Tag Archives: movie

Lucy the Movie

20 Apr

lucymovieLucy is a movie based on that long-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brains, and speculates what someone could do if they used 100%. For a film that purports to be teaching us how the cleverest ever person would see the world, this is a pretty wonky start. If they start with a ‘truth’ that 5 minutes of fact-checking would have overturned, how much should I trust their conclusion?

For a film with such a heavy-weight cast and respected director, it really is the most obvious, surprise-less garbage that I’ve seen in a while. The plot is: Drug gives ordinary girl superpowers. Superpowers make her unstoppable. No one stops her. Movie ends. The most comprehensive and accurate catalogue of its crimes has been provided by Cinema Sins (you should watch that here–warning: lots of implied swearing and spoilers).

But my biggest gripe with the film is the worldview that it tries to pass off as the most enlightened way of seeing the world–the next step in human evolution (‘Lucy’ the human ancestor ape-thing is here a symbol for the first stage of humanity, whereas the Scarlet Johansson Lucy is everything that we could be–the start of a new humanity). And what is this massive step in human enlightenment? Well, it’s 2nd Century gnosticism, basically, or perhaps a variation on one of the many ‘oneness spiritualities’ that the world has seen since.

The basic idea is that our individuality, our separateness, is all an illusion. Deep down we are all part of one basic stuff–whether it is energy, or divine spark, or (in Lucy) just the fact that all matter is made up of atoms and so there are no real boundaries between one thing and another. There Is No Spoon. So if you were clever enough, you would see that you are part of the great Oneness, and you would then have access to all experience and knowledge, and you would eventually merge into Pure Consciousness, as Lucy does in the end. Oh spoiler. Sorry. (I’m not really).

My problem with this is simple. The makers of this film seem to think that they’re cleverer than everyone else to have seen how the world really is (that we are all connected), but they’re really just committing a logical fallacy–the continuum one. The mistake is to assume that because distinctions between things are fuzzy, they do not actually exist at all. In other words, because my body and the air are both collections of atoms, there is really no border between body and air at all–it is all connected.

This is not a new idea (even if the atomic framing of it is comparatively novel), and it is not a function of higher intelligence, as this film cringe-worthily brags. It is a function of that ongoing problem of reconciling the dual human experience of unity and alienation: we are aware that we are connected to one another, to the world, perhaps even to a spiritual, eternal realm, but we also feel unique and special, or (less positively) alone, different, separated.

Gnosticism dealt with this by teaching that difference, baseness and individuality belong in the temporal, material realm, whereas oneness belongs in the spiritual, divine, eternal realm. Other mystical systems tend to have a variation on this theme–enlightenment frees me from the cycle of reincarnation and merges me with nirvana.

In other words, the worldview of this film is not genius. It is the inability to cope with paradox. It cannot find a place for both sides of human experience, so it relegates individuality to the status of ‘illusion’, and assigns oneness the status of ‘divine’.

Christianity? Pffft. That's that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I'm done with stupid myths.

Christianity? Pffft. That’s that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I’m done with stupid myths.

Christianity gets a hard time these days, being treated as though it is everything else’s dumber cousin, but it has a way more elegant solution to this paradox. The final end of Christianity is not just to be merged into divine oneness and thus to cease to exist as an individual. Rather, Christianity holds that each of us is a created thing (I’m struggling for a word here–a machine? an artwork? a puzzle piece?) with our own quirky shape and our own rough edges, but rather than being merged into generic eternal goo, we are shaped to fit and play a role in a huge, multi-faceted body. In other words, the way in which we all become one is not by losing ourselves, but by being perfectly the part in the whole that we were created to be. And it is with this community of united individuals that God will be in relationship.

So there is a solution to the paradox that resonates with both facets of human experience, and enables us to affirm true unity and true human individuality. I hesitate to say it, but there is divine genius there if it’s anywhere.

Paddington the Movie

20 Apr

paddington_posterAt my house, we tend to decide which movies to watch based on the score it gets on metacritic.com. The thinking is that, while you can’t trust a critic, surely you can trust all of the critics bundled together. This should work, but it frequently doesn’t. Metacritic told us that Before the Devil knows you’re Dead should have been a masterpiece (84%), and that Captain America: Winter Soldier would be a treat (70%). Nearly every one of them loves insufferable Mike Leigh movies for no reason I can work out.

And that brings me to Paddington–allegedly a charming British film that the whole family would love, starring the dad from Downton and that lady from Mike Leigh’s Happy-go-lucky. From 38 reviews, metacritic gave it an average score of 77%.

