Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harry Potter and the Something of the Something

It's no secret to my family and friends and any passersby who will listen to me ramble on Forrest Gump-style about random events in my life that I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books or movie franchise in any way, shape, or form.  I can often be heard deriding JK Rowling's books as poorly written (both from a technical standpoint and in the narrative sense), unoriginal, boring garbage.  As much as I hate Rowling's writing, though, the movies suffer from some of the worst cases of movie-adapted-and-subsequently-butchered-from-a-book syndrome I've ever seen.  The problem is each book covers a whole school year in the lives of our hapless, young wizards which the filmmakers try to cram into two to two and a half hours of barely watchable, incoherent, mashed-together scenes.  The source material is sketchy enough to begin with, but then to run it through the Hollywood big studio meat grinder?  The audience is definitely not getting their daily recommended intake of awesome sauce.

I remember watching -or rather, being forced to watch- the first three or four HARRY POTTER movies and I remember being bitterly disappointed in all of them.  They were all so bland and generic and randomly cobbled together that thinking back I get all of the movies completely confused.  I can't remember when the giant spiders showed up or whether the motherfucker with the googley eye showed up in the same movie as the Tri-Wizard cup or whether he was riding a griffin or getting high at Hagrid's crib or whatever.  It all kind of blends together to me.  The one thing in my mind that really made the movies furstrating to watch -besides the endless examples of deus ex machina in practically every fucking scene- was the poor transition between scenes which is a problem in every HARRY POTTER movie.  One example is the passage of time.  From one scene to the next could be a couple of minutes or half a year.  There's never any clue as to where you are temporally in the story and it really throws the audience for a loop because for a couple minutes you're wondering to yourself what the fuck is going on and it really takes you out of the movie because you have to consciously recalibrate yourself.  It's jarring.  The worst example I can think of in the series is HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE where all of the sudden it was the end of the school year and the other wizard schools were getting ready to leave.  And I was like, "What the fuck?" because there was absolutely no textual clue given to the audience.  It was just assumed that through some kind of magic you could just divine the timeline with a wave of your magic wand.  All it would have taken was a short cut to a magical calendar with the pages flying off or even just a line of dialogue like "Hey, Harry, remember three months ago when you had to fight off those water nymphs before they bit your dick off?" or whatever and it would have made it a lot easier to follow.

The other problem with the Harry Potter-verse, like I touched on above, is how hapless and disempowered the main characters are.  This problem stems from Rowling's sloppy writing and is exacerbated by running it through a Hollywood writing chop shop.  Harry Potter has yet to solve a problem on his own.  Every time he's in trouble he is saved from out of the fucking blue by some convenient plot device that may or may not relate to some stupid item or person or spell mentioned briefly in passing.  Or maybe not ever mentioned before at all.  Or maybe the device is so obviously highlighted (like practically winking at the audience highlighted) that you just know that this is going to never be mentioned ever again in the rest of the book/story until Harry's in danger and just happens to need that one specific, esoteric thing that is not woven into the narrative but spilled on it.  It's really a crap shoot.  The point is Rowling went through (presumably) great lengths to create this (a-hem) highly detailed universe, but then goes through drastic lengths to undermine its internal logic.  I mean it seems like every ten goddamn minutes Harry is being chased by some giant spiders or is faced with a dark wizard and he never takes an active role in his own salvation.  It's always some magic car whisking him away, or another character coming to his rescue at the last possible second, presumably for dramatic effect, but after the five hundredth fucking time it wears on you.  And if course if you're mortally wounded there's always a Phoenix feather or some shit to save you.  Or you can always go back in time and fix your mistakes.   

But, I put all of that out of my mind as I went to see HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS with a group of eighth graders.  After six movies I thought that perhaps there had been some kind of progression.  I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and I hoped beyond hope as I grabbed my popcorn and pop that now that the actors and characters were older we would see a grittier HARRY POTTER, one that spoke to a slightly more mature, discerning audience.  The posters and trailers gave me dim hope.  As I sat down to witness HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 in all of its IMAX glory my hopes were almost immediately dashed.

Right from scene one director David Yates begins to alienate anybody in the audience who is not a hardcore Potter fan.  I missed the last couple of movies and books and there was absolutely no exposition or explanation given as to the current state of affairs.  We get the general feeling that somewhere some shit has hit some fan, but there is no fucking clue as to what.  We get a series of sad scenes of Hermione erasing herself from her parents' memories and Harry's aunt and uncle abandoning their underage dependent leaving him all alone in an empty house.  And I had no clue why.  Then Harry's friends show up to sneak him out of the city, and again no specific explanation is given.  Anybody who's paid attention in the slightest knows that Voldemort is after him for some reason, but we're given no specifics.  All I was asking for was a quick flashback or a quick line of dialogue or maybe a SPIDER-MAN-style opening credits recap.  Something.  Anything.  But no, a bunch of wizards and wizardettes show up and take some potion so they all look like Harry so they can play decoys to draw fire from Harry as they escape the city.  Later even this chase scene which was kind of exciting was rendered utterly irrelevant, which I will discuss shortly.

