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By now Tim Burton has established a tried-and-tested formula that has become predictably unpredictable. The formula runs as follows; Burton + Depp + Bonham-Carter + Elfman = commercial success. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ does not contain the depth of some of Burton’s previous endeavours such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and most recently, Sweeney Todd. The landscape is familiarly unfamiliar in the dark, garish and gritty way we have become accustomed to. The whimsical nuances and subtleties of Wonderland; a surreal world which is just off-kilter are replaced by Burton’s lush, psychedelic, kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory sensory assault that nonetheless seems to drain and amputate Wonderland of much of its mystification.

The drowsy stupor of Wonderland becomes grounded in reality as Burton attempts to transform Alice’s ‘adventure’ (which originates as a succession of random unrelated events loosely strung together), into a meaningful ‘quest’ which seems to provide Wonderland with far too much logic and rationality than it should and transforms it from vague to predestined. The beauty of the characters is their two-dimensional absurdity but by fleshing out his characters (particularly the Mad Hatter), Burton gives them schizophrenic personalities that all too often feel at best misunderstood and at worst sane, rather than insane.

The script-writing is lazy, rushed and unimaginative so that the dialogue becomes progressive rather than expansive. The audience find themselves following an angelic Mia Wasikowska meander her way throughout a pseudo-fanciful world. Of course the awe and authenticity of Wasikowska’s reactions (and indeed those of the other actors) are severely stunted by the excessive use of CGI in a way that is not the case in other renditions of Alice such as the 1985 version starring Natalie Gregory whose reactions are always bewitchingly sincere. We know that the actors are reacting to a false world which renders the film oddly chilling and hollow rather than intimately elusive.

The mercurial and unknowable characters of Wonderland are here reduced to irritating lunatics; Barbara Windsor is agitating as the Door mouse, Matt Lucas is unamusing in his double venture as the Tweedles and Anne Hathaway is quite frankly a bizarre choice for the White Queen. A plethora of known names have been banded up for this venture such as Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Timothy Spall but just as with the big names in the Harry Potter series, they feel oddly misused; there to spout a few lines and promptly vanish and as they play CG caricatures; it is almost impossible to tell who is voicing who. Newcomer Wasikowska is undoubtedly the best performance of the film with her delicate, doe-like appearance, mild bewilderment and sleepy understatement and clearly has a promising career set ahead of her.

 

Burton’s muse and cash-cow Depp dons a ginger wig, a pseudo-Scottish accent and more make-up than Lady Gaga, becoming yet another grotesque and lavish caricature; the Mad Hatter. Though Depp is always charming, enthusiastic and endearing in his roles, his portrayal seems just an extension of Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka and stems from the same ilk. Bonham-Carter, Burton’s life partner, is eccentrically attractive in her prissy portrayal of the Red Queen who is dwarfed by her abnormally swelled head for the production and produces moments of hilarity and playfulness in her part. It is almost as if Burton, quite aware of the attractive Depp, wishes to make him look as undesirable as possible, especially when starting alongside his partner.

The film is caught somewhere between sequel and a remake and introduces an mistakable feminist agenda as Alice is lured to Wonderland in order to escape conventional Victorian restraints. Throughout the film, there is much dispute over Alice not being ‘the right Alice.’ She learns by the films conclusion, and through having to confront the Jabberwocky as the White Queen’s champion on Frabbulous day, the conviction and authority of her own belief’s and ideals. It’s quite clear to see that the flame-haired Hamish (her betrothed with bad digestion) meets his foil in the Hatter who is as quirky and imaginative as Alice, suggesting if not a romance between the two, then that Alice should find a partner as equally ‘bonkers’ as she.  Because of this the film feels oddly female centred and may ostracise a male fan base.

Burton had the perfect opportunity to either create an authentic re-make of Carroll’s original vision or to depart radically and perhaps hone in on American McGee’s video game ‘Alice’ which transformed Wonderland into a world of insanity and murder, reflecting Alice’s own mental state. Instead he centres on the happy medium; an enjoyable but mediocre romp through a recognisable world. No doubt children will adore this film and fans of the Burton/Depp partnership will not be disappointed but the film will not draw new fans with the promise of anything innovative and fans of Alice may crave something a little more true to the off-key nonsense of the original rather than the gravity and weight that Burton attempts. A delectable playground for the eyes in terms of artifice which begins well but ultimately drags and degenerates around the second act and will not leave the audience feeling massively disoriented as Wonderland should; lacks a sparkle of magic and will ultimately underwhelm! More of an amusement park ride than an exercise in storytelling.

