Tag Archive: Film


The Misandrists: It’s… interesting…

The Misandrists by director Bruce LaBruce is… interesting. I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a few days now and I think in a way it needs to be taken more as an experience than a traditional story-driven film. By virtue of its director alone it is a transgressive film and an almost conceptual one. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which was about the death dream of a dying drug dealer. Both films are intense, visual, helmed by extremely creative outside-the-box artists and films I have no intention of ever seeing again. This is not so much because I don’t think highly of the films. Rather it is because now that I’ve seen each once, I just don’t need to do it again. I think for those, like myself, who are raised on a relatively mainstream diet of cinema, watching these kinds of films is a good exercise. It is a way to view the world of cinematic storytelling through a new lens and be exposed to new ideas. A nice place to visit, but perhaps you don’t want to live there.

What follows in this article is a breakdown of things I noticed as I was watching the film, supplemented a bit by an after-film interview by the director himself. Because I came to the theater expecting a more traditional work, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together. If the film is understood as a more abstract work, however, perhaps the traditional complaints will fall away. It will still be an intense experience, but there might be fewer questions about what is going on.

Storytelling

Dancing Nun

My issues really revolve around choices in scenes that appear during the film. These choices, for me, amounted to a lot of unnecessary misdirection. This might be partially my fault as I tried to understand where the film was going. As I mentioned before, a better strategy might have been to just absorb the film and mull the overall meaning later. That said, the first scene to take note of was the “Dancing Nun” scene. This was a moment when a nun, whose face isn’t seen, walks very purposefully and slowly before looking around and then breaking into dance. This happens for a moment, then the nun returns to walking purposefully and slowly again.

A couple things to note here. First of all, it’s established earlier in the film that the nun outfits are mostly just ruses. Unless there’s someone in authority nearby, the outfits are never worn. Secondly, there’s no real connection in this scene to the rest of the film. It’s just a strange non-sequiter. Perhaps it could be taken as a symbolic moment (perhaps some idea of being reserved and disciplined, but being unable to prevent loosening up once in a while.) Even if that were true, however, there seems to be no immediate connection to the rest of the film. As mentioned earlier, the very idea of wearing a nun’s outfit on a regular basis seems odd given that it was clearly initially worn by characters in the film as disguise.

Secret Nun

The next issue revolves around a cameo by the director himself. In one scene, a nun’s face appears and looks out into a courtyard where an event is taking place. That “nun” is the director in a nun’s outfit. The pupose of this moment made sense in the interview after the film, but it completely misled me prior to that point. In the interview after the film, Bruce LaBruce mentioned that he liked to make the audience part of the film. This “secret nun” moment was part of that. Essentially, the camera watches the nun look out the window and then cuts to view the courtyard from the nun’s perspective. The problem here is that, without the benefit of the after-film interview, it appears as if the secret nun is an actual character. I certainly took it that way. Until the interview, I really kept trying to figure out who this nun character was. I kept expecting to find out that this secret character was in fact controlling the events of the film while hidden way. Watching the film in this context made me feel there was a real unresolved storyline.

Big Mother

Speaking about unresolved, I feel there were some issues surrounding the character of Big Mother that were not properly laid to rest. In particular, there were a number of cues that seemed to me to indicate that Big Mother was heading towards failure. The first indication is very early in the film when one of the girls, Isolde, openly voices opposition to Big Mother’s policies. Doing this so early in the film sets the tone for a tale of authority versus resistance. This thread continues on with a discussion of rules about smoking. This is forbidden by Big Mother in the film, but everyone, including Big Mother herself breaks the rules casually. Thus Big Mother’s authority is false, even to herself.

To be honest, the whole environment Big Mother has set up feels cultish and artificial. The girls are regularly told stories that revolve around mythology and could easily have been made up. The exercise regimen includes pseudo-militarized chanting. Educational material is delivered with such heavy modification that it is reduced to propaganda. In a replay of the false authority issues mentioned earlier, the girls are shown as not even listening to the teacher. In the meantime Big Mother is extolling the virtues of prostitution as she prepares to enact a plan to create a pornographic film. One she admits needs to be done for money while declaring that it will also be her group’s manifesto.

The Ending

The above issues seem to mean the film is headed to an ending of disappointment for Big Mother. In reality, the plan ends in complete victory. Big Mother makes her film resulting, among other thigs, an ending scene showing the audience of her film inspired into an orgy. This didn’t make much sense to me from the standpoint of a logical plot, but the reasoning behind it was made clear in the after-film interview. The interviewer noted that Bruce LaBruce tends to end his films with orgies. LaBruce confirmed this and indicated that he likes to end films on a positive note, which for him would be an orgy. This is fine, but it is a significant break from all the cues being delivered throughout the film. This more than anything else brings the film into the world of magic reality. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the film is a conceptual exercise rather than a more conventional tale. Were I so inclined to see the film a second time (I really don’t think I will be), I would try to view the film through that perspective.

