September Blog Header

Yes, there is a new blog header. If you’re trying to work out the cryptic meaning, you should know it is a bit of scratchboard I was practising on. That doesn’t mean there can’t be a cryptic meaning (if you really want there to be). On to the main event:

Faithful Writer Conference: The second Faithful Writer conference, held at New College in Sydney, emphasised the “writing” more than the “faithful” this year – based on what I attended, it was a writing conference attended mostly by Christians, rather than a conference about Christian writing, which provided a contrast to last year and I hope they continue to mix it up in future. Mark Treddinick, the keynote speaker, was not a Christian but is a well-known writer, which created an interesting tension between his expertise and the audience’s lack of it, and vice versa. As a literary author, his emphasis was on the writing over the content: “the sentence is the thing”. Coming from a genre background, I am not used to this emphasis on writing over story – quite the opposite! Many of the guidelines, however, are the same. After lunch we broke into workshops. I went to Tony Payne’s “The Art of the Essay”. When he asked why we were there, I said I had spent too long in uni and was there to have my faith in essays as a worthwhile form restored, which he did. Also, we got to read Chesterton and Orwell, and that usually makes a good day even better. And I got to make new friends and catch up with old and eat doughnuts and drink strange drinks at dinner, so I am looking forward to next year. Karen and Rebecca did an excellent job of organising it and Karen very kindly put me up and fed me and took me to book-buying locations.

The Dark Knight: I reviewed this last month. And while I enjoyed it a second time (and parts of it held up *better*), I enjoyed the ‘Half-Pipe’ cinema at Mt Druitt even more. Big soft beanbags, very late at night after the conference, very hard to keep my eyes open.

Hellboy II: I had preview tickets to this and after some frantic calling around (I hate to see good tickets go to waste) Karissa came along. I enjoyed it much more than the first. Partly, I am certain, because of the big screen, but mostly because of del Toro. I’ve been muttering about how del Toro should make Neverwhere, but after seeing the Goblin Market in Hellboy II, I think he already has. So see it just for del Toro’s weirdly beautiful fantasies. And, you know, the rest of it wasn’t bad.

Persepolis: I saw this at the Brisbane Internation Film Festival with Kashelle and Aimee. I loved the book, and this was an excellent adaptation. Still episodic, but with changes as necessary, new scenes, missing scenes (I wish they could have put the footnotes in!). The art and animation were effortlessly true to the style and feeling of the book. See it if you can find it!

Ekka: No takers for my spare ticket! That is always a sad thing, and it feels a little odd to go to the Ekka alone. But it was a pleasant day, not too cold or too warm, and there were many things to eat (strawberries and cream, dagwood dogs, a neenish tart from the CWA stand) and stare at (wigs and cattle and utes and dogs and the very… forthright views of the judges of the contemporary art category) and draw (speed chainsaw contestants don’t hold poses very long) and buy (exotic chutney for my parents and a show bag for Deb).

Taken: The nice review is that it was a pretty good standard action movie, not too choppy in the filming or gory in the action. I will put the scathing review of the characterisation below, as it is quite long.

Bank Job: There are many movies I wish didn’t have sex scenes for my sake. This movie would have actually been improved by taking them out. Once it got them out of its system, it was a good, relentless, twisted, Brit/caper/crime story with a low-budget feel (I kept expecting Australian accents), one or two excellent performances, incompetent criminals you want to succeed mostly because everyone else out to get them is worse, and the bonus of being based on (inspired by) real events, which always makes slightly unbelievable storylines more enjoyable. I’m not looking at the characterisation in this one, because it didn’t creep me out quite as much as Taken.

Thoughts on Taken

I walked out it on Tuesday feeling vaguely, well, squicky. I haven’t met many people who saw it, so if you have and want to pitch in with an opinion, please do.

There were a few things I appreciated about it. First of all, it had Famke Janssen who has a remarkable face, and Maggie Grace who makes me feel exhausted just watching her bounce around, and Liam Neeson. And he is TALL! A shame, though, to put him in what was really a Harrison Ford vehicle. Also, despite its MA rating (in America that would be an R?) the violence was often understated in its portrayal and there was little gore, and the scenes of prostitution and nudity while they were problematic in other respects didn’t seem calculated to titillate, and I appreciate that. It was a non-confrontational, if non-intellectual, action movie.

But although most of the main characters were female, their roles were awful figures in a creepy morality play.

The plot was – basically and I don’t think I’m giving away anything you wouldn’t have worked out from the preview – teenage girl gets kidnapped to be sold to a sex slave and ex-special-operative father has 96 hours to rescue her before she is Lost Forever (which can be interpreted in two ways). I did say it was essentially a Harrison Ford vehicle.

