Friday, December 19, 2014

And We'll Never B. Royales

We never run out of blood.

When entreated about a month ago to head out and subsidize the newest half-installment in the Westernized teenybopper franchise fiasco that’s called The Hunger Games, I politely abstained, inwardly fuming at those who would thoughtlessly lend their support to a product of blatant plagiarism and commercialism.  Being a bit of a film snob, I elected instead to watch the work that everyone knows inspired Suzanne Collin’s cheap PG-13 ripoff, the work that shocked audiences all around the Japanese isles, and the work that brought the explosion of international child killing competitions to the forefront of our post-9/11 consciences.  Uncut and uncensored, Battle Royale is in every sense the artistic superior of The Hunger Games, pulling no punches with its extreme violence, emotional intensity, raw primitivism, and potent social commentary on… well, we’ll get to that.

If you’ve seen or read the American copycat, then you already know the basic setup of Battle Royale.  The two dystopian worlds are practically identical: both involve corrupt governments randomly selecting teenagers to murder each other in an annual competition, except that the teens in The Hunger Games are tributes and strangers and celebrities from districts subjugated to a centralized Capitol whereas the teens in Battle Royale are just anonymous kids from the same class who all happen to know each other really well, except that the Hunger Games government uses the games to sow fear and discourage rebellion whereas the Battle Royale government uses the games to teach kids a lesson about staying in school… or something, except that the Hunger Games games are nationally televised and virtually inescapable whereas the Battle Royale games have somehow gone entirely unnoticed by all the kids competing in them – which honestly begs the question of how the government expects the games to alter any of the students’ behavior, especially when they’re trying to reprimand/slaughter the kids who’ve dropped out of school and wouldn’t be eligible for the battle anyway –, except that the Hunger Games games are set in a controlled and dynamically evolving environment whereas the Battle Royale games are so poorly overseen that three guys are able to hack the gamemakers’ computer and rig a truck as a bomb in a matter of two days, and except for many other things, none of which are minor enough to change the fundamental, indisputable reality that The Hunger Games is an American bastardization of the foreign-language bloodbath.

And it is a bloodbath.  Make no mistake that Battle Royale is not a movie for the faint of the heart and doesn’t shy from the kinds of images that Hunger Games weakly refrained from showing.  Director Kinji Fukasaku turns up the CGI blood spurt level a couple thousand notches but never uses violence gratuitously or glamorizes it, a la Collins’ work.  Fukasaku’s strength as a director is his dedication to portraying human violence as realistically as possible, and it’s in this area where he triumphs over the Hunger Games creators, using only as many unlimited CGI blood spurts as are absolutely necessary to convey the devastation of the unlimited ammo holstered by the film’s token bad guy.  A lot of less open-minded critics have ripped the film for its frantic and confusing editing: how, they ask, does the badass redhead transfer kid manage to get a hold of the machine gun when it looks like the other guy is holding it, and are we really supposed to think that he can dispatch five other teens by spinning in a circle and firing while crouched like he’s some kind of action hero?  From where does the bad girl obtain her sickle when a series of shots show her chasing down the good girl unarmed; does it magically appear in the nether region between the frames?  How does the crazy math nerd get his own axe buried deep in his skull through the mere act of rolling down a hill?

I admit these questions bothered even me at first, but then I realized that the discontinuity and occasional incomprehensibility of the fighting was an intelligent production design by the editor and cinematographer, who deliberately sacrificed coherent and slick action to emulate the chaos of real-world violence, where people very rarely have time to stop and hold the camera steady or survey the battlefield well enough to answer the prior questions.  The original Hunger Games definitely had the right idea here, jerking the camera so incessantly and realistically that motion sickness was reaching all across the aisles, but the violence was so toned down to mollify fragile teenage girls that this became irrelevant.  The fight scenes in Hunger Games at least made a sliver of rational sense, but Fukasaku, in his wisdom, shows us that real violence never makes sense.  Violence solves nothing, people.  Welcome to 2014.

All that said, the actual idea of Battle Royale’s murder games is surprisingly a lot more disturbing than their implementation, this being one of the more palatable R-rated movies I’ve ever seen.  Of the 40 teens slaughtered throughout the battle (in a happy twist, a couple make it out alive, providing even more evidence that The Hunger Games is a knockoff), two of them are killed by the teacher before they’re even out of the gate, a few commit suicide by jumping off a cliff, and others get nonspecifically murdered off-screen (a couple in the buff and presumably after sex, which we don’t see at all in a movie full of otherwise animalistic and overtly sexualized teenagers).  An especially unlucky number get riddled with machine gun bullets and end up dying very, very slowly, usually at the rate that they can get up and walk around, gasp some dramatic final words, or even answer one last business call.  As prevalent as the brutality in Battle Royale is, the shock of the premise is always blunted by the ever-present hope that a character, particularly an important one, can still take one more bullet or stab wound before falling down for good. This makes it far less intense, if no less compelling, than an abundance of other gorefests including Apocalypto, The Raid: Redemption, any Quentin Tarantino movie, District 9, or The Cabin in the Woods. Don’t mistake me as saying that this film is in any way suitable for children or men without chests.  In fact, due to the dark, quasi-sadistic themes, intentionally incoherent storytelling, pointless title cards, and distressing foreign dialogue, I’m not sure I can safely recommend this movie to anybody.

Much uproar has been raised over the English-language subtitle track of Battle Royale, but reasonable viewers will understand that this mishap is in no way the fault of the screenwriter.  While it’s regrettable that so many hiccups should mar the translation of a foreign work, audiences should acknowledge that such annoyances are unavoidable and try to look past them for the gold that is the overall story.  If you want to watch a Good Parts version of Battle Royale, my staff has compiled a list of lines which may detract from your viewing experience and we’d freely encourage you to pass over.
Teacher: “Life is a game, so fight for survival and find out if you’re worth it.”

Teacher: “It’s tough when friends die on you, but hang in there.”

The main protagonist: “This is crazy!  How can you all kill each other so easily?!”

Slut girl: “B*!&%, murderer!”
Bad girl: “Why not kill?  Everyone has their issues.”

Dying girl: “God, can I say one more thing?  You look really cool, Hiroki.”
Hiroki, who has never noticed her noticing his coolness until now: “You too.  You’re the coolest girl in the world.”

Possum guy, after being pelted by unlimited ammo guy: (read jubilantly at the top of your lungs so that the bad guy can hear you and return to finish his job) “I made it!  What a sweet bulletproof vest!”

Rebel: “We’ll destroy this stupid system, and then we’ll all escape together.”

Disregarding these oversights and a couple plot holes, such as why the teacher would enter the warzone with an umbrella to scare away the bad girl and save the main female protagonist or why the teacher would call off his soldiers from checking the final bodies, thereby enabling them to infiltrate his compound and fatally shoot him, Battle Royale is a brilliantly written and thoughtfully composed movie.  Most teen killing competition movie enthusiasts were disappointed when neither of the Hunger Games films opened right at the beginning of the games but instead killed well above an hour in the Capitol and District 12 providing nonessential backstory and character development that nobody asked for.  Battle Royale averts this dilemma by throwing us almost immediately into the fray, giving us little time to know the characters who are about to get slaughtered or trip our brains up on any kind of sociopolitical commentary.  From almost the very first frames, Battle Royale is all action and doesn’t worry about making us sympathize with the victims of a great governmental injustice, trusting the emotional story to do that work on its own.  Rather than boring us up front with the characters’ diverse life stories, personalities, and beliefs, Fukasaku uses flashback sequences to establish his gladiators’ complex psyches: we have the transfer victor from a previous game who wants to get back at the evil gamemakers for killing his girlfriend (who appears to have tried to kill him, though the hectic editing makes this plot point unclear), the traumatized, fatherless girl who channels her seclusion and pain over childhood sexual abuse into violence against others, and various other figures we’ve never seen before.

