Friday, December 19, 2014
Directed by Peter Berg and staring Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor is the true story of a four-man SEAL team reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan during Operation Red Wings, as told by the mission’s sole survivor, Marcus Luttrell. The mission in question was to track down Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, who had masterminded the killing of numerous Marines in the prior weeks.
Before the team can move in on Shah, however, a goat herder and his sons come across the SEALs. The SEALs capture them and debate what to do about them. They know that if they let them go, the Afghans will run straight to Shah and report their presence. That will ruin the mission and get them killed. But they can’t hold them prisoner either if they want to accomplish their mission. Thus, a debate begins about killing them. Ultimately, however, the team decides this would be wrong and they let the herder go.
My first thought about this film was simple: this was the Iraqi/Afghan film the public wanted to see. This film showed the hardships and hard choices these men faced. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything, but it doesn’t make the good guys into villains either. It also explains why they were there, both by showing how evil the bad guys are and how there are good Afghans too who need protection. Had Hollywood focused on films like this, rather than trying to slander and politicize these wars, then their track record wouldn’t be an unmitigated list of failed films. But Hollywood couldn’t help themselves and their box office results show the consequences. This film, by the way, made $143 million on a $40 million budget, and has blown away every other post 9/11 war film.
Interestingly, the film isn’t without an anti-war bent either. In fact, in the key scene, you see Navy SEALs debating the murder of a goat herder and his sons. Prior to the rest of the 9/11 films, this likely would have shocked and outraged American audiences, but here it doesn’t feel anti-American at all. To the contrary, it really ultimately shows that these guy choose ethics and morality over common sense, and that kind of makes you proud seeing how much they risk to do the right thing.
The film also shows Americans getting overwhelmed and killed. That too would have been shocking before the other 9/11 films, but here it just goes to highlight the horrible missions we are asking these guys to undertake. This isn’t a statement on American troops being unprepared or incompetent, it is a statement of the odds these men face every day.
My next thought is that I hated watching this film. Don’t get me wrong, this was a strong and compelling film. It was well shot, well acted and well written. The highs are high and the lows are low and the film is super thoughtful. It is an excellent film.
...but, I hated watching this film because of the subject matter. It sucks thinking that these guys, with so much to offer the world, died fighting such animals. It sucks knowing that these creatures will continue long after we’ve gone, killing and torturing and destroying everything and everyone their sick religion doesn’t like. It sucks knowing that there are great men of courage, like Mohammad Gulab, who saved Luttrell and protected him, who must now fear being destroyed by the animals who form the Taliban. That’s not how life should be.
Finally, I will say that the one problem I had with the film was that I have seen so much in reality TV on the Discovery Channel (and the such) that it’s hard for films to have the same impact. It’s hard to compete with the real thing, and many of the documentaries about the men who fight these wars are very compelling. This one, however, does hit home as it is a true story, and they do end the film by showing you the real men... a very sad moment.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
For those who don't know, a group of hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace ("GOP") hacked Sony's computer network and made off with a ton of information related to their studio operations. This includes employee data, phone numbers, aliases used by stars, complete scripts, budgets and emails. The suspicion is that this was done by North Korea in retaliation for Sony releasing a film called The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play film producers who attempt to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un... who had his uncle eaten by dogs and looks like the nerd who sings "Gangam Style."
Anyway, for the past few weeks, they've been releasing these emails bit by bit, freaking out everyone in Hollywood. What the emails have shown is that much of what we suspected about Hollywood is true: it is populated by vile, hateful people. Indeed, read the following and tell me if you see a pattern:
● Sony pays its male executives a lot more than they pay their female executives.And so on. In response to this, these executives have claimed that these emails are not who they really are as people. Yeah right.
● Sony lobbies against Google (which they call Googliath) out of spite in retaliation for Google not doing enough, in their opinion, to stop pirates.
● More movies make money than Sony admits publicly.
● Many of these emails were written by illiterate executives who don't know the difference between words like lose/loose, their/there/they're, and to/too. Foul language is the order of the day.
● Sony employees don't like Adam Sandler films, which they consider "formulaic"... though I wonder what they produce that isn't formulaic.
● Studio execs called Angelina Jolie "a spoiled brat" and complained about "the insanity and rampaging spoiled ego of this woman." When one exec was told to get Jolie's project under control, the response was: "DO NOT FUCKING THREATEN ME"
● The head of Sony pictures only knew Michael Fassbender because of the size of his penis, which he had seen on screen.
● They describe Leonardo DiCaprio as "actually despicable."
