Friday, 26 September 2014

Spirited Away to Wonderland... Well, a Japanese Bathhouse for Spirits

Spirited Away is what happens when the Japanese Walt Disney decides he wants to do his version of Alice in Wonderland. Well, sort of. Well, not really. But kinda, I guess. Spirited Away is often described as an Alice in Wonderland-esque tale. Which is possibly appropriate since it's about a young girl is whisked away to a fantastical land of weird characters and magic and things that don't make all that much sense.

And a lot of things don't make sense... initially. But then you realise that things do makes sense, it's just that the logic of the spirit world is quite a bit different from the logic of the human world with a different set of rules. But there is a logic with set of rules that govern it.

Like the universal constant that you will be uncomfortably cramped in an elevator at some point.

And the logic of the spirit world is bound in language. Or rather who has control of language. In Spirited Away, the spirits are bound to their word and have to adhere to the oaths they make and the contracts they sign, as in they literally cannot break their word. Language, and who has mastery of language (which is how they cast their spells and do magicky stuff) is what governs the spirit world.

Which actually reflects the real world more than most people realise, since our world is shaped by language. Literally. Our whole perception of the world is mediated by language, by words. Words have power because they can be used to shape our perception of reality. In fact, they are powerful because they are reality. Or rather, to be precise, they construct it.

Since everything has a word for it and given a name, something to define it so it fits within our perception of reality. We are bound in language from birth (we are all given names that identify us), defined by it and use it to filter our perception of reality.

"Who say what where now?"

Which is why people who speak a different language to our own often seem to have a different way of viewing the world. Part of the reason behind this is not only because their words are different and things get lost in translation, but because we think in our native language, or if you're particularly interesting, in a second language as well.

Therefore, their thought processes would follow the logic of that language. A language with different grammar that structures those words differently. A different way of mediating and constructing reality.

Of course there are a myriad of other important factors like culture, socio-economic considerations, and so on, all of which play a part. But all of that is filtered through language. Language is the primary medium through which we interact with the world. And by using language in certain ways we often shape our perception of reality.

I'm not going to go into any more depth about how the way language is a medium that filters our perception of reality since I've already gone way too Media Studies 100. Rather, this is just background stuff for what I want to say about Spirited Away. Because this is what is being tapped on in Spirited Away, the power of language to control reality.

For example, Yubaba, the witch who runs the bathhouse, uses her witchy control of language to dominate Chihiro. She talks all over Chihiro when they first meet, dismissing her words with a flick of the wrist which literally zips her mouth, limiting Chihiro's ability talk and assert herself.

Sort of like this. Remember how Agent Smith takes away Neo's ability to protest by cracking a wisecrack about what good would a phone-call be if he can't talk? Ah, good times.

And remember how I mentioned above how we are all given names? (It's in brackets if you can't find it.) Well, after signing her contract with Yubaba, Chihiro's name gets taken away from her as Yubaba absorbs characters from her name and gives her the new name of Sen. And when I say absorb the characters from her name, she totally hoovers them up, sucking them into her hand.

Similarly, Haku, the devilishly dashing boy who helps out our klutz of a heroine, has had his name taking away from him as well. Which results in him not knowing who he is anymore and transforms him into a badass white dragon of awesometude whenever he is sent on errands for Yubaba. Some people might see that as good deal on his part. Because I'm not joking about how amazetastic he is in his dragon form.

No caption is worthy of the coolness of this picture.

And all this stuff about stealing people's names ties into the pretty widespread notion across various cultures that we are defined by our names and that by knowing one's true name, we can gain some sort of power over them.

Think about all the demonically possessed girl movies over the years or you know, any episode of Supernatural where they banished a demon. The exorcist always tries to learn the name of the demon doing all the possessing, since knowing its name will give them the power to exorcise them with minimum effort and less crucifixion masturbation.

All beings in the spirit world are bound by language, even those who seem to be in control of it and all magicky-powerful, like Yubaba. Yubaba is the most powerful being we see in the movie, aside from her twin sister, Zeniba. Yet she too is unable to break the binds of language. She gives Chihiro a job at the bathhouse not because she wants to or thinks that Chihiro will be a valuable employee despite the fact she is a ginormous klutz, but because she has to since she made an oath to give work to anyone who asks for it and is bound to keep her word.

Language and spells are intrinsically linked in the spirit world, in the sense that spells are used to limit access to language. In so doing, language or the lack of access to it, is used to bind and control the person who is under the spell, taking away their ability to talk or remember who they are, often transforming them in the process.

Like when Boh and that harpy bird thing are turned into a mouse and a little bug-eyed bird thing respectfully.

"What the hell is that bug-eyed bird thing?! Is... is it carrying a mouse?" - Dudes in the background.

