Thursday, August 29, 2013

Labor Day Holiday Open Thread

We're taking a couple days off for Labor Day. We'll be back Tuesday with our brand new Toon Tuesday. We'll also have someone new joining us on the Sunday Debates. We'll also start our contest with the million dollar prize!* In the meantime, tell us your favorite vacation film.

* Statement is a total lie.
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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Liberalism Sucks On Film: Children of Men

“We can learn so much from this film,” said Amanda Tapping on a Sci-Fi Channel promo for Children of Men. Up yours. The only thing we can learn from this film is that liberal films tell the same lies no matter what their supposed premise. Children of Men demonstrates this perfectly. This film is supposed to be the story of what happens when humanity suddenly becomes sterile. But it’s not. This film is a standard liberal rant about racist white Christians who oppose immigration. It just uses the movie plot as a pretext.

What would really happen if humanity suddenly became sterile? Things would probably be pretty nice at first, as a shrinking population would mean less crowding and less competition for jobs. Fewer kids on your lawn. Sure, some people would be sad, but for most, life would continue unchanged. Then the bad effects would hit. A falling population would mean deflation: falling asset values, slowing economy, and fewer jobs. Whole industries would vanish as the young disappear. Soon it becomes hard to find people to do the jobs the young do today, like manual labor... retirement would end. No doubt, there would be a race to automate as much as we could, but as the human population dwindles, those who are left would struggle to fill their basic needs. This would be the point where society would have cohesion problems.

Children of Men doesn’t address any of that however, because that’s not why the film was made. This film was made as a statement against things liberals don’t like, and the science fiction question of sterility is irrelevant to what happens in the film. Indeed, nothing about this film would change even if the premise had been overpopulation, nuclear war, the discovery of immortality or the invention of transporters. This is “the liberal film” hiding behind a veneer of “what if humanity were sterile” and it ignores its veneer just like Elysium ignored the reality of immortality and Total Recall ignored the reality of whatever its plot was supposed to be about. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll find that these are the same movie with each just pretending to have a different premise.

Moreover, everything this film says is twisted propaganda meant to tell you how white Christians are racists and only liberal government can save the world:

Racist Whites: Throughout the film, there are heavy overtones accusing whites of racism. This should be no surprise as the director has stated he wanted to make a statement about all those rotten Europeans and Americans who don’t want immigrants in their midsts. Let’s debunk, shall we? Whites are the least racist people on the planet. They have opened their countries to tens of millions of immigrants of all races. They let in around three million more each year. They send billions of dollars overseas each year to help improve conditions. They’ve fought wars to save non-whites from oppression. Third Worlder’s don’t do that. Just try sneaking into Mexico from the south and see what happens to you. Think the Asian countries let in other races? They don’t. The Japanese even suggest to parents of half-Japanese kids that they leave the country. What about the Middle East? Do you think they’re tolerant of Jews, Christians, women, the wrong kind of Muslim? Do any of these people help the rest of the world? Hardly.

Yet, this film turns all of that on its head. Here the whites turn to fascism to keep these non-whites out. Why? Because that is what liberals want you to believe whites really want, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The fact that the baby is black and the people trying to kill the mother are white is not an accident either. Said director/writer Alfonso Cuaron: “The fact that this child will be the child of an African woman has to do with the fact that humanity started in Africa. We’re putting the future of humanity in the hands of the dispossessed and creating a new humanity to spring out of that.” Down with whitey. Essentially, this is a racist genocidal-snuff film. Who’s the bad guy here again?

As an aside, one of the real ironies of liberalism, which plays out here again, is that liberal films are typically condescendingly racist. Notice that it takes three of the whitest liberals on the planet to save the helpless black girl with the baby. The list of liberal films that use the racist “Noble Savage” or “White Man’s Burden” trope is a mile long and this one belongs on that list.

Evil Christians: Speaking of evil, the oppressive government has Christian overtones. Why? Well, because liberals like to think Christians are racist and oppressive. Of course, they pretend that Muslims aren’t oppressive or racist, so they are shown in this film actually protecting the woman and her baby. Let’s debunk, shall we? First of all, you’re an idiot if you think Europeans will turn to a Christian government. Christianity is effectively dead in Europe. And if you think some Baptist who wants to stop you from buying a condom is oppressive, but somehow militant Muslims who kill Jews and Christians, mutilate the genitalia of young girls, blow up schools that teach girls, and go to war with people of every other religion are not oppressive, then you don’t know the meaning of the word and you should STFU. This film wrongly pretends that atheist Europe is actually Christian and then it falsely swaps the traits of Christianity with Islam so it can slander Christians while wrongly idealizing Muslims... because that is what leftists want you to believe.

And again, note that no part of this makes any sense in the context of the movie. Christianity plays no role in the film except as a label. And real-world Christians would protect this woman because they advocate children. They would never try to stop this birth. That’s something militant, atheist environmentalists would do... but again, the film flips that to score political points.

People Are Not Animals: Finally, the film presents the public as savages. It makes them out as animals who turn to their worst impulses the moment they realize the world will end one day. This is total bull. Human history has shown time and again that people rise to the occasion in times of crisis. They become caring, selfless and noble. They help each other out, share what they have, and band together. The only time they don’t is when liberalism has robbed them of their morality and their motivation and they decide to wait for the government to save their butts. There is no reason to believe in this premise that people would turn violent or turn to fascism as this film assumes. There is no reason to believe that any government would collapse until the whole race became very old. But again, examining the question the movie supposedly posits isn’t the point to this film. The point is to score propaganda points and the basis of the film is irrelevant; the same film would be used for overpopulation or any other crisis.

Moreover, the point being made here is the old liberal trope that people are animals unless their worst behaviors are tamed by liberal, hippie government. Indeed, the only good people in this film are the white, pot smoking, unwashed hippies who run the underground railroad for immigrants. Give me a break. People who don’t bathe don’t bathe for a reason: they lack the motivation to attend to anything except their hedonistic pleasure. Not coincidentally, hippies are total hedonists. Their nobility stops and starts with the phrase, “Man, somebody (else) ought to do something...” This idea that these liberals would actually put forth effort and undertake risk to help people is Liberal Ex-Post Historical Jerk-Off Syndrome, where liberals who don’t lift a finger to fight the petty evil in their midsts today claim proudly that THEY would have stood up to Hitler if they had been there and THEY would have fought to free the slaves. Liars.

Notice too that the director doesn’t even have the courage to tell you what these hippie dipsh*ts would have done differently. Like all other liberal heroes, they just stand “against oppression” and they promise that they would have found a different way to handle whatever problem it was, without ever suggesting what that could be. That’s called a cheap shot.

And that’s what this film is: a cheap shot. This film is a cheap shot taken at liberal boogeymen who don’t exist in the real world. And to take that cheap shot, this film adopts a premise it never bothers addressing. That’s the real crime here. With plummeting birthrates around the world and urbanization, the idea of depopulation is a very real issue that cities and countries are coping with. Add in the fact that certain chemicals apparently are devastating sperm counts, and it’s not inconceivable that the human race might one day become sterile. Watching science handle that or watching society fail little by little would be much more interesting than watching the same liberal claim about white fascists hating brown immigrants in a different package. That would be a film we actually could learn something from.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stallone v. Schwarzenegger

It’s funny how perceptions change. In the 1980s, there was this huge competition between Stallone and Schwarzenegger for the title of biggest action star in the world. It was pretty close at the time, but it seemed like Schwarzenegger was just a hair better than Stallone. His films had more buzz, they were more consistently hits, and he just seemed to have an edge in the culture... everyone quoted his dialog and thought of Aaaanold when they thought of action heroes. Stallone, not so much. So presumably, Schwarzenegger would be better remembered than Stallone by future generations too, right? Well, no. Not really.

