Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The New (Old) Morality

A couple of years ago my wife introduced a new Christmas tradition to the family courtesy of Wal-Mart.  Because that's how it goes now.  Traditions and customs are not passed on from generation to generation.  They are bought at your local retail store.  But I like it this way.  This is a new time and we are a new generation and we need new traditions more in line with our modern ethos.  We are consumers.  We buy everything else at giant retail stores--clothes, music, food, medication, ribbed condoms (for her pleasure) (extra large, of course, bitches!)--so why not our culture as well.  I'm not being sarcastic or ironic.  I am a consumer whore and there is little in life that gives me as much pleasure as buying something I really want.  And while I know there is a (presumably) growing movement of friends out there who "Don't let Their Friends Shop at Wal-Mart," these people are stupid, anti-progressive, and almost 100% of them are dumbfoundingly hypocritical to the point where I feel embarrassed for (technically) being the same species as them.  But that's for another time and place.  This article was about Christmas traditions.

So a couple of years ago my wife comes over to me all smiles and giggles, so of course my first assumption is that she's drunk at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  Then she proceeds to tell me about this great new idea for a new family Christmas tradition that one of her friends told her about.  This was my introduction to the Elf on the Shelf.  Basically, the product is a little toy Elf dressed in a bright red suit with this creepy crackhead smile plastered on his face and wide open demon eyes that seem to follow you across the room and a book explaining how he works.  The book--written in shoddy, contracted-to-the-lowest-bidder verse--explains how the Elf basically spies on the family and reports back to Santa Claus on a daily basis as to the behaviour (good, bad, or ugly) of the family members so this fat, arrogant fuck can decide whether or not to give them presents.  The real "fun," we're told, comes from searching for the Elf every morning.  For the kids he moves presumably on his own accord and presumably by some magical means.  For the parents the subtext is that we are supposed to hide this motherfucker in a different spot every night, which means one more thing that isn't porn, video games, or SIMPSONS quotes that I have to remember.  For 24 days (the 24 days of December preceding Christmas--Duh!).  Once she explained it to me, I  knew my wife wasn't drunk--it was definitely hallucinogens of some kind that she had ingested.

But far be it for me to argue, mostly because when push came to shove it didn't really matter one way or the other to me.  I will admit, though, that it has brought a bafflingly immense amount of pleasure to my daughter this year who loved that fucking Elf to death.  I initially wanted to rail against this Elf, but I really couldn't think of any valid reason except that I didn't want to hide it.  And that's not even a valid reason.  It only takes like five seconds to hide the bastard.  I still can't explain my initial dislike of the idea and my subsequent apathy.  But that's kind of my personality.  I will complain about something simply for the sake of complaining about it.  I remember my diatribes against Guitar Hero back in the day.  I told people it was a stupid idea and that kids could better spend their time learning to play "real" instruments and that I couldn't see myself playing it.  Then I tried it and totally got addicted to rhythm gaming, an entire genre of video games that shouldn't even exist and yet has become one of the most enjoyable activities on the planet, a cultural phenomenon, and the most socially relevant running commentary on both music and games in a few short years.  But in that way I'm like a lot of people: I will argue until I am blue in the face against a product or experience I have yet to even try with absolutely no empirical or qualitative evidence simply for the sake of arguing.  Most people are assholes and I am (usually) no exception.

So like most things in life, I half-assedly embraced the Elf on the Shelf tradition.  My contribution was the name.  When you bust open the poorly written book that comes with the Elf, it tells you that part of the fun is naming your Elf, which I suppose implies some kind of emotional bond and limited ownership like when you name a dog or a child: you don' really want to (it cuts into INCEPTION-watching time), but you need to brand it as your own.  My daughter was too young at the time we got it to participate in any sort of logical verbal exchange, so my wife asked me what to name it and I jokingly said "Narc, 'cause, you know, he narcs on you to Santa Claus," and then went back to playing God of War.  I was trying to be a dick, but surprisingly my wife loved it and a legend was born.  Now good old Narc comes out for a little less than a month every year hiding in crafty places like on top of the microwave...

...perched on a picture frame in the dining room...

... swinging from the lights...

... and... enjoying a beer?

And what the fuck is this?

I still have to sit on that couch, dude!  Doggy-style, nice...

Fucking Elf is getting more action than I am.  I just hope he didn't get his candy cane jizz all over my ass groove in the couch.  That's where I sit to play video games or watch movies or rub one out or write blog posts that nobody will ever read about deranged alcoholic sex-crazed winter sprites.

But I guess he's earned all that drunken debauchery because the more I thought about that little Elf on the Innocent Skater Chick's Asshole Shelf the more I realized that he taught me the true meaning of Christmas.  Or one of them anyway.  This Elf is the embodiment of our modern sense of morality.  It teaches kids--and indeed all of us--that the only reason not to do something bad is because you might get caught.  I suppose this is in contrast to a more idealistic ethos of 30, 40, 50 or maybe even 100 years ago which espoused doing "Right" simply for the sake of doing "Right."  You don't steal because it's the "Wrong" thing to do.  You don't punch some elderly lady in the face for cutting in line because it's "Wrong".  You don't cut your uppity neighbor's brake lines on his car simply because he looked at you the wrong way and his haircut is slightly better than yours because it would be inherently "Wrong."  But that's all bullshit.  Nobody actually believes that any more.  There are some people who want to believe it, but deep down they know it's not true.  The new morality is a lot simpler: It's only wrong if you get caught.  I mean, that's really all morality is: the fear of being punished for certain actions that when we're absolutely sure nobody is watching we would do in a heart beat. 

The more I thought about the more I realized that this sexoholic Elf was just the latest, most tangible extension of that morality.  It's been circling around our consciousness for years through lyrics like "He sees you when you're sleeping / He knows when you're awake."  Santa Claus was always just this omnipresent force like god, or the CIA, or the Matrix.  But that's not enough any more.  It's not enough just to sing annoying, archaic holiday songs anymore: now children are becoming more and more cognizant at an earlier and earlier age and realize that the laws of physics overpower their parents' off-key Christmas carol.  If I can't see Santa, then he can't see me.  No, now Santa needs an ever-present spy to ensure compliance with the laws of the land.  So in one sense, this is not the New Morality, it is the Old Morality because there is obvious historical evidence that the Western world was at least vaguely aware of the fact that constant surveillance was a key part of keeping people in line.  In another sense, this is the New Morality because we are now becoming fully cognizant of the fact that the only thing keeping us in line is the threat of some negative consequence from an authority figure and that in the absence of that figure we will do whatever we damn well please.  And rightfully so.

We live in an age now when this New Morality is not only welcome, it is necessary.  In order to succeed in a capitalist/consumerist society you need to fuck over the guy next to you, his mother, all his friends, and their first born children.  And you can't do that if you're shackled by archaic ideals of ethics.  Just like in a game of Monopoly or in HIGHLANDER, there can be only one.  Every success you've had in your life by necessity means that at least a hundred other people have failed.  We are constantly being fucked by large, faceless corporations and large, faceless governments who understand the New Morality implicitly.  Embezzle the money.  Get kids in third world countries to make your clothes.  Get blow jobs from your secretary.  Sell weapons to terrorists.  And if you do get caught then you lie, lie, lie.  Dishonesty is the new honesty.

Imagine this scenario if you will: You find a wallet on the street with three hundred dollars in it.  It has the person's ID so you can either A) Bring it to this person's house, B) Bring it to the cop shop and let them sort it out, C) Keep the money, or D) Any combination of A and B with C.  In this scenario, what is the motivation for returning the money?  Is there really any?  I think personally I'd drop off the wallet at the police station because I know it's a pain in the ass to replace your ID and whatnot, and I would keep the money as a finder's fee.  And why not?  You can never possibly be caught so why not keep the cash and go and buy a Wii and a case of Alexander Keith's?  I don't think there's a single self-actualized person today who wouldn't keep the money.

