Sunday, December 30, 2012

Complaince, Marxism, and Tears

Anarchist Calisthenics

    This is the title to a little blurb I read in an issue of Harper’s.  It was cute.  It was discussion about how you couldn’t be expected to form an anarchist revolution if you can’t even cross a street in disobediance to a traffic sign.  This is especially true when after looking both directions it is easy to verify that no one is around.  Yet the people in this country would all wait in pacient little groups for the sign to change so they could cross the street even though no cars were coming.  The author proposed Anarchist Calisthenics.  The idea is that you do something disobedient every so often so as to keep you in practice.  It all sounds quaint, especially when you are talking about rebelling against traffic signs.  However, after seeing the movie Complaince the idea takes on a whole different meaning.

    Complaince is a hard movie to watch.  Having trudged through A Serbian Film, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, and The August Underground movies you’d think I’d be pretty unshockable wouldn’t you?  Nope I found myself looking away from Compliance, unwilling to focus on the horrors that the movie spat out at me.  For those of you who don’t know what the movie is about go to IMDB and look it up.  There are other people who seem to enjoy typing summaries to things.  I am not one of them.  To be clear there is no blood, no one physically gets hurt, there is no physical violence.  Instead what we have is a voice on the phone who adopts a position of authority and manages to get people to do unspeakable things all in the name of, well authority really.

    Compliance is a brilliant movie.  It is utterly brilliant.  It is ugly and I never want to watch it again but that is part of what makes it brilliant.  A voice over the phone claiming to be the police can get people do simply unspeakable things.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a newspaper article.  Not only did this really happen but it happened over 60 times.  The idea of it is insane to me.  It is insane to the crank caller too.  More often than not in the resulting legal cases the managers were treated as victims themselves even though they were the ones perpetrating the crime at the voice’s behalf.  Increadible and yet not. 

    I wish we took Marxism a little bit more seriously.  Somewhere along the line Marxist theory didn’t pan out the way it should.  If it did the whole movie would make perfect sense and anyone who knew the theory wouldn’t be surprised by it, and yet this hasn’t happened.  Somewhere along the line Marxist theory stagnated, became technophobic and it found itself turned into a toy to amuse English professors and to enchant undergraduates and nothing more and that is god damned shame because it is deadly serious.  That’s the thing though.  The situation changes and the theory didn’t keep up.

So all of this needs some explanation.  Marxism flash facts:

History of class struggle is history or all of history can be seen as the history of class struggle.  Whichever you like.

The bourgeoisie posses an infinte array of tools to adapt the means of production to keep ahead of the laws or the literary departments.

Alienation it’s everywhere!  EEEEK!

    Okay then so we have some conversation points.  Now we can talk a little bit about Compliance and how it works.  Let’s talk about alienation first because that one is my favorite and it is the one that has changed the most.  Before it simply meant you were alienated from your labors.  So all you do all day is you work on an assembly line making the 5th gear of the 10 gear wanking machine.  That is all you know and so you are alienated from your labors.  Capitalism has an uncanny knack for ignoring the human factor which is something I’ve always found to be more than a little fascinating.  However, we are in the modern day now.  We no longer make 10 gear wanking matchines.  Most of our jobs are in the service industry.  The most common phrase spoken in across the US’s employees is probably “how can I help you?” or some variation of that.  Service is our main export, we have service industries, and a service based economy and hey what is there to be alienated from right?  I mean you help someone find the perfect shirt, or a watch, or you put in the order and a team makes a hamburger and everything happens right then and there.  Peachy keen with a side of pleasant sauce right?  Well not exactly.  This is particularly true in corporate controlled places, employees are subject to a baffling array of rules and regulartions.  Most of which are seemingly arbitrary, arbitrarily enforced, and handed down from the mysterious corporate office.  We have managers that seem to be promoted based on their ability to jump very high when asked and who don’t ask questions.  Not based off of the ability to think for themselves, to direct, or to you know be in command.  Most managers are given a massive amount of shit for marginally more money and little to no real authority to deal with the problems that arise.  The real wise man said that authority with no actual power corrupts far faster and more thoroughly than absolute authority.  What we are seeing here is an alienation not from our labors but from ourselves.  Every time we don’t put a rude customer in their place, do some mindless task to keep an inept overlord busy, every time we say sure when we mean “go fuck yourself” that is what alienation from the self means.  It is a concept that isn’t new.  Hell this has happened ever since we’ve had one person be stronger than another and they decide to take advantage of it.  However, this sort of work place alienation is subtle, it is ill defined, we lack the vocabulary to really get our heads around it.  Yet it is there.  How else can you explain someone forcing a young naked girl to do jumping jacks so that money will fall out of her vagina because a voice over the phone told you to?  This happened not just in the movie but also in life.  When we force ourselves to put up with nonsensical crap every day what is a little bit more?  Especially when you have someone threatening everyone you know.  Alienation is a cruel thing. 
`    At some point I was segueing nicely into class but that didn’t work out so well so crappy transition for the win!  WE IS TALKING ABOUT CLASS NOWS.  I am the best of all the writers.  Class has become a thing with me recently and I don’t know why.  It never was before.  Anyway a lot of Marxist theory seems to fall apart when the middle classes get introduced.  When reading the communist manifesto it is easy to forget how long ago it is written.  It is only when you start working with it fairly often do you start finding the little dated parts hiding here and there in all the cracks.  The thing is that when the manifesto was written there was no middle class, well not really.  There was the very rich and the very poor.  Dichotomies!  They are easy ways to divy up the world so that everyone understands what’s going on and hey for awhile it worked!  Then things went more than a little pear shaped which is a shame and the middle classes arrived and things got all muddled.  Not really though.  Think of class less in terms of money but more in terms of securiry and the gradiants between the classes becomes clearer.  The super rich up at the top?  They don’t have a whole lot to worry about in terms of things going wrong.  This goes from the mundane things like cars breaking down to the collapse of the global financial system and massive food shortages.  These people believe that the rich will eat first and everything will be fine.  To a degree they are correct.  They are also irrelevant to this conversation.  Bye now.  Back at the lower middle class where things are a little bit tighter that is where we get the fear.  Here you just have less securiry.  Take the manager in Complaince for example, freezer door got left open and $1500 worth of product spoiled overnight.  This is the first thing that happens in the movie.  We then see the store manager get berated by the truck driver who brings her competency into question. The second thing we learn is that the store manager has yet to report this to the regional manager because she is afraid.  She might loose her job, she might get a writeup which is a direct threat of job loss, she might just get yelled at.  The point is that this represents a disruption to the status quo.  That can be scary when your status quo is already fragile and sure it isn’t very good but it can so easily get worse,  so you do what you can to keep things normal and good.  For example, you don’t tell your manager when you let 1500 worth of product go bad.  That would suck.  To be clear her normal day sucks.  I mean she works in fast food, granted she is a store manager but it isn’t like she doesn’t have a shit job too.  Ego when something bad happens she tries to deal with it as quickly and cleanly as possible because seriously who wants even more troubles?
    So you get the voice on the phone claiming to be the police telling you to do these things.  Police can mean jail time, physical confrontation, fines, a whole system the average person knows nothing about and has little positive experience with.  As anyone who gets pulled over knows dealing with the police is statistically unpleasant.  So you do what they say to whomever they tell you to do it to because no one wants that wrath turned upon them.  Yet this seems to be a friendly police man.  He has that calm steady voice of authority.  He also is quick to compliment the store manager, he brings her inside, makes her feel important, compimtent, and basically everything she isn’t.  He also claims to have the regional manger on the phone he uses the manager’s name.  If the regional manger says its okay then it is.  Or rather once our little intrepid store manager feels that the buck has been passed up the chain and is given a few compliments then why not.  Desptite the fact that she may think its wrong or baffling there are people telling her that she is good and that they approve of her actions so why not?  It seems strange still doesn’t it.  Remember though is that it all goes back to security.  This manager is already on the hot seat because of the 1500 of meat going bad now this?  If she pisses off the wrong person here she could loose her job.  She did anyway but seriously what a catch 22.  In real life McDonalds which is one of the franchises that got hit most often by the real life perpetrator claimed it did pleanty to inform it’s managers.  MacDonald’s defense was that handling all these situations are in the manager’s guidebook which she clearly hasn’t read.  That’s cute.  But here is the thing.  The voice on the phone already said he had the regional manager on the phone and that it was okay.  This right here throws the guidebook out the window as well as common sense for most people because not everyone feels secure enough to tell the cops, and their manager to go fuck themselves. 