The ending of the movie remains controversial even to this day, a shocking turn that will leave even film-savvy experts like me thinking, “WTF?!” which is completely fine, as Battle Royale is basically the biggest WTF-movie of all time, even more so than Sharknado, After Earth, The Happening, Avatar with airbenders, Buckaroo Banzai, that Seth Macfarlane faux western thingie, the Jonah Hill babysitter travesty, Shaun of the Dead, and other made-for-zombie pictures.  If you enjoyed the WTF moments in any of those films, then you’ll probably enjoy all such WTF moments in Battle Royale.  If you didn’t appreciate the artistic genius of any of those films, then you probably won’t like Battle Royale.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Author's Musings vol. 1 – tyranny, TV, and Winterholiday songs

Well, it’s that time of the year again.  No, not the start of the long anticipated Winterholiday season, but the time when students the nation over are systematically broken and squashed beneath the baggage of their own imprudently accumulated homework.  This week also marks something like the three-month anniversary of the Author’s regrettable and short-lived stint on that leviathan of internet timewasters we aptly refer to as Facebook, since pictures of faces are pretty much the only media people bother to share there.  In recognition of these historic events and until the day on which the Author can adequately compress all of Facebook’s failings into a single post, we’ve decided to introduce a new feature of this website designed specifically for on-the-go enlightenment in tightly condensed, intermittently nonsensical, Mark Zuckerberg-approved packages.  In the meantime, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for the Author’s verdict on Interstellar, the Michael Brown riots, anonymous “debate”, and an abundance of other American horror movies.

* 25 years since its conception, The Simpsons remains a diamond in a rough of lackluster television propagamming largely in that its writers have the good sense to lambaste both sides of our politically polarized, eternally stagnant nation.  Contrast this residual masterwork with any gushingly homosexual sitcom or crime drama whining about radical tea party terrorists.  I hate network television, pound sign so much.

* A five-line conversation with real people.
The Author: Why do people like this show [NBC’s “Phony Scandal”] so much?
Phony Scandal fangirl 1: You know, this is the first network TV show in history to feature a black female protagonist and it has a black writer [so you can just shut your mouth]!
Phony Scandal fangirl 2: The writing is soooo good.
The Author: Is that why people like it?
Phony Scandal fangirl 1: That’s why I like it.

* There is nothing more discordant or depressing in music than a country singer with a ring in her nose.  Pound sign just like animals.

* Screw the critical elite, the consensus of the mind-controlled mob.  Obamacare doesn’t work, the most beautiful woman isn’t a celebrity, and everyone knows the best song/movie/book of all time isn’t on anybody’s top 10 list.  Unless it’s mine.

* I love it when performers on these singing/karaoke shows “play” an instrument for the first 20 seconds of their gig and then put it away for the rest of the song.  Pound sign bsing us.  Pound sign charming, not sincere.

* Johnny Depp is looking to revive his tarnished career by portraying a wolf in a new Disney fantasy musical,  Not a real wolf or a CGI wolf or any kind of wolf that we can actually take seriously, but a guy made up as wolf.  Oh well.  He can’t be worse than Olaf.

* Why do we moronically insist on using the catch-all phrase “studying” for labors which very often have nothing to do with studying and are solely a matter of menial labor?

* When you ask me, “What’s up?” do you really want to know what is up or are you merely greeting me with a false and formalistic pretense of interest in my affairs?  When I pass someone by in a hurry I never ask them, “What’s up?” because I don’t care what’s up and I never pursue a conversation out of dishonesty. Would you believe me if I said it took me a full month in a real-world setting to realize people don’t want to know what’s up when they ask what’s up?  Pound sign seriously, what’s up with that?

* Asinine anapests.

* King Obama answers Congress and the voters who determine Congress’ structure: “To those of you who criticize me for doing what I want all by myself without your permission, we wouldn’t have this problem if you only did what I wanted or gave me your permission.”

* In other news Stephen Hawking says that, “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race… It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever increasing rate.  Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

Stephen Hawking is also overlooked for saying, “As in past deliberations, we have examined other human-made threats to civilization.  We have concluded the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons.”

And people think this joker is “smart”.

* You think it’s sad your computer takes three minutes to start up?  Mine takes five to shut down.  Pound sign perspective.  Pound sign Thanksgiving.

* Baby, It’s Cold Outside is one of the worst songs in human history.  Pound sign Frosty better watch out.  Pound sign Rudolph is running for the border.  Pound sign Satan is hiding out in his trash can.

* Speak of the devil: why is the live band at this university playing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town to an assembly of mostly grown teenagers and twenty-somethings?

* And Mary, Did You Know? is now officially the Christmas carol of all Christmas carols – dark, brooding, indescribably hip.

* We try to refrain from outside plugs at the Author’s Files, but this guy has officially usurped the Screen Junkies writers as my favorite movie critic, because that’s just what he is.  Your Movie Sucks is cynical, shrewd, irreverent, frequently profane, and doesn’t give any movie a free pass simply based on what other people say about it.  He can be a bit of a communist turd at times, but at least he exhibits a modicum of independent, rational judgment when it comes to film.  Well recommended for adults who like thinking about criticism, storytelling gimmicks, or the distinction between art and propaganda.

Really salty language throughout.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Politically Correct Aliens

On October 7th of the year of the illegal immigration surge, 20th Century Fox and Creative Assembly accordingly treated video gamers and sci-fi nerds to arguably the first proper Alien sequel in three decades. Alien: Isolation has been lauded for its suspenseful gameplay design and oppressively atmospheric tributes to Ridley Scott’s horror classic, with the Onion’s A.V. Club warmly declaring it a “stunningly realistic locker simulator”.  In celebration of this momentous occasion, we at The Author’s Files have decided in collaboration with Fox to release a never-before-seen early draft of the screenplay to James Cameron’s glorious sequel Aliens.  Cameron’s original take on the Aliens universe had a much different slant than the undiluted action thriller we all know and love and quote from memory, and we’re beyond assured that it will provoke much debate among fans of the franchise.

Aliens – The Lost Script – Redacted for overtly and offensively P.C. undertones
Starring Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser
Written by James Cameron
Produced by James Cameron
Nominated for the Oscars by James Cameron
Directed by James Cameron
Retrieved from the memory hole by film historian and archeologist Josephos Rex

[A screen of total blackness recedes as the center gradually pulls back and opens up to reveal a blurry shot of a grated ceiling.  The view shifts to the left and right in dizzy-person-cam as the dazed person tries to reorient himself with his surroundings.  The screen snaps to black momentarily and opens again, this time looking directly at the person’s feet, where lies the pale carcass of a monstrous hand-like creature.  The eyes close sharply, accompanied by the heavy gasping of the unknowing victim, and remain sealed for several seconds until he dares to look straight ahead and finds himself peering down the barrel of a jittery M1A1 pulse rifle.  Still dizzy-cam.  The rifle’s owner screams at him in a forceful but frenzied tone.]

Hudson: Whoa, man!  What the Ω#!$ happened to you?  Stay right there, no quick movements, you hear me!  You got yourself in some deep amp;%# now, man, don’t think I didn’t see!

Shadowed victim: P-p-please, don’t sh-shoot! I don’t wanna die!

Hudson: It’s too late for that now.  You’re (*#)ed, man, %**!ing ♫#*!ed.  It’s game over for you, game over!

Shadowed victim: B-but why?  What happened to me?

[The camera cuts to look over Hudson’s back and reveals the approach of a female person.]

Ripley: Put the gun down, asshole.  You don’t see the aliens busting each other up over a little infection.

Hudson: Well, why don’t you just put them in charge?

[An independent woman of leadership in the Sheryl Sandberg era, Ripley gives him an exasperated look that puts him in his place.  He reluctantly lowers his firearm and retreats to wallow in a corner, suffering from a phallic inferiority complex and embarrassed that he should have been ordered about by the woman.]

Ripley: Sorry about that, Burke.  Don’t mind him.  He’s just a jumpy bastard.

Burke: Where’d he get his background check?

Ripley: I’m sorry.  What was that?

Burke: … Never mind.

