Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stephen King: Idea Consolidator

I’ve said before that I no longer have any respect for Stephen King. When he was young, he wrote a couple great horror stories. But then he got lazy or lost that creative spark or just became full of himself. And for the past couple decades, all he's done is steal ideas. He’s more like an idea consolidator now than an author, and I’ve never once heard him credit anything he’s stolen.

It’s even worse with his miniseries and his movies. I can literally go through Rose Red or The Mist or Dreamcatcher or Desperation and tell you scene by scene what he stole from other films and which movies they came from. It’s like his new method for writing involves renting all the films in a particular genre, writing down the parts he likes from each, adding a retarded kid with superpowers to some of the scenes, and then calling his publisher. . . puff! Another masterpiece.

And I’m not even going to get into what for an ass the man is. Not only is he a nasty liberal who has attacked Republicans and called our military illiterate morons, but he fills his stories with vile slanders aimed at the military and religious people. He’s also taken unprovoked cheap shots at other authors (like the author of Twilight). . . I guess she had nothing he could steal?

But I digress.

So why am I writing this? Apparently, King has a new project. This one will appear on Showtime. It’s called Under the Dome and is based on “his” 2009 novel of the same name. What’s it about? Tell me if this sounds familiar. . . “locals at a Maine vacation spot battle one another when a force field suddenly surrounds their town and cuts them off from the rest of the world.” Hmmm. Where have I heard that before? What could King possibly have been watching when this brilliant, “original” idea just popped into his head? Hmmm.

As a complete unrelated aside, have I ever mentioned that I enjoyed the Simpson’s movie? You know the one. . . where the locals battle one another when a dome suddenly surrounds Springfield and cuts them off from the rest of the world.

Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand, King’s ultra-original and unique idea will be produced by the only man in Hollywood who is a bigger jerk than King: Steven Spielberg. Yep, it will be a battle royal of cliché characters! I’m envisioning a race to save the population. On one team you’ll have the asthmatic kid, the fat kid who can’t stop eating and the Asian kid who builds gadgets. On the other team you’ll have the alcoholic writer and the retarded kid with superpowers. And they will struggle against aliens called the Evilrepublicans, whose leaders are Sarapalin and Rikperry, who want to kill all the residents so they can pump oil out of the ground and bathe in it. I can’t wait to see who they cast for each character. . . I’m betting Clive Owen plays a character named “Moe Szyslaker,” a club owner.

In all seriousness, guys like King depress me. He’s got more money than he will ever need. And you would think that after reaching that point, he would get more interested in writing higher quality stories, i.e. doing it for the love instead of the all mighty dollar. Apparently, you would be wrong. Am I missing something here?

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 4

Let's continue our Great (Film) Debates series with a little visceral dislike. Today's issue:

What famous actor/actress can you not stand?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Eugene Levy. Even a small scene with Levy in it can ruin a movie for me. I don't like actors doing their "shtick" in the middle of films and that's all Levy does. What's more, I can't stand his shtick. It's not funny or clever or interesting. It's amateurish and incongruous in any context. It's what you would expect at a high school play. It is annoying. And when I see him, I cringe, knowing that he is about to ruin the film.

Panelist: ScottDS

Selma Blair. I can't really explain it. She's just so... blah. And she only has two facial expressions, both of which read... "Blah." I'd say the Hellboy films were good in spite of her presence.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I cannot stand Barbra Streisand. Just typing her name makes me want to hurl. She was a very good singer who is an incredible narcissist and way overrated as an actress, but I am pulling my punches (nice guy that I am.)

Panelist: T-Rav

Hands down, Sean Penn. Maybe it's not fair, that I'm judging him on his politics; I guess he's had some good roles in Mystic River and so on. But he is perhaps the most vicious and intolerant, when it comes to politics, of any actor I can think of. And I think it's shown in his more recent work, which has mostly been water-carrying for the Left. I can separate most actors' politics from their on-screen performances, but not his.

Comments? Thoughts? Who did we miss?

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Film Friday: The Golden Compass (2007)

The left politicizes children’s stories. They’ve discovered that once kids learn ideas like personal responsibility, the value of families and cause and effect, it becomes rather difficult to brainwash them to believe leftist dogma. Thus, they attack centuries old fairy tales as sexist, racist and evil, and they churn out propaganda to replace them. The Golden Compass is propaganda. Indeed, Compass, the first book in Philip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy, is anti-Catholic and anti-religion. “Ridiculous” screamed the left. But it's true. What's more, it's a bad film.

** beware of spoilers comrade **
The Plot
Compass is the story of Lyra Belacqua, a supposed orphan living in a universe where people’s souls (called “demons”) take the shape of animals and live outside the body. This world is dominated by an evil version of the Catholic Church called the Magisterium, which suppresses independent thought. Moreover, the Magisterium is kidnapping children to perform surgery on them to sever their connections to these demons, which makes the kids into zombies. Investigating the disappearances are a group of gypsies un-creatively called “Gyptians,” whose children are being stolen (flipping the age-old European complaint that gypsies steal children).

Lyra is the daughter of Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), an evil rich woman who conspires with the Magisterium to steal the children. But Coulter apparently doesn’t know Lyra is her daughter. Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) also doesn't know Lyra is his daughter (or they're both lying). Asriel is an enemy of the Magisterium and intends to travel north to prove there is no God. When he leaves, Lyra is given a golden compass that lets her see vague answers to some questions. Then a series of CGI fight scenes ensue which involve the Gyptians, talking polar bears, a guy with a flying ship, and flying witches. The end.
This Is A Bad Film
As a film, this is a turd. The Magisterium is a cartoon villain. It wants to turn kids into zombies to protect its power, which really isn't in danger. And the plot is minimal: go north, save the kids. The film tells us Lyra is important to all of this, but never tells us why. She moves from scene to scene seemingly randomly, as the other characters usher her to the places she needs to be to make the plot work. She does nothing personally. And in the end, she saves the day by being led to the ending scene, where everyone else fights a big battle.

The actions of the individual characters also make little sense, except that their actions tie them to Lyra. The Gyptians are dirt poor, live on boats and travel the world, yet for some reason they drop their kids off at Lyra’s private school. When those kids go missing, they seek out Lyra for no particular reason except that she’s a main character. Coulter decides to coopt Lyra for no particular reason except that she’s a main character. Irresponsible, 12 year old Lyra is given this priceless golden compass which the scholars apparently never bothered to examine because she is the main character. The witches are attracted to her because she’s a main character. Etc. etc.

The story is also full of pointless story arcs that wait for the sequel. For example, Asriel announces his great crusade, gets caught immediately, and is then forgotten until the post-plot voice-over wrap up. Even if you're expecting a sequel, it's still bad filmmaking to treat your film like it's part of a series rather than treating it like a complete story. Indeed, this film feels like half a movie. Moreover, halfway through the story, the writer suddenly loses interest in the plot and just inserts a series of CGI fight scenes until the credits roll.

The acting stinks too. Dakota Richards plays Lyra like a reject from a Dickens play and comes across like English gutter trash. Daniel Craig bizarrely plays each scene angrily and with his hand jammed into his pants. Kidman acts like someone shoved an ice cube up her rear. Everybody else is a tired stereotype. Even the score mocks the film at times.
The Propaganda Factor
Even worse, Compass is propaganda. The author of the books is an atheist with a lot of hatred for religion and he apparently intends these books as a lure to draw children to angry atheism. Consequently, at its core, Compass is an anti-religious and anti-Catholic tirade.

For example, it’s obvious the Magisterium represents the Catholic Church. The word "Magisterium" actually means the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. Similarly, throughout the film, Catholic terminology is used for various characters and various practices, and they even decorate their buildings with Christian icons. So how is this ersatz Church represented in the film? The Magisterium is intentionally kidnapping and hurting children because they are afraid that people will learn the truth, that there is no God, and thus, the Magisterium will lose its power. To suggest that the Catholic Church believes there is no God, but only uses the myth of God to maintain its power is blatant slander. And hiding this suggestion by changing the name of the church is cowardly.

