Monday, February 24, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Ah, another review of a film everyone's seen already.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't think it was that good. There were some good sections. Spielberg knows how to direct a good action scene, and the film looks great, and, fairly rarely in action films these days, you can actually see what's going on in most action scenes. Each action scene tells a simple story which makes them, for the most part, more engaging. I also think Karen Allen gives a fairly charismatic performance as Marion, even if she doesn't have a great deal to work with

I don't actually think having aliens wrecked the film in any way, although they could have been introduced as a final act twist, rather than have the corpse in the opener which made Indy's denials seem a little weak. Instead my problems with the film were its plotting and writing in general. Indiana Jones has often been a little cartoonish, but never  has it been more so in Indy surviving a nuclear blast by climbing into a fridge. Having heard comments on this from film watchers, I had assumed this came near the end, but its actually just thrown in as a gag at the end of the opening action sequence. Its not that its thoroughly implausible, its that its filmed in such a way that makes it even more implausible! The fridge flies past a car which is destroyed by the blast, while the fridge is fine. Why is this fridge the only one to survive the explosion? Why... Oh never mind.

Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised me when later in the film our hero and company survive not one, but three plunges off a cliff into water, the first by bouncing down a bendy tree (!), the latter just by being invincible. Note that shortly after doing this, the Russians following them somehow teleport to catch up with them, like AI in cheating racing games. Harrison Ford has always managed to sell a sense of physical peril, as he gets battered and bruised but survives by the skin of his teeth. Here it never seemed particularly difficult, despite two decades having gone by.

I think the worst sin this films commits is a lack of sense of peril. Its not only that Indy is now apparently an immortal, its that the central quest doesn't really seem worrying. The Russian agent played by Cate Blanchett, in a fairly low charisma performance, asserts that the aliens will give them super psychic powers, but theres really no evidence that this is actually the case, so no surprise that she ends up getting blasted by laser eyes instead. While Indiana Jones has a bit of a tradition of doing this, at least in the other films the protagonist believed that something was at stake. Here the quest just seemed to be happening for the sake of it.

When I watch something like this, or the Star Wars prequels, I'm struck by their unecessary nature. The creative forces behind them didn't need to make these films, but they decided to bring them back.. for this?

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

Woody Allen and the art and the artist

The funny thing about the Woody Allen case is that there is a situation where Hollywood have been deliberately ignoring a filmmaker's crimes because he makes great films. I'm talking, of course, about Polanski, who was arrested and even charged for sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. Whatever the facts of that case, he has been deliberately avoiding facing those charges ever since.

The Woody Allen case is much more murky. Charges were never pressed against him, but that is hardly a demonstration of innocence. It seems highly likely that Dylan Farrow believes that Allen molested her, but it doesn't seem impossible that such a memory is false. I don't care to make a decision either way, and fortunately I do not have to.

The question of whether you can separate the art from the artist is a tricky one, and much harder if the artist is still alive. If you believe Polanski or Allen are guilty of their crimes, then every time you pay to see one of their films you are giving money to a sex offender who has never faced justice. That seems hard to avoid as a conclusion. That said, I don't agree with the idea that someone's politics necessarily taints their work. Some films might be, because of their subject matter. Manhattan becomes more disturbing if you believe Allen is guilty of his crimes (I  have to admit its not a film I rate highly anyway, partially because of the nature of the central romance). But I don't think Midnight in Paris needs to be affected by that. Perhaps Allen should never have been free to make the film in the first place, but not its created, it exists as a piece independent of him. We can interpret it how we like, enjoy it how we like, and we do not need to worry about the author's views.

I'm a fan of "death of the author" to be honest. I think its fun to hear what an authors intentions were, but JK Rowling can say anything about a character, and if its not in the text, then its not a real fact. If Dumbledore being gay isn't apparent in Harry Potter, then he isn't gay I'm afraid. I actually think its entirely possible to read the text in such a way that he is gay, but that is independent of JK Rowling talking about it. The idea of canon is fun, but ultimately there is the text, and there is everything else.

Will I still be watching the works of Woody Allen and Polanski? Probably, yes, but I might think twice about going out of my way to pay for them, particularly the works of Polanski.

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