Thursday, March 31, 2011

PLAY BALL!



Field of Dreams fucking rules. Disagreement is not permitted.

Yup, it's Opening Day! ARE YOU READY FOR SOME BASEBALLLLLLL???????

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF OUR GENERATION'S MOST PROLIFIC ACTORS!


Ewan McGregor is 40 today, and so also, naturally, is Ewan McGregor's penis. While McGregor Prima has appeared in several pictures while fully clothed, McGregor Secunda (or Ewan Jr., or “gae,” and not because one look at it makes dudes gay, that's how you say “harpoon” in Gaelic) has one of the more prolific careers of any supporting actor in the business.

From his daring performance as the agent behind a forbidden liaison in Trainspotting, to an essential element of scenic design at a rock concert in Velvet Goldmine, to his forward-thinking aesthetics in The Pillow Book to, ultimately, a joust with the legendary Tilda Swinton in Young Adam, Ewan McGregor's penis has had as fine and varied a career as any actor of his generation.

Sadly, McGregor Prima has announced that Secunda's career is over. Sadly, as McGregor Prima's acting career enters a more mature phase, the piquance of his penis' thespianism will enter the annals of history and memory. Unless, of course, the right role presents itself. A true artist only stops making art at the point of death, and in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must assume that this fine, robust, whimsical actor still lives.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WHAT'S IN A TITLE?



The following is a transcript of a Gchat conversation between myself and my friend Steve Gilpin in Chicago. It began with a discussion of the sad state of the new Wonder Woman costume, which inexorably led to a discussion of Vera Farmiga, which led to the below. (Key: fap = the onomatopoeic representation of masturbation)


Steve: Why We Fap: The Vera Farmiga Story

me: hahahaha
shit that's good

Steve: If These Walls Could Fap

me: "the epistemology of faptronics, with prof gilpin"

Steve: hahahah
Fapadelphia
And The Band Fapped On
yikes
kinda inappropriate

me: fapablanca

Steve: YES
drawing a blank now
shit
Fap In The Air
Fapper Punch

me: fappyshack

Steve: awesome

me: fapimal house

Steve: i love Caddyshack so much
that movie makes me laugh
like a crazy person

me: the fapfather
the fapfather part ii

Steve: oooooh
nice

me: the faporcist
the fap connection
(the fap connection part ii)

Steve: wow

me: fap wars

Steve: you are on a roll, my friend

me: fapper vs. fapper

Steve: fap fap fap fap fap[ fapfapfap

me: fapping bull

Steve: Fapocop

me: fap york fap york
fap driver

Steve: Fappie Hall

me: love and fap

Steve: ?

me: love and death fool

Steve: word

me: smatter with you

Steve: i figured it out
just took me a sec

me: the fapersation

Steve: you judgmental prick
nice
Afapalypse Now
WINNER

me: faperbolt and lightfoot

Steve: hahahaha

me: or thunderbolt and lightfap

Steve: both work quite well

me: fapping tall
two lane faptop

Steve: Fapping Scared
Fap of Grace

me: maximum imfapped

Steve: Garden Fap

me: fappo and cash

Steve: oooh
good one

me: bloodfap

Steve: Fapplejuice

me: kinky, but hey

Steve: Batfap

me: fapplejuice hahahahahahahahaha

Steve: hahaha

me: batfap returns
batfap begins
batfap forever
batfap and robin

Steve: yep
you get the idea

me: and . . . the fap knight

Steve: The Faposition
or The Dark Fap

me: fapdecent proposal
the fapover
inglourious fapterds
how did we not have good will fapping?

Steve: too obvious?
this is pretty amazing

me: indiana jones and the fap crusade

Steve: Fappers Of The Lost Ark

me: indiana jones and the temple of fap

Steve: hahah

me: dr fap, fapfinger, fapperball

Steve: Close Encounters of the Fap Kind

me: faps

Steve: hahaha
Gregory Hines would be proud
Never Say Fap Again

me: fuckface the gregory hines movie was fap

Steve: GoldenFap
whoops!

me: faps was with the psycho young tom cruise

Steve: sorry
right right
my bad
sorry
hehe
this is fun
too much fun
Top Fap
or Fap Gun
The Fappinator
Fap Velvet

me: lost fapway

Steve: ha

me: wild at fap
fapholland drive

Steve: i was just gonna do wild at fap!!!!

me: ok this'll close it out:
twin peaks: fire fap with me


Hey, what do you want, it's a slow afternoon.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

BLAZING ON A SUNNY AFTERNOON


Today's brunch special: metacriticism. I'm going to review a review (of a movie I haven't seen yet, no less), and you'll understand why in a second. Read this and come on back.

Now, I haven't seen Sucker Punch yet. I plan to, and when I do I may like it, dislike it, be ambivalent toward it, start a religion centered around Carla Gugino . . . there are any number of potential outcomes. I have nothing invested in this particular movie other than the hope, as with any movie I plan to see, that it will be good. But I do have a fair amount invested in good, thoughtful criticism, which brings us to this review. The author opens with this salvo:

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a stripper as she sashays her tight little booty up on stage in front of leering old men and rowdy frat boys?

Me neither.

The author, in reviewing a movie that—from what I've heard and read—literally takes place inside a woman's mind, is declaring no interest whatsoever in what takes place inside a woman's mind (if that woman's business is professionally removing her clothes for an audience). And, of course, there are no laws on the books requiring human beings to have empathy and intellectual curiosity. But the open, proud declaration that one does not care to even the slightest degree about half the human race makes the declarer, to be as polite as I can, a malignantly stupid fucking asshole.

I've been friends with a number of strippers in my life, and had actual interesting conversations with a few others I met on a more professional basis, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who actually gives a shit about human beings that they're people just like any other. There's a widespread assumption that strippers are all craven, emotionally damaged sociopaths, and while some strippers may be that thing, it's because some human beings are that thing. Some of them just prefer it to temping. Some of them are simply proud of their bodies. Some of them derive pleasure from pleasing others. The problem with actually thinking about this, though, is that thinking is hard and empathy is for faggots. So, okay, let's operate under the premise that strippers are soulless automatons and inherently uninteresting, bro. Yeah, I don't give a fuck what strippers are thinking either, bro. Let's read the rest of the review. Bro.

The critical appraisal of the movie is badly and laboriously written, with endless pointless renderings of the word “explosion” as “'splosion.” Perhaps this is some kind of fanboy in-joke that I don't get. So let's take a look at the adjective “pants-stiffeningly” as applied to Carla Gugino's performance. Now, I'll make the assumption that the author is saying that Carla Gugino gives him an erection, which I will grant is an entirely defensible aesthetic reaction for a bepenised heterosexual. The term “pants-stiffeningly,” even discarding its formal clunkiness and surplus syllables, does not even accurately describe the attainment of an erection. “Pants-stiffeningly” implies that one's pants themselves are becoming stiff: “Yeah, Carla Gugino's so hot she makes my pants feel like my mom forgot to add fabric softener. Mmm mmm mmm.” And oh yes I did talk about yo momma, motherfucker.

Once the issue of the stiff pants is resolved, we proceed to a timely, hip Charlie Sheen joke—seriously, getting fired from your job, doing shitloads of blow, yelling non sequiturs, and hanging out with porn stars? That's called “junior year in college,” civilians—and the author tut-tutting at director Zack Snyder for not choosing to show Emily Browning dancing in the movie. Again, I haven't seen the movie, but the assumption that because we don't see her dance, it had to have been filmed, deemed unworthy to include in the finished movie, and subsequently cut is a logical fallacy based on the author's own prejudices, not a sign of the movie's quality.

