And satisfaction feels like a distant memory… Understanding why the Harry Potter films are terrible

I did it.

It’s such an ambiguous phrase.  It can express pride or achievement.  Ever thought about climbing that ridiculously huge mountain?  I did it.  Guess who built that gazebo?  I did it.  You saw the painting of Monkey Jesus?  I did it.

On the other hand, it can be an admission of guilt.  Somebody ate all of your rhubarb and apple pies?  I did it.  Your house is on fire and your children are gone?  I did it.  You saw the painting of Monkey Jesus?  I did it.

My use of the phase today oscillates between the two meanings.  I did it.  I sat through (with excellent company, might I add) all of the Harry Potter movies over the space of three days.

Just as I think that if more people read the Bible, there’d be fewer Christians; if more people watched the Harry Potter movies back-to-back, there’d be fewer fans of Harry Potter.

Watching the films this way reframes the story of Harry Potter’s years at Hogwarts and his final battle with Voldemort.  We are watching the development of characters not only across the individual school year, but through their coming of age.

But it’s exactly this reframing which highlights the problems and flaws with the series.  If you read one of the books, if you watch one of the films, the lasting memory (if the film is successful) is of the parts that you liked.  In effect, your brain does the editing for you.  All the confusing, poorly lit guff is forgotten, and you are left with an experience of enjoyment.

If you’re a fan, that is.  There is nothing in these films for people who are not rabid fans of the franchise.

When the next film in the series becomes part of the sequence of films, the cracks in the woodwork are hard to ignore.  Harry Potter has learnt to look to his friends for support because friendship and love is what distinguishes him from his enemy, Voldemort.  Roll the credits.  Whoops.  Ignore all the lessons we learnt in the previous film; Harry Potter is being a petulant adolescent and must learn to look to his friends for support because friendship and love is what distinguishes him from his enemy, Voldemort.

Upon reaching the credits, all of the characters undergo a hard reset ready for the opening of the next film, no wiser and no more developed than where they commenced the last.

This applies equally to supporting characters, particularly Dumbledore.  Come the end of the film, Harry and Dumbledore have developed a special bond built on trust and respect.  Come the start of the next film, Dumbledore refuses to tell Harry anything — often to the callous extreme of point blank refusing to communicate at all.

Worse still is the underlying message of the film: people are means to ends.

German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, argued that the only moral engagement with other rational beings was to treat them as ends in themselves.  They had unique aspirations, beliefs, and desires, and we had an obligation not to interfere with those rational desires.  We therefore were not allowed to manipulate people — through force, through lying, &c. — into achieving our own goals, even if we believe it’s in their own good.

Watched back-to-back, the parts of the story about Dumbledore using Harry as a means, rather than as an end, are emphasised.  Harry wants to meet a girl; Harry has his belongings removed to the Weasley’s by Dumbledore.  Harry wants to ask Dumbledore for guidance and advice; Dumbledore refuses to engage.  Harry wants to help in the fight against Voldemort; Dumbledore doesn’t inform him that he will need to die in order to weaken Voldemort.

And so on and so forth.  It becomes increasingly difficult to like Dumbledore as a character when he hard resets into distant bastard mode.  ‘Why do you like him so much, Harry?  The guy is clearly a douchecanoe.’

Harry’s relationship with Dumbledore mirrors his relationship with his parents.  Distant, unknowable characters, Harry fantasises their attributes and qualities, then screams at anybody who disrupts his ignorant fantasising.  Snape calls Harry’s father an arrogant jack-hole, Harry throws a tantrum.  Dumbledore’s brother calls Dumbledore out on his immorality, Harry throws a tantrum.

As a sequence of films, the wrong parts of the story resonate and it becomes difficult to understand the motivations of the characters.  When each film stands alone, the wizarding world seems amazing and fantastic.  Come the final two films, the audience is shocked to see this Narnian paradise inverted and perverted.  But when watched as a sequence, the wizarding world is the domain of socially inept Peter Pans: people too self absorbed to explain anything (how the train station works, how the portkeys work, how the flue network works, &c., &c.) or take note of anybody else.

Thus we get the insanity of one of the teachers asking the class for permission slips.  Permission slips are required, it seems, for the children to go to a nearby town.  Permission slips, however, were not required for learning to fly a broomstick (which results in a broken arm), for playing Quidditch (where children are routinely harmed), for entering the Tri-Wizard tournament (where people die), for being used as a prize in the Tri-Wizard tournament (where people die), or for even enrolling in the school in the first place (where children are routinely harmed and where people die).

Finally, the sequence of films demonstrate how poorly constructed the story is.  There are films where, truth be told, nothing really happens.

First film: A young boy discovers he is a wizard exactly the same year a menacing figure from his past tries to obtain a magic MacGuffin which will restore the menacing figure to power.

Second film: Harry must defeat a magical diary which has released a magical creature into the school.

Third film: Harry is told that a person related to his parents’ death has escaped from a magical prison, but Harry instead spends his year worrying about sinister magical creatures which have been invited to the school to look for the person related to his parents’ death.

Fourth film: Harry must win a competition which he didn’t enter because, if he doesn’t, the menacing figure who’s been trying to return won’t return.

Fifth film: Evil bureaucrats take over Harry’s school.

Sixth film: Harry must obtain a memory from his teacher.  People forget that there are psychic teachers and magical truth serums.

Seventh film: Harry must move around a lot.

Eighth film: Harry must confront the menacing figure from his past.

Films four through eight are a trainwreck of storytelling.  The eighth film is extremely busy because the plot has been lollygagging since the end of the third film.  Although most of the problem is with the books (which, on a purely technical level alone, are complete rubbish), it isn’t helped by the films having a different director at the helm each time around.  The mood and pacing changes.  Parts of the story necessary to achieve the climax of the final installment of the saga aren’t highlighted because, after all, nobody’s concerned about the bigger picture.

I’m reminded so much of George Lucas.  The reason the original Star Wars films were so great was that there wasn’t a monopoly on the story’s information.  If Lucas wanted something stupid (like Han Solo being a green-skinned frog monster), the creative team was there to soften the rough edges.  But Rowling refused to let anybody interfere with her story, thus directors were mostly flying blind about how to create a series of films which worked as a coherent whole.

