Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream


It may seem surprising that I chose to review  a movie from 2007 in this post. Arent’t there any new movies good enough to deserve more updated commentaries? Well, the advent of NETFLIX blurred time lines, and today, at the tip of your fingers, you can access and pick either the latest episode of House of Cards, or immerse yourself as easily in a classic movie bringing your laptop or any other device to bed, and then not being able to sleep. Going to bed with your e-devices is, after all, considered one of the main causes of the prevalent insomnia and sleep deprivation most of us suffer these days. The flickering light will stay on in your brain for hours even after you switch the machine off and try to invite Morpheus in. I believe the god gets jealous of being relegated to a second post in your bed priorities, or third, if you take sex into consideration, and, as a consequence, will resist your call as long as possible – despite all the Ambien you might use to entice him.

The movie

Speaking of Morpheus, the movie we are discussing today has mythology and classic literature at its center (Cassandra and Dostoyevsky) and also dreams in its title and themes. Cassandra is a mythologycal  figure who, in the best known version of her story, rejects the advances of Apollo and is cursed with the power of prophecy which will not be believed by anyone. Tragic: you try to warn people against their foolish ways, foretelling their fateful outcomes, yet no one takes your predictions seriously.

Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream

Well, Woody Allen’s movie is a cautionary tale about ambition and the use of short cuts and quick fixes to get what you want. It’s a warning for those who cross forbidden and dangerous lines to achieve their dreams and aspirations. At the same time, we know humans will never change no matter what Cassandra says. Excessive ambition will always contaminate countless souls and the lure of short cuts is too strong to resist, despite its consequences.

In this respect the story is not new, it has been told innumerable times, we read about it in the papers every single day. Nevertheless they do not usually rely on charismatic actors such as Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell embodying the fateful ambitious brothers on their tragic path to destruction, stopping at nothing to get what they dream about, nor with the help of a great supporting cast to help tell the story, which is not uncommon in any Allen movie. Cassandra’s Dream would never be this strong movie if we could not count on the superb performances of this team.

The plot

The movie starts with the brothers, who have a very close bond, excited at the prospect of purchasing a small boat and trying to negotiate the price down with its owner. From the very first dialogue we realize they are not guys who play straight and are always trying to take advantage. Terry (Colin Farrell), a pill-popping, compulsive gambler with a drinking problem, works as a mechanic in a garage and is always lending expensive cars to his bother Ian (Ewan McGregor), who works in the family restaurant while trying to save money to start a hotel business in California. The story takes place in modern-day London, which, together with another Woody Allen movie set there, Match Point, makes the most of the amazing sights of the city in the beautifully photographed scenes.

The whole family – the two brothers, father and mother – is always shamelessly sucking up to a rich uncle – with shady deals all over the world – who visits them a couple of  times a year, and lavishes the relatives with presents and, sometimes, cash. Well, now, however, the stakes are higher: Terry owes a lot of money to hard-core gamblers and might have his legs broken if he fails to pay them back. Ian, on the other hand, can’t wait to get away from the greasy restaurant business and break free from his suffocating family to move to America with a newly-acquired theater actress girlfriend, who dreams of becoming a successful Hollywood star.

Greed

The uncle has the means, the power and the connections to make all this come true. All they need is to ask him. After all, they are family. Blood is more important than anything else, isn’t it? But blood costs blood: the rich uncle will lend both brothers the money and work his powerful connections to turn Ian’s girl friend into a star in exchange for a huge favor: he claims he can only count on Terry and Ian to get rid of  a business contact who knows too much about his shady deals and may send him to jail for the next 10 years. They must kill him.

Crime and punishment

In this Crime and Punishment kind of plot, the brothers decide to cross the line – there is no return – and do the deed. They kill the man. Before long, however, the Raskolnikov’s syndrome of not being able to live with the burden of the guilt overcomes Terry, who threatens to go to the police and surrender. Uncle Rich and Ian will not let that happen. Terry has to be stopped. Another line to be crossed.

