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Posts tagged ‘Film Review’

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Living today for today, as part of one circus or another

You cant take it with you 1938 film movie review

Released: 1938
Cast includes: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold
Runtime: 126min
Rating: U

This is not a review about pharaohs, emperors and others who stockpile an entourage of spouse(s), pets, servants, possessions, sometimes armed guards etc in an effort to metaphysically at least… Take it all with them.

No! Those people are sickening (but necessary to know about). Ok it’s not far off, there are filfthy rich people in this film, however they learn an unlikely but very valuable lesson about humility over insatiable appetites for power and how to actually feel positive and less constrained without all the stress and paranoia greed and success cause pushing one to worry about maintaining it and threats to the status quo.

PLOT

The film starts off showing VIP, Anthony Kirby, being escorted past reporters into his marble filled building upto a floor with so many pillars in it you wonder where the line is between being structural support and excess weight.

His young son Tony has just been made vice president though he’s not very business minded and his father settles into conference with his similar age associates, a conversation that garners some interesting phrases including ‘powers that be’, ‘moving into munitions’, ‘the war wouldn’t be possible without us’ and ‘there wouldn’t be a bullet or cannon in this country without us’.

It turns out a venture is being stalled by one person in a twelve-block area that won’t sell their property and this leads to a boy meets girl from the other side of the tracks story and a clash of the families with the boy’s being disapproving.

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COMMENTARY

This is a light hearted film which supposedly deals with serious themes like wealth distribution, class and trying to be in love with someone of said different class but really it’s a semi-‘screwball comedy’. I say ‘semi’ because screwball black and white comedies from 1935-1945 just missed out on being those crazy, hammy escapades in silent movies not quite the thriller capers that came later on. Also, the contrasting family are not poor, they’re semi-honest content and comfortable middle class, large family in a beautiful, big house with black servants (stereotypical ‘yes’m’ pair, a young mammy cook/nurse and young man who makes quips) and a fireworks factory in the basement… They’re an eccentric lot; the grandpa who is on crutches after sliding down a banister, his business staff (three men and a bird – a literal bird), his daughter the budding novelist and artist, her daughters Ethel and Alice, Ethel’s husband and her staunch but flattering ‘old country’ (Russia in this case) ballet teacher, and a kitten. Ethel spends most of her day dancing around the house, her husband the musical accompaniment whilst Alice leaves the house to work as a stenographer and it’s outside that she meets her love interest, none other than Tony Kirby.

You cant take it with you 1938 film movie review

This quirky, free spirited family’s influences spread not only to the wealthy but the repressed in general, they seem irresponsible and are in comparison to bureaucratic standards that most people begrudgingly follow and many would be upset at them not playing by the rules or not at all (the grandfather not paying income tax for 22 years because he disagrees with or doesn’t understand the way it’s spent) but still there’s something about that which speaks to the heart and makes even detractors question their normal ways if not feel a tad rebellious. It’s a bit ironic given that by the time/if one becomes one of the world’s elite only then do they see it wasn’t worth it and are inspired by the ‘lowly’ yet enviable family. All the money, status, exclusive ‘perks’ etc don’t make up for the true feeling of a light spirit and fun you get with being around people who genuinely care about each other and you, and in this case they’re not lacking in security; it’s true they’re in a precarious situation but they’re not on or under the breadline and without resources, social mobility, hope and strained relationships as a result. I’ll also reiterate that they do have domestic staff who are more likely to be domestic staff because they are black and are more limited in their gender roles than their Caucasian ‘peers’, it’s not one of those films (and there are some) where black actors manage to excel and exhibit a lot of skill even in stereotypical roles, here they seem more token. But this is a product of its time, and in contrast to women in general, male black actors started to get more of the limelight and the show stopper Sammy Davis Jr made waves post 1945 (though questionably his conversion to Judaism may have helped propel his talent and popularity in Holy-wood and then later becoming a Republican cemented his legacy after his Democrat past – one of his fellow Rat Packers being brother-in-law to ex-pres Kennedy.)

Jean Arthur (who plays Alice) is my favourite actress from the period between 1935-45, she started earlier in the days of silent film but made many ‘talkies’ though she’s relatively unknown these days overshadowed by the smoldering sirens. She’s quite the high strung comedienne and does so without being cringeworthy whilst adding coyness and charm into the mix; it’s a great role that you often see in films from this period alongside sharper, straightforward females and the brash, rude ones. It works so well because those are roles the men play too and so they work together to their strengths and banter well in many of the comedy films. During and more obviously after WWII women’s roles lost that progressive and even natural factor, the power that independent responsibility and moving into the workplace had given women in US and UK society was reflected in the films (even though they were kept very much in iron clad and handled bird in gilded cage contracts by the studios, let alone the ones picked up and groomed from childhood often married to much older men who financed/made the films by the time they were ‘eligible’, used to sleeping with them younger than that, both girls and boys were given to influential people just boys didn’t have showgirl like roles ’til more recent years.) When the soldiers came back from the field work they weren’t happy about it feeling threatened and usurped (which is why it took so long for women’s war effort to be recognized and memorialized (though I still think people were misguided in general in going to war) similar disapproval/dissent about women in society was around after WWI), women didn’t see such outgoing and less ‘the cookie cutter kitchen/bedroom wife’ or ‘evil mistress’ roles until the 60’s let alone ’empowered female roles’ we talk about today (which we still commend for not being the norm, though some are sick of them already and want to see more ‘normal and geeky females who won’t try as hard as their tough and sometimes selfless counterparts winning in the end’).

This film is as much about the patriarchs as it is the young couple. The conversations the older men are forced to have are portrayed as the sharing of wisdom from the older grandpater of the kooky family to the younger daddy warbucks. The former shows the latter that he should appreciate clean fun and cheer, community spirit, letting their children be happy despite the social gap and that the walls they build to keep them apart are not real they just feel that way when enforced, unlike the jail cell they both find themselves in which for the sake of the film makes them equal and the one used to influence and preferential treatment doesn’t get it (In real life he’d probably be friends with the judge or above and his banking position his meal ticket to get out of jail free card or at the most a cushy sentence/location.) In this film though, he gets to learn or re-learn the feeling of being part of a group who could like him for himself and not his money, plus a chance to feel young again playing the harmonica! This is a long film and near the end it gets sombre but unfortunately it takes life changing events and a re-evaluation of their relationships for both Senior and Junior Kirby to get through to them.

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You Cant Take It With You 5

I’m not a modern rom-com fan but I do like these ‘screwball comedy’ romances, they’re so silly and sweet; Jean and James [‘Jimmy’] Stewart (who plays Tony) have such a darling chemistry. Jean plays her usual role of being caught in a difficult situation but generally has the final decision, and can be difficult but always cute :-). She has a taut somewhat nasal voice which I’ve gotten used to and like because it’s distinctive but some people think it squeaky – either way I think it suits this type of role where she has to hold her head high a little. Regarding Jimmy I’d been used to his older films so was surprised to see him so young! He’s got his usual laid back but determined though not entirely sure how to go about things persona (and yet not a wallflower) but I recently saw him in a similar film (a musical) called ‘Pot O’Gold’ (1941) where he’s pushed into being more assertive and petty. I think the softer side suits his tall frame and ability to be shockingly loud out of the blue o_o better than more aggressive but of course it depends on the person you’re paired with and the circumstance and in Pot O’Gold he wasn’t with a character like Alice where they could play the tall/small (the smaller one the assertive and the taller the receptive) cuddly ratio.

You Cant Take It With You 4

Aesthetically the colour and sound is typical for its age, it’s not the clearest Black and White film and sometimes seems that you can see the curve of the lens at the edges but that isn’t detrimental – it suits the fairytale-eque nature of the story as does the soft lighting at parts. Usually I’m not fussed about seeing such films in ‘remastered’ colour but this is one that I think would look very decadent in colour given all the antique, ornate furnishings, textures and clothing. The sound is clear and almost even throughout, I didn’t notice a score actually – the focus is on the character vocals which are distinct to each and well enunciated. The jail/courtroom has the best moral-of-the-story quotes which I’d love to share with you but would be a spoiler though in another scene I did like a line implying Alice didn’t need a family tree because her [surname] is a tree (sycamore – they make a point of showing it’s different to the grandfather’s name).

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Obviously living like either family in this film isn’t very practical (or safe) but it does have flashes of hope such as Tony being more interested in solar and renewable energy and of course being in love with Alice rather than his title and his family apparently being in banking for 9000 years o_o and Alice is from a family that seems a little too unaware of their weirdness. Unlike them she’s not unabashed and more sensitive, she feels she has to prove she’s not inferior but at the same time is able see that despite such a heritage Tony is different from his family too though he does compare her family to a zoo. It’s her family that is the nicer ones here, exuding laughter and warmth and making Tony’s see ‘the light and error of its ways’. Like with ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, personally I wouldn’t forgive people who create/fund/perpetuate war nor mortgage providers(!) but can say that whilst this isn’t specifically ‘an end of year’ themed film it does work well for the festivity of the season.

Tony: It takes courage. You know everybody’s afraid to live.
Alice: You ought to hear grandpa on that subject. You know he says most people nowadays are run by fear. Fear of what they eat, fear of what they drink, fear of their jobs, their future, fear of their health. They’re scared to save money, and they’re scared to spend it. You know what his pet aversion is? The people who commercialize on fear, you know they scare you to death so they can sell you something you don’t need.

‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (Les Guêpes, January 1849)

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The Hogfather – How to Assassinate a Meta-Real Mythical Man

Terry Pratchett Hogfather 2006 Film Movie Review

Released: 2006
Runtime: 185min
Rating: PG
Cast Includes: Ian Richardson, Michelle Dockery, Marc Warren, David Jason, Tony Robinson, Terry Pratchett.

I’ve not attempted to write a Terry Pratchett based review before, although being one of a legion of fans (some newspapers claimed his books were amongst the most stolen from bookshops in the UK afterall), I could have. I’ve always been off put. Why? Apart from the author Craig Shaw Gardner who seems to be Pratchett if you mistakenly pick up one of his books (understandable given the iconic coverart by the same illustrator Josh Kirby), there’s no other I’ve come across who can make the metaphysical so mundane and lifelike/relatable whilst maintaining the magic and yet… Hilarious. Even when it also includes masses of social commentary and examples of the ironies of humanity’s ways of living or ‘quirks’. I basically find that unless you read the books and enjoy them it’s hard to read a review and appreciate his style, many reviews focus on the plot and hence have a hard time conveying the spidery web subtly/balance of character arcs or they discuss the social discourse so losing the dew drops of humour that stick delicately and sometimes explode on the strong web, and then of course there’s the spinning/mastery of storytelling.

So anyway I thought perhaps a film would be more accessible to people who haven’t been blessed or converted by his work yet 😉 and for hardcore fans (how can you not be o_o) something else to devour since we love devouring anything Discworld related unless of course you’ve already seen the film and so you are honour bound to agree with me or at least pretend to. *Cough*

WHAT THE HECK IS A HOGFATHER?

