sylleptic: Ada Lovelace from the 2dgoggles webcomic, posed with her pipe and a giant cog behind her (Default)
sylleptic ([personal profile] sylleptic) wrote2013-01-15 10:22 pm

Moving pictures

I am not a movie person. I come from a family of not-movie-people, so that's not exactly surprising. But I've been vaguely wanting to see more movies lately, and I keep shocking my friends by not having seen some film they regard as essential. (The gaps cover a broad range from Disney films to Terminator movies. I am well-rounded in my movie ignorance.) So I let them pick some movies to watch with me. As you may be able to guess, this was in the nature of a "mistake". Though at least now I can offer a (negative) opinion instead of just abstaining from the discussion.

Spoilers below.

Office Space

Okay, I didn't hate this one. It wasn't precisely to my taste, but mostly I enjoyed it. I was a little uncomfortable with the romantic relationship (though semi-props for the male lead's acknowledgement that he's in the wrong after he freaks out about the female character's past relationship) and I didn't like the "idyllic manual labor" business at the end. But overall it was fun, and the printer-smashing scene was excellent.

The thing you have to understand about how I watched this film, though, is that The Court Jester was one of my favorite movies as a kid. So when the hypnotist said the main character would come out of his relaxed state "when I snap my fingers three times" and then keeled over, I spent the next chunk of the movie waiting for the three accidental finger snaps that would break him out of it. Which obviously didn't happen. Eventually I realized it wasn't going to happen, but I was very confused for a while.

Bechdel Test: Failure. One significant female character, the love interest.

I, Robot

I grant that I'm not totally rational about this one, because I may have imprinted slightly on Susan Calvin as a child. But seriously, you can't make a movie "inspired by" Asimov's robot stories with the bog-standard robot revolution plot and claim you're being even slightly faithful to the books. This is why I flat refused to consider seeing it when it first came out. Now that I've seen it, I'm pretty sure the plot's attempts to get around the Three Laws made no actual sense. Calvin's character exists -- or at least, there's a female character named Susan Calvin who has some kind of psychology background and works with robots -- but her work (to the extent it's mentioned) is about making robots more human, and her preference for robots over people is portrayed as a weakness and a way of hiding from the world. And as far as I remember, she doesn't get to do much thinking. The scientist character is her dead (white, male) mentor, and the problem-solving is mostly done by Will Smith's detective.

I also think the movie was somewhat incoherent on whether Smith's Luddite prejudice against robots was right or not, and generally whether we should consider the robots to be thinking beings who shouldn't be put in packing crates when a new model is released. But I'd have to rewatch it to be sure, and I'm not willing to do that. And I'm not sure Asimov was totally consistent about it, either.

I don't remember the R. Daneel Olivaw/Elijah Baley books well enough to tell if the movie is really drawing on them, though given the detective character, I would assume so. But the part of the plot I recognized is a strange variation on one of the later short stories, "The Evitable Conflict". The difference is, in Asimov's story, the robots that humans have gradually put in charge of everything derive the Zeroth Law (protect humanity over one human individual) and act on it to preserve the status quo, whereas in the movie the robot that derives it decides she must use other robots to take over the world violently for humanity's ultimate good. Much more Hollywood than the short story. Unfortunately, no one I was watching with knew the stories well enough to discuss that, or share my outrage at fake-Calvin.

Bechdel Test: Possibly a technical pass? We have Susan Calvin; the detective's mother; and VIKI, the semi-evil robot mastermind. I think Calvin and VIKI have a practical/technical conversation at some point, but I'm not sure of it. And I guess I will grant that Calvin isn't quite explicitly there to be the love interest.

Fight Club

Oh, wow, no. This is a classic of some kind among my mostly-male geeky friends, along with Tarantino's other films. It was one of the things that got me the "How have you not seen that? You have to see that!" reaction most strongly and most often. So now I have seen it, and I have no idea why anyone has that reaction.

I grant that the twist had been spoiled for me beforehand, and that as far as I could tell it was a very well done twist. But I was hard pressed not to say, when a friend reported that it had "blown [his] mind" the first time he saw it, that that probably said more about his mind than the quality of the film.

