The Films I've Watched This Year #10

Film If this list looks short, it's because last weekend was filled with television and ballet (on television). On Saturday night I continued with Orange Is The New Black (which is firmly in the can't watch more than one episode at a time pile) and began with The Vikings (which one episode in feels a bit Game of Thrones lite) (which it would do), season seven of 24 (because I never did get around to it back then) and Luther (which even after two episodes I can see is Neil Cross's homage to the Pertwee era) (no really).

On Sunday night I sat through an ancient (1990) television presentation of the Kirov ballet's Swan Lake in preparation for the first film on the list but which in no way really prepared me for it thanks to the television directors insistence on cutting away to reaction shots in the middle of movements and entirely missing the main thrust of the action.  Oh and it has a happy ending, apparently imposed during the Soviet era which as this useful review from Ballet Magazine notes, "now looks incongruous and silly".

Black Swan
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Heat

Before I head off into the mainstream of this evening's symposium, I just wanted to note the number of inadvertant connections there are at least between the titles.  On Monday I watched Black Swan, tonight was Blackfish.  On Tuesday I saw Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 in a double bill with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire which was separated by a day with The Heat, which has its own connection of sorts with the word Passion, which I saw in a double bill with Safety Not Guaranteed which in that context has a whole other set of resonances.  How odd.

It's also true that all but two of the films have female lead characters which was somewhat on purpose once I'd seen Black Swan and The Hunger Games and knew Lovefilm/Amazon/thingy had already posted The Heat, in contrast to last week when a couple of the films would have really benefited from a female protagonist if only the male creators had even considered it.  Probably worth noting though that none of these films were written or directed by women with Catching Fire's source material a tangential contribution.

When I was at film academia, one of the issues I had to wrestle with in gender studies was the structure of films with female lead characters, the likes of Nikita, Amelie and C├ędric "The Spanish Apartment" Klapisch's When The Cats Away and how across time in story terms they essentially only have two outcomes: to give in to their natural femininity and couple off or retain a latent masculinity, and if they're independently successful, enter the wilderness or die or stay single, or boiled down to what usually ends up being the concluding visual marker, wearing a dress or trousers.

It's more complex and tricky than that with increased messiness when dealing with women in the action genre in particular where they're essentially treated as male characters in story terms but that's the main thrust of it (and I'd recommend Susan Hayward's essay on gender in Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts if you're really interested).  The main problem seems to be that because there hasn't been the same variety of films with female main characters for film theorists to deal with the concepts have inevitably remained relatively simplistic.

Without giving away anything I hope, all of these films conform to the above trajectory, though in a couple of cases you could also take a side glance towards queer theory (see Hayward's chapter on that too) but what's interesting is how in comparison to the films I looked at back then, the women in these films retain their leadership roles and the directors barely resort to such things as the male gaze in order to create points of identification.  Even in something like Black Swan, I can't remember seeing a reverse shot of Vincent Cassel offering the male gaze.

Of course I wasn't analysing these things and perhaps if I was looking out for a reverse shot of Vincent Cassel offering the male gaze, I'd notice one.  But it still seems like we're shifting towards a space in which women are allowed to be beautiful in films without the need to cut away to some man confirming as much in a scene where this supposed main character is suddenly subordinated for the purpose or we cut to some secondary character making googly eyes just because they have a penis and a labido.

Well, there's Passion, but again we're straying into queer theory and making assumptions and can never win, much as the viewer can't with Passion, which is quite frankly a mess because Brian De Palma can't really decide who the audience's sympathy should be with because for all his attempts at being Hitchcock, he isn't Hitchcock and doesn't really understand the subtleties of what Hitchcock was doing in relation to audience sympathy or visual trickery.  Even Mission: Impossible feels like a very, very long time ago at this point.

