Sunday, 30 September 2012

Donnie Darko (5 Stars)

When this film was first released in 2001 it was a box office flop. It was ignored by critics and moviegoers alike. At the time it was released I lived close to a large cinema and remember seeing it advertised. The photo of the large bunny rabbit in blue shading made me think it was a cheap horror film, so I ignored it. After its release on DVD people started noticing it, and soon it developed a cult following. I first took notice of it when talking to two friends of mine. One of them said that "Donnie Darko" was her favorite film, and the other replied "Yes, it's the best film ever made". That made me run out and buy it the next day, and wow! It's one of the best films I've ever seen.

I'll take a different path in this review. Usually I avoid spoilers, but I want to write an explanation of the film. If you've never seen the film, stop reading now. Go out and buy it. I recommend the original version. The director's cut has better music, but it's padded out by explaining things left vague in the original, making it less enjoyable. The spoilers follow the picture, so scroll down at your own risk.

I've read many interpretations of the film, and there are none I completely agree with. A guide to interpreting it is the excerpts from Roberta Sparrow's "Philosophy of Time Travel" that are included as DVD extras. Reading them isn't essential to understanding the film, but it helps.


Chapter One: The Tangent Universe

The Primary Universe is fraught with great peril. War, plague, famine and natural disaster are common.

Death comes to us all. The Fourth Dimension of Time is a stable construct, though it is not impenetrable.

Incidents when the fabric of the fourth dimension becomes corrupted are incredibly rare.

If a Tangent Universe occurs, it will be highly unstable, sustaining itself for no longer than several weeks.

Eventually it will collapse upon itself, forming a black hole within the Primary Universe capable of destroying all existence.

Chapter Two: Water And Metal

Water and Metal are the key elements of Time Travel.

Water is the barrier element for the construction of Time Portals used as gateways between Universes as the Tangent Vortex.

Metal is the transitional element for the construction of Artifact Vessels.

Chapter Four: The Artifact And The Living

When a Tangent Universe occurs, those living nearest to the Vortex, will find themselves at the epicenter of a dangerous new world.

Artifacts provide the first sign that a Tangent Universe has occurred.

If an Artifact occurs, the Living will retrieve it with great interest and curiosity.

Artifacts are formed from metal, such as an Arrowhead from an ancient Mayan civilization, or a Metal Sword from Medieval Europe.

Artifacts returned to the Primary Universe are often linked to religious Iconography, as their appearance on Earth seems to defy logical explanation.

Divine intervention is deemed the only logical conclusion for the appearance of the Artifact.

Chapter Six: The Living Receiver

The Living Receiver is chosen to guide the Artifact into position for its journey back to the Primary Universe.

No one knows how or why a Receiver will be chosen.

The Living Receiver is often blessed with a Fourth Dimensional Powers.

These include increased strength, telekinesis, mind control, and the ability to conjure fire and water.

The Living Receiver is often tormented by terrifying dreams, visions and auditory hallucinations during his time within the Tangent Universe.

These surrounding the Living Receiver, known as the Manipulated, will fear him and try to destroy him.

Chapter Seven: The Manipulated Living

The Manipulated Living are often the close friends and neighbors of the Living Receiver.

They are prone to irrational, bizarre, and often violent behavior.

This is the unfortunate result of their task, which is to assist the Living Receiver in returning the Artifact to the Primary Universe.

The Manipulated Living will do anything to save themselves from Oblivion.

Chapter Ten: The Manipulated Dead

The Manipulated Dead are more powerful than the Living Receiver. If a person dies within the Tangent Dimension, they are able to contact the Living Receiver through the Fourth Dimensional Construct.

The Fourth Dimensional Construct is made of Water.

The Manipulated Dead will manipulate the Living Receiver using the Fourth Dimensional Construct (see Appendix A and B).

The Manipulated Dead will often set an Ensurance Trap for the Living Receiver to ensure that the Artifact is returned safely to the Primary Universe.

If the Ensurance Trap is successful, the Living Receiver is left with no choice but to use his Fourth Dimensional Power to send the Artifact back in time into the Primary Universe before the Black hole collapses upon itself.

Chapter Twelve: Dreams

When the Manipulated awaken from their Journey into the Tangent Universe, they are often haunted by the experience in their dreams.

Many of them will not remember.

Those who do remember the Journey are often overcome with profound remorse for the regretful actions buried within their Dreams, the only physical evidence buried within the Artifact itself, all that remains from the lost world.

Ancient myth tells us of the Mayan Warrior killed by an Arrowhead that had fallen from a cliff, where there was no Army, no enemy to be found.

We are told of the Medieval Knight mysteriously impaled by sword he had not yet built.

We are told that these things occur for a reason.

The plot, at its simplest, is this: an alternative parallel universe has occurred spontaneously, and due to its instability it threatens to create a black hole and destroy all of reality. Donnie Darko is chosen as the saviour to prevent this happening.