I won’t go into the cultural heritage but imagine Sinteerklass I mean Santa Claws, oops I mean Santa Claus(!) and then superimpose the jolly Father Christmas I mean Father Time, oops I mean Mother Time and the ‘Blackness [of] Time’ and ‘life/death’ combined with the earliest forms of worship using representative adjectives such a bears, boars, big cats, the colour red, the feeling of joy, the expansiveness of size etc… Ok gone too far back in the timeline; keeping it male and generally associated with the supposed primitiveness of early ‘Man’ picture a wild boar running, generally aggressive but protective (and kinda cute in a creepy way). Then for want of a better word the development of the ‘caveman’ standing finally on two legs, and with such a creature comes humanity’s cult of blood (lineage), death and reincarnation/the cycle of life and you have the Hogfather. A metamorphoses of spirit and animal and all the awe inspiring associations we have about ourselves simply because we exist with the privilege of being self-obsessed ignoring our surroundings creating such a strange thing as boredom. Fast forward in time, stick him in a symbolic red suit with faux fur trim and bigger in girth, and because we’re greedy, mean little bastards really, make him shower us with presents or lumps of coal.

AND SO IT BEGINS

The film that is. Creation existed way before Sky satellites!

Film producers have had just as hard a time trying to adapt his books as I’ve had waiting to write a review, there were a handful including animations but to be honest they weren’t that great (*shh don’t tell rabid sub-sections of fans I said that*). ‘Terry Pratchett’s Hogather’ (2006) was the first big budget and really cool version, at last, a mere 23 years after the first book and long after loads of people decided to put down their pitchforks, hammers, guns and so forth long enough to decide that they could agree on something and be followers of. Sky rubbed their hands gleefully at being the Ones to air the 3hour film in two 1.5hour parts and at Christmas!

As the film starts viewers are treated to a cosmic montage showing our tiny yet very interesting place in space, replete with deep voiced male narrator and soul stirring music; we knew it was going to be something epic.

We’re introduced to the Great A’Tuin, a goddess culture representative, predominantly Asian (Indian and later Japanese), of physical manifestation and indeed its vehicle. Yes, the idea of a giant turtle swimming through space with another/other form[s] of creation on its back has been around for ages (except as usual for those ancient scientific religions – yes I just put science and religion next to each other without nuclear war – it’s combined with math[mat/mother]ematics.

Great A'Tuin Discworld

Great A'Tuin Turtle Elephants Discworld

Whilst she (let’s not start the “it’s all matter of perspective” but wink wink it’s feminine debate) is traversing space on an interesting cycle of her own, she’s currently carrying 4 giant elephants in classical person-holding-water-vase pose, because they are holding a flat-ish plate (Discworld) of um a ton of water, bits of land and weird, wacky critters such as animals; some of which form guilds for commerce, trades, politics and you know, the well being of society through community control and specialized tyranny. Unfortunately this melting pot includes a liberal surplus of bodies, a high demand for goods and services but a narrow supply and distribution of said wants and needs.

That brings us to Ankh-Morpork the quasi Egyptian-pig sounding strangely similar to London, twin city of proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork separated by a gloopy, polluted river in between. A city containing it’s very own tower of Babel I mean ‘Tower of Art’ in the Unseen University [of magic], guilds galore, rich and poor, a ‘benevolent tyrant’ as its political head (trained at the Assassin’s Guild of course) and all the ‘pig [supposedly] sausages-inna-bun’ you can eat courtesy of its very own ‘Only Fools and Horses’ beloved con-artist bootlegger.

Now let’s move to a very unique young lady named Susan Sto Helit, not unique in that she’s an offspring of a demi-being, or that she has two-toned hair (hey we’ve all been there right?) but odd in that she’s pretty, pretty clever, tough, amazes others and yet has somehow found herself as a teacher/governess, and funnily enough it suits her o_o who’d have thunk it?

“And then Jack chopped down what was the world’s last beanstalk, adding murder and ecological terrorism to the theft, enticement and trespass charges already mentioned, and all the giant’s children didn’t have a daddy any more. But he got away with it and lived happily ever after without so much as a guilty twinge about what he had done. Which proves that you can be excused just about anything if you’re a hero, because no-one asks inconvenient questions.”

That’s our Susan alright.

Susan Sto Helit

Susan, like some people I know, has done her best to separate and decline her ‘otherworldy’ familial connections because they’re just so annoying and turn up whenever they feel like it whilst watching her all the time. That’s not to say they’re all bad and it just so happens her grandfather, one of the smaller Death’s of the cosmos is someone you can’t resist, now and then. He’s tall, skeletal, has enchanting glowing eyes, wears a dark robe, carries a scythe and has a blindingly white horse. *Sigh, he’s such a heartthrob!* (I’m serious.) It’s turns out this Hogswatch/Xmas (or perhaps Winter Solstice) he’s going to have to amalgamate with his human roots and take on the hogfather’s (who has gone missing) duties delivering gifts thus unknowingly leaving himself vulnerable. He thinks he’s covered his bases in getting his granddaughter to temporarily fulfill his post but neither of them account for they greys…

I mean The Auditors. An impending, looming, glooming, dooming title if ever there was one, besides breeders and butchers of all life on earth. These shadowy, floaty beings apparently run the universe and have no sense of humour. But why would such self-confessed omnipotent, omnipresent beings need humans, specifically assassins, to get rid of a so-called underling such as Death? The Auditors know all about casual cruelty in the name or order, it was probably them who taught humans in the first place, and admittedly they still ‘guide’ events on Earth um Discworld. Who cares, the Assassin’s Guild are not ones to turn down money and a challenge (most of their members are nobility) and at 3 million Ankh-Morporkian dollars they’re not going to be shown lacking in ingenuity. Bah, I’d be insulted if the bounty on my head was a measly 3 million pounds or dollars!

Enter Mr Jonathan Teatime pronounced tee-a-time-eh for us plebs (his sentiment not mine) and I’m only telling you because he gets mightily peeved when someone gets it wrong and according to him everybody gets its wrong – much like Hyacinth Bucket (bouquet) from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ and we know what she’s like so don’t say I didn’t warn ye. Despite his boyish looks he is cold, logical, unfeeling, uncaring, shit stirring, taking perverse pleasure in other people’s suffering, egotistical and lacking in social ability. In short he’s a psychopath and expects other to respect him with his backhanded complimentary veneer of charm and cheer even though when it comes to those all important questions “have I made the world even in the teensiest way a better place, how have I helped, how could and have I improved, can others trust me etc etc” he adds nothing of worth to the human race and the world wouldn’t miss him. Unsurprisingly he begrudges everything, including his status at the guild, and has already worked on plans to kill the Hogfather, the Tooth Fairy, The Soul Cake Tuesday Duck (Discworld’s Easter Bunny) and even Death.

Jonathan Teatime Villian Hogfather 2006 Terry Pratchett

Jonathan puts together a crew of dastardly characters and misfits to enact out his plan, an ambitious practical illusion to invert the already topsy turvy precarious beliefs of people so that demi-beings and divinities cease to exist, at least in people’s field of sensory perception. He thinks he can kill them and that is the premise of the story, but I think at most he could hide or change them, which would be awkward in a world where multi-species of slowly socially accepted sentience co-exist including humans, vampires, trolls, goblins, dwarves, little blue people, werewolves ad seemingly infinitum and many of those are demi-beings in themselves being cross-breeds with different abilities, some more diluted than others.

So it comes to Death and Susan (her capabilities skipped her human parents altogether and went direct from Death to her) to deal with the terrorist Jonathan, of the nasty ‘looks up dolls skirts whilst sneering’ persuasion.

Death Susan Sto Helit

AND SO IT ENDS

This was a really sleek production, being British based in cast/accents, locations, writing and designing you can see the use of dark and somewhat monochromatic/pale colour which suits the season and many of the environments including the Tooth Fairies, the Hogfather’s and Death’s inter-dimensional abodes. Those are nicely contrasted with the rich red/browns that we cling on to from Autumn past inside our homes and decadent textures depending on one’s class. Many of the characters are very stylised and convincingly so from their attire to mannerisms, something I found slightly lacking in the following Discworld films ‘The Colour of Magic’ (2008, including ‘The Light Fantastic’, also in two parts). The CGI is also miles better in this film, provided by the Moving Picture Company (one of their international facilities being in London), the mix of virtual reality and reality works as effectively as the blend of ‘anthropomorphic’ demi-beings and their effect on ‘real reality’ in the storyline.

The excellent settings allow the characterization and script to shine, the sarcastic, sardonic and sometimes innocent or offhand quips about how weird things are and at the end of the day the shrugging of shoulders ‘that’s the way it is’ attitude. That dark humour doesn’t come through as well in the ‘The Colour of Magic’ in my opinion and the long running time couldn’t manage without feeling sluggish. Here though I felt the length was suitable because it needs to give enough explanation but does it whilst telling the story, and is very faithful to the book so you don’t need to have read the book to understand it nor do you need to read the book thereafter (again, don’t tell the rabid fans I said that… But for my own personal safety – Disclaimer – it’s always a pleasure to read or listen to the audiobooks and Pratchett is the only author whose work I can revisit and still find the jokes funny, I can even find new ones each time!) Whoever did the casting did an apt job of casting for vocals as well since many of the characters are unique in both looks and oratory. All except one though, and the most important one (and his bird)… Here’s a quote from Death and his assistant Albert:

Death: Let’s go sleigh them.
[looks at Albert]
Death: I don’t know if you noticed Albert, but that was a pune, or play on words.
Albert: Ho ho ho sir. [figuratively rolling eyes]

Now whilst the pacing of the delivery was perfect, I would have preferred to hear:

Death: LET’S GO SLAY THEM
[looks wryly down at Albert]
Death: I DON’T KNOW IF YOU NOTICED ALBERT… BUT THAT WAS A PUNE, A PLAY ON WORDS.
[I’M GETTING PRETTY GOOD AT THIS HUMAN LARK, I CAN BE AS AMUSING AS THEM.]
Albert: Ho ho ho sir. [figuratively rolls eyes, eats yet another pie and downs his almost 2000th brandy, sherry or whatever]

You see, Death of the Discworld is a smaller version or one of the many workers of the cosmic DEATH, and as such has a presence that is both absolute and ethereal, a voice so hollow that it’d burst your ear drums if you could really hear it. As it is, if you exist after meeting Death you might only think you heard the hint of a voice after the blood-draining all-too-clear moment you knew at the time when you met Death prior and thought to yourself “oh shit, too late now”. Now that is asking a lot to put into a voice even with modern tech wonders and I felt that Death’s frozen cgi face was difficult enough to portray his thoughts and emotions, and then the voice wasn’t ‘hollow’ enough. He is voiced by Ian Richardson – who was also the narrator, and did a very apt job indeed – and his vocals sound ‘enhanced’ technologically but there’s just something, some spark of life in the death that’s missing. The crow, another of Death’s assistants doesn’t sound right either. I also didn’t like that the Death of Rats (a smaller and specific form of Death that was accidentally created and he decided to leave separate of himself instead of re-absorbing) only gets one scene. On a sidenote – the Auditors sound like something out of Dr Who.

Death Albert Terry Pratchett Hogfather Film 2006

That said their antics and conversations whilst acting as the Hogfather are sufficiently entertaining and we get to see other funny characters like the less efficient members of the City Watch (police force) trying to arrest Death in a department store for taking over their grotto and giving kids what they really want instead of what their parent’s want, and most eyebrow-raisingly for not being the real fake Hogfather (an employee dressed as the Hogfather).

Back in the assassination plot we meet characters like Violet one of the workers of the Tooth Fairy, so a tooth fairy herself but not THE Tooth Fairy (like with Death there’s far too many creatures on this planet/Discworld for one archetype to deal with, delegation became necessary) and her soon to be love interest Bilious the ‘Oh-God [I feel sick] of Hangovers’. Whose pitiable health the wizards of the Unseen University attempt to fix with their ‘we try not to meddle and mess up everything anymore but we’re not very good at that [so give us unlimited budgets and status to placate us]’ method.

