Movie Review


Preamble: I know, I know. What’s the point in re-hashing a bad movie and figuring out how it could have been better? Because I love movies so much, I like to consider not just why I don’t like a movie but how it could have been better. So here goes:

1. Voice Over Info Dump: Do we need to know the information given about this ‘Mega City?’ If you’re thinking about doing a Voice Over Info Dump ask: couldn’t we reveal the information easily through action later? And if not, is it necessary information to better reveal our characters?

2. The Morning ‘Suit Up’ scene and Chase Scene in the very beginning are unexciting and gives us no real information about Dredd. If you wanted to spruce up these two scenes, why not include something interesting about Dredd’s apartment? Something that shows us who he is ‘off duty.’ And in the chase scene, we’re given the first dose of our ‘Slo Mo’ drug camera effect. This is unnecessary because we’ll see it plenty of times later. We learn nothing about Dredd’s approach to what he does.

3. We are unsure if Judges are even human. It would have helped to show early on how other Judges behave–if Dredd is different in any way. When Dredd is at the Police Station and sees the Psychic Recruit Cassandra Anderson we do see him interact with the officer, but is she a ‘Judge?’ Are we to think that Judges are cyborgs without personalities, affect, cares, goals?

4. When Dredd and Anderson enter the Peach Trees why is the Medic on duty telling them information on Ma Ma? This de-powers the Judges and misses the chance to have Anderson show that as a ‘newbie’ she’s studied up on the current ‘word on the street.’ But no, we’re denied a character building opportunity.

5. The Medic says Ma Ma “feminized a guy with her teeth.” Would anyone say that? Do they expect that the audience wouldn’t know what ‘castrated’ or ’emasculated’ meant?

6. Urban was allowed to, or maybe even told to frown the entire movie? It makes his mouth look like a sad fish. The ‘Dredd Scowl’ of the comics does not translate to a real face. And why does Urban walk like the Terminator? This movie aches for energy and no one is given the chance.

7. When Dredd and Anderson find the skinned bodies that had fallen in the courtyard they pile up postulation after postulation: Uh, they lived on the 39th Level so they were thrown off the 39th Level. And it was a ‘turf war’ and the people who did it are still on the 39th Level. Uh. That was easy to figure out.

8. Anderson’s proposed plan of how to proceed: “Find ’em and hit ’em hard.” Great plan. Uh, how does this distinguish her from Dredd? Or from any other Judge? We are given no character in either of our ‘main heroes.’

9. Anderson says she won’t wear her helmet “because it disrupts [her] psychic abilities.” I see. Well how about she USE her psychic abilities?! Maybe she could ‘look into the room’ before they enter or she could ‘feel’ where the perpetrators are. Nope.

10. This also brings me to a missed opportunity: What are the benefits of Anderson’s Pychic Powers versus someone on the drug Slo Mo? Or what about Dredd’s helmet? We had the option of showing how Technology, ‘Magic’, and Drugs That Slow Time would stack up against each other in a gun fight.

11. On The Good Side: In the Computer Room where the Robot Eye Guy is, they are playing the theme song to “The Snuff Box.” The main line you’ll hear is: “You thought it was gold but it was bronze!” This is a very funny choice because the show “Snuff Box” is about two men who are employed as Executioners. Ha! We get a glimpse that the creators wanted to have fun, but unfortunately we don’t get a lot of fun. Even when they come back to the Computer Room, the same song is playing! Couldn’t they have thought up another fun tongue in cheek song to play?

12. Lena Headey’s portrayal of Ma-Ma (the drug kingpin) lacks creativity and energy. I was quite surprised to find out that Ma-Ma was played by Headey because I have found her acting in Game of Thrones to be good (albeit low energy and affect). The character of Ma-Ma is a very uninteresting character–what drives her? What distinguishes her from anyone else? I feel that there are actors and actresses who feel that to play a ‘drug addict’ you must be vapid, low energy, and dreamy. This is a strange view I feel because most of the drug-addicted people I’ve met are very interesting, engaging, high energy, and creative.

13. This really feels like a very bad rip off of Raid: Redemption (which is an excellent action film by the way).

14. People usually don’t run into clouds of toxic yellow gas. Maybe the action director could have figured out how to show that the gas exploded around the bad guys and they didn’t have a choice about breathing . Oh well. This is a small consideration in a movie that fails at every other scene.

15. “Concentrate the fire!” Ma-Ma screams over the sound of three mini-guns. Right. By the way movie writers: an audience will always appreciate creativity and ingenuity in a villain more than pure brute ‘power.’ An audience wants to be surprised and challenged by the minds of ‘bigger than life’ characters, not simply see people who have access to big guns shoot them into concrete walls.

16. Dredd and Anderson jump out of a hole in the wall and it just so happens to open onto a skate board patio. We are shown the exterior of the building immediately after and we see that most exterior walls open to a vast vertical drop–it was lucky that they didn’t fall to their deaths in the middle of the movie I guess!

17. The only evidence we have that the writers acknowledge Dredd’s function as a critique of ‘patriotism’ (his character always has been about anti-establishment sentiment) is when he is standing in front of a stylized US flag and is saying “sound like overkill to you?” Its heavy handed but its good to see some effort from the writers.

