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January 27th, 2019

I saw this with my sister and Eloise on a visit just after Halloween. It's a live-action Disney film with only a minor in-story ballet performance, which builds very freely on the original story of The Nutcracker, drawing along the way from other children's portal fantasies like The Wizard of Oz (four realms with a capital city in the middle, Clara saying "I guess I'm not in London any more") Alice in Wonderland and Narnia. Once in the land of the Four Realms, Clara must defeat the villain and save the kingdom - but who is the real villain? Therein lies the twist - and an excellent character for the unexpected villain to play. The whole thing looks absolutely beautiful, from the costumes to the CGI to the Nutcracker-soldier's delicate gold lip-liner, and we had quite a lot of fun afterwards discussing which of Clara's various outfits we liked best.

But Clara is no dress-up doll - she has inherited a passion for mechanics from her mother, quietly encouraged by Drosselmeyer (her godfather and also an engineer), and uses it in the Four Realms to save the day through the laws of physics. Because this is a Disney film, though, the mother herself is already dead when the story begins, and Clara's challenge is to understand her legacy and negotiate a new relationship with her grieving but repressed father in order to find her own sense of identity. Gradually we learn that the mother not only had a gift for engineering but actually used it to create the whole kingdom of the Four Realms by building an engine to bring her toys to life. So, Clara is able to step into her mother's shoes and use this knowledge to set things back to rights in the kingdom, before returning to the real world to restart her relationship with her father.

In the course of all this, though, it was made clear that the father had never known anything about the mother's engineering skills or the rich fantasy world which she had created, which seemed very sad indeed to me but was never really addressed or explored at all. It seemed like we were being shown a world where eccentric men like Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman being amazing) might recognise women's skills and creativity, but the staid traditional men at the heart of the patriarchy like Clara's father never could, and had to be approached solely on their own terms. Still, I'd rather Eloise got to see films about clever, creative female engineers saving the day but still having to fit the mould their fathers require of them than not at all. She found some aspects of this film quite scary, especially when Clara and her friends went into the abandoned amusement park-themed kingdom of apparent villain Mother Ginger, and had to cuddle up to my sister to be reassured. But it clearly made quite an impression, as she watched another film which made a twist revelation about a character's motivations over Christmas, and offered this as an example of the same device. It's so lovely watching her learning how stories work. :-)

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I saw this with [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 at the Hyde Park Picture House shortly before Christmas. It's basically Glee in a British small town school with a zombie apocalypse and a keen awareness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, and it's also a Christmas film, because that's when it is set. As you might imagine, this adds up to a great deal of fun, although it does also involve quite a lot of gore and a surprisingly-high death rate for well developed characters. It has something it wants to say about modern communications technology. On the whole, this is portrayed negatively, for example though a song about how the surviving characters are desperate for a human voice rather than something on a screen (full lyrics here), by drawing attention to the self-absorption and distorted priorities of selfie culture through people posting their zombie escape selfies to Instagram, and by having the zombies themselves easily distracted by TV screens. But then again, it's clearly a disaster for the human characters when they lose their mobile phone signals and internet connection, and we are invited to feel great sympathy for one character who, knowing he has been infected by the zombies, helps his daughter to escape and then lies gazing lovingly at her picture on his mobile phone screen as he dies. So it's a bit mixed. The songs were generally pretty good, with an absolute highlight being an upbeat dance number sung as a duet between Anna and her best friend John as they leave the house for school and work their way across town to meet one another, so wrapped up in their own determination and sunny outlooks that they don't notice that zombie-induced carnage has broken out all around them. That said, I personally found that my enjoyment of the songs qua songs dropped off rather as the film went on, partly because I'm not very keen on musical-style music anyway, and partly because they just began to sound a little samey. So I won't be buying the soundtrack, but I would recommend the film.

Well, that about wraps up my film reviews for 2018 - hoorah! I've just got to get started on the four films I've already seen in 2019 now...

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