Sunday, January 25. 2015
This is an awkward film to review because to reveal enough to say why it’s good to essential reveal almost all.
The film starts with a young programmer winning a lottery to go to some massive estate for a week. There are, as he wins, weird flashes, as the camera on his computer or his phone seem to be taking pictures of his face for biometrics.
The project is revealed to be a Turing test project (not quite properly formulated and stated but close enough) with an AI in a somewhat bot-like body but with the body shape of a young woman, and the face, hands and feet in flesh. The person for whom the test will be conducted is the boss of the ‘largest search engine company in the world’ and while it could be based on a Google project, the attitude struck me as far more Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) with, perhaps, the youthful “nerd made ultra-rich” of Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook).
From there the story really starts to develop in a number of interesting ways I found interesting as it is obvious Ava, the AI, is intelligent and probably self-aware. There are, however, some serious questions about Nathan (the boss) and what he is doing, why he made Ava into a woman and gave her sexuality and more. It also develops into hugely spoilery ways so I’m afraid that’s where my review really comes to an end. I will say I got to the end and thought they should have used Eighth Day as the closing music for the film.
I think this is a smart movie, on many levels, looking into people, power, AI and more. It’s well worth your time. While it’s not intended to reflect them all, it does cast something of a light on some of the wunderkind millionaire coder CEO types - and quite possibly the ‘psychopath as CEO’ too. A storyline that’s certainly been doing the lines in the last year and a bit.
It’s well worth your time and attention in my opinion.
Bechdel Test: There are two named apparently female characters but… do we count AI females? My inclination is to say no, because it’s about representing women realistically in films, and an AI in a bot with translucent body parts can’t do that. Even if I let that slide there is a very abbreviated one way conversation that we don’t hear but we can infer is all about Nathan so it would fail.
Russo test: No. The only significant human characters are heterosexual, and again, I’m not sure the AI counts but AI characters were to count, straight.
Turing test: Yes. (Although it might have been more interesting in some ways if it hadn’t, a script written by human to clearly fail the test to the audience would be interesting. But a VERY different film.)
Thursday, January 22. 2015
Euclid is a neat (and cheap compared to its rivals) one trick pony app that lets you measure things on the screen. Admittedly many of its rivals let you measure MORE things (more at once, measure angles, measure colours etc. too) but I don’t need to measure angles, I have Couleurs for all my colour grabbing needs and its free.
You evoke Euclid with a keyboard shortcut. It puts crosshairs on the screen (you can choose the colour) and you click once you’re in the right place to start. You drag to the opposite corner and there is a live update of the size of the box (height and width) complete with an overlay to grey out the rest of the screen and highlight the area you’ve selected. Release the mouse and it all disappears. In that sense it’s all rather similar to a screen grab, however what Euclid adds to the mix is a zoom on the cross-hairs. The rather bad image below shows a box (but not the big cross-hairs) and the zoom box) which makes it easy for you to get the measurement pixel perfect. The zoom box jumps around a little when you get close to the edges of the screen which is a little odd at first but it takes moments to get used to and lining it up that precisely is a godsend.
Sorry about the image - I had to grab a picture on the iPad while holding the mouse button down... you can't take a screen grab with Euclid up, if you try you get the screen grab sans Euclid. But it does show the zoom box nicely. You can see the box for what I'm measuring and the size of the box too.
Couleurs is a similar one trick pony. It does a similar job to the Digital Colour Meter that Apple provide but… nicer and more up to date. You get a small window (a little larger than the window with DCM) that displays the last selected colour and, what really makes it larger, a couple of bars. One of these contains a button which will open Apple’s default colour picker, the colour value in the format of your choice and a picker to let you copy/choose that value. I obviously normally have 6 figure CSS values selected, but you can choose 3 figure hex, 6 figure hex with no #, rgb, rgba, hsl, hsla, NSColor and UIColor for both Swift and Objective-C. Underneath this is a small palette of the 5 most recent colours you’ve picked. You pick a new colour by clicking in the colour window and dragging out. This gives you a circular loupe type magnifying glass with a central dot of 1 px to put on the colour of your choice. DCM only shows colours in RGB. I know you can use RGB in CSS but you will usually end up with mixed values or converting. Given Couleurs is free and it supports a palette of recently selected colours which is nice for those occasions when I’m working on a single site over the course of a day so working with a limited palette I can quickly click back and forth between the colours it is a nice addition to my tool box.
This image is the whole of the app, it really is that small!
Wednesday, January 21. 2015
For my 50th Birthday I bought myself a set of Philips Hue lights. There is a Lux version that just does different intensities of white but the Hue version gives you full colour control and while you might not like my colour choices (at the moment I’ve got one dark green light and one dark purple in here, and a paler green in the bedroom) for me I hope it will be a blessing as I can find very low and friendly colours that might be suitable for use during a migraine as I’m starting to recover.
Setting up is pretty simple - screw the bulbs in (yes screw), plug the bridge in to the mains and your router, download the controller app then pair the bridge to the app by starting the app and, when it tells you to, pressing the big button on the top of the bridge. That’s it. The bridge controls naming the lights etc. so if you switch apps all your lights keep their names.
The app from Philips is basic but simple to use and there are also a wide variety of third party apps. I’ve tried most of the free third party apps (more on them later) but come back to using the app that comes from Philips all the time. It’s easy enough to set your own colours. You can either set a sort of white light ‘temperature’ from a warmish/yellow to a hotter, brighter white, or you can be braver and dive into the full range of colours. Independently of that you can set the brightness of the light. You can group lights together and affect several or all at once or work on them individually, and it’s easy enough to exclude a particular light from a scene - you just turn it off in the side panel and it won’t be affected at all. This is all wireless and can be controlled from your iOS device - there’s an Android app too but I can’t say how well that works. You can add timers, alarms and the like and save your favourites easily. Although the scenes save your colours and default brightness when you click on a scene to set the lights it briefly pops up an option to change the master brightness as well as options to edit the scene etc. You can also log in to a website so if you’re in the coffee shop (or at work) you could log in and set up a timer to turn the lights on when you expect to get home.
The reason for using the Philips app? Some of the free ones are OK but do things I’m not bothered about - a lot seem to be aimed at making your light pulse in time to your music for example. Some do nice things but are buggy: one was very nice but turned my iPad’s screen up to maximum brightness whenever I used it, no thanks! Another was pleasant in terms of some of the features it offered but all the parts I wanted were tucked away lots of swipes away and it was a pain to use for that reason. One of the apps that I think I’ve deleted made fancy use of the timers and had a candlelight option with the light colour and brightness flickering really quite realistically. Some of the apps offer alternative approaches, so that whenever your iOS device is on your local network it turns your lights on to a chosen preset. That is quite a nice feature that if I worked in a different way I might miss but working from home it’s not such a big deal for me. Several third party apps offer an ability to create groups of lights that is absent from the basic app too. That doesn’t bother me (I’m not sure if I’m going to get more while I live here, if I do it is very unlikely to go beyond 5) but I can see if you get close to the 50 lights you can control from one bridge you might well need such an option. There is an app where if you have a TV that does ambient light it will extend to included your Hue lights too. I don’t have that sort of TV and won’t be getting the app but some of the options are that crazy or immersive depending on your point of view.