Boh can no longer talk after he's turned into a mouse because mice can't talk since that would be silly. You're silly. Thinking that mice can talk. Silly.

But because the spell stripped him of his ability to access language, it took away his agency or ability to assert his own identity. Which is why his mother, Yubaba, doesn't recognise him in his mouse form. He can no longer talk so his identity has been taken away from him (and actually given to those disembodied heads who have been magicked to look like him). Also, he's a mouse.

And there are a number of creatures and spirits that can't talk or have no voice of their own that come to the bathhouse. Like the Stink God who actually isn't a Stink God but a river spirit that has been turned into a lovable sludge monster of oozing fecal matter which burns your nostrils with his striking fragrance because his river has become seriously polluted (Environmental message: polluting is bad, don't do it kids).

His distinctive aroma is sure to set your senses alight, curl your nose, and put your hair on end...
He smells bad is what I'm saying.

Now, when he's being confused for a god (stink or no, they still think he's a god which is pretty sweet), the river spirit can't speak. He can't articulate what his problem is aside from looking unhappy with his sad fecal sludge face.

It's only after Chihiro/Sen discovers the bike handle sticking out from the then Stink God (May his stench ever be praised!) and they remove all the garbage that's blocking up his spiritiness that he regains his proper form and can speak again- congratulating Sen on a job well done. He then drops gold as he bounces out of the bathhouse because that's how river spirits do.

"River Spirit out, bitches."

But the character who highlights the most how crippling it is not being able to speak in the spirit world is No Face. No Face is the silent masked spirit that Sen accidentally lets inside the bathhouse. He doesn't really have much of a shape, physically more like a black shadow with a mask at most times, only occasionally forming thin little arms for doing arm things.

And his inability to speak is tied to lack of form, because it is only after he eats frog dude and steals his amphibian voice that he grows legs in addition to arms and his body takes on some sort of form.

But his muteness is formless like a void, which is a great metaphor for me to come up with because he has a void inside him. Boom, metaphor. A void of loneliness and a need to filled that void with attention and food, lots and lots of food.

Which is why he wakes everyone up in the middle of the night and throws gold about for everyone, because he wants people to give him  food and attention. He is just lonely, so very, very lonely.


"Will you be my friend?"

His desperate attempts to make a connection with Sen through emphatic grunts and bribery with handfuls of bath tags or gold is the only way he can get past his debilitating solitude, trying to befriend the only person who acknowledged him when he was silent and all formless and stuff.

So, yeah, language is, like, important and stuff in Spirited Away, reflecting the importance of words in the real world, since language, not friendship, is magic. It allows us to express our identity and assert ourselves with our words, it gives us power over things by defining them, and mediates our very perception of reality.

And all perceptions of reality should have a Haku dragon. So, work on using language to perceive a Haku dragon because holy shitballs, why wouldn't you?


References:

Spirited Away Wikipedia page

Hayao Miyazaki Wikipedia page

Studio Ghibli Wikipedia page

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Toy Story is the Best Story (Or Why Toy Story is the Only Perfect Trilogy)

Alright, let's be truly honest here, it's about to get real. Like, really real. If you have a heart condition or a preexisting medical illness, caution is warned due to the amount of realness that's about to be laid down. Are you ready for how real things are about to get? Because they're about to get pretty real. Okay, you were warned, here it is: Most of your favourite movie trilogies aren't great...

Trilogies. Not great at being trilogies. That is, when it comes to being trilogies they aren't all that great... They aren't great movie trilogies, is what I'm saying. That's not to say they don't have great films in them, just that as a whole, they often don't add up to a great trilogy.

Maybe 'great' is the wrong word. No, in fact it is completely the wrong word, since I deliberately used the wrong word on purpose to mislead you. The right word would be 'perfect'. Nearly all the movie trilogies you love and think are great are not perfect. They just aren't.

And I'm not even going to talk about this one because the sequels do not exist.
They. Do. Not. Exist.
Realise the truth: There is no trilogy.

And if you search your feelings, you know it to be true. Most trilogies, like the overwhelming majority, aren't perfect. There's always at least one film that lets the other two down.

Sometimes a classic first film is followed by a not-so-classic second film and then concluded by a great final film, an example of which is the Indiana Jones Trilogy (which for the sake of argument I'm considering as a trilogy because it was a trilogy for two decades before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Raped Childhoods arrived to make the world a sadder place).

Raiders of the Lost Arc is great and made us fall in love with an archaeologist who really doesn't know how archaeology works since whips are not considered standard equipment for archaeological expeditions. And The Last Crusade was fundamental in proving the popular scientific theory which hypothesised that putting Han Solo and James Bond in the same movie could produce enough pure joy and awesomeness to last several lifetimes.