Dwelling overmuch on the author's dull prose style and mediocre intellect is unneccessary, but it bears mentioning that nearly every single mention of a female character in the entire review is paired with a dimunitive of some sort: “our little heroine” for example, to describe Emily Browning's character. Even uglier than the condescending casual misogyny is this analogy: “with the finesse of a proctologist with elephantiasis of the index finger,” in reference to Zack Snyder shoving Eurythmics songs up someone's ass or something. Again, it's poorly constructed: the repetition of “with” serves no rhythmic purpose to the sentence. And, while at this point, criticizing the imagery for inelegance is beside the point, it is nonetheless lazy, much like the rest of the review.

At the conclusion, we come to realize that underlying the assessment of Sucker Punch is a preoccupation with the fact that Zack Snyder is directing the next Superman movie: “Guys, if you go see this film this weekend, the terrorists win. All you are doing is confirming to the 'brain trust' powers that be at WB that Snyder is the man for SUPERMAN.” Perhaps, as someone who does not give two laminated fucks whether anyone ever makes another movie about Superman ever, I should take my own advice and try to feel the author's agony over whether Snyder is the right man for the job. His complaint is that Snyder “couldn't add substance to a film if he were armed with a shovel, a syringe, and a bucket of KY.” Which, I should point out, is an odd idea about how to give aesthetic, formal, or intellectual substance to a movie: how does one lend dramatic weight to narrative events with a shovel, and syringe, and a bucket of KY? Are they semiotic representations of some sort for the creative process? If so, to which areas of screenwriting and cinematic language do those signifiers speak? The criticism of lack of substance is funny, coming as it does in the midst of a review that consists of little substance other than whining and contempt for women. Perhaps “substance” means something different on the island of the fanboys than it does on Earth. We may never know. I still don't give a shit about Superman; a failure of empathy, I guess.

Whether or not Sucker Punch is good, I've yet to discover. Its $19 million opening weekend against an $80 million budget is a mildly ominous sign for its commercial prospects unless word of mouth leads to a couple more $10 mil + weekends. Judging from the reviews, that looks unlikely, though there's always DVD and overseas to make its budget back. One does have to wonder, though, whether we'd even be having this discussion, be it about the movie's commercial prospects, or content, at all if the protagonists were teenage boys rather than girls. In fairness, there a couple other reviews of Sucker Punch on that same site that were more considered, and while tepidly ambivalent nonetheless lack the virulent, piggish ignorance of the one under discussion. I know nothing about this guy other than what insights he permits readers in this review, but I do hope that he recovers from whatever trauma led to his disinterest in and contempt for women. Some of them are quite lovely, and they like you more when you cease thinking of them as things to masturbate to. Still don't care? Your loss.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

FULL GROWN MAN, NOT AFRAID TO CRY: JAAN-E-MANN


Movies famously provide an escape from reality when times are tough, and without getting into too many details I'm not very happy these days. I spent a week and a half on jury duty on a really awful case that ended with an incredibly contentious deliberation and a verdict that involved a truly revolting moral compromise. Even before this I didn't have much faith in democracy as a system or in our societal institutions but right now, as I told a slightly alarmed friend the other night, my current state of mind makes David Simon look like a 6 year old waking up early on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought. I'm not saying we should nuke the United States to glass and call it a day, but you know. I'm not exactly in the mood to watch any hard-hitting dramas about abuse and injustice, let's put it that way.

Jaan-E-Mann, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of picture I'm in the mood for these days. The title in English translates to “sweetheart,” and wouldn't ya know, it's about two guys in love with the same girl. But that's like saying a string quartet is a couple schmucks with violins. Packed with metacinematic references (breaking the fourth wall so often the motherfucker simply isn't there anymore after about an hour) and featuring a number of excellent songs, Jaan-E-Mann is a totally compelling, vividly romantic movie. Amazingly, it's the directorial debut of Shirish Kunder, who also wrote (story, screenplay, and dialogues; the credits are separate in India), edited, and wrote some of the music. It's executed with such polish, its exuberance so controlled, its merging of form and content so harmonious, that it feels like the work of a veteran hitting his stride.

Before we continue, a brief aside on the difference between a movie star and an actor. I could do a whole post on this and bore the living fuck out of everyone but I'll reduce it to this maxim: movie stars can be good actors and actors can possess sufficient charisma to play leading roles, but you're either one or the other. It can be a fine distinction, and actually doesn't have much to do with talent, though “actors” tend to be better actors than “movie stars” (conversely, “movie stars” tend to be more charismatic, badass, sexy, etc than “actors”). Classifying someone as more of a movie star than an actor doesn't necessarily mean you're calling him or her a shitty actor. It just means they have that ineffable, unquantifiable “it” that makes movie magic.

This is a way of explaining that the other half of the equation that makes Jaan-E-Mann so enjoyable, and symbiotic with Shirish Kunder's inspired direction, is the presence of three movie stars of the caliber of Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Preity Zinta. Part of what makes all three of them so special is the absence of any gray area. When Salman Khan is awesome, he's more awesome than anyone ever (and, paradoxically, the same is true of Akshay). When he's in love, he's more in love than anyone ever. When Salman's heart is shattered, the lights go dark and the window behind him literally explodes; sure, that's Shirish being a wiseass, but the way Salman makes his eyes go big completes the effect. The window shattering was a directorial choice, but it doesn't work without Salman selling it.

I use Salman as an example, but Akshay and Preity are both operating on the same level. Akshay's more dorky than anyone ever, and more in love with Preity than anyone ever (just like Salman is; stupid paradoxes). Preity is—play on words coincidental—prettier than any girl ever, and more torn between the two men who love her than anyone ever. You get the point. It's a big romantic picture, the kind that makes you go ooh and ahh and cry and stuff. You need movie stars for that kind of thing, and these three are most definitely that.

The story is framed by astronaut Akshay Kumar telling his blonde cosmonaut companion—whose face we don't see just yet—that he's got to call his friend to wish him happy birthday. She points out that it's only 5 am in Mumbai and gets Akshay to explain just what's up, because he's acting a little weird. So, in flashback, Akshay starts telling her about his buddy Salman Khan, an aspiring actor madly in love with Preity, his college sweetheart (Ed. Note: that wording's ambiguous on purpose; this movie may not be subtle but I sure as shit am). Naturally, being Bollywood, there's a song, and there's this awesome bit in it where Salman and Preity are dancing around the set to various producers' offices, and only when Salman takes his shirt off does a producer give him a part. For the uninitiated, an explanation:



Over the course of the song, Salman and Preity get married. Eventually, though, the song ends and Salman's producer gives him an ultimatum: no one's gonna come to see the picture if the hero's married, numbnuts, you have to hide your marriage. Though it eats him up inside, Salman agrees, and he's in the process of packing his shit to go stay in a hotel or something til he's done shooting when Preity comes home with this big smile on her face about something or other (it's explained later), which suddenly turns into utter despair when she realizes he's leaving. So she flips out, not without good reason of course, and disappears. And Salman's picture flops, leaving him with no wife, no career, nothing but a big fuckin stack of unpaid bills and his dwarf lawyer, Anupam Kher (who isn't actually a dwarf, he was Parminder Nagra's dad in Bend it Like Beckham as well as zillions of Hindi pictures, and was normal height in all of them; this is just Shirish being a fuckin goofball again, and God bless that crazy bastard). Preity's suing Salman for 5 million rupees in alimony, and Salman's fucking like “what the fuck, dude, I don't have that kind of money, even though that's only like a hundred grand US, that's still a fuckin hundred grand! Anupam Kher, my trusted dwarf advisor, what the hell am I gonna do????” (Ed. Note: they don't curse in the scene, I was just having keyboard Tourettes). Anupam Kher, because he's awesome, pulls out a book labeled “Marriage Law” and finds a thing where if Preity gets married, Salman doesn't have to pay alimony. And they smile a schemer's smile and totally go “But where will we ever find such a man?” and right on cue, Akshay Kumar rings the doorbell.