As for that manager’s fiance?  I have no idea what the fuck that guy’s problem was he has no excuse.

Anyway Imma gonna stop this here.  I feel a little better and this is starting to get pretty long.  As someone who recreationally engages in over sexualized exchanges of power I feel overly bothered when I see them forced upon unwilling subjects.  There are plenty of people out there who would of gladly of done everything he asked without anyone getting hurt.  He’d still be in control he’d still be on the phone and this would all be happening except that in this case everyone would be having a good time.  There was no need to go and trick people who were already downtrodden and unhappy into doing amazingly horrible things to people who were little more than children.  It just played on people’s desperate need for securety and his need for power.  But he could of gotten that from his willing participants I’m sure of it.  While I agree that this is a radically inappropriate thought this is one of those times where I am forced to wonder, “Why can’t people just be nice.”  It is hard enough already out there.  Why make it worse?  Oh well. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Final and its Cousins

I would like to take this moment to talk about a movie called Head Hunter.  It is amazing.  It is tense and really wasn't sure what was going to happen next more than a couple of times.  There were also some pretty beautifully shot moments.  Good stuff!  Go see it.  I don't really have anything more to say on the subject so now we will return to a subject that I have plenty to say on.  The Final.

The Final is a horror movie from 2010 where a bunch of kids who are picked on by other kids get revenge by gathering them all up at a party, torturing some of them, and then the movie ends.  It is very specifically a horror movie but it tries to do a little more than that.  Most of the outcast kids have difficult home lives which makes dealing with their problems at school all the more difficult.  They do a good job establishing that some of the kids really do deserve to have some bad things happen to them whereas some of the other people just got in the way.  On an interesting note this has the same basic idea behind the school shooting but in a more targeted sadistic environment.

As a result this movie shuffles up awkwardly to a genera of movies that are all better than The Final.  When you look at movies like Elephant, Bully, and There's Something About Kevin, and then you look back at the Final you see a group of movies that express their ideas in a much more effective way but it is important to realize that The Final is a horror movie and it puts its heart more in that realm rather than social commentary.  This isn't a complaint or a slight against the movie but it is also something that happened.

You might notice that I didn't mention the movie Heathers, or some of the other bully revenge movies and this is because I am making a pre/post Columbine distinction.  Columbine changed the discussion in a fundamental way in the same way 911 changed our discussion of terrorism.  Setting There's Something About Kevin aside as it is more about nature/nurture than the resulting violence The Final sits comfortably between Elephant and Bully in terms of the moral spectrum.  Elephant provides the viewer with a mystery.  The shooters weren't particularly bullied, in fact we don't learn very much about the shooters at all.  The nature of the violence is arbitrary and there are pleanty of people who get hurt even though they don't deserve it.  Bully is a very different sort of movie.  The Bully is pretty much a sociopath who rapes and beats everyone around him until they reach their breaking point.  So the group of people he abuses get together and murders him.  These movies are both excellent and very much worth your time.

The way The Final fits between these two movies is interesting.  First of all it is a group of outcasts who are all pretty specifically bullied.  They aren't bullied to the same degree as they are in Bully but it is pretty bad and they pretty much have nowhere to turn to for help.  As the movies main dooshbag says, "You know why I do what I do?  Because you can't stop me." and he's right.  He always has a lacky with him so that he almost always outnumbers the person he's picking on.  It is pretty clear that everyone in the group is in a pretty miserable situation, and so they are backed into a corrner so far that they lash out.  There is a particularly good moment when Dane talks about how being bullied actually empowered him to commit these acts of violence.  How he wanted nothing more to be left alone and to fade into the background.  It is an interesting moment and it is one of my favorite in the movie itself. 