But that was really the only bum note of the week (so to speak).  Cloudy 2 loses some of the storytelling complexity of the first film, but retains the wacky surrealism and The Heat underscores Sandra Bullock's flexibility as an actress even if the gag reel on the blu-ray is arguably funnier than the main film which is tonally all over the place merging an Apatow sensibility with the cussing and murder of Lethal Weapon.  Part of me wishes it had been a more grounded earthy piece in the manner of Shane Black, but god bless Melissa McCarthy for bringing some of that anyway.

My new fascination with ballet brought me back to Black Swan which has arguably become even more potent now that Mila Kunis has become more of a "name" since its release not that you could really point to, with the exception of Friends with Benefits, a particular film which has made that "name", other than Black Swan itself.  The Radio One incident certainly helped.  But watching again, she seems to have gained a statue, more passive aggression and in a curious twist the following year when she and Natalie Portman appeared in films with roughly the same plots hers was better.

But having seen another version of the story and Tamara Rojo's history of the ballet did deepen the experience and emphasise various elements especially that Darren Aronofsky economically didn't simply attempt to retell that story within the ballet world somehow but wanted to create something visually more interesting and psychologically visceral.  There's also the poignant casting of Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey, both of whom in previous decades would have been the obvious choices to play Portman's White Swan.

I wonder what film theorists are making of The Hunger Games and any film series which are even more closely aligned to television "episodes" or installments and in which it's impossible to say what trajectory a character has.  Much as I enjoyed Catching Fire, Jennifer Lawrence and the rest of the cast are so far above the material now that I couldn't help wishing I was seeing them in something else, especially Lawrence and Donald Sutherland as Cordelia and Lear.  Amanda Plummer as Goneril.  Elizabeth Banks as Regan.  Woody Harrelson as the Fool.

Actually that's not quite fair.  As attempts at Orwell for kids go, this is better than most (there is no Macra), and the action sequences are still genuinely exciting and as I suggested much earlier, it is the case that Katniss is the main character and even in scenes like the smoke attack when the tendency might be to cut away from her to cover the other action, it's all about her.  In empowerment terms this is an important choice; there are plenty of examples strewn about of films which are also supposed to be empowering but still end with a bloke saving the day somehow.

The best time I had this week, the moment when I was screaming and cheering was the final few minutes of Safety Not Guaranteed, but to tell you why would be a massive spoiler and unfair so I won't.  It's also the film in the week I knew nothing about beforehand other than that it was a piece of mainstream mumblecore, co-produced by the Duplass brothers and co-starring Duplass Mark and Jake Johnson off of New Girl.  It's a prime example of the kind of film which turns up on Netflix and you ended up watching because the cover is yellow or some such.

Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza plays a magazine intern who's dragged on a "fishing" trip to investigate a wanted ad from a guy who says he's going to time travel and needs a partner.  She becomes his chosen partner.  Meanwhile, Johnson's character looks up an old flame because this also happens to be his home town and before long we're in the usual mumblecore/indie meander though it quickly becomes apparent that writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow are playing some genre games with the injection of thriller elements and romance.

Other than Plaza, who's frankly a mighty presence and is now my reason to get around to watching Parks and Recreation, is how the film consistently undercuts our expectations but not without purpose and on reflection everything thematically falls into place.  About the only dodgy element is another intern played by Karan Soni who is just the kind of stereotypical secondary character the Harold & Kumar films are commenting on.  Other than that, you can see why the writer and director have been handed the keys to the Jurassic Park franchise.  Sort of.

After all of this, my opinion that we needed to see even more films with women characters in lead roles is undiminished.  In an industry which often says its desperate for new ideas, there's a whole untapped, underexplored wealth of potential stories featuring female characters outside of the usual genre expectations.  Why is the attitude that we've already seen a "ballet" film when there are presumably a multiplicity of potential films in that world?  Why is The Heat the only recent buddy film featuring women law enforcement?  Why?  Why?