18. This film devolves into a “Princess in the Tower” story.

19. When Dredd is talking to the Double Cross Judge in the hall, why does the Bad Guy lift his Comm Link arm to call his Bad Buddies rather than his gun? If he had, he would have been able to shoot Dredd!

20. When the Double Cross Judge Woman says she’s going to go after Anderson she says….get ready for it….:
“I see her, I shoot her. She sees me, she hesitates, I shoot her.”
Thank you.

21. The dialogue continues to impress. A Double Cross Judge says to Dredd:
“This city is a meat grinder. People go in one end, meat comes out the other.”
Oh. Okay.
“We just turn the handle.”
Oh. Okay. How does a meat grinder work again?

22. Dredd confronts Ma-Ma in a top-floor ‘Throne Room’ type set that looks a bit like a dingy stage from a high school production. And the big plan that Ma-Ma has in store? She makes a signal and a crowd of her body guards jump out into the open to get gunned down. Okay. Are the writers as smart as Ma-Ma or did they just write her to be as wooden as Dredd? Or did they run out of money to do a good scene?

23. This will take some explaining.
Ma-Ma’s wrist bomb will only blow up if her heart stops.
Therefore there is no risk of the bomb blowing up unless Ma-Ma shoots herself or throws herself off a balcony.
Dredd’s workday is basically over. Good job Dredd.
Well, he shoots her for no reason. Not critically, though and it looks like she’ll survive. Whew.
And waitaminute! How did he shoot her in the Throne Room and in the next shot she’s now in a bedroom lying on a bed?
Well, Dredd then decides to throw her off a balcony. Sure there is a risk that her wrist bomb will still be able to signal the explosives from the ground floor, but why not risk it?

24. Dredd probably thought he was cool when he gave Ma-Ma Slo Mo before throwing her off the balcony. Its too bad that Dredd didn’t know that we’ve seen that already happen in like the first ten minutes of the movie so he was actually not that creative at all. Poor Dredd.

25. Why does Lena Headey (Ma-Ma) decide to not show any emotion at all as she falls to her Slo Mo death? This is the biggest cop-out of the movie: put some decision into it! The writers, the director, the actress all some how allowed the main villain to have a death scene with zero affect? Not ecstasy, fear, anger, wonder?

 

So. To summarize, Dredd is a pretty bad movie and I am interested to hear any reasons why folks feel it is a good one.

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I did not like JJ Abram’s film “Super 8” which surprised me because I enjoy his “Star Trek” film so much.
Where did “Super 8” go wrong?
I feel it was because the story was fundamentally poor in its plot, themes, and characterization.

There also was the failure of the runtime which was plumped up by scenes that were unnecessary
and a lack of momentum or driving impetus.

THE STORY
But let’s start with the story structure:
It starts off with not one but three “scenes of transition.”
We see Joe (a pubescent young teen–transition!) morose at the wake of his tragically killed mother…
and then right into the Last Day of School Before Summer Break!
These kinds of scenes are pretty common movie starters. They are intended to give us a sense of ‘people at a time of change’¬†and can give the story its “challenges the characters must face and triumph over.”
Not bad all said but having these two scenes put together led to dragging down the story–not to mention the brief scene that actually comes before these two in the factory where we see the “Days Without an Injury” sign being changed over.
This all led to a slooooow feeling. Couldn’t some of this be filled in later as backstory? Yes, it could have.

JJ Abrams included a number of scenes that did not add to the story including:
1. Deputy Lamb telling his son Joe that he was going to send him away to a baseball camp over the summer.
2. The dropping off/picking up of the film at the camera store. These ‘set up’ that the clerk character…why? Necessary? No.
3. The “dogs have left the county!” scenes. Did we ever even see Joe’s dog? Did we ever see it come back? Ugh.
4. The “concerned citizens townhall meeting.” This was for what? For Deputy Lamb to find out about the Air Force’s radio frequencies from an old HAM radio user…oh.
5. The Sheriff learns about Walkmen Tape Players (how retro!) before being attacked.

There are others to be sure but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Let’s turn to how the ‘facts/events/motivations’ of the story are inherently confused:
The Science Teacher from Lillian follows the train carrying the Alien all over the United States then decides to “free the Alien” by waiting until the train comes through Lillian and drives his truck onto the tracks to crash the train.
I see.
Coincidences of the train’s passage through the town of a traitorous Scientist Who Sympathizes With The Alien aside, we are expected to believe that when a truck is hit by a train the train will fly apart, derail, burst into flames, send entire train cars hurtling through the air…and the driver of the truck will live.

We are to accept that the Air Force arrives at the train wreck immediately (were they on the train?) but cannot figure out how to stop a car driving away (“Anyone get a license plate!?”).
They find Kodak brand film boxes at the site of the crash and then don’t think twice when they see teenagers filming in town.
We are told that the guy who feels guilty about Joe’s mom dying the day that she fills in for him at the factory is angry about Joe hanging out with his daughter. Huh? Why? I can understand Deputy Lamb having a grudge or bitterness, but having Alice’s dad give us this “Romeo and Juliet” vibe just doesn’t jibe with me.