In conclusion, the films are dreadful, the books are dreadful, and anybody who still likes Harry Potter is a dreadful person.

You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone… #Looper is better than The Matrix in every way #reviews

What if you could go back to the 1890s and kill Hitler long before he got rejected from art school?  Or Stalin long before he went to the seminary or rocked that hairdo he had going on in his twenties?  Or what about bin Laden in those years in between him being on team USA against the Soviets and him defecting to team anti-USA?

Looper is a rich, complex, and deeply rewarding action film about the nature of legitimate punishment.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin whose job involves shooting — at point blank range — a person hooded and bound on a tarpaulin.  He disposes of the body and collects his paycheck.

His victims are sent to him from 30 years in the future.  It’s extremely difficult to dispose of bodies in the future, so a mafia-like bad guy gets his thugs to send victims into the past where they can’t be traced…

Look, ignore all the time-travel stuff.  The mechanics of it all confused me no end.  The film is so enthralling that you’ll barely have time to think: wait… what?  Indeed, you just tend to assume that the experts in the future world have thought about it all long and hard and have painstakingly come to the conclusion that this, for whatever reason, is the most sensible way to assassinate people.

The film centres around a coming of age moment for the assassins: the moment where the mafia-guys from the future send back the older versions of the assassin for execution.  The film calls this anachronistic suicide ‘closing the loop’, and it comes with a huge cash payout and a cold apathy to the fact that the assassin now knows how they will die: bound and hooded on a tarpaulin in the past.

Things get exciting when JGL’s future self, Bruce Willis, appears before him on the tarpaulin unbound.  By failing to kill his future self, JGL’s organisation tries to hunt both JGL and Willis down to correct the situation.  JGL, on the other hand, is determined to correct the mistake himself, and sets down the path of tracking his future self.

It’s all gleefully confusing and it’s not until the credits roll that you start to think about some of the gaps.  You can’t help but be seduced into the world of the undergraduate philosopher musing about temporal paradoxes.  If JGL dies, will Willis die?  But if JGL dies, how could Willis come from the future to set about the action of the film?  Can Willis change the past?

The latter question is powerfully and touchingly explored through Willis’ memories.  In JGL’s future, Willis has a wife whom he loves and who completely transformed his life, from the drug-addled assassin that JGL is to the contented and happy man that Willis was.  As Willis interferes with the past, he begins to lose those memories of his wife, with new memories being formed by JGL and his interaction in the Willis-modified world.

It’s weird to say so, but Willis brings most of the sentimentality to the film.  Most people think about what they’d say to their younger selves, but Willis gets to play out this fantasy when he and JGL cross paths in a diner to exchange some expository dialogue.  Willis conveys shame, regret, dismay, and indignation is such subtly profound ways.  I had never thought much of Willis as an actor until this film, and he’s worth the ticket price alone.

That’s not to undersell JGL.  There’s a danger in these sorts of films to forget exactly who the main character is.  Where films like Twilight and Harry Potter have been built around the idea of hollowing the protagonist into an everyman avatar of the reader, Looper does a superb job of reminding us that JGL is a bad guy.  He is a man who, callously and unrepentantly, shoots people he does not know, who have no chance of defending themselves, in exchange for money.  His motivation in the film is not a noble, righteous crusade: it’s a conditioned, non-reflective attempt to do his job, get paid, and go on holiday to France.  JGL holds it together and makes it difficult to sympathise with him, while still providing the character development throughout the film to make the resolution plausible in its implausibility.

Willis, having been unleashed in the past, decides to go on a quest to prevent the future from happening the same way.  A supervillain called The Rainmaker has taken over the future and is committing atrocities.  This is the guy who’s behind the temporally-displaced execution system, and he’s also the guy who’s responsible for the future death of Willis’ wife.  Thus, Willis decides to execute The Rainmaker in the past, long before he gets the opportunity to become the supervillain of the future.  Unfortunately, Willis doesn’t know who The Rainmaker is: or, rather, he knows it’s one of three children.

Thus begins his quest to shoot all three.

JGL, knowing the identity of one of the children, camps out nearby and waits for Willis.  This drives most of the film.  Willis struggles to deal with the horrors he views as necessary; JGL develops a close attachment with the family of the third child.  Willis, driven by noble principles, becomes an antagonist; JGL, driven by base desires, becomes the protagonist.  It is a fascinating film and I highly recommend it.

Where The Matrix decided to bludgeon the viewer with whatever trumped up philosophical musing it could glean from Wikipedia (Putnam still cries salty, salty tears about that film), Looper invites the audience to think about the deeper questions about punishment.

When time is flowing in one direction, we usually think about punishment being a response to a crime (or punishable act).  How we respond is an extremely contentious area of theory.  Do we punish a criminal because they deserve to be punished?  Do we punish them to stop other people from committing similar acts?  Do we punish them to stop them from committing similar acts in the future?  Do we punish them to rehabilitate the criminal back into the moral community?  Do we punish them to give expression to our need for revenge and retribution?  &c. &c. &c.

People tend to have very strong intuitions about the ‘point’ of punishment and will invariably think that their position is default rational.  I sit down the desert end of the spectrum, yet get perplexed looks from my extremely liberal friends who see punishment as a whole great big exercise in rehabilitation.

It’s possible to divide responses on this question into two camps.  On the one hand, you’ve got the deontological retributivists like me.  I believe that we ought to strive towards being a just and civilised society, thus we have to punish people who do the wrong thing in order to ensure we maintain the standards of being a just and civilised society.  We don’t punish people in an attempt to change the person in the justice system; we punish them because they have done something which requires punishment.

On the other hand, you’ve got the consequentialist pragmatists like nearly all of my friends.  Punishment is about turning people into good people.  We are punishing them to cause some great outcome where there’s less crime in the future.

As a side note, I sometimes struggle to see why people don’t question the assumptions under their positions.  Most advocates for the death penalty (like me) are in the first group, but struggle to explain that position to people in the second group.  Most advocates of decriminalising drug use sit in the latter camp (like Greg Barnes) and refuse to believe that anybody could think of punishment in terms other than trying to create some brave new world of less crime.