As I watched DEATHLY HALLOWS I couldn't help but start thinking about X:2 which I had happened to watch on TV a couple nights before.  It wasn't just that my mind started to wander and was replaying a much better movie in my own head, although it certainly helped make the two and half hour run time more bearable.  It was more a connection my mind made between the similarities of the powers the characters in these two universes possessed.  Here's a quick rundown of the powers Harry and company seem to possess: they can shoot balls of fire, they can teleport through space, they can look like anybody they want to, they can travel through time, they have telekinesis, and Harry has a cloak somewhere that can turn him invisible.  Hermione even pulls out a potion at one point that heals up Ron after some problems with teleportation.  So essentially they have all the powers of (in keeping with the Marvel Universe) The Human Torch, Nightcrawler, Mystique, Jean Grey, Sue Storm, and Wolverine combined.  Think about that for a moment.  Let your imagination run wild and explore all the wondrous possibilities.  Think of all the shit you could rain down on your enemies with that kind of arsenal.  Think about that opening scene of X:2 where Nightcrawler fucks up all the president's men with only the power of teleportation.  Now, what do you suppose Harry does?  Does he teleport in and shoot some fireballs into the faces of those smarmy Deatheaters?  Does he take over Snape's identity and then telekenetically choke Voldemort, Vader-style?  Would it surprise you to know that he spends the bulk of the movie... hiding?  Doing nothing?  No, sadly, it didn't surprise me either.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS was so frustrating to watch because aside from one wizard shoot out, Harry, Ron and Hermione spend the rest of their time hiding in the forest and conveniently teleporting out of trouble, until one time at the end they don't teleport away from danger for some reason, even though they easily could have.  Instead, they decide to... run?  And then out of all the possible spells Hermione seems to have at her disposal she... shoots Harry in the face disfiguring him MINORITY REPORT-style?  Even though he is instantly recognizable because of the lightning bolt scar on his forehead?  What the fuck?  Teleporting was overused the entire rest of the movie (the deus ex machina of the week), but then it was abandoned for no good reason other than it had to be in order for Harry to be captured.  The teleportation was also the plot device that completely negated the chase scene at the beginning of the movie which I said I would mention later.  Why couldn't they just have teleported from Harry's house to the secret hiding spot?  Wouldn't that have been a lot safer and smarter?  There seems to be no rhyme or reason given as to when it is OK to teleport sometimes and why they don't at other times.  Remember that internal logic thing I mentioned before?  Yeah, that's what I was talking about.

The only thing that rivalled the teleporting plot device in narrative-destroying power was Hermione's handbag.  She apparently cast some Spell of Hammer Space on this fucking bag so that she could fit everything she and Harry and Ron could possibly ever need.  And I mean everything.  No matter what happened you could be sure that she had something to deal with the situation.  Change of clothes, an entire tent filled with camping paraphernalia.  Everything.  This particular bit of deus ex machina completely took all remaining steam out of the already steam-lacking narrative.  Speaking of Hermione (who apparently grew up into a full-blown hottie in the past couple years at Hogwarts); why the fuck isn't she the focus of the stories instead of Harry?  She's the one who knows all the spells.  She's the one who comes up with the ideas.  She does research, she prepares for the unknown, and she saves Harry and Ron's collective asses on an almost hourly basis.  How the fuck is she not the chosen one?

And then there's Voldemort himself.  Why the fuck doesn't he give his troops a shoot to kill order?  At one point Helena Bonham Carter's character Bellatrix Lestrange has Harry dead to rights, but she has specific orders from Voldemort that only he is allowed to kill him.  Only him.  There is no reason given for this.  It just seems like the classic bad guy hubris, but taken to laughably ridiculous extremes.  There is no logical reason given why A) Voldemort doesn't just issue an order for the Deatheaters to bring him Harry's head on a platter or B) Why Lestrange -who is obviously unhinged and highly homicidal- doesn't just kill him anyway because she's a fucking lunatic who escaped from Azkaban.  What the fuck?  And then Harry Potter is saved by the convenient plot device of the week, this time in the form of an elf (I don't know his fucking name) who (*mock look of shock*) teleports into the enemy base and springs Harry and his pals before teleporting them all to a sunny beach somewhere.  It's just so fucking weak and once again Harry falls ass backwards into and out of trouble through no effort or fault of his own.  The stronghold of the Dark Lord, and this fucking elf just waltzes in?  I mean the entire movie Hermione is setting up powerful charms to make them invisible and protect them.  You think maybe Voldemort -Lord of All Evil and Master of the Occult- would set up a few simple protective spells around his home fucking base?  Maybe make it invisible, or block teleportation -a skill obviously common to any wizard with a magic wand and a few years education at Hogwarts- something that ninety percent of the main characters are able to do?  I mean, what's to stop Harry or one of his friends from teleporing in while Voldemort was taking a shit and just blast a fireball in his face.  Or warp in while he's sleeping and cut off his head?  Seems like a no-brainer, right?

And then I thought: Wait a minute.  Doesn't Harry Potter's underworld of wizards coexist with our world?  I mean, all these wizards are so caught up in their own worldview that they ignore the obvious.  One fucking handgun could end the reign of the Deatheaters.  They seem to be so overly concerned with magical attacks that they would be completely caught off-guard by something as mundane as a gun.  Rambo or John McClane could clear out a room of these death eating fucks in no time.  Or what about explosives?  Why don't Harry and his friends simply get a couple pounds of C4 explosive, teleport into Voldemort's mansion while everyone is asleep and plant it underneath the giant table the evil wizards have their meetings around every morning?  Even if you don't kill Voldemort you could probably wipe out most of his cronies who he seems to depend on almost completely and really cripple his whole regime.