 

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When I saw the trailer for Life of Pi, I knew I had to see it. The film is based on a book which I haven’t personally read, so I had no prior understanding of the source, and no expectations. I was just enthralled by the elegant elemental imagery; a boy alone, a boat, beautiful water, and a regal tiger.

What appears to be a very simple story actually abounds with themes, symbolism, interpretations and imagery. I will dedicate a future entry to attempting to unpick my personal interpretations of this film, but for now, to simply review it, I will just explain that a solid premise is actually a rabbit hole into questioning and meaning, littered with great forethought and intelligence. The story is the vessel through which this giant incomprehensible truth is channelled.

What surprised me about the Life of Pi was that I was expecting a colourful, bright, fantasy film. Something like Narnia perhaps. But Life of Pi is a blurring of the fantastical and the macabre.

Pi is a young boy named after a French swimming pool, growing up on his parent’s zoo in Pondicherry. The times are changing and his family must relocate to Canada. As they sail the waters reluctantly to their new life, the ship inexplicably sinks and Pi finds himself orphaned, the lone survivor on a life boat upon which dwell a zebra with a broken leg, a wise, mournful orang-utan and a hysterical hyena. Nature, the unstoppable force that it is, abounds even on the small life boat, and Pi soon finds himself alone with just a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company.

As they flounder in the waters, Pi learns to navigate the waves, fish and keep himself mentally amused and physically alert through a process of trial and error and survival provisions.  He segregates himself from Richard, initially fearful and mistrusting of him, but the two form a bond and although Pi is never able to tame the wild beast, he is able to train and utilise him so that they are both able to survive together on the boat.

Pi acknowledges that Richard brings out the best in him. His fear of him keeps him alert and tenacious whilst the small duties of care he must undertake to keep Richard alive enthuse him with purpose which gives his otherwise listless days meaning.

Pi and Richard find themselves on a beautiful island which nourishes them by day but turns carnivorous at night. Understanding that they are unable to dwell on the island eternally for fear of what would become of them, Pi returns to the waters. When he finally returns to dry land, Richard leaves him, and Pi finds himself returned to civilisation.

Years later, as Pi tells his tale to an aspiring, but stifled novelist, he tells a second version of the tale. This one rebuffs the idea of surviving animals and mysterious, uncharted islands, and instead tells a tale of barbarism, murder and cannibalism out on the open waters, with the animals stepping in to depict their human counterparts in the initial tale. In this tale, there is no tiger. Instead Richard Parker is the animalistic id of Pi himself, who must do whatever necessary to survive. As Pi admits, hunger (or any primal urge) when unsatisfied, brings out the monstrosities within a man and tempts him to perform acts and deeds that he would find hard to align with his moral, civilised self.

Pi explains that it is up to the author (and the audience) to decide for themselves which story they prefer, and also which story they believe, indicating that preference and belief are not one and the same. The author was told that Pi’s story could help him believe in God, but Pi dismisses this.

The telling of the two stories, one hopeful, near implausible but fantastic, and the other horrifying, bleak and nihilistic can be representative of many things but primarily they represent a man living with religion, and a man living without religion.

Beyond the stunning CGI, and the worthwhile 3D effects (some films are made for 3D and this is one of them), there is a powerful juxtaposition of how humanity perceives the world around it.

Are we here because of a divine, magical, almost unbelievable miracle that makes anything possible? Or do we attribute stories and imagery to a hostile, nasty world in an attempt to survive its nonsensical cruelty?

Whichever story you believe, this is a film that will have you running around with questions, and a mind littered with symbols, themes, images and interpretations, desperate for answers.

In my opinion this film is a work of genius for its interpretation of a story that succinctly and intelligently at its heart depicts mans relentless confusion at his own existence and the myriad of explanations, beliefs and faiths we have encountered or invented in order to make life and the sufferings we endure bearable.

