Ip Man/Captain America: The Winter Solider – The Superman

Thoughts On: Ip Man (2008) & Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Today, we will be talking about action scenes and heroes.

  

Ip Man is a thoroughly awesome film; sometimes a little melodramatic or partly lacking lacking depth of character and narrative, as well as rife with romanticism and… let’s say… liberty-taking, but nonetheless awesome. Captivating concepts of honour, patriotism, righteousness, sacrifice, compassion, understanding and humbleness brilliantly, Ip Man then drives deep into your being without much need for explanation and analysis as it paints an ultimate picture of a grand “superman”. In recognising that Ip Man as essentially a super hero story, if we contrast it to contemporary action super hero films such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we have an interesting topic on our hands.

The Winter Soldier is a pretty good movie, but, by and large, very forgettable. Heavily plot-driven, rife with tropes and cliches, cookie-cutter characters and awful bits of dialogue I find this movie to be somewhat overrated. However, its action scenes and central figure stand out above all else, and so, considering the huge impact of this film on modern cinema (alongside the plethora of other MCU and DCEU movies – which I could have easily talked about in place of this here) there is little else to talk about with this film. But, before getting into details, let’s look at two similar scenes; The Elevator scene

… and The Ten Black Belts scene

These scenes can be compared and contrasted in a plethora of ways, many of which we will get into, but, which is better? Furthermore, how do you answer that? And, why does that need answering? These are the questions we’ll face as we attempt to seek out the function of “supermen”.

Starting where each scene starts, we come to the motivation for action; Captain America is betrayed whilst Ip Man sees an old master, a rival of sorts, killed by the occupying Japanese. Ip Man’s motivations are far more complex and serious, and are treated as such. This gives his scene an incredible amount of weight as he’s not merely getting revenge by fighting the ten black belts, but is restoring honour to his country and righting the wrongs of a man he has already treated with compassion and understanding. There is then motivation and a lack of motivation for Ip Man to risk his life here, but the fact that Ip Man rises above all dissonance to do what is seemingly right and to perform one of the highest acts he could, himself, achieve, has him step into this fight a towering hero. In contrast to this, there is a piece of smart-assery that provides the start of the Elevator scene some tension before action explodes – and without Captain America being emotionally tested. Granted we get action scenes that mean more in terms of emotion for Captain America, such as the final fight with Bucky, but this certainly pales in comparison to the most complex moments of Ip Man.

So, somewhat ironically, and without asking who would win in a fight, Ip Man seems to be the greater hero. This is because a hero is not the strongest or most powerful guy in the universe. Rather, the greatest hero is he who, to reference Spiderman, takes on the greatest amount of power with the greatest degree of responsibility attached. Captain America has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders: as implied, the entirety of America. However, we’re never really made to feel this. But, in Ip Man, we are successfully made to feel that Ip Man not only stands up for his friends and his art, but his town and even the entirety of China. All of that responsibility rests in the hands of a man who cannot deflect bullets – and that says a lot.

Moving on, the greater context of these films that catalyse these two action scenes is genre. Ip Man is a pretty straight martial arts film with touches of drama and history. Captain America is a sci-fi-fantasy-action-mystery-thriller wrapped up into a spy movie. Though these genre combinations are bound by the idea of spectacle, they imply that we’ll get vastly different kinds of action scenes. And whilst there are many subtle differences that could be drawn upon, I think the most obvious way in which they differ concerns construction and structure.

Captain America feels like its action scenes were written whilst Ip Man’s action scenes feel choreographed. In such, the Elevator Scene has clear beats and writing tropes; a character tries to do this… but, this happens–he tries to solve it… but, this happens… he tries to solve that… but, this happens… and this will go on until the action has elevated and progressed through many stages of conflict which are centred on various extraneous elements (such as weapons, new characters and the location) until a finale. For the strict and clear structuring of these scenes, Captain America then feels written.

With the martial arts movie, the choreographers are, in many respects, the unsung heroes of the genre. Sammo Hung, who worked on Ip Man, is a choreographer, along with the likes of Jackie Chan and, to a lesser degree, Tony Jaa, that has transcended this notion thanks to his appearance on screen. However, his art form combined with the stunt work of Donnie Yen produces a kind of dance and entertainment that is unique to the martial arts movie, leaving the action scenes feeling far more natural and free from the kind of planning and thought that a writer utilises. And so, generally speaking, in the martial arts movie there is a very different approach to the fight scene in, say for instance, the common action genre mash-up or spy film. The martial arts movie to the spy movie, Ip Man to Captain America, is like Singin’ In The Rain to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Singin’ In The Rain is a classical Hollywood musical – that I’m sure most have seen – which has ‘musical numbers’. Though these are integrated into the story quite well, it is quite clear that the numbers are built up to by story (they do not really serve it) and are the focus of the narrative. Contrast this to the French musical that has singing all the way through (even the dialogue is sung), The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, and you see no real ‘numbers’ to the consequence of a stronger narrative-musical cohesion. In such, whilst there are certainly stand-out moments and catchy-er tunes in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, there aren’t really sequences in which time is suspended for the songs like there is in films such as Singin’ In The Rain.