But that last paragraph sounded kind of nitpicky.  I can appreciate that in the context of the story wizards want to bust out some wizard shit.  I mean, I, as a STAR WARS fan, would never expect a Jedi to use anything except his light saber and the force to solve a problem.  And I can dig how the wand is like the light saber of the Harry Potter-verse and it sometimes even looks cool when Snape or whoever is shooting bolts of energy at dragons or quiditch balls or evil spirits or whatever you shoot at with your wand.  (And here comes the...) But again it is so frustrating to watch a wizard become completely useless once he loses his wand.  I know a light saber-less Jedi is not as impressive either, but at least the Jedi can still bust out mind tricks or telekenisis.  It seems without a wand a wizard is completely unable to channel any magical powers at all and is about as useful an anthology of Vanilla Ice's greatest hits (I can only think of one).  Again, this is me just being nitpicky, but I feel that it really slows down the storytelling and is incredibly frustrating for the audience.

Now a lot of readers (especially those who know me) might think that I went into HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS expecting -nay hoping- that it would fail.  This is only half true.  Hoping for crap is only satisfying in the sense that I feel personally justified in my opinions when it turns out to be true.  However, I always try to go into a movie expecting something entertaining because I don't want to feel like I wasted my time watching crap.  I was actually hoping that DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 would be a step up from the other Potter flicks, but I was really disappointed that I was so disappointed.  The writers and director had a real chance to go darker and grittier, but instead I was bombarded with the same, tired shit that made me hate the rest of the movies: lazy writing in the form of convenient plot twists, the inability of the main characters to take action, and a complete sabotage of the universe's internal logic at every possible turn. 

And since I'm on a role here, what the fuck was with the name?  DEATHLY HALLOWS.  See I kept hearing "hollows" as in the geographical term like a low lying area.  So I thought the deathly hallows was a place.  It took me a while to clue in and then I realized it was "hallows" as in the transitive verb "to make something holy."  I had to look it up, but having been forced to go to church for years and years as a child that kind of vocabulary is pretty common.  But in the context of this title, it's just plain confusing especially to kids reading the book or watching he movies.  All the other movies and books had concrete ideas: a stone, a goblet, a chamber, a prisoner, an order.  Then you have a concept which -from what I can gather- is "making death holy" or "worshipping death" which I can dig, and makes sense when it's finally explained twenty minutes before the end of the movie (in a pretty cool animation, by the way, which was my favourite part of the movie aside from the ghostly make out scene between Harry and Hermione), however at this point it's too little too late.  (Just as an aside: When the dude mentions the invisible cloak as one of the deathly hallows, why doesn't Harry react?  I mean he has that shit.  There can't be that many cloaks of invisibility out there, right?  This has to be the one, but he doesn't say anything.  I would have been all like "Holy shit, guys!  This is totally awesome!  I fucking have that thing at home in my closet!" But Harry just stares dumbly at the dude telling the story.)

 As you might expect I'm going to give HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 a pretty low rating and you'd be right.  I'm giving this movie a 3/10 = A Slightly Bruised Teenage Wizard's Head With a Confused Look on His Face as He Realizes That Having His Best Friend Bang His Daughter is Much Worse Than Banging His Current Girlfriend  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Come With Me if You Want to Cum

A few weeks ago I rewatched TERMINATOR: SALVATION for the same reason a lot of people do: they bought the special edition BluRay with the extended cut and wanted to see Moon Bloodgood's tits.  (On a side note, is that a real fucking name?  Is there  Mr. and Mrs. Bloodgood out there somewhere with stacks of TERMINATOR: SALVATION giving it out to visitors telling them "That's out daughter!"  Or was that her stripper name?  Or is she a digital character left over from LORD OF THE RINGS?  "Destroy them, Bloodgood!  They have the ring!")  I freeze-framed through the criminally short scene, washed my hands, and continued watching the movie.  Soon after the much-anticipated partial nudity there was a sex scene between Sam Worthington's character Marcus Wright and Bloodgood's character Blair Williams and I was suddenly struck by a conundrum that was far more troubling than time travel or robotic assassins made of liquid metal or stealth "infiltrator" cyborgs who were somehow to remain inconspicuous with thick, Austrian accents.  The problem I faced revolved around the question: "Do Terminators fuck?"

Now the short answer to that question according to TERMINATOR:SALVATION is "Yes."  However, let us examine the implications of this answer.  First of all in order for a Terminator -a cyborg that is more man than machine- to engage in sexual intercourse it would first have to have fully functioning set of genitalia.  Since most of the Terminators in the movie franchise were male and the Terminator in SALVATION was male, let's focus specifically on the penis.  Let us assume for the sake of this argument that there really is a watertight, completely logical explanation as to why these killing machines were equipped with half mechanical schlongs that pertained, perhaps, to their purported function as infiltrators - essentially, deep cover spies.  Now if we're working under that assumption then the Terminator's manufactured dicks would have to pass for the genuine article.  The first thing a counterfeit cock would need to be able to do would be to simulate various states of being: essentially have a erection.  But not just an erection.  It would have to look convincing flaccid as well as erect and would have to appear to an outside observer (ie. whatever hot piece of ass the Terminator was banging - because Terminator's don't do fat chicks) to become erect in a natural way (ie. not too quickly or too linearly like a simple set of hydraulics simply pushing out).  It would have to pass both the visual and the tactile tests, because as a deep cover operative you never know what kind of situation you might find yourself in.  I mean, you can't always just walk in the room and pull down your pants to reveal a perfectly sculpted, raging hard boner.  In the heat of the moment she might reach down your pants and start stroking you off and a simple piston shooting out would be a dead give away.  As I'm sure you're all aware an erection occurs as the result of the the spongy tissue in the penis -the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum- becoming engorged with blood due to sexual stimulation, be it physiological or psychological.  So the cyborg penis would have to have some kind of mechanism that contained a spongy substance that reacted in a similar manner when introduced to liquid which would have to be able to be pumped in and out of said tissue via a pump of some kind and said system would have to be self-contained.

