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Archive for the tag “movies”

Star Wars: catching up with pop culture

Over the last few days I’ve been catching up on pop culture by watching all three original episodes of Star Wars.

Of course I knew some of the characters and their roles, because one could not avoid reading about them: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Vader — all were household names. The films had quite a pronounced influence on the way people talked, and there were all kinds of direct and indirect references to them. What I wasn’t sure of was their roles, or even, in some cases, how their names were pronounced.

VaderOne of the more memorable cultural references was back in 1980 when Gerhardus de Kock, the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, was appointed “Director of Constellation Affairs”, a title which, the Natal Daily News pointed out in an editorial headed Star Flaws, would be the envy of Darth Vader, the villain of the movie. Other people referred to it more disrespectfully as “De Kock’s Cock-up”. For those too young to remember it, the “constellation of states” was the current euphemism for the government’s apartheid policy in the early 1980s.

The film series provided metaphors for theologians too. The missiologist Ralph Winter referred to the second film in the series (the 5th, once the prequel had been added), The Empire strikes back, and said that in that story it was referring to evil returning, but that in Christian theology one could use the phrase “the Kingdom strikes back” to tell how the good came back. As Winter put it,

,… the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son…

So there were all kinds of metaphors that had entered the English language in various fields, and I had only the vaguest idea of where they came from. When the first couple of films came out, we were living in Melmoth, in Zululand. There was no cinema anywhere near, and we didn’t have TV either, so Star Wars passed us by, except for oblique references. So now I’ve learnt something about the roles and the plot, and how to pronounce the names. For 30 years or so I had thought that “Jedi” was pronounced Yay-dee, and not Jed-eye. So now I’ve even got that straight. And it is now also clear to me that, like polar bears and penguins, wookiees and Klingons will never meet in the wild.

Out of touch with pop culture

In an online discussion the other day, people mentioned Martha Stewart. I thought I’d heard of her — there was a bit of a stir in the media because she went to jail, and so if you asked me, “What do you know about Martha Stewart?” I would say, “She went to jail.” I mean, that’s what she’s famous for, isn’t it?

But it turns out that I was wrong.

It seems she was famous before she went to jail, and that was why the media made a fuss about her going to jail. They just assumed that everyone knew who she was and what she was famous for, and that that would make them interested in reading about her going to jail.

So now I need to look up Martha Stewart, to discover her main claim to fame, apart from going to jail.

But it seems I’m not the only one. Someone else thought Martha Stewart was Martha Graham. I can’t say I’ve heard of Martha Graham either, but I don’t think I read about her going to jail.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart

A quick Google search tells me that Martha Stewart is an American businesswoman, writer, convicted felon, television personality, and former fashion model. So I’m not quite as out of touch as I thought I was. “Convicted felon” is up there with the rest of the stuff, it was just the only bit I knew about. And Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on the modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture. It seems that she was not a convicted felon, so perhaps that was why I hadn’t heard of her.

But that’s my problem. I just don’t do celebs, so I’m out of touch with pop culture.

That was rubbed in this week when I saw the name of Mark Driscoll all over the social media. There were Tweets about him, for and against him. There were numerous posts on Facebook, and numerous blog posts devoted to Mark Driscoll, and everybody seemed to know who he was. He seemed to be as famous as Roman Pope Francis, in all sorts of circles. Perhaps he was the Protestant Pope.

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Churcfh

But it turns out that Mark A. Driscoll is an evangelical Christian pastor, author, and preaching pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch in Seattle, Washington. Well, it seems that Mars Hill Church is a bit more than a big church in Seattle. It seems to be a new denomination that extends over 5 states in the US. Someone told me that he was well-known in neo-Calvinist circles. All I can say is that there must be an awful lot of crypto-neo-Calvinists among my Facebook friends, and people I follow on Twitter, and on my blogroll, because people who live half a world away from Seattle have been talking about him. Even some Orthodox Christians have mentioned is name in posts.

So, OK, he’s a celebrity pastor, and because I don’t do celebs, I’m surprised when people all over the world are talking about him, in a way that they have not, for example, talking about Fred Modise, whose church seems to have more followers than that of Mark Driscoll.

So, being so out of touch with pop culture, is there any hope of getting back in touch, and rectifying the deficiency?

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

Cultural catch-up films: Fantastic Mr Fox

And it seems yes, there is hope for people like me, who had a deprived childhood and youth. The answer lies here: The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13) | PopWatch | EW.com:

This isn’t a list of the 55 “best” kids movies, nor a compendium of hidden gems. Rather, it’s a survival-guide syllabus of films that we all need to know to be able to speak the same pop-cultural language, listed in order by when they might be best introduced. It starts with a film that is a perfect introduction to the cinematic universe and ends with one that is an ideal capper before graduating into the world of PG-13 and R movies—and the age when kids begin to make their own theater decisions.