And make no mistake, the series clearly states there is no God in our universe. According to the books, there was an angel named “The Authority.” He was the first being in the universe and was made from a substance known as dust. Because he was first and an evil liar, he pretends to be the creator of the universe so that people will worship him. He is also specifically identified as the God of the Christian, Islamic and Jewish religions in our universe, whom he has tricked to follow him. He is eventually captured and dies when he tries to escape his prison.

The studio told the screenwriter to downplay the anti-religious themes, but he admits he left them in the film by hiding them behind “euphemisms.” Thus, there is no specific mention of the word “God” for example, though you’d have to be an idiot not to know that is being discussed. Even this, however, was too much for atheist groups who called this “censorship” and “castrating” the books, which they see as the anti-Narnia series.

Moreover, there was a very dishonest public relations campaign surrounding the film. The cast and crew repeatedly denied any attempt to push atheism and claimed this was a lie pushed by right-wing religious crazies -- even as the writer was trying to assure the atheist community that this film would remain true to the atheist mission of the books. And aiding them in their deception, they paraded around Nicole Kidman (a supposedly devout Catholic), who would do interviews in which she assured the audience she would never do any film that attacked the Catholic Church. Uh huh. The “useful idiot” is alive and well.
I have no problem with atheists, as I believe everyone is entitled to their beliefs and has a right to try to convince others of their beliefs. But I do have a problem with deception, and everything about this film is deceptive. Compass is propaganda. It has a specific political agenda that it pushes while pretending it isn’t pushing that agenda. And they are trying to convince parents to show this to their children under false pretenses. This is exactly why people don't trust Hollywood anymore.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Does Disney Hate Parents?

A while back, I read an article that asked why Disney hates parents. The premise of the article was that Disney films almost always involve a main character who has lost one or both parents and this struck the author as anti-parent. It’s an interesting observation, especially as I think this goes well beyond Disney into most other children’s stories as well. But I don’t think it’s anti-parent.

On the Disney point, consider this: Andy in Toy Story has no father. Bambi has no father and loses his mother. Nemo’s mother and siblings are eaten by barracuda and his father is estranged. Simba is implicated in his father’s death. Mowgli is an orphan abandoned to the wild, as is Tarzan. Fatherless Dumbo is separated from his mother. Ariel has no mother, nor does Belle. Penny from The Rescuers is an orphan. Cinderella has no parents, nor does Snow White, nor does Peter Pan. Peter Pan’s Wendy has parents, but they don’t care about the kids. The list goes on and on.

And this continues well beyond Disney: Harry Potter’s parents were killed. The parents of the girl from Golden Compass are pretending they aren’t her parents. The kid in Neverending Story has no mother. The girl in Labyrinth has a wicked stepmother. The Narnia kids are on their own. The parents in James and the Giant Peach are killed when a rhinoceros falls from the sky. Dorothy lives with her Aunt and Uncle in Wizard of Oz. The von Trapps are without a mother. The kid in Little Big League has no father. And so on.

That's a lot of parental carnage, but is this really anti-parent? I don’t think so. Indeed, I think it’s the exact opposite.

At the core of most all of these stories is the idea that kids need parents. These kids don’t have parents and there is a hole in their lives because of it. Thus, they all go on fantasy adventures to find ersatz parents to fill that hole. When they find these ersatz parents, they find what they are missing from their new father/mother figures and they live happily ever after. And the message is clear: kids need parents.

So why eliminate the birth parents?

Frankly, I think it’s largely necessary for the plots. Indeed, it’s rather difficult to create child characters who lack strong parental influences in their lives when both parents are present. It can be done, such as in Mary Poppins, where the parents learn to stop being selfish and care about their kids, but how often can you repeat that formula? Hence, it’s a lot easier to start without parents being present.

Also, leaving the parents around changes the focus of the story from “kids need parents” to "why are these bad parents." Thus, if the parents are still there, then these films go from being pro-parent to being anti-parent, as parents would come to be seen as objects of criticism and as something to be fixed or replaced if you don't like the set you have. That's why I think it’s a mistake to see the elimination of the birth parents as an anti-parent message.

That said, not all of these films are actually pro-parent. Golden Compass, for example, is a vile little film that intentionally sends all the wrong messages (anti-parent, anti-Christian, pro-angry-atheist, anti-Catholic, anti-education, pro-class warfare). The fact her parents are pretending they aren't her parents and that she finds better parents is definitely an anti-parent statement. In some cases, the absence of one parent seems purposeless, like in Toy Story or Little Mermaid. Indeed, it’s not at all clear why they chose to eliminate the fathers in those films other than some subtle "single parent families are good" message. You see this a good deal where kids stories try to convince the kids that they shouldn't object to divorce. Finally, some films, like Alice in Wonderland and Willy Wonka, are simply devoid of parental messages, even though they have absent parents.

Consequently, I think it is a mistake to draw any message from the absence of the parents alone. You need to look deeper and ask why are the parents missing and what is the lesson the kid is being taught regarding that absence? That will tell you if the film is pro- or anti-parent. And most of the Disney films seem genuinely pro-parent.


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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 3

Let's continue our Great (Film) Debates series. Today's issue:

What is the most romantic moment in film?

Panelist: T-Rav

I'd have to go with the famous scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo is about to be frozen in carbonite and Leia shouts to him "I love you!" as he's being lowered into the vent. Han's reply, of course: "I know." I can't really explain why this works, but in light of Han's lone wolf, unsentimental attitude and the earlier mutual antagonism between him and Leia, it just does, somehow. And if you don't believe me, ask any female fan of the movie whether it would have been better for him to say that or "I love you too."

Panelist: AndrewPrice

This is a difficult one. I considered the “scoundrel” scene in the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back and I thought about John Cusack’s stereo scene in Say Anything. But in the end, it had to be the scene where Scott and Fran dance behind the stage in Strictly Ballroom. This is both the most romantic scene on film and probably the best dance scene I’ve ever seen.

Panelist: ScottDS

When I first started my Netflix subscription, I made a point of catching up on all of Woody Allen's movies. This scene from Everyone Says I Love You in which Woody and Goldie Hawn dance along (and above) the banks of the Seine puts a lump in my throat. In fact, the last twenty minutes of this film are pure gold - the scene that precedes this one features singing and dancing Groucho Marxes!

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Most Romantic? In West Side Story, when Maria goes to the dance and everything else melts away except for Tony and her.

Comments? Thoughts? What would you choose and why?

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Film Friday: Minority Report (2002)

I want to like Minority Report, but I can't. It’s based on a Philip K. Dick short story, and I usually enjoy movies based on his stories (see, e.g. Blade Runner and Imposter), plus it’s got a strong cast, excellent pacing, an interesting plot and some deep themes. But there’s just something wrong with the film and Spielberg knows it.

** heavy spoiler alert**
The Plot
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Minority Report is the story of John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a Washington, D.C. police officer who works in the world’s first “PreCrime” division. PreCrime is a new concept whereby a group of “pre-cogs” (psychics) predict murders in advance. Anderton’s division is charged with arresting the murderers before they can act. But things go horribly wrong for Anderton when the pre-cogs announce that he will murder someone he doesn't even know. Soon he is chased by a Justice Department overseer (Colin Farrell) and discovers he was framed by his boss (Max von Sydow).

On the surface, Minority Report sounds like a smart film. It purports to deal with issues of free will versus destiny and it raises interesting questions about when a crime becomes a crime. Unfortunately, Minority Report is not a smart film and it fudges all of its themes. I think Spielberg knows this too, because he tries to distract the audience at key moments.
Free Will v. Destiny
Minority Report pounds away on the issue of free will versus destiny. Indeed, this is mentioned in almost every scene. Normally, this would be fertile ground for interesting science fiction storytelling, but something feels wrong with this theme throughout the film. And that something is that Spielberg uses an unworkable concept of destiny and then tries to cover up his failure rather than fix the problem.

