Thoughts (and spoilers) after the jump.
continue reading "Star Trek: Into Darkness"
(with a tip of the hat to the wonderful ‘Room 237′…)
The key to understanding the Kubrick movie ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is to understand that Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist, one who never left anything to chance. The reshoots that Kubrick undertook, reshoots that scrapped an already-filmed and extremely expensive ending, were explicit in changing the original film as well as the Broadway play. These changes were not undertaken by chance. By examining them on a frame-by-frame basis, backwards as well as forwards, we can see how Kubrick was actually making a movie about …
(…to be continued once I go completely insane…)
On the Twitters, Tim O’Neil and I had a discussion/argument about the use of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Tim (that link is to his Mandarin essay) is a huge fan of the Mandarin, considers him to be Tony Stark’s definitive archenemy, and thinks the movie did wrong by him. I am a huge fan of the Mandarin, consider him to be Tony Stark’s definitive archenemy, and think the movie handled him in the only way the movies can do it. SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR IRON MAN 3 SO STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED AND STUFF.
Well, that trailer got just about everything absolutely right. The music is appropriately triumphant. The overall message is about the hope Superman instills in others. Most of the action shots are of him saving people (well, except for where he is super-fighting Zod and holy shit does that ever look great).
I am stoked. I’m going to have to donate money to the CBLDF or some other comics-related charity in the cost of my ticket to feel okay with giving DC any of my money with all of their bullshit treatment of creators (and particularly the Siegel and Shuster estates in this case), but daaaaaaaamn.
So naturally i was first in line at my local cinema to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation because I love GI Joe and I love movie sequels with colons in the title. Well, I say “first in line,” but more accurately there was in fact no line. I am not sure why people will line up for stupid Spider-Man movies where Peter Parker goes out hunting for revenge but not for awesome movies about G.I. Joe. This seems rather silly to me.
So anyway the movie starts with the G.I. Joes rescuing a “defector” from North Korea, which given that they are supposed to be like this international strike force as per the first movie is a little odd, but if someone is going to defect to The Regular Old World, I guess they would do it from North Korea because that entire country is basically crazy. The Rock (the movie says he is Roadblock, but he does not speak in rhyme even once in this movie, so I am just going to say he is the Rock, much like how in the first movie Brendan Fraser was a G.I. Joe for some reason and they never explained it, but at least the Rock makes more sense because, come on, he is the Rock) has special fence-melting gauntlets which melt the fence and the Joes sneak in and rescue the North Korean defector from North Korea, which… I guess technically that makes him an “attempted defector” rather than a defector, right? Anyway, they rescue him, and then Flint (who is played by a boring guy I don’t remember) points out as they leave that he replaced the North Korean flag with the Yo Joe flag, because Flint thinks secret missions are for wussies.
continue reading "YO JOE AGAIN"
We saw your wang
We saw your wang
In the movie that we saw, we saw your wang
We saw Kevin Bacon’s wang in Wild Things,
and Rich Gere’s in American Gigolo,
and Jason Segel’s wang in Sarah Marshall,
but not erect, cause that’s a big no-no
(unless it’s porn)
We saw Michael Pitt’s wang in The Dreamers,
Gael Bernal’s in Y Tu Mama Tambien,
Peter Saarsgard’s in Kinsey,
Geoff Rush’ in Quills, but see:
We’ll never see Leonardo DiCaprio’s thing
(unless Scorcese asks)
We saw your wang
We saw your wang
In the movie that we saw, we saw your wang
We saw Zach Galifikanis’ in The Hangover,
Tom Hardy’s wang in Bronson took first place;
We saw Robin Williams’ in The Fisher King
And Seth MacFarlane’s whenever we see his face
Billy Crudup’s “Watchmen” wang? Computers;
But Fassbender’s Shame wang was for real,
And Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley,
And Vincent Gallo in The Brown Bunny,
And Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting,
and The Pillow Book, and Velvet Goldmine,
and Young Adam, and Perfect Sense,
and really you have to pay him extra to keep his pants on
We saw your wang
We saw your wang
Have been reading a lot of reviews of Dead Space 3 lately, and although I am not terribly concerned about it – mostly because it is not on Steam, and these days if it’s not on Steam I’m not gonna bother buying a game, frankly – but there are a whole lot of people who are apparently really pissed that the franchise is no longer really a horror story but is morphing into an action series. It’s understandable to be peeved, because if you like something when it is one thing, you might want more of that one thing than of another thing. But in the case of Dead Space‘s narrative progression, there is no choice: so long as you want the story to continue, then the horror aspect of it has to eventually end.
