Elf

Elf. Three letters which indicate the greatest Christmas movie ever. Ever.

It's easy to miss it on the endless 'holiday' movie crapfest that's on Netflix. Tinder swipe your way past it at your peril. Don't misunderstand me. I love James Steward and I love that he has a Wonderful Life. And I hate that smug little Mara Wilson. I hope the miracle on 34th street is that I go back in time and slap that kid's face. I wouldn't get tired. Oh, how Ebeneezer of me. She's probably all grown up and a Cross Fit freak who'd beat me silly.

What is it about this film that makes my heart glow, like I've drank a pint of mulled wine? Quite simply, because Buddy the Elf effortlessly reminds us what is so awesome about Christmas. Buddy (played by notoriously tall Will Ferrell) is an orphan accidentally snatched by Father Christmas and raised as an elf in the North Pole. After unintentionally wreaking havoc in the elf community, he sets off to find his real Dad (James Caan) and his true identity in New York.


I have a weird, self imposed tradition about this film. Until now, I've been left alone to indulge it, but now the little dude has come along, I firmly intend to include him. Here's the criteria: December 23rd, a pile of presents, huge box of malteesers, gift tags, sellotape and half a forest of wrapping paper. Hit that play button please! This tradition is more of an audio treat for me, as I'm tearing through sellotape with my teeth while it plays. The result is I can irritate many people by quoting it. I think you can see where I'm going with this...


  • "I am a cotton headed ninny muggins"
    Buddy understands better than anyone how to phrase self admonishment after reflecting on behaviour at the work Christmas party. According to some research talked about on Radio 4 (so it must be legit) the Brits are the worst for revealing embarrassing truths about themselves, or behaving inappropriately at the annual work do. I'm definitely guilty of both. In my first career by boss gave me this sage advice: get your client drunk, get your boss drunk, then get drunk. After that party my friend became legendary with the London Fire Brigade Service for her vodka fuelled antics. In that industry, it gained her a promotion: you've got to love Advertising.  


  • "You didn't recognise me? I'm wearing work clothes today"
    He won't give up on being an Elf, even when his father tries to pigeon hole him as a bland worker-bee corporate american. A smart suit and camel coat have never looked more absurd than on Buddy, crossed legged in a corner office. To get philosophical, we all have to adopt a uniform for work (not always literally) but it's important to be like Buddy, and cherish our true identity, otherwise what are you left with when you retire?  
  • "First we'll make snow angels for two hours"
    His pure childlike joy of Christmas makes me greener than the Grinch with envy. I mourn for the feeling of Christmas Eve when I was a child. I used to make lists to plan out the day, just so I could cope with the excitement. A Freudian slip, which exposed what a massive, organisational nerd I was even as a child. One year my older brother found it and mocked me mercilessly (justly, I now retrospectively see) for writing the following.
9.15am look a the tree
9.30am eat chocolate coins
10am watch Snowman

Why I would stare slack jawed at the tree for a quarter of an hour is beyond me, but I bet Buddy would, so I feel a bit better about it.


  • "SANTA! Oh my gosh, I know him! I know him!"
    Buddy tackles office boredom like a boss. I once had a job for... hmm, let's just call them the UK's largest health and beauty retailer, which gave me stress panic because of the boredom. Once, I spent a whole day cutting out paper snowflakes to decorate my desk and my boss didn't bat an eyelid.

  • "Singing? Well, it's just like talking, except longer and louder, and you move your voice up and down."
    I'm not a bad singer, but at Carol Services I think I'm Adele. If you're wearing a hat in the pew in front, prepare for it be blasted off with a burst of 'O Come all Ye Faithful' rocking out of my lungs. I don't even tone it down for 'Silent Night'.



  • "You sit on a throne of lies!"
    He's smarter and braver than I'll ever be. There's many a Christmas meal (usually with work) I've attended and had to hold my tongue as some guest, fuelled by festive jagerbombs, prattles on about how awesome they are.

  •  "Son of a NUT-cracker"

    It's only happened to me once, that truly Dickensian white Christmas and it was awesome - partly because it's my second favourite memory of my Dad (he's still alive, don't worry). My favourite is how drunk he got at my brothers wedding, but I'll save that for later. Picture the scene: midnight mass over, we leave church to see in the past hour a blanket of fresh snow has fallen. The stars are bright, the tree lights twinkle, the peace is unbroken. Until my Dad, hiding behind a tree like a child, smacks me in the head with an icy cannonball. He's definitely no Scrooge, but neither is he a Mr Fezziwig, so this behaviour was surprising to say the least. Like Buddy shows us, this is further proof that a snowball fight can unite hearts and minds with joy, and pure icy vengeance.



  • "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup"
    which is basically everyone's December diet.



  • "If you see a sign that says 'Peep Show' they're not letting you see new toys before Christmas."
    Christmas is a time to reconnect with Christ and to think about society, how we treat others and what kind of world our kids will grow up in. The difference between Buddy's joyful naivety and the cold, harshness of New Yorkers is as red and white as a candy cane. With each person Buddy meets, he melts their cynicism, their indifference to those around them, their selfishness and greed and leaves each of them a better person for the experience. I'm not saying Buddy is the second coming - but he's a good secular metaphor for Christian values of good will and peace to all men. Just he comes with candy. Lots and lots of candy.