Please keep an eye out for my more in depth review of this film.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”

This is a story about a Hobbit, a homely, earthy creature who dwells in the sanctuary of the ground, enjoys his comforts and dislikes anything unexpected or unpredictable, particularly adventures.

The prelude to The Lord of the Rings trilogy enchanted and enlivened children and adults alike with its wholesome telling of a shy, stubborn protagonist (Bilbo Baggins) discovering his curiosity and courage, to break the shackles and security of the cosy humdrum and embark upon a path of potential danger and certain enterprise. He is to be transformed from homebody to burglar, accompanying a party of dwarves to reclaim their homeland and defeat the dragon Smaug, who guards their treasure.

It is this humble tale about an everyday hobbit that fortifies readers with a sense of bravery, purpose, courage, passion and strength, and it is this potent and powerful message, invigorating every page, which has now been translated onto the big screen by Peter Jackson.

Jackson has a wonderful way of capturing the world of the book – the aesthetic of a magic, forgotten era of community, plush abundance and perils, a world where enlightened elves, obnoxious orcs, wise wizards and dangerous dragons roam. Tolkien’s imagination reaches a crescendo with Jackson’s technological wizardry to breathe life into the dreamy, surreal Shire, the foreboding forests and the grim, sinister caves.

As a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings series, The Hobbit was most certainly lacking in certain areas. The sense of scope and magnanimity is lacking here, perhaps because of the nature and scale of this more intimate tale. The characters are not as instantaneously likeable as Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Aragorn et al. Rather than a Fellowship of different, unique characters, we are now faced with a troupe of dwarves who are similarly named and for the most part, similarly natured. They are neither as distinct nor as fleshed out as their LOTR counterparts.

Forever distinguished is Gandalf (the wonderful Ian McKellen) who is more frivolous and carefree this time around as the rebellious, lone-wolf wizard who has an uncanny knack for sweeping others up in his adventures. Elegant and etherereal as always, although somewhat unnecessary to the plot is Lady Galadrial, portrayed by the serene Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving lends tremendous placid presence to Elrond’s return, and Andy Serkis once again makes a remarkable return as the gruesome Gollum – a creature equal parts pitiable and terrifying, and hypnotic in his match of wits with Bilbo during the riddles game (I was just happy I managed to guess a few!).  The stealer of the scenes is Martin Freeman, who captures Bilbo’s tweakes, twinges and eccentricieis perfectly, particularly his indecision, painstaking deliberation and the slow unfurling of the heroism within, perfectly personified by Ian Holm as the older Bilbo. Freeman proves himself a quick study when it comes to picking up the breadcrumbs lain by Holm and becoming his younger self.

This film is abundant with CGI, but the majority of it looks somewhat cheaper and lazier than that used in LOTR. Perhaps Jackson was using an alternate company or had to make savings somewhere, but the CGI tends to look a little obvious and deviates somewhat from the charisma of the story. Another thing I found lacking was the emotive, rousing score of the LOTR trilogy, which here is an echo of that. Despite the hodgepodge of characters, the at times gimmicky effects and the pacing of the story, which tends to languor lingeringly on unbearably at times without the aura or presence of leading characters, this is a film well worth watching for the simple fact that it is a moral story of the importance of being brave, loyal and true and because it encourages the most stodgy, stoic individual to have adventures and the most hopeless individual to have faith in the world, and in themselves and the most greedy, materialistic amongst us, to strive for selflessness and freedom. These messages are as essential and necessary today as they ever were and Tolkien fans will want to see how this one translates onto the big screen.

Tolkien’s stories have a way of making you want to jump up out of your chair and go on an adventure, infused as you are with his fairy tales, mythology and indomitable faith in the human spirit. So why do we like his stories so much? Why do they live on? Maybe because in a world of cars, he shows us a world of horses and eagles, in a world of cities, he shows us a world of remarkable palaces and rural retreats and in a world of separation and consumerism, he shows us friendship and generosity.

The name Bond, James Bond is synonymous with certain things; scandal, sex, chases and gadgets. The Bond franchise prides itself on delivering a certain style of sophisticated stealthy silliness, enthralling us with a world of high energy, high glamour and deadly danger.

