Life at the Movies

Over the weekend, the science fiction thriller Life arrived to theaters. It is about the kind of thing that has been on the screen before. The whole threat from outer space has its comparisons with any number of similar films such as Anaconda twenty years ago.

Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda.

Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda.

Anaconda (1997) starred Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson and Jon Voight. They played characters in a thriller where you are wondering who will die next. Sometimes the camera lingers on them from the shadows, indicating the threat is coming.

Anaconda isn’t a space movie like Life, but a serious threat is the fuel for the plot. The threat, while not from space, is in the Amazon River. It’s the biggest snake in the world, over 30 feet long and over 500 kg in weight. It’s the anaconda or green anaconda, from South America. It feeds on birds, turtles and mammals, and in this movie, humans.

As a caution, this isn’t a kiddies movie, and it contains profanity, snake attacks at human beings, violence, and gross moments.

The movie begins with a scroll of information about the animal’s myth and how it feeds on humans (which is gross). The story is about what happens to a small documentary team filming on the Amazon. An eccentric, mysterious, and perhaps dangerous man comes on board. He’s played by Jon Voight with a mostly South American accent though I wondered if he had a French accent at first. Then an anaconda poses a threat to their life survival.

Life theme

A subtle theme in Anaconda is about how beliefs shape our view of the world.

A belief among the Amazonians is that the anaconda is a god and protected the Amazonians, perhaps by how the ‘god’ is appeased through its appetite. This fear of the snake is doubled when the snake has the ability to eat them alive. But this belief is shaken if the snake dies.

Some beliefs about our everyday environment, life, the world, the spiritual world, a group of people, or a news story, or whatever, can have the power to enslave the mind. But once those beliefs ‘explode’, they are powerless to keep their grip on our minds.

The movie

The snake is computer generated of course and that is obvious on occasion. A good cast and a suspenseful thriller is undermined a bit by its short length and a stretch in credibility at times.

* * * stars (out of * * * * * stars)—above average.

Marriage is one the fundamental institutions because this is where lives are nurtured for the wider world. It is no wonder that it is played on the screen, being so pivotal. There are good and bad marriages, sad and happy marriages. We can all agree that no relationship and family is perfect, but marriages at the movies can be about acceptance and commitment. Serious films and family films may depict good marriages and shaky marriages that get saved.

Sometimes a good marriage is part of the furniture. The marriage is not a huge element of the plot, but is naturalized, such as with Pele (2016), a family film about the legendary soccer player from Brazil, and Zootopia (2016). A strong marriage may feature more prominently. Some of those films are Eddie the Eagle (2016), Sully (2016), The King’s Speech (2010), Deepwater Horizon (2016), When the Game Stands Tall (2014), and Still Mine (2012).

In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016) marriage is the big subject. An elderly couple revisits their vows and a younger couple needing to rekindle the flames of their romance. In this film, it’s the strong bonds of family that keeps one feeling stoked for the long haul. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 had the most family-friendly message of the adult films last year. (though I thought the quality of the movie itself was a disappointment.).

Another category of marriages in film is when there are challenges and tests to the marriage. For example: In The Light Between Oceans (2016), a couple keep a secret, which is going to put a strain on their marriage. This is the most dramatic presentation of a marriage last year.

Pressure down

Or where there is pressure, something may happen to restore the marriage, or their relationship is strong enough to withstand the pressures. Or the couple may work on it so stay together.

Faith-based film Miracles from Heaven (2016) depicts a couple going through a hard time, but a miracle brings them back on track. This film is based on a true story.

In Hitchcock (2012), Alfred Hitchcock’s making of the film Psycho with actress Janet Leigh makes his wife wonder if he is more interested in the movie than in her. But a friend luring her to a tawdry affair just sounded too off. Through Alfred’s immersion in the project and later on, their marriage stays together, because they know each other well.

Abraham Lincoln’s wife finds living with the President challenging. His will to make nothing stand in his way of abolishing slavery puts pressure on their relationship, in Lincoln (2012). These are the strains of discontent in an otherwise good relationship. The bond between the couple is obviously present.

The Impossible (2012) is about a couple and their children on holiday when a tsunami strikes. As they survive they are drawn to each other in a closer way.

Shrek Forever After (2010) has Shrek and Fiona out on a limb as Shrek tries to sort out his responsibility and commitment issues. This ‘commitment-phobe’ issue was a big deal in comedies some time ago. Males never seemed to be able to make commitments. A Shrek movie can’t leave Shrek wallow in the fun of his bachelor days, though.

So, in these movies and others like them, marriage may be challenging, but a good place to be.

