Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)

The lame Jedi

(WARNING: plot twists and overall narrative discussed in explicit detail)

You thought The Force Awakens was clumsily stitched together from the cold leftovers of the first Star Wars movie?* Get a load of this carcass--

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mudbound (Dees Rees, 2017)

Dirt poor

Dees Rees' Mudbound (2017) adapted from the novel by Hillary Jordan tells the story of two families--one white the other black--scratching out a living on the Mississippi Delta. Two soldiers come home, one a white officer (captain of a bomber crew) the other black (a tank commander).

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962) revisited

La ronde

(WARNING: Plot and narrative twists discussed in close detail

Credit where credit is due: was invited to listen to a podcast on Kubrick's film Lolita (which I'd written about some weeks ago) and while I disagreed with most of the conclusions reached the discussion did set me to thinking more on the film--leading to this, an attempt at elaboration and clarification.

Mention the film's title or the Vladimir Nabokov novel it was adapted from and people immediately think of middle-aged men chasing prepubescent girls; the name was enshrined in hardbound form in The Lolita Complex--a collection of cases about young girls seducing older men presented as a serious psychological study (actually fake, the author Russell Trainer--who could've stepped straight out of a Nabokov novel--being something of a con artist). When the book was translated into Japanese the title--shortened to 'lolicon'--was adopted to refer to a whole genre of anime and manga depicting attraction to young girls, not to mention the strange sad men who obsess over them.

I've found one serious piece on Nabokov's novel. Not a peer-reviewed research paper but an article by a psychology professor (Psychology Today, for the record)--and it discusses Humbert's narcissism not his pedophilia (or hebephilia, depending on the age of the youth involved). 

Unless someone can produce such a study (not saying it doesn't exist but there's nothing readily available through Google) I suspect Nabokov's Humbert Humbert is meant to be more of a literary construct (think Russell Trainer, only brilliant) than a serious psychological or psychiatric subject, the pedophilia (or hebephilia) in Lolita more a MacGuffin diverting attention away from the author's true purpose: to "fix once for all the perilous magic of" obsession.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh)

Death on the rail 

There's arguably not a lot to Agatha Christie's mysteries. She writes functional prose, sketches serviceable characters, delivers the occasional clever aphorism ("The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances"--which when you think about it sounds suspiciously like Arthur Conan Doyle). 

But the plots were amazing: Rube Goldberg devices that whirred furiously intricately, accelerating till all fall away to finally reveal a beautiful simplicity ("I'd never have guessed!" is the common reaction, though a slap of the forehead will suffice). Christie's plots take to the theater stage (The Mousetrap, Witness for the Prosecution) and the big screen (Rene Clair's And Then There Were None--easily my favorite; and Sidney Lumet's 1974 Murder on the Orient Express) as if to the manner born; there's something about the spare (some would say 'thin') elegance of her fiction that renders it ready-made for translation to other media.

Now Branagh's version of Christie's murder masterpiece, about a retired Belgian detective named Hercule Poirot (played by the director himself: "Are kool Poirot--I do not slay ze lions mademoiselle") trapped on a snowbound train with over a dozen other suspicious types, played by an international cast of stars.  

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)


(Warning: novel and film's overall story and narrative twists discussed in close detail)
Nabokov's Lolita--about a middle-aged college professor's obsession for a 12-year-old girl--is something of a Venus Flytrap: bright colors alluring scents attract the unwary reader and before he knows it (woops!) he's lost in a fabulist wonderland of American kitsch and grotesquerie, booby-trapped with hidden caches of pain suffering death.

Kubrick's film kept the more puritanical American moviegoing (as opposed to bookreading) audience in mind (the novel had been controversial but a bestseller) when it dropped the erotic tone and with the first scene plunged us straight into Nabokovian surrealism: a disintegrating mansion haunted by a bespectacled ogre (Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty) hunted in turn by noble Humbert Humbert (James Mason) with a (What else in guncrazy America?) revolver. Only--think about it--Humbert is the child molester, Quilty her rescuer.