Ripley: So, how do you feel?

Burke: I was kind of groggy a minute ago, but now I’ve never felt better.

Ripley: Ah, a typical symptom.  This is most unfortunate.

Burke: What are you talking about?

Ripley: You are currently suffering from Xenoral-Impregnation, a fatal and untreatable condition contracted solely from contact with a young form of the xenomorph parasite.

Burke: What kind of contact?

Ripley: Intimate.

Burke: How dare you?  I haven’t come near one of those, those freaks!

Ripley: You were obsessed with exploiting those buggers long before we set down on this godforsaken world, and our team’s been paying the price of that immoral attraction ever since you led us into the belly of the beast.  All the evidence seems to indicate that you’ve made contact with one of them.

Burke: That’s a bunch of stuff and you know it, Ripley.  I’ve read about Xenoral-Impregnation before and know for certain that it’s not limited to cases of inter-species relations.  That’s a lie perpetuated by xenophobic bigots dead set on blocking research and suppressing awareness that might help those afflicted with the virus.  The most credible studies actually estimate that only 50% of those impregnated have reached that state through unprotected alien copulation.

Ripley: And the same studies will show that 100% of those who engage in voluntary oral copulation with an alien will contract the virus.  You ♦♣♥♠ed around with a facehugger and now you’re paying the consequences of your stupidity.  What the hell did you think was going to happen?

Burke: Why are you being so judgmental towards me?  Hold on.  You must doing it because you’re hiding something yourself.  How do we know you’re not infected?  Huh?

[Ripley groans at the illogic of the conversation, while Burke, feeling he’s struck a nerve, points accusingly and starts talking louder because he wants to sound smart]

Burke: Oh my God, that’s it!  This is your way of coping with your private guilt!  You’ve got one of those creatures growing inside you too and you can only make yourself feel better by taking out your self-hatred on me!  That makes perfect sense.

[In her face, now, hissing with disdain]

Burke: How much mouth you’ve been getting, Ripley?  Huh?  What are you hiding?

[Hicks finally steps out from the background in a presumptuous and misguided motion to defend her from her assailant]

Hicks: Now you’ve crossed the line, dude.  Get away from her –

[Ripley throws up her hand and stops him mid-one-liner]

Ripley: Thanks, but I’m perfectly capable of handling my own problems, Hicks.  It’s 2179.  I don’t need a male to watch my back for me.  Have you ever given birth to a child?

[Hicks stutters and babbles incoherently, grasping for a response. Having sufficiently proven her point, Ripley dramatically pushes Burke against the wall in shaky, action cam.]

Ripley: “Get away from me, you sonuvabitch!”

[Paralyzed by the self-reliant woman’s force, he slumps to the floor in a heap, shuddering with fear.  Hudson inches forward with hands clenched in a submissive, prayerful gesture.]

Hudson: Now, guys, don’t you think we’re taking this a little too far!  I mean, #♪!*ing A!  We should be working together on this $^&!

[Burke weakly rises to his feet and talks with his hands in a corporate manner.]

Burke: He has a point, actually. Look, I know this an emotional moment for all of us.  I know that.  But, come on, let’s not go making snap judgments.  This is clearly a very important issue we’re dealing with here, and I don’t think you or I or anybody has the right to arbitrarily abandon anybody who’s suffering from it.

Hicks: Damn right.   The time for judging is over; now all we can do is try to help Burke with his condition. We need to respond decisively and compassionately to discover a cure for Xenoral Impregnation.

Hudson: Has anyone seen that movie Prometheus?

[Everyone stares at him in uncomprehending befuddlement.  After a time he swallows and recedes into his corner of shame.]

Burke: What we need to do is start a media awareness campaign.  Awaken everybody in the Colonial Marines to the unique prejudices and health defects that Xeno-victims encounter every day, because, as we know, there is no greater weapon of mass destruction than misunderstanding and hate.  If we’re ever going to achieve notable advances in the war against Impregnation, we’re going to have to change the narrative surrounding this life-ruining virus.  First we’ll have to correct the misconception that Impregnation is a natural punishment for deviant relationships, when many people contract the disease from other causes or because xenophobic extremists deny them the education and resources to safely mingle with the other species.  It’s not their fault if they aren’t aware of the risks or how to counter them!

Ripley: There is no way to counter them. You think the xenos are some kind of pet that you can temper to your pleasure –

Hudson: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great idea, man.  And we should make some badge too, yeah, a red badge to show we care about ending Xenorphal-Indignation!

Hicks: I’m on board if everyone else is.  Are you with us, Ripley?

Ripley: … It won’t make any difference.

Burke: You’ll never know unless you try. Will you try, Ripley?  For my sake.  For the sake of all humanity.

[Ripley regretfully puts her right hand into the center of the four-person huddle, recognizing its futility but going along because it’s eminently harder to resist a crowd of idealistic human swine than it is to challenge a race of murderous space alien parasites.  The camera hangs above their brotherly formation to emphasize the strength of the pact they’ll undertake. Burke suddenly coughs heavily and spits blood onto the tangle of hands.  Cut to angled close shot of his chest frothing with blood and finally exploding to reveal a sickly eyeless worm with serrated teeth.  Ripley screams as it scurries up Burke’s arm, crosses to her own, and lunges at the camera in a 3D effect.  Cut to black.]


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Denzel Equalizes Outcomes

Guest rush review written and proofread by Tray Oldman and approved by the Author for your bemusement.

Not too many years ago, film buffs may remember that Denzel Washington was verifiable box office gold – tough, handsome, and the ladies loved him.  This was the unflappably charming Denzel of Courage Under Fire, of Training Day, of Man On Fire, of American Gangster, and of many other delightful fan favorites.

Now the guy is tired, moody, and out of shape, and unless you’re Liam Neeson, in Hollywood, you don’t want to be that guy.  The last truly successful blockbuster Denzel headed was a 2010 action thriller, based on true events, about a runaway train, the evil corporate goons who operate it, and the two disenchanted but eventually mutually respectful heroes who have to literally stop it in its tracks before it causes an explosion the size of the Chrysler Building.

An astonishingly faithful condensation of Unstoppable into a two-minute time frame.  It’s like a needle in the Chrysler building.

If Unstoppable’s name was meant to be a subliminal innuendo about the frenetic nature of its camera work, never has a movie been more accurately titled, as there isn’t a single shot in the movie where the camera isn’t making massive zooming cuts or spinning around conductor Denzel’s head.  Like seriously half of the movie must consist of the same circling cabin shot, and as a result it will exert one of two negative physical effects on viewers, inducing them either to vomit or to sleep but never to actual enjoyment.  Fortunately for this critic, I managed to fall asleep before the final half-hour exacted the final toll of my health, which is why the Author has reluctantly forbidden me from reviewing that picture for this guest post.

Denzel’s latest starring turn is also of an unstoppable sort but is realized on a national or even global scale, playing out more like a political thriller or horror film than his various other popular projects.  He plays a nameless activist in the internet era identified only as the title character of “The Equalizer,” an advocate of absolute social equity for all regardless of their income, socioeconomic background, religion, gender, political ideology, legal status, or anything else really.  In fact, if the Equalizer were to have his way, there wouldn’t be any differences among the populace in any of these factors, as everyone would be elevated to the wonderfully mediocre pedestal of sameness.

By amplifying historically successful initiatives like the War on Poverty and the minimum wage and by expanding redistributive programs such as need-based welfare or graduated tax brackets which have increased the labor force while reducing incentives for sustained dependency, the revolutionary figurehead advises that the American government could easily eradicate class conflict altogether and ensure that everybody earns the fair and living wage that human rights experts insist to be their human right.

