Sin City at Hoyts, Broadway

I think Sin City is the most violent movie I have ever seen. How on earth did it have an “MA” rating rather than an “R”? The violence wasn’t redundant – it was an important part of the kind of world the film was presenting – but that didn’t make it less shocking.

In some ways, the main male characters were reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. Marv, in particular, was very much descended from Moose Molloy (by way of The Maxx, with a bit of input from Wolverine), but all three of them had elements of the chivalric, protective approach towards women that is the foundation of Phillip Marlowe’s character. But they also had a sadistic side that just isn’t present in Chandler. Marv didn’t just kill people – he revelled in the slaughter and ultimately performed horrific acts of torture. And Hartigan gave way to a berserker fury when he killed the Yellow Bastard. Dwight didn’t do anything as extreme in the film, but he did casually mention that he was a murderer who had been given a new face.

Chandler said “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. … He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor – by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” In Sin City, the streets were mean, but the men were not untarnished. In a way, they were men of honour, and they might even have been the best men in their world, but they were certainly not good enough for any world. Not even Hartigan, and certainly not Dwight or Marv.

The men were definitely the centre of the film. The women were all decorative – and mostly incredibly lethal – but they were objectified. The men were doing what they did for, or because of, the women. A somewhat misogynistic world view – but, again, very Chandler.

The visuals in this film were just amazing. On the black and white film, the splashes of colour had a stunning impact. And the script and performances more than matched this. In the excerpts I’d seen on At the Movies, Clive Owen’s lines had seemed stilted and unrealistic, but somehow in the context of the film they worked. Nevertheless, Dwight was the least complex of the three main characters, or, at least, the one you gained least insight into. His part of the film was more plot-driven, which made it less interesting than the other sections – though probably also less disturbing. You got a much better idea of what was driving – and I do mean driving – Hartigan and Marv, so there was a much closer connection with their stories. Also, they both had creepier villains – amazing performances from Nick Stahl and especially Elijah Wood. The women had less to work with in terms of either character or menace, but insofar as it was possible, they all gave strong performances.

One of the reviews I read described it as “style over substance”. I don’t think this is fair. Certainly, without the visual style the film would have had far less impact, but this doesn’t mean that it was without substance, in the way that, say, Kill Bill was. In fact, it probably would have been an easier film to watch if this had been the case. Rather, the visuals combined with the writing to give a powerful and disturbing picture of a world in which everything is corrupt: in which men can have chivalric ideals yet at the same time perform – and revel in – quite horrific levels of violence. The world of Sin City was morally bankrupt. Unfortunately, I’m not totally convinced that the the film wasn’t as well.

Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare) – Sydney Theatre Company production at the Wharf Theatre

I was distinctly underwhelmed by this production. I didn’t like the mix of Roman and modern dress, I didn’t like the “staginess” of it all, the actors were singularly lacking in charisma and Brutus seemed to spend the whole play in an unchanging cloud of gloom. Rather disappointing, since this was the first time I’d ever seen Julius Caesar live. When Michael was in New York for a conference earlier this year, he saw a production starring Denzel Washington – he said it was a lot more accessible than this production.

War of the Worlds at Hoyts, Broadway

I enjoyed War of the Worlds more than I expected. The visuals were (unsurprisingly) stunning, and the plot (more surprisingly) could have been an awful lot worse.

I found all three main characters basically unpleasant – Tom Cruise and the son particularly so. This is not necessarily a criticism – it would have been much worse if they had been nice and wonderful. However, occasionally it seemed to go a bit too far.

I really, really liked the fact that for most of the film, Tom Cruise didn’t actually play the “hero” – he basically just ran away and hid. This also had the benefit that for most of the movie you didn’t really have much of an idea of what was going on at a global level. I liked this limited view of what is happening. It’s not a new idea (off the top of my head, I can think of two episodes of Babylon 5 that took this approach, plus one of Buffy, and I’m sure there have been other feature length films as well – quite possibly, for all I know, including the original War of the Worlds) but I think it made it a much more interesting film than, say, Independence Day.

However, I did feel rather let down when, right near the end, Tom Cruise did suddenly do something heroic and managed to blow up a Tripod. I would have actually preferred it if this had been done by the soldier who was caught along with him. I liked the final defeat of the aliens (I gather this was straight out of the original H. G. Wells story), but I found the very end of the film much too sentimental.

I’m not sure what it says about my reaction to this film that I can’t actually remember the names of any of the characters – I’m just thinking of them as “Tom Cruise”, “Dakota Fanning”, “Miranda Otto”, “Tim Robbins” and “the son”.

Fantastic Four at Hoyts, Broadway

Fantastic Four was another film that could have been worse, but could also have been a lot better.

