Sunday, 3 January 2010

FILMS 0F 2009: THE BRONZE AWARDS

See here for the Tin-Plated and the Not-Even-Going-To-Say-What-Substance awards.
Coming Soon(ish)! The Silver and Gold awards!




Star Trek

Reboots rock! It’s not just that the title looks bolder and neater on the film poster, freely shorn of those appendages and fannish encumbrances. (Though that alone would be reason enough.) Like forest fires, reboots burn away all the overgrown entanglements, and allow fresh new shoots to sprout. They keep things young and lively.

Yet paradoxically they also contain an element of fatalism. We know in advance things will only burn down to the root, that the same basic shapes and arrangements will inevitably regrow. So, to stop things becoming merely repetitive, reboots often try to wrongfoot you. But, like the folktale character trying to escape a curse and thereby enabling it, this merely exposes the problem. We know Kirk and Spock will end up as friends and colleagues, despite any feints otherwise. So Abrams’ decision to inject elements from the old Star Trek, the one we all know, is no cop-out but actually the smartest move to make. Staying silent about it would leave it the proverbial elephant in the living room. Allowing limited, supervised contact was the way to go.

Where the film turns strange is in basing itself around Kirk, but giving him the mere appearance of a ‘journey’. It’s more like Spock and everyone else have the journey, reorienting themselves around him – the man who’s always right no matter what. He's initially presented as a reckless youth, fighting in bars for want of anything better to do. But there's no rite of passage for him, he passes effortlessly from stealing cars to assuming command of a starship by something of a backdoor. Even when he does dumb things, like fighting the security guards on deck, it's like we're just supposed to root for him.

Interestingly, they did a similar thing with Johnny Storm in the (first) Fantastic Four film. He’s first told never to take his flame to nova, as some sort of code that his headstrong impetuosity needed reigning in. Yet it’s the very reverse which happens - he wins the day precisely by going nova!

Does our culture now consider that any kind of self-discipline or even simple consideration of your actions to be 'un-heroic'? Could this be something to do with the schizo rules we get given in daily life, increasingly micro-regulated at work yet bombarded by adverts telling us the road to personal success is just to give in to our indulgences?

I can't help but wonder if, as the Shatner incarnation was Kennedy, this time Kirk has become Dubya – the ultimate screw-up rich kid who got into the position he did because of family connections. Kirk's logic-be-damned-we've-just-got-to-fight-the-foe speeches seem remarkably similar to Bush's railing against the UN or Geneva Convention, or just about anybody at all. (“Never mind what those reports say, I knows what’s right, goddamit!”)

And if I’m right about this, what can we look forward to with the subsequent Obama era? Is Uhura secretly angling for that promotion from telephonist to Captain?

Of course nothing in this complaint should be taken to suggest it makes this a bad film. You could even argue the reverse, it makes it a better work of art by embracing the zeitgeist so neatly.

Drag Me To Hell

Lightweight but enjoyable Sam Raimi shocker. Perhaps oddly, after so many films which stole the look of Ring, this film takes it’s plot while looking nothing like it!

Looking For Eric

Unlike others, I had no problem with the magical realism intruding into the more regular realism in this new Ken Loach drama. (Which in any case you could read as merely going on in the protagonist’s head.) But, like other Loach films such as Raining Stones, the problem comes with the ending. I can see why they would want to avoid their every film finishing on a bleak-but-believable downer where the bad guys always win, but this is a little like a gritty urban drama turns Children’s Film Foundation for the final reel. I get the point that gangster’s main currency is maintaining ‘face’, but even so...



The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

The main conceit of this film is that it allows us to journey into the mind of the titled Doctor, through the afore-mentioned Imaginarium. But it does make you wonder at times if you’re not actually entering the mind of one of Terry Gilliam’s decriers, and seeing one of his films through their eyes.

Of course, we all know the story that Heath Ledger tragically died during filming. And, as most of us will also know, Gilliam then employed a secondary conceit on the back of his first – to finish the film by shooting the missing scenes inside the Imaginarium, putting different actors in place of Ledger under a big dollop of dream logic. You actually get used to this quite quickly.

But the result really makes little sense, even for a Gilliam film. Points which are clearly intended to pack an emotional punch just leave you head-scratching. You suspect there were vital scenes outside the Imaginarium which remained unshot, as they fell outside Gilliam’s back-up conceit. It’s as dazzling and ceaselessly inventive as ever (as that surrealist-style poster might suggest), but bewildering and ultimately unsatisfying.

Still, Tom Waits as the devil... that can never be bad.

The Limits of Control

As reviewed here.

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