OK, so now let's assume that we have a system like the one described above with a spongy substance that engorges when a liquid is pumped into it and goes soft again once the liquid is pumped out.  The second problem that the designers of the mechano-dick would face would be ejaculation (but don't worry, there's a pill for that).  Now we've got a dick that looks real and becomes erect but it still has to blow its load all over some post-apocalyptic tits, presumably for the sake of espionage.  This one might be a little bit more tricky.  See, the erection can be computed by the Terminator's "neural net processor," but usually getting an erection doesn't take that long.  It's far trickier to come up with an algorithm to determine the average time until ejaculation.  I mean, you can't just set a timer or the resistance hottie you're sporking will eventually clue in to the fact that it takes you exactly six and a half minutes to reach ejaculation - the average for human males between the ages of eighteen and thirty.  And boom!  There goes your cover and you might promptly be smashed into scrap metal.  It's hard out there for a cybernetic pimp.  You'd have to have some kind of program to make the Terminator blow his load at random intervals and varying intensities during sexual intercourse to make it seem more organic.  Logistically you'd also have to have a storage tank filled with some kind of white substance to simulate the ejaculate because although Terminators are covered in organic tissues they don't have all the necessary internal organs like a prostrate to actually produce any bodily fluids.  Even Marcus Wright didn't have all of his internal organs, just a brain and a heart, and presumably some kind of rudimentary circulatory and digestive system (just wait for my follow up article "Do Terminators Shit?"  Prepare to have your mind blown) in order to keep those two organic organs alive.  So you'd have to have a sizable storage tank to hold your virtual spooge, because once again you don't know how long your Terminator's deep cover mission might last.

Now you might be thinking (or yelling loudly to the heavens, I don't know what kind of freak you might be) that this is all just idle speculation by some dude obsessed with dicks, but really this logistical point is pivotal to the entire continuity of TERMINATOR: SALVATION.  Everything in the movie hinges on Marcus Wright's dick functioning just like a real one.  You see in order for the movie to make sense Marcus can't know he's a Terminator any earlier than he does or else the whole narrative falls apart.  Even before he has to pass the Williams/Bloodgood Cock Lie Detector Test he has to be able to fool a tougher critic: himself.  I mean imagine you wake up in some strange medical lab and you begin wandering the post-apocalyptic landscape scavenging for food and you're lying there huddled under some rock all alone on a Friday night and what are you going to do?  Well, after mourning the loss of everyone and everything you held dear, you're going to rub one out.  Now the problems are compounded because you have a human brain that has to be fooled not only by the feel of the erection and the ejaculation, but also by the actual physical sensation, which would necessitate organic nerve endings in the hands and the penis.  Essentially, you have to program a device so well that it has to fool itself.

And this to me is the most ludicrous part of TERMINATOR: SALVATION.  How could Marcus not have known he wasn't really yanking his own trouser snake and by extension realized that something was terribly amiss about his own body and not discovered his true nature much sooner in the movie thereby completely altering the storyline of the movie?  But I have to put all that aside and assume that the designers covered all the problems I just discussed in a board meeting and implemented them on the assembly line.  For me the willing suspension of disbelief revolves not around marvels of robotics or time-travelling paradoxes but in the problems with fooling a machine with his own dick as he jerks off in the ruins of some old shell of a building.  It's going to be hard (pun intended) to go back and watch TERMINATOR: SALVATION again with this new mindset, but I guess if I want to enjoy the movie I'll have to put my intellectual analysis aside and not be so nitpicky.  I just hate to be left with such a philosophical mess on my hands (pun also intended).                 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From the Mouths of Cereal Boxes

For as far back as I can remember breakfast cereal has been a source of wonderment and anticipation.  This is not because I particularly enjoy soggy, sugar-infused grains formed into flakes or squares or whatever as opposed to a good solid meal of eggs, bacon, french toast, a bagel, home fries and baked beans (although most mornings I get the big, soggy bowl of Frosted Flakes because that's typically all I have time for).  In North America this is not unusual as breakfast has really become synonymous with cold bowls of milk-drowned cereal I can only assume is due to extensive marketing on the part of the major cereal companies and our own laziness as a culture that prevents us from getting up half an hour earlier to cook up some good eats.  I can personally attest to the laziness, but I can only speculate on the marketing strategies used by Kellog and Post though it doesn't take a Harvard grad to figure it out.  Marketing at its core is not that complex and it generally follows two (hopefully separate) lines of thought: sex and children.  In the case of cereal the marketing has typically been targeted at children in the form of flashy cartoon characters (except Count Chocula who lacks both flash and an appetizing hook.  I mean, a shit-coloured vampire?  Dark, depressing and the colour of feces.  Fantastic.) and cheap, plastic prizes inside.  The second one was fucking genius.