Akshay, looking like the lost Turturro brother (no shit, for a second I was like, “Did John Turturro get Method as a fuck? No, that is Akshay . . . damn, that's eerie.”) barges in demanding to see Preity, because he's been in love with her since college and he finally grew a pair to go ask her if she wants to like hold hands or something but like only if she wants to because you know like. There's a bit of broad comedy between IRL buddies Akshay and Salman (especially since Salman was the guy who swept Preity off her feet on her first big date with Akshay; whoops), at the end of which Salman decides, he's going to take Akshay to New York City—where Preity's living now—and transform him into a Salman-esque sex bomb and help him woo Preity.

Here's the subjective part of me loving this movie so much: I wasn't expecting them to not only go to New York, but have Preity's apartment be on Cranberry St. in Brooklyn Heights, right by the Promenade. Shirish makes my hometown look good, too, and the locations are just the right mix of familiar to out-of-towners and not-yet-overused. A lot of the interiors are obviously shot in India, but seriously, who gives a fuck? Not me, that's for sure.

So Salman follows Akshay and Preity around on dates, in a variety of disguises (for obvious reasons), including an NYPD patrolman (Salman wears the uniform well, lemme tell ya) and, awesomely, Elvis. There's a great scene set at Tavern on the Green where Salman, as Elvis, hilariously embarasses the yutz who's trying to date Preity. Good times. Akshay and Salman become really good buddies and have some good chats about stuff, including one seemingly idle one about everyone in the world having not just one doppelganger but several.

Of course, anyone who's ever seen a romantic movie sees what's coming a mile away: Salman's (obviously) not over Preity yet, and there's gonna come a point where he either undercuts or abandons Akshay—who does a magnificent job of playing a hapless nerd in this, his laugh is one of the no-pussy-gettingest things that's ever existed—but because Jaan-E-Mann is a good movie, the reason why comes as a surprise. It turns out, when Preity came home all smiley that day Salman was packing his shit to take off back in Mumbai? She'd just come back from her doctor and found out she was pregnant with their child. Who Salman, in spying on Preity in aid of his marry-her-off-to-Akshay scheme, sees. And realizes everything.

Thus kicks off the last hour of the movie, with Salman walking around crying. Akshay accidentally proposes to Preity, and her family—including her roid monkey asshole brother—loves Akshay so they pressure Preity into marrying him, and Salman finds out and starts crying even more, and then Akshay finds out that Preity's asshole roid monkey brother hid a whole big fistful of “my darling I love you with all my heart” letters from Salman from her, and when Akshay reads them he's like “I must step aside for my friend” and he starts crying, and then Preity reads the letters and she's like “Salman always loved me!” and she starts crying (Ed. Note: by this point, don't front, so are you) and Salman's even done that turn he always does where he renounces his irresponsible ways and decides to better himself, where his charisma (JALWA! JALWA!) reaches uncharted territory—dude fuckin smolders when he gets passionate, no two ways about it—and he accidentally stumbles into Old Spice Guy-level fame by becoming a diaper pitchman, thereby achieving fame and self-sufficiently in kind of a humbling way in a brilliant touch, and the whole romance thing comes to a head where Akshay goes off to mend his broken heart in space (having to leave Earth because of a broken heart is fucking awesome) and Salman goes back to India to be in a movie, whereupon whaddaya know, there's Preity and the kid. Happily ever after. Kind of. What about Akshay . . .?

So now we're back in the space station, orbiting Earth, with Akshay's cosmonaut girl wiping away tears (not because she's a girl or anything, just because) and hesitantly asking him “So if she's your true love, does that mean you don't love me . . .?” Akshay says, you'll understand everything once you talk to my friend. So they get on a video chat, and Akshay wishes Salman happy birthday, and has him call Preity to the screen. Salman grouchily assents, and when Preity comes into frame down in Mumbai . . . Akshay brings his cosmonaut girlfriend into frame . . . and she's played by Preity as well! No, I don't have anything in my eye, dude, I'm cryin. Fuck off.

Now, a point needs to be made here. I do cry at the movies, and I openly admit it, but it's not any old movie that gets me going. The first time I saw La Bamba, and the plane went down and Esai Morales went “RICHIIEEEEEEEE!”? That made me cry. The end of The Remains of the Day when Anthony Hopkins' and Emma Thompson's fingers touched and you knew that was the end of anything between them? That did it too, strangely. Pixar I don't count because they have a neuropsychological algorithm that enables them to induce crying whenever they want to in order to distract from all the socially conservative nostalgic horseshit in the rest of the movies; I cry at Pixar movies but that's just because the algorithm works. (Ed. Note: *adjusts tin-foil hat*) I've cried at a handful of others as well, but there are plenty of allegedly emotionally involving movies where I'm lookin around at everyone else crying their eyes out and I'm like, “huh?” If a movie makes me cry, it makes you cry too. Yes, you. I'm talking to you through your computer. The fact that Jaan-E-Mann got me the way it did—at 9 o'clock in the morning, when sober and in a nominally decent mood, no less—means it's good.

Above and beyond the fact that it's a terrifically compelling, magnificently romantic piece of cinematic entertainment, there's a whole lot of cool movie nerd stuff in there too. There's a bit where you can tell there's a song coming on—it is, after all, Bollywood—but instead of the music kicking in, there's a knocking at the closet door. They open it and a bunch of musicians come falling out. “What the hell are you guys doing here?” and the one musician is like “Who's gonna play the music for the song?” Which is just awesome. And then the song starts. I don't remember if it's that song or another one, but Anupam Kher gets out a remote control during one song and fast-forwards through it because “no one will sit through a song if it's more than 5 minutes.” There's also a whole bunch of meta stuff where Salman's the director and Akshay's the actor when they're still trying to get Akshay to marry Preity. And then there's the thing (which I don't think is deliberate) where every non-Indian person they run into in New York City has an Australian accent. Even if that was because Shirish couldn't get a whole lot of Noo Yawk accents at a Mumbai casting call, it actually lends a nice non-naturalistic touch to the movie, and makes the audience feel as much like foreigners as Salman, Akshay, and Preity. (Still, though, Shirish, next time you make a picture in New York, hire me as dialect coach. I work cheap).

But yeah. If you want a good movie star picture, and you're not gonna be a whining penisface about having to read subtitles, it's all about Jaan-E-Mann. Big, romantic pictures are a staple of any serious and truly sophisticated cineaste's repertoire. This one's as big and as romantic as they get. Here's a sample (pardon the distracting text):



Hell, just watching that made me cry all over again. Godfuckindammit.

Friday, March 25, 2011

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT (3/25/11)


Ladies and gentlemen, madames et monsieurs, aficionados of profane and erudite movie criticism, allow me to plug a dear friend of mine's new endeavor. The multitalented Bastard Keith has (fucking finally) started blogging! Behold, if you will, his review of Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch, which has single-handedly made me want to see the picture. I pass this review along with great confidence that it will do the same for many of you as well. Bookmark that blog, and make it one of your regular Interwebs destinations. Don't say I never did nothin' for ya!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN COURT



I don't think they let you out of law school until you jerk off to that movie at least once.