Is it God who appoints Donnie to this task? That's unclear, although the film does mention God briefly, and the religious symbolism is unmistakable. Donnie saves the universe by sacrificing himself. Like the Mayan warrior and the mediaeval knight mentioned in chapter 12 of "The Philosophy of Time Travel", Donnie died crushed to death by an airplane engine.

Now the full plot, with my interpretation:

On October 2nd 1988 Donnie is woken up by a person wearing a rabbit costume and led to a golf course. The person, who calls himself Frank, tells Donnie the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds. When Donnie returns home he sees that an aircraft engine has fallen from the sky onto his house. Nobody knows where it came from. This is the metal artifact described in Roberta Sparrow's book.

From this point on Frank guides Donnie's actions. Donnie floods the school basement, he vandalises the school mascot, and he sets the house of a local motivational speaker on fire. These are not random acts. Frank is one of the "Manipulated Dead", and he guides Donnie to seemingly random acts of vandalism that will steer events towards the final solution. Flooding the basement leads to school being cancelled, which in turn leads to Donnie dating Gretchen, so that when Frank kills Gretchen Donnie takes revenge and kills Frank. This is Frank's death within the Tangent Universe, after which Frank gains powers and is able to travel back in time to guide Donnie. Setting the house on fire leads to the speaker's child pornography collection being discovered by firemen, so the sports teacher Kitty Farmer decides not to accompany the school singing team to Los Angeles, leading Donnie's mother to be in the plane when the lightning hits it and the engine falls off.

Donnie saves the universe by catching the airplane engine as it falls and projecting it into the real universe. His death was a necessity.

One thing that I've missed in other reviews is a comparison with "Lost Highway". If you scrape away the surface the two films are so similar that writer/director Robert Kelly must have been influenced by it. The main difference is that the time loop in "Lost Highway" is supernatural, whereas "Donnie Darko" is scientific. Maybe I'll go into this in more detail when I review "Lost Highway".

Click here to view the trailer.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Dark Knight (4½ Stars)

This is the second film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The death of Heath Ledger, the actor who played the Joker, before the film's release led to a lot of interest by people who would otherwise not have considered watching the film. However, the film stands on its own merits. It doesn't need off-screen scandals or tragedies to support it.

The film is a significant improvement over the first part in the trilogy, "Batman Begins". The first film failed to capture the atmosphere of the Batman comics. "The Dark Knight" presents us the Batman that comic readers know and love. In the first film I had my doubts about Christian Bale in the title role. Here we see that he's grown into the role. I was disappointed that Bruce Wayne's love interest Rachel Dawes had to be played by a different actress. Maggie Gyllenhall doesn't bring the same warmth to the role as Katie Holmes.

The film suggests, though not explicitly, that Batman is actually the cause of the plague of super villains in Gotham City. This is a topic that has been frequently explored in the comics. The presence of a masked vigilante has provoked the rise of a new breed of villains to oppose him. Could Batman really save the city by retiring? I think not. In the same way, the general availability of guns in the USA is responsible for the height of violent crime, but if private gun ownership were forbidden tomorrow it would only make crime worse.

I have mixed feelings about Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. He's a scary villain, but is he really the same Joker that we know from the comics. For me Cesar Romero will always be the actor who most accurately portrays the Joker.

Click here to view the trailer.

The Innocence of Muslims (unrated)

This is the film that has had the whole world in a frenzy for the last few days. It has provoked the murder of the American ambassador to Libya, the burning down of the German embassy in Sudan, and countless other acts of violence.

So what is the film about, and why are Moslems getting so excited about it? I can't give it a rating, because I've only seen a 14-minute excerpt on YouTube. I shall buy the film when it becomes available on DVD, even though it seems to be of exceedingly poor quality. Supposedly it's an anti-Islamic film. This isn't supported by the excerpt I've seen. It looks like a religious satire, unusual when dealing with Islam, though common in dealing with Christianity. The best example of a Christian religious satire is "The Life of Brian". The problem is that Moslems in general have been brought up with too many inhibitions to be able to appreciate satire. I would have expected them to have lightened up after making a fool of themselves over the 2005 Danish cartoons. They still need to learn how to laugh.

On the other hand, it's all a lot of fuss over a poor quality film that would never have become well known if it had not been for the protests. Some cynics have even suggested that the film's producers paid Moslem groups to riot. It's time for a high quality film to be made about the life of Mohammed. It should be factual, neither praising nor attacking Islam, simply showing the life of the man who invented Islam. My personal choice of actor to play Mohammed would be Jake Gyllenhaal. Most people around the world would welcome an informational film. Some Moslems would decry it without even seeing it, because they are afraid to find out the truth about Mohammed. But the truth is necessary in order to have an open discussion.

Click here to view an excerpt from the film. It's possible this link will be broken soon.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Off-Topic: The English Genitive

As my regular readers already know, I am passionate in my support of the English language. I adhere strictly to correct spelling, and by "correct" I mean British spelling. I grudgingly accept that my American cousins spell certain words differently, but I still dislike words like "color" and "traveler". They grate on me whenever I read them.

