Posts Tagged ‘Article’

My Horror Movie Quandary

Posted: September 21, 2014 in Article
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As we close in on October, it becomes that time of year to pull out all the old horror movies and get involved in Scary Movie Month. This is where I face my annual challenge. See, a lot of people watch scary movies to get scared… of movies. Which is something I don’t really understand. Not the desire, I’ve been in and around the BDSM community long enough to understand pleasure gained from discomfort, so I get that part. No I just don’t get the being scared part.

You see, I have never been scared by a movie. I’m not sure I’ve ever really been scared of anything, but certainly not a movie. I have been disturbed, or been shown things I don’t necessarily want to see, but never actually scared. It just never happens, nothing ever gets to me that way. I’m also bad company in a haunted house because I tend to look at the ghouls as they come out of the walls and judge them on their make-up choices. I know I’m perfectly safe, this is all for entertainment, and even if someone gets stupid I know I’m at least six times meaner than a sporadically employed actor is prepared to deal with on an average Tuesday night.

I’m not particularly fussed when safety is questionable either. I’m wary, because the person who is unaware of their surroundings is a victim waiting to happen, but I’m never afraid. Partially, again, I’m not the sort of person who just walks into an unknown alley and even if I have to for whatever reason I know that I’m at least four times meaner than most muggers are prepared to deal with on an average Sunday night.

This issue became such an issue for me, that I eventually had to come up with a formula so I could separate fantasy from horror. I don’t think many people would argue that fantasy and horror share a common wall, and sometimes the smells from one can seep into the room of the other. In trying to decide where to place things, or how other people might place them, I eventually came up with this idea.

If the powers of good can easily and readily assist the hero, then it’s fantasy. If the powers of good are helpless, or non-existent, then it’s horror. Gandalf can always show up on the back of an eagle, but The Turtle cannot help you. Now with something like the Elric series, you simply adjust your definition of “Good” to mean “On Elric’s side” and you’ve more or less got the idea. It’s not perfect, because by that logic Labyrinth is a horror movie, but if there weren’t exceptions, how else would we prove the rules?

This is actually a huge reason why I’m sort of uninterested in large swaths of horror. Gore flicks tend to bore the shit out of me. Oh, you’ve got sprays of blood? Bitch, I watch samurai movies, come back when it’s a geyser. You’ve got arms and legs hacked off? Second verse, same as the first! Pig parts loaded into a latex body mold don’t do much for me either. Any movie that relies on guts and gore over story or invention is going to bore me rigid.

I look at all horror as I would any fantasy or thriller. I get the same feeling watching Saw as I do watching Kiss the Girls, a deep and profound sense of loss for Carey Elwes ability to act. Seriously, he is TERRIBLE in both of those movies. What the hell happened? He was almost okay in Cat’s Meow. Seriously. But then, that movie had Eddie Izzard pretending to be Charlie Chaplin and if ever an actor was miscast…

What was I saying?

This is why I often can be found at the fun said of the horror aisle, with my copy of Creepshow and Corman’s Poe Cycle. If I go in for a serious horror movie I at least go for the really good ones. I need something interesting to watch, a story that can unfold, not just a treasure chest of jump scares and people screaming. The Blair Witch Project for example, I must have turned off four or five times while it ran on cable because it just didn’t work for me in the slightest. Watching annoying people bicker might be a horror movie to you, for me it’s Thanksgiving. Actually, I’ll admit on that on that it’s the found footage thing. Found footage can eat a dick. I mean, if I’m going to complain about bickering, what else is Night of the Living Dead, other than watching people bicker? Watching interesting people bicker about interesting things other than sticks tied up with string and where did the map go, comes the answer.

I know most of us here are grown ups, and most people aren’t really scared when they go to see a scary movie, but I have heard a fair amount of “these used to scare me and I watched them to conquer them and became them and now I’m not scared anymore.” and I hear a good deal of “these are literal fears, they’re metaphorical.” The example being no one is really afraid of the wolfman (or rather becoming the wolfman), they’re afraid of becoming something they can’t control. No one fears Pinhead, the cenobites just represent people who are more into BDSM than you are, and they want to show you all the fun. Only, somehow that’s supposed to be scary? I think? Help me out on this. Are the cenobites scary, sexy, or a monastic tradition that stresses community life? Even then though, I’m not particularly fussed by these things, so I don’t get the same effect. Not even the idea of kinky sexy monks can get my heart racing.

So in conclusion I would just like to say that Falco deserved way better than he got from the world.

So Why These Movies?

Posted: August 8, 2014 in Article

So Why These Movies?

I was depressed the last two weeks or so, and I watched some movies. We’re not talking basic depression, we’re talking Allie Brosh depression. Stupid, pointless, meaningless, reasonless depression. You just sit there, fighting the urge to cry with every fiber of your being because that seems important somehow. I can’t say that everyone else has my reactions, but I can say that there were a few movies I watched and that helped. Not solved the issue, not cheered me up, but helped ease the stupid, pointless, random pain. I want to share with you the movies I watched, and the reasons I picked them…

Interview With The Vampire
A movie that is full of depression themes. Louis is clinically depressed, that cannot be denied with any truth. However, there is more to it than that. Louis is beautiful, and people want to have him be with them. The problem is, they want him to be as they want him, with little regard for how he feels about anything. He’s basically expected to just follow along passively and not get people down with all his complicated feelings and longings and being depressed and stuff.

