Sunday, August 05, 2007

Women in Music and Danny Boyle's Sunshine

Is it just me or have the past two years been really outstanding for music made by women? In 2006 we had insanely great albums from Regina Spektor, Camille, My Brightest Diamond, Kaki King, Christine Fellows, CSS, Joanna Newsom, and Neko Case (not to mention Cat Power, the Pipettes, and Karin Dreijer Andersson of The Knife), and this year has already (already? the year's like more than half over, AF--ed.) brought new stuff from Bjork, Laura Veirs, Amy Winehouse, Lucky Soul (featuring the chirpily powerhouse vocals of Ali Howard), the Long Blondes, Tracey Thorn, Feist, Polly Paulusma, and St. Vincent (who comes the closest I've ever heard in contemporary indie rock to emulating/channeling/updating the great Jackie Cain's playful yet mournful yet musically sophisticated singing style). I have no hypothesis or commentary about this or anything, I'm just sayin'. It's awesome. (Alt: "I'm just saying it's awesome!")

One-liner of the week month year decade? Be sure to explore his site for a bit while you're clicked through, especially the running tally of films seen in '07. I couldn't agree more on the point that the pleasures of Ocean's 13 (and 11 as well, I suppose; 12 remains dead to me) are largely tangled up with ideas of work. Of course, sexiness and silliness abound in these trifles, but it's also nice to get lost in a place where people are really good at what they do, confident in their abilities, eventually rewarded for their effort, and surrounded by equally talented and supportive associates. I mean, Vegas and Brad Pitt's bone structure to one side, this is the dream, right? This is what we're all looking for in one way or another?

Finally had a chance to catch Sunshine this weekend (the new one on the spaceship, not the older one with Ralph Fiennes's soapy D). Despite my affection for Danny Boyle, or maybe because of it, I'm willing to concede it was a swing-and-a-miss. It was ambitious as hell, which not enough movies are anymore (at least intellectually), and I have a feeling a lot of the visuals are going to stick with me for a while (esp. the many times we see the wonderful Cliff Curtis standing in the observation room, silhouetted against the glowing mass of the sun). But, the plot was giving me a serious case of the "huh?"s (and not in the good way), especially toward the "climactic" ending, and the script was laden with way too much dumbed-down exposition, a fact which was not helped by the bafflingly miscast crew. Now, my feelings about Cillian Murphy perhaps need not be stated, but come on--he's the one you're going to choose as your shipboard physicist on your suicide mission to the sun? Please. Likewise the rest of the beefy, generically handsome dudes, especially Chris Evans with his almost comically needless and situationally inappropriate perpetual huffiness. Michelle Yeoh gets a pass because, well, she's Michelle Yeoh, but the role was a joke and she was clearly doing everything she could to redeem it, and Rose Byrne was essentially doing a pale imitation of the genuinely sweet, smart strength of Jewel Staite as Kaylee in Serenity/Firefly. I'm sure most of these actors have their charms, but, on the whole, everyone was just too damn good looking. I longed for the sight of a few of those gloriously lumpy Scottish mugs in Trainspotting, or Brendan Gleeson from 28 Days Later. And while a years-long mission through the solar system with a tiny crew in constant contact and constant awareness of their own mortality should have been a perfect vehicle to examine Danny Boyle's usual interest in the ways that social groups break down under the weight of their own entropy, there was nothing about the degradation of the crew's relationships that seemed earned or organic. From the start, they were nothing more than walking representations of the most sophomoric ideas of character conflict, and without any lingering past affection established between them at all (Yeoh's deep connection to the plants in the greenhouse being the one possible exception; Murphy and Byrne's sleepytime discussion of their surface-of-the-sun nightmares decidedly not), there was no room to move within the realm of cynicism and distrust. The rot had already infected everything on screen, and not in an interesting or nuanced way, and so the only stakes left seemed to be vague, lofty ideals about their duty to the rest of the human race. Reverse those two, and then maybe you have a movie worth caring about and not an inadvertent dramatization of our current administration's rhetoric. Anyway, there's no way I'm giving up on Danny Boyle; I criticize because I care!


Michael said...

Sports metaphors! love it.

You've brought me around on Sunshine. I saw it in a completely empty theater last week - a brand new house that had just opened in Tempe, so no one knows about it yet. And it was just an awesome, lonely, and dreamy experience.

I always like Danny Boyle's movies for his use of color, so I tend to just skim across the surface of content - I came out of it just thinking 'wow, sun is pretty, space is pretty'.

I think your reading is pretty on point, in retrospect.

Michael said...

Oh - let me say this: I do remember being very impressed with a scene where Cilian Murphy and Rose Byrne are talking about their impending dooms, and I found that very moving. I think you're right in that the primary focus of the film is the group entropy dynamic, but I really liked that scene.

Having been around people in their final days and hours, that dignified acceptance of the inevitable is inspiring. I felt like Byrne's "well I am [scared]." was a very honest and noble moment.

allison said...

That scene I was fine with. It was the earlier one where he's actually having the nightmare, and when he wakes up, she's there and asks him all whispery, "surface of the sun? That's the only dream I ever have." Barf.

Anonymous said...

I was less bothered by the casting and characterization (although I think you're right on both counts) than by the needless shift to sloppy slasher film three quarters of the way through. That was the worst villain this side of *Hollow Man*.--ctla