If we transition back to Captain America and Ip Man, we see a very similar paradigm: there are ‘action numbers’ in Ip Man that the film is structured around whilst the set-pieces in Captain America are quite continual, but not as pronounced. Looking at the structure of the action scene, we then see Captain America’s as having plot-points and beats whilst Ip Man’s plays out like a symphony of movement that couldn’t be scripted – not effectively anyway. These two approaches have their virtues and their downfalls and are highly dependent on either the script or choreographer, but do not begin to imply which kind of film is better. Beyond preference, this point of contrast is simply dependent on execution.

Technically speaking, the example Ip Man and Captain America fight scenes aren’t very different. However, though both employ stunt work, CGI, wire work, various kinds of camera movement and all the necessary details to make an action scene, Captain America’s budget dwarfs Ip Man’s. (170 million; 11.7 million). This means that there’s a lot more spectacle, vehicles, guns and explosions in Captain America. But, if we focus on our two scenes at hand, it is clear that the budget doesn’t play too significant of a role in quality of an action scene. After all, and considering The Elevator Scene is considered one of the best in this film, do the exterior CG shots add much at all to the action? I’d say no, and so would have to look to the way in which the camera itself is utilised in each scene.

In The Elevator scene, the camera is very much so focused on items – such as the magnet thing. The actual fighting between the numerous bad guys lasts about 8 seconds (for 15 seconds before this, there is just a struggle against them all). Within Ip Man, it takes more than a minute of fighting to get down to less than two foes. This says much itself, but one of the primary notes that can be made here about the direction is the management of an incredibly hectic mise en scène. Whilst the trope of 20 guys moving in the background but ultimately doing nothing offensive is something that is utilised in Ip Man (and is also something we’ve had to get used to since the days of Bruce Lee), Ip Man is taking on numerous foes at once, and the camera work imbues this sensation into the sequence very well. Most of this work is admittedly done by the cinematographer who utilises shadows brilliantly, but much is gone into the camera work and choreography to contain many bodies, but still retain a specific focus, in the frame. There is no such effort like this in Captain America: the editor does most of the work whilst the director isolates bits of action. So, technically speaking, Ip Man has far superior action scenes; the use of the script in Captain America is a little more sophisticated, however.

Next, we come to realism and verisimilitude. This is a difficult topic of contrast as the fighting within Captain America is quite realistic – given the conventions of the sci-fi-fantasy genre elements. As a historical, war drama, Ip Man lacks much realism and is highly romantic. However, in terms of verisimilitude, Ip Man feels far more real; it doesn’t utilise realism in a way that is as contextually (in context of the genre) striking, but the action scenes have more weight. Much of this comes down to the highly unrealistic sound design, however. And thus we begin spinning around in circles. Ultimately, whilst Ip Man has more weight and impact, the utilisation of realism and verisimilitude is more striking. But, Captain America, despite us living in the age of the superhero blockbuster, is a relatively unique film. Like Ip Man, it draws from the original martial arts movies – which were commercially popularised around the 70s, but arguably go further back to the start of Japanese cinema in the 1900s-1910s. But, whilst Captain America combines spy and action films with martial arts movies, it does this within a unique realm of fantasy. For this, the textures of the world building are far more complex than the martial arts movie (which have almost always been perceived as very basic entertainment – especially since their world-wide popularisation in the 70s). So, the field is very open in regards to how both of these films manage the bread and butter of action: verisimilitude.

There are further things we could compare, such as the use of music, the actors themselves, their foes, the historical and cultural contexts, etc, but we could ultimately end up writing a book on such subjects. However, if we consider the innumerable elements that go into both of these films’ action scenes, considering them as a whole, we have to ask, which scene is the greatest synthesis?

My answer to this question is quite implicit, but I bring this up to further ask: what makes a superhero? And by extension of this: how do you present a superhero? The answer lies in the very synthesis that we have discussed. So, it is seeing the strengths and downfalls of both of these movies, the ways in which they imply room for evolution and the manner in which they showcase the foundational elements of the action genre, that begins to suggest what makes a hero. You need character motivation, spectacle and verisimilitude – which I believe are the three pillars of the action scene – working in a way that gives a scene meaning, meaninglessness and then believability.

Though these three concepts seem at odds, this seems to be what heroes, and in turn, their stories, are made up of. Meaning is the reasoning for Captain America or Ip Man stepping up to a fight; it is country, family, honour, etc. Meaninglessness is the spectacle and game present in the act of conflict; it is friction and existential haphazardness treated with a smile and met with triumph. Believability is what holds these two ideas together; to contain meaning and its antithesis, to make a game out of conflict, there needs to be a solid plane upon which these events can play out. However, why must a game be made out of conflict?

