The Films I've Watched This Year #42

Film  The new Star Wars has a title, The Force Awakens, which has led to the usual idiocy about it being awful (which it isn't) and inferring there'll be "more of that Jedi shit" (as though the original three weren't about a teenager learning to be a man through the medium of the force and becoming a Jedi).  Despite getting the band back together, despite the brilliant new casting, despite the set photos, despite everything feeling right about the way JJ (Babylon 5'll be next) Abrams is going about things, the stench of the prequels still lingers for them sadly.  My hope is the first shot of the very first scene will have an elderly Jar Jar's face grinning broadly saying something "Meeza welcoming you back..." whilst holding out his hand to the audience through the medium of 3D just for this reason, but perhaps that's just me.  But yes, The Force Awakens is ambiguous enough to not reveal much of anything we don't already expect but also feels like it might suggest a narrative journey for someone in the film and more so than The Phantom Menace which is still inherently meaningless.

Suburban Mayhem
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D
The Pretty One

If there's a running theme to this week's films it is female protagonists with only Hercules and Tarzan fulfilling the usual masculine story arc which, now that I'm come to think about it is pretty similar in that it's also essentially Superman.  All three are about young men fostered by parents from a different species becoming heroes, not actualising until they've successfully defended the realm from some dastardly villain.  What's interesting about Mulan, of course, is that apart from the fostering, it has a very similar story but her heroic fight for acceptance also includes having to convince a male dominated society that she too can become a warrior.  I love all three.  Hercules is funny, funny, funny, especially James Woods as Hades.  Tarzan always makes me cry and is at the spectacular apogee of the integration between cell animation and cgi backgrounds.  But Mulan, which I haven't seen since release is the biggest surprise simply because it's a template of how female orientated action films can be done and now I wish there were more of them.

This week Vulture published Jesse David Fox's 27 Great Indie Romantic-Comedies From the Last 10 Years and having seen and enjoyed many of the items on the list already it prodded me to see a few more.  As Fox identifies, Zoe Kazan's appeared in a quadrilogy of brill alt.romcoms and The Pretty One has all the hallmarks, notably a high concept which you can see being done horribly in a mainstream film but presented with great emotional depth in this idiom, in this case a "dowdy" identical twin not correcting anyone when she's mistaken for her more successful and confident sister.  Unlike the other three films, even though there are male co-stars, in this case Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston, the focus remains on her throughout and we see through the world through the prism of her personality.  Even when she's supposed to be the object of desire, the male gaze is nowhere to be seen, which is really refreshing and create an unpredictability in what could be an inherently predictable premise.

Similarly, despite the title, Celeste and Jesse Forever favours the latter, with the mighty Rashida Jones in what's effectively the Bill Murray role of not being able to deal falling in love with a best friend and just the wrong moment.  Co-written by Jones herself (with Will McCormack who c0-stars and she's now writing Toy Story 4 with), like The Pretty One it has the not quite mainstream atmosphere of going with the emotional rather than comic beat whilst still being completely hilarious.  In places the screenplay even seems to be commenting on mainstream romcom cliche.  Elijah Wood plays a gay friend and Ari Graynor is the foul mouthed mate but neither of them fulfills the cliche, for reasons which border too closely to being a spoiler.  If nothing else, it's made me want to revisit NY-LON which is still on 4od bless it, in which Jones plays a character not too dissimilar to this and indeed everything else she's ever made.  Or at least the good things.  A few pointers would be helpful.  I can't imagine I Love You Man is any good.  Or The Big Year.

My film of the week is Tracks.  Having watched most of Mia Wasikowska's back catalogue in the past few weeks, including the utterly rubbish Suburban Mayhem in which she plays a beautician, I think Tracks is her defining moment.  The real life story of Robyn Davidson, who decided to walk the Australian outback in the 70s in order to get away from people, Wasikowska convincingly portrays someone who simply wants to be left alone and has to leave those people behind in order to understand why she really needs them.  Which sounds like a snatch of the voiceover script but is the best description I can come up with.  Adam Driver plays the National Geographic photographer tasked with photographing her and pretty much confirms his position as his generation's Jeff Goldblum.  No desert film trope is ignored, but it's mostly because they're part of the experience she's searching for.  It's a confirmation for people like me that there's nothing pointless in challenging yourself and experiences what, from the outside, look like entirely pointless exercises.

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