Family comedies often focus so much on entertaining kids that the films forget about the adult viewers. “Escape from Planet Earth” provides enough laughs that kids and their parents will enjoy the film. Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser, “The Mummy”) is an astronaut loved by people of all ages. Whenever an alien planet kidnaps a person, Supernova rushes off to help. He gets help from his brother Gary (Rob Corddry, “Hot Tub Time Machine”), who stays close to home at Mission Control. When a distress signal comes in from the Dark Planet, Supernova thinks he should immediately rush to help, while Gary thinks his brother should stay back and let someone else go. Supernova goes against his brother’s wishes and runs off to the Dark Planet. Once there, viewers learn that the Dark Planet is actually Earth. When an evil military man decides to take Supernova hostage, Gary discovers that he’s the only one who can save his brother and defeat the evil lord of the Dark Planet. Films aimed at children tend to keep their content light, but “Escape from Planet Earth” actually has a few darker moments. A spaceship traveling at high speed crushes a man, and a few scenes involve cannibalistic aliens. After Supernova reaches the Dark Planet, he encounters a general who often teases and tortures aliens who have found their way to Earth. Those scenes might be a little too dark for smaller children, but they keep this film from being just for kids. The humor in the film falls on the shoulders of Fraser and Corddry, and they do a great job of keeping the laughs going. Corddry superbly plays the straight man, while Fraser does a brilliant job of playing the action hero. Fraser clearly draws from his work on films like “The Mummy” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” and while he voices a character that looks nothing like him, adult viewers will find themselves picturing him every time the character opens his mouth. Adult viewers will also get a kick out of General Shanker, who runs the Dark Planet. Voiced by William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame, the General is crazy and funny. While the script calls for a dark and sinister General, some viewers may be reminded of Shatner’s work on commercials for Priceline.com and smile whenever he starts talking. Shatner injects just the right amount of humor, and the General becomes one of the most memorable characters in the film. Some viewers may feel put off by the stereotypes portrayed in the film. Nearly every female character is a sweet and loving woman who stays at home to raise the kids and cook dinner for her husband. The scientists don’t get off easy either. Even Gary, who is clearly the star and heart of the film, is a down-on-his-luck man who others tease and call a nerd because he likes science. His own son gets the same treatment, and some might find those scenes a little hard to watch. “Escape from Planet Earth” is the type of movie where viewers need to listen closely when characters are speaking because the cast contains many quality actors and actresses. Ricky Gervais (“Ghost Town”) turns up as Mr. Bing, while Jessica Alba (“The Fantastic Four”) plays Lena. Viewers will also hear the voices of Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”) and Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”) popping up in the film. Those actors and actresses add plenty of laughs, playing characters similar yet at the same time completely different from their other on-screen roles.
I keep thinking the three odd, non-mainstream movies I’ve seen recently, “The Tree of Life,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, and the newly released “Margaret,” (a 2002, post-911 film whose distribution was delayed), all have something crucial to tell us. Or rather, show us, because we have to figure out their messages for ourselves.
Or, these films are, at the very least, a reflection of part of our new century’s collective consciousness, as well as bulletins from our collective unconscious. I was drawn into the films though they were not as much “entertainment” as they were stimulants for difficult thought, and it is a bit if a challenge to articulate just what the three may have in common.
The first, Terence Malik’s “The Tree of Life,” I found so mesmerizing in lyrical imagery that the fragmented narrative didn’t bother me at all. And yes, there was a story there, a typical family drama of the early sixties. Brad Pitt is the father of three boys and we are perceiving mostly Jack’s world, the older boy’s, perspective, his chaotic and bewildering coming-of-age through adolescence to manhood under the somewhat stern dominion of the father played by Brad Pitt.
The ethereal Jessica Chastain is The Great Earth Mother beneath whom the three sons are sheltered, and the tensions between the parents, and the father and his sons, are fraught with the same incongruous conflicts many of us recognize from the emotional throws of growing up in small town America.
In the middle of the film there is an interlude of dazzling imagery, an explosion of nature’s growth and time’s passages, throwing us into thoughts of the Big Bang, the violence of earth’s natural movements, the tossing of seeds and leaves and light, atoms and molecules, sperm and ovum, the sense of time immemorial, infinite time and the great questions of time’s purpose. It doesn’t segue into or away from the narrative well but it gives us some hints as to the ambitious nitty-gritty of the film.