More and more our spree killings are being perpetrated by the specifically mentally ill.  However, looking back to Columbine that wasn't the case so much.  In all that time we have failed to really come to terms with the way we treat each other, the way we allow others to be treated, and the hatred in our own hearts.  It is a good movie that becomes better when it shares the same critical space as Bully and Elephant.  Though if you make a weekend of it prepare for a bout of depression as all three of these movies are pretty intense.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Killing Them Softly and why I liked it.

    Man I liked that movie.  I’d been waiting eagerly for Killing Them Softly for awhile now.  I don’t normally like going to the movies on a Friday night, to many people, to many of them are there because of a lack of anything better to do rather than wanting to actually see a movie.  Bravely, I shoved all that to one side and bravely forged my way ahead to see this movie and holy shit what a movie it is.
    First and foremost Killing them Softly is a pretty, pretty movie.  The whole movie takes place in the bad side of town full of crumbling houses, littered streets, and desperate people.  Yet despite all that the movie manages a certain fascinating aesthetic.  One of the interesting things about the evolution of the noir genre is the look.  It 50’s noir well everyone wore suits and looked spectacular.  It didn’t matter how downtrodden you seemed to be if you were in the 50’s you had suits end of story.  Life isn’t like that anymore.  The hit man played by Brad Pitt wore a leather jacket, the two morons who knock over the card game look like the dressed themselves out of the goodwill’s dumpster.  The world looks worn out, dirty, and then it makes it all look good.  The movie’s look and feel gets under your skin.  It feels distinct very much like we are watching a vision of the world and not just people moving about the world.  The movie’s particular opening credits sets the stage well.  I didn’t know what to make of them at first but I think now that confusing you is the point., it jangles the nerves, disorients your perceptions, then the movie reorients you the way it wants you to see it.  If you let it happen then I think this movie will provide a much richer experience than say locking up and refusing to let it in. 

The violence is crisp and it feels violent.  The beating ends up being quite frankly hard to watch and the shootings all stand out with clarity.  We only see three people die but this movie doesn’t treat death like it is a small thing.  This isn’t an action movie where we see our favorite star mow down a dozen goons and then walk off laughing.  Violence is resisted by the higher ups but it is inevitable.  It is a consequence of a series of actions that lead to the movie taking place.  Yet the shooting of Ray Liotta’s character serves as the center piece for the whole movie.  It is beautiful and unsettling then the rest of the movie continues on its inexorable path.

So what’s up with the political thing?  My friend asked me about what I thought and I threw around the word metaphor and made up a bunch of bullshit on the spot and some of would hold up I think.  I am pretty sure I made a decently defensible argument whose details I won’t share with you because I think the argument is crap.  Lets not dick around here.  This is a mean movie.  It is mean spirited the characters are mean.  The plot is mean.  Some of the stuff that just happens in the background is mean.  This is a mean little movie.  It has a pretty specific way of seeing the world and I love it.  Now there is a decent amount of humor in the movie but hey it is black hearted mean little humor.  My favorite kind.  Now that I got that out of the way let’s head back to the political thing.  It is there, it is nearly impossible to ignore, and yet more often than not I found it funny.  The political sound bites, when seen as just another snaky layer of commentary about what is going on in the movie it becomes pretty hilarious.  I mean come on Obama talking about concerns with the economy while a bunch of people are being robbed?  Pretty golden. 

I think because of the political nature of the sound bites there is a lot of temptation to look to much into it.  Like somehow the movie is a grand metaphor for american life, or that it is a metaphor for how corporations have come in and crushed free market competition, or hell I dunno raising taxes on the rich versus everyone.  The thing is that while you could stretch, bend, and flex the movie in a variety of ways to make these ideas and many others work ultimately they don’t because the movie ultimately isn’t about that.  The political thing gives it an extra edge, a way to inject some humor, stuff like that but turning it into a carefully crafted satire on American political life isn’t going to work.  While I would love to see something like that I don’t think this movie is lessened by the fact that the political stuff is mostly there instead of soundtrack for a number of scenes.  I used that phrase specially because A) This movie has one BAD ASS SOUNDTRACK and B) the director knows how to use music super effectively he uses it to set the mood and to enhance the drama of any scene that has any sort of music in it.  Well when I started thinking of the political stuff as just another part of the soundtrack then it becomes very interesting.  I would call it a bold experiment and while I found it exceptionally effective I think it does end up providing a red herring in terms of real time film interpretation that some people might find distracting.  That said I do love the idea of alternative soundtrack solutions and ultimately I feel that this experiment is both interesting and successful. 
Another way to look at the political side of the movie is to demonstrate just how amazingly out of step it all is for the rest of America.  The main movers and shakers in the film are all career criminals.  New York Micky, Brad Pitt, his handler, Ray Liotta all of them were criminals when economic times were great and they are all criminals when things have fallen apart.  It isn’t like they lost normal jobs and turned to a life of crime.  It also doesn’t particularly suggest that anything real has happened.  The robbery of the card game isn’t to save the rat’s failing dry cleaning business no.  The plot of the movie would of happened in both boom times as well as the bust times.  Throughout the movie we here speeches from both Obama and Bush and ultimately they just seem hollow, alien, they talk about solutions but the people in the movie were having problems when things were fine let alone falling apart.  The disconnect is enough that people wonders what it means and I think that the question itself is precisely the point.  Ultimartly what do these people get us?  In the good times as well as the bad there are still going to be people who don’t have enough.  People who steal because they believe they can.  People will die so that other people will feel more secure.  This is the world Killing Them Softly presents to us. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Quick Movie Round UP

I could of planned this whole thing better I know.  I could of started the blog after National Novel Writing Month.  But I didn't.  So here we are.  I've seen some movies recently and here are some quick thoughts about them

Skyfall!:  Skyfall is a pretty damn good movie.  It is my favorite Craig bond movie by a pretty wide margin but then again I utterly hated Casino Royal so take that for what it is.  It is slower than many of the other bond movies and there is definitely less at stake.  The main villain is effective, creepy, and fun.  I wish he had a bigger end game though than just simply "I needs to kill M".  The movie doesn't stand up to any sort of long term scrutiny and it doesn't even remotely fit in with the time line of the other two movies and the nature of his injuries don't seem to make any sense.  So while I liked it very much I suspect that I may be one of the few voices in the crowd. 