This article is about the correct spellings of genitive words in English using apostrophe-s. Fortunately this does not differ on the other side of the Atlantic, so my American readers can read on. When I went to school I learnt that genitives are formed by adding an apostrophe and the letter s, unless the word ends in an s, in which case only an apostrophe is used. For plurals no apostrophe is ever used. Those were the rules, no exceptions. Since leaving school I've read a large number of books and magazines, and I've realised that there are exceptions to these rules. I recently had a heated debate with someone just as passionate about the English language as I am, because he refused to accept any exceptions. That's why I have decided to make this off-topic post.

First, what is an apostrophe? In handwritten English it's usually identical to a comma, but raised slightly higher than lower case letters. In computer typography it's simplified to a vertical bar. In the case of serif fonts the top of the bar is often thicker, making it look like a rounded triangle, as in the image above.

Let's take an example of correctly formed genitives:

The books belonging to a school: The school's books.
The books belonging to schools: The schools' books.

Both are pronounced the same, but are spelt differently. In spoken conversation the meaning would usually be made known by the context. In written English the spelling tells the reader which is meant.

Now for an exception. What do we call the daughter of a boss? In spoken English nobody would hesitate to pronounce the word identically to the plural form "bosses", but how is that spelt? My purist friend rejects the exception and would write "the boss' daughter", even though this spelling does not reflect the pronunciation. I believe he is wrong. Correct is:

The daughter of the boss: The boss's daughter.
The daughters of the bosses: The bosses' daughters.

This is an easily definable exception. Whenever a word ends with a double s, the genitive is formed by adding apostrophe-s. So we would also write "the ass's tail" and "the Goddess's temple".

With singular words ending in a single s the case is less clear cut. It is best to follow the pronunciation. In the case of the planets we talk about "Mars' surface" and "Venus's surface". If there is any doubt it's never a mistake to omit the s after the apostrophe. Nobody would complain about "Venus' surface".

For the sake of completeness, let's consider the formation of plurals. Is it always incorrect to use an apostrophe to form plurals? Here too there are exceptions which are generally accepted.

1. An apostrophe is used to form the plural of numbers.

I rolled three 5's in a row.
He went to school in the 1920's.

2. An apostrophe is used to form the plural of single letters.

Remember your p's and q's.
This sentence contains five e's.

3. An apostrophe is used to form the plural of abbreviations.

He completed three PhD's.
I own over a thousand CD's.

There seems to be some controversy over the third exception. Many people would accept the first example but reject the second. I've heard it said that an apostrophe can only be used in the plural if the abbreviation ends with a small letter or dot. However, this doesn't seem to be backed up by common usage in books and magazines. I'm not sure about this rule myself. I haven't been consistent in my spelling, even in this blog. I used to write "DVDs" and "CDs", but now I prefer "DVD's" and "CD's".

Mantis in Lace (2 Stars)

Although I heard about this 1968 film many years ago I've only recently been able to buy it. Everything I had read about the film made it seem like an absolute shocker about drugs, violence and sexual depravity. Watching it today it seems very tame. As an exploitation film it doesn't exploit enough.

The story is about a stripper called Lila. ("Lila" was the film's original title, but it was later renamed). She takes a customer back to where she lives in an old warehouse belonging to her father. The customer gives her LSD and she experiences a bad trip. She kills him during sex, then hacks his body to pieces. After this she goes on a killing spree, inviting customers to the warehouse, taking drugs and killing them.

The plot as described above could have led to a very good film. But it fails to deliver. The film has many faults, but I'll concentrate on the plot. Many things are suggested, but are left unclear. Obviously the first encounter with LSD is with her first victim. After this she becomes addicted. But what is unclear is whether she had intended to kill him anyway. It's not certain whether the warehouse really belongs to her father, since later in the film a real estate agent arrives who thought the property was deserted. Why would a young woman live in such barren surroundings if she didn't plan to commit a crime? The childhood flashbacks during her trips show that she's become unstable through a history of abuse.

This is a prime candidate for a remake. The film could be made much better today.

Young Bruce Lee (4 Stars)

This is a difficult movie for me to review. The film is well made and enjoyable to watch, but it's not at all what I expected. It's not the Bruce Lee I expected to see.

The film (released in the USA under the name "Bruce Lee, my brother") is based on a biography written by his younger brother. It deals with Lee's life from his birth in 1940 up to 1959. He was born in San Francisco, but his parents returned with him to Hong Kong in 1943. His father was an actor, and he used his connections to get Bruce roles in films from his early childhood. In 1959 he left his family to return to America.

What troubled me about the film is that it didn't portray Bruce as the hero I've known and admired for many years. His success as an actor made him arrogant in his teens. He frequently got into street fights. His motivation for learning martial arts in the school of Ip Man wasn't spiritual, it was so he could win his fights on the street. I assume that this is a true portrayal of his character. His brother obviously admires him, so he has no reason to put him in a negative light. He's showing the way Bruce really grew up, as a troubled teenager caught up in first the Japanese, then the British occupation of his country.

The film should be watched by all fans of the legendary Bruce Lee, and even those who don't know much about him may enjoy it. Click here to view the trailer.

Bruce Lee (on the left) in a 1950 film.