Woody Allen's Cassandra's Dream

Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream

The end

The face-off between the two brothers takes place against the backdrop of the Thames – the water playing the eternal metaphor of hidden and dark subconscious compulsions –  inside Cassandra’s Dream, the fateful boat they acquired at the beginning of the story, in a breathtaking sequence, where the bond and love felt by the two brothers get mixed up and destroyed by the ambition of cold-blooded Ian and the weakness of unstable Terry. The already stunning  actors’ performances rise a couple of notches for the grand finale – which, as a plot point, is even a bit anticlimactic.  Maybe this is on purpose, as we are mainly left with the facial expressions of Colin and Ewan forever engraved in out minds and wishing for more as the final credits roll on.

Human beings will never change, but Netflix viewers of Cassandra’s Dream will never be the same after watching acting of this caliber.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Why Maleficent doesn’t work as a fairy tale


Maleficent, the new Disney movie that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point-of-view of its original Nemesis – the evil fairy godmother – had all the potential to awe audiences, going way beyond its stunning visuals, if they had decided to work on more complex and original levels, paying closer attention to how mythology and its arquetypes (typical characters) sustain great storytelling.

One can’t help but think of Wicked, that, first as novel, and then as a successful Broadway musical, also narrated the backstory of an evil character, the Wicked Witch of the West, of The Wizard of Oz fame, from the difficulties she had as a (literally) green child all the way to her adulthood, when she gets to meet Dorothy and her shoes. Although both Maleficent and Wicked chose to tell the facts from the point of view of the alleged villain, the latter accomplished a lot more artistically.

Maleficent as a character is carefully construed to represent a strong role model for girls. Angelina Jolie looks stunning in the role, and will visually fascinate girls and boys alike. Boys, however, will surely be more entertained by the great number of superhero-like action scenes and predictable visual effects. It’s unfortunate, however, that the story is too weak to replace the original in children’s imagination, as it’s a lot less dark and scary in its connotations. Fairy tales are not supposed to be watered-down versions of their originals, and it’s a shame that Disney progressively goes in this direction with every new version they produce.

These are some of the problems that weaken Maleficent (Spoiler alert: you may want to watch the movie before reading the following):

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

1. The hero/heroine arquetype of the story keeps shifting (is it Prince Phillip? Aurora? Or Maleficent herself?) Stories need a well-defined hero with a clear objective. The hero can and should be flawed (so there’s nothing wrong with Maleficent’s rage and wish for revenge from a dramatic stance). However, the whole story should be about her journey, and the transformation she goes through along what is commonly called the dramatic arc. Maleficent the movie does not really have any of its characters growing or changing through experience in its almost two hours of storyline. In this version, Maleficent has always been a strong and benevolent fairy, protective or the moor and its creatures. Then she makes one mistake led my revenge or jealousy, and spends the rest of the movie trying to fix it. This does not a good story maketh.

2. I’m sure that, for young moviegoers, the three little “good fairy-godmothers” are visually enchanting and can even be funny at times (especially the one played by Imelda Staunton), and they dutifully fill the role of tricksters, an important kind of arquetype, providing the comic relief every story needs. However, adults will miss the irony and wit usually delivered by such characters in more sophisticated versions of kids’s movies.

3. Diaval, the raven, is too weak a mentor, another essential arquetype in effective stories. Maleficent, both as a movie and as a character, would have benefited a lot more if she had a more intriguing, wiser, and possibly older companion to rely on. It would have given the movie a much stronger structure.

4. King Stefan, who starts off as Maleficent’s first love, does not have a clear arquetypical role in the story. He’s too lame as a shadow/nemesis, and not very convincing as a shapeshifter (arquetype usually filled by the heroine’s romantic interest). Similarly, young prince Phillip fails to awaken the sleeping princess with his cold teenage kiss: I don’t think we need to say anything more about his role in the story after this flop. Therefore the movie really relegates male figures to totally secondary and pathetic roles.