Indiscreet (1958)


Oldie rom-coms are the best. No, I don't mean watching Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin getting it on. I mean, old fashioned. My goodness me, they play fast and loose with pace, feature outrageously aspirational wardrobes and simply smoulder and ooze charisma from every movie minute. What's not to like: Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. I mean. 

With a reputation for making easy breezy films, director Stanley Donen, has proven that 60 years on Indiscreet still appeals to an adult audience with a half a brain. Actually, you really do need a brain, as unlike modern rom-coms where Katherine Heigl sums up what's happening every five minutes, this movie allows you to piece together the plot holes like a puzzle. 

Talking of that plot, there's something Shakespearian about it. Really. It's just missing a twin to add to the screw ball comedy of it. So what gives? Famous theatre actress Anna Kalman (Ingrid Bergman) has resigned herself to her single life, believing that she has missed her chance at meeting a husband. Weary of socializing in Europe, she returns to her London flat, where her sister Margaret (Phyllis Calvert) and diplomat brother-in-law Alfred (Cecil Parker) invite her to a banquet. She declines until Alfred's banker friend, Philip Adams (Cary Grant), arrives and... surprise, surprise their romance begins, but, (here comes the jeopardy), he's already married! 

We learn quite quickly that the absurdly dashing, playboy politician, Phillip is a bit of a bastard. A bounder. A cad. A stereotype missing from modern cinema. He pretends he's bound in a loveless marriage of convenience, so to avoid women seeking a long term commitment from him. He's unapologetic. Normally, you'd dislike such a character, but his caprice is matched by Anna, a pampered, indulged starlet who takes what she wants. The in joke here is the institution of marriage, not either being duped by the other. 

There's lots of tounge in cheek comments lurking in this film, and Anna's brother in law, Alfred delivers the lions share. Blink and you'll miss it, for his performance is fabulously understated - "There is no sincerity like a woman telling a lie."

Anna is a character who cares not for convention and it's best summed up when she discovers the truth of Philips marital status "how dare he make love to me and not be a married man." She's a woman who enjoys her 'sparkle' of fame, money and men with no apology. A refreshingly liberal and un-achored woman for a 1950s audience. The irony here, is that Ingrid Bergman is kind of playing herself, having ostracised herself from Hollywood by having an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Sweet revenge to bite your thumb at the conservative values of the day by making them laugh at the idea of monogamy.


Of course, this subversive subtext is covered up slightly by the usual melodrama we'd expect. Anna, kneeling before Philip begging forgiveness at her suggestion they get married. Her mooching about the house, waiting for his call. She can't eat. She can't sleep. She can only swoon and mope... around her gorgeous penthouse apartment, drinking champagne as she pleases, socialising with who she wants to, dressing herself head to toe in designer garments. I rather feel, Ingrid with a nod and wink, was listening to Destiny's Child 'Independent Women' as she hams up the portrait of pining, love struck lady.

Equally mocking in tone is Phillip who bemoans Anna's indifference to his sappiness; "Oh, I tell you. Women are not the sensitive sex. That's one of the grand delusions of literature. Men are the true romanticists." This made me laugh as he's right, the great 'canon' of English Literature includes scant little from female poets and novelists. A fact that came out recently on Poetry Day on Radio 4. Featured on Woman's Hour was an audio treat delivered by Andrew Marr written by Shakespeare's contemporary Aemilia Lanyer. Never heard of her? Nope. Hardly anyone has. But check out these lines for some meter bashing, poetic awesomeness. 

Then let us have our liberty again
And challenge to yourselves no sovereignty
You came not into the world without our pain
Make that a bar against your cruelty
Your fault being great, why should you disdain?
Our being your equals, free from tyranny
If one weak woman, simply did offend
The sin of yours hath no excuse, nor no end.

I digress. Stick with me, it links back to the film. Lanyer in the 16th Century was ostensibly saying women are just as bad as men, and this is the joke in Indiscreet too. This is a wonderful, intelligent film, full of subtly brilliant one-liners. Bergman and Grant prove they can do drama (Notorious) as well as they can do comedy. Balancing a sharp and satirical script are moments of hilarious slapstick like Cary Grant dancing. Oh my. Wipe the tears. Just look at his face! Even he can't believe he's doing this.

Although this film wasn't as popular as his other successes, (Singin in the Rain, to name but one), it is still well crafted. Also, a film where the wardrobe department raided vintage Dior is a delight to watch!

Away We Go

Juno for 30 somethings: great script, funny, lots of heart.

Discovering the in-laws are leaving town the month before their baby is due, Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) travel the States in search of the perfect place to call home. On route, they reconnect with old friends and family as they test out different states. Through these encounters they wittle (or "cobble") down their choices and work out what 'home' really means for them. 