Now imagine this scenario:  You buy a shitload of hardwood flooring for a home renovation project from your local Generic Home Building Outlet and when you go to pick up your order the dude loading it onto your truck fucks up and gives you an extra $1000 worth of said product by mistake.  Do you A) Tell the dude as he's loading it that he made a mistake, B) Say nothing then return the extra flooring thereby cheating the company out of $1000 or C) Sell the extra flooring to an idiot friend at twice the price?  If you said B or C you are an honest person with a strong grasp of the New Morality.  My personal pick is B because it is just so satisfying to stick it to some big, faceless corporation and because it's a lot less of a hassle than C.  It just makes sense.  If you're given a way to get ahead and you're stopped by what some religious text written over two thousand years ago says (you know the one...) then you are just plain naive and you deserve all the bad things that happen to you.  We all know that the right thing to do is to fuck over the big company.  The old axiom is true:  It's only illegal if you get caught.  It's the same reason you drive thirty kilometers over the speed limit and download pirated music.  You can't fathom any possible legal, financial, or social repercussions.  You don't think you're going to get caught.

Of course some of you might be saying "Well then, you're saying it's alright to kill someone as long as you don't get caught.  You're advocating murder."  To which I'd answer: It depends who you're killing.  But the New Morality isn't concerned about the intrinsic "right" or "wrong" of a particular action, merely about our motivations for completing or not completing said action.  There are some people who would argue that most of us don't steal or kill or rape because people are inherently good and we are progressing as a species.  But that's simply not the case.  The reason that many potential thieves don't steal and potential murderers don't murder and potential rapists don't rape is not because that deep down we all believe that these things are wrong.  It's simply fear of retribution that stops them.  Morality is relative.  I would personally have no problem stealing a couple thousand dollars worth of product from a faceless multi-billion dollar corporation given the opportunity, however I personally draw the line at rape and murder.  But that's just my worldview.

But ultimately the New Morality is about getting ahead.  It's financial.  It's consumerist.  It's materialistic.  That's the important thing.  That's the true meaning of Christmas: pretend to be someone you're not in order to be rewarded while trying to get away with as much as possible without getting caught.  God bless us, everyone.


Friday, December 17, 2010

The Last Laugh

On November 28, 2010 hollywood lost a legend.  Leslie Neilson, star of iconic comedies AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN series past away as a result of complications from pneumonia.  He was originally a serious character actor and has apparently appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows he didn't get his start in comedy until 1980 when he was well into his fifties.  I did a quick IMDB search and quickly discovered that I had never heard of virtually (and by virtually I mean any) of his movie roles previous to AIRPLANE and honestly I really don't plan on watching any of them any time soon.  I'm sure that he did a fine job, but really his great contribution to society came with AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN. 

I remember going over to my grandparents' house for special occaisions: birthdays, Christmases, interventions, Thanksgivings, disownings, lawsuits, Bar Mitzfahs, exorcisms, ritual executions, Easters, or just to watch grandma get plastered and stumble around the room shouting profanities and knocking over priceless heirlooms.  Segregation would typically occur along chronological lines: the adults would stay upstairs talking about out of court settlements or playing Trivial Pursuit or some bullshit while the kids would go down to the basement to scavenge for grandpa's WWII era porn (go Rita Hayworth!), any spare change we could find and watch movies.  We spent countless hours watching the greats like STAR WARS, ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, various Looney Tunes cartoons, and THE NAKED GUN.  OK, mostly it was my brothers and little cousin who watched ACE VENTURA which may explain why they now have trouble forming meaningful relationships and an irrational fear of the Miami Dolphins.  The point is that from an early age Neilson had already begun to influence my subconscious and the man that I would become.  Looking back at AIRPLANE and THE NAKED GUN it is now becoming more and more obvious how those movies influenced my sense own of humour: in turns sarcastic, farcical and just plain corny.

What Neilson in particular contributed to the comedy world was first his superb deadpan delivery of some of the most ridiculously funny lines in movie history (  "It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girls dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.") but also popularizing the archetype of the oblivious hero.  Now I suppose that the obivious hero archetype has existed for a while perhaps best characterized by the (for some reason) beloved Mr.Magoo which is why it was somewhat appropriate for Neilson to eventually portray Magoo in the 1997 live action incarnation aptly titled MR. MAGOO.  Other actors have also contributed to the archetype, like Bill Murray in THE MAN WO KEW TOO LITTLE, and I am a huge Murray fan (great fucking cameo in ZOMBIELAND) but for my money Leslie Neilson just personified it better.  Nobody could deliver a line like  "Oh, and one more thing... I faked every orgasm!" or  "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley" with the severity and gravitas of Leslie Neilson.  In his comedy prime he didn't just deliver lines: he preached comedic gospel.

And so the only thing left to say is farwell Leslie, and thank you... and for the love of god don't call me Shirley.  Let er' RIP, big guy.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Machete Kills!

Movies are undoubtedly the most pervasive artform of the past two or three generations.  While video games are arguably more significant -philosophically speaking-, movies are more universally understood by more subcultures because they have been marketed to more sectors of society.  Even if you've never played a video game in your entire life and you don't give a shit about the tragic story of the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast (Come gather 'round children to hear a tale of unimaginable woe...) I'd make a bet that you could still converse in some way about movies in some form or another.  Movies are so pervasive that they have made the list of Top Five Ways to Awkwardly Begin a Conversation With a Stranger, usually in the following order:
1) "What do you do for a living?"
2) "Are you from around here?" / "Been living here long?"
3) "So how many dicks have you sucked?" "So, how do you know so and so?"
4)"37!?" "I can't believe this weather we're having."
5) "What's your favourite movie?"

Despite my proclivity towards video games I still consider myself a "Movie Guy" and so invariably when I am forced into an awkward social situation with other adult males of my species -usually due to the community groups my wife and I bring our children to- I have to try to convey the sum total of my entire being in five facts or less and I always mention that I love movies.  It usully comes out without thinking because my love of movies is a huge part of my identity and my ego (in the Freudian sense) won't let it slide.  I have to mention it even though somewhere deep down in my soft, pink brain it will just make me hate the person I'm talking to even more.  I can't relate to other guys about sports, cars, fishing or fucking random strangers so the only way I have to relate is through movies because everybody can relate to movies even if they aren't avid moviegoers.  But then it opens up the floodgates.  People start asking me if I've seen every new movie that's out, title by title.  They ask me if I've seen older movies.  They tell me about movies they like which usually makes me lose most to all respect for them almos immediately.  And finally they ask the dreaded question, which usually happens in slow mo with deep, drawn out slo mo voices: "So, what's your favourite movie?"

You fucking jackass.

You arrogant prick.

I fucking hate this question.  And I'll tell you why.

First, you have just crossed one of my personal boundaries.  Ask me about my job.  Ask me about my kids.  Ask me about my personal views about abortion, fine.  Ask me how long I can last on average before I climax.  But for the love of god do no ask me about my favourite movie.  I do not know you well enough to be asked that question on our very first meeting.  You need Friend Clearance Level 5 before you can even begin to think about asking me that question.  Asking me about my favourite movie is the equivalent of asking your girlfriend how many dicks she's sucked before you've been going out for more than forty-eight hours.  This may sound ridiculous to some people, but in my sphere of influence movies are an integral part of existence and asking a person's favourite movie is a complicated, revealing question.  First of all, asking me about my favourite movie (singular) is really asking me my top five or ten movies (plural) because I can't be defined by any one single movie.  So my typical answer would begin with PULP FICTION, then on to FIGHT CLUB and THE DARK KNIGHT, but then stray over to THE MATRIX, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, GOODFELLAS, and TERMINATOR 2, and eventually to crazy shit like DONNIE DARKO, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, and EQUILIBRIUM.  Then the problem becomes that after the first three, which are rated in order, I need to make the other guy understand that I am constantly trying to establish the rest in a discernible order and that as of yet my Top Ten list is really a Top 3 With Seven (...Oh yeah, also SEVEN...) Other Movies That I Can't Make Up My Fucking Mind About, Thank You Very Much.  So I can't even construct a Top Ten list, because then it becomes a Top Twenty list (...also CASINO, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, CLERKS II, AMERICAN PSYCHO and INCEPTION...).  Or if it is a Top Ten list then it has to be a representative list, highlighting my favourite genres, directors, plots, writers and actors (...SHAUN OF THE DEAD, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS...).  So, for example, if I say that number four on my list is GOODFELLAS (which I'm not sure that it is), this is actually representative of my love for Martin Scorsese, gangster movies, and guys like Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci.  But mostly Martin Scorsese.  So when I say GOODFELLAS as my fourth favourite movie of all time, I'm actually saying GOODFELLAS, CASINO, THE DEPARTED (...oh yeah, THE DEPARTED...), GANGS OF NEW YORK, RAGING BULL, THE AVIATOR, MEAN STREETS, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, THE LAST WALTZ, and even NEW YORK NEW YORK.  This also leads to the conundrum of explaining how I think Scorsese is the greatest director of all time while not having one of his films as number one on my list.  This is what many scientists (I assume) refer to as the Scorsese Paradox.  I have tried to reconcile the  Paradox many times, and have failed miserably.  But then, I think that GOODFELLAS, CASINO, and THE DEPARTED deserve their own spots on my list, so again I'm left in a conundrum.  The same is true of MEMENTO, THE DARK KNIGHT, and INCEPTION as some films defy representation without taxation.