Hanging on to the coattails of the grandeur of the Empire, Bond represents the best of Britishness; reserve, elegance, grandeur, patriotism and pride. The popularity of the franchise is perhaps in part due to a much exaggerated sense of what it means to be British in a climate that is somewhat confused and scattered. There is no singular British identity but Bond embodies the sensationalised stereotypes of the idealised British gentleman; somewhat aloof, indebted to his country and thoroughly dependable in a crisis.

I have to confess that I am not a connoisseur of this world. Although I was a massive fan of GoldenEye, I have not seen many other Bond films and so my appreciation of this film stems from digesting it as a singular entity, rather than in comparison to its predecessors.

Daniel Craig brings a steely, stone cold, sinister cynicism to James; efficient and machine like, he is now teetering on the precipice of alcoholism, fatigue and apathy. He is a broken Bond, but the threat now is potentially higher than ever, as an unknown villain with anonymised connections to M is blackmailing her through technology – a medium that has high jacked the modern world and threatened to steal the stealth from the shadows.

This Bond is an interesting mix of the old, ancient Britain and the modern technology immersed society we live in. Is there a place for spies, secrecy and subtlety in the world of Facebook, twitter and YouTube? This is a world with which M is at odds, and a world where indeed a film that focuses on the nature of being unknown and anonymous must struggle to catch up with the impossibilities of achieving this today.

This is also a film about M, rather than Bond, who has always operated as a cold, unknowable figure. M could stand for mother, matriarch, and monarch, elevated as she is, but never warm. She is the mother figure for James, an orphan, and presumably for many other agents as well. In this film, we get to see more of her warmth and humanity and gain a greater understanding of some of her flaws and weaknesses.

In fact, I found the Oedipal context of this film very intriguing, for this is a film about mommy issues, about abandonment, disappointment, fear, remorse, the hunger for approval and redemption, a film about how the stifled secrets of our past are inescapable and like coiled snakes, are always ready to spring upon us once more in the calm terrain of our futures. We get to explore M’s relationship to her agents and the cutthroat nature of their existence. Bond and M develop more of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship in this film, which reaches its grand crescendo at Skyfall itself, the film’s title and theme song, crooned by the British success story of the past few years Adele.

Daniel Craig won me over with his ‘cold fish’ approach to Bond, whilst Judi Dench is always enigmatic as M. Of course we cannot discuss a Bond movie without mentioning the villain of the piece, Mr Silva, played by Javier Bardem who lends an eccentric, camp tone to this over the top former agent with more mummy issues that the whole world of psychology could possibly be prepared for. Bond Girl Bérénice Lim Marlohe, who describes her character as ‘half dragon, half panther’ sizzles as the spectacular Sévérine. Without spoiling the treatment of her character in this film, Bond girls have always harked back to an age of sexism, objectification, impossible glamour, sultry sex, eye candy and trophies for the male characters of the film, and it is most certainly what we have come to expect of Bond, but the disposable nature of her character sat uneasily with me and didn’t seem to be moving the female role within this type of movie forward with the times. Naomie Harris also makes an appearance in a few, cobbled together scenes and despite my initial resistance, she did grow on me.

If you come to Bond for the style, beauty and soundtrack, you won’t be disappointed here. To celebrate Bond’s 50th anniversary we have a beautiful, slick film which will deliver all the chases, anticipation and raunch of its predecessors with a delicate layering of humanity added to this fast paced world of danger and desire.

Queen Ravenna: Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us they toss us to the dogs like scraps.

Fairy tales are renowned for their ability to capture timeless truths for younger generations to enjoy. Snow White reveals the power of youth and purity and the envy it can evoke in others. Beauty and youth are blooms that reach their potent peak and then slowly begin to diminish, leaving the individual once in possession of their power, wearied and frustrated at nature’s fickle transience. This message seems even more meaningful today, in a world only growing increasingly enamoured with what it means to be young and beautiful and ever fatigued, even disgusted, with what it means to grow old.

The controversy surrounding Kristen Stewart’s affair with married director Rupert Sanders has eclipsed any attention the movie itself may be able to generate, as well as shattered the fantasies of Twilight fans everywhere but it’s still worth taking a look at Sanders retelling of a much loved story.