This is the hero in my view; he is the figurehead of a crusade against anti-conflict: peace via complete destruction, entropy or stagnation. Look to Ip Man for example, whilst he embodies both peace and violence, he is more or less the same person, a grand, humble martial artist, in times of peace and times of chaos. Likewise, even though we may not fight for our lives everyday, we spend a good portion of our days immersed in drama of some form; drama that embodies some kind of conflict. The hero and the superman, the synthetic, crusading avatar, need meaning, meaninglessness and believability as these are the things we simultaneously crave in life. After all, life at its best is a game with meaning, however constructed, and rules that incentivise positive emotions that paint our perception and in turn our world. Life with just meaning, structure and rules is a job to suffer through. Life without believability is one that can have no meaning and cannot be truly perceived, only seen through. Life with a hero can be an important, meaningful game, gazed at through a looking glass.

These complex ideas, however out of place they seem when mapped onto our movies for today, are embedded into the fabric of great action scenes – which is why they can be so affecting. The greatest action scenes encapsulate this through a successful synthesis of motivation, spectacle and verisimilitude, and, in turn, they create supermen worth centring cultures and lives around.

With all of that said, I’ll turn to you. What are your thoughts on Captain America, Ip Man and all we’ve covered today? How do these films manage their genre elements? How do they bring these together to create heroes? Are these heroes worth time and attention?

 

 

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Shorts #24

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Gertrud – To Love And Leave

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Shorts #24

Today’s Shorts: The Adorable Cheat (1928), George Carlin: On Location At Phoenix (1978), Bill Burr: Why Do I Do This? (2008), Black Girl (1966), Harakiri (1962), Heavy Metal (1981), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Constant Husband (1955)

This is a fine silent picture, one that aptly describes its characters and self as adorable. A predictable and classical romance depicting a relationship between a lower class man and an upper class woman, The Adorable Cheat utilises some of the main tropes of the 20s romantic film in an industrialised age of unseen heights, and was made by a low-budget, B-picture independent studio (of which there were many that, in the mid-30s, would be aggregated into Republic Pictures), Chesterfield Pictures, most likely, to mimic the escapist fantasies the big studios would produce that would follow pictures like this as the main feature of a programme.

As a film about a romantic lie that eventually gives way to a more heroic or virtuous truth, The Adorable Cheat is concerned with depicting a ‘true gentlemen’ and the kind of woman that could both make and recognise one. Creating such a narrative, this conjures some really nice moments of chemistry and a story that I cannot fault. Maybe not a masterpiece, but, to my eyes, faultless, The Adorable Cheat is a brilliant silent gem well worth the watch.

With two of the most brilliantly written, and incredibly long, bits ever performed, this is my favourite Carlin special. (At least, my favourite of those that I’ve seen). Those bits are his deconstruction of Seven Dirty Words, which is one of his most famous bits, and his analysis of Time. These are incredible monologues that capture elements of Carlin’s anarchistic and nihilistic leanings, but also his more playful side – which got lost and seemingly died a slow death as his career went on and the specials kept being pumped out. Moreover, these bits play to Carlin’s approach, which is recognisably very manufactured and meticulously practised. In such, these monologues could only function if they’d been worked out all the way down to the syllable, letter and punctuation level. Added to this, his circuitous and rant-like delivery really works wonders when his subject matter is complex–profound even, though in a layman way. And, of course, Carlin doesn’t seem to take himself so seriously and treat the world so gruffly in this short.

All of these elements combine to create a symphony of comedy that no one else could have ever performed. I can only sit in awe of Carlin’s abilities with this special. Pure gold.

I can watch and listen to Burr endlessly. It’s absurd when I think of the idea, but as long as he’s not going on ceaselessly about sports, he seems to just spew endless nonsense worth listening to.

That said, with his specials, Burr isn’t just spewing nonsense. Within Why Do I Do This? there are some classic bits such as the whole muffin routine and everything that leads up to it which includes the ‘driving by a packed sidewalk’ bit. Here he seems to project something between subconscious thought and complete rationality in an entirely irrational way. This is the brilliance of his comedy; it has shades of truth, but, as the truth comes out, it seems so absurd that, from dissonance, just spurts fourth laughter.

So, whilst this is not his best hour, in my view, it’s still brilliant.

Black Girl, or, The Black Girl Of (implying she belongs to someone), is a film that explores the post-colonialist culture in both France and Senegal through a young Senegalese woman who naively abandons her country and culture to move to France with her mistress’ family as a maid to quickly discover that she has made a grave mistake.

Through its depiction of alienation and exploitation, Black Girl becomes a tragedy in which our maid steps into a de facto prison. Freedom and independence from other cultures (wealthier or not) then seems to be the sentiment of this film. Its commentary is on both the false, empty promises and the naive acceptance that creates such a bitter meeting of cultures, one that is entirely predicated on the uneven perception of others that denotes racism.

A significant film in regards to African cinema and film history as this is considered the first Sub-Saharan African movie, Black Girl is worth the watch.

Harakiri is an absolutely stunning masterpiece, laced and structured with thick atmosphere, perfect pacing, faultless performances, beautiful fight choreography, pin-point mise en scène, profound drama and eloquent cinematic language.