The second problem then becomes how one chooses his favourite movie.  Anybody who knows me or has read any of my reviews knows that I overthink the shit out of movies and I have a very complicated grading process for determining the quality of a movie.  But it's even more complicated and neurotic and boring than you could ever emagine.  Allow me to regale you.  In order to differentiate the relative quality of movies at a glance I have a rating system which assigns a numerical value between one and ten to each movie.  This seems simple enough, but then the problem is that even though I rate two movies the exact same -say a 9/10- they are not necessarily equal and they may have recieved that 9 for different reasons.  For example let's look at AMERICAN PSYCHO and DONNIE DARKO, two movies that I would both rate at a big fat 10.  First off, even though both are 10's on my scale I would rate AMERICAN PSYCHO higher than DONNIE DARKO, by a matter of degrees.  Second, I gave them both 10's for different reasons.  AMERICAN PSYCHO is an amazing adaptation of an amazing book, a showcase of Christian Bale's incrdible talent, an orgy of violence, and a scathing commentary on the culture of excess in the 1980's.  DONNIE DARKO is completely fucking nuts, explores ideas like self-sacrifice, destiny and the hypocracy of various educational and religious establishments, but I still have no idea what the fuck time travel and alternate universes have to do with airplanes and giant, demonic bunnies.  The thing is if I took the same criteria that I used to judge AMERICAN PSYCHO and applied it to DONNIE DARKO, the latter would fail and vice versa.  Then I have my whole Character/Theme/Plot holy trinity bullshit to work in there.  And part of it is just a visceral reaction to the script or the filmmaking (... SIN CITY, 300...).  It's fucking ridiculous.

And that's the whole problem.  Whe somebody asks me what my favourite movie is, what they are really asking me is how I evaluate artisitic endeavors.  They are asking me to explain how I view art, and so how I view existence in general which is a personal and complicated thing to ask somebody you first meet.  It would be like a stripper asking another hotter, bigger-breasted stripper how to blow out a candle using only her vagina.  I'm sure it takes some time to cover the intricacies.

Third, most people have terrible, terrible tastes in, well, everything and odds are the more I learn about you the more I will hate you.  If you ask me my favourite movie and I hesitantly offer:


"I saw that, but I never really liked it."

You uneducated swine.  Now I already hate you, but then you add something like:

"Have you ever seen MEET THE PARENTS?  That was the funniest movie of all time."

Now you've completely crossed the line.  Now I'm not just passively hating you, now I'm actively trying to cause you bodily harm.  Now when I see you in a parking lot, I'm not driving over to say hello, I'm fucking gunning for you.  Playful snowball? No, missile from the depths of hell.  That's not jut a cup of coffee I just handed you, it was a trace amount of poison that will build up in your system and kill you.  If we're walking in the forest, I have a steak in my back pocket to attract bears so I can knock you down and run to a safe distance and record you getting mauled so I can post it on YouTube in time for the six o'clock news.

But then, you say something like:

"TRANSFORMERS 2 wasn't that bad."

Now it's just an out and out bludgeoning with my fists of fury and any other blunt objects I can find nearby.  Hopefully a spoon so I can carve your heart out.  (The sad thing is you will never experience the joy of understanding that reference before you die a slow and painful death.)  You have become the very antithesis of everything I stand for and I have no patience for your idiocy.  You must die immediately, your house burned to the ground and the earth salted so nothing fruitful will grow there.

Now time for the awkward seguey into my review of Robert Rodriguez's latest insanity MACHETE.  I am not going to argue that this is the greatest movie of all time, but I thoroughly enjoyed it because it was a shitload of fun (another of my rating criteria).  I am abig fan of Danny Trejo and I was totally stoked that he's finally getting his time as a leading man.  MACHETE follows the trials and tribulations of ex-Federale Machete Cortez who is hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey - Lapidus from LOST) to assassinate a racist senator (Robert DeNiro).  Along the way he woos both Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez, kills a bunch of people in increasingly terrible ways, fucks Booth's daughter (Lindsey Lohan) and wife and sends him the video, and eschews the phenomenon known as "texting".  (I can totally empathize with Machete because NathaN don't text either.)

Now after my big rant about how I classify movies and my ever-growing list of favourite movies one might expect me to suddenly add MACHETE to my Top Ten list, which I'm not going to do.  But I will use MACHETE as an example of another integral part of my rating system, the other Big Three: swearing, violence and nudity/sex.  While many would consider these categories to be "low-brow" or less significant than, say, themes dealing with the nature of reality or the ability of two grown, heterosexual male friends expressing their love for each other (it's a reference to CLERKS 2 you sick fucks), I think they are still valid ways of judging the awesomeness of a movie.  And MACHETE had all three in abundance.  Any movie that has multiple beheadings and a naked woman pulling a cell phone out of her vagina to make a call in the opening scene is off to a good start.

Rodriguez (Robert) has always beena favourite of mine ever since DESPERADO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN all the way up to GRINDHOUSE and SIN CITY.  His flicks are always fun and satisfying on a visceral level if not as culturally substantial as say SCOTT PILGRIM or INCEPTION.  Danny Trejo has always seemed like a total badass on screen and just genrally not the kind of guy you'd want to be alone with in a dark alley in Mexico after 3:00 am.  Some side effects of being in the vicinity Trejo are being horribly injured by sharp objects and extremely painful and untimely Death.  Rodriguez (Michelle) has also been a favourite of mine, but for diffeent reasons (see below).  She's always been a solid actress, but also one of the sexiest women in Hollywood today or any day.  She also seems to be a genuinely tough chick and I don't know what she's like in real life, but in movies and TV shows she gives this look like she's going to bust open your fucking skull right there.  And she seems to have the physique to be able to acomplish this.

As I watched MACHETE I couldn't help but think about THE EXPENDABLES and what Stallone was trying to do with his callback to the 80's and what Rodriguez succeeded in doing with his callback to the 70's.  I have to admit that the action in THE EXPENDABLES was technically bigger and better but I still had more fun watching MACHETE.  All the cinematic conceits that hindered THE EXPENDABLES were absent in MACHETE.  Rodriguez wasn't trying to pass a torch and it didn't have some chip on its shoulder about trying to be one of the greatest action films of all time and it wasn't some commentary on how films should be made (although Rodriguez's filmmaking is a shining example of how films should be made just without the pretention).  You can really tell that Rodriguez has a lot of fun making films and he makes movies that he wants to make with no apologies and no excuses.  I think the reason I have so much fun watching his stuff is because of the fun he obviously has making them.  You can tell he's having a great time because of the batshit crazy stuff that he puts in his movies.  These Rodriguez-isms make his movies (except the SPYKIDS series) some really entertaining shit.  My favourite Rodriguez-ism from MACHETE was Machete using another man's intestine as a rope to escape from a group of bad guys. 