● Despite contributing heavily to Obama and supporting him, studio execs engaged in a racist discussion in which they tried to come up with a list of films Obama must like, each of which involved black actors.
● Studio co-boss Amy Pascal implied that actors adopt black orphans as accessories, and she described stars looking to work in television instead of in film as "the new black baby."
● Studio execs called Kevin Hart, who is black, "a whore."
● Studio execs described David O. Russell, who directed American Hustle, as "a loon" who "got in trouble" for feeling up his teenage transgender niece.
I find this interesting on many levels. First, the most obvious is that these studio execs are clearly odious people. They are hateful backstabbers who lie, in-fight, and think nothing of openly racist behavior. Yet when confronted with their own shameful actions, rather than being shamed, they claim "this isn't who I really am!" That's delusional. Of all things, you are the person you act like in private among people you view as confidantes.
Further, keep in mind how liberals react to suggestions of racism. When it's someone they don't like, they feel happy convicting you on the basis of their own belief about what must be in your mind. The slightest hint of verbalizing something as these people have done would bring instant groupthink howls that the person must be an unrepentant racist, followed by calls for termination of employment and social blacklisting. Yet as these are good liberals who give money to Obama, this will be excused with an apology. Is it any wonder, the public no longer buys claims of racism from leftists? Also, is it any wonder that leftists think everyone must be racists, as they clearly are?
Next, how blind do they need to be to attack a Sandler film for being formulaic, but somehow not see that every... other... film... they... produce... is formulaic these days? Not to mention, how do people who can't spell or choose their words correctly end up with power in the film industry?
None of this is surprising. Hollywood loves to be smug and liberal, but every time the curtain is pulled back we see evidence of racism, sexism, and corporate privilege. We see hypocrisy, perversion, and the worst traits of humanity offered up as evidence of superiority. This is just more of the same; it is nothing new, and it explains why Hollywood has devolved to the point that it can no longer tell a good story... because the shit floated to the top.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
My, my, my, where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday I was researching 1984, which is considered one of the best years for movies. As we move into 2015 (and with no hoverboards in sight), let us revisit 1985. As usual, the list mainly consists of genre pieces – nothing too prestigious!
Back to the Future – [sigh] This movie. It seems to be more popular now than it was upon its release 30 years ago. It’s an American classic, with a smart screenplay, fun characters, memorable dialogue, a soaring music score, and a wonderful “what if?” story at the center of it. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Michael J. Fox plays teenager Marty McFly who travels back in time in a DeLorean and endangers his own existence. If you ask me politely at a party where alcohol is being served, I might just quote the damn thing near-verbatim! “Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?”
Andrew’s review for the plot details. Needless to say, I enjoy the hell out of this movie. The whole thing just has this cool low-key vibe of a first-time writer/director (Savage Steve Holland) playing around with the ideas in his head. It's just a shame Holland is stuck in Disney TV land. The characters are likeable, Diane Franklin is adorable, some of the gags are downright bizarre, and one highlight is David Ogden Stiers as John Cusack’s dad… he plays it with the perfect amount of deadpan. “The K-12 dude. You make a gnarly run like that and girls will get sterile just looking at you.”
Brazil – Terry Gilliam’s dystopian masterpiece features Jonathan Pryce as a lovelorn office drone. As a design student, there are a handful of films I turn to when I need inspiration and this is one of them – it’s one of the most elaborate and detailed movies ever made. The screenplay has some genuine intelligence and wit (gotta love Tom Stoppard’s wordplay) and the acting is generally excellent… though I must admit things get a bit bonkers in the second half. Liberals and conservatives see each other in the film, and that suits me just fine! And the behind the scenes battles between Gilliam and the studio are the stuff of legend. “But I could be anybody.” “No you couldn't, sir.”
Clue – A genuine cult classic, back when the idea of making a film based on something as dumb as a board game was a risk and not Hollywood’s standard operating procedure!! I'm not an expert on much of Jonathan Lynn's work but of the films he's directed (including My Cousin Vinny), this has to be the best written of them all. The screenplay (by Lynn, from a concept by John Landis) is full of wonderful wordplay, the likes of which you don’t get very often today. The characters – obviously based on their game counterparts – are all given (somewhat) realistic backstories and the actors make it look effortless. And Colleen Camp has never been hotter! I first saw this film in Los Angeles, done Rocky Horror-style, with performers acting out the film on stage as it played on the screen behind them. “I was in the hall. I know because I was there.”