Through its deconstruction of one samurai’s seppuku, or, harakiri ( suicide by disembowelment), this narrative comments on the mid 17th century Japanese feudal system. In such, it puts into conflict concepts of tradition, family, honour and compassion through a series of episodic flashbacks. The assertion made by this thematic clash is that honour is mere a facade that the most noble of people retain to house compassion and a heart of greater depth than any ideology or way of life. For the way in which this intricate concept is brought to life and executed, it is undeniable that Harakiri is one of the all-time-great films and a picture that every cinephile needs to see.

With shades of awesomeness and shades of stupidity, Heavy Metal is a film that has seemingly been created and written by a group of very talented fifteen-year-olds who’ve had some elaborate and crazy wet dreams.

On the positive side, there is some impressive rotoscoping and manipulation of the frame to create some highly creative, even stunning, sequences. What’s more, the fantastical and absurd nature of this film that pulls no punches is, in itself, pretty cool. On the negative side, this is plain dumb in a plethora of respects.

All in all, this is good fun that could have had 10 minutes cut from it. Many won’t like it. Others will. It’s not a masterpiece.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a brilliant late-50s action-adventure sci-fi picture, and, in many senses, a profound commentary on the nuclear age.

Following a man who continually shrinks after being showered by an ambiguous nuclear mist, this not only captures the anxiety and horror of a man who is diminishing before his wife, physically and existentially, but it constructs a story of re-adaptation. In such, there is a direct commentary on the fall of man from what could easily be perceived as a near-perfect situation into times of great unknown that simply dwarf him. However, despite his size, the man is still a man, and the world has only been blown up and intensified; maybe he can survive. After all, man has always been a tiny creature, and in a world where the universe, God, has no true conception of 0 thanks to the concept of the infinite, what could possibly stop the future human race whose world, thanks to technology, will only ever continue to make them seem smaller?

A fairly entertaining British comedy, one that plays on the old “amnesia” trope to see a rich man wake up one day and discover that he has seven fairly unhappy, though certainly not as infuriated as you’d expect, wives.

Playing out primarily as a comedy, this narrative doesn’t take itself very serious at all. However, there are rather striking allusions to ideas of our amnesiac becoming a different person once he wakes up; which suggests his sly, corrupt and plain wicked behaviour were the actions of a different human being. As this is argued in court, this stance becomes ever more ludicrous until the amnesiac cannot retain it, and thus admits that he is the same man, even though he has changed, that cheated and lied to so many people. This plays out in a Nuremberg Trial-esque manner, and begins to suggests that this film is about monsters living inside seemingly normal people who, though they can adapt to civility, should not be freed of their past doings.

Alas, this commentary is a loose side-note in an otherwise ok, somewhat anarchistic and sometimes flippant, film.

 

 

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The Firemen’s Ball – A Truthful Allegory

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Ip Man/Captain America: The Winter Solider – The Superman

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The Firemen’s Ball – A Truthful Allegory

Quick Thoughts: The Firemen’s Ball (Hoří, Má Panenko, 1967)

Made by Miloš Forman, this is the Czech film of the series.

Beyond all else, The Firemen’s Ball is a hilarious film rife with a cacophony of inadvertent comedic anarchy that seems to be caught in a perpetual cycle of prat falls. However, this film is probably better known as the movie that was banned forever in the Czech Republic in 1968 after the Soviet Union invaded the country and bolstered their authoritarian communist party. Because of the controversy that producers foresaw in this film, director, Miloš Forman, who later made One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, had his financing stripped, which left him vulnerable to 10-years imprisonment for economic damage the state, but, he was saved by French producers such as François Truffaut who financed and gave the film distribution.

The Firemen’s Ball was perceived to be so controversial because of its satirical depiction of a state organisation. So, not only were Czech firemen in protest of this film when it was released (and Forman would have to go on a tour of the Czech Republic to defame this reading), but political parties read this film as a commentary on communism and Soviet Russia. In such, they saw a critique of an organised event with the facade of good and kindness, that turns sour and falls apart by virtue of bureaucracy, idiocy, exploitation and ill-motives. This triggers a collapse in the structure of the community and everything seems to fall apart whilst the organisers (the firemen) only manage to honour their former president with an empty box.

There is great power in this story which gives it qualities to transcend into a meta-narrative, one that does not just belong to Foreman and the makers of this film, but to all who see it and thus give it meaning. Understanding this, Foreman commented on his film and the surrounding controversy as such:

“I didn’t want to give any special message or allegory. I wanted just to make a comedy knowing that if I’ll be real, if I’ll be true, the film will automatically reveal an allegorical sense”

As Foreman recognises, from truth comes an allegory; a concept that can be mapped onto reality with reliability and punch. And, in my view, this is what this film represents. It is not so much that this is an intricately smart narrative that is rife with many clear allusions to, and symbols implying, the Soviet Union and its failures. Instead, this film is like a great, metaphorical hole that people recognise as dangerous and so, through their laughter and recognition of the film as satire, step around it. Having recognised one hole that people in this narrative fall down makes seeing other holes like it very easy. Thus, this is a film about a failed organisation and, in recognising this, looking past other failing bureaucratic systems is hard. To better explain:

A family of five, one elder daughter, two young sons, a house wife and an alcoholic father watch a movie: Flight from 2012.

