Harley and Me

I just got back from seeing Suicide Squad, and boy are my arms tired!


HERE BE SPOILERS. Also, for the sake of this exegesis, just take as a given that Jared Leto annoyed me greatly.

It’s canon in the DC universe that the Joker is exquisitely bad to Harley Quinn, and that she loves him obsessively, rarely even acknowledging his flaws. He is abusive towards her, and she takes it.

This movie is extremely interested in changing that narrative, while trying to maintain her baseline victimization as a get out of jail free card (ironically enough) for dealing with her willingness and enthusiasm for doing bad things. They want her and the Joker to be soulmates that lift each other up and inspire, while bringing them ever closer to perfect harmony with their own weird divine. She seems to be the exception to his nastiness. His obsession with her humanizes him. An obsession, by the way, that we all share from basically the minute we see her onscreen.

They are presented as a unit. Twinned, in a way, with the “bad guys” Enchantress and her giant gold maguffin of a brother. In this universe, Harley supposedly outstrips the Joker himself in terms of being reckless, opportunistic, showy, sociopathic, violent, and just plain uninterested in consequences. We SEE that. It’s glorious and kinky and consensually disturbing. (Scene in the strip club that will haunt my forevers.) We see, furthermore, the honest-to-god BATMAN so enthralled by her that instead of looking for his arch-nemesis to, I don’t know, make sure he’s dead or something, he drags her out of a river and gives her mouth-to-mouth. (During this process she tries to kill him twice and then snogs him when he tries to give her CPR.)

This positioning of Harley as the Joker’s redemption, as his soulmate, the one being he cares about more than himself, doesn’t quite work. Not completely. Because he created her.

We see him manipulating her in Arkham, then his minions tie her down and he electroshocks her, and then she jumps into a vat of chemicals after he’s basically taunted her into it, and THEN he jumps in after her. Her origin story is one of tremendous abuse and manipulation on his part. She is supposed to be a good woman turned bad, but also… unlocked, somehow. Comfortable being the ultimate gangster’s moll, wanting to be married and living in a beautiful house with two babies and the Joker, only he’s not Jokerfied. This part actually works, I think. She, like the rest of them, understands that what she wants is out of her reach. But in context of how we’re led to believe that he corrupted her utterly, it’s sinister. If they were willing to change her origin a little, they could have changed it a lot.

She really seems to like herself quite a bit. Everything she does and is functions as a performance for her own benefit. She spends a lot of the movie wearing a collar that says “Puddin” and a jacket that says “Property of Joker” across the back. When he dies, she’s heartbroken and throws the collar away in a moment of rain-soaked independence. But when he’s back, she’s elated. I question, by the way, whether that collar is usually worn by her or him. Their relationship in this movie contains a shadow relationship that relies on Harley’s fundamental right to her own psychopathy. No, I’m not kidding. There’s something actually subversive going on, but it never explodes into full, weird life.

In a movie about the bad guys, you really have to commit. And the people who wrote and directed and framed this movie do, they almost do. The film ends with a shot of Joker’s face, not Harley’s. He breaks in to one of the highest-security facilities in the US to get her, out from under Amanda Waller’s nose. You would, too. Don’t lie to me.

But in the end, left to her own devices, I think Harley’s just too scary for them.

Oh. And yeah, I liked the movie.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mech

I loved Pacific Rim. Let’s just be clear about this. I loved it. When the end credits started, I was disappointed. That’s a feeling I only get at the movies very rarely. The last time I was so inspired by a movie, so drawn into the world presented onscreen, was by Lord of the Rings.

There are some parallels. Pacific Rim, like Lord of the Rings, posits a visually coherent world, with internally consistent assumptions and rules. Every frame of the movie does something to further the action. Every shot, far more than every line of dialogue, tells the story. I could have watched the movie with the sound turned off and still been able to tell you exactly what was going on. This is why we go to the movies, yes? To see things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see?

A couple of people I talked to about Pacific Rim mentioned how “fanservice-y” it is. This property is pretty much brand spankin’ new. It had fans to service? This movie isn’t “fanservice-y,” it’s entertaining. Have we become so jaded by the semi-passable dreck masquerading as the movies that we are actually inured to having a good time while watching one? This movie has everything! There are gigantic robots! Huge monsters! Strong women! Beautiful men! (If you think those two should be reversed, I don’t want to hear about it.) The score is like eating how your favorite flavor of ice cream sounds! Every character is well-drawn. All the acting is good. The visual effects are utterly believable* and very exciting.

*I say “believable” in the sense that if you’re going to have giant bipedal robots fighting huge sea-going monsters, this looks like how they’d fight. There is nothing believable about the physics of this movie. I’m not sure Pacific Rim has heard of physics. Except gravity. Maybe. Context is everything, where physics is concerned, is how I believe Pacific Rim feels about the whole thing.