The Color Purple – This was Steven Spielberg’s eighth movie and to call it a change of pace would be an understatement. (It’s also the only Spielberg film not scored by John Williams). I confess I have yet to see it in its entirety – only bits on TV. Based on Alice Walker’s novel, the film tells the story of Celie Harris, a young black woman in the south during the early 20th century. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey make their film debuts as Celie and Sofia, respectively. Per usual for Spielberg, the film is well-made and well-shot (at least from what I’ve seen) and, of course, the usual suspects wondered how a white Jewish director could make a movie about the female African-American experience. Some things never change. “I'm poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I'm here.”
National Lampoon’s European Vacation – This merely-okay sequel seems to get lost between the original film and Christmas Vacation. The Griswolds – Chevy Chase as Clark, Beverly D’Angelo as Ellen, and two new kids – win an all-expenses-paid trip to Europe and everything that can go wrong does. Honestly, I only remember a couple of things, including the roundabout gag (“There’s Big Ben! And Parliament!”) and that there’s more nudity than you’d get in a PG-13 movie today, because f--- the MPAA. Watch for some familiar faces, including John Astin as a game show host, Eric Idle as a bicyclist who receives the brunt of Clark’s buffoonery, and the late British comedian Mel Smith as a slimy motel clerk. Not much to say… maybe it’s due for a re-watch. “Honey, we're not normal people. We're the Griswolds.”
Death Wish 3 – For some folks, the Death Wish films are totally repulsive. For others, they’re pure entertainment, albeit with diminishing returns. Enter Death Wish 3, the last one directed by Michael Winner. It’s sleazy and dumb and you wonder how Charles Bronson’s character always manages to get into trouble, not to mention everyone close to him is raped or killed. This time, Paul Kersey is back in New York visiting an old war buddy… who is promptly killed by a local gang (whose members dress up like fans at a Warriors convention). The film becomes senior citizens vs. punks and Bronson is assisted by Martin Balsam as a WW2 vet who keeps a Browning machine gun in his closet. Obviously. And despite taking place in New York, the film was shot in England and it shows. “I'm going out for some ice cream... this is America, isn't it?”
Into the Night – This obscure curiosity by John Landis has always fascinated me for some reason. It tells the story of an insomniac (Jeff Goldblum) who encounters a young model named Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s on the run from the SAVAK (Iran’s secret police). What follows is a strange series of capers, close calls, wrong turns, and other misadventures, all over the course of a night and a day in Los Angeles. Landis was known for casting other filmmakers in his movies and this one is no exception: Jim Henson, Amy Heckerling, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Lynn, Paul Mazursky, make-up FX guru Rick Baker, etc. Landis himself – who was dealing with the aftermath of the Twilight Zone tragedy – plays a SAVAK goon. The biggest name in the cast is actually David Bowie, who plays a sadistic British hitman. This movie is weird but watchable. “Why can't I sleep?”
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – Another childhood (and, uh, adulthood) favorite. Paul Reubens created the character of Pee-Wee Herman while at The Groundlings. This led to an acclaimed stage show, which was followed by a Saturday morning series for kids. This film – which also put Tim Burton and Danny Elfman on the map – tells a simple story of a man searching for his lost bike. Elfman’s score, inspired by Rota and Herrmann, is larger than life while the stop-motion gags and clown routines are pure Burton. Jan Hooks (who sadly passed away a month ago) is hilarious as an Alamo tour guide and the late, great Phil Hartman – who was part of the original Groundlings team – shows up at the end and also co-wrote the film with Reubens. “I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”
A View to a Kill – The crappiest Bond movie until Die Another Day came along. Bond (Roger Moore in his final Bond film) investigates tycoon Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) who plans to destroy Silicon Valley which would give him a monopoly on the microchip industry. Everyone just looks tired in this one. Tanya Roberts is hot but doesn’t contribute much, Walken is uncharacteristically understated, and Grace Jones is…, well, she’s Grace Jones. Tech stuff is all top-notch but the rear-projection looks awfully dated, especially considering the technical leaps made in FX in this decade. Duran Duran’s theme song is a highlight, though. “You have exactly 35 minutes to get properly dressed, 007.”
The Purple Rose of Cairo – One of Woody Allen’s most charming movies, it tells the story of a Depression-era waitress who goes to see a movie, only for the lead character to notice her in the audience and leave the black and white movie screen for the colorful real world. Mia Farrow (naturally) plays Cecilia and Jeff Daniels plays Tom Baxter, an archeologist. Everything is fine until Gil Shepherd (Daniels), the actor who plays Baxter, learns of what happens. Cecilia must choose between the real actor or the fictional character. Woody Allen has said this is one of the few films of his that actually turned out the way he wanted it when he started writing. “You make love without fading out?”