"Wait. You're in this movie too?! How can the frame sustain so much unbridled cool? Surely the level of cinematic awesome should tear a hole in the picture-reel continuum?" - Bond, James Bond

But in between being completely superfluous to the face melting of Nazis and finding the Holy Grail, Indy spent some time in The Temple of Doom to immerse himself in cultural insensitivity with two of the most annoying sidekicks of all time. After the rollicking good fun of Raiders, Temple of Doom is just mean. Like not simply dark, although it is dark, but actually mean-spirited at times with little of the fun that filled the first film and can be found in ample supply in Last Crusade. There are of course things to love in Temple of Doom, like the mine cart chase scene for instance, but it definitely is a inferior film to the other two in the trilogy.

But generally speaking, most great trilogies actually follow the good-good-terrible format, where the first two films are great or classics but the third film is a messy letdown. This nearly always tends to be the case with superhero trilogies, think of the first three X-Men movies, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, and the Dark Knight Trilogy.

In each instance, the first film is the most basic, introduces the characters and sets up the fictional universe while the second film takes that established universe and expands on it, often telling a deeper story with more focus on the characters and drama, a more compelling narrative and heavier action.

And then the third film comes along and it doesn't know what to do, so it decides to amp what it thinks were the popular elements of the second film to 11 because bigger is always better. So everything gets crammed in and throws it all together. So we end up with a third film with nearly with too many superfluous new characters (X-Men: The Last Stand) or too many villains with little to no time given to fully develop each of their motivations (Spider-Man 3), or with an overstuffed narrative that tries to do too much for no discernible reason and doesn't flow from one act to the next, actually leaving less of an impact than the previous film (The Dark Knight Rises).

Look! All out war on the streets. With armies and stuff. That's what you wanted in a Batman movie, right?
You liked it when the Joker blew up things in The Dark Knight? Well in this one, Bane blows up a football stadium and all the bridges!

This isn't limited to superhero trilogies though. The original Star Wars Trilogy, my favourite trilogy of all time because it just is, is one of these good-good-bad trilogies. Although in this case, it's more a case of great-great-good, the point still remains that the third film is a bit of a letdown compared to the first two films. I've already talked about how the first act of the film where Luke is all badass and rescues Han made Return of the Jedi my favourite Star Wars movie when I was a kid, but that's the thing, it was that first act.

For Return of the Jedi suffers from great first act that uses much of the cool in the film and doesn't seem as balanced or richly textured a film as Empire Strikes Back. It has a lot of awesome moments (in space!) and great action sequences but they don't quite add up the way they should. I love it but I know that it is a movie that is less than the sum of its parts.

And then Lucas had to go and do this, because he really wanted people to know that it was the weakest of the original trilogy.

The point is that very few trilogies are perfect. Even if there is some debate over exactly which film in a trilogy is the weakest or not on the same level as the other two, there is the sense that one of the films, whichever one, might not be as good. Except for one trilogy.

This has all been build-up to the reveal which was already given away in the title (pay attention), that the Toy Story Trilogy is one of, if not the only, perfect trilogy in cinematic history.

Yeah, about that.

Now before people start bringing up the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, let me tell you that you are both very correct, and hideously wrong. Seriously, maybe have that looked at, it looks gross.

You are correct in suggesting that the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy is a perfect trilogy where every film is roughly on the same level as the others. However, you are so disgustingly wrong (please see a doctor), because it isn't really a proper trilogy. At least not in the conventional sense.

Do not be fooled, this is not a traditional trilogy.

A conventional movie trilogy will follow the continuing adventures of a single group of heroes within the same fictional universe. The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy instead is comprised of three movies made by the same people (the Holy Trinity of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), where each film pays homage to a specific genre of film, namely, zombies movies, buddy cop flicks, and alien invasion films.

While many actors appear across all the films, they play different characters and the films exist in different fictional universes and do not continue the same narrative. There might little nods to the previous movies and the regular appearance of Cornettos, but these are little more than Easter Eggs. They don't really tie the movies together as a trilogy in the same way following Luke's whiny farmboy to whiny hero journey across three Star Wars films does. Shaun never met Nicholas Angel and they both never hung out with Gary King, mostly because they were all played by Simon Pegg. In fact, the only thing that really connects the films is that they all feature a different flavour of Cornetto ice cream and are made by the same people. Which is great but doesn't really make it a traditional trilogy.

But the Toy Story Trilogy is a traditional trilogy and the most perfect trilogy.

Yes, the CGI animated films about toys that are sentient and want nothing more than to play with kids.
That's my pick for the most perfect trilogy in the history of film.