Now comes my rating.  One of the reasons I went into my spiel at the beginning was becaue thinking about MACHETE my gut reaction was to give it a really good rating.  This does not mean that MACHETE is one of my favourite movies of all time, just that I had a shitload of fun watching it and an't wait until it comes t BluRay (and drops to $9.99).  Overall I would have to give MACHETE an 8/10 = One Angry Mexican Head Brutally Diseboweling His Enemies in the Name of Revenge and Justice.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. My Bloated Sense of Self Worth

Not a day goes by recently that I don't want pizza.  I don't know if I would qualify pizza as my favourite food, but I do know that I want pizza as much as Lindsey Lohan wants cocaine or like most heterosexual men want to ride Meagan Fox's juicy ass.  Lately I can't get enough.  Last weekend my brother Christopher came up to help me put hardwood floors in my house and my wife bought us a Pizza Hut pizza for supper.  I remember it distinctly because for some inexplicable reason my wife hates Pizza Hut.  Every time we're trolling for fast food on a Friday evening because fuck it, it's the weekend and we don't feel like cooking, and we settle on pizza and I start listing off pizza places, she inevitably shoots down all suggestions except for Dominos and Toppers.  Pizza Hut isn't even considered.  It's a huge piss off, but fuck it, it's the weekend, we don't feel like cooking, and I want my fucking pizza.  So when I finally sank my teeth into that delicious Pizza Hut pizza I felt how Pam Anderson must have felt chowing down on Tommy Lee's dick for the first time.  It was greasy, it was cheesy, it melted in your mouth.  The pizza was good too.

This little anecdote actually has very little to do with my review of SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, but for the sake of narrative cohesion I'm going to take a long shot and try to tie it in.  How about this: my yearning for the pizza I can't have is really a metaphor for my insatiable appetite for high quality, significant films.  It's a weak connection at best, and it's awkward in the sense that in the framework of this metaphor my wife represents the bloated, lumbering beast known as Hollywood -a disgusting creation oozing sequels and spewing forth remakes- that seems as intent to stop me from seeing a good movie as my wife seems to be to stop me from having my favourite pizza and I still have to live with her -at least in theory- for at least another ten or twenty years (presuming she doesn't divorce me during that time).

"Wow," you might be saying right about now, "what a convoluted and inefficient way to start off a movie review."  Well either you're an impatient prick, or I am a genius ahead of my time.  Or maybe a little of both.  The simple fact is that sometimes there is a method to the madness that you just can't see, and I am so glad I didn't see the madness that is SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD coming.  It was so much fucking fun to be completely knocked on my ass.  This is a movie that came out of nowhere and my only regret about seeing this movie is that I didn't watch it sooner.  I find it so rare these days to watch a movie that has me clamoring to watch it again the minute it's over, and I was completely shocked when for days afterwards I could think of nothing else but how I could sneak out of bed or out of work to watch the movie again.  I was totally captivated from the very first frame and so thoroughly entertained that I had to change my pants afterwards (because, you know, I blew my load.  Oh, shut up).  If I could use only one word to describe this movie (you should be so lucky) it would be: Fun.  But interwoven within that fun was one of the most relevant commentaries ever presented that encapsulates how many young men perceive the world around them and, indeed, how they are navigating through their entire lives.  But we'll get to that.

But first, the plot!  SCOTT PILGRIM is a tough movie to summarize, but basically it follows the budding romance between Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and new girl on the block and resident "it" girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).  However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and before Scott and Ramona can move forward he has to defeat her seven evil exes in video-game inspired, epic kung-fu battles, deal with his own messy break-up with his high school girlfriend (ie. she's seventeen and he's twenty-two) and help his band achieve maximum awesomeness at various gigs throughout Toronto.

I know I've been complaining about Michael Cera a lot lately and how he hasn't grown as an artist and how his skin is so youthful and much paler than mine (that glorious, white, bastard) but he is perfect for this role.  He pulls off the vulnerability and action impeccably.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead (pictured below), aside from being really fucking hot (what is it about punk rocker chicks?), is great as Ramona and plays the jaded, experienced punk rock angel perfectly.  In fact the entire cast was phenomenally well matched with their roles and did an all around fantasticjob.  Keiran Culkin did an amazing job as Scott's gay, sarcastically witty best friend and I would totally like to see him in a movie again.  Allison Pill plays the drummer in Scott's band and it was a real treat any time she was on screen.  Pill has some of the best lines in the whole flick, which says a lot in a movie full of great lines.  Others who stood out were Ellen Wong as Scott's 17 year old girlfriend Knives Chau, Chris Evans as one of Ramona's exes ( a great parody of the Hollywood action star), Superman himself Brandon Routh as another of Ramona's exes (a vegan no less, and freaking hilarious), and of course Jason Schartzman as the leader of the League of Evil Exes who was also fantastic.  The script was strong to begin with but these actors really went above and beyond in my book (which has yet to be published).

Now I know for a lot of people this movie might seem -at least on the surface- like an epileptic seizure caught on film with a bunch of over the top one liners and action sequences too ridiculous to fathom.  And I would bet that those people are not heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 35.  Because if you fall in that category I have the sneaking suspicion that you loved this film.  This is because I believe SCOTT PILGRIM presents a very male-centric view of relationships.  That is not to say that if you're a chick you won't dig it or appreciate it on the same level or that you might be a lesbian (just some food for thought), but it definitely centered on the male dynamic in relationships, primarily in the classical monogamous romantic relationship, but also the friend dynamic.

It was pretty obvious that SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD was a visual allegory for dealing with the emotional baggage that inevitably (or maybe not) comes with starting a new relationship.  In particular SCOTT PILGRIM was about the title character dealing with the emotional complexity that stems from the gradual discovery of the sexual history of his new romantic interest Ramona.  In this way it reminded me a lot of CHASING AMY.  If you haven't seen Kevin Smith's masterpiece CHASING AMY (and shame on you) it basically follows Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) who falls in love with this chick Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) who turns out to be a lesbian.  Or maybe not.  Holden relentlessly pursues Jones and it turns out she's not really as polarized in her sexuality as it would seem and they hook up.  But as they get to know each other Holden gets hung up over his new girlfriend's sexual history (the number of partners, the bisexuality, and an incident with multiple partners that earned her the nickname Finger Cuffs) and his growing feeling of inadequacy as he obsesses over her sexual experience which far exceeds his own.  So while Holden McNeil's obsession is resolved (?) through a series of escalating conversations/arguments about the nature of sexual exploration and ultimately with the proposition of a three way (menage a trois, I believe it's called) with his best friend and his girlfriend, Scott Pilgrim deals with the emotional baggage of his girlfriend's past relationships with flashy video game style battles to the (metaphorical?) death.

CHASING AMY focuses more on frank yet hilarious discussions about the breaking of the hymen in relation to loss of virginity and the necessity of penetration in sex, but at its heart is a lot of the same tension as in SCOTT PILGRIM.  In the movie Scott literally fights Ramona's exes which is visually engaging, but the subtext is that it is actually his psyche coming to terms with the inadequacy he feels as he begins comparing his own sexual history to that of his new squeeze.  The difference between Holden and Scott is that while Holden is consumed by his neurosis and sees the only option to compete with the influence/memory of his girlfriend's exes is to, well, compete with them by becoming more like them (ie. more sexually experimental) Scott is able to work past his neurosis and in the name of self respect embraces the differences between his girlfriend's past beaus and himself, a fact which she herself expressly tells him throughout the movie as a reason for her attraction to him.  This insecurity seems (as far as I can tell) to be a (mostly) male conundrum.  Silent Bob himself said it best in CHASING AMY:

 "At that moment, I felt small, like... like I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level, like I'd never be enough for her or something like that, you know what I'm saying? But, what I did not get, she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore."