The Equalizer also presses for the abolition of religious strife and wars, proposing reasonably enough that government just get rid of religion entirely or render the laws such that no religion has the freedom to exercise any beliefs that another may find offensive and/or contradictory to its own beliefs, e.g. the universality of marriage rights, a inextricable doctrinal position of the great western religion of Secularism. Just so does he call for an end to disparity in the privileges enjoyed by the sexes, on the one hand by making gender reassignment surgery free to criminals of any charge but on the other by fundamentally transforming the United States’ faulty notion of one’s sexuality as something rooted in one’s nature rather than personal choice.  No longer he says will the nation stand divided by partisan bickering, quite simply because America will no longer suffer from the disadvantages posed by a two-party system.

What with all the political posturing that pervades The Equalizer’s script, some may wonder whether the film even has a plot to speak of nestled in between the numerous protracted philosophical monologues. Literary scholars often contend that a plot must possess at least a trio of things, those being rising action, a climax, and a (usually satisfying, life-affirming) denouement.  In all these areas, but especially the last, The Equalizer will probably dissatisfy the vast majority of moviegoers, but where the film soars is its complex portrayal of a utilitarian and selfless reformer who pursues fairness and uniformity above all else.

The talented Chloe Grace Moretz of Kick Ass, Kick Ass 2, the Carrie remake, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Hugo plays the adopted daughter of Washington’s Equalizer, a freespirited woman of reproductive age beset by religious extremists in her workplace and the insurance companies.  The Equalizer passionately dotes upon Julia and constantly makes reference to her in his publicly streamed addresses, usually in the context of articulating his care for one social issue or another, as in:
“The fascists want to get rid of funding for charitable organizations like Planned Parenthood that offer women the resources and services they need to decapitate, poison, or crush their unborn children.  I think that’s a bad idea.  I want my daughter to control her own health care choices.”

“If my daughter makes a mistake, I don’t want her punished with a baby.”
“I’ve got a daughter and I expect her to be treated just like anybody’s sons.  I want to make sure that my daughter is getting the same chances as men.  I do not want her paid less for doing the same job as some guys are doing.  When she has children – which I wouldn’t force her into doing under any circumstances – I want to make sure they are not having to quit their jobs, or, you know, in some other fashion be hampered, because we don’t have the kinds of policies in this country that support them.”
“There have been times where Julia and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about her friends, and somehow it wouldn’t dawn on Julia that her homosexual and lesbian and transsexual friends and their parents should be treated any differently, even though they are, technically speaking, different.  It doesn’t make sense to her and, frankly, if it doesn’t make sense to a progressively minded, forward-thinking, marijuana-smoking hipster like herself, it probably doesn’t make any sense, like, period.”
“As a father to an extraordinarily marginalized and victimized and, I admit, totally doable girl, the epidemic of sexual assaults in human nature and especially on college campuses is especially concerning to me and moves me to think about ways we can, you know, non-genetically modify that nature or at least persuade said girls into admitting the assaults we all know to have happened.”

You get it: the main conflict of The Equalizer revolves around Denzel’s literally and metaphorically bloody efforts to protect Chloe from the demons of the American republic.  But the winning asset of the film isn’t its storytelling but Washington’s breathtaking, Oscar-worthy performance as an idealistic and manipulative orator who continually deceives the masses into thinking that whatever goes against their interests is actually for their own good.  The Equalizer speaks with a honeyed and arresting voice that would seem incongruous with the color of his skin, at least to those unknowingly prejudiced fans of his who instinctively expect a certain ungainliness in the rhetorical tendencies of the African-American and consequently feel obligated to exalt the black man whenever he overcomes his natural inferiority and sounds halfway articulate.

Director Antoine Fuqua shows the Equalizer to be an avid scholar of the works of Ernest Hemingway, to such a degree that he regularly cites passages from “The Old Man and the Sea” and models his public speaking in large part off of that book’s seemingly pedestrian and unrefined but deeply communicative and compact English.  Much like Hemingway’s prose, Washington’s speeches will resonate with the common man in their simplicity of language but will also enthrall wannabe intellectuals with their carefully crafted illusion of depth and substance, when in reality he very rarely has any statistics or logical coherency behind his sweeping ideological assertions.

The Equalizer is a high-octane and undeniably relevant political drama that’s certain to end not only the impotency of Denzel’s career but hopefully of congressional gridlock over quite possibly the defining civil rights issue of our time, whether we’ll allow the iron hand of aristocracy to tighten its grip over our country’s political future or whether we’ll enact meaningful legislation/executive orders/court rulings to rid the blight of inequality from our country’s face.

Every American owes it to themselves to experience this powerful allegory.  If you don’t, then you can only be a racist, a bigot, and a Republican.  It really is as simple as that.

Grade rating: As much as I would like to delegate this movie an impressive 3.75 popcorns out of 4, to do so would be unfair to the hundreds of other honorable movies which haven’t received the same score.  So I won’t.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding Nemo Sucks, and a Bunch of Unrelated Stinkers

“Nemo is killing me!”

There are a great many misconceptions surrounding Pixar Animation Studios, one of which is that they make animated movies primarily for thinking adults and another of which is that their personified animal/machinery movies are any more original than the personified animal/machinery movies of Dreamworks.  The biggest error by far in contemporary Pixar analysis is the continual belief that Finding Nemo is a movie about a fledgling fish that touches a butt and learns the value of family/obedience/something trite, when in reality Finding Nemo is a movie about an arrogant and sadistic Hollywood megalodon that savagely rams a heated rod up its audience’s butts and bullies them into submitting that they liked the experience.  From every technical and textual standpoint, Finding Nemo is one of the worst animated movies ever to be dumped upon the youth of this or any other country.  Even disregarding its obnoxious and persistently puerile lead, the film is riddled with colorless supporting characters who serve no purpose but to point the protagonist in the right direction and to rehash the same “jokes” over and over again – as in the laid-back surfer turtle who says “dude”, the surfer turtle’s laid-back son who also says “dude”, the seagulls that say “my”, the fish who talks to her reflection, the fish that blows up, the fish that sticks to the glass, the fish that freaks out all the time, the fish that mime everything by swimming in formation, the reformed vegetarian fish, the old, battle-scarred, wise mentor fish, the fish that forgets everything (unless the plot calls for her to remember something), and, of course, the bumbling and environmentally unconscious humans.

In the event that you do subject yourself to this torturous excuse for a cautionary tale, you’ll get to watch Nemo’s ironically humorless clown fish of a father and Ellen Degenerate’s appropriately irritating whatever-she-is swim through miles of boring blue CG backgrounds and occasionally confront such one-off obstacles as jellyfish, anglers, and whales, through which their bonds of friendship are predictably made firm.  It’s the kind of movie I could rip apart frame by frame, line by line, fin by fin, gill by gill, but I warrant that’s exactly the kind of sadomasochistic pleasure its creators intended to inflict on others and themselves.  Anyone who praises Pixar’s cockamamie finding of some woebegone fish brat as particularly daring or profound or inspirational I would implore to watch a truly thoughtful animated film, e.g. Rango, wherein the hero has to find an identity rooted in something other than personal fantasy, Shrek, wherein the hero has to find not only a princess but a reason to care about someone other than himself, Kung Fu Panda, wherein the hero has to find the beauty of his own uniqueness, How To Train Your Dragon, wherein the heroes have to find truth in an arena where thickheadedness reigns, Surf’s Up, wherein the hero has to find that friendship is the greatest trophy of all, Megamind, wherein the hero has to find the imprudence of doling out power to fools, Cars, wherein the hero has to find the shallowness of his own pragmatism, Lilo and Stich, wherein the hero has to find that mahalo means family, The Lion King, wherein the hero has to find a life of purpose and leadership (sorry) and humility while forsaking the hakuna matata, and many other greats I can’t expound at the moment.  Finding Nemo, by comparison, is but a banality of the cinematic deep, bastardizing childhoods and shamelessly abolishing the critical judgment of film.