Then of course, there's Woody in Bananas (embedding disabled, pop over there then come back)

This picture is where lawyers acquired their courtroom technique:



And let's conclude with a happy ending:



Remember: those who can, do theatre. Those who can't, become trial lawyers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TRIPPIN' OFF THE POWER: LIMITLESS AS AN AYN RAND FANTASY ON BLOW



I saw Limitless the other day, and reviewed it for Tor.com. Like I said in the review, it's well-made, and Neil Burger is a technically skilled filmmaker; I may be one of about five people who liked his magician movie, The Illusionist, which was unfortunate enough to be released right around the time as Chris Nolan's very similar—and more cynical—variation, The Prestige. And, like I said in the review, Limitless has no pretense to being anything more than a white-guy whack-off-in-your-hat picture. It'd be easy to dismiss it as “just a movie,” a harmless little piece of manly fluff, if it wasn't glorifying something that really shouldn't be.

When the movie was over, I tweeted “Limitless is to cocaine what Atlas Shrugged is to libertarianism,” an analogy that occurred to me not just because there's not just one movie of Atlas Shrugged coming out soon but three of them, which means that shithead teenagers of all ages will be walking around chanting “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for another man's sake, nor ask another man to live for mine” and equating income tax to armed robbery. Beyond the exasperating prospect of another wave of popularity for Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged shares with Limitless a moral carelessness and blithe disregard for the consequences of the thing they each advocate.

Neither comes right out and says that they advocate cocaine or libertarianism, leaving their audience to either extrapolate or insist that extrapolation is a flawed interpretation. In Atlas Shrugged's case, Randians will talk your motherfucking ear off about how Ayn Rand wasn't a libertarian, she hated libertarianism, and if you disagree with her about anything you're a “looter” or a “moocher” and should kill yourself. I fell under her spell when I was 17, because I was 17 and didn't know anything, but gradually learned things and read more books and realized that the thing is, it's not that her villains are straw men, it's that in real life the kind of men that get her all aroused—industrialists, bankers, white guys in suits—bear a hell of a lot more resemblance to her villains, sniveling incompetent fuckfaces who rely on government policy for their existence than they do her heroes, these chiseled, sexy, taciturn geniuses. What's worse, and what leads us back to Limitless, is that Rand implies that merely agreeing with her philosophy gives one entry to a self-selecting elite, that throwing around John Galt quotes essentially makes you him. While she herself would likely disapprove of people paying lip service to her philosophy without living it, the fact of the matter is that a great many of her supporters do just that. It plays, especially now, into a sense that many white American men have that their status as the big dogs is being usurped by various Others.

Limitless presents us with a hero who has many of the benefits conferred by being born into the privileged classes. Bradley Cooper, in spite claiming to not have a drug and alcohol problem nonetheless seems to pass the time indulging in daytime drinking and bragging about this great novel he's writing that he can't even explain to the civilians in the bar. In spite of the fact that we see him drinking the afternoon away on multiple occasions, it's not that he has a drinking problem. He has an entitlement problem. He wants to be a writer without writing. He wants to be rich, he doesn't want to get rich.

When girlfriend Abbie Cornish “cruelly” dumps him because she's a grownup and he has his head up his ass, instead of this serving as a wake-up call Bradley Cooper wanders the streets moping, until he runs into his ex-wife's coke dealer brother. And holy shit is this guy ever a fucking coke dealer. His haircut's a couple years out of fashion, he's wearing a stupid scarf, his voice sounds like he's been smoking cigarettes since the age of five, basically the kind of guy no one would ever talk to unless he had coke. He makes concerned noises at Bradley Cooper's plight, and offers him a “free” sample of this brand-new shit he's got (“man, this shit isn't like normal shit, bro, this shit is special bro, this shit'll make your dick hard 24 hours a day, you'll ejaculate platinum, you'll have to fuck five bitches at once because one won't be enough bro” etc etc).

Because Bradley Cooper wants something for nothing, he takes the pill, which for all the movie's insistence that it's a fictional drug, is totally cocaine. Except, it actually does what cocaine makes you think it does: it turns you into a genius and the most fascinating person in the world. Bradley Cooper, while “coked” up, fucks his landlord's hot Asian wife, so naturally he wants more.

The remainder of the movie is about Bradley Cooper confronting every conceivable obstacle but simply being too awesome to be defeated by any of them. He borrows money from the Russian Mob and forgets to pay them back? They don't kill him. He decides to take on the capricious beast that is stock trading? He makes a couple million bucks in a week and a half. A possibly sinister Evil White Guy in a Suit—played by Robert fucking De Niro, no less—basically tells him, “You work for me or I'll destroy you?” Meh, he just straight up owns De Niro, a sad sight considering the degree to which Bobbert used to rule.

It's a little annoying—if not entirely inaccurate—how the whole world, including Abbie Cornish (who gets all squirmy when she sees him speak Italian in his new slick haircut) worships Bradley Cooper as a god the second he starts making money. Sure, that's the way it is in real life, but the fact that it all hinges on Bradley Cooper being coked up is what makes it a little weird. It ties into the movie's weird solipsism, itself a reflection of a tendency in society, whereby improvement of self improves the entire universe, because the self is all.

If this had led in any real way to Bradley Cooper realizing that the megalomania the drug induces is illusory, and the act two-to-act three turn hinged around him making an effort to get clean and solve his problems without the drug, Limitless would be a more satisfying movie. I'm not saying everything has to be AA, 12-step shit, it's just that getting clean is fucking hard. Bradley Cooper does so—really abruptly—right before the denouement, except he retains all the powers the drug conferred, and because the drug totally fucking is cocaine, the movie's message ends up being “do coke! You'll fuck models, wear exquisitely tailored clothes, have a thousand dollar haircut, fuck models, be able to reduce Robert De Niro to a quivering, stuttering mess, get the girl, fuck models on the side, speak every language on Earth fluently, exert predictive control over inherently unpredictable systems like stock markets, and run for President! Oh, and you'll fuck lots of models!” There are no consequences whatsoever.

Movies are a lot more satisfying when the good guy wins. But is Bradley Cooper really a good guy in Limitless? Without the fancy-schmancy SF future coke he's flying on the whole movie, he's an intertia-paralyzed impotent fucking pussy who in spite of being an utter incompetent has a book contract and an extremely indulgent editor. He's no underdog. People who get book contracts without writing books first are, by definition, privileged. They have already had the whole world gift-wrapped for them. When you have the levers of power in your hands and you still can't be bothered to pull them, you are a fucking putz. So we're supposed to be all “Yeah, dawg, you go bro” just because Bradley Cooper takes a performance-enhancing drug and dominates the world of finance? Fuck that shit.

One funny thing about the two different male fantasies offered in Limitless and Atlas Shrugged is that they were both written by women. Leslie Dixon, in scripting Limitless, was working from a book written by a man (which I haven't read and thus obviously can't comment on), so maybe this doesn't mean anything. If someone gets all fluttery and submissive around some guy because she chooses to, hey, have at it. It's not as if some guys aren't totally fucking awesome. But enabling an ignorant, narrow, worship of self creates more dumb, blinkered, solipsists. It begets “well, fuck you, if you're not born with a silver spoon in your mouth I'm not going to give you five cents for a plastic one.” It supports the way of thinking that Mr. Show fucks in the ass in the following clip:



It's not how much you have. It's how you got it.