With scenes like this, the room becomes overwhelmingly tense for the three children. Mum just looks at the floor whilst dad watches, sipping from his can, gruffly mumbling about how Denzel Washington’s character is an idiot. As more scenes of alcoholism find their way to the screen, the dad grows louder in his critique of the movie until mum has to turn the TV off and send the kids to bed because it’s getting late. After a while of silence, the father starts ranting about how bad the movie was, and mum tries to get him to forget about it, but that only sparks another argument that the kids upstairs try to ignore as they go to sleep.

We could imagine that, in many respects, this is what this movie managed to do with its ‘truth’ in the Czech Republic of the late 60s. This makes The Firemen’s Ball a brilliant and significant film, especially when seen as a (possibly inadvertently) subversive Czech New Wave picture. So, to see not just an excellent comedy, but a contextually expressively truthful allegory, certainly give The Firemen’s Ball a watch.

 

 

 

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Attila ’74 – History On Film

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Attila ’74 – History On Film

Quick Thoughts: Attila ’74: The Rape of Cyprus (1974)

Made by Michael Cacoyannis, this is the Cypriot film of the series.

Attila ’74 is a documentary that investigates the Turkish invasion of Cyprus through interviews with various figures ranging from presidents to common victims in its direct aftermath. In such, this film details the nationalist conflict that erupted between majority Greek Cypriots and minority Turkish Cypriots which lead to the movement of the Turkish military into Cyprus and, after two invasions, the second catalysed by a coup lead by nationalist Greek Cypriots that intended to incorporate Cyprus into Greece, lead to the Turks taking over 40% of the island whilst, in effect, the rest of the world, the UN, Britain and the US, simply watched. With wide-spread death and displacement, the north and south were divided and remain so to this day with the north, illegally by EU law, a Turkish Cypriot territory.

Attila ’74 does well in putting faces, images and human stories to this event which, over night, devastatingly effected the lives of hundreds-of-thousands of Cypriots of both Turkish and Greek decent. However, the initial introduction to the conflict made by this film could have been more cohesive and direct. But, considering that this was made and released in the direct aftermath of the event, it is understandable that Cacoyannis assumed that this conflict didn’t need much of an introduction. To get the most from this documentary it is then probably best to know about it before you go in – which is what I realised half-way through and so had to pause to start reading about it.

Through its fundamental documentation of an event, Attila ’74 is a very impressive film which directly interacts with its subject matter in a way that would be impossible to have done at any time later than this was made. And as a film, technically speaking, Attila ’74 is also impressive thanks to an abundance of sombre and melancholic cinematic language that is invigorated by a sturdy frame that doesn’t seem afraid to simply stare at the face of this event. Moreover, Cacoyannis ensures a use of striking imagery that accompanies interviews, which keeps this from being a long stare at a selection of talking heads and was, in my view, pivotal in creating a narrative with greater impact.

All in all, Attila ’74 is a complex and striking piece of film that, by now, is itself an important document of history.

 

 

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Moana – What ‘Girl Power’ Actually Means

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Moana – What ‘Girl Power’ Actually Means

Thoughts On: Moana (2016)

With her island under the threat of famine, the chief’s daughter attempts to change nature with the help of a demi-god.

Ridiculously brilliant, Moana is yet another Disney masterpiece. After their early-00s to early-10s stint, Disney have come back with quite some force. Whilst Frozen was lacking, Wreck-It Ralph, Inside Out and Moana represent a run of great original works that was only ever managed in their initial classical period around the 40s, and hopefully this can continue to run on as more Disney originals come out.

Moana is a deeply archetypal film, one that draws upon age-old tropes and concepts brilliantly. This film has, however, been criticised for not reflecting Polynesian mythology accurately with, for example, the lack of Hina, who, in various stories from differing cultures, is either said to be the elder sister, or the wife, of Maui that would sometimes assist or teach him. However, whilst Polynesian culture was something that Disney had chosen to utilise, and so consequently had to treat with respect, I think they also had room to create a narrative of their own. And having taken some liberties, Disney have manage to create a narrative that, in my view, is a sister of sorts to The Lion King, and is, in many ways, just as good as, or even better than, the 90s masterpiece.