Also: After Hours, The Black Cauldron, The Breakfast Club, Blood Simple, Cocoon, D.A.R.Y.L., Day of the Dead, Desperately Seeking Susan, Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, Fright Night, The Goonies, Jagged Edge, Lifeforce, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pale Rider, Prizzi's Honor, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, Spies Like Us, and Witness.
Will 2015 prove to be as memorable? We’re getting a new Jurassic Park, a new Terminator, and a new Star Wars. What year is it again??
Friday, December 5, 2014
Loosely based on the non-fiction book “The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,” Monuments Men is the story of a unit of Allied soldier during World War II, who were assigned the task of tracking down all the great art works the Nazis plundered from the lands they conquered and to save them from destruction as the war came to a close and the desperate Nazis were destroying or hiding these things to cover their tracks.
On the other side of the story is Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett), a French museum curator who has been forced to assist Nazi Viktor Stahl as he finds and steals great art for Hitler and his cronies like Goering. Her brother is a resistance fighter who seems to specialize in stealing these items back.
Why This Film Didn’t Work
The film received mixed to negative reviews. The Guardian said there were too many characters and the film never felt satisfying because it sent them all off to do little tasks, which often weren’t that interesting. The consensus at Rotten Tomatoes was that the film has “noble intentions” and a great cast, but they couldn’t overcome the “stiffly nostalgic tone and the curiously slack dialog.” Some Spanish rag called it “Hollywood war propaganda.” Yeah, leave Hitler alone, Hollywood! On the other hand, Rolling Stone liked it, calling it a movie about “aspiration” and “a proudly untrendy, uncynical movie.” Talk about true irony! Rolling Stone peddles pure cynicism and always has.
The Family, which I reviewed recently, and with most of Clooney’s other recent films. Look, I like Clooney and I want to like his films, but in film after film it feels like he thinks that the concept itself is strong enough that he doesn’t need to offer more than his character walking through the film, discovering the concept and then acting upset or outraged at what he discovered, see e.g. Syrianna, Burn Before Reading, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Solaris, Michael Clayton, etc. These are all films with great concepts, solid casts and much promise, but they underwhelm as they end up more like a series of vignettes rather than real plots, and they rely on the audience feeling shocked that such things exist rather than feeling entertained by the plot.
For starters, as noted by the critics, there are too many characters for us to focus on which characters to care about. They try to make up for this by giving us actors who come with a history of goodwill already in place. This includes guys like Bill Murray and John Goodman and Clooney himself and Matt Damon. But liking the actors doesn’t compensate when I can’t tell you who the characters they played are or what they did. Moreover, I have to say that my goodwill for Murray and Damon is long gone and my goodwill for Clooney is waning.
The end result of this is that characters you don’t know or care about follow tips that seem to fall from Heaven and are always right to go pick up treasures with no genuine obstacles standing in their way. That’s not exciting... it’s not interesting. I honestly suspect that a documentary would have managed to be more exciting than this film turned out to be, and that’s sad.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
The story is fascinating.
The one word of caution is that it’s not easy to find. It’s on NatGeo during the days right now, but seems to come and go. If you can’t find it there, it is on Youtube: Ultimate Airport Dubai.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
This is always a great time of year to thank God that you're not a pilgrim. Just kidding, pilgrims. But seriously, this is a great time of year to think about what you should be thankful for. We live in the greatest, most free, most productive country in the world. We are surrounded by genuinely good people who believe in community, charity, and fair play, and millions of people work tirelessly to make everything a little bit better every day. Who can beat that?
Besides that though, we should all be thankful for our friends and family and for the chance to make their lives better as they've made ours better. It's a great time to remind them that you love them, isn't it?
Personally, I'm thankful for my wonderful parents and my great sister, my incredible wife, and my amazing kids. I'm thankful to be alive. I'm thankful that I get to see and experience everything this world has to offer. I'm thankful for e-meeting all of you. And I'm thankful that we can experience things like joy and happiness and contentment.
So what are you thankful for?
Click Here To Comment at CommentaramaPolitics
Posted by AndrewPrice at 12:30 AM
Thursday, November 20, 2014
If there’s one question that seems to be on the minds of geeks everywhere, it’s “So when are we going to get another Ghostbusters?” followed by “Wait, do we really need another one?” It took five years to release a second film and we’re now 25 years later. The wheels seem to be in motion, albeit in super slow motion. But is it too late? Should sleeping terror dogs lie?