Kristen Stewart, fresh off the back of her fame as Bella Swan is endowed with an accessible girl-next-door type of pretty, and although she’s not ruby red lipped or raven haired, she does have the pale cream like complexion expected of Snow White. Charlize Theron abandons her leonine, gregarious nature to envelope herself in regal, detached, self-centred, icicle eyed beauty Queen Ravenna (like name, like nature – quite literally ravenous to consume the hearts of beauteous maidens to endow herself with their vitality). Chris Hemsworth (yes, I call him Thor too) is the solid, handsome, Neanderthal huntsman-cum-protector.

This film is visually striking, merging stark, bleak landscapes (like the woods) with fantastical, magical backdrops (like the fairies sanctuary). The language itself is poetic, simple but mesmerising, but unfortunately the film itself is forgettable. This is what I would refer to as ‘dark-lite’ storytelling; the film does centre on the darker nuances of the story, but this is ‘dark’ of the Twilight, teenage variety. Charlize is sumptuous as the beauty-mad Queen (although her accent can be a little slack at times) and the interpretation of her magic mirror is unique as is the all-female village where mothers have disfigured themselves to escape the wrath of the Queen, but the dwarves themselves (a hodgepodge of famous names including Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost) lack the all-consuming personality you might have expected.

All in all, this is an enjoyable movie and worth watching if you keep your expectations low and lose yourself in the visual imagery and the struggle for the only power many women recognise: the ability that their beauty and sexuality has to divide nations, drive men to war and cause many to lose their minds.

To revive my seldom used Media Studies skills I have decided to add a new section to my blog entitled: Mise-en-scene, to unravel what particular shots within various movies, in this case ‘The Virgin Suicides’ reveal about the characters, the tone of the film and its implications. Please do not read if you do not want the film spoilt for you!

Cecilia in the tree

Cecilia, the youngest of the Lisbon sisters, is depicted as a melancholy malcontent.  She is the first of the sisters to feel deeply discontent with life and ends up committing suicide. After her death, Cecilia haunts the sisters as well as the neighbourhood boys who revered them. The film juxtaposes the childlike fantasies of the girls with their deadening home life. The girls are constantly projecting themselves elsewhere; in dreams, costumes, photographs and in nature.

Here Cecilia is positioned on a tree. She is wearing white which represents purity and innocence but the adorning of her arm with a bracelet and her pose indicate that she is aware of her impending womanhood and all the implications this entails. She is looking upward, as if to suggest that even if this picturesque natural surrounding she is still restless. Her expression is wistful but also slightly bored, as if she is wishing to be somewhere else, but also understands that nowhere can fulfil her. The elm tree she rests on is dying which represents Cecilia’s own longing for, and eventual demise. Cecilia is part of the tree; part of its nature, its poison and its death. Cecilia almost looks like an angel, a bride for God, looking to heaven, bored and unsatisfied with life, and ready to depart. Cecilia is literally embracing her own death.

Cecilia’s bracelets

The focus on the film is the death of childhood as we transition into adolescence. For the girls this death is also literal. Here Cecilia sits with her arms bandaged but she has also adorned her wrists with colourful bracelets. The juxtaposition with beauty and pain in the film is almost masochistic. The girls physically, visibly suffer behind the beauty of their belongings and paraphanaelia. Their suffering, which is represented physically by her self-harm, is literally hidden by the adorning of jewellery. She is bound and contained by her suffering. She is not able or free to express it openly. Notice the position of her hands, as if she were there to catch water, only her hands are closed. The colours are muted, soft and feminine – a stark contrast to red blood, further showing the subduing of Cecilia’s despair. Her suffering is literally contained, stifled, repressed and decorated, displayed to the world as a childish error rather than a cry for help.

Sisterhood

Here, Lux, Bonnie, Mary and Therese embrace and comfort one another. The girls are in transition between girlhood and womanhood, a time that is a blur for many culturally and socially. There is no clear definition of when a girl ceases to be a girl and is now a woman. The paraphernalia surrounding the girls echoes childhood: the pinks and the teddy bear on the floor. Lux and Bonnie specifically seek the comfort of their eldest sister Mary, like children, nestling into her. Mary has a knowing and maternal look on her face. Therese in particular is cast aside from the girls, draped suggestively in white like a sacrificial virgin, looking submissive and alert. She is ‘apart’ from the others; she is neither childlike nor maternal. The girls represent three particular states of women: the child, the mother and the whore. This represents the confusion the girls feel about their identities as women in terms of how they see themselves and how they are seen by others.