We have explored the narrative of The Lion King already in quite some depth, dissecting the concept of The Circle Of Life as well as hierarchy as a system through which order and competition can flow in balance. With that as my exploration of the film, I also think that Dr. Jordan Peterson’s psychological deconstruction of the narrative is incredible. Here are the links to part 1 and part 2 of his lecture (be warned, they do add up to over 2 hours). There is so much of the Lion King that is reflected by Moana that concerns adventure, hierarchy, order and heroes. For example, Peterson picks up on the archetypal idea of a hero going out into the desert after a society has fallen by virtue of its people, or mere entropy, that can be seen in various stories such as Exodus. This is, of course, seen in The Lion King with Simba journeying out of the Pride Lands and in Moana with our protagonist sailing beyond the bounds of the reef and into the rough, stormy seas. Moreover, there are concepts such as wise parental figures that guide the hero from the after life; lands that must be saved before the poison that threatens them entirely consumes all; young people learning of their faults and how to overcome them through responsibility as well as a dash of bravery and stupidity (which is what we see in the use of the sidekick: the chicken and then Pumbaa and Timon). With a more detailed exploration, a plethora of other parallels between these two films would become evident, but, these stories aren’t one and the same – nor are they too similar like The Good Dinosaur is to The Lion King.

Moana separates itself from The Lion King by drawing upon the same archetypal hero myth, but selecting a female lead and a female-centric journey. As most will know, the archetypal male and female that pre-dates modern human civilisation are the hunter and the gatherer. Whilst males generally fit into the ‘hunter’ category and women the ‘gatherer’ category, these are not simple, irrevocably separate concepts. The hunter side of humanity is that which goes into the forest, into danger and darkness, and emerges with life-giving sustenance. The gatherer, too, collects these fruits of life, but in a more established and orderly domain. These two sides are needed to make a whole as, without them, the hunted can only fight between hunting and being hunted, and the settled can only defend what has already been established whilst it slowly atrophies. To sustain the whole, the hunters need respite and the settled need some avenue of exchange between the outside world and themselves. If we look to Moana, we see this exemplified perfectly.

Whilst it is suggested with this image and scene that stability and order need a foundation from which to grow from as the generations pass…

… Moana’s people used to be voyagers that would establish settlements for one group of settlers before allowing another group to grow up and move on if and when they needed the freedom or required the resources. Both of these concepts kept in balance the gatherer aspect of their society as well as its hunting requirements so that the culture could grow deep routes, expand, flourish, explore new horizons and keep themselves a chance to stay alive no matter what came their way. However, one day, people seemed to take a step too far.

When Maui took the Heart of Ti Fiti for humanity and Moana’s father lost his friend these heroes and adventurers seemed to make one tragic mistake: they presumed they had power that they did not. In such, Maui assumed that he could give the power of creation to people and Moana’s father assumed that he could take care of his friend like he does himself. And from both of these mistaken assumptions comes the idea that people, in a way, must support themselves whilst remaining humble – and this is a key trend in this story; not only does a human have to lead the fight to restore order amongst the gods, but Moana has to initially go on her journey, as well as end it, alone. And through these steps and interactions, though they start out with much fronting and obnoxiousness, all parties involved grow warmer and more humble. This means that, whilst a hero doesn’t have to remain entirely isolated and individual, there are integral parts of their journey that they have to face alone after learning from others.

Both Maui and Moana’s father are dealt a harsh blow by this realisation and react in two opposing, but nonetheless negative, ways. Moana’s father converts his people into a primarily gathering society; they stay on their island and do not venture into danger. On the other hand, Maui rejects responsibility; if he must do things alone, then he will only do things for himself. Both of these decisions are incredibly faulted as they stagnate life and leave it vulnerable to mortal threat. It is then Moana’s job to teach these lost male archetypes how to care enough about others as to pick up responsibility, and also how to have enough faith in themselves to confront darkness and lead their people into new light.

It is at this point that some would project concepts of ‘girl power’ onto this film and leave it at that. However, there is a deeper reason for Moana, a female, having to assist and support male archetypes. As Peterson suggests in his Lion King lecture, there is an anima archetype in the hero myth. The anima and animus, as Carl Jung suggested, are masculine and feminine archetypes in the male and female unconscious; both male and females hold the opposite sex’s archetype within their inner personalities. This is, in a way, a commentary on the concept that the male and female archetypes are fundamentally the hunter and the gatherer. It not only implies that we aren’t merely polarised as either hunters and gatherers, but also that, for the individual to be balanced, they, just like a wider society, need to reconcile male and female virtues within themselves as to counter-balance the negatives of both genders; they must embody their self and its antithesis to be able to confront the world as a whole and evolving being. With Moana’s father embracing his anima, his feminine side, to a degree that is becoming detrimental to his society, Moana must embrace her animus to an equally extreme degree to save it. As a result, to find balance, the daughter must take the place of the father – which is the complex profundity below the concept of ‘girl power’ in this movie.

Having taken the position of her feminine father by re-igniting the fire that kept her people thriving many generations ago, Moana then ventures out into the dark and dangerous ocean to find Maui. However, in the context of this film, who is this character and why is he important?