These lights are very expensive compared to a normal bulb. They are also, for the UK market a bit of a pain, because they’re screw fittings (ES) so you might need adaptors or to buy special lights. But I haven’t had them that long and although I mainly stay in the greens and purples I have about 8 different scenes saved for working, reading, etc. We’ll have to see whether any of them are usable when I’m recovering from a migraine or not but for the level of comfort they’ve brought in the few days I’ve had them in my period between migraines I think they’re well worth it already it. I can imagine people who suffer from SADS and the like might also like them, although they’ll probably want a rather different colour and brightness palette to mine! I often get a low-grade headache during the day and I’ve not had one since changing to these lights. The headaches aren’t really enough to slow me down but their absence is nice.
If you live in a house with millions of lights you probably wouldn’t want to be splashing out on these throughout your house but you might still want a few in certain rooms if you want to be able to control colours. More people might be attracted by the ability to control brightness easily. But, ultimately if you want the ability to control the colour of the lights in your house there is nothing like these. It might be a niche thing but it’s remarkably soothing and therapeutic if it’s something you need - I imagine it’s also nice if it’s something you’d like. I certainly have no regrets even if I’m not going to splurge on millions of extra bulbs.
Tuesday, January 20. 2015
So apparently the Tories think it’s a good idea to burn any good will they might have with the Muslim parts of society in the wake of Charlie Hebdo and write to every mosque demanding they demonstrate that they’re suitably British and how Islam is British enough. Muslim leaders and others feel this is divisive and promotes Islamophobia to the extent that even the Chief Rabbi has spoken out in their defence. OK, that’s not quite as unlikely as the president of Israel speaking up for a Muslim but it’s pretty unusual.
Lets be really clear here. The British Muslim community spoke out and condemned the type of extremists that attacked Charlie Hebdo. Many of them are offended by the actions of Charlie Hebdo but accept, however unwillingly, that Charlie Hebdo doesn’t specifically pick on Muslims, it picks on just about everyone, certainly all faiths, and is deliberately offensive. I’m sure they all rather it wasn’t and didn’t act that way but they are also clearly and explicitly saying that doesn’t mean shooting the people that work there is the right way to show your displeasure and disgust.
As various people have pointed out in their own way, suggesting that all of Britain’s Muslims are responsible for the tiny number of Islamist extremists (or whatever other buzzword label you choose) is like blaming all Australians for Rupert Murdoch, all white British people for the actions of Eric Pickles who wrote the letter to every mosque and so on. It’s just stupid.
That’s not to say that some parts of the Muslim community don’t help with the development of extremists but it is a tiny number. There are about 2.8 million Muslims in the UK according to the last census (2011) and the pattern of growth recorded. We don’t know the exact number of extremists of course but there was a briefing that suggested “up to 500 British citizens might go to join ISIL” in the days before it was renamed. Lets double that and say there are about 1,000 genuine Islamist extremists from those 2.8 million British Muslims. There probably will be some more that facilitate this (although the Charlie Hebdo attackers took their orders from the Yemen, not from within France and the same is doubtless true of extremists in this country) but even it we say it’s 10x more that support and facilitate these extremists, that’s only 10,000 people. While that’s a lot if you think of it as a village full, it’s a tiny fraction of the 2.8 million British Muslims. It’s 0.35% in fact, or about 1 in 300 that even supports the extremists in any way. Blaming all British Muslims for the actions that it seems pretty reasonable to suggest fewer than 1 in 300 of them support in any way - does that seem in any way fair or just to you? Far more than 1 in 300 people drink and drive, lets ban drinking completely, heck lets ban driving to make sure you can’t drink and drive! - that would be an equally sane response.
I used 1,000 as the possible number of actual extremists, although it’s probably a reasonable estimate, for another reason: it’s the number of letters that Eric Pickles is reported to have sent demanding action. If he’d sent the same number of letters asking for help, asking how the government could work with the British Muslim community to help build a sense of community (he is the Secretary of State for Communities amongst things), decrease the sense of isolation, reduce the chances of people becoming radicalised we might be applauding his actions today. A differently phrased letter, reaching out and asking for help rather than demanding action and putting all the onus on a community that already feels marginalised. But when even the leaders of the Jewish community are saying “You’re alienating the moderate Muslim community” and the moderate Muslim community are up in arms about the tone and content of a letter you’ve sent - doesn’t it make you stop and think? Couldn’t a minister, who is supposed to have both advisors and years of practise in choosing his words carefully, have stopped and thought before he sent it? The people that attacked Charlie Hebdo (and the kosher deli) in France felt isolated and apart from their French community. It’s impossible to predict just how many young men and women this letter and the reaction to it will move towards feeling alienated from being part of the British community and towards being an extremist. It will probably be a number larger than zero though. It probably won’t be the last straw for anyone, although it could be. One thing is certain: it won’t move anyone towards a more moderate position, only towards a more extremist one.
Congratulations guys. Just what we need.
Wednesday, January 14. 2015
As I rather suspected Boyhood is a film where the gimmick is rather what makes the film. If you don’t know what the gimmick is, they got the same core of four actors (and a few more at various points) to come back for a few days every year for twelve years so you can see the family growing up together. The titular boy, his sister, his mum and dad (the parents are separated so there’s a step dad and so on as well) growing old together.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film though, far from it. It’s charming and captivating because it does something that really no other film before it has done. This film is a snapshot of a boy growing up (his boyhood is defined as being from his first day in school to his first day in college) in a fairly ordinary family. It’s not purely about Mason Jr. we get almost as much of the tribulations of his mother and his sister. We get less of his father’s life but enough chunks to read things into that too. It could almost as easily have been called girlhood, although as Mason gets older it does focus more on him, particularly after Samantha goes away to college. I suspect the fact it was written and conceived by a man has slanted it to the male point of view because he was sure he could get it tonally right for a boy; there are a couple of boys parties and things and a boy walking on his sister and her friends that I assume he’s comfortable writing and he wouldn’t have been comfortable doing from a girl’s perspective. In fact I wonder just how much it’s autobiographical - the fact that Kevin Linklater, the director, also wrote it and Mason is a photographer helps direct that speculation, but so do moments like a conversation in a dark room that rings really true to the point I’m sure Linklater had a conversation like that somewhere in his school life.