One of our greatest moral theorists, Immanuel Kant, argued that we couldn’t treat people as means, but had to treat them as ends in themselves.  When we interact with others, we have to take into consideration their rationality and provide them the maximum ability to exercise that rationality.  I maintain that the consequentialist view of punishment (advocated by Greg Barnes) is thoroughly immoral because that form of punishment is about treating the criminal as a means to an end: deterrence and rehabilitation.

Looper forces us to question whether our intuitions about justice are really on the money.  If you’re serious about punishment being about reducing the amount of crime, then it becomes difficult to think that Willis is doing the wrong thing when he metes out punishment prior to the event.  After all, he’s preventing some great evil from occurring.  We could ask whether Willis is an appropriate authority or whatever for enacting the punishment, but that would just be side-stepping the issue.

Further, the consequentialist has problems with the other two, non-future-supervillian children.  Is punishing those two children legitimate if it results in deterrence and rehabilitation?  It even feels weird to use the word ‘punishing’ in that sentence.

The consequentialist could cheat here and invoke rule-consequentialism: the needs of the few don’t outweigh the needs of the many when it comes to the autonomy and prosperity of the individual; an individual human life is infinitely valuable; &c., &c.  It’s a cheat because you’re no longer talking about deterrence and rehabilitation: you’re now talking the language of the deontologist.  You have a duty not to punish innocent people because they don’t deserve to be punished.  It is immoral to use people to meet some broader goal.

But Looper also presents a problem of the deontological retributivist.  The Rainman deserves to be punished but only after he becomes The Rainman as a person deserving to be punished.  Could we, as Willis, be the sort of person who takes a hands off approach to The Rainman, simply waiting for him to commit the crimes which justify punishment?  And that’s the position I’m in: if I want to be morally excellent, I’d have to wait for the kid to grow up and commit the atrocities before I could justify punishing him for it.  Which is plainly weird.  I also can’t interfere in the child’s upbringing to avoid him becoming The Rainman — after all, that would be to treat the child as a means rather than an end in himself.

Making it all more complex is the fact that we have Willis and JGL reflect, in many ways, the situation of The Rainman.  Without getting into the turgid philosophy of identity, we can see that Willis and JGL are simultaneously the same person and entirely different people.  There is a thread which links them, but their approach to the world are entirely at odds.  JGL is only interested in indulging his pleasures and going on holiday, but ends up forming attachments to the family he’s protecting.  Willis is interested in saving his love and protecting the future from a monster, but ends up executing children.  The Rainman of the future is a monster and, yet, here he is in the present a clever but sad little boy.  If you punish the child, are you punishing the same person as the adult (the person who deserves to be punished)?

It’s an extremely clever film which doesn’t force us to take sides, but shows that both sides have to be nuanced and subtle if they’re able to grapple with ordinary (if not the extraordinary).

——————————-

Epilogue: Consequentialists are people without imagination or sense.  There.  I said it.

Hear them whispering French and German… The Dark Knight Snoozes #reviews #batman [spoilers]

After a few weeks of diligently avoiding spoilers, I finally saw Dark Knight Rises.  I feel a bit like the Robot Devil having watched it: ‘This opera is as lousy as it is brilliant!’

On the one hand, it rounds out the trilogy’s exploration of authority, chaos, and ugliness.  In the first, Ra’s al Ghul has an ancient order of economic ninjas who attempt to euthanise decadent cities through destabilisation.  In the second, a lunatic anarchist attacks Gotham with economic games and Harvey Dent becomes a supervillian because he is no longer pretty.  And now we’ve go the third: the ancient order of economic ninjas are back lead by a guy who is evil because he’s ugly.

On the other hand, not a single thing in this film makes a lick of sense.  What follows is a spoilertastic review of the film which should have been called Dark Knight Grows Beards.  If you haven’t seen it, go see it.  It is fun.  But it’s not good.

In Batman Begins, we saw a long and complicated plot build up to Ra’s al Ghul’s attempt (somewhat successful attempt) to destabilise Gotham City.  It’s testament to Liam Neeson’s complete ownership of that role (seriously, the guy was superb) that you were so engrossed with his cause that you never stopped to think: ‘Wait…  Your big target is Gotham City…?  Why not take out the whole of the US?’

To an extent, that’s because Gotham in these films represents the whole Anglophone world.  Ra’s thinks the English tradition of capitalism is corrupt and needs something to trigger it into a new phase.  Because capitalism encourages complacency and normalises inequality (freak me, Foucault), it would require an abandonment of reason through fear in order to create a new society.  Thus, he teams up with Scarecrow (who is also awesome) to induce the revolution chemically.  Then a wealthy industrialist maintains order with his fists.  Because capitalism is awesome.

It shouldn’t be a shock that the first of the trilogy was my favourite.  It was rich and philosophically interesting, and also managed to have enough action and Bat-POWS! to make the whole affair exciting.  The weak spot was Batman: Christian Bale struggled to show any kind of development.  He just pouts.  Look at him in any film, pouting away.  He’s the male version of that Twilight/Snow White lass whose name I keep forgetting.  The difference, of course, is that people seem to think that he’s a serious actor.

Then we had the second film, The Dark Knight.  Because Heath Ledger had died, everybody felt the need to treat this film with kid gloves.  Again the whole world, Gotham City, is held hostage and made to reflect on what it thinks about order and chaos.  In this space, Batman puzzles through which side of the ledger he’s on: is he part of the chaos side with the Joker or is he on the law and authority side with Harvey Dent?  Blah, blah human nature and rational choice.

This was also the weak point for characters.  Why does Harvey Dent go evil?  He loses a girlfriend, so he kidnaps Jim Gordon’s kids….  Okay.  It’s sort of the Anakin Skywalker mode of going evil: ‘You’ve just stopped Mace Windu from killing me.  Now you’re completely evil so go kill some children for me.’  Christian Bale, once again, found that character development was for minor characters, because he’s the goddamn Batman.  And then there was Heath Ledger…  It’s hard to know to what extent the problems with the character were a result of rubbish scripting or whether Ledger was just incapable of anything other than lunacy.  There’s one tiny moment, right at the start of the film, where Ledger conveys some depth — the ‘I’m not crazy.  I’m not’ line — but you can fast forward through every bit of his dialogue and not miss a thing.  (Also: Mark Hamill and Jack Nicholson were the best Jokers)

So where do you go from here?  You’ve had somebody try to destroy the world for extremely noble and rational reasons: misguided ideology.  You’ve had somebody try to destroy the world for nihilistic anti-reasons: we are selfish, fearful animals.