For the film’s setup to work, the audience must believe the pre-cogs are infallible because we need to believe they can predict people’s destinies. If we don’t buy that premise, then there is no destiny to challenge Anderton’s free will. Thus, this idea is reinforced to us by almost every character throughout the film repeatedly telling us that the pre-cogs are never wrong. Even when we are finally told they can be wrong, we’re still told they are never wrong. . . they just sometimes “disagree” (hence, one gives a “minority report”).

But this is a false premise. For one thing, it's just never believable that there is any real destiny here. It is easy to believe in destiny when it’s something beyond your control, e.g. you will meet an old friend. But it’s impossible to believe in destiny if destiny requires a conscious act, e.g. murder. Think about it. If the cops show up at your door and tell you that you’re destined to murder your wife, does anyone really think you would feel compelled to go through with it? Indeed, the very concept of PreCrime wipes out the destiny element because they are stopping the murders. Hence, there is no destiny here, there is only a possible future which can be changed -- not to mention the pre-cogs apparently can disagree about the future. Therefore, the idea that Anderton is fighting destiny seems rather fraudulent from the beginning.

Moreover, the only reason Anderton appears to have a destiny is because every character repeatedly tell us that Anderton’s destiny is inescapable and because Spielberg manipulates the plot to cause it. Indeed, what Anderton does makes no sense. He should go to his boss and tell him, “this is a mistake. I’m not killing anyone and I’m going to go sit quietly in a cell until this prediction expires.” Instead, he foolishly decides to track down the guy he is supposed to kill. . . because that will somehow clear things up? Of course, Spielberg tries to make this seem plausible by having the other cops chase him. But it's hard to image a law that could convict him if he simply sat down and never killed anyone.

These problems undercut the very theme upon which Spielberg bases the whole film. He pounds away relentlessly at the idea that Anderton is struggling against destiny, but there is no destiny, there is only pretend destiny created by Spielberg’s manipulation and the constant barraged of characters telling us there is a destiny. What Spielberg should have done instead is drop the destiny farce and explore the theme of how many innocent people we are prepared to lock away to prevent all murders. That is the obvious theme within his setup. But Spielberg dodges that one, probably because it’s a difficult question of morality.
How Can A Possible Future Be A Crime?
The second problem stems from the believability of the whole concept as a law enforcement tool. If the police knew you would kill your wife at some particular hour, do you really think society would lock you up as a murderer? It’s not likely. Arresting someone for something they haven’t done yet flies in the face of two thousand years of Western jurisprudence and runs counter to human nature. More likely, the role of the PreCrime division would be to stop you and maybe send you for a mental health hearing. Interestingly, Spielberg tries to hide this issue by making sure that each killer we see is caught just as they are about to strike so the audience never gets a chance to ask if this is how the system would really work.

What’s more, it seems inconceivable that our legal system would trust the pre-cogs. For one thing, the minority reports all but disqualify the pre-cogs as legitimate predictors of fact as compared to possibility. But even beyond that, I still can’t conceive of a method for testing their accuracy that would stand up to court scrutiny? Did they sit around for decades predicting every murder while the government compared their predictions to trial results? It just seems implausible that courts would send people away based on the visions of three druggies lying in a fish tank. Also, consider both von Sydow’s death and the death of Anderton’s “victim.” Both are clearly suicides with Anderton never pulling the trigger in either instance. Yet, Anderton is identified as the killer? Can’t the pre-cogs distinguish between murder and suicide or self-defense? How many rape victims and shopkeepers were arrested for murder? And why would anyone trust a system that can’t separate these important details?

Spielberg sees these problems as well. Thus, he gives us Colin Farrell, who plays some sort of Justice Department overseer or auditor. His role is to assure the audience the government, i.e. the Justice Department, watches this program carefully and finds it legitimate. He also plays the skeptic who is quickly won over, which is a gimmick to alleviate the audience’s doubts.
The Plot Holes
The plot really is nonsense. First, it falls into the standard “boss did it” cliché, which we discussed the other day. Secondly, I can’t for the life of me figure out why Anderton’s boss (von Sydow) decided to set Anderton up? Sure, he mouths something about protecting the program from Anderton discovering that he killed someone in the past to protect the program, but Anderton only found that out after von Sydow set him up. So the only reason I can see for von Sydow setting Anderton up is to cause the plot.

Further, the explanation of how von Sydow did the original murder makes no sense. We’re told he got away with it because the cops would have ignored his attempt as it would have appeared to be an echo of the prior murder attempt. But wasn’t there a ball (“report”) with his name on it? Didn’t that make anyone suspicious that this was more than just an echo?

There’s a huge problem with von Sydow killing Colin Farrell too. Spielberg through von Sydow tells us that von Sydow can get away with the killing because Anderton stole the head pre-cog and, thus, the cops have no idea a murder is being committed. But how is von Sydow going to explain the body in his office? How can he hope to blame Anderton for this? Has the future somehow lost the ability to run ballistics tests and gun powder residue tests? Only D.C. is on the pre-cog program, surely the FBI can figure this one out.

There are other problems too. For example, von Sydow wants to roll out the PreCrime concept nationally, but how can he do that when they only have three pre-cogs and only one of them is actually gifted enough to make the whole program work? Why are all the killers in the cryoprison Caucasians? Even more interestingly, this is supposed to be Washington, D.C., what happened to all the blacks? And why does D.C. look like some sort of Blade-Runner version of Hong Kong?
As I said above, I want to like this film. I like the actors and I generally enjoy films made from Philip Dick’s work. The plot sounds like it should be interesting and the themes should be deep and give you something to think about. But the film simply doesn’t work. Spielberg is talented enough to hide his mistakes and keep the viewer from seeing them right away, but they gnaw at you. And the film completely breaks down when you think about it. That’s why I can’t like this film: Spielberg fudged the whole thing. . . and he knows it.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Liberal Hollywood Shortchanges Actresses

Originally posted at Big Hollywood: LINK

Great films need great actors and great actresses. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t do great actresses anymore. . . it does Barbies. In truth, Hollywood never was great with actresses, but it’s gotten much worse lately. Talent, apparently, no longer matters when casting actresses, just looks. To be a modern “actress,” you need to be under 35 years of age and look like every other Hollywood ditz. What’s worse, Hollywood is now trying to pass off sexual exploitation as “strong roles” for women.

Megan Fox adjusts her "talent" before their next scene.

1. Dear Hollywood: Stop The Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a problem in Hollywood. Seriously, what is the fascination with jamming twenty-somethings into every role? It doesn’t work. These young girls simply don’t have the maturity or the depth to play the parts of women. It strains credibility beyond the breaking point when they cast some silicon enhanced girl to play the nuclear scientist or the head of a corporation or. . . well, any woman in a position of authority. I know powerful women, professional women, and women with a great deal of maturity, and none of them look or act anything like Hollywood seems to think.

And please stop casting girls as the wives of old, old, old male actors. It’s creepy. Teri Garr and Richard Dreyfuss worked in Close Encounters because they looked like a couple. Septuagenarian Harrison Ford married to Megan Fox doesn’t. Not only can we not see them getting together in the first place, but we can’t see them as a “normal, loving couple.” Instead, the words “gold digger” and “cradle robber” and even “grave robber” come to mind. And holy cow, stop casting “mothers” who are only a year or two older than their movie “daughters.” Was there a plague in Hollywood that wiped out all the women over 40?

2. Dear Hollywood: Stop Cloning Actresses

Hollywood also needs to end its cloning experiments. It needs to stop rejecting actresses if they have the slightest trace of individuality or if their bone structure is 1% off the model. Seriously, this makes it impossible to cast people who look the part. Forget the nuclear scientist mentioned above, what about the average waitress or the mother of three or the cop? Real women don’t look, act or dress like Malibu Strip Club Barbie™. This is the female equivalent of casting only musclemen as extras, and is again kinda creepy.

"We are the Borg. We are ready for our close up."

