Disney, horror movies and the classics

It feels like I’ve been watching a lot of TV recently. In no particular order, Big Hero 6, CasablancaDead Set (and reading Lovecraft, but I’ll get to that in a moment).

Big Hero 6

I enjoyed Big Hero 6. Someone I watched it with pointed out that a lot of Disney movies feature a protagonist with a significant loss, and this one is no exception. It isn’t life-changing, but it’s a fun movie, and I enjoyed it.

Casablanca

I watched Casablanca a few years ago, and it was fun to re-watch it recently. Particularly, I was prompted by Robert McKee’s fascination with the piece. It’s a great movie.

It’s interesting to reflect now that at the time it was made, it apparently wasn’t expected to be anything beyond the ordinary. Roger Ebert writes:

No one making “Casablanca” thought they were making a great movie. It was simply another Warner Bros. release. It was an “A list” picture, to be sure (Bogart, Bergman and Paul Henreid were stars, and no better cast of supporting actors could have been assembled on the Warners lot than Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson). But it was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations. Everyone involved in the film had been, and would be, in dozens of other films made under similar circumstances, and the greatness of “Casablanca” was largely the result of happy chance.

I think in part, it’s easy to read a little too much into something that has an established place as a widely acknowledged masterpiece. This review in The Guardian concludes with a summary that seems perhaps a little overstated:

In fact, if Casablanca has an author, it’s ultimately us. Its shrewd open-endedness invites the viewer to step in and decide what the motivations of the characters really are, and which kind of film it’s going to be this time. All of which means that Casablanca is a film with a relationship to its audience that no other film has ever quite achieved. It’s a 60 year love affair that feels as fresh as the first encounter. Each time you sit down to watch it, it is always the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But Casablanca is an excellent movie. It combines several things well, without feeling crowded. There’s the broader context, of a world at war – the tension between the French and Germans, and other nationalities, beautifully embodied in the ‘battle of the anthems’ scene. Casablanca also sets the scene well. The city’s expatriate community is seedy, ugly and selfish – Vichy French Captain Renault demands sexual favours for visas, Victor Laszlo is at risk of disappearing without a trace, and the corrupt police are in on the take from most illegal activities.

Casablanca also tells multiple intertwined stories, all stemming really from an inner conflict within Rick. Rick, the jaded American bar-owner, is a former gun-runner (for the right side, we’re assured) – and one of the main conflicts in the movie is internal. Will Rick’s better side win out? What is better, cynical self-interest or more noble sacrifice (charmingly embodied by Laszlo, the resistance fighter making his way to freedom)?

Once Rick’s made his decision, although it isn’t revealed right away, the decision ripples out, impacting first his relationships, and then broader society. There’s a resolution to the love triangle that’s central to the story. That resolution also brings with it answer to a broader, if less central question; one that gives us hope for the broader conflict that is a backdrop to all of Casablanca’s action.

I haven’t linked to a trailer yet, because I think it gives away too much of the ending. But if you want it, it’s here; and the movie’s well worth seeing.

Dead Set and Lovecraft

I don’t normally watch horror movies. Can’t handle them, really. I sat through Cabin in the woods holding two pillows much tighter than I normally hold on to parts of a couch. So I wouldn’t normally have watched Dead Setbut the premise was particularly intriguing. It tells the story of the cast of a Big Brother show, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

There are a few additions to the group – a producer, a set-runner and her boyfriend. Together they’re facing a society collapsing, zombies surrounding them as they struggle with basic challenges like finding food and staying alive.

Part of the horror genre, I suppose, is having more gore than is necessary for plot purposes. The image of a man with blood up to his elbows, hacking apart a body to use as bait for zombies is that one seems like it’ll be hard to forget. The zombies look real, and the shooting certainly creates a terrifying feel.

Of course the main focus is the characters, their struggle with each other and their environment, to simply stay alive. That’s a fascinating one, and the series tells some poignant stories. It ends pessimistically; this seems to be something of a recurring theme in the horror genre. Speaking of which, I read a few Lovecraft stories the other day. I can see the appeal in the universe he creates, the way he has of using broad brush strokes to sketch a world with a very different, but very persuasive feel. But I was also struck by the pessimism in his writing, the sense of an individual as powerless against a horrific evil rising up against him.

So, I enjoyed Dead Set; if you like horror movies, you might enjoy it. I won’t be watching much more anytime soon.

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