I’m with David Stratton in finding Johnny Storm “supremely irritating”. I assume we are meant to find his arrogance likeable and amusing – and I’ll admit he had a few funny lines – but I found him a pretty repellant personality. I think I’d have to lay the blame for this on the scriptwriters rather than the actor – I’m not sure anyone could have made the character, as written, appealing to me.

This isn’t quite the case with Reed Richards and Sue Storm. It seems that the scriptwriters decided to give them slightly different personalities from the original comic book characters. Fair enough – in fact, based on my limited knowledge of the comic, probably necessary. However, it seemed to be a rather token gesture, and I didn’t feel that either Ioan Gruffudd or Jessica Alba did anything to lift the characters beyond what was written on the page. As a result, they were both pleasant enough, but rather bland.

Ben Grimm was probably the most interesting of them – and certainly Michael Chiklis had more to work with than any of the other actors – but it still seemed to be a rather superficial presentation of a character with great tragic potential.

I guess it’s just another one to add to the growing list of films that could – and should -be about character, but are actually about special effects.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling – CONTAINS SPOILERS

J. K. Rowling’s latest was released yesterday at 9:01am in Australia. Unfortunately, at 9:00am I had to be at Sydney Secondary College, to help load a truck with all the NSW Fencing Association equipment we had borrowed to run the Australian Universities Fencing Championships. I then had to go to the Ann Clarke Netball Centre to unload it. So I wasn’t able to pick up my copy of the book until about midday. However, having had an exhausting week at the championships, I decided to skip Fencing Club training, and put my feet up and read that afternoon.

Book number 5 (Order of the Phoenix) had been my least favourite Harry Potter. On re-reading it in preparation for Half-Blood Prince, I found that while I still thought it was crying out for severe editing, the “Harry as rebellious adolescent” was better presented than I had remembered. The problem was, as an angsty, “nobody understands me”, Young Adult kind of story, it didn’t really seem to fit that well into the Potter-verse.

The moody adolescent was gone from Half-Blood Prince, and, as a result, it felt much more like the earlier books. It could probably still have done with some more editing, but it was nowhere near as bloated as Order of the Phoenix or Goblet of Fire. However, it still wasn’t as tightly constructed as some of the earlier ones. I’m not sure if this was an editing issue, or just that there wasn’t as much plot. In particular, it didn’t have that twist at the end that makes you want to re-read it, to find all the clues you missed the first time around. So, while I think she’s heading back in the direction of what I liked about the earlier books in the series, she’s not there yet.

Some general comments, which are FULL OF SPOILERS:

  • I thought all the relationship stuff was a bit superficial, but probably inevitable given the ages of the characters. Though I’m wondering how it sits with the original target audience of 9-11 year olds. Of course, the original readers are now older than Harry, but are the current crop of 9-11 year olds supposed to read the first few books, and then wait until they grow up a bit before reading the later ones?
  • I’m probably in the minority here, but I was pleased there was a lot less of Hagrid in this book. I was finding the Care of Magical Creatures lessons increasingly painful in the last few books.
  • I thought Horace Slughorn was set up as an interesting character, but then nothing much was done with him.
  • The revelation that Snape was the Half-Blood Prince was a bit unexpected. There don’t seem to have been any Agatha Christie style clues-that-you-don’t-even-notice scattered throughout the book.
  • I got a bit fed up with Harry continually using the Potions book, when it was so obvious all along that Hermione was right about it. And Ron should have taken it a bit more seriously, too.
  • I liked the little cameos by Luna Lovegood. I’ll be interested to see what happens with her in the last book.
  • I’ll also be interested to see what happens with Percy. My original theory – that his ambition and liking for rules would lead him to Voldemort’s side without him actually realising it, and that he would end up coming good, but probably dying in a sacrificial moment – now seems less likely than it did a couple of books ago. But I’m assuming he’ll have some impact in the final climax.
  • I thought Dumbledore’s death scene was much more moving than Sirius’s in Order of the Phoenix (though this may just be that I was getting a bit fed up with Sirius anyway). Dumbledore was the one I had my money on to die in this book, and as the plot developed, and he gave Harry more and more information, it became increasingly likely that he wasn’t going to be around for Book 7.
  • My reading of the death scene (which I thought was the only possible reading until I saw some other people’s comments) was that when he says “Severus … please …” to Snape at the end, he is actually asking Snape to kill him, in order to stop Malfoy from doing it (and thus, to save Malfoy from turning to the Dark Side). Presumably he and Snape had already discussed this as a possibility.
  • There seemed to be at least one continuity error – Dumbledore says that they haven’t been able to keep any Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for more than a year since he refused the job to Voldemort. But in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I certainly got the impression that Quirrell had been in the job for quite a while.