Schwarzenegger hit it big in 1981 with the amazing Conan the Barbarian. Then in 1984, he struck gold again with The Terminator. This was followed by a string of hits: Predator, The Running Man, Twins, and Total Recall. By the time Kindergarten Cop and Terminator 2 came around, he was a bankable star who could do no wrong, even though he had -- Raw Deal and Red Heat weren’t great. But in 1993, he had his first huge bomb, Last Action Hero. And his career slipped after that.

Stallone, on the other hand, hit it big with Rocky in 1979, though he appeared in some cult films before that (like Death Race 2000). He rocketed to the top a few years later when he did Rocky II & III and the First Blood series (1982). Outside of those two franchises however, his 80’s films were questionable... Rhinestone, Cobra, Over the Top. It wasn't until the 1990s that he started having hits like Demolition Man and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Judge Dredd.

When you compare the two, you see that Stallone had the longer career - Schwarzenegger faded after 10 years, whereas Stallone seemed to improve for about two decades. On the other hand, Schwarzenegger had more big hits and fewer bad films. And unlike Stallone, he didn’t rely on two franchises to support his fame. I think this contributed to Schwarzenegger seeming like the bigger star because you really were going to see an Aaaanold film, not see his characters; whereas Stallone films were seen as “the latest Rocky movie” or “Rambo film.” But you know, this may ultimately be Schwarzenegger’s undoing, at least as far as film history is concerned.

Indeed, I’ve been watching their old movies lately and I’ve come to realize that Stallone movies are just better. His films hold up very well, Schwarzenegger's don't. Most of Schwarzenegger's films feel dated. They feel like "Aaaanold films" from the era of the 1980's action hero. The only exceptions to this really are Conan and two Cameron films, Terminator 2 and True Lies. Stallone’s films, by comparison, all have different feels to them. Sure, they can be dated by wardrobe or whatnot, but they don't feel dated. I think this is because Stallone is the better actor, and whereas Aaaanold films were about Schwarzenegger hamming it up, Stallone actually tried to play the character. Stallone's films also played to timeless themes, whereas Aaaaanold's films were just about this weightlifter who gets wronged and seeks revenge.

And I don't think I'm alone in this judgment. I've noticed that a lot more of Stallone's films still get play on television, whereas Schwarzenegger's films are slowly vanishing. All that seem to be left for Schwarzenegger are his Cameron films, which became franchises, Predator and Conan. For Stallone, you still regularly see the Rocky films, Night Hawks, First Blood, Demolition Man, Judge Dredd and more. I find this interesting because it suggests that films based around the personality or star power of the actor may not have much longevity, even if they were huge when they were hot. This could be bad news for much of the careers of people like Tom Cruise and Al Pacino. Interesting.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. N/A

We interrupt this week's Great Film Debate to discuss an issue of great urgency. As many of you know by now, they have cast Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming movie Superman and Batman Get Funky. This must be a human rights violation of some sort and will probably be struck down in court. Still, let's assume Hollywood actually goes through with this. Tell us who you would cast in the other roles: Superman, Robin the Wonder Boy, the Jokester, Penny Lane, that dude, Al Bundy the Butler, those other people. Come on people, let's get this right! The world is freaking out!
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Friday, August 23, 2013

Film Friday: Men in Black (1997)

Men in Black is an excellent film. It was such an excellent film that it made a fortune, spawned a franchise, and has proved to have very strong staying power. What’s interesting about this film though, is that it is the perfect marriage of a tent-pole film with a cult film. Seriously.
The Plot
Although it appears to have a complex story, Men in Black is really just a superhero origin-story centered around Agent J (Will Smith). Smith is a New York City cop who gets recruited by Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) to work for a shadow organization known as M.I.B. (Men In Black). Located in New York City, M.I.B. polices all the extraterrestrials who live secretly among the human population of the Earth. Their job is to make sure that the aliens behave and that the humans never discover the aliens. They also protect the Earth from various threats.
J’s first case involves tracking down a bug (Vincent D’Onofrio), who has come to Earth to kill an Arquillian prince. The prince lives in Brooklyn and his people are at war with the bugs. As J and K track down the bug, they are given an ultimatum from an Arquillian battle cruiser, which threatens to destroy the planet unless something stolen from the prince (“the galaxy”) is returned within a few hours. Simple.
What Makes This Movie Work
So what makes this film work? Well, in a sense, everything. The actors have a strong screen presence and excellent chemistry. Will Smith was a rising, bankable star at this point, having just come off of Independence Day. His presence in what appears to be a lighthearted summer film all but guaranteed success. Adding to that, Smith gets teamed with the cranky, quasi-redneck Tommy Lee Jones, also a bankable star at the time, which evokes memories of prior successful opposites-attract buddy-cop films like Lethal Weapon. Barry Sonnenfeld had cache as a direct as well, having just directed Get Shorty and the Addams Family films. Sonnenfeld did a great job too: solid pacing, clean visuals, memorable scenes and great effects. The film also had the right feel. It came across as lighthearted, funny, and easy to enjoy.

Those are the perfect tent-pole traits and are guaranteed to put butts into seats.
What kept them there, however, and what has kept people enjoying this film so many years later, is the thing almost all tent-pole films lack: intelligence. In fact, at its core, this is one heck of a smart film. That intelligence, however, was hidden within a ton of ambiguity, just like a cult film.

As I’ve said before, what makes a film into a cult film seems to be that the film is highly intelligent, but lacks the clarity most general audience require. Thus, the film finds an audience because of its intelligence, but it is a limited audience because of its ambiguity. You would think Men in Black would suffer the same fate because of its ambiguity, but it doesn’t. Consider this:

Unexplained Jokes: This film is crawling with jokes general audience will never get on their own. I saw this film in the theaters and it was fascinating to watch the audience. When Will Smith calls K’s car a “Ford POS,” about ten people laughed. The rest waited for the joke. When Z tells the smug guys who just brutally bombed the test to become members of M.I.B., “You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training,” the same ten people burst out laughing. The rest didn’t see the joke. Oh, they laughed a moment later when Will Smith said, “Yo, yo, with the thing,” but they didn’t see the joke about government training leading to hopelessly rigid thinking.
Throughout this film, there are jokes that don’t pay off until a scene or two down the line. There are jokes that require you to grasp that what the characters say isn’t what they mean. There are jokes that require you to have some understanding of the outside world to get the joke. The general audience I sat with didn’t get those. Those other ten people got each one. Fortunately, there were enough other simple jokes that the general audience didn’t miss them. In effect, both groups laughed, they just laughed at different things.

Unexplained Background: So who are the M.I.B.? You never really find out. You get a lot of words thrown at you, but in the end there’s little in the way of clarity. In fact, it’s a running joke that Tommy Lee Jones avoids answering those questions. Then they toss out ideas like the nature of “the galaxy,” but they never clearly answer it, unless you are smart enough to connect the ending of the film to that answer -- it turns out the Earth is in a “galaxy” of its own, which is in a bus station locker, which is itself in a marble being played with by some kids.