Hogfather Violet Tooth Fairy Jonathan Teatime

Terry Pratchett Wizards Unseen University Bilious Hangovers

The musical score is impressive and when coupled with vast scenes and various climates is what I already called epic – so nowt more need be said on that other than it’s orchestral/electronic and there’s no singing (or dancing) theme tunes (something I don’t mind and saw a bit of in the final Discworld movie ‘Going Postal’ (2010) but wouldn’t have worked here). Add to that well timed sound effects and you’ve got top notch quality.

All round, top notch quality. And perfect for the ‘festive’ time (especially if you liked The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)).

Happy Hogswatch. Ho, Ho, ho. Or Humbug! *Shrug* 🙂

Susan Sto Helit Bone Castle

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Scrooge (1935) – A good man of business does not a good man make

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Director: Henry Edwards
Distributor: Paramount Pictures (US, original version)
Runtime: 78 min

I hazard to guess that like many people I’ve seen and read multiple adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843)’ but inspired by a similar story in the film ‘The Cheaters’ (1945)’ I decided to watch the earliest ‘talkie’ film of this tale i.e. the 1935 version.

I’m not usually a fan of stories where characters start praying on their deathbed aka seeking redemption and/or solace too little too late but Dickens’ knew how to tell a poignant, moral social commentary enough to melt people’s hearts and get them thinking in and from the days when even on a superficial level many didn’t pretend to care about the poor, poor children or orphans. Looking at budgetary cuts orphans still get a rough deal but this being an xmas tale allows for festive disposition to help the cause of general sympathy, perhaps.

Note – I doubt I could write a review on par or worthy of the novella itself as it is so crisp and quoteworthy that it’s text is its own testament. Therefore I’m not going to try and live upto its elegance of phrase and take rather a casual, semi-ironic tone.

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”
“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must but why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…”
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it since. It is a ponderous chain!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
“Business!” Cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” [sarcasm]

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

A successful man called Jacob Marley died leaving his partner Ebenezer Scrooge to continue the business of money lending. It’s cold but even the temperature has difficulty stifling the activity of London; fog, darkness, begging and repossession can’t stop people shopping for and looking forward to eating at Christmas but Scrooge is determined that it’s a poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket once a year. Much to the detriment of his wretched clerk Bob Cratchit who like his boss works until a late hour by candlelight in a premises that seems colder on the inside than the outside, but unlike his boss he’s keenly aware of the misery and frozen room, reprimanded for wanting a bit of coal to feed to the dwindling fire and generally threatened with losing his job for even an excess word.

Scrooge is hassled as modern people would consider it by travelling charity fundraisers and his sentiments about money to waste on idle people, prisons and poor houses reminds me of David Cameron and his usual mixing of migration and employment issues to blame low income people for being poor. Too bad we can’t use ice money like they do in the stop motion animation ‘Jack Frost’ (1979) (and in which Jack Frost falls in love with a girl called Elisa, *wink wink* Frozen/Rise of the Guardians fans.) After he manages to get rid of said collectors (oh the irony given he’s quick to repossess from debtors) he’s then accosted by his nephew who lets his uncle’s insults slide like water off a duck’s back and insists on extending an invitation to his Christmas party. He is strenuously declined of course. Following this Cratchit is allowed to go home finally after being told he’s always too quick to finish work, that the clock is fast, that begrudgingly he can have the whole day off tomorrow and to be back all the earlier the next day (when most of us would be bloated with indigestion on Boxing Day).

It’s ironic that Scrooge considers his all too merry nephew ‘poor’ and buying things he can’t afford getting each year older and not a penny richer yet when you look at his home, friends and celebration you see that they know not the meaning of poor and in a sense why Scrooge (and many people) consider being poor criminal since the Cratchits are abject poor. They manage just enough optimism for their residence not to turn into a likeness of derelict living but it’s not far off (I’ve lived in many and known others who’ve lived in such hovels/squalor).

How rich a man Scrooge is and surely that entitles him to contentment and cheer that other people seem to have but don’t deserve given that they are poorer than he, he’s earned his ennobled place in the world and to keep Christmas or not as he pleases, unlike other people and their familial ilk. So then why does the cold but not cheery atmosphere of his counting house follow him home, dark and desolate, dare I say waiting to decay? Many a wealthy employer or benefactor is stringent with their dependents/employees (Lowood Institution from Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ (1847) anybody?) And then ‘justifiably’ indulgent or keeping up appearances elsewhere as expected but not Scrooge, he’s as miserly as they come and is it any wonder that his name has become synonymous for skinflints and those lacking in empathy?

Later that night he is visited by a ghost from his past and three spirits representing the past, present and future. His memories and snippets of the future are shown to him sparing no expense on their mission to prove that he is not actually incorrigible. Being one of many people who can dish it out daily yet barely able to take the tiniest portion of his own medicine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow and so he eagerly and readily seeks a remedy to his own dis-ease.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

HOW WELL DOES THIS VERSION TELL THE STORY AND HOW WELL DOES IT COMPARE TO OTHER VERSIONS?

I’m partial to Black and White (B&W) films from 1935-45 but realize that the lack of colour could put some people off. I’d say bear in mind the social importance of films from that era, even though they were post-Code they still imo had the spirit of Pre-Code (approx 1930-1934) films. In short Pre-Code refers to a period between silents and talkies, where they had the initial ‘freedom’ of saying what they wanted before being subject to censorship regulations. I find films released up until the end of WWII to be surprisingly and refreshingly progressive, White women’s roles for example were less stereotypical and clichéd then they became post-war, they were allowed to be ‘normal’, witty, assertive, sharp, caustic or even intelligent, they didn’t have to fit have to be cookie cutter lookers, wives, mothers or secretaries on film at least. Asian and Native American actors were still pretty non-existent but there were a few notable Black actors allowed in main roles though those were very stereotypical, ‘Blacking up’ White actors lasted until the 1980’s but background extras could still actually be non-Caucasian. Storylines were a lot more telling as well, e.g common reference to masonic lodges and their influence in society and the impressive ‘House of Rothschild’ (1934) which I doubt could be re-made today without being whitewashed and heavily streamlined. It’s still a propaganda film but movies from that era were better at showing the motivations and complex nature of characters better than post-war to today in many respects though of course there have been landmark films in between particularly on the social diversity side but not necessarily historical accuracy. In that regard I can’t stress the importance of B&W films as part of our cultural consciousness despite our advances in technology which make them seem superfluous to many. I find that what they lack in technicolour, dolby sound, surround cinema sound, CGI, HD and 3D they make up for in rich content or at least a good laugh Wilde and Wodehouse style in the ‘screwball comedies’ genre.

That said from amidst the versions of A Christmas Carol I’ve come across this 1935 one and the 2009 CGI animated one (ultimately a vehicle for Jim Carrey) are the most detailed and faithful but the modern version lacks in many ways from the audacious ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’ title reminiscent of how they’ve edited their name onto the Muppets franchise (slap in the face to Jim Henson and team imo) to its feeling of slowness! The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is still my favourite with their unique characterization and a bit of silliness. The only benefit of Disney’s 2009 rendition I thought was the ode to old films in the long opening sequence with production credits, the taking of the tuppence off the eyes of Marley’s dead body and his dramatic spectre.

Where modern version benefit from special effects (sfx) the 1935 version has to rely on its script, which thankfully is taken from excellent source material anyway, and ambiance. That’s not to say there aren’t sfx, stunts and stunt-people have always been a major part of productions and we’re treated to the glowing figure of Christmas Past and the looming doom that is Christmas Future but unfortunately we don’t see the ghost of Jacob Marley. We hear his voice, those iconic lines, the rattling of chains and slight clanking of burdensome money boxes but interestingly enough all we ‘see’ of him is the point where he is supposed to be standing/floating – in front of a door. Very significant. I’m not sure whether I would have preferred an sfx apparition or more flesh and blood but spectral human but I did miss seeing him. The portrayal of Scrooge’s memories is distinctly kept as visions of the past by adding a frame/border to the film rather than being immersed in and almost re-living it, a technique ubiquitous in modern versions, I preferred them separate.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Additionally it seems to take him longer to realize that people will actually be happy and benefit from his material possessions when he dies than it does in other films. Overall it is a film that would work better if watched at night I feel, it’s not one of the clearer B&W movies out there and is quite dark visually but still… I prefer it to the remastered colour version where scenes were cut. There are moments in the initial scenes that seemed to suffer some sharp editing leaving the dialogue feeling a little stunted but it makes it way steadily thereafter. It also shows corpses, something usually omitted.

Scrooge 1935 film movie review A Christmas Carol

Despite this being a relatively short film we see more of misty London and the people in it than in many others, both before and after Scrooge’s transformation; even with these scenes it is well paced and contrasts social strata whilst highlighting Scrooge as a loner – although seemed to confuse or ignore the difference between loneliness and solitude with the latter not being a bad thing nor the same as being anti-social. On a lesser note in later years I’ve noticed the dialogue subtly changed to favour concise delivery and cultural understanding of terms – subtle, not detrimental but still noticeable when watching this.

THE ACTING AND SOUND

Scrooge is portrayed by actor Seymour Hicks (having also played him in the earlier 1913 version) who does grim and nasty well, not so convincing as remorseful and repentant but well enough at joyous and seemingly grateful. His nephew Fred (played by Robert Cochran) steals his thunder despite having shorter appearances and I like that he’s shown as amiably optimistic and exuberant rather than quite brash as he’s seen in some later films. Then there’s Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) who seems a little more outspoken and brave than modern counterparts, just a little but it makes all the difference and I found myself smiling at his small ‘affronts’. Strangely enough as a ‘sophisticate’ – a term used by the stirring narration/emulation of Jacob Marley by Mr. M in the film ‘The Cheaters’ (1945) – I usually find myself fond of and sad about but a tad ‘used to’ Tiny Tim. He and Scrooge’s ex-fiancée Belle are endearing characters but they can be hammy and sickeningly sweet and that’s coming from someone easily tearstruck by the suffering of others, I get through tissues… This film however moved me on Tiny Tim’s part again and somehow made it personal. He reminded me of someone I loved and lost, who was killed on 13th December 2009, with whose death much of me died too and since numerous enemies have made sport reminding me of and re-enacting using innocent animals as representatives to keep the memory/feelings as fresh as possible. So it’s no understatement that this film with its obviously predictable storyline somehow managed to be evocative. He’s less of a central character here but more believable.

Films of this period usually have a suitable score with emphasis on the melodramatic/driving parts and this is no exception, it was really in those parts that I noticed the acoustic side. I’m not adverse to hymns in general but I didn’t appreciate hearing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ and thrice at that (once acoustic). It’s not what I would consider a typical musical but I did feel the need to turn the volume down during the singing. Overall the sound was clear enough for me, it’s not scratchy and doesn’t jump except in those early scenes where it felt like some parts were left on the cutting room floor.

FINIS AND ADIEU

Personally I wouldn’t give him another chance (given the amount he’s had per person he’s hurt and hurt to such extents) but what better motivator is there than the idea of personal gain to get people to treat each other better.

“You fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused”

One of the best and earliest films of this classic and thus far still pertinent story, I’m not always of the ‘oldest is the best’ persuasion but the shoe fits here at least for those who wouldn’t find it too much of a culture shock between old and new filming. For those that haven’t read or seen the story at all, it transitions very well between vying emotions and attitudes of different people but the overarching theme is to show the more unlikely, startlingly quick and apparently permanent change of a person’s personality, even in extenuating circumstances (when push comes to shove via existential forces in this case) but it does so with the cheer necessary for the festive feeling of this time of year and wraps things up conveniently and nicely. I actually think the ending isn’t as clever as the rest of the writing but it’s a happy ending and who doesn’t want one of those? 🙂

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Wizards (1977) – War, what is it good for?

