Thelma: Film Review

Let me tell you about Thelma, screening at the Scandinavian Film Festival. A young woman, the titular Thelma, has led a sheltered and conservative Christian upbringing in the country. She rocks up to university having never really partied, including no alcohol or drugs, and without experience with dating. While she has a strong bond with her parents, especially her dad – with whom she shares all her deepest thoughts – she is very lonely in her new environment. That is until she meets the vivacious Anja.

As it turns out, Thelma starts to be attracted to Anja, who promptly breaks up with her boyfriend. It seems Anja begins to fall in love with Thelma too. Thelma struggles with self loathing and tries to deny her sexuality and at the same begins to have inexplicable seizures that baffle doctors. Around this time, I was thinking: if I have to watch another ‘internalised homophobia’ horror (oh, forgot to mention it’s promoted as a horror), I’m going to throw my popcorn at the screen. (Except not really as someone would have to clean it up.) But the film goes in an unexpected direction. Continue reading Thelma: Film Review

The Ranger: Film Review

The Ranger is a hark back to 80s horror films. A group of young punks run into trouble during a concert and retreat to an abandoned holiday cabin, inexplicably located deep in an isolated area of a national park. Will they be okay? Highly unlikely. The film was very silly, with plenty of hammy humour and over the top gore. It was fun. 6/10.
It was preceded by a short, The Shopper, directed by Dev Patel and story by Aussie Leigh Whannell. Another slasher flick with dark humour about a seemingly bored housewife who has an emotionally abusive husband. But maybe not for long. Also 6/10.

Race in Reviews of “Get Out”

I saw Get Out last week and absolutely loved it. It’s only just been officially released across Australia this week. I was excited about this not just as an horror movie aficionado but to see a film made by and starring people of colour (Black men specifically). I purposefully didn’t read any reviews or articles until after watching the film. What’s been interesting is now reading reviews by White people, both from the USA and from Australia.

The film has received almost universally positive reviews – as it should; it is excellent! White American reviewers disproportionately write about the film as if it is written for them; that it is meant to reflect onto *other White people* (not the reviewer, not their readers) their own latent racism.

Reviews by Black writers, especially Black women, see tht the film is primarily for Black people, a view supported by interviews with the writer/director Jordan Peele.

White Australians see this film is also about White Americans, and they do not reflect to what extent the racial dynamics might have some comparison to, and diverge from, race relations in Australia.

Get Out

Continue reading Race in Reviews of “Get Out”

Perished: Film Review

Perished is a short Australian film screening at the MIFF alongside REC 3: Genesis. This tale follows a solitary man who survives the zombie apocalypse. Trapped inside a shed without food or drink, he vacillates from despair to resourcefulness. Plenty of gore for zombie lovers, but stands apart thanks to its ending.

Sociology of Animation: Intertextuality in The Simpsons

Intertextuality in The Simpsons

Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson argues that The Simpsons’ comedy rests on ‘intertextuality’. This is a narrative form that involves referencing oneself and/or other popular culture and historical texts as part of its comedy.  The Simpson’s intertextuality is self-reflexive because it often references its creator (Matt Groening) and the show’s producers, as well as past storylines. For example, in one episode The Simpsons children make reference to Marge’s gambling addiction and Comic Book Guy walks past saying ‘Worst episode ever’. 

Björnsson establishes that The Simpsons’ humour rests on the postmodernist concept of pastiche (a form of parody that mimics other works without the satire). The Simpsons superimposes its characters and landscape into other beloved books, iconic films, significant historical events, and other cultural forms of art. The Simpsons achieves pastiche by using celebrities to do voiceovers and by incorporating the likeness of characters, sets and plots from other cult texts.

Björnsson uses the episode Bart of Darkness as an example of pastiche. The title of this episode is an allusion to Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness, and the plot is similar to Hitchcock’s film Rear Window (in which Bart is forced to stay indoors with a broken leg, consequently spying on his neighbours and possibly witnessing a murder). This episode also uses many of the same camera angles from Hitcock’s film.

The Simpsons has referenced several cartoons such as Family Guy, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, The Road Runner Show, The Jetsons and Yogi Bear. The Simpsons has also emulated the period scenery and visual styles of films such as Tron; the classic plays The Odyssey and Henry VIII; renowned films such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as The Shining. Björnsson writes:

The Simpsons is easily able to represent its borrowed works’ visual styles by taking full advantage of the medium of animation. The endlessly mutable forms of animation allows The Simpsons to mimic particular settings, moods, lighting techniques and camera angles with accuracy, and incorporate it into their story in any way they please. This distinguishes The Simpsons from live-action television shows employing similar intertextual techniques: its possibilities of representation are seemingly infinite.

I use the clip above as an example of intertexuality. The clip comes from The Simpsons’ first Treehouse of Horror special. This episode uses pastiche to represent Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem The Raven in its entirety, yet with a Simpsons spin. Christopher Maligec argues that Poe’s poem is influenced by a Greek style of poetry known as a ‘love elegy’ (paraclausithyron) used to convey a lover’s ‘sorrow, helplessness, and self-pitying despair…’. Poe’s poem has been referenced in countless popular culture media. (Also see my Raven posts.) The Raven is used as a narrative trope to evoke despair and anguish. Ravens and other corvids are used to establish an ominous sense of gloom in many films and TV shows, but in animation, they have also been used as a comedic device to frustrate hapless characters. In The Simpsons version, the raven reflects both an omen of despair and a trickster persona.