But back to my more salient point about entertainment and the movies. We’ve been overwhelmed by underwhelming translations of worn out IPs. Movie after movie in the same franchises lower our expectations because we have the memories of better films to sustain us through the dark times. When liking something becomes a commitment instead of a diversion, it’s easy to sink into your squeaky seat and just let the movie wash over you. You know exactly what you’re going to get. I haven’t been excited or scared or surprised by, say, any of the Marvel movies in ages. (Unless you count how shocked and horrified I was by the emasculation of Wolverine in his latest outing, but that’s a blog for another day.) They just keep coming, and we just keep going.

Pacific Rim reminded me why I go to the movies in the first place. For the delight of finding something immersive, beautiful and a little scary, that I can imagine myself into. I both hope there’s a sequel and hope there isn’t.

You can parachute from space!

I just got back from seeing Lockout, and boy, is my willing suspension of disbelief tired!

I am ambivalent about this movie. I can’t decide if it is merely bad, or the worst movie I have ever seen. I don’t know if it’s the shocking misogyny, (and it actually rises to the level of “shocking,” nearly an impossibility in this day and age) or the utter disregard for physics, or the way the film smugly assumes that it is the only movie any audience member has ever seen, and therefore doesn’t even have to try.

Have you seen Die Hard 2? Have you seen Demolition Man? Have you seen that Mandy Moore movie where she’s the President’s daughter and runs off through Europe with the hot guy who turns out to be a Secret Service agent? Then you’ve seen three pieces of (comparatively!) quality cinema that will hit all the relevant plot points in Lockout, and you will have a better time.

In the genre of futuristic sci-fi extrrrravaganzas, Luc Besson is best known for The Fifth Element, and I doubt that film needs an introduction. It’s a tour de force, an imaginative, high-stakes, violent romp through averting the end of our future world. Marvelous, in the original sense of the word. There were times when I felt thought Lockout was an episode in the history of our Earth that leads to The Fifth Element, and that made me view it in a slightly more forgiving way. Slightly.

Nothing about the plot of this movie makes sense. Absolutely nothing.

Snow, played by Guy Pearce, is a wise-cracking, musclebound, everyman ex-CIA agent. He’s not likable unless you know he’s the good guy, and you know he is. How do you know? You just DO, okay? It doesn’t matter what he does, he is the Tormented and Closed-Off Good Guy. And none of yous better forget it. Get me? We know he’s the good guy because we meet him being accused of something he Did Not Do, and he is being punched in the face repeatedly during his interrogation. (About an hour into the movie, I understood all too well how the interrogator felt.) He’s accused of killing a fellow agent and stealing state secrets. Wonderful! I am almost interested! What are these secrets? Is it a weapon? Is it state secrets? Is it some wonderful new piece of technology?

Just forget about it. You’re never going to find out, anyway. Suffice it to say that we are supposed to believe Snow when he says he didn’t do anything wrong and was set up, and we are supposed to think the CIA dicks are dicks, and we do.

While this is going on, we meet Emily. The Girl. The First Daughter. She is blond and pretty and trying to help. In this case, by visiting the US’s first orbital super max prison, where the prisoners are kept in “stasis.” “Stasis” is not explained, but looks like a medically-induced coma combined with being left in a cold environment. There are reports that the stasis has negative side effects; dementia, blindness, “heightened aggressive tendencies,” etc. There are also some conspiracy theories floating around that a huge corporation is using the prisoners as guinea pigs to test the effects of long term stasis on deep space explorers. Emily wants to get to the bottom of this, interview a few inmates, figure out what’s Really Going On. No one thinks this is a good or worthwhile endeavor, and she is patronized by the Warden of the prison fairly spectacularly, which brings our Violence Against Emily count to one.

Seriously. This movie HATES Emily. It has nothing but contempt for this character, and takes every opportunity to show it, in increasingly horrible ways. I’m not really sure what its problem with her is. She wants to keep people with no rights from being mistreated, even if, as the Warden patronizingly tells her, “They’ve done some pretty horrible things to get in here.” She interviews an inmate named Hydell, a crazy man who slavers all over her and ends up causing mayhem with a gun he lifts off one her aides, who, even though he’s told he can’t bring guns into the prison section, predictably can’t help himself. And, as long as we’re on the subject, why have the President’s daughter meet with an unstable maniac when you’re trying to prove that the stasis technology doesn’t turn the inmates into unstable maniacs?