Wreckit Ralph:  If you have a choice between Skyfall and Wreckit Ralph see this movie instead.  If you are only going to see one movie this month you might as well see this one.  I found the movie to be increadibly fun and frequently hilarious.  It has been a really good year for children's movies and this one is definitely one of the year's best offerings.  Don't expect video game reffrences every 30 seconds because you aren't going to get them.  Think more Toys but with video games.  I love it though.  Sara Silverman's character is perfect.  Just about everything she says walks the line between fucked up and utterly adorable.  Good stuff go see it.

Man With the Iron Fists:  I am not sure what I expected from this movie it certainly isn't what I got that is for damn sure.  The Man is a chinese kung fu martial arts movie and it is a good chinese kung fu movie.  You can tell that this movie is a labor of love.  It is made with the utmost respect for the genera and it is a real movie not some glorified music video.  This is an amazing piece of work and well worth your time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

                I suppose this is my fault. I don't watch movie trailers. I don't do research about movies ahead of time. I just see a poster and a title and go, hey that could be good. My infallible system has unfortunately failed me.
                The movie isn't completely bad. The effects are visually appealing and much of the movie unfolds like a classic 80’s fantasy film. Like Willow or Labyrinth. Like comfort food, there was something familiar and inviting about the film at first that makes you want to sit through it. Then Kristen Stewart happens.
                Now normally I pay almost no attention to actors. I don't care about their reputations. I don’t know most of their names. They are just the character for the film and that is that. The internet has a never ending list of people making fun of how she has no emotion in her acting; how her expression is constantly the same.  As I never really paid much attention to her in the past, I just chalked this up to the internet bitching because the internet finds it funny to make fun of people. After watching her performance in this film however, I cannot agree with that opinion any stronger than I do now.  She is a stoic statue through the entire movie. Ignoring that, her character in general is not a very proactive one. Of course, traditionally Snow White is just the princess who gets rescued by the prince, but it was clear that they were trying to portray her as a more active protagonist.  Instead, she does essentially nothing for the entire movie but let her followers protect her. That is until near the end of the movie. She gives a rather uninspiring inspirational speech and suddenly she has an army of men following her to assault a castle. Never mind the fact that she has no combat or leadership experience. Hell, she has only been locked in a room for half of her life. Most of the people have no idea who she is except possibly by reputation as the king’s daughter who was locked up by the evil queen. She is basically no one. Not to sound sexist, but men would have a hard time being led by ANY woman. This one has shown no trait AT ALL to suggest she would be worth following but everyone charges off to battle with her anyway. I suppose she does say she can actually kill the queen, but there is no reason to believe her.
                Snow White’s completely useless role is perfectly balanced by the queen and the huntsman. Both have strong, clear motivations for what they are doing. They are even more clearly fleshed out as a characters than Snow White. The queen in particular was quite good. It’s almost like the writers wanted the queen to be the real protagonist, but then realized at the end, “oh yeah, she is supposed to die.” It’s a total waste of a good villain. Honestly, throughout the movie I found myself feeling more sympathetic to her than Snow White. Even her fall at the end resembled that of a tragic hero more than your average villain. It was like she could be redeemed but just didn't know how.
                Then there are the dwarves. I am pretty sure they were added to the movie just because Snow White is supposed to meet dwarves. They totally feel like an afterthought. I think maybe 2 of them are ever mentioned by name. None of which are the standard Disney dwarf names. Still, despite their tiny role (no pun intended), they are still more compelling than Snow White was.
                To sum up, there are lots of pretty effects (though that is kind of standard these days, so it doesn't really add up for much), a great villain and lots of promise, but the whole movie is ruined by Kristen Stewart. I am being kind by giving it 2 out of 5 because the queen deserves better than a 1. Watch a better movie than this one.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Avengers

            Few movies were as heavily anticipated as The Avengers, and there must be a million billion reviews for it but none of them are my review. With movies as hyped as this, emotions are high and it is hard for some people to be unbiased. Many people will hate or love this movie before they even step in the theater. Those people are stupid
            Still, as action movies go, this one was a delight. It had just the right combination of plot advancement, comedic timing and action to hold your attention and keep it in a little happy zone for the duration of the film. It was fairly predictable (Heroes gather together to fight a bad guy. They initially hate each other but overcome their dislike of each other to eventually overthrow the bad guy). You won’t be overly surprised by anything in this movie. The Hulk smashes. Ironman philanders. Captain America leads. Thor acts like an alien. Still, the interactions are amusing enough that it is somewhat forgivable. Many are the scenes where you just can’t help but laugh out loud and it definitely has the unique sarcastic touch of Joss Whedon. As much as I would like to describe each moment in vivid detail, I feel it would do a disservice to the movie if you did not just see them first hand.
            The biggest drawback of the movie comes from the fact that you have to watch about 10 different other movies to fully understand what is going on in this one. While most fans and I have watched all of those movies, I feel that all films should be able to stand alone without the need to research other books, movies or comics to understand what is happening. Someone who has never heard of the Avengers (like your average non-American person) should be able to watch it without having a million questions about who everyone is and why they do what they do. That is not to say that sequels should not be connected in any way, but I feel like they should at least fill in the necessary information required to understand the film within the duration of the film. Something as simple as having a meeting where one of the SHIELD agents describes the organization, then introduces the characters and their powers or origins to each other would suffice. A little explanatory intro like they do in the Resident Evil movies would also be great.
            For most people who go into the movie having seen all of the other movies and probably armed with a little comic book background as well, this drawback is fairly moot. And even with the thousands of questions one might have, the film is still quite enjoyable. I would give this movie a 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Movie Roundup

So I've run into a weird issue where I am seeing so many movies that I don't have time to write about them.  This just isn't true but it sounds like a really gnarly excuse doesn't it?  Yes?  No?  Well fine.  I have some archived stuff but I am saving that for NaNoWriMo which is something I am excited about and you should be too. 

