Wednesday, 2 January 2013
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor present us with a cinematic experience remarkably akin to a caffeine, drugs, sugar and alcohol binge as the audience is tumbled into a desensitizing, hyper-kinetic and over-stimulating world designed to force only the most echoing thumps from the heart and every drop of sweaty suspense from the pore. We enter a futuristic, dystopian world where technology has reached the pinnacle of its potential and perhaps inescapably, humanity has regressed and de-evolved mentally and emotionally so that everyone is shiny, superficial and shallow; a flawless cold demeanor with a selfish heart; a world where the id is King.
This not-far-off world takes degenerative aspects of current society and reinforces them pushing them to the extremity, the nth degree. Set in the not-too-distant future, the society of Gamer is one of violence and depraved sexuality but all of this depravity occurs not in reality, but can be experienced voyeuristically or vicariously through playing characters thanks to the games of rich boy entrepreneur Ken Castle (suitably slimy Michael C. Hall). Gamer sets up two un-real, artificial worlds; that of ‘Society’ and that of ‘Slayers‘; both of which are eaten up by capitalist, consumer ridden society who appear to sacrifice moral values and human interest for cheap and instant thrills. The society is naturally insatiable and constantly baying for more blood and more sex.
Society enables people to pay either to control or be controlled. In this fantasy world there is dehumanization, humiliation, pain, rape, promiscuity, alcoholism and drug use. The glittery, showy world of slick surfaces is as insubstantial as cotton candy, and yet rotten to the core. ‘Society’ is gauche, garish and almost offensively kaleidoscopic and multifaceted as a diamond, reminiscent of the explosion of a rainbow. Yet the overwhelming acidic aesthetics, slickly polished environments and promiscuous Lolita fashions are cold, uncomfortable and wholly devoid. The frequent nudity and forced sexual scenes feel incredibly awkward because we are witnessing the complicit commoditization of rape and of the body as a money-making vehicle exploited for its capacity to fulfill the twisted pleasures of others. As Rick Rape ( a jittery Milo Ventimiglia) forces himself upon the frozen Angie (a beautifully cold Amber Valletta), sexuality transforms into something clinical, abnormal and abhorrent as obese men sit in dark, dank bedrooms trying to arouse other men by portraying sexualized female characters who spout obvious innuendos whilst dressed as pussy cat dolls.
If ‘Society’ works on the individuals desire to control sexuality, then ‘Slayers’ works on the individuals desire to control violence. Real prisoners must fight for their freedom whereby if they survive 30 missions they are exempted from the death penalty. This world is gritty, bare and stripped to the bare minimum; a masculine pandemonium of blood, survival and rage. Gerard Butler is Kable, the only man to come in reaching distance of freedom who is in turn played by Simon (Logan Lerman) who portrays perfectly the adolescents desire to receive an influx of never-ending stimulation all the while yawning and sneering in its face.
The film explores the dangers of living in a world where humanity is completely independent and fragmented; where people can control and manipulate others. The totalitarian reigns of Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon may be over but in this world the internet reigns supreme. Parodying fads such as Facebook, Second Life, Big Brother, Call of Duty and the abundance of pornography that has infiltrated mainstream society, ‘Gamer’ is disconcerting purely because it contains more than a grain of truth, cashing in on three key social fads; sex, violence and video games. This satirical portrayal gets us to sit up and take notice of the direction in which our world is going - a world where the pleasure principle rules. The only hypocrisy of the film is that whilst on the one hand it condemns violence and sexuality, it makes gratuitous use of it; an uneasy but very watchable film which explores societies sub-cultures and blends with dark science-fiction.
Peter Jackson demonstrates his legendary ability to fuse comedy with magnitude evident in his earlier experimental works (Braindead, Bad Taste) in his latest foray into film perfectly. Telling the story of everyman Wikus Van De Merwe (portrayed by the terrifically twitchy Sharlto Copley); a respectable man who is not particularly strong or remarkable in any way, his ordinariness is contrasted with the enormity of the alien vessel lingering overhead Johannesburg that arrived unannounced 28 years prior. The film effectively merges styles beginning as a documentary compiled of interview footage adding realism to the proceedings in the same respect as the Blaire Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, switching to traditional film narrative as Wikus, a member of Multi-National United stumbles across a dangerous piece of alien technology whilst trying to move the prawns from District 9 into a supposedly more appropriate camp almost reminiscent of the concentration camps appropriated to the Jews.
