't mean it was appropriate: there is a lot of ick-factor when your mum's boyfriend becomes your lover and he really should have better boundaries and self-control but it could have been a lot worse.
After that, the film becomes either a daring exploration of a teenaged girl exploring her own sexuality and her transition from being a girl into being a young woman (a statement I'm not basing on her losing her virginity, although she explicitly says that at some point, but on shifts in her attitudes:- more on that later) or, not quite fairly, the updated and gender-bent remake of The Graduate.
There are at least two things that distinguish The Diary of a Teenage Girl from The Graduate. First of these is that in both it is the woman that is the initiator of the sexual activity, but if this was simply a gender-bent remake, Minnie would be the passive vessel, the seduced rather than the seducer, just as Dustin Hoffman's Ben was almost 50 years ago. There is one occasion when Minnie is slightly hesitant because they skinny dip before sex and she's convinced she's ugly, but she then takes the lead during sex and one where she is seduced - by another woman. Second, and perhaps this is a change in cinema over 50 years, this is much more a warts and all film. I never completely forgot it was a film, but there were times it drifted more towards feeling like a fly-on-the-wall documentary. With The Graduate there's always a sense of a story unfolding, this film usually feels much more like slices of a person's life, in some ways much more than Boyhood ever managed which was actually much more slices out of several people growing older together than this film was a slice of truth.
Having said how real the film felt, which is probably not surprising given it's semi-autobiographical source, occasionally I found myself wondering, just a little. The book was published in 2002, when the author turned 42. A lot of the growing up, a lot of the events she experienced rang absolutely true and I don't doubt them. Every now and again Minnie's internal dialogue sounded more like a 40-year old than a 15-year old speaking. Maybe she was incredibly precocious and wise for her years - she certainly went through a lot of things as a teen that I never did. But maybe she put the thoughts she was having remembering those experiences into her younger self. Which is not a bad thing, a lot of the things she was saying were things that it's probably good for a 15 year old to hear, ideas it would be good for them to consider, but watching it as a 52 year old, it just rang slightly off occasionally. It did seem like there's a heck of a lot of sex, a few random thoughts about how ugly Minnie thought she was and not much else: this is definitely her erotic diary (there are a few other scenes, but they mostly actually relate back to her mother's sexual behaviour, plus a bit about her desire to become an artist) which make it seem like she gets a hell of a lot of sex but there are a few hints that more time passes than it appears in the compressed nature of the film.
A lot is made of The Diary of a Teenage Girl being "a daring portrayal of female sexuality." In 2015 (when it was released) I have to ask why? I know the answer of course: women in film are rarely allowed to be sexual creatures, particularly younger women, in their own right. They're sex objects for the boys, or they're pure and innocent. Minnie is neither and she is interested in sex for her pleasure. In that sense, for a movie, it absolutely is daring (although it really shouldn't be).
I have to say I also consider this film to be a fairly daring exploration of teenage sexual awakening. It's not pornography, there's little sexually explicit material despite an incredible amount of sex and a bit of nudity, but while I'm sure someone has done one or more similar serious films with a teenaged male protagonist I honestly can't think of one. There are silly ones, like the American Pie films. That's not a call for one to be made - this film does too powerful a service to the case that women are sexual beings in their own right to be overshadowed but parents need to consider the hormonal time-bombs that are ticking away beneath their roofs as well.
This is one of those odd films where I think everyone should probably see it once and while I think it's good, I don't feel the need to see it again.
Bechdel test: While there are seven named female roles it's surprisingly hard to find a good clear example of a conversation that isn't about a man: there are a lot of conversations about sex which shouldn't come as a surprise and since Minnie most has sex with men and this is very much her erotic diary as noted above, those conversations are about men. However, there's a conversation with Charlotte (Minnie's mum) about shopping for dinner which clearly qualifies so the film passes. There's a conversation with Minnie's imagined Aline Kominsky (I think, I'm not sure who the drawn woman is, it could be a sort of inner Minnie instead) about drawing too. The drawing one is certainly organic. There are 7 named female roles and 9 named male roles (1 uncredited). The film is so centred around Minnie she's the only truly significant female role, the others are all in the background to her. Having commented that this feels at times like a fly-on-the-wall documentary it's impossible for Minnie not to be strongly drawn: we see her, warts and all (thankfully not of the genital variety) and a lot of her inner dialogue too. The director is female.
Russo test: Minnie experiments with a three-some and a short lesbian relationship. I'm not sure that makes her bi really, it seems more like an experiment, something she tried but she's really straight. Tabatha seems more like she is bi or lesbian. She appears for more than just "Minnie's experimental lesbian phase" so I'll say yes, it passes all three steps.
Sunday, January 3. 2016
Hysteria is an approximate retelling of the invention of the vibrator.
It's not exactly clear how many of the details are right and how many are invented but it is broadly correct. It was a Victorian invention, intended to cure hysteria as a medical condition, and quite a lot of the other things, like the vulvar massage to relieve hysteria by inducing paroxysms that it replaced is also correct, as is the idea that having your clitoris stimulated couldn't possibly bring pleasure to the woman - they required penetration by the penis for pleasure! Yes, really. I was most surprised by how long ago they invented it rather than any of the crap the Victorians believed about sex to be honest.
That said, some quick fact checking suggests that they've got those facts right. It's the surrounding items I'm less sure about. They've bedded the story of Dr. Granville and his invention in an interesting setting. He is working as a junior partner with Dr. Dalrymple and they've come to an understanding about marrying Emily, Dr. Dalrymple's dutiful daughter. However, Charlotte, the more rebellious daughter, who is a suffragette, works with the poor and the like and is a far more sympathetic character to modern eyes: she is almost your archetypal feisty woman but she's also a much more modern woman. Such people certainly existed and came from backgrounds like this, it just feels like this is a film where the marketers will expect a largely female audience and they've written a modern woman into the story for them to identify with. That might be entirely unfair but she was certainly the character I identified with throughout and I wondered just how true to the reality of the situation is was.