We are told that the Alien ‘just wants to go home’ and we are meant to feel sorry for it I guess?
But the Alien seems to be attacking and kidnapping people to save for late-night snacks. Are we now just to shrug this off as a “oh well, everybody’s got to eat” kind of thing? E.T. liked Reese’s Pieces.
When the Alien attacks the bus that Joe and his friends are in with the Air Force guys, I totally saw it coming. As they were on the bus, I thought: “Alice has mentally connected with the Alien and told it that Joe and her friends are cool and will help it.”
So when the Alien attacked I wasn’t surprised because I thought that it was trying to help the kids but it turned out that the Alien just was kinda randomly eating people. Gobble gobble! Uhhhh, what?

So the theme of the film is….Grief can be overcome. Right?
We start the film off at a wake, and Joe’s locket with the picture of he and his mother is a reappearing plot device.
When Joe has his ‘climatic moment’ he tells the Homesick Alien “Bad things happen. I know, bad things happen.”
And then when the Alien’s Homemade Spaceship is drawing all the metal in the city towards it like the X-Men’s Magneto is pissed off, Joe looks one last time at the locket and let’s it go. Ahhhh. Catharsis.
But JJ Abrams wasn’t satisfied with just that. He needed to really kick it up a notch! How?
By actually showing character growth and change in Joe? By establishing the relationship between Joe and his Mom?
No, by doing some pretty weird choices like…
1. Having Joe descend into the Alien’s Lair through the graveyard, conveniently discovered by Joe as he lounged on his mom’s grave marker.
2. Alice’s mother also be gone–her vacancy is spoken of by Alice’s dad.
3. Alice watches home movies of Joe as a baby with his Mom that are silent and show the mom with her hair blowing around like she’s in a shampoo commercial.

As an aside, can I just complain for a moment about the “Save The Princess” trope that
happens here and in virtually every movie with a young male hero?
a. Woman is introduced
b. Sexual tension
c. Woman is kidnapped or stolen away by mafioso or dragons
d. Male hero saves her, making out ensues
Booooo. Aside from “Die Hard” this ol’ cliche is one of my least faves.

But enough of the ranting about the story line,
let’s move onto…

THE CHARACTERS 
There isn’t much in the way of well-rounded characterization in the film.
We know that our hero Joe must overcome his grief (and of course, ‘get the girl’…see ‘save the princess’ rant above)
but that’s about it.
He’s able to have a bit of a confrontation with his father about him seeing Alice and we’re given the lines from Joe:
“She’s kind! She’s nice to me!”
Did kids ever say “kind”? I grew up in the early 80’s and that word had left the vocabulary of youth by then I guess.

The character who I liked the best was actually Charles, the young film director.
His attention was spurned by Alice, he was an ambitious and talented film buff, he was able to confront Joe in a realistic way, and is able to interact with his family in more interesting ways than the other youth.

Well, that’s not saying much. The troupe of youngsters is too big for the purposes of the story and we are left with a “firebug with braces”, a “cowardly kid”, another “forgettable kid who gets injured”, and of course Alice and Joe who are pretty uninspired and flat characters.

HOW SUPER 8 COULD HAVE BEEN A BETTER MOVIE….

1. Just jump us off with the school letting out for summer scene and give us then the set-up of Joe suffering from his mother’s untimely death and perhaps even that he won’t be able to shoot the movie because his Dad is sending him away to baseball camp. “Well, then let’s shoot the movie this weekend!” Give a ‘time crunch/race’ element to kick off the kids’ movie project.
2. Focus on the perspective of the youth. There are way too many scenes without them. Why do we have the scene of the Air-Force guys with the injured Science Teacher? Or the scenes in the Police Station? Give us the feeling of children locked in a crisis that the adults are not able to handle. This creates its own tension: just like adults were powerless to save Joe’s mom, they are now powerless on a large scale.
3. Cut out the “Scooby Doo” scene of the kids breaking into the school and sitting around reading manila folders and reviewing movies like The Bloodhound Gang meets the Warren Commission.
4. Drop the ‘Alien is just a weird looking E.T./Shelob thing that wants to go home!’ thing and create the Alien as a mysterious Creature whose intentions, origin, and purpose are more difficult to grasp and understand–like the grief that Joe is experiencing.
5. Give Joe a reaction of anger when he finally learns that Alice has been keeping the truth about her father’s absence at work indirectly leading to his Mother’s death. This will give a tension that must be overcome between the two, a “lover’s quarrel” in a sense. This will lead to…
6. Joe being the captive in the Alien’s Lair and it is Alice aided by Charles who come to save him. Grief can be helped with the support of loved ones (Alas, it never is fully defeated–it only is coped with) and Joe’s Dark Night of The Soul with the Grief Alien could be triumphed over with the aid of Alice and Charles. By the way, why did JJ Abrams decide to have the Fireworks kid come with him into the Lair? We don’t care about him or their relationship! Ugh.
7. The Alien escapes or disappears in the end. Not vanquished, just dealt with. Joe is reconciled with Alice, Charles gains new respect from his family and finishes his (awesome) movie, and roll end credits.

