Monday, January 28, 2008

Random Musings from the Weekend

· I saw I Am Legend this weekend. Turkish cinemas have allocated seats, a practice I abhor, and I try to stick it to the man by sitting in whatever seat I damn well please. Power to the people! Anyway, it’s usually not a problem as I see films at relatively unpopular showings, and everyone sits wherever they want (most couples sit at the back for a few rounds of tonsil tennis, and one particularly vocal pair made the already lugubrious The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford all the more unbearable). It turns out the performance was almost sold out, and my usurping someone else’s seat threw the whole auditorium for a loop - so great was the mess that no one could pinpoint how or where it started. I should feel bad about it, but I don’t, because allocated seats are stupid.

So, I Am Legend: I liked it. Spoilers Ahoy – The deviations from the book were wise, especially the decision to do away with the lame “still-livings (in the book, there is a relatively harmless third-group of pseudo-zombies, who have retained some of their humanity, and not resorted to vampirism/cannibalism – Neville ends up hunting them, and, in their eyes, becomes a legend – hence the title).” I also enjoyed the “cancer cure becomes societal cancer” angle, and the more realistic portrayal of the vampires/zombies/mutants/whatjamacallits. Still, it would have been interesting to incorporate the luddite elements of The Omega Man, but that is a creative angle I would have liked to see explored, and should not be regarded as criticism. The flashback sequences are finely incorporated into the main narrative: in fact, not since the 1930s-1940s has the flashback been so elegantly used in mainstream American cinema (and television). These are good times for fans of the technique.

The film does have its fair share of problems, mind. Robert Neville, the eponymous legend of the title, is far too sane during the in-door scenes, which is relatively incongruous with his wacky eccentricities when he ventures out. I could buy that anyone would go a bit loopy faced with solitude of such great magnitude, not to mention the hordes of vampires lurking in the shadows, but I couldn’t do the same for the scene where Neville stumbles upon his own trap. Maybe one of the mutants/vampires set the trap? That is an even greater leap of faith.

Which brings me to the most jarring aspect of the film: Neville as messiah metaphor. The film is ridden with Messiah/Christ imagery, and that is even before the last 20 minutes: the possibility of the cure’s having to do with Neville’s blood, or his bringing his captive back to life, not monuments to subtlety themselves, are overshadowed once Anna and Ethan arrive at the scene. With the delicacy of a televangelist marathon, the film bombards the audience with heavy handed Eucharistic symbolism, and that is before Neville pays the ultimate price. As if that wasn’t enough, the final shots of the film show a community of survivors, who, over a truly terrible voice over by Anna, welcome her and Ethan into a seemingly idyllic paradise dominated by a church. Over the final credits, Bob Marley sings Redemption Song: because the previous 20 minutes were far too illusive. If it were up to me, I’d cut before Anna and Ethan make it to the camp, and have Highway To Hell play over the credits. You know, for shits and giggles.

(There is an inherent creepiness to the film’s final action sequence, where, essentially, hordes and hordes of mindless white mutants are hunting down a black man, and trying to burn his house down. I am sure it was not unintended.)

· VH1 had a “Three From One” theme this weekend, where they played three consecutive songs by one artist or group. I had it on in the background while I cooked, and it slowly dawned on me that my musical taste has started to mellow. I found myself enjoying the shit out of the trio of George Michael songs, namely Freedom ’90, Fast Love, and I’ll Be Loving You Always, and thank god I didn’t come across any Dido while I had the telly on, because enjoying that piffle would be unbearable. What next? James Blunt? They did follow George Michael with Eagles, Led Zep and the Stones, mind, so not all hope is lost.

