I know I probably shouldn’t trouble my little head with this stuff, but a little thought has been bubbling away in my little brain and has reached boiling point. So I thought I’d lift the lid and share it with you all. Before I explode.
This thought I’d like to share has to do with films I’ve seen so far this year. Now, I’ve seen a lot, so I’m going to confine myself to those I’ve seen at the cinema, on the big screen, and paid good money for. And I’ll narrow the field further to talk only about mainstream, narrative, big new releases. Because, when I think about these films, I see a pattern emerging. Perhaps you’ll see it too?
First up was Life of Pi, all earnest and shiny and 3D and jumpy out of the screen. And I guess it was all right. If you like that sort of thing. I don’t much. And as it was adapted from a book there were externally imposed limitations, so there’s really no need to be irritated by the pretty, dancy girlfriend, or the mother/zebra whatever, or the wife whose role is to wander on set, once, weighed down by children, and do nothing. So I wasn’t.
But then I went to see Lincoln. Regular readers of this blog may already have formed a strong opinion of my strong opinion about this film. New readers, if you’re still with me by the end of this post, might want to check out Am I missing the point of facebook? or Why Lincoln is crap. Maybe Spielberg was able to resurrect Freud and get him to do a bit of moonlighting as the script advisor. Mrs Lincoln emerges as a textbook hysteric. Thank God Abe is around to help her steer an even course. And then there’s the stoic freed slave who pops up from time to time observing the men do their politics, or accompanying the mad Mrs Lincoln somewhere, or whispering with Mr Lincoln, a symbol of just how very wise and decent he is. And reminding us, through her remarkable absence of presence, just how non-threatening good ole black folk can be. Especially black women. And then, as if to drive the point home, there’s the housekeeper. The one who mops the furrowed brow of Tommy Lee Jones and so much else besides. Who doesn’t get to be at all angry about the state of her world.
And then, the following week, I found myself up close and personal with Django Unchained. Which I loved. Except, it’s a bit long and goes a bit off course in the final stretch. But still, I thought it was great. Except, well, there’s Broomhilda. Who’s lovely ‘n’ all, and it’s great that Django wants to rescue her. But the thing is, she’s a runaway slave. A repeat offender runaway slave. And the film makes the barbarous treatment a recaptured runaway slave is likely to receive explicitly and uncomfortably clear. So I think we have to assume that Broomhilda has balls, colloquially speaking. Which makes her quivering lipped, fainting behaviour a little out of character. But, perhaps, defensible. What is not defensible, no really, Quentin, it’s not, is her sitting astride a bloody great horse in the final moments of the film, holding a bloody great double barreled shotgun, which we can assume is bloody well loaded, whilst waiting helplessly for Django to do his thing.
Next was Arbitrage. I don’t know what to say really. Other than that I’m very glad my local cinema has a bar, so that I had alcohol to help me get through the tedium. And so we have the wife. Who doesn’t work, of course. But that’s ok because she does lots of charity stuff. And she gets to take a bit of control at the end of the film. And the mistress. Who’s a painter. But not very good. But that’s ok because he bankrolls her. Thankfully she gets killed off in a car crash fairly early on. She doesn’t actually get to drive the car, of course. And the daughter. Who works for him. And works out that he’s a fraudulent swindler. Because she’s got a brain. But she doesn’t get to do anything about it. And then there’s the dead driver’s son’s wife. Who gets to be supportive.
And so to Side Effects. Again, regular readers will be aware of my response to this film. A previous post, Side Effects? Of what? Lesbian sex? pretty much sums it up. But, to give the film its due, at least all the women in it actually do stuff. And at least they can actually claim to be principal characters. And its much more fun watching evil lesbians going about their evil business than virtuous non-entities, well non-entitying. If you know what I mean.
And finally there was Stoker. It’s not a great film, but if you like a bit of gothic (which I do), and you find watching Nicole Kidman’s face not move strangely fascinating (which I do), and you have have a thing for intense, odd-ball actresses (which I do) then it might be up your street. But really, I liked it for its blackly comic ending. It’s a strange old world, though, when you find yourself jumping for joy in a darkened cinema as the eighteen year old protagonist (and there’s the key word) offs a cop. Jumping for joy just because she actually GETS TO DO SOMETHING.
Spolier alert. Evil lesbians’ evil plan foiled by super sleuth Law. Hetero-hegemony restored and all is well with the world. Phew!