Today I've decided to do a movie round up over the course of one week I saw 5 movies and I saw 4 of them in the same day because, well after you see two movies in the theater it is hard not to go see a third.  I mean the popcorn becomes free after the first bucket and the soda starts to become free and you just get into that mood.  So over the course of one day we saw Hotel Transivania, End of Watch, Sinister, and 7 Psychopaths.  Then a couple of days later we was The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Now all I need to do is see Argo and Silent Hill and I'll be caught up.  This is what living without regrets looks like.

Hotel Transylvania is a fun little movie.  I'll admit it.  I wasn't wild about seeing it.  The young vampire girl is adorable and the guy is, well the guy is normally the sort of person who I shout "cool!" at then walk away.  It also stars the voice of Adam Sandler who is a person the world would be genuinely better off without.  Yet despite these two massive piles of misgivings I genuinely loved the movie.  I loved the zombies that made up the bulk of the hotel staff and the reason for Dracula building the hotel in the first place is oddly touching.  The animation wasn't Pixar but it did go a long way to making the movie playful.  It isn't best movie and it isn't even the best children's movie that I've seen this year but that is only because I REALLY loved the Lorax.  It is reccomended.

End of Watch is an intense viewing experience.  Its funny because we all saw Sinister right afterwards and I gotta say of the two movies End of Watch shook me up a hell of a lot more than Sinister did.  For a movie about a couple of street cops doing street things that movie was stressful as hell.  When you watch an action movie in general you are watching a character who is a near invincible super badass running around doing badass things.  Bruce Willis doing anything in any Die Hard?  Yeah sure why not?  Judge Dredd?  Got it super cop in super armor killing waves of bad guys.  The Raid?  Same situation as Dredd minus the armor.  Oh god that guy had a very "results based" fighting style in that movie.  However, in End of Watch you weren't watching super cops.  They were better than your average cops but they weren't super.  The movie would alternate between showing their life on the beat and then their personal lives.  The movie would go back and forth between the two creating this jarring contrast that felt impossible to deal with.  Furthermore the movie didn't follow any sort of standard plot structure.  I LOVE MOVIES THAT DO THIS.  When they got a call you didn't know what was going to happen.  You generally knew it was going to be bad though and as the movie went on you didn't really know where it was going or how it would end.  Now this is a found footage movie.  If I hadn't seen Chronicle this would be the best found footage movie I'd ever seen.  It is a solid movie that left me stressed out and happy.

Sinister happened.  I liked Sinister quite a bit and coming from me that is a pretty big dead because I am ten times harder on horror movies than I am any other genera.  I love horror/scary movies but they are often times SO BAD like The Lady in Black.  Anyway Sinister is good.  It doesn't rely on jump scares to be interesting and it has quite a few scenes that are just genuienly well done.  The movie has one of the most compelling openings I've ever seen and I'd say its worth the price of admission.  My biggest problem with the movie is that the main character father guy is by far the least interesting person in the movie.  He is also the least sympathetic.  At one point I leaned over to my friend and shouted, "whatever happens to this guy I no longer feel bad about it".  Okay I didn't shout but you get the point.  The father's character, a true crime writer, did a good job of making the plot go forwards.  He connected together all the other previous murders but his discoveries didn't really do anything to enhance the movie any.  He was just kinda there.  All the scary parts happened as he walked through the house and watched ultra creepy 8mm films.  I mean anyone could of done this so while it couldn't really be screwed up he also didn't really add anything.

I am out of lunch time.  Which is fine because 7 Psychopaths is easy.  GO SEE IT.  I love this movie forever.  If you haven't seen In Bruges see that too.  Then watch Layer Cake cause you should.  Okay bye. 

Resident Evil Retribution

            If you are planning to watch this movie, most likely you have seen all of the others, much like myself. You are emotionally invested in this franchise and will watch it no matter what anyone says about it. Welcome to the club.
            This installment of the movie franchise, based on the games of the same name, stars everyone’s favorite beauty, Alice. As is required in her contract, there is an obligatory mostly nude scene of her wearing a sheet of paper. It is clear that this scene, which is in EVERY Resident Evil movie, is something of a fan favorite. In fact, the entire film felt like they took fan favorites from all of the other movies and mixed them together into an incoherent mess of action and zombies.
            I was somewhat excited to see the introduction of Ada Wong (who those familiar with the game will recognize). The actress who played her did very well, and she truly looked the part. That is why it was extremely disappointing to see her relegated to the role of “damsel in distress” for much of the movie. In the games, she is an unstoppable badass. In this movie, she is a badass until she is stopped. Quite early on I might add. I felt it was a bit of a disservice to her character.
            Other characters that fans of the games may recognize were also included, such as Leon, Burt and Jill Valentine. While it was nice to see them in there, it also helped fuel the feeling that this movie was just a hash of things that fans liked without much consistency or real thought about the plot itself. The plot was quite rubbish, not that you expect much surprise out of a zombie movie. Still, it really felt like the writers were either getting lazy, or just running out of reasons for Alice to keep fighting zombies.
            That is not to say that the movie was not entertaining. The film is packed with never ending action scenes which are a delight to watch unfold, even if they do not particularly challenge the viewer. If such can be said of this kind of movie, there is almost too much action going on, with almost no breaks for silly things like plot development.
            Overall, while this movie is far from perfect, fans of the movie or game franchise or just the zombie genre in general will probably be at least entertained for the duration of the film. It is essentially movie junk food. You know it isn't good for you but you watch it anyway because it makes you feel good. Despite the lazy writing and obvious fan service, I will probably be just as excited to watch the next installment as I have been for the last 20 or so. I give it a somewhat generous 3 out of 5. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Madoka Magica! Magical girl mayhem!

            Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one heck of a mouthful for a movie name. Also known as Magical Girl Madoka of the Magus, this movie is a retelling of the series of the same name. It actually consists of two animated films which were released here in Japan one week apart from each other because studios like money.
            If you have seen the series, there will be almost nothing new for you in this film. That is somewhat disappointing, especially considering that they expect you to sit through two halves of a movie to see what has already been released. Still, for someone who does not have the will or patience to watch the actual series, it can be an enjoyable cliff’s notes version.
            The plot centers around an ancient feud between Magical Girls who seek to protect the peace and innocent, and Witches who seek to destroy whatever they please. On the surface, it can seem like a fairly innocent children’s animation, similar to Sailor Moon. In fact, many parents came to the theater with their children in tow expecting such a film. Many of those same parents left in an indignant huff when they realized that this was not a children’s movie (thank Japan for a lack of movie rating system).
            In reality, these movies are quite dark and twisted, with a fairly complex plot (at least complex for children) and fight scenes that seem to have been pulled out of the tortured nightmares of an insane mind. Punches are not pulled. Heroes die in horrible ways. Violence happens.
            While this film is far from as bloody as some anime out there, it is not something you want to take your 5 year old to. (Well, -I- did, but my 5 year old is a little bit crazier than most). But even taking the actual fighting aside, the plot itself is very dark.
            Girls with the potential to become Magical Girls are approached by a mysterious cat-like creature named Kyubey. It offers to grant them a wish in exchange for becoming Magical Girls. Kyubey, while sweet and innocent in appearance, has all the empathy for his Magical Girls as a farmer has over his cattle. The girls, who must now battle the witches, find that they are now stuck in a job they can never leave. Their souls are trapped within a gem which slowly grows ever more corrupted. The process can be reversed only by killing witches and stealing their Grief Seeds which provided the witches with their powers. This ensures that the Magical Girls must spend the rest of their lives hunting these witches or die. Being a fan of dark stories about deals with the devil, I found the plot highly satisfying, especially as it comes full circle. I will hold my tongue to avoid spoilers.
            Now I touched on the fight scenes before, but I feel they need special note. When the Magical Girls fight a Witch, they are brought into an alternate dimension based on the powers of the witch they are fighting against. The things inside range from cute to disturbing (usually a combination) and any hope of rules are thrown out the window. It is like Alice in Wonderland if Alice were fighting the Red Queen with a musket while the red queen attempted to strangle her with thousands of clotheslines covered in sailor’s uniforms. Each fight is a glimpse into the mad mind of the witch involved and is beautifully done.
            This movie is not a comedy. It is dark and gritty with a facade of cute. It takes the normally child friendly “Magical Girl” genre and turns it into a delightful nightmare. Overall I would say it does what it does very well without any sort of apologies. There is a sort of confusing music video in the middle that really was unnecessary overall, but it is brief enough to be mostly forgivable. I would give this film (well these films) a 4.5 out of 5. Go watch it you fool!

Kamikaze Girls

            I have had Kamikaze Girls (or “Shimotsuma Monogatari” as it is called in Japan) sitting on my “watch me” list for a long time. It generally takes me forever to watch or read anything that is recommended by a friend because I generally don’t trust the taste of other people. I mean, we live in a world where “Gungnam Style” is at the height of popularity. Who can blame me for distrusting the tastes of the masses? I finally put down my prejudices and popped in this Japanese film. I was fairly pleased with the resulting time spent watching it.
The plot focuses around a selfish, inverted gothic lolita girl named Momoko who eventually becomes friends with a rude, tomboyish girl in a motorcycle gang named Ichigo. The unlikely pairing leads to the types of hijinks one would expect out of a movie about an unlikely pair becoming friends. The result is touching and often comical adventure through rural Japan.
The biggest downfall of the movie is also its driving point. The two main characters are so completely different from each other that it is hard to believe that they would become friends. In fact, it is somewhat hard to believe they would have any interaction with each other at all. Still, if you can at least suspend disbelief on that, their chemistry is playful and amusing to watch.
If you are looking for a sweet, slice of life film, this one will leave you fairly satisfied. While it is not a perfect film, it is certainly one worth watching. 

I give it a 4 out of 5

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Master

I've sat down to write stuff about The Master three times now.  I've failed each and every time.  It just wasn't good enough.  It felt like I was failing the movie, and in so doing I am failing myself.  The Master is a movie that begs to be written about.  It is a movie that wants us to look at it, to search about its dark corridors and hidden mysteries.  It invites us in and gives us a taste of a sadness that is profound as time itself.  It is a movie that is trillions of years in the making and was first attempted in cave paintings and then in the creation of philosphy so that we may have the words and concepts nessisary to write about it.  Or maybe not but it is a nice thought none the less.

I want to write big sweeping things about The Master but alas at this junction I can not.  Mostly because I've only seen it once and partially because it is something that needs to sit and simmer.  I think it is the best work PT Anderson has ever done.  Though I'll admit it right now I enjoy watching Magnolia more.  Call it a personal weakness.  At any rate The Master is a big heavy movie that it hard to get a grip on.  So instead of trying yet again and failing I thought I'd point out some handholds.

There are some questions worth raising such as who is "The Master"?.  Towards the start of the movie it is Hoffman.  I didn't think that was true at first but I see it now.  When Hoffman's character is first introduced on the boat he is undisputably The Master.  People stop and listen to him, whereever he goes atensions are fixated specifically on him, and then there is the matter of him taking in the strange stowaway(Phoenix) without so much of a murmur of protest from anyone else.  Then as the movie progresses we see that control start to erode.  Slowly but surely Hoffman goes from a man of speeches, wild deeds, dancing, wrestling, laughture, and he becomes more and more withdrawn.  It is subtle.  I missed it at first, and at second, and only now and I seeing the shift from Hoffman being the center of attentions to someone at the periphery.  Phoenix's strange exit is the final straw, and when he reenters Hoffman is so far out of reach that they are forced apart from one another by the sheer inexorable will of the others.  Why did Hoffman allow this?  Is it because he is unable to stand up to his family or more specifically his wife?  Is it because, as his wife says at the start of the movie, "On land there are to many things pulling his atension every which way?".   Is it because the people who are close to him wish to take his message and use it for themselves.  That last point I think is probably closest to the truth.

