Atonement and gender in story-telling


Atonement was nominated for seven Golden Globes today, so now is as good a time as any to quote this interesting — and semi-spoiler-ish — comment on the film that Brian D. Johnson of Maclean’s magazine made at his blog last week:

Although I’m not exactly the most ardent reader (I’ve lost the habit to movies), I’m a huge fan of Ian McEwan. I’ve read every word he’s published. And we all know how easy it is to find fault with movies based on books you love. But Brit director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) adapt McEwan’s novel with a lush, eloquent drama that is admirably faithful to the original—even if its emphatic tone, which pushed into melodrama, lacks McEwan’s subtle touch. With his book, McEwan pulled off the considerable feat of writing in a woman’s voice. (One of the novel’s final twists is that the book we have been reading has been written, as an act of atonement, by the older, wiser Briony.) But this movie feels like it was directed by a man (which it was), and it recalls the opulent style of British period epics by the likes of David Lean and Merchant Ivory. The film’s most effective sequences were the most girlish, Bronte-like ones—all that devilish intrigue in and around the country manor. Once we get to the war, it seems that Wright is on a manly mission to show off, especially with a five-and-a-half minute continuous shot that wends its way through a surreal pageant of horror on the beach at Dunkirk.

Interestingly, Johnson ends his review by drawing comparisons between Atonement and Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient (1996) — but he neglects to mention that Minghella himself appears in one of Atonement‘s final scenes!

These villains are brought to you by the letter M.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out on DVD this week, and I was lucky enough to get a copy that has two bonus discs, one of which consists entirely of a 20-minute featurette on ‘Building the Magic: The Sets of Harry Potter’. Watching it, I was struck by this close-up on the logo for the Ministry of Magic:

It’s kind of reminiscent of the logo for the Magisterium in The Golden Compass — which you can see above and behind Iorek Byrnison in the picture below — no?

Incidentally, note the Byzantine icons on the wall behind Iorek — at least one of which he shattered on his way out of the building — as well as what seems to be a cross on the roof in the lower left corner of the frame. Supposedly, the filmmakers went out of their way to eliminate specific references to the Christian church from their film, but scenes like these suggest otherwise.

Pro-life? Pro-choice? Could it possibly be both?


If ever there was a much-debated topic where people needed to learn to just let words mean what they say, abortion might be it.

Earlier this year, the commentary on films like Waitress and Knocked Up went in some curious and bizarre directions, reaching its nadir with Mireya Navarro’s ridiculous claim in the New York Times that “Many conservative bloggers have claimed ‘Knocked Up’ as an anti-choice movie”.

Uh, no we didn’t. We might have said the film has a “pro-life” sensibility, because it makes the pro-abortion advocates look callous and stupid while casting the decision to keep the baby in a positive light, but I don’t think anyone claimed that the film took a stance against the idea that the film’s main characters should have had the legal right to make that decision.

As with Knocked Up, so now with Juno. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post wanders into similar confusion when he writes:

Harry Forbes, the embattled head of the film office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops . . . , in his review of “Juno” lauds what he calls the flick’s “strong pro-life message.” Really? As someone who is strongly pro-choice, I came away from this movie with exactly the opposite message. True, the pregnant title character decides against having an abortion; she decides to carry the fetus to term and to give it up for adoption. The key word here is that Juno makes a deliberative choice.

Quite so. But where’s the contradiction? “Pro-life” means you favour the continuation of a person’s life. “Pro-choice” means you favour giving people the option of continuing or terminating that life. You can be pro-choice without being pro-abortion. You can be pro-life without being anti-choice. You can be anti-abortion while being pro-euthanasia. And so on, and so on.

There are many facets to these debates, and no one is served when terms that apply to one of those facets are confused with terms that apply to other facets. Hence, in my own review of Juno, I made a point of saying that the recent films in this genre have had “implicitly pro-life — not ‘anti-choice,’ but certainly pro-life — sensibilities”. In discussions like these, a little more clarity — and complexity — would be a good thing, I think.

TIFF organizers pick Canada’s Top Ten of 2007

Variety reports that the Toronto International Film Festival’s organizers have released their picks for Canada’s Top Ten of 2007 — and I have seen only about three-quarters of one of them. Yikes.

Here is the list; the one I have sort-of seen is in bold:

Amal (dir. Richie Mehta)
Continental, a Film Without Guns (dir. Stephane LaFleur)
Days of Darkness (dir. Denys Arcand)
Eastern Promises (dir. David Cronenberg)
Fugitive Pieces (dir. Jeremy Podeswa)
My Winnipeg (dir. Guy Maddin)
A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman (dir. Peter Raymont)
The Tracey Fragments (dir. Bruce McDonald)
Up the Yangtze (dir. Yung Chang)
Young People Fucking (dir. Martin Gero)

All ten films will be shown at the Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto January 25 – February 5, and presumably elsewhere as well.

Click the years for my posts on the 2006, 2005 and 2004 lists.

A new twist on the “man-crush rom com”?

Variety reports that Paul Rudd has signed on to star in a comedy called I Love You, Man:

Hamburg-penned script centers on a man about to get married who actively seeks out a male friend to be his best man for the wedding.

This, of course, cannot help but bring to mind that article by Justin Shubow that I quoted here two months ago, on the emerging genre of “man-crush romantic comedies” such as Wedding Crashers, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Superbad — and note Shubow’s last sentence in particular.

But consider also this paragraph, also from Shubow’s article:

Having been described in these ways, there can be little doubt that the friendship at the center of all three movies follows the conventions of the romantic comedy, with the exception of the meet cute. In lacking that sort of an introduction, the movies are specifically versions of the romantic comedy of marriage, in which the central question is whether the already-existing couple can stay together.

What’s striking about this new film is that, since the Paul Rudd character does not yet have a male friend and will have to find one to fill a certain social role in his life, it sounds like this film could have the “meet cute” that was missing from those other films.

Two more movies not screened for critics.


Lou Lumenick of the New York Post reports that 20th Century Fox will not be screening Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem for critics before the film opens two weeks from now. There is a precedent for this, inasmuch as the previous film wasn’t screened in advance either when it opened almost three and a half years ago — though Fox did have a “courtesy screening” for critics just before the matinees for that film began on opening day. Somehow I don’t think they’ll be going that extra mile on Christmas morning.

Meanwhile, I just got an invitation to a preview screening of One Missed Call, the latest American remake of an Asian horror movie … and it’s taking place at 10pm on Thursday, January 3, mere hours before the film opens to the public. In fact, given the difference between our time zones, the Vancouver preview won’t begin until after it is already opening day on the east coast. In any case, as we all know, night-before screenings “don’t count“.


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