There were some days when the thought of getting the prize in the cereal box was all that got me out of bed in morning.  There were some even worse days when the thought of that useless hunk of plastic was all that kept me going through the whole day.  Kindergarden can be a harsh mistress.  And for me it wasn't even a sure thing.  Having three siblings gave me (at best) a one in four chance of getting my hands on that motherfucker.  There came a point where intervention on the part of mom and dad simply didn't cut it any more.  First of all, they couldn't keep track of who's turn it was, because (and righfully so) they probably didn't give a shit about hunks of plastic shaped into barely recognizable characters or shapes in the bottom of boxes of Shreddies.  So it became a battle royale, survivor of the fittest, secret, stealth, preemptive military strike scenario.  You had to be a fucking cereal prize sniper in my house to get your hands on the goods after a while. 

There used to be more of a random element because the cereal companies would just kind of toss the prizes into the box haphazardly.  I always imagined some dude named "Miguel" with a ratty moustache and a hairnet whose grasp of the English language consisted of "Yes", "No" and "Fuck you Eddie Murphy" with a stupified look on his face tossing those prizes into the boxes as they went by on a conveyor belt.  Sometimes you'd get the prize with the first bowl.  But then the cereal companies got craftier and started maing sure the toys were located securely at the bottom of the box.  This necessesitated a change in strategy.  You couldn't just wait until the box was empty.  We played the "trying-to-take-exactly-the-right-amount-of-cereal-to-time-it-so-you-emptied-the-box-next-time" game for a while but quickly realized we could just skip all that bullshit posturing and just reach down into the bottom of the cereal box.  But you couldn't just reach in when the box was full and you couldn't do it in full view of anyone else in the family.  There was a point of critical mass when the box was empty enough that you could reach in and quickly snatch the prize and draw your arm out without making a mess and thereby drawing attention to your covert operation.  If any of your brothers or sisters saw what you were doing there would immediately be a rush to claim the prize and usurp all the time and ffort you put into stealing it from them in the first place.  Penultimate worst case scenario was a call for arbitration from mom and dad almost guaranteeing that the person who had preemptively seized the prize would be excluded from the selection process entirely thereby negating days of careful planning.

Still it made breakfast something more than just picking through your bowl of Lucky Charms for all the marshmallows and then secretly dumping the soggy, brown, bloated, tasteless cereal pieces into the garbage when nobody was looking so you wouldn't get the "kids starving in Africa" bullshit speech.  We must have gotten hundreds if not thousands of these fucking toys.  I remember several campaigns in particular.  There was the monsters in my pocket era which was small plastic figures of famous monsters such as the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster.  There was the Star Trek campaign (that one I remember pretty vivedly was found in boxes of Shreddies) which allowed millions of prepubescent geeks, nerds, and fanboys to collect tiny models of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D of course.  The sad thing is I didn't even have to look that up on Wikipedia), the Borg cube, the Klingon Bird of Prey and the Romulan warbird that they could either display proudly on their windowsills or engage in riveting interstellar battles on the playground with their friends before being beaten up by bullies with seemingly Gorn-like strength.  The warbird in particular I remember being particularly rare.  There was a host of other shit too like some kind of strange disk shooter with pictures of Darkwing Duck on them.  They got discarded pretty quickly.  

Breakfast cereal is such an integral part of our culture that one can't but be conscious of it and over time I've noticed a shift in ideology particulrly with the types of prizes they've put in them over the years.  I remember a gradual shift away from the toys to various other prizes.  With the advent of DVD's movies were now small enough to put inside -or even stick to the outside of- cereal boxes, although only the shittiest movies need apply for this position.  Can you say AIRBUD or THE MASK?  Yeah, it got that bad.  Those were some dark days for cereal eaters and free-thinking people the world over.  For a while there I noticed that small books were becoming popular prizes, though I was in university at the time so breakfast for me usually consisted of waffles, leftover pizza, or some raw Pilsbury choclate chip cookie dough and a glass of orange juice so luckily I never experienced the disappointment of finding a fucking book in my cereal that must have emotionally crippled an entire generation of children.  Then there was a drastic shift in breakfast cereal marketing ideology that focused not on the children who -I imagine it was always assumed- would theoretically bug the shit out of their parents until they caved and bought them whatever sugary, cavity-forming crap had the prizes they wanted, but on the adults who were actually spending their hard-earned cash on said sugary crap.

This ideology shift led to such things as send-away offers.  Now I suppose there were always send-away offers, though now they seem to occur with more frequency and as an adult I pay attention to that shit now.  My wife and I got, like, five free shirts thanks to boxes of Cheerios after the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Now they had stupid Olympic shit on them, but they were full size, decently constructed shirts that cost me no money so I'll suck it up and wear a stupid hockey score on my chest.  The best thing, though, is now some cereal companies have made some kind of deal with Cineplex Odeon and every so often they print these coupons on the inside of boxes of cereal like Oatmeal Crisp (get the almond, it's fucking delicious) that -depending on the month- get you either a free general movie pass or a free small popcorn or drink.  To me this is worth its weight in gold and was perhaps the most brilliant marketing device in the history of cereal.  Two cultural icons coming together.  I say "breakfast", you say "cereal."  I say "default social activity," you say "the movies."  Either way this new prize really brings back those feelings of excitement and anticipation I had as a kid waiting for the next hunk of plastic to fall out of my box of Fruit Loops.