The line between who is friend and who is foe blurs dangerously as Wikus’ own identity is thrown into jeopardy. The film follows a vein of others that explore some not-too-far off dystopian disaster that causes humanity to reflect upon their own condition. Set in South Africa, the strains of the black/white apartheid are joined by a tertiary ‘other’ - that of the alien or the degenerately referred to ‘Prawn’. Even with a universal foe in the Prawn, humanity is still unable to unify as a whole. The white characters are manipulative, hypocritical and tyrannical whilst the Nigerians are primitive, bestial, exploitative and brutal, none more so than the paralyzed Nigerian Warlord Mumbo who exploits the prawns by exchanging cat food for their highly advanced weaponry and arranging inter-species prostitution. The aliens by contrast show camaraderie, kindness and respect toward one another.
Wikus’ degenerate transformation from man to alien makes him an outcast living in a limbo land. Turned upon by his fellow colleagues for having blood perfectly in the balance and thus being able to operate Alien weaponry which is biologically infused who wish to harvest his unique DNA, Wikus initially head of deporting the aliens, finds himself living among them; an outcast, other, outsider. He develops a touchingly tender friendship with prawn Christopher Johnson and his young son which leads the two to storm MNU laboratories to reclaim the fuel that can power the mother ship. Christopher claims he must return to Wikus in three years because he must use the minimal fuel to get help for his fellow aliens. Wikus, unable to accept this, powers the ship himself and attacks Christopher. Attacked by the Nigerians who wish to devour his infected body parts to accumulate alien power, Wikus is aided by Christopher’s son and in a dizzyingly anxiety-inducing succession of fights and chases, Wikus allows Christopher to return to the ship where he emotionally promises he will return to him in three years time with a cure.
Advanced upon by the MNU, Wikus is saved by the slum aliens; he has become one of them. The film incorporates a sense of frenzied pace by following Wikus in terms of the hours since his contamination. Wonderfully frantic and bewildering, muddling comedy (the MNU’s doctored footage of Wikus enjoying the pleasures of a prawn prostitute/vomiting at his surprise party/Wikus “I’m the sweety man” speech) and merciless shrill terror (as Wikus is nearly operated on without anesthesia) the film is a beautiful and harrowing account of one man’s transformation. Ending with documentary footage once more so that the film comes full circle, Wikus friends, family and colleagues debate what became of him. The film alludes that Wikus, known for his personalized homemade gifts, has left his wife a metal rose, as he patiently survives the slums awaiting Christopher’s promised return. Littered with profound imagery, particularly the view of the ship used in the advertising campaign, this film contextualizes the alien genre and revolutionizes the alien. The alien CGI renders them beautifully believable and their emotional responses are flawless; Christopher’s son manages to be simultaneously horrifically alien and wonderfully adorable.
This is an interesting foray into the sci-fi genre that analyses what makes one individual or group ’other’ as Wikus not only becomes alien but alienated. As Christopher Johnson’s unnamed son remarks “We are the same”. If we ignore that which separates us such as race, gender and culture - we are essentially all the same. Jackson explores a theme which has been ongoing since Shakespeare’s literary reign - the theme of one’s identity in a masse. As Shylock famously stated, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”. A heart-warming and emotional film which will thoroughly surprise you by its end and make you want to hug your loved ones just that bit tighter.
By now Tim Burton has established a tried-and-tested formula that has become predictably unpredictable. The formula runs as follows; Burton + Depp + Bonham-Carter + Elfman = commercial success. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ does not contain the depth of some of Burton’s previous endeavours such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and most recently, Sweeney Todd. The landscape is familiarly unfamiliar in the dark, garish and gritty way we have become accustomed to. The whimsical nuances and subtleties of Wonderland; a surreal world which is just off-kilter are replaced by Burton’s lush, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory sensory assault that nonetheless seems to drain and amputate Wonderland of much of its mystification.