· I revisited a few favourites: The Long Goodbye, Day For Night, and The Wicker Man. I hadn’t seen any of them for years – especially The Long Goodbye was an interesting experience. I found myself remembering entire passages of dialogue, which is doubly impressive considering I’d only seen it twice before. That says more about the film, than it does about my memory skills. I also saw Downfall for the first time since it was released. The film is bookended by documentary footage of Hitler’s secretary essentially saying she had no idea what she was getting herself into, but that she is full of regret. Such display of apparent honesty does not ring true. Being in such close contact with Hitler, she would have known about everything, including the Holocaust (Similarly, Leni Riefenstahl also claimed ignorance, but that, too, is dubious). In an otherwise confused essay on Philip Lopate’s books on American movie critics, Clive James has an insightful observation about the film, with which I am in total agreement: “Similarly, if you know too much about the movies but not enough about the world, you won't be able to see that Downfall is dangerously sentimental. Realistic in every observable detail, it is nevertheless a fantasy to the roots, because the pretty girl who plays the secretary looks shocked when Hitler inveighs against the Jews. It comes as a surprise to her. Well, it couldn't have; but to know why that is so, you have to have read a few books.

· Six seasons in and Curb Your Enthusiasm is as great as ever. The Tivo Guy, the episode where Cheryl leaves Larry is both funny, and, uncharacteristically, genuine and touching. It is one of the show’s best episodes. Conversely, one episode in, and I can safely say I won’t be watching Samantha Who ever again.

· I am enjoying Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s a shame there won’t be a film version. Even though I haven’t even started the final book, I can safely say that Pullman’s trilogy is far more enjoyable than The Lord of The Rings, which I have never really liked in the first place (I do enjoy The Hobbit, though).

· I managed to catch the last ten minutes of Chaplin’s Limelight, which I must have last seen 15 years ago (maybe more). Anyway, here is the famous scene with Chaplin and Keaton sharing the same stage:

· I’ve been humming this since yesterday:

Laters, skaters...


Bri said...

I love your review of I am Legend, I liked the movie but agree it was a bit heavy handed on the 'it's up to me to save the world since I helped screw it up' angle.

I absolutely loved the flashbacks and the little clues left on screen, mostly the flyers stuck on walls and newspaper articles on refrigerators, etc.

Regarding the trap: I thought about this at the time, and it seemed to me that the Head Zombie guy saw how Neville trapped the lady zombie (who, oddly enough, still wears a sports bra; from what I understand chafing would have been a huge problem after a couple of years without a shower). Anyway, he saw this and yelled at Neville, which Neville noted as odd. Then a day or so later (hard to say) he put the manequin out and set a trap of his own - how, I don't know, but it seemed to me that the Head Zombie set the trap and was lurking nearby. He was also the one leading the lynch mob at the end.

I want to rent the disc and see it a few more times to catch the details I missed, and also hoping for a commentary track by the folks that made it.

bassplyr5150 said...

If I didn't notice the heavy handedness of the Christ imagery, does that make me ignorant, or merely unobservant?

Off of Brian's comment, for him, it was up to him to save the world, because as far as he knew, there wasn't anyone else to do it!

Oz Kanka said...

Ali said: "I am enjoying Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s a shame there won’t be a film version."

I'm assuming that was ironic... or was it.

Ali Arikan said...

Brian - That is a possibility, sure, but how did the head-zombie know which mannequin to set the trap with?

Wikipedia says the film had a different ending, which was changed according to Will Smith's wishes, but which will be included in the DVD. I won't spoil it here, but it sounds interesting.

Tom - It doesn't make you either. Because the film is constructed well enough to ne enjoyed on a purely superficial level - at least until the last half hour.

oz kanka - I meant to add that there won't be a film of the latter two books in the trilogy, but then I decided to leave it ambiguous. Cos that's just how I roll, baby.

Bri said...

It implied, to me, that Head Zombie Dude was a lot smarter than he looked.

He watched Smith/Neville set a trap, using blood as the bait and something really heavy to grab the victim and pull it away.

It seems he had been watching Neville enough to know that he was fond of the manequins (perhaps watching from the shadows) so used that as his bait, and the rest was very similar. However it also is a pretty big leap of faith to think he could have pulled it off, since the zombies were fairly stupid beasts in other scenes, seeming to only follow their instincts.

Made for an interesting train of thought while I tried to figure out how whats-her name so easily got onto and off of the island which had been cut off from the world by the US military years before.

I like movies that make you think a little, and leave a bit to the imagination. Don't like it all wrapped up too neatly...

Ali Arikan said...

Brian - You are right, of course, and both possibilities are interesting, albeit incongruous.

It's a relatively solid action film - but that might have a lot to do with the endless rewrites it went through for the past 10+ years.