June 2013

This issue's contents Current issue Index Search


Reviews by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

Guaranteed: many spoilers

Oblivion (2013), directed by Joseph Kosinski, is a science fiction film snapped-together from familiar tropes. It borrows from 2001, Mad Max, Independence Day, Star Wars and a host of other better movies, including the more recent Moon. Oh, and Blade Runner and Adjustment Bureau....Its pretty to look at, does nothing that really makes sense and therefore is ultimately to be forgotten. And it includes Morgan Freeman as a somewhat Godlike character.... I've said it before: Once you cast Mr. Freeman, there's really no need to make the movie. Because you've already said it all.

I actually did forget I saw the new Star Trek, Into Darkness (2013), directed by J.J. Abrams. Get a young handsome crew together, some of whom look vaguely like the actors in the '60's show, and then break every rule: give us a weepy, emotional Spock, for example. Then pay absolutely no attention to logic or story. There is an insanely stupid moment, in what has already become a really stupid genre, in which Dr. McCoy goes out of his way to explain just why he is injecting a super-character's blood (Khan, as in Wrath of) into a dead Tribble. The explanation is, of course, some kind of pseudo-science gibberish (like all the science even in the original series, so this isn't really a step down). At that moment I said, "That tribble is definitely coming back to life", and of course it did. Which passes for "high concept" in science fiction. Khan has....magic blood. So when Kirk dies, we can have an exciting chase scene as Spock emotionally runs down Khan to get some of his blood to resuscitate Kirk! He leaps onto flying platforms, just as they did in the first movie of the rebooted series. Apparently, leaping onto flying platforms is the new black. Abrams totally fails to explain why Khan's blood is unique and the blood of the other 120 super-people in stasis on board the Enterprise can't be used. It made me rather sad.

What Maisie Knew (2013), directed by David Siegel and Scott McGehee, got my attention, until I re-read the Henry James novel. It is a modern re-telling of a compelling story, about a child who is a pawn in a frantic game of dominance and derision between her parents. The problem is that, as soulful and interesting as the child actor is, she's never powerful. The novel's Maisie has an almost horror movie child quality, of dominating the situation with intense psychic power; this actress does not. Since there have been a lot of horror and science fiction movies about really intense children, it certainly is cinematically possible to shoot a child so as to emphasize her control. These directors don't do that, and they also elide some other interesting parts of the story, so that in the end we watch a film about a child-spectator, cooly watching the grown-ups do their childish thing. Worth seeing, but not really Maisie.

So I reread the Henry James novel (1897) and didn't enjoy it as much as I did on a first read thirty years ago. James' slow, florid prose style I find harder to take than I once did. I still enjoy Maisie's moral arc as she becomes all powerful, but her final choice (abandoning two delightful if loose step-parents to leave with the starchy Victorian governess) seems like a really conventional choice. As strong a psychologist as Henry James could have surprised us, not done the necessary and usual moral thing at the end. The movie, of course, ends differently, as it really doesn't matter any more if your parents or step parents are not married.