It I watch one of those films every week, in a little over a year I should have caught up.

 

I’m going slightly mad

In 1966 I went to see two films in Croydon. One was Alfie, with Michael Caine in the title role. The other was Face of a stranger, about a released prisoner who impersonates his cellmate (still in prison) to his blind wife, in the hope of discovering where the loot from a robbery was hidden. To my recollection the part of the wife, Mary Bell, was played by Judi Dench, and it was the first film where I recalled seeing her name. Three years later I saw the film again, at the Missions to Seamen in Durban.

The name of Judi Dench came up in conversation, and I thought I would check to find out something about the film.

A Google search failed to find it.

It was as if  had completely vanished, and had never been made.

I tried other seach engines, and eventually found a couple of references to the film. But it said that the part of Mary Bell was played by Rosemary Leach, not Judi Dench.

So where did I get the idea that Judi Dench had a role in Face of a stranger?

Perhaps it was some other film that I saw, but which one?

Here are films I saw in 1966

Does anyone know if Judi Dench acted in any of them?

  • 12-Feb-1966, Saturday        One spy too many.
  • 16-Feb-1966, Wednesday       The flight of the phoenix.
  • 27-Feb-1966, Sunday          A night to remember
  • 3-Mar-1966, Thursday         Bunny Lake is missing
  • 4-Mar-1966, Friday           The spy who came in from the cold.
  • 12-Mar-1966, Saturday        Thunderball. James Bond spy movie.
  • 14-Mar-1966, Monday          Rasputin the mad monk; The reptile.
  • 26-Mar-1966, Saturday        Judith
  • 28-Mar-1966, Monday          Our man Flint.
  • 11-Apr-1966, Monday          The great St Trinian’s train robbery.
  • 2-May-1966, Monday           633 Squadron; The world of Henry Orient.
  • 8-May-1966, Sunday           Holly Communion; Fist in pocket.
  • 21-May-1966, Saturday        Alfie; Face of a stranger.
  • 22-May-1966, Sunday          Morgan, a suitable case for treatment
  • 5-Jun-1966, Sunday           Round the bend; Modesty Blaise.
  • 19-Jun-1966, Sunday          Tom Jones; Never on Sunday.
  • 13-Jul-1966. Wednesday       The wrong box.
  • 27-Aug-1966, Saturday        The great race
  • 9-Sep-1966, Friday           A fine madness
  • 11-Sep-1966, Sunday          Stage fright
  • 12-Sep-1966, Monday          The war game; Four in the morning
  • 1-Oct-1966, Saturday         Ten tall men
  • 27-Oct-1966, Thursday        The innocent sorcerers.
  • 28-Oct-1966, Friday          The seven samurai.
  • 15-Nov-1966, Tuesday         Arabesque.
  • 16-Nov-1966, Wednesday       Seven days in May.
  • 8-Dec-1966, Thursday         The trap
  • 9-Dec-1966, Friday           Viva Maria
  • 26-Dec-1966, Monday          A journey to the centre of the earth
  • 28-Dec-1966, Wednesday       Alice in wonderland

Cowboys & Aliens

I laughed when I saw the trailer of Cowboys & Aliens (2011) – IMDb the other night. It looked like yet an other B movie to watch for a few laughs when there is nothing else on TV.

But actually it didn’t turn out to be quite as bad as that. District 9 it wasn’t, but it wasn’t bad as a piece of no-brain-strain entertainment. And in the end we didn’t even laugh at it. Though it was a blending of genres, unlike District 9 and Avatar, it didn’t satirise either genre. It just combined them.

And it was the combining of the genres that seemed to make it worth blogging about. When I saw the trailer it seemed as if it would be anachronistic and a kind of “jump the shark” thing. Westerns are set in the 19th century, and space aliens are set in the mid-20th century, and that’s where they belong, in human culture anyway. But if you think about it, if there are intelligent races from other planets or other galaxies, whiy should they visit Earth just at the time when we, or some of us, are culturally ready to think that they might? They could conceivably visit earth at any time. One could just as easily make a movie about Vikings and Aliens, or Aztecs and Aliens, or Julius Caesar’s Alien wars. And then there are people who are convinced that the prophet Ezekiel was describing an alien spacecraft in Ezekiel chapter 1.

Give a dog a bad name

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Such was the reply often given to playground taunts and insults in my youth.