I can identify with Louis, so I like the story a little more than some of the other people I know. Lestat is not a villain because he’s evil, he’s the villain because he’s selfish and stupid. He selfishly complains about Louis’s depression, and stupidly does stupid things to try and “fix” the unfixable. He tries grand gestures and then can’t understand why that doesn’t make everything all better.

This isn’t about “feeling better” or “cheering up” or even “not curling up under my desk and sobbing” at all. It’s about being able to have a moment where I can say “Yes, someone else has felt the way I do and they put it on screen.”

Speaking of which…

The Crow
Say what you like about Detroit not being as vast, as tall or as swank as the city depicted in the movie, it gets something right. If you are a man, living with issues, the patriarchal system has left you with only a few options. You are allowed to suck it up and be stoic, or you are allowed to be angry and take your rage out on deserving targets. I’m not sure there is another movie where those two sides are as well represented as The Crow.

The movie does manage to get to the heart of something else though. The stoicism falls away in a few scenes (Particularly the apartment scene with the ever underappreciated Ernie Hudson) and you can just see the utter and complete sadness. You watch the pain on Brandon Lee’s face, you can see him reaching down to something and bringing it to the surface in a very honest and personal way. It’s a movie that manages to say something, and be something, that I’m not sure everyone who was making the movie was aware of. They snuck it past the guards and gave us something we can hold onto. Here is a movie that understands that you feel trapped, that you haven’t really been given the equipment or the training to deal with this thing that has been laid on you. It also says it’s okay to explode and let all that rage out, which isn’t healthy, but I wouldn’t have been able to hear an alternate message at the time anyway.

Guardians of the Galaxy
An understanding of a different kind. Misfits have feelings, it’s okay to have feelings, even Rocket can have feelings. I’ve seen this movie twice this week, and I’m still processing some of it, but I haven’t been to see a movie a second time in the theater since Sin City and the last one before that was Schindler’s List. Everything wrong with so many comic book movies is addressed here, and Rocket says something that has been sticking with me.

Drax: All the anger, all the rage, it was just to cover up my loss.
Rocket: Oh boo-hoo. Everyone has dead people, that’s no excuse to make everyone else dead though.
I feel like that’s a one-line argument against Grimdark right there.

The movie surprised me by being a story that had some depth and a lot of feeling. I was expecting a fun, silly movie, what I got were characters I genuinely cared about developing in ways that made me feel better. Consider for a moment, that this is a movie where a raccoon cradles a stick and sobs. Now, consider that instead of being absurd, I’m sitting there going “Yeah. *sniff* You let it out Rocket. *sob* You cry if you gotta cry. *weeps* It’s okay.” Again, I find something I can identify with in this movie.

Also, I’m going to be hard pressed to find something that fills me with as much joy as watching little mini-Groot dancing to The Jackson 5.

I feel like this list needs more on it, but these are really the only three movies I watched. I mean, I’ve had trouble sleeping lately and letting MST3K run in the background helps, but I can’t call that watching. I could end this by saying something like “What I can say is that a big part of the reason I think we like the movies we like is being able to identify with someone in the story. Or at least know that someone behind the scenes understands us.” but it feels silly to say something so obvious. Problem is, I don’t know how obvious that is and as depression makes you think everything you say is stupid anyway… it becomes kind of a problem.

The “Why Did You Do That” Moment

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Article

I’ve got a thing about movies, and stories in general. I like things to be logically consistent. I don’t need everything to follow real world rules for everything, but I need a touch of verisimilitude to run through the tale. It’s okay for Batman to run around with a cartoon bomb over his head and have to stop for a moment and say “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” because it follows the rules the world has set. Batman doesn’t want to endanger anyone else, or even risk endangering them, so he runs away from anyone walking towards him when he tries to dispose of the explosive. Yes, to humorous results, but the ’66 Batman was a comedy after all. There is a consistent through line and I don’t find myself asking why he’s acting the way he is.

That’s one of the things that will always pull me right out of a movie, if the actions of someone make no damn sense. If I find myself asking “Why did you do that?” or “Why would anyone ever do that? Like, ever?” then I am pulled out of the movie and my enjoyment tends to suffer. I can get to a point where I’ll just start shouting my questions at the screen, which annoys some people because they’re enjoying the movie and annoys others because they hadn’t seen the problem until I mention it. I’ve ruined Batman Begins for at least two people I know because I pointed out all the problems I had with the movie and now when they try and watch it, all those problems leap out at them. For all Batman Begins did right, it’s loaded with “Why did you do that?” moments and they piled up so high it killed any enjoyment I had from the movie.

This can become a real problem for something that moves slowly, like Game of Thrones, where I’ve been informed that some of my “How does that work?” questions are answered. The problem is those problems are going to be addressed in book/season 4. Sadly, I am not willing to wait the 5 years it’s going to take HBO to get to that point. One assumes it will take as long to get to their 4th season as they did with Deadwood and The Sopranos.

