10.25.2005

Quote on Booker

Tipped by Mumpsimus, here's a good quote from a Booker judge:
From the beginning, I was clear about my criteria. I was looking for a book that would repay sustained attention, that was worth reading for the quality of the prose itself, that took tenacious hold of one's imagination. I was hoping to find something that would still be admired in 2075: a book that was worthy of the honorific description "literature", rather than just another good novel. The Booker Prize has too often been awarded to middle-brow books that are pleasant to read, and soon forgotten.

10.10.2005

See "War of the Worlds" Again

"It's not much to think about, but it's certainly something to see."--A. O. SCOTT, N.Y. Times Review

I didn't find a single reviewer who saw it as I did. Yes, yes, 9/11, yadda yadda, but keep watching, keep listening, carefully. You guys missed a great deal.

I guess I was spending too much time in the symbolic level. Yeah, some of family scenes were a little over the top, but some real powerful stuff, too, once you understand the symbolic level.

I don't know if I agree, assuming I follow correctly--it is for that reason that I won't discuss it here since it and my interpretation are likely to be controversial, but maybe we need to table these ideas (clearly some have already proposed a version, but this is... different). I'm still not sure if Spielberg's is the best solution. Who the hell knows? What a mess.

10.03.2005

Movies worth seeing? Two yeses, one maybe.

A Serenity movie promotion last year made the film out to be a minor-league fan-boy operation that happened to find itself lucked into the majors. SF fans, who look cross-eyed at the same flavors in print, go googly-eyed over the same half-baked stories on screen. We seem strangely more forgiving of the movies.

So it was that I went in with rather low expectations. A Serenity fan-boy said it was like another episode, and my mind conjured up visions of the X-files movie that meant more to regular fans than to the occasional watcher. But if the Serenity movie was just another episode, the original series must have had fairly high storytelling standards. Even the hokey promo scenes came off pretty well.

The movie opens with many feints within feints--without compromising its central story integrity, which was an incredibly effective move to both backstory its audience while keeping them on their toes. A human government called the “Alliance” was born in a new solar system after our old one was burned out. The Alliance, who work for an imposed peace, demanded complete allegiance which the toughest pioneer colonies wouldn’t give. So long, colonies.

The rebels against the Alliance are in disarray and vanishing when we meet up with our heroes. The Serenity, a crumbling starship, and its crew are former rebels turned renegades, stealing from the rich private corporations and giving to themselves to outfit the ship and crew. The noble idea behind the robberies, aside from ignoble personal gain, is to hit the corporations that aid and abet the Alliance.

Onboard the Serenity is a young girl, a psychic semi-psychopathic assassin, mentally damaged by Alliance experimentation, whom her brother rescued, whom the Alliance wants recaptured for what her psychic abilities may have gleaned from her encounters with the Alliance’s parliament. Meanwhile, the Alliance is not their only enemy.

Serenity shut down my critical faculties for most of the film’s duration--except a few minor cornball moments (“Oh, baby, I was too wrapped up in being a wonderful brother who saves his sister, that I didn’t have time for myself to eyeball you.”). Mentally rewinding and reviewing the film, however, unveils a number of coincidental flaws--a psychopath who unnecessarily pretends to go psychopathic, a psychopath miraculously cured (twice), nerve clusters (?) removed--amongst a few anime tendencies: a not-quite pre-adolescent girl, with big innocent eyes, who isn’t so innocent, and characters posing for the camera like high-schoolers that want to evoke James Dean photographs.

Still, these flaws are minimal compared to the satisfaction of a well-developed narrative that ties together its central elements admirably. Do go see. After recent disappointing SF films at the box office, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Regrettably, having too much to do with my time already, I may have to seek out the original series.

***

My biggest fear of David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, after listening to a radio interview about how appalling it was to solve problems through violence, was being preached to, yet I did want to be challenged. So I went.

A small-town man accidentally saves his diner from two murderers who threaten to rob and kill everyone (although it’s only the threat of such violence, we’re shown their ruthless potential early on). All of this brings the man unwanted celebrity and the attention of a much crueler type of criminal.

But A History of Violence isn’t what the interview or its title says it is. It is only one person’s history, which wouldn’t be much of a problem if it hadn’t set up as something else. Perhaps it was meant to be a black-comic send-up of the typical Hollywood film of violence--man who doesn’t want violence is forced into it, anyway--except the film never undercuts itself to highlight the problems of violence apart from two minor yet effective moments (son uses excessive force to measure up to his father’s new hero status, husband and wife screw after violent encounter). In fact, the film appeared to achieve just the opposite. While the director claimed he wanted the audience to feel guilt over cheering for violence, the audience I sat in were still cheering through to the end. If human culture forgives self-defense, I can’t say that I blame them.

Why not accept the film for what it is instead of what we’re told it was supposed to be? It’s difficult to say what the film wants to be. It opens on our heroes with typical domestic bliss on a supposedly typical morning. I tend to have a difficult time buying such domesticity. How many households does this truly reflect? Why isn’t the daughter whining about her doll? Why isn’t the son impossible to get up? Why aren’t the husband and wife ignoring each other after years of bleary-eyed early-morning indifference? Why don’t they arrange a kinky tryst to make up for a stupid spat from the night before? No, they love each other just as madly as ever. The breakfast table scene almost pushed the lovey-dovey over the top into Hollywood satire when the father tried to pour his sixteen-year-old son’s breakfast cereal for him, but not quite. If there are satiric jabs here, they’re not pushed hard enough. Even were the domestic bliss ironically played, that wouldn’t answer the seemingly justified violence.

With a title like A History of Violence, I would have liked a film of personal story that somehow broadened its themes to almost a non-fictional scope playing more moments of justified and unjustified violence, testing out permutations, testing out everyone’s presuppositions of whether violence is justified. But that’s another movie.

***

I’m assuming Flight Plan was sold to audiences as just another thriller. It is a damn good thriller--at least it had me literally sweating and squirming in my seat (I want to sit through it again to see how they played all the twists, to be certain each moment was as fair as my memory assures me it was). If this was billed as just a thriller, that’s deceptive as it’s actually more challenging than the two aforementioned movies: Whom do we trust? Whom do we distrust?

Jodie Foster plays an airline design engineer who has just lost her husband in Germany, and is bringing the body on a plane back to America for burial. She may or may not have a daughter whom she brought on the flight with her and who consequently may or may not have been abducted while the mother and daughter slept. Foster tears up the plane in search of her daughter until the crew and passengers get fed up with her.

As the story progresses, the theme of trust keeps getting twisted into intriguing questions that, even if plausibility gets pushed (without ever quite becoming implausible), the questions are well worth asking.