Monthly Cultural Round Up: July

This was a slightly busier month in the movie viewing department. Oh and yes, that might have had something to do with school holidays, but not entirely. Anyway, here ’tis.

Movies

Shrek: Forever After I enjoyed this more than I expected to; it was much better than the third Shrek movie, and I liked the fact that it returned more to the fairytale world than the more overt pop culture referentialism of 3, which really just goes over the head of small children. I hate it when films aimed at kids actually mostly don’t respect that audience. Anyway, the story was completely predictable, but it was well done predictable. It wasn’t groundbreaking in the way that the original Shrek was, but it was still entertaining and well constructed with generally good dialog and characterisations. I enjoyed it, and more importantly, so did the small boys.

Toy Story III This was another lovely film; a total tear jerker from a parental point of view, and a joy for the small boys. I loved Barbie;s Marxist line at the end, thought it was clever and entertaining as a film. But it definitely triggered those thoughts as a parent about how children grow and change. And, I really was a bit worried at the end!

Inception Another film I really enjoyed. I liked the fact that it was clever and layered and beautifully beautifully filmed. I didn’t think it was as confusing or difficult as some seem to have seen it, and there were aspects of it where I think its internal consistency failed – the depiction of comparative time seemed a bit ropey in places, and how it all worked, particularly how the architect operated, was really bit blurry. Despite this though, I think it was interesting and entertaining with good performances – I particularly loved Tom Hardy, but I thought Leonardo di Caprio was excellent also. And the rest of them. As someone who loves a caper film, and notions of what is real, this was definitely worth seeing.

Books

The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger So I am probably the last person in the woorld to read this book, and I did enjoy it. I think it is interesting that the title indicates that it is Clare’s story, because the character I think one knows the best at the end is actually Henry. I think the book is really Henry’s story and even though Clare is given a voice, how she is depicted is really only in relation to her relationship with Henry. I also think it is interesting the extent to which sadness suffuses the novel. One is left with the over all impression of sadness; that despite the fact that this is a love story, that love is ultimately tied up with sadness and grief. However, a book which begins by quoting a Derek Walcott poem has left a good impression from the start and I did indeed enjoy it as a novel.

Television

The Wire Season 5 Our time with The Wire came to an end this month which was definitely a bittersweet experience. I don’t think that Season 5 was the strongest of the seasons on a stand alone basis, but it did make a beautiful end to the series. Some moments in it like McNulty’s final realisation of the enormity of what he has done, and his contempt for the lying journalist are outstanding television. Another moment which is just fascinating television I won’t discuss for fear of providing the ultimate spoiler.The finale of the show is second only to the amazing ending of Six Feet Under in the way it provides a future for the characters, a future which shows us that the Baltimore that we have come to know continues as it has been. Excellent television that everyone should watch.

Dexter Season 3 This season faces the challenge that having taken Dexter to the edge in season 2, that level of drama cannot be sustained. Instead it takes us to a very different place with respect to its depiction of his relationship and his longing for connection. Well, done, with some striking moments, this season managed to maintain its quality without having to constantly raise the stakes.

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Animation, children and adults

When I was growing up, kids’ movies were kids’ movies, and parents endured them because that is what parents do, until the kids get old enough to go by themselves. Animation was line drawings and Disney was the king of the kids.

The advent of computer animation was coupled with the advent of a re-visioning of the kid movie. While Finding Nemo was a beautiful and cleverly scripted but relatively traditional children’s film, movies like Monsters Inc and Shrek changed what it meant to be a movie for kids. These films were engaging for children, had clever conceptual approaches to their story basis (even if the essential stories didn’t stray far from the usual) and, more to the point, contained plenty that was entertaining to the adults. Shrek in particular had a strong adult viewership who didn’t need to be accompanied by small children to enjoy the film.

While a number of films in took this approach, not all managed it with the same delicate sophisticated balance that Monsters and Shrek managed. A number of the animated films I have been subjected to over the past few years have started to lose sight of their primary audience, moving to humour or storylines that were out of sync with the comprehension of what was intended to be their primary audience. While films like The Incredibles and Toy Story managed to get the balance mostly right, numerous films tried so hard they didn’t make anyone happy. Chicken Little was filled with ghastly adult-focussed jokes which were neither clever nor particularly funny, and a central storyline which was really a lesson for parents. Cars, despite the attraction of the cars themselves to small people audiences, loses a lot of its small viewers in its centre with its paean to small town America and its over-their-heads humour. The worst example of this kind of cleverness losing any resonance with its intended audience was the 2007 Jerry Seinfeld produced Bee Movie which had a courtroom drama and a romance at the centre of its story. I sat in the cinema wondering what on earth my 3 and 5 year olds were making of it all – with no access to the tropes and cultural cues required to understand it let alone find it funny, it seemed like no one had even thought about who the movie was actually for. (I note Seinfeld has gone back to producing and writing television now).

The approach taken by Up! in contrast was much more child friendly. With delightful animation, the adult-accessible part of the movie were not about thinly veiled sexual innuendo and the beautiful montage which charts the lives of Carl and Ellie was cleverly done, but also quick enough to keep its child audience engaged. And it wasn’t essential for them to understand it to understand the movie. I thought the dogs were hilarious, and so did the small boys, but for slightly different reasons. I got teary twice in the movie, but that adult emotional reaction wasn’t a core part of the film.

I hope that children’s film makers can understand that as a parent, while it is nice to be entertained, when I take my children to a movie, or purchase one on DVD, I am mostly concerned that their interest is engaged, that they are amused and delighted. I’ll settle for a well written, intelligent storyline; I don’t actually need wink-wink jokes constantly. Because being a parent is about enjoying the delight of your own children in these things, not always demanding your own. I enjoyed Up! but part of that enjoyment derived from the fact that the children enjoyed it too. And when desperate times call for DVD viewing, I want the one that the children will watch all the way through, rather than lose interest in the middle and start fighting! So, this is just my “won’t anyone think of the children” plea for the makers of kids movies.

And at last count, my three year old has watched Finding Nemo 436 times. His brothers are a bit over it.