More importantly, by casting clones, Hollywood guarantees that few modern actresses will be memorable because it’s the distinct actors we remember. Indeed, few of the top male actors fall into the “pretty boy” category. Outside of a Redford, a DiCaprio, or a Cruise, few leading men look anything like male models. Bogart was a small man with a crooked face and a lisp. Stallone looks like he lost a fight with a blender. Bruce Willis beat the blender, but it took 12 rounds. Jack Nicholson is the blender. How about James Cagney, DeNiro, Bill Murray, Charles Bronson, Steven McQueen, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Alan Rickman, Adrien Brody, Daniel Day-Lewis, Dustin Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, Richard Dreyfuss, etc. . . not a standard profile in the bunch. And when you get into character actors, the defects and distinctions multiply. . . Steve Buscemi anyone?

I'll bet you could visualize each of these men as you read the names. Why? Because these men are memorable. They weren’t cast because they are pretty to look at, they were cast because they are distinct -- they stand out both in looks and personality.

Believe it or not, the same thing has always been true with the great actresses as well. Look at the actresses we remember. Few of them can be called “classic beauties”: Lauren Bacall was rather butch, as was Katharine Hepburn, and is Sigourney Weaver. Lucille Ball was hardly a looker. Sophia Loren and Julie Andrews were beautiful, but not in a beauty queen sort of way. Loren was gorgeous and wild. Andrews had “girl next door” beauty. Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Angela Lansbury all looked 60 the moment they were born. We remember these actresses because they stood out, i.e. because they were different. What’s more, we feel we know them because their personalities come across so strongly on the screen.

Now tell me how many of these you can visualize: Scarlet Johansson, Kate Hudson, Rosie Whitely, Cate Blanchett, Elisha Cuthbert, Rachel McAdams, Kristen Stewart, Jessica Biel, and Elizabeth Shue Banks. I doubt most people could pick them out of a line up and none of them have memorable personalities. In fact, most actresses today are so interchangeable that I wonder if anyone would notice if you swapped a couple out in the middle of the film. . . “hey, weren’t you blonder before?” And even when they do stand out, it's usually for the wrong reasons: Megan Fox. . . idiot, Lindsay Lohan. . . train wreck, Anne Hathaway. . . bleached by aliens.

Unfortunately, because Hollywood is looking purely for beauty, they aren't finding great actresses anymore. To me, the test of a great actor/actress is whether or not they could have taken on a great role. For example, could any of the actor/actresses listed above replace any of the guys in Glengarry Glen Ross? The male actors listed above could have done it. Hepburn, Bacall, Weaver, Davis, Stanwyck and Lansbury could have done it. . . Julie Andrews, probably not. But what about the modern actresses just listed? Don’t make me laugh. Nor could any of them have taken over for Bacall in To Have and Have Not or Hepburn in The African Queen. Sure, they can all take over Megan Fox’s role in Transformers or whoever's role in the next romantic comedy, but that’s about it.

3. Dear Hollywood: Stop Lying About Strong Roles

Finally, we come to the issue of strong roles. Hollywood actresses have complained for some time about a lack of strong roles for women in Hollywood. I think their complaints are valid. But Hollywood doesn’t know how to fix the problem. So instead, they try to redefine the problem. Now we’re told about an El Guapo-like plethora of strong roles involving action heroines. But this is nothing but el toro kaka public relations.

Imagine you are a director and you want your daughter to have a “strong role” in your film. Here you are describing the role: “Basically, you put on a tight leather cat suit and some S&M gear. Then you run around shooting at people and flashing your chest and your butt. I will collect money from men who will reeeally enjoy watching you jiggle and bounce across the screen. Sound good pumpkin?”

"For an extra $10, I'll do an empowerment table dance."

Hollywood apparently sees no problem with this, as that pretty much describes most roles given to female action stars. But how is this a strong role? These women are acting out an adolescent male sexual fantasy. They might as well be in Hustler.

A strong role is one you would be proud to let people watch. It involves playing a character that either brings out strong emotions in the audience or it involves being the kind of person people respect. That means using your wits and maintaining your moral code in the face of adversity and pressure to surrender. It means overcoming the obstacles you face through strength of character. The leather-clad dominatrixes and slinky spies are not demonstrating some strength of character within themselves, they're selling sex.

Mommas don't let your daughters grow up to be actresses. . .

Am I right? What actresses would you say are great? And don’t you find it a little bit strange that a place as liberal as Hollywood would be so openly sexist and ageist? Hmmm.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

People Prefer Spoilers? No Way

Here’s a fascinating tidbit. According to a recent study by psychologists, humans enjoy movies, television, books, and even sporting events more when they are given spoilers exposing twists and giving away the ending before they start to watch/read. I don't buy it. Let’s see what you think.

This particular study involved a small group (30 students) reading some classic short stories. Some were told the ending in advance, other weren’t, and then they were asked how much they enjoyed the stories. The ones who were told the endings rated the stories higher. Hence, the study concluded, spoilers help us enjoy entertainment more. Indeed, the study authors reason that people enjoy entertainment more when they are given spoilers because that frees brainpower that would otherwise be needed to anticipate the ending. In other words, it makes it easier to understand and digest what is happening and gives you a chance to enjoy the show/book on its own merits without having to spend your time trying to solve what is going on, i.e. it lets you “think more deeply about the entertainment as a whole.”

Uh... no.

For starters, a sample of 30 people is way too small to be meaningful. Not to mention that testing only college students is too homogenous a sample to extrapolate to the public at large. Nor is testing short stories in any way equivalent to testing films, television, sports, or even longer stories. And in any event, this just doesn’t make sense given human experience.

Human behavior generally conforms to human psychology. In other words, over thousands of years, we learn what works and what doesn’t and we act accordingly. We may not know why we do it, but we do it. And our behavior is completely opposed to the results of this “study.” For example, 3000 years of recorded storytelling tell us that storytellers around the globe have learned that the best way to grab and hold an audience’s attention is to wait to spring the surprises. Thus, endings to stories are almost always where “the reveal” happens and it’s rare for a storyteller to give away an ending or surprise early on.

For another example, now that we have the internet and we can ruin each other’s lives, people get truly irate if you don’t post a spoiler warning before blurting out some tidbit (no matter how minor) about a film they haven’t seen or a book they haven’t read. Are we to believe everyone is just deluded?

And here’s another: if this is true, then why don't ratings improve for reruns? Shouldn’t we enjoy reruns more than the original since we are no longer perplexed, waiting to see what happens? And why don’t people tape sporting events and watch them once they know the results? To the contrary, sports don’t even go into re-runs because almost no one will watch a sporting event when they already know who won.

The fact is that people get a great deal more enjoyment out of the shocks, the twists and turns, the surprises and the unexpected moments in a story or sporting event than they do from watching “the craft” of the writer or director or actor or athletes.

Moreover, something else about the study should be pointed out. The example they used when releasing this study to back up their conclusion was Columbo. They claimed their study explains why Columbo was so popular, i.e. because it told you right away who committed the crime. Hence, people like the spoilers. But that misses the point. What made Columbo enjoyable was not the mystery of who did the crime, but how Columbo would go about solving the crime. Columbo was not about solving the crime, it was about the cat and mouse game between the seemingly-overmatched bumbling detective and the arrogant killers. And in that cat and mouse game, the twists and turns were not spoiled. So even their example is wrong.

It seems obvious to me this study is just wrong. It logically makes little sense and human experience contradicts it. I’d say this study is bunk.

FYI, My next article posts at BH tomorrow morning. It will post here as well. This one is about Hollywood and actresses.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 2

Let's continue our Great (Film) Debates series. . . sponsored by CommentaramaFilms and the good people at Dead Weasel Gulch Eatery. Today's issue:

What is the saddest moment in film?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Saddest Moment - A no brainer. Having to shoot Old Yeller after he was bitten while defending the family from a rabid wolf. It is the icon for sad film scenes.

Panelist: T-Rav

For me, the saddest moment in film is--to channel my selection from last week--the conclusion of The Godfather, Part III. Not nearly as good as the first two, but there is a very tragic element to it. At the end, Michael Corleone's daughter Mary is killed by an assassin who was aiming at him. Michael is crushed; we see flashbacks to happy scenes in his life and then forward to him dying a few years later, alone, a broken old man. When you consider that he wasn't a totally evil man, not by a long shot, and that he genuinely cared about his family, this is a haunting and bleakly fitting end to such a violent saga.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few. . . or the one. When I saw Spock die in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, people were openly weeping in the theaters. It's still the hardest scene on film to watch without tearing up (even knowing he comes back). Losing Spock was like losing a best friend. And it was made all the worse by how they did it, with Spock cut off behind the glass and nobody able to do anything. Absolutely tragic.

Panelist: ScottDS

For me, it's no contest: the opening of Pixar's Up. To paraphrase one of the YouTube comments, this might be one of the most perfectly executed sequences in a film... and no other film has ever driven me to tears in its first act, let alone its first ten minutes!

Comments? Thoughts? What would you choose and why?

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Film Friday: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is nearly a perfect film. It’s truly rare that I rank comedies in that league, but Roger Rabbit has earned it. There is literally nothing I would change with this film if I could. What’s more, it grasps the essence of cartoondom, something almost no one in Hollywood understands anymore.

** spoiler alert**
Why This Film Is Perfect
My definition of the perfect film is quite simple. I ask myself, “is there anything I could change to make the film better?” The closer to NO I get, the better the film. In this case, the answer is a resounding NO.

The Plot: Nope. Nothing to change here. Roger Rabbit has a surprisingly complex plot for a movie ostensibly aimed at children, and it works brilliantly.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Roger Rabbit is a film noir comedy involving detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who reluctantly tries to solve the murder of studio magnate R.K. Maroon and find his will in time to save Toontown, the home of cartoon stars in 1947’s Hollywood. Valiant is a grizzled detective who crawled into a bottle when a toon killed his brother. . . by dropping a piano on his head. Valiant becomes involved with this when Maroon hires him to follow the wife of cartoon star Roger Rabbit. The studio believes Roger’s wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner) is having an affair with Marvin Acme, the head of ACME Studios. Then the murder happens, Roger is framed, and soon things start spinning out of control as Valiant discovers a plot to destroy Toontown and turn it into a freeway. He also finds himself protecting fugitive Roger Rabbit from the evil Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd).

Within this structure, the film has all kinds of interesting twists and turns, it’s fast paced, yet it never feels rushed, and it never once feels like it bends the plot to set up a joke. The plot also does a wonderful job of giving a surprisingly realistic sense of history. Indeed, in many ways, this film and L.A. Confidential are on a par, both with regard to the feel they create and their fictionalization of actual events -- here it’s the dismantling of public transportation trolley lines in the 1930s and the coming of the highways to Los Angles.

The Characters: Again, nothing to change. There isn’t a dud in the bunch. Each character has a specific role that is vital to the film and each character plays that role perfectly. There is no fluff, but the film also never feels “small” or “narrow” because of having too few characters, nor do the characters feel like they just exist to serve the plot.

What’s more, Roger and Jessica Rabbit are unforgettable characters. Roger is so perfectly made that he feels like a classic character who has always been there along with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, rather than being a new creation. Moreover, he is so lively that he actually makes Bugs and Mickey seem shallow by comparison. Similarly, Jessica Rabbit is unsurpassed as a cartoon sex symbol. Judge Doom and Eddie Valiant too could not be improved upon in any way. Further, these actors/voice actors were chosen because of their talent and their fitness for the roles, not because they are famous, as is the case with cartoons today. Thus, rather than having Brad Pitt’s voice awkwardly come from the rabbit, we hear a voice that fits the rabbit and which we can believe belongs to Roger.

The Writing: The writing is great. The dialog is witty and sharp. It clips along from one punchline to the next while staying 100% faithful to the characters and the plot, i.e. the punchlines never feel set up. It also never assumes the audience is stupid and never stops the film to explain or highlight jokes. Further, the script is rich with top notch puns and double entendres which come naturally from plot-related dialog rather than tortured set ups.

For example, consider when Eddie’s girlfriend Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) mentions that she’s late because she “had to shake the weasels.” This bit of humor derives perfectly from the plot. Judge Doom is using weasels as deputies. In film noir, it was common to say “I had to shake the cops.” Thus, Dolores saying she had to shake the weasels is a line we should have expected because it fits the plot perfectly. . . but it also happens to have a couple other meanings or connotations that make this hilarious. That is excellent writing, and the script does this over and over again.

The Effects: The effects are incredible. Indeed, this film sits at the zenith of human interaction with animation. These cartoon characters are as real as any actor. They can touch the real world, they leave finger prints, they seem entirely solid, and yet they are cartoons. Even when Eddie goes to Toontown, he seems to really be there. Nothing prior to Roger Rabbit and nothing since has come close. In fact, shortly after this film was released, CGI became the rage and cartoons took a big lurch backward, leaving Roger Rabbit as the ultimate evolution of animation to this day.
The Essence of Cartoons
Lastly, we come to the heart of the film: its grasp of the essence of cartoondom. Cartoons in the 1980s became long commercials for toys. In the 1990s, they became politicized and cynical. In the 2000s, they went for horror and sex as they turned Japanese. Pixar changed this pattern by making cartoons that were essentially animated versions of live action films. Other studios followed. Animation thrived, but the cartoon was dead.

Unlike all these others, Roger Rabbit is a genuine homage to the age of cartoons. It grasped ideas like cartoon physics, i.e. the idea that physical laws bend depending on the situation. Thus, a roadrunner can run through a painted tunnel, but a coyote can’t. Characters can walk off a cliff and not fall until they look down. They can take a merciless pounding with no real damage. This has vanished in Pixar’s world, but Roger Rabbit had it all. Indeed, one of the greatest, most-insightful moment in cartoon history happens when Valiant is trying to saw handcuffs from his wrist so he can detach himself from Roger. Roger slips out of the handcuffs to steady the box upon which Valiant is sawing. An irate Valiant asked “you could do that all the time?!” And Roger replies: “No. . . only when it was funny.” That is the essence of cartoon physics.

Finally, Roger Rabbit grasps the very nature of cartoon characters themselves. These characters are not angst ridden, malicious, sex fiends, killers, planet crusaders, or sellers of products. They are wise-asses and children who never grew up. They are mischievous, pranksters, clowns. . . they are cartoons. Roger Rabbit captures that perfectly.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing Crutch: The Crooked Friend/Partner!

The other day I watched a film called The Confessor staring Christian Slater. As murder mysteries go, it was an ok film that started well, but lost momentum with every major decision the writer made. But what killed me was the ending when the writer reached for one of the worst writing crutches in the book.

** spoiler alert. . . yada yada yada**

To give you a quick thumbnail of the plot, the story involves a priest who is accused of murder. He asks to see another priest, Christian Slater, who has very little faith and spends his time handling church public relations. When the accused priest apparently kills himself while in jail, the church becomes intent on burying the whole thing because the priest was gay and suicide is bad for business. But Slater doesn’t want to let it go because he believes the priest was innocent and he doesn’t believe the priest killed himself.

Naturally, Slater somehow convinces the skeptical church to let him take over the parish. Once there, he tries to solve the murder and himself becomes a suspect in a follow up murder. Then the killer reveals himself by trying to kill Slater and. . . this is the part that just annoys me to no end. . . the killer is Slater’s best friend!!! Argh.

I am so sick of this.

In dozens of movies, the bad guy turns out to be the cop’s partner or the hero’s best friend or the guy’s boss. I think it was even a girlfriend once. It’s so common now that it's become a horrible cliché, and it’s sloppy, lazy, incompetent writing at its worst. Indeed, the main reason writers choose this path is because they don’t know how else to surprise the viewer. They don’t know how to introduce the killer among the list of suspects without the audience spotting them immediately. So they select the one person you can’t logically suspect.

And why can’t you logically suspect this person? Because it makes no sense.

Consider the standard bad cop scenario. The hero spends 12-14 hours every day with their partner because that’s what cliché Hollywood relationships require -- you’re either at work with your partner or at a bar with your partner after work. And when the hero isn’t with the partner, we’re told the partner has a wife and child, with whom they spend more time. That doesn’t leave enough time in the day to become a city drug lord or get involved in these massively complex criminal enterprises.

Moreover, how stupid does this make the hero? In all the time the hero spends with this guy he never sees anything? Not one odd phone call, not one off the cuff comment, not one bad guy identifies the partner as the city's biggest drug lord or pimp, the partner/friend doesn’t seem to suddenly be awash in cash or bling? Nothing, huh?

Or consider Schwarzenegger in Eraser, where his boss turns out to be the bad guy. Schwarzenegger and the rest of the Witness Relocation Program are losing witness after witness and the only person who knew where each witness was happens to be Arnies’ boss, but brilliant Arnold can’t see it even though he could decipher vast global conspiracies with the smallest of hints? How could he have missed the obvious?

This is just wrong.

What's more, the writers who do this never provide any clues to the audience that the friend/boss is crooked until they reveal themselves? Why? Because the writer doesn't know how to provide such clues without giving the whole thing away. But in real life, these people get caught all the time because they give off clues left and right. . . creepy behavior, too many coincidences, a pattern of disappearance, errant phone messages, failed polygraph tests, snitches, spending money they shouldn’t have, etc. But not in Hollywood. In Hollywood they are entirely beyond reproach until they are ready to reveal themselves -- then everybody knows about it except the hero. That's cheating by the writer and it's pathetic.

Mystery writing is difficult if you do it right. This is doing it wrong. This is cheating. This is the same as introducing the villains ten seconds before the reveal. Writers need to stop doing this. And if you find you can’t do that, then you should rethink your whole story because it’s obviously crap.

What other writing "short cuts" (to be generous) drive you crazy?

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Great (film) Debates vol. 1

Today we start a new series at CommentaramaFilms, where a panel of regulars will debate various film issues. Today's issue:
Do you remember the end of The Time Machine when Rod Taylor took two books back to the future to rebuild society? Suppose the Great Zombie Apocalypse destroyed Hollywood. What three films would you use to rebuild Hollywood?

Panelist: ScottDS

1. Citizen Kane (1941): Like it or hate it, there's no denying the effect this film had on the industry as well as the various cinematic techniques that were innovated by Orson Welles and his collaborators. There are of course earlier, equally-influential films but this one is a little more palatable than, say, Birth of a Nation. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."

2. Jaws (1975): The prototypical summer blockbuster. Endlessly entertaining with impeccable technical credits (mechanical shark notwithstanding), a memorable music score, perfect editing, likable characters, quotable dialogue, and still the bar by which all "killer animal" films are measured. If only today's summer blockbusters were half as entertaining. "That's some bad hat, Harry."

3. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991): A cautionary tale of what can happen during the production of a film. Natural disasters, logistical problems, cost overruns, and issues with various actors all conspired to nearly destroy the life and career of director Francis Ford Coppola. "If Marty dies, I wanna hear that everything's okay until I say, 'Marty is dead.'"

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

1. Ben-Hur (1959): This well-made spectacular has a lot of good things going on. You can see life under the oppressive thumb of the Roman empire. You can see and discuss different ways to react, e.g. violence vs. the way of Jesus. And you get the notion of Ben-Hur being "a tale of the Christ" but not so much to advocate a specific religion as to see the highly moral way that Jesus acts.

2. Amadeus (1984): I want my rebuilt future society to be aware of the necessity of music in order to live well. Can there be anything better than Mozart?

3. The Fountainhead (1949): I want my future society to understand the value of being true to one's self, of not giving in to the whim's of the masses. Rugged individualism. That's my story and I'm sticking to it ;-)

Panelist: T-Rav

1. The Matrix (1999): I don't agree with all of its philosophical implications, but as far as adventure films go, this one is the bomb. The characters are relatable (especially Neo, but even the bad guys like Cypher and Agent Smith), and the movie gets you invested in their struggles right off the bat. Perhaps more importantly for film-making, this is a worthy template for future productions. There's more than enough on the surface to get people watching, but the plot turns out to be so much more than an action flick, something that can be cleverly disguised under all the slo-mo clips. And the plot elements are revealed with perfect timing, with an excellent musical score to match. Despite the crappy sequels, I can still watch this movie when it comes on TV and get sucked in over and over again.

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946): Honestly, I don't really like this movie all that much; yes, I know it's a holiday staple and blah blah blah. It's just not that captivating for me. What I do like, though, is its ability to portray people at their very best--selfless, generous, civic-minded, etc., qualities epitomized by Mr. George Bailey. Partly, I included this film because I consider it to be inherently conservative, something Hollywood desperately needs to be exposed to; but there's more to it than that. Art, be it film, literature, painting, or whatever, is meant to be uplifting. It can certainly show people in their basest and most corrupt modes, but if it is to have a moral purpose as well, then it should also show what people are capable of achieving at their very best. It's a Wonderful Life is perhaps the best cinematic proof that humans have the divine spark within them, and that it can be put to use.

3. The Godfather (1972): Unlike a lot of people, I like the original better than the also-excellent Part II, mainly because it gives more time to a wider range of characters. There's a reason why this is #3 on AFI's list of Top 100 American Films: it's a truly excellent storytelling method. The Godfather proves that you can tell a long and complicated story without driving people away. The moral degradation of the Corleone family doesn't climax until the sequel, but you can still see the dark road Michael, in particular, is traveling and where it will likely end. And the film's told with beautiful cinematography and too many unforgettable scenes to list -- but the best may be Michael's attendance of his nephew's baptism, simultaneous with the assassination of his rivals.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

1. Pulp Fiction (1994): The first thing I wanted was a stylized film, something that was hip and excellently combined music and action. Pulp Fiction is it. Using a great soundtrack, expertly mixed with the action to enhance the visuals, cool dialog that shows that not every moment in a film must be a slave to a specific plot point, and a nonlinear plot that shows you can really play with the human brain, this was an easy first choice.

2. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): Next, I wanted something black and white because I don't want that to become a lost art. I also wanted something unique and highly emotionally charged. With a story involving a movie star we all root for slowly turning evil as he is overcome by gold lust, moments of dread, and a totally heartbreaking scene as they read the letter of the man they have killed, Sierra Madre fits the bill perfectly.

3. Fellowship of the Ring (2001): This was a hard choice. I wanted Dr. Zhivago for its great score and incredible scenery and its ability to present a long story arc, but I also needed something with great special effects. Ring may have ruined its most touching moments, but it has incredibly beautify scenery, a solid score, a long story arc, and a deep backstory for its characters. It also has fantastic effects and costumes AND simultaneously provides a cautionary tale about the misuse of CGI.

Comments? Thoughts? What films would you choose and why?

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Film Friday: Twilight (2008)

Sometimes, being a blogger means taking a bullet for your audience. That’s what Twilight was. . . right between the eyes. Oh boy. I’m still feeling the aftereffects of this liberal turkey. I need hazard pay.

** spoiler alert. . . if possible**
The Plot
Bella (Kristen Stewart), whose last name I believe is Lugosi, is a teenage girl suffering from extreme constipation and anemia, which has turned her skin snow white and permanently frozen a condescending frown on her face. Her mother lives in Arizona while her father is the Sheriff of Forks, Washington, a small town awash in mutilated bodies which nobody cares about. Bella goes to live with her father because her mother wants to tour minor league baseball stadiums.

Upon arriving in Forks, we are quickly assured that Bella is a likable heroine. . . despite the constipated look. Indeed, before our dislike for the actress can poison us too much, we are shown that she has a politically correct rainbow of “friends,” which means we should like her. Indeed, the first to greet her upon arrival are a group of Native Americans (N/A), who are here to bless her PC goodness. Even better, one is in a wheelchair. This made me feel morally superior. Ah yes, I am better than the rest of you because I know dark skinned people. Hmmm mmm Obama.

Our wheelchair bound N/A immediately delivers unto the bleached princess a cool ride, as all main characters must have: an in tune with nature, approved by wolf gods, ancient pick up truck which he personally rebuilt from bio-degrading parts. It emits Care Bears!

Snow White As Death then goes to school where the black kid is the first to speak to her. At this point, I was giddy with moral superiority. My white heroine was greeted by the black kid! I must be living right. But I wanted more. Fortunately, the film delivered. Within seconds Honkette befriends the gay Asian student newspaper Emo. This was good, but I won’t kid you. . . gay Asians just don't satisfy. I needed more. Her rainbow remained incomplete. But then, just as my smuggy was starting to wane, she found another one! An Hispanic girl! Ahhhh. This was perfect diversity. And best of all, it wasn't ruined by any ugly kids. Nope, no fat kids, no freaks. These kids all looked like models. Now that is genuine diversity.

So what happened next. Hmm. Oh yes, she sees a group of Emo kids with the same constipation/anemia disease she has. It was like an army of Emo Snow Whites. In truth, I didn’t know what to make of these kids. They were all white and that just seemed wrong. Sure, they looked like a constipated leper colony, but disease is no excuse for discrimination. Fortunately, one of them clearly was gay. His name is Edward. And here’s an interesting side note. Robert Pattinson, who plays the flaming EMO Edward, apparently suffers from the same disease as Snow White plus a form of narcolepsy that prevents him from ever fully opening his eyes.

Still, I knew right away he was the perfect hero because chicks dig pasty-white gay guys who mope!

Then we cut away to our first romantic murder as a group of pasty white “somethings” rip a white male laborer to shreds. Fortunately, no one will miss a white laborer.

Then it’s back to Bella ordering a product placement veggie burger. This recharged my smuggy. Then there was some mindless dialog, followed by some creepy stalking of Bella by Edward. But their love cannot be we are told for some reason.

Then, Bella’s black friend gets in his car and comes blasting straight toward Bella at high speed, before he hits the brakes and turns the wheel to slide out of control. As he skids toward her at full speed, Edward defies physics and stops the car, saving Bella’s life. . . for whatever that’s worth -- no one really seemed very happy about it or all that concerned frankly. But the point is, Edward is special. Bum bum BUUUUM!

Then there was more dialog which I think was stolen from parodies of romance novels. Finally, they went whale watching! Oh goodie! That’s when Bella tells the Hispanic girl that “you are a strong independent woman” because that’s what you tell people who are neither. Then she moved a few feet away and learned from her N/A friends that the “somethings” live in peace with the N/As because of a treaty they made a couple hundred years before. Oh, and Edward is a "something." This intrigues Bella, who goes home and searches the internet to discover what kind of creature lives forever, drinks blood, can’t stand sunlight and looks constipated. After an extensive montage of her searching Facebook pages, she discovers that Edwards is a dipsh. . ., er, vampire. SURPRISE!!!

Of course, now I'm wondering why the vampires bother going to school? They only hang out with each other, so they aren't there to make friends or meet meat? Maybe they just like repeating the 12th grade 500 times? Oh well, who cares, so long as it gets two beautiful, constipated people together!

Meanwhile the vampires romantically kill another white lower-middle class worker. . . someone no one could possibly miss.

Bella then decides to confront Edward in the woods, where they can touch old growth forest as they trade romantic lines about the people Edward has killed. Edward tells her he is indeed a vampire. He can’t appear in the sunlight because his pasty white skin shines like a diamond when exposed to direct sunlight, hence he lives in the Pacific Northwest and skips school on sunny days. Oh, and he only eats animals. Aw. That's so cool that he's a vegetarian!

But he does cop to a few murders. Fortunately, Bella assures him that doesn’t matter. Indeed, Edward’s murders are irrelevant because Edward is good looking. . . in a pasty, constipated sort of way. . . and good people should be allowed to kill the inferior. Then Edward tells her that she’s his “own personal brand of heroin”. . . vampire white, baby. She is of course flattered as all her prior boyfriends called her a laxative.

Then some stuff happens. Edward refuses to make Bella into a vampire because that should be left for the sequel, she returns to Phoenix, where the other vampires track her. They trap her, but Edward saves the day and the credits roll. You’ve been punked!
What Was The Point Again?
This move sucked something and it wasn’t neck. It was a jumble of political correctness strung together into a pretext of a story. This is liberalism at its ugliest and there was nothing redeeming.

Let me pose a few questions. Why no ugly kids? If they're so worried about diversity, where are the kids who aren't perfect? And what in the world kind of message is it that (1) the brutal murders of white, male laborers is something to be ignored? and (2) it's ok if your boyfriend is a killer so long as he's hot? This is the murderous fascist core of liberalism being exposed right here -- the elite have the right to kill the inferior.

And how is this romantic anyway? I get that chicks dig rebels. But this was so not that. Edward is no rebel, he’s a pouter. He's got nothing to rebel against. What’s more, the rebel is supposed to be a quasi-outlaw, standing slightly on the edge of legality but ready to settle down inside the law if he only meets the right woman -- that's the fantasy. Edward is a cold blooded killer. He even implies that he was drawn to Bella to kill her -- though the dialog is such a mess you can’t tell for certain what pasty boy is really talking about. This is like chicks digging Charlie Manson.

But even beyond the hateful messages and exclusion buried within this film, the problem with this film is that it promotes stupidity. Nothing in it makes sense, not the characters, not the plot, not the dialog. The “acting” is so bad it shouldn’t be called acting. The characters are unappealing and about as deep as two sheets of paper. This film is so politically correct, it makes Dances With Smurfs seem like a John Birch Society promotional video.

To put it simply, there are just not enough words in Heaven or on Earth dear Horatio to point out how vapid and immoral this sucker was.

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Harry Potter: Conservative Hero?

Originally posted at Big Hollywood: LINK

Is Harry Potter now or has he ever been a communist? Just kidding. . . he’s no Smurf. When I first read the books, I recall some conservatives screaming that Potter sends the wrong messages. Imagine my surprise to discover the exact opposite. Indeed, at its core, the Harry Potter series is a truly conservative work, and it seems to me Harry should be considered a conservative hero.


Let’s consider the various themes that run throughout the books and movies. Do you remember the individual v. collective thing from my prior post about what makes a film conservative (Portus)? Potter has it in spades:

• Anti-Government Themes. A common theme throughout the books is that the government not only cannot help you, but will abuse its power to harm you. The Ministry of Magic is hopelessly bureaucratic and ultra-intrusive. It regulates every trivial aspect of wizards’ lives, e.g. caldron sizes, but it cannot protect the people. Instead, it gets brutal trying to cover up its ineptitude. When Dumbledore warns the world that Voldemort has returned, the MOM tries to discredit Dumbledore and then Harry. When this proves ineffective, it tries to drive Harry from the magic world through a Soviet-style show trial. It then drums up fake charges against Dumbledore and chases him from Hogwarts, where he is replaced with a bureaucrat (Delores Umbridge) who imposes an educational agenda designed to lower all children to the lowest common denominator. The government also seizes key industries, hides behind a veil of secrecy, denies the truth, and locks up its opponents. Frankly, this sounds like something Ayn Rand or George Orwell could have written.

"You are charged with being an inconvenient truth."

• Pro-Capitalism Themes. Harry Potter is also unabashedly pro-capitalism. Time and again, the private sector, not the government, is shown to be superior. Whereas the government world is drab and oppressive, the private sector is vibrant and alive. This is true from the pro-commerce Diagon Alley, to the way The Quibbler (a tabloid) rises to meet consumer demand for the truth when the main paper falls under the influence of the government, to the Weasley brothers being a walking advertisement for the joys of starting your own business. Even the fight against Voldemort is handled without the "help" of the government.

• Anti-Cult of Personality Themes. The Death Eaters, Voldemort’s followers, worship him in a strange cult of personality. They do as they are told without question. . . “Yes we can, my master, yes we can.” Nothing is more classically liberal than thinking for yourself. Nothing is more modern liberal than uncritically believing what you are told by a "gifted" leader.

But what about traditional morality? That’s the second part of the equation (Portus). Well, Potter is deeply conservative there too:

• Rejection of Moral Relativism. Rowling simply does not accept shades of gray in these books. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. It’s black and white. Readers are told repeatedly that you cannot do evil and remain good, even where evil seems to offer an easy solution. And whenever a character suggests that an evil character might only be evil because they feel pressured or disadvantaged (like Dumbledore suggests about Malfoy or Tom Riddle), those characters always prove that person wrong with violence.