Director Sam Mendes (sooooo many good films) has taken a chance to show us cinema-going-ninny-muggins a sophisticated example of a Bildungsroman genre film. Now usually, these tales are about teenagers and taken on a past-tense vibe to show how they've moved on from angst to adulthood. Essentially though, these stories focus on the psychological and moral development of the protagonist. Here, even though the protagonists lament they might be 'fuck ups' at 33, they are essentially still teenagers, and it's their development which drives the film forward.

Mamas and Papas.
Maybe it's because I've popped an offspring in the last 12 months but I seem to be drawn to films recently about parenting. Part of Burt and Verona's journey is to take a State-wide parenting class and meet every stereotype of motherhood out there. Like a comet hurtling towards parenthood, these Mums (or should that be Moms) and Dads act as mini meteors pinging Burt and Verona off course with each encounter.

Who do they meet? An equally funny and repulsive Lily (Allson Janney) in Pheonix. A ridiculous hippie LN (Maggie Gyllenhall) with a unnatural love of seahorses in Madison. Burt's brother (Paul Schneider) abandoned by his wife in Miami, and the ultimate loving Dad (Chris Messina) and his caring wife (Melanie Lynskey) cheated of her natural right, in Montreal.

Philip Larkin wrote a poem about her...


Warts and all, she loves her kids, but my special mention goes to Alison Janney who plays Verona's louder than life ex-collegaue 'Lily'. Janey seems to have carved out a little niche for herself playing hilarious, over bearing and crass mother characters. 'Lily' could be the sister of 'Betty' who she plays in an equally delightful film 'The Way, Way Back'. There are so many brilliant one-liners. Watch this for an idea...


The NCT Mothergasm

LN Fisher-Herrin (Maggie Gyllenhaal) embraces everything I personally can't stand about motherhood and frankly, people in general. I'm very much in the camp of 'whatever works for you' and anyone with a strong opinion who believes they've got it 'right' can... well, I better not print that. My views on the NHS 'Tit Police' have been well documented.

Needless to say LN is the ultimate preachy, earth-mother. Everything about her entitled-trust-funded-double-barrel-surname-buggy-shaming-group-bed-vegan-smugness made my toes curl...around the edge of my forward facing, dummy filled, formula fuelled stroller. Ack. Betty Draper did it right - head full of drugs and Don waiting outside with the whiskey.

Of course, she's an exaggeration and I can feel confident I won't meet someone like her at my baby groups - for one, there's not enough quinoa and too many raisins - but as part of the Bildungsroman she certainly helps Verona and Burt understand what they don't want out of life with a sprog. We all secretly love meeting these types of people as they help us forge our identities as parents. In my case, by providing a ying to my yang and hours of 'can you believe' type of conversations with the hubby. 

The UN of families

A world away from the light and breezy Lily, the movie takes a distinct mood turn when we meet Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey). Our introduction is by way of an aptly metaphoric rendition of 'So Long, Farewell' from The Sound of Music by their mixed nationality adopted kids. This does set the scene. Here is a couple whose love of children is so strong it makes Julie Andrews appear like the child-catcher. Cheated by nature (to quote the bard) Tom and Munch quietly bare the burden of numerous miscarriages, accepting each death with grace. With each tragedy their relationship grows stronger as they push their love onwards to their adopted children and march to the future in hope of finally having one of their own.

This couple, who on the surface seem so breezy and full of life are living under a melancholy cloud of repeated miscarriages and it made me wonder who, of my friends, has also suffered this experience? This film suggests I'd never know, as it's so hushed up and this is a great sadness as statistically, it's common. Even writing this, I struggle to find the language to talk about the death of a baby, we don't have the words as we avoid the topic. I think Mendes was brave to include Tom and Munch

'Dead' mother

My friend Helen is a film lecturer, and she has a theory about the 'Dead Mother' syndrome. Once you know it, you'll spot it everywhere from Finding Nemo to The Departed. You can't have a good adventure with a mother. Get rid of the 'mother' character and the fun really begins. 

Or not if your Courtney Farlander (Paul Schneider) and you arrive home one day to learn your wife has left never to return. It's a strange irony that society (in terms of pop culture films) seems to accept easily the idea of a dad leaving his child, but the other way round is uncomfortable, unsettling, shocking even. But it happens. Not all women are cut out for motherhood. It's a brutal truth that Mendes doesn't dress up or drag out. It's simply a statement. 

Motifs

The overarching theme is the breakdown of family values (she refuses to marry him) and people rebelling against the communities in which they've been reared. A nice twist is Burt's parents, played brilliantly by Jeff Bridges and Catherine O'Hara are the teenagers. Recklessly moving to Antwerp and casually spending $12K on a statue of an Indian Princess. It's a brilliant moment. The incredulous look on Burt's face when he realises he's the grown up now. No more a fuck up, it's time to find stability and future for himself.

This is a film with real heart in it among many layers of light and dark comedy. The psychological and moral development of Burt and Verona is evident by the end of the film as they are reborn as parents in a new home, perfect for their future and one connected to their past. I love this movie and it wasn't what I was expecting as an Office and SNL fan. Unusually Maya Rudoplh is understated, quiet and stoic the 'straight' one to John Krasinski's quirky, vibrant and occasionally slapstick performance. A very perfect blend. Recommend. 


