Maids and masquerades, this shadow depression… I appear to be watching rotten films

The problem with holidays is that every day feels like a weekend.  This lack of structure and urgency is further compounded by my insomnia.

In one sense, these are not good things.  I’m one of those people who needs structure and regularity, if for nothing else but messing with that structure and regularity.  The structure and regularity gives me something to which I can respond.

In another sense, it is quite liberating.  I’ve enjoyed the beach, caught up on a vast amount of reading, played a frighteningly large number of gaming hours, and watched a few films.  I’ve resisted the urge to blog about everything I read/watch/do/play because it becomes tedious and isn’t interesting for other people.  On the other hand, this blog isn’t terribly interesting so it might be forgiven.

In the past two days, I’ve watched two awful, awful films: I Am Number Four (accurately renamed ‘I am Number Snore’ by i09.com) and The King’s Speech (wacky pun from io9 forthcoming).

I Am Number Four (a.k.a. ‘You space kids stay off my lawn’)

TVTropes.org explains Chekhov’s Gun fairly well.  When you’re creating a science fiction world with aliens and alien technology and alien intergalactic politics, this sort of thing is important.  First, it cuts down on clutter (if the alien death ray isn’t going to shoot somebody, it doesn’t need to exist in the story) and it prevents deus ex machina endings.

I Am Number Four is a slave to Chekhov’s Gun.  The first twenty minutes of the film is nothing but running through all of the guns which will resolve the ‘plot’ crisis.  Oh, the lizard shape-shifted into a dog and the bad guys have massive dragons?  Oh, there’s a girl hunting down the ‘protagonist’ who isn’t ugly and is invulnerable to fire?  And so on and so forth until the film ham-fistedly gets to the angsty teenage rebellion of modern school life (bullies and girls and nerds, oh my).  At this point, the film pretty much forgets about the dog and the fire girl until they reappear at the conclusion of the film.

There’s nothing exciting about the film.  The lead character couldn’t act.  The interesting character dies Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, leaving the protagonist the opportunity to find his destiny.  Blah, blah, blah.

But why were the bad guys are bad?  The film suggests it’s because they’re ugly.  When I finally got bored with the narrative, I imagined that they were retaliating for some terrible war crime committed by the main character’s race.  Fueled by revenge, they were wiping all trace of their former oppressors from the universe.  For all I know, the bad guys were the last five guys from their race because Number Four’s dad used the Force to swallow their home planet, or something.

That’s what I want to see: a film where I understand why the villains are so evil.  This would also help me to understand why the protagonists feel that the only suitable response is murder.  There have been far too many films lately which tell the audience ‘This is the bad guy and trust us that he’s bad and needs to die.’  I’m sure there’s some political statement to be made here about Americans.

The King’s Speech (a.k.a. ‘When supporting characters wanted a bigger role’)

Historical fiction is the oldest kind of fiction.  You would think that we would be better at it.  Perfected by Herodotus and Livy, the point is to explore some great question about the human condition through real people and events.  The King’s Speech gives absolutely no exploration of anything worth exploring, and somehow manages to make interesting characters into wallpaper.  Helena Bonham-Carter has neither the presence nor the ability to convey the strength of the Queen Mum.  Timothy Spall trots out a weak caricature of Churchill.  And Derek Jacobi — probably the most adept actor in the film — barely gets to say boo.

There’s nothing terribly inspiring about the film.  As a person with a very slight stammer, I felt stammerers were exploited by the film (stammers are just caused by maladjusted childhood!  A bit of music and rolling around on the ground will fix it).  Lacking clear direction and a sense of purpose, the film bounces rapidly off the abdication and the rise of Nazism (both quickly noted as Bad Things) before the yawnfest of the climax (OMG, he delivers the very famous speech.  Who would have known?).  No time is allocated for character development (montages get rid of the worst of the stammer) and any tension created is resolved within three minutes, lest the audience becomes too excited.  Not a word of a lie, there is one major conflict between the two main characters (which is the protagonist?) which lasts all of about thirty seconds.  I began to write an SMS ‘An hour in and we finally get some tension’ but didn’t get to the word ‘finally’ before it was resolved.

Are there any good films coming out soon?

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

One thought on “Maids and masquerades, this shadow depression… I appear to be watching rotten films”

  1. I don’t recommend The Black Swan unless you’re happy to waste two hours staring at Natalie Portman’s pout. I’m looking forward to True Grit, though. It’s a while since I’ve seen the Coen Brothers.

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