Men, in general, still seem to be threatened by female sexuality especially when it overpowers or overshadows male sexuality.  More plainly, dudes want a dirty girl without the dirt.  They want a sexually experienced chick who hadn't had sex.  The want the final product without the manufacturing process and the industrial byproducts.  This is in part because of the intimidation factor of being compared with past partners and also the result of laziness at not wanting to have to compete with previous sexual partners.  If your girlfriend/fiance/wife/fuck buddy/friend's wife has never had sex (or has had very little sex) then you don't have to try as hard because she doesn't really know what she's missing.  But the thing is the person who usually cares the most about your sexual history is you (a notable exception, of course, is if you have genital herpes).  A lot of these problems have to do with perception.  Women tend to view relationships as a process.  There is a beginning, but there is no middle and no resolution, and hence no catharsis in the male sense of the word.  Men tend to see relationships how they see video games: a problem to be solved.  You have a given issue (an Enemy), a set of social parameters (the Game World or Level) and a series of actions that can be taken in various combinations (the Controls).  So you enter Relationship Level 3, attack Sexual Inadequacy with your Mace of Arguing +2, then your Spell of Childish Wall-Punching, followed by the Obligatory Make-Up Sex Bonus Level.  Beginning, middle, end.  In theory if you face the same Enemy again then, just like in a video game, the exact same combination will defeat the same bad guy because you've figured out his pattern.  However, this does not hold true because the game parameters are constantly being changed by your significant other because of her aforementioned world view.  Neither one is inherently more correct, but one is infinitely more frustrating and seemingly irrational.
This brings me (in a very roundabout way) to my second point about why SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is so culturally significant.  It represents how most men (and some women) of my generation (and each subsequent generation) tend to view the world: as a video game.  Everything from work to relationships to eating a sandwich to peeing to playing video games.  In fact every daily activity can be viewed through this lens: there is a mission to accomplish, given parameters of said mission, a limited number of assets to complete the mission and a binary outcome: success or failure.  SCOTT PILGRIM is the embodiment of this world view.  There are the countless references to actual video games: the Street Fighter-esque battles including the countdown, the reward of coins after defeating bad guys a la Mario, the pee meter, over the top video game style fights complete with over sized weapons a la games like Soul Caliber, Zelda music courtesy of Nintendo, the name of Scott's band is Sex Bob-Omb (if you don't get hat reference then you are no friend of mine sir), and at one point Scott picks up an extra life, which, as usual, comes in pretty handy.

It's not just the references in and of themselves that are significant, although they definitely add to the cinematic experience.  It's the fact that Scott is dealing with his emotions under the guise of the video game mentality that make this movie substantial.  It's not just that Scott and his generation like video games: they now see the world as a video game or series of video games.  Video games have reached the level where they are not only informed by society but also inform society arguably more than most other media today (aside from social networking).  (To anyone who cares to argue (like my brother, Matthew) take Grand Theft Auto IV as an example.  In its first 24 hours it made more than $300 million, more than most summer blockbusters make in their entire run in theatres.  Amounts of money on his scale are not only legitimizing in the cocaine-addled rockstar sense, but also in the Wall Street buy your first born child just for fun and sell him for a profit sense.)  This is because unlike listening to music or watching a movie, video games are an immersive experience: that is there is a direct connection between what the audience does and what happens on the screen.  That's why shit like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, and even Bioshock have given me nightmares more than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Saw, or even The Fourth Kind ever could have.      

The other component of video games that keep people coming back for more is the stimulation.  There are simply more visual and auditory stimulants per minute than most other forms of media: that is they're fun and engaging.  And fun.  Which is why so many of us try to look at life as though it were a video game: real life is fucking boring.  Going to work, taking out the trash, cooking, eating, taking a steaming dump in the morning, remembering birthdays, taking a shower, taking a piss in the shower, taking a steaming dump in the shower etc.  It's all become mundane because technology has lowered our attention span to ridiculously low levels (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and we require constant stimulation.  So we've begun to approach mundane every day activities as we would a video game.  Maybe your game is Doing As Little As Possible At Work (a game I've all but mastered).  So you sneak around your workplace Splinter Cell style avoiding your boss and going to the bathroom 20 times a day without being detected.  Maybe your game is Unloading the Dishwasher (mandatory game play courtesy of the wife) so in your mind you see the time counting down and a numeric score, increasing each time you put away the pans in the right place (not as easy as you'd think).  Or maybe your game is Driving Your Kids to School so you drive Forza style through the streets then avoid the police like the colourful characters in the GTA series.  Or maybe your game is Getting a Better House, in which case you approach it like an RPG: save up money over time then sell your old item to get enough gold to buy a much better item in the same category.  I no longer talk to people; I interact with characters.  Most people in the world are one-dimensional archetypes whose personalities can be boiled down to between three to five standard responses.  Life has now become a metaphor for video games.

Any way you slice it video games are awesome and real life pales in comparison and this is why SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD spoke to me and by extension (I presume) the rest of my generation.  It was essentially the merging of my two favourite media types: movies and video games.  It also represents another of my favourite things: a fucking great movie.  If you haven't seen this movie yet then get your hand off of your dick (you can replenish your Masturbation Meter later) and glue your eyes to the screen for one of the most fun cinematic experiences of this and a lot of other years.  Edgar Wright, I was wrong to ever doubt you and pledge my lifelong loyalty to you and whatever crazy celebrity religion you belong to (please, god, don't let it be Scientology).  I am definitely in lesbians with SCOTT PILGRIM.

I give SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD a 10/ 10 = One Vegan's Head with Glowing Eyes Exploding in a Shower of Coins

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shove it Up Your Mine Shaft

About three weeks ago I happened to be watching the news and I caught a bit of the story about the rescue of a bunch of miners trapped in a mine down in good old Chile.  I vaguely remember hearing about the story periodically during the past couple of months, but I didn't really pay much attention because I was either too busy A) working B) thinking about and/or watching THE DARK KNIGHT C) podcasting (check out Cylon Bingo dudes and dudettes) D) masturbating or E) some combination of the four (I won't spoil the fun by telling you which ones).  As I was watching the story unfold I realized two very important things: One, there aren't a whole lot of hot female newscasters, and; Two, the news is really fucking boring.  It occured to me as they were showing the miners being rescued after being stuck down a giant shaft (boo-yah!) for sixty-something days that the problem with the news is that the people involved in reporting it take themselves way too seriously and they have absolutely no idea how to construct a compelling narrative.                
There seems to be this misconception both by those that work in the media and among the common folk that in order to report "the Facts" with a capital F that it needs to be done with a complete disregard for entertainment value.  This is a load of bullshit that lets people involved in the news media (be it written, televised, or on ye olde radio) get away with presenting world events in the most boring and least engaging way possible because it is done in the name of "journalistic integrity."  "Journalistic integrity" is just a euphemism for "lazy" and "untalented."  Journalistic integrity and entertainment value are not inherently mutually exclusive.  The prime example that I can provide is THE DAILY SHOW featuring the lovable Jon Stewart.  Not only is it wildly entertaining but it is also arguably the most accurate and significant portrayal of news events that is being broadcast today.  For some reason because it's presented in a comedic way THE DAILY SHOW is looked down upon a lot of people as if soemthing being funny somehow mystically makes it less legitimate somehow.  But if you look at the way Jon Stewart et al cover American federal politics or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I mean closely look at the analysis they provide, you would realize that  THE DAILY SHOW is the most informative news show out there and that if America was smart they would elect Jon Stewart as president.  The simple fact of the matter is that comedy is analysis.  One of the keys of comedy is looking at the absurdity that already exists in the world and exposing it.  Jon Stewart didn't make the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq land the American government's inept way of approaching it ook completely ridiculous - it already was completely ridiculous.  That's the great thing about THE DAILY SHOW: the writers have one of the best jobs in the entertainment industry because the situations and politians that they cover are so absurdly ludicrous that the jokes practically write themselves.  I don't think the fact that THE DAILY SHOW is presented as the archetypal news show -the newscaster behind a desk reporting on the stories of the day- is not intended to be ironic.  These people aren't pretending to report the news or reporting news that never happened.  THE DAILY SHOW is a legitimate news show that maintains journalistic integrity while making me laugh my ass off.

So one of my questions while watching the ordeal of the Chilean miners was: Why can't all the news be presented in such an entertaining way?  And it doesn't necessarily have to be comedic.  And it doesn't necessarily have to be in the typical newsroom fashion.  I'm talking about movies.  They are becoming a viable way to present important news stories.  And I'm not just talking about big political events like JFK's examination of the assination of JFK.  There's a movie that just opened this weekend called 127 HOURS.  The reason that's it's so prevelent in my consciousness right now is because not only is it based on a true story and it is a story that I am actually familiar with having (vaguely) paid attention to the story a couple years back.  127 HOURS basically covers the gruelling 127 hour ordeal of mountain climber Aron Ralston who goes out for a bikeride and somehow ends up with his arm trapped under a giant bolder.  Long story short, the baddass motherfucker has to cut off his own arm with a Swiss Army knife, climb out of a canyon, and make his own way back to civilization and, being in America, terribly overpriced and unaffordable healthcare.  All reviews I've heard about this movie so far make it out to be a work of cinematic genius.  It stars James "So Good" Franco and is directed by Danny Boyle and while I haven't yet seen the film I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that this movie will not only be more memorable than the original 2003 news story, but it will also be more emotionally engaging.  And I mean, really, what's the difference hearing about this story in 2003 and 2010?  The only thing that the purveyors of this information have now that they didn't have back then is greater perspective.

