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?

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Why should I know better by now… Tron: Legacy is awesome. So very awesome

I need to write more nerdcrap posts.

I went to see Tron: Legacy.  You should do the same.

Mind!  Don’t go see it if you expect a plot or character development (or particularly healthy perceptions of women).  That’s not why you go to see Tron.  You go to see Tron because it’s a sensory explosion of sound (thank you, thank you, Daft Punk) and visuals.  That’s what this film is about: it sounds and looks stunning.

The film does two things to let the audience know what sort of film it is.

The first is the rather lengthy (a bit too lengthy) stealthy part at the beginning where the main character is avoiding the police on a motorbike and then infiltrating the computer company.  You get a ‘Okay, we’ve seen this sort of thing in other films and we’re tired of it’ feeling watching the scenes.

Within about ten minutes of entering the computer world, both the motorbike and infiltration bits have been done again but, this time, there’s all the adrenaline and freshness missing from the first run through.  It’s almost as if the real world is merely a dress rehearsal.

Second, after getting suited up by incredibly creepy girls, the main character is placed in a gladiatorial arena.  Nothing screams spectacle like gladiators.

Unfortunately, people are going to the film expecting a deep and philosophically profound plot.  There’s this amazing scene where Jeff Bridges informs everybody that his digital world is going to revolutionise science, philosophy, religion, the way we store non-perishables, and force everybody to hang their toilet paper the right way.  Your brain desperately tries to catch up to this absurdly nonsensical statement but, before it can fully get back in control, Disney hits you with a light and sound show better than I’ve ever seen before.

And, of course, Daft Punk.  When evil cyber ninjas (or whatever the damn hell they were) attack a club where Daft Punk is doing its thing, everybody flees the scene except Daft Punk.  Daft Punk is so awesome that it fears not and provides a stunning soundtrack for the fight playing out on the dance floor.

Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer wish they were as fearsome as Daft Punk.

In related news, I’m so over 3D films.  I went to a cinema where they had magic goggles which were triggered by an infra-red blah blah blah blah blah.  I don’t care.

I go to the cinema with friends so that we can watch a film communally.  That’s what the cinema is for.  You’re supposed to be able to lean over to the person next to you and make snarky comments.  You’re supposed to be able to pull faces at the person next to you.  You’re supposed to be able to get seduced by the person next to you, much to the annoyance of others in the audience.  That’s the whole point of cinemas.

3D glasses ruin it.  Instead of watching a film with a group of people, you become isolated behind ridiculous glasses.  You might as well watch it by yourself in your bedroom.

Plus, it makes everything super dark and discoloured.  Forget that.

With technology making it more and more difficult for people to enjoy interaction with other people, why take cinema away from us?  What next?  Bars where you wear headphones so you can enjoy the music more?

We’re not alive, we’re not alive… Story-telling and science fiction

I’ve been getting into the structure of stories lately, trying to work out why some movies are really gripping and interesting and why others are confused and dull.

It came to a head yesterday when I had a Superman marathon which went from the films to the television series, Smallville.

I think I got up to season five when I used to watch Smallville.

While I’m probably going to be derided for poor taste, I think I prefer Smallville to the films.  I think it’s because the television series is better constructed than the films.

The first film, for example, doesn’t get going until about 45 minutes into the film.  It opens with Jor-El conducting a trial of Zod.  It’s tense and interesting, then Zod is sealed in the Phantom Zone and shot off into space until Superman II.

Oh.

Then Jor-El has a massive fight with the Krypton Council and decided to send his only begotten son to Earth.  As you do.  There’s ten minutes of Clark Kent being a teenager and suffering identity crisis before he goes to spend 12 years off camera in the Arctic in his Fortress of Solitude. Continue reading “We’re not alive, we’re not alive… Story-telling and science fiction”

New York, I love you but you’re bringing me down… but not as much as the Doctor Who season finale.

io9.com produced a list of Doctor Who plot devices they wouldn’t mind avoided in future.  I’ve just finished watching the season finale and I was all like: Meh.

In the Harry Potter novels, there’s always that bit which lasts about five pages where some Chekhov’s Gun is explained in tedious detail.  Rowling has noted that she developed certain characters whose sole function was to explain piece of magic #45786-B and then fade into the background.

It’s dull and unimaginative story telling.  In the season finale of Doctor Who — SPOILER ALERT — most of the episode is taken up with explanations of what’s going on.  While some of it is clever (how did I miss the lack of references to Amy’s parents in the first episode?  Touche, Moffat), most of it caused me to reach for Angry Birds.