Then there is the ending sequence.  PT Anderson is a man who loves endings be it the catacysm of There Will Be Blood, the reunification of the strange family like unit in Boogie Nights, or the monologue in Magnolia, Anderson is the absolute master of the ending squence.  The Master is no exception.  then ending sequence is so pregnant with meaning that I could type for pages and pages doing analysis and I still wouldn't get it all.  It ties the movie together and it contains so much information that it is difficult to talk about it in any normal way.  I know because I've tried but things just end up so connected together that it is hard to get a hold on it.  Every time I try I find I need to talk about three other scenes in order for it all to make sense. 

The very last thing I'd like to address is the way Hoffman would talk about how all conflicts go on through multiple lives and transcend time themselves.  It sounds insane when he says it.  It is a little insane and yet when I look back on Tree of Life and The Fountain, or I look with anticipation towards the trailers for Cloud Atlas I wonder just how insane is it?  There seems to be a current running through our media that likes to connect together all of human experience through all time and maybe, within the context of the movie of course, it is worth taking some of his ideas seriously and we can see where it leads us.

It would make for an interesting project that I hope to tackle once I've seen and digested Cloud Atlas.  Till then I dunno there are other things to see now aren't there?

Not Very Taken with Taken 2

Clever titles are snazzy.  So I saw Taken 2 on Sunday night with a theater full of other people and when it was over I was left with a sense of vague disappointment.  The movie is a nice slick, well shot, action movie that is enjoyable.  It took me awhile to figure out what bothered me so much about it and then it hit me.  The movie lacks the sort of facinating morality that the first one had.

I found Taken to be engrossing.  I still do.  I've seen it a couple of times now and it draws me in just like a well written Punisher comic or Constantine.  Right from the get go Neisson says, "Look I am not your average dad.  Just let her go.  Grab someone else.  Go on your way or else."  That right there was this awful chilling scene for me.    This is a guy who didn't care about the larger problems of the world.  He didn't care that he was about to subject some other father to the same fate his daughter is about to suffer.  He didn't care that the other father wouldn't have the skills or resources to get his daughter back.  The only thing he cared about was his daughter.  Right now.  Throughout the movie he maintains the same focus.  He doesn't mount a crusade to get these people wiped off of the face of the earth.  He doesn't do anything to dismantle their organization.  He makes no real move to beat the bad guys.  He just kills everyone in his way until he gets his daughter back safe in his arms. 

This isn't the first time an action movie uses this sort of plot.  Loved ones get Kidnapped all the time.  See Mission Impossible 3, True Lies, and Die Hard.  However, the main character usually manages to take out the entire organization in the process of getting his loved one back.  In Taken that doesn't happen.  So we have to watch Taken 2. 

The problem with Taken 2 is that it doesn't really play with the morality idea enough.  It starts to.  The movie opens up with a mass funeral for all the people he killed in the last movie.  You see crying mothers, grand mothers, children, et cetera it is a highly effective scene.  It is the way the movie opens and it establishes a firm desire for why the main villian decides to embark on what is literally the worst idea ever, "Let's kidnap the guy who just killed all these people".  Yeah I dunno I'd leave that one man alone.  In fact I would just grab some random white guy, cut out his tounge, present him as the mass killer, kill him go get tea. I mean seriously why?  But hey grieving father.  In many ways we get this interesting role reversal.  We have a father trying to avenge his son, instead of a father trying to rescue his daughter.  Taken 2 starts with this premise but it doesn't really do anything interesting with it which is sad.

I mean the movie had plenty of oppertunity to do so.  Like when both Niesson and his ex-wife are kidnapped together and there were things they could of done.  Like tell his ex-wife about all the people he's killed and tortured.  There could be a few moments where the main villain could of called Niesson out on the fact that he has done literally nothing to dissmantle the slave trading organization.  I mean after he got his daughter back safely he could of worked with people to try and take them out and he didn't.  It didn't need much but a couple of nudges to show that some of Niesson's actions weren't exactly the most heroic would of gone a long way towards making this movie something more than your average action movie.  It wouldn't of been hard but they stuck to a formula and as a result we get something not quite bad, but not quite good either. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Rules of the Game (Revolution Spoilers)

So, all electricity and technology on Earth has stopped working. The question we’re supposed to be asking is, “Why (or how) did this happen?” And, to some extent, that is the question I’m asking. But there are more troubling questions that need to be answered well in advance of even beginning to discuss that one.

In fiction of all sorts, the story has the ability and opportunity to set up the rules of its universe. Maybe there are people with super powers running around. Maybe we’re on a different planet, or an alternate version of Earth set a hundred years in the past. Virtually anything is okay. There can be a story told in any sort of universe with any set of rules. But once rules are set up, they have to make sense internally. A story has to set up its rules, and then it has to follow them.

This is my major problem, so far, with Revolution. I don’t care what happened, why it happened, how it happened, or who did it. At least not yet. Having watched the pilot episode, the only questions I really care about having answered are “Okay. So what are the rules in this universe, now?”
What does it mean for everything to stop working? Not, “what does it mean to society for all of the technology to suddenly stop?” While that is a good question, it is one the show does attempt to discuss. And it’s even less basic than the question I’m asking. I want to know, literally, what does that mean? What are you even saying?

We see cell phones go dark, car engines shut off, car lights turn off, planes fall from the sky. We pan out to a shot of the planet from space and we see the lights in all of North and South America systematically extinguish from space. So, exactly what is it that’s not working now?

We flash forward 15 years, and we see that the planet is a wreck. But we still don’t know what it means for all technology to have stopped working. The closest we get to an explanation is when Aaron exclaims to a group of kids that “Physics went insane. The world went insane. And nobody knows why.” 

Okay, so physics went insane. That’s a start. What does that mean? Well, we know that devices powered by batteries (phones) stopped working. Maybe silicon chips stopped working? That’s stupid, but I could go with it if that’s the universe that was set up. But also, cars stopped working. Car engines. Every car engine. Car engines don’t have any of the same physical properties of things like phones. Phones, generally, don’t have moving parts. But a car engine is a machine. It’s a combustion engine. It turns gasoline fuel into energy, and uses that energy to move all the moving parts and keep the engine going, which turns the wheels and makes the car go. So, combustion doesn’t work anymore? 