Like most things in life, however, the free movie pass cereal prize has been a mixed blessing at best.  Over the past couple years these coupons have driven me to use them up before they expire on movies I might not otherwise have seen.  This has led me to watch such disasters as OBSERVE AND REPORT and FIGHTING.  Although I didn't pay any money to see these films I paid a much higher cost.  I can't recall any of the good movies I've seen because of these coupons, though I do recall using many of them and I it wasn't all on shit.  Most recently, however, I was bombarded by another salvo of these coupons and for whatver reason was unable to use them up until the very end of February and so ended up going with my buddy Ryebone to watch UNKNOWN on a Sunday evening.  It's kind of strange looking back that my social callendar was dictated by the back of a cereal box.  Perhaps that's kind of pathetic or perhaps Dr. Ian Malcolm was right about all that chaos theory stuff.

I wasn't too worried about UNKNOWN, though, simply because it starred Liam Neeson.  Yes, he inspires that much confidence.  I wasn't expecting a sprawling cinematc opus by any means, but I envisioned something along the lines of TAKEN 2 or at least TAKEN 1.5 judging by the thankfully misleading trailers.  What I got was something entirely different.  UNKNOWN is not an action-packed thrill ride by any stretch, although it does have some requisite Liam Neeson kicking some serious ass scenes.  What UNKNOWN is really about is how we construct our identities, although it lacked the subtlety of other movies that have dealt with the same kind of themes like MEMENTO. 

UNKNOWN follows a scientist by the name of Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) who is in Germany to give a lecture at some kind of green energy summit.  Almost immediately upon arriving at the hotel with his hot wife Elizabeth (January Jones) he leaves her to go back to the airport to retreive a lost briefcase.  To get back to the airport he enlists the services of perhaps the hottest cabbie in the history of the universe (Diane Kruger).  On the way back to the airport, however, Harris and his cabbie get into a freak accident and he wakes up from a coma a few days later with extensive memory loss.  He tracks down his wife only to discover that she seems not to know him and some other poser (Aidan Quinn) has taken over his identity.  Now on the run from the law and from some other mysterious agents with obviously sinister motives Harris and the hot cabbie have to fight for his right to party... and exist.

Now the logistics of literally stealing someone's identity as opposed to traditional identity theft (ie. using a person's identity via credit card or some other piece of identification to impersonate them for monetary gain)are mindboggling, and under normal circumstances would be completely impossible (ie.making your wife willingly believe that somebody else who looks nothing like you but starts using your name is the man she's been married to for the last fifteen years, assuming of course that she's been sexually satisfied that whole time, which isn't necessarily your fault, I mean sometimes you just want to go to sleep after a long day) however in the context of this movie it all makes sort of perfect sense.  I say in the context of the movie because the entire premise of UNKNOWN is compltely ridiculous and only makes sense within the realm movie logic where a cranial injury can selectively destroy a man's real identity leaving a recently constructed one still in tact and not affect his fine motor skills or his libido and that simply learning the truth about himself is enough to trigger the ass-kicking portions of his memory, but nothing else.  But, I mean, you can (and countless loses on the internet do on a daily basis) pick apart just about any movie so I won't condemn the ridiculous because that's what I go to the movies to see: the ridiculous become probable.

UNKNOWN was a strange beast: a B-list action movie maquarading as an A-list psychological thriller with an A-list cast.  And it was slightly successful.  Liam Neeson basically carries the film, though the rest of the cast did a great job too.  The great thingabout Neeson -besides the fact that he's an amazing actor- is that he is totally aware of the type of film he's making and even though he plays a role like Martin Harris completely straight.  He knows the type of film he's in and doesn't try to make it more than that.  He is a completely unpretentious actor which really helped save the film.  UNKNOWN really raised some fascinating questions -albeit awkwardly- about how one's identity is constructed, but it never goes into any real depth exploring those themes which was only slightly disappointing.  UNKNOWN seemed to be having an identity crisis of it's own: was it a spy action thriller or was it a psychological exploration set within the context of the spy movie archetype?

In the end UNKNOWN was a lot like those prizes I used to get in cereal boxes as a kid: eagerly anticpated, briefly enjoyed, and quickly discarded.  It was a nice distraction and (in my case at least) worth the price of admission (because it was free!  Get it?).  It was a nice little distraction on a Sunday afternoon, but it will definitely go on my "Won't Buy It Myself But Will Accept It As AGift And Might Not Sell It For a Few Years" movie list.  Still, UNKNOWN was by far not the worst thing I've ever found in a box of cereal.  I give UNKNOWN a 5/10 = One Confused Looking Head Getting a Cab Ride From a Hot Cabbie On His Way To Foil An Assassination               

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Circle is Now Complete

I know this is kind of old news, but it is of such severe cultural significance that I feel strangely compelled to comment on it, much like I feel strangely compelled to reach my hand down my pants whenever I see Kristen Bell on screen.  Since sometime in 2010 there has been a SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD video game, which is certainly not news to anyone, let alone anyone in the gaming world, at least in the up-to-the-minute sense.  When I first heard about this phenomenon, I was blown away.  As I took a step back to examine what wa happening I wondered quietly to myself Why does nobody else's brain seem to be on the verge of meltdown upon hearing this news? and Why do so kiwis look so much like testicles?