5. Aurora’s role also does not fit in within the mythological structure of effective storytelling, being neither a hero nor a shadow, or any other essential arquetype. She roams around the moors, beautiful and wide-eyed, without any specific dramatic function. The couple of scenes in which both Aurora and Prince Phillip, at different moments, unconsciously float in the air in the wake of Maleficent clearly indicate that these characters lack what is fundamental in arquetypes of more importance: volition and activity. Frankly, these levitation scenes boarder the ridicule.

6. The movie climax, packed with action and pyrotechnics, does not look any different from the last superhero movie you may have watched. The grand finale depicts lots of deus-ex machina solutions ( “Into a dragon”, orders Maleficent, before her loyal raven becomes a fire-spitting monster. Well, that is an easy way out, right? Worse: he fails! Maleficent will need to get her creepy dead wings back to succeed.

Speaking of those wings: at first, the scene in which they are cut off looked like this was going to be one of darkest and best moments of the movie, and could easily stand for all the feminist and environmentalist metaphors the movie repeatedly uses. However, the fact that they fly back and reattach themselves to their owner in a climactic scene at the end spoils all the dark beauty and menacing effect of the former scene. Now the wings are just another deus ex-machina-kind of solution employed by poorly-creative scritpwriters. Besides, one wonders why the wings did not decide to do this years before.

Now it’s your turn. Share with us your opinion on Maleficent.

For more on storytelling I would suggest you read two other posts in this blog:  “The Power of Storytelling – The Mythological  Structure ” (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2) and “More Storytelling Tips for Marketers” (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-UK).

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter


Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter

Winslow Homer.  Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation. You might want to check  out our post on the mythological structure of storytelling as well:  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info: 

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

 

Which mythical creature are you?


I have just taken a quiz on the Internet to find out which mythological creature I might be. The quiz consisted of answering some questions on my preferred kind of food, ideal location to live, who I considered to be a hero, my favorite book, among other things. The options were given, a multiple-choice kind of quiz.

I found out I’m a unicorn.

I can’t say I’m entirely happy with the result, but I guess things could be worse. Fortunately, I’m not a hydra. So I decided to search the internet for more information on my newly-found self hoping to reconcile it with the image I have had of myself so far. Were there any consistencies between the two? Indeed there were.

foto

I learned for example that although present in the mythologies of many peoples, including a reference to it in the Bible, a unicorn is not an element of the Greek mythology, but a creature referenced in their natural sciences instead.  Therefore I was very happy to realize that, at least to some people, I might feel more real. Also, the picture I had  in my mind of a unicorn as a white horse with a horn in the middle of the forehead is not entirely correct, this is more of a concept born in the Middle Ages. Before then, the unicorn was actually considered a darker figure, more of a monster really, a cross between a horse and a goat, and could come in different colors. Key words: cross, goat and and a variety of colors (like the iPod Mini). Good! Now these are more familiar, as I’m a Capricorn (usually represented by a goat), and a typical Brazilian crossbreed, with all races and colors mixed into the pot. Things are getting more consistent, the pieces of the puzzle are falling together.

I also enjoyed to know that the unicorn is usually thought of as a graceful and peaceful creature, and that the horn is supposed to work as an antidote against all kinds of poison. Yes, I do see myself as a problem-solver and a healer of other people’s wounds. It’s all going great so far.

Towards the end of my research, however, it came as a bit of a shock to find out that a unicorn can also be a metaphor for a woman’s orgasm: a lot harder to come by than a man’s! I guess the lesson is I need to see myself, from now on, as a refined pleasure, and not always available.

I hope I will learn to live with the discovery of my real nature going forward. It will take some time to get fully used to it, but I’m sure I will settle down eventually.

What about you? Find out what mythical creature you are by taking this quiz:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/keelyflaherty/which-mythical-creature-are-you

Don’t forget to let us know the answer.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.