For some reason, again, movies that portray actual events are seen as somehow inaccurate.  Now in some cases this is true (looking at you U-571) but for the most part I don't think these movies aren't any more - or less- accurate than any story presented in most "legitimate" newscasts (THE DAILY SHOW aside).  Somehow we've been mind-fucked by the established to equate objectivity with truth and subjectivity with fiction.  The truth is that no matter who presents the news -whether it be Walter Cronkite or Oliver Stone- he is presenting it from a certain point of view.  And it's virtually unavoidable.  I say virtually because there is an objective reality that occurs independently of our perspective and it is possible to approach objective reality through language, just as it is possible to approach absolute zero under laboratory conditions.  But the truth is that real life is usually pretty fucking boring and we need to add something to spice it.  The media tries to spice things up without appearing to spice things up.  That's the conceit of journalism: we are expected to believe that they are reporting objective reality wholesale but at the same time they have to be the middleman and make it palatable for mass consumption.  Then you throw in individual biases of the reporters, mass biases of the networks or organizations putting out the story, incomplete facts, inaccurate sources, stress caused by deadlines, and good old fashioned human error and you can't help but be subjective. 

The thing with the movie industry is everybody knows that it's not objective.  It's completely subjective.  But that doesn't necessarily make what they say any less true.  A movie is generally acknowledged to be somebody's point of view so that tension between accuracy and entertainment that the media produces melts away.  This is why you can have a movie like BLOW which not only portrays an actual person and actual events and still have graphic portrayals of violence, drug use, and (if I remember correctly) nudity.  Besides which, most people are not capable of conveying their own story.  The simple fact of the matter is that Liam Neeson can be a better you than you.  You are most likely inarticulate in front of a camera.  You are most likely unable to emote effectively.  You probably aren't even all that attractive, or at least photogenic.  In all respects Liam Neeson is not only a better person than you, but he can captivate audiences, and if there's a nude scene I've also heard that he's hung like a clydesdale, which will reflect positively on your character.    

"So what does all this have to do with a bunch of dudes trapped in a mine in Chile?" you might be asking yourself.  Well, very little actually.  Or maybe a lot.  The other thing that really struck me while watching the coverage of this crisis was how media conscious we have become.  Almost every reporter who reported on the story made some reference to the fact that if these dudes survived the ordeal they were going to be able to sell their stories.  Now, whenever there is a traumatic event that occurs anywhere in the world and it reaches the attention of national and/or national media it's pretty much a given that any survivors (or the next of kin of the victims) are going to be able to sell the rights to their story to a reputable studio (or, as a last resort, FOX) for a bazillion dollars, buy an island somewhere in the South Pacific and spend the rest of their lives watching INCEPTION while doing blow off the fake tits of blonde strippers who can't speak English.  (Well, at least the bazillion dollars part.)  Even the dudes trapped down in that mine shaft knew the financial potential of their predicament.  One guy even kept a journal, a fact which in the media tended to overshadow other more pressing aspects of the story like: how were they dealing with going to the bathroom,  how were they getting food and air, the psychological effects of being confined in such a small space, and exactly how long does a group of heterosexual men have to be trapped a hundred (or so) meters below the Earth's surface in a hot, confined space before they resort to full-blown homosexual relations. 

All of this is fine, though, because I'm sure they'll touch on this kind of stuff in the inevitable movie adaptation.  And I'm sure the the film will be a lot more engaging and (more importantly) profitable than the news stories.  This story of the Chilean miners trapped in the miners is, above all, a message of hope: the hope that eventually something tragic will happen to me, hopefully without maiming me permanently (maybe being trapped somewhere underground), and I'll be able to live off the residuals for the rest of my life.  Now if I am attacked by a rapid jaguar, struck by a meteorite, kidnapped by terrorists or crash land on a mysterious tropical island with a giant smoke monster, the first call won't be to law enforcement or emergency services, it will be to my lawyer to immediately start shopping around my story to all major studios (even FOX).  The most important question in any emergency situation now isn't "How can I make every day count if I survive this?"  Now it's "Who should play me in the movie adaptation?"  Some people reading this might think that I'm being sarcastic or criticizing our hyper-media consciousness, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  I'm all for anything in our society which can potentially make me a multi-millionaire overnight.  I just hope that my crisis happens before Liam Neeson retires.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Need Another Hot Beef Injection? Thank You Expendables

As a born again heterosexual nothing gets me more excited than watching a bunch of bulked up, bulging, sweaty men, with rippling muscles engage in close quarters, MMA inspired combat after killing hundreds of less virile men with only dozens of bullets and then celebrate by smoking phallic cigars and not have sex with gorgeous, big-breasted women.  Imagine my delight, then, when I saw Stallone's latest moving picture THE EXPENDABLES.  This was Stallone's attempt to recapture/cash in on the 80's action movie archetype which he helped to create with his own RAMBO series.  It was this series of movies where Stallone actually helped define the absurd action movie cliches and stereotypes that he is now attempting to parody/satirize/emulate in what is now being billed as simultaneously both nostalgic and progressive (ie. the older generation passing the torch the slightly less older generation).  I briefly considered the philosophical ramifications before I went to see the movie but mostly I got excited for another installment of mindless gun porn (a term I recently heard and stole from a friend) and a large collection of giant muscle-bound action stars beating the shit out of each other.  Or, as Tobias Funke would say: "I can just taste those meaty, leading man parts in my mouth."

The plot of THE EXPENDABLES follows a group of ultimate badasses (except for, somewhat glaringly, Bill Paxton) who travel around the world independently contracting themselves out for covert military operations.  I suppose this makes them mercenaries, but I think the popular romantic vision of mercenaries differs from the hard reality (ie. badass motherfuckers with a conscious vs. soldiers for hire who kill who they're hired to kill regardless).  This troupe of wandering ass kicking machines is made up of a plethora of (mostly) movie action icons including Sylvester Stallone, his old arch nemesis Dolf Dundgren, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and real life UFC icon Randy Couture.  I won't list all their character names because they're not really that important.  This team is hired to overthrow a tyrannical government on a generic South American island. However, when they discover that they might be being set up by the CIA to solve a problem they themselves caused the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan and this ragtag group of mercenaries goes into hardcore ass-kicking mode and cause a lot of big explosions and kill a shit-ton of people.  All in the name of peace and freedom of course.

What was really interesting about this film was the fact that it even exists.  The idea is so absurd that it could have come from a movie itself: an aging action star from the 80's tries to make a "modern," 21st century action movie with that 80's action movie sensibility and a gathering of action stars from the past thirty years the likes of which has never been seen.  I'm not sure how much of the "80's nostalgia" was Stallone's original intent and how much came about as a result of marketing, but in the end it doesn't matter.  The fact is THE EXPENDABLES now only exists within that framework and can now only be seen through that lens.  What made the film really interesting to me was the fact that Sylvester Stallone intentionally wanted to make an action film in the same vein as all of those old eighties action films.  Stallone is in a unique position as a filmmaker in this case because he actually starred in 80's action films.  That means that this film was not just another action extravaganza, it was Stallone's analysis/commentary on the "old" action films of that era, and therefore of the era itself, but ultimately of himself.

In this respect there a few ways to approach the movie.  THE EXPENDABLES could be Stallone's way of saying "This is the way those movies should have been made."  From this point of view the movie is a critique of 80's action powerhouses including his own FIRST BLOOD.  However, FIRST BLOOD was not just mindless violence, even though it helped establish the cinematic paradigm of the invincible superhuman protagonist.  Even though it was chock full of balls to the wall action at its core it was an exploration of the alienation that Vietnam veterens felt after returning from the war.  THE EXPENDABLES didn't seem to have any coherent plot or deeper themes and was more or less an excuse for Stallone et al to rock out with their cocks (and guns (or knives)) out.  The message here is that while the old school action movies might have had more coherent plots and significant themes, it all pales in comparison to the orgy of blood and violence they can come up with now.