AND THE BIGGEST LET DOWN WAS….

Speaking of the end credits!!
At the end of the movie I was very disappointed. I thought that the story line was so hackneyed and sloppy that there
must be some kind of explanation!
And that explanation could be: That all of the movie was created in the mind of Joe. That’s right. At the train station while they film Alice’s big ‘goodbye scene’ maybe Joe’s imagination takes over and the rest of the movie was intended by JJ Abrams as a look inside the mind of an adolescent boy.
As the end credits rolled and they played the ‘super 8’ movie created by the youngsters, I thought for sure that we would not see any evidence of the tragic events actually included in the film. I thought that JJ Abrams would be smart enough to show us the movie without any sign that the train actually crashed or the Air Force came to Lillian or anything like that so we could imagine that the filming was mundane and the movie we just watched was the fantasy of Joe as a way to cope with his mother’s death. Nope.
Ugh.
That’s it. Just an ugh.

Christopher Nolan’s 2002 modern crime classic “Insomnia” is one of my favorite neo-noir/crime thrillers of recent years.

The themes of the film are familiar to viewers of Nolan’s work and I’ll just go over some of the major ideas I picked up on the film.

Like most detective stories, this one follows the mythic theme of Oedipus: he searched for the origin of the curse upon Thebes but it was he all along that had caused it. This is the heart of “Insomnia” and many ‘anti-hero’ type tales.
The detective themselves must journey through the trial/gauntlet/case to confront and defeat their own fault.

In “Insomnia” we see this played out in the way Dormer and Fitch mirror each other and it is Dormer who ultimately confronts himself and succeeds in his inner-conflict.
We have a scene at the end where Dormer reveals his ‘first transgression’ to the Hotel owner in a type of confession speech, then he confesses to Burr in Fitch’s lake home, before he finally confronts Fitch (his shadow/mirror).
It is no mistake that as Dormer defeats Fitch, Fitch falls into the waters of the subconscious and slowly fades away. The demon has been exorcised.

Let’s just take a look at names in the film real quick:
Dormer: of course from the Latin ‘to sleep.’ Unfortunately for Dormer he only ‘sleeps’ at the end of the film–after six days without sleep. Fitch says this period of sleeplessness “beat his record” and we can presume that Dormer gets to “rest” on the Seventh Day echoing the week of creation.
Burr: Of course Swank’s “Nancy Drew” character of pure heart is the “burr under the saddle” of Dormer, who compels him to overcome his personal demons. She is the nagging conscience, the student who adores Dormer and in her innocence can perhaps live up to a higher standard of justice than Dormer.
Rachel Clement: The Hotel operator who gives shelter to Dormer is named after ‘clemency,’ or ‘pardon, forgiveness.’ She
appears throughout with a Christian cross on her necklace. It is Clement who oversees Dormer’s first confession and adds: “I’m not in the position to judge.”

There are a few uses of image to convey a thought:
Water of course is often used as an image of the unconscious and “Insomnia” is no different. It is the final resting place of Fitch, as I mentioned earlier and it is also where Dormer almost dies when he first clearly sees Fitch. In the mythos of doppelgangers it is storied commonly in German folklore that you will die shortly after seeing your double. It is true in the case of this film, but the interest is to see how he uses the time between seeing his doppelganger and his final demise. When he falls into the water among the timber, he is almost trapped there to sleep his last and eternal sleep but he emerges awake/alive albeit with his fate sealed.
“As a dog returns to its vomit” from Proverbs 26:11 is an image used to show Dormer is stuck in his old ways. After lying about the shooting of his partner Hap, Dormer vomits in an alley where there is a dead dog. Dormer returns to the same alley to further his web of lies.
The tell tale heart is alluded to when Dormer hides the incriminating pistol in the floorboard of his room.

The story follows the theme of Doppelganger also. The story of the ‘double’ or ‘id’ of the detective is common and in
“Insomnia” the idea is given to us in a number of ways.
To start, Doppelganger is a German word and we have other German names in the film (Hap Eckhart and Randy Stetz).
I have spoke of other allusions to this theme already but I will also note that in the last confrontation of Dormer and his Doppelganger Fitch at the lake house, Fitch says “Thank God you have me taking care of us.” to which Dormer says “There is no us don’t talk to me about us.”
This to me sounds very much like the ‘melding/synthesis/combining/combating’ that occurs in one of my favorite Doppelganger stories, Nabokov’s “Lolita.”
There Nabokov writes of the combat/melding of Humbert and Quilty:
We fell to wrestling again. We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goatish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We rolled over us.
I will also point out that at one point, Dormer holds his gun to the same spot on Fitch’s neck that he himself has a scar and it would be likely that if Dormer were to have shot Fitch at that angle and spot, a similar wound would have occurred.

Of course there is much to be said about motivation’s role in guilt and ends that justify means, but I will leave that to other
analyses of this great film.

Contagion is a whole heap of bad and I will discuss its failings and how it could have been better.

I like some of Director Steven Soderbergh’s work. I do. “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” is one of my favorite films from the late Eighties and I do like many of the film’s he has produced, notably “Insomnia” and “Syriana.” I think that he knows a bit about film and that
only makes “Contagion” all the more troubling to figure out.