Wizards 1977 film animation

Director: Ralph Bakshi
Starring: Bob Holt, Steve Gravers, Jesse Welles, Richard Romanus, David Proval
Runtime: 80min
Rating: PG (UK)
Genre: Post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy animation (USA)

’Avatar’ vs ‘Blackwolf’

Loaded terms indeed and here they are names of the main two characters/sides in the story but let’s start somewhere in the future of humanity’s timeline. The film begins with:

‘An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of technology and magic.’

The world was subject to 1000 atomic bombs which caused 2 million years of radioactive pollution, much of the land was devastated and called ‘bad lands’ and humans mutated. When some of the skies and land cleared those who had fallen asleep, the elves, fairies and dwarves, awoke. Queen Delia of the Fairies was at a public celebration, the ‘Feast of the Plenty’ marking 3000 years of peace when she sensed something more awry than usual… Later she had twins (we don’t know if they were her biological sons or ‘given’ to her), one who spent a lot of time showing enchanting visions to her/‘mother’, he was Avatar. The other ignored her, tortured animals and was power hungry, he was Blackwolf. Delia finally died and the brothers fought, Blackwolf to succeed the queen mother and Avatar for her honour and the loss. Avatar beat Blackwolf, who was banished to the bad lands where he spent thousands of years accumulating knowledge, power and followers. Both are wizards but whereas Avatar uses magic, Blackwolf uses both magic and technology and as science&technology were banned after the nuclear war so he’s desperate to get his hands on any ancient tech and memorabilia he can to rise up against his twin and win. His ancient history is our World War II, particularly Nazi footage.

Bear in mind that Avatar is an Indian term pertaining to what Western people would think of as demi-gods, human or part human forms/representatives of deities; in popular scripture the most commonly known and celebrated avatars are that of the ‘god’ Vishnu with Krishna being the most famous. Many Hindus came to accept Jesus the [a] Christ (abit like ‘Interview with the vampire’ – 1976 – should be ‘Interview with A vampire’) as an avatar when he went from being referred to linguistically as ‘Son of Man’ to ‘Son of God’ (colonialism in India helped with the acceptance/conversion) because they know/remember that ‘Christ’ is a title not a name. Krist-na/Christ is a deviation from krystal/crystal aka crystalline energy (that glow/halo) and any one with enough power/ability/endurance could attain it, you didn’t have to be directly related to the divine but once you attained it you would obviously have a closer link to ‘oneness’/divinity and hence become a christ/illuminated/enlightened one – closer to god and easier to call a child/descendant/form of god. Interestingly enough Avatar is referred to as a/the Messiah in this film and the power of three is maintained given the good lands are a tri-state area with three rulers/monarchs. Blackwolf is a very native American sounding name and would generally depict either honour/nobility or tainted honour (depending on the use of ‘Black’).

Avatar sets off with a band other interesting characters; Elinore daughter of one of the state’s president who is assassinated and hence becomes queen and Avatar’s love interest, Weehawk an elf who lost his colleague/friend and… Necron 99 who worked for Blackwolf destroying believers of magic, killed the president and Weehawk’s co-spy partner. An unlikely band of heroes? Well Necro[n] 99 [66] is defeated by Avatar and renamed/inverted into ‘Peace’ as he joins their side in the name of love but really the threat of torture. They journey to attempt to gain allegiance from their neighbours.

Wizards 1977 film animation

Wizards 1977 film animation

Wizards 1977 film animation

Psychological Warfare – Trickery, Illusions, Bad Dreams, Hypnotism, Brainwashing, Projections, Possession

A big part of war, history and culture is propaganda, it’s one of the most notable forms of psychological warfare but more direct psychological weapons or mental/health side effects from physical weapons don’t get so much attention. Here we’re shown Blackwolf desecrating the Swastika as his idol Hitler (and other Nazis, KKK etc) did with his actions on top of it and via using it as a symbol. He uses film footage to inspire his troops and intimidate his foes, no one had seen imagery of such things (tanks, explosions etc although Blackwolf’s soldiers are already equipped with guns) and the pictures in and of themselves are enough to defeat many of the people of the good lands who had previously been used to unmotivated and lethargic people of the bad lands.

Wizards 1977 film animation

Interestingly enough the footage is shown as projections in the sky and in the mind striking fear and zombie likeness in targets. The use of sky projection reminded me of something some people have been saying for a long time and which was recently proved by a clever young lady Cleo Loi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) and the School of Physics at the University of Sydney that the Earth’s magnetosphere contains plasma ‘tubes’ which she calls a cinema. We’ve seen for quite some time now the ability to produce holograms via sprayed chemicals in localised air for national games/events but this take the potential further.

What can’t or won’t be explained is called as ‘magic’.

Comic Relief

Yes there is some!

Mostly in the form of a pair of tin can soldiers who could easily be dubbed ‘Dumb and Dumber’; we’re introduced to them when one thinks the other is dead and blames the vile, evil, cowardly fairies but then that one wakes and arises only to knocked unconscious again by his fellow nincompoop who continues to blame the fairies… These two provide social commentary in their own exemplary way for the audience, in another scene one is about ready to defect saying everything has the right to live but is told that they now have an ultimate weapon so he automatically becomes loyal again dispelling his need for ‘praying on his deathbed’/converting in his hour of need. The place of religion in society and war isn’t spared either; Blackwolf’s soldiers can’t be bothered to look after prisoners of war so they decide religion can be used to placate them – give them minimum sustenance for the soul instead of food, water and warmth and the priests are just… Funny in the way they cover as many bases as possible and the soldier’s reaction is just as ironic ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, if you can’t join ‘em blast the buggers’ mentality. All very fair-weather.

Wizards 1977 film animation

Unconditional love comes under scrutiny a tad too and as someone who has never been an advocate of it I could appreciate that, additionally as a fan of satire I don’t mind the above use of dark humour (I have limits although found this ok) but it might be off-putting (and I can understand why) to others.

Aesthetics

Avatar is portrayed as a hip, short old dude with big feet, 70’s lingo, a laid back air, gravelly voice and more beard than body in classic wizardly garb. Elinore rather than an elegantly and naturally nudist or acceptably scantily clad faerie/member of the fair folk is more of a sultry, kinkily dressed fairy queen (perhaps an ode to the days of Bakshi’s x-rated cartoon ‘Fritz the Cat’ 1972 and ‘Heavy Traffic’ 1973), Weehawk as yes you guessed it native American seeming and equipped with earring and horse, and Necron 99/Peace as a red suit of armour/knight. Blackwolf is a tall, fierce looking man with his arms lacking flesh and blood, long hair and dark robes. All in all the characters are distinctive and the background medieval and industrial in conflict.

The look of the animation is outdated and not particularly retro-chic or appealing but interesting nevertheless. Still images are used over moving backgrounds combined with simple colour schemes in poignant parts whereas WWII film and photography are used in tandem and at other times rotoscoped (traced) into the drawing. Everything else is very casually drawn without much shading so other than the footage and rotoscoping it looks flat and unrealistic, also the bodies are disproportionate but in this weird cartoon it’s watchable.

This sound is abit hit and miss too but the voice actors were well cast, for example parts of the film are beautifully narrated by Susan Tyrell whose tender and deeply feminine vocals enhance the storytelling and set the scenes. That said I thought I could hear her voice in for bit part characters which I didn’t like because it ruined the flow and changed the perspective too quickly from narration to character dialogue.

The musical score is quirky to say the least, jazz plays when Avatar speaks and he has a voice that if used to sing you just know would suit old school rhythm and blues and maybe even talking-singing (a ‘sing song voice’ not melodious but noir/classic detective) and then there’s the use of funk/soul when armies are marching instead of epic/driven classical we’ve become used to. It maintains the somewhat ‘what have you been smoking man’ vibe of the film replete with bits of electronica, organ and regular (lovely) orchestra in between.

On a sidenote some of the animation (particularly the look of Necro 99/Peace and) and musical effects reminded me of the later ‘He-Man/Masters of the Universe’ (1980’s) cartoons.

Apparently George Lucas was interested in the film while it was being made as he was making Star Wars at the same time, and apparently asked Bakshi if he’d change the name from War Wizards to Wizards to avoid confusion, and he agreed to due to Lucas allowing Mark Hamill time off to voice the King of the Mountain Fairies.

Hitler vs Holocaust

Comparison to Hitler is a main feature of the film, it would seem to follow then that the holocaust would also be a major factor however it’s only mentioned sparsely and referenced as the name of Hitler’s(Blackwolf’s) actions/the war in general rather than to actions carried out to the Jewish people; uprooting some, torturing/killing many, keeping some of professional status (the Allies recruited too) though imprisonment wasn’t limited to Jewish people and some would argue it was the sacrifice of the people for extremist Judaism aka Zionism (not moderate Jews) even though it seemed Hitler was against all of that heritage in general. In our mindset generations later when we hear the word ‘holocaust’ we think of the suffering of the Jewish people and of Hitler and his supporters as evil and the Allies as good/heroes. That everything the Allies did was retribution; the ongoing bombing leaving bodies looking like barbeque parts stuck/intermingled with each other and the land akin to the likes of Pompeii, the mass raping of girls/women/old women, repeatedly, in front of their loved ones, with objects/weapons, necrophilia, claiming to help females by guiding them into ‘safe’ zones like churches then barring them in and raping them, by what we think of as the usual treatment of ‘boat people’ nowadays i.e. sinking ships of refugees/asylum seekers or letting them sink, slaughtering of wild/pet/farm/and zoo animals etc etc etc. An eye for an eye or more like war as the venting of frustration and stress in an ongoing cycle of revenge, since retribution doesn’t satisfy many who’d have to deal with emotional/physical trauma sooner than if they continue vengeance and negate accountability onto the madness of the situation as long as possible first for which they can then be medicated or left as homeless veterans and potentially treated as criminals on homeland soil once they return by their former superiors if not glorified/medalled and then luckily enough left to get on with ‘normal life’ in the aftermath. I say ongoing cycle of revenge because grudges/inherited memory come back to haunt and not always obviously/directly – we tend to think linearly instead of or in addition to ‘they suffered terribly, no one should go through that’ (damned straight such things should never of happened) but who had a significant hand in Black slavery and the horrors that entailed. Similarly another religious/ethnic group in ‘that area of the world’ that has been/is being displaced and suffering now also had a hand in that, no racial group is innocent or guilty as a whole or by default, we have a long history of hurting each other ‘foreign’ or not and with consumerism it’s a lot easier for people regardless of race/creed/colour to live off the backs of others since it comes down to the basic classism that all groups suffer from – rich and poor. Just doing what we can to survive and if possible make the best of it comes with high risk/consequence but that’s moving away from the theme of this film.

Wizards 1977 film animation

Returning to Hitler and Nazi-ism in their ode to Aryanism we’re shown Blackwolf’s desire/obsession with lineage and the perfect human though given the circumstances he’s using a woman as a breeding machine to ensure his longevity through a human (not mutant) son who can live in the good lands.