[long sigh] Okay, here it is. In the 90s, Dan Aykroyd (“the heart of the ghostbusters”) wrote a draft for a third film that involved a parallel version of Manhattan dubbed “Manhellton.” From what I recall, Hell was overcrowded and only the boys in beige could stop the incoming tide of undead. Pretty neat idea, and some of it was used in the 2009 video game. This movie would also involve a younger team of ghostbusters and names like Will Smith and Chris Farley were bandied about. The studio was interested, but Bill Murray was not. (This is going to be a running theme here!) Having expressed his disappointment at how Ghostbusters II came out, and with sequels in general, Murray said he’d only do it if he could be a ghost. To this day, the enigmatic Murray has been nothing but reticent: never saying “yes,” usually saying “no,” sometimes offering a cautious “maybe.” This hasn’t stopped Aykroyd, who’s been talking up a third film for the last decade and a half. (Not to mention Aykroyd doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to making sequels without important co-stars!)
This entire time, Ivan Reitman was still attached as producer/director. A few years ago, he was developing a script with two writers from The Office (yay!) who also wrote Year One (boo!). Meanwhile, Murray was still waffling, Aykroyd was still promising release dates, Reitman decided he wouldn’t direct it after all, and even semi-retired Rick Moranis said he’d do it if the material was good. And then Harold Ramis, who had been collaborating on and off with Aykroyd, passed away. At this point, people rightfully asked, “Is it time to shut it down?” For the studio, the answer was an emphatic “No!” As of this writing, Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids and The Heat, has signed on to direct and is developing a script with writer Katie Dippold (The Heat, Parks and Recreation). It’s said to be a remake, featuring an all-female group of busters.
[longer sigh] This is… not a... hoooorrible idea... Feig loves the movies and doesn’t want to stomp all over them, which is why they’re doing it as a remake instead… but then why call it Ghostbusters? (That was a rhetorical question!) Or better yet, why couldn’t they simply have another group in another part of New York City that just happens to be all-female? Every sequel idea that’s out there seems to include the Ghostbusters as a large corporation, so it’s only logical that there would be other offices. As for the female thing, despite Feig’s comments, I think it comes across as a gimmick. It’ll inspire a thousand think pieces from the bloggers of the world and it’ll be the only thing people talk about. And it’s not as if their gender will be relevant. We’ll still get a smooth-talker, and a brain, and so on. Or maybe I’m wrong and the fact that they’re all female will be relevant to the plot, but wouldn’t that undercut the entire idea? The gender shouldn’t matter at all, hence my use of the “gimmick” label. Yes, women can be funny, and maybe if we stop asking the question, it’ll go away! And I understand the need for representation, but then why make them all female? How about a mix? And I’m sorry but there’s no story they could write that will satisfy everyone who’s angling for the all-female thing. “This movie is too feminist!” “This movie isn’t feminist enough!”
The story? I have no idea. Feig wants to make something scary but there’s definitely a template at work. Will we simply get another underdog story with a love interest and a powerful force trying to break through to our world and a climax involving a large, walking object? Given that this is a remake, it seems highly likely. And how do you redesign iconic props and vehicles? The designers of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films have done a decent job in my opinion, though more tech-oriented fans have completely excoriated them. Will the new proton pack look like something from the Apple Store, or will they continue with the homemade, jury-rigged look that made the first film so relatable? (It was a going into business story after all!)
As for actors, it’s anybody’s guess. I’ve seen a lot of names mentioned: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Emma Stone, Rebel Wilson, etc. I have no wish list but only one request: get great actors who can do comedy. Don’t get comedians who happen to be good actors. I don’t want to see Melissa McCarthy doing the uncouth slob thing again. I don’t want Tina Fey playing just another version of Liz Lemon. And I don’t want to see Aubrey Plaza do… that thing she seems to do 90% of the time. You know what? I’d love to see someone like Cate Blanchett in something like this! Or Amy Adams! That’s the other thing… will the film feature actual adults, or 20-somethings… you know, for the millennials?!
My other thoughts are just nitpicking. The previous films are great-looking films, lensed by award-winning cinematographers. Will the new film have a distinctive look, or will it look like every other sterile, overly-bright comedy out there today? And the music… who will be the lucky musician to contribute an original theme song? (Anybody but Kanye!) Bear McCreary has my vote to do the music score. He was a protégé of the late Elmer Bernstein, who scored the first film (and almost every other classic 80s comedy) and his geek credentials are second to none. And in an effort to up the ante and compete with the superhero films, will the ending involve the leveling of the city in an orgy of CGI? Or just one building? (If there was any film where the makers could indulge in old-school techniques like cloud tank photography, this would be it!)