Another way to interpret the film would be that this is Stallone's homage to a bygone era.  To a time when men were men and if they wanted to blow shit up with a bow and arrow or wipe out entire armies with a single clip of bullets and a couple of hand grenades and they had 36-inch biceps then by God they should be allowed -nay required- to do so.  I mean the hardcore Action film with a capital A that was born in the 1980's is pretty much extinct now.  I'm not sure what happened during the 90's but by the 00's quality action movies were an endangered species like the hooker with a heart of gold or the Guns n' Roses fan who "loves" Chinese Democracy.  From this point of view THE EXPENDABLES is Stallone's personal salute to the 80's as Stallone blows his wad remembering "the good times."  This of course idealizes the old and rejects the new, which could be seen as endearing or anti-progressive.

The third possibility is that this is how Stallone remembers 80's action movies.  This possibility makes me sad. While THE EXPENDABLES was by no means terrible, it was a far cry from perfect.  Gone was the archetype of the vulnerable lone superman who took on the Legions of Evil, be they terrorists in a skyscraper on Christmas Eve, or the faceless soldiers with terrible aim from some South American country that didn't exist (and, let's face it, was supposed to be Cuba).  John MacClane got the bad guys but he got royally fucked up doing so.  Even Sly and Arnie had time to bleed sometimes.  Now it seems that if you're "the good guy" you're fucking invincible which detracts from the tension in the movie.  Gone are themes and symbolism and social commentary which -although barely detectable sometimes- still gave action movies something extra.  I already gave the example of RAMBO, but even something like TOTAL RECALL had the whole reality vs. dreamworld theme going on.  Rescuing your daughter or your wife from gun-toting psychopaths may not have been on as grand a scale thematically, but they were still very visceral that gave the the characters some (a-hem) depth or at least put their actions within a context.  I mean, I realize that the old action films were filled with more than their fair share of cheese, which is actually one of the things that made them so memorable and allowed them to transcend their genres.  THE EXPENDABLES had its fair share of cheese but those old action films were loaded with finely aged camombert, while Stallone's newest effort seems to be suffocated with processed cheese slices from individual plastic packages.

The simple fact of the matter is that this film is nowhere near as good as it could have -or should have- been.  And I'm honestly surprised at this fact.  And I think my surprise is completely justified.  In the past couple years Stallone has put out a couple quality flicks.  I mean first we had ROCKY BALBOA which I just watched a couple of nights ago with my wife (a ROCKY virgin) and which was fucking great.  I vaguely remember THE EXPENDABLES being associated with this whole idea of passing the proverbial torch to the next generation of action movies.  This concept was already explored much more effectively and directly in ROCKY BALBOA.  I know that the rocky films are not action films in the traditional (or any) sense, but the fact remains they are inexorably linked to Sly Stallone who is an action hero archetype.  In Rocky's final ride there is this tension between the old (experienced) and the new ("untested") which is of course personified in the final fight between Rocky and Mason "The Line" Dixon (still trying to come up with my own Rocky-esque nickname.  I was thinking "The Meat Grinder."  Think about it. (Hint: masturbation)).  This made any passing of flaming phallic symbols by THE EXPENDABLES redundant and far less significant. Then there was the new (aptly titled) RAMBO in which Stallone once again reprises the role of everybody's favourite angry, semi-retired war vet.  RAMBO was a fucking great movie, not only because of the insane action and over the top violence, but also because it was set within the context of the tension between simultaneously wanting to preserve peace and kick serious ass and that sometimes the ends do justify the means.  I know RAMBO was not meant to be a philosophical opus, but it was trying to say something, which put the rest of the action and violence in context.  THE EXPENDABLES seemed like it was a series of action scenes looking for an excuse to happen instead of a situation that allowed for the action to occur, which is one of the prime reasons all the other movies I've mentioned were so much better than THE EXPENDABLES.

All of this might make it seem like I hated this movie, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  There were a few action scenes, but the whole movie was obviously just a pretext for the final action sequence, which, for lack of a better word, was absolutely fucking nuts.  The fight between Stallone and Steve Austin is definitely one of the highlights, as is watching Randy Couture (added for some "realism?") get to bust out his MMA moves and actually see some of them -like the arm bar- through to the end (can you say "exposed bone" anyone?).  It was also amusing watching Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren pair off at one point and watching Jason Statham fucking dudes up with his hard-hitting style.  The only problem with the movie was when there was no action. There was no back story except somewhat bafflingly Statham's character, Lee Christmas.  The thing is even this didn't really tie in to the main plot.  There wasn't even some nudity to make up for the lack of violence and plot.  It's a scientific fact that tits make every movie ten times better.

The thing that really drew me to this film, and indeed the only real thing it has going for it, is the sheer spectacle.  Big explosions and big cameos in the way of Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwartzeneger, and even the resurrected Mickey Rourke.  There's just something satisfying (a slightly homoerotic, I suppose, but that's the subject of a whole other entry) about watching a bunch of ripped muscley men make widows out of thousands of men's wives and blow a lot of shit up.  I'm also transfixed by the sheer magnitude of Stallone's impressive physique even as he edges towards his seventies.  HGH is the fucking bomb, yo.
Overall I give THE EXPENDABLES a 6.5/10 = One Mercenary Head Rippling With Muscle And Carrying A Giant Fucking Gun

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cemetery Junction Surprisingly Full of Life

When I first heard the title Cemetery Junction my mind immediately jumped to zombies brought back to life by some ancient tribal curse with a little necrophelia thrown in for good measure (I'm really surprised there isn't a lot more dead sex in all these zombie movies these days.)  When it turned out to be a coming of age dramedy written and directed by the great Ricky Gervais, I wasn't sold on the idea.  When I think "Ricky Gervais" I immediately think "fucking hilarious" and "irreverent" and "witty" not "intense drama."  But being the true talent that he is I had no need to fear that the movie would lack consistent tone and a strong heart.  What Cemetery Junction lacked in sex with fresh corpses it completely made up for with excellent writing, a strong cast, and a nostalgic look back at 1970's England. 

The story basically follows three friends in their early twenties on the precipice of change.  Growing up in a small town they have an extra chip on their shoulders to match the one they carry from their fathers.  Freddie (Christian Cooke) is looking to escape the small town curse and try to make a name and life for himself by working for an insurance company.  Bruce (Tom Hughes) is a highly intelligent young man who could make a life for himself outside of the local steel mill, but seems intent on fucking things up for himself through excessive booze, barfights, and run-ins with the local fuzz.  Brucie-boy also has some very big, very unresolved issues with his father who he blames for letting his mother get away.  Snork (Jack Doolan) is the lovable retard of the group (every group of friends has one).  He's the guy who you're not sure why he's your friend, and you pick on for being stupid or ugly, but if somebody else attacks him you'd pound the other guy into a bloody pulp to defend him.  Snork lacks that something in his brain that helps him pick up on the subtle social cues the rest of us impicitly understand and who just wants a steady job and to get laid now and again.  As Freddie starts to succeed a little at his new job he falls in love with the boss's daughter Julie (Felicity Jones) who inspires him to "throw his heart out in front of him" and start living life the way he wants to.  As Julie is already engaged to a complete asshole Freddie and his two best friends decide to leave town and start travelling in search of themselves, but nothing ever turns out like you planned, except for the cliched ending of a coming of age movie, a conceit I was more than willing to forgive (overlook?) in this case.

Fuck, my plot summaries always end up dragging on way too long.  I suppose brevity was never my strong suit.  "What," you may ask yourself, "if anything does that have to do with Cemetery Junction?"  Nothing really, but the problem with reviewing a really good movie or a really bad movie is that one tends to run out of things to say after "This movie was fucking awesome," or "This movie was complete and utter dogshit."  I am happy to report that this movie definitely falls into the "fucking awesome" category.  Right off the bat as soon as I hear the name Ricky Gervais, my immediate gut reaction is to love whatever is associated with that name.  The Office alone earns him my Lifetime Respect Award which entitles him to A) stay over at my house whenever he wants and B) me automatically purchasing any movie and/or TV series with his name attached to it (when it goes on sale, of course).