Now there are ways around this issue. One of them is through simple lamp shading. In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise is trapped in a car that’s upside down in a river with guys shooting machine guns at him for reasons too complicated to go into here. In order to escape, he grabs a corpse, lights a road flare and sticks it in the sleeve of the dead man, shoving him down river. The soldiers shooting see the light of the red flare and start shooting at it allowing Cruise and Jeremy Renner to escape. Now, watching this I was saying to myself “How the hell does that work?” and about three seconds later, Jeremy Renner turns to Tom Cruise and in the first lines anyone has spoken since the flare incident says “How the did that work?” which leads to a conversation of all the questions someone might ask and Tom Cruise blowing it off saying he played a hunch that it might attract their attention long enough for them to get away. I laughed at the end of that scene because it was just after I had asked those questions that the movie addressed it. Ghost Protocol was great for that by the way, a smart movie that didn’t have to devolve into stupid exposition and plot movement based on questionable logic.

The other way is to deal with the issue simply and easily by having something not work and having the character say something like “Well, that didn’t work” or “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” which isn’t perfect in all situations, but it can help. Sometimes, it’s interesting mistakes made in the heat of the moment that can drive a story towards an unexpected conclusion. Just so long as it makes sense that it’s a heat of the moment mistake, or a logical idea, or something that could possibly be planned. Bat-Shark Repellent only works in a comedy where the joke is “Yeah, right, he has Bat-Shark Repellent in the helicopter for just such an occasion.” Anywhere else, and you’re left asking “Am I really supposed to believe that Q knew damn well Bond would need an inflating jacket or a buzz-saw wristwatch?” Bond is rarely questioned as all the gadgets get used and as such lead to the answer “Well, he needed them.” Except we do question it later, at least in some small way.

Not everyone notices these things, some people never see the problems I do until I point them out. If that helps them enjoy a movie/book more, I shouldn’t complain, but sometimes it really bugs me. I keep wanting to demand why they didn’t notice the problem, why it doesn’t affect their enjoyment, how can they just let so much crap slide. Of course, the answer is that people are bothered by different things at different times. Lots of people don’t get how I can enjoy the Batman TV show, particularly given its incredible flaws in logic. I’ll only state that A) The flaws in logic are sometimes the point of the joke and B) Those do bug me, but I forgive a joke that fails when there are henchmen doing Brooklyn accents so badly that you wonder if they actually know that Brooklyn is a real place and not some made up shit like Narnia or Belgium.

Noir Needs Context

Posted: June 19, 2013 in Article, Movie
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There is a genre, called Film Noir. It’s awesome stuff. Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a shooting style filled with shadows and somewhat stark camera work, or it’s a story style. As a story style, its hallmarks are usually agreed to be crime, moral ambiguity, social isolation, the attempt to be a good person and a search for some kind of justice. There is also something about women in the form of femme fatales, and the corruption of authority figures, but we’re going to get to that at a later date. Go watch The Dark Corner or The Big Sleep some time, you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe you won’t, because I’ve noticed that a lot of people who make another connected genre haven’t seen the awesome or are unable to replicate it. They clearly see the good man in a hard world and nothing else. See, there is a genre called Neo-Noir, and it kind of sucks. Technically, neo-noir is just later day stuff, made after a completely arbitrary cut off date.

There are problems with Neo-Noir though, and for me they’re pretty big. Problem number one is context. See, most of these movies were made in the post war era of the 40s and 50s. So, they exist in a world where Doris Day was tearing up the charts and blowing up the box office. America was kind of exuberant about having punched Hitler in the face and won World War II single handedly with just good old fashioned Know-How! We were busy having Technicolor romantic comedies, and an economic boom, and white picket fences, and everything was rosey and there would never be hippies, or punk rock, or even a president who wasn’t so white he was practically phosphorescent.

Now of course, a lot of that wasn’t true, and some people knew it. They rejected, or simply weren’t allowed to be part of this new world. That world existed, but they couldn’t have status in it. And you kind of have to understand that Doris Day was doing her thing while these movies were being made. When Humphrey Bogart was playing a detective who leaned alone and unloved in a doorway, he was existing in the same movie world as Doris Day was, he just didn’t get more than a moment in the light. Social Isolation is a big part of the classic film noir, but you need a connected world to be isolated from. There is also a world of art, of beauty, of light haired girls tripping lightly through fields of wildflowers and having nothing worse happen to her than a bit of a grass stain when she and her lover go for a tumble on the ground. These are all things that exist in that world, they just don’t exist for the hero of a film noir.