But a recent discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup puts a new slant on it.

People were discussing the remake of the film The Dam Busters, a true story of how the British attacked German dams in WW2 by using an ingenious technique to drop bombs where they would be most effective.

Apparently the remake hit a snag.

Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, who led the raid, had a pet dog, a black Labrador called “Nigger”, and it was decided to use the dog’s name as a code name to indicate that the first raid had been successful.

The WikiPedia page on the film, and the proposed remake, describes the problem as follows The Dam Busters (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The British Channel 4 screened the censored American version in July 2007, in which the dialogue was dubbed so as to call the dog Trigger, this screening taking place just after the planned remake was announced. For the remake, Peter Jackson has said no decision has been made on the dog’s name, but is in a “no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario”, as changing the name could be seen as too much political correctness, while not changing the name could offend people. Further, executive producer Sir David Frost was quoted in The Independent as stating: “Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that’s what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want.” In June 2011, Stephen Fry mentioned in an interview that the dog would be called Digger in the remake to avoid offending modern audiences. In September 2007, as part of the BBC Summer of British Film series, The Dam Busters was shown at selected cinemas across the UK in its uncut format.

The discussion on alt.usage.english was mainly concerned with the issue of the dog’s name. The original name is now regarded as offensive in America, so using it might harm the film at the box office. But changing the name of the dog would be historically inaccurate.

Discussion went back and forth for a while, and eventually someone said:

I don’t see what harm it does to change the dog’s name consistently in the dialogue, just so people don’t repeatedly cringe until it gets run over. (I haven’t seen the original film; I’m trusting what someone else said in this thread.) They could put a note up at the beginning or end of the film briefly explaining the deviation from historical accuracy.

And Peter Brooks of Cape Town made a comment that put the whole discussion in perspective:

Cringe? There’s a film showing people getting ready to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians by drowning and people watching it cringe because of the name given to a dog? What kind of perverted system of values could lead to that?

Another Wikipedia article describes the results of the first raid Möhne Reservoir – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The resulting huge floodwave killed at least 1579 people, 1026 of them foreign forced labourers held in camps downriver. The small city of Neheim-Hüsten was particularly hard-hit with over 800 victims, among them at least 526 victims in a camp for Russian women held for forced labour.

District 9 versus Avatar

Last year I blogged about two science fiction films that had been nominated for Oscars: Oscar battle: District 9 versus Avatar |Khanya, though in the end neither of them won and the winner was a film that had a meaningless (to me) title The hurt locker.

I had seen District 9 when it was first released, and blogged about it here, but had not seen Avatar until it was shown on TV a couple of nights ago, so now, for the first time, I’m in a position to compare them, though I should probably watch District 9 again, as it’s 18 months since I saw it.

I hadn’t realised that Avatar was satire until I saw it. Most of the descriptions I’d read suggested it was a kind of parable of colonialism, and that while it was science fiction, and so broadly in the same genre as District 9 I didn’t realise how directly comparable they were.

I enjoyed Avatar, but I think District 9 was better.

In District 9 the satire works at multiple levels, not least because it satirises the genre itself. In one scene, where the protagonist Wikus van der Merwe is driving a robocop-type machine, it could even be satirising Avatar. In District 9 there are no good guys, there are wheels within wheels and plots within plots and the satire is liberally splashed on everyone.

Spoiler altert – if you haven’t seen Avatar, what follows gives away the plot

Avatar, by contrast, is much more simple. It is like an old-fashioned Western, where the white hats fight the black hats, and the white hats always win.

The plot can be summarised in one sentence: Redskins fight Palefaces; Redskins win and send Palefaces home.

Only in this case the redskins are blue, and “home” is another planet.

In District 9 the aliens are stranded on earth, in an anything but beautiful environment. In Avatar the earthlings themselves are the aliens, out to rape the planet of its mineral wealth and exterminate any natives that get in their way. The natives, Na’vi, live in a beautiful environment that the alien earthlings destroy, and it is an environment that earthlings cannot even live in. They can only enter it by creating remotely controlled avatars, using alien DNA – another parallel with District 9, where Wikus van der Merwe becomes contaminated with alien DNA, which makes him a desirable property to corporate and Nigerian gangsters.

On another level Avatar has parallels with C.S. Lewis’s novel Out of the silent planet, which has the same theme of science and high finance in an uneasy partnership to exploit another planet, Malacandra (Mars). In Lewis’s book the natives have a similar relationship to a planetary deity, the Oyarsa, as the Na’vi in Avatar have with their deity Eywa. But Out of the silent planet doesn’t end with the same shoot-’em-up scenes as Avatar.