Steven Soderbergh’s film “Contagion” fails in much the same way as some of his previous films.
Like “Che Parts One and Two” there is only a series of events–not scenes that drive the film with momentum.
Like “Traffic” its big company of actors in disparate story lines lessen the film’s focus and emotional impact.
But I liked “Traffic” and “Che” enough to sit through them and enjoy them for what they were.
“Contagion” had me squirming with anger and I caught myself swearing out loud to myself as I went home.

It is pure tedium. It takes its audience for granted: “There’s stars in this! You’ll love it!”
No we won’t and we didn’t. The audience I saw it with (on a Saturday night there were about twenty people in the theater)
were silent the whole time and left silently. Not ’emotionally drained,’ but just depleted of energy. They’d sat through and hour and forty five minutes of monotony! My friend was just as shell-shocked as I.

Why Was This Film Made?
If this film had been made closer to the ‘swine flu’ or ‘bird flu’ scares a couple of years ago I could see producers feeling that a
film of this nature might have some interest. Was it written many years ago (by Scott Z. Burns) and shelved?

What Can Motivate Story Telling, And Why “Contagion” Has Almost No/Poor Motivation.
The ‘purpose’ behind a story (in this case movie making) can vary pretty widely. I’ve come up with some, and I’m sure you
can think of others.
1. Entertain
2. Titillate/Shock
3. Catharsis/Emotional Journey
4. Showcase Artistic Excellence–in acting, directing, editing, etc
5. Give Voice to The Audience’s Unspoken or Unconsciously Known Feelings

I don’t feel that “Contagion” does any of these, but rather it appears to have as its source the weakest type of
‘motivation’….
6. To Inform

Even documentaries which are created supposedly to inform are best when they move you. They are emotional, connecting,
they take you on a journey. You find out about yourself, humanity, a specific social concern, a person of interest…whatever it is, it
makes a difference to you.

“Contagion” views like a tutorial 101 on “How Government Agencies Plan To React To Epidemics.”

In other movies that feature an ensemble cast over many locations (“Babel” being one that has done it well recently) the
‘wide lens’ on the issues is grounded in good characterization and relationships that we care about.
“Contagion” does not have that, and it suffers as a result.

Scenes That Go Nowhere
There are so many individual scenes that have no driving need in them. Each scene feels lifeless and when you stack a series of
scenes like that together they make a movie that has no momentum, no need, no urgency, no drama.

Characters (and the lack of characterization)
The film’s great vacuum is the total absence of characters that we care about, are unique, have character arcs, and are in relationships that we connect with/care about.

Let’s start off with:
A) Gwyneth Paltrow. Do we care about this character? No. All we do know is that she is unlikeable because she is cheating on her husband (Matt Damon!) and while she is away from her child and husband on a business trip she’s at a casino acting like she’s Lindsay Lohan (the LiLo that used to be accepted at parties). She comes home, dies. That’s that. The weak-ass tacked on portion at the end we find out it is her company (a mining company tearing down trees) that is in part the cause of the outbreak. What irony! Ohhhh! Irony! Right?

B) Matt Damon. Do we care about Matt Damon? No. His wife dies and he’s like “Okay. Anybody up for casserole?” and then immediately his son dies and he’s like “More coffee anyone?” And then his daughter shows up at the hospital when he’s in isolation and they’re both like: “How’s the hospital food, there Dad?” “Ah, yah know. Not bad and there’s lots of it, don’t yah know.” At the end of the film we’re subjected to watching Matt Damon look at pictures of Paltrow having fun at a casino for like five minutes. Is this his “remembering the good times” moment? Is he giving us any idea that he’s pissed at her for being an absentee mom who’s globetrotting around the world at parties while he’s made to take care of their son and she’s cuckolding him with some schmuck in Chicago? Nope. He’s just gonna cry a bit. “Gosh, I miss my two timing absentee wife.”

Matt Damon had no character arc, and the one chance he had at it was lost. Here’s how:
Its set up that he is preventing his daughter from seeing her boyfriend for fear of her catching the contagion. He’s a man who’s been cheated on. Maybe there’s a more personal reason he’s coming between them! Nope. We’re never given that idea. It gets worse. At the end of the film when he creates a ‘Prom Night’ for his daughter and secretly invites the boyfriend over…is it because he’s learned to allow his daughter to make up her own mind and be okay with seeing her trust another person even though it could end in heart ache?
No.
Its revealed that the boyfriend has been given the vaccine! Ohhh! Good choice, Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh.
Nothing like taking away the last chance of a character growing and changing.

C) Marion Cotillard. Do we care about her? Nope. She is kidnapped! Oh! I might be starting to care! Nope. She’s just a ruse to get a
village some vaccine. She’s safe. Don’t worry. Does she has a character arc? Nope. We know nothing about her to begin with so when she “comes to find that she likes living as a pseudo-captive in rural China” we don’t care! Was she a cruel and heartless person before who didn’t care about kids or poor people or rural Chinese? Who knows. She may have been a nun before working for the World Health Organization and this was totally up her alley the whole time. We just don’t care.