That’s one of the major problems I have with Neo-Noir, they often lack context. The make the detective the everyman, instead of the outsider. Watching Bladerunner, Momento, Year of The Dragon, Miller’s Crossing, Se7en, or Bound (that list can go on and on) you are never given to understand that this isn’t the entire world. There is no art, no music, no theater, that isn’t slave to the dark, gritty, greasy aesthetic that’s being manufactured. There is quite frankly, no outside for our hero to be looking in from. Everyone lives in Gotham City and it’s horrible all the time, filled with awful people who are mean spirited and/or weak. Even with long form TV shows like Deadwood and Game of Thrones, it’s just horrible people, living in a horrible world, where all sorts of horrible things happen to everyone, all the time because it’s all so horrible and if that pretty girl I mentioned earlier tried to trip through the daisies in one of these shows she’d have been raped and murdered by now.

It’s odd, because the makers of these movies seem to have grasped the emotions behind the isolation, but without the context of the brighter world it makes them just another cog in a terrible world. Failing to understand that Sin City is a funhouse mirror, they seem determined to come as close to reality as they can. The problem is that a seedy underbelly has to be the underbelly, it can’t be everything or your world makes no sense. Most of it comes off as posturing, the image of the tough guy shot through a child’s filter, through lack of understanding why people need to be tough. It’s as if they understand so little of how the world works, that they imagine it must all be corrupt and awful, which is why they’re childish fantasies about monye and power haven’t become true yet. Maybe that’s what they’re going for, to show that the whole world is awful and you have to be an awful person to contend and get along.

If I may posit an objection, that is utter, complete, and total bullshit.

It’s nothing more than a bullshit attempt at the same sort of mass-marketed ultra-conformist non-conformity garbage that they tried to feed us in the Post-Grunge era of the 90s and it was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now. Only now they’ve added a layer of sleaze to let the people who are taken in by this crap to believe they’re somehow clever and seeing past the glitz and understanding the world better because instead of fighting and trying to rise above the mud, they’re slamming themselves in face-first. There is art and light and joy in the world and if you raise your head up from your attempts to sink deeper into the mud than your neighbor (because the good mud is at the bottom), you will notice a whole world of light and beauty and joy.

That’s not to say that there isn’t good Neo-Noir out there. Brick is a masterful example of showing the real world. A segment with one of the few adults in the movie trying to find something for the hero to drink while he eats some cereal is both funny and contextual. Veronica Mars is another good example. The context of the real world is often see on the edges of the show, even though the show itself focuses on the dark side of the world they’ve built for obvious reasons. Both those products contain the social isolation, they contain the mistrust of authority figures, the world having a seedy underbelly, the moral ambiguity, and the good person looking for justice. They also have an understanding that there is more to the world than this little patch of dark and shadow, which is important because otherwise you can’t go on.

Context is always important to me, I will always look for the context of the world a story exists in. If the world contains no good, it is has no possibility for the good guy to win, then it’s no more interesting than a world where you know the good guy will win no matter what. Neither situation works for me. The world where we will always fail is as bad as the one where we always win.

Maybe one or the other story works for you, maybe you get into the constant loss or the constant win. Maybe you like the predictability of it all. I don’t, it doesn’t work for me. When I can predict things before they happen on the screen/page, I tend to get angry. I’m usually already bored, which is why I’m thinking and predicting what’ll happen next. We’ll talk more about that next time.

We can’t stop here Dave, this is Dalek Country.

I was thinking of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for a review, but I had a problem. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson dropped a seed into my brain, and I can’t think about the movie without dealing with that seed.

Allow me to quote from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…

What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped to create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody – or at least some force – is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.

Sci-Fi was basically mired in that self-same belief for decades. If you read all of the Space Odyssey books, you find that there are more Monoliths are more numerous than just the movie makes them seem. There are many monoliths and the reason for them is that a super-advanced race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings sent them to earth was to advance our evolution from one stage to another. Eventually they decide we’re cool and let us into their mouse club just like a Monty Python sketch!

Now, do me a favor and go read the bit about the acid culture again.

I can’t get this idea out of my head that Arthur C. Clarke fell into the same sort of trap along with a lot of other writers. Star Trek does it, B5 does it, Dr. Who does it. Asimov doesn’t do it as directly, but he does some. So many of the writers, names and stories I’ve mostly forgotten now, so many aliens and supercomputers playing as a stand in for God. There seems to be this need to reach out to a god, or a super-advanced race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings, or possibly just a really smart robot. Star Wars doesn’t, and I’ve noticed that’s one of the reasons some sci-fi fans hold it in contempt. You could argue that The Force is appealing, but I argue that it’s just a sort of unfocused spiritualism. More of a way to define the walls of the tunnel than any sort of light tender.

I have noticed though, that it happens a lot more with older sci-fi than the newer stuff. By newer I mean the mid 90s or so, because… you know. I remember some of Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick being very down on the idea of religion as a whole. English movies and TV shows were much more apt to say either there was no God, or we were alone in the universe during the 80s. Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide come to mind. Rationalism came to Sci-Fi in the way the genre always pretended it subscribed to. A wave of atheism rolled in after a while, and then rolled back as people who should have embraced the idea of humanity doing it for itself drifted back into their deeply conservative ways while nominally holding liberal views. Gods and super-advanced races of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings were once again all the rage, lending a helping hand or leaving us in our purgatories with that unexplained polar bear.