If you liked Disney Pixar’s Toy Story, Disney Pixar’s Wall-e, or Disney Pixar’s Bug Movie, then you’ll probably like Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  If you liked James Cameron’s The Abyss, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Ken Levine and Irrational Games’ Bioshock, or Spongebob Squarepants’ Atlantis Squarepantis, then you probably won’t like Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Reservoir Doggone

Reservoir Dogs has all the marks of a debuting writer/director who’s so preoccupied with carving out a distinctive visual style that he totally forgets about important things like a plot, or an emotional core, or a suspenseful sequence of events, and who thusly secures the former beyond a reasonable doubt while just as definitely fumbling the latter.  That’s because Reservoir Dogs is the work of a debuting writer/director, and not just any unseasoned writer/director, but one who would go on to spearhead such generally acclaimed icons as Pulp Fiction and the Author-approved Inglourious Basterds.  Reservoir Dogs is not an Inglourious Basterds, in part because there aren’t any good guys or bad guys in it, but mostly because there aren’t any interesting guys in it.  Whereas Inglourious was very much a character-centered and verbally witty piece in which one could easily cheer for the heroes and tremble at the villains, Reservoir Dogs is a relative cluster&!*@ of characterization, revolving around a bunch of mother*!&?ing gangsters who execute a #@!%ing heist entirely off of the #@!%ing screen and #@!%ing jib-jabber about it ad ^$@?ing nauseum because the script will never allow them to shut the &!^@ up or articulate a single *^%*ing sentence without saying the word “%!&@”.  None of the !♫%ers have a &%$#ing personality aside from a uniformity of nastiness and vulgarity, so when a Ω#@$ing mole $*!♪s with the solidarity of the group and ♪♫♪ing leads them right into a &$$ing trap, all the members go $#**ing insane and ♫Ω♫ each other up until only one dumb (&@? is left standing and the other puts a *!!*ing bullet through the head of the &@*♦ing mole, and that’s the final &*♥*ing shot of the movie.  Basically, it’s a really ♣$%#ed-up story, and by the end of it all, you’ll be wishing somebody cut off your own ♠^*^ing ear and ♫(♪)ing doused you in gasoline to kill the trauma.

Frankly, I didn’t give a .

Sharknado Blusters

As a made-for-TV monster movie/social media extravaganza waiting to happen, Sharknado could have been either an critical deconstruction of horrible moviemaking or, much more likely, a shameless revelry in that very thing.  Rest assured that Sharknado definitely falls among the latter set, and duly take this warning to heart.  I would say that its creators are sexist for giving their female stars nothing to do and nothing significant to wear, but then they don’t give their male stars anything to do either, aside from pumping a bunch of CG sharks full of shotgun lead, hiding out in the van set for half of the movie, and reading the action aloud for those in the audience too blind to follow it for themselves.  From irrelevant beginning to ludicrous conclusion, Sharknado exudes an aura of pompous and careless badness, communicating a palpable distaste for its audience’s intelligence and time, only one of which those idiot celebrities who tweeted about it have in any abundance.  Listen ye, therefore, to the sage counsel of Gandalf the Grey, who admonished Frodo, “All we have to do is decide what we do with the time that is given us.”  Any time one expends in watching Sharknado, even with strictly analytical intent, is time that one is consciously choosing to waste and to squander on dreck in the place of something with real, justifiable value.  Quite simply, it is an ungrateful and irreverent rejection of the greatest resource God affords us as His children, a rejection I’ll regret for the rest of my life until the blessed day when age wipes all memory of sharknados from my mind.

Like a Tarantula Bite to the...

The best thing to be said about the made-up Miller family of this occasionally raunchy, ever immature road trip through Mexico is that 45-year-old Jennifer Aniston puts on a surprisingly convincing show as a cheap stripper-turned-drug dealer (though she would prefer the term “smuggler”).  The worst thing to be said about it is that Jennifer Aniston has to put on such a show not once but twice just to sustain the audience’s interest in the brief lapses between the many oral and anal jokes that pervade the movie’s script, none of which are funny enough to pass muster under the standards of this or any other publication.  The paradox of Millers’ unfettered if mostly verbal vulgarity is that its blatant drive to shock nullifies its capacity for doing just that.  After all, there are only so many ways you can repackage an already unimaginative gag about genitalia without losing its initial thrust.

See what I mean?  You’ve read that same exact sex pun probably a hundred times in other media, so much so that you didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the previous sentence, and if you did it was only in the course of rolling your eyes at my rank unoriginality.  Now imagine sitting through what feels like two hours of this brainless and sophomoric excuse for humor; I leave it to you to determine whether such an excursion in debauchery and idiocy would be a worthy investment of your time.  We’re the Millers wages a concentrated campaign against wit and wisdom in storytelling, bludgeoning us with a malign and purposeful assault upon genuinely intelligent humor.  There is one funny line midway through deriving chiefly from the stupidity of the character above rather than from his sexuality; I’ll leave you with it because I’m a nice guy and always try to appreciate the good in everything, even if it doesn’t really exist. Not.

“We’re not doing what it looks like we were doing.”
“Really?  Because it looks like she’s teaching you how to kiss out of pity.”
“Oh… well, then it is what it looks like we’re doing.”

Batman and Robin Break the Ice (alternatively titled The Partypooper, Sub-Zero, What Killed the Dinosaurs?, Batman Gets the Splits, Batman... You Son Of A B____, Bane Of Humanity, or Sequel Prospects: Terminated)

The very pretense of writing a movie review for Batman and Robin is a self-defeating concept, assuming as it does that Batman and Robin is even a movie in any meaningful sense, when in fact it’s more a vignette of incredibly cheesy puns and childish comic book banter that wouldn’t appease even the least discriminating 7-year-old.  The damning sin of this bona-fide Batmobile pile-on is neither its ill-advised implementation of bat nipples and butts nor its appallingly cheap production design but its script’s total want of any reason for existing in the first place, save to revive the kind of weightless kid-friendly superhero fluff that thankfully expired long ago with the recession of the offensively inoffensive Adam West TV series.  From a more optimistic standpoint, though, you really couldn’t find a better cure for insomnia, even when viewing from a particularly uncomfortable and pillow-less couch.  Talk about the cold shoulder.

If you like this video, then you may just like Batman and Robin.  But probably not.

V For Vapid

If the idea of watching Natalie Portman prattling on in a feigned British accent or listening to a faceless Guy Fawkes poseur (we’ll call him Mr. V) lecturing about the virtues of anarchy in alliterative verbosity sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If, on the other hand – oh, I almost forgot: if the idea of watching Natalie Portman and Mr. V sitting on a couch and watching the news sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of watching government officials endlessly plotting and conniving inside their white-walled offices to extinguish Mr. V.’s noble uprising sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of doggedly jumping back and forth between the government detectives investigating Mr. V and Mr. V himself because the filmmakers can’t decide to focus on one or the other sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of one-dimensional stereotypes of Catholic ministers as power-hungry, chauvinistic theocrats sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of absorbing Natalie Portman’s boring backstory details through glowy flashbacks and voiceover sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of seemingly interminable political worldbuilding and historical setup sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of thinly veiled and distracting anti-Bush or pro-Islamic themes sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.  Likewise, if the idea of throwing in silly and logically contradictory homosexual subplots so ordered as to indict the tyranny of the Christian church (but not of the Islamists, whose anti-homosexual edicts are a bogey man invented by the capitalist tyranny) sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If none of these ideas nor the one of the evil Catholic guys shaving Natalie Portman’s head when they “process her” sound appealing to you, then you probably won’t like V For Vendetta.  If only half of your brain is committed to watching the movie and the other half is reviewing it simultaneously while juggling online social connections, blog work, and studying, then you probably didn’t care much about V For Vendetta.

* Spoiler * * Spoiler * Maybe I wasn’t paying very close attention (OK, I wasn’t), but I honestly hadn’t the slightest hunch that V was the one who cut Portman’s hair until the “you have no fear now” scene.  That was a pretty good twist.  There’s also a decent, somewhat bloodier Matrix-esque sequence where V systematically knives a bunch of guys ten-to-one in super slow-motion.  “The only thing we have in common, Mr. Creedy, is we’re both about to die.”  The rest of the movie, if you couldn’t discern, is kind of lame.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Moderation Fallacy

This is a tightly compressed sociopoetical rant I wrote for a contest with a really unusual prompt.  It lost. Enjoy and ponder it pensively.  I have a really good piece coming in short order, so this is holding you over until then.