The film could go in many ways: it's essentially a film in which Victorian attitudes to women, and women's mental health and sexuality are front and centre. While not strictly antediluvian or prehistoric or barbaric, those are the sorts of words that come most strongly to my mind. The film makes it clear enough what those attitudes were, while alleviating what could be a horror-show with large doses of humour to make it watchable in the 21st Century.
This isn't a film I think most people will watch more than once, unless you're a huge Maggie Gyllenhaal fan, but I think it's a perfectly good dramedy and a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
Bechdel test: Yes. There are several named female characters, but Charlotte and Emily have a conversation with each other, albeit that's part of a larger group with their father and Dr. Granville. But there's a significant exchange between just the two of them. Charlotte and Molly have several exchanges as well. Each of them make sense and feel organic. There are four significant female characters. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the subject matter all four are strong drawn. In fact, even the bit part female characters tend to have more personality than you might expect in a typical movie. There are 17 named women (1 uncredited) and 9 named men.
Russo test: No. Not even hinted at.
Sunday, January 3. 2016
The reviews and comments about Kingsman: The Secret Service I'd read and heard suggested it was meant to be a parody, or at least a post-modern deconstruction of the classic secret agent movie, especially the Bond franchise. Having recently watched the latest in that franchise, I thought I'd give Kingsman a go.
To my mind, Kingsman suffers as a parody of the Bond movies in that, with Daniel Craig's Bond, we've moved away from the almost camp, ultra-suave Bond, and so the immaculately tailored Colin Firth harkens back well over a decade to the era of Pierce Brosnan at least, and some of the elements that I assume are meant to be jokes skew back further. Of course, with the frequency of repeats of all of these on UK TV at least, we're probably all still more familiar with all of these films than any other, except maybe The Sound of Music, so we can spot the jokes but they're weaker than they should be. It doesn't help that, actually, the plot could well have been lifted from a lot of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan era Bond movies, although slightly updated for the ubiquity of the mobile phone. If you're parodying or satirising something, you usually have to go beyond what they would, find the humour in the exaggeration, but I didn't notice it exaggerating the movies it was meant to be parodying. It's also hard to be sure about many of the jokes when I've genuinely come across comments very similar to those made in the film about a gentleman and his suit and so on. I guess we're supposed to find it ridiculous that a spy organisation could be disguised as an expensive tailors but when you hear about the CIA and their bugged cat and so on, and read about what the NSA and GCHQ do for real, it seems less implausible somehow. The thing I think were meant to jokes came across more like observation than observational humour to me.
Likewise, the deconstruction is weaker than it should be. In the Scream movies, for example, the deconstruction was clever and worked into the plot directly. In this movie, it came across to me as a clunky few pieces of dialog. Once it felt like it worked fairly smoothly, the second time it was just horrible and it was laying the groundwork for a joke that honestly wasn't worth the payoff. The other times seemed more like homages than post-modern comments to me to be honest.
That's not to say I think the film is without merits. There are certainly moments of humour, and some are well worked in. They're just in the realms of physical humour rather than satire or parody. Some of the action sequences are beautifully choreographed and shot: yes the church scene in particular. And although the plot is evil megalomaniac billionaire plans to rebuild the world to be a better place, it's a better plot and makes more sense than Tomorrow Never Dies and several other Bond movies, with which it shares its DNA. It's also more entertaining then Spectre. There are female Kingsman agents, there are a couple of good lines about the English obsession with class which highlight flaws in the Bond franchise but it wasn't handled in a way that I found funny: perhaps that's just me though.
This was a film I watched at home on a cold, dark January evening waiting for the Sherlock special when there was nothing else around I wanted to watch. It filled that niche nicely. It's unlikely to ever get on my TV again and I'm pleased I didn't see it at the cinema but I don't feel like it was a waste of my time when there was nothing better to do. Talk about damning with faint praise but honestly that really does sum up my feelings about this film and its quality.
Bechdel test: Yes. One, moderately long example is Michelle (Eggsy's mum) and Roxy have a fairly long conversation about locking Eggsy's baby sister in the bathroom and throwing the key under the door to protect her. It was directly tied to the plot and the only trustworthy men around were pretty busy with their bit of the plan to save the world, so I'm counting it as organic (it's just way too contrived to be a token conversation setup, as well as rather too long). There is at least one other just passing conversation. There are really 3 significant female roles, Michelle, Roxy, and Gazelle. Michelle is far from a physically or emotionally strong character is any sense: she's the angry widow who grows up to become the battered girlfriend. I'm going to say yes here - we see her as the grieving widow, the battered girlfriend, the proud mother, the loving mother and more and while she's shown at first to be wholly dependent on the men in her life she is willing to stand up to her boyfriend for her son, despite the risk which makes her just a bit more than the normal victim. She's far from a positive role model but she's well drawn. Roxy is certainly strong in the door-kicking sense but we don't learn anything else about her, except she is scared of heights so no, she's not strongly drawn. Ironically, in many respects, she's a better role-model as the all-round competent but still compassionate woman. Gazelle is even worse. It doesn't help that's she's the villain's sidekick/chief-thug. She's a little bit more than that, which is what made me include her (she's also part of the other clearly Bechdel-passing scene) but sidekick is her function within the plot. In all fairness she gets about the same amount of character development a man would but it's still hardly any so she's definitely a no. Summary: Yes 1, No 2. There are 8 named women's roles (2 uncredited), 21 named men's roles. 28% of the named roles are for women.
Russo test: No. They make it clear Roxy is willing to seduce Lady Sophie in the line of duty but it's not clear she's bisexual or lesbian. Eggsy is clearly shown to prefer women. We don't see much of the rest of the cast express any interest.
Thursday, December 31. 2015
I'm going to keep on reporting on the Bechdel and Russo Tests in 2016, but I'm going to change the Bechdel Test section by adding three new factors. Two are going to be subjective unfortunately: I can't see a way around that, the third will be objective to make up for that.
The first is going to be whether I feel the pass (if it passes) is token or organic. This isn't quite as simple as the number of different scenes that pass the Bechdel test, although it's hard to imagine a film where many scenes pass it being scored as token but there has been a sense in some movies that the is a scene put in to let two named female characters have a short conversation that's not plot-related and not about a man just so the movie can pass the test. Looking back at this year's movies, The Lady in the Van had relatively few conversations between named female characters (the film centres around Alan Bennet after all), but they all felt perfectly natural, a part of the story, when they happened, so it would be an organic pass. The Man from UNCLE, as I commented at the time does pass the test, but it's a short conversation that feels like it's shoe-horned in so it would be a token pass. If I'm in doubt, it will get a there will be a borderline rating.
The second will be even more contentious and subjective but I'm going to rank on whether I think any of the main female characters (that could be a female lead or a female villain) are strongly drawn. If (we should be so lucky) there is more than one such character) I'll provide a rating for each of them. I happened to do this in The Man from UNCLE but I will endeavour to do it more generally. Note that strong does not equate to "able to kick doors down and defeat foes in a fight" unless that is what the film demands - a level of competence, skill and the ability to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune while being a well-defined and rounded character are more what I'll be looking for. Well-defined and rounded within the context of the film of course: what that means for the arch-villain in The Man from UNCLE is rather different to the sub in The Duke of Burgundy. Both of the characters in The Duke of Burgundy are emphatically not strong in door-kicking sense, as one of them puts her back out while they're moving a chest around during the film. This test doesn't mean a good role model or a moral character. I'm not going to encourage anyone to become a movie villain but if there is a female villain, I'm going to comment on whether I think it's strongly drawn female character or not. There will be Yes, No, Unsure categories here. This rating will be independent of whether the film passes or fail the Bechdel test - Kate Macer in Sicario is certainly a strongly drawn character (as well as strong in the door kicking sense) despite the film failing the Bechdel test. To some extent this parallels the second and third steps of the Russo test - it's about checking if writers, directors and editors bothered to make the effort to make the character important and put screen time into developing her and her role. In the case where there are a number of significant female roles, I'll apply that test for each of them - and of course there's extra subjectivity there, because I'll be deciding who qualifies as a significant female role each time. Sometimes that's easy but sometimes harder. I've clumped the writers, directors and editors together because their might have been 50 pages of script that were written and did a wonderful job that got left on the editing room floor, or a weak script that was edited together to give an interesting montage that gives you more of a sense of a female character's life - it can work both ways.
Finally some objectivity. I'm going to do a count of the named roles in the cast by gender and the gender of the director. I will be using IMDB as my source. For this, characters defined by a relationship or role will not count as named. I happen to have the page for Sicario open so Silvio's Wife and Delta Leader among many others are not going to be counted as named characters. Since this is a count of named roles if the actor is uncredited the role will still be counted but I will make a note of the number of uncredited roles for each too, even if I decide at the end of the year that's not interesting or relevant. I'm not going to do this retrospectively but, for example, Sicario has 2 named women and 17 named men (1 actor uncredited). The director is male. There will be something like this added to the end of each film review in future. My suspicion is, despite The Duke of Burgundy and it's all female cast and Carol and Mockingjay part 2 and which both have just over 50% female named cast 11 women, 10 men for Carol, 15 women and 14 men for Mockingjay, there are far more like Avengers: Age of Ultron with 8 named women and 18 men in the mix. I'll be able to do an absolute count and work out some possibly interesting statistics at the end of the year.
Tuesday, December 29. 2015
It's a couple of days early from the new posting date, but I'm seeing quite a few people that I normally talk to about films tomorrow, so here's my list of my films of the year:
Having established a precedent in 2013, I'm going to list my three equal first movies of the year! Ok, that's a cop-out but these films are just so different, or appeal to me in different ways, that I find it impossible to choose between them. They're listed in alphabetical order.
Carol as one of the best adaptations of an adult-targeted book I know and love I've seen in a long time, as well as a great love story. It's not only a beautiful story it's a truly beautiful film as well which wouldn't normally count for much in my lists but the combination works synergistically to make this a wonderful movie in my opinion. Mad Max - where he's the supporting actor to a female action hero in the movie named for him, a brave choice - and where although there's minimal plot, there's enough and 2 hours of amazing mostly practical special effects in this age of CGI. Sicario - a woman playing a man's role in the movies and metaphorically sticking it to the man too. While Sicario and Mad Max are similar in some ways and Sicario probably ought to be a better movie than Mad Max - it has a plot and everything - but there's an element of sheer exuberance and awe that all those extreme practical special effects bring to Mad Max that Sicario doesn't have that makes it hard for me to choose between them. And then Carol is just so different that every time I look at this list I have a different order - hence an equal first between these three.
The next group, in another year, and when I was first writing this I was seriously considering an equal first eight for a while, could all have been top film contenders. It's hard to say quite why they miss out on being in that top group but they do. Mockingjay part II tops it on the basis of the previous films and pulling off a grand finale. I think it's a very good rather than a great film in its own right but it delivers on a great finale to the series. I can imagine a Hunger Games marathon sometime in my future. Inside Out with its charming and surprisingly intricate and accurate story of how we understand our brains and emotions to work is something I might not seek out but I will enjoy seeing again and I still have very joyful memories of it. The Lady in the Van was packed with wry observation, charm and humour and came at just the right time for me after Paris but it's still a great film. The Martian is a cleverly constructed story about smart people working out the only way to do their thing and going for it. Boyhood with its unique filming strategy remains a film I started to watch because of the gimmick and found myself unable to stop watching avidly. Whether I'll ever watch it again is questionable, but it was amazing and in another year could have topped this list instead of coming eighth.
The next group all have very little wrong with them but, to quote Buffy, they all have 'but-face' - for each of them they're great but... However, they're good movies that I'll happily watch again. Into The Woods tops this group because it just misses out on being in the next group up because much though I loved it, I remember the songs I wished they'd included and the happy endings I regret they put in. The Duke of Burgundy is there as a lovely relationship movie, if an unusual relationship - I think the fetishes they linger on don't quite gel with mine which pulls it down a notch for me. It's actually in quite a few critics, whose choices I generally like, top ten lists because they find it shows the give and take in relationships so nicely. The Force Awakens I've currently put here, with the proviso that my main review notes it has warning bells it's likely to fall in my rankings after some time. I think it's good, but it definitely had "but-face" at the time. It might fall into the next group down if I was writing this review in 6 more months. Jupiter Ascending is a wonderfully fun, and silly, bit of space opera in a film written with the female gaze front and centre but it is a bit too light to be higher. Ex Machina is flawed but not badly enough to stop it being interesting, and a smart film about AI. Terminator Genisys was far better than Terminator Salvation and unlike a lot of other people I liked it enough to wish they'd carried on with their plans. I liked the bad John Connor and the empowered Sarah Connor and while Jai Courtney might not be the best actor in the world I thought he carried off his role as Kyle just fine. It's definitely the weakest of this group - some of this group might switch around depending on my mood but this will remain firmly at the bottom but it deserves to be here not in the group below. This group is distinguished from the next in that I'll happily watch them again, whereas I have no regrets about having watched the next group but I doubt I'll make any effort to watch them again.
White Bird in a Blizzard is another film about relationships, but they're mother-daughter relationships and a teenager's first sexual relationships - I don't need to rewatch that, much though I enjoyed watching it. The Man From UNCLE was campy fun and I find I hope they make a follow-up, but the film itself wasn't gripping enough to make me want to watch it again. The Water Diviner was far from campy, far from fun. It wasn't unrelentingly grim but a film about Gallipoli and the ANZAC landings and the like isn't going to be light-weight fun. I certainly don't regret watching it but I can't imagine anyone will choose to watch it more than once. If I was going to writing this list on the basis of "movies that affected me" this would be much nearer the top, but the list boils down to movies I enjoyed and the emotions The Water Diviner stirs are mostly not joy. There's definitely a place for that but The Water Diviner suffers in this list for it.
Ant-Man sits on his own, in so many ways! It had flaws, I was aware of them at the time, but I enjoyed it overall despite them. In some ways it deserves to be above the group above it, I'll probably watch it again, but when I remember the flaws I wonder why!
The next group are quite different. Mr. Holmes was a film that satisfied me at the time but it felt like the old description of an MSG-laden Chinese banquet. It tastes wonderful and half an hour later you're hungry again. While it was nicely crafted, there's a distinct feeling of style without substance and I find I can hardly remember it, even after reading the review I wrote, I can't bring any scenes clearly to mind. Everest, on the other hand, I'd watch the first half again but pass on the second half. But the first half doesn't really have an ending, so it's low in the rankings. That's a reflection on me and idiots that climb mountains for kicks in bad weather I think rather than the film but this is my list. Straight Outta Compton was interesting enough but I've seen it and don't want to see it again, thanks.
Then three genuinely poor films. Spectre tops this list possibly because it's the most recent of the films I've seen but also because it was technically proficient and tried to have more of a story and did have times where it worked and engaged me. It was just overall it failed to work. Age of Ultron was just boring. All the bits that were supposed to make it work were the weakest parts of the film for me - and they were obviously the biggest part of the film too. Inception has, as Divergent did before it, ripped the character out of Pris, which makes her bland, and that knocks on to make Four bland too, and the story fall flat. Then they changed the story too, so it's far less clear it's about making choices when the people in power lie to you. And shock... the film falls flat. Meh.
And then two terrible films. At the time I said Jurassic World was plenty of fun, which was true. But, over time that opinion has mutated, as with Mr. Holmes and while I remember enjoying it, those nostalgic throw-backs look more and more overblown - did we really have to have that many? (It's interesting to contrast that with Terminator Genisys which, for me, trod the line between homage and over-aping the previous movies to its detriment.) And while my initial view of Owen (Chris Pratt's character) was that he's no more sexist than the Hollywood norm, with Mad Max, Sicario, and on TV in its various forms Jessica Jones, and even the almost unbearably bright and optimistic Supergirl, the old boundaries about women's roles in Hollywood are being dealt blow after blow. Owen might be the last of the Hollywood sexist male dinosaurs (pun fully intended). Meanwhile my opinions about Legend haven't changed over time. It was disappointing when I saw it and time hasn't mellowed my opinion.
Of the 26 films on the list 17 passed the Bechdel test, 5 the Russo test. Three films could, arguable, be null on the Russo test for various reasons (gay characters would have been prosecuted etc. and we didn't see them in places where we would have learnt about their sexuality, straight or gay). If you add three films I saw this year that I missed in the year of their release (Birdman, The Maze Runner and Only Lovers Left Alive), that would become 18 and 7 of 29. This year no films were ranked as N/A for the Bechdel test. Once again those films that pass the Bechdel test tend to be towards the top of the list (although Legend, right at the bottom passes both the Bechdel and Russo tests, so it's not an infallible indicator of quality). Four films passing the Russo test is a step up too, from two last year. (OK, one of those was a specifically lesbian arthouse movie that I watched in part because of that, but still, three isn't bad.)
I'm going to exclude the films I watched late (comparing year to year, old films is a clear distortion) but include the arthouse film (it was released this year, it should count) so 65% passed the Bechdel test and 19% the Russo test compared to 54% and 14.3% last year. Sounds like they're both moving in the right direction, although the number of passes on the Russo test as still so low that a small change in the number of passes from year to year can really affect that.
I haven't done an accurate count of the TV I watch because I don't track it all with reviews, but in my post about my favourite shows of the year, I had 100% passing the Bechdel test and 62.5% of those where I was sure passing the Russo test - in both cases after applying the CSI rule (so it wasn't just a guest star in a single episode, it requires a recurring character or a main character). There is a distinct risk of selection bias at work, although none of those shows are specifically marketed as all about the LGBT stuff (unlike OITNB say). Of course TV shows have more time to develop their characters and typically more characters than most films which might help account for some of the differences.
Excluding the films that might reasonably be counted as null for the Russo test and counting Mr. Holmes which, as I noted at the time, portrays Holmes as asexual, so in the QUILTIBAG spectrum but not the LGBT spectrum the Russo test pass rate for films rises to 26% - still way behind my TV shows 62.5%.
But it does seem there's still a huge difference between the two and films still have a long way to go to catch up. Mind you, although I'm not a fan of Supergirl and Agent Carter I understand they're both doing well and I loved Jessica Jones. All my top films including two action films, have female leads. Mad Max: Fury Road is clearing up at the smaller awards before the Oscars at the moment. Despite it's late release and it's relatively low position in my personal list, The Force Awakens, with its gender-bent retelling of a 70's classic, is doing massive box office, as did the fourth film in the clearly female-led action set of The Hunger Games movies which almost certainly moved beyond the YA label with which it might previously have been dismissed as the much darker themes of war, death and betrayal came into sharp focus. And there are still studio bosses going on record as saying "Action movies with female leads don't sell."!
Monday, December 28. 2015
Oh dear, what happened? Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes partnered up to give us what I consider to be the best ever Bond movie with Skyfall and they follow that up with what might be the worst Bond movie ever.
Spectre is, of course, a classic old-time Bond enemy. It takes little effort update them for the modern world and that is well enough done. But we have a classic old-time Bond movie, with big set-pieces: here's a car chase, here's a gun fight, here's a fight scene on a train, with a plane, in a boat and so on. But, as with the Bond movies of old there was minimal plot to string the action set pieces together, in fact there was less than in many of them. That, on its own, is a crying shame. Skyfall also showed us behind the man, letting us see his childhood. Spectre tries to do that in a way I won't detail because it's still new enough it would constitute spoilers but having said that it's buried in one line in a conversation that's blink and you'll miss it and maybe 30 seconds towards the end of the movie. If you did miss that earlier line, this final moment really won't make any sense, if you didn't it's such a tiny element it doesn't feel justified.
But, far, far worse than that, I found Spectre boring. I know I watched it at home where there are plenty of distractions. But I found myself reading, surfing the web and the like with half an eye on the film. It was a close enough that I caught the one-liner that sets up the climactic scene but still for a film like the latest in the Bond franchise that shouldn't be an option. It's not like Dr. No (which was on TV earlier this week) which has been on often enough I could probably drop in and out and pick up the story simply because it's been on so often. (I didn't watch Dr. No by the way, but it would have been easy enough to drop in and pick it up.) This is the first time I've seen Spectre and I was still bored enough to do other things. The story simply failed to grab and hold my attention. It is possible that the casting of Andrew Scott, who for many viewers and certainly me is instantly recognisable as Jim Moriarty from Sherlock contributed to this sense of ennui. When he represents the new wave in Whitehall that wants to do away with the Double-0 programme you know he's a villain (without the Double-0 programme there will be no more Bond movies after all) and I found it boring to see him reprising such beats that are so similar to those I've seen as Moriarty in a much more limited role than those he played with such elán and glee elsewhere. I should say I've seen him in other things and not felt this, so it must be a function of the script and/or the direction rather than the actor himself.
I commented about Skyfall that I felt it was the mostly generally filmic of the Bond movies. Spectre feels like it has a lot of the Bond-ness turned up to 11, actually to about 15, but it's missing that vital element of not taking itself too seriously. Viewed as an arc you can say Daniel Craig has stripped Bond back to his basics and grounded him in more of a sense of reality, while Mendes and Craig have shown us his history as well as his present. It felt to me that Spectre felt it had earned the right to undo that sense of reality and restore all the OTT glamour action elements while retaining that grittier, darker, more world-weary Bond. This is a Bond who has been shot by his friends, shot at the order of his bosses, and accepts it while not being at peace with it. The quips and the cheesiness of the Moore and Brosnan eras probably wouldn't work but for my money it turns out the films need them to make you forget the paper-thin linking between the set pieces that you know are coming along, or you need fewer of those set pieces so you have some plot there to cause you to invest in them. This film failed on both counts in my book. I like Daniel Craig but if this is his last outing as Bond I won't shed a tear.
I watched the BBC News Film Review of the Year recently and Mark Kermode said that the professional critics are divided over Spectre. While I don't count myself among the ranks of the professionals, I'm definitely in the "don't waste your money" camp.
Bechdel Test: No. There are at least three named female characters (Bond casually has sex with two of them, one of them completely meaninglessly, another throwback we could do without), but none of them speak to each other at all.
Russo Test: No. Not at all.
Saturday, December 26. 2015
I don't review the TV shows I watch in the same way I review the films I watch. I don't watch a huge amount of television per week but I watch enough it would be a significant commitment to try and review every episode and I'm not willing to make that effort. I could review at the end of each season but... the end of the year is also an odd time to do this if you're attuned to US TV schedules, where for many shows it's actually about 1/3 of the way through the current season (that applies to 2 of the shows on my top 10 list and should apply to 3 of them if TPTB and US TV audiences had any taste). It's an odd time for UK TV where the big shows get a Christmas special but other drama might have finished last week or ten months ago. And with streaming services, you take your chances on the release date and whether you binge or watch slowly.
However, it's also the end of the year: reviews and best of lists are in. So with warnings for my fallible memory, this is my trip down my televisual year. It's largely prompted by the shows I was most excited to see at the time, binge-watched if they're streamed or the one's I've been most annoyed to see absent if they haven't made someone else's top 10 list. It is purely by chance my list turns out to be 10 long! I'm not going to rank these because I don't have time to rewatch them all and form an opinion on the season overall, so shows like iZombie, Dr. Who and Jessica Jones which I've seen more recently than 12 Monkeys, Bitten and Orphan Black feature more strongly in my memory. So in purely alphabetical order we have the shows I'd get up early, stay up late or make an effort to watch live on broadcast, or binge-watched if they were streamed:
One former firm favourite nearly fell by the wayside completely: Orange is the New Black but kept just enough good episodes to keep going and hoping season 4 is better. Two shows I wanted to like, and I wish well without me, just didn't work for entirely different reasons. Agent Carter didn't work for me because I don't really like the "weird science" story line well enough and Supergirl didn't work because I always struggle with shows with major superpowers and Supergirl adds to that a layer of shiny, happy people that is just too much for me. (I don't watch The Flash because of the superpowers... I mean metahumans too, while in Arrow they're mostly just really well trained humans with the odd mystical extra.)
A couple of old favourites did fall by the wayside: Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries no longer grace my viewing schedules. They started Sam and Dean on the same character arcs again and I abruptly didn't care any more. Likewise I wanted to enjoy TVD without Nina Dobrev, and I certainly enjoyed more of Bonnie front and centre, but Elena actually tied too many of the plots for it to work well without and I found the new plot lines were just meh. So off went TVD.
There are a lot of people starting to fight back against the "Golden Age of Television" claim we're seeing thrown around, claiming that we're not actually in a golden age, we're simply in an age of a lot more television and so there's more TV, more shows, and we're bound to get more good ones (and more bad ones too) simply thanks to the bell curve. While I recognise the underpinning theory of this, I think there's something rather different going on too.
UK TV drama, generally, is considered to be, or have been, of a higher standard than US TV drama, at least until recently. Then Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and the like have certainly entered the fray and started to pull the balance back, although Downton Abbey, Dr. Who and Sherlock are keeping the fires burning for the UK shows. There is one really noticeable thing about all of these - and a lot of the other shows that are topping the US TV critics lists: they're NOT shot to the 22/23 episode US network schedule. They're typically shot to a 6-10 episode season and it turns out this is a wonderful length for a pretty much scene-by-scene conversion of that staple of magnificent story-telling: the full-length novel. Typical US network shows have a weird rhythm: usually about 6-10 shows then the Christmas break so some need for a cliff-hanger, then another 6-8 shows before a break in March and another cliff-hanger, then a final run of about 6-8 shows, with sweeps in May so a 'sexy' story in there somewhere. (There are lots of sudden lesbian kisses and the like that are never mentioned again to try and raise ratings for sweeps week.)
On top of this breaking of the old structure, streamed shows, and they're starting to appear in many top-ten lists other than mine, can also avoid the traditional structure around advert breaks and often around title sequences and tight timing requirements. They know, and you know, what you're here to watch, so the title sequence is up first, and then the show runs uninterrupted. If a scene needs 25 minutes, then it gets 25 minutes (Sense8 in particular made use of this with several scenes that were just too long to fit between advert breaks over its episodes). Likewise a show can run quite unevenly in terms of its length - 50 minutes in one episode, 57 in the next, if that serves the story best. While a seven minute difference is uncommon in my experience: script writers and editors are well trained, you do get shows were there is a good 3 or 4 minutes here and there between shows, unheard of network TV and shows typically run more like 50-60 minutes than the network's 43 minutes to allow for adverts. The difference in running time on streaming shows isn't for anything except serving the story, while on network TV the show's length is about serving the adverts, the story is cut or padded to be the right length.
Freed of the various constraints of the long season story arcs and then the advertising-enforced programmed length and structure TV script-writers have been set free in a way that they have never known before. Supported by subscribers various channels that don't have to worry about advertisers can take on adult or contentious material - Transparent, Orange is the New Black, Sense8, Game of Thrones and the like would never be shown on network TV in the US for a whole batch of reasons beyond their running times.
And I would contend this is why there's a golden age of television. Television as a medium, at least in America, is being massively disrupted. The disruption is less here: how we watch TV is being disrupted, we watch on catch-up, on delay, on TiVo and the like. But our "native" TV is used to these shorter seasons. Although it didn't make my top TV shows, I watched and enjoyed the all too short-lived Cuffs on the BBC. Eight hour-long (approximately 57 minutes of actual show) episodes. Eight, ten or thirteen roughly hour-long episodes seasons seems like the norm here, it's the long run US shows that are rare. And if you look at my list, although it's obviously personal, that idea that long-run shows tend not to be of quality might be supported. Two and a potential third that was killed too soon long-run US shows made my top shows list, there are two are BBC shows (one BBC UK, one BBC America) that ran to 13 and 10 episodes respectively, two are from Netflix (13 and 8 episodes in order), three are short-run shows (two from the US, one from Canada, 13, 10 and 10 episodes in order).
Just for comparison with my films of the year list, of my top 10 shows they all pass the Bechdel test and 5 of the 8 I'm sure about pass the Russo test. There are two I'm not sure about I think it's 6 from 10, but we'll stay with 100% pass the Bechdel test and 62.5% pass the Russo test.
Friday, December 25. 2015
WARNING: Since Birdman was released a couple of years ago, there are some spoilers, certainly beyond my normal level. Don't read on if you don't want to know.
Birdman is a film riven with ambiguities. Whilst using riven in the first sentence of a review would normally be followed by a horrible review I think these ambiguities actually give Birdman the tension and drive that elevate this from an interesting film to multi-Oscar winner it became. While I'm never sure that winning an Oscar is genuinely a measure of the best film (the Oscar voters overlook many good films in unpopular genres) it's rare they don't pick a genuinely good one, even if it's not a film I particularly enjoyed.
At one level its a film that both explores and satirises the American division between stage and big-screen actors, using Michael Keaton as a former star in the eponymous Birdman action hero movies who is now trying to open an self-written and self-starring adaptation of a real story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver on Broadway. The fact that this to some extent mirror's Keaton's career isn't an accidental piece of casting.
Outwardly it follows the final rehearsals and opening night, behind the scenes and while I've never done a Broadway show, a lot of the technical stuff that's going on is spot on. A lot of the bitterness that is portrayed - the division between stage actors and screen actors - I'm told is true in the US, but is not so in the UK where people move between stage, small screen and big screen (and stand-up in fact) through their career with relatively little prejudice.
But, inwardly, it's the story of Riggan Thompson. And here comes the first of the ambiguities. Is this simply a film where Riggan is having a nervous breakdown? It's certainly more than possible to read the film that way. However, with a Mexican director and a lot of what is going on we're invited, seduced even, to believe the reality of his experience and step into a situation that is more one of magical realism. The film is very carefully shot so you can read it either way, or if you're good at juggling opposing world views, both. I was more than happy to be seduced and keep both in my head - the director tried his absolute best to make it easy for us. There is, for example, a scene that is topped by the suggestion Riggan is about to commit suicide if you believe in the breakdown which then metamorphoses into a breakdown-fuelled flight that is revealed as a taxi-ride. Alternatively, in the magical reality world it's the time he joins into his spirit self and becomes one with the true Birdman, free to actually fly rather than listen to the voices and ready to make the necessary sacrifices to step freely into his true power. It's either a hallucination as part of his breakdown or a magical journey: a vision quest or a shamanic trance. I couldn't spot any definitive answers to this within the film and I'm quite sure this was deliberate. This is a significant moment, either way, as it is the first time Riggan sees Birdman as a separate entity.
Other tensions abound as we see Riggan's relationships with his daughter, and assistant on the show, ex-wife, current partner and the like develop and change. We also him act and react to the actors and his best friend and the stresses and strains of being the producers and director work on him, which all help lay credence to the nervous breakdown perspective, particularly as his paranoia towards Mike gradually increases. All of this, and the build-up to opening night, provide the external driving narrative of the story, the outer structure that both grounds and drives the film along.
The final scenes, rather than reducing the ambiguity, actually increases it. One of the hyper-critical theatrical-types, a critic called Tabitha, was all set up to slate the play simply because of Riggan's big-screen background. However, whether because of his breakdown or his magical awakening, he takes a real gun on stage and shoots himself - intending to commit suicide but actually shooting his nose off. She changes her review to one eulogising him for returning much-needed blood and graft to the stage in a new form of "super-realism" and her headline THe Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance gives the film its sub-title. This is read out to Riggan as he is lying in his hospital bed by his ex-wife at his best friend's prompting. They have completely different reactions: she is appalled and distraught, the best friend is overjoyed at the good review. This pair are followed by his daughter who talks about his twitter page she has set up for him and takes a picture of his bandaged face to 'scare away his 80,000 followers in a day' but it is also the clearest sign of the hugely improved relationship between them over the course of the time we see them together. In terms of the reality of Riggan's breakdown these are the people who still care about him, visiting him in hospital, but in the magical realism world they are the temptations to not leave his current, fairly comfortable existence and enter the magical realms fully. He has, in alchemical terms met the Siege Perilous and survived (although he is wounded), now he must consider and renounce wordly ties, so he is being shown them, tempted by them - sexual love, money and fame, love of his daughter. Sam, his daughter, nips out and Riggan heads into the bathroom to look at his remodelled nose, turns his back on a suddenly muted Birdman, opens the hospital window and climbs out. The shot then, crucially (and for the first time really dramatically) cuts to Sam re-entering the hospital room to see no Riggan. She runs over and looks out of the window, looks down, no reaction, looks up and gradually a big smile spreads over her face as she focusses on something.
Is she relieved and happy to see her dad's dead body? Without the reconciliation of the twitter-feed scene (and some earlier scenes) it would be very easy to say yes. Even with that reconciliation, it is so fragile and new-born that it is easy to say that her father's death sets Sam free in unexpected ways and causes her joy. It's not necessarily comfortable to think any child's first reaction to a parent's death is a feeling of relief and joy but it's not an incredible stretch in the relationship we saw at the start of the film. Another interpretation requires a magical transformation that I suspect many of us want to reject: Riggan stepped off the windowsill and flew. Sam looked out, down, saw no body, then looked up and saw her dad flying and was overcome with joy at the sight. We don't see what Sam is looking at so we're relying on the rest of the film having been grounded in reality and the ability to explain everything in terms of Riggan's breakdown to reject this explanation, but it's a more comfortable fit to Sam's facial expression. There could be at least one more interpretation: Sam looks down, sees the body, looks up and sees Riggan as an angel and smiles. This is an interpretation that sits uneasily with me: there are no indications of religion through the rest of the film that I noticed to lead to it. However, when you've got magical realism and Latin American writers and directors an underlying level of Christian belief is probably a decent working assumption. Sam's initial lack of affect could be simply shock, shock that is replaced by joy at knowing her father has been taken up to heaven as an angel. The grief could still come but proof positive that he is in heaven could be a rapturous experience for a believer.
I find it hard to absolutely refute or support any of these interpretations. I'm sure there could be others but they're the ones that sprang to my mind. I find the one I'm most drawn to is the middle of the three: Riggan transformed and flies off. While I do have problems with it - the film hasn't hinted it's not grounded in our reality to that extent previously, magical reality rarely allows humans to literally fly! - I keep coming back to the fact I have many more problems with Sam's reactions in both of the other two situations. I think the first is inconsistent with the changes we've seen and the film is too well written for that, the last is too poorly grounded in what I think we've seen of the characters. But it's not clear and the last shot of Sam's beatific smile is a powerful lingering image, particularly if you go for one of the more prosaic interpretations (and I'm not so wedded to mine that I can't see how you can get there) that we have a whole different slew of ambiguities opened up.