TV The Internet Archive recently uploaded back issues of what was one of the best sci-fi magazine around, Starlog, which ended publication in 2006. It's not complete, the latest issue is 224, but what's there arguably covers the golden period. It's in Starlog that I originally read about Shada, the Doctor Who story written by Douglas Adams, which was never completed and glancing through, sure enough, here's that very article, published as part of a special time travel issue:
"Instead of making "Shada" a part of season 18, Nathan-Turner decided to make it a Christmas special. First, he had Adams rewrite the script, reducing its length to approximately 100 minutes (or a third less than its original length), as well as making it non-episodic. Next, Nathan-Turner needed one more filming session. Even with the rewrite, the production had to have some additional linkage filming. Finally, he had to bring back the principal actors.

"Although "Shada" was close to being finished, the planned special never came off. The actors were no longer under contract and not all of them could return due to other commitments.

"Besides the cast difficulties, Nathan-Turner wasn't allowed the additional recording session needed to finish the production, effectively writing finis to "Shada."
That same issue also has a look at the original script for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when it was a vehicle for Eddie Murphy.

Ruthin Gaol.

Film Filming of Suffragette continues, with the second unit rolling into Denbighshire:
"Camera crews descended on Ruthin Gaol on Monday, where dozens of extras were dressed as wardens and prisoners.

The site was used to replicate HM Holloway Prison in London where 27 women were locked up after a demonstration in Downing Street during their fight for equal voting rights in the early 20th century. [...]

Senior archivist at Ruthin Gaol, Jane Brunning, said it was a coup for the town to be a part of what could potentially be a blockbuster.

“The second unit for the film was shot on Monday from 5.50am until 5.10pm after the crew set up on Sunday,” she said.

“We had 10 extras dressed as warders, prisoners and a doctor filming on the walkways in F Block. We were a small part of what should be quite a prestigious production.”
This video ghost tour gives a decent idea of the interior, as well as being incredibly creepy.

Intentional Partridge.

TV Chris Davies, tv writer, emailed a bunch of corporate presenters and asked them to read quotes from Alan Partridge. These are the results. Here's what happened previously when I gave the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre some serious consideration.

Like Ives.

Music The Connecticut studio of composer Charles Ives has been painstakingly recreated at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Washington Heights, New York, even the view from the windows:
"You have to wind through the wide gallery spaces of the Academy to find yourself suddenly back in time in the studio, which is accompanied by a small exhibition with scores and photographs. The pencil shavings have been left in the sharpener, his secret stash of alcohol preserved in its hiding place, a cane is hooked over the piano chair, and rumpled hats rest on top of books and his father’s old cornet. The royalties from his music were previously bequeathed by his wife to the Academy, where they fund scholarships in his name."

UK DVD release for Venonica Mars?

TV No, I still haven't seen the film, but an interesting doodah's cropped up at the BBFC website in the shape of the classification of special features for a potential dvd release. Here's the list. It's a bit ugly. The actual pages are linked here:


VERONICA MARS SEASON 3 - ADDITIONAL SCENES WITH INTRODUCTIONS BY SHOW CREATOR ROB THOMAS [Additional material,Season 3,Additional scenes with introduction by creator Rob Thomas]

VERONICA MARS SEASON 2 - ADDITIONAL SCENES (DISC 4) [Additional material,Season 2,Disc 4]

VERONICA MARS SEASON 2 - ADDITIONAL SCENES (DISC 5) [Additional material,Season 2,Disc 5]







DELETED SCENES (DISC 3) [Additional Material,VERONICA MARS,Season 1]

SEASON 4 PRESENTATION [Veronica Mars,Additional material,Season 3]


GOING UNDERCOVER WITH ROB THOMAS 4 - VERONICA MARS: MEAN GIRL [Additional material,Season 3,Veronica Mars]




There are Region Two copies knocking around on Amazon but they're from mainland Europe. The show has never been released in the UK on dvd, just download and pay-per-stream services with the various showings on E4 as the main availability. But the film seems to have spurned the studio into corrective action. I had initially thought perhaps these were simply the old dvd material repurposed for a possible shiny-disc of the film (which has also been BBFCed), but the specificity of the disc designations suggests we're looking at boxed sets.