Lux, the car and the cigarette

Lux is the last sister to kill herself. In this scene she is found by police whilst a police car and ambulance waits outside. Lux has made the transition from girl to woman. She is in the front seat of the car (possibly the driver’s seat) indicating that she is in charge and has made her own decision. She is clutching a cigarette in a limp hand which is indicative both of the poison in her own nature and the ‘maturity’ of her character. It is also an allude to her method of choice for suicide. Lux is happy to play at being a woman in terms of her promiscuity, but she doesn’t feel truly like a woman, as is evident in her boredom, her whimsy and escapism. The pose of the arm is almost suggestive and sexual, as if she is a grown woman soliciting attention.  Lux has been in the dark of the garage but the policeman (male figures) have opened the garage door and allowed light to enter. This might be indicative of Lux’s own awakening as a result of the loss of her virginity to trip, revealing to her another world which her parents refuse to let her into. She has been shut into her childhood, but eventually the light of adulthood will be let in.

Angels on the stairs

The Lisbon sisters are often depicted as unattainable, asexual and angelic. The boys revere and fantasize about them. They voyeuristically follow the girls, but they never know them. As such, the girls appear aloof, superficial and mysterious. This enables the boy’s fantasies of them to continue. To truly know them might dampen and damage their heightened perception of what the girls are. Here the girls are depicted before their prom standing on their stair way, like angels in heaven. This is exemplified by the sole use of the colour white. The dark rail alludes to the knowing nature that the girls cling to, the one link that binds them and also cements the idea that the girls have embraced death. The girls are not sexualised in this image. They are modestly dressed and appear virginal. Lux is placed at the highest point of the staircase as she is the girl most admired and adored by the neighbourhood boys. Interestingly, ‘Lux’ is Latin for ‘light’.

Cecilia in the bathtub

Cecilia appears dead, but she has slit her wrists and is lying in the bathtub. She looks tranquil, serene and accepting. The film often depicts life as misery and status and death as peace and freedom. Her gaze is fixed upwards as if she has found what she has been looking for. There is still a slight look of boredom on Cecilia’s face. This is typical of Cecilia, who is a fantasist but is essentially never pleased for very long. She looks like Ophelia, her hair splayed out around her. The blood in the bath is muted and almost pink and also signified the onset of Cecilia’s maturation. The light around her face is a blue white indicating purity but also coldness. The girls have always been seen as beautiful but unattainable. They are shiny veneers, but nobody has stopped to truly understand them.

Surrounding the tree

This picture is very telling. Again, the sisters look virginal, angelic and modest. They have shackled themselves to one of the local elm trees, which is due to be destroyed as it is contaminated. The girls feel a connection to the trees because they represent the girls own acceptance of and longing for death. The community wants to destroy the trees because they are sick and dying. They do not want the trees to contaminate the neighbourhood. What they do not understand is that the society inhabiting the neighbourhood is also sick. The girls realise this and are not afraid of death, unlike the neighbourhood, who would rather remove the trees than deal with the natural process of their demise.

Lux on the football field

Shortly after Lux loses her virginity to Trip after the prom, he abandons her on the football field. He later explains that he truly cared for Lux, but at that precise moment could not stand to be around her. He regrets that he was never able to tell her how he felt. The colours used are white, pink and blue. The colours are very muted as dawn emerges. Lux has woken up a new woman. She is literally no longer a child, in body or in mind. She has had her first experience of sex, disappointment and betrayal. This cements her own understanding life as a contaminated thing. She is lying on deadened grass on the football field (the traditional domain of men). She is still wearing her prom dress with the flower pinned to it. She is turning away from the camera, wistfully looking upward. The tone of the picture is melancholic. Lux looks vulnerable but also liberated. She has learnt that their love is crueller and colder than she expected. She now understands what her parents tried to shield her from, as much as she resents it. She is wizened by her first experience of love, betrayal and abandonment. Lux perhaps has a different incentive to the other sisters for suicide; she has learnt that she will be perceived as a fantasy object or as a sexual plaything; either the Madonna or the whore. As she does not see herself is either, she is forced instead to reject these inferences, removing herself altogether.