Five, oh ye with sullen aspect downcast, what spurs thee now to slander thus thy station,
Between thy brothers one and ten,
The center of the single digits scale,
Dwarved on right by mortals nine, on left by nothingness immortal?

Five, who are the sum of two and two – so quoth He they claim is watching you –,
Deciding then one’s reason
Or damning one for treason,
Five, who settle not for rank indulgence, nor so meek a frugal life to champion,
Ye spurn both sides’ extremes in isolation,
For why should one his evil methods ration?

Oh Fie upon the right and on the left, each one of moderation so bereft!
Why resign thyself to none or nine, to one end’s vices when in middle lies
The opportunity to come partake of twice the wrongs for compromise’s sake?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Amazing Sermon-man and the Folly of Message Movies

“You’re just an innocent / a helpless victim of a spider’s web / and I an insect / going after anything that I can get / So you’d better turn your head and run and don’t look back / ’cause I fear there is nothing left to say / to you that you wanna hear, that you wanna know / I think I should go – the things I’ve done are way too shameful / And I have done you so wrong, treated you bad, strung you along / Oh shame on myself, I don’t know how I got so tangled!” ~ Penitent and punny lament of the Spider-man 3 creators, as verbalized by Maroon 5

The Spider-man I may have partially enjoyed.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 swings slings flies crawls weaves propels its way onto DVD and Blu-ray today, and from the looks of things, it could be the last one for quite some time, with some time being around the next four years.  Though it did well (enough) in its opening weekend, Spidey’s momentum stagnated severely after that point to become the least grossing member of the franchise, due in small part to the arrival of exponentially better-looking movies like Godzilla and X-men but mostly to the proliferating foreknowledge among male moviegoers that the film would inexplicably kill off one of the only reasons they’d even consider subjecting themselves to this tripe.  The tragically random demise of the beloved Gwen Stacy resounded through the circles of outraged comic book fanboys until reaching the ears of this Author, who could only ask his informant in wide-eyed horror, “Why, for the good of all things holy, Why?”

Actually, I probably said something like, “Well, that’s pretty stupid,” a sentiment that seems to be shared by most of those repentant sinners who blindly lent their money to this cruel and unusual, woman-killing punishment.  Andrew Garfield Spidey 2 has consequently usurped Tobey Maguire Spidey 3 in many fans’ minds as the absolute worst of all the Spidey movies, redeemable only in that it might precipitate an off-screen breakup between Garfield and his no-longer-on-screen love Emma Stone.  Of this judgment there can be no debate, as killing off Emma Stone in a movie without cause – hell, by any cause – is, like, the worst possible transgression you could perform as a director short of killing off Lindsey Stirling in a music video, which – let’s be honest – is never going to happen during my lifetime.

The Spider-man I watched instead.

But I’ve only seen Spider-man 3, and so I shall dedicate this forthcoming article chiefly to denunciating the wrongdoings of that boondoggle.  If AGS2 commits the cardinal cinematic vice of needlessly murdering a pretty girl for the sake of, well, nothing, as “needlessly” would have it, then TMS3 does probably the next worst thing in the hierarchy of Hollywood crimes, taking its viewers for simpletons as well as saps, albeit without mangling or interring any faces you may miss in the future.  Where AGS2 tries to artificially manipulate our hearts and emotions into crying through exploitive and contrived plot twists, TMS3 tries to manipulate our intellects into accepting a neatly packaged moral message through ham-handed dialogue exchanged by silk-thin characters whose only reason for existing is to impart this moral message to what the director must presume is a very unimpressionable audience.

Spider-man 3 is a movie you probably want to like if only because it makes such an adamant show out of its own moral-ness, that being its eagerness to teach kiddies some moral tenet they can apply in their own lives.  Indeed, the friendly, neighborhood spider-man of director/writer Sam Raimi’s original trilogy seems to be a quintessential American hero, embodying courage, charity, exceptionalism, and, yeah, responsibility, even though it takes him the whole of the first movie and a lot of heavy-handed bludgeoning from his elders to understand the importance of the last virtue.  Peter Parker is a largely admirable if fallible young man – plucky while short of being impertinent, decent to women, occasionally testy but usually genteel, respectful of his Aunt May, and a duty-minded servant of peace and tranquility.  As a rather plainly characterized but kind-hearted and pure girl-next-door archetype*, Parker’s love interest Mary Jane is no less a model for blossoming teen girls in those very few moments when she’s not dangling from some precarious height and fulfilling the narrative need for Spider-man to swoop in and rescue somebody.

In the complicated, never-committal relationship between M.J. and Peter (briefly escalating into a Twilight-esque – how do they call it in hipster-speak? – “triangle” with the encroachments of James Franco’s Harry Osborn), Raimi must have thought he’d found the root of his series’ appeal, considering the infuriating number of ultimately fruitless and time-exhaustive scenes he devotes to portraying them disconnecting, reconnecting, speaking on the phone, dancing, dining, reclining, commiserating, and sobbing with one another, though Peter definitely shoulders the brunt of the final activity.  That doesn’t even account for the unbelievably sluggish scene outside Mary Jane’s apartment, wherein the camera cuts at least half a dozen times to show Peter staring at her through the window, M.J. not looking back, Peter admiring M.J. still more from afar, M.J. not noticing, Peter ogling M.J. even longer in dejected longing, M.J. not looking, Peter leaving at last, and M.J. finally glancing after him before she calls his phone number.  But this is just as much the editor’s fault as it is the screenwriter’s, and only one of many such timing missteps throughout the bloated, wannabe epic picture.  The great sin of Raimi’s script lies in reducing all the major characters to cautionary symbols, from the vengeful Venom to the self-excusing Sandman (no relation to the Neil Gaiman character, thank gosh) to the also vengeful Green Goblin 2.0 to the unteachably irresponsible Spidey himself.

Spider-man 3’s internal and external antagonists have all the depth of the diagram of a particularly simplistic Sunday school program, and one so haplessly stripped of its religious context that it more closely resembles a lesson in civics from some insipid, taxpayer-funded kids’ show.  In fact, the only occasion on which Raimi admits any semblance of religion to embellish his narrative is through a prayer sent up to heaven by Peter’s rival workplace photographer, a devoutly Christian caveman who pleas with his pagan idol to purify the earth of his personal enemy.  This throwaway non-sequitur of a scene, aside from slighting both the moral integrity of any Christians and cultural education of any non-believers in the theater stalls, leaves the rest of the movie’s message a tangle of patronizing pretenses and homilies.  The irreverent characterization of Jesus Christ as a lifeless effigy, idolized by superstitious barbarians as some wrathful enforcer of personal vendettas rather than a merciful and loving redeemer, establishes an agnostic or nihilistic tone that must be extended throughout the film for it to maintain any consistency.  This inevitably leads to logical contradictions, as the movie expects us to reconcile its skepticism in man-made gods with its faith in man-made morality, as if the rules prescribed by the one can be inherently faulty and mad while the rules of the other remain inherently reasonable.

Spider-man 3 eschews the straightforwardness of the first film by attempting to foist not one but three pat morals on the viewer, which you could basically summate as “revenge is bad, forgiveness good”, “power makes gothic gangstas of us all”, and, I quote Peter, “we always have a choice”, whatever the heck that means.  The hideous space ooze Venom is the leading exponent of the first life lesson, quite literally making a monster out of whoever tries to wield its power, but not before turning him into a freakish bad boy punk with a habit for randomly dancing through the streets of New York City and crashing his girlfriend’s jazz performances.  Peter renounces the Venom’s temptations after realizing that the creature’s possession has twisted him into hurting Mary Jane, but the Christian Eddie Brock isn’t as quick to see the self-destructive tendencies of revenge/power/alien goo, succumbing to its all-corrupting influences until he kills himself in his uncontrolled fury just like every other Spider-man villain.

