One last look at 2012! This past year has been one of phenomenal fan service. No, we’re not referring to the two tight leather catsuits featured in The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises but rather to the culmination of Marvel Studio’s five-year crossover project, the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman epic, James Bond’s fiftieth anniversary, the long-awaited end to Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga, and Peter Jackson’s return to making seemingly endless adaptations of Tolkien’s work. Faced with such larger-than-life franchises, it’d be easy to forget some of the smaller oeuvres that came out in the last twelve months, which is where we at Idiomanic come in.
It seems to me interest in comic books has never been greater, as much of 2012’s geek journalism was overshadowed by a certain Dark Knight and hagiographic stories about Joss Whedon’s take on the cape-and-cowl crew. Most now recognize that Spider-Man and Batman took to masks and pugilism not for glory or justice but because of grief. However, it’d be a mistake to think the genre is best equipped to articulate the depth of emotions that comes with loss, as the short-lived procedural drama Awake did more with the vocabulary of bereavement than any super-hero yarn in recent memory.
Jason Isaacs plays Michael Britten, a police detective who, after a horrible car crash, finds himself caught between two realities, unsure which is waking and which is sleeping. In one timeline, his wife (Laura Allen) has died. In the other, she survives, but his son (Dylan Minette) perishes. Rather than seek a cure, Bitten marshals his considerable intelligence to extend these dream states, refusing to give up either his wife or his son fully. The weekly crimes play backseat to this drama of duality, and the tension grows from his ability to feed clues between worlds in order to solve the mysteries. It’s a clever little conceit that inspires some intriguing storytelling, demonstrating that heroism doesn’t rest in reading Miranda rights or putting on a mask but sometimes in just saying goodbye.
From Frankenweenie to Hotel Transylvania, 2012 brought us a surprising amount of monster-themed animated features but few as aligned with my personal views on the horror genre as Chris Butler’s unfortunately titled ParaNorman. Incorporating computer-generated imagery into classic stop-motion animation to gorgeous effect, the film tells of a boy, Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who, owing to his ability to speak to the dead, inherits the thankless task of calming the ghost of a vengeful witch before she curses the whole town. Nothing is as it seems, however, and our hero soon finds himself trying to right a centuries-old wrong while on the run from zombies, mystical thunderbolts, and an angry mob.
I’ve long argued that scary movies serve the same purpose as children’s fairy tales: to give the ogres and dragons in our everyday lives a name, shape, and rules to which to abide so we can learn how to defeat (or at least escape) them. PraraNorman takes this assertion to its logical conclusion, merging the two genres in one captivating fable about the way collective fear turns into cruelty and prejudice, a social phenomenon that affects kids and adults alike. I admire Butler’s willingness to put Norman in real danger despite his young age. Consider the film’s terrifying climax, which, without gore or violence, rivals any of the eighties horror flicks to which it pays homage. Now, if only grown-up slashers could show this level of creativity…
Let’s all take a moment to mourn one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever watched: ABC’s Pan Am, which aired fourteen episodes between September 2011 and February 2012, barely making the cut-off for this piece. The period drama about the once glamorous work of airline stewardesses (now known as flight attendants) featured strong women, complicated men, and enough history to make it feel real. In its short run, the series tackled the changing roles of women, the taboo of interracial relationships, the emotional cost of World War II, the harrowing realm of Cold War espionage, and the shock of Kennedy’s assassination. It handled the changing tides of the sixties with panache, and made us all understand a little bit more what that tumultuous era must have been like.
Some will tell you that Mad Men is the way to go for TV dramas about social issues in the sixties. While I realise it was the zeitgeist of the times, the misogyny that permeates the AMC original series (at least in its first season, which is all I could get through) left a bad taste in my mouth. In contrast, Pan Am focuses more on the growing empowerment of the fairer sex. It was rich to watch and edifying to listen to. I wish the show had gone on for a few seasons longer if only so I could use it as a supplementary history curriculum for my ever curious daughter. In my home at least, Pan Am will be sorely missed.
Iron Sky (2012)
Watch Iron Sky. It’s got Nazis invading Earth from a secret base on the dark side of the Moon. Need I say more?
Editor’s Note: Yes, you do.
Fine. Iron Sky is a Finnish-German-Australian co-production that came out in European theatres in April 2012. The movie takes place in 2018, in the midst of a difficult re-election campaign for U. S. president (Stephanie Paul) who bears a striking (and deliberate) resemblance to Sarah Palin. To boost her poll numbers, she sends the first African American astronaut into space on a mission aptly publicised as “Black to the Moon”. The whole thing turns to catastrophe when a swastika-shaped space station is discovered on the satellite rock, setting in motion the Nazis’ return to Earth.
Owing to some of its politically charged content, the film only got a home video release in North America. Some ultra-patriots might have made a fuss over writer-director Timo Vuorensola equate their leader’s re-election speeches with Nazi propaganda. However, I contend that even Americans will find Iron Sky hilarious as long as they can manage a little sense of humour about their nation. Viewers have to remember it’s just a silly comedy and not everything needs to be accurate. I mean, a U.S. presidential campaign in 2018? Come on! Everyone knows those only take place in leap years.