Radio 4's Hamlet will be in the Afternoon Drama slot.

Genuinely surprised. Here is Hamlet spread across the whole week in the prestigious 2:15pm slot in five parts (an act per day?) starting next Monday 24th March for five days, total duration about three and three-quarter hours which in audio terms is a mass of airtime allowing space for plenty of the play's textual real estate. For comparison, this is just shorter than the Branagh "full text" film and longer than his Renaissance Theatre production broadcast in 1992.

The programme page is here, with full cast list and clips of Jamie Parker talking about the role.  And here.

Notice that it's not listed as being part of the Afternoon Drama strand, which usually features new drama by living writers.  Will this affect its chances of being a downloadable podcast in the Drama of the Week?

Expect a review here in due course, then.

My Onion Biography.

Life The story of ... certainly most private views ...
"Having already spent a considerable amount of time quietly examining items around the apartment and standing on the periphery of others’ discussions until walking away under the pretense that he needed to refill his cup of beer, local introvert Dennis Brewer reported today that there are only 20 minutes left before he gets to leave an acquaintance’s house party."

The man of stealing cameras.

Technology At a pinch I'd say I enjoyed this more than Man of Steel. Certainly feels more like the Superman I "know", the one who says things like "citizen" [via].

The Davies/Gardner era.

TB Time once again to link to another Doctor Who essay by Philip Sandifer, on this occasion because he is one of the few to investigate and credit producer Julie Gardner's contribution to the Davies era by reviewing the podcast commentary for The End of Time (part one):
"What is perhaps most clear, however, is that both of them are ruthless perfectionists. They talk several times about some of the more ludicrous things that have been fixed in post-production on the series. Some are at least understandable - the original idea for the Vinvocci was apparently to have the prosthetic blend into a human face, but it looked rubbish, resulting in the Mill coloring them green in every shot. Perfectionist, but at least an effects shot one understands. The CGI effect to make the Nobles’ turkey look cooked after the set department used a raw turkey, reasoning about what time of day it would be if the Queen’s speech is on is, on the other hand, a strong candidate for the weirdest bit of CGI ever, not just in terms of how strange a partially CGI turkey is in its own right, but in terms of the sheer level of obsessiveness involved in spending money to fix something like that."
Best piece of Doctor Who trivia ever?

"We used to be friends."

Film When I backed the Veronica Mars project, I was weary and cautious and in the UK so I chipped in $5 so as to feel like I was part of the epic sweep of the thing without actually spending that much money. I'm poor too. But I also knew I'd end up supporting it anyway through buying a blu-ray at the other end, and I still will. There are streaming and download options, but like recently discovered Doctor Who, I'd like to only pay once for a thing and to actually have a thing in my hand at the end of the process.

All of which said, I can understand the frustration of fans, who having spend the $35 so they could have a digital download on the day of release found themselves stuck with technology everyone hates when people like me and those who didn't have anything to do with funding the project had a choice as to how they watched it. Well, from those of us waiting for the shiny-disc release because unlike "A Field In England" which appeared on dvd at the same time as everywhere else, we're going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Liz Shannon Miller at GigOm (capital O? Small o?) has offered a thorough description of the baroque process she ended up going through in order to get to and enjoy the content. The most frustrating moment is when, having managed to register and log-in to all of these services she might never use again, she then tries to watch the thing on her television but is met with a “licensing and studio restrictions” error, even though this is something she's paid for already, demonstrating why I'm waiting for a physical.  As the first commenter under the article notes aptly: "Only the movie industry could ask you to fund a movie and then treat you like a criminal, multiple times, for doing so."

Any-sigh-way, Warner Bros having noticed that the PR surrounding the release of the film had turned from "This is good" to "Fans who paid for Veronica Mars are having difficulty watching it" are offering refunds. But it's still an example of how  what seems like a perfectly reasonable way of going about things from a consumer point of view, making this thing available on as many of the services we use as possible, becomes dust when faced with the mechanisms of a corporation and its in house distribution systems.