Showing posts with label political correctness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label political correctness. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Invasion (2007) 2 of 4

** contains increasingly severe spoilers, as noted **

This is the fourth film based on the 1955 Jack Finney novel The Body Snatchers.  The first two (and better two) were both called Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The third was Abel Ferrara's 1992 Body Snatchers, which has its defenders.  I suspect this 2007 version will also become a cult favorite, especially if a director's cut is ever released.

The Invasion is also one of a series of fantasy remakes that fortified Nicole Kidman's bank account (The Stepford Wives, Bewitched).  Kidman plays a D.C. psychiatrist named Carol Bennell.  Her best friend and maybe-boyfriend is Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig).  Much of the drama stems from Carol's efforts to reunite with her son Oliver, who's been taken to Baltimore by his father, Tucker, during a public-health crisis.

The main problem for the filmmakers is the familiarity of the subject matter, which is not confined to the four credited adaptions but encompasses the entire viral-horror subgenre.  The Invasion fails to distinguish itself, but it has a nice, chilly feel, and tries hard to provide the subtext essential to this kind of parable.

** moderate spoilers ahead **

The film shows an America guilty of divisions: just as Carol has split from her ex-husband, and her patient (Veronica Cartwright, also in the 1978 film) has a "volatile" relationship with her husband, so the broader nation is divided: when the space shuttle crashes, the story dominates the various cable news channels, reminding us of a modern U.S. that's united only by crisis.  (Listen closely and you'll hear a theory that the crash was intentional, which suggests that at least one astronaut was trying to save the nation from possession by alien spores.)

There are repeated references to psychiatric medications.  The filmmakers seem to have a grudge against Clonazepam (they carefully avoid the more familiar brand-name, Klonopin), although why Carol grabs an extra supply when she needs to stay awake is unclear.  Carol prescribes freely, even for little Ollie, who's having nightmares.  The suggestion is that we're using stopgap measures such as medications instead of resolving real problems. 

The most outspoken person in the film is a Russian diplomat who declares civilization a lie to distract from our competitive, animal natures.  Gently sparring with Carol, he asks if there's "a pill to make me see the world as you Americans do."  Carol contends that humans are still evolving, referring him to the work of renowned psychologists. 

This is the first of the four versions to be directed by a non-American, but if Oliver Hirschbiegel (he's German) was compensating by including a namesake in the story, it wasn't enough: he was replaced in post-production by the Wachowskis (The Matrix), who added lots of action, making the film into something a 21st century studio could understand.  The real problem here is not the direction or tone, though (or even that it was preceded by the 2005-06 series called Invasion), but that the film doesn't seem to know what it wants to say. 

** severe spoilers ahead **

One of the reasons for the success of the 1978 film by Philip Kaufman was that W.D. Richter's script cannily updated the tale with the trends of hedonism and pop psychology.  Arguably, the U.S. hasn't changed much since 1978, so there's less inspiration for a new film to draw on.  The exception is the increasing death-grip of our political correctness, which The Invasion lacks the nerve to mention.  Like its characters, this film is openly ambivalent about a collectivist world in which strong emotion is outlawed, and where peace breaks out all over (according to featured news reports).

Or maybe this is the point?  Maybe the non-American actors and director were trying to subvert a cherished text of American subversion?  Fair enough as a goal, but it doesn't seem to work here. 

Carol's ambivalence is signaled not just by her medicating but by her choice of Ben, a smooth Brit who doesn't change all that much once possessed by aliens.  Near the end, an exhausted Carol almost gives in, but continues fighting once the pod-people make clear her son, who's immune, won't be allowed to survive.  Maybe Carol has also seen the earlier films in this franchise, so like the audience, when told not to drop her guard or go to sleep, she's tempted to reply, "What, again?" 



 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Monster's Ball (2001) 1.5 of 4

EDIT 21 June, 2015: I wrote this review before knowing much about the recent madness in Charleston, S.C.  I apologize for the poor timing, especially to anyone who's read before this edit.  (I'm 50, and the realities of digital media don't come easily to me; I tend to forget how easy it is to edit the blog, for example.) 
These remain my views on the film, but right now they are trivial at best. 

The sitcom 30 Rock once did an episode in which Tracy Morgan's character made a "serious" movie, a piece of  autobiographical Oscar-bait about his troubled childhood.  This way-over-the-top film-within-a-film seemed to be a parody of the then-current movie Precious, the biopic about a young black woman who's been horribly abused for years.  Though I was a fan of 30 Rock at the time, I remember thinking the parody unkind. 
Precious was directed by Lee Daniels, who'd already co-produced Monster's Ball, and would go on to the current TV hit Empire.   Now that I've seen both those films, I can see exactly where 30 Rock was coming from.  At least Precious was apparently based on a true story, whereas Monster's Ball is just shameless manipulation, piling on misfortunes as if terrified we'll stop taking it seriously. 

Lee Daniels also put his name in front of The Butler.  All of these movies and more (The Help, 42) seem best suited for suburban white people, for guilt mitigation.  These movies do everything but take my hand and say, "Now you hush, chile.  Ain't nothin' to be afeared of , 'cause black folk is jus' folk, jus' like you."

** major spoilers ahead **

Monster's Ball was showered with awards, but to me this just proves again that certain topics paralyze the critical faculties: the Holocaust, race in America.  It's the story of a prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who falls in love with Halle Berry, after helping to execute Halle's ex-husband (Sean Combs), who'd abused her.  The guard had a racist upbringing, but fortunately both of their sons die violent deaths (within days of each other), which is quite an ice-breaker, and before you know it we get some admittedly steamy, interracial sex scenes. 

So yes, this is an interracial love story.  Barely.  It seems to me that a racist redneck finding redemption in the arms of Halle Berry is like the person who claims they can't be anti-Semitic because they love Jesus.
Then again, this movie was made in 2001, when we were all more innocent.