Jack is a poetic soul, struggling to understand his own existence, and the middle son is the sensitive would-be musician whose life is cut short by the Vietnam war. As the brothers grieve and the parents suffer and wound one another, we feel the vicissitudes, the anxiety and threats that persist alongside daily living. We believe in the “Tree of Life” of the title, the welling together at the root, the battering of the branches, the dappled summer light that brightens the buds of the heart and awakens the body’s mortal awareness.
How does one capture and interpret the secret of what it means to be human on this particular planet, to know the Self writ large? Who Are We? Jack wonders in voiceover. Can the far-reaching, archetypal symbol of the Tree hold us all, thread and root us into an interconnected whole?
Most of us never question why we’re here, but then, again some of us question constantly. As a poet, I read all sorts of approaches that speak to this question along with shapely and sinuous answers. And Malick’s film itself is poetry, and poetry’s response is often layered down to the bedrock, twisting with wishes, as on a Mobius strip.
Despite critical raves, in theatres throughout the country people walked out on this film, frustrated no doubt by the alternate mumbling and blaring of the soundtrack and the lack of linear storytelling, perhaps unwilling to give the film the attention it needs. I saw it twice, not wanting to miss any of the pieces the first time, and the second, to focus on how the pieces were put together. I found it visually astonishing and the acting excellent, earning Pitt an Oscar nomination. Pitt takes on a deeper dimension of himself as the frustrated father, and Hunter McCracken, plays Jack with universal truth in his every move.
In the finale of the film, a strange, surreal place (meant to be heaven?) emerges, complete with beach and lapping waves, for what seems a city population coming and going as if the sand itself were a New York sidewalk. The family we watched coming apart, comes together again in reconciled affection. Sean Penn, is the older Jack, who has found himself as a modern architect, and appears with his younger self, his lost brother, the mother who never ages, and Pitt as a more tender father. Between the shifts of light, the shapes, the colors, the abstract landscapes and the faces of the figures, it appears Malick is paying homage to our whole experience as beings on and of the earth, nothing less than eternal in the sheer mystery of soul travels.
Like “Tree of Life,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” is also told from a child’s viewpoint. This protagonist, an untrained star of amazing power and depth is played by six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, a fascinating child to watch. In fact, the entire cast is without acting experience, and yet, each tapped into a larger self and found his or her character’s perfect center. As for plot, this movie possesses even less than Tree but is equally provocative.
The girl lives alongside her father on a small barrier island in New Orleans’ gulf, an area bordered by levies, called “The Bathtub.” The young child, “Hushpuppy,” narrates as we watch her alcoholic father’s health fail in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Her mother “swam away” one day, though Hushpuppy still sees her in her minds’ eye, and calls to her from the water’s edge.
Her father raises her like a boy, won’t let her cry over his illness, (though both do at the unsentimental end) calls her “The Man” and exhorts her to stand up and cheer for herself, showing her “guns” (muscles). The film takes place in just a few days.
In the back of Hushpuppy’s imagination are the arctos, ancient, mythic creatures, huge in her fantasies. And when she finally meets several of them nose-to-nose, she is like Alice grown tiny. Yet through her confidence and self-reliance, Hushpuppy is able to dispel the enormous spirit-creatures with her own magical powers. As a metaphor for her own wildness, one could say these wild beasts further represent her own smoldering independence.
The film is disturbing. The ragtag group who cling to what’s left of their junky homes are nothing like proper parents. By any middle-class measure, these children would be taken away for their own safety. But though it disturbs us that Hushpuppy suffers both abuse and neglect, her father’s love for her is real, and vice versa. While he tries to shelter her from his illness, Katrina swings in, and the inhabitants of the island find themselves cut off from their self-sufficiency. Everything is dying around them. And when they fight the help they’re offered by government agencies, they are like primitives who can only survive in their natural habitat, preferring to die in it. While she observes her father under doctors’ care, Hushpuppy ironically remarks that when people grow sick here, “they plug them into the wall.”