This is a cult classic about a cult. A violent, creepy, all-pervasive cult. A stupid cult, too -- does anyone actually think blowing up the credit card companies' headquarters buildings will change the world? And a petty and cruel cult, judging by some of their other "mayhem". I kept thinking of the subway test during the descriptions of Tyler's job behavior and the Project Mayhem sequences, and despite the lip service paid to not killing anyone in the explosions, I really don't think the movie makes any distinction between violence/mayhem aimed at those in power and violence/mayhem aimed at ordinary people. Which really put me off the whole thing.

Not to mention, it's an all-male cult, devoted to some kind of testosterone something via fighting, as a contrast to the dissolute modern world, or whatever. The Tarantino-signature violence didn't bother me as much as I was expecting, but I'm really not interested in it either.

Bechdel Test: Resounding failure. One woman, Marla Singer, the love interest/point of contention/hostage. She's kind of interesting as a character, but the movie's not very interested in her.

Django Unchained

Hey look, a new movie! A bunch of people were going to see this, so I went along to be social. I didn't like it all that much, though I guess I didn't hate it.

It's definitely a Tarantino movie, with all the blood. Not my taste, but, as in Fight Club, not the reason for my dislike either. Watching the two in close succession, I'm also noticing an obsession with men losing their balls, though that might be less prominent with a larger sample size.

When we came out of the movie, the two things my friends were talking about were the physics failures (he shot her from an angle, there is no way she should have gone straight sideways through that doorway) and whether Schultz shooting Candie was out of character for him. As far as out of character goes, I agree with the person who said that what we'd seen of him before was a great deal of cleverness, and violence only in situations where he was sure it would work out for him. But I also think the film did a decent job of showing him reaching his breaking point in playing along with the system, so the suicidal gesture didn't seem completely out of the blue. That said, I think it was enormously selfish. Come back and kill Candie later, I don't care. Certainly he deserves to die. But your unwillingness to shake hands with him, your desire to die rather than play a part in this repugnant world of slavery, is not more important than the lives of the two people with you. Given your utter disgust with what you have seen, you cannot claim that you don't have some idea what they will do to Django and Broomhilda if you all don't get away while you have the chance.

Which brings me to the thing that I wanted to talk about after the movie: Broomhilda. She is more or less the only female character in the film, and she's not a person, she's a quest object. She appears repeatedly as a silent vision, smiling vaguely at Django, which I would take as a commentary on her lack of agency except that I don't think the film is that self-aware. And when she is physically present, mostly what she does is suffer and be terrified so that the men can feel bad about it. The only good thing I can say about her portrayal is that we're told she tried to escape from Candyland on her own, which I suppose grants her some agency. But all we're shown on screen is her having been recaptured and being punished for it.

And speaking of selfishness again, why do the men wait six months before they try to rescue her? Why, for that matter, do they create this enormously elaborate plot to scam Candie? It makes no sense.

I don't feel qualified to comment on the portrayal of race and slavery in the film -- there seem to be some very interesting discussions going on about using racial slurs, the revenge genre, historical accuracy, and other things, but I haven't been following them. And, well, I'm white. I don't think I (or, honestly, Tarantino) get to claim any kind of authority on whether it was offensive or not. The only thing I am going to say on the "taking it seriously" front is that the comedy scene with the lynch mob felt tonally bizarre and out of step with the rest of the movie.

Overall, I didn't hate it as much as Fight Club but I don't think Tarantino films are for me, and I really don't understand why he's lauded as some kind of genius.