Looper

Brian Cox always says that time is the one constant in the universe. It predictably marches forwards always and forever. So a film about time travel demands our trust so we enter into a world of make believe where the laws of physics are a little (time) wharped. You shrug your shoulders and accept with a casual 'okay' anything that is shown to you, so long as it makes some kind of linear sense. But in essence, by it's very name, Looper doesn't seem to.

Writer and director Rian Johnson said "For me it's a trope of time travel movies and there's a slight about of magic logic that you have to apply in order for a story like this to make sense."

So here goes... (SPOILERS!)

In the future, time travel is invented, but is immediately outlawed and only available on a dark, criminal black market. When the mafia want to get rid of someone they send their victim 30 years into the past where a hired assassin called a 'Looper' is waiting to kill and dispose of the body. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been doing a good job working for the Gat men leader Abe (Jeff Daniels) as a Looper, killing accurately and sensibly saving his cash, until one day, a mysterious mob boss called the 'Rainmaker' starts to close the loops and sends Joe's future self (Bruce Willish) back in time to be killed. Naturally, it's Bruce Willis, so he escape his younger self to hunt down and eliminate the infant Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who will become 'the Rainmaker'. Hiding on Sara's (Emily Blunt) farm, Joe waits to finally close the loop, so he can live out the next thirty years on his own terms.

Loops and Layers

Get it? I didn't the first time. There's a scene in the TV show Community where Troy breaks down and cries because he didn't get Inception. "So many layers!" I laughed. Smugly. I did. I even worked out that the start of In The Night Garden is inception. But, now, I'm Troy, blubbering "I don't get it" to my husband, who explained several times in a manner befitting CBeebies. Clearly, I am a film toddler.

Avoiding sock puppets as a visual aid, I eventually reasoned in my head that the young Looper (Joe) has a set of futures like light going through a prism. One action (like killing his older self) then spurts out different future time lines. The ending is tricky as who's sacrifice makes them the hero? Joe's death or Sara's mothering? More on that later...

There's LOADS of questions and riddles about this film. Let's start with...

Telekenesis

Oh yeah. Mind control, that favourite of sci-fi movies. This is a strange one, as the film is a bit flippant, embarrassed almost, about the fact that some characters are 'TK'. For these telekenetic weirdos it seems their power is limited to flipping coins in the air. Not for the Rainmaker, who as a two year old can make a grown man fly up into the air and explode, just by having a screaming fit. It certainly has made me take a sideways suspicious glance at my toddler when he's gearing up for a tantrum. But this just seems a bit convenient. Why him? He appears to be the only one, and it's not really explained why, other than 'Sara' his mother can spin a lighter.

Why the loopers have to kill themselves

The whole narrative is based on the Rainmaker closing all the loops, one at a time. The Loopers accept this as their fate, and when they day comes they get a a tonne of gold strapped to the body to take back and blow on drugs for the next thirty years.

There's a fabulously imaginative and gruesome scene after Joe's friend Seth (Paul Dano) escapes his younger assassin self and is brutally maimed in order for him to return and have the loop closed. He starts to miss fingers, his nose, a hand - all appearing on the older Seth as historic scars. It's a very effectively grim scene. It makes no sense. To wipe out the old Seth (now in the past) they only have to kill young Seth - so why bother with the torture? Why doesn't the Rainmaker send one guy back to wipe out all the Loopers in one go and save himself some cash?

Old Joe is late... twice

Both times that Bruce Willis comes back to the present, he's running late on Goron-Levitt's watch. One time he breaks free from a future fight, which explains the delay. The time he dies (so Young Joe can grow up to become him) why would he also be late?

Cid the Rainmaker

Old Joe (Bruce) killing Sara, eventually make Cid into the Rainmaker. Bruce can't exist without letting Young Joe grow up, get married, and return for revenge at his wife's death. That means, at the same time, Cid would grow up normal because no-one killed his mother. How does Cid the Rainmaker exist in a timeline where Old Joe didn't kill his mother?

Mothers' love

This is the idea that's been going around in my head after watching this movie. What is is saying about Mums?

I've just read a very interesting article about 'theories of motherhood' and it's got me thinking. For a film with very few women, there is a strong sense of the lasting power of women. The only reason Young Joe can save Cid is because he sees himself in the little boy. Ostensibly, an abused orphan who watched others kill his mother.

In terms of representation theory, the 'mother' in film is usually a good way to establish what the film maker thinks is 'normal' or 'good' in society. What are the characters' experiences of the 'mother'.

  • Haunted by this experience, young Joe clings to the memory of the soothing touch of his mother's hand on his hair. It's a motif mentioned a few times; once when he speaks to Cid in the bunker, once with his stripper girlfriend Suzie (Piper Perabo) and again, once he's dead, Sara offers him this gesture for comfort.
  • Old Joe (Bruce) marries a 'pure' woman (Qu Xing) who is desperate to be a mother.
  • Cid becomes/ doesn't become the Rainmaker because of his mother.
  • Sara lives with the guilt of initially rejecting motherhood.