Now, when Toy Story came out in 1995, it was a game-changer. It was the first full-length CGI animated movie, and the first full-length film produced by Pixar Animation, who we now all know and love.

It was also the first time you probably saw Joss Whedon's name attached to something that was undoubtedly good.

Before he buffered vampire slaying and shot cowboys into space. Before he put dolls in a house or assembled people in tights.
He played with Andy's toys.

Toy Story was followed by Toy Story 2 in 1999 and Toy Story 3 in 2010. And honestly, the timing of those movies, whether by design or not, is brilliant. Kids who were around the age of 5-8 who watched the first movie would have been about the same age as Andy, the toys' kid, and then 8-14 when the second one came out, and around university/college age when the final one came out, you know, the one where Andy is going away to college.

Therefore, in a profound way, each film in the trilogy came out at a pivotal time in their childhood with the kid that all toys belong to being around the same age as they were, myself included. That's fantastic since the films literally grew up with us, with Andy as our own personal stand-in, allowing us to project ourselves onto him. Feeling that his toys were our toys, that they just really wanted to play with us and love us.

"Hi, I'm Mr Potato Head and I just want to be played with."
"Thank you for sharing, Mr Potato Head. That was very brave of you. Admittance is the first step."

But the great thing about the Toy Story movies, a big part of what makes it the perfect trilogy, is that each movie builds on the last, examining the themes of the previous film in greater depth and with greater pathos since with each passing film, you've grown more attached the characters. And the characters too are fleshed out more and more as the series progresses.

By the final film, Mr Potato Head and Ham's comedy duo act is as comfortable as a well worn glove and as familiar as your favourite porn browser, but it doesn't fall into complacency. Instead they are doing what they do best with the self-assuredness of knowing how and when to bounce off each other because they've been doing it for years. We see Woody's development from self-confidence and jealousy in the first film, to doubting his place in the world in the second film, to finally in the final film, where he learns to that he has to accept change despite his devotion to Andy.

He's also a dreamboat voiced by Tom Hanks.

Actually following Woody's journey throughout the films, you can see the major theme of the movies, which is family. The films all deal with feelings of becoming less important in your loved ones lives as they grow older and the fear of rejection and abandonment, and what counts as family. And Woody exemplifies this.

In the first film, he has to cope with his bitter jealousy of Buzz Lightyear like an older sibling who has just gotten a younger brother or sister. Where before they occupied all of their parent's attention, all of a sudden there is another child that demands and gets the attention that they used to get. Woody initially rejects Buzz because he is the jilted older brother, resentful of the fact that his parent (or kid in this case) isn't spending as much time with them now that they're attention is divided.

"I'm mocking you to mask the insecurity and anxiety I feel that you're going to replace me."

In the second film, Woody discovers that he has the whole other family that he could be part of, his 'biological' family if you will, when he is told that he's a collector's item.

And he feels quite conflicted on where he should be and whether it would be better to be with his adoptive family of toys and be there for Andy for as long as Andy needs him, or go with Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete to be admired by children from behind a glass case.

An eternity behind a glass case with these guys wouldn't be all that bad.
They're a couple of wild and crazy toys.

The key thing here is the love. In all of the movies, the toys want nothing more than to be loved and played with. They are terrified of being rejected or discarded. And while this was a key aspect in the first two films, it really comes to the fore in the final film.

Andy is all grown up now and going away to college. He hasn't played with them in years and a number of the toys from the previous movies aren't there anymore, having been given away over the years. When you hear that Bo Peep, Woody's love interest, was given away, it is a legitimately sad moment. How could she not be there? They're family. The sense of loss in Woody's voice when he says, "Yes, Bo too" is palpable.

The third film is where it all comes together. Where the themes of jealousy to towards new family members and what family means were key themes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 respectfully, Toy Story 3 is all about keeping family together. Seriously, they mention keeping together a lot in the film, like essentially every scene where they talking about what to do. Because all they have is each other. They might not be able to be Andy's toys forever and they might not always be played with by kids, but at least they have each other and that's enough because they're family.

And the reason that this is so powerful and effective is because each film built upon the last, deepening your connection with the characters. If the sequels hadn't been of a similar high quality like the first film and the characters hadn't become as familiar as old friends due to their likability and rounded personalities, we wouldn't have really cared about what happens to them in the final film.

I mean, of course we could still feel the emotion of the scene but it wouldn't have hit us as hard as it did. That's the reason so many grown adults admit to crying during this film. They're seeing characters they grew up with in some really dramatic and emotional situations and you really think they might not make it because the writing is so sharp and poignant.

The scene that made a generation bawl their eyes out.
There is no joke here, just feels.