Conclusion

None of the above should promote the idea that I think the film is bad. It’s certainly the product of strong creative vision. I also think it was worthwhile to see the film if for no other reason than to step outside my regular diet of cinema. It’s important to be exposed to new and alternative ideas once in a while. For purveyors of mainstream films, I would recommend taking The Misandrists as a magic reality film. I feel, after some thought on the subject, that it is more of a presentation of a particular idea or theme rather than any traditional narrative. Audiences, particularly mainstream audiences, should absorb the film as an experience and try to understand the events seen in a somewhat symbolic or non-literal manner.

Please be aware, however, that no matter how you approach the film, it will be an intense and, in some parts, deeply unsettling experience. If you’ve seen Bruce LaBruce films before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well… good luck.

Wolverine and Shakespearean Tragedy

Still from the movie Logan

Logan has been out for a while now, and all the reviews have been posted, so I’m very late to the party on this one. I actually saw the film opening weekend, but was too busy to get around to putting my thoughts down until now. While many reviewers enjoyed the story, the action and Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as the titular character, I noted something a little different. Wolverine is actually a Shakespearean tragedy. Or, at least, very close.

Just as a quick warning to those who haven’t seen it: there are going to be spoilers.

The Shakespearean Tragedy

First, let’s go over the basic plot points of a Shakespearean tragedy. In essence (and I’m glossing over a lot, here), the Shakespearean tragedy involves a character of major social importance. In Shakespeare’s time, this would be a king or a prince. The character has a fall from grace, usually through a personal flaw. This character then undergoes a kind of tortured reformation or redemption that sets the wrong things right, but also kills the character in the end.

Logan fits this almost to a T. It’s established early on that Wolverine’s reputation has survived the death of mutantkind. Even one of the antagonists, Donald Pierce, turns to Logan with a smile and says “I’m a big fan!”. The filmmakers were, in fact, relying on Wolverine’s history not only in the films but in the comics as well. This was a film for fans of both worlds. The audience was expected to come in knowing something about the character.

The fall from grace is slightly more nuanced. In Logan the days of the legendary Wolverine are long gone. Logan has no pride or hope left and is reduced to driving people around while drinking his pain away and buying drugs in back alleys. Logan’s personal flaw, if one can even call it that, is that he’s exhausted. A lifetime of warfare and age in general has reduced his healing factor. The adamantium that made him invulnerable is now poisoning him. There hasn’t been a new mutant born in over twenty years and Professor Xavier, who is now suffering from a neuro-degenerative disorder and generates uncontrolled psychic bursts that need medication to stop. It’s strongly implied that Xavier inadvertently killed the X-Men during one such episode. Logan has lost hope, which means he’s no longer a fighter or a survior; he’s just trying to keep his head above water.

The rest of the film takes Logan on his tortured path to redemption, ultimately killing him as the plot recipe demands. The discovery of Laura (or X-23 to comic book fans) builds to a late-blooming realization that there is something worth fighting for. Broken, beaten and with nothing to lose, he sacrifices his life to set things right just one more time.

The only real deviation here is the ending. In Shakespeare’s works, the character that takes control of the kingdom in the end of the play is the one who truly restores order to the universe. There is no such character in Logan, although spiritually, Laura is his successor. Imbued with the same powers and adamantium skeleton, she is just a younger female version of Logan. Further, in the comics she dons a similar outfit and is declared the new Wolverine. If a sequel to the film were to follow this line, then Laura is destined, one way or another, bring order back to the world she lives in. As it is, she merely survives to become her own person rather than a living weapon.

Logan and King Lear

In addition to its general overall bleakness, one very notable aspect of King Lear is the use of the Fool. In King Lear, Lear’s arrogance and perhaps mental instability result in his daughters throwing him out of the castle. Destitute and driven to insanity, Lear’s only companion is the court jester.

The Fool is important in King Lear because without the Fool, the play would descend in self-indulgent misery. The Fool challenges Lear to pull himself out of his madness and become again the man he was. Professor Xavier is no different in this regard. In Logan he is the Fool both metaphorically and literally. Suffering from his disease, he has episodes that range from absurdity to intense danger. In his lucid moments, however, the old Xavier comes back. Like King Lear’s Fool, Professor Xavier is the truth-teller that Logan needs to drive him forward into a better state of being. He operates as Logan’s conscience, convincing him to help Laura in her desperate moments, but also as a guide, reminding Logan that there is still a path to peace and love if he would just take the time to recognize it. Unlike Lear’s Fool, however, Xavier does not surive to the end. His passing makes way for a darker force that Logan must face.

Logan and Hamlet

Hamlet demonstrated one of the critical tools in Shakespeare’s literary arsenal; the use of multiple characters all of whom mirror each other’s traits. This is most obvious in Hamlet. First, there is Hamlet himself. Hamlet’s father, the former King, was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, now the current king of Denmark. Second, there is Laertes, Hamlet’s friend. Laertes’ father was killed by Hamlet who, once he kills the newly crowned Claudius, will become the king of Denmark. Finally, there is Fortinbras, a prince of Norway. Fortinbras’ father, the king of Norway, was killed prior to the start of the play by King Hamlet, Hamlet’s father. All three swear revenge on those who murdered their kin.