Let me explain.  The video game thing, not the kiwi-as-balls thing.  SCOTT PILGRIM the video game was based on the movie, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD which was based on a series of graphic novels which was heavily influenced and informed by video games.  Bam.  What, mind not blown yet?  To some this might seem like a needless over-analysis, but to the truly enlightened it is like hearing Jesus's sermon on the mount that time he went to that Grateful Dead concert and got really high and stripped butt naked and jumped on stage and started screaming about giant flaming arrows falling from the sky.  OR something like that.  The point o the whole thing is, the thing that really blows my mind, is how culturally influencial video games have become.  They now inform themselves.  They have become a source of their own inspiration in a far more significant way than just adding some of Donkey Kong's cousins in the sequels to Donkey Kong Country.  It's like a cultural perpetual moton machine.  It's analogous to Martin Scorcese making a movie based a book based on a true story about an earlier Martin Scorcese movie.

It's not just inspiration.  Everyone is fucking "inspired" at some point by some kind of bullshit.  Thirteen year old girls feel "inspired" by their favourite Lady Gaga song.  Artists the world over are "inspired" by the beauty of nature, or tragedy, or the juxtaposition of innocence versus experience or some shit.  Yeah, I know, we're all inspired at some point in our lives.  The SCOTT PILGRIM video game represents something more than simple inspiration.  It represents a cultural shift in perception, a self-awareness in a sector of society.  It's like the merging of Commander William Decker with V'GER at the end of the first STAR TREK movie.  The birth ofa new form of life.  It is the difference between inspiration and self-determinism.  Anyone can be inspired to do something, but not everybody can be aware of that inspiration and let it guide you at the same time you guide it.  As Darth Vader might say "I was but the learner now I am the master."  Of course he might also cut your fucking arm off and blow up your planet.  Still.  He'd probably also play some SCOTT PILGRIM on his XBox while eating sushi and quoting THE BIG LEBOWSKI if he were still alive.      

Thursday, March 10, 2011

127 Hours... Of Awesomeness

So I was recently on a man date with one of my homeboys, known to the criminal underworld only as Ryebone, Defiler of Waywad Souls, and I became aware of two things: I was suddenly acutely aware of my extremities, and I was slightly distracted by the size of my friend's penis television.  It was much smaller than normal.  It didn't have the same output.  It wasn't as breathtaking as I had remembered it when it had first been revealed to me in all of its glory.  This is because Rybone recently had a little surgery accident which resulted in a penis transplant damaged TV.  I won't get into particulars as just mentioning it puts our friendship in serious jeopardy because of an explicit warning from the Defiler not to mention it to anyone let alone the single nutcase legions of fans who follow my blog, but suffice it to say his brand new fifty inch plasma TV was inoperable and we were forced to watch 127 HOURS on a thirty-two inch Dynex with a measly 720p resolution.

 I remember hearing a story on the news a couple of years ago (turns out it was actually in 2003) about some dude who was hiking and got his hand trapped under a rock somehow and ended up having to cut off his own arm in order to escape back to civilization and sub-par American health care.  I don't know why, but that story always stuck with me, maybe because it had sparked many drunken debates about whether or not I or my friends would be "hardcore" enough to cut off our own arms to survive.  Turns out that guy was Aron Ralston and he has since written a book about his ordeal (Between a Rock and a Hard Place) and had this movie made about him and all that stuff I just said at the beginning of the paragraph was essentially the plot of the movie.

I'll have to admit hearing about this movie first elicited a "What the Fuck?" response. I just couldn't imagine that there would be enough of a narrative when your main character is trapped under a boulder for about ninety percent of the movie.  Luckily Danny Boyle is a visionary and James Franco turned out to be a decent actor despite all proof to the contrary in the SPIDER-MAN franchise (although to be fair if he was trying to play it over the top in SPIDER-MAN 3 then he succeeded brilliantly.  If.).  This is obviously a character driven film, but if you're asking yourself how 127 HOURS remains engaging for ninety-four minutes, then you should stop reading this and just go watch the fucking movie.  The short answer is that Doyle uses two devices in the movie to construct a narravtive: dreams/hallucinations/memories and a camcorder which Ralston (Franco) uses to record his thoughts and feelings, usually addressed to his parents.  But we'll get to that later.

The biggest enjoyment in watching this movie boils down to asking yourself the question "Would I be able to cut off my own arm in order to survive?"  This enjoyment is amplified exponentially when watching it with a friend.  Then you can really go through the whole dialogue, which essentially comes down to an exchange of three lines:

"Oh my god, that's fucking crazy man!"

"I know.  Hey, dude, do you think that if you were trapped somewhere with you hand under a boulder, or maybe a really fat dead guy, that you would be able to cut your own arm off to survive?"

"No way man. (*insert reasons why you couldn't do it here*)"

I guarantee you no matter who you ask nobody will ever in a gazillion cagillion years will anyone answer "Yes" when you ask them if they would be hardcore enough to cut off their own arm in order to survive.  And if anyone says they can do it they are completely full of shit... unless of course you're talking to Aron Ralston in which case you can give him a pass.  This time.  Now there may actually be other people out there with sufficient steel content in their scrotums to actually cut through their own arm to free themselves in a real survival situation, but this is one question you just can't answer until you're actually in the situation (Much like the eternal conundrum: "Would you agree to live with Andy Dick for the rest of eternity if it meant that every other human being who ever lived would have a perfect life free from disease, discrimination, war and Taco Bell?"  Now, I know your immidiate gut response (after the urge to vomit your own lungs out) is "No," but I know there are some true hard heroes out there who could take an annoyingly effeminate bullet for the good of humankind.).  And if anybody does answer "Yes" then you can be sure that person is completely full of shit and something of a royal prick.