Further, Voldemort is an evil man. He is not evil because he is misunderstood, or the product of an unhappy childhood, or driven to evil by economics or lack of health care. . . he is evil by choice. And while various motivations are offered to explain him to the audience, it is never suggested that the audience should sympathize with him or excuse his behavior. This is a truly conservative message: evil should be fought, not sympathized with. Heck, this message is so conservative that if you put the third book to your ear, you can actually hear an ACLU lawyer weeping.

"My social worker said I have clarity issues. . . so I killed her to make myself clear."

• The Value of Hard Work/Self-Reliance. Unlike most modern heroes, Harry is actually nothing special. He’s not smarter or wiser or stronger or faster than the other kids. He doesn’t have super powers. What Harry does have, is a group of people who care about him and who push him to work harder. When he does, he succeeds. When he doesn’t, he fails. It’s that simple. In the Harry Potter world, hard work gets rewarded, slacking gets punished, and anyone can succeed if they are determined to succeed. What could be more conservative than that?

• Belief in Traditional Families. The series repeatedly stresses the importance of the traditional family. Harry’s mother and father died to protect him, and in so doing, put a charm on him, which protects him so long as he has family, even nasty family like his uncle and aunt. The happiest people in the series are the Weasley family, who impart invaluable lessons about love, responsibility and all the other things conservatives want parents to teach their kids. By comparison, the messed up kids, from Neville Longbottom to Luna Lovegood, come from single parent homes (though they rise above their problems -- another conservative theme). Similarly, Malfoy and Dudley, who have complete families, are taught the wrong lessons. Malfoy's family is loveless and spiteful. Dudley's family is over- indulgent and selfish. Consequently, Dudley and Malfoy became really messed up. The implication is clear throughout the book: a strong family is the best foundation. Love your parents, love your kids, and teach the right values. Indeed, the greatest moments in the book involve self-sacrifice to save family members.

• The Gay Issue. But what about Dumbledore being gay, you ask? Well, first, there’s no reason a gay person can’t be conservative. If Ronald Reagan had been gay, he’d still be my favorite President. And having gay characters in films really should not be a problem for conservatives unless they’re attacking traditional or religious values. Even then, remember that you have to look beyond single moments in films to determine the overall ideology. One leftist gay character does not a commie film make (Portus). And in any event, in the Potter series, the issue of Dumbledore being gay simply NEVER comes up. . . and no, that's not innuendo for anything -- you people have dirty minds. At no point is it ever mentioned.

"Um. . . Professor Dumbledore, will this be on the test?"

There you have it. Call me crazy, but that all seems pretty conservative to me?

Thoughts? Commento Lumos!!

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Guest Review: Fracture (2007)

By Tennessee Jed

Courtroom drama is well-trodden territory in Hollywood. But there’s always room for something new. Fracture, directed by veteran Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear), offers something new. Indeed, this stylized thriller has crafted a very different approach to the standard “guilty or not” formula as, almost at the outset, we view the commission of the crime itself, an attempted murder with all its particulars, and the would be murderer even willingly and immediately confesses his crime. But all is not as it seems and an apparent “open and shut case” becomes riddled with holes and legal traps, setting up a test of wits between the two main characters. In fact, the movie’s tag line is “I shot my wife. . . Prove it.”

** spoiler alert**

The Plot - Fracture stars Sir Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs) as Ted Crawford, the owner of a small aeronautical engineering firm who displays an engineer’s precise intellect, along with the ego of a highly successful businessman. Jennifer Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) is his younger, “trophy” wife. As the film opens, she is seen in romantic interlude with a man. It turns out to be an affair of which Ted has apparently been aware, as he leaves work and spies on them romping in a hotel pool. Later, after she arrives home, he first confronts her, then shoots her point blank in the face. The sound of gunfire alerts the gardeners to potential violence, and police, including a hostage negotiator, are promptly dispatched to the home. We at once recognize the negotiator, Lt. Rob Nunnelly (Billy Burke), as the man in the pool with Jennifer. Ted allows only Nunnelly into the house and only after both agree to discard their pistols. When Ted permits him to view the victim lying in a pool of her own blood, the negotiator is understandably shocked to find it is his lover. Ted taunts Nunnelly who subsequently attacks and subdues him as a SWAT team rushes in.

The case is assigned to D.D.A. Willie Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a rising if arrogant star within the department, who boasts a 97% conviction rate (padded by his propensity to trade off losing cases.) He has just announced his acceptance of a lucrative offer from a highly regarded corporate firm, but agrees to handle what he sees as one last easy win, particularly when Crawford demands to represent himself.

At trial, Willie is ambushed as Nunnelly admits his affair with the victim. When the judge realizes he had attacked Ted at the house, and sat in on his questioning, the confession gets tossed. Combined with the fact Ted’s gun has not been fired (i.e. there is no murder weapon), Willie realizes he has more than he bargained for from an opponent who, though not an attorney, is a cunning, skilled adversary.

Other cast members include veteran David Strathairn (Eight Men Out, Good Night & Good Luck) as D.A. Joe Lobruto, and former Bond girl Rosamund Pike (The World Is Not Enough) as Nikki Gardner, Willie’s future private sector boss and romantic interest. Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption) plays Nikki’s father, respected judge Frank Gardner while Cliff Curtis plays Willie’s friend, lead investigator Detective Flores.

What Works - The acting skills, particularly of the two leads, results in an above average product. Hopkins again plays himself; the elderly, soft spoken, easy to underestimate character from films such as The Edge or World’s Fastest Indian. His skill in this role allows you to not only buy into the character, but also to see the transition from a slightly sympathetic cuckold, to a cunning, mean-spirited, haughty individual the audience wants to see taken down.

I had not been aware of Ryan Gosling prior to this film, although he already had a critically acclaimed performance in Half Nelson under his belt. He was totally engaging in the role of Willie. Even though the character is a bit full of himself, Gosling makes him likable enough that the audience can still easily root for him. It is not without irony that he earlier played a role similar to a young version of Ted Crawford in the film Murder By Numbers. Pike is actually well cast, convincingly portraying a shallow, stereotype (no easy task.)

The director, no stranger to courtroom drama himself, does a nice job of framing and lighting scenes. Although a few “dramatic” camera angles are easily recognized as such, it is not enough to distract. Pacing is more than adequate and one never feels the story line dragging. With a little willing suspension of belief, viewers can still reasonably buy into the story, investing enough in the characters to care about the ultimate outcome of their struggle. Although the theme of two talented adversaries, each flawed and brought down by their own hubris is hardly subtle, it does provide the necessary underpinning to the story.

What Doesn’t Work - As the plot unfolds, there is much that is, at minimum, unlikely. Indeed, Writer Daniel Pyne’s (Pacific Heights, Any Given Sunday) plot stretches the boundaries of plausibility at times. The likelihood of Ted being able to predict Nunnelly’s subsequent actions to the extent he apparently does is pure Hollywood. We are never shown how Ted obtained the hotel room key. The fact Willie immediately beds his prospective boss is almost “Bond like” in its absurdity, ultimately reducing Nikki to a caricature of some evil corporate temptress. Certainly, the secondary message of redemption through the goodness of public service compared to the shallowness of corporate greed is at once as hackneyed as it is obvious. Also, the film resorts to a rather clichéd dramatic device to seal the outcome, but despite these not insignificant flaws, I still found it to be highly entertaining if one takes it at face value for just that purpose.

The Verdict - Finally, while some may claim to see the outcome early on, I must confess I did not. For me, the writer did a convincing job of disguising both his “tells,” and the final resolution. Interestingly, because of the “dueling hubris” angle, the story could actually work with either character the victor, which helps keep the viewer guessing. If one can accept the notion of this movie as simply a good old fashion “will he get away with it” drama that is raised up a notch by seasoned Hollywood professionals, then Fracture is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Perhaps this review will also provide good opportunity for you to state some of your best and least liked courtroom dramas.

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