Well, no. Can’t be combustion. Because, for one thing, people are still making fires. For another, guns still work. 

I need a definition here of what things aren’t working. How complex does a machine have to be for it to be considered technology and thus no longer work? A car engine can’t combust fuel and power itself anymore, but you can build what looked to me to be a pretty complicated moonshine still? What about a vehicle that runs on a complicated set of gears, but is powered by a handcrank? Has physics gone so crazy that a machine like that wouldn’t work? But a crossbow does? WHAT ARE THE RULES?!

In the end, Revolution posits some fairly complex plot related questions. Who, what, why, and how did this happen in the first place? What is it that Ben knew and put on his little USB drive? Who are these people running around with magic USB drives? Lots of interesting plot related questions. But before I can focus on those questions, I need to understand the rules of the universe. And I just don’t trust JJ Abrams to ever explain them to me, beyond an oblique reference to “physics going insane.”
20 Reasons to love Beasts of a Southern Wild

1) The performance of the actress playing Hushpuppy is legendary.  If she doesn’t win an Oscar then it is an insult to everyone who has ever won one.

2) Instead of having subplots it has subtexts and they are awesome.

3) This movie managed to interweave images of prehistoric animals without being pretentious or boring about it.  I am looking at you Tree of Life.

4) The celebration at the start of the movie looks like more fun than everything I’ve done with my family combined.

5) We get a look into a world that is completely alien to our own.  This world is presented to us without judgment one way or another.  We see the good as well as the bad and the movie lets everything speak for itself on its own terms.

6) The coolest way to crack an egg ever.  Now that is a magic trick.

7) Lighting the stove!

8) The story of how Hushpuppy was conceived.  That was just fantastic.

9) The startling complexity of the relationship between Hushpuppy and her father.

10) Breaking out of the shelter.

11) That guy who was always dressed to the 9’s and never looked hot.  I am the white version of that guy.

12) The school teacher.  I loved her character, her lessions, and how she was kind of the communities voice of reason.  She was so strong and yet so sweet.

13) That whole scene in the bar that the boat captain brought them to where everyone was slow dancing and there were chrismas lights everywhere.

14) Solving the levee problem with a stuffed alligator and some dynamite, like real life role players.

15) The way the people of the bathtub could take care of themselves and each other.  That’s more than I can say for myself.  There is a tv show coming out on NBC where all the power dies and everyone freaks out.  The people of the Bathtub?  Well heck they wouldn’t even notice now would they. 

16) Her scream.

17) The moment where she meets the giant prehistoric pig beasts and they bow before her for she no longer is afraid of the,

18) I am not sure why that boat captain didn’t seem to be to bothered  by the fact that he just picked up 4 children swimming out on float but I’m glad he was around.

19) This movie answers the question I’ve always had.  What if Tideland was good?

20) It isn’t a movie about pain, being poor, despair, sickness, or hopelessness and yet all these things are contained within it.   This is a movie about overcoming whatever is thrown at you, living on your own terms, and celebrating every chance you can get.  It is the anti misery porn and it is spectacular that it managed to seem so honest.

Monday, September 17, 2012

20 Reasons to Love MoonRise Kingdom (All of the Spoilers)

1) Oh man, the look on Bill Murray’s face when he gets to the camp site and he lifts up the tent is priceless.

2) The movie is difficult to predict.  At several points throughout the movie I didn’t really have an idea of how it was going to proceed.  Most movies you got a pretty good idea how it was going to end and what’s going to happen.  This movie didn’t really have any sort of recognizable structure, in a good way.

3) The rise of the lefty scissors.  Being left handed myself I totally understand everything that happened with those scissors.

4) The “What kind of bird are you scene”.  That scene was spammed in the trailer so you’d think it would loose its punch.  Well it didn’t.

5) The movie was surprisingly dark.  I LOVE DARKNESS!

6) The eulogy given to the dog right after it died.  It was pitch perfect.

7) The series of shots that showed the girl with the binoculars.  One it established her as an outsider observer that goes unobserved herself.  Two those scene do lots of other work like establishing the relationship between Bruce Willas and the girl’s mother.  Very effective use of time.

8) The soundtrack.  Wes Anderson soundtracks are always a things to behold and this movie is no exception.  We actually all stayed and listened to the song in the credit sequence just because it was interesting.

9) He smokes a pipe!

10) Exasperation is a tough emotion to get.  It needs to be established and built up to in order to be effective.  However, when Bruce Willis shouts, “No god damnit” at the end of the movie right before two kids jump, well man nails that perfectly.

11) That is one fantastic tree house.

12) Pen pals are best pals.  Again the trailer kinda rode one of their letter exchanges into the ground but it is only half the story and it is awesome in context.

13) How the little girl reads out loud first to just the main boy then to everyone.  The time they show her reading adventure stories out loud to both the boy and all of his scouts it gave off a very strong Peter Pan and Wendy vibe.  That whole moment was struck with such innocence and while their mission at the time was serious this moment of levity fit so perfectly into the movie.  It is the moment where the outcasts go from being outcasts to the center, where acceptance is truly found for the first time.

14) Learning to French kiss.

15) When Bill Murray and his wife are lying in the darkness talking about their roles as parents.  When they admit that they aren’t enough it is fitting, tragic, and honest.

16) The showdown between Bruce Willis and social services.  That was classic.

17) “I might wet the bed later.  I just thought you should know”

18) The sea of puppy dog eyes during the marriage scene when everyone wanted to have the couple get the nickles.

19) Getting struck by the lightning.  Even though I saw it coming 75 miles off it was awesome.

20) The moment when Norton was apologizing to the boy about not knowing he was an orphan.  Norton’s character was so genuine but boyish in his innocents.  He did an excellent job in this particular scene showing just how out of his depth he was when it came to dealing with the boy while at the same time showing his absolute honesty in wanting to help and be there