And the great thing about that scene is Woody's reaction. You can see his mind frantically thinking of any way to escape, to save everyone, his eyes signalling desperation. You can see it in the above screenshot.

But what happens after is beautiful. He holds their hands and closes his eyes, resigning himself to their fate. But it is okay. No, it really is. Because he is with his family and that is where he wants to be, where they all want to be.

They may be saved by Deus ex The Claw and then go off to the happiest of bittersweet endings ever when Andy gives them away, but that incinerator scene is so powerful because it feels so real and their love for each could not be more sincere.

Therefore, when the toys are handed to Bonnie to look after and Andy leaves in the last scene, there is so much emotion swelling it is almost suffocating how choked up I get.

I'm still not joking, only choking back the tears.

And when Woody says, "So long partner," at the end of the film, you really feel like he, and the rest of the toys, are saying goodbye directly to you.

And I couldn't think of a more perfect way to finish the perfect trilogy.


References:

Toy Story Wikipedia page

Toy Story IMDb page

Toy Story 2 Wikipedia page

Toy Story 3 Wikipedia page

Friday, 12 September 2014

Winnie the Pooh is a Redshirt

Winnie the Pooh is a character beloved by all, or if not all, most. Nice to a fault, but not annoyingly so since he can be obliviously inconsiderate, with a naivety that is rather endearing in its innocence, and, while considerably not smarter than the average bear, he still manages to think up some original ideas sometimes.

You see, Winnie the Pooh is a Teddy Bear. A Teddy Bear that liked to think, although being a Bear With Little Brain, he wasn't necessarily that good at it. Nevertheless, a think was something that he liked to do. However, to have a think, Pooh Bear had to get his bear brain working by tapping his head fiercely with his paw while saying, "Think, think. Think, think." until he had thunk a think.

He did it while looking in the mirror since doing it twice helped to think the think.

Now, Pooh, as he was known, always wore a red shirt. The shirt he wore was red, and red was the shirt he wore. Yet despite this he never perished after beaming down on a foreign planet as part of an away team. Not once had an alien drained all the salt out of his body, since he was a Pooh Bear and had no salt in his body to drain.

Nor had he been shot by a spore from a vengeful Gamma Trianguli VI plant, since Pooh Bears have little occasion to visit the planet Gamma Trianguli VI to admire the deadly flora.

This Redshirt admired the flora a little too deadly.

Now I obviously must have seen the first Winnie the Pooh movie, The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh, as a child. I mean, that is, I remember it. I remember parts of it, I think. I know what Pooh sounds like and some of the things he, Piglet and everyone get up to. That is, they get up to things that seem familiar to me. Definitely familiar.

Ah, remembering things that I saw in my childhood. Childhood rememberings.

It was while watching the Nostalgia Critic review The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, that I realised two things. 1) That I really should watch this movie again, it looks interesting, and 2) I really don't have any rememberings of parts of this movie.

You think I would remember this.

In his review, the Nostalgia Critic notes how the film doesn't really have a narrative, or at least not a big driving narrative with a clear antagonist. And he's right, there's no Dirk Dastardly twirling his moustache while threatening to burn down the Hundred Acre Wood if our heroes don't accomplish some task or stop him. There's no Big Bad of any kind. Just Pooh and his friends just doing stuff and getting into little adventures.

And that's great, because these characters are all so nice and interesting with their own personalities, that seeing them interact is much more entertaining than seeing them forced into a contrived "we have to defeat the bad guy and save the day" narrative.

Instead we accompany Pooh Bear going about his daily life, like that one time when trying to get hunny from a beehive at the top of a tree, he covers himself in mud to go all black cloud face to trick the bees into thinking that he is a rain cloud. Because bees confuse bears covered in mud holding on to a balloon for rain clouds all the time.

"I tell you, that is to say, I think that, it will work, Christopher Robin. Bees only exist to make hunny so I can eat it. They won't notice.
It all comes down to them not having any purpose other than to satisfy my unceasing, that is, well, insatiable rumbly in my tummy."

And then when Pooh realises that the bees suspect that he may in fact not be a little black rain cloud but rather a bear covered in mud holding on to a balloon, he asks Christopher Robin to grab his umbrella, open it and say, "Tut-tut, it looks like rain" in order to better sell the ruse. Shockingly, this ploy doesn't convince the bees and thereafter ensues a thrilling bee swarm chase for the ages.

But the thing is, that while of course his plan to trick the bees that he is a rain cloud so that he could steal their hunny obviously would never work and is flawed from the get-go, it does follow a bizarre logic that is actually rather clever.