Wizards 1977 film animation

At some points I wondered if Avatar and the people of the good lands try and help change the band lands and their residents or if they reached out for help, we’re told that Avatar spent a lot of time clearing radiation but not what the historic relations between the two overall sides were; whether there was an element of ‘keeping the good lands to ourselves and you lot stay over there’ or a case of resentment and jealousy on the part of the mutants, it’s unexplained. I found one insult Avatar used against his brother and their ‘mother’ eyebrow raising given their so-called opposite positions and his reputed affection for her.

Conclusion

I think the animation and fairytale style beginning would deter some people and hence miss out on what is quite a powerful and unique film. Also the way it identifies Blackwolf/Hitler and his followers/soldiers/supporters as mutants, demons, people gone wrong, dark, dangerous creatures and Avatar/Allies/Jews as the light, Earth’s older races, ancestors of man, Earth’s rightful residents and inheritors, saviours and natural/tribal peoples (although funnily enough ‘Blackwolf’ is more a tribal sounding name than ‘Avatar’ which is divinity based). I won’t explain the ending obviously but let’s just say I found it too light hearted and convenient. I think of the uselessness of war unless somehow you know it’ll be the final one and every last one of the ‘enemy’ killed – which doesn’t contradict the storyline here but I think those who manage to survive that are not pained or unscarred are without conscience and/or have selective memory. It would take me a very long time to be able to celebrate with a light heart or feel at peace, I’d be misery personified and weep; for my friends, loved ones, those I wanted to protect, those I managed to protect but still suffered, all those I missed and those I didn’t know but still thought of and existed, my enemies and for everything that happened.

Its saving grace is the comedy and weirdness which makes what would have been a so-so predictable film into something more.

‘As long as the world is under the influence of a correct social order it will never fall to devastation. However when the social order requires a lack of logic and mindless minions to survive the devastation appears as a world of its own.’ – Darkside Blues (1994 anime)

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Nim’s Island – There are many types of hero and heroic deeds

Nim's Island

Directed by: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Released: 2008
Runtime: 96min
Rating: U

Having seen this recently and thinking I’d write about it today when I had some time to think I then realised that today is:

Day of the Imprisoned Writer
National Philanthropy Day (USA)

And thought ‘how fitting’.

One of the characters in this film is an imprisoned writer, though not in the traditional sense and seemingly of her own edifice but the root of her conditions are also linked to society. More on that later.

Day of the Imprisoned Writer is about authors who are likely to be/are persecuted for their work, all over the world political writers to poets are in danger and punished in many ways from surveillance, experimentation, imprisonment and death. PEN is an international organization that attempts to bring awareness to these issues and support such people.

http://www.pen-international.org/
http://www.englishpen.org/

‘Freedom to write, freedom to read’ – always check for the logo in books and if interested perhaps petition your favourite publishers to become PEN partners.

Looking at other reviews on this film it seems I’m in them minority in liking this film, perhaps because in this case I’m willing to overlook the ‘unrealistic’ plot (unusual circumstances are not usually a problem for me anyway) and plot holes because of the sincere (to me), witty storytelling and spirit.

Striving to be who you are, what you need to be and what you want to be

We’re treated to an animated (graphically) introduction by 11-year old Nim on the importance of stories in our lives and the loss of her mother:

‘That’s all my mother is to me now, just these stories…

‘The Oceanographer and the Great Blue Whale.’

Once upon a time, the oceanographer went out on the wide-open sea to find out what was in the stomach of the great blue whale. As my mother was staring into the mouth of the whale a mysterious ship came out of nowhere. It was called The Buccaneer Ship. It got much too close and it frightened the whale and the oceanographer was swallowed and taken by the sea. Dad felt that we should sail the ocean and look for that blue whale that, someday, that whale would bring her back to us. I think he just missed her. We both did.

By my 4th birthday, we had sailed around the globe, twice… Then one day, we found it. Our home.”

I think that really sets the scene for the film in addition to the opening line from her father:

“If we take care of our island Nim, our island will take care of us.”

Nim’s father is a marine biologist and following the death of her mother they decide to find a secluded, special place where they can live freely and peacefully – they are as self sustainable as possible but periodically a ship comes with supplies for things they can’t make/find themselves.

They are the only humans on ‘their’ island in the South Pacific and it truly makes a beautiful, charming and enchanting setting for the film. Nim is obviously home schooled and like those who in my own experience have had the benefit of such education is more able than her peers [would be] as well as more creative/having advanced vision (such as students from Steiner Schools). Her and her father’s lifestyle is mix in that they’ve gone ‘back to nature’ but with access to computers/electronic tools and seem to have found genuine contentment. Therefore they are very protective over their environment and Nim particularly wants to keep it just for them, perhaps she feels that any ‘trespass’ would disturb their balance, whilst I can understand that I do think that part of it is based on fear and the film illustrates it as the feeling she has under extreme duress.

Her father is obsessed with finding a rare/hypothetical plankton that he wants to name ‘Protozoa Nim’ (protozoa – being simple and/or single cell organisms, essentially containing apparently earliest traces of life), it seems to be his life work and so he goes off on one of his trips to find one, this time his gut feeling will win out, surely… He tries to get Nim to accompany him because he’ll be gone for two nights but she’s determined to stay and guard her sea-turtle friend’s birth since the previous year only one of the eggs survived. Nim has numerous animal friends including Chica the turtle, Fred the bearded dragon lizard who rides on her shoulder, Selkie the sea lion (I like that name since Selkie is the Celtic and old English word for seal or more specifically seals that shapeshift into humans/humanoids) and Galileo the pelican – all of the animals have helped her growth as a person and education in fundamental ways.

Nim's Island Film Review

Photo credits to: outnow.ch/Movies/2008/NimsIsland/

Nim is one of those children (modern and/or free spirited) who calls her parent by their name instead of title i.e. ‘Jack’, a practice which for all intents and purposes suits her practical nature, can you imagine trying to find your parent in a crowd by calling ‘Mum!’ ‘Dad!’ And having probably half the crowd turn to you in askance and not just because you’re a shouting fool 😉

Nim's Island Movie Review

On the other hand, in San Francisco, a very famous author called Alex Rover (Nim’s favourite author) writes about a protagonist of the same name; a fearless, brave and quintessential adventurer, the exact opposite of the author. The real Alex is agoraphobic (doesn’t like to leave her house, scared of travelling) and germophobic but thanks to technology doesn’t have to leave her precious and sanitary house. Interestingly enough and perhaps strange to some but Nim refers to her and Jack’s situation as a ‘scientist’s life’ which I can understand in old science, having understanding yet living harmoniously but Alex’s lifestyle is far more the modern scientist, clinical and sterile. How are the characters connected? Alex is able to write her novels by communicating with others and their research and so writes to Jack but she’s on the cusp of serious change whether she likes the process or not.

During Jack’s trip a storm breaks and in the bleakness that follows all he and Nim have are faith and determination. Additionally one of the bain’s of water expanses aka a cruise ship has decided the island will make a great excursion destination, and we quickly see how a pristine island looks as a tourist beach. Can Nim save her island from mass tourism and successfully reach out to those she loves at the same time?

“The world was designed to help people find each other” – Anita, ‘Read or Die’ (anime)

Especially with the internet.

When the ship comes into sight Nim feel’s the paradise is being invaded and is reminded of the story of her mother and the blue whale so she embarks on a mission to make the island seem unattractive and offputting. Jack is AWOL so she has to grow up some more but unfortunately gets injured, how is she going to manage and how can Alex help her?

The setting of the story was probably easier for many to watch as a fantasy but the onset of events (which I won’t describe) were probably harder to believe or stay with for many but I saw them as symbolic for transformation, doing what has to be done and ‘character development’ (which so many find important).

Like some authors I’ve come across Alex’s fictional character is a form of alter ego, semi-visceral, ethereal and acts either as a ghostly presence or conscience/mirror; he urges Alex to be more like him, more like the hero she and other others need/want her to be. Ironically her writing is so pervasive that people think her the living embodiment of the protagonist i.e. that she is a he and real rather than image. She shows the greatest growth in this film, not only does she have to persuade everybody that she is indeed ‘the’ Alex Rover, a writer, but she also has to become the adventurer they expect. Her journey to find Nim is the most fantastic and each stage sees her dropping or losing boundaries/trappings/crutches, layer after layer she escapes/lets go of inhibitions, fears, doubts and perceived safety nets, risking it all, for what? A dream? A stranger/girl across the ocean who admires and needs her and feels inexplicably connected to? Her challenges are both physical and mental, striving for something spiritual. She’s going for what seems impossible.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

Jack is also trying to get home to Nim, despite anything and everything that happens he is sure, failure is not an option.

The ties that bind together the storytelling

This seems to be the area that really let people down and incurred a mixed/negative reception. There are some scenes that are ‘too much’ such as the lengths characters go to, I think they fit in with the target audience of the film and the genre(s). Another criticism some have is the use of sfx/cgi e.g. with the animals, being a person that doesn’t support the use of animals I have no problem with having to animate/accentuate their behaviour and I thought their antics/assistance delightful, I would have had problems with the mass lizard catapulting scene otherwise (reminding me of an old film where they ran over a goose’s tail and practically through other birds and numerous other examples).

Our neurotic author garners disdain as well since she really does throw herself in at the deep end pushing her limits in a way that most people wouldn’t/couldn’t but the drama in this film allows for that – she loses everything to gain everything.

Water is symbolic of transformation (and indeed purification, as is fire), travel and doors/portals hence space (the cosmos) is often referred to as a sea/ocean and death as a river so I find it fitting that so much happens in the water, because of it, it’s changing (violent/peaceful) nature and them living on an island. Apart from the volcano scenes I liked the underwater ones the most, not quite as awe inspiring or even transcendental as other films – even the old film She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) – but still perfectly representing both the force; attraction/repulsion between bodies e.g. the distance, and pull/barrier between people.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The soundtrack isn’t too obvious but noticeable in a background enhancing way, at times raising in crescendo but never taking over and is purely instrumental (I think it’s quite precarious determining suitability for vocal or even pop songs in films, and the inclusion of those would have lightened the mood a tad too much here).

There are many great quotes although I’ve tried to limit them to the most poignant imo to save the significance for if/when you watch it 🙂 and if little else the script does credit to the film in conjunction to some of the acting which is quite hammy and akin to gesticulating whilst talking. I liked that and thought it added a comic element making the whole thing more watchable and maintaining good pace. Jodie Foster is a fine actress and hasn’t failed to impress in the films I’ve seen her in, I’m used to her playing serious and sometimes gritty roles but here she has an element of physical comedy, ‘lighthearted’ yet dramatic grandstanding with underlying gravity – a type of acting I mostly remember her using in Bugsy Malone (1976) but there as a cynical minx, here it was gratifying to see her play a themed character again and so well (and as an adult rather than child creepily playing sexualized adult). Gerard Butler plays both Jack and the fictional Alex, doing so quite convincingly though both are gregarious. He doesn’t feature as much as Nim and the real Alex but at least he changes his accent between roles and I liked hearing a bit of ‘Scottishness’ from him! Abigil Breslin does a heartfelt job as Nim, a girl who is not really alone and yet is quite solitary and scared; strong yet vulnerable and the obvious hero of the story who is fighting desperately hard to save the island, its inhabitants, the people she loves, herself and the entire environment of ‘home/safety’.

Nim's Island Film Movie Review

The End

I can relate in ways to all of the characters and think that viewers can do the same particularly with Nim and Alex – even if it means having to remove their circumstances first to try and understand what they’re going through. If that is still too unlikely at least we can look at Nim’s Island as a ‘decent fantasy flick’ although to many ‘nothing special’. I don’t think it has to be different or benchmark to be special, I can see why people expected an immersive/grandiose epic given the cast/setting/current standards but like the film Bridge to Terabithia (2007) I think this story is more about the characters involved and what they go through internally/how they feel though BoT also emphasized how we can affect/effect the environment around us and is more ‘slice of life’.