Consider: the first installment of most horror franchises is all about fear of the unknown (which, whether said unknowingness is derived from shock or suspense, is the most effective type of fear in a dramatic sense). In Alien, for example, the fear is generated by the characters genuinely having no idea of what they have found re: the crashed spaceship and the aliens therein, and then having no idea of the capabilities of the alien itself. In Dead Space, the characters are ignorant of everything at the start of the game and have to gradually learn what the monsters are, why they kill people and consume corpses, what happened on the ship, et cetera, and what is “known” to the player is only known because of genre osmosis (spaceships have artificial gravity, asteroids can fuck up your spaceship, and so on). In fact Dead Space neatly inverts several tropes to play against the player’s “knowledge” early on – for example, shooting the space zombie monsters in the head actually does nothing (you have to shoot off their limbs instead), which makes a player’s first encounter with the uglies more tense when the space zombies aren’t behaving as space zombies ought to behave according to the rules they already know. But those rules are arbitrary, and Dead Space gets that, which is why it works as a horror narrative. Often the scariest moments in the game are those times when one of your allies’ radios clicks on and shocks the hell out of you because you are primed to think “monster jumping out” whenever you hear something you weren’t expecting.
But when we progress to the second installment of a horror franchise? If your protagonist from the first installment has survived (and due to the inherent nature of sequelitis, they probably have done) you can’t rely on lack of knowledge to provide horror, not entirely, because now both your audience and your protagonist know stuff about the monsters. The answer to continue to create horror, then, is generally a combination of two things: firstly, add some more stuff the protagonist/audience didn’t get a chance to learn the first time out and use that to create fear of the remaining unknown, and secondly take what is already known and recontextualize it in a manner that presents new challenges and threats – fear of the known. In Aliens, we find out that the Aliens are basically an insect race and that they aren’t simply mindless killing machines because they can organize ambushes and evade traps (fear of the unknown) and we also get to find out what happens when there is a lot more than one Alien to deal with, even if you have lots of guns (fear of the known). In Dead Space 2 we find out what the space zombies can escalate into (it is bad) and that there are more varieties, including some which are just not conventionally kill-able like all the rest (fear of the unknown) and we also get to fight the space zombies in new locales, and also there is that bit where you have to stick the needle into your own eye (fear of the known). And this blend usually-but-not-always works.
However, by the time you get to the third installment of your horror franchise, you are pretty much out of “unknown” unless you just start making shit up that might technically work within the narrative from a logistical standpoint but which isn’t exactly aligned with everything you’ve done so far. (Some people accuse Lost of having done this, and although it is not a horror show per se, they had kind of a point.) Given that the fans of your story will generally resent the out-of-left-field “unknown,” all that leaves you with is fear of the known – and at this point your protagonist has suffered so much in the first two installments that they’re not going to be credibly scared of any of it any more. (Not a horror example, but consider how John McClane changes in the Die Hard movies – in the first couple, he frequently desperately prays that some plan of his will work and that he won’t die, and then as the third and fourth progress he is increasingly blase about the insane things he is doing, because his fear has died.) Fear of the known can usually be planned for and dealt with, and when one has to improvise, one knows what will and won’t work within reasonable limits. (The obvious exception here is Cthulhu-style horror where knowledge of the enemy is either actively dangerous to have or completely meaningless because the enemy is too powerful for it to matter, but as a general rule, protagonists in that milieu don’t last past one story for reasons which are fairly obvious.)
In other words, the difference between a horror movie and an action movie is, mostly, the protagonist’s degree of knowledge. Which means as any horror narrative continues and develops, it by necessity has to gradually drift towards being an action movie (or something else, but action is the easiest progression because the two genres are so similar and both strive to hit the same adrenalin-producing nerve in the viewer), simply because the protagonist will learn more and more – you can see this even in many regular horror movies within the three-act structure where the hero, in the third act, finally confronts the baddie. That progression is practically a staple of slasher flicks, and so slasher flick franchises generally invert the formula and remain horror films by having new protagonists in each installment while keeping the same baddie around. Of course, then you run into the problem with that formula, which is that each iteration will feel more and more repetitive until you decide to put Jason in space because what the hell else is left to do?
When I said that to my wife a bit ago, she looked at me and said, “I have no idea what you mean by that.” I’m kind of assuming you feel the same way, so I’ll explain.