Mayhem ensues. There’s an explosion. Emily is knocked out and shot in the leg. (Violence Against Emily: 3) Hydell runs off and wakes up all the inmates on the station, who form a ravening horde of destruction. Apparently some, but not all, of the inmates have suffered negative side effects. One of the inmates who wakes up is Hydell’s brother, Alex. He hasn’t suffered negative side effects, and this is sad. Perhaps if he had, he would just kill his goddamn brother already. Hydell is impossible to control, his mental dial set permanently to “homicidal rapist loon.” Alex has it relatively together, though. His aims are uncertain, though getting released seems to be part of his plan. He has some hostages, but he doesn’t know he has the president’s daughter. I think, if this had been a better movie, Alex would have been written as the yin to Snow’s (remember Snow?) yang. He’s loyal and tough, but Bad. We have no idea what he did to get himself in here, but whatever it was, I suspect it was Hydell’s fault.

Anyway. Back on earth, Snow is told he can avoid being put into stasis and getting thrown into a super max frozen prison if he goes to a super max frozen prison of his own free will to get the girl out. He’s unhappy about this, but says yes because hey, prison sucks if you’re there against your will without heavy explosives to help get you through the day.

There are some more predictable scenes involved Emily being threatened by Hydell (VAE: 4) and protected by Alex because he thinks she’s a doctor, scenes involving a hostage negotiator getting himself killed because someone sees Snow boarding the station, and some more mayhem showing the prisoners killing each other. I was interested in the role of the ravening horde in this movie. They’re zombie-like, with no characterizations and no individuality. I wonder if the current focus on mindless villains is a symptom of how fearful we all are now of ideas… but such thoughts belong in a review of a much better movie. Lockout doesn’t deserve them.

Snow finally meets up with Emily after rescuing her from dying. (VAE: 6. This one gets two points because she suffocates to death and then to wake her up, he has to STICK A NEEDLE IN HER RIGHT EYE.) They don’t get along. I think the puerile idiots who wrote this film think verbal abuse is flirting. At one point, as they need to cross the prison without her being seen to be a girl, he forcibly holds her down to cut and color her hair, at which point she calls him a “pig.” What? WHAT? First of all, Emily is supposed to be intelligent, if too idealistic for the men around her, and she probably would have thought that one through. Oh, and then he punches her in the face so that she looks “tough.” (VAE: 7)

I think the writers wanted to play with the “love of a good woman” trope in order to sort of reform Snow and make him realize he can be a more emotionally involved man and still get the job done. Sort of. Maybe. But they are SO TERRIBLE they couldn’t even do that. Snow has nothing but contempt for her ideals, he calls her a princess, he makes a comment about how many people have died for her already, comic relief is her not being able to read a map… it makes no sense with what we know about her character. Namely, that she’s a genuinely decent person in a lousy environment and she’s doing what she can to make things better. But somehow, this movie seems to think that none of that makes her worthy. Snow tells her that she’ll only know who she is if she has to make some sort of personal sacrifice. She does, at the end, telling Alex that Hydell can have his wicked way with her instead of calling off an attack on the station necessary to saving the Eastern Seaboard from having the super max space station crash into it. Oh, wait, did I not mention that little third act twist?

We’re told that the prison isn’t in a fixed orbit around the Earth, so that without constant monitoring, it’ll crash. (Is that even POSSIBLE?) Up until now, the big dilemma has been whether to blow the prison out of the sky with the hostages still on it, including the First Daughter. The President won’t give the order with his daughter aboard, thus, sending Snow in.

Snow and Emily manage to survive re-entry in metal maintenance suits and then parachute to a light landing on a freeway. Never mind that they leave the space station at a light saunter and in NO WAY will be able to get to the 17,000 MPH they’ll need to re-enter the atmosphere instead of skipping right off, and they don’t BURN UP even though they’re wearing the space-going equivalent of tinfoil!

Oh, and at the end it turns out one of the CIA dicks was the bad guy all along, (like you didn’t see that coming) that Snow had the super secret information – so secret even the writers didn’t know what it was! – all along (like a runaway train) and that he and Emily are going to get together in the end, after she has softened him, and he has toughened her. (COVERED IN GLITTER.)

This is a stupid movie. The banter is fun, in a space jock sort of way. The performances were really good, and I think in a different movie, the characters could have come across way better and it might have been an interesting film without sacrificing the violence-on-a-space-station fun. But 95% of the writing was godawful, and there’s no coming back from that.

The Three Musketeers, or, Fun is Underrated

I know what you’re going to say. “Miranda liked a bad movie! We couldn’t be more shocked if you gave us forks and electrical sockets and told us to go wild!”

But, the fact remains, I saw the new Three Musketeers movie, and it was a blast. Sometimes literally. If there is an award for Best Use of Airships in a Motion Picture, this movie takes it away from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow like candy from a baby.