I haven’t read the book by Wendy Orr or seen the sequel but I am interested now due to this film. I appreciate the way that Nim and Jack’s surname is ‘Rusoe’ like Robinson Crusoe and hence linking to Swiss Family Robinson however those are more serious and survivalist, the latter being academic and in the storytelling the thematic difference being that those stories were about people lost/travelling to a strange place(s) whereas Nim’s Island is already home and is ultimately a ‘feel good’ film despite the hardship.

Sometimes the unlikeliest of people become/have to be heroes because even the strongest of us need help, who will save the heroes if the people they care for don’t respond?

‘Be the Hero in Your Own Life Story.’

Gallery

Brave – Beauty and the Beast of Old Style

Brave Merida Archer Daughter

Released: 2012
Directed by: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly
Rating: PG

This is not your average Disney fairytale (via Disney/Pixar design), it’s gone back to the days of epic verses, it’s not just a piece of a story, it’s the story, digging right to the roots of humanity’s cultural history. There’s no charming princes, theatre singing, show stealing sidekicks, they’ve tapped into the raw origins of myth and psychology.

I don’t usually delve like this into Hollywood for reviews, unlike filmmakers in other countries (except US-cross border projects) they tend to radiate symbolism all over the place but don’t explain it and act like it’s a coincidence but here it’s loud and proud.

It garnered overwhelming positive review and support from viewers but there were some it just rubbed the wrong way and who probably without understanding dismissed it as a dud. The emotive issues and relationships involved between parent-child and boundaries were too much for some people and hopefully this review will help to dispel the misperceptions and misconceptions.

PLOT

In medieval Scotland a princess was born, her name was Merida, her mother Elinor and father Fergus lived seemingly contently until they were attacked by a huge black bear called Mor’du. Mother ran to protect the child and father lost his leg in fighting. We see them again later in a castle with Merida as a teenager and with 3 little brothers (triplets). Merida has come ‘of age’ and has to get married much to her surprise and dismay, Elinor is nonchalant about it and feels it a done deal it’s just a question of which suitor will be the one. This causes a tear in the fabric of their relationship and things will never be the same again as Merida fights for her right to her own body and Elinor battles with tradition/duty.

Action packed and emotive from the start the friction with the characters vs the audience start when Merida is given a cake by an old woman in the woods (Crafty Carver who won’t admit she’s a witch) to give to her mother, the cake turns Elinor into a bear and if the spell’s riddle isn’t solved in time she will remain one…

Arranged Marriage – How dare she control my entire life? How dare she defy me?

The standout theme of this film is arranged marriage, and for some people I’ve come across translated into ‘what a spoiled, selfish s*** that girl was’ and ‘I wouldn’t have tolerated her [Merida’s] behaviour’. Personally I’m totally, utterly against arranged marriage for myself, I don’t like or tolerate inferences from meddlers and people with too much spare time on their hands who then see a single person and think one/some/all of the following ‘a project to enjoy, something/profit to gain, a wedding to arrange and more children to play with that aren’t mine and since this one’s old and boring now’ let alone people who actually try to set me up… One of my aunts once told me that my mum was going to marry me off and thereafter I spent years in a campaign to show I was independent but still dutiful without being able to mention the incident. Then when I was asked what I thought about arranged marriage for 2 other members of the family (which I never told them because I didn’t want to sour their relationships) in no uncertain terms I disagreed and was having no part in it. Obviously that meant I was in the bad books for a while and the wannabe arrangers more friendly than usual with their previously intended marriage targets, typical, every time one of them had an argument they’d cozy up with one of the others even if they’d argued just before, playing off each other and since I don’t I end up looking like the trouble maker.

That said, I’m not against it for people in their 20s+ who decide they want to look for someone to get married to and go to an ‘elder’/marriage maker/family/agency etc to make it happen. As long as they’ve done so without any pressure, obligation or manipulation of any kind, are aware that they might not find the ‘right candidate’, and if they do get married it might not work out and divorce is ok. I’m not into the ‘new’ marriage brokering of blind dates because ‘children’ are still under the duress of duty to participate even if they ‘play the game’ in a way that suits them and even though their parents say they can say no if they want to (it’d be easier if they just got an actual doll set instead of playing barbie and ken with the kids and be happy with them as they are without pushing them to add more to the brood just because they’re ready to be a grandparent and/or want more property or to get someone abroad/into a certain family).

Not all arranged marriages go or end badly, some people learn to live together respectfully, even contentedly and/or actually fall in love like Elinor and Fergus but it’s a big risk to take with a life especially when children and emotions can’t be undone.

I didn’t like that Elinor was made out to be the bad parent in contrast to Fergus’ reticence and lax attitude but we were shown the political bonds that held the clans together – they formed an allegiance after disliking each other due to a common enemy and that alliance assured by property, title and basically knowing they’ve got a foot in the door in each other’s families and spreading their lineage. Interestingly the film highlighted the role of women in perpetuating and enforcing arranged marriage as well as being victims though for some reason the men were shown as none too bothered by it nor resistant to the idea of changing it later on and more interested in fighting & drinking. They were just going along with it for the sake of appearances and because it was the done thing whilst the mother was for it also out of a misplaced sense of love, duty and what she thought was right. Some people do that because they feel it’s the only or best security and even escape they can provide or have and if it comes down to risking happiness with security then they go with security (though many women find their personal safety has also been compromised). Elinor says ‘it’s only marriage, not the end of the world’ which was hypocritical given she has a happy marriage and is the basis of the most important things in her life i.e. her family and position. So it’s not ‘only’ marriage, it’s a huge thing and it can be a deciding factor in people’s personal world’s i.e. their life. Then there are those women who are like the men in the film just go along with it without thinking it through. Elinor didn’t have sympathetic circumstances other than ‘this is how royalty behaves’ and ‘its for the sake of the kingdom’ aka its the duty of the acknowledged offspring of royalty the representative of god to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the kingdom/people (more pervasive in a tribal setting like this than modern royal counterparts) and that restriction is well played through the attire given to Merida. Elinor cared deeply for Merida but couldn’t balance the child/sentient being vs property/object, and who along with Merida were ultimately taught a lesson by a higher mother figure.

This film shows how 2 close but very frustrated people have to rely on each other in uncertain conditions without community and convention to tell them what to do or provide examples. Merida learns the responsibility of having a dependent, Elinor is taken out of her comfort zone of protocol and has to re-learn how to communicate and ultimately they have to save each other from Mor’du and Fergus & blood thirsty clans, plus figure out the crone’s cryptic message to mend their broken bond without being able to contact her again, all within a time limit.

Brave Merida Daughter Elinor Dark Mother Bear Goddess

Parent-Child (similar to Teacher-Student or Guardian-Vulnerable)

The driving theme of this film is parent child relations and whereas we covered boundaries, this part is about communication. Let me just say that I’m only going to refer to the situation shown in the film rather than families in general, I’m well aware that there are very problematic, ungrateful children that parents/guardians just can’t cope with for example. However in regards to the film and similarly to the reactions provoked by the above, trying to talk to someone you love or spend a lot of time with such as family and dependents/co-dependents can be very difficult. If there’s a power imbalance aka the double yet understandable standard of a parent over child it can be very frustrating for a child to talk about their thoughts/feelings, frustration can lead to crying and/or lashing out when they just want to be angry and then embarrassment at the inability to express themselves clearly. A lot of parents react in just as juvenile a manner but instead of crying can be smug and rely on ‘see I told you so’ and ‘now you’ll see how hard it is yourself’. I can understand that in single parents or those without much if any support, but in the case of Merida’s mother she’s got a solid, respected position in the family and power/influence, she just reacted out of being questioned and her plans rejected. That doesn’t justify Merida giving her spiked food and then claiming it wasn’t her fault (it wasn’t fully her fault). However I think the main thing a lot of people I’ve come across miss is the symbolism of the bear and indeed turning her mother into one was not an insult at all despite being presented as a rash, immature move necessary to move the story along and for character development. (If it was ‘real life’ I’d be against that but film audiences need and crave drama otherwise they feel stagnated.

Beauty and the Beast

Apparently there is an event in one’s life, something that severs the psychological umbilical cord. It’s usually an argument or something big enough to make us differ from our parents/guardians in some way. It doesn’t have to be permanent, it can be a temporary thing but it’s a defining event that marks a transformation in the relationship.

My first thoughts when watching were ‘this is very well designed, beautiful reconstruction eh what the? They didn’t have bears in 10th century Scotland!’ and then ‘Oh’ Disney weren’t messing around (as much as usual) with this one.

Maid-Mother-Crone (the Witch and Bear)
Daughter-Mother-Dark Mother

Child to Woman and Mother to Dark Mother

That is the symbolic theme to hold the story up with in comparison/contrast.

There were a lot of goddesses in ancient Britain (and of course these Isles have been through many waves of European invasion), you can still see some relegated as modern day saints and others masculanized or removed over time. The significance of the triple goddess and the ‘other’ (nowadays superimposed by the father/son/holy spirit and possibly adversary) has remained in remnants, probably most known here would be the Morrigan, and has been weaved (an intentional term there) into the film. Culturally 4 became 3 with the dark mother sometimes also described as the ‘other’ and that is shown through the masculine in the film aka the story of the 4 brothers/princes inheriting equally and the oldest believing he was robbed – 4 brothers became 3. Then from the father (Fergus) comes the triplet brothers (1+3 which in itself is symbolic of the 3 become 1, and 1 become 3 and ultimately the 4, in one way the triplets could be seen as one being and interchangeable with the father) and then the 4 clans with 3 fighting over the right to Merida. Celts are no strangers to bear symbolism and the Gauls have the mother goddess Artio, to the Irish Celts ‘Art’ meant ‘God’ and divinity in translation to people’s social structure = royalty.

I titled this review ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as an indicator/short form of the above (hey it was a limited space title). Neither female protagonist or the witch is either Beauty or the Beast, all characters are both with the witch being the transformation agent and the ‘dark mother’. Hence the use of the will-o’-the-wisps, like the witch sometimes seen as tricksters and here are her messengers/guides apt since they’re known as foolish fire and the fool is not an idiot or clown but a symbol of hidden knowledge.

The Dark Mother is a figure usually given wicked stepmother/jealous wife/evil aunt status but originally she was the fierce protector, the wisdom, always tying back to blackness, time and eventually from the ones most still widely known, Kali of pre-Vedic Hinduism (i.e. she pre-dates modern Hinduism being an entity recognized worldwide but Hinduism is the living remnants of that and that’s where the root mother is ‘housed’).

The hard I mean dark mother is often seen as ‘tough love’ even cruel but when it comes down to the overbearing/unbearable vs the can’t bear it, she helps the latter. I’ve never been one for throwing your kids out of trees, off cliffs, off ice caps and watching them hit everything possible on the way down to see if they’re strong enough to survive but at the same time male lions kill other people’s cubs. The dark mother is usually the last resort, when things have gotten so bad, sh*t has hit the fan and covered everybody, when even the bad guys and not just their victims are calling ma/maat/mat/math(a)/mahi/mata/m-om (root words for mother) for help. It’s upto her to teach us some bloody manners or return the child (creation/manifestation) back to whence it came (inside herself to some). In ‘smaller’ form usually as the Daughter she’s shown in stories and scripture to help people on a lesser scale.