Am I alone in being somewhat thrown by Soderberg’s latest? To be honest I thought I was about to see a pharma-thriller of some sort, perhaps an exploration of drug company corruption, or fraught examination of a descent into moral ambiguity, you know, that sort of thing. And to be honest, that’s kind of how the film started out. And then it seemed as if, at some point, someone did a nifty script exchange. And didn’t tell anyone. And no-one noticed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Soderberg fan. He knows how to entertain. And this schlocky thriller looks great, sounds great and is a tremendous amount of fun. A barrel of laughs you might say. So much so, that we were rolling round in the isles, pretty much paralytic with mirth, by the time the final credits rolled. Casting Channing Tatum was a master-stroke, although I have to confess I didn’t know who he was until this evening, and I’m not convinced I’ll be able to remember who he is tomorrow morning. And isn’t that a girl’s name anyway? Never before have I witnessed someone on screen so totally forgettable that Jude Law emerges from the void a charismatic scene-stealing dynamo. Catherine Zeta Jones and Rooney Mara are immensely watchable, and look great too, which evil lesbians really ought to if they possibly can. Amazingly though, given the fine acting capabilities of these two, as well as their unfair share of God-given good looks, their pseudo-sex scene that allows for the denouement of film is spectacularly unconvincing. What a shame.
I really can’t object to Catherine Zeta Jones being cast as a femme-fatale. She does the job admirably. And why not write her character as a lesbian? And why not have her character have a relationship with Rooney Mara’s character? And why not write these characters as cunning, amoral schemers who ultimately get their comeuppance? Except, well, wouldn’t it be nice if, you know, just occasionally, the hero happened to be a lesbian character. And could, just maybe, have sex with another lesbian character, not as part of an evil plan, but just coz they happen to, you know, feel like it. And maybe the sex could go unpunished. You know, just occasionally. Occasionally…
Come on Soderberg, don’t bow out of Hollywood just yet. Clearly you have more work to do.
Yesterday, after going cold turkey for 37 days (yes, I was counting), I reactivated my facebook account. Who knows what precipitated this move: a fear that a big party’s going on somewhere and I’m not invited? Nosiness? A nagging suspicion that if I’m no longer parading myself on my very own cyber-rag then I’m not really here at all? A messy flat and some reading that needs avoiding? Anyway, whatever the real reason, the one I gave was that I needed to re-emerge to tell the world how truly crap ‘Lincoln’ is.
And truly, it is. I mean Spielberg can put a slick film together, we all know that, and if painting by numbers is your thing, and you like those numbers to add up to a Jack Vettriano, then maybe you’ll go for ‘Lincoln’. I was left cold. And just a little irritated. Of all the complex stories that could have been told about the 16th President of the USA, the workings on Capitol Hill, the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery, this film seems to have opted for the most crassly simplistic, one dimensional, hero-worshipping, whitewashing one of all. Really, he should have stuck to sharks and aliens. Oh, and I liked that one about the truck.
Daniel Day-Lewis, all got up in comedy whiskers and a death-like pallor, chanelled his inner Atticus (Henry Fonda did better) while marginal, simple black folk look on in admiration. Or is it adoration? Really, 50 plus years ago when Harper Lee gave us such sorry representations of black characters in ‘Mockingbird’, we winced a bit, but let it pass. The civil rights movement was in its infancy, ‘black power’ hadn’t yet taken centre stage, in its own way the work was revelatory, and, importantly, the whole thing was couched in such sublime prose you’d forgive it almost anything. But you’d think in 2013, what with a black President ‘n’ all, a little human complexity could be given a voice. To be fair on the great SS though, this cartoonish representation isn’t reserved solely for his black characters: no-one really escapes the flattening. I expected Mickey Mouse to pop up with a frying pan at any moment and literally flatten the lot of ’em. At one point, an actual mouse did scuttle across the bottom of the screen, projecting a cheeky black shadow in its wake. Honestly. The Barbican really ought to contact pest control.
Back to the reactivation of my facebook account, though. The first thing I noticed was that my roll-call of friends had decreased in number. I had expected this, but what was marginally interesting is that I have no idea who the hell are no longer my facebook friends. Scroll down and stare as I might at image after image, the absent faces do not present themselves to my mind. Not revelatory, I know, but this does highlight the very particular nature of being a ‘facebook friend’. I took another look at my friends list and at a rough guess, I reckon that fewer than 20% of those on it are actually, in the traditional sense of “I like you, you like me, let’s sit in the pub and have a beer together”, friends. Am I missing the point of facebook?