Been to the movies - The Lyorn's Den
Sun Aug. 31st, 2008
11:59 pm - Been to the movies
A few weeks ago I watched the new X-files movie with Ceridwen, and last Sunday "The Dark Knight" with I___ .
Some thoughts, LJ cut for wordiness, bad structure and spoilers.
X-Files: I Want To Believe
I am very much in two minds about this movie, the same way I was about the series, though not for the same reasons.
Other than "Fight The Future" ten years ago, "I Want to Believe" is not a mytharc movie (which is good, because I completely lost track of the mytharc around season six, and I suspect so did Carter) but a case file: Young women are disappearing, and a defrocked pederast priest claims to have visions which might lead to the disappeared, but even then might just mean that he's in league with the abductors. The FBI approaches Scully, who has resigned and is working at a Catholic hospital, and asks her to get Mulder out of hiding so he can help with the case.
One big advantage the movie has when compared to "Fight the Future" is that most of the series characters have been killed, which kept the cast much more streamlined.
Unfortunately, many of the secondary characters are so completely cardboard that I had a hard time keeping them apart even though they were of different genders and skin colours.
The story was good enough for the average thriller, maybe a little short because it followed the conventions of an episode and tried to keep suspense by never showing what the bad guys were up to until the heroes found out. Telling only 60% of the story left too much time to fill and kept the story slow. Some of the dialogues, especially the believer/sceptic ones became tedious unless one had a lot of back story in the head and heard the dialogue in the context of a ten-year character development. The whole thing was low on tech and special effects, which made for a nice realistic look.
David Duchovny was nice to watch. Gillian Anderson was great. Mitch Pileggi was brilliant.
Another thing that was brilliant, always was brilliant about X-Files was the way the world looks like a psychological landscape and not like a pretty one. Whoever is doing the casting and the location selection (not to mention the cinematography) really has an eye for the twisted, the desperate and the absurd, and the camera highlights it with spaces being too cold or too cramped, too blue or too yellow, no comfortable places anywhere. The towns and the countryside was bleak and desolate, and most of the minor characters (too minor to be cardboard) look as if they are temping as axe-murderers. The world does not say: "I Want to Believe", but "Trust No One".
Now that I think more about that, the world as it is sat up by whoever is responsible for the look and feel of X-Files makes the desire to believe -- be it in the supernatural or in religion -- a bad thing, because there is no belief in that world that will make it better. If there is a God, he is no one's friend, and if the supernatural exists, it does not help anyone.
One of the central conflicts, fatalism vs. hubris, felt forced to me, but every moral conflict that is illustrated by a child dying of a horrible disease feels forced to me.
Because the viewer is kept in the dark so long, suspense builds very slowly, and only close to the end does the movie gather steam. We learn what the bad guys are up to, Mulder is getting kidnapped and about to be thrown to the dogs, and Scully and Skinner ride to the rescue.
All in all it was not a "meh" movie, but one where I am still undecided if the good outweighs the bad, but where I am very glad that I watched it in the theatre, because what I liked best was the look of it. Plus, snow-covered landscapes are great when it's 30°C outside.
What I liked least, however, was not too-slow developments, cardboard characters, forced or tired conflicts or even a child dying of a horrible disease to make a point.
First thing that would have make me run screaming from the theatre if I were prone to doing such things was Scully doing her medical research by going for the top google hits. WTFBBQ?
Second: When it is revealed that the bad Doctor Frankenstein guy is doing his horrible experiments to save the love of his life, this should be a redeeming feature. Or maybe a commentary on the amorality of love. It should not make puppy-torturing Doc Frankenstein less sympathetic. So what we have here is either complete failure of craft (if they were going for sympathetic), or homophobia so blatant it's baffling. (One has come to expect a little more subtlety even from homophobes.) It is strongly hinted that the villain has become gay from being abused by the pederast priest (WTF?). The fact that he's "legally married in Massachusetts" is played for uncomfortable laughs. And then he tries to transplant his husband's brain into a young woman. No amount of Skinner cuddling Mulder is going to make that OK. I need brain bleach.
That, third, I want to believe the scene after the credits to be a hallucination. Caused, I hope, by the brain bleach effects setting in.
This could have been a low-tech thriller with mostly good acting, interesting and entertaining despite some weaknesses in the script. But I just can't get over #2.
The Dark Knight
There is little to say about this movie that hasn't been said before. Yes, it's good, highly entertaining, very well acted, the special effects budget was large and well used, and the movie takes the Batman myth seriously and does not spoil it with heavy handed genre savvy or post-modern irony.
The Joker's madness projects an incredible visceral menace -- I am working on some ideas about how the same violent acts look completely different in different genres, and the Joker goes for a "thriller" level here bordering on "horror", not the often used "action" or "comic" degrees. I actually had to look away when he threatened to cut up some bad guy's face, and I can watch "House MD" without flinching.
The menace is not limited to the visceral, though: His mad unpredictability makes his terrorist plots so effective. No one can ever feel safe for a second. He might claim that he despises complicated plans, but he's in fact a Chess Master, moving all those little pieces exactly where he wants them to be. He's more error-tolerant than your common chess master, though, and does not freak when his plans fail. He also lies like a rug and the amount of fan fiction taking his ever-changing abuse sob stories at face value never fails to surprise me. (I should be used to it, I know.)
I feel that if the Joker hadn't become focused on Batman, he might have cleaned up the remnants of Gotham's underworld quite efficiently by himself. The way he goes through minions, every criminal with two working brain cells would head for Metropolis for the better job safety.
Harvey Dent's story could have used more time. I understood that they had to scale down from the full Two-Face story line because they needed a victim, not another villain, but even though the character was shown not entirely stable to start with, he didn't appear brittle enough to break so completely in only two movie hours.
Maggie Gyllenhaal made Rachel Dawes from a girl wondering why she was in this movie to a full character, which all got wasted on a Woman in Refrigerator scene. Even when faced with a horrible death and/or the death of her boyfriend, she kept calm and tried to do something about it. What a complete and stupid waste. I know that it's against Batman canon, but she would have made a better White Knight.
I liked the Ferry Scene a lot, where people in the end did the right thing, despite either being told that they weren't the type who did the right thing, or believing that they could not afford to. I have heard it called heavy-handed, but it fit the tone of the movie, and there were no children with horrible diseases involved.
I'm not entirely sure about the take on Batman's role, and the angst involved. I have little patience left with people who fall for a villain's line that they are responsible for the villain's acts. Charles Manson may have claimed that The Beatles Made Him Do It, but that doesn't mean that it's true in any place outside of his twisted mind. I'm willing to give Batman a tiny bit of leeway here, because he's so much larger than life that he might cause a larger than life backlash, but that excuse builds on an understanding of genre which the movie avoids.
Making Batman the scapegoat for Two-Faces' murders might have been tactically more clever than it seemed to me at first -- not only does it keep Dent's memory untainted (assuming that doing so was worthwhile), but it might discourage the kind of incompetent copycats we've been seeing at the beginning of the movie.
On a side note, I loved Alfred, Gordon and Lucius Fox to bits. In the middle of all this epic confrontations, they do their best, do it well and do it with style.
On another side note, the theatre had set the volume to max in the beginning. I___ might have asked them to tone it down before the movie even started (it seemed a little less painful after she came back), but it was still loud enough that for half the movie I had my fingers in my ears and tried to breathe against the bass resonance smashing into my ribcage. Sometimes I think the best reason for the 40 minute drive to the English language cinema are not the undubbed movies but the ancient sound systems which create the nice, round sounds of a rock concert and rarely, if ever cross the pain barrier.