So now, you can stand near a closed down book store, and with the right kind of eyes, you can almost see that high-water mark. The place where the wave broke and rolled back. Or maybe there was no wave, maybe it was just a small ripple of rationalism in an otherwise over-godded pond.

So yeah, Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur C. Clarke referenced in the same post. Not everyone does that. Next time I’ll talk about what My Little Pony and the Russian Revolution have to do with each other.

I have a game I like to play during movies. Not all movies mind you, not even boring movies, although I do find I play it more there. Just movies that tend to fall outside of the simple good guy/bad guy structure. The game is simple, and it leads to some odd places now and then.

I impose a classic Hero/Villain structure upon the movie.

I decide who is the hero, by the simple expedient of “they’re the one we spend the most time with” and impose a villain with the criteria “they’re the one who is the most antagonistic over all to our hero” and away we go. I don’t allow that a movie has man against the elements, or he’s really struggling against himself or whatever. Nope, there is a good guy and a bad guy. Yes, in pure story telling terms I’m breaking down and over simplifying things, but it’s my watching experience and I can do what I want inside my own head. I’ve got a lot of processing power in my bean, if I don’t occupy it with trivialities; I turn back to evil again.

Take something like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Is there a hero? Well, yeah, Raoul Duke is the hero. It’s told in first person, he has to be the hero. So who is the bad guy? Well, the antagonist he spends the most time with of course. Dr. Gonzo is about a villainous as you can get, when you start to look at it that way. He is a demon that Raoul has brought along with him on this trip. Less so in the book than in Gilliam’s movie, but he is still portrayed this way in the film and that’s what we’re talking about.

You can change the dynamic of a movie when you start to watch it like this, because a villain is supposed to be evil. Once you’ve got it in your head that say Joe Pesci is the villain of Casino, that movie has an entirely different vibe to it, as it becomes the tale of a gangster deliberately screwing over a man he calls his friend, instead of inadvertently doing it. Yes, you’ve got to wonder how well he’s doing it, seeing how he turns out, but he could be doing it is the point.

Now of course, there is the opposite side of the game. Not exactly taking a movie that has a traditional good guy/bad guy structure and pretending there isn’t one, but looking at it from the other guy’s point of view. Let’s take Rollerball, for example. Flipped over like that, you have the tale of a tired and worried executive, trying to get on with the business of running the world for the benefit of all involved, and this prima donna sports star keeps screwing things up. Not only is he screwing things up, but he’s doing so for no better reason than his own self aggrandizement. It’s not always easy to do, because some actors play up being the bad guy too much. Anything where James Earl Jones plays the baddie is easily adapted to this idea, because he always played the bad guy as if he were the good guy.

Sometimes, these are the only things standing between people being able to enjoy a movie, and having to listen to me bitch about how substandard a movie is and how it fails on every step of the Bechdel Test. Most movies fail to pass that one, so it’s a depressingly easy go-to.

The Goonies Conundrum

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Article

If you didn’t grow up during the 80s, allow me to give you a quick catch up. In 1985, Richard Donner directed a kids adventure movie called The Goonies. It was one part Indiana Jones style adventure throw back, one part Famous Five, one part pirate story and about 6 parts pure 1980s. It was a goofy kids movie that was extremely popular back in the day, but is now a very divisive movie. Some movie geeks still hold it up as the pinnacle of Kid’s Movies, while others claim it’s a festering turd. Others, mainly hipsters who need to be drowned in a bathtub, claim it was always crap and that they never ever liked it. Most these people are the same assholes who try and convince you they always hated the Ewoks despite still having their Wicket stuffed toy from ’85.

In truth, it’s pretty hard to say the movie holds up as an adult. I have shown it to people who missed it as kids and they’ve always had the same response, “What is this crap?” This says to me that you have to view it as a kid to like it. As an experiment, I showed it to a few of kids who were between seven and ten, and they all said the same thing… “Please Mister, I won’t tell anyone, just let me go.” Once they realized they couldn’t gnaw through the restraints and that I wasn’t going to molest them or anything, they enjoyed the movie. Conclusion: You’ve got to be a kid to like Goonies. The Problem is that a lot of people who are no longer kids keep trying to watch the movie.

What always gets me is that people who really liked the movie, and come back as adults and find it didn’t revive the magic for them, get really really, really mad about it. They get very vocal about how it sucks, it always sucks, you suck for liking it and your mom sucks on the corner for nickels. You can often sense the same disappointment and resentment that comes off fanboys like a bad smell because The Star Wars didn’t leap off the screen and felate them in their seats. The magic didn’t happen twice and it’s clearly the movie’s fault!

My question however is, why would anyone expect it to? You’re an adult and it’s a kid’s movie. NOT I hearken to point out, if hearken is indeed the word I want, a family movie. Toy Story is a family movie, because both an adult and a child can watch it to be affected by its mawkish sentimentality. Goonies is a movie for kids though, without a single concession made to the adults who might be forced to watch. Not a single winking pop-culture reference or a double entendre meant to go over the tykes head to be found. Yes my dears, this is not Shrek… and thank the All Might Waffle for THAT mercy. This is purely a movie for kids, which again leads me to the question of why is a 30 year old trying to watch it? Why not move on to some adult fare for a change? It’s not for your adult self, it won’t work because they didn’t put anything for adults there. Yet, people try, and they get angry because they expect (almost to the point of demanding) that their feelings on a piece of entertainment never, ever change.

