The Week in Consumption, 11/16 Part II

Here’s the movies I viewed in the past week. Well, almost all of them.

Belle du Jour–In this slow-burner about a housewife-turned-prostitute, Catherine Deneuve starts off timid and awkwardly antisocial. She entertains fantasies about being tortured, dirtied, and raped by her husband and servants. So it’s basically the same character she plays in Repulsion. What a fine surprise when she relaxes at the drop of a dime, settling in nicely to her afternoon routine of servicing her clients. Of course, her two worlds are destined to collide, which frankly isn’t as interesting as her eccentric clientele. As in any Bunuel film, there are three or four indelible images whose power exceeds explanation–I’m thinking in particular of the final shot, of the lane through the fall foliage.

Pickpocket Robert Bresson’s exploration of theft as religious experience. A young man dedicates his time to becoming an excellent pickpocket, against the wishes of a girl and his mom. Martin LaSalle, as the lead, is an unprofessional actor and it shows. But it works too. His Michel moves and speaks hesitantly, which makes every theft seem like a miracle. His oversized suit and lean face resemble a child’s. He and the film move through the story without a real care as to what’s going on. Get arrested? It’s no big deal. Mom’s dying? He’ll send some money, but . . . Michel’s mental terrain leaks in, slowly, until he’s underwater. How we feel about everything is a little more up for grabs. Michel pays, in various ways, for his crimes, but the camera seems to argue for them through their loving depiction.

Kings and Queen–that Amalric/Desplechin combo dazzles. Not wild with the main storyline, in which Emmanuelle Devos deals with her father’s death and her own guilt over a selfish life, but I find Mathieu Amalric riveting in every frame. (I even enjoyed him in Quantum of Solace!) I love his wild smile and froggy eyes, and the way his voice seems to wind through his lines rhythmically. His portion of the story involves being forced into a mental health facility and losing his job. Well-trod territory, but I don’t mind.

The Men Who Stare At Goats–A tonal mishmash. It’s mostly farcical, which is all well and good EXCEPT that this is a military movie, and military farces are ethically dubious. Ewan MacGregor plays a down-on-his-luck journalist who uncovers a special paranormal unit of the army. Their experiments are diverting, but TMWSAG betrays its source material by not exploring how these efforts are related to the same military impulse that practices torture, or haphazardly bombs hospitals.* Oh there are moments, isolated instances in which this connection is glanced, but they’re undone in the finale.

* Of course, I suppose the opposite could be true as well–the insertion of countercultural principles might have undone all the things that make armies toxic–but that’s not what happened.

Where the Wild Things Are Most of the film is an elaboration of the first ten seconds, which demonstrates how children can be such unthinking terrors. This is an adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s perennial children’s classic about a child who runs away to be king of the wild things. The story drags quite a bit, and the dialogue is repetitive, but when my mind drifted it drifted somewhere else on the screen. It’s beautifully shot. The creatures seem to glow from within, and it’s easy to imagine the texture of every setting from the ways they’ve been filmed.

Astro Boy The theater was surprisingly packed. Children laughed and screamed. Always a good thing. After a long development history, Osamu Tezuka’s manga about a loving robot boy has finally come to the big screen. The character design is sterling, but then they have Tezuka to thank for that. Coming after a million Pixar movies (and CG also-rans), there’s nothing surprising in its look, plot, or major themes. Astro Boy is an outsider who will save the insiders and gain their acceptance. Humans are too dependent on technology, which will save them anyway. Yawn.

Of course, my favorite bit involved the Marxist Robot Resistance Front, a collection of discarded robot workers planning to overthrow their human oppressors. They’ve even got posters of Marx and Lenin(!) in their headquarters. Their dialogue owed more to Groucho than Karl. It’s no surprise to see Marxism played as comedy (“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”), but the film makers are not concerned with mocking communism itself. Instead, they’re making fun of one of science fiction’s hoariest tropes: robots attaining class consciousness and rising against their human masters. They draw an implicit comparison between the dogmatism of vulgar Marxism and the dogmatism of Asimov’s laws of robotics, suggesting that there are other, more worthwhile stories we can tell about robots. Astro Boy, in this incarnation, is not one of them. But one can hope.


2 Responses to “The Week in Consumption, 11/16 Part II”

  1. 1 Eagle's Daughter November 17, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Astro Boy is an excellent family movie. Too bad you’re so steeped in political dogma you can’t appreciate it.

    • 2 againstacedia November 18, 2009 at 3:16 am

      Am I really so steeped in political dogma? How exactly does this prevent me from appreciating the film?

      I highlighted an area of the film I found interesting, not because of its politics, but because of how it comments on other science fiction stories. If anything, my political dogma (whatever you’re guessing it is) makes me appreciate the film more.

      What makes it so excellent? Is it the same plot recycled from a thousand better family movies? I wanted a great Astro Boy movie. I’m a fan of the manga and the cartoon. It was mildly diverting, but it can’t hold a candle to the Pixar movies, which comment on family, outcasts, and community in more stimulating ways, and are more entertaining to boot.

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