If I were president of Hollywood, I’d use a story I read about five years ago on an architecture blog. The writer came up with an idea involving NYNEX, the old New England telephone company (the “X” even stood for the unknown future, or the “uneXpected”). What if the ancient cables and trunk lines were actually the embedded nervous system of a fallen angel? The film would end with a climactic confrontation at the old AT&T Long Lines Building, a Brutalist-style structure at 33 Thomas Street. Pretty cool! But I’m not the president of Hollywood, just a geek.
I write this not to bitch, but to ponder. There are only a handful of franchises that I’m passionate about and this is one of them. And yeah, if they screw it up, we’ll still have the untouched originals (not even Star Wars fans can say that!). I remain cautiously neutral. What say you?
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Throughout my life, I’ve discovered something interesting about the human race: we are a bell curve in all things. I’ve seen this over and over in every field I’ve encountered. I’ve seen it in early adopter rates, grade distribution, IQ distribution, and even advertising theories on how to influence the public. It’s everywhere. And where it has been most interesting to me is in the discovery that the human race can be broken into three groups when it comes to societal benefit, for lack of a better phrase. The theory works like this:
● 10% of the human population are good people who drive humanity for the better. The most obvious example of these people are inventors, artists, writers, and others who provide things that enrich or improve other people’s lives. But this category isn’t limited to those people. It also includes people who start businesses, early adapters, the rare teachers who inspire their students, and even just average people who become mentors to others and make the world a better place. Big or small makes no difference, these are just people who make things better.So what does this have to do with The Lorax? Well, The Lorax very clearly demonstrates these groups and how they work. Unfortunately, it presents the wrong lessons in doing so.
● At the other end, 10% of the human population are malicious people who do bad things. Interestingly, only some of these people realize that they are villains. The majority of these people think of themselves as the good 10%, even though their instincts are malicious and their actions and ideas are highly destructive. You can see an example of this, believe it or not, with Hitler. If you ever see interviews of his staff, you will be shocked to learn that Hitler genuinely thought he was the good guy. You see this sometimes with serial killers too, who think they are doing God’s work, with busy-bodies who delude themselves that their desires to control others come from their “deep sense of caring” about others, and with people who just get off on causing problems.
● The other 80% of the human population are essentially sheep. They do what they are told by the people they recognize as authority figures. Interestingly, however, these people often think of themselves as independent thinkers who “make up their own minds,” and they react very poorly to any suggestion to the contrary, even though they never actually think for themselves... as an aside, these people are the reason so much advertising simultaneously combines the ideas of keeping up with the Jones while ridiculously claiming that buying certain mass-produced products is only for “people who think for themselves.” Disturbingly, these people have a hard time spotting the difference between the good and bad 10%ers and will just as slavishly follow a vicious negative 10%er as they would a good 10%er if they come to see them as the authority.
The Lorax is the story of a 12 year old Ted Wiggins. Wiggins lives in a walled city made of plastic and metal. It contains no trees. The reason it doesn’t have trees is that the mayor, Aloysius O’Hare, sells bottled oxygen. He knows that trees provide oxygen for free, so he works hard to make sure there are none in the city. What destroyed the trees originally was a man called Once-ler. He was an entrepreneur who cut down the trees to make his product. In so doing, he ignored the objections of the Lorax, which was a being who protects the trees. Once-ler didn’t intend to cut down all the trees and he came to realize his mistake, but he did it nevertheless... all except for one seed. He gives that seed to Ted, who tries to plant it.
Here’s are the problems.
First, this film clearly breaks into the three groups. Ted is a good 10%er who wants to make the world better. He sees a way to improve it and sets out to do so. The mayor is a bad 10%er. He knows he’s the villain and he thinks nothing of using evil means to get what he wants, which is profit and control. Once-ler is also a bad 10%er, though he is one who doesn’t understand his own evil. He thought he was the good guy, making use of the trees in a way he thought was responsible to produce a product that people wanted and employ people who needed jobs. It was only later that he learned his mistake. Finally, the public are exactly what the 80% are like: fickle, stupid, and mindless followers of whomever they see as the authority figure in their lives.
It is interesting to see a film break down these groups so clearly. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t know what to do from there. Thus, for example, rather than pointing out that Once-ler is a villain, it essentially sells him as a victim. It shows him suffering at “the mistake” he made and being imprisoned for what he has done. It also let’s him protest over and over that he never intended to kill all the trees, without ever requiring him to explain why he ignored the obvious warning signs and took no care to prevent the problem that was so obvious. In effect, it removes his villainy and makes him a helpless victim of a mistake and thereby forgives his villainy without true remorse or even understanding. This teaches the wrong lesson as it eliminates the element of personal responsibility so long as you had good intentions. But good intentions are not and should never be considered an inoculant to criminal or evil or immoral or stupid behavior.