After their escape from the hospital, she cremates her father and sends him off to a burial at sea on a homemade float just as the ancients did. One remembers the rituals of Avalon, and that the Nature that threatens this community’s life is also a part of its soul. The film speaks for a kind of Libertarian independence, against an intervening government civilizing society. The motley crew slips away from the Red Cross camp, and Hushpuppy conquers the primitive creatures in one triumphant moment of staring them down.
This is her fantasy of course, the way she sees herself, a girl-child raised like a boy, a loyal, devoted daughter, who grieves the loss of her mother and father equally. But Hushpuppy knows who she is. She tells us the scientists will look back 100 years from now and “they’ll know there was a Hushpuppy who lived with her Daddy in the Bathtub.”
Will she survive? Not by any dint of current cultural standards. But then, as she earns our respect and captures our hearts, we wonder about our own world, held as we are in its tightening, grip, more and more alienated from Nature. What if we don’t need banks? And lawyers? Or the Federal Drug Administration? What if we didn’t rely so heavily on the Powers-That-Be, those that seem to be serving themselves more than their constituency? Wise men tell us that this is now the era for us to outgrow the ubiquitous crumbling systems and shallow values of our over-materialistic world.
Hushpuppy is mythic, a magical child. She shows us an alternative life we would never choose for ourselves. But still, we sit in our silent tears at the end of the film, find strangers in the restrooms afterwards wiping their eyes as well. We know something’s been lost in our world that is not lost for Hushpuppy. She’s free and she’s confident and yes–she’ll probably grow disillusioned as she ages–but her faith in her strange foundation is steadfast. We’re sure we don’t want to live like her, but we’re not sure, how in our modern lives, we can find what’s been lost.
A few days later I picked up a movie in the supermarket on Redbox. I’d heard an NPR program on “Margaret,” and because of its length among other reasons, it had been held back from release. Based on a play by Kenneth Lonegrin “Margaret” tells the story of a fatal bus accident and the privileged, teenage, West Side Manhattanite, Lisa, played ferociously by Anna Pacquin. Lisa causes the accident by distracting a bus driver with her flirtatious interest in his cowboy hat. The bus driver, (Mark Ruffalo) runs a red light and runs over a woman, (Alison Janey.) As “Monica” dies in the girl’s arms, Lisa, (if she hadn’t discovered it by 911 already) learns that life can change in an instant. Although she readily admits to her math teacher (Matt Damon) that she cheated on his test, Lisa begins to think about “right” and “wrong” in absolutes.
She’s traumatized by Monica dying in her arms. In the aftermath of the accident, exchanging looks with the bus driver, she tells the Police the light was green. But Lisa develops an obsession about her lie and confides in her actress mother who has her own distractions as the star of a new Broadway hit.
We see Lisa in and out of school, arguing, manipulating and seducing teachers and friends. She lives an “entitled” life and most teenagers, she is passionately idealistic. When she tries, with the help of Monica’s cynical friend, to administer justice for Monica’s senseless death, by amending her statement, incriminating the driver and starting a law suit against the MTA, she only succeeds in drawing them into a settlement which benefits Monica’s greedy, distant cousin.
Still the driver gets to keep his job despite a previous record of reckless driving. But does Lisa recognize in herself the mountain of guilt she has projected onto him? Though she makes one admission that the accident was her fault, she has not taken full responsibility for her own reckless behavior, which continues throughout the film to the point of losing her virginity and claiming to her teachers that she has had an abortion. We do not think this is true.
Meanwhile Lisa’s mother is being courted by a rich Columbian man who dies of a heart attack shortly after she breaks up with him, leaving both mother and daughter finally with some things in common: guilt and grief. In the last scene mother and daughter attend an opera at Lincoln Center and at the sound of the diva’s voice, they are reduced to tears. Then sobs, then hugs. For the first time we see the love between them shows.
Lisa’s aware that the world isn’t fair. She is a feisty and courageous, persistent and operatic herself. The world seems to her a series of random events such as her mother’s lover’s death, the horrible accident and the ever-present memories of 911, which the filmmaker emphasizes by numerous pans of the skies over NYC.