Actions have consequences. If you dismantle the government and require everything to be subject to the caprices of the market, only people who are already rich will ever have anything (at least until the poor unite and overthrow them). And if you get strung out on coke, you do not become Neo. You end up crying to yourself at 7 o'clock in the fucking morning with a nosebleed that won't go away, wondering where all that cool stuff and money and all those friends went. And a member of the most privileged class on the planet getting one over on the system is nothing special. You might as well venerate a dog for licking his balls, because that's a perfect metaphor for Limitless.


(Postscript/disclaimer: this is not directly the fault of any of the creative talent involved in Limitless. It's society that's sick, they're just holding the mirror, whatever their motivation.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

ALIENS: WHY ARE THEY ALWAYS SO DUMB?


We're in the middle of some kind of alien movie renaissance. Fuck knows why, it might be because District 9 was a hit and everyone wanted to go run out and knock it off, it could be that 90s retro is kicking in and everyone wants to pay homage to Independence Day, it could just be that time.

Aliens, in principle, are fucking awesome. They're from other planets, they don't share humanity's laziness; what, we got as far as the moon and then said fuck it? LET'S FUCKING GO TO SPACE, GODDAMMIT. Earth sucks. It's the New Jersey of the universe.

And yet, all these aliens want to come here and take our natural resources. I mean, I'd understand it if they were after our women. Katrina Kaif is worth crossing the universe for—



—or Monica Bellucci—



—or Jennifer Lawrence—



—or Janelle Monae—



—and it'd make sense if they came for Janelle, to repatriate her back to her own planet. But no, they're always after our less attractive natural resources. Which, when you think about it, is kind of stupid. There have to be thousands of other planets that have stuff worth taking that aren't defended by heavily-armed territorial fucknut Earthlings. So, why Earth? My theory: aliens are fucking dipshits.

Think about it. How many movies or TV shows can you think of with smart aliens? Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still (the real one, not the Keanu one)? After that, who the hell's next? Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation? And even he mainly used his intelligence to troll Picard rather than do anything useful. Just about every other alien ever portrayed is a fucktard of cosmic proportions (hey, hey! Don't forget to tip your space waitress!)

H.G. Wells, fittingly, introduced the world to dipshit aliens in The War of the Worlds. His point, whether or not it was a veiled cautionary tale to the British empire about being mindful of the universality of vulnerability even in the apparently invincible, was that even aliens badass enough to lay waste to London can be brought down not by brute force, but by chance. They catch cold (which they'd long since eliminated on Mars), and that's them laid the fuck out. But look at it from another perspective: they come all the way from Mars, millions of miles through space, and it never occurs to them to bring a motherfucking space suit so they don't breath shitty Earth air? Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiipshiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.

This is the original sin of every single alien who ever hopped in his spaceship and said “Herp derp, let's go to Earth.” None of them think ahead, and end up making stunningly fuckheaded mistakes, six of which are outlined in this Cracked article. It's truly amazing that aliens would have the resources to cross the entire universe, often going faster than the speed of light to do so (without, nota bene, getting any speeding tickets from the alien traffic cops, like ever), and never having it occur to them to so much as buy a Lonely Planet: Earth guide. “Caution: the natives often look at you funny if you walk around with your tentacles out. Dreadlocks are, contrary to what Will Smith seems to think, not the same thing. Also, there's fucking ricockulous amounts of water there, so bundle up tight if moisture makes you melt.” But no, they just show up, no subtlety at all, and start killing everyone until they either get a cold or start going “shit, how come my skin is burning? Oh fuck, right, the water. SMH. FML.”

And, as per point 4 in the Cracked piece . . . why in the sweet name of fuck do they always attack America? Not only do we have a startling plurality of heavily-armed racists, we flip our shit at the slightest provocation. If you're going to land somewhere and lay waste to the indigenous population, why not Sweden? If Lisbeth Salander is off having lesbian s&m sex and her typical twenty other phantasmagorical male fantasy activities while not smiling, they won't even have anyone who can hack into the aliens' computers. France would be a mistake: they have nuclear weapons and if the aliens lay one tentacle on Paris they'd get one right in the ass. Don't believe that whole “the French surrender at the first sign of trouble” meme, those motherfuckers are crazy. Fuck only knows what terrifying response would be unleashed if the aliens ever fucked with China. You know, come to think of it, there really aren't many soft targets on Earth.

The fine tradition of alien dipshittery reached its apex in Battle: Los Angeles. Seriously. They can fucking beam right into our atmosphere . . . and they don't know how to melt ice? Are you fucking shitting me? The fucking no-spacesuit-wearing-ass aliens in Signs think that's dumb. The dreadlock tentacle shitheads who hired Steve Jobs to do their IT before trying to conquer Earth in Independence Day call them a couple cans short of a six-pack. Hell, the Martians in Total Recall who built that thing that was so awesome it terraformed the goddamn planet in five minutes and then never fucking turned it on are like, “Damn, those Battle: Los Angeles motherfuckers are stupid. Even we can melt ice. Shit, bitch, we can melt imaginary ice, who the fuck ever heard of a planetary core made of ice?”

Now, I understand the logic behind the aliens needing to have a flaw. The people need to win in the end, otherwise there's no story. The problem is the flaw the aliens have is nearly always something hideously stupid. Tim Burton handled this quite well in Mars Attacks! by having the flaw be that Slim Whitman records make the Martians' heads explode. That's stupid, but in a batshit crazy and very funny way, and stupid/batshit crazy/funny is actually quite a nice cocktail when you get the measurements right.

The problem is, when you take the inherent ridiculousness out of the equation, when you're telling a story about aliens that isn't funny, you're left with a difficult proposition. Any realistic conception of alien life has to take into account the infinitessimal probability of that alien life bearing any resemblance to people. Evolution is the result of billions of years of adaptive reactions against the environment. In a different environment with different variables, you're going to have different results. Shit, on Earth things could have turned out differently if this or that random-ass thing never happened. If that comet never goes boo ya 65 million years ago, dinosaurs stay in charge. Maybe if you spot them 65 million extra years the dinosaurs evolve and achieve sapience. But an advanced dinosaur civilization isn't going to have a fucking thing to do with people. If we were around we couldn't talk to them (not just because they'd be eating us). How the fuck, I ask, are we going to be able to communicate with some dudes from another planet? The reality of first contact is a lot closer to what Terry Bisson hypothesized in his novella “The Shadow Knows,” where we find this thing, we don't even know what the fuck it is, and then suddenly humanity collectively and simultaneously experiences “The Brush,” which no one can verbalize, because our minds by virtue of the way they're built can't wrap themselves around what the experience was. Aliens are different. That's what “alien” means. This is what's called “the anthropomorphic problem,” the inability of any creature to truly know anything other than itself and its own kind.

This approach to the question—being all, like, smart about it and shit—is no fun. Let's get back on topic. Fuck aliens. YEAH! Take that, motherfuckers. Go pick your nose with your tentacles and catch a fucking cold. Here on Earth? We got balls. Your fancy spaceships can't fuck with that. Joo fock with Earth, mang, joo focking with the best. Really, though? If they're not crippled by narrative expedience, the aliens are Sosa's hit squad. Earth is Tony Montana, heavily armed, coked out of his huevos, babbling horseshit. But we all remember how that shit ended. So let's ease up, in case They're Watching.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

THE LATTER HALF OF THE PHRASE "MOVIES BY BOWES." OR AS THE KIDS SAY, SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION



Readers in the NYC area, take note! I will be telling a story about Radiohead (and LSD, voyeurism/exhibitionism as related to the performing arts, and all that jazz) at The Soundtrack Series, 7pm Thursday March 24th at Le Pouisson Rouge. I'm very excited to be part of The Soundtrack Series; I've been most months and literally have never heard a bad story there. The best are jaw-droppingly awesome.