First love

Before Lux is betrayed by Trip, the two look like a fairytale couple. Lux is again looking upward, but this time not to the heavens, but into Trip’s eyes. Lux is dressed in white (again, virginal and innocent) and Trip in black symbolising experience but also corruption (his own corruption and his ‘corruption of Lux’). Again Lux means light, and Trip is the dark force that impedes her childlike existence and shows her the world she and her sisters are being protected from. We can visibly see Lux, after all, we are always voyeurs to the sister’s story, but Trip is hidden from us; unknown, deceptive and shady. The background is muted white and blue, looking like a starry night, but also warning us of the unhappy ending to the couple’s puppy love.

Surprise!

Death in this film is always shown as an escape or as something to be celebrated. Here Bonnie hangs herself, but she is dressed for the occasion and the room is strewn with party items, indicating that her death is more of a party than a tragedy. Of course, the imagery clashes horrifically with the family’s loss of their five beautiful daughters, but for the girls themselves, this was a premeditated plan with the intention to be liberated from the shackles of their family, religion and the expectations they have been entrenched in since birth.

Dreaming of Lux

Here, Lux is remembered by the neighbourhood boys. She and her sisters are immortalised by them. Lux is still depicted as an angelic thing, breaking through the summer sky amidst the puffy white clouds. She winks at the boys suggestively and teasingly. It is this contrast of innocence with maturity that the girls come to represent as if they know secrets that no-one else does. The faded essence of Lux implies that she is a memory, a fantasy – not a flesh and blood thing, and that the whole thing has always been a game.

Lux and the unicorn

The boys remember the girls through a filter. They envision them as fairytale things, similar to unicorns, the girls that the boys want can never really exist. Here Lux is faded again (she is still a dream/fantasy) and she is suggestively dressed. She represents joy, freedom and virility. This is the Lux that Lux wants to be (free) but also the Lux that the boys want (an intriguing mixture of innocent and sexual). She is mythologized beside the unicorn indicating the impossibility and naivety of their desire for her to be what they want. Lux can never be their fantasy thing. In death, she has become cemented as an idealised creation always available to them in their dreams. The sisters are as much an escape for the boys, as death is for the girls.

Girlhood items

Tellingly the girl’s belongings represent a clash of religious imagery and beauty products. The crucifix is pronounced and hangs over a perfume bottle like a noose representing the girl’s suffocation and guilt at being women. The items are chaotic and cluttered. Most of the items are coloured white and blue for purity, but the red nail varnish and amber bottles indicate a more sexual and attention seeking element. The products represent awareness of femininity, beauty and sexual appeal (highlighted further by the freedom represented by the birds) stifled or repressed by the religious icons, which evoke a sense of confusion and sin.

Cecilia’s diary

The boys know the girls through Cecilia’s diary entries. They imagine her writing in a cornfield. Cecilia embodies escape and a desire for freedom. She is not enamoured with the physical world. Cecilia is often perceived in nature where she can be a natural thing, and not a construct. The golden colour highlights the sense of fantasy and nostalgia surrounding her.

Sickness, anyone?

Green desserts and a green camera hue represent society’s sickness. The film focuses on the obsession with happiness at all costs and the inability to understand misery and mental illness. The green colour is a stark contrast to the earlier peaceful hues used, indicating that the neighbourhood is growing sicker, the contamination is here to stay and society is gorging itself on sickness.

Finger in the water

One of the girls has thrust her finger into a small tank of water, possibly housing sea monkeys. The hand itself is adorned with a ring, almost as if the child is a bride. The book below the tank reads ‘Sacred will of sacrifice’. The girl’s death is a preservation of themselves; their innocence, beauty and youth. Water is often associated with the unconscious and with femininity. The link between the girl and the world beneath the water suggests an understanding of her own subconscious mind (at the very bottom the need for sacrifice) and an acceptance of this, on her own terms. It also represents the effect of a penetrating outside force shifting the dynamic of a self-contained world. The girls own external experiences cause them to feel desperately unhappy in the stifling stasis of their childhood home.

Seth MacFarlane is the marmite of the comedy world, segregating audiences between a tidal wave of love and loathe. I am both a fan of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’ but I just could not bring myself to enjoy Ted as much as was intended.