A traditional ‘alternate universe’ story, which is something that just about every sci-fi/fantasy series gets to from time to time, is like pornography in that it’s really just the same thing each time with very little variation. Each AU storyline purports to focus on a single point of divergence that has sent history down a different path…but the differences are never so great as to preclude instant audience identification. (For example, in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise”, twenty years of war with the Klingon Empire hasn’t resulted in any advances in technology beyond the Galaxy class starship, the Enterprise hasn’t been destroyed and replaced by the E or F, and all of the bridge crew have not only survived but have wound up in the exact same command positions on the exact same ship. Likewise, Giles is still assigned to the Hellmouth and despite the subtext of many episodes involving the idea that what separates Buffy from other Slayers who’ve died young is her friendships and connections with the everyday world, the only sign that Buffy is any less skilled as a Slayer is the little scar on her lip.)
The “twists” to this reality are designed, like porn, to provide simple and visceral thrills. They are less intended as logical consequence of any particular point of divergence as they are to give the audience the specific excitement of breaking well-established narrative rules. The premature death of Charles Xavier, for example, doesn’t lead to the dystopia ruled by Apocalypse because Charles Xavier did anything in particular, it leads to the dystopia ruled by Apocalypse because it’s the only chance that Marvel has to show a world where the bad guys won and the heroes are a desperate resistance movement. In the much later “Here Comes Tomorrow” storyline, Beast isn’t a villain because it’s a logical extension of Scott’s retirement from the team; he’s a villain because showing a fan favorite hero as the villain is a staple of alternate universe stories. (Another common trope is best exemplified in the ‘Magik’ series, where the cute and winsome Shadowcat is shown, in the alternate dimension of Limbo, as being a hardened warrior. The series also shows charming and friendly Nightcrawler as a lecherous villain…basically, you can chalk up 95% of alternate universe stories to the combinations of “set in a dystopian reality”, “well-liked hero is a villain”, “infamous villain is a good guy”, and “comic relief/peril monkey character is a total bad-ass”.)
And, like pornography, alternative universe stories have their own version of the “money shot”. If you accept the idea that the breaking of series narrative conventions in an AU story is the sci-fi/fantasy series equivalent of the sex in porn (and roughly the same amount of time is devoted in AU stories to showing how different and unexpected the alternative timeline is as is devoted to the sex in a porn movie), then the natural “climax” is the ultimate breaking of narrative convention, the death of characters who normally are given a protected status by their role in the story. Buffy is always safe in the Buffyverse (and possibly the only person who is)…so therefore, she has to die at the end of ‘The Wish’. ‘Days of Future Past’ has to end with a bloodbath, because it’s the only time Chris Claremont can get away with incinerating Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Magneto in a single issue.
Does this mean that alternate universe stories are without merit? No. Like porn, there are wide variations in quality. (‘Days of Future Past’ would be qualified as “erotica” in this analogy, for example.) But it is worth remembering that stories like these always start out with a huge advantage in fan’s affections because that’s really all they’re intended to do. They are stories made to give long-term followers of the series “fangasms”, no more and no less.
BEST PICTURE: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 3. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a giant fucking gimmick of a movie, but it’s harder to get irritated about Best Picture nominations when there are so many of them – good play, Academy! One notes that the “up to ten” gimmick for Best Picture has now changed its content, because this used to be an excuse to get mass-popular flicks into the Best Picture race, at least in appearance if not in substance, and this year the locks were Django, Zero Dark, Les Miz, Argo, Life of Pi (ugh, Life of Pi) and Lincoln, and instead of putting in The Avengers or something stupid like that, instead we get a couple of arthouse films (I haven’t seen Amour yet but I hear it is Critically Brilliant) and Silver Linings Playbook, which is pretty good. Would have liked to have seen Looper or Brave get the tenth slot, but oh well.
BEST DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke for Amour, Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 8. No Quentin Tarantino for Django is criminal; if you’re nominating Django for all those other awards then it is ludicrous not to give Tarantino a nod, but it looks like Django has pissed too many members of the Academy off because it committed the sin of having people in the 1850s South say “nigger” a lot when referring to black people, or something. (Yes, I know there are more serious criticisms of the movie. No, I don’t think the Academy members were really thinking about that.) Leaving off Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty smacks of “we gave the chick an award like, two years ago, what else do you want?” Ben Affleck definitely deserved a nod for Argo and that sucks too. See above for my feelings about Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi being overrated garbage.