Until then, acquaint yourselves with the excellent Soundtrack Series blog, where you can hear some of the great stories. And, until the 24th, I'll be waiting . . . with a gun and a pack of sandwiches.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

BETTER LIVING THROUGH NETFLIX, VOL. 7: THE EXPENDABLES


In the summer of 2010, the NBA was thrown for a loop when LeBron James, by any measure one of the two or three best basketball players in the world, and an athlete of astonishing and brutal grace, joined fellow All-Star Chris Bosh in signing with their mutual friend and fellow superstar Dwyane Wade on Wade's Miami Heat. It was widely considered that the teaming of three of the NBA's ten best players (evaluating Bosh generously) and two of the top five essentially made Miami the favorite to win the next several league championships. Wade, after all, had already won one. With such an array of talent in a league that, more than any other team sport, is a league of stars (phrase © FreeDarko), how could they not?

Though they've had some spectacular moments, reality proved a little more complicated. My beloved and long-suffering New York Knicks left a sizable testicle print on Miami's collective forehead on Oscar night, and Miami's current five-game losing streak is the top trending topic on Twitter as of this writing. Merely assembling big stars has not translated into instant success. You still, as the poet said, have to play the games. And this leads us, naturally, to The Expendables.

Long-time readers of this blog—I love all five of you dearly—will remember the odd mention here and there of The Expendables last summer and early fall. When it finally came out, life and finances prevented me from seeing it, and the generally lukewarm reviews made me not particularly care. Still, it's not as though I wasn't going to see it, it simply became the sort of thing I waited to receive in a little red envelope.

Much like the 2010-11 Miami Heat, The Expendables subscribed to the philosophy that one could achieve dominance through the collection of stars. Sly Stallone, a man whose very name conjures fond memories of explosions and violent death in the mind of the sophisticated cineaste, co-wrote, directed, and starred. Sly decided to take advantage of being Sly to call as many large and/or muscular practitioners of the fine art of ownage as he could think of, the idea being that an all-star team of swaggering fucking badasses could win the movie equivalent of a championship, which is to say, that it would own that much more, by the strength in numbers theory.

There are two flaws that present themselves even before we get to the movie. The first is, in Sly's desire to get EVERYBODY, he failed to convince two very important members of the genus “everybody,” namely Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, to participate. Van Damme, hilariously, declined the role he was offered because he felt the picture lacked significant redeeming social value—which is why Jean-Claude Van Damme is so goddamn fucking fascinating, the man is so sublimely strange—and Seagal, also tellingly, passed because of a beef with the producer. It wasn't as though as Sly wasn't in charge of this shit; if he'd been thinking, he'd have shitcanned the producer in favor of Seagal and rewritten Van Damme's character so that he was running a Boys and Girls Club in Watts or some such.

Flaw 1a, while we're on about casting laziness, not securing Danny Trejo immediately and irrevocably disqualified The Expendables from being the kind of movie it aspired to be. Stupid action movies where shit blows up have Danny Trejo in them. He was in fucking xXx, for shit's sake.

But even if you take flaws 1 and 1a as subjective and unfair—which they are—there's still flaw 2, which is the identical problem the Heat find themselves having this season: you still have to play the games. You can get Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lungren, Randy Couture, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Terry Crews, you can get Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger to make cameos, Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke for non-ownage scenes, and the underrated David Zayas to ham it up in the Danny Trejo role (it's to Zayas' credit that he even comes close to Trejo-level awesomeness), and sure, hey, that's enough testosterone to make any shit you need blown up officially on its way to kingdom come. But you still have to play the games. In this case, write a script that makes sense, and point the camera in the right direction so that the ownage is captured on camera.

These two qualifiers are not, to put it mildly, fucking rocket science. Writing a screenplay isn't as easy as it looks, but writing a screenplay for a stupid action movie is easier than a lot of genres. Sly, don't forget, has been nominated for an Oscar for screenwriting (for Rocky), so it's not unreasonable to expect him to know how to do stuff like creating characters and map out beats and create something at least coherent. As for the directing, that's an iffier proposition, but you would think Sly had at least been part of enough successful action movies, and movies in general, to know that the whole point of a movie is that you see what the fuck is going on.

You would, if you thought that, be wrong. The Expendables fails on every conceivable level on which a movie can fail. Even the most cursory glance at the rest of this blog should make it perfectly clear that I'm not pulling some snooty film critic bullshit. I damn well know better than to expect thought-provoking works of sensitivity out of Sly. But I don't think I'm amiss—especially as an ardent defender of the staggeringly fucktarded yet unfailingly entertaining Tango & Cash—in expecting Sly to at least deliver a presentable action picture. WHERE YOU CAN FUCKING SEE WHAT'S GOING ON.

This is the most puzzling and infuriating aspect of The Expendables. You can't fucking see anything. I was restlessly screwing around on Twitter while the movie was on, trying to regulate my breathing and not break shit. Here's how it went:

I think I'm going to watch The Expendables tonight. Whether it sucks or rules, it should still be fun to tweet/blog about.

All right, Sly, don't suck, or it's straight to your room with no steroids.

Things, however, went downhill quickly:

The Expendables is like a Dogme 95 picture shot on location in Sly's subconscious: badly lit, simplistic, and not as good as you'd think.

If the whole picture is this underlit I seriously might stalk Sly and ram a light meter up his ass.

My friend Abe chimed in at this point, informing me that there was going to be a fight scene between Jet Li and Dolph Lungren that would set a new standard for visual incoherence and editing; “watching it is like rolling down a hill.” Since we weren't there yet, I continued slogging through:

There's nothing wrong with The Expendables a good writer, director, camera crew, and editor couldn't fix.

I think Sly let his plastic surgeon edit this movie: "Hey, it's called Final Cut, he'll know how it works mumblemumble."

Hey, another one of those explosions that only kills people who don't have speaking parts! (Ed. Note: you know shit is fucked up when I—I, for fuck's sake—am complaining about explosions)

Damn shame Statham's trapped in this piece of shit. In a real movie, the scene where he owned all those guys on the ball court woulda ruled.

This whole movie, David Zayas is grumbling to himself "if I was still on OZ, I woulda killed the shit out of Eric Roberts in the 1st scene."

Another really bad sign: Mickey Rourke isn't the biggest plastic surgery casualty. WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU, SLY????

Christ, what fucking bullshit. Jet Li does NOT need Sly to save him from Dolph Lundgren. Jet wipes the floor with any of these guys.

(At that point, I replied to Abe's thing about the Li/Lundgren fight, which was even worse than he'd said: “I think the editing in the Li/Lundgren fight took five years off my life”)

Podcaster, and fellow sophisticated cineaste, Asim Burney then, rightly, pointed out: “more importantly what's up with Eric Roberts' teeth?” A damn fine question. Eric Roberts' teeth are certainly fucking bizarre in The Expendables. My theory: “Must have fucked them up chewing on scenery.”

By this point, we were past the point of no return anyway (by which I also mean that The Expendables is worse than Point of No Return, that stupid Bridget Fonda remake of La Femme Nikita):

So....I guess we never find out whether Sly or Stone Cold won that fight. Woulda been nice to know, in an action movie. (Ed. Note: if that fight was resolved in any fashion whatsoever, I have no idea; all I know is Stone Cold was beating the fucking fuck out of Sly, and then I blinked and Sly was running away and we never saw Stone Cold again. I swear, I was paying attention. I was totally squinting at the screen trying to figure out what the fuck was going on with the lousy lighting and the shitty editing, and I have no idea what happened to Stone Cold. This is not good.)