The way the film ends suggests the future for Cid is to grow up with the love and support of his mother Sara. It's for the audience to believe Sara's hope, that so long as he has her, he can use his TK for good and not become 'the Rainmaker'. It's certainly a compelling idea.

Is Rian Johnson suggesting that society needs and must protect and respect the role of mothers?

I've just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, a great novel by Margaret Atwood which shows a dystopian future where women are reduced down to their biological function as mothers. While Atwood is concerned with the subordination of women into this role, I think Johnson is making a sociological point: without mothers, men grow violent. Well, it's not quite that reductive, but he's kind of making a point about valuing love, and specifically that from mothers.

In the post war period, influential child psychologist John Bowlby had a theory of 'maternal deprivation' which stated a child could be mentally damaged by its removal from its mother in the first three years of life. (It's worth pointing out his theories were based on the already 'damaged' children who arrived in his practice for help and he was partially discredited). His view is shown through the infants Joe and Cid (in one version of his life) who take this trauma to fuel an adult life of drugs and violence.

New wave feminist theories protested against societies' view that 'good' mothers were devoted and pure and 'bad' mothers were sexualised and selfish. This theory is shown through Joe's girlfriend - a stripper. She doesn't die as such, but Old Joe takes away her reason for living, by killing her son, believing he's a potential Cid. Young Joe's mother was a prostitute, who, yup, you guessed it, dies. Then there's Sara. She escapes death, but renounces her party dress days and atones for her liberal lifestyle by mindlessly chopping at a tree stump for several scenes in the film.

So which 'mother' is represented as 'good' in Looper? All of them. However, the film does essentially end on a positive. For all the blunderbusting and TK mayhem at the end of the film, ultimately, it's Sara, the single mum, who will actively shape the future, not passively become a victim of it.

This film can become a mental rubix cube to wrestle with. Answers on a postcard please.











Jurassic World

Oh my. This film is a bag of cats. Entertaining, makes a lot of noise but makes no sense at all.

I really wish Doctor Ian Malcolm, (that's Jeff Goldblum to you), could have had a bit part, just so he could have looked earnestly at the park's latest horror and said 'You're going to need a bigger island'. You know, like that legendary line in Jaws.

So what's the deal? Located somewhere exotic near the coast of Costa Rica lies Jurassic World. The humble theme park of the 90s has been replaced with a slick, luxury resort providing self drive hamster balls for the (notably absent obese) tourists that visit to view the many more species present on the island. Here, the scientists have been let loose, creating hybrid 'designer dinos' to excite the flaccid and bland visitors that, in between mouthfuls of fast food, demand more terror with each visit.

Nothing like a good obvious serving of hubris for park co-ordinator Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) to seem baffled and forlorn when their new Queen of Hyprids escapes. Oh no! What ever shall we do? Fortunately, there's a navy seal Owen (Chris Pratt) who happens to have an unexplained and odd passion for raptors. Half Doctor Doolittle, half Rambo, he's able to save everyone from an all out prehistoric assault.
 
Feminiazi

Claire never removes her heels. Ever. But this isn't a feminist issue, as she's clearly a baddass. For in those five inch Molonos she can outrun a T-Rex. Now if that isn't a role model for sport I don't know what is.

This girl needs to be on the next Nike Ad #ThisGirlCan


Owen 

In between tours of duty with the US Marine corp,  Owen was studying up on raptors. 'No thanks guys, I don't fancy a run, I'm studying tonight'.

I can't get over this character. I flipping LOVE Parks and Recreation and Andy is my favourite. 'Owen' is like that episode where April helps complete Andy's bucket list by filming a home-made action movie. I'm not tarring Chris Pratt's acting ability - he's great in Zero Dark Thirty -it's the unintentionally hilarious script.

Here's a short summary of some of my favourite Owen moments:


  • He lives like Huckleberry Finn on the island's best mud hole.
  • This image.
  • He gives a respectful nod to a raptor, a kind of 'cheers' for not getting eaten.
  • He covers himself in petrol then runs around with a flame thrower.
  • His motorbike is as fast as a raptor. 
  • His idea of romance is extreme and clearly puts him off his A game, as he can't kiss.
Elitism
Mudbloods, District 12, the Servants at Downtown Abbey - the underdogs and heroes are usually a good mix of folk who take sweet vengence on their elitist, inbred, web-toed, horse mouthed oppressors. Tut tut, that's not how to treat people.

Not in Jurassic World! An unexpected advocate of pure breeding. You can bet Crufts wouldn't except this Rex. With a name that sounds like a Catholic Mass, poor old Indominus is the Heinz 57 of the dinosaurs and the least scary set of pixels I've ever seen. She's an incredible (literally) mix of any species which has ever graced the planet. Need a beast who can disappear? No problem, it's half snake. How about one who hunts in packs? Yup - he's part raptor. What about glow in the dark? Look no further, it's part jellyfish. Can it breathe in outer space? Sure, why not, it's part alien... okay, maybe save that for the sequel.