See, Pooh Bear's problem is not that he is stupid exactly but rather that he has a lack of self-awareness and a failing to perceive how others perceive him. For Pooh, little black rain clouds are black, so he needs to be coloured black. Mud is dark brown/black, so obviously to look like a little black rain cloud he needs to cover himself in mud. The line of logic is consistent but is completely oblivious to the fact that bears covered in mud bear little resemblance to black rain clouds, no matter how expertly they covered themselves in black mud.

But Pooh can't see this because, following his own logic, it's obvious he's camouflaging himself as a rain cloud. Which is why he seems surprised when Christopher Robin asks what he is supposed to be, prompting this response,

Of course.

Which is so adorably naive. He thinks he's a little black rain cloud! Oh, the preciousness. And then it doesn't work out but that's okay because he tried. And that's really a big part of the charm of this movie, all the characters are nice. Like really nice, pleasant characters who are a bit silly, but they're not cloyingly nice or overly saccharine that you feel like you just got diabetes just by watching them. They get upset and make mistakes and have personality flaws, but that makes them well-rounded characters.

Rabbit doesn't want Pooh to come over because he knows that that Silly Old Bear will eat all his food, but his politeness won't permit him to just kick him out. Similarly, Pooh definitely wants Rabbit's food but doesn't want to impose really, waiting for Rabbit to offer.

Owl is quite pompous and tends to get quite involved in the long-winded stories he loves to tell, but is most appreciative of his friends. Tigger might bounce on top of everyone and annoy Rabbit but that's because he just has so much energy and gets genuinely excited to see his friends he can't help but bounce on them.

"Excuse me, sir. Would you like to hear about the wonderful thing about Tiggers?" 

Kanga is perhaps overly maternal but that makes sense since she basically is a mother to everyone, and Roo is that annoying little kid that still is endearingly cute. Eeyore might be manically depressed and such a downer the Grand Canyon is like, "okay fella, that's deep enough", but he still searched extensively for a new house for Owl when Owl's house got blustered away.

And Piglet is so timid and scared of most everything but still he gives up his house (his most favourite thing in the whole forest) for Owl with little hesitation but a heavy heart, when Eeyore finds it thinking it is Owl's New Howse.

Which is actually a really tender moment since everyone else knows what Piglet is giving up, so when Pooh says Piglet will live with him, you believe in the sincerity of the scene and all is right in the 100 Acre Wood again.

Another big part of what makes this movie really work, aside from the lovely characters, is the humour. There are a lot of fourth wall jokes, and the film gets real meta on everyone's asses right from the get-go. The film starts in a live action shot of a boy bedroom before opening the book of the film which we about to watch, which is the film of the book because we weren't meta enough already.

And the characters are aware that they are in a book and they interact with the narrator quite often. Often Pooh interrupts the narrator saying he's not finished (devouring hunny) yet and asking him what's going to happen to them in the next chapter or to start the story from page one over again. The narrator also saves Tigger from being stuck in the tree by turning the book on its side so Tigger can get off safely onto the words of the book and slide down to the ground.

However, one of the best little meta jokes revolves around Gopher, who's not in the book, but at your service. Gopher and everyone continually states that he is not in the book and initially you assume they mean he is not in the phone book or that his services are not 'on the books'. But then you realise that they literally mean that he is not in the book, as in, not in the book Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. That's a pretty clever little joke that really plays with the fourth wall and the meta nature of the film.

"Not in the book, but I'm at your service... in the film of the book in the book of the film."

These layered meta jokes add a clever touch to a charming movie about nice characters who just get up to little adventures. Oh, speaking of adding things to a charming movie, did I mention the trippy as Leary dream sequence? Because if I didn't, I'm gonna mention it now since it's great.

Similar in feel to the Parade of the Pink Elephants scene from Dumbo, this sequence is a dream/nightmare/music piece that Pooh has after Tigger warns him to beware of Heffelumps and Woozles since they'll come in the night to steal hunny.

It is legitimately creepy and a total weird-out with heffelumps morphing into woozles and woozles morphing into heffelumps, with hunny pots singing in terrified tones to beware, beware. And the song is fantastic. Seriously, why doesn't this song feature on more lists of Best Ever Disney Songs?


It's creepy and eerily spooky but so bouncy and inventive, like the way the vocal descends with the increasingly deeper voices as they nearly shriek the repeated last syllable during the chorus ("sly! sly! sly!") and how the song seamlessly morphs into a waltz at one point during the extended instrumental section.

Furthermore, the vocal performance is terrific, hitting that sweet spot of terror and paranoia. Because that's what the song is about, paranoia and fear, not knowing what the enemy is or what they look like, but feeling terrified that they could look like anything or be at every corner.

I mean, just read these lyrics:

They're far, they're near
They're gone, they're here
They're quick and slick
They're insincere

Beware, beware
Be a very wary bear

Be a very wary bear for a heffelump or woozle is very confuzle.
Also, they'll totally steal your hunny.