The drowsy stupor of Wonderland becomes grounded in reality as Burton attempts to transform Alice’s ‘adventure’ (which originates as a succession of random unrelated events loosely strung together), into a meaningful ‘quest’ which seems to provide Wonderland with far too much logic and rationality than it should and transforms it from vague to predestined. The beauty of the characters is their two-dimensional absurdity but by fleshing out his characters (particularly the Mad Hatter), Burton gives them schizophrenic personalities that all too often feel at best misunderstood and at worst sane, rather than insane.
The script-writing is lazy, rushed and unimaginative so that the dialogue becomes progressive rather than expansive. The audience find themselves following an angelic Mia Wasikowska meander her way throughout a pseudo-fanciful world. Of course the awe and authenticity of Wasikowska’s reactions (and indeed those of the other actors) are severely stunted by the excessive use of CGI in a way that is not the case in other renditions of Alice such as the 1985 version starring Natalie Gregory whose reactions are always bewitchingly sincere. We know that the actors are reacting to a false world which renders the film oddly chilling and hollow rather than intimately elusive.
The mercurial and unknowable characters of Wonderland are here reduced to irritating lunatics; Barbara Windsor is agitating as the Door mouse, Matt Lucas is unamusing in his double venture as the Tweedles and Anne Hathaway is quite frankly a bizarre choice for the White Queen. A plethora of known names have been banded up for this venture such as Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Timothy Spall but just as with the big names in the Harry Potter series, they feel oddly misused; there to spout a few lines and promptly vanish and as they play CG caricatures; it is almost impossible to tell who is voicing who. Newcomer Wasikowska is undoubtedly the best performance of the film with her delicate, doe-like appearance, mild bewilderment and sleepy understatement and clearly has a promising career set ahead of her.
Burton’s muse and cash-cow Depp dons a ginger wig, a pseudo-Scottish accent and more make-up than Lady Gaga, becoming yet another grotesque and lavish caricature; the Mad Hatter. Though Depp is always charming, enthusiastic and endearing in his roles, his portrayal seems just an extension of Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka and stems from the same ilk. Bonham-Carter, Burton’s life partner, is eccentrically attractive in her prissy portrayal of the Red Queen who is dwarfed by her abnormally swelled head for the production and produces moments of hilarity and playfulness in her part. It is almost as if Burton, quite aware of the attractive Depp, wishes to make him look as undesirable as possible, especially when starting alongside his partner.
The film is caught somewhere between sequel and a remake and introduces an mistakable feminist agenda as Alice is lured to Wonderland in order to escape conventional Victorian restraints. Throughout the film, there is much dispute over Alice not being ‘the right Alice.’ She learns by the films conclusion, and through having to confront the Jabberwocky as the White Queen’s champion on Frabbulous day, the conviction and authority of her own belief’s and ideals. It’s quite clear to see that the flame-haired Hamish (her betrothed with bad digestion) meets his foil in the Hatter who is as quirky and imaginative as Alice, suggesting if not a romance between the two, then that Alice should find a partner as equally ‘bonkers’ as she. Because of this the film feels oddly female centred and may ostracise a male fan base.
Burton had the perfect opportunity to either create an authentic re-make of Carroll’s original vision or to depart radically and perhaps hone in on American McGee’s video game ‘Alice’ which transformed Wonderland into a world of insanity and murder, reflecting Alice’s own mental state. Instead he centres on the happy medium; an enjoyable but mediocre romp through a recognisable world. No doubt children will adore this film and fans of the Burton/Depp partnership will not be disappointed but the film will not draw new fans with the promise of anything innovative and fans of Alice may crave something a little more true to the off-key nonsense of the original rather than the gravity and weight that Burton attempts. A delectable playground for the eyes in terms of artifice which begins well but ultimately drags and degenerates around the second act and will not leave the audience feeling massively disoriented as Wonderland should; lacks a sparkle of magic and will ultimately underwhelm! More of an amusement park ride than an exercise in storytelling.