Finally, you have the 80%ers. This is the truly obnoxious message. These people mindlessly followed the mayor for years. Once someone pointed out his crime, they absolutely failed to rationally assess the claim and to decide if they had been mistaken in supporting him. Instead, they turned into a lynch mob, determined to silence the dissident. This failure should have been highlighted in a major way to the audience. But the film didn’t do that. To the contrary, it excused the 80% by having them switch sides moments later when the worker announced that he had decided to back Ted.
This is my problem with this film. The film correctly identifies these groups but then acts as a sedative to calm the 80% into thinking that evil will be easy to spot and fixing evil is as easy as watching to see whom the crowd prefers. These are ridiculous messages to send.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
Written by one of my favorite directors, Luc Besson, The Family stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as a married couple who just moved to France. It also happens that De Niro is a mobster (Giovanni Manzoni) who has turned states evidence against his entire gang and is now in the witness protection program. Dianna Agron and John D’Leo play their children and Tommy Lee Jones plays Robert Stansfield, their frustrated contact person with the FBI.
All of this is being done under the noses of the FBI agents who watch the family to make sure they stay out of trouble. That said, however, Jones knows the family is doing these things and he keeps threatening to end their government protection if De Niro doesn’t stop. De Niro responds by agreeing to stop causing problems and instead sets out to write his memoirs... memoirs the FBI cannot let De Niro publish.
A bloodbath ensues.
Why This Film Didn’t Work
The most critical aspect of making any comedy work is tone. No matter how good a comedy may seem on paper, if the tone of the film isn’t right, the overall feel of the film won't be right. And this can be tricky. Indeed, the landscape of films is littered with “dark comedies” that couldn’t quite find the right tone. Even Ghostbusters would have come across as a weak horror film that couldn’t decide if it would rather have been a comedy if it been just a little more serious – much as Frighteners comes across.
At first glance, this film appeared to be another Midnight Run, a brilliant comedy that plays like a drama but keeps you laughing by hitting the right tone at the perfect moments. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even close. The problem with The Family is that it never once comes across as a comedy.
Even when something seems kind of funny, the film never follows up on it. For example, I did laugh when Michelle Pfeiffer set fire to the store as revenge; it was very unexpected and opened all kinds of doors of comedic potential. But rather than make this the focal point of the story, perhaps with De Niro freaking out about what his wife has done and trying to cover it up from the FBI, they just take it in stride. De Niro barely even mentions it. The locals never investigate. The FBI doesn’t find out about it. And the film just drops it. Ditto on the water system guy and the plumber. Not only is it not credible that there would be no consequences, but these are the extreme moments that are supposed to make us laugh and they just get dropped by the film. Even the manuscript De Niro is writing is tossed aside and never goes anywhere.
So what you have here is a film that may have looked great on paper. You can see how the setup alone is appealing, as it appeared in the trailers. The actors seem perfect for the role. The story contains many of the elements a comedy should. But in moving it from paper to film, this one fell apart because it never came near projecting a comedic tone. At best, it comes across as a weak action film with a few outrageous moments that may have been intended as humor. In fact, if you didn’t tell people this was meant as a comedy, I doubt the audience would have known.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
When I first heard of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, I had no idea what it was about. This is one of those films with little marketing muscle and no box office reach; if you want to see this one, you need to go find it, so finding out what it is about is not easy. Even the description at Netflix wasn’t particularly helpful. But I liked the title and I decided to give it a chance.
The story opens by introducing some generic a-hole college kids. We then meet Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), hillbillies from West Virginia. As this film appeared to be setting up a hillbilly slasher film, I almost turned it off at that point. Fortunately, I didn’t.
As they stock up on provisions, like a six pound jar of pickled eggs, the group of college students pulls up at the same gas station and tries to buy beer. This leads to a series of accidental confrontations which freak out the college kids, making them think that Tucker and Dale are hillbilly rapist/killers. When Dale then approaches the group to speak to one of the girls, things go wrong because he’s holding a scythe and makes the mistake of following horrible advice about laughing at whatever they say. The college kids freak out and flee the scene.
A few minutes later, we discover that the vacation home is a fixer-upper which needs a lot more work than they originally expected. It also seems to have been owned by a mass murderer as the place is decorated in bones and there are newspaper clippings of killings on the wall. Tucker and Dale don’t seem to understand the significance of this, however, and they go fishing.
I’ll leave the rest to you to discover.