All three of these films tell us something about the difficulty in reconciling the many opposing forces in our modern society. Tree of Life looks back with nostalgia for a simpler time as much as it looks through the eyes of a young man toward an unsettled future. Beasts gives us a young child’s endeavor to come to terms with her lost mother and dying father, and to transcend her immensely disadvantaged life with hard-won inner strength. “Margaret” (named for the a young woman’s realization of death in a poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins) gives us the thin-skinned, self-centered insecurity of another dramatic young woman with scary close-ups of an adult world that offers no answers to injustice. The precariousness of living in our times is stated in each. Something’s not right with our world.
Why is it, that the moment we discuss things that adults enjoy, away from children, it becomes taboo? The word adult has been kidnapped by hardcore porn sites, a bit like the Union Jack has been kidnapped by far right political parties. The sad thing is, the internet world had allowed the adult kidnapping to happen, whilst the British public allowed the Union Jack to have the same fate. I recently constructed a website, because my experiences tell me that adult’s love being with other adults, at certain times. The length and frequency of those periods varies from individual to individual.
Let me make my view on porn very clear, porn is NOT for children, no ifs – no buts, but nor are adult holidays, nor is the hiring of cars, taking out finance, buying and consuming alcohol, playing bingo, using casinos, etc. My view is very simple, the adult world is only for adults, and we should prevent children entering the world, but by censoring everything associated with adults, so you can “cut out the porn” is not done for the benefit of adults. It is done because of the stupid adults who don’t prevent their children seeing what they should not. These people are the very ones that will provide “porn for kids” and the generalised censorship that I and others face is, in my opinion wrong, as it won’t stop the “wrong uns” (as my mum calls them!)
A couple of years ago, in the UK, there were two young lads who did horrible things to two other young lads (and others), and it turns out that their father allowed them to watch porn, and violence, and that their mother gave them cannabis to make them sleep. No Google or anyone would have prevented this, and the loose screw has now been passed down a generation. Those of you who have booked a mainstream adult only holiday with a well-known holiday provider will have done so for two main reasons; 1 – You don’t want children around, and 2 – You do want adult company. I am a married man (30 years in November), with two adult daughters and 3 fantastic grandchildren. I love seeing my daughters, and my grandchildren, but they have a “slot” in my life. When that “slot” is completed, I move on to other slots. Sitting here, writing this article, I am in my “authoring slot”, in a couple of hours I will be in the pub in my adults’ only socializing slot.
Now back to my opening sentence “Why is it, that the moment we discuss things that adults enjoy, away from children, it becomes taboo?” Google, and many other sites, including many who want you to help promote them, will refuse your site when you include the private moments! So what is porn? This really is open to interpretation, and is a subject that has had its boundaries changed in all directions over the centuries. It varies in different countries, religions and cultures. Is the situation with consenting adults watching other consenting adults’ on TV porn? Are a man and his wife making love porn? Is this article porn? I live in Spain, and for the 1st 45 years of my life, I lived in the UK. At midnight, here in this very catholic country, several channels show, free of charge, uncut adult movies. In the UK there are loads of pay per view channels featuring these films.
The adult world is much more than just sex, but is dressing in sexy clothing the thing you would encourage your 16 year-old daughter to do as she “went to her mates house” on a Friday night? However what is wrong with dressing up for your partner in a private moment? Should you have to go to a back street sleaze balls shop or should you be comfortable looking on-line and ordering the clothes, shoes and toys that you fancy? Do you enjoy going out for a drink or a meal and there are no screeching kids? Mentioned above, but worth another mention, adult holidays – club 18-30 and Saga offer adult only holidays, and nearly all other big travel companies offer some form of over 17′s only experiences. Would you sit down and do your financial planning with your 9 year-old son? Would you buy a bottle of scotch for your 13 year-old daughters’ birthday? You know the answer!
Jurassic World has set new box office records. The highest earner of the franchise and at the time of writing it is the fastest film ever to hit the billion dollar mark ($1 billion in twelve days). But is it any good?
I’m by no means a fan of the franchise. I saw Jurassic Park at the cinema back in 1993. I didn’t see the second one and I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the third. Monster movies are not really my thing but if I was going to watch one it would be Jurassic park. It’s not something I’d go out of my way to watch today but if I catch it on the television I know I’ll watch it to the end every time. It’s not so much the monsters that interest me but the little Spielbergian touches and attention to detail that gets me every time. That water in the glass tremor scene, the race to climb the electric fence, Nerdy Nedry, ‘clever girl’ and so on and so forth.