Tuesday, 1 January 2013
When I saw the trailer for Life of Pi, I knew I had to see it. The film is based on a book which I haven’t personally read, so I had no prior understanding of the source, and no expectations. I was just enthralled by the elegant elemental imagery; a boy alone, a boat, beautiful water, and a regal tiger.
What appears to be a very simple story actually abounds with themes, symbolism, interpretations and imagery. I will dedicate a future entry to attempting to unpick my personal interpretations of this film, but for now, to simply review it, I will just explain that a solid premise is actually a rabbit hole into questioning and meaning, littered with great forethought and intelligence. The story is the vessel through which this giant incomprehensible truth is channelled.
What surprised me about the Life of Pi was that I was expecting a colourful, bright, fantasy film. Something like Narnia perhaps. But Life of Pi is a blurring of the fantastical and the macabre.
Pi is a young boy named after a French swimming pool, growing up on his parent’s zoo in Pondicherry. The times are changing and his family must relocate to Canada. As they sail the waters reluctantly to their new life, the ship inexplicably sinks and Pi finds himself orphaned, the lone survivor on a life boat upon which dwell a zebra with a broken leg, a wise, mournful orang-utan and a hysterical hyena. Nature, the unstoppable force that it is, abounds even on the small life boat, and Pi soon finds himself alone with just a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company.
As they flounder in the waters, Pi learns to navigate the waves, fish and keep himself mentally amused and physically alert through a process of trial and error and survival provisions. He segregates himself from Richard, initially fearful and mistrusting of him, but the two form a bond and although Pi is never able to tame the wild beast, he is able to train and utilise him so that they are both able to survive together on the boat.
Pi acknowledges that Richard brings out the best in him. His fear of him keeps him alert and tenacious whilst the small duties of care he must undertake to keep Richard alive enthuse him with purpose which gives his otherwise listless days meaning.
Pi and Richard find themselves on a beautiful island which nourishes them by day but turns carnivorous at night. Understanding that they are unable to dwell on the island eternally for fear of what would become of them, Pi returns to the waters. When he finally returns to dry land, Richard leaves him, and Pi finds himself returned to civilisation.
Years later, as Pi tells his tale to an aspiring, but stifled novelist, he tells a second version of the tale. This one rebuffs the idea of surviving animals and mysterious, uncharted islands, and instead tells a tale of barbarism, murder and cannibalism out on the open waters, with the animals stepping in to depict their human counterparts in the initial tale. In this tale, there is no tiger. Instead Richard Parker is the animalistic id of Pi himself, who must do whatever necessary to survive. As Pi admits, hunger (or any primal urge) when unsatisfied, brings out the monstrosities within a man and tempts him to perform acts and deeds that he would find hard to align with his moral, civilised self.
Pi explains that it is up to the author (and the audience) to decide for themselves which story they prefer, and also which story they believe, indicating that preference and belief are not one and the same. The author was told that Pi’s story could help him believe in God, but Pi dismisses this.
The telling of the two stories, one hopeful, near implausible but fantastic, and the other horrifying, bleak and nihilistic can be representative of many things but primarily they represent a man living with religion, and a man living without religion.
Beyond the stunning CGI, and the worthwhile 3D effects (some films are made for 3D and this is one of them), there is a powerful juxtaposition of how humanity perceives the world around it.
Are we here because of a divine, magical, almost unbelievable miracle that makes anything possible? Or do we attribute stories and imagery to a hostile, nasty world in an attempt to survive its nonsensical cruelty?
Whichever story you believe, this is a film that will have you running around with questions, and a mind littered with symbols, themes, images and interpretations, desperate for answers.
In my opinion this film is a work of genius for its interpretation of a story that succinctly and intelligently at its heart depicts mans relentless confusion at his own existence and the myriad of explanations, beliefs and faiths we have encountered or invented in order to make life and the sufferings we endure bearable.
Please keep an eye out for my more in depth review of this film.