Now how can a villain try to destroy the world?

Nobody’s tried nuclear bombs yet; let’s do that!

And that’s pretty much the entire plot of Dark Knight Rises.  For reasons that make absolutely zero sense, Bruce Wayne has invented a futuristic energy source which is simultaneously a nuclear bomb, and somebody related to Ra’s al Ghul has decided to set it off.

Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, has become a bearded cripple.  He no longer has any cartilage in his knees so he’s hobbling around his mansion, growing a beard and moaning about the death of Rachel (whom he forgot to mourn in the last film).  It’s eight years later, so putting away the Batman cape has resulted in a zero percent increase in super-crime… apparently.  But it’s okay!  Instead of beating up the poor and mentally insufficient with a masked vigilante, the leaders of the Gotham City have enacted the ‘Harvey Dent Act’ which seems to deny criminals some sort of procedural justice…  Or something.  It’s not quite clear.

Jim Gordon is wracked with guilt over this deception of the public… but not because it results in less procedural justice for criminals, but because he has to publicly venerate the name of the guy who tried to kill his kids.  He’d be okay with the Act if only it weren’t called the Harvey Dent Act.

Oh, and for some reason, Wayne Enterprises is no longer turning a profit.  At first, this confuses Bruce.  He asks Lucius Fox about it, whose response is: ‘Don’t you remember? You decided to invest a huge amount in a project you decided to mothball.’  Bruce thinks, ‘That’s right.  Now I remember why we’re not making a profit.’

There are lots of these events.  Neither Gary Oldman nor Christian Bale have the ability to bring you along with them for the ride.  Comic book films demand a suspension of disbelief.  Caucasians are gods if they come from Krypton.  A mutated gene can give you the ability to shoot laser beams from your eyes.  Skin-tight, cleavage-revealing attire is pragmatic for kung fu fighting.  To get around this, writers give us rich characters who give us plausible reactions to the implausible world around them.  When the characters fail to make sense on the non-supernatural level, it makes it harder to get into the swing of the film.

Evil manifests itself in Bane, a deformed but charismatic evangelist.  A lot of comments have been made about his indecipherable dialogue which, true, is a problem.  But all of the dialogue — with the exception of Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine — in this film is difficult to understand.  On the other hand, none of the dialogue is particularly memorable so it’s no great loss.

Bane is somehow connected to Ra’s al Ghul, having escaped some sort of desert prison deep underground in Saudi Arabia.

And here’s where we get into a major problem with comic book movies.  I come to the film already knowing who Bane is.  Bane is a Latin American wrestler who derives his freakish strength from a nefarious chemical called ‘Venom’.  Bane sits at that fun intersection between the brute and the brain: he is highly intelligent and yet sorts out his problems by smashing them.

The character in the film isn’t that Bane.  That’s fine: re-imagining comic book characters is what made Tony Stark so wonderful in the Iron Man films.  But there was a link between the character in the comics and the character in the film: Iron Man is a tycoon genius who makes a robotic suit to shoot baddies.  If Robert Downey Jr had portrayed Tony Stark as a lovable street urchin who finds a magic lamp which grants him a wish to be made entirely of iron, we would no longer have a film about Iron Man the comic book character.

I don’t get why they didn’t just create a new character: the Mumbler.  It’s not like something like this hasn’t been done before.  In the animated series, Paul Dini created a new character, Harley Quinn, to occupy an interesting (if worryingly misogynistic) space in the rogue’s gallery.  Now, everybody loves Harley Quinn (mostly).

Instead, it creates a problem for those of us who knew the background story.  There’s an ongoing mystery about the identity of Ra’s al Ghul’s child (revealed in a dream…?).  In the comics, Ra’s al Ghul has a very well-known daughter, Talia, but not a kid called ‘Bane’.  Why?  Because Ra’s al Ghul is a centuries-old, vaguely Middle Eastern guy and Bane is, as noted earlier, Latin American.  Fortunately, there’s a hitherto unknown female character who happens to have a mysterious background living in Gotham…

Character problems aside, Bane (and the mysterious puppet master behind Bane) has an evil plan: he’s going to steal the nuclear bomb and take Gotham hostage.  He’s going to tear down the symbols of authority and release all the prisoners, giving Gotham back to the people… somehow.  He’s cut Gotham off from the rest of America by blowing up the bridges, and threatens to blow up the nuke if anybody leaves or enters Gotham.  Gotham better get good at primary industry fairly quickly.

In this sense, he fulfills Ra’s al Ghul’s glorious plan.  Destabilise the evil economic systems which oppress murderers and rapists…  Hang on…  That can’t be right.  Oh, wait.  It is.  By magic, the former criminals have set up a new legal regime enforced by their access to weapons provided by Bane, with Bane declaring it to be a new, egalitarian society where the poor rip down the rich.  Or something.  This bit doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s difficult to see this as the culmination of Ra’s al Ghul’s plan, despite Bane’s constant assertions that it is.

Having achieved chaos (by releasing the murderers and rapists and giving them weapons), Bane gloats at how chaotic it’s all become… and then plans to let the bomb go off in five months time anyway.

So what’s the point?  Why destabilise Gotham?  What does that prove?  Murderers and rapists are terrible people and shouldn’t be given any power?  I’m pretty sure we already knew that.  I think there’s supposed to be some sort of reflexion of the old system in the new: disempowered people don’t get fair trials.  But it’s clumsily enacted.  And, besides, it’s all going to be blown into radioactive dust in a few months anyway.

As a result, this baffling trainwreck of a film has nothing in the way of character development.  There are far too many characters and far too few people asking questions like: ‘Hang on… How does the random copper know that Bruce Wayne is Batman but Jim Gordon doesn’t?  How did nobody realise the concrete was explosive?  How did one concreting company monopolise all of the essential capital works in Gotham?  Why did Batman save Fox and Gordon, but completely forget about the woman he fancies?  Speaking of whom, why didn’t the world’s greatest detective run a background check on her?  How did Bruce’s cartilage grow back when he was in the prison?  How does punching somebody in the back fix their vertebrate?  Who the hell is running this prison?  Why does it have HD TV?  Is the prison within walking distance of Gotham?  How did Bruce get back into Gotham when Bane threatened to blow the place up if anybody came into Gotham from outside?  Why is the nuclear bomb being driven around Gotham instead of being hidden?  Why does Bane keep one bridge unbroken?  Why don’t any of the rich people use the helicopters that we’ve seen used in other films?  Why are any of the bad guys doing what they’re doing?’