BEST ACTOR: Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables, Daniel-Day Lewis for Lincoln, Joaquin Phoenix for The Master, Denzel Washington for Flight.
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 1. I thought Flight was a mediocre movie at best, but Washington’s performance is excellent and the only reason it is watchable other than the part where the plane crashes. There is basically nothing bad here. Maybe you would want to see John Hawkes get a nod for The Sessions – I did – but it’s not a criminal oversight to go with who they did.
BEST ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild, Naomi Watts for The Impossible.
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 5. Wallis is a very cute child but she was not really “acting” in any sense of the word (as those involved in making the film have made quite clear) so… come on, acting is a THING, it’s not just “being onscreen while in a movie” or else Morgan Spurlock would be going for Best Actor nominations and I don’t think we can take that. Everyone else is a fine choice. But come on, Academy, have some standards.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Alan Arkin for Argo, Robert DeNiro for Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained.
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 2. Basically this category has given up any pretense of being anything other than “the category for older, mostly white actors who we want to give an Oscar for either being the most entertaining bit of the movie or because they deserve a lifetime achievement award that isn’t just our lifetime achievement award.” Hoffman is this year’s attempt to try and disguise that fact. Samuel L. Jackson for Django would have been a far better choice to do that job, but eh.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams for The Master, Sally Field for Lincoln, Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.
Crashie Rating (out of 10): 1. Because does it really matter? We all know Anne Hathaway is winning. It’s not even going to be close, because she sang her big song in a Dramatic Single Take With No Edits.
It’s very good, of course, but Tarantino is never going to make a truly great movie again until somebody forces him to cut a movie down to under two hours, because he always wants to put in all the things and while the extra stuff is usually entertaining it’s almost never necessary.
I can safely say without making any allusions to the film’s quality (which I thought was quite good overall) that this movie is going to win all the Academy Awards, and possibly some of next year’s if they can figure out a way to give the filmmakers those.
When I wrote last week’s post, about how it it’s okay to form opinions on things you haven’t seen yet, and even to not change those opinions in the face of opposition from people who have seen those things, many people pointed out the perilous downside to this. Which is that, just as we have all (or most of us have) been faced by an angry fan snarling out, “How can you judge it if you haven’t even seen it?”…we have also all been on the receiving end of dripping disdain wielded by someone who read about a casting rumor on io9 that shows that the movie is totally going to suck because the gay cowboy from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is playing the Joker and there’s no point in even watching it now.
Those people are absolutely right. (The people who point out the perilous downside, not the people who refused to watch ‘The Dark Knight’ because Heath Ledger was in it.) There’s no question that fans can be obnoxious, and that any creative decision that’s daring and unconventional will attract a crowd of people not just ready but eager to jump on it with hobnailed boots before they have a chance to really judge it. The impulse to see a truly spectacular failure in progress is an old one, and there are many who will say that it resulted in a lot of brilliant stories never getting a fair shake. (Even now, ‘Heaven’s Gate’ has its defenders, and I’ve met someone who will insist that ‘Sucker Punch’ is a Brechtian masterpiece.)
We all have a responsibility not to be that fan. It is okay not to like things. It is even okay to not like things irrationally, based on little to no evidence. If you are wrong, the only thing you’re hurting is you, after all. And yes, it is okay to tell people that you’re not interested in something when it comes up in conversation (like, say, a discussion of “Things You Irrationally Dislike Based On Almost No Evidence”.) But what isn’t okay is to be aggressive. Going into a comics forum to tell everyone that you’re not even going to pick up ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’ because it’s s obvious it’s going to suck…not cool. Sitting in on a DC panel just so you can tell everyone that ‘Flashpoint’ was the last DC comic you’re ever reading…why bother? Clearly nobody there will agree with you, because they’re all there to hear about the new comics coming out of DC, so why do you want to start an argument? It’s okay to let people disagree with you. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever say you didn’t like something, or even to have a friendly argument about the relative merits of a film/book/TV show/comic/play. It’s good to discuss things, and and even to have wildly differing opinions. The point at which you start getting upset at people for liking things you have no interest in, though, is the point at which you need to just take a step back, relax, and remember that just as nobody can make you watch ‘Green Lantern’, you don’t have to make a pre-emptive strike on their enjoyment in order to stop them from forcing it down your throat.
If for no other reason than someday, you might change your mind. And when you do, the last thing you want is for all your friends to remind you of the time you said you wouldn’t watch ‘Buffy’ because you weren’t a thirteen-year-old girl.