Star Trek, like many alleged science fiction television series, was never that much about science fiction. Genre fiction, like science fiction or romances or westerns, seem to be populated by people who don't seek to be great writers, or lack what it takes. Science fiction, in particular, tends to attract writers with good ideas or good science, but often lack the skill to write good characters.
Star Trek, like many shows that aren't set in the present, often serves as commentary about the present, particularly the original Star Trek. In Let This Be Your Last Battlefield, the Enterprise picks up two beings, who look rather identical to the crew, until one (played by Frank Gorshin) says that he is black on one side and white on the other, but the other gentleman has his black and white side reversed.
It is a thinly veiled reference to the racial politics of the time, where liberal thinkers would argue that color shouldn't matter. It took many years later to realize that although color doesn't matter, culture does, and that African Americans were leading different lives than white Americans, and for that matter, based on class, white Americans weren't unanimous in their values.
Science fiction wasn't the only genre television dealing with topics of interest in the present. Shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza would deal with issues such as treatment of Native Americans, or of Asian Americans. The enlightened view of the characters often matching the enlightened views of the era these shows were on.
I went to watch Casanova earlier today, though it has been my intention to watch Match Point, Woody Allen's latest. To be honest, I generally don't care for the kind of neurotics that inhabit Allen's films, but this was considered his best movie in years, set with a British cast (and Scarlett Johansson). My housemate, Dave, had not been that enthused when he watched it, since it was a film filled with unlikable characters, much in the same vein as Closer.
I decided, pretty much last moment, that I didn't want to watch that either, and would catch the lighter fare of Casanova. To be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to watch it. About the only thing that I thought might be interesting was watching Heath Ledger.
Depending on whether you consider Casanova a film from 2005 or 2006, it is Heath Ledger's third film in the past year. Interestingly enough, all three films are period pieces. He play one of the Grimm brothers in the terribly uneven Brothers Grimm directed by Terry Gilliam (who also directed the absurdist Brazil), then the "gay cowboy" movie, Brokeback Mountain, and now, Casanova.
As I said, I had rather low expectations of Casanova. It tells the story of Casanova, lover of many women in Italy, but who has never found a true love, and who is waiting for the return of his mother, who left him as a young child to seek a better life. He encounters Francesca Bruni who secretly enters all-male universities and pronounces that women are just as capable of men, and Casanova is intrigued by this most feminist of women.
Perhaps the reason Casanova works well is that it doesn't take itself particularly seriously. Jeremy Irons plays the inquisitor, but balances it so he's not quite horrifying, nor buffonish. Oliver Platt plays Paprizzio, the wealthy lardmaker of Genoa, who has an arranged marriage with Francesca, a marriage Francesca wants no part of, but is compelled by her single mother, who tells her that they need the money to survive.
Ultimately, the film is about everyone in love with everyone, with Casanova pretending to be one person, then the next.
This film resembles, to some extent, Dangerous Liaisons, but where Liaisons was about two manipulators who eventually manipulate each other and had a nasty edge, Casanova isn't about being devious or nasty. Liaisons cast John Malkovich as, effectively, the Casanova of that film. It's a testament to the boldness of that choice and the strength of the acting that we don't mind that Malkovich isn't obscenely handsome, as Ledger is.
Casanova ought to be faced with a similar dilemma that plagued Lucas in Revenge of the Sith. Lucas had to find someway to explain why a good man becomes evil. His answers are lacking.
Casanova should explain why Casanova is in love with so many women, what he gains from it. Liaisons treats it as a game, with two cunning experts of deception, that challenge each other to use their skill to humiliate and conquer others. To its credit, Casanova simply offers no explanation at all. By the time he's interested in Francesca, he's basically able to put away any other interest in women. There's no explanation that he's a sexaholic, or that somehow he sees his mother in the women he sleeps with (admittedly, a rather twisted theme for a film so light). Heck, there isn't even an explanation why there is a religious figure that defends Casanova. There's almost a hint that Casanova may not restrict himself to the fairer sex, but otherwise, there's nothing much said.
Casanova is presented, much like James Bond. He's well versed in philosophy, and a gentleman, but also happens to like sleeping around with women. Otherwise, how would he appeal to the educated Francesca? He's not going to woo her by being too hot to resist. He has to rise above that.
But the film doesn't focus on him. Instead, there are a bunch of other plots, including how Paprizzio thinks he's way too fat to be attractive to Francesca, never mind that he's wealthy, and that should have been enough during this period, to Francesca's brother, who pines for the woman who lives in the next building over, and who Casanova reluctantly agrees to marry, so he can stay out of trouble (don't ask).
For period pieces like this, it's all about buxomous women wearing clothing they literally burst out of, and masquerade balls, and the church, and boating around in Venice, and eventually, a madcap conclusion, with confusion of identities.
I can't quite tell you why I liked it, though I suspect having more than one character fall in love makes it easier to swallow.
Can't say Ledger worked real hard at this character. He's still interesting enough to watch, but not as surprising as either his performance as bookish Jacob Grimm, nor his reticent portray of Ennis Del Mar. You can't even say that this role is like Denzel Washington doing an action movie because he wants to appeal, every once in a while, to the African American base, since period pieces don't attract people in large numbers.
I suspect, much like Johnny Depp, or, dare I say it, Tom Cruise, that Heath Ledger is trying to find ways to have a lasting career, and one way to do this is to work with good directors. As much as one thinks about Cruise from his earlier films: Days of Thunder, Risky Business, and Top Gun, he's since worked with a number of well-reputed directors.
These include Steven Spielberg (three times!), Stanley Kubrick, Rob Reiner, Cameron Crowe, John Woo, Brian DePalma, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, P.T. Anderson. Compare him to the brat pack actors of the day, and you see that he's worked with far more important directors.
Ledger, too, has been aiming his career in this direction, and he seems to have the acting chops to handle it. Most actors would love to manage their career half as well as Tom Cruise has, and Cruise isn't even a particularly good actor (although credit him for trying). Ledger has, for a guy who's basically another of the hunkish types out of Australia (Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, in particular), been a pretty good actor. To be fair, many of the folks coming out of Australia falling in that mode have been good actors (add to that, Eric Bana and Guy Pearce).
Back to the movie. I'll say that Sienna Miller acquits herself well, portraying a woman who both seeks to be independent, but feels modestly trapped by her family's misfortunes. I had never heard of her before this film, but it seems she's the one dating Jude Law. They met on the set of Alfie, one of a gazillion movies that Law made last year (I saw four of them, I think). He had cheated on her with some nanny or some such. I don't follow the tabloids, so I couldn't say for sure.
I'll say that the film is much better than I had expected, in that it was fun, I somewhat cared about the characters, and I could forgive the silly plot that doesn't, upon scrutiny, make a whole lot of sense. I'm sure the cast had fun getting into costumes and running around.
The films I'm looking forward to, but may or may not watch are: Match Point, which I missed today, Transamerica, with Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives playing a transvestite (and seemingly convincingly! I had thought a male played the lead role of a man trying to take the last steps to become a woman, who is reunited with a son she's hardly ever met), and Michale Haneke's, Cache, the Austrian or German director directing French superstars Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche (are there only like 5 real famous actors in all of France?). Haneke, in particular, is noted as something of a formalist director that can make scenes creepy, a la David Lynch, I suppose (though not nearly as weird as Lynch).
Lynch is apparently wrapping up a movie to be released this year which stars Jeremy Irons, who also appeared in Casanova.
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