My eldest daughter begged me to let her leave the cinema (though mostly because Nicole Kidman is in it–an impulse I often have in Nicole Kidman movies–and she was a bit scary and was trying to kill the beloved bear). So I happily put my cellphone away and waited outside for the rest of the family to finish watching.

Now, it wasn’t without merit–if you like those films in which blundering, clueless characters keep embarrassingly screwing everything up (the Jar-Jar approach to comedy), it’s great, and it has some social commentary about London and xenophobia that makes it ‘deep’ etc.

But it’s also annoying (sorry Sally Hawkins) and completely self-contradictory.

I have psychological problems of a sort, but I really struggle when a film creates the rules of its universe and then utterly violates them, and Paddington is a chief violator of this sort.

The idea is that an explorer discovers these bears, and finds that they are intelligent, can talk and learn, and are essentially human, so he refuses to shoot one in order to bring a sample back to his funding body. In other words they are so extraordinarily unique and so unlike any other animal that he breaks the usual ‘shoot one’ rule of his society.

Then later, one of these bears turns up in London to find the explorer again, and… everyone treats it like it is a workaday immigrant, as though talking animals are commonplace. The entire film depends on both of these things being true at the same time, when of course they cannot be.

Ah, but it’s a kids’ movie, you may protest. But should our children really be subjected to incomprehensible plot-lines? Should our children be forced to digest Jar-Jar humour? Won’t you think about the children?

Why ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ Needs a Punch in the Face

17 Oct

I didn’t know that you can’t fish for salmon in the Yemen, because I don’t know much about salmon and I wasn’t sure where the Yemen is (it’s on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, for what it’s worth). But this movie title was probably aiming at the more the more geographically aware, and presumably is trying to be intriguing and perhaps even a bit mystical. The roles are played by Serious Actors too — it’s got Ewan in it, and Emily Blunt and Kristen Scott Thomas — so you would be forgiven for expecting this to be intelligent, witty, perhaps too pretentious for its own good. You at least know it’s not going to be a formulaic rom-com nonsense fest. Despite that, here are some [SPOILER filled] reasons why SFITY needs a punch in the face.

1. It’s a formulaic rom-com nonsense fest

Miserably unavailable boy meets happily unavailable girl (vice versas apply). They dislike each other. They are forced into a bristly working relationship. As they get to know each other, things start to challenge their first impressions of one another. They start to like each other. One or both become romantically available (or potentially available). They start to fall in love. Shockingly one or both become extremely unavailable again. One is very sad about it; the other is at least disappointed and wondering what might have been. All hope is dashed and they move on with their li… NO WAIT, what are they doing? This is true love, people! Obstacle to love is removed and they live happily ever after.

This describes the plot of about a thousand movies. Most of them have the decency to be called, ‘She Loves Me She Loves Me Notting Hill’ or ‘How to Have Serial Shallow Relationships But Still be Deep and Emotionally Mature When The One Comes Along’. But SFITY pretends to be Something Different; it tries very hard to appear quirky and British and not-like-all-the-rest. Yet it’s the same predictable formula from start to finish. No deviations.

2. It’s heart-achingly, butt-clenchingly transparent

Movies like this try to appeal to the superiority complex in most of us, but they’re also afraid to lose the lowest common denominator that may have wandered in by accident. So they use about as much subtlety as a fight at the Gaulish fishmonger’s.

Subtlety

For example, Ewan is trapped in a rut. He hates his job, battles in his marriage etc. So he starts the movie in stuffy suits, speaking very formally, and behaving all rigid. By the end of the movie, he has become his own man again, has sexy hair and a tan, wears buttoned down shirts, and looks ready to rejoin Charlie Boorman for a quick desert adventure ride. It’s Clark Kent to Superman.

Why yes I am a hyper-conservative government-employed biologist

3. The main characters are spineless idiots

I know we’re supposed to rejoice when the heroes finally hook up, but why? Ewan divorces his wife because ‘they married young’, and she announces she’s off to work in Geneva for six weeks without asking him. No amount of counselling would fix those scars, right?  He also starts hitting on Emily before deciding on the divorce; but that’s OK everyone, because he decides to leave his wife anyway even when it looked like it was off with Emily too. That’s integrity folks. So how does he win the girl back? By moping, by making Army Man feel bad for coming back, and by telling Emily (who’d made him no promises but for a maybe) that he thought he had everything but now it’s all gone. Sniff… sniff… Poor him. Passive aggression basically.