As much as I appreciate that some things from childhood can still be appreciated, ours seems to be a generation that took the Toys R Us song to heart. While I may still wish to have an action figure from time to time, to be honest I’m far more likely to buy a toy from Babeland than I am to get one from TRU. Ours is a society that is deep in a period of arrested development. We’re just remaking and repackaging things from our childhood right now. Worse yet, we’re embracing it, begging it to be as good as it was the first time. When it’s not, the disappointment comes off people like waves. This isn’t an isolated effect, I’m just pasting it to Goonies for an example.

For myself, I’ll say that Goonies doesn’t hold up for me, but I didn’t really expect it to. I don’t resent it, I have fond memories, but I have no real desire to revisit it because I feel I’m past that point. I’m sort of turned off by the treatment of Chunk these days really. Come to that, Data feels like a racist portrayal as well. Not in a way that makes me want to burn copies of the film surrounded by people in matching shirts and armbands or anything, just in a way that makes me sort of queasy. I don’t mind the movie that much though. It’s good enough for what it is, it’s just that what it is, isn’t for who I am. It was fine when I was in the demographic, but now that I’m out of it I’m no longer interested.

I’m skipping over the fact that the other side of this coin is the people who do still watch it and do still enjoy it on some level who get amazingly angry if anyone so much as says “Well, it was alright when I was a kid, but I’m not a kid anymore.” because I’ve only got so much energy, Besides, I started with a clear concept and seem to have muddied my mental waters by splashing around, so I’ll just leave it here for the moment.

More thoughts as they come to me.

Spielberg Generation

Posted: June 30, 2010 in Article

You know what makes Steven Spielberg great? He understands his generation. If you watch his movie, there is an underlying resonance of what the Baby Boomers were going through at the time. At least, what Spielberg was going through, which it seems a lot of Boomers were also experiencing.

Look at Raiders of the Lost Ark. Under the adventure story is a theme about getting older. If there is a generational statement in Raiders it’s “Hey, I started getting old. How the hell did that happen?” It’s not the central thesis of the movie or anything, but it’s in there. Temple of Doom has him having a child, and trying to be a good (for lack of a better word) ‘parent’ while working on his own career. I haven’t seen The Color Purple in years and years, so I can’t comment about that. Like wise for Empire of The Sun and Always. However, there is an obvious theme in Last Crusade of “I’ve never really connected with my dad, and that bothers the hell out of me.” which is then complimented with Hook’s theme of “Holy shit, I haven’t connected with my kids either. If I don’t do something the cycle is going to continue.”

All of these statements are things I clearly remember my parent’s friends talking about, worrying about, and experiencing. When these movies came out, they were part of the cultural touchstones for people of that age group. I don’t see something for every movie, Jurassic Park’s only real theme seems to be that raptors are cool. However, Lost World does have a reinforcement of the “I was away working on his my things while you were growing up.” theme, which I know was a thing at the time. Since many of my friends were sort of sitting there going “Yeah, I know. Welcome to the reason all the movies in the next 20 years will be chock full of daddy issues.” Gods, but I hate daddy issues movies, I really do. I have a good relationship with my father and I’m not even remotely emo, so the last 10 to 15 years of film has really failed to touch me.

Right after that, you get another huge touchstone for the Boomers with Private Ryan. This is a movie that seems to be designed for guys born between 1946 and 1952 to turn to their fathers and scream (with tears pouring down their faces) “I UNDERSTAND YOU NOW DADDY! LET US EMBRACE IN OUR UNDERSTANDING WHILE I STILL IGNORE MY OWN KIDS! WAAAAAAAHH!!!!”

And then you have A.I.

I don’t know the deeper meaning of A.I. because I’m still waiting for that movie to end. I poke my head back in the theater every once in a while, and it’s still going on. Minority Report is just loaded up with regrets about not having enough time for all the things, blah, blah, blah, change the record. After that, you get a spate of movies I haven’t actually seen. I missed most of his ‘00s out put, except for Crystal Skull, which does contain that “We’re growing old now and we’re looking back at all the things we missed while we were busy working.” and again, that seems very much to be where the mentality of the boomers seems to be. Spielberg has more or less spent the last 30 odd years with his finger on the pulse of his generation.

I know Generation X is supposed to be a more diverse group than any previous generation, but surely some of these things are universal. Strangely though, I haven’t seen a lot of directors that make movies I really connect with. Edgar Wright has done alright with Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, although Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has so far left me feeling cold and asking “Why aren’t I into this?” I feel like I should totally be excited for it, but I’m just not. My point is that there doesn’t seem to be a great director like this for our generation, which could just be my perception since, as I say, I totally fail to connect with movies that are neck deep in daddy issues.

HANG ON! Just hear me out on this.

