Friday, January 06, 2006

Movies I Have Seen

Well, it has been a very-snowy-but-not-too-cold couple of weeks in Montreal, and despite the fact that i have had no good excuse my brain has slipped (as it so often does) into a kind of “holiday mode,” hence the lack of blog postings.

I feel tempted to write a résumé of sorts, a tally posts-that-could-have-been and a sprinkling of pointers to some of the more interesting blogs and websites i’ve spotted…

Whether i will do so or not i am not sure – i haven’t been pulled out of the ditch yet – but for starters…

We have been spending a lot of time in movie theaters! While less obviously political than a lot of what i write about, i think its worthwhile discussing pop culture, even if only its aesthetic dimensions (as in: “i liked it” or “it sucked”) – as these discussions can sometimes evolve into something of use…


Here what we saw:

Brokeback Mountain was not as sad as i had been told, but i liked it. I particularly liked how Ennis was so fucked up, and not simply because he was queer and closeted. I don’t want my queer characters to be happy, well balanced or straightforward any more than i want my straight characters to be that way. Like a good superhero movie, a good romance should be first and foremost about the protagonist’s pain – to a certain degree the rest is just window dressing.

Capote was ok, but not nearly as stellar as i had been told it would be. With the exception of Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird, played by Catherine Keener) everyone else comes off as one or another variety of fucked up scumbag.

Fun With Dick and Jane was silly and mediocre. How to put it? Imagine having an almost tasteless, mushy substance in your mouth. You chew it, swallow it, maybe it even fills your stomach. You look in your plate and what you’re eating reminds you of something, you’re just not sure what… finally, examining it closer, you realize that what you have been eating is actually derived from some actual form of food, but has been completely robbed of its original qualities – think rehydrated powdered mashed potatoes sprinkled with aspartame, or some such thing… Fun With Dick and Jane is an example of how Hollywood “does” the questions of class and direct action by making them no longer about class or direct action at all - to the point that one feels silly and pretentious even pointing out the connection. While not utterly boring, and occasionally teetering on the edge of being offensive (which on a certain level would be preferable to being pablum), i think if someone (not me!) had the time and imagination there might be a lesson here as to how real issues (in this case Enron-style capitalism and banditry) can be reflected back by the big screen. I am reminded of why my mother told me we shouldn’t feed birds white bread in winter – it fills their stomachs so they stop eating, and then they freeze to death because there was no nutrition in what was in their bellies…

Crash - I know it came out in 2004, but that’s what VCRs are for. I liked this movie, probably in part because i like multiple storylines, and i like ambiguity. With its decentered plot and the way it jumps from one character to another, Crash really  reflects the confusion and anxiety of a layer of white America (i know i know, it was written by a white Canadian, but must we quibble?) when dealing with race. I liked the way in which you could glimpse white supremacy playing out regardless of an individual’s conscious racism or lack thereof, but the whole “people of colour can be racist too” message – while undeniably true – was overdone. And while structural racism forms the constant backdrop, it is kept out of focus and never dealt with head on – which means not only can this film (like all others) be interpreted in different ways, but you’re kept very aware of these possibly different interpretations – the most common post-film reaction being “I liked it, but I don’t know what to make of it.” Yes, Paul, there are two or more sides to most stories – doesn’t make the different sides equally valid. That said, i must repeat: a good movie.

Walk the Line – while pleasant to watch, i have nothing much to say about this movie. I do regret that they didn’t use my favourite Cash songs – Man in Black– and wondered if it was for aesthetic reasons or because it’s too relevant to this shithole world we are all stuck in…

Oh yeah, and lest i forget: King Kong. Slate’s David Edelstein had this to say about one reading of this tale:

Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island (full of murderous primitive pagans) and with a penchant for skinny white blondes. But the director has supplied a fatherly black man (Evan Parke) on the crew to look after a teenage misfit (Jamie Bell): See, blacks aren't all out of place in civilization! Some even take care of whites! (Parke and Bell—whose character is reading Heart of Darkness—have the movie's biggest groaner: "This is not an adventure story, is it?" "No, Jimmy. It's not.")

While i appreciate this observation – and recognize that a lot of fun can be had developing it much further – it also strikes me as an example of being so smart you miss the obvious. Making a movie that plays on and symbolizes racist oppression does not make the movie itself racist, after all one has to jack one’s fiction into the powerbox of real life in order to give it juice. A far more striking and horrible example of racism in King Kong, which almost ruined the movie for me, was the horrendous portrayal of the Black natives of Skull Island – untermenschen barely sums them up, these people are less evolved than George Romero’s zombies … i mean this is a scary look at how pre-colonial humanity is envisioned in some recesses of the sick white mind. I know that Peter Jackson was trying not to stray from the original, but to what end? So that a new generation of movie-goers can have the pleasure of participating in this kind of master-race fantasy?

(As Tryworks have pointed out this is somewhat of a recurring theme in Peter Jackson’s latest movies…)

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