When all is said and done, the film is fun.  It is baddie-punching giggly fun.  There are awesome scenes with the various Bat-weapons which inspire the classic thought: ‘This would be amazing in a video game!’

And then there’s Anne Hathaway.  I didn’t understand a single thing about this Catwoman.  Her stock standard line was ‘You don’t understand anything about me!’  Which, to be fair, is true.  She’s poor but she’s super wealthy…?  She’s working with Bane and with Batman?  Is she also flipping a coin like Harvey Dent was?

On the other hand, she’s this movie’s Liam Neeson.  She’s one of the few people in the film capable of giving any sort of depth to their character.  This results in an awkward scene of Hathaway dancing with Bale.  It looks a lot like she’s practicing with a cardboard cutout.  Did Bale want to be somewhere else?  Did he forget why he showed up to work that day?

In conclusion, the film is not a masterpiece but it is enjoyable.

Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send… #DarkShadows climaxes early, bleeds out #reviews

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Dark Shadows.  Tim Burton sits in a similar mental space for me as Neil Gaiman: Addams Family-esque and grossly overrated.

Both have created some masterpieces — stop what you’re doing now and read Gaiman’s 1642, published by Marvel Comics — but the balance between dreck and delight is starting to tip in an unfavourable direction.

But let’s stop smearing the creator and get to the review: Dark Shadows is the mutant lovebaby of Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.

Like Edward ScissorhandsDark Shadows tells the story of a man who is out-of-place in the world, struggling to find an emotional connexion with a world which passed him by.  Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th Century playboy whose largesse is financed by his wealthy parents.  He breaks the heart of the obsessive and bewitching Angelique (more on Eva Green in a moment), who proceeds to kill everybody he loves, turn him into a vampire, and have him interred for nearly two centuries.  When he awakes, the world he knew (the world in which he was powerful and important) has gone and it’s filled with hilarious new 1970s things like McDonald’s, Volkswagens,  and lava lamps (the brand of which I didn’t quite spot).

Like BeetlejuiceDark Shadows tells the story of a dysfunctional family.  The matriarch of the family, played inconsistently by Michelle Pfiefer, is the descendant of Barnabas.  She lives in the Collins’ ancestral home with her daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) whom nobody understands, with her brother (Johnny Lee Miller) whom nobody understands, and with her brother’s son (Gulliver McGrath), whom nobody understands.

By the way, does anybody else think that Gulliver McGrath looks creepily like Benedict Cumberbatch?

Also thrown into the mix are Helena Bonham Carter who plays Helena Bonham Carter and is, apparently, a live in doctor for child-Cumberbatch, and some waif of a girl (Bella Heathcote) who, by wacky happenstance, looks just like a girl Barnabas tried to seduce back in the 1700s.

You might be thinking: ‘Mark, I loved both Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice!  Oh my God!  If you’re saying that this film is like a spliced version of both, this film must have rocked!’

Alas, dear you, you forgot to read Momaroo (‘real moms, real blogs’) on 18 April 2011 when they asked the age-old question: ‘How do beautiful people have such ugly kids?

Dark Shadows is a monster-baby.

The opening act is magnificent.  It moves through the set-up swiftly while being simultaneously light-hearted and sentimental.  It sets up a cracking pace and, for that sweet moment, I was lulled into a false sense of security.

The wheels soon fall off the carriage and the plot meanders, wanders, and vomits its way through too many characters, too many scenes, and too many events which have zero consequences.  Chibi-Cumberbatch is having emotional difficulties after his mother committed suicide.  He appears, says his bit, then returns an hour later for the conclusion.  15-year old Moretz is weirdly (and uncomfortably) sexualised, then returns an hour later for the conclusion.  Alice Cooper appears as a PR stunt by Barnabas, who is eager to be loved by the villagers.  Alice Cooper sings a few songs and the villagers return an hour later as an angry mob.

And so it goes.  There is so much going on and too little effort is put into engaging the audience.  Barnabas kills a major character and buries them in the sea.  No explanation is given for why Barnabas feels the character needs to be killed, given that the ‘crime’ seems ridiculously minor.  Events seem like episodes in a television series.  Barnabas tries to understand love from a bunch of hippies.  Barnabas confronts larval-Cumberbatch’s deadbeat dad.  Barnabas hypnotises Count Dooku.

The same thing happens with sex.  I know, I’m an enormous prude, but what the hell is with the representation of sex in this film?  Barnabas is madly in love with the woman who happens to look like somebody he lost (quite helpfully, she’s not given a personality so we don’t have to worry with that ‘Women who look like other women aren’t actually the same woman’ thing that feminazis keep screaming at me).  He asks the 15-year old fanservice for advice on how to seduce her.  He asks a bunch of hippies how to seduce her.  While pondering how to get the woman he wants, he figures it’s okay to sleep with a few other women, including the one who turned him into a vampire.

Why?  What possible point does it serve?  All it did was make me think: ‘She might have absolutely no personality and might totally be like as vapid as, but she’s still too good for your manwhorish ways, Barnabas.’

Meanwhile, Eva Green.

I might be biased.  I fully admit that I have an unhealthy love of psychotically evil women.  I stand by my claim that the Wicked Witch of the West just needed a cuddle.  Even despite my ungodly perversions, Eva Green was amazing in this film.

To be honest, she didn’t have a lot to work with.  Her whole character is: ‘Woman who because she’s a woman can’t control her emotions because she’s an emotional woman.  Pffft, women’.  Despite that, Green somehow managed to get some depth out of the character.  This isn’t some garden variety obsession that she’s cooked up.  This is full on, centuries-long, odi et amo crazy.  She’s easily the most interesting character of the film but misses out on proper treatment because every other character needs five minutes to pontificate.

So, in conclusion, the film is rather a mess.  It needs fewer characters and more Winona Ryder.

