strange_complex: (Invader Zim globe)
[personal profile] strange_complex
This is a British SF comedy, which a neighbour of mine lent to me when I had shingles, on the grounds that he knew I liked Doctor Who and guessed I might need things to watch from my sick-bed. Which was very sweet of him, although in practice it took me until this weekend to get round to watching it. (I'm an academic, so the main thing I actually did on my sick-bed was read a PhD thesis and write up comments on how it could be turned into a successful monograph.)

The main character is Neil (played by Simon Pegg), a school-teacher who is randomly selected by a council of aliens to be granted absolute power for a period of ten days. All he has to do is wave his hand, vocalise his wish (e.g. 'Let me be holding a bunch of flowers') and bingo! The thing happens. Except that the aliens don't tell him they've done this, so that he only figures it out slowly over a couple of days, and they also don't tell him that it's all a big test of humanity, with them sitting in judgement over him the whole time to see whether he uses his powers for good or ill. And if it's ill, they are going to destroy the entire human race.

So it's fine, and sometimes quite funny, with plenty of situational social comedy and lots of stuff about Neil phrasing his wishes poorly and them being interpreted utterly literally. E.g. one of the ways he discovers his powers is that when he wishes for his entire class of delinquent kids to be wiped out by aliens, it actually happens. The reality of this is obviously awful and traumatic, so he tries to undo it by wishing for everyone who was dead to come back to life, but this is interpreted as meaning absolutely everyone, not just his class. Cue some nice scenes of zombies rising from the dead. Also, Eddie Izzard is very good in it as the headmaster in Neil's school, who is normally an utter dragon, but turns into a gushing, fawning sycophant as the result of one of Neil's wishes.

But is is also Terry Jonesish. He co-wrote this film as well as directing it, and my response was distinctly similar to how I felt about his writing when I read Starship Titanic a couple of years ago. This film was similarly not as funny or clever as it seemed to think it was, with a lot of cheap, predictable gags and some pretty two-dimensional women. In fairness, you could feel this film trying harder than Starship Titanic to portray its women as real human beings and grapple with the realities of modern life. There are four meaningful female characters in it, three of whom have conversations with each other, and Kate Beckinsale's character is shown struggling with unwanted and entitled advances from two different male characters in a reasonably sympathetic manner. But ultimately it is still all about Neil and male wish-fulfilment, with the women primarily on screen to serve that agenda.

I thought for a moment that it passed the Bechdel test, because of a conversation between Kate Beckinsale's character and her boss (Joanna Lumley) about their work, until I realised that they were discussing strategies for interviewing a male author. Otherwise, all conversations are of course about the women's various exes, boyfriends or love-interests. And guess what happens in a film where a male character is granted absolute power? Yes, there is self-awareness in the script about the rapiness of using magical powers to make someone fall in love with you - for example, Simon Pegg's character thinks he has done this to Kate Beckinsale's character for a while, but the script carefully dodges the full implications by showing that the alien technology providing his powers breaks down at the crucial moment, so that in fact she 'really' decided she was into him at that exact same moment. But he doesn't know that and isn't troubled by it. Meanwhile, he makes a whole bunch of women worship his friend Ray as a god, but all we see of the consequences of this are his friend Ray finding it annoying - nothing at all about the trespass on their free will.

So, yeah - sort of OK, but fundamentally not funny, uplifting or interesting enough to be worth sitting through the cis, het, white, middle-class blokeishness of it all. (It's just as bad on the rest of those, too, though at least trying a bit on race.) Oh well, at least it's a useful reminder of why I don't normally watch 'zany' modern comedies, and that even aliens and magical powers are unlikely to save them.

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Date: Monday, 1 February 2016 08:20 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] huskyteer.livejournal.com
'Not as clever as it thinks it is' is pretty much the most damning thing I can say about any work of fiction, so I probably wouldn't enjoy this either (and I find Simon Pegg highly annoying anyway). But I'm glad you have such a thoughtful neighbour!

Date: Monday, 1 February 2016 13:08 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Gatto di Roma)
From: [identity profile] strange-complex.livejournal.com
Actually, though, there is one reason why you might enjoy it quite a lot which I haven't mentioned here, and that is Dennis the talking dog. He is Neil the schoolteacher's pet, and a perfectly ordinary dog at first, but Neil uses his powers to enable him to talk (and, after a bit of further thought, to turn him into a rational being so that he isn't just talking about biscuits the whole time). He's voiced by Robin Williams, very effectively played by a mixture of a highly-trained real dog and the minimum possible CGI, and provides some of the funniest moments in the film. Given your general love of dogs, and especially anthropomorphic ones, I can definitely see you enjoying the Dennis scenes.

Date: Monday, 1 February 2016 17:22 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] huskyteer.livejournal.com
Not to mention my great love of Robin Williams! This must have been one of his last roles. OK, I will look out for this after all!

Date: Monday, 1 February 2016 12:06 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] poliphilo.livejournal.com
Terry Jones has been over-promoted. At some point in his career someone should have taken him aside and said, "Look, Terry, you're an averagely funny comedian, but you're not a great writer or a great director or a great actor- and most of the stuff you've done apart from Python has been a bit crap- so why don't you just retire with your winnings and write history books..."

Date: Monday, 1 February 2016 13:16 (UTC)
ext_550458: (Janus)
From: [identity profile] strange-complex.livejournal.com
Then again, though, if people pay the money to watch or read his comedy stuff, and he likes writing it, why shouldn't he keep on churning it out? I would in his position! It's up to us as the reading / watching public to vote with our feet if we don't like it. I will be in future, anyway.

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