However just because one is a bear and the bear is a symbol doesn’t mean they’re all nice or good, not all women are goddesses not all men are gods not all children are innocent and not all bears (or any living example of a symbol) are loveable. If you’re a beast, even unintentionally, after a while you become one. It’s also easy to forget oneself in transformation (and be pushed into it) to lose consciousness/self-awareness.

Micro and macro storytelling – Bears, bears, bears!

The bad bear, brother bear or the bear who didn’t learn his lesson. In usual roundabout fashion (even grandmothers/witches/crones are busy and a lot beings need help) a circular nature is shown here. Breathe in, breathe out and repeat. It is said that the original Dark Mother/the source made the Mother/manifestation who was also of course the Daughter but she was too big and too multi-dimensional for the smaller parts of herself (stars, planets, carbon lifeforms etc) to comprehend/appreciate/be in contact with other than in a mundane ‘this is where we live and what it looks like’ sense so the Mother/Daughter made another Daughter to act as a link/representative. But there was a bad apple so to speak, he resented and rejected the mother (tough when you’re a part of a body) but succeeded in a takeover, like a deadly illness/injury that bit by bit takes consciousness and energy. To some He is described as a/the malformed part. In a historical, Earth sense (since the story is not just about Earth) it seems to coincide with patriarchy. As with conquerors in general (religious, political, business, schools of thought) if you can’t vanquish the conquered you copy and assimilate it/them and history tends to get repeated as empires rise and fall. Whilst the daughter/mother/dark mother is still heavily hidden/veiled in our current versions of older cultures, the fourth is even harder to find out about but is still mirrored in some. The ‘lost’ one, is it the traitor, the original sinner who defiled his/the mother? Anyway, 4 brothers, 1 turned into a bear (Mor’du) by the crone and didn’t make it through the transformation properly and guess what – he already attacked the mother&daughter in smaller form Elinor and Merida (who both represent the daughter of the dark mother/crone) when Merida was a baby, Fergus lost part of a leg fending him off (losing a part to/due to the lost part itself) and here he is again attacking them again in another transformation period. He is the embittered obstacle that couldn’t be dealt with before.

Ultimately Elinor and Merida change and become even closer and Merida is the figurehead of this story, she is Brave. The daughter of the bear and in Celtic mythology bears were also symbolic of bravery, although people were scared of them in many European/Eurasian areas they were still respected. In other cultures such as to Native Americans bears symbolize power, strength, nurturing/protection and introspection (particularly in dreams in Shamanism).

From the Gauls we have Artio (also known as Dea Artio – see Deanism and Filianism which again is the focus on the Daughter/Mother/Dark Mother as the Supreme Creator/Creatrix/Matrix) the bear mother goddess and with the spread of Celts in general we can’t ignore their link to the Romans (and hence Greeks). Goddess Fortuna favours the brave, and Artemis (also known as Artemis Kalliste) and Diana (thought to have been the cultural morph/absorber of Artio) have goddess-bear symbolism. As aforementioned the word ‘Art’ to Irish Celts meant God, and that’s shortened from Bear Mother/Goddess. In Greece we have ‘arktoi’ for ‘bears’ more specifically ‘she-bears’ with ’arkt’ being Indo-European for ‘bears’. Also remember the link between Artemis and C/Kallisto (many k-words get changed or added to with ‘c’) going on to the constellation Ursa Major and Ursa Minor ‘the little she-bear’ the bear or the north, the Pole Star seen best at the ‘arc’tic. Kallisto was raped by Zeus/Jupiter much to the embittered Hera/Juno, who is generally shown as the angry wife/evil stepmother morph/version of the older ‘dark mother’, turned Kallisto into a bear after she gave birth. Her son as a teenager met his mother bear again without knowing her and tried to kill her – mirrored by Fergus trying to kill Elinor in the film and Merida stopping him. (In the Sophianic Myth, Deanism and Filianism the malformed/wrongly made later becoming the lost and twisted one represents the ‘son’ who is also in later religions a/the father figure as like the daughter/mother connection they/he is ultimately a son – easier for the modern mindset to think of in terms of the Graceo-Roman scenes of fathers/sons marrying or just sleeping with their mothers/sisters). Merida speaks back to root stories so instead of Mother-Son being sent to the stars in heavenly union and rekindling of the relationship this one strips back the false/bad father/son (Zeus/Jupiter parallel) connection and makes Merida the daughter saviour (again). Then all live ‘happily ever after as a happy family with children (not just the youngsters because all the characters are ultimately children to the crone) making their own choices’ – in actuality we don’t know the ending of the Daughter/Mother/Dark Mother root culture creation/manifestation story and the Sophianic Myth but Disney can’t say that – bit anti-climatic for the audience.

In Europe there has been a linguistic taboo over the words for bear so many opted for phrases particularly including their colour and the ability to destroy/get angry. The Indo-European words ‘Bher’ (bright, brown) and ‘Rkso’ with the Sanskrit word being ‘rkshas’ meaning ‘bear’. The problem and confusion is in morphed/twisted language e.g. any Hindu should know that rakshas refer to demons or enemies of God rather than thinking of bears (though most don’t know that pretty much all the ancient religions say the gods/God/demons we know of as the ruling pantheons and singular today came from various places in space and got stuck here) but remember Kali ‘The [Great] Destroyer [of Worlds]’ (Kali means Black and Time) is older, tribal pre-organized religion found through and all over the world from the streamlined Hinduism aka Buddhism to the beautiful dreadlocked versions in Africa to the triple goddesses throughout Europe and the Black Madonna. The words with Rkso and its variants indicate or mean destruction, not demon by default – demon is the association because usually destruction is seen as bad (whereas raskshas are evil hence demonic in action). For example both Hindus and Muslims would recognize the use of ‘shaytan’ and ‘satan’ as definite demons (yes plural) both by behaviour and species sub-type (though daemons/jinn are not defined as bad or good as individuals, they’re another species group) and the word ‘devil’ is anti-devi, definitely anti-God. In the case of bears another example is Japan’s use of the words ‘yokai’ for spirits, ghosts/phantoms and ‘kami’ for deities, gods, demons denote various groups in general rather than saying they are good/bad).

Even though I don’t agree with the notion of ‘the end justifying the means’ in ‘real life’, the story in Brave isn’t a blame game to take offense at and pick sides – Merida and Elinor needed each other to grow, closer to each other and as individuals. Hey if you ever get the chance to turn someone into a bear, generally the answer would be no way jose (I hope), but bears are at least stilled beloved in today’s culture. Many of us have moved on from the terrible rituals associated with bear worship with adults giving toy versions to children and pets all the time who have them for comfort and companionship. Although many of us still continue to sacrifice and torture others for enjoyment/business/entertainment and even in religious worship in the act of will hurt creations and disciples whilst praising/appeasing the very beings who supposedly made them. Yeah because hurting someone’s beloved/one of their beloved will endear them to you.

Brave Merida Daughter Elinor Dark Mother Bear Goddess Tapestry

Brave Merida Daughter Bear Mother Elinor

My Mum’s the same, prefers straight hair (usually has hers plaited) and makes fun of my bushy locks :-p

The Archer

Whilst the bear symbolism is rampant the archer is less obvious (anyone wanna lookup famous archer princes and divine beings – numerous to say the least with notable characters from India, China and Western Asia/Middle East). The bow and arrow in general symbolism tends to alternate between phallic imagery, fighting instincts to warlike tendencies but also truth and clarity and fiery Merida the Archer on her horse has an ode to Sagittarius. In conjunction with the bear the characteristic of introspection during hibernation, self-evaluation is one of the Jewish attributes to the bow and arrow. The placement of arrows is also code for Native Americans, left and right but also a broken arrow meant peace, two arrows in opposite directions meant war and crossed arrows meant friendship. We don’t see that in Brave however and her use of them mostly showed her indomitable spirit, warrior nature, independent mind and ability to reach her goals. Possibly worth noting that akin to Merida breaking Elinor’s shackles of royal pageantry, Elinor threw Merida’s regal looking bow into the fire forcing her to have to use another, plain one. They broke their boundaries and went back to the wild/nature in more ways than one.

Brave Merida Daughter Archer

What’s in a name

Whilst Elinor, Fergus, Hamish, Hubert and Harris (the triplets) can be easily identified with Scottish peoples Merida (mare-uh-duh) is an interesting name. In the above I’ve explained that the Daughter-Mother-Dark Mother story has been inverted over time to male characters and in what we think of as traditional we would associate her character with a prince. At first glance ‘Merida’ is similar to ‘Meridel’ and ‘Meredith’ (and it is) though to people of the Latin Americas they’d probably think it Spanish. In common in the UK usage it’s a male name in Scotland and as part of Brave sort of reclaiming its heritage we have the princess with the prince’s name and being the saviour with the royal/divine connection.

Names and words that have context e.g. describe personality (like when I described above the taboo around using their direct words for ‘bear’ in Europe) can be tough to understand so it’s easier to work backwards from their common meanings to find their roots.

Meridel and Meredith are in the ‘Mary’ family (like with Spanish Marita, Marie and all of which have a water connection to root term ‘Mori’), Meridel means ’merry/joy’ most probably from ‘mear’ in Gaelic and Meredith means ‘great ruler’ and interestingly in Hebrew means ‘rebellion/defiant’.
Root terms:
Mer- to rub away/harm but there’s also (s)mer which is to deserve/share
Duh – Germanic form meaning strong

As for Mor’du
In Gaelic: mòrdha is great/noble and it seems the ‘du’ can be taken from the ‘dubh’ for black.
Root term ‘Medhu’ means honey/mead – that taboo in Europe meant that in Slavic areas bears were called honey-eaters and the root term in current Hindustani/Bengali it’s still madhu for sweet/mead (but depending on dialect/place can be modhu).
As an exact word in current language the French mordu is to bite/be bitten.

Brave Merida Poster

Brave Merida Poster

VISUALS

The animation is sumptuous from the start and somewhat contrasted by the less realistic human characters but that is characteristic of Disney/Pixar. The textures in the environments shone through from lush, dense greenery, to the flowing water and suitably murky atmosphere at night especially at the ruins.

I’m not an expert, I haven’t been to Scotland but reading early articles (Brave was announced in 2008) it seems the research team took the time to explore places for scenes they’d like and of which people recognized in the movie. Mythically I liked the setting of the witch in the woods/grove and the stone circle as a gateway/barrier and according to Wikipedia they actually made and registered 3 original tartans for the clans which apparently caused a little political kafuffle.

Interestingly enough though even I can see that for the level of attention given to the setting and story Brave seems to be set in multiple time periods, the physical appearance/mannerisms at times… I don’t know if that was intentional as if to say this is a story that spans generations/traverses time or they just liked what they saw/had in mind and wanted to put it all in! Either way at least it works.

It was a bit shocking to see Merida as a teenager, it was like looking at myself but a pale skin version. Her hair was exactly like mine (mine was even auburn/copper with gold hints at age 14/15) and I know there are other ‘Cousin It’s out there but the few I’ve seen have straight-ish hair. I’d never met anyone else with the big bird’s nest! Apparently it took Pixar the best part of the 4 years since the film was announced in 2008 to draw her hair leaving them only 6 months for the rest.