In more detail – and here the problems (and spoilers) begin to emerge – the plot is: beautiful virgin teenage daughter, raised by mother and stepfather in fairy-princess candy cotton wool (she gets a garden party and horse for her birthday), is led astray by her mother and older, non-virgin best friend, and lies to her father to get him to let her go to Paris without adult supervision (note: they are 17 and 19). There, she and her friend meet a friendly, good-looking boy, catch a taxi with him, let him know they are without adult supervision, and he promptly arranges for them to be kidnapped and sold into prostitution. Just before she is kidnapped, the daughter telephones her father. The father then goes after the daughter, wreaks havoc on Parisian criminals, law enforcers and infrastructure (I wonder if Parisians feel the same way about Hollywood medieval peasants do about Mel Brooks), finds the daughter’s friend dead from a forcibly-administered drug overdose, tortures an Albanian, finds his daughter drugged, half-dressed and being auctioned off (unlike her friend, she is a virgin and therefore valuable), beats up some more bad guys, kills an American “businessman”, chases down the wealthy sheik’s boat and rescues his daughter at the last minute from a Fate Worse Than Death.

The women are very childish. The drugged, frightened, young women sold into prostitution. The teenage (17 and 19 so pretty much adult) girls giggling and screaming and chasing bands. The birthday party with floaty sundresses and dream ponies (I’m not actually kidding). The mother has some backbone, but is endeavouring to reduce her husband’s access to and authority over the daughter and begins to weep for him to find her as soon as she goes missing, so I’m not sure that strength is a good thing. The daughter has strength of character enough to (on instruction) shout out a description of her kidnappers as she is being kidnapped (best part of the movie), but spends the rest of the movie absent and/or drugged, which is a waste of the actresses’ remarkable physical energy. The French director’s wife is sweet and naïve and ignorant of her husband’s darker side. There is a reference to the wife and daughter being protected, but this is only portrayed as a problem if they venture outside that protection, and it is intimated the father is perfectly within rights to have his daughter’s stepfather secretly under surveillance. This possessiveness is evident even before the kidnapping, when the father is trying to get his daughter back emotionally (although she seems to like him well enough). It came through as well in the death of the friend and the wounding of the French director’s wife: there was no remorse or ramifications or grieving – they were objects (both tainted by act or association) which belonged to someone else.

And they barely grow or change. At the end, the daughter’s innocence is preserved, she is returned to safety and gets singing lessons, like she’s wanted since she was a child. The lessons learned are simple: If you don’t do what your father tells you, you will be sold into prostitution. If you then do what he tells you, he will kill people and rescue you at the last moment. If you have sex you will die. Virginity is very precious, especially to your father and rich middle eastern men. If your husband misbehaves, you will be shot.

The women are also portrayed as emotionally manipulative and deceptive – the daughter’s friend lies to her about the people with whom they will be staying. The mother encourages the daughter to lie to the father about what her trip involves (travelling from hotel to hotel instead of staying in one place).

Then there is a sexual vibe to the clothing that is odd and uncomfortable given the childishness of the women and the complete absence of any romantic plot. Off-the-shoulder tops, floaty sundresses, bathrobes, barely-there “slave” outfits. It struck me later that Holly Valance’s character whom the daughter, in her innocence, hopes and is encouraged to emulate, wears an outfit that is as skimpy as some of those worn by the captured women (but it is carefully shown that she doesn’t completely enjoy being up there on stage). There is a scene after the rescue where the father hugs his crying daughter who is dressed in a vaguely bridal negligee that was just unsettling. Put a coat around her, for crying out loud! Perhaps some of the relationship aspects would have worked if this were the fourth in a series and we knew about the characters (it just felt like a Jack Ryan film at times), but lines from the father’s friends to the father about whether his (nearly adult) daughter had “slept over yet” just felt really wrong without that context.

It’s worth noting – though someone else is better qualified to look at race than I am – that the fate worse than death is a fat, old, middle eastern man. Also, if people speak languages other than English (and aren’t subtitled) they are bad.

Things that would have helped:

 – Harrison Ford. I wouldn’t have picked up on the squickiness if it had been him, because he’s, well, Jack Ryan. And there is something of a context there.

 – Not wasting actresses: Famke Janssen’s strength and expressiveness, Maggie Grace’s incredible energy.

 – If the father had taught his daughter how to fight back. Or trying to teach her how to fight back (instead of buying her karaoke machines) or at least look after herself.

 – Showing daughter being a bit more proactive. The best bit of the movie was when she was to let herself get kidnapped and then shout out details (except you couldn’t hear what she shouted). If her father had told her to do a bit more so that he could rescue her and Amanda, and then let her get kidnapped, her mother could have gotten really and justifiably angry with him, and we could have seen the daughter at least trying to get herself out/help friend/help the nameless woman/maintain dignity even when it doesn’t seem like he’s coming for her. It would have been something.

 – Not make the father such a “nice guy”. I’d prefer him to be genuinely rough around the edges, if not outright dodgy: a criminal instead of a government operative. Or a crooked government operative. It would be the smallest change to make and would have improved the movie. It would explain his wife’s motives and reservation, his ease with surveillance (not ‘at’). His general lack of concern for human life and “innocence” and law and order. His shooting his (crooked) friend’s naïve and innocent wife. His torture and leaving Marco to die. His general disinterest in Amanda (except as evidence that his daughter has been somewhere). A man who doesn’t care for anyone but himself and what ‘belongs to him’.

 – Lose Holly Valance’s character – it was added a whole other level of reality television triteness and strangeness to the end.