I am not fit to touch the hem of your garment… Wait for The Dictator on DVD

Borat ranks high on my list of funniest films of all time.  At its heart, the film is all about ridiculing prejudice.  Look at how quickly people are willing to accept a cheap caricature when it confirms their biases.  Look at how ordinary folk respond to being told that everything they suspected about Muslims is actually true.  Look at how they hide behind ‘manners’ and saunter down the lazy path of misogyny, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.

And because biting social commentary doesn’t sell movie tickets, couch all of that in irritating catchphrases.

Bruno tried, unsuccessfully, to recapture that spirit.  Create a character which is everything homophobes believe about homosexuals and then push it on people to see how they react.  The unsurprising answer: homophobically.

The trick only works when people don’t twig that they’re the joke.  With too many high profile characters (particularly Borat and Ali G) and too many cameos in popular films, it’s harder to make the trick work without relying on extensive editing.

The Dictator shelves the mockumentary joke and goes with a fully scripted film, similar to the fish-out-of-water style of Ali G In Da House.  Sasha Baron Cohen plays General Admiral Aladeen, the ‘Glorious Oppressor’ of Wadiya, who must deliver a speech to the UN regarding his weapons-grade uranium or face  sanctions.  Before being able to deliver his speech he is betrayed by his advisor, Tamir (played by a strangely underwhelming Ben Kingsley), and left to fend for himself on the streets of New York, penniless and beardless.

The film is extremely uneven.  Where the opening three seconds are easily the best of the film, the film as a whole feels extremely padded.  Some scenes exist solely to set up a punchline, which would be fine, but the choppy editing makes it feel more like a series of sketches than a film.

SCENE: Somewhere.

The CHARACTERS are doing something for no discernible reason.

ALADEEN

[Insert joke about his penis]

The OTHER CHARACTERS look around awkwardly. Cut to a pan of New York City.

You know when you go to see really good stand up comedy and you’re so wrapped up in the moment that, as soon as the show is over, you struggle to remember why you were laughing so hard?  There are parts of this film which fit that perfectly.  But other parts — most of the film, to be honest — fall well short.  The result is that I finished watching it less than an hour ago and all I can remember are the terrible bits.  For some reason, Aladeen needs to learn how to masturbate.  Okay.  For some other reason, Aladeen thinks a ‘rape centre’ is where you go to rape people.  Right.  And there’s an Asian character who has managed to entice various celebrities into homosexual encounters.  Whatever.

I feel that I would have enjoyed this film a lot more if I’d been watching Borat first while drinking.  It feels like the Borat B-side.

Which is a shame because the heart of the film is quite intelligent and insightful: how interested are Americans in complexity when it comes to foreign policy?  Aladeen was the bad guy.  He was an evil dictator who executed people and built pointy-nukes.  When the shady cabal of corporations decide to make Wadiya a democracy in order to expand markets into the region and gain access to the oil reserves, the unkempt hippies in the street cheer.  By the time the film is in full swing, Aladeen has become the hero of the story: the war criminal who wants to stop the capitalists from bringing democracy to the country he wishes to rule…

Overall, it’s a disappointing film.  The satire is so very clever, but it is buried under so much garbage.  It is — to quote the film — like an onion: the outer layer sucks, then it’s ten layers underneath which sucks just as much.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight… The target market will like The Avengersa

There are some films that aren’t worth reviewing.

Before I review The Avengers (spoilers: Tony Stark is Iron Man), what is it with the pro-mining company trailer?  I don’t know why they’re advertising.  Or what they’re advertising.  The advert feels like it was cobbled together by first year media students.  A man with weird ears sits far too close to the camera and informs us all about how important it is to understand kids… It takes a while before we discover that ‘understand kids’ is code for ‘send them down mines’.  It seems somewhat retrogressive to be spruiking the advantages of sending kids down mines, but there you go.

Where I was left feeling ‘Australian mining companies are creepy’, the advert for the Australian navy which followed it immediately sure did make me want to join the army.  It seemed painfully hilarious that the government has a communication problem and continues to battle the extremely wealthy mining companies, and yet the government isn’t the one with the goddawful advert.

Anyway, back to the film review.  Imagine you want to have sex with somebody.  As you’re thinking up ingenious and completely legal ways to seduce the object of your affection (an ugly phrase; forgive it), you remember some wacky romcom where sexy fun times happened after one person cooked for the other.  But what to cook?  It has to be fancy, so you create a list of all the fancy meals.  Lobster.  French onion soup.  Caviar.  Foie gras.  Sashimi.

Then you decide to stick in all in a blender.

The resultant mush would basically be the culinary equivalent of The Avengers.  There are lots of wonderful bits which — let it not be denied for a second — are really enjoyable, but the overall composition is a struggling mess.

The film follows… Ummmm…  The film is about… Errrrr…  Well, there’s this MacGuffin, right, and it’s some sort of power source but it’s also a portal and there’s this nasty god who needs the MacGuffin as a power source even though he’s a god and he…  Uhhhhhh…  So there are these aliens and they live on an asteroid on the other side of the universe but they’ve decided that they want to kill all the humans so they send an evil god…  Hmmmmm…  Robert Downey Jr is in it!

To give a plot synopsis of this film is akin to giving a plot synopsis of a roller coaster ride.  There are bits which go up.  There are bits which go down.  If you look for meaning, you’ll be disappointed.

But it’s still a lot of fun.  I laughed a lot.  Whenever I stopped to think ‘Where am I up to in the story?  Why are these characters doing this?’ the illusion evaporated.  Stage magicians don’t have tricks which last hours.  Roller coasters end after a few minutes.  The film can’t silence the niggly questions for its entire duration.

Early in the piece, we visit Germany.  Why?  Because we wanted a hamfisted Godwin.

When the good guys capture the bad guy, they put him in the place where he can do the greatest possible amount of damage.  Why?  Because he needs to cause a lot of damage to get the story to the next chapter.

When the bad guys attack, the Avengers attack them in the least efficient way possible.  Why?  Because we need twenty minutes of cool fighting scenes.  And they are cool — don’t get me wrong — but I sort of felt like I was watching somebody play a video game stupidly.