Throughout this film, we are introduced to characters whose fates we never learn. We run into subplots that go nowhere. We get no answers to basic questions. This is the sort of stuff that excites cult-film fans because it leaves it up to the viewer to debate the answers and fill in the movie... this is the stuff a thousand web pages are made of. But general audiences don’t normally like this. So why did they like it here? The reason is that every time something ambiguous happens, the scene finishes with Will Smith distracting the audience... “Look, shiny!” That way, both audiences get what they want.
Hidden Depth: The film is crawling with hidden depth too. A good chunk of the jokes involve scientific principles or theories. The film constantly makes hilarious analogies, always without telling you. For example, the film starts with border patrol agents rounding up illegal aliens. That is exactly what M.I.B. are, which makes that scene rich with irony. But no one points this out. The bug is driving around in a truck belonging to an exterminator. The fact that “superior” aliens view coffee and cigarettes as our highest achievement is hilarious too.

Then there’s philosophical depth. Throughout the film, you are constantly being bombarded with ethical, moral and philosophical questions. Is it immoral to change someone’s memories? Does it make it less immoral to give them a happy memory? Would you want to be able to block out memories? What is the nature of the human race? One of the most insightful comments ever in film was this:
J: “People are smart. They can handle it.”
K: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”
There was also this: “The only way these people get on with their lives is they don’t know the truth.” That’s very true of humans. Do our prejudices blind us to truth:
“Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.”
These are not only intensely complex questions, but the film frames them in amazingly clever ways to allow those who “get it” to think about it and to allow those who don’t to just see dialog.
So what does all this mean? Well, on the one hand, I think the intelligence is what has given this film its longevity. Tent-pole audiences are remarkably fickle, but cult-fans tend to be the ones who watch movies over and over. It also tells us that you can make a film that appeals to both audience. This film provides a guidepost on how.

Think about this. Here is a film that actually satisfies both groups, groups who rarely see eye to eye: “It was mindless and stupid” v. “It was confusing and stupid.” The reason it did was that it let each audience see what they wanted. People who are looking for smarter films got deep, philosophical points, jokes that trusted the audience, and rich depth throughout. Then people who are looking for something mindless got The Big Shiny from Will Smith to punctuate each joke or close out each philosophical moment.

I would call this a model for successful filmmaking.
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fixing The Bond Films (The Bottom 8)

Having completed the first third of the Bond films, let’s take a look back at the ones we’ve reviewed. Specifically, let’s take a look at how each of them could have been fixed, because that is ultimately one of the biggest reasons to examine films: to see how to make better films. In reverse order of crapulence...

Octopussy. This film suffered from the best part of the film, the smuggling of the atomic bomb onto the American airbase, being made a subplot. That should have been the main plot. General Orlov should have been the villain. And Khan, Octopussy and Magda should have been rolled up into one character whose purpose was to smuggle the bomb unwittingly into West Germany, and then turn on Orlov and help Bond when they discover his dastardly plan.

Diamonds Are Forever. Oh boy. This one needs a big fix. Aside from smacking Connery around to get him to act, this one would have been much better if they focused on the diamond smuggling subplot and morphed that into someone using the hoarded diamonds to fund an overthrow of an African country. This would have allowed Bond to explore the world of high finance, which we’ve seen in other films can be very interesting and has some serious potential in terms of cool visuals. It also would have allowed the story to finish in the world of political intrigue, where strong storylines always lie.

The World Is Not Enough. Robert Carlyle is too good to waste as a confused also-villain. Krapistan is a bad location no one cares about. And forget this unworkable subplot about Elektra being the secret villain. A better story would involve the geopolitics of the region. How about Carlyle being hired to make it appear that Western interests want to blow up the pipeline to bankrupt Turkey, so that Turkey turns against the West and embraces radical Islam?

The Living Daylights. They wanted to make Bond darker and smaller. Ok, sticking with that, look at what they did with Daniel Craig... a film noir action film. The defection that starts TLD is a great plot idea and should become the entire focus – tacking on Afghanistan, the arms dealer and the drug dealing subplots were just a bad idea. Give the defector vital information he won’t share until he’s safe in London and have the incompetent bureaucratic agent who is sent to help Bond be a traitor rather than incompetent. This forces Bond to take the defector through Czechoslovakia on his own and in the process he draws out the other double agents who are working with the traitor. Oh, and get a Bond girl who isn’t narcoleptic.

Moonraker. They wanted to exploit Star Wars... fine. So let’s do this. First, shoot Lewis Gilbert dead... twice... and rough up the corpse. Then, instead of stealing the space shuttle, how about blowing it up while it is carrying a British spy satellite. It was blown up to stop the Brits from spying on Drax’s private island, where he’s assembling a Star Wars SDI-type system that can neutralize a country’s nuclear arsenal, which he intends to use as blackmail.

License To Kill. This started as a revenge film and turned into an episode of Miami Vice. It does neither well, and Bond as just another cop looking for drugs doesn’t work. If you’re going to do the drug angle, how about a drug lord who has invented a drug that is 90% addictive with one dose, has a secret formula that only he knows (so everyone will need to buy from him), and who plans to put the drug into the water supply of a major city. This would raise Bond above the other drug smuggling films and would lead to a great final chase as Bond races to stop them dumping the drugs into the water.

A View To A Kill. This Bond failed mainly because of the actors: Moore is more like a British retiree than a super-spy and the Bond girl is a whiny rich girl who isn’t happy with the millions Zorin offers her and she comes across as someone preparing a legal case. But even beyond that, little of the story related to the plot. Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of sinking Silicon Valley under the ocean, but it needs a better villain than a billionaire who wants to be even richer. A better villain would be Russia or “an unknown Asian power” who wants to destabilize the United States... perhaps one that can’t keep up technologically... perhaps a crazed luddite? Maybe you all can help fill in the gaps?

Die Another Day. Yeah. This one can’t be fixed. Bond does not get held captive. He doesn’t visit North Korea. Korean villains can’t turn themselves Caucasian. Korea can’t build the death star. No one goes to Cuba for medical treatment. Invisible car my butt. Just about the only thing that can be saved here is the sword fight. So scrap this one and start from scratch.

What do you think?
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Books By Pundits Don't Change The World

Once again, my poor brain found itself subjected to talk radio last weekend. I’ll spare you the debunking. I will instead focus on an issue that arose which has long troubled me: conservatives don’t understand what interests the public. This is vital to our turnaround.

Click Here To Read Article/ Comments at CommentaramaPolitics
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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 15

Could Crystal Skull really be that bad? Yes... yes, it could. Still, it had some good things, right?

Question: "Say three good things about The Crystal Skull."

Scott's Answer: 1. My standard cop out answer again - the music. John Williams on autopilot is still better than most composers on their best day. The new themes he wrote for Agent Spalko and the Skulls aren't nearly as exciting or memorable as his various Nazi marches for the previous films (or the mine car chase!) but you can't help but smile when you hear the Indy theme kick in for the first time.

2. Harrison Ford - yes, he's a senior citizen but he can still kick ass!

3. Spielberg still knows how to orchestrate action. He may have lost something when it comes to picking good scripts but when it comes to blocking action, planning shots, etc., he can still do it.

Andrew's Answer: 1. This feels so wrong, but I’m warming up to Shia Lebouf as Mutt.

2. I like the intro a good deal... until they set off the atomic bomb.

3. I like the 1950s feel of the college sequence with the motorcycle chase and everything. Yes, there are stupid points, but the look and the feel is pretty good.
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Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 90

Everyone says "to give chase," but what exactly are you giving chase? Anyway...

What is your favorite chase scene?

Panelist: T-Rav

My favorite would be the opening bus chase in Speed, when Keanu Reeves is trying to catch up to the bus in question in a guy’s commandeered car. Who says a chase can’t be heart-pounding and funny?

Panelist: AndrewPrice

Hands down, The Blues Brothers. Which one? Both, the chase through the mall and the final chase to the Cook County Assessor's office. That's how you build an ending to a movie!

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

I have to go with the original and probably still the best. Everything else owes it's existence to this one. Yes folks, Bullitt. Admittedly, The French Connection chase scene was also fantastic, but when that film was released, it was defined by how the chase scene compared to Bullitt. That should tell you all you need to know in and of itself.

Panelist: ScottDS

It's a toss-up between the mall chase in The Blues Brothers, the big chase at the end of The Blues Brothers ("Well, this is definitely Lower Wacker Drive!"), and the chase across the Thames in The World is Not Enough. Say what you want about the film, but the opening chase with Bond and the hot assassin (a.k.a. "Cigar Girl") is extremely well-done and probably set the bar too high for the rest of the movie!

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Friday: The Warriors (1979)

The Warriors is a 1979 cult classic by Walter Hill about a gang that must traverse New York City from Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island as hundreds of other gangs hunt them down. Even though that description sounds simple and exploitative, the film is deeply complex and interesting. Believe it or not, it’s also a Greek epic playing out in New York City.
The plot is straight forward. The story opens with the main characters traveling to Van Cortlandt Park under a flag of truce. They are the leaders of a street gang called the Warriors. They’ve been told to send nine unarmed representatives to the park to hear a proposal from the leader of the most powerful gang in the city (the Riffs). His name is Cyrus and he proposes that all the gangs stop fighting each other and band together. With there being 60,000 of them, and only 20,000 New York City cops, they could take over the city.
As he reaches the high point of his pitch, a shot rings out and Cyrus is killed. He is shot by a gangbanger named Luther (David Patrick Kelly). At this moment, the cops show up to attack the gangs, which sends everything into confusion as all the gangs flee. In the confusion, Luther starts screaming that the Warriors are the ones who shot Cyrus. The Warriors’ leader Cleon is attacked and taken down but the rest escape, though the rest aren’t yet aware of what they’ve been accused.

Word goes out to hunt down the Warriors... alive is preferred, dead is acceptable. As the Warriors make their way back to Connie Island, they are hunted by various gangs, all in ridiculous costumes, as well as the cops. Their new leader, Swan (Michael Beck), picks up a woman (Deborah Van Valkenburgh as Mercy) with whom he argues the entire way. The gang feuds about leadership. They get sidetracked. One dies, one gets caught by the cops, and the rest need to overcome all the obstacles in their way as they try to make it home.
Why The Film Works
This film became a major cult hit, and the main reason for that is the depth. I’ve noted before that what makes a film a cult hit, rather than a popular hit, seems to be that it’s a smart film with lots of depth, but doesn’t spell everything out as clearly as general audiences need. Thus, general audiences will see the film as confused or pointless because they just don’t get what is going on. This film has those traits as well, and likely will seem like a schlock action film to general audiences... akin to how Rollerball is wrongly seen as a film about violent sports.

Indeed, this film traffics heavily in ambiguity. The dialog here is sparse and terse. Little is explained. Questions are answered with actions, not exposition. The characters speak in slang which doesn’t get translated. Character actions aren’t explained through exposition either. The relationship between Swan and Mercy is all handled through looks and levels of tolerance rather than professions of love. For example, the fact he lets her continue with them speaks volumes and, even then, he only tells her near the end of their journey that she can come with them and he talks around why. Characters, like the leader of the Orphans, change their minds in dramatic fashion, but never say what caused it, though you can understand it if you get the context. The only reason you know the Lizzies are lesbians is the absence of males and that they are dancing together. Fox dies, but it’s never clearly said or shown. We have no idea if the Warriors’ original leader Cleon lived or died, or what was Ajax’s ultimate fate after he stars fighting with the cops. The Riffs never even say they know the Warriors didn’t kill Cyrus, they just tell them they’re all right. These are the types of things general audiences typically need explained.
But ambiguity alone does not a good movie make. What makes this film so good is all the depth packed into it. Indeed, what appear to be little more than a movie about one gang being chased by others is so much more. Consider these themes and issues:
1. The film is about leadership. Cyrus is a messianic leader. He is replaced by a man who is almost the polar opposite, almost robotic or satanic. Swan takes over the Warriors when Cleon vanishes. There is immediately a power struggle and we see the troops pick Swan. Why? Was it his toughness or his responsibility or something else? Swan must immediately show that he’s up to the task by becoming a diplomat, when he has never been that before. He must understand when to stand up for pride and when to swallow his pride. And he must motivate his troops. His actions are a study in leadership.

2. Why do they fight? The obvious answer is that they fight because they don’t want to die. But that’s not really true. Cyrus thinks fighting is the natural order of things and it’s “a miracle” when they don’t. Swan fights first to survive, but then fights for pride even when he could avoid a fight. They all seem to cite their territory as the real reason they fight, but when the Warriors reach Connie Island and see it in the morning, Swan asks derisively if this is really why they fought and he thinks of getting away from it.
The characters are complex too. Look at Mercy’s character. She takes great offense at being called a whore, even though she probably is. She talks about how the future promises her nothing and she wants to live now, but at the same time, she’s looking for a better future. Yet, she joins this group knowing they are being hunted and will likely be dead by the end of the evening, and she does so despite Swan showing her nothing but contempt. Cyrus, who seems like such a fantastic leader with the power to unite them all is actually a murdering thief who wants to unite them so they can steal the city blind and terrorize its people. Luther is a true sociopath who just wants to see the world burn. He proves why Cyrus’s plan can never work... it’s doomed by the very nature of the people required to make it work.
There’s an interesting social commentary too. The film is based on a novel and in adapting it, the filmmakers added a bunch of white characters (there are no white characters in the book). Still, despite these token whites, for most middle-class white people in suburbia or Minnesota, this film would have been a shock in 1979. Cyrus is talking about a minority uprising. He is talking about 60,000 mostly black and Puerto Rican gangbangers overwhelming the cops and taking over the city. This plays into the black power movement, which scared the crap out of white America in the 1960s/1970s – the Riffs even borrow from the Black Panther/Viet Cong look and affect military-like precision. This film digs deeper than Hollywood ever delves into this issue.
The film also explains why people join gangs: poverty, lack of education, fear, a desire to feel powerful, and psychopathic/sociopathic personalities. It shows the cops as faceless oppressors (indeed, try to get a good look at one in the face anywhere in the film), which reflects the gang mindset. Again, this is deeper than Hollywood ever gets when it talks about gangs - Hollywood talks only about economics or fear of the cops. And while the film does make the Warriors sympathetic, it also reminds us that they too are rotten. We see this as one tries to rape a woman, as they fight for stupid reasons like refusal to take off their vests as they pass through a street, and as they strike terror into some kids riding home from the prom.

And if all of that isn’t enough to be packed into a film about a gang being chased, there is another level which I find the most fascinating. This film is based on a 1965 novel by Sol Yurick, but it’s ultimately an adaptation of the Greek Epic Anabasis by Xenophon.

Xenophon was a soldier who accompanied a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger. They intended to take the throne of Persia, but even as they won the battle, Cyrus was killed, making the expedition pointless. Their leaders were then killed, and the remaining troops needed to fight their way home. It even ends at the sea, where The Warriors also ends.
In other words, this simple film about some gangs is actually a Greek epic. What’s more, once you start to think of it in those terms, each of the encounters takes on a new significance. In many ways, Mercy becomes a Helen of Troy figure, the prize Swan wins. The gangs represent challenges like the Cyclops or armies they come across. The Lizzies are Circes. The Furies are Furies or the Harpies. Turnbull is the Minotaur. The subway is the labyrinth. You have very classic-Greek betrayal in them being falsely accused of killing Cyrus. Characters who fail morally fail in the story and end up dead or captured. And in the end, you have the unveiling of the truth and the retribution against the betrayers. Very classic. These things don’t all come from Anabasis, but they give the film a mythical, epic feel.

This is why this film continues to have such a following, because it offers so much. There isn’t a scene in this film which doesn’t give you a lot to think about or multiple ways to see it. And to get this, you need to use your brain because the film feeds you nothing. That makes it all the more interesting because it leaves it up to the audience to solve the riddle.
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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Questionable Bond No. 11

Not every Bond girl was entirely successful. In fact, some of them were downright awful.

Question: "Name the five worst Bond girls."

Andrew's Answer:

1. Dr. Christmas Jones - The World is Not Enough (you're kidding, right?)
2. Stacey Sutton - A View to a Kill
3. Pam Bouvier - License to Kill
4. Plenty O'Toole - Diamonds Are Forever
5. Tiffany Case - Diamonds are Forever

Scott's Answer: In no particular order...

1. Jinx - Die Another Day (I'm sorry but Halle Berry did nothing for me in this movie - hard to believe they were considering a Jinx spinoff movie at one point!)
2. Mary Goodnight - The Man with the Golden Gun
3. Dr. Christmas Jones - The World is Not Enough
4. Stacey Sutton - A View to a Kill
5. Tiffany Case - Diamonds are Forever

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wither Elysium, An Original Property

So Elysium just crashed and burned. I’m not surprised. Matt Damon is an ass and his politicking has turned people off. And there’s no doubt this film was all about politicking. It was the story of a world where poor people build spaceships to illegally immigrate to a space station full of rich people who have universal healthcare machines and live forever. If Damon didn’t think Obama was too much of a right-winger, he probably would have included a push for a third term for El Presidente... and perhaps a love scene.

How badly did Elysium fail? Well, it made $29.8 million. That’s well below Sony’s already pathetic estimate of $35 million. It’s also $8 million below the $37 million opening of both Oblivion (cum: $90 million) and Pacific Rim (cum: $100 million) and just $2 million more than After Earth (cum: $60 million). In other words, it’s doing worse than three huge bombs from this summer. It’s also a lot worse than Director Blomkamp’s prior (also leftist political) film District 9, which brought in $37.4 on its opening and $115 million total. Of course, that only cost $30 million to make. Elysium cost $115 million to produce and then millions more to market.

This is yet another strike against Sony, which has just imploded this year and seems to be on the verge of a power struggle. But that’s not what interests me now. What interests me is that Hollywood is blaming the failure of Elysium not on its noxious politics or its rancid star or the bad marketing or the fact it looks like Oblivion II. No. They are blaming it on being “an original property.”

In other words, they are saying the film failed because it wasn’t an adaptation of a famous book or television show or a remake of a successful movie.


Hollywood has become obsessed with only making films that have built-in audiences because they think that reduces the risk of the film being a bomb. Of course, that hasn’t worked out so well, but that’s not the point today either.

The point today is that Elysium didn’t fail because it was an original property, it failed because it doesn’t look like anything anyone wants to see. General audiences don’t avoid films just because they don’t know the “property” from which it comes... Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future and Close Encounters were all original properties. And science fiction fans certainly don’t avoid science fiction films just because they don’t know the property from which is comes.

People avoid films if they think the film is going to stink. The avoid films that star Matt Damon. They avoid films that look like propaganda. They avoid films that look like crap. They avoid films with bad marketing. This film has all of that. What exactly did the trailers tell you? Gee, a sweaty Matt Damon shoots at a robot thingy. I learned nothing more from the trailers. How does that make me want to see the film? How about these questions reviewers asked:
Why does only Los Angeles matter? What happened to China and Europe? How can these poor people afford to build spaceships to try to immigrate? How come the space station has no defenses? How come the cops only work when it’s convenient to the plot? Does denying everyone immortality really make you a bad guy as the film suggests? What happened to the middle class and upper class people? How do the people who clean the toilets on the space station afford to live there? Etc.
The problem wasn’t that this was an original property, the problem was that this was a poorly thought-out film that reeked of mindless propaganda, which starred an actor whose popularity is tanking, which looked like a rip off of the director’s prior work and several other films that bombed this same summer, and which had horrible marketing which gave no one a reason to see the film.

There’s your problem.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 14

Sometimes, special effects aren't so special. But sometimes they really are!

Question: "What was the best and the worst effect in the series?"

Andrew's Answer: Worst is an easy one. It's in Crusade, when the fighter plane crashes and slides through the tunnel, on fire, next to Jones and his father, and the pilot looks at them stupidly. That moment alone takes me out of the film so badly that it almost ruins the entire movie for me. Best effect was in Raiders when the wall of fire sweeps up the Nazis, moves the clouds, and seals the Ark. Awesome.

Scott's Answer: The best effect might be the face melting scene at the end of Raiders - a good mix of state-of-the-art technology (for 1981) and some old school tricks. Honorable mention goes to the mine car chase in Doom, which was shot using modified still cameras - I'd put it against any chase in a movie today. Worst effect goes to anything in Crusade involving the zeppelin and the biplane - there is some really bad bluescreen compositing here and it sticks out like a sore thumb. I don't know if it was a logistical thing or if all of ILM's resources were devoted to another movie that came out the same year.

Those were "best" and "worst" - in the "unforgivable" category is the jungle chase in Crystal Skull. For a film that came out in 2008 to have such shoddy bluescreen work is ridiculous. I'd forgive it in a low-budget indie flick but this is Spielberg and Lucas: two kings of modern day movie tech. I remember watching the making-of featurette on the Cloverfield Blu-Ray around the same time and I asked my friend, "Why does Cloverfield have better effects than the Spielberg movie?!"
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 89

The films are alive with the sound of music.

What is your favorite musical?

Panelist: ScottDS

I'm partial to Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You but at the end of the day, my mind goes back to two classic films from my childhood: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Chitty in particular features some crazy musical numbers, including "Me Ol' Bamboo" in which Dick van Dyke has to dance several beats behind everyone else, and "Chu-Chi Face" in which the villain spends the entire song trying to kill his wife!

Panelist: T-Rav

Definitely Grease, insofar as it's the only musical I like at all. (I know, I'm a terribly uncultured person.) John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are great as Danny and Sandy, and if that movie can't make you want to go back to the '50s even a little bit, nothing can.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

Okay, I know I’m not supposed to like it, but I really did like Barbra Streisand’s version of “Hello Dolly”. I also loved Rosalind Russell’s versions of “Auntie Mame” AND “Gypsy”. All the critics panned and pan all of these, but I think they are classics.

There are so many movie musicals that I like (and don’t like), but I prefer my “written for the stage” musicals to stay on the stage and my “written for the movies” musicals to stay on the screen.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

This one is difficult because I do like a lot of musicals. Cabaret is great, so is The Sound of Music, and of course South Park. I also really like Moulin Rouge. But when it comes to favorites, on stands head and shoulders above the rest... Jesus Christ Superstar. Tasseled jumpsuits, baby.

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

O.K. I have to split this into old and new(er) picks. For the old, I like South Pacific with Mitzi Gaynor, Rossano Brazzi. Loved the songs (Bali Hai, I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, Some Enchanted Evening, etc.) The story, about war in the south Pacific held my attention as a youngster, and it was probably the film that got me into musicals. More recently, it would be hard to top Les Miserables.

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, August 9, 2013

Ignored Films That Are Worth Your Time

Rather than do a film today, let’s remind people of a few surprisingly great films we’ve stumbled across in our travels so far. These are films that didn’t get much attention or bombed, but really deserve to be known. Check them out if you haven’t already done so:

Cop Land: Who knew that Stallone could act? This film is so not what you expect from a cop movie. Well written and extremely well acted by an impressive cast, you should check this one out. It will keep you guessing throughout with all of its twists and turns.

Triangle: This film was completely ignored and that’s a shame. From its marketing, it appears to be a slasher film that takes place in the Bermuda triangle, but it’s so not that. What it is, is an amazingly complex time-loop story that may be making a philosophical point about the nature of hell and why one woman is trapped in it.

Scott Pilgrim v. the World: This is a great film, but there’s a trick to enjoying it. You need to understand that this film is a parody of teen romance comedies as seen through a video game. This is not a comic book. That is key. If you understand that and you know how to slog your way through henchmen to a boss battle as people around you burst into coins when they get killed, then this film is truly entertaining.

Speed Racer: Hated by critics who wrongly saw the film as shallow, Speed Racer boasts strong visuals, a stylish world, strong characters, and a truly touching story about a young man who needs to climb out from behind the shadow of a dead brother to win the love and respect of his family.

13: Stark. Raw. Another ignored independent film, this film really hits a nerve in its presentation of a Russian Roulette tournament played at the behest of a group of rich gamblers. I still don’t know if I loved or hated this film, but it was impossible not to have an opinion.

Ninth Gate: This is an amazing film. This is a film about the nature of evil and what confused the critics was that the hero is actually the bad guy. Read the review and you’ll see what I mean. This is Roman Polanski pointing his finger at Hollywood, admonishing them for selling cartoon evil as evil as they miss all the real evil going on every day.

Pontypool: Perhaps the coolest, most unique zombie film out there, Pontypool breathes new live into zombie movies through a "War of the Worlds"-style retelling where you rarely see anything.

Ronin: Surprisingly, many people haven’t seen this film starring Robert De Niro and Jean Reno. Written by David Mamet, this is probably the best spy story ever told.

Real Steel: Finally, we have Real Steel. This film can hardly be called ignored or overlooked, but there’s a good chance that most of our audience skipped it thinking it was clichĂ© and kitsch. Yeah, it was, but man does this film deliver. This film delivers a strong father-son story, made all the more interesting in that they flipped the personalities of the father and son, making the son the more responsible. This film is like WWF Wrestling used to be... you knew it was fake, but you still couldn’t stop cheering.

There are others too. Devil is a film I’ve come around on and I really enjoy it despite a couple flaws. The Spanish Prisoner is another Mamet film. This one is just intensely clever and is sure to keep your head spinning... though it all makes total sense when you stop to think about it. Kick Ass was fun. Cube and Rollerball both present fascinating looks into how evil can come about either by accident and indifference or even by attempting to do good. Vanishing Point is inexplicably compelling. And Rat Race is just a honking good time... “the Barbie Museum.”

And then, of course, there are the films that were considered good... but those are for another day.
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0016 Octopussy (1983)

What’s that you say? Octopussy should be ranked higher than No. 0016 of 0023? Nope. Octopussy is one of those James Bond films that has all the elements, but lacks life. It was a decent film when it came out, compared to the competition, but in hindsight it feels dated and bland.

Plot Quality: Octopussy has a decent plot. Bond is sent to investigate a stolen FabergĂ© egg, found by 008, who gets killed in the process. This leads Bond to Kamal Khan, a low-rent smuggler and dealer in stolen art. Bond follows him to India, where he learns that Khan works for a woman named Octopussy, who runs an Amazon cult and circus. Khan and Octopussy are dealing with a Russian General named Orlov, who steals artwork from the Kremlin and replaces it with fakes. This leads Bond to Germany, where Octopussy’s circus will travel from East to West Germany and then perform on an American airbase. Unbeknownst to her, Khan has agreed to smuggle an atomic bomb onto the American airbase for Orlov and detonate it to turn public opinion against the presence of the Americans and their missiles. Bond saves the day and he and Octopussy chase Khan back to India. You can turn the film off at that point.
All told, the plot is fine. It has a lot of potential, it feels worthy of a Bond, and it is believable. It’s even exciting in parts. What keeps Octopussy from being ranked higher is the execution. First, there is the cheapness. The film starts in Cuba, but it sure looks like Pinewood Studios, Britain. They don’t even give a second-unit shot of Havana. India is the same. There are some outside shots, and it was filmed in India, but most of it feels like soundstages. Again, there are no skylines. Ditto on Europe. They definitely filmed the German parts in Germany, but all we see is one rail line, one highway, and an airbase that could just as easily be the Pinewood Studio parking lot.
The fight scenes are silly too. Women in matching catsuits, a hot-air balloon, a saw-like weapon that could only be used if your victim keeps standing in the right place. These feel like cartoon moments injected into an otherwise serious film. Not to mention Bond wears a gorilla costume at one point (see e.g. Trading Places) and he does a Tarzan yell while swinging through the jungle. Yeah, you read that right.

Beyond that, there’s not much more to say, and that’s kind of the problem. There’s little to love or hate about this film. It’s not a bad film, but little of it is memorable. It’s Bond at his blandest.

Bond Quality: 1981’s For Your Eyes Only brought Bond out of the lousy era of fantasy Bond that had beset the series in the 1970s, but it exposed one big flaw: Roger himself. Although he did well, it was clear that Moore was too old and too effete to play Bond. Octopussy feels like an attempt to make Moore seem more physical and more commanding. Too a large degree it worked as this is the most physical Moore has ever been. . . but that’s not saying a lot as he still lets women do his fighting. Unfortunately though, by this point, Moore has begun to feel like a parody of himself; he’s too stiff, too formal, and his one-liners are tiresome.
The Bond Girl: The main Bond girl is Maud Adams, who plays Octopussy, a jewel smuggler and owner of a circus. This is her second Bond as she was also the Bond girl in Man With The Golden Gun. She fits the specs, but isn’t very interesting. As an actress, she’s rather flat and she’s not given much to do here. In fact, her role is rather difficult to respect. On the one hand, she’s presented as the villain, as a savvy business owner, and as a cult-like leader of a troupe of Amazon circus women. But she is oblivious to what is going on around her as her number two ends up being the real villain. Moreover, after she learns of the betrayal, she then is supposed to play the vengeful warrior princess who turns her Amazons against the villain (who has managed to staff a castle without her noticing). Only, she plays this more like the helpless damsel who is constantly needing Bond to help her... “Help me, James!”
There’s another problem with her too. She’s supposed to be exotic because her cult consists of Indian street girls, yet they are all clearly upper-class, white British girls. That’s a bit like going to Shangri-La and then eating at McDonalds; it wipes out all the exotic. She also feels a tad lazy, i.e. inactive and emotionless, and I suspect that has to do with not showing up grandpa Moore: “Don’t run so fast Maud, Roger can’t keep up.” Her laziness too comes from her character being split into parts and distributed. For example, the other Bond girl is Kristina Wayborn, as Magda, who is Octopussy’s assistant. She’s kind of pointless and it seems like the things she does are things Octopussy should have done herself. The two roles should have been merged. Khan too should have been merged into Octopussy. The result is a character with little to do.

Villain Quality: The film starts with Octopussy as the apparent villain, but she’s just a jewel smuggler. The real villain here is Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), who is an exiled Afghan prince who shacks up with Octopussy, with an assist from alternate villain General Orlov (Steven Berkoff).
Orlov is one of the better Bond villains actually and has a decent plan. Orlov is a Soviet General who is dismayed that the Soviet Union won’t attack the West. He sees the massive numerical superiority the Russians had in terms of troop numbers, and he knows the Soviets will never be better positioned to conquer Europe. The problem is, in his mind, that the leadership is frightened of American nuclear missiles, particularly short range nuclear missiles of the type Reagan installed in Europe over much opposition around this time. He thinks that if he can detonate a small nuclear device at an American airbase in Germany, that the Europeans would throw the Americans out and that would leave Europe for the taking.

There are some issues with this, like the existence of American ICBMs which could do the job just as well as the short-range missiles, the French and British nuclear arsenals, and the fact that this would be seen as a first strike by the Russians and would lead to war in minutes. But these things don’t bother you during the film as they are explained away. That makes his scheme a good one. It’s devious. It’s BIG. It seems like it would achieve his goal. And it’s topical. He also plays the villain well, bringing just enough crazy to the role while staying normal enough to believe that he could make it to his present rank and yet come to decide to do this. Unfortunately, he’s not the focus of the film... he’s just the focus of the best part of the film.
Helping Orlov is Khan. Khan is a dealer of questionable artwork. He becomes the middle man for Orlov, who is selling stolen artwork from the Kremlin and replacing it with fakes. He will also smuggle the bomb onto the American airbase. Khan is not as well developed as Orlov. It’s not clear why he would get involved in this, and his motive seems to shift around from money to promoting chaos to money to anger at his boss (Octopussy) to money. The connection to Octopussy is strange as well as he seems to be running a parallel evil empire while acting as her lackey. The connection to Orlov is never explained. And ultimately, since his motive is money and boss-hate, he’s not a satisfying villain. The film should have ditched him, merged him into Octopussy and then made Orlov the villain.

All in all, this was a Bond film and it felt like a Bond film. It had all the elements. It was exciting at points. This film has decent re-watchability. It has a decent plot, a good villain, an acceptable Bond girl, and Moore was acceptable to the task even if he was a bit old and effete. That’s why this film isn’t lower. It’s not higher though because it’s just not that interesting. Octopussy’s character was ill-defined and the things she should have done were given to Magda and Khan to do. Khan is poorly defined and cartoonish. And the real climax, the bomb being defused, comes twenty minutes before the ending. That’s why this film is No. 0016 of 0023.
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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Serial Killers... Ug

I despise lazy writing, and serial killers are lazy writing. Serial killers are how people who don’t know good from evil try to make sure their audience KNOWS they mean evil. It’s sad.

Before we get into the problem with serial killers it’s worth pointing out a recent study that found that serial killers are a growth industry on television. Seven television shows about serial killers were added this season, bringing the total to twenty. Seems excessive, doesn’t it?

Well, Hollywood likes to claim that they “only reflect the violence in society.” So said, CBS president Nina Tassler, NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt and Fox chairman Kevin Reilly. They also claim they don’t encourage/cause violence. But there’s reason doubt this. Consider these facts:
● Hollywood claims influence when they want to, such as claiming that their positive portrayal of gays “increased approval ratings of homosexuality of among youth.” So the claim that they don’t influence people is belied by their own contrary claims.

● Copycats occur fairly regularly. At least three brutal murders and one attempted murder were inspired by Dexter with each killer specifically mentioning the show as influencing their thoughts. Do I believe that television causes serial killers? No, but I do think it provides encouragement to those already out there, and I think it changes the culture in lesser, yet significant, ways... to be discussed below.

● Most importantly though, the claim that they “only reflect” society is statistically wrong. The FBI puts the number of serial killers between 35 and 50. Yet, there are now 20 shows about them on television. Even worse, they are the go-to villain. Criminal Minds alone has featured more than 100 serial killers in its past seven seasons. Thus, Hollywood dramatically overstates the number of serial killers both in real terms (raw numbers) and percentages. Keep in mind that roughly one million criminals are in jail right now and many more remain at large. So the percentage of serial killers to criminals is almost zero, yet Hollywood portrays it at around 50% or more. That is not reflecting society, that is distorting society.
So what bothers me about this?

Hollywood uses serial killers because it needs clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys, but modern Hollywood doesn’t know how to write such characters. It’s sunk so deeply into the well of moral relativism and identity politics that it no longer knows how to explain the difference between good and evil, because in their minds, good and evil depend on your perspective. Serial killers are different. Anyone can explain away a single murder as justified or an accident or whatever... he had it coming. But no one can explain away a dozen murders.

Moreover, serial killers can be made white, middle-aged men of indeterminate nationality (ignore that most display homosexual tendencies), and their motives are all internal, i.e. they kill because they are evil. This means they can be scrubbed of all ethnic, political, religious, sexual implications. . . they can be genericized.

The end result is a character who is undeniably evil, but who has no motive whatsoever that can be pinned upon them which will bring out a protestor or generate sympathy in any member of the audience. They are the human version of the Terminator... a motiveless machine with no possibility of sympathy. This is lazy writing. It’s cowardly writing. It’s like making Satan or secret Nazis your villain.

And what bothers me is both that I am totally bored with villains who are nothing more than walking murder weapons, and that I fear this is dulling the public’s senses to what evil really is. If one killing doesn’t make you evil, then something is wrong with our value system... yet, Hollywood suggests evil requires many killings. It suggests that evil is melodrama and motiveless. It misses the fact that real life evil is banal and selfish. It teaches people that evil requires a really high threshold, when it doesn't... it just requires indifference to the harm you cause.

That’s the real problem. Not the idea that some dipstick is going to copycat one of these characters, but the idea that average people will start to define evil up.
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Questionable Jones No. 13

Sometimes, dialog is perfect. It says just the right thing in a way that cannot be said better. Sometimes, it's painful to listen to and it makes you cringe.

Question: "What was the best/worst line of dialog in the series?"

Scott's Answer: Jeez, where to start?! These are some of the most quotable films in history. Even though he quotes someone else, I've always been fond of Henry Jones' line, "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne: 'Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.'" Also: "It's not the years, honey; it's the mileage." Worst line? Almost anything in Crystal Skull, especially anything uttered by John Hurt. I've never felt so embarrassed for an actor!

Andrew's Answer: The line that sticks with me also becomes a bit of frustration. In Raiders, Marcus Brody delivers this amazing line about how the Ark is not meant to be discovered: "Marion's the least of your worries right now... I mean that for nearly three thousand years man has been searching for the lost ark. Its not something to be taken lightly. No one knows its secrets. Its like nothing you've ever gone after before." This line perfectly sets up the entire movie. It's mystical, it's warning, and it's philosophical, all at once. This is one of those lines that defines a film. And it is this line which really pains me when they turn Brody into a fool in Crusade. A fool would not have delivered this line. Honorable mention, "you could warn them. . . if only you spoke Hovitos."

Worst line of dialog is a good question. Most of Crystal Skull probably qualifies, but I'm going back to Crusade for the entire scene involving Sallah and Brody, where Brody acts like an idiot while Sallah keeps telling Brody "Run!" as if the English speaking Germans somehow wouldn't know.
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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Great (film) Debates vol. 88

Everybody loves a weirdo. Well, at least on film.

Who is your favorite film weirdo (like Milton from Office Space)?

Panelist: Tennessee Jed

Milton was the only one I liked. I would have picked him, and maybe the fact he was incorporated into the question says more about the validity of the topic itself? ;)

Panelist: ScottDS

I thought about this one for a while and it's a toss-up between Carl the groundskeeper in Caddyshack (Bill Murray in one of his signature roles) and ANY character played by Jemaine Clement in anything. The one role that comes to mind is pretentious fantasy author Dr. Ronald Chevalier in the film Gentleman Broncos, whose writing advice consists of adding the suffix "-anus" to character names in order to make them sound "magical." Just watch.

Panelist: T-Rav

Maybe he doesn’t properly count as a “weirdo,” but I’m very partial to Daniel Stern’s character “Marv” in the Home Alone movies. He’s a criminal and yet such a comic foil that you can’t help liking him just a little.

Panelist: BevfromNYC

I still like Bill Murray in Caddyshack. He plays the classic weirdo and the gophers were kind of cute too.

Panelist: AndrewPrice

It's hard not to pick Milton. But I'm going old school... Real Genius: Lazlo. He won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and most of its prizes with the proper application of science!

Comments? Thoughts?
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Friday, August 2, 2013

Film Friday: Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

I should hate this film on so... many... levels. Half the actors are jerks. The writing is nonsense. The whole film is nothing but a product placement. Wow. I should be railing against this sucker. Yet, I really enjoy this film. This is one of those rare films where style trumps everything else. This isn’t a film, it’s an experience, and if you’re using your brain, then you’re doing it wrong.
Willy Bank (Al Pacino) is an evil man. He dominates the Vegas casino industry and he just cheated his partner, Reuben, who just happens to be good friends with Danny Ocean (George Clooney). This was wrong. See, Bank shook Sinatra’s hand, as did Reuben, and that means Bank broke the code by cheating Reuben. So Danny and his crew set out to bankrupt Bank’s new casino to set things right. From there, the film becomes a Rube Goldberg heist plan in which Ocean and the boys need to break Bank’s security, rig the games to cheat in favor of the guests at a specific time, and then get all the guests out of the casino before they lose the money back.
Why This Film Works
To understand why this film works, let me explain why the original Ocean’s 11 worked... not the Soderbergh remake, but the original 1960’s film staring Frank Sinatra. Ocean’s 11 worked because of a form of nostalgia. Ocean’s 11 is like an invite to spend time with the hippest cats America has ever produced... the Rat Pack. When you watch Ocean’s 11, you aren’t watching to see if they pull off the heist, nor are you watching for plot or to see the acting. No. You are watching to get a glimpse of Frank Sinatra playing around with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. You are watching to get a sense of what it was like to go to Vegas in 1960 and sit in the audience as all these guys showed up and clowned around for a couple hours right in front of you... these singers and comedians who advised presidents and ran with the mob, married the most eligible women of the era, stormed Hollywood on their own terms, and dominated the music world. These guys represent an entire era in American culture.

What does this have to do with Ocean’s Thirteen? Well, Ocean’s Thirteen is the second sequel to Ocean’s Eleven, which is a sort of remake of Ocean’s 11. Only, whereas Ocean’s Eleven really was never more than just a heist film that borrowed characters from Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s Thirteen captures the spirit of Ocean’s 11.
Like Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s Thirteen is entirely about the experience, not the story. It is about accessing a world you will never access on your own, no matter what you achieve in life. It is a world of casino whales and high rollers at a fantasy casino that is so ornate and stylized that it is the very essence of the image we have of “the casino experience,” an image that wasn’t true in the 1960’s when it was created and certainly isn’t true today. Indeed, nowhere in this film will you see slovenly tourists in Bermuda shorts placing one dollar bets in this casino. There are no rooms the size of closets and no employees who don’t speak English. The hotel staff here look like models or Hollywood butlers, not fat, lazy SEUI members. The guests are models dressed to the nines. The rooms are like mansions decorated by the best designers. Everywhere you look there are designer brands, premium alcohol, luxury cars, beautiful people.
Within this world you find yourself among a huge group of friends: Danny and Rusty and Linus and Reuben and Terry and the rest. And these aren’t like any friends you know. No, these people are all highly educated, clever, funny, beautiful, athletic... celebrities. They have amazing skills you can only dream of – gymnastics, computer hacking, super scheming, card sharping, etc. They are classy too, and they live by a code... a code of infinite loyalty, the kind of loyalty that makes you spend every penny of your millions of dollars to set right an insult made against one member of your crew. Even beyond that, they have amazing chemistry. In fact, they finish each other’s thoughts all the time and any one of them can completely screw up the entire plan without a hint of reproach from the others, because loyalty comes first and they never give up and never lose hope.

They have a good time too. In fact, despite the film being about a heist, it really isn’t. To the contrary, this film is about a chess match played against the ultimate fantasy casino for amazing stakes with no prospect that you will lose and played in a consequence free environment.

To put it simply, this is a fantasy world as much as if it had dragons... it is the American consumer vision of Heaven, and it lets you in completely. That’s why this film is so great. It offers you more and better friends than you’ve ever had, a playground you can never experience, and a game you can never really play in real life. It’s a hell of a ride.
What’s interesting to me is how the film builds this, because there are some fascinating little tricks that other writers should examine closely. First, to create the environment, the director essentially made a study of what works in the luxury advertisement world, and then he brought it to life. If you drive a Rolls, then hot chicks will get out of the car with you. If you drink Gray Goose, you will be rich and respected. If you wear the right clothes, you will be hip. This film takes all of American high-end consumerism and distills it to the images that appeal to us and injects them directly into your brain.

The friendships are interesting too because of how they’re built. First, no one has friends like this. Name one friend of yours who would throw away ten million dollars, everything they own, just to avenge an insult made to another of your friends. Moreover, no one has this many close friends. In fact, management studies have found that humans aren’t capable of monitoring more than about eight relationships with any level of attention, which is why companies don’t put people directly in charge of hundreds of people. Yet, here you are literally surrounded by dozens of loyal-to-the-death friends who are closer to you than any real life friend... these are people you’ve adventured with.
Even more interestingly, to give you the feeling that they are in fact close friends, the writer uses a dialog trick to make you believe there’s a long-time relationship there. Specifically, the writer has the characters speak “in their own language,” by having them reference things you don’t know, and has them constantly finishing each other’s sentences and thoughts, as people who are long-time friends often do. Just as interestingly, the writer starts each scene with one character telling the end of a story involving people the two characters know. Not enough information is given to tell you the story, but enough information is given for you to guess what they are talking about. For example, a character might say, “So I jumped out the window as her husband chased me,” which is enough to let you understand what happened even if you don’t know any of the actual details. What this does is it gives you the feeling that you are in on their relationship because you can understand what they are talking about even as you think other people couldn’t understand because it’s an insider story. In effect, they trick you into thinking that you share their special language, which makes you part of the relationship. This is actually pretty brilliant writing.
Finally, the film rushes all of this past you in a bombarding montage of sound, colors and stylized images, sometimes even being shown in split-screen images. Essentially, the film runs at such a quick pace that you never get a chance to focus on anything you are watching. Adding to this intentional confusion, the film shows a good deal in quick flashbacks, which keep you disoriented, and it often requires you to keep track of the dialog between cuts, as the last line in one scene becomes the first line in the next scene. The result is a film that keeps you from focusing on the plot itself and makes you just “live in the moment.”

Ultimately, this film works not because it’s a good film, but because it immerses you into an idealized, stylized world of intense friendship and camaraderie, unimagined wealth, and an impossibly-high party atmosphere, all wrapped up in a thick sense of adventure. That’s why this film works and that’s why the original Ocean’s 11 worked: because it sells you a trip into a fantasy world with friends you could never have in real life. And for a brief moment, you can be buddies with the coolest people on earth.
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