Sadly, this cocktail Dinosaur is not as scary as a cup of pulsating water. It's like Cloverfield - once you see the monster it becomes a joke. Nothing is more terrifying than what we imagine - even Bambi understood that.

Architect
Sack the stylist. In the process of designing this park, the architect for Jurassic World made the sensible decision to house this Monster Lizard way up into the jungle, far away from the boat loads of tourists arriving.

Evidently, he then look a long 'working' lunch at the pub and finished up his day sticking the T-Rex immediately next to the food hall. I can see him now, bleary eyed, tie loose, friends calling him back to the bar. It's Friday, he's been working on this project for weeks. Yeah, that'll do. Hit submit and leave the office, good job done.

With her new people adjacent location, good old T-Rex sits back and patiently waits for the climax of the film where she bursts forth screaming 'Did you forget about me?!' Fortunately, she seems quick to forgive and after saving the day, is happy to schlep her way back to the feeding pen, dejected and tired. So tired, she hasn't even got the energy to munch up one of those pesky humans. So that's it. We're expected to believe that 20 years alone on the island has mellowed this previously terrifying cinematic creation. I don't know how long a T Rex lives, but it seems 20 is a bit young to be taking on retirement in such a bland fashion.

SeaWorld
Perhaps I'm not giving director Colin Trevorrow credit for his subtle social commentary in the film. Let's not forget the whale/dino/shark that jumps out of its pool to splash and excite the audience. I notice it's keeper didn't take a flying dive off the end of it's mouth. Maybe they'd seen 'Blackfish' and decided that performing fish is still a vicious killer, silently plotting your end with every show they perform.
Hubris
Like all good tragedies lessons have to be learnt. In ancient Greek Tragedies, hubris (excessive pride and arrogance) lead to the protagonists facing nemesis. Back in the day that was usually something more subtle than a 60ft high dinosaur.

So who suffers the deadly sins of nemesis?

  • Greed: Masrani (Irrfan Khan) dies in his helicopter trying to save the day in an oddly 80s Action Hero kind of way.
  • Wrath: Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) the war-mongering-peace-hating military advisor is munched up.
  • Sloth: fat tourists that haven't been doing enough cardio to escape the pterodactyls
  • Pride: Claire discovers that love is greater than money oh, yeah ... and looking after a tonne of insanely dangerous animals.
  • Lust: sleezy older brother and teenage Beiber wannabe, Zach (Nick Robinson) learns bro's before ho's.
So who learns their lesson? So many people. What's more annoying than their irritating screen presence is that's is annoyingly easy to predict the minute they walk onto the screen how and when they'll die. The plod plods through their timely deaths at a predicable 15 minute pace, just enough to keep the morons at the cinema interested.

The end...

Maybe this film is super post modern. There's an attempt to be ironic or self referential in a way that any hipster would be proud when the scientists say the reason they create these ever more ridiculous monsters is to satisfy the ever demanding public who come to the park. These morons, who turn up, numb to horror because they've been watching ISIS beheadings on YouTube while scanning Facebook - there's a roll of a scientists eye to know we're in on the joke. But we're not. We're treated like the morons they talk about with idiotic plot decisions, thin characters, predictable narrative and a march of set action sequences.

Jurassic Park was so awesome because it was a relatively simple idea written by a talented author Michael Criton, who like all good dystopian writers wanted to explore the consequences of human progress. Ostensible, what happens if you take generic engineering to the nth degree? Again, we can thank Jeff for a little pearl of wisdom.

There's no such hypothesis for Jurassic World. I've said it before, Chris Nolan has proven you can make commercially successful blockbuster movies that raise interesting ideas and still smash you in the face with action. Jurassic World assumes it's audience is still an amoeba in the prehistoric quagmire. So we're back to Dr Ian Malcolm, who's advice director Colin Trevorrow could have taken - just replace 'scientists' with 'CGI artists'.

Having said all that, this was a HUGELY entertaining way to spend an afternoon on a dreary Saturday and I'm pretty sure my son is going to love this when he's old enough to watch it.









The Help

I'm going all out. This isn't a film about civil rights per se. The more I think about it, it's a film about women and the traps they created and found for themselves in 1960s America. The title of this film reveals a little of the emotional distance and detachment we see between the characters, and it's not always because they are separated by race.

There's so much you could discuss about this film, so I've only chosen a few ideas ...

Returning from college, Skeeter (Emma Stone) arrives back in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi with ambitions to be a serious writer. Following the prejudices of the day, the male editor of her local paper offers her the 'cleaning' column post and seeking help to fill the content, Skeeter seeks out 'The Help' for assistance. It's Aibilene (Viola Davis) the housekeeper of Skeeter's school friend who will speak first, prompted by the injustices she sees, as the Civil Rights Movement makes slow progress in the Southern States. Over time, more of the housemaids and cooks come forward to speak with Skeeter and finally have their voices heard.