There are moments of high drama and moments where it’s slow. There are moments where it’s laugh out loud funny and moments where it moved me to tears. Mom’s tears when Mason puts his first picture back in his room and the summary of her life in particular - ouch. There are also moments where it’s excruciatingly embarrassing - one that is as awkward as you might imagine is the talk about sex when Samantha doesn’t want to go camping with her brother and her dad because she’s going to a party and her boyfriend will be there… It’s not how I had that talk but it definitely brings back all those memories.
There are conversations and moments I’ve never had but which are sufficiently rites of passage that everyone probably feels like they’ve had them, your mum telling you off because your mate used the toilet that was out of order getting shouted at in your crappy first job cleaning tables and so on.
In many ways nothing happens but at the same time this is a real-life drama of the truest kind, the kind to which we can all relate because although we haven’t done exactly this drama we’ve all done enough of it and recognise enough of it we can easily relate.
Because of the way it’s shot there’s a really grounded sense of fashion, I assume American cars, and gadgets which is fun and somehow, oddly, relaxing. The incidental music too just works all the way through. Music is fairly important, because Dad is a musician or wants to be. Although I’m not a baseball fan the dad is and they go to the baseball and that works its way in nicely although not intrusively. There are on-going moments of politics and social commentary and all the rest. Some of the moments feel too rushed - Mom’s marriage to Bill could be a movie in its own right - but when you’re covering all of growing up in under 3 hours that’s going to happen and the film does work even as part of me wants to, in a very iOS way, zoom in on that section and see the whole of that movie.
This might well be a film I never watch again but it is a film I feel richer for having watched. Having been done, no one will be able to do another one without it being labelled as so derivative, but you equally have to wonder how no one had the idea before. If you demand plot and drive and explosions and so on, you’ll hate it, but as a character drama this is truly brilliant and well worth your time.
Bechdel test: Yes. Samantha has various girlie chats with named female friends at a few points. If Mom counts as a named character, which I’m never sure about, she also has several conversations both with Samantha and adult female friends that are not about men.
Russo test: Fail. Although various boys call each other “faggot” and similar there’s no identified LGBT character.
Saturday, January 10. 2015
I strongly suspect there are two types of people in the audience of Into the Woods those, like me, who have seen the stage show (some, no doubt, many times) and those who have not.
If you’re in the former camp, you may or may not be happy with what they’ve done in the adaptation process. All of us that had seen it before had a favourite bit that they’d missed from the adaptation - mine was the Agony Reprise, especially since the first Agony was so good. Despite that, and a niggling feeling that compressing the time between the acts to the point of non-existence makes a few scenes stop making sense I have to say that, overall I think it’s a good adaptation.
Naturally I can’t really see the story through the eyes of someone who hasn’t seen the stage show but I would imagine, if you’re willing to see a film of a musical it hangs together and makes sense. Possibly, in fact, somewhat more sense than the stage show as they’ve trimmed it to turn it from a hefty theatrical performance into a somewhat long but still family friendly film. In doing that, some of the twists and turns have been sacrificed, the complexity is gone but the story is clearer.
Since I think it’s fair to say you can’t really spoil a film of a musical that is 29 years old, a very brief synopsis. If you want to read more, here’s the wiki page. Between the village, the castle and the titular woods you have a stir of many different fairy stories. Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and later Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. These stories are tied together by the quest of the Baker and his wife to get a curse lifted so they can have a child. The traditional Happily Ever After occurs at the end of Act I and Act II picks up later (in the case of the film at the wedding procession, in the stage show an undefined but longer time later) and things are not quite so perfect as you might expect from happily ever after… The rest of the show deals with the cast dealing (or in one case at least in the stage show not dealing) with something more like the real life consequences of their stories. Yes, it’s intricate, it’s clever and it’s fun.
Enough of that. In terms of the performances, everyone sang well. None of the people I saw it with, including me, particularly took to Jack, but that’s rather the character rather than a flaw in the performance. Sondheim’s parts are not always technically challenging in terms of their range, they’re challenging in their rhythms and their word choices. (There are nice stories of him adapting the notes to a performer so they can perform the part more comfortably out there as well - he’s more concerned about the words and the rhythm than the precise tune as long as the tune that’s produced isn’t terrible.) Everyone hit their words and rhythms and the ones with the trickier notes too hit them as well. (Sondheim was involved in the production and has quite possibly rescored for range of the performers as well as rewriting some songs.)
It’s well shot too, to my mind. Obviously, as with Les Miserables, a film gives you options that a stage show just doesn’t. I felt those were usually exploited and always worked well. In one or two places the director chose to make choices that seemed to deliberately refer back to how you’d have to do that scene on stage. Admittedly they’re some of the trippier scenes (Red getting swallowed by the wolf for example and finding her grannie intact and alive) but they worked well in the filmed version too and perhaps highlighted just how surreal they are.
Although I’ve tried to avoid reviews, several of the authors whose blogs I read have reviewed it and said nasty things about Johnny Depp’s Wolf. He struck me as more louche than actively predatory (in fact he reminded me strongly of George Melly in his clothes and mannerisms albeit thinner and hairier). I could have lived with a more obviously predatory wolf but I certainly didn’t mind this interpretation of it.
There are many, many wonderful scenes sprinkled through this film but the staging of Agony, with the two princes was truly magnificent. It didn’t hurt that Chris Pine channeled his inner Kirk and played up his romantic lead looks, as did the to me previously unknown Billy Magnussen. The setting helped no end. And the words just beautifully subvert and twist it all. (This, for me, is the real shame of the rewrite that takes out the fun of the Agony Reprise - I’d love to see what they did what that after the brilliance of the first one.)
It isn’t the same as the stage show. But it’s a great show nevertheless.
Bechdel test: Yes. There are a number of named female characters. You might have to stretch the point about a ‘conversation’ since they mostly sing to each other and some of those conversations are certainly about men. But, for example, the Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella have a conversation at the end about making choices and telling good from bad that certainly counts. Florinda, Lucinda and Cinderella have conversations about getting dressed for the ball. Rapunzel and Witch have a couple of conversations and while one is partially about men, there’s a long bit about not leaving me, stay a child and let me look after you. Some of the really significant female roles are questionably named - Baker’s Wife, Jack’s Mother etc. but it passes anyway.
Russo test: no. The cast is basically Grimm fairy tale characters plus a baker and his wife who want a child. There’s no one who is clearly LGBT. Because of the complexity of the storylines and the plethora of big important characters it would be hard to write a character in that you didn’t change just for the sake of changing them to make them the LGBT one. You could change Rapunzel’s Prince to be Rapunzel’s Princess say, but she’d be the Gay Princess for the sake of it and it would still fail the test I think.