I am by no means blind to the film’s many issues. After all, there are airships in The Three Musketeers. Now, I have not read my Dumas in a long time, but I recall nothing in my reading about a huge, hot air balloon galleon. (What is it with modern filmmakers and putting hot air into Dumas adaptations? Does anyone else remember that huge balloon Jim Caviezel arrives to his party in, in The Count of Monte Cristo? Does anyone other than me love that movie?)

The film bears only passing resemblance to its source material. Some of the changes make for some rip-roaring good fun. (See airships, Milla Jovovich doing a Fifth Element swan-dive off the roof of Versailles in her eighteenth century underwear, Milla Jovovich running through a hallway filled with fine wires that will cut her to pieces, a la Resident Evil. In fact, most of what Milla Jovovich does is cribbed from something she did in another movie. Which, as this movie is set in the early 18th century, and the rest of the movies she’s known for are very much not, may be part of the problem.)

The cast suffers from a dichotomy of mindset. Half of them think they’re in a serious adaptation of an important literary work, and half of them read the entire  script, rather than just their own lines. Matthew Macfadyen, as Athos, is very much unaware that he’s starring in a romp. He gives his lines with all the gravitas and biting inner conflict that he can muster, as a man who wishes he could go back and sacrifice all his principles for the woman he loves. (He doesn’t realize that the woman he loves is an alien zombie clone, but this just endears him to me further.) He also thinks he’s a young Alan Rickman, but I can’t help but be charmed by the effort he puts in.

All the musketeers seem like they would be perfectly at home in a movie that was way more concerned with being good. Christopher Guest is understated and just a little bit flat as the Cardinal, but I can’t help imagining that he plays Richelieu much more as the man himself probably was; smooth, quiet, and deadly when crossed. We don’t see much of the “deadly.” The Cardinal’s power is mostly poked fun at for comic relief. The actors playing the teenage king and queen are sweet, especially the king, as he bumbles and struts his way towards manhood. They, too, seem to think this is supposed to be a Good Movie.

And then we have the rest of the cast. D’Artagnan was utterly forgettable. The writers changed a few key moments that muddy his personality considerably. In the perfect world in which I am in charge of characterizations, D’Artagnan is a swaggering country boy who can back it up with his swordsmanship, and is an incurable romantic at heart. He truly believes in the musketeers he wishes so badly to be a part of, true love, his king, and his country. (In that order.) This actor played him as all swagger and no heart. Rochefort, played by Mads Mikkelsen, phones it in so thoroughly I had to wonder if he was awake. The two of them had a sword fight that was clearly supposed to be epic, on the roof of Notre Dame, but I could barely keep my eyes open for it. It did happen right after an airship battle, so it was a little anticlimactic. But still.

Milla Jovovich wasn’t a very good Milady, I’m sad to say. There was no mystery to her, in part because of a bizarre scene the writers shoehorned in at the beginning to explain how freaking airships (did I mention the airships?) have any place in this tale. She didn’t seem threatening, or sinister, or even particularly sexy. It was an…interesting choice, to play Milady DeWinter as “cute.” There isn’t a single scene in which she acts like she believes anything she’s saying. Her death scene, which has moved me to tears in other versions, was perfunctory. I called the ending when I saw her fall backwards off the airship, because it was so clearly telegraphed.

Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham swaggers around in ridiculous outfits, a truly disturbing haircut/beard combination, and a dangly pearl earring he might have found attached to Jack Sparrow’s (Captain Jack Sparrow’s) dreads. He is so thoroughly unbelievable as the slimy, power-obsessed bad guy, it hurts to watch him try. In another kind of adaptation, (the sort actually based on the book) he would have been excellent as the man having an affair with the Queen of France, endangering the fragile balance of power in Europe in order to steal a few moments with the woman he loves, but can never truly be with. But here it’s all empty swashbuckling, the geopolitics of which are never fully explained. He looks like he’s having a pretty good time, all things considered. (“I get to be the bad guy? Really? Not even conflicted? Just bad? YAY!”) He’s just not that good at it.

But even with all these problems, the movie is fun. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic fun. Watching the airship battle? Fantastic. The musketeers? Hot, good at sword fights. The teenage contingent? A little smarmy, but all in all, fun to watch. Because this movie had airships. The dialogue was witty enough, the action was exciting without being gory, some of the actors did a great job. Everyone looked pretty in rich costumes heavy on the brocade, lace, and jewels. The swash got its brains buckled out.

It was FUN. Would it have been more fun if it had been a better adaptation, one that took advantage of the rich story of the original, without just adapting a bunch of adaptations? Oh, yes. But this was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and I was delighted when my suspicions that they were setting up for a sequel were confirmed. (And that they were confirmed almost exactly how I predicted they would be.)