It's a great trippy moment in a film that is mostly light and blustery with a lots of charm and warm characters just interacting.

All of this is basically to say that when Christopher Robin has to leave the 100 Acre Wood at the end of the film to go to Skool, it is a genuinely touching scene. And when Pooh says he'll be there waiting for him to come back, you know he will be. Because although he might be a Silly Old Bear, he's a Good Bear. The Best Bear. And of course he'll be waiting. He's too kind and too sweet not to.

This image of bittersweet adorableness is presented without comment.

So, when Pooh asks the narrator if they could just start the story from page one again, you know it's because he wants to spend as much time as he can with his friends. Because he's that sort of Bear.


References:

Winnie-the-Pooh Wikipedia page

Winnie the Pooh (Disney) Wikipedia page

List of Winnie-the-Pooh characters Wikipedia page

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Wikipedia page

Nostalgia Critic Review of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Many Great Moments from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a package film done right Part 1 

Analytics According to Captain Kirk

8 Nastiest Star Trek Redshirt Deaths

Friday, 5 September 2014

Is The Fifth Element Love? I Think It's Love

With Lucy in the cinemas spreading 10% of brain propaganda in order to indoctrinate the masses such that they eventually rise up against the rest of of us who use all of our brain since that's how brains work, it's as good a time as any to revisit Luck Besson's late 1990s scifi action classic, The Fifth Element.

You remember. The one with the multi pass. 

The Fifth Element is possibly Besson's most enduring film along with Leon: The Professional, the movie that made us all incredibly uncomfortable with how precocious Natalie Portman was at age 11. For people who don't recall just how uncomfortable, let's just say that 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' will forever be associated with pedophilia now.

Which tends to happen when you dress  an 11 year old girl as Marilyn Monroe and have her sing 'Happy Birthday Mr. President' in the most seductive sultry manner she can muster as an 11 year girl trying to be sexy despite being 11 years old. All of which is part of her flirtatious proposition to a middle aged man who also happens to be a professional killer and French.

Yep. Nothing inappropriate about this.

However, The Fifth Element is remarkable for its complete lack of pre-teen girls trying to seduce older man skilled in the art of murder. Rather, the film is a scifi comedy action film and starts in Egypt, because of course it does since pyramids and aliens go together like Sphinxes and riddles. Or pyramids and Sphinxes. Or aliens and riddles. Or Sphinxes and aliens. Obviously, these are all things that go together.

There is some typical prophecy stuff about planets aligning and eclipses forming, unstoppable evil returning after eons but on a deadline, an ultimate weapon that needs to be found and protected to stop the unstoppable evil, yada yada.

But what makes The Fifth Element unique among the many scifi/fantasy movies that follow this prophecy narrative is the fact that it is absurdly camp yet serious at the same time. Rather than try to hide the hokiness that can occasionally be an undeniable part of scifi movies, The Fifth Element revels in it and displays it without irony.

However, it isn't a parody. It's not making fun of the campier elements (sorry) of science fiction, it embodies them but at the same time taking itself seriously enough that it plays more like a homage than a spoof.

No man with hair like that could be anything less than sincere.

And the film does look and feel like every trope of 1970s scifi adventure was thrown into a blender and this is the gloriously colourful space smoothie it produced.

And what a ridiculous smoothie it is. One where the aliens look like rejects from a classic Doctor Who/Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy crossover, and having just written that sentence it sounds like the greatest thing ever and kinda already happened since Douglas Adams wrote for Who back in the late 1970s, which surprisingly enough is the very period of scifi that the film invokes. See how I tied it all back?

Here are those Hitchhiking Who aliens I mentioned earlier.
Just tying it back the way I do.

But it's more than just the film's visual aesthetic, the film is a stupid science fiction adventure and unabashedly so. Which is great since it knows what it is and does what it wants to do without trying to be self-serious or going full camp, resulting in film with a lot of charm that is far more than the sum of its parts. Because really the plot doesn't hold up to any scrutiny since, like Unreality Magazine points out, "It’s the future, and there’s a giant Prime Evil ball of fire that’s going to destroy everyone, except for these elemental stones and a guardian or something, and then it turns out that the key to defeating evil is love". All you need is love. If you need to defeat a goodness gracious great ball of fire that is the embodiment of evil to save the universe, that is.

And the hokey campness should really work against the film but instead it endears it as it adds an affectionate light tone to the film, not to mention a good dose of humour that nearly turns it into a scifi comedy. For example, every moment Gary Oldman is onscreen chewing the scenery with his outrageous Southern accent doing his best villainy villain is a moment to treasure. Additionally, scenes crop up that have little or nothing to with the plot but serve to provide some of the movie's most memorable moments.