I don’t go to the cinema as much as I’d like to these days. A Paul Greengrass movie will get me in the cinema – I saw United ’93, Bourne Ultimatum and Captain Philips all at the cinema – as will anything touched by the hands of Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, Interstellar) or anything that breaks new cinematic ground (Avatar). I almost saw Furious 7 merely because it became the fastest movie at the time to make a billion dollars. I had never been interested in a Fast and Furious movie until Furious 7 suddenly became the most talked about film on the planet. It made over a billion dollars so it must be good, right?
And so it was with Jurassic World. It had already racked up half a billion at the box office within the first week of release and the word of mouth I was hearing from peers who had seen it was positive: ‘You have to see this movie’, ‘Gorier’, ‘Adult-themed’ ‘Bigger and better than Jurassic Park’ was the word on the street. And so on a Monday afternoon, with high expectations, I entered the world that was Jurassic.
First of all I’m going to say that on a technical level, this was a good movie. The effects were (almost) flawless, the cinematography fine, the acting perfectly acceptable. It was well directed, edited, designed and as blockbusters go this was a top-notch production. A film any producer, director and writer would and should be proud to have on their CV. So why did I come out thinking Jurassic Park was better?
For a start, leads Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard were perfect. Too perfect. Chris Pratt’s epitome of the alpha male Owen (almost) intimidated me. I’m in pretty good shape but he was so perfect he only served to remind me that I needed to hit the gym harder and lose more belly fat. I couldn’t relate to him in the way I could relate to Sam Neill’s grouchy Alan. The flawless Owen did not make me feel good about myself. As a result I was not rooting for him. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sitting there willing him to be eaten – I just didn’t care either way.
Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire was a one-dimensional corporate ‘whore’ we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films who values money and career over any meaningful relationships – a far cry from Richard Attenborough’s grandfatherly billionaire and unlike Laura Dern’s girl-next-door was almost robotic-like in her perfectness. This may have been the film’s point but it still didn’t make for a character I cared about. There was some ‘romantic’ sub-plot between Owen and Claire and they were arguing about a second date they never went on and who didn’t initiate it or something. Various other characters consisted of an Indian billionaire, an evil military man and a couple of kids. I don’t know who they were, what their names were or what they wanted and I didn’t really care.
Anyway, the main attraction. What we came to see. The genetically engineered super dinosaur Indominus Rex. It was big and impressive and I found myself constantly straining to see whether I could discern any flaws in the CGI (which I couldn’t). But where it impressed technically it failed to impress on any other level. What is an Indominus Rex? I know what a T-Rex (or King of Tyranny) is, it’s been hard-wired into my brain from an early age, but I don’t know what an Indominus Rex is other than what its name suggests – King of the Fierce? It just looked like a T-Rex with a longer snout and a higher IQ. Apart from the human ability to deceive its prey it didn’t do anything that the T-Rex didn’t do.
In 1993 coming face to face with a dinosaur was pretty awesome. No doubt due to the fact JP was the first of its kind in its day and because in 2015 we’ve already seen Godzilla, Transformers, even our own planet turn on us. Apart from an impressive sea dinosaur who eats Jaws for breakfast it was nothing really we hadn’t seen before. Yes CGI has come a long way in the twenty-two years since JP but still the experience felt somehow flat which brings me onto the next subject.
Whereas JP inspired awe, Jurassic World teetered dangerously on the ridiculous. That a dinosaur theme park would even be allowed to open after the disaster of the first one seems dubious to say the least. The velociraptors once terrifying have now become circus performers and loyal pets who run alongside their master’s motorbike. That silhouetted, sunlit kiss???
This was a film that felt like it was written by committee. Nothing wrong with that. The TV show ‘Friends’ was written by committee and I loved that show. I still do. It just felt like it was ticking all the right genre boxes in order to attract the widest audience possible – Romance, Thriller, Action, Disaster etc. Again, nothing wrong with that at all from a business perspective just as long as you can make it look like it isn’t all these things.
To date Jurassic World has surpassed any other film at the box office in so little time so why did I come out of the cinema thinking JP was better? More to the point with returns like these does it really matter?