D, E, F) I could go on and on. We don’t care about anyone here. Which sucks because this is a movie about millions dying and we don’t care about who lives or dies. We don’t feel anything for these idiotic, flat, non-characters!

Character Arcs, Decisions, Pivotal Moments
This movie has none.
A movie/story is driven by the decisions that characters make. Usually movies will have lead protagonists make ‘good’ decisions that we could probably have guessed they’d make but we need to see how they come to the conclusion. Audiences like to see the tension, the character under duress. Even the example of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the donkey. Okay, so he does it and we could guess that he might…But we’re given the scene of Jesus looking over Jerusalem and saying “You who kill your prophets” Damn! What a scene right? Gethsemane is the same thing: We see the travail. Its the decisions that show characters’ growth and change. But! We need to know what the person is about. What is their fear? Where do they come from? What challenge must they face and what problem must they solve?
Look:
We see Marion Cotillard in the airport after learning her beloved village was given placebo instead of vaccine. She stares blankly for like two seconds and gives up her life as she knows it to presumably go back to the village (to what? see them die? warn them? die with them?).
We see Laurence Fishburne give his vaccine to a kid. Maybe out of guilt? Who knows? Do we see any emotion about it or any pathos as he then goes to his wife and gives her a vaccine? Nope.
We see Jennifer Ehle inject herself with a trial vaccine and then go visit her dying dad (gimme a break). How can we care about this decision when in one scene we are made to see her subject herself to potential death and meet her father for the first time in the film and be given all this backstory about how he was a doctor also and told her about how “science needs to take chances” or something. It becomes a “flippant decision amidst an info-dump exposition while we meet a character who also by the way is on his god damned death bed.” Give me a break.

Missed Chances

1. We’ve got the issue of Paltrow cheating on Matt Damon. She brings sickness home that kills their kid. Is there any idea of how STDs are commonly brought into marriages through cheating?
2. Why not have a character arc of Matt Damon ‘doubting the goodness of humanity’ after his wife cheats on him and he sees all these people fighting over scraps (in very Un-Minnesotan fashion I might add)?
3. Why is there no idea about ‘paranoia?’ We have all these close ups of people touching things and there’s no sense of the creeping paranoia that we could always live in.
4. Why not show us the goddammed scene where Kate Winslet tells Matt Damon his wife cheated on him? Wouldn’t that be an interesting scene? We only hear her reference the conversation. Sheesh.
5. Why are we given ambiguity about whether Jude Law is lying about the homeopathic medicine or not? Wouldn’t that be a potential for a ‘twist’ or be revealing of his character one way or another?! Dammit, this movie is horrible! Was the CDC looking at the early drafts of the screenplay (since they were featured so heavily) and ask that nothing controversial be included about Jude Law’s conspiracy theory?

What Do We Learn?
1. China is dirty and is where flu comes from.
2. There are two black people in the world and one of them is Laurence Fishbourne.
3. America is where daring scientists kick disease’s ass.
4. Demetri Martin!
5. America kicks ass because “we shake hands, and always will, goddammit!”
6. Sometimes Elliot Gould is in a movie for no reason because he’s worked with the director in all three of the “Ocean’s Eleven” films.

This is a lot of very good actors put to bad use by a overly-hyped director. It is not a ‘serious’ movie, nor moving, nor interesting.
It is billed as a ‘thriller’ and it bastardizes the very word ‘thrill.’ It drags and bores.
It views like a movie that may have been a bad basic cable ‘Movie of the Week.’
Horribly bad. Yuck.

The Mighty Thor has become the God of gentle rains and cat naps.
I like Marvel’s comic Thor, but this film adaptation was a weak and very safe story with little to say or root for or believe in.
Why was this film so afraid to go out on a limb?
Why was there so little drama, dynamism, or strong characterization?

I was really only into the film up until Thor’s exile and then the movie drops away into a stale tale that instead of giving us a “prince’s mythic quest to become a wise king” we’re served up a cake walk of “a dumb lovable jock’s Sunday School lesson.”

(I’m going to offer up some possible solutions to the film’s problems in a sec–I promise I’m not going to just complain.)

Natalie Portman is hamming it up big time an artificial and awkward performance. I don’t know exactly if it was a bad casting choice for the part, if she is a terrible actor (which I’m leaning towards) or if she never caught on to what kind of tone and characterization the film/director were looking for.
The other casting choices were pretty spot on especially with Chris Hemsworth as Thor.
Kat Dennings’ character is the supposed to be the film’s humor (and she fulfills the task of the role well enough) but the humor is just not there and the character ends up just being this fawning Geek Fantasy(?) sidekick.

The opportunities for real drama are present but nothing is ever capitalized on and it ends up being just a milquetoast shrug.
The ‘final showdown’ of Thor and the Slow-Walking Fire Breathing Tin Can was as anti-climatic as reaching for the last Peanut M&M and finding it already gone.

And what, may I ask, was ‘Shakespearean’ about this?
I read it touted that the story was akin to the family dramas by the Bard, but if all it takes to be compared to
Ol’ Quill Scribbler Bill is sibling rivalry and an ailing King, just about every story could qualify.

How could Thor have been better?