It’s getting quite popular to hate Michael Bay these days. There have been people claiming he’s ruining the action movie or just cinema in general for a while now, but lately there are people who should be in his demographic who are hating on him. Now, I’ve never made it a secret that I am no Bay fan, but I’m not sure I’ve really pointed out exactly why I don’t like his stuff.

First off, I don’t think he’s ruining movies. While I may not like his style, I understand that he makes a lot of money, so someone must be plunking down their shekles to see his stuff. If that’s true, then I blame the audience for the death of true cinema… whatever the hell that actually means. I’ve seen enough of these “Cinema is dying” claims spread over a wide enough area to know that it’s just so much hokum. If movies are going downhill, which I don’t actually believe, then it’s because of what the majority decides to go see. I don’t blame Bay, who is reacting to market forces. Argue against the market if you want, but don’t blame the artist.

Some people claim to hate Bay because his movies are badly made. I can’t really agree with that either though. Of the movies of his I’ve seen, Bay tells a complete story and the technical aspects of his filmmaking are very well done. He makes good movies, with very little fat in either the narrative or technical sense. Explosions aplenty perhaps, but he’s never claimed to be attempting to tell a story more complex than “Bad guys over there, good guys must thump them!” I will allow the argument that he makes stupid movies, but bad? Well, I’m not so sure. If pressed, I would claim that The Rock (a movie I loathed) has a much stronger narrative than Blade Runner. Let’s face it, storytelling was never Ridley’s strong point. Unlike Ridley Scott, Bay doesn’t have to leave half the movie on the cutting room floor to prevent each project from being 7 hours long. However, even when he fails, Ridley Scott always makes something pretty awesome. You always end you going “You magnificent bastard!”

No, the reason I don’t like Michael Bay is the reason I do like Roger Corman and several other cheap cinema directors. There are three kinds of movie experience, at least to my mind. On the one end of the spectrum you have “WOW! That was awesome!” in the middle you have “Eh, that was alright I suppose.” and then on the other end you have “What the fu…? I have no idea how to even process that.” You can stretch the spectrum wider by putting things in between the extremes. For example, you can put in “Well that was okay, but I’m not going to build a monument out of masheded patoes or anything.” and “Well, I can see what you were aiming for, pity you missed it.” if you really want to.

Out of these selections, it’s the middle ground that I hate landing in. Bay’s work always lands squarely in the “Meh” territory for me. Those are the movies that actually will get my hate when I think about it. When art has no impact or effect on me, that’s when I get offended by it. Stuff that’s competently made, but elicits no reaction from me is the worst. At least with the head scratchingly bad stuff you can grab your friend and scream “Did you understand one word of that? If so, I demand you explain it to me! If not, let us commiserate the fact that we have no idea what we just saw.” With the good stuff you can jump up and down, pump your fist, or just sit back and whisper “Yeah… right on.” depending on what movie it is. Artists at the top of their game? Awesome. Amateurs doing their best with limited funds? Awesome. Some one who wants to express something, only they’re not sure how to express it? Bring it on.

However, when it’s clear that a bunch of professionals just showed up, clocked in, did a good job, but just didn’t care… that’s when I get annoyed. I get so pissed seeing people given every advantage of money and resources just piss it away by making some soulless piece of garbage. Saying nothing, producing no feelings, just letting a slate of hollow actions run for two hours. If you’re going to just produce something with the consistency and flavor of library paste, why not just go become an insurance broker, a banker, or a Drive Time DJ at a Top 40 station. I would honestly prefer to watch an interesting train wreck of a movie that someone gave a damn about making than watch something where it’s clear everyone on set was just thinking about getting away for the weekend.

This is why you’ll always see me championing some piece of crap, even though it’s badly written, poorly acted, and ineptly directed. If it excites, confounds, or other wises engages me, I’m likely to enjoy most things. Even when it mostly fails, knowing how hard it is to get some of these movies made will at least make me respect them for getting the thing completed. I like knowing that some kind of passion was included, and a lack of passion always shows on the screen. Any time the cast and crew aren’t feeling it, you can sort of tell. Even if you’re not sure what it is exactly, you can see a problem. That’s why I don’t like Michael Bay’s stuff. He never seems to care, never seems to try to leave his comfort zone, just sort of works 8 hours and then goes home and has a beer.

I would rather he pushed, got passionate, and really tried to do something genuinely ambitious. Hence, I would like to see him try and remake Seven Samurai. Think about it a moment, if he has any talent, that would be the place to push it. He clearly understands the brotherhood of men, he gets soldiers, and he can do ensembles pretty well. Doing it as a modern tale, a medieval tale or even as a straight up samurai picture could really stretch him. It would at least be a great opportunity for him to crash in a way few have crashed before. He could get the money tom do that project right, he could get whatever people or writers he needed, I can think of no one besides perhaps Spielberg who could pool the resources that Bay could. It would either be great, or it would be an awesome train wreck.

Either way, it would be interesting and it might inflame some real passions for a change.

You think that movie is bad?