What was even more strange was that the person doing most of the explanations — the Doctor — had admitted earlier that he didn’t have a deep understanding of the Pandorica on account of it being a ‘fairytale’.  As if by magic, he came to realise the finer points of the Pandorica and could even hack its mainframe or something to cause a second Big Bang when flown into an exploding TARDIS.  How he knew the Pandorica could fly, I have no idea.

The high point of the series was definitely a return of the Weeping Angels.  They are absolutely terrifying and they disrupt my sleep for about a week after an episode.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them in future episodes; particularly if the script is careful not to add more powers to the Angels as the plot demands.

The low point continues to be River Song.  Holy frijoles, I hate that character.  The worst part is that we know when she dies (two seasons ago) so she’s effectively immortal.  There are going to be no episodes in which she dies within twenty seconds of the opening credits.  She’s just an irritating, unfunny, uninteresting character.

But when all’s said and done, I’m enjoying this Doctor a lot more than the last.  Matt Smith seems to have the quirky aspect of the Doctor mastered, making it seem a lot more like Classic Who.  Tennant’s angsty Who ran out of steam when Martha left him.  Martha remains the best companion.

All of the boys and the girls here in Paris… also think there are objective moral wrongs

I endured Steven Spielberg’s A.I. last night (and if you’re morbidly curious what my running commentary was like, you can find it here).  One part in particular stuck out for me.  As you’re never going to watch this film, I’m sure a SPOILER ALERT isn’t needed, but here it is anyway:

SPOILER ALERT.

At one point, the nasty humans — or ‘Orgas’ as they’re known in the film — go hunting unregistered robots — a.k.a. ‘Mechas’ — and hold a circus where the Orgas torture the Mechas.  One Mecha pleads for its ‘life’ before it’s put into a cannon and shot.  The last we see is its burning face sliding down the cage wall while the crowd cheers.  A disturbingly attractive Mecha — played by Clara Bellar — has acid poured on her and the crowd cheers as she dissolves.

They draw the line with the protagonist because they mistakenly think it’s a real boy.

This neatly touches upon a broader problem in philosophy caused by the dominance of the rights discourse in modern applied ethics.  Most people are intuitionists: they can’t tell why what they’re doing is moral and correct, but they can generally spot the difference between good actions and wrong actions with bellyfeel.  It’s one of the roles of the philosopher to help people elucidate what they believe and how they can reason with others about what they believe. Continue reading “All of the boys and the girls here in Paris… also think there are objective moral wrongs”

Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.

They need to teach aesthetics.  It ought to be a mandatory class.

It seems that even Ebsen Storm thought that Subterano (the film I rubbished in my last post) was terrible: he was credited as ‘ Mort S. Seben’ .

We can appreciate art in two ways.  The first is to appreciate its form.  The second is to appreciate its substance.

My classic example illustrates the first: The Old Man and the Sea.  It’s amazing but it has absolutely no substance.  Wagner is another good example: the substance is ugly (Germanic people are the shiznit, yo), but the form is magnificent.

It’s more difficult to find good art which can be appreciated for its substance alone.  The works of the Beatles, I think, satisfies this.  Musically, it’s rubbish.  Its message was an important reflection on its era (at least, the later stuff was).  Godzilla films were about the fear of science post WWII in Japan.

SPOILER WARNING… not that you’ll go watch the film, but it’s always best to be polite.

Subterano is about a dystopian future (shock!) where computer games (shock!) are a big deal and there’s a rebel who’s trying to escape from the authorities (shock!).  A group of polar opposite personalities (shock!) have to bond together in order to escape a death game (shock!).

The resolution to the film is that the protagonist and a few of his women escape the death game.  The death game was being conducted by a sociopathic adolescent who is upset that he failed to kill the protagonist and his women, so he starts up another game with a new set of victims… Continue reading “Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che tavelena il cor! … And get a proper plot while you’re at it.”

I’ll love you in the morning when you’re still hungover… and we need to reboot the Prequels

Let’s face it: the Star Wars prequels sucked.  There were two and only two good points:

1. Yoda fighting; and

2. Aayla Secura.

These are facts.  But even (1) is a poisoned chalice: it makes it even more baffling why Yoda didn’t fight Vader.  Vader would have been no match for Yoda and yet Yoda hides out on Dagobah.

Bit that’s just one small problem in the sea of problems that is post-Prequel Star Wars.  For a good run down on the major and fundamental problems, see this.

But let us be constructive and not destructive.  What would have made a more satisfying set of prequels? Continue reading “I’ll love you in the morning when you’re still hungover… and we need to reboot the Prequels”