Why This Film Worked
Parodies may seem easy because there are so many of them, but few of them are very good. This is because parody is actually quite difficult. The goal of a quality parody is to find some truth within the thing being parodied that the audience normally overlooks and then exploit that truth to poke fun at the original property. Some films are fairly good at this, like the first few Scary Movie films, which mocked various iconic horror scenes while telling their own story. Ultimately, those films weren’t particularly logical or realistic, but they were funny because they put their finger on flaws we overlooked in the iconic films they were parodying. Other parodies have been less successful. Take, for example, Meet the Spartans or any film from that set of filmmakers. These are putrid parodies because they simply repeat a story and throw in whatever gag they can think of into each scene whether they are connected to the scene in any way or not. Hence, most of the jokes were random, low-hanging fruit that just weren’t funny or relevant.
I had little hope for Tucker and Dale vs. Evil on the parody front. For one thing, the hillbilly slasher films are so poorly done as a group that they already operate as parody. Indeed, there’s very little left to laugh at in those films because you’ve already rolled your eyes at everything that can be parodied as you watched the originals. Moreover, it’s just not clear how you could make a hillbilly rapist funny or likeable enough to get you to invest in the character as an object of humor.
Indeed, this film gives you all the scenes you’ve come to expect: the hillbilly sodomy, the wood chipper killing, the chainsaw attack, the dead cop who failed to call for backup, the digging-your-own grave scene, etc.... but each of those scenes is twisted around in ways that are clever, strangely believable, and hilarious. Adding to this are the reactions of the hillbillies, which are polar opposites of what we’ve come to expect. Indeed, rather than being cold-blooded, inbred killing machines like a moonshine fueled T-900, Tucker and Dale are soft-hearted, sensitive, and terrified at what is happening. Dale doesn’t even like fishing because he doesn’t want to hurt a fish.
Not only does this entire scene work perfectly in the sense of making total sense as to how it plays out and how each side reacts, but it’s also such an intensely clever and unexpected twist on a common scene from hillbilly slasher films that you can’t help but burst out laughing throughout the scene. Making this even funnier though is the priceless reaction of Tucker, who freaks out.
In fact, what really makes this film work are the hilarious reactions of Tucker and Dale throughout as they find themselves in a truly surreal situation with which they are ill-equipped to cope. Tudyk, who is one of the best voice actors ever (e.g. King Candy from Wreck-It-Ralph) and has played wonderfully enjoyable characters in shows like Firefly and films like Dodgeball, plays another gem of a character here. He’s the smart one of the two and he does indeed manage to grasp 99% of what is happening. Unfortunately, that last 1% is the killer as the conclusions he draws in each situation are simply dead wrong. This makes you laugh at everything he does.
And honestly, watching the creative ways the college students kill each other off by accident as Tucker and Dale try to stop them, only to be seen as having caused the deaths, is just consistently hilarious throughout.
This is one of those films that I expected to hate. I assumed it would be stupid and pointless and offer little more than a disguised slasher film. But it wasn’t. Instead, I found a film that is clever, engaging and hilarious. This is a film with characters you will like. This is a film that relentlessly mocks the hillbilly slasher films, but does so in such a good-natured, innocent way that you can’t help but enjoy the film.
I absolutely recommend this one.
Friday, October 10, 2014
When 47 Ronin was marketed in the US, it was presented as Keanu Reeves leads a small army of samurai against a magical army of demons. Kind of a samurai version of The Matrix. Indeed, it had all the hallmarks of anime. In reality, however, this film is definitely not any of that. What this film is, is a retelling of the classic story of The 47 Ronin with hints of magic added for flavor.
Despite being forbidden from seeking revenge under pain of death, these Ronin felt such a strong sense of duty to their beloved dead lord that they planned to avenge his death against the emperor’s orders. To that end, they waited one year. Then they met up, infiltrated the castle of the offender, and killed him. More importantly, once they had satisfied their need to fulfill their duty, they satisfied their honor by gathering in the courtyard and committing ritual suicide to comply with the emperor’s order.
As I said above, Keanu’s 47 Ronin sounded like anime when it was marketed. It was sold as some battle for survival against a supernatural army. But that’s not at all what the film is about. To the contrary, the film was simply a retelling of the 47 Ronin story. So needless to say, that was the first huge problem audiences encountered – misguided expectations.
All told, I recommend this film if you are into samurai films. I thought it was well done, well shot and well told. The actors were good. The dialog was decent. The story was well-known, but also added fresh elements. I would rate this as an above-average samurai film. But if that isn’t your thing, then by all means, stay away because the film offers nothing beyond that... this is a niche film, and that's why it bombed at the theater.