Saturday, January 10. 2015
Although this won’t be true for everyone, for me personally going to watch a film is somewhere in an awkward to define hinterland between entertainment and art. There are strong similarities for me to things like watching TV and reading that I do purely for entertainment - you’ll notice I really rarely write TV or book reviews and so on - and yet, for me at least, films are in a category beyond where I deliberately engage my critical and analytical faculties: I come out of the film and stop and think about it and write a review. That could be the role of the literary critic, the art critic or whatever, but it’s beyond the role of simply entertainment and moves it towards an artistic experience, albeit not a creative one. I tend to engage with books and TV on a level of “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that” and deliberately try to avoid deeper analysis because it changes the way I watch/read and I pretty much want to read just for pleasure. I don’t go and see a string of arthouse movies (although I did see The Hobbit at my local arthouse cinema). That said only 16 of the 26 movies I saw this year made the top 50 grossing movies in the US so maybe I do see some “arty” films too.
However, my individual experience isn’t why people make films. Tiny indy films might be made for the art of it, but clearly over 60% of the films I saw were more of the hopeful blockbuster variety and they’re a gamble, but a gamble to make money, ideally pots of money at the box office (and then again in DVD sales, streaming services and, at least in the case of Disney, merchandise too).
But one of my on-going interests in films is how they portray characters. (It’s an on-going interest in books and TV shows too it’s just expressed on my blog in my film reviews.) So I was interested in how the movies that have done well at the box office have done with the current most readily accepted test for portrayal of women in film. Unlike last year, no one seems to have looked in detail at the full list of highest grossing films and how they did on the Bechdel test. However, there are lists of the top 10 grossing films both worldwide and in the US readily available. I haven’t seen all of these, so I’m going to take all of the data for passing the Bechdel test from the official Bechdel test movie list website too.
First the worldwide list:
For the US I have a much longer list available but lets stay with the top 10.
The lists are somewhat different between the US and worldwide, both in order and content. There are 8 of the 10 films in common. When it comes to the order of the films most obvious (and unsurprising) the behemoth that is Transformers dominates the worldwide list - it was, we are told, huge in China, one of a very limited number of foreign films allowed in to that massive market. After that, there are huge differences up and down the list.
But in the terms I’m interested in the worldwide list has 4 films that fail the Bechdel test in the top 10, the US list only 3. For comparison, on the Bechdel Test Movie list 97 of the 203 films rated for 2014, or 47.7% failed the test. That’s basically the same as the worldwide list and a bit higher than the US list but no significant differences. Where we do see something more noteworthy is that on the worldwide list the highest placed film that fails the Bechdel test is ranked 4th. On the US list the highest placed film that fails the Bechdel test is only ranked 7th.
As I’ve said before, I don’t automatically believe that a film that passes the Bechdel test provides great role models for women or even realistic portrayals of women. (The discussion on the Bechdel Test site for Transformers agrees it passes but the ‘conversation’ is about 5 lines between two of the three named women in the film that several commentators had forgotten for example. There is a brilliant piece I read about how you know you’re a woman in a Michael Bay movie which is basically a treatise on how to (or how not to, depending on how you read it) objectify a woman on film - Transformers may pass but I really doubt it presents a good portrayal of realistic women or a good role model.) Nor, indeed that a film that fails is automatically one that shows only bad examples of women and how they should act: Mystique is a far from perfect role model (she’s a criminal for one) but she’s a complex, fully realised female character who is frequently wholly in control of the situation despite the powerful men around her in a film that fails the Bechdel test).
However, on both lists, films that pass take appreciably more money than films that fail. It’s hard to know how to control for the difference in numbers - on the worldwide list Transformers alone takes more than the next 3 films combined (the Chinese market really is THAT big) so that film passing or failing is that important to the outcome).
But the evidence is continuing to mount up. It’s not just me: films based on scripts that do something that seems to portray women at least somewhat realistically - to even the absolute minimum to pass the Bechdel test - tend to do better at the box office than those that don’t. Although it’s less clear cut and certainly subjective, of the films I can talk about, a lot of the films in the top 10 do have strong female characters present at least. Scriptwriters and Hollywood executives really need to be sitting up and taking notice sometime soon. It’s not a guarantee of success, but, to misquote Effie, If you want the odds to be in your favour, it seems to be a damn good way to go about it.
Thursday, January 1. 2015
I rather suspect this film will have a rather limited appeal. The only people I know that like it, other than film critics, are old school goths - whether they’ve grown up or not. There may be others out there but I’ve not heard of any.
It’s not completely true to say that nothing happens - there are the inevitable vampire movie tropes. For example, there’s someone drained of blood and the body to disposed of “It’s so much harder these days than when we just dropped the body in the Thames with the other tubercular corpses.” There’s the travel with the awkward requirements “Tickets from Detroit to Tangiers, leaving and arriving at night. Yes I know it’s awkward. I’m sorry.” There are others too, but they serve as good exemplars. But it’s certainly fair to say very little happens in this movie. It’s not a film with a driving plot, more of a character study.
But then this film isn’t really like any other vampire film. It’s not really about being a vampire per se, although some of the elements are in that vampire-gothic area. This isn’t a gothic-horror romance, the goth here is much of the goth-rock school, although it is a romance.
This film is about being misunderstood, an outsider, and the reason that I suspect it appeals to the old goths, it’s about being an outsider with a particular aesthetic sensibility combined with being old. Christopher Marlowe makes an appearance, Byron and those annoying French poets are discussed and dismissed as a bad influence. There’s a stylish, dark musical and dress sense with long, flowing locks and sunglasses that’s pure goth. There’s beautiful, pale-skinned people posing and posturing that is not everyone’s take on goth (there are sub-cultures in goth too and fans of the Cowboys from Hell don’t rock the beautiful look, more the dusty cowboy chic while deathly pale and covered in mystical symbols) but is certainly the epitome of some parts of the goth scene. There’s a part where it looks like there’s going to be a suicide or a murder but the way it plays it out is definitely goth.
I really wonder how this film would play to a teenager. I can see elements that might appeal - but there’s an ennui, a world-weariness under it all that makes me suspect they’ll be left feeling flat and bewildered. I think it comes with age, teenagers that are this disaffected are full of anger or angst, not ennui. Being older I can remember those feelings, perhaps relive some of them but I can appreciate the other element that is present too - that sense of OMG they’re doing this again? I don’t use the terminology of the characters for it but I slipped comfortably into it and the feelings behind it in a way that if I was still in my teens or even in my 30’s I don’t think I could have done.
Ultimately the title of this film tells you the answer to the question that it essentially poses. Since life is a drag and everything comes around again, why bother? Love, love of another, makes it all worth while. Adam and Eve live for each other, it is having each other that keeps them going.
I half got this movie because I enjoy watching Tilda Swinton act and I was curious to see Tom Hiddleston in a role rather different to Loki. I’m also happy to see a decent vampire movie. I’m happy to say Tom Hiddleston stays worth watching without the special effects and so on all round him and a very different character and sensibility to the film. Fortunately I’m also an old school goth, so I’m in the group of old those I know that like this movie. I rather doubt it will be my favourite film of the year come the end of the year but I’ll be shocked if it’s not in the top category.
Bechdel test: yes. Eve and Ava have a conversation and although it’s roaming and does mention Adam, it’s also about art and dreams and things. Actually, it’s possibly one of the most natural conversations in a movie between two women you’ll ever see - there’s no plot to drive along after all!
Russo test: yes. Marlowe is clearly gay: he’s definitely interested in Adam and his beauty and his body. (The actual historical figure of Marlowe is thought of today, by some scholars, as being gay, although like so many historical assignations that’s controversial. Presumably that’s why he’s gay in this film though.) But throughout the film he’s equally or more defined by his history and his friendship with Eve and his ability to supply blood in Tangiers. You could argue there isn’t a story in this film, but as much as there is, Marlowe is tied to it.
Wednesday, December 31. 2014
Someone, after reading my Films of the Year list why I don’t also do a top TV list.
The problem with that is, I don’t really obsess over most of my TV in the same way. I could try to rank the TV shows I watch by series - it would be a list about the same length as the film list it turns out - but that gets awkward. They’re different lengths (Sherlock at 3 episodes to US network TV at 22/23 episodes) at different phases - Sherlock completed its run for 2014 last January, all the US network TV shows I watch are on midseason break for Christmas (except CSI which seems to be ignoring Christmas this year).
Even after that, I watch a greater variety of TV in terms of style but I also wean out TV shows. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a film because it’s so terrible (I might have but I can’t remember one) but I’ve certainly given up on TV shows that I don’t like. Therefore, all the shows I remember will be in the top category. That probably wouldn’t stop me ordering them but the order would be really prone to changing on an almost daily basis.
Equally, I could try to rank the episodes that I still remember. But then recent episodes, mini-break cliff-hangers and the like probably get an unfair advantage. Recent episodes are in my mind better than episodes broadcast in January and February. Specials and Christmas break cliff-hangers are designed to be especially memorable to make sure you come back.
All that said, thinking back over my TV year, a few awards do spring to mind.
The show I rushed to watch to avoid Tumblr spoilers award: Orphan Black I love the Tumblr community for the 42 weeks of the year that Orphan Black isn’t showing, but because it’s a BBC America show it’s broadcast and dissected before I get to see it. SO… I get it and watch it asap THEN I catch up on my RSS feeds and the live-blogged comments and so on.
The show I got the biggest relief they didn’t screw up award: Constantine The US market and critics appear not to really like Constantine. It might not get the chance it deserves thanks to some crap decisions from the network executives - the start date was pushed back so they had to make a decision after four episodes had been broadcast which is just not that fair. If they’d gone with their original start date and 6 episodes the numbers had picked up and it was looking much stronger. However, regardless of that, the central character of John Constantine himself is a good adaptation of the original. He’s not identical, although he’s equally not incredibly dissimilar to the John Constantine we see in the early issues of Hellblazer, but he is very identifiably the same character in looks, attitude and behaviour. I’ll regret it if they don’t bring this show back next year. It’s not a truly great show, at least not yet, but it’s far from a bad one and I think it’s got the space to grow.
Biggest character turn-round award: Clara Oswald It is fair to say that in her first season, or half-season, and the two specials after it, the scripts really didn’t do Clara, the companion in Dr. Who, any favours. She was nothing more than a glorified plot token rather a genuine character with her own motives, actions and the like. This season however, it would be fair to say the show could have been called Clara’s Adventures with the Madman in the Blue Box given the size of her impact over the 13 episodes. Not every single one, but certainly more than half. It’s nice to see her given a chance to finally get her teeth into some meaty scripts and have a chance to shine.
The show that made my cry most award: Arrow Lots of shows kill people. Relatively few shows kill of series regulars. Arrow does and does so with impact every time. Tommy, Shado, Moira and Sara were all series regulars who have died and their deaths have had serious and lasting ramifications through the show. There have been other series regulars that have died (Isabel Rochev, Sebastian Blood and Yao Fei all spring to mind) as well, and a host of minor characters. But Moira’s sacrifice and Sara’s totally unexpected death, ouch. And their timings were both a surprise too.
Most surprising back-story award: Arrow Goth Hacker-Felicity? Felicity’s ditzy mum Donna? Donna meeting Ray repeatedly and Felicity dying of embarrassment each time? Even Roy’s flashback. Ok, the superslo-mo fight with the motion sensor things looked (very surprisingly for a fight scene in Arrow) terrible but the actual story and the character stuff was great.
And finally, the show that no longer fills my headspace award: Castle Sorry Beckett and Castle and the rest, but somewhere I just lost interest. I didn’t even finish off last season in fact. The arc started to just meander too much and while there were some good episodes still they became too few and far between to keep me interested.
So there we go, not a ranked list of my favourite TV shows. Many shows I’ve thoroughly enjoyed not mentioned. But a few highlights, and one lowlight, picked out.
Tuesday, December 30. 2014
Without further ado here is the list:
Compared to previous years, this year's list shows a strong skew into the top category: I normally have 4 or 5 films up there, this year there are 14. While I'd like to think this is just a better year for films looking at some of the turkeys I have to wonder if it's also a better year for choosing which films to see. Ultimately, all the way to Lucy they're films I'd happily watch again, the split between X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy is that I might actually go out of my way to watch X-Men again (even though it's a superhero movie) whereas I'd probably only watch Guardians of the Galaxy again if I caught it on a quiet night. I wouldn't scream if someone put the next two on either, although they're in a group on their own because I can't imagine actually choosing to change channels to watch them. The next four are films I have no particular desire to see again and finally films I genuinely regard as a waste of my time.
Fundamentally I think all the top group of movies have a decent story with at least one strong character, although most of them have several strong characters. Some of the films, the stories, are, in my opinion, stronger than others, otherwise there wouldn't be an order but they all have a story that they tell. Fancy special effects and spectacle doesn't really help - half of them basically don't have any special effects after all - they're a strong personal story running through them. The next group have more flawed stories but make up for it largely with special effects and a big dose of fun. The next two have less fun in various ways.
Then there's a mixed bag that fundamentally bored me. Lone Survivor was harrowing but was just lots and lots of shooting. That's my abiding memory of it. That didn't do much for me. American Hustle just kept on going and going. The Hobbit had spectacle but no story to string it all together. It was spectacular but failed to draw me in to its spectacle. Godzilla gave me the warm fuzzies at the time but over time the badness has remained and the warm fuzzies receded. I have the memories of those warm fuzzies though so it doesn't quite slip into the bottom category for me. This is a film that didn't bore me but remove from the film has certainly not done it any favours. I suspect if I watched it again those warm fuzzies would come back which helps it avoid the bottom group which is where I suspect it really belongs on merit. Thinking of it in terms of the personal story, I never warmed to the SEAL, the locked us out of the characters and their stories in American Hustle, they largely abandoned the titular character's story and gave us scraps of character stories in The Hobbit that failed to hold it together. Godzilla I'm just not sure what they did.
Then there's a bag of just bad films. World War Z has not recommended itself to me more than it ever did. It's still just a boringly ordinary take on a movie. The white man hero makes hero moves to save the world against the latest menace. Such a shame given the source material. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes still remains the biggest disappointment, possibly because Rise of the Planet of the Apes was just so good and a really fresh look and then this was so - just ordinary. It's probably not actually a bad film but it's a huge let down.
Since I've been noting how the films I've seen this year have fared with the Bechdel test, and it's obviously of some interest to me, how did the movies I've seen do? Overall, 13 films passed, 11 failed and 2 I've rated N/A. The N/A films were Locke and The Railway Man for different reasons. Everyone talks through Locke so it's basically impossible for it to pass and he has to be a man. The Railway Man is a true life story about a very peculiarly male group of prisoners of war that worked on the Burma railway. They could have written a woman in to pass the test but the group, the story, deserve to have their real story told. Note that, although the Bechdel test doesn't really rate how well you pass there are a few films that scrape passes as well as a few really good, easy passes in that list and at least one film that I suspect is a deliberate fail to highlight issues with the Bechdel test since it is a film that very distinctly gives all the women agency, often a huge amount of agency - more than most or all of the men - while failing the Bechdel test. My top category though contains both N/As and only 2 films that failed, and 10 of the 13 films that passed. While I suspect it's not a causal link, (and one of the three remaining films that passed is in the worst category) it seems if you care enough to write in a style that passes the Bechdel test you're more likely to write a film script I'll like. Although I haven't formally started the Russo test yet, both movies that clearly passed and both that arguably passed are in the top group as well. Writing good characters is likely to be a way to make a better film in my book - and while I'm not necessarily the typical film goer I go to quite a few films in a year. Surely my penny is worth something?
Sunday, December 28. 2014
As promised, I said I’d look at The Russo Test as it applies to my TV shows over the last year. I suspect I’m going to miss a few here. I have some shows I have stored essentially for eternity (or until I delete the files for HD space) and I few I save on the DVR until I’ve watched them and then get rid of that come from UK TV. Then there are shows on Netflix and the like of course. Shows in those two categories are the ones I’m likely to forget because I don’t have a clear prompt beyond memory.
Rather than going back and rewatching all those hours, I’m relying on my memory for a LGBT character. Of course if I don’t have such a memory it’s a pretty safe bet the show doesn’t pass all the steps of the Russo test but it might get unfairly marked as a fail when it should be getting part of the way along.
Some of the shows I make the effort to watch (9 I think) just fail. I’m not going to name and shame them all. I think the count is 9 completely fail, 2 fail on what I’m calling the CSI rule (see below).
CSI I’m pretty sure passes for some of its episodes - it just has so many characters pass through that LGBT characters are bound to be in there and be well drawn (they’ll be a criminal, a victim etc.) and be essential to that one story. Off the top of my head I can’t remember any in particular and you have to wonder about just how good an image it portrays - although it doesn’t unduly stereotype, just about every group gets shown as criminals or victims or both in CSI. In wider terms though, I’m not sure if that’s a pass or not. None of the core group pass stage 1 of the test, none of the stars or regulars. I’m going to list it here and then say actually I think it (and all other procedurals like it) technically fail UNLESS it’s at least a recurring character that helps them pass. It’s different in a film where you’ve only got the one story, but passing because you have a lesbian killer in 1 episode from 23 is not going to qualify for me. So, just for TV shows, I'm adding the CSI rule to the criteria: it must be at least a recurring character.
Orphan Black of course passes. We have Felix who is a core, vital character and there since about 5 minutes in. Cosima and Delphine too who have been there since almost the beginning. So that’s LGB covered. And then we have TG Tony who is less core, less vital and while I completely understand why they wanted to do it, in the check box sense of the Russo test, ticks the T box (although if they were trying to rely on Tony for the rest of it, they’d fail).
The Fall although it’s only one small scene has Stella Gibson make a pass at Dr. Smith. It’s definitely enough to pass step 1 and as the central cop character it then romps through steps 2 and 3.
Arrow establishes that Sara and Nyssa were lovers. Sara has a huge part to play through Season 2 and her death has a huge impact through Season 3 so Arrow passes.
Orange is the New Black passes easily. Heck, the advertising was basically lesbians in prison. Well the show is far more than that, although it doesn’t fail to deliver on that too. And bisexual women, transgender women and more. It’s impossible to imagine the show without bisexual Piper tying it together and telling the story of how she sees prison. It’s really hard to imagine the show without transgender Sophia and both her happiness and her insights and some of her dramas. The other LGBT parts are more perhaps more interchangeable but, and importantly, they’re interchangeable in the best possible way - they’re a person not defined by their sexuality, they’re a person whose story is told in their episode and then they more or less fade into the background as someone else takes their turn front and centre.
The Vampire Diaries had Luke last season, who I’d almost forgotten but was gay. He’s marginal on the next two parts of the test but just passes I think - he’s not central but he is more than colour. Nobody I can think of this season though? Still a pass for 2014 though.
Dr. Who has Jenny and Madam Vastra of course. They’re close to failing the CSI-test but they are recurring. They’re defined by much more than being lesbians. Madam Vastra is a silurian for one. They’re core to the story.
Dexter for all the flaws in its final season had a big role for a gay villain who was, perhaps, if not sworn to vengeance one of the few men that might actually have understood Dexter and become his friend. He was clearly defined by much more than being gay - he was a Russian mob boss and killer and so on, trying to take vengeance on whoever had killed his lover AND complicated enough to appreciate that he might like Dexter if he hadn’t killed his lover. So an easy pass.
Supernatural has Charlie for as many shows as Felicia Day chooses to come back for, so she passes the CSI rule (although she may only be in 1 episode per season). Although not recurring, in their 200th episode they played up to the fanfic Wincest writers and Destiel writers with an identified lesbian couple playing Dean and Castiel in the musical. I wouldn’t count it by the CSI-rule, but it made the song Cas sings extra poignant.
Elementary is, interestingly, the only show that gets part way along but doesn’t pass once it starts with a recurring character. Mrs. Hudson is clearly identified as a transgendered woman. She turns up in several episodes so she passes the CSI-rule. She’s Sherlock’s librarian and more so she’s not identified as “the transgendered one” her role is properly drawn. But, actually, she’s not really tied to the story. She’s no more than background colour: it’s not hard to say any one of several other characters already established couldn’t have delivered her little nuggets of news. Don’t get me wrong, I like the character, I like the twist they’ve put on that piece of canon in this show. But sadly she’s not used as more than a clever twist (unlike Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock who is a rather central character).
Sherlock itself I’m not sure about. Moriarty in disguise as Jim is identified as gay by Sherlock and makes a comeback. Sherlock and Moriarty almost share a kiss but as Lestrade says to Anderson “That’s bollocks” and it’s revealed to be a meandering fan-fic theory on how it happened. Technically it has to count as a pass. Moriarty is identified as gay is certainly not defined by his sexual orientation, so much so I’m really not sure what (if any) sexual orientation he has, and in his appearances, short though they are, he’s vital. He ‘kills’ Sherlock, he saves Sherlock’s life and he makes the plane turn around. Not bad for maybe 5 minutes screen time in 270!
The Returned (Les Revenants) had Laure, the lesbian cop, and Julie, her ex (and possibly reconciled) lover who took in Victor, the little boy who returned. They clearly both pass being defined as far more than just lesbians. Julie, in particular - lesbian, nurse, survivor of an attack by Serge. Laure is a bit less developed, lesbian & cop for most of the show, but as she comes into more and more contact with Julie over the Returned and we find out more of their history we gradually find out more about the two of them.
So I think that’s 9 clear fails. 2 probable fails. 1 partial pass. 2 scrape passes (have done better in years gone by). 10 clear passes. If we exclude the various categories of not clear we’ve not 9 fails, a partial pass and 10 clear passes. It’s interesting to me that (unlike with the Bechdel test) it’s quite rare for a show to partially pass. There are plenty of films that have two named female characters that either never have a conversation (300 for example) or only talk about men (Sin City for example). Films with only 1 named female role are rare (The Railway Man is the only one I saw this year). Films and TV shows that just don’t have an identifiable LGBT character AT ALL are much more common. Once you’ve made the decision to have one (or more) LGBT characters, you, the writers, do a much better job of writing them as significant characters than you do with women. (I’m pretty sure NONE of the shows I watch, even transferring the CSI rule over to the Bechdel test) would fail the Bechdel test by the way.)
It’s interesting though - being generous 4 of 28 or 14.3% of the films I watched passed the Russo test. Where it’s clear 10 of 18 or 55.5% of TV shows I watch pass (if I extend it a bit more, it becomes 10 or 22 or 45.4%). Although the sample size is quite small, the difference is strongly statistically significant (p<0.01). Yes, TV and film are somewhat different - TV lets you have a bigger cast and explore the minor characters in more depth in the greater time you have with them so you can develop characters more - but come on film, you must be able to do something to catch up! Also interesting, although much harder to analyse clearly, all the broadcast UK TV shows (albeit one is originally French): The Fall, Dr. Who, Orphan Black, The Returned, Sherlock that I watch pass the Russo test. All the fails and quibbles are from US TV.
Friday, December 26. 2014
My movie reviews have had, throughout 2014, the Bechdel test added to the bottom. For 2015, I’m adding the Russo test (PDF).
Where the Bechdel test looks at the representation of women in an objective (albeit limited) way, the Russo test looks at the representation of LGBT characters. It’s slightly less objective but these are the criteria:
There are loads of TV shows where this is being done, but not so much in films, even in 2014.
I didn’t do it at the time so I may have missed a few but of the films I’ve seen this year only Dallas Buyer’s Club and The Imitation Game clearly meet even criterion 1 of the Russo test. Happily they then go on to pass all the other elements. You can’t imagine the former without Rayon, and the latter without Turing is clearly impossible. There are those who choose to argue that both Frozen and Maleficent have strong sub-text (in Maleficent it’s screamingly loud although you can argue it’s more maternal love than romantic/sexual love too). But you can’t imagine Maleficent without the title character, nor Frozen without Elsa and her ice magic. You can argue if they clearly pass point 1 but if they do, they happily go on to pass points 2 and 3.
So that's what the Russo test does, and how it applies. I'll be adding a paragraph, just like the paragraph I write for the Bechdel test to the end of each film review I write. I'll try to think about how the TV shows I watch do on the Russo test too.
Friday, December 26. 2014
Snowpiercer is going to be one of those hard to review movies because so much of what makes it good is the twists. Multiple twists, all well crafted, well worked and often, while unexpected, actually foreshadowed.
The setting is post-apocalyptic onboard a train called the Snowpiercer. It was, originally, the luxury holiday vision of Wilford, the engineer, who built a giant looped track that spans the globe and a largely self-repairing train that keep running forever, making its own way through snowfalls etc. (hence the name). The apocalypse in question is anthropogenic - in order to fight global warming missiles were launched to try and cool the atmosphere, causing a global ice age. Ooops.
Life on board the train is strictly segregated by the class of ticket you’ve got, and the higher class tickets are towards the front. We start the film with Curtis in the last carriage in which people live (there is a prison carriage and a few other things like that behind them) where a rebellion is brewing, finally sparked when someone from first class comes and takes away first an old man who used to be a violinist, shooting his wife in the hand because although she used to play the violin too, they only need one, and then taking away two children based on their height.
As the rebellion sweeps up the train they learn more and more unpleasant things as more and more twists about the way the train is maintained, the people are fed and so on are revealed. You will probably come away with your own list of influences that you recognise. There were moments I was thinking “This is going to be a Soylent Green riff” and then it wasn’t - it was worse. There were definitely moments it definitely reminded me of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. You can certainly see parallels to Elysium with the idea of a class war as well. There are also beautifully planted foreshadowing moments for twists that I just didn’t see coming and really should have done.
This film is lauded for its diversity and while it probably deserves that: there are two vital Korean characters, and many of the most memorable performances are from women (Tilda Swinton steals most of her scenes, Ah-sung Ko and Alison Pill also have some truly memorable moments, even though Alison Pill is only on screen for about 5 minutes) there’s a far from all white cast, ultimately all of the true power players are white (the Koreans play a vital but supporting role) and male.
Bechdel test: I will have to watch it again to be absolutely sure (that will not be a chore) but I think no.
Friday, December 26. 2014
Sin City, the original, is essentially shot in black and white, or more literally in shades of grey, with splashes of colour for blood, the occasional woman, freak or other element. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For maintains that colour palette. That is not the only thing it maintains. Like the original it is a film that really goes beyond noir to dive through the seedy underbelly into a city where power politics is played brutally and usually your first warning is a lethal one. It’s a city where you’re either a shark or shark bait and if you’re a shark you’re never quite sure if you’re the biggest, meanest shark in town and just like real sharks you can never rest easy, never stop moving because if you do, you’re dead.
Again, like the first movie, this one has several little stories that are somewhat linked together around Nancy gyrating away in the bar and Marv. However, unlike the first movie, the stories are very unevenly dealt with here. One is so short that if you blink you’ll miss it, or nearly anyway. However, it introduces or reintroduces rather, a lot of characters and joins them up in a way we didn’t know they were connected in the first movie. One has two short scenes and while they’re both effective and one in particular is important later on I was initially left with a little bit of a sense of “Um what?” However, if you’re inclined, like me, to think about a film enough to write a review those scenes play in to two of the big themes of this movie: power, lust, love and family (which are played out with a rather dynamic in the first film) and so they definitely have their place in the grander scheme of things. One of the stories is a rather straight continuation of and ultimately a conclusion to the thread of stories from the original film. This being Sin City it’s not necessarily a happy ending, it’s certainly not a clean and morally unambiguous ending. This story is not the biggest part of this film but does end it. And finally for this paragraph although the middle part and bulk of the film is the other story. I’m not sure strictly if it’s quite the bulk of the time but certainly the biggest single element of this film is taken up with a new story that seems to come from nowhere and be completely self-contained. It touches on the other characters in the film, certainly, but it has its own beginning, middle and end within this film. It’s certainly fitting and well within the style and setting of Sin City, it just seems a little disconnected in some ways although it too plays strongly around the themes of power, love, lust and family and what they mean from yet another angle.
This is a film that is going to divide a lot of female opinion. There is certainly an argument to be made it’s all about women in scanty clothes or no clothes (Eva Green spends most of her scenes wearing nothing but bathing in what is coloured to look like asses’ milk) and so in that sense it’s a masculine fantasy. But in Sin City just about everyone is coloured in shades of dark grey and there are a lot of kick-ass women who make a point of NOT giving themselves to man unless they choose and backing that up with extreme force. That’s not part of most masculine fantasies. They are also probably the closest thing to a clear force for good in the city that we see. Do you want to say they can’t wear what they want and restart the slut-walk debate? Nancy also talks about how, as a stripper, she has the power in the room. I don’t know that I believe it, and it’s interesting that she has to lose that to move on about her father’s death, but it is a perspective of a woman in power - and in fairness it’s how she’s always been portrayed as the star turn and completely in control of the crowd. In losing that particular aspect of power, and innocence, she turns to a much more masculine and aggressive expression of power.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For probably isn’t meant to be heavy, thought-provoking cinema. But any movie about corruption and power and the sacrifices we’re willing to make both to have power and gain safety or whatever the lure or power is or to fight them has the potential to be. And that is what this movie is about as well as the sexiness and the stylised fight scenes and all the rest of it in cool shades of grey and splashes of colour.
Bechdel test: Surprisingly, given all the named female characters and the screen time they share, no. The only times they talk, they talk about a man. (The first film managed a pass, just.) That said, the Bechdel test is not the be-all-and-end-all of female portrayal within a movie: it is simply a quick, objective test of it. It is worth noting that (despite some initial appearances) I’m pretty sure every named female character (there’s one I’m not sure about) and some of the unnamed ones gets to actively make a decision for herself, often more than one. It may or may not be a good decision, it’s often a decision with stupendously far-reaching and unexpected consequences but the woman exercising her agency is clearly laid out and shown. There are films which technically pass the Bechdel test which make far less effort to show women with agency than this film does. The men, arguably all of them, don’t have choices. They are trapped in their roles and positions and play out their predetermined actions just as surely as anyone in a tragedy. However good, they may seem they are destined to be undone by their fatal flaws. If they are bad they probably destined to fall when their evil leader mets his eventual nemesis. That role reversal is so complete it must be deliberate, along, presumably with failing with Bechdel test.
Saturday, December 13. 2014
Before I saw this film I’d seen a headline on a review describing it as the weakest of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies. Sadly, I’m forced to agree. The problem with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies unlike say The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is that there isn’t actually a natural story here. Rather, there are the resolutions (some natural, some rather less so) to several threads that have been established, some in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and some way back in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Now if, like me, you know the actual story well, that’s not too bad (although one rather glaring confusing bit from the story stands out more in the film. But it was obvious from the audience comments around me that quite a lot of them didn’t and the movie was rather empty spectacle for them.
There is an attempt to provide a driving narrative through the story. It’s even an element that I remember from the original and while I remember it being significant I don’t remember it trying to carry the last third of the book. That narrative line is the descent into gold fever, or dragon madness as it’s called here, of Thorin Oakenshield. I think it’s very nicely handled - you see the madness nicely acted, the change in Thorin’s character and the moments of lucidity. You see the way he turns against and alienates his fellows and loses their thrust. With the magic of sound effects, at his maddest you even hear the overlay of some of the effects that were added to Smaug’s voice so the real impact of ‘Dragon’ in dragon madness is made clear.
The problem, to my mind at least, is the problem that underlies the whole film. Thorin, eventually, overcomes his madness and dies a redeemed hero, seeking and being given Bilbo’s forgiveness for his actions. All present and correct. But the resolution to his madness could have been a nice bit of character interaction. Instead it is, although admittedly pretty, a special effects extravaganza.
There’s a second problem too - I suspect with the writing. The whole madness and redemption element echoed Boromir so closely it wasn’t true for me. I can’t decide if it was deliberate (in which case I think it detracts somewhat from both) or an accident of the fact that the same minds wrote the madness. But that’s a different matter.
So, on with the spectacle:
Smaug’s encounter with Laketown - check. In fact that occurs before the title of the film is shown. Yes, ALL of it happens that fast.
Then the people of Laketown decamp to Dale, the Wood Elves arrive and there’s a stand off. Dain turns up, ready to count heads, especially pretty elven king’s heads. Then the orcs show up. Then more orcs show up. And there’s a battle. Hence the title of the film.
There are, for those of you who have seen any of the previous five films, all the fairly predictable pieces here. The big marching armies. The awesome military elves. The orcs go to war again and we’ve seen that before. In this film you get to see the dwarves go to war too, war pigs and war goats and all.
For those who are used to The Hobbit movies, there are the elements of foreshadowing. Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman turn up to rescue Gandalf from The Necromancer and find he’s Sauron and he’s resurrected the Nazgûl. For those really paying attention, some of the orcs come from Angmar. Galadriel forces Sauron back and Saruman fatefully says he’ll look after what’s left while Elrond helps her away. We all know how well THAT worked out don’t we?
In the midst of the big fights there were a number of character fights. One, in particular, is going to be the basis of a tie-in game. Yes, it’s one with a blonde elf. They didn’t pull a surprise and have him die. Unlike most of the other movies there weren’t really any moments of lightness though.
Overall this was a movie of lots and lots of style and spectacle and not really so much story. It was ending stories and in the tradition of sagas (and in keeping with the original) few of them ended well. But it’s a shame.
Bechdel test: Again no. There is a chance for a conversation again, at least one, but I don’t think it happens.
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Last entry: 2015-01-25 10:27
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