This. of course, is not what the movie itself is about, however it's how most people watch the movie -and survival movies in general- so it's worth mentioning.  I mean, after watching ALIVE, who didn't have a conversation with his buddies about whether or not they could eat each other (in a totally non-gay way of course).  When watching this movie my mind kept going back to high school English class and those archetypes my teachers always gave me to analyse the conflict in a narrative.  You know, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Lesbian Clowns From Outer Space, and all that bullshit.  It occured to me that a lot of people might have gotten the wrong idea, that many viewers might watch 127 HOURS was about Man vs. Nature when it's really about Man vs. Himself.  Normally this type of internal conflict would be boring as shit, but luckily Danny Boyle's direction and James Franco's acting really kept me engaged.

This is where the hallucinations and the video camera come in.  With these narrative devices we are given a look into Ralston's past as he examines the people and decisions he's made in his life so far.  The hallucinations/dreams give the audience insight into his personal life such as the relationship -or lack thereof- with his sister and parents and a failed relationship with an old girlfriend.  Through the video camera Boyle is able to externalize Ralston's internal dialogue in the form of a video diary of sorts intended -for the most part- for his parents but really more for himself.  (There's one particularly memorable scene where Ralston performs  a little play where he acts as an exuberant talk show host interviewing himself.  There's a lot of powerful stuff revealed here in a very comedic way particularly how hard he is on himself like at the end of the conversation:

"Aron Ralston: Now, is it true that despite, or maybe because you're a big fuckin' hard hero, you didn't tell anyone where you were goin'?
Aron Ralston: Uh...yeah. That's absolutely correct.
[Aron as the host] 
Aron Ralston: Anyone? 
Aron Ralston: Anyone
[Aron as the host]
Aron Ralston: Oops!
Aron Ralston: Oops"  )

And this self-dialogue is really the core of the movie.  It's not so much a story of physical survival but of emotional survival.  It's not about a man cutting his arm off -it's about a man's journey to develop the will to cut it off.  It's about self-actualization.  Having his hand trapped by a boulder in the middle of nowhere apparently seemed like a case of life imitating life.  Ironically, this was something (at least according to the movie) he had always strived for in life: isolation.  His flashbacks are all about how he alienated himself from his family and loved ones both physically and emotionally for whatever reason.  Whether he had emotional issues that wouldn't allow him to get close to anyone else or whether he was depressed or whether he was fed up with all the bullshit of having to deal with human beings and he just wanted to be left the fuck alone it's not explicitly mentioned and it doesn't matter.  The problem wasn't other people: the problem was Aron Ralston.  Pushing other people away was a way of pushing himself away, a way of not dealing with whatever emotional issues he had, a way of not dealing with his life.  A path of avoidance.  He was being stretched in two different directions: his personal need to isolate himself from the rest of humanity and the very human need to be with other people.

Eventually, running low on water and growing tired of the taste of his own piss, and of course being scared to death by that bastard Scooby-Doo (you think you're so fucking funny don't you, you son of a bitch?) Aron is faced with the final realization that if he wants to live he has to free himself by cutting off his own arm.  The way he rationalizes this (at least in the movie) is through a strange sense of fatalism:      

"You know, I've been thinking. Everything is... just comes together. It's me. I chose this. I chose all this. This rock... this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. It's entire life, ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million, billion years ago. In space. It's been waiting, to come here. Right, right here. I've been moving towards it my entire life. The minute I was born, every breath that I've taken, every action has been leading me to this crack on the out surface."

I can sympathize with this sentiment because during a recent outing to Wendy's I had sort of the same existential epiphany when trying to decide what to order.  It's an interesting way to rationalize cutting off his own arm because really you could use that logic to rationalize anything.  Stealing the Mona Lisa.  Fucking your girlfriend's hotter, younger sister.  Kicking your neighbour's yappy little dog (and by "kicking" I mean "running over repeatedly with my car."  Hypothetically, of course.).  My life has been moving towards this one moment.  In Ralston's case it has a special significance, of course, and is not nearly as frivilous as my examples seem to be.  (The key word being "seem.") In this case he isn't just leaving his arm behind.  He's dropping off his emotional baggage.  In the end Ralston sees his situation as a challenge, not only for himself but to himself by fate.  This is his own personal burden to bear: his own cross.  This is Ralston giving fate a wedgie.  It's like Jesus cutting off both of his arms and escaping from the cross.  (And before you ask, yeah Jesus could cut off both of his arms.  He's fucking Jesus, dude.)  The rock Ralston is trapped under becomes an analogy for all the shit in his life that's weighing him down and preventing him from progressing in his own life.  He has stagnated and his desire to be isolated is a symptom not a cause of his unhappiness.  And Aron Ralston was unhappy.  Despite how he is depicted in the first sixteen minutes of the film -as a happy-go-lucky adventurer- he is obviously very unhappy with his life.  And that's the core of the movie.  A man choosing life.  Choosing to move forward.  This makes sense in the larger sense of the movie as well because it's essentially the final message in TRAINSPOTTING as well.   

Definitely watch 127 HOURS.  It is a fantastic piece of cinema and easily one of the best movies of 2010.  It is a fantastic story of one man's triumphant journey, and also there's the cool scene where he cuts off his arm, which is pretty fucking graphic.  (Wait for the part where he has to cut through his own nerves.  Pure teeth-grinding gold.)  I give 127 HOURS a 9/10 = One Hardcore Outdoorsman's Head Cutting Through His Own Arm But Only After Trying To Masturbate One Last Time Before He Dies