In this pastiche production, Homer plays the haunted man reminiscing over his lost love, Lenore (personified by Marge in a portrait hanging on Homer’s wall). Bart plays his tormentor, the raven. The Simpsons brings Poe’s masterful words into the realm of popular culture by having James Earl Jones recite the poem. Jones has one of the most recognisable voices in English-language popular culture (having voiced Darth Vadar in the original Star Wars trilogy, Episodes IV-VI). The Simpsons have regularly referenced Star Wars, so Jones’ appearance is a reference within a reference. Moreover, this retelling of Poe’s story also references The Simpsons’ own mythology by having Bart-the-raven jovially bringing the narrator/Homer to anger, which is a recurring source of comedy on the show.

It is specifically the medium of animation that makes possible the translation of Poe’s narrative of love and loss into a self-referencing story for a new audience.

(Check out my other Simpsons posts or my other examples of the sociology of animation.)

Video: The Simpsons use of parody to tell Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

Sociology of Science in ‘Sunshine’

It’s also a great piece of writing by Alex Garland actually. He got it absolutely right the way that scientists are taught to behave. The worst thing you can do in science is to guess. You’re taught and you’re trained as a research scientist to know exactly where the edge of your knowledge stops. And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. But you shouldn’t guess. You should never speak with authority if you don’t really know the answer. And that’s what he did there. I thought it was real insight for Alex to write that. It didn’t come from me, that, it came from Alex.

Dr Brian Cox speaking on the scientific accuracies of the film Sunshine.

Cox explains in the DVD commentary how director Danny Boyle approached him to be a scientific adviser for the film. Cox says that most of the ideas in the movie are scientifically correct or theoretically probable, with only one or two minor errors. Cox says the biggest scientific stretch was actually the central premise of the film: Cox was told that the only thing they could not compromise about was the idea that the sun was dying. Cox discusses how this basic idea is scientifically incorrect. The sun is dying every day but it would take hundreds of millions of years for it to die out and it is unlikely to occur as it is described (vaguely) in the film. Cox had to figure out a way to make this scientific improbability somehow more-scientifically-viable. Cox decided to use the idea of the Q-ball, which is, theoretically, one of the substances that make up dark matter and it may have been part of the cause of the creation of the universe.
Cox says the film balanced entertainment and science well. He points out all the behavioural traits that the actors mimicked from Cox and his colleagues. It’s a really great DVD commentary. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in science or if you’re interested in how films weave scientific theories into pop culture. Also, the quote above is just wonderful. My favourite line is this: And then you’re taught to enjoy going exploring the region that you don’t know. This is a dazzling way to summarise what it means to be a researcher.

Images: 1) Dread Central 2) Sunshine Movie’s Blog 3) Tribute.ca

Sociology of ‘The Mist’

What always appealed to me about it [The Mist] was: okay here’s this story about monsters, basically, on the surface of it. Underneath Steve King was telling a completely different story. He was telling a story about the fragility of human behaviour under pressure. What he was saying was that civilisation is a very thin veneer and it can crumble very quickly -especially when you apply fear. People turn against one another when subjected to stress and fear.
It winds up being a great sociological contest for how we are as a species. How screwed up we are, how fearful we are. And that’s what Steve put on the page and that’s what I put on the screen.

Frank Darabont, Director of The Mist, talks about the sociology in Stephen King’s horror story. Awesome.

Image credits: 1) The Official Cranberries Fanblog. 2) Movies at Midnight. 3) Slant. 4) Toney.

Sociology of Masculinity in ‘My Soul to Take’

Bug: I’m scared.
Alex: We’re sixteen, Bug. Like it or not, we’re men now.
Bug: I don’t feel like a man!
Alex: No one does, that’s why you gotta fake it.
Bug: Fake being a man to be a man?
Alex: That’s the way it works. You can’t run, you have to face your fear like a man.
Bug: Even though I’m not a man?
Alex: Because you’re not a man. Listen, the better you fake it, the better man you are.
Bug: Just fake it.
Alex: Fake it good. Like if you’re scared, act like you don’t give a shit, or if somebody hurts you, say, “Thank you very much, that felt wonderful.”
Bug: [practicing] Thanks, Brandon, that-I can’t raise my arm, feels good.
Alex: Yeah, there you go.
Bug: Is that all you got, Brandon? I mean… I feel downright… cheated!
Alex: I’m amazed that you’re getting this so quick, it’s tricky stuff.
Bug: I was faking what I did.
Alex: You were?
Bug: [nods] Completely.
Alex: Yeah, but you were faking it good.
Bug: I was?
Alex: Abso-fuckin’-lutely. You now have permission to shave.

My Soul to Take.

Wes Craven gives us a helpful lesson about the social construction of masculinity.