Civil Rights
Jackson, Mississippi was a hot mess for Civil Rights during the 1960s. It was more violent, dangerous and tense than a Quinten Tarantino movie, and sadly, it was where civil rights campaigner Medgar Evers was murdered by Hilly Holbrook's (Bryce Dallas Howard) friends; the White Citizen's Council. And this is why this film isn't really about the Civil Rights movement as this momentous and heinous murder is a just background news report and a broken bus ride for Abilene.

Civil Rights is a complex period of American history with a rich mix of heroes and villains from all races. So to say this film is about civil rights is a bit reductive. It's not. It's really about women, who have no voice, (the Maids and Skeeter) getting a chance to make their's matter and be heard.

Feminism
No voice? Well, the devil makes work for idle minds.

The problem with no name that Betty Friedman wrote about was ten fold more in the Southern States during the Cold War. At least in the north it was 'patriotic' to be a doting mother, dutifully promoting capitalism by religiously cleaning with your mod cons (take that Soviet Russia). But in the South, if you're rich, you do as little as possible. Why? Because those historic slaves you had are now called 'Maids' and do all the work they've done for generations.

So if you can't work, clean or parent what are you left with? Childish obsessions which make rich pickings for petty drama.

Queen Bees and Wannabees
So who stops the white women being heard?

It's the ultimate queen bee Hilly Holbrook. With serpent like control, her gaggle of mini-me-wannabees flit around her, showing in no uncertain terms that her hateful views are the only ones that matter. Like all good villains, we see Hilly revel in her power, patronise and control all those around her, but ultimately take one big bite of humble pie. Literally. Best. Scene. Ever.

I think Hilly's character represents how women in America during the early 60s were little more than high school girls when they were expected to settle down and 2.4 their way to domestic bliss. Nothing more American than a woman who cares to win 'Yard of the Month' and essentially, this community never left high school.

Hilly is the same acid mouthed, pompous Prom Queen she ever was and the other women march to her breeding beat, popping out babies in a regimented order to be cared for by 'The Help'. They have no voice because society (as Friedman discovered) dictated they should be happy with domestic servitude. The only voices they have are among themselves, except fear robs them of that liberty as they're too scared to go against Hilly.

Human Identity

Friedman also argued that the problem for woman marrying so young and being encouraged to find sole fulfilment in housewifery meant they couldn't mature and find their human identity. It is only Skeeter, who rejects Hilly's hierarchy, who has been away to college, who has ambitions beyond matrimony and motherhood who finds her human identity.

She finds a way to quietly rebel against the inhuman treatment of the maids. While Hilly's crew are building humiliating outhouses, Skeeter sees the true value of the maids. She loved Constantine her own nurse and maid, she values Abeline's voice and respects Minnie's (Octavia Spencer) 'sass mouth'.

I think in a similar way, the maids learn from Skeeter a different identity for white people. Decades of oppression are not going to be swept away by seeing Skeeter in a different light, but it does work towards forming a new identity. Segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. You can thank Martin Luther King Jr. for that gem. It's true, by Skeeter and the maids coming together, the sense of heirachy is abolished. They speak on equal terms.

Community

Having recently moved back to the city I grew up in, I felt a little bit like Skeeter. Returning to Jackson she sees the same old hierarchy still stands. Every secondary school has a Hilly, and mine was no different, but it amazes me these Queen Bees can exert their influence long after the final bell has sounded. 

Skeeter is an outsider, but oddly plays along with those around her. Uncomfortable with what she sees in the group she still turns up at Bridge, goes to the benefit balls, even agrees to go on blind dates. She appears like a lost lamb. It's her female New York editor who tells her to 'write about what bothers her' that finally gives her the impetuous to go from lamb to lion. Ultimately, she becomes isolated but independent.

Ironically 'The Help' are a close, caring community. They worship, wash, clothe, feed each other with grace, taking time to laugh and enjoy each others company. For a group that has genuine fear of being 'outed' in society, who is exposed to very real and dangerous risks, they demonstrate true love and bravery towards each other.

By contrast, Hilly's queens control, bitch, isolate and manipulate each other - under what fear or risk? Not being invited to Hilly's Bridge club. Please, there are bigger fish to fry.

Men 

There are so few represented, it feels like a twilight zone. There should be a reverse characters Bechdel test. It seems you are either a violent brutes or passive husbands. Ultimately, the male characters appear non-existent.

Minnie has to suffer the violence of LeeRoy on a disturbingly regular basis. But William Holbrook (Ted Welch) has to suffer the humiliation of being emasculated by the common knowledge that Hilly is still sweet on ex boyfriend Johnny (Mike Vogel) the now husband of the vivacious and vibrant Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). Interestingly, there must be tenderness between Minnie and LeeRoy as she wistfully recalls during her Crisco pitch it can be used to 'soften your man's hands.' Passion is as cold as Hilly's soul in her marriage as we see no affection in the Holbrook house. 

Skeeter's isolation, that I mentioned earlier, culminates in a strange 'love story' crammed into the edges of the plot. Stuart Whitworth (Chris Lowell) is a friend of ice maiden Hilly, who after behaving like a complete jerk during a first date, convinces the otherwise sensible Skeeter to go out with him again. This jars with me. Why does Skeeter go for such a prize twat? I can only conclude, that the overbearing, oppressive mantra of her mother (get married, have a baby!) has taken it's toll on confidence so she'll settle for anything. However, for a man who we are lead to believe loves an independently minded woman, he can't stand one who is for equal rights. Fortunately, Skeeter's bland indifference at his hissy fit exit suggests she's seen the light.