If you want a nice clear resolution to your story, stay away from this film. But if you like a good dose of magical realism and ambiguity and you'd like to see the stresses of trying to put on a show, I think it's a great way to spend a couple of hours.
Bechdel test: Borderline but yes. Laura and Lesley have a conversation. While it starts being about Riggan it certainly moves on to other things after Laura kisses Lesley and Lesley asks her to do it again. It's not much, but it's a genuine exchange and not about men. Riggan treats both Laura and Lesley terribly, and it's tempting to read this as a very misogynistic film, but his relationship with Sylvia (his ex-wife) is now actually quite good and he's very clearly trying with Sam. His relationship with both the other male actors is also terrible, probably worse than with the women. I'm not sure it's really a misogynistic movie, so much as Riggan is going through either a breakdown or a magical transformation and being a complete arsehole to most of the people around him.
Russo test: Borderline but again yes. Both Laura and Lesley are in relationships with men but Laura is clearly interested in Lesley and has been for some time, which makes her bisexual I guess. Lesley might just be a bit curious and in need of comfort after what's gone on before. Reading Laura as bi, she clearly passes the rest of the criteria.
Thursday, December 24. 2015
This is a film that tears me in two.
I went in and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I rooted for the Rebellion, I (metaphorically) booed the
The character beats with the returning actors all worked well and every rebellion and heist movie needs an old Han Solo along, the cynicism and world-weariness work a lot better when you're in your early 70's as Harrison Ford is. They all worked well, whether or not you caught them all.
I'm not sure what it says about me that my first thought on seeing the boss of the First Order - effectively the Emperor - was "That's Gollum!" but I was really not surprised to see Andy Serkis' name show up in the credits. While speaking of casting choices, maybe this should be up above with miscasting choices, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux seems odd. I'm not complaining about his ability to make a speech, stir up the troops etc. but a young-looking 32 year-old as a general felt jarringly young.
At first the little beats that throw back to the earlier films seem nice - crashed star destroyers, scavenging for parts in the ruins and the like. But, after a little while it becomes obvious you've seen this film before, at least if you're a Star Wars fan you have. As I'm writing this I'm close enough I'm still caught up in the fun and excitement - and don't get me wrong, this film was fun and exciting and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But we're close enough to the end of the year I've been considering my Film of the Year list and I'm aware that films that tip over the line between homage into copying for copying's sake tend to decline in my opinion over time. The Force Awakens didn't so much tip over that line as gallop past it and leave me wondering if there's a line between copying for copying's sake and self-plagiarism. If so, I'm not sure if it didn't tip over that line too!
This film was fun, and I would recommend seeing it. It worked well - it should, it's so close to a copy of a film we know that worked well that if it had failed it would have been a disaster. My worry is that, especially given my doubts already, in three months time or so, this will have been pushed down in my memory because it's so derivative.
Bechdel test: Yes. Rey and Maz, Rey and Leia for example. Their conversations are fairly short in the second case but they're not about men, or not directly.
Russo test: No. Not even close. No one identifies as LGBT, let alone taking it any further.
For the nerdy, Daniel Craig plays stormtrooper JB-007. He's the one you see on his own that threatens to tighten Rey's bonds calling her "scavenger scum" - that's pretty much spoiler-free.
Thursday, December 10. 2015
Lots of people try to read lots of things into every by-election result. Oldham was no different.
Labour was going to destroyed, the Corbyn effect was going to be a disaster, and UKIP were going to win their first seat in a traditional Labour stronghold.
What actually happened? Well there only one thing is absolutely clear: Jeremy Corbyn, however much the bulk of senior PLP hates him, did not cost them the seat.
Why is only one thing clear? If you look at the proportion of the votes cast, Labour went up by just over 7%, UKIP by just under 3%, the Tories fell by almost 10% and basically accounted for these swings and there was a swing UKIP to Labour of 2.3%. The majority was up by 4.6% and all looks rosy for the Corbynistas.
However, the turnout was down by 15,500 people (19.3%) which isn’t unexpected for a by-election and so people who want to can, and will, point fingers at the loss of over 6,000 votes, or the number of voters that stayed at home.
Others, more rationally, will point out that Corbyn winning in a safe Labour seat (there was a majority of over 34% at the general election, which rose to nearly 39%) isn’t really the challenge for Labour winning the next election. This is Labour heartland where if he’d failed he’d really have problems. But to win at the next election he probably has to win some of the seats that were lost in Scotland (this isn’t a useful test of that, where the SNP are involved) and win in marginal seats across England. This isn’t a good test of that either because Oldham isn’t anything like those seats he, and Labour, need to win to become the next government - it’s a seat they desperately need not to lose though. While that is a rational comment, it is not a fair one. By-elections, unless someone goes around and assassinates MPs or arraigns and convicts them and sends them to jail for over a year, are random. However, this was the challenge that Corbyn faced and he passed with flying colours.
Of course we can’t drill down and determine exactly what’s going on. It’s tempting to suggest what is happening is the core old Labour and radical youngster support is coming out and that’s what has boosted the numbers. That’s what I think we’ve seen with the massive support for Corbyn from the membership of the Labour Party (and I’m not alone in that analysis). If that’s right, that does form the basis of a potential winning strategy for the next election - just as it did for Blair in 1997. The message he sold wasn’t the centrist position he believes it was, it was a message of hope and something fresh - and Corbyn is currently peddling principles over grey, power above all and hope over austerity, however unpopular those messages are.
As a side note, although there were complaints made straight after the count by UKIP to the press, they haven’t made an official complaint more than a week later and it seems likely they’re going to die. They may not like it, but in parts of the constituency with a large BEM community a massive Labour vote as a clear anti-UKIP tactic doesn’t seem incredibly unlikely to anyone else. Yes, postal votes are vulnerable to manipulation but that doesn’t mean they have been manipulated.
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