1. Allow More Room For Thor To Grow:
I like that this superhero movie doesn’t need to go through the usual ‘origin story’ normally requisite for an introductory superhero movie. Thor is who he is.
Of course superheroes’ origins are not always about their gaining of their superpower, but how they decide to use it and their personal growth. When done well, this keeps the hero accessible and relatable.
With Thor, there is an arc of a cocksure and brash warrior learning the tempered wisdom needed to be like a wise king.
To give Thor more room to grow, a simple story tweak could have been used: not have the initial raid into the Frost Giants’ land be a ‘set up’ by Loki. There also could have been more of a fallout with negative consequences due to his unwise invasion.
Were the writers too leery about the possible political connotations to allow Thor these human mistakes? Of the ‘go it alone’ cocky cowboy attitude being shown to be devastating to a peoples’ overall security?
This ‘fatal flaw’ of Thor’s could have set up more growth potential for his character at the end where he could have displayed patient cunning to win against the foe Loki.
Which brings me to…

2. Allow More Room For Loki to Develop.
Loki is a jerk from the get go. He is shown to be treacherous and conniving from the very start and we learn that his plotting started even before the narrative of the film.
If Loki was given more moral ambiguity he would have been much more interesting.
It would have helped also to have just a little bit of a picture of how Loki would have wanted to rule Asgard. If he were allowed to state simply some good plans for how Asgard would be made better under his leadership, we would be able to understand and empathize a bit more with his character.

3. Create a Cool Enemy for Thor to Combat.
We see Thor face no real threat!
(Aside from the ‘sacrifice scene’ of course…more on that in a second)
The closest we come is maybe his fight with the tough Shield Agent in the mud. That fight is not interesting and plays like a Patrick Swayze brawl scene from Road House.
In the comics and cartoons, Thor is given many interesting foes that test him and push him to the limit and it was unfortunate that we were not allowed to see him face a truly daunting foe…whether in his ‘god’ status or in his ‘Ordinary Joe’ status.

4. Create a Sacrifice Scenario That Doesn’t Require Thor to “Have Read The Script”
A trouble that you see some movies get into is characters making decisions that don’t make sense given what they know.
It is almost as though they have “read the script” and somehow have access to more information than what the story has given them.
So when we come to the ‘sacrifice scene’ and Thor says of Tin Can Man: “It just wants me.” and allows it to kill him, it is an
unreasonable action because there could be no way for Thor to know that his being killed would stop the monster.
Why wouldn’t he have some doubt about whether this giant Tin Can Man would just keep on destroying the town and even the world?
This ‘death and resurrection’ scene is fine: there’s just about no hero story (super or otherwise) that won’t include some sort of ‘conquering the grave’ motif but I just didn’t like the way it was set up.

5. Give Thor Motivation to Love Natalie Portman Aside From Her Hotness.
Hollywood has a legacy of writing female characters poorly and this leads many movies to rely on the fact that the leading lady is “hot” to motivate the hero to fall in love with them.
The one thing that we could possibly see as being a (non-hot related) motivation for their attraction?
Thor is the God of Thunder and can control the weather.
She loves storms.
Its like a hockey player meets a hot girl who likes to watch hockey.
“She knows who the Red Wings are! I think I’m in love.”

6. Reincorporate The Adoption Theme
This would be a small story decision that could solve a number of problems I had with the movie.
Imagine if Natalie Portman is a single mother with a little kid (kids are a great way to convey the childlike wonder we
should have with this kind of movie anyway–we might be able to connect with a child’s first introduction to the idea of Thor) and she is not a storm chaser but a cop, a fire fighter, a nurse, a mayor or some other admirable profession that might give her character more connection to a ‘prince-like warrior.’
Thor as his ‘ordinary joe’ persona could face very human conflict of Natalie The Single Mother dealing with a human threat in town and Thor would have to step up to help her and could be shown taking her child “under his wing” and being a father
figure.
This would echo the fatherly care that Odin showed to Loki, give more character connection being Thor and Natalie Portman, allow Thor to face daunting human foes that could give him a sacrifice scene with real danger.

Anywho, the film was okay and I would barely recommend it even for those viewers who like Thor.
I do like Thor quite a bit and I thought the “fallen from grace”, “unrecognized God/Hero” motifs were used to pretty good
effect.
I also liked that Hawkeye made a cameo (one of my favorite Avengers).
And what was up with the “easter egg teaser” after the credits? Boring, blah, and meh.

Bottom line: I give Thor two Mjolnirs out of five.

After thinking about this wonderfully beautiful film for almost two months, I finally (perhaps foolishly) feel ready to mutter a few of my frayed synapses’ most muddled concatenations.

I understand that Trier constructed Antichrist in such a way as to be available to a number of interpretations. He does this through utilizing symbols that nod to a number of possible sources.
So while saying that, I do feel that looking at Trier’s pattern of motifs and statements from his body of work one can make better sense of what he’s doing here.

Most informative to Antichrist are the films where Trier re-imagines Christianity: Breaking the Waves, Dancer in The Dark, Dogville, Manderlay. These films are inventive and challenging presentations which riff on themes of The Leap of Faith, and Saint as Martyr usually with the background of human injustice and cruelty.