Anywho, back to the task at hand.  Cemetery Junction was a really nice surprise right in the middle of a movie-watching slump.  That is to say that after watching a whole host of shitty movies recently (with the exception of Inception of course) my faith in movies was slightly restored.  It really had the perfect mix of drama and comedy with a little dash of "guy and girl face adversity but get together in the end" thrown in for good measure.  It really spoke to me for a couple of reasons.  One, I grew up in a small town so the whole idea of feeling trapped in a life of mediocrity no matter how talented or intelligent I might be struck a chord.  There's this weird magnetic pull that I find occurs more with people from small towns where they feel compelled or drawn to whatever shithole burg they were from no matter how much they hated it.  There's a certain fatalism that develops and people get caught in this cycle of living in the same place as your father, doing the same things as your father, and working the same job as your father like it was inevitable or some shit.  Being a janitor or a gas attendent is all well and good if that is the extent of your talents, but if you are one of the priveleged few who has been given the gift of intelligence then I believe you have an intellectual responsibility to contribute to the general development of humankind and not throw your life away because it feels comfortable or safe.

The second reason I really connected with this film is that idea of being at a major crossroads in your life and feeling like you're at the end of an era and feeling more lost than Lindsey Lohan in a spelling bee.  It's what I like to call the Smith Factor, referring of course to Kevin Smith's epic movies Clerks and Clerks II where the characters are in their 20's and 30's respectively and trying to figure out what the fuck to do with their lives.  The reason I think that sentiment resonates is because like so many young men of our time I have no idea what I'm going to do either.  I think that a lot of people from my generation have that sense of listlessness due to widespread disillusionment that cultivates a deep-rooted cynicism that is afflicting people at a much younger age these days.  We don't just walk into the family business get a wife and push out a couple kids.  There's no longer such a thing as a family business to step into and the myth of automatic stability granted by the Nuclear Family has been dispelled.  There isn't that same sense of purpose that our parents and grandparents had, that was engrained into them.  We no longer "establish a career" we just "work at a job until we get laid off or something better comes along."  I think Gervais really tapped into that sense of cultural and emotional disenfranchisement when we learn that life and the classic ideal of "progress" is a load of bullshit and a great deal of time spent in that strange realm known as "real life" presents very little emotional or spiritual fulfillment.

Having the three main characters portrayed by relative unknowns (definitely Ricky Gervais' MO) was a good move that really paid off.  Christian Cooke, Tom Hughes, Jack Doolan have a great chemistry on screen together and all the nuances of their particular group dynamics are brought out masterfully.  Ralph "call me Ray" Fiennes was great as the asshole boss/disconnected dad and husband.  Matthew Goode was equally goode (nope, not a spelling mistake biatch) as his asshole underling/asshole soon-to-be-son-in-law.  Emily Watson also put in an excellent performance as the emotionally-beaten down housewife.  I've been a huge fan of Watson ever since I saw Equilibrium and The Boxer and she continues to impress.   

The thing that really makes this movie work though is that it has heart.  That and the use of the word "cunt" which the British seem to love and which I've been trying (without somewhat limited success) to increase the usage of here in North America.  Mom's been a tough sell, but I think I'm starting to break through to that cun... ningly wonderful person.  Bottom line: if you love good movies you'll like this one.  I give Cemetery Junction a 9/10 = One Youthful Head With a Perfectly Quaffed 70's Head of Hair

Monday, August 30, 2010

I Bought a Hat

Simply reading the title of this post many intelligent, free-thinking individuals would simply write off (so to speak) the rest of this post and avoid it like twelve year old boys avoid Catholic preists.  For those of you who actually read this post you will be sadly let down when you discover that it contains no nudity, or hardcore violence, and disappointingly few erotic photos of animals dressed in various sexy outfits.  It's just a pointless story of a grown man and his hat.

Now fashion-wise I am admitedly not very "hip" or "with it."  My recognizable outfit is a pair of jeans, a (usually tight-fitting) t-shirt that may or may not be embelished with some kind of superhero paraphernalia, and a pair of crosstrainers (not to be confused with running shoes as a nice young man at a local Footlocker condescendingly pointed out to me one time.).  For colder days I accessorize with my trademark gray hoodie.  In the fall my trademark piece of fashion is a heavy, black leather jacket, which is quite awesome and could concievably be used as some kind of light armour n the event of zombie apocalypse.  This is not exactly cutting edge fashion here.

The thing is that for most of us not handing around with Heidi Klum or Derek Zoolander cutting edge fashion is not on the forefront of our minds.  Like most people I tend to get caught in a fashion rut.  I find a look that works for me and then just do it to death.  My fashion evolution has actually been rather stunted.  It hasn't really changed all that much since high school (from which I graduated just ten short years ago).  Oh sure there has been some micro evolution.  I've changed from straight leg jeans to boot cut.  I ditched the baggy t-shirt for something that shows off my incredible physique.  I started wearing undershirts.  My briefs became boxer briefs.  I even added some chords and khakis in there every once in a while.  For a while I tried to accessorize by wearing vests, but natural selection won out and they died a terrible death one winter thanks to my wife who fucking hates vests for some reason.  She never was the same after that alien abduction.  The point is that my fashion sense has remained radically the same for the past fifteen years or so.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I mean that rut gives me confidence.  I fucking know how to wear a t-shirt and jeans like nobody's business.  I can wear the shit out of a t-shirt and jeans.  A t-shirt and jeans is my power suit.  I absolutely in no way regret my t-shirt and jeans status.

But lately my personal fashion has been on my mind a lot.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps I'm nearing mid-life crisis mode.  In the popular media it's always depicted as a sudden jolt, but perhaps it happens slowly with the pressure building up for years.  I figure by the time I'm 35 I'm just going to drive home one day in the Batmobile wearing leather pants covering a tattoo of the Rebel Alliance symbol on my penis and a goat dressed like Marylin Monroe in my back seat.  But only time will tell.  Right now I'm trying -slowly but surely- to move into button shirt territory.  For my day job I usually wear a button up shirt, but they're all more formal.  Now I'm trying to move into casual button up zone.  I can tell you, it's not easy.  After being stuck with the same style for so long it's really, really difficult to feel comfortable in a style that you don't feel like you own.  It's like wearing somebody else's skin.  I'm having to ease myself into the fashion shift gradually.  This usually involves unusually long amounts of time in front of my bathroom mirror modelling my new duds.  I'm not sure if this is normal behaviour or if I am becoming a true product of our society and am becoming obsessed with my personal appearance.

Then about three or four weeks ago I was at Winners with my wife and daughter shopping for god knows what (I usually fuck off to the toy section to look for Star Wars figures while my wife does whatever women do when they shop) when we walked by the men's clothing section.  There was a display of hats and just for fun I started trying some of them on until I hit the hat pictured above.  I wasn't looking to buy a hat, I was just goofing around trying to make my wife and daughter laugh.  But my wife made some sort of passing comment about how it seemed to fit with my style.  I have not been a hat-wearer since about grade 3 so I put the hat back on the rack and we went about our business.  But the seed was planted.  Later on that evening after my daughter was in bed and my wife was taking a nap I snuck out of the house with the stealth of a ninja and headed back over to the store and bought the hat.  As I waited in line and then paid for my new hat I was nervous as hell.  I was sure the cashier would see through my ruse.  She would just somehow inherently know "This guy doesn't know how to wear a hat" and then begin to publically deride me while everyone in the store would point and laugh.  I barely got through the whole ordeal.  When I got home I  immediately went to the downstairs bathroom and started modelling the hat in the mirror so I could get used to the "new vibe" it would give off.  It was several days later before I even dared to wear the thing in public.

The point of the story isn't that my fashion sense has improved exponentially or that I somehow have better taste.  I really like the hat, but maybe I look ridiculous.  It doesn't matter though.  I didn't buy the hat to look better.  I didn't really buy a hat at all.  What I bought was an ideology.  I purchased a paradigm shift.  The moment the transaction took place my world view shifted.  See I bought the hat mostly because it was something I wouldn't do.  I was in danger of becoming complacent, as we all are.  Sometimes we just need to do something crazy - even if crazy constitutes something as seemingly mundane as buying a hat.  To quote a favourite film of mine: You have to shit or get off the pot.  I'm not exactly sure if that's entirely applicable to this situation, but it sounded poetic.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have a hat to wear.  But first... The Whores!

This one's for you Adam...