And so on and so forth.  None of the characters make sense.  I mean that both in the ‘I couldn’t work out why they were doing half the things they were doing’ sense and in the ‘What the hell are they babbling about? Did Tony Stark just say “Reverse the polarity and run in through MatLab”?’ sense.

One character in particular (I won’t spoil it, but it’s the Hulk) goes through all of his character development in negative seconds.  ‘I am moping about this helicopter because I need to keep in control of my Hulk rage… oh wait, I can control it now.  Don’t worry.’

And there are places where there is so much going on that it feels like the story is getting away from Whedon (who directed).  The bad guys’ plan is so convoluted and lacking any sort of motivation that it’s hard to follow the action.  All of the main characters hit puberty at once, so it’s hard to follow their emo angsting.  It’s an occupational hazard with team movies: all the characters are doing all the things at the same time, how do you follow it all?

The performances from the majority of the cast are excellent.  The notable exception is Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye).  Hawkeye is crap.

Do you know why the debate in the US about the right to bear arms is about guns?  Because we freaking invented them.  Guns are a thing.  They exist.  Do you know why the debate in the US about the right to bear arms isn’t about bows and arrows?  Because we invented guns.  Guns replaced bows and arrows.  Guns replaced bows and arrows because, in every single way, guns are better than bows and arrows.

Spoiler alert: the Avengers are attacked by a large number of enemies.  Iron Man has a billion little guns sewn into his armour.  When the baddies attack, Stark’s taking them out by the dozen.  Hawkeye, meanwhile, is picking them off one by one, mostly at random.

At one point, he shoots backwards and hits a guy.  Hawkeye clearly thinks that shows how wicked cool he is.  Hawkeye doesn’t seem to realise that there are so many bad guys that he could have shot in any direction and hit somebody.  Oh, unless he pointed it straight at the ground.  Congrats, Hawkeye, you didn’t point it straight at the ground.  Tiny claps for you.

Do you know who would have been a much better addition to the Avengers’ roster?  Ms Marvel.  Even Wasp would have been a good addition (she was an original Avenger in the comics).  But that would have interrupted the Avengers’ sausagefest.  (And before anybody mentions Black Widow — played by ScarJo — remember, she’s their secretary.  She runs around to get the guys together, then her relevance to the movie vanishes).

My bleeding heart issues aside, it’s an enjoyable film.  It is funny and there are lots of fights.  If you want a film that is funny and has a lot of fights in it, go see The Avengers.  Just don’t expect it to make any sense.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight… The target market will like The Avengers

There are some films that aren’t worth reviewing.

Before I review The Avengers (spoilers: Tony Stark is Iron Man), what is it with the pro-mining company trailer?  I don’t know why they’re advertising.  Or what they’re advertising.  The advert feels like it was cobbled together by first year media students.  A man with weird ears sits far too close to the camera and informs us all about how important it is to understand kids… It takes a while before we discover that ‘understand kids’ is code for ‘send them down mines’.  It seems somewhat retrogressive to be spruiking the advantages of sending kids down mines, but there you go.

Where I was left feeling ‘Australian mining companies are creepy’, the advert for the Australian navy which followed it immediately sure did make me want to join the army.  It seemed painfully hilarious that the government has a communication problem and continues to battle the extremely wealthy mining companies, and yet the government isn’t the one with the goddawful advert.

Anyway, back to the film review.  Imagine you want to have sex with somebody.  As you’re thinking up ingenious and completely legal ways to seduce the object of your affection (an ugly phrase; forgive it), you remember some wacky romcom where sexy fun times happened after one person cooked for the other.  But what to cook?  It has to be fancy, so you create a list of all the fancy meals.  Lobster.  French onion soup.  Caviar.  Foie gras.  Sashimi.

Then you decide to stick in all in a blender.

The resultant mush would basically be the culinary equivalent of The Avengers.  There are lots of wonderful bits which — let it not be denied for a second — are really enjoyable, but the overall composition is a struggling mess.

The film follows… Ummmm…  The film is about… Errrrr…  Well, there’s this MacGuffin, right, and it’s some sort of power source but it’s also a portal and there’s this nasty god who needs the MacGuffin as a power source even though he’s a god and he…  Uhhhhhh…  So there are these aliens and they live on an asteroid on the other side of the universe but they’ve decided that they want to kill all the humans so they send an evil god…  Hmmmmm…  Robert Downey Jr is in it!

To give a plot synopsis of this film is akin to giving a plot synopsis of a roller coaster ride.  There are bits which go up.  There are bits which go down.  If you look for meaning, you’ll be disappointed.

But it’s still a lot of fun.  I laughed a lot.  Whenever I stopped to think ‘Where am I up to in the story?  Why are these characters doing this?’ the illusion evaporated.  Stage magicians don’t have tricks which last hours.  Roller coasters end after a few minutes.  The film can’t silence the niggly questions for its entire duration.

Early in the piece, we visit Germany.  Why?  Because we wanted a hamfisted Godwin.

When the good guys capture the bad guy, they put him in the place where he can do the greatest possible amount of damage.  Why?  Because he needs to cause a lot of damage to get the story to the next chapter.

When the bad guys attack, the Avengers attack them in the least efficient way possible.  Why?  Because we need twenty minutes of cool fighting scenes.  And they are cool — don’t get me wrong — but I sort of felt like I was watching somebody play a video game stupidly.

And so on and so forth.  None of the characters make sense.  I mean that both in the ‘I couldn’t work out why they were doing half the things they were doing’ sense and in the ‘What the hell are they babbling about? Did Tony Stark just say “Reverse the polarity and run in through MatLab”?’ sense.

One character in particular (I won’t spoil it, but it’s the Hulk) goes through all of his character development in negative seconds.  ‘I am moping about this helicopter because I need to keep in control of my Hulk rage… oh wait, I can control it now.  Don’t worry.’

And there are places where there is so much going on that it feels like the story is getting away from Whedon (who directed).  The bad guys’ plan is so convoluted and lacking any sort of motivation that it’s hard to follow the action.  All of the main characters hit puberty at once, so it’s hard to follow their emo angsting.  It’s an occupational hazard with team movies: all the characters are doing all the things at the same time, how do you follow it all?

The performances from the majority of the cast are excellent.  The notable exception is Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye).  Hawkeye is crap.