As we have touched on, Maui stole the Heart of Ti Fiti. Ti Fiti is the creator of life and, in a sense, is another version of ‘mother nature’. This again extends our male-female, hunter-gather, archetypes, and in turn suggests that females breath life into the world whilst males, such as Maui, run about organising and re-positioning it. The mistake Maui makes, however, is that he does not respect the female archetype and allow her to retain her powers. Instead of leaving the act of creation in her hands, Maui attempts to take it into his own and give it to people as to please them. Among other things that we will come to, this creates a very expressive commentary on the colour symbolism of green.

In feminine hands, green can mean luscious life and vibrancy, but, as in this image of Maui…

… green can also represent envy and evil when in masculine hands. And this only emphasises the creationary aspects of the female archetype that are, in a way, responsible for creation – which males (should) organise structures and construct paths of freedom around. By ignoring this natural state of affairs, Maui turns the female archetype into a hell-ish one that near-destroys him, or, rather, makes him sleep on the couch for more than a thousand years.

This transformation of Ti Fiti into Te Kā suggests that the female archetype is at the centre of nature, and to destroy all that is good about nature is to leave all that is malevolent about it to rule; from flora and grass will rise lava and fire. And so, again, we have yet another element of this narrative that suggests that balance, especially between femininity and masculinity, is key.

Having confronted, in a very haphazard way, the chaos that flourished from imbalance that Maui put upon the world, and having recognising that they need one another because, whether they like it or not, they are bound by natural law…

… which is what the sea represents, Maui and Moana agree to work together.

In such, the pair not only warm to and teach things to one another, but agree to go into The Realm Of Monsters to confront Tamatoa, the giant crab.

As is quickly discovered, Tamatoa, much like Maui, is self-obsessed. And this is what Tamatoa’s cavern of jewels represent alongside his eager willingness to talk about himself. That said, like their good female counter-parts, good males, by nature, serve others. Maui encapsulates this idea in seeing himself as a ‘hero to all’. However, heroes can often find themselves in need of a shield as they do battle to serve others. Interestingly, Maui never had a shield…

… only his magic hook. Alone, and abandoned by his mother, it must have become the case for Maui that his ego had to become his shield, and thus the reason for his self-obsession is exemplified. Tamatoa exploits this, however, by keeping Maui separate from his weapon whilst tearing down his ego defences, claiming that his shield (the jewels on his back) is impregnable. What the journey into The Realm Of The Monsters then represents is Maui confronting his last remaining defence and failing – at least, if not for Moana, he would have failed. Moana’s ingenuity, which protects Maui, leaves him feeling stupid…

… and a mere set of teeth in an otherwise fat head. However, Maui concedes because one of his core negative experiences, which gave him the need to stimulate his over-inflated ego, is starting to be challenged.

The straw that crushes Maui’s back is the fact that his mother abandoned him; threw him out to sea (which ironically represents nature and creation) to die. Despite this, Maui begins to embrace the female archetype through Moana, and thus she becomes his shield – as in the cave of Tamatoa. It is then realised, upon much more personal ground, that Maui’s purpose and shield is found in other people – just as Moana’s is. And this exactly is why they need each other and fight for a group of people bigger than themselves.

The next step here is then for Maui to reassemble his multiple selves (which are characterised by the various animals he can turn into) and fight to restore order by confronting Te Kā.

However, things do not turn out very well. Not only does Maui come close to destroying who he believes he is (which is symbolised by the magic hook, which, further, is an encapsulation of the hunter concept), but Moana also fails to work with him as she believed she could do everything on her own after obligating Maui to help her. This is a pivotal moment for both characters as their trust of one another and even in themselves is shattered.

But, Moana is quickly reminded of just who she is; the ratio of femininity and masculinity within herself is reaffirmed and embraced, and so she ventures out alone.

Independence and bravery often aren’t enough, however. After all, and as is made clear in the Planet Of The Apes series, a great king or warrior isn’t merely an individual, he is the leader of a strong group. Moana reflects such a sentiment by also having Maui realise who he is: the sacrificial hero. So, not only does he return, but he gives up who he is, destroys his magic hook, to help Moana. Maui thus embraces the concept of wholeness; that he is only complete with Moana by his side.

There is another big “however” though. Maui and Moana having been fighting the wrong fight; they were trying to eradicate natural destruction, fire, by itself. As is suggested by the fact that Te Kā cannot go in water, the positive aspects of nature has a way of extinguishing the negatives: good trumps evil. As opposed to the blanket destruction of destruction, this is why the feminine, creationary, aspect of nature needs to be re-instilled…

With nature in balance, there is again order; Te Kā becomes Ti Fiti; Maui again becomes a hero; Moana retakes her position as tribe leader; her people become voyagers again. This prevents darkness and poison encroaching upon light and, though evil is never fully destroyed in this film, there is peace. And such is the profound beauty of Moana. This is a film about managing the conflicting elements of the self, of others and then of nature as to harmonise light with shadow in a world open and peaceful enough for exploration, bravery, compassion and a pinch of naivety.

To conclude, whilst The Lion King concerns itself with the reconstruction of the heroic male archetype, Moana is focused on the revivification of the great female archetype. This, in my view, makes them very closely akin and masterpieces in their own regards. But, these are just my thoughts. I’m sure there’s plenty more to be said about this film, so, what are your thoughts on Moana?