Like when a completely incompetent would-be robber ambushes our protagonist Korben Dallas outside his apartment, telling Korben to give him the casssh but ends up having Korben disable his gun and pulling a gun on him. And then he kinda dances awkwardly for no reason after Korben compliments him on his hat, which to be fair, is a very nice hat.

Here is the scene in all its awkward hilarity.


The film is full of scenes like this that in most other movies would be considered dead time since they do nothing to further the plot or move things forward but since the plot is such a minor concern in this film it just adds to the fun vibe and campy hokiness.

But all of this revolves around the two protagonists, the aforementioned Dallas and the Fifth Element and Supreme Being herself, Leelo. Now, there is a weird touch of ogling and objectifying male gazing that goes on relating to Leelo. Men are constantly look at her in various stages of undress and commenting how 'perfect' she is. But this is more than just her being the Supreme Being but due to the fact she's a woman and played by Milla Jovovich.

Perfect.

And here's where the film does verge into some stereotypical depictions of the powerful woman who nevertheless is kinda helpless and needs a male lead to save her, but where this is okay is because of the rational behind it. Leelo is born/cloned/created in the beginning of the film after having been asleep for the past 5000 years, so I imagine she has such a crick in the neck. Therefore she has no knowledge of human history, language, or anything of the past 5000 years and therefore has to learn as she goes along.

Luckily Leelo's a fast learner but really this excuse still wouldn't really fly if it wasn't for two things: the film's hokey serious tone and Jovovich's playful yet empathetic performance which totally hits home the child-like curiosity of her character while also conveying her compassion and strength. So when Leelo takes out a whole room of alien goons and then follows that up by being completely passive after discovering what the word 'War' means (complete with a History Channel WWII Special) in the final third of the film, it makes sense for her character, at least more so than if she had been completely badass or kittenish the whole movie.

Obviously she would kick all different kinds of ass, she's the Supreme Being. When she tells Dallas she will keep him safe, not the other way around, you believe her, even if in the end Dallas saves her because of course she would keep him safe, she's the Ultimate Weapon.

Bring it on.

But at the same time she has a childish naivety about her with a laid-back "It's okay, I'm the Supreme Being, I got this" attitude to saving the universe once she settles in to life in the 23rd century,  an attitude that is only shattered when her compassion and empathy overwhelms her in the face of all the death and destruction humans inflict on each other such that she wonders if life is worth saving.

And that is why we have Korben Dallas, you know, the other protagonist I mentioned earlier? Tying it back yet again. Korben Dallas is the archetypal gruff anti-hero and as such is perfectly cast with Bruce Willis in his 1990s reluctant action hero peak. He's named Dallas because Dallas, Texas has cowboys. And cowboys since he's made from the same mold as those other space cowboys James Tiberius Kirk and Han Solo, mixed with the rugged every man appeal of John McClane in orange skintight tank tops and peroxide hair, which suggests ruggedness has evolved a bit in the future.

Pictured: Ruggedness in the 23rd Century.

Like Leelo, Korben is a fish out of water, a divorced retired major working as a cab driver who really doesn't want to get involved in intergalactic shenanigans but circumstances and coincidence keep forcing to have to save the universe, and if he has to, he'll do it reluctantly like a snarky anti-hero should. There are so many action hero cliches there is reads more like a list than describing a single character.

But that's what makes Korben Dallas a great protagonist for the ridiculous excess of a movie like The Fifth Element, he is all these cliches but he makes them work despite and because of them.

"You know I make this work."

And the thing is, in a movie with so much camp in the air, it could have been really easy for the relationship between Korben and Leelo to come across as fake or empty. But Willis and Jovovich embody their characters so well, and bounce off of each other so charmingly, that their two day relationship feels quite heartfelt with just the right amount of sap.

You actually believe that this lonely ex-military divorcee would fall for this woman with child-like innocence who literally fell out of the sky into his life. Similarly, right from the get-go, you can see that Leelo immediately bonds with Korben as the first person she meets that isn't trying to capture or use her but to help her despite it meaning he has to risk himself for her.

And just look how cute they are together!

So yes, this epic ridiculous camp excessive scifi action comedy homage ends with the Ultimate Weapon learning what love is because she had a former major now cabbie divorcee to show her, which results in her shooting out Divine Light to destroy the Prime Evil great ball of fire.

Because love conquers all. Especially evil balls of fire.


References:

The Fifth Element Wikipedia page

10 percent of brain myth

A Love Letter To The Fifth Element

'The Fifth Element': Masterpiece or Mess?

The 7 Most Irritating Characters From Otherwise Great Movies

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