Monday, 7 January 2013

New Years Triple: The Campaign / Pitch Perfect / A Royal Affair (2012)

The Campaign (2012)

 Out on DVD is the latest Will Ferrell comedy, this time taking a shot at US politics. As a US politics junkie (so much so that I hold election day parties for US presidential elections), I should have been looking forward to this, but for reasons I can't quite explain, something about the way the film was promoted gave me a bad feeling about this one.

Unfortunately, I wasn't won back over after actually seeing the film either. American politics is such an easy target to lampoon, yet they've managed to make a complete mess of it. What I was hoping for was a film made in the spirit of an SNL sketch, or the second segment from an episode Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and builds a feature film with it. Instead, what we're given is a second-rate Will Ferrell slapstick-and-fart-joke movie that just happens to have a political theme. That theme could have just as easily been a sport, or some other industry, and with a few minor changes we would have had the same movie.

The one redeeming feature I found was a rather clever sniping of the Koch brothers (billionaire mogul's who have an enormous influence on US public policy), performed admirably by John Lithgow, who is perhaps the best part of the film, and Dan Akroyd, partly reprising his role from Trading Places. Aside from that, it flops. Vote this one out.

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Beca is an aspiring DJ, longing to spin the vinyl in California, but for now must attend college on the East Coast. At Bardem, she happens upon a struggling group of a capella singers called "The Bellas" and after some jostling, joins. As a DJ, Beca's passion is to mash-up tracks which have the same chord progression and creating a terrific new sound. Beca wishes to import this concept into the a capella group but is struck down by alpha bitch Aubrey. That conflict, and The Bellas' rivalry with cross-campus crooners "The Treble Makers" provides our story arc.

Expecting a movie-length glee, and put off by the tacky tagline "Get Pitch Slapped" I was truly amazed by how much I enjoyed this film. The laughter rate is astounding, I don't think I went 5 minutes without a good belly laugh, and Aussie star Rebel Wilson, who is always at risk of being completely annoying, brings a girl-power-gusto which is both hilarious and admirable. We're treated to what could be dozens of musical numbers, some for only seconds at a time, and the toe-tapping energy of the music is completely infectious.

Even better is the feminist sensibility the film carries. The Bechdel test is passed within minutes, and misogyny is treated as something so outdated and stupid, it's there to be ridiculed. Pitch Perfect feels, beginning to end, like a film written by women, about women, but for everybody; it makes a comment on women's position in society without having us feel like we're being lectured to by a feminist speaker, and that really deserves praise. My one reservation with regard to social commentary is the treatment of Asian characters; there are two with significant screen time, and both are portrayed as some sort of alien life form, completely out of touch with the norms of human interaction. I hope it was just a coincidence, and I'm sure it is. 
If, like me, you've never sat down and watched an episode of Glee, go along and see Pitch Perfect. Then, like me, you'll never feel the need to.

A Royal Affair (2012)
Starring Mads Mikkelsen and receiving much critical acclaim, I had been meaning to sit down and watch Danish period drama A Royal Affair for some time; when Mark Kermode listed it as his equal favourite film of 2012 (along with Berberian Sound Studio), I wasn't going to let another day pass. A Royal affair is the story of an Englishwoman bequeathed to Christian VII of Denmark. What follows is a dysfunctional relationship between the King, Queen, and the King's personal physician Struensee (Mikkelsen), secretly an enlightenment-era thinker and critic in the vein of Voltaire or Rousseau (who do indeed come up in the film) who publishes letters and pamphlets anonymously.

The dysfunction comes in quite a bizarre form: Christian is in a state of arrested development, a permanent child, who refers to his wife Caroline as 'mother' as soon as she bears a child. Unwilling bride Caroline (Alicia Vikander) falls in love with Struensee. Struensee uses his influence over the child-like king to have enlightenment-inspired policies passed, and comes to wield so much influence that we clearly see him become a father figure over the King, completing an unsettling mother-father-child dynamic between the three.

This structure brings up an Oedipal theme, but does so from a completely fresh way. The dysfunction of the royal family and the ways by which the King is manipulated mirror the dysfunction of a brutal, medieval Europe persisting in the Enlightenment era in Denmark. However, the human nature and human desires of our three main players is what will ultimately undo their work to make Denmark the 'Light of the North'.

This isn't Mekkelsen's best performance, but certainly not his worst. He is out-shined by Mikkel Boe F
øelsgaard as the man-child King, and Føelsgaard is in turn out-shined by a magnificent performance by Alicia Vikander. Outwardly, she is vulnerable and timid; inwardly she has a strength which is difficult to define, it's not so much a strength, but a potential for strength, like a waking dragon. The scenery is, at times, absolutely gorgeous, and some shots look just like a Monet (fitting, as impressionism was the principle art movement of the enlightenment; that sort of detail I just love).
A Royal Affair demands an audience, and I can't hold back my enthusiasm for such a magnificent and stunning film. It's out on DVD now, so you have no excuse.

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