Saving the world, yeah! I don’t usually come out with exclamatory things like that, but I may feel them. In the vein of Flash Gordon (which I have been listening to recently—the 1980 soundtrack is awe-inspiring) and zillions of other ‘saving the world’ films comes Power Rangers (PG-13) this weekend.

I have never been a Power Ranger viewer and therefore am no fan, but I do like stories (read: premises) that start off telling you this is about saving the world especially if they are science fiction orientated. I don’t believe people can be super-powered like the power rangers, but I’m pumped for a save the world scenario. It’s always good to watch the world being saved rather than the other way around. The trailer looks impressive, with machines like kinetically empowered over-sized toys.

Life,  CHIPS, Wilson, Slamma Jamma

An Alien-like premise is Life (R) but with something more. The alien life form not only threatens those aboard a space station but the whole of earth as well. A bit of a stretch, I mean unbelievable, involving never proven aliens and speculative alien identity, and it’s dark, but the aliens could stand for thematic touches of paradise lost and stopping the madness go any further. Cinematically, we hope it is a visceral two hours of suspense as well.

CHIPS (R) is a movie version of the Chips television series of the 1970’s, which was fun because of the magnetism of the two leads playing California Highway Patrol men. Their banter was cool even though they rode bikes that made them look ‘uncoordinated’ which was more a quirk than a flaw. The Chips stories were less interesting.

I thought Wilson was a drama, but it’s an R-rated comedy. Enough said, except that its comedy is wound up in a sort of dramatic context: loneliness, families on the edge, which are interesting things to explore, but perhaps dramatically. When I saw this premise on paper, I thought, is this a drama? Or is this a dramedy (a mix of comedy and drama)?

Slamma Jamma (PG) is about slam dunking, which was what I liked to do when playing basketball at school, so I like watching others slam dunk. Slam dunks are some of the thrills of playing basketball and great to watch. The main man doing the dunking is wrongfully accused but is still preparing for the national championships. Inspirational, redemptive story.

My pick this week is Power Rangers.

Divorce was less acceptable in the 1940’s and 50’s, but is more acceptable today. Divorce situations in movies are commonplace. However, many classical Hollywood stars during the early and mid 1900’s and beyond were getting divorced several times though divorce was scandalous.

My impression is that there are too many divorce scenarios at the movies today.

There is a general thread through different kinds of movies featuring divorced men and women, from Night at the Museum (2006), a family film, and Mother’s Day (2016), a comedy.

A couple of the last movies I reviewed on this blog, The Spiderwick Chronicles (reviewed here) and Snitch (reviewed here), have fathers who are divorced. One left his family and the other remarried.

The Hay’s Code

Divorce in old Hollywood movies was regulated by Hollywood’s self-regulating code, The Hay’s Code, in the classical era, from the middle of the 1930’s to the mid 1960’s.

Certain things were off-limits according to the Hay’s Code. The code also said that special care be exercised in the manner in which certain subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized. Those subjects included religion and religious ceremonies (which would include the marriage ceremony) and the institution of marriage. (The Oxford History of World Cinema, page 239).

How this was interpreted was on a film by film basis, but generally, marriage was sacred and divorce anathema in the old Hollywood movie system.

Out of the closet

Since the 1970’s, divorce has come out of the closet at the movies.

The seminal film of a couple parting was Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). A couple divorce and fight for custody of their son in court. It was perhaps the first film that dealt with divorce seriously.

A couple going through a messy divorce, in the black comedy War of the Roses (1989), starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. They first starred together in a movie where they were sparking romance in adventure comedy Romancing the Stone (1984). Why a romance movie then a divorce movie with the same stars? Coincidence or deliberate reinvention?

Or was it honesty?

Divorce themes

I don’t like divorce in movies, but divorce is the way it is in quite a few movies. In the movies, usually the divorces have happened, and the divorcee is getting his or her life back together. They are semi-tragic situations, as the divorce is sad, but the divorcee is getting life back on track.

Divorce situations aren’t celebrated. They may not even be endorsed. They may just reflect reality.

Sometimes, divorce in movies is about situational ethics, where one goes along with love for all concerned.

Perhaps the most penetrating character study I have seen of a woman going through a divorce recently is Blue Jasmine (2013), because at the end, her life is in the balance. She has gone through a breakdown and a divorce, and her future depends on what she decides in a moment. Blue Jasmine leaves us in that moment without telling us what happens next.

Ideals and reality

In marriage there is a tension between the ideal and the reality. Divorce isn’t the ideal, but can be the reality.

The advice given by observers and commentators is to nurture the relationship and of course there are ways.

One may resist the “perfect” marriage, though.  A movie couple without blemishes and flaws would look sugar coated. Striking the balance between flaws and redeeming the relationship is the biggest challenge Hollywood movie-makers face.