Sly makes Michael Bay look like Yasujiro Ozu. (Boosh, motherfucker. What has two thumbs and knows how to name-drop? This guy, madames et monsieurs)

Sly spent $85 mil on this shit and forgot to bring a tripod and lights. (Ed. Note: actually $80 mil, but the point still stands)

Wow. The Expendables really sucks THAT bad. You'd have to replace the Ghostbusters twinkie with a dick to really get a sense of the scale.

Which is basically all you need to know about The Expendables. It sucks a dick of a size that took Harold fucking Ramis' intellect to calculate.

I'm really kind of stunned by just how bad The Expendables actually is. It wasn't even like I was expecting it to be good. My standards for this kind of picture are not ambiguous, nor are they exacting. I want to see men with muscles deal violent death. I want large explosions; in certain cases one well-executed and well-timed explosion will suffice. And in the intervals between violent death and explosions, I want the men with muscles to be cool. For this last, you don't even need to write dialogue for the motherfuckers. Better yet, shut the fuck up. Michael Dudikoff didn't talk a lot, and he was cool (I don't want to hear any shit out of any of you, American Ninja 1 & 2 were both quality entertainment, and Avenging Force rocked). Danny Trejo doesn't flap his yap. Hell, even Alain Delon managed to hide the fact that he was kind of a shitty actor by shutting the fuck up, and Alain Delon rode that clever bit of strategy to status as one of the great icons of international cinema.

No one in The Expendables knows when to shut the fuck up. They bicker like retards. Jason Statham has this whole underdeveloped subplot with this woman—because no matter how bad a movie The Expendables is, it's not so divorced from reality that it would ignore the fact that Jason Statham has not gone an hour and forty minutes without having sex since his movie debut 12+ years ago—and Jet Li has this laboriously dwelt-on, and ultimately false, backstory about needing money for his family. Now, I know Statham has to get laid because he's Statham and Statham gets laid, but we didn't need to torture Jet with long dialogue scenes when we all know goddamn well his ingles isn't that great if it doesn't have any fucking point. Look, when I'm telling you you talk too goddamn much, it's time to take stock of your entire existence because holy shit. That's like Julie Taymor cracking on you for wasting money.

Sly's central fuck-up—I was about to say “original sin” but the movie wasn't that bad—is his failure to understand that language, be it verbal or cinematic, has meaning. His characters' idle, pointless chatter undermines their status as badasses, and he waves his camera around in an equally idle and pointless fashion. Even if he did hold his camera still, there's about five minutes total in the entire fucking movie that's lit well enough to even see. And even if he'd lit properly, the action is cut so that it is literally impossible to see who is doing what to whom at almost any point. That tweet about Sly making Michael Bay look as restrained and elegant as Ozu (famous for his long takes and exquisite compositions), that's only barely an exaggeration. At least in Michael Bay movies, the compositions are legible enough for you to realize, oh, yes, that's Megan Fox's ass. That whole fucking stunningly awful fight between Jet and Dolph, you never see Jet complete a single move. It's like Sly let a four-year-old with a severe cognitive impairment edit the entire picture.

In the wrong sort of mood, I'd interpret the fact that Sly's making a sequel to The Expendables as a sign that he was personally trying to get me to start taking heroin. But making sequels is what Sly does. And, shitty as The Expendables is, it made $200 mil. So, sure, it can exist. But fuck if you're gonna get me to sit through it unless Sly stops off at Home Depot for some clip lights and gets an editor who isn't tweaking his tits off while having a seizure on rollerskates (EDIT: Looks like, per Total Film, someone other than Sly will be making that call, as he won't be writing or directing! I HAVE INFLUENCE, PEOPLE! Ha ha HA!!!).

Remember. It takes more than stars to make a movie. It takes enlightenment. Heh heh heh . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THIS IS TOTALLY SAFE FOR WORK, I PROMISE



(h/t FilmDrunk)

There's nothing to say. Just applaud.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

DISPATCH FROM OUR MUMBAI DESK


Tees Maar Khan is available on Netflix Instant. None of you have any excuse to not see it now. Well, unless you don't have Netflix. In which case, you still have a very good excuse. But you people have to buy it. You can get it from nehaflix.com for $15, which is basically $.01 for every time it'll make you laugh to the point of orgasm.

I imagine the person who accused me of taking a bribe from Shirish Kunder to write my post on TMK is going look at this and go, "there he goes again." To put your mind at ease, random internet commenter, Shirish is too busy tweeting Zen shit about fog from the set of the picture he's directing to remember to send me my fucking bribes lately. Ungrateful so-and-so. . .

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A MESSAGE FROM THE CDC ABOUT SEQUELITIS


As a few critics and commentators have pointed out, 2011 will see more sequels released than any other year in American movie history. The amount of tut-tutting, tsk-tsking, and “you've got to be fucking kidding me”ing is relatively low. It'd seem as though by this point in the unfolding of the great narrative, we're all beaten down. The “Hollywood doesn't have any original ideas” meme is as old as the industry itself. The second movie ever made was a ripoff of the first, when you get right down to it. I'm actually kind of glad that people aren't doing a ton of impotent bitching about it; the fact that the reaction to the “2011 is the Year of Sequels” news was a shrug is less than satisfying, but fuck it, if revolutions happened every day they wouldn't be called revolutions.

There comes a point where, not to be too much of a dick-limpener, one has to wonder if there will ever be another revolution in American movies. The fact that anyone, most of all me, is even expecting one is Peter Biskind's fault. His 1997 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls had a massive impact in my life and love of movies, to the point where I wrote a play—still unproduced, pending a couple drafts that make the fucking thing performable, which'll probably also turn it into a movie, like it really should be—called Hollywood, Mon Amour a couple years ago that ripped Biskind off so bad that, after the interminable goddamn reading, all my friends politely came up to me and smirked “You really like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, don't you?” Well, yes, I do. I even have an ownership history with that book; my mom bought it in hardback and said “fuck you, it's mine,” when I wanted to bring it back to Bard with me, only to have a paperback copy magically come into my possession when someone left it unattended in a dorm bathroom (Ed. Note: it's not theft when you steal from hippies).

Completely aside from the sentimental materialistic associations with the physical book itself, there are wonders contained in its pages. Biskind's writing itself is engaging, articulate, and profane—I haven't consciously emulated him, but he can't help but have had some influence on yours truly—but really, it's the stories people tell him. Holy shit. His fucking interview technique must involve cocaine, tequila, and sodium pentothal, because man. A surprisingly small number of the juiciest quotes and anecdotes are anonymously attributed. For the most part people just sit there and go, “Sure, I fucked her. Sure she was fifteen. But hey, Pete. It was the 70s. You'da hit it too.”

That's the book's most lasting achievement: contributing to the mythologizing of the American cinema of the 70s, which it characterizes as the American New Wave. There's all kinds of excitable talk like that in the book, about how it was a revolution, how for a brief shining moment auteur directors were handed the keys to the car, which they promptly crashed. The book ends on a decidedly wistful “that'll never happen again” note.

Periodically, though, I get on trains of thought where I compose hazy metaphors involving pendula and start playing a little bit of that “history is cyclical” jazz on my axe and start wondering if the paralytic aesthetic conservatism of Hollywood will lead to another systemic collapse, and another influx of auteurism and originality to the industry. I mean, come on, eventually the populace will rise as one and rebel against the endless litany of remakes, sequels, franchise tentpoles and shit, right? Right. . .?