Posted: May 18, 2010 in Article

I always get a little annoyed when I see a worst ever list. Mostly because what people call the worst is rarely anything like as bad as they think it is. Best of lists can be either a matter of taste or an educated guess as to what’s expected to be there. Take for example if I wanted to write a list of the ten best Sci-Fi movies. I could easily write that up by taking a couple of recent favorites like Avatar and Iron Man, a couple of classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of The Worlds, a couple of things from my childhood like Star Wars and Blade Runner and I’ve got six right there. Then a nod to some obscure foreign film like Alphaville, a quick nod of something that people might not agree with but is still good, say Rollerball and a big time action movie like Total Recall. Then I just need one solid hit of pure nostalgia in the form of E.T. to make everyone feel warm and cuddly as number one and I’m done. The problem that I haven’t seen two movies on this list, that I don’t like three of them and I’m indifferent to two of them doesn’t matter. Everyone would say it was a good list or go on to chatter about how the remake of Rollerball sucked in the comments. While this list is formed in a cynical mind, it’s not invalid, it just shows that I’ve been paying attention to how top ten lists work.

I didn’t come here to talk about top tens though. OH NO! I cam to talk about how people register bottom tens. See, I can do one of those two, and be just as cynical. Catwoman and one of the Matrix sequels, whichever one of the Star Wars prequels I think slagging off would get me the most hits, the remake of Rollerball, something of Corman’s from the 50’s (probably It Conquered The World) and Alien Vs Predator would get me through the first six without even trying. Then just throw in something like V The Final Battle, which is cheating because it was a Mini-Series on TV, along with Robo Cop 3 and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Somewhere in there, you need one movie that most people think is pretty good and claim to hate it thereby establishing cool cred by being an outsider. Let’s go ahead and put Independence Day in that list. Now, again, I like some of the movies in this list. I have no feelings for other items, but a lot of people will nod along and some might even cheer if they see something they really don’t like being called a “Worst Film Evar” by some guy on the internet.

Now, the problem there is that NOT ONE of those movies belongs on a worst list. If you think any of them do, I can show you what a really bad movie is like. People talk a lot of crap about Roger Corman, but he’s a masterful filmmaker. Man’s worked in movies for his entire adult life and as far as I know, he always turned a profit. I still put his Poe movies up as some of the best low cost horror movies ever made. His work is also always professional and complete. He might pad scenes on occasion, but that’s nothing compared to the horrors I have witnessed.

I have seen things that make Ed Wood seem competent and compelling by comparison. My youth was spent sitting up with my father watching Cinemax, viewing movies that were shown late at night not so much because of content but because Cinemax was ashamed to have them out in the light of day. I’ve seen movies so incompetently made that you actually wonder if this was some student project where the guy who was handling the sound flunked out half way through production and they just never bothered to replace him. I’ve seen entire movies that were out of focus, had bad lighting, or had actors that were making up the script as they went along.

And yet, these movies garnered a distribution deal. Someone looked at these projects and said “I will buy this movie! I will put it on a screen somewhere and get some schmuck to watch it!” Were they cheap to buy? Probably. When I grew up and hunted some down, they certainly proved cheap to buy on DVD. Well, except the Deathstalker Movies. Can’t get those on disc because they went OOP and now they want big bucks for them. The thing is, even the Deathstalker movies are really good productions when you put them next to some of the crap I was prepared to watch back in the day. Way back, like… last week. I’ve spent enough time during my childhood watching bad movies, made worse by Channel 20 slicing them up for commercials and cutting out the good bits for broadcast standards to know bad when I see it.

I mean… that whole Worst Ever list and not one Bruno Mattei film? No Reb Brown? Not even a Godfrey Ho flick? For shame! Hell, there are even worse than those guys out there, but I don’t want to get bogged down in minutia. When one is a true cineaste, which is a fancy word meaning “A person who has to watch movies alone because his friends won’t watch them with him anymore”, one has to take all that the screen has to offer. I’ve been told by some people who are as into music as I am into movies that even Muzak has some merits and should at least be listened to once in a while. All things should be studied, so that we know real quality and can spot complete garbage. That’s the excuse I’ve been working under anyway, and most people seem to accept it. The truth is, that I enjoy watching cheap movies because watching someone with no money but a lot of heart make a complete piece of shit is far more entertaining than watching someone make something that’s just not very good but had a ton of money. People spending $100+ million to make me go “Eh” makes me hate them way more than someone who spent $100k and leaves me with “What the hell did I just watch?” ever will. Why yes, I am thinking of a certain Mister Bay there.

My point is you should never take a “Worst Movie Evaaaar” list at face value. Best has a limit for most people. I will probably never see a “Gather some guys together and do a job” movie that surpasses Seven Samurai. I’m ready to watch one if such a thing exists, but I’m guessing that The Expendables is just going to be a some good fun with a touch of the old ultra-violence. Worst though, worst takes some doing. You’ve got to have real ineptitude for me to agree that what you’ve got going on is the worst. Most the time what you really have is the worst movies that these people have seen. Sometimes, that’s either not really a lot of movies, or it’s just a cynical list written with things the writer is hoping you’ll recognize and agree with.

Simply put, any worst ever list that doesn’t have Crazy Fat Ethel II on it is going to leave me suspicious.