Here's another one from the great man himself "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy". This sums up the film well. Skeeter gets out of her comfort zone to be independent from Hilly, family and men who don't live up to her liberal values. Abeline takes courage from God to step out boldly and have the black women of Jackson heard.

Shamefully, this film has made me realise too many people (myself included) focus their lives on the comfort of petty, high-school-style dramas, while comfortably ignoring the real controversies around them. I'd like to think I could be an Abeline but I thank God, I've not been tested yet.


Mad Max Fury Road

Much has been said about this film by the femininazi, as, for an action film fuelled with explosive set pieces, it expectantly passes the Bechdel test. However, it's pants. Here's my fair and full review.

They run away. Turn around. Come back.

That is all.

Yawn. Two hours of my life I won't see again.

If you want a film with narrative, plot and dialogue you can hear this isn't for you. If you have a penchant for steam punk and explosions - then, I guess this is for you.

Whip It!

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a charming, coming of age, rockabilly, retro, grunge skatefest - and I loved it. I don't know anything about roller-derby, in fact, I didn't know it existed. Now I do, I need to join a team, yes, even though I bruise like a peach.

Bored, quiet and dutiful Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in a small-town in the Lone Star state and seems restless to escape. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has coerced her into a world of beauty pageants and she blandly participates so not to upset her. On a chance evening out she meets the 'Hurl Scouts' a local roller-derby team, and taking her first steps towards rebellion, she tries out for the team and wins a place. In the roller-derby-drome Bliss comes of age, learning who she really is, and relishing in the freedom the games brings. However, a conflict with a rival team mate the Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) threatens to expose her world of lies to her parents and friends.

Make life happen
This film is hipster, but not too cool for school. The dialogue is slick, but (thankfully) has none of the verbal gymnastics of Juno, and was written by the original Maggie Mayhem, LA Derby Dolls star, Shauna Cross. And like the screenwriter herself, this is a sweet film about an underdog finding their place in society (Shauna grew up in Austin, moved to LA, joined a Derby team) and I think the tag line is very fitting 'Be Your Own Hero'.

In my humble secondary school teaching experience, too many teenagers are waiting for the world to pay them that favour they feel they deserve. They're bored, restless and got little confidence to do anything about it. This movie unequivocally says, no one is going to do it for you. If you're bored, do something about it. If you want to find out who you really are, then get stuck into life. If you're lonely, join a team. Travel, be rebellious, stretch yourself, be independent. The results are clearly worth is, as Bliss finds a new family (without abandoning her old) and really uncovers a new and very exciting path for her life.

Dead mother syndrome
My friend Helen complains about how many films have a 'dead mother' literally and figuratively. She feels too many film makers have to get rid of the sensible, nagging woman before the fun can really start. Not so in this film.

At first glance, Bliss's mother, seems to perpetuate the southern belle nuclear family, making her girls pretty to compete in pageants, act like 'ladies' and generally continue life as if the 1950s never ended. The problem that had no name now does, and different ideas of feminism pop up throughout the movie.

1. Maggie Mayhem is a single Mom, who is the sensible, warning voice of experience to Bliss.

2. Iron Maven is older and bemoans to Bliss that she didn't start the sport until 33, making the point that women of all ages are always trying to find their place in society. Her ultimate respect for Bliss shows that fighting other women out of envy or spite ultimately only harms women, so isn't it better to join forces? Or at least, take your revenge on the track.


3. This league is so far removed from the dainty virtues of the pageants, yet the women uphold the best aspects of femininity: caring, loyalty, courage.

4. Bliss finds her self respect through the support of the women in the league, and finds the courage to ditch her cheating, flaky boyfriend in a classy but satisfying way. Their romance is sweet and PG appropriate (a nice change) but Bliss's revenge edge, shows Hollywood can present girls to be something more than sexualised, insipid, passive people pleasers. Not your average teen-romance flick. Huzzah!

4. Finally, back to Bliss' mother. She's not the overbearing housewife stereotype, but in one touching scene, we see she is actually secret rocker, secret smoker and honest, blue collar worker with more in common with Maggie Mayhem than the starched wives of the country club pageants.

Sports training montage
This film does follow the convention of every sports movie, and trundles along (or should that be skates along?) at a pleasingly predictable pace. The joy comes not from predicting the plot (which is obvious) but in the little moments of Bliss's victory. We see her nervously uncover her Barbie skates for the try outs. Get up after her first fall. Practice for hours outside in the street. Take a secret bus ride. Stay out at a party. Have her first kiss. Stand up to her friend. Defend her choices in life. Challenge her parents, and finally come out on top, sure of her self and happy to face her future.

As we watch the growth of this young protagonist we see Bliss ultimately triumphs without trampling those around her. A perfect bildungsroman... with a rocking soundtrack.