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.