Saturday, October 17, 2009

Master And Servant

Doomsday rating:
Dixie says 4 and a half barks

Secretary rating:
Dixie says 3 barks

Bolt rating:
Dixie is biased because it's a doggie movie and says 2,000 barks. I say 7 barks.

This week has been a bad week for myself, so when I set out looking for a common theme to the recent movies I've watched I saw an unusually dark thread running through them. Well, it doesn't help that two of the movies have some darkness to them but nonetheless this post may be a little darker than normal for me.

Doomsday (2008)

How's that for uplifting? Doomsday is a post apocalyptic action thrill ride from England set in a future where London is a walled city to separate itself from a plague ridden Scotland (which is funny because we had seen a different program recently where my wife commented on how the British look down on Scotland in fictional entertainment). The plague makes it within the walls of London so they send a small team to check on possible survivors of the plague in Scotland to see if an antidote is possible. The small team led by one time Lara Croft candidate Rhona Mitra encounters a barbaric world stuck somewhere between Mad Max and the Medieval age.

This film by writer/director Neil Marshall isn't just influenced by other sci fi action films, it steals pieces outright. The aforementioned Mad Max, Aliens, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, I Am Legend and others have parts including action set pieces stolen outright. This patchwork script shouldn't work...but it does. Doomsday has a kicky energy that makes no bones about its lack of originality. Instead it revels in it, packing nihilistic punks, dilapilated cities, sword fights, smash 'em crash 'em car chases and an ass kicking Mitra into an action pumped stew. Mitra is a revelation, convincing in her hard bitten warrior girl persona making pithy comments and martial arts moves with commanding presence.

All the while, the movie sublimates the message that the government views people as cattle to be herded and manipulated to their own best interests. An original sentiment? No and of course Mitra is the renegade good guy, er, girl that rebels against the system she serves. Will Doomsday win any awards for anything? Nope, but if you have a chance to see this movie at a low cost it will repay you with cheap thrills a plenty.

Secretary (2002)

It's a lot, it's a lot, it's a lot like life. Secretary is a much buzzed about film from years back where a passive depressed secretary engages in a twisted S&M relationship with her lawyer boss. Starring Maggie Gyllenhall in the lead role as a girl from a well to do yet extremely dysfunctional family that engages in cutting to handle life's stresses. She takes a job with James Spader playing an extremely closed off lawyer that gets a thrill out of coldly putting his secretaries through exacting tasks. When he discovers that Gyllenhall's character will do just about anything she is asked, it creates a forbidden relationship that feeds both of their desires that is way unprofessional.

The story itself starts out strong with a tone that stands between realism and indie Hollywood trendiness. You get this feeling of "Look! Look! We're showing you non mainstream stuff with slightly bent characters, we're unique!!" but for the first two thirds the story is convincing enough to let it slide. The third act takes plausibility and whips it into submission leaving the audience without a safe word like "Bullcrap". Still Gyllenhall is very watchable as the sensitive innocent with a masochistic streak and Spader is a pro at playing twisted people.

The Master and Servant angle is overt here, Spader is the man with the power and Gyllenhall is the girl that likes to be slapped around. Because it's set up as an employer / employee relationship with some light bark about feminism you can read all kinds of subtext here 'cause it's all obvious. Ultimately it's Gyllenhall and Spader that makes Secretary worth taking note of. The rest you can place in the old round file.

Bolt (2008)

Disney's computer animated kids aimed adventure actually works well as good general entertainment. The story of a dog living a sort of Truman Show existence where he is led to believe he is a super powered pup protecting his young girl master Penny has a winning spirit thanks to amusing characters and an infectious fun tone. Little doggie Bolt lives a sheltered life where his owner / actress Penny is in constant danger from the green eyed man. Thanks to Bolt's super speed, super strength, heat vision and super bark he is able to keep the bad guys at bay. Until an episode cliff hanger has Penny captured, resulting in Bolt bolting from the tv studio to try to rescue her.

By accident Bolt ends up in New York, cross country from Hollywood. He captures a street cat named I think Muffin or Mittens who he believes can take him to Penny. A hamster who hero worships Bolt joins the journey back to L.A.

Bolt is cleanly paced and presented with good CGI. While not too different from the animated faire Disney has done over the years in terms of likeable animal characters and crazy adventures, it does a good job of updating the formula. An interesting spin was put on Bolt's loyalty to Penny by consistently referring to her as his "person" rather than owner or master. Somewhat generic yet well executed, Bolt gives an enjoyable Pavloivan response to its viewers: move the lever and you get a treat.

One last note, I saw the Mummy 3. I saw it for free and yet still want my money back. Dixie is sniffing it and is thinking a bowel movement may be needed for this one.
Loyalty is a feeling that can spur people to great heights of accomplishment or happiness, but it will be on other people's terms that it's measured. That's my Springer's final thought, be good to each other people and see you next time.

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