Brave Merida Daughter

SOUND

Given that Brave isn’t the norm for Disney I was glad that characters didn’t burst into song let alone repeatedly. That’s not to say that Disney doesn’t have a catalogue of great, catchy, sing-a-longs but seriously, no. For some people singing is a deeply personal thing so I’m glad that Merida has snippets of song at the beginning sung in her mind. Even the comic relief (her brothers) don’t sing and aren’t really in your face like in other movies, if anything they’re abit creepy rather than funny.

I appreciated the use of Scottish instruments and vocals in the score though given it is an action packed film I didn’t notice it so much during those scenes, I noticed it more in a scenes like when Merida is teaching Elinor to be a bear. I also enjoyed hearing the different accents and Doric (dialect) which I just about understood though that may have partially been due to the tone and circumstance. As a language overall the pronunciation of vowels and composition is obviously different but l also liked hearing the emphasis on each syllable. The enunciation didn’t sound lazy though it did sound conversational and comfortable.

“There’s no point marrying a girl who doesn’t want to be married.”

Recommendation

At this point I would usually give comparisons, and there was a book I thought was called Brave that I borrowed from a library approx 7 years ago, Young Adult genre but for some reason I’ve never been able to find it since and can’t remember the author… It was a about a girls orphanage where they don’t have names or personal items and wear a grey plain uniform because they aren’t allowed to have personal identity. One of the girls rebels and breaks out to tell people that the institution isn’t benevolent like it purports and to find another girl’s family. She’s found out, kept in isolation and discovers a terrible secret, offered a bribe but maintains her courage of conviction. After a while everybody forgets about her except one girl who uses her memory to change things. If anyone knows the author and perhaps new/different title please let me know.

Gallery

Tad, The Lost Explorer – Professor Jones oops ‘Professor Stones’

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review

Release Date: 2012
Rating: PG (a few tongue-in-cheek moments)
Language: English (originally Spanish)
Runtime: 92min
Director: Enrique Gato
Cast Includes: Kerry Shale, Ariel Winter and Cheech Marin.

Ever dreamt of being an intrepid explorer, a thrill seeking danger junkie, treasure and glory hunter?…

Thanks to Indiana Jones, the Thousand and One Nights and a bunch of other classics and epics many of us probably have and still do to varying extents and this family friendly film speaks to that escapism but is convincingly warm too.

Introducing Tadeo Stones aka ‘Tad’ a construction worker whose about to lose his 7th job this year, he’s always wanted to be an archaeologist and akin to ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (1947) he can lose sight of reality whilst daydreaming but they won’t be dreams for much longer.

His friend Professor Humbert explains to him that 500 years ago when the Inca’s were being conquered by the Spaniards they asked ‘Mother Nature’ for help and were told to take their gold to Paititi. Once there they were given a magical, golden statue ‘the golden Indian of Paititi’ which gave the bearer(s) immortality (you’d think people would get over that idea but thankfully this film shows it’s not as it first might appear). All very El Dorado (hence I’ll bypass the use of ‘Indian’ which is insulting to native Americans and actual Indians) though bear in mind that Paititi is also a legendary lost city.

Then in a journey the spans from Chicago to Peru (Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines) Tad and his faithful dog take the place of the professor, meet a lady, her father, parrot, hustler, a celebrity and a shifty organization all on the hunt for the treasure and race for their lives.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review

THE STORY & ITS PLAYERS

Being an action movie it has to have wanderlust; a goal, a journey and a PSA (public service announcement) aka a dream, a convoluted set of events and a happy or at least a satisfying ending.

The theme of this movie speaks to me; archaeology, history, myth and truth wrapped in mystery but it’s also a parody/spoof and I love those too. It has many odes, most noticeably to the Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Tomb Raider franchises but there are other modern cultural references throughout. It starts out in the usual fashion of films in this target bracket, a bit boring but laced with eyebrow raising fun moments like an Uncle Sam poster morphed into a call for potential archaeologists instead of soldiers and ‘patriots’ to Tad finding a Coca-Cola bottle at his work and going to the Metropolitan Museum to have it authenticated and I have to say that I related to Tad’s Egyptian hieroglyph printed blanket. Once the main cast is introduced the ball really gets rolling, even though the death defying action sequences are already well underway (and very impressive).

The Good

Tad Stones
The supposed ‘nice guy finishes last’ syndrome and fanboy to boot. A homely ‘bricklayer’ dubbed ‘monkey’ by his idol, he haplessly ends up living his dream on the run from the big, bad guys with guns of the Odysseus group in a conspiracy to steal the long lost treasure. He falls in lust or we’ll be nice and call it love at first sight for Sara and doggedly stands by her and her father in daring rescue, all whilst hiding his identity. He finds that his construction skills come in very handy. Kitted out like as the adventurer archetype he’s actually given Indiana’s hat to wear (sans the whip, gun and obnoxiousness) though he doesn’t recognize the namesake.

Sara Lavrof
A typical modern heroine; attractive, clever, a bit cynical/sharp and trying to improve a situation. She became an archaeologist to spend time with her father Professor Lavrof and subsequently got engaged to Max Morden (celebrity), both of whom are workaholics after big finds and having little time nor seemingly care for much else. She calls her father ‘Professor’ as they don’t really have a familial relationship but that’s about to change and her knowledge leads to the right locale of Paititi. Like Lara Croft she’s invested in the practical and recommended robust boots/socks combo but doesn’t see how that protection should also apply to the rest of the body which is instead kitted out in a vest and short shorts.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Sara

The Professors – Lavrof and Humbert
Stereotypical aged profs i.e. they could be more beard than man if left to their own devices; portrayed as benevolent and esteemed (the film leaves out a predisposition to pubs). They found half of the key to Paititi 30+ years ago and Lavrof has finally found the other half. We only see Humbert at the beginning of the movie as he is quickly displaced by Tad and sent off to hospital but what we see of his colleague Lavrof is a man who cares for his daughter, doesn’t like his soon-to-be son-in-law and doesn’t want Odysseus to get to the lost city.

The Bad

Maximillian ‘Max’ Modern
With a name like Maximillian how can you not be chiselled and conceited? Ok, ok so Greeks and Italians can have very long names and if you go by the meaning of names that’d make it hard to define a personality but this is film of predictable characters. Basically he’s the world’s most famous archaeologist, not critically renowned but commercially popular and so generally deemed a himbo. He also happens to have dastardly plans and profitable intentions when it comes to his alliances.

Odysseus (à la Ulysses)
A shady organization trying to find Paititi, it is due to them that Tad ends up on the quest instead of Professor Humbert and they also abduct Professor Lavrof using Sara as a hostage to get him to translate the directions/riddle to the lost city. They’re military in structure, resources and tactics. We don’t really learn anything else about them other that they don’t acknowledge much in the way of limits.

The Comic Relief

What is a good, decent or semi-decent stereotypical animation without its supporting cast of loveable and inevitably funny/cool characters who would steal the show given half the chance and tend to have their eye on lucrative spin-offs.

101 ways to avoid dying in horrible, miserable and excruciatingly painful ways… AKA Freddy
Also called the walking shopping network Teddy is exactly that; the jack of all trades ‘guide’ with a large and interesting to say the least looking family which he constantly refers to as his reason for making money. His clothing is impossibly filled with all manner of items that presumably fell off the back of a lorry and he aptly sells Tad a ‘Swiss pincher with a thousand uses’ (instead of a Swiss army knife) for which one can only find out its uses through use and guessing since no manual or logic is forthcoming. Perhaps needless to say, he has some of the best lines in the movie, oh and he likes soap opera.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Freddy

I’m so cool, I don’t need to waste words on you… AKA the mute parrot
Reminiscent of an ‘Angry Bird’ Belsoni (not sure of the spelling) portrays his super coolness with verve and style, from being a brave defender to playing poker I can only imagine what he’d be like with vocals. This bird has what it takes.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Parrot

You know it babe. Had to use this pic – credit to blu-ray.com

I’m sweet and loyal and will pee on you… AKA Jeff the dog
A cute, loyal dog and Tad’s companion. Not much to say about him really other than he fits right into the supporting cast and is a ‘good/brave/loveable dog’ helping his friends and he and the parrot play off each other well.

I’m a man called a mummy, wrapped in swathes and can’t technically be alive since that’s a contradiction in terms.
He’s guarded the treasure for 500 years, is a chief mummy of mummies and has interesting and funnily enough easy to understand pictorial instructions for the various traps and ways to generally incapacitate, maim and kill people (mainly the latter) inside the ruins he protects. He and his legion are apparently immortal and want to be left in relative peace away from presumably hordes of screaming tourists, business tycoons, government agencies and all those who’d just love to stampede and probably concrete the jungle to make it into a circus.

Tad the Lost Explorer 2012 Review Mummy

AESTHETICS

First let’s get the CGI issue out of the way; obvious cg movies (as opposed to those with cg elements that blend in) don’t appeal to everyone in fact some are put off (a tad like superhero blockbuster movies) and I have to say that like any other technique or even genre not all movies are created equal and interestingly enough I find I tend to prefer ones made in certain countries. As a general rule Canadian, French and French-Canadian cg animations make the top of my list for their artistic quality, fluid finesse in production and of course their storylines. The US take the second spot on the list. Hey I like many of their movies and tv programs too, they are undeniably impressive in visuals and sound but as the years go by I find them increasingly generic and whilst emotionally manipulated still lacking in depth. Tad, The Lost Explorer however is a Spanish feature and like Russia they don’t to my knowledge have many cg features but what they do produce is well done and spirited hence this film can easily hold its own amongst the US saturated market. It also managed to achieve that on the relatively tame budget of 8 million euros in contrast to grotesquely expensive costing a plethora of arms and legs to make US peer films. Yet it doesn’t suffer in animation quality, score or vocals in comparison.

It does have a technical quirk in its storytelling e.g. instead of doing the “I was born, I grew up and moving right on” opening the film shows Tad growing up from wide eyed youngster into detached but not yet disillusioned man in a more old fashioned animation, flash sequence. The same is done in a sort of film reel when highlighting the accolades of Max Morden, mixing styles makes a nice refresher.

In this type of movie the timing of the score is important and it uses an interesting mix of dynamic orchestra, songs with vocals and… Pop songs. For example you will hear a snippet of One Direction in this film and to me it seemed out of place but at least it was lively. The dubbing is very well done and believable, I didn’t notice the mouthing and voices to be out of sync and the lines were delivered with good pace and passion.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately this is a story about a bumbling fool with transferable skills getting the girl, packed with clichés and predictable but a very watchable feel good movie that unlike many others of its ilk grasping, headlining and producing shiploads of merchandise for our attention – this one wasn’t relegated to background noise and actually did pick me up from the crummy mood I was in. To reiterate; it did so on a relatively low budget, no massive ‘star’ vocals and without lowering one’s intelligence too much but stretching it just enough so that it can bounce back without depreciating its value. In one word: Result.

Rate: 4/5

Recommendations

The obvious ones have been mentioned but perhaps some lesser known:

I.Q film 1994I.Q (1994) – A romantic comedy where scientists Albert Einstein, Nathan Liebknecht, Kurt Gödel and Boris Podolsky try to help a mechanic win the affection of Einstein’s neice Catherine (Meg Ryan) by passing him off as a scientist too and to separate her from her fiancé (Stephen Fry).

Relic Hunter tv series 1999-2002

 

Relic Hunter (tv series 1999-2002) – Sydney Fox (Tia Carrere) is pretty much a female Indiana Jones; lecturer and adventurer but with a campus secretary and expeditions assistant.

Phi Brain

Phi Brain (anime series 2011-13) – an intense series with many psychotically intelligent characters trying to solve dangerous puzzles, many situated in historical and/or purpose built architecture.