Holding grudges bad.

Peter has to absorb the wisdom of this precept for himself in confronting the Sandman, whom he loathes for the murder of his Uncle Ben, although it turns out it was all an accident, sort of, and we oughtn’t judge him for this fatal act of violence because he was only robbing the old man to provide for the needs of his daughter, or some cal like that.  None of the numerous B&W flashbacks really serve to clarify the narrative or make us care about the events that transpired a whole two movies ago, but Spidey accepts Sandman’s revisionist reckoning of that night without much question, anxious as he is to lecture the criminal, and audience by extension, about the necessity of owning up to your actions and pardoning those who trespass against you.

Releasing yourself through forgiveness good.

Spider-man 3 is an exemplary example of bad filmmaking all across the board, from Tobey’s weepy and melodramatic performance to the joyless romantic subplot that goes absolutely nowhere to the cluttered storytelling to the cringe-worthy dialogue to the surprisingly unsuper-human choreography (Green Goblin and Spider-man voluntarily handicap themselves by joining in a fist-fight).  But none of these things are Raimi’s unforgivable foible, which is presuming that his audience is repugnant enough and stupid enough to require a half-baked sermon on the consequences of revenge or unfettered power.  Whenever storytellers, secular or faithful, conceive of a tale primarily as a vehicle for some prepackaged message, be it political, religious, or ethical, the story itself suffers to the point of making the message tedious or intolerable.  In order for us to care about the message, we need to have at least a passing interest in the plot, and in order for us to have an interest in the plot, we need at least a minimal investment in its characters, which, by these premises, is a circular impossibility wherever such characters live only to advance the message.

Of the many ways to educate your children about the pitfalls of hatred or ambition, Spidey has to be the most counter-productive and confounding of them all, and will likely leave kiddos more confused as to good and evil and justice and Mere Christianity than when they started.  Ne’er has a comic book movie wrought a more perniciously preachy web of half-truths and deceits.

* This could really be a good or a bad thing depending on your esteem of whoever lives next to your particular door, though most people are Optimists and choose to think it’s a good thing.

... and somehow I find these more entertaining than the real thing.
Play in streets.

You’re fired.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Guardians of the Galaxy

DON’T PANIC.  The following film review has been professionally eviscerated and organized into chunks of 150-400 words that will lend themselves well to your daily quality reading sessions on the crapper.  It’s our dearest hope that these portions convey at least a resemblance of the message imparted by the author in the whole, but if not, feel free to leave a complaint by calling the editor of the Alpha Centauri district, as The Guide is being continually revised to reflect our simultaneously growing and diminishing understanding of the galaxy surrounding us.

Guardians of our Galaxy… and some awesome kid.

Peter Quill: A renegade space-hopper, surprisingly dashing and suave for a wanted outlaw going by the significantly more ostentatious if no more memorable title of Star Lord.  Who?  Those uninitiated to the galaxy might naively excuse his criminality as a product of a traumatic childhood loss or (more ignorantly) of his single-to-zero-parent upbringing, but this is far from the actual case.  Quill’s earliest living memory is of helplessly watching his mother succumb to death before his 8-year-old eyes, but this doesn’t pain him nearly much as it might otherwise, precisely because it’s his earliest living memory and neither he nor anybody else could say the first thing about Mama Quill except that she died.  Quill admits to being “an a-hole, but not 100% a di__”, a distinction that sets him apart as a relatively honorable man in a galaxy of thugs and thieves like…

Gamora: A generically badass green-skinned alien babe with a sword; also an orphan and the adopted daughter of the cryptic yet recurring phantom menace Thanos and sister to the blue-skinned warrior Nebula. In the 2014 biopic Guardians of the Galaxy directed and co-written by James Gunn, she’s portrayed by reigning queen of geekdom Zoe Saldana, who extensively trained for the part by playing a blue-skinned alien babe in Avatar and living with a green-skinned alien babe during filming of Star Trek. Gamora appears in various states of undress for the trailers to Guardians, but she’s actually a really sweet, blandly independent girl in real life, so long as you can get past the whole part about being a living weapon.  Incidentally, no man has yet to join his lips with hers, leastwise not in the Marvel Studios fictionalization, which critics have hailed as an encouraging and progressive break from the chauvinistic, patriarchal perspective that’s too often engendered by such archaic male-fantasy movies as Thor, Spider-man, Captain America 1, and Iron Man.

Drax the Destroyer: A brutish goliath of a prisoner who’s more disposed to using his fists than using his mind; compensates for his inability to process figurative language with a vocabulary ripped straight from a thesaurus (just don’t call him one) and a proclivity for ripping out the spine of those who say anything he finds irksome, which he only learns to be illegal really late in his first adventure with the Guardians.  Drax the Destroyer channels his destructive instinct towards the annihilation of Ronan the Accuser, a meanie he’s sworn to unspine in retribution for the murder, not of his parents, but of his wife and daughter, who remain shrouded in mystery even to this day due to the scarcity of any documentation proving their existence or relationship to Drax.

Rocket and Groot: Respectively, a genetically altered, anthropomorphic raccoon and his walking tree pet; both bounty hunters and steadfast partners-in-crime.  Neither has lost a loved one but both feel as if they’re leading lives of isolation: a short-tempered, self-serving gunslinger, Rocket rejects the label of raccoon, saying, “There ain’t no thing like me, except me,” and Groot struggles to communicate with anybody beside the vermin he accompanies, having “vocabulistics limited to ‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot’, exclusively in that order”.  In this sense, they form a seemingly novel but rather derivative parallel to another, somewhat older pair of smugglers working in a galaxy far far away, one of them a handsome, impertinent rogue and the other a kindly walking carpet whose howls and moans only make sense to the one he calls his master. Even though Groot and Rocket appear to be constantly imperiled in the narrative of Guardians, Marvel insists that “no raccoons or tree creatures were harmed in the making of the film”, as both are brought to life by a top-notch blend of imaginative CGI and voice acting, provided here by an engagingly irritable Bradley Cooper and the amazingly talented Vin Diesel, who reportedly read his line more than a thousand times in several languages because he was so committed to capturing the complicated emotional nuances of his character.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: In spite of their distinguishing quirks and flairs, all five of these oddballs have at least two things in common, one being that their character development is limited mostly to little quirks and flairs, the other that they really don’t like each other at the beginning but eventually resolve their petty differences through friendship and trust when destiny calls them to save the universe from impending devestation.  If that sounds like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, it’s because it is like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, but it’s only rarely as concentrated as its predecessor, being riddled with sci-fi universe mumbo-jumbo, extraneous characters, and too many exceptions to too many rules.  A 30-something-year-old Star Lord is dancing through the dust-strewn hallways of a gloomy junk world when he happens upon an important orb thingamajiger that could be used as a superweapon if the wrong people managed to get their hands on it.  As a matter of fact, just about all the prominent spacefarers in the movie wants to get their hands on it, which by sheer chance ends up driving Star Lord together with the rest of the Guardians-to-be, albeit by landing him inside a meteoric penitentiary where everybody wants to kill him.  Rocket Raccoon has one plan of escape and that plan that involves obtaining a frickin’ quarnex battery, so they have to figure it out!  Groot figures it out but trips the alarm in the process, forcing all our heroes to improvise an action-packed getaway and Rocket to fend off waves of robotic prison guards with a machine gun in possibly the awesomest action sequence of 2014. Oh, yeah.

After hijacking a Lego set-ready starship out of there, the Guardians venture to a system called Knowhere (helpfully identified by setting subtitles) that looks an awful lot like the severed skull of some space giant, probably because it is the head of a space giant.  Here they receive a soporific and incoherent backstory monologue from a white-haired creepy guy named the Collector who looks like a cross between Zeus from Tron: Legacy and Rutger Hauer’s replicant in Blade Runner.  He’s not a pretty sight for the eyes.  The Collector tells them of the “Infinity Stone’s” epic power and it’s around this time that the Guardians recognize the galaxy really depends on them to stop Ronan from devastating everything in his wake, because he’s a bad guy and that’s the kind of thing bad guys do.  For more on the Xandar crisis and formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, turn to page 2,190,489 of The Guide.