The plot centres on man child John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who as a boy, wished that his toy teddy bear would come to life and be his best friend forever. He makes the right wish on the right night and Ted springs to life comforting him on thunder filled nights. Fast forward a good few years, bypassing a blip of 15 minutes of fame for the bear that can speak and it seems that Ted is everything deplorable in a human being deposited into the sweet, enchanting exterior of a toy bear.

Perhaps this is the fundamental flaw with the character of Ted. He is simply unlikeable. He drinks, does copious amounts of drugs (he settles on ‘Mind rape’ after debating ‘Gorilla Panic’ and ‘This is permanent’), uses vegetables to penetrate hookers, is unemployed and throws the F bomb around at an explosive rate. Ted is essentially a 15 year old, responsibility free Peter Griffin, and not just in terms of the voice which is UNMISTAKEABLY Griffin, but the demeanour, the behaviour and the hostility. Ted’s sweet features and sentimental back-story don’t do much to deter us from the fact that is a rather repugnant character. Perhaps it is simply that I’ve outgrown McFarlane’s humour, or perhaps it’s that ‘Ted’ is too much like Griffin to be appreciated as a truly unique, one off character.

There is a certain audience that would gravitate to Ted. This would be the same audience that appreciates Stifler or Mary styling her hair with ‘hair gel’. It’s not an immature or unrefined audience. Most of us have a space or two in our bellies for a bit of toilet humour, but when the entire character is constructed around such gags with little to no redeeming qualities, the character becomes hard to stomach. The character of Ted is 98% jokes with only a 20-30% laughter success rate. In fact much of the humour was generated by other characters, rather than Ted himself, and he worked best with the odd quip or one liner, rather than any lengthy conversational exchange.

John and Ted’s friendship is one of debauchery, co-dependency and fun. Ted is John’s security blanket from his childhood but also a representation of simpler, happier times. Their friendship is dysfunctional but real and clearly of much importance and value to both. Two may be company but three is most definitely a crowd, enter John’s girlfriend Lori (panther like Mila Kunis), who wishes for a more mature relationship with John which is hindered by Ted’s predominance in John’s life. Whilst John dithers between his future with his girlfriend and the past cultivated between himself and Ted, father and son duo Donny and Robert would very much appreciate taking Ted off of his hands!

Ted is a mixture of humour and fantasy but don’t be fooled, this is primarily a romantic comedy with a wise cracking talking teddy bear thrown in.

The crux of Ted seems to be a man’s choice between childhood and manhood. Ted represents John’s ties to his former self and Lori represents the potential of his adult future. But does he really have to lose one to have the other? Or can a man’s inner child survive alongside his enlightened mature self? This is the classic ‘bros before hoes’ tale; should John choose Ted or Lori? His best bud or the love of his life? Does he have to choose at all?

Some of the jokes are pure and simple hilarity, as if ‘Family Guy’ animations were transported into the real world. There were moments that made me explode with demonic laughter, but for the most part the film falls flat and fails to live up to its immense potential. It could be that McFarlane has been heavily censored or perhaps it was his intention to deviate slightly from the controversial foundations of ‘Family Guy’ to breach a wider audience. Either way, something fundamental is missing and heavy segments of ‘Ted’ simply sag.

Mark, Seth and Mila fulfil what’s required of them, but the sneaky scene stealers are the bit parts. I can’t help but think that if their roles were elevated, the film might have drawn a few more laughs from me. Giovanni Ribisi is creepier than a creeky staircase as crazed fan-boy father Donny whilst his Susan Boyle lookalike son Robert portrayed by Aedin Mincks is the Veruca Salt of this story; spoilt and deplorable. There is a lengthy cameo appearance from ‘Flash Gordon’ front man Sam J. Jones and a cameo from Norah Jones that made little to no sense to me whatsoever. But for me the hugest accolade belongs to Patrick Warburton who famously voices Joe Swanson of ‘Family Guy’ as the undecided homosexual who eventually comes out with a mild mannered Ryan Reynolds.

Don’t get me wrong; parts of ‘Ted’ will have you cradling your split sides in tickled agony, but far too much of it falls flat, and if we take out the talking teddy bear, we simply have a hiccough between the love story of Mark and Mila, and therefore it essentially feels a little lazy.