And Emily. Early on, she makes a promise to wait for her new-found army-man love while he goes off to war, thereby establishing her as a committed, invested lover. He is presumed dead for a week or six, and then reappears after all. Very much like early Ewan himself, actually, Captain Army Man says some disparaging things about trying to grow salmon in the desert, which establishes him as ‘not as Mr Right as we thought’, so instead of giving him time to see the good in the project (time that Ewan had in spades) she chooses the almost-divorced Ewan instead. So let’s review that: she’s effectively saying, ‘Mr Army Man, I know I promised myself to you, but I thought you were dead and I quickly discovered that I could love again. If you were actually dead, I would be released from my promise to you, so I’m just not going to tell my promise that you came back.’

4. Hackneyed, generic, PC statements about faith and sustainability and cross-culturalism

The sheik who bankrolls this crazy plan to put fish in his desert keeps telling everyone that they are people of faith, thereby establishing the cliche that we’re not actually all that different, you and I. In fact, we often really are exactly that different, although that’s beside the point. The point is that when ‘faith’ is left as open a concept as ‘you believe something that is not strictly factual’, then yes, every human is ‘of faith’. For Ewan — the doctor of science — to be transformed into this kind of ‘believer’ by the end is about as momentous as me realising that broccoli soup is better than I remember.

Oh, and then in the pit of despondency, when his hopes and his new-found faith (in nothing in particular) are both feeling poorly, he suddenly sees a fish and realises he can believe again, and he starts babbling about how they’ll try again, but this time smaller, and less arrogant, and they’ll consult with the local people, they’ll find out what they need, they’ll let them be involved and feel part of it, and they’ll do it a bit at a time, and make it sustainable, and occupy Wall Street, and save the Rhino, and everything that the kids-with-causes love. Thereby establishing him as a truly good guy and so-much-more-Mr-Right-than-he-seemed-at-first. I’m all for those good things in real life, but it is as corny a movie moment as has ever been written. It’s like having sixteen crates of National Geographic sponsor-appeal cards dropped onto your pelvis.

In short, this movie is like Hugh Grant. It’s foppish and sweet and funny and desperately obvious in generous measures, but it also has slept with the Deevine Mz Brown and deserves to get punched in the face lots more than it does.

Happy-Go-Lucky Movie

5 May

Happy Go Lucky PosterAlmost by definition, stories must have a Predicament – a defining point of conflict that drives a story forward – and a plot – events connected together by cause and effect, by which the conflict is raised and resolved. Without these things, a story isn’t a story.

Mike Leigh sets about challenging these assumptions in his film Happy-Go-Lucky, a film about… uh… uh… Hmm… Well, you see… Um, there’s this girl in it? She’s a pre-school teacher, and we see a bit of her doing that… Um… She’s quite nice to the kids, but she’s a bit of a thicky herself, so… Oh yes! and she’s taking driving lessons with this angry guy. He physically attacks her for being an idiot towards the end, but he clearly has a point. That was quite a good bit actually, or it seemed to be. I had put on the headphones at about the 1 hour 45 minute mark, but it looked dramatic… Oh that’s not all, she arbitrarily wanders around at night and inexplicably follows the sounds of someone shouting to himself in the back end of an industrial area. Instead of getting murdered, she pretends to understand the ravings of the crazy homeless man, because she’s that kind of sensitive. The pretentious kind, evidently.

So there’s a bit of character study here: a charming and witty woman (read unbelievably grating child-in-an-adult’s-body) seems to be pathologically irresponsible, but when the chips are down, she expresses tenderness towards the unlovely. That’s all terrific if you don’t mind 2 hours of someone saying banal things as though they’re jokes, and then making a little inhaled laugh at the end of every sentence, irrespective of the humour content. But seriously, nothing happens. Nothing. Can I be clearer that there is bland scene after bland scene that have no connection to each other, but that they feature the same annoying laugh-breath punctuation. We watch a class of kids making paper-bag-bird-hats. For A-G-E-S.

Verdict
A friend of mine gave me a money-back guarantee that this was worth renting, but that’s not good enough. I want him to pay me for the time that I lost and that I’ll never get back. I’m not the kind of movie-goer who needs explosions and fist fights. I quite enjoyed that Sandra Bullock drivel where she’s the evil boss who’s actually a softie and has to marry her assistant for a green card (I should probably just have looked up the title; that took ages). I also sat through three hours of Dogville and loved it. This was rubbish.

The only value in Mike Leigh’s apparent underlying question in Happy-Go-Lucky (‘Does a story really need a Predicament and a plot?’) is that we discover that the answer is yes.

2/10 – Go and read a book.