Ronan the Accuser: Until the dawning of the era of Thanos, the dominant scourge of the galaxy, responsible for executing all unprovoked and nefarious actions typical of such an office; wears poorly administered facial paint and an ever-gaping mouth that suggests a degenerate descendant of the Joker and Bella Swan.  If you somehow miss his presence or only purpose in the Marvel picture, viz. to give the protagonists somebody to fight, then you must not be paying very close attention, for the Guardians refer to him incessantly and the filmmakers take numerous (now customary for the studio) cuts from the main action to show him and his henchwoman plotting something evil or another. Unlike the main villains of some other Marvel projects, e.g. Loki or Guy Pearce’s bad guy in Iron Man 3 (however confused he was), Ronan isn’t so much a character in and of himself as he is an excuse to make the integral characters do or say things that explain their underlying motives and consciences, if only minimally.

The Galaxy: an ecosystem of monumental proportions, virtually infinite in the diversity of its lifeforms and locales, so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy (per The Guide’s definition of “infinite”). Through a wholly remarkable amalgamation of makeup and set design and modern animation, Marvel has created a surprisingly stunning low-budget alternative for those who can’t afford a Hitchhiker’s Guide to travel the galaxy for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day.  It’s just a shame that a movie imbued with so much color and spectacle happens to be so aggravatingly underlit, or maybe this Guide contributor was screwed over by a defective screen.

The Awesome Mix: A compilation tape of Star Lord’s favorite 70s pop/rock hits as bestowed on him by his mother and prominently played through his trusty Walkman; doubles as the official new-old soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Radio disc jockeys from Betelgeuse to Magrathea have speculated that the awesome mix may be Guardians’ most important contribution to a culture which is languishing from quite possibly the worst year in all musical history, an era beset by the sickening beats of such bogon poets as Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, the Why You Gotta Be So Rude band, and the That’s Just How I Feel band.  At the time of this guide’s “writing”, the awesome mix was ranked #1 on the iTunes charts and looked to be projecting a potential revival of the largely forgotten genre of awesome-music. Even a miniscule humanoid sapling can jive to that.  The same cannot be said of the orchestral score, which repeatedly draws upon the ordinary and rote in lieu of anything memorable, playing generically heroic anthems during battle scenes and generically sad piano themes during the few arguably disruptive parts of the film that are intended to make us cry.

The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 film): Excerpted from Superheroes Are Fictional by Josephos Rex.

As frivolous summertime eye candy, Guardians of the Galaxy is perfectly passable entertainment that does absolutely nothing to reinvent the comic book movie, the space opera, or anything else.  Much like The Avengers of two years back, it’s stuffed chock-full of snappy one-liners, likeable characters, and slickly choreographed action that makes the most of each hero’s unique powers.  Like The Avengers, it was also geared narrowly to a set of rabidly devoted fans who were largely predetermined to enjoy every minute of the film whether or not it had a very compelling story, which it honestly doesn’t.  Where Joss Whedon, working with legends whose backgrounds and personalities had already been established, took the liberty to deliver mostly straight-up action from beginning to end along with scattered pauses for rhetorical sparring matches, James Gunn tries to make up for his characters’ relative obscurity by inserting flashbacks and what I figure are supposed to be emotionally resonant scenes.  The problem is that such moments are neither sincere enough to produce real sympathy nor small enough as not to interfere with the rest of an otherwise lighthearted movie.  In the long run, they feel more like digressions from a generally weak narrative than pillars of a particularly strong one, like emotional backdrops that Gunn tacked on just for the sake of claiming that his film had a “heart”.  The closest the movie ever comes to having a moment of real pathos is a beautiful scene midway through in which Star Lord ejects himself from the safety of his space pod to aid an incapacitated Gamora, voluntarily offering to trade his own life for that of “friend” who’s beaten him up, robbed him of his expensive sphere, and coldly rejected his invitation to dance all in the short two days they’ve known each other.  All told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the heck he’d do it, which kind of undercuts the meaning of his sacrifice when you think about it logically instead of focusing on the pretty green lights and weightless, sci-fi romanticism of the visuals. Is he just a gentleman doing as a gentleman ought; has his propensity for chivalrous or sacrificial behavior been demonstrated even once prior to this event?

Aside from the misplaced melodramatic flashbacks, Guardians rarely forgets its soul as a comedy, taking several jabs at the more overused tropes of filmmaking, such as the “five jackasses, standing in a circle” as a symbol of their unity, or the poorly defined superhero who conveniently reveals a new power right when it’s needed, or the protagonist defeating his foe only to discover larger forces at play he must confront in a gratuitous sequel, or the villain who takes forever to finish off the first good guy while the second good guy prepares a sneak attack from behind.  At other times, the movie buys into clichés without acknowledging it as openly, if at all, as when Star Lord launches into a ‘planning montage’ describing the 12% of an idea he’s thought up before he actually executes it in real time, or when a letter from a long-lost relative gives a character who’s losing hope the strength to proceed, or when the heroes knock down the bad guy way too easily the first time for it to be permanent.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of mindless diversionary crowd pleaser that people in on the joke will be reciting ad nauseum for several weeks after its release but whose plot will sooner fade from everybody’s memory than far more provocative and original films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a modicum of mindless diversion here and there, and the film universe always stands to benefit from some more stupid one-liners, because heaven knows we don’t have enough viral animal memes or comic book gifs clogging up our internet already.

If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, I have no idea whether you’ll like this movie. Sorry.  If you liked The Avengers, I’m not even sure you’ll love The Guardians of the Galaxy, though I would attest their internal conflicts are almost exactly the same.  If you like flashy, feel-good sci-fi pictures about teamwork and talking raccoons and dumb trees and green whores and a-holes and the guy stiff enough to say, “Nobody talks to my friends like that,” after calling them all these things, then I’m high on believing you’ll get a kick out of Guardians of the Galaxy.  I know I did.

Trailer Reviews
Big Hero Six – So, is it Marvel, or Disney, or what?  It sure looks stupid whatever it is.  Awkward silence or awkward noise jokes in the trailer are an immediate tip-off to garbage.
Alexander’s Doubleplusungood Day – Also stupid, except for the kangaroo at the end.
Night at the Museum… Secret of the Tomb? – They didn’t put the 3 in the title because they knew nobody would go to a movie they could watch twice on DVD with the added benefits of Amelia Earhart, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, the T-Rex, Atillia the Hun, and Darth Vader, in descending order.  Oh, and we’ve already seen the giant-monkey-peeing-on-the-city-to-douse-the-fire gag.  Remember the Jack Black Gulliver’s Travels movie from a couple years ago?  No?  Best to keep it that way.
Dumb and Dumber To – Genius title for a stupid movie.  After the Kick-A 2 and the Burt Wonderstone catastrophes, I think Jim Carrey’s still recovering from the fallout from his “gun owners are heartless mother_____s” comment, and the fallout from his “gun owners have very little left in their body or soul worth protecting” comment, and the fallout from the sophomoric, utterly asinine video he made dancing on Charlton Heston’s grave.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – The CGI wolves don’t even look that good, and they already used the Pippin song in Return of the King.  Lame.
Interstellar – This is what a good trailer should do: tease some of the film’s standout visuals and tell you just enough about the concept to get you interested but not enough to spoil the movie, a la the Avatar trailer.  Aside from promising a lot of returning Dark Knight actors and Christopher Nolan’s take on space travel, it really doesn’t tell you a lot about the plot, which shows the trailer editor did something right.
The November Man – Based on a thriller I haven’t read and starring Pierce Not Bond Brosnan, it looks pretty boring either way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but this actually looks halfway entertaining with all the corny jokes and exploding things and Hollywood blade-unsheathing/clashing/swinging sound effects, though you could probably condense all of the good parts down into a two-minute time frame, like so: