Monday, December 31, 2012

Let Me Tell the Story of the Year of Movies Telling Stories

Storytelling, the nature of storytelling and the worth of storytelling, seemed to be the most recurrent theme of the 16 movies I saw out of the hundreds released in 2012. I ranked them below, so you can know at last who won.

16. Berserk Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King (ベルセルク 黄金時代篇) (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Congratulations, "Guts", you were in the worst movie I saw from this year. Whoa, hey, calm down.

15. Snow White and the Huntsman (Wikipedia entry, my review)

"Wait, I like totally know this. It's an . . . ackle? Dude, shut up." Good visuals and supporting performances couldn't save this movie from a central character both poorly written and poorly performed.

14. Ted (Wikipedia entry, my review)

I'm still not convinced we're meant to take this as a real movie, which may make it the most post-modern movie ever made.

13. The Avengers (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Joss Whedon returns to themes previously explored in his television series', mainly Angel, this time with famous comic book characters. The performances are really good and characters play well off each other thanks to Whedon's good ear for character dynamics, it's only too bad so much rested on the soulless Agent Coulson. I'm honestly not saying that just to piss people off, my brain just reads him as a guy trying to sell me something.

12. Cloud Atlas (Wikipedia entry, my review)

A slickly made, entertaining adventure film and a nice comment on how generations influence one another.

11. The Dark Knight Rises (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Not half as good as The Dark Knight, but features an interesting return to the idea of Batman influencing justice as idea, or story, more than he does manually. It also featured an incredibly hot Catwoman in Anne Hathaway.

10. A Letter to Momo (ももへの手紙) (Wikipedia entry, my review is coming soon)

I've never seen a non-Studio Ghibli anime movie more influenced by Studio Ghibli anime movies. It falls short of even the non-Miyazaki features, but I.G. is certainly no slouch when it comes to animation and this is a charming tale of a young girl coping with her father's death with the help of storybook gods brought to life.

9. Life of Pi (Wikipedia entry, my review)

A fascinating portrait of the human need to organise life into story and the insight and comfort they take from doing so.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Its central idea of those without a home seeking the comforts of home as well as friendship in the face of cold avatars of violence is delivering by truly great performances with visuals that rise above its 3d.

7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wikipedia entry, my review)

A couple of children guilelessly patterning their behaviour on stories and innocent confrontations of their needs and desires, beautifully shot.

6. Kahaani (imdb entry [the Wikipedia enty has too many spoilers], my review)

A satisfying portrait of the ways in which memes and imbedded cultural narratives exert control over people, and how an individual can engineer a story to defeat the socially prevailing ones.

5. Barbara (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Human needs inevitably and beautifully expressed in spite of and even because of enforced propaganda and cruel modes of living.

4. The Borrower Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ) (Wikipedia entry, my review)

A story of how traditional ways of thinking can deprive people unjustly, and how the young can overcome old ideas. A common enough story, but animated with extraordinary beauty.

3. Cosmopolis (Wikipedia entry, my review)

A digestion of the recklessly cynical nature of the world economy in the person of Robert Pattinson. Cronenberg effectively uses Pattinson's shallow performance as a centre for a society increasingly lost and frustrated by a soullessness eroding the world both physically and spiritually.

2. Prometheus (Wikipedia entry, my review)

This film's impressively intricate visuals are exceeded by the impressively intricate weaving of themes and resonant stories. Fantastically performed characters, most notably the android played by Michael Fassbender, carry a good superficial plot of interstellar exploration and anthropological curiosity as well as serving the extraordinarily rich fabric of ideas present.

1. Django Unchained (Wikipedia entry, my review)

It's breathtaking the way this movie bucks Hollywood convention and paranoid delusions about how to tell a story safely. In its references to German myths of Brunnhilde, it emphasises the power and use of heroic stories in order to confront and digest the demons underneath the social bedrock. Wild and brilliantly realised characters and situations playing off each other help make this film an improbably pure shot to the human soul.

Twitter Sonnet #462

Dice change hands under an old tanned femur.
Innocent dots wash the white cubes for fate.
Blistered plastic contracts in a glamour.
Queens continue past an ignored checkmate.
Alternate Richards distribute no heirs.
Tudor horsemen disintegrate at dusk.
Dark nose hairs change race unawares.
Jar Jar valleys become alien dust.
Chinless skeletons stood in the old lab.
Green glows drizzled through printed gasps fading.
Black veins grew over the forgotten cab.
Oil strips clink with a clean coal padding.
Cylindrical bricks look like dynamite.
A stack of clay is no reason to fight.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Berserk Cloud Barbara Atlas

I guess it's obvious I've been trying to catch up on some 2012 movies lately. Yesterday I crammed in three films. One was pretty good, one was great, and one . . . had its moments.

Like most movies critics complain of being too confusing or complex, Cloud Atlas isn't hard to understand at all. It's really an anthology film connected by a belief in reincarnation and karma and thematically connected by the human social dichotomy between oppressors and oppressed. It works often enough to be an enjoyable film, though there are a few scenes that ought to have been trimmed. The Wachowski siblings have a real talent for cleanly effective strings of narrative, though, and the movie pulls you through its plot like a ripcord.

I suspect the quality I most dislike about Wachowski movies is related to the fact that their stories go down so smoothly--namely, the moral simplicity. It's a movie that shows how characters who are evil in one lifetime can become good in another lifetime, while it's also possible for souls to resist changing, as demonstrated by Hugo Weaving, who's always evil, interestingly finally becoming a hallucinatory manifestation of Tom Hanks' evil inclinations.

All the stories are melodramas, except for the one where Jim Broadbent is tricked by his brother into living in a retirement home, which is a comedy. None of the stories involve a lifetime where the biggest choice someone faces is whether or not to declare something in their tax returns--every story presents big, clear cut moral choices, whether it's to help a stowaway slave to freedom, to expose a conspiracy by an oil company that will lead to hundreds of deaths, to liberate a race of clone slaves, or to assist a stranger in climbing a mountain despite religious differences.

The most complicated and interesting story takes place in 1936. Ben Whishaw and James D'Arcy as a pair of lovers have the most interesting and nuanced relationship of any two people in the film, despite sharing little screentime. Whishaw as the more cavalier, wiser and ultimately more sensitive Frobisher and D'Arcy as the more grounded but sort of spiritually helpless Sixsmith work very well. Mostly the story concerns Frobisher's experiences working for a composer played by Broadbent, transcribing his symphonies before composing his own, the "Cloud Atlas Symphony", the bit played in the film actually being pretty good. Broadbent tries to steal it, of course, because he's the villain in this story, and Frobisher's decisions aren't so much deciding between good and bad as surviving Broadbent's bad decision.

The makeup and costumes used to cast the various prominent actors as people of different races and sexes uniformly fail, at best making people look deformed and at worst making them seem as though they were in a Saturday Night Live sketch. Hugh Grant can't even do an American accent, to say nothing of Doona Bae. I thought about how Ang Lee completely reshot several scenes in Life of Pi because he decided Tobey Maguire was too recognisable a star, resulting in Maguire not appearing in the film at all. Obviously we're seeing a very different philosophy at play here. The white people as Asian characters were about as convincing as Katharine Hepburn and Walter Huston in Dragon Seed.

For a truly complex tale, there's Christian Petzold's Barbara, which was the best film I saw yesterday. Set in 1980 East Germany, Nina Hoss plays the title character with brilliant subtlety as she struggles with one difficult decision after another in a story of life's imperfections and beauty arising from the scarcity of solace.

The communist government is passive-aggressively punishing Barbara for requesting to leave East Germany. An excellent doctor, she's sent to work in a rural clinic and given a lousy apartment to live in where she has to endure regular inspections, including cavity searches. She's monitored more covertly by Doctor Reiser at the clinic, a young man who flirts with her and attempts to gain her trust while actually falling for her.

Meanwhile, Barbara's secretly seeing her West German lover and the two are planning her escape. But the decision to do so becomes complicated when she proves to be indispensable at the clinic, exhibiting a talent for diagnosis more insightful than Reiser's.

It's mainly a story about how people commune and coexist in false circumstances. Barbara's emerging affections for Reiser are real but also palpably created by intolerable social environment--one senses these two would never consider getting together otherwise.

In a sense, they both give in to manipulation. In one fascinating scene, Reiser tells her about being a young doctor caring for premature infants. One night, he allowed an assistant to handle some new life support machines from New Zealand, which resulted in an error that caused two infants to be blinded for life. He blamed himself, of course. Then Barbara asks him what kind of machines, specifically, the new ones from New Zealand were and when Reiser takes too long to answer she realises the whole story was fabricated, a miniature bit of propaganda to win her sympathy.

Reiser's interest perhaps becomes genuine when he starts to buy his own line. It's weirdly like government prescribed pick up raps.

Last and also least, I watched Berserk Golden Age Arc I: Egg of the King yesterday, the latest anime adaptation of a classic manga from the 80s. Muddled plotting, vague characterisations, dull concept, and attractive visual design dragged down by bad cgi render this film mildly entertaining.

Mainly the cgi is in the action scenes, though it's also used for some jewellery--mainly it's for intricately detailed wardrobe, and I did sort of like this princess's crown;

But mainly it leads to a jarring clash of kinds of motion. In some cases, the characters are drawn moving slowly in attempt to emulate the computer animation, which leads to things looking even more awkward. It ruins some otherwise decent designs.

The plot takes place in an alternate reality late medieval England, where the evil Tudors are trying to destroy another group of unnamed royals, the good guys. The lead character, presumably the berserk one, is named *sigh* Guts. Though he works out to not be terribly berserk when during a key assassination he's inexplicably taken aback by some bloodshed. Well, it's inexplicable until we see that it's cumbersomely contrived to push along some central character conflict.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Real Telling

In telling an effective story, the storyteller often seems to have a certain insight into the audience, causing an impression of the storyteller as a being exercising a powerful, intimate form of control over others. Kahaani means "story" in Hindi, and it's a movie released earlier this year that is primarily a decent spy thriller but also a cunning layering of narratives. It has a twist ending, yes, as well as many satisfying twists along the way, but these thriller mechanics serve a theme that makes the movie more fundamentally pleasing than the average thriller might be, as well as delightfully, subversively feminist.

Vidya Balan, beautiful and canny, plays a woman also named Vidya, though in Kolkata, where the movie takes place, her name is constantly mispronounced as "Bidya" until she gives in and starts introducing herself that way, too. She's recently arrived from London seeking her husband who's gone missing. She meets with mostly lazy, patronising police assistance and finds herself cast in the eyes of men around her in the cynical plot of a woman whose husband has abandoned her seven months pregnant.

Despite her condition, Vidya stubbornly continues her search for her husband. A young police officer, Rana, reluctantly at first assists her. The two discover strange indications that Vidya's husband had never even been in Kolkata, making the presumption that he simply abandoned her seem all the more likely.

A woman where Vidya's husband supposedly worked denied ever hearing of him working there, but did say he resembled another employee named Milan Damji, whose files cannot be accessed.

This leads to Vidya meeting the pragmatically rude Khan, a government agent seeking the man who resembles her husband, and seems ready to sacrifice anyone to do so, even a pregnant woman. When asked what makes him different from his quarry, then, he replies without hesitation they aren't different, one of them simply happens to be on the side of the law while the other isn't.

In the movie's coda, about the goddess Durga rising periodically to vanquish a demon, the film nicely seeks to affirm nobler qualities of the human heart more fundamental than ethically mutable warfare mentality.

A low budget film, Kahaani has a lot of candid footage of Kolkata streets and people. It looks nice, and I have to say I was charmed to see a movie released this year where the heroine uses bobby pins to pick locks.

Friday, December 28, 2012

This is a Normal Movie, Completely on the Up and Up, Ladies and Gentlemen

It's always nice to see beautiful breasts, but there is an added pleasure in seeing legendary beautiful breasts, like those of Jayne Mansfield here, which are of course the highlight of 1963's Promises! Promises!. It was the first time in the sound era that a mainstream star appeared nude in a Hollywood movie--really just topless. Most of the rest of the film struggles to justify its existence, but it seems like most involved understood it was only to provide the barest semblance of respectability. It's a screwball comedy that contains one or two moments almost worthy of a chuckle, as well as a couple musical numbers performed by Mansfield that showed she was much closer to the caricature to-day usually ascribed to Marilyn Monroe than Monroe herself.

But, oh, those breasts. Sure, it's easy enough to find them in a google image search, and at the time of the movie's release, Mansfield had already appeared in Playboy. But it's fascinating and a bit exciting for the novelty seeing nudity in a movie that still basically had the tone of a cheap but legitimate Hollywood movie of the 1950s. Its use of tropes makes the film feel like a missing link between disposable 50s comedies and storyline pornos that arose in the late 60s.

The plot here involves Tommy Noonan, who also produced the film, playing Mansfield's husband, of course unable to perform sexually in the sort of improbable tease that appears all over the sex comedy universe, from 50s movies to anime series of to-day. So, he goes to see the ship's doctor (the whole movie takes place on a cruise ship), who gives him a placebo in the form of aspirin, apparently not realising the characters were going to wind up taking these supposed libido boosters with lots and lots of alcohol. Fortunately, no-one's stomach started bleeding in the course of this film, as far as I can tell.

Which brings us back to Jayne Mansfield's breasts. Well, not really, but the film continually cuts back senselessly to the two or three minutes of footage of her breasts regardless of whether it's germane to what's happening in the movie. It's actually extremely awkward. The plot is a silly series of mix-ups with their neighbours and not really worth recounting.

The only other really noteworthy element is the ship's barber played by T.C. Jones, a "female impersonator", who is revealed in dialogue to be gay and seems like he may possibly be the beginning of the romantic comedy gay best friend stock character.

One of the few moments of almost effective comedy happens when at Mansfield's baby shower he starts doing impressions of celebrities, including Jayne Mansfield, whose character excitedly proclaims, "I can do her too!" Yes, she certainly could.

Twitter Sonnet #461

Soft heads with Bing Crosby eyes can't yet sing.
In stony bars stalks the Mayan cougar.
Crowns of welts will not spare child or king.
Gates of wrought iron will not stop sugar.
Burgundy outgrows the grasp of Loge.
Fire finds false shadows in a dimple.
White blooms bleeding over blue are shaggy.
Grids of grim matte jelly are made simple.
Organic Windex darkens the new pane.
Voluminous cans hold the cuckold's beer.
Orbiting photographs soon roundly wane.
Razor fringed beanies strip the brain of fear.
Substitute dancers dismiss their wardrobe.
Bojangles unveiled Salome's earlobe.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Right Dreams for Fire and Mountains

Like the Spaghetti westerns Tarantino seeks to emulate, Django Unchained is beautiful, brutal, in "bad taste", and intensely satisfying. It's more accurate actually to say that it lacks taste than that it has bad taste--or rather, as Oscar Wilde said, "An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." As Tarantino himself said, when responding to a question about whether he disagreed with his character's decisions in moral dilemmas, "I never, ever relate or touch base with Quentin when I'm writing my pieces -- people can say to a fault. I follow the characters wherever they want to go." This is one of my favourite quotes from an artist in years*. It's probably a big part of why all the characters in his movies work so well, and what makes this Spaghetti "Southern" so satisfyingly complex in tone even as it's thematically simplistic.

As Tarantino acknowledged realising in making this movie, however horrible he might portray slavery as having been in the old American south, it was impossible to approach how horrible it actually was. As I watched the film, I found myself thinking, "I bet Spike Lee doesn't like this movie." Sure enough, I found he'd gotten into an astonishingly petty argument on Twitter about it. Lee very clearly takes himself extremely seriously and in his very attitude about it shows why Django Unchained is a more effective way of discussing slavery than what he's doing. "American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them." One can unpack a lot from this statement--he feels the format of the Spaghetti Western demeans serious subject matter. Since Spaghetti Westerns dealt with real issues in American history as well--a big part of The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly is the horrors of the Civil War--we can assume either he doesn't like Spaghetti Westerns or he doesn't know very much about them or he didn't think very much about what he was saying. But what it boils down to in any case is that if the audience enjoys a movie in a visceral way, it can't be a respectful portrait of its subject matter.

Django Unchained is certainly viscerally satisfying, its action scenes are brilliantly constructed, as always in a Tarantino movie, and compositions are beautiful. Most importantly, it's the improbable tale of a former slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) managing to take vengeance on the people who oppressed him, his wife, and everyone else who shares their skin colour.

Assisting him in this is Christoph Waltz as Schlutz, a German bounty hunter who shows Django the ropes of killing for money. Just as the audience is inspired and sensually elevated by the experience of watching Django Unchained, Schultz feels that myth elevates the soul of humankind, as evidenced by his love for the Nibelungenlied as he tells Django the story behind his wife's name, Brunnhilde.

Was life in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages really like the Nibelungenlied or other tales of Brunnhilde? No, and that's probably why people loved them. It did what legends are supposed to do, empowering the listener, gratifying his or her needs that can't be met in reality as well as validating them through the shared aesthetic appreciation.

By not being what is considered a serious movie, Django Unchained is a human movie. Because that's the point of the sort of rhetoric Spike Lee is extolling--to keep people at arm's length. The pain has become holy and untouchable to him.

Like Siegfried, Django is no perfect hero, either. That would be remote, untouchable, too. He has to go through fires of moral compromise, but complexity makes the conclusion even more satisfying. The most effective part of the movie involves plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) ordering a slave to be torn to pieces by dogs. The ways in which Schultz and Django respond to the incident, both immediately and later, provide an abundance of fuel for character dilemmas. And helps the whole film to be an honest confrontation and a spiritual rebuke of slavery.

Tarantino has long used music by Ennio Morricone from other movies. This was the first time Morricone actually composed something for a Tarantino film and I must say it's some of the best music Morricone's made in a very long time. I doubt even Spike Lee could listen to it and think it demeans anyone.

*it's from this excellent interview.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wandering is His Occupation

"The Snowmen" is definitely my favourite Steven Moffat era Christmas special for Doctor Who. Its plot, involving the return of (or first appearance of, apparently in his point of view) the Great Intelligence from two Second Doctor serials, this time voiced with great deranged menace by Ian McKellen, was satisfying enough. As was the presence of Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, the inspirations for Sherlock Holmes according Richard E. Grant's character, which is yet another thing which begs for more screen time for the characters in the future. Part of me wants to dislike Jenny Flint's anachronistic cat suit, but most of me loves it.

But the main appeal of this episode is in what it introduces as new aspects to appear consecutively for the foreseeable future. First of all, I was really excited by the new but very retro design of the TARDIS console room.

As well as the new opening titles, which are a bit reminiscent of the later second Doctor's opening and the first third Doctor's opening--and features the return of The Face, for the first time in the new series;

And, of course, there's the new companion, Clara, who I loved even more than I did when she first appeared in "Asylum of the Daleks", now possibly confirmed to be the same character after all. This must be a headache for Wikipedia editors.

She has great energy and a sort of crispness, rather naturally taking the role of a Mary Poppins-ish governess and a dexterous barmaid.

Okay. The following speculations will include some spoilers for those of you who haven't yet seen the Christmas episode and would like to be warned.

So, I know I see Vertigo references everywhere. To be fair, a lot of writers and filmmakers actually do seem to make references to Vertigo. But my passion for that movie probably leads me to seeing it in more places than it actually is. So when we find out that Clara is going to be a character who's mysteriously reincarnated in future episodes, I immediately thought of Vertigo, but then held myself back thinking, "Well, it could also be Dracula or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp or Laura any number of other things." The reincarnated woman, the fixation of the hero for whom she's always tantalisingly just out of reach, is not unique to Vertigo.

But then I started thinking of other things Clara has in common with Judy. For one thing, we have the multiple identities within multiple identities--that is, she's another incarnation of the Oswin who leads a double life in Victorian London as a lower class barmaid and an upper class governess, drastically changing her clothing and accent for the two personas.

And then, think of how Clara "dies" in this episode.

A fall from a great height and the hero, who was already tormented by doubt of his own worth, is unable to prevent it.

Again, this may just be the Vertigo tattooed on my eyeballs. But if Clara ends up being someone who's more consciously manipulating the Doctor than it now seems but who genuinely falls for him anyway (in more ways than one), I might not be surprised and I very likely will be delighted.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For All . . . of YOU

Happy Christmas, everyone!

I couldn't decide which ironic Christmas movie I wanted to watch most last night, Brazil or Eyes Wide Shut. Should I observe the western world's economic or sexual dysfunction? It's a tough choice, so I just ended up watching the "The Voyage of the Damned", the Doctor Who Christmas special from a few years ago. I think my favourite is still "The Runaway Bride", but "Voyage of the Damned" is still a satisfying enough Christmas film, even if Russell T. Davies' sentimentality had started to interfere with even episodes early in the season at that point.

I am looking forward to to-night's Christmas special, and I'm hoping it'll be better than last year's. Like everyone else, I'm hoping to see Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint used better than they were in that two parter they appeared briefly in, though I'm disappointed by the extraneous presence of Strax.

Twitter Sonnet #460

After burn gauze blinds sweat cherry Kool-Aid.
Ice cubes coax a blush from the egg carton.
Spectral troops stage a solar panty raid.
Pine tree lenses cinch a glassy garden.
Holly meteors spin around the stalk.
Ancient tinsel forms a sage eulogy.
At last, the miniature steel vice can walk.
The "nutcrackers" don't make apology.
Galvanised candy cane spearmen fall out
Like cannibalised tooth fillings sharpened
On the edge of a punchy champagne drought,
Huge mistletoe entwined lovers harkened.
Spidery snowflakes foretell caressed socks.
Crisp expert shoulders are born in the box.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Let's Have an Ingrid Pitt Christmas

So those huge white ducks living nearby I've been talking about, apparently they're actually geese, at least according to my friend Ada, who grew up on a farm in Germany, so I guess she'd know. She also says they'd be delicious at this age, but I won't seek to confirm this. Though, since it is Christmas, I'm tempted to search them for blue carbuncles.

Speaking of Germany, I stayed up too late last night watching 1968's Where Eagles Dare, an actually pretty fun World War II movie starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as soldiers on a covert mission to rescue an American general from a Nazi controlled castle. I normally avoid these naive war movies from the sixties as I find their point of view beside the contemporaneous Vietnam War a bit too painfully ironic. But taken out of context, the plot is engaging and, as I said, fun--dumb fun, to be sure, there are a lot of "Why doesn't he just shoot him?!" moments. Actually, the whole reason I watched the movie was that Ingrid Pitt has a very small role.

Oh, why couldn't she have had more screen time? She plays a barmaid/secret agent named Heidi who helps convey the film's female lead, the pretty but decidedly less interesting Mary Ure, into the castle. We're given but a few shots of Ingrid being playful and conniving while displaying plenty of cleavage before she disappears for most of the film, only to show up again with a bottle of wine and a bus at the end to help bust the boys out. Our time was too brief, Ingrid.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

She Really Does Need Some Blood

You know, I don't think Kristen Stewart is a very good actress. I know that's a controversial statement, but hear me out. In Snow White and the Huntsman, she mainly just seems to fluctuate between this facial expression;

And this one;

Mouth open or closed, basically. Except sometimes she looks like Bababooey.

That's a cheap shot, I know. But it comes from a building consternation at watching her in the movie, wondering how this person whose face seems to be flush with novocaine at all times ever connected with audiences. She's by far the least interesting aspect of the movie, but Snow White was the least interesting aspect of the old Disney movie, too, though at least there she was animate(d).

As a matter of fact, Snow White and the Huntsman has a lot of good qualities. You couldn't ask for a better group of actors playing the dwarves than Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, and Brian Gleeson. Together they give a great deal of weight to the movie. Charlize Theron as the evil queen is superficially written and performed with pat frothing on waypoint lines like "WHERE IS SHE?!" "BRING HER TO ME!!" as she smacks her henchmen. But her costumes are absolutely wonderful. I particularly loved this one, with a headdress that gives her coif contours without encasing her and the gown with what looks like tiny bird skulls;

Chris Hemsworth is good as the broadly sketched, Madmartigan/Han Solo-ish huntsman, played with a vaguely Scottish accent presumably to sound like Gerard Butler in 300.

In fact, this movie, which I would describe as generally flat footed, is fascinating in how it shows the ways in which innovative fantasy films of the past thirty years have filtered through to the likes of an academic, commercial director like Rupert Sanders. There's the Great Forest Spirit from Princess Mononoke;

The roguish hero who might be in it just for the money, the beautiful costumes and scenery that look like they were raided directly from the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia productions.

Homage is fine, and if precedent is good, why not follow it? The trouble is, Snow White and the Huntsman never amounts to more than homage. Particularly detrimental is the lack of focus in creating its characters. Snow White is introduced as a pacifist with possibly magical charming abilities, as she chooses to gently commune with a troll rather than running from him, and has to be taught a basic tactic for using a knife at close range by the huntsman. "I don't know if I could do that," she says, to which he replies, "You might not have a choice."

But without even a moment where she thinks about how or why she might do it, at the end of the movie she's leading an army to take back her childhood castle from the evil Queen, casually batting arrows away with her shield and hacking through soldiers without a second thought. It's obvious why it was written like this--violence is the only meaningful solution to a fantasy story these corporate filmmakers have the courage or imagination to conceive of. Lazy thinkers will call this a feminist subversion of genre, though I'd ask those lazy thinkers to contemplate, if they could, just how boring the ending of this movie would be if there was a man in the role. I'd also point out that the great medieval fantasy movies of the past thirty years didn't climax with the hero solving things with violence--The Lord of the Rings, Princess Mononoke, The Princess Bride. Which is not to say I have anything against characters resolving things with violence, I'm just saying there's no reason one should feel one has to to validate the character, particularly when it contradicts what few personality traits the character was given.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Brain Distracting Time

I just received a phone call from the sheriff who told me the bicyclist I hit last week, or who hit me, was totally uninjured and that I wasn't at fault for the accident. Which is good to know. So, school's done, Christmas shopping's done, and I haven't injured anyone. Maybe I can try to relax now. Or get busy with something else. I guess I'll start with lunch.

Here are some pictures of Chess Garden decorated for Christmas. The Victorian Christmas tree is by Vita's Boudoir (I trimmed off half the decorations) and the mesh cat avatar is by Zooby;

Twitter Sonnet #459

Tissue sky clobbers bubble gum at Pong.
Five cards coalesce in a long household.
Bare feet prove pickles are cucumbers wrong.
Cheese will freeze wherever scotch is sold.
Blue gods have hidden the saltwater trout.
Planetoid assholes wreck the radar dish.
Robot affection stills the woodwind spout.
The true Skittles were ancient jelly fish.
Old green heroes swerve to avoid the cross.
Albatross chimes sting the computer brow.
Cardboard pyramids fall under thin moss.
Tartan streets will net decent cognac now.
No cotton quantity could encumber
Successful socks deployed in great number.