Antichrist fits right in with these previous films because it immediately requires the viewer to question themselves:
“What is ‘Christ’?”
“What is it to be ‘Anti-Christ’?”

I was very tempted upon finishing Antichrist to pit it as a ‘counter’ or antithesis of the Christ/Saint/Martyr themes of the other films, as though maybe Antichrist was ‘about humanity’ or ‘a view of the world without God.’
I see that this was wrong.
Why?
Because Trier has always asked of us to see each of us as living Christ events. The potential for each of us to perform ‘impossible leaps of faith’ and the non-rational means and often tragic conclusions of these ‘leaps.’
He asks of us to see Christ’s humanity, and humanity’s potential to enact the divine in the midst of our largely banal, cruel, and chaotic world.

So what or who is the Antichrist implied here?
I believe that it is the ‘Chaos that reigns.’
It is meaninglessness, the force that surrounds us at all times that tempts us to see our lives as without order, meaning, without value.
The position that I believe Antichrist takes is that this force of meaningless chaos is real. It is the real state of things. It is however conquerable through our each making a ‘leap of faith’ as it were.
This triumph of the human spirit is not a synthesis or balance of Reason and Intuition, or Order and Chaos–it is the abnegation of these as opposing poles and transcending them in Pure Resolution or Survival.

Antichrist is the description of the triumph that occurs in one’s affirmation of life through their decision or choice. When one accepts the meaningless chaos and still rises with a ‘yes saying’ to life they pass through death and are recreated and mark a ‘Christ event.’

Here’s how I came to this view:

The film begins with a creative act: the act of making love. In the midst of creation, there is loss–in this case the loss of a young life. Decision is definitive. It says yes and it says no. Future is created and possible futures are cast off. We cannot know all the outcomes or consequences of our choices and we must accept that in our life-creation there will be potentially hurtful and destructive effects. This can be one definition for the ‘state of sin’ in the world.

From this moment of ‘decision’ our characters embark on paths that illustrate ways of trying to contain or control chaos. The husband and wife portray different ways that one may ‘wrap their head’ around this existential burden and we see that rationality and madness, science and magic, are just different paths of coping with or trying to control life.

Ultimately the husband finds that these concepts are not enough–one cannot shirk off or end the power of Antichrist. One only can continue, persevere in the face of it.

Integral to this idea in the film is the appearance of bodies in the forest. At first there are only languishing or lifeless bodies covering the forest floor as the couple make love: the quest is almost fulfilled, concepts of madness and reason are being dissolved–
then in the Epilogue we see the weary and battered husband as triumphant and he is joined by fully formed and living people.
These people are the new future, continued possibility, Life flooding towards the Hero of Faith.

 

Hanake again makes a beautiful, troubling, and penetrating film that strengthens his reputation as a master of contemporary film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie–which I had to step back and be amazed at: here is a recent black and white film with no musical score and a large ensemble cast of characters without a strong arc for any of them.
Truly a unique film (and I can understand why some are turned off by it), it is a ‘thinking’ film that like his previous films Funny Games and Cache are ‘meta’ commentaries on the relationship between filmmaker and audience.

Some will say that The White Ribbon is about the milieu of Germany and its generation that came of age in the second World War.
I would disagree with that. I feel that it is an over simplification.

It is very important in the viewing of the film to take into consideration that it is the Teacher’s recollection and is ‘told’ through his ‘voice.’
The opening narration is very instructive. The Teacher says he feels that while the story he will tell may shed light on ‘what happened in his country’ he says he is not sure how much of it is true–it is from his memories and from the gossip of the townspeople.

So while the film does follow Hanake’s theme of guilt, assigning blame, suspicion, and implicating the audience members as judges and co-conspirators, the film is about memory and collective memory.

The events told are selected to tell a story. Whether connected or not, a ‘narrative’ or ‘explanation’ must be pieced together to somehow make sense of the horrors of Germany’s Nazi era.

Do we and should we take the narrator’s view as truth?
Should we accept these events as bringing meaning to the Holocaust?
I would suggest ‘no’ to these questions.

What I do love about this film is its subtlety.
One note that rides as an undercurrent is the depictions of various violences towards women.
As an example, we can see male power over women in the two scenes where relationships are ended.
The first, the Doctor demeans his lover with cruelty and even prods her to kill herself. She is seated and he is standing.
The second is when the Baroness ends her relationship with the Baron. She is seated, he is standing and she diplomatically tells him that she is leaving. He appears unchallenged. The scene concludes with him leaving to speak to another man–why? To hear the news of war breaking out–as though this is the concern ‘of men.’

We see corrupted power on many levels, we see pardon given where none is deserved (the Pastor extending grace to his daughter in communion) and unsubstantiated accusation.
Where we as an audience are challenged is: while we are being presented with so much immorality and moral ambiguity and so many crimes–are we still looking for an answers to be given to ‘wrap up the story?’

How do we reflect on the past of our own lives?
How do we hold ourselves accountable in the present and why do we turn a ‘blind eye’ to so many glaring injustices right in front of us?

A great, beautiful film that desires a conversation with its viewers.

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