Avatar is entertaining and has a moral message, and no doubt deserved the Oscar it got for special effects, but it falls a long way short of District 9

Film remakes

My wife says there’s a movie on TV that’s just starting — The taking of Pelham 123. I ask her if it’s the real one or the remake, and she says it’s the remake, so I say I’ll give it a miss.

I’m not sure why I have such a strong aversion to films that are remakes. Perhaps it’s the lack of imagination that gets filmmakers to do remakes of films that were either quite good, and didn’t need remaking, like The flight of the Phoenix, or else were rather mediocre, and the remake was no improvement, like The Poiseidon adventure.

The taking of Pelham 123 was one of the former. If they showed the original on TV, I’d like to watch it. It they showed the original on one evening and the remake on the following, I might watch both for purposes of comparison, but if they show the remake on its own, I’m not interested.

I can understand a remake if there have been technical advances that make a difference — such as a remake with sound of a previously silent movie, or a colour version of a previously black and white one (one of that category that I did watch was Titanic, though it wasn’t, in my view, an improvement on A night to remember). But remaking The taking of Pelham 123 seemed entirely unnecessary on all counts.

But perhaps I’m just funny that way, and getting old and curmudgeonly. I didn’t watch the original Ocean’s 11 because it had Frank Sinatra in it. And I didn’t see the remake because it didn’t.

Fascist digital technology in "The Priest" movie

It seems there has been quite a spectacular anachronism in the film The Priest

Interfax-Religion:

Fascist digital technologies in The Priest movie


Scene from The Priest film about the WWII.
Look at German soldier’s camera.
In the evening, he will go to his barrack with an Internet access terminal, post it on his page in the German Classmates and write to Fuhrer in Twitter…

This is England

I’ve just been watching a flim on TV, This is England.

It was made a couple of years ago, but was set in England in about 1982, during the Falklands War. It’s about a boy who is bullied at school and befriended by a gang of skinheads, and begins to hang out with them, and enjoys their friendship, but then an older former leader of the gang is released from prison, and a darker side emerges, as he is an English nationalist, and the gang splits as racism and xenophobia intrude.

I won’t say more about the plot in case anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, and don’t want to add plot spoilers.

But I was very conscious of it being an England I had missed entirely.

I visited England twice. Once in the mid-sixties, when I spent two and a half years there, mostly studying in Durham, but also driving buses in London, described, in part, in another blog post on Swinging London in retrospect. The second visit was about three years ago, much shorter, a three week holiday visiting old friends and relations.

After nearly 40 years there were many changes. One of the most noticable was that in the 1960s there had been an industrial working class. There were factory workers, coal miners and others. Forty years later most people seemed to be employed in service industries.

Nowadays the transition seems to be marked by the jokes on motoring programmes on TV — about the Japanese failure to make proper motorbikes that leaked oil, or proper cars that broke down.

But the film showed something I had missed, that marked the transition — the Thatcher years.

I’m sure that the film does not tell the full story of those years, and that there were lots of other things that happened. But during both my visits to Britain there was a Labour government, and it seemed a little bit more sunny and cheerful and optimistic.

I’d be interested in knowing if people who lived through the Thatcher years and saw the film think it is true to life.

Reviving the Russian Soul

One of the most popular recent films in Russia is Ostrov (The Island) which indicates that despite the dominance of the communist and capitalist visions of materialism, interest in spiritual life continues to grow. As the authors of this review point out, “Ostrov’s story of repentance and faith in God hardly seems to be the stuff that blockbusters are made of” — at least not in the West. I noted my own response to the film here, but this article describes the effect on Russian culture, and the response of the actor who played the protagonist is also interesting, since he is apparently a hermit in real life.

Reviving the Russian Soul, by Mike Kauschke and Elizabeth Debold.:

The story of the film’s principal actor Pyotr Mamonov may offer some explanation. Back in the eighties and nineties, Mamonov was the lead singer in an avant garde Russian rock band that reached cult status. But these days, he lives as a religious hermit near Moscow, and apparently it took a great deal of effort to get him to commit to make the film. Ostrov director Pavel Lungin says: “In a certain sense, this is also a movie about Mamonov’s life. He transformed from being a rock star embroiled in scandals into a deeply religious man.” Lungin realizes that both Mamonov’s life and the life of the monk he plays are resonant for Russians today. “The times of perestroika are over and we need to think about things like eternity, sin, and conscience,” he observes. “These have disappeared from our lives in the rat race for success and money. But people can’t just live for material things alone.”

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