The Films I've Watched This Year #15

Film Evening. Another short list this week because I spent Sunday night in the company of that disappointing All About TWO panel game and did some more of the clearing out which has been a theme this year finding amongst other things a game of Travel Trivial Pursuit with current affairs questions which look like they were written in the eighties. One of the film questions was about Against All Odds. Anyway, here's this week's slightly mixed bag.

In Your Eyes
About Time
The Limey
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Erin Brockovich
Computer Chess

About Time is rubbish. It's another evilly patriarchal, emotionally manipulative yet beautifully acted blamange from Richard Curtis which makes no internal sense.  Ryan Gilbey expands on its many problems in this old New Statesman article but what it boils down to is that like Love Actually and The Boat That Rocked, it's another example of Curtis creating powerful male protagonists and putting them in a position where they can manipulate women.  For laughs.  The commenters on that article note that in the most problematic scene Rachel McAdams consents to sex the first time.  Would she be quite as happy if she'd been made aware that he was effectively winding back time so he could repeatedly have sex with her?  Doesn't that lack of awareness put the consent issue on dodgy ground?  How is this any different to say, Owen and his pheromone spray in Torchwood which was widely regarded as being immensely rapey about two seconds after it was broadcast and which generally ruined our perception of that character going forward?

The second half of this film should be about Rachel McAdams's character dealing with the fact that her husband has essentially been controlling her life, rewriting it for his own ends, crafting it so that she falls in love with him because he's gotten rid of all the other men she could potentially have relationships with.  That he's a god-like monster, changing the past of others (including his opponents in court cases) and bending them to his will and we're supposed to support him for it.  He's Paul Dano's character in Zoe Kazan's Ruby Sparks but in this case we're supposed to be cheering him on.  The final message of the film should be that the protagonist should stop using time travel because he doesn't have the right not because the world's already a glorious and amazingly sunny place without it.  Please understand, I went into this with high hopes.  I love Rachel McAdams but the way she and her character are treated in this is "criminal".

Unfairly considering what an awful, awful, awful rotten piece of work this is, I'm entering a third paragraph to note how the time travel also doesn't make any sense to the point that either Richard Curtis assumes we're all morons or doesn't understand it himself.  Within about fifteen minutes I was shouting at the screen and try as I might to take a Bruce Willis in Looper or Tenth Doctor in Blink approach to the thing, when it's the driving force behind the story, the thing which knits everything together, it's impossible.  None of which is to say I didn't cry.  Like the Emma Thompson scene in Love Actually, you're put in a position where its near impossible not to because of the performances, the writing of scenes on an individual level and the music.  Curtis is a powerful writer/director as Vincent and the Doctor demonstrates.  It's just a pity his grasp on romance and gender dynamics is so shocking.

Right then, onward and in direct contrast, In Your Eyes. The reviews for this Joss Whedon written and executive produced piece have been a bit mixed, but it's noticeable that more negative reviews have been of the rather mean spirited variety and written without much in the way of minimal research, content to make flip jokes about Whedon knocking the screenplay together between Avengers films, the extent to which Brin Hill directed the thing and the "CGI" or noting "plot holes" about the lack of cell pones and the like.  If any of them had read a publicity interview or three they'd know that Whedon originally wrote the screenplay in 1992, that the film is actually set in that year nullifying a vast array of the so-called "plot holes", that this is as much Hill's film as Whedon's and that given the tiny budget this was made on, the CGI is as good as it needs to be.

As you might expect I adored In You Eyes to bits.  Apart from the astonishing central performances from Michael-Stahl David and especially the aforementioned Kazan who manage to convince us of their onscreen chemistry despite not being in the same frame, the premise, of a kind empathic, telepathy is intriguing and well explored.  The script, is funny and sharp and filled whole new Whedonisms (which I won't quote here because I don't want to spoil them) and it's also a great looking film in many respects.  I've seen criticism of the aesthetic that it looks like a tv movie and while that's true, it does sometimes look like an ABC Family Movie or a Hallmark piece and in Kazan's husband has a character as one dimensional as might appear in them, my impression is that like Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven or Soderbergh's The Good German, it's using a chosen format in order to enunciate themes and smuggle content which would not normally appear.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is what it is.  It's the cheaper seeming sequel to an original film (oddly because this apparently cost £90m to the first film's £95m) with television actors in for film stars, Anthony Stewart Head replacing Pierce Brosnan in the horse legs, Nathan Fillion for Steve Coogan (it's a real Whedonfest) (there's even a Firefly joke) with Stanley Tucci turning up to bring some of The Hunger Games glamour.  The scale is markedly reduced with a simpler quest which covers less territory and smaller array of mythical beasts and gods, but I still enjoyed spending time with the cast and characters even if some of the randier material which made the first film more distinctive has also been removed.  A third installment is apparently in production for next year and actually I'm glad about that not least because of the cliffhanger ending. 

Watching all of Steven Soderbergh's films in order brings me to The Limey, which this blog has previous with having expositioned on the dvd's audio commentary almost exactly ten years ago.  He recently said of the experience: "I’m glad I got to work with Lem again on Haywire, because that’s a fairly typical exchange for us. It’s not anger—he’s more incredulous than he is angry. I enjoy those conversations, because he’s very bright, he’s seen everything, and he has a strong point of view."  In career terms, it helped to solidify what would become his expected approach, of hand held cameras, pointed jump cutting within dialogue scenes but retaining old school elements like establishing shots.  That it's a masterpiece goes without saying but it's also worth noting that there's there's no flab.  It manages to tell its thematically rich story in 85 mins minus credits.

What's remarkable and generally forgotten about Erin Brockovich is that it's a studio film.  There's a version of this material with the same cast which could have been directed by someone like Mike Newell or Gary Fleder with their steadycams and Christopher Young scores but which become entirely dated.  Soderbergh instead directs it like an indie film, in much the same way as everything since Schizopolis and ends up with something which looks like it could have been directed last week, let along thirteen years ago, except that this wouldn't have been greenlit now, they probably would have told him to go and make a documentary for Netflix instead.  There's only really one unintentionally funny moment that looks like it would be in the other version, when Aaron Eckhart's looks mournfully at the biker's driving off into the distance while he's looking after Erin's kids.  What were they thinking?

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