Do you know why the debate in the US about the right to bear arms is about guns?  Because we freaking invented them.  Guns are a thing.  They exist.  Do you know why the debate in the US about the right to bear arms isn’t about bows and arrows?  Because we invented guns.  Guns replaced bows and arrows.  Guns replaced bows and arrows because, in every single way, guns are better than bows and arrows.

Spoiler alert: the Avengers are attacked by a large number of enemies.  Iron Man has a billion little guns sewn into his armour.  When the baddies attack, Stark’s taking them out by the dozen.  Hawkeye, meanwhile, is picking them off one by one, mostly at random.

At one point, he shoots backwards and hits a guy.  Hawkeye clearly thinks that shows how wicked cool he is.  Hawkeye doesn’t seem to realise that there are so many bad guys that he could have shot in any direction and hit somebody.  Oh, unless he pointed it straight at the ground.  Congrats, Hawkeye, you didn’t point it straight at the ground.  Tiny claps for you.

Do you know who would have been a much better addition to the Avengers’ roster?  Ms Marvel.  Even Wasp would have been a good addition (she was an original Avenger in the comics).  But that would have interrupted the Avengers’ sausagefest.  (And before anybody mentions Black Widow — played by ScarJo — remember, she’s their secretary.  She runs around to get the guys together, then her relevance to the movie vanishes).

My bleeding heart issues aside, it’s an enjoyable film.  It is funny and there are lots of fights.  If you want a film that is funny and has a lot of fights in it, go see The Avengers.  Just don’t expect it to make any sense.

This place is coming like a ghost town… Iron Lady isn’t about Thatcher (with spoilers)

Herodotus was one of the first people to weave a narrative out of history. The fundamental problem of the art is the same for him as it is now: if the audience knows the history, how do you create the tension, drama, and suspense needed for an engaging story?

Herodotus’ solution was to lie. History is much easier to write about when you can just fabricate it.

For the first fifteen minutes of The Iron Lady, it seemed that Hollywood was taking yet another leaf out of Herodotus’ book. Clearly, the easiest way to make Margaret Thatcher human is to fabricate a sob story about a woman battler who defeats male rivals, the working classes, and Argentinians only to be destroyed by mental illness. It could happen to any one of us.

Many reviews have complained that the movie is unfair to Thatcher. The film, it is argued, turns the proud, formidable woman into a pathetic, feeble creature who does little but morn the death of her husband. A friend of mine noted that the entire plot of the movie is ‘A woman who used to be Prime Minister empties out her dead husband’s wardrobe.’

When we see the flashbacks of Thatcher’s life, it’s difficult to feel any suspense. Will Thatcher become Prime Minister? (SPOILER ALERT: Yes. She does) Will the UK retaliate against the Argentinian incursion in the Falklands in what might later be known as ‘The Falklands War’? SPOILER ALERT: The Falklands War happens) Will Thatcher be toppled by political rivals within her party? (SPOILER ALERT: Yes again)

The inability to create suspense results in a haphazard ramble through history. The past happens. Neither Romulans nor the Borg threaten the past as we know it. It just happens in chronological order until we get to the end of the flashbacks.

So you have to create your own fun with the film. For example, I kept wondering if Gordon Reece would declare ‘England prevails!’. You can also ask whether scenes would be funnier if Baby Elephant Walk replaced the indulgent strings of the soundtrack.

Ultimately, the film is incoherent as a biopic. Baroness Thatcher might be unwell but she’s not potty. There’s no insight gained from the flashbacks which can’t be gained from press clippings, so it’s not clear why she’s reliving her public life.

Thus, I have a theory about this film which makes it more coherent.

It’s not about Thatcher.

There are clues throughout the film which suggest that it’s actually about a dotty old woman who has completely lost her marbles to the extent that she thinks she’s Margaret Thatcher. The film is about how she wipes her real life with false memories generated from articles she’s read about Thatcher.

At the start of the film, ‘Thatcher’ is at the corner shop buying some milk. Does anybody think that Baronness Thatcher buys her own milk? Does anybody think that she’d care about the cost of milk?

But the giveaway is a moment late in the film where ‘Thatcher’ sees the real Thatcher on the television and declares ‘I barely recognise myself.’

What does this do for understanding the film? Instead of being the humiliation of Baronness Thatcher, it’s the story of a woman who has fabricated all of her memories. She’s not mourning her dead husband; she’s mourning her deranged interpretation of Denis Thatcher. Despite being fake memories, they deeply affect this woman and, as a consequence, those around her (including her daughter who’s taken to wearing a prosthetic nose).

The film is still shit, but at least it’s more than a reason to eulogise a fabricated version of a living woman. It’s an exploration of how the tabloidisation of political figures can impact on the health of the mentally unstable.

I am certainly uncertain… #Philosophy and Film

Can a film explore a philosophical issue in sufficient depth to consider it a contribution to philosophy?

This isn’t a new question by any stretch of the imagination: philosophy and the arts is Routledge’s philosophy theme of the month and has been a topic of interest to philosophers since, at least, Plato.

The fun part about philosophy and art is that it’s not a one-way street.  A significant amount of academic attention has been given to the philosophical underpinnings of art.  What is art?  How can we distinguish art from not-art?  How do we value art?  Is art good?

But there’s a second question which has, until comparatively recently, been shafted to literature studies: how can art discuss (and inform) philosophical questions?

I am probably a huge snob, but I think that there’s something missing from popular culture’s treatment of philosophically interesting questions.  First, ‘philosophical’ films are almost universally pretentious and pander to a particular kind of undergraduate male.  I can think of a handful of comic books which have done interesting, nuanced, and meaningful explorations of philosophical themes which were quickly canned because they don’t sell.  Similarly, philosophical nuance is thrown under a bus whenever it threatens sales.  When the focus of popular culture is pecuniary (even mercenary), how can it present challenging philosophical ideas that don’t just regurgitate the prejudices of the audience?

There is a danger that the previous paragraph will be read as ‘Boohoo, films aren’t 15,000 word theses on Kantianism.’  I’m not denigrating films for not being able to explore philosophical themes in significant depth; on the contrary, I think popular culture is supposed to be popular and entertain audiences (and make vast amounts of money for the studios).

While people can use their reactions to films to explore philosophical ideas, I’m not sure the films themselves are capable of capturing them.

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?