Bechdel Test: Failure, I think. I don't remember the dialogue of the scene with Broomhilda, Candie's sister (whose name I could not catch), and the chief female slave at Candyland (whose name I also missed) where they're bringing Broomhilda to Schultz, but given the context I would be hugely surprised if it wasn't about men and the implication of upcoming coerced sex. And it would be only the most technical of passes even then.
lannamichaels: Astronaut Dale Gardner holds up For Sale sign after EVA. (Default)

[personal profile] lannamichaels 2013-01-16 12:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I really liked Fight Club for the way it tells the story. I'm a bigger fan of the book than the movie, and just the way it's written and the voice, I just love it. (It's first person, digresses a lot, you never find out the narrator's name and it's amazingly done, I am v. shallow.) I admit I loved it less after reading more of Palahniuk's stuff (that just seems to be the author's voice, not the character's, which was something of a let down), and I don't particularly recommend any of his other stuff. But Fight Club is such unreliable narrator and done so well. I think part of what the movie missed is that the narrator is just not on with what's going on and tries to stop it and then the movie changed the ending entirely (in the book, he ends up in a mental hospital). But, yeah, I think Fincher was more interested in the violence than in the fact that the narrator is a passenger in his own story and then tries to put the breaks on it and has to fight back against his own creation. The book lets you into his head so you see more, but you also see a lot less.

But, yeah, even in the book, it's all the narrator's story. Marla is more of a plot device so the author can explore how the narrator can be in a love triangle with Tyler and how this completely confuses Marla.

From the books of his I've read, Palahniuk does seem to have a Type as his protags. It probably says a lot about me, more than about him, that I loved Fight Club, and was meh on his other stuff. ;)

But, yeah. I completely understand what you're saying about Fight Club. If you like twisty narratives and unreliable narrators and excellent writing, maybe pick up the book? But, yeah. I understand. :)

And final edit, I promise: you might enjoy the Fight Club - Circus vid. Tyler's a put on a show kind of girl. ;)
Edited 2013-01-16 12:31 (UTC)
lannamichaels: Astronaut Dale Gardner holds up For Sale sign after EVA. (Default)

[personal profile] lannamichaels 2013-01-16 09:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm like that with films, too. I basically read Entertainment Weekly so I don't have to watch stuff, and I will outright refuse to watch stuff based on the content or spoilers. I don't care how good some movie might be, I'm not watching some sutff, you know? I have no interest in encouraging Hollywood's bad habits.

-- and since I found them incredibly creepy, I was really unhappy about that.

The narrator agrees with you that they are a creepy cult that needs to be stopped and isnt sure they can be. ;) Although it probably does lead to the interesting question of if the *narrative* agrees... it's all very unreliable. ;) Like, he runs into them EVERYWHERE, but he's tyler durden, he knows them, he has habits, they know him and they're following him around. Project Mayhem might be as big as it seems, or the narrator's world is just that small and controlled. It's in Tyler's interest to keep the narrator thinking it's inevitable, it's the new normal, *it's what you wanted, isnt it*, and just submit.

So it's Tyler vs Narrator, but there's also the narrative thrown in, it's not linear, the entire story is the narrator talking to Tyler with a gun in his mouth, talking about living forever through the power of mythology and the narrator saying, I'll be your myth-spreader.

There's also the factor that Tyler has no intention of dying; the explosives are mixed with parafin and Tyler knows it won't work - as the narrator says, parafin has never worked for me. There might be some aubconscious control going on there, too.

But anyway the point is, I totally understand not liking it because of all the violence and misogyny (that whole thing about being a generation of men raised by women, whose fathers had bailed, aka god bailed), and especially not if it had been built up as this amazing mindblowing movie. I mean, I watched Inception and thought it was good for an action movie, but it's not like it was blow your mind profound, it was just an action movie.

Few movies are as good as their hype, I think, and most movies probably disappoint because of it when, if they hadnt been so overhyped, they wouldnt have built up expectations to disappoint.

That said, I'm not actually sure of a movie that's legitimatly as good as the hype. FOTR, maybe?

(I think Fight Club *wanted* to be a Tarantino film, now that you mention it. And, ugh , Pulp Fiction. Another movie where it's like "...why's this movie so famous?")
lannamichaels: Astronaut Dale Gardner holds up For Sale sign after EVA. (Default)

[personal profile] lannamichaels 2013-01-16 10:38 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm a little worried my friends are starting to think of wanting more than one woman in a film as an amusing strange quirk of mine, sigh.


Oh, and also The Kids Are Allright. As I was telling someone, it may be the best movie ever, but it has a lesbian sleeping with a man, so I'm not exactly eager to watch the damn thing.
Edited 2013-01-16 22:39 (UTC)