The reason why Hollywood almost collapsed in the 60s was because they briefly completely lost the ability to make hits. The problem with all these pictures everyone complains about being so shitty nowadays is that most of 'em make pots and pots of money. Of course, there are marketing costs and all that to factor in, and the budgets are Donald Duck-in-a-straitjacket crazy, so it's not like when Johnny Depp carries on like a rum-sodden trollop in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean thing Disney takes home the whole billion dollars it grosses. Still, it's not like the Liz Taylor Cleopatra picture that cost the equivalent of $300+ million in modern bux and in spite of being the biggest hit of the year still lost the equivalent of $100 million. Hollywood's making mountains of money these days.

As long as they continue to do so, we're going to continue to see more of what's working. The movie business is business, after all, and as long as enough consumers are willing to pay for a consumable good, it remains profitable to produce said good. We can be all clever and play on words all we like about how the good in question isn't, that movies suck all year until at least fall and usually December where if we're lucky we get a couple decent, ambitious pictures. But remember, movie business. The movies they're making are making money, and there's no tangible reason to alter course. So, even leaving aside the fuckton of remakes this year we get Harry Potter 7.5. Fast (and the Furious) Five. Final Destination 5. Spy Kids 4. Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Scream 4. Mission Impossible 4. X-Men 4. Twilight 4.1. Paranormal Activity 3. Transformers 3. Alvin and the Chipmunks 3. Cars 2. Sherlock Holmes 2. Happy Feet 2. The Hangover 2. Kung Fu Panda 2. Shit, Apollo 18 and Super 8 are fucking around having numbers in the title hoping people will think they're sequels and pay shitloads of money to go see them.

All this has been said before. Sequels don't necessarily have to suck, nor do remakes, nor do adaptations of pre-existing entities from other media. The fact that so many do, hey. Whaddaya gonna do. A handful aren't bad, or are at least competently enough executed to be enjoyable. What many bemoan, and I will guardedly (not to say half-assedly) join in, is the neglect in Hollywood of smaller pictures. Sure, Oscar season sees a whole bunch of less-expensive pictures each year, but if you look closer almost all of those are independent productions acquired by Fox Searchlight or Sony Classics or Focus (Universal's equivalent) or somebody. It would be nice if more studios produced “Oscar bait” pictures or anything with any ambition beyond the visceral, but hey. You can see why they don't, since bigger investments (in this case movies) offer bigger returns. Swirl that argument around your snifter a little bit more and what you end up with is a variant on the complaint that life isn't fair. And, really, at that point, stop messing around and just drink the fucking brandy.

There is a possibility, that wishful thinkers who'd like to see the early 70s come back, that multiplex audiences will tire of threequels and fourquels and fivequels and post-production 3D making shit unwatchable and toy commercials and comic book movies and vegetarian vampires and all that fuckin mess and the industry will need auteurs again. Really, though, we're never going to see the same kind of upheaval the movie business experienced in the late 60s and early 70s, not without a parallel paradigm shift in society itself of the same scale. And, if you want a real wince-inducing confrontation of harsh reality, not until people actually start giving a flying fuck about cinema again.

I don't mean movies. Plenty of people love movies, and with the increasingly interconnected world there's a lot more access to good ones. But the actual study of what a movie is and what makes it that way is a dying field. The very same interconnection of the world that increases access to movies increases access to movie criticism, and not to launch another jeremiad against the critical community, but the increasing dual tendencies toward a) emotionally-based geekouts over genre pictures and nostalgia pieces and b) tweedy namedrop porn are making that already endangered species, the critic, even more so.

There's nothing wrong with either a) or b), except that each need to be presented with the challenge of cultivating the other's strength. If you genuinely love that genre picture, or that thing you've loved since the 80s, you should be able to defend that love intellectually, and with a knowledge of why it's good cinema, or if it's not strictly speaking good, how it—as cinema—is enjoyable. “But I just like it” isn't an argument, it ends the argument. There's no possibility for argument unless both parties use reason. I'm not saying you need to break down every single favorite movie shot for shot or anything like that, but at least be able to tell the difference between a good script and good direction, or know that the reason why a particular sequence is cool is because of the editing. Basic shit. And for fuck's sake you need to be able to admit that something you liked might not be good. This is a huge problem for a lot of people, who'll start blubbering about taste being subjective. Sure, taste is subjective. But you can see technique. It's a physical fact. Whether or not you like it is up to you, but “I liked it” and “It's good” are sometimes separate states of being.



Which brings us to the tweedy fuckers. Rapping the knuckles of the proles because they fail to recognize the genius of Terry Malick or Michael Haneke or Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Satyajit Ray or somefuckinbody gets no one anywhere, and it just alienates the chastised. Getting all pissy about how such-and-such brooding meditation on the human condition failed to find a mass audience is, even before we get to how annoying it is, excessively Utopian and just as much of a critical failure as the “But I just like it” people. While making it as clear as I can that I'm not pissing on any of the four above-mentioned directors (well, except Haneke; he knows what he did, the bitch) critics faulting mass audiences for not having the time or concentration to flock to artistically or intellectually demanding pictures as they do to visceral thrill ride Hollywood stuff are not critiquing movies. They're positioning themselves as sophisticated intellectuals and creating a false dichotomy between art and entertainment, and, ironically, are themselves largely to blame for preventing the average person who “likes movies” uncritically from letting him/herself enjoy art pictures.

In setting things up so you're the retard if you don't like some hauntingly fucking poignant picture from Eastern Europe where everyone gets persecuted by the secret police before getting killed in the end, the critic is not doing what s/he, arguably, should: advocate for great art. This is why, when The Lives of Others came out and everyone heard “East Germany” and “communists” and went yawning for the exits I ran around obsessively advocating it as entertainment. The fact that I had to throw in so many “yeah, but”s was frustrating (ex. “Um, it's about a fuckin East German communist dude in the secret police and all he does is spy on the playwright dude?” “Yeah, but the way it's done is awesome and you really end up caring about them.”) I submit that if you replace all the shit in the reviews about how important it was with how spellbindingly tense the whole fucking thing ended up being, you get a lot more civilians interested. And you get a lot fewer civilians talking about how critics are meaningless; really, if all critics are doing is nattering about how important the movie is, and by extension how smart they are for understanding, they're signing their own death warrants.

This all ties back into the preponderance of sequels and remakes and so forth these days, and into the surprise twist ending I'm going to spring on you: I don't particularly give a shit that 2011 is the Year of the Sequel. I mean, clearly, it interests me enough to have written about it at this length, but not in any kind of “woe is us” doomsaying kind of way. The big thing that links the two well-flamed straw men above, the emotionals who can't defend their positions and the intellectuals who do so with nuclear warheads, is their prejudice. Both have already decided whether or not they like a movie before going in. The emotionals make some vaguely dissatisfied noise about “meh, sequels,” and the intellectuals go batshit talking about how originality died with Godard, leaving me to point out that The Empire Strikes Back was a sequel, and Godard is still alive. Which is to say, respectively, smarten up and calm the fuck down.

Watching movies, we should know what they are, but not spend so much time analyzing that we forget to enjoy ourselves. There are gradations to enjoyment, keep in mind. Sometimes it's from watching Donnie Yen get pissed off and insist on fighting ten guys at once, casually reducing them to broken, mewling viscera with his bare hands. Sometimes it's from watching Fellini observe il Vitelloni cinque trying to make some sense out of their lives. Sometimes it's even from watching a sequel. But no matter which of the myriad ways movies can entertain is the one working its magic in a given moment, we should always know, or at least care, why.