Sunday, 27 December 2015

Round VII


I confess I had never seen a Rocky movie before, nor been convulsing with the desire to before this month, and, for all those who find themselves in similar situations, the antidote to your vast lack of enthusiasm is Ryan Cooglers Creed. Sylvester Stallone returns as the Italian Philadelphian boxer, now retired, but the fight here belongs to Adonis Johnson, aka Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of Rocky Balboas longtime rival, Apollo Creed. Coogler also co-wrote the script with Aaron Covington, and this is evidently a very personal project. I've written before that remakes, sequels, and otherwise formulaic stories are not aesthetically marked by that status, and do not signify a lower tier of cinematic quality, as some film pundits seem to continually suggest, and Creed is an exemplary illustration of my assertion.

The action kicks off in Los Angeles in a juvenile detention centre where the young orphan Adonis, an inmate, is in a fight with some other boys (all inmates are black). A woman comes to see the duly confined boy and offers to take him in. She is Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), Apollos widow, who has come to terms with his infidelity and intends to take care of his son. Adonis lives by his mothers name, Johnson, and we find him again as an adult, fast-tracked on a shimmering career path in banking, and boxing on a Mexican circuit on weekends. Mary Anne tries to discourage him, reminding him of the immense harm it caused his father (among many other horrible instances, Apollo Creed was killed in the ring), but still supports him in his decision to leave his job and California and pursue boxing in Philadelphia.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Fans Strike Back

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

If, like me, you were under the impression that what George Lucas has by now compelled dozens of obliging actors into calling “the Force” was something of a Spinozian God, what a pantheist might call “Nature” or “the Universe,” you will no doubt be somewhat puzzled by the title of the new Star Wars film. Why would an impersonal deity ever have been asleep? However, if you’ve come to consider the Force of the title as a metaphor for the saga itself, or the thrust that drives the movie-making monolith, the title makes total sense, and couldn’t be further from an untruth. The series has lain dormant for at least 10 years, since the release of Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith, though many of the fans (who, as you know, comprise virtually all Anglophone populations around the globe) may contend that the last sparks of the immanent divinity were seen as far back as in 1983, when The Return of the Jedi rounded off the first trilogy in the franchise.

Star Wars is – and, since its initial arrival in 1977, always has been – a cartoon on a vast scale, in a live action format, infused with the odd coupling of a mystical underpinning and a post-60s humanist and revolutionary atmosphere. What George Lucas has furnished us with has never been anything like great cinema, or even rather good cinema, but a thin escapist fantasy that mass popularity and fanboy frenzy have sustained over three and a half decades. Admittedly it’s altogether successful in this regard, even for someone as resistant as I to the whole rigmarole – I never quite forgot I was watching a vast Wagnerian puppet show, though my surroundings and my home planet faded quickly enough from my consciousness, which was just as well considering all the noisy philistines the franchise seems to attract into the theatre.

NOTE WELL: While the single spoiler that follows is well marked, if you’d like to retain the surprise of watching the film for the first time, read no further until you’ve seen the film.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Spectral Success


Laying it on thick has always been a popular approach at the movies. Filmmakers found it to be a possible means of expressing mounting pressure on the psychic front and studios learned that, if teased in a trailer, it can draw great numbers of moviegoers, eager for a couple of hours of diversion and sensual bombardment. Sometimes the trick works stunningly, as in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, in which Eva Green, smeared with red lipstick and wrapped in a tight red dress, struts about Collinsport, repeatedly appealing with ever-lowering necklines to the carnal interests of Johnny Depp. As the story and its small-town setting sank lower and lower into Gothic folly, Green’s lip-smacking torrent of histrionics surpassed the boundaries set by both Burton and Depp on every front. Sometimes it doesn’t work quite as well, as can be seen in a large number of films every year, which flop despite – or, more likely, because of – large and overbearing elements, sown together by swarms of producers for what is hoped to be maximum impact. As with everything at the movies, the success of the mode of overdoing it relies on the intuition of the filmmakers.

In Spectre, that intuition fails – most irreparably. Sam Mendes and the production team, following up on Mendes’s 2012 mega-hit Skyfall, wished to replicate that release’s success, and devised Spectre to be bigger and louder where Skyfall was big and loud, to stretch further where Skyfall had reached into James Bond’s family history, and to offer even more of the faux-seriousness, faux-darkness-and-ominousness, faux-character-detail that Skyfall had set up. I suspect what these filmmakers neglected to observe was that to further feed on audience hype and consumerist frenzy with a sequel, one should either make that sequel obligatory viewing by refusing to tie up loose ends in previous entries (as was done, rather necessarily, with the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings sagas), or leave audiences waiting an extravagantly long time for it (as was done, twice now, with the Star Wars franchise).