***

Those who have been following the blog for some time now will know that Moana marks the end of the Disney Series. Started way back in May of last year, we began this long journey across more than 3 dozen Disney and Pixar films. Now that we’re here, I have to say thanks to anyone that has followed me along this road.

 

 

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Alien: Covenant – Profound Parables vs. Cautionary Tales vs. Pointless Cynicism Pt. 2

Quick Thoughts: Alien: Covenant (2017)

A colony ship intercepts a signal from an Earth-like planet.

Recently, we covered Prometheus. Whilst this was a faulted film, I thought it was pretty stunning thanks to its subtextual implications. (For more on this, read the post). I’ve just seen Alien: Covenant with the hopes that this approach to story would continue and Prometheus be fleshed out and completed. Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant was just a disappointment. Everything smart about Prometheus is literally killed off; all of our questions concerning the Engineers and the humans, with their creation at hand, David, confronting them, gone. At best, this narrative tries to suggest that David becomes both Cain and the devil by killing his brother (who was better than him) out of vanity and by betraying his creator, choosing to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven. This only extends the narrative of Prometheus by prolonging and intensifying David’s misunderstanding of what it means to create. But, why was this decided upon? What happened to Elizabeth? Didn’t anyone learn from the first film?

Whilst Prometheus was slightly cynical in its storytelling with the utilisation of dumb characters, Alien: Covenant replaces many of the dumb characters and decides to simply have them destroy things and be destroyed, reducing the narrative to flashing lights, empty gestures and pointless cynicism. In such, the crew aboard the colony ship learn absolutely nothing and are only tested in respect to having to run away from things that want to kill them. There is absolutely nothing of worth drawn from any character, apart from David, in this film. Not only do they add nothing to the story, but they are bland and entirely forgettable. The only compelling element of the lead, who I don’t care to look up or even try to remember, is that she kind of resembles a cheap Demi Moore. Beyond this, there was just a bunch of mundane actors shuffling around in space suites or being killed off before we’re given any reason to sympathise with them. In short, the writers of this film need to be ashamed of themselves. Truly ashamed.

The only positive of Alien: Covenant is that the aliens sometimes look pretty cool – sometimes not though. Added to this, without comparison to any other Alien film (which is something this film cannot be free of), this is quite passable, just a little boring. There are a few moments of nice direction and cinematography, but everything was done better in Prometheus. This is not a creepy film, it is not worth being called a sci-fi horror. Alien: Covenant is just dumb ideas leading up to a pointlessly loud finale. In the end, I’m truly flabbergasted that Scott would be apart of this film – and after making Prometheus. Ultimately, I’ve wasted my time with this movie, and have had my hopes dashed for anymore Alien films. That’s not to say I won’t see the next one. I’ll still see it, but without much optimism at all.

 

 

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Sensei Redenshon – Rust &

Quick Thoughts: Sensei Redenshon (2013)

Made by German Gruber Jr, this is the Curaçaoan film of the series.

Sensei Redenshon is not a terrible movie, it could have been a lot worse, but, for what it is, it’s merely mediocre. This follows a fighter who accidentally killed a man during an underground fight and was imprisoned for 10 years, leaving behind his son. A decade later when he is released, he tries to reconcile with his son, but he has followed in his footsteps to become an underground fighter like his father. Much trouble ensues when bad blood resurfaces, putting us on the track of the average martial arts movie plot.

If the action scenes in Sensei Redenshon were more than a few notches above completely amateur, then this film would have been engaging. However, the poor stunt work and direction do not create much verisimilitude and fail to create any sense of tension, grit or weight. The action scenes are then slow, unimaginative and entirely unengaging. Bloating out the run time is the mentioned father-son conflict – which there is very little to note about. And this leaves much of this narrative an amalgamation of empty plot beats, strengthened only by some brilliant cinematography and landscape shots. All of the genre elements are clichés that imply the director-writer-producer has spent too much (or not enough) time watching martial arts movies. If Gruber was to watch any movie, he should have seen Rust & Bone. This, too, is a martial arts movie of sorts that features relationship problems intertwining with fight scenes. However, there is no attempt in Rust & Bone to capture the spectacle of a martial arts film like there is in Sensei Redenshon; if there was, I think this film wouldn’t have worked. The direction around the action scenes of Rust & Bone is primarily concerned with the emotional meaning of a fight, and so all comes back to the central drama. If Sensei Redenshon’s narrative chose to focus on either the drama or the action through the script and direction, then this could have been a much better film. In such, if this was cut down to 70 minutes and the action scenes were all that mattered, this could have been good fun. Conversely, if the fight scenes were all side-notes and the characters were what really mattered, maybe something more meaningful could have emerged from this.

All in all, I spent more time waiting for Sensei Redenshon to be over than anything else. Again, this is not a terrible movie, it simply lacks character, substance, heart, originality, vibrancy, voice and punch.

 

 

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