The comparison goes beyond this, however. Their flaws can be compared against each other as well. Hamlet, throughout the play, would rather wax poetic than actually kill his uncle. Laertes, however, seems to act without thinking at all. The moment he’s told that Hamlet has killed his father he accepts the information without further inquiry. He also reveals he purchased poison while travelling abroad even though there is no reason given why he should want to do it or why the audience should think there would be a logical reason to have it. He just kind of does things. Finally there is Fortinbras. Fortinbras swears revenge on his father’s murderer (Hamlet’s father), raises an army, invades Poland at some point and from there moves into Denmark just after Hamlet has finally killed his father’s murderer. Fortinbras is established as a balance between Hamlet and Laertes. He both thinks and acts while the other two are extremes.

Logan fits this model quite well. Laura, Logan and X-24 (Logan’s weaponized clone) are all products of the Weapon X super soldier program. All three sport enhanced senses, a healing factor and an adamantium-laced skeleton complete with razor sharp claws. Just like in Hamlet, the three mutants can also be compared by their differences. Age is the obvious starting point. Laura is just a child. X-24 is a grown adult and Logan himself is centuries old. The differences continue, however. Logan talks throughout the film, mostly in an effort to drive people away. Laura speaks only when it is most important to do so. X-24 doesn’t speak at all. He just grunts, growls and roars. Laura has an active plan that she is seeking to implement while Logan seems to be running mostly off of improvisation and desperation. X-24 doesn’t appear to think or plan at all; he just does whatever he’s told to do. Finally, Laura represents a life almost untouched by the Weapon X program, while X-24 is completed controlled by it. Logan is the uncomfortable balance in between, having to deal with trauma of the program while at the same time having escaped it.

The End

As with Hamlet and Laertes, Logan and X-24 fight and as with Hamlet and Laertes, both die in the process, leaving Laura, who might go on to be the hero of the next generation. As mentioned above, the similarities between Logan and Shakespearean tragedy end here because Laura heads off towards a hopeful but uncertain future. Overall, however, I think adhering this form of storytelling really elevated the film above standard superhero fare. There wasn’t action for the sake of action and the emotional stakes resonated quite well. Not every superhero film can be like this, of course. The film was far too grim to be regular superhero fare, but its adherence to such a classic storytelling structure made it quite a refreshing change. It would be a good thing to see more films like this in the future.

Concerns About Ghost In The Shell

Ghost in the Shell Live Action FilmThe upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell film captures the look of the anime films, but does it capture the soul? View full article »

Godzilla’s Nuclear Fury

Shin Godzilla Nuclear FuryShin Godzilla isn’t just a monster movie, it’s about one man’s revenge on humanity. View full article »

Dark Seduction is a terrible film the story of which should be an inspiration to filmmakers. View full article »

Doctor Strange and International Politics

Recently, Comic Book Resources broke a story about how Chinese concerns are what led to Tilda Swinton being cast as The Ancient One. The Ancient One, for those not familiar with Doctor Strange mythology, was a male Tibetan monk of ancient knowledge and power who teach Stephen Strange to be come the Sorcerer Supreme (the magical guardian of Earth). For the film, however, a white female (Swinton) was cast. Why? Read on for more View full article »

The reviews have all been written on Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so it’s almost pointless to go over the film itself. That said, however, the film is a phenomenon. It is a landmark in the making of film. I don’t mean any of that in a good way.

The reason it is such a moment in film history is because Batman Vs Superman is a colossal statement on what happens when a studio doesn’t have a cohesive plan and hands total creative control to someone who doesn’t understand the subject matter or possibly know what he is doing. Also, a word to the wise: spoilers ahead. View full article »

Visual Storytelling: Under The Skin, or “Story as Framework”

Note: This review was originally written for another site called Quantum Pop Blog. When that site went under, I brought the article over to my personal site. Aside from stripping out the words “Quantum Pop Blog”, the article is unchanged from its orignal format.

I once had an interesting argument with an aspiring director. He believed that the audience didn’t like to think and that if a story told them something, they would just accept it as true until they were told it wasn’t. I disagreed with this idea, mostly because I like to think about what is being presented to and I imagine others would as well. I could not, however, explain why I preferred this. Under The Skin is director Jonathan Glazer’s resounding rebuttal to the aspiring director’s ideas. For people who don’t like to think during a film, this is a terrible story to watch. For those that do like to think, it’s a deep philosophical statement. Still, before we get into this, we have to have a bit of theory on storytelling. View full article »

Zootopia: Was It Timing or Was It Luck?

Animated films are planned out at least couple years in advance. There is the initial idea, the pitch meeting, various explorations into the viability of the story and so on. At some point, everything is greenlit and the animators go to work. It’s a long process. That begs the question, did the people behind Zootopia know how relevant their story was going to be in an election year, or was it an amazing coincidence? View full article »

Visual Storytelling: A basis in biology

Quite often with visual art we make the assumption that the artist is an intuitive prodigy. The idea is that art is something that is just “known” to the artist. That it is some mystical force that only the special can sense and no amount of classes or guidelines or rules of thumb will make up for it. As it happens, this might not actually be the case! Recent research indicates our brains might be hardwired in such a way that there is at least a base start from. Read on for more. View full article »