Archive for the film Category

8:14 (57)

Posted in eight fourteen, emo, film, music, nerdiness on August 13, 2010 by darryl zero

Feel free to label me a needless contrarian should you desire to, but I’ve always looked at some of the cultural trappings of mine and subsequent generations with the same kind of quizzical exasperation as demonstrated by those of generations before mine.

I’ve always been reluctant to embrace that which is notably popular and wide-reaching and label it “definitive” of a given category, which seems counterintuitive at first until you realize that one of the greatest losses of ages past is that only the pop-friendly stuff really had any sticking power, and that one of the best things about growing up in an age in which information, art and creativity are so freely (exploited) available is that the cultural aspects that we can only infer and conjecture about in generations past are now freely and easily chronicled today.

With all that said, I see things like the new Scott Pilgrim film and wince when people suggest it’s representative of a generational paradigm. Now granted, I haven’t seen the film, and my critique of its social implications and/or import is of an entirely aesthetic nature, but it seems to exemplify all the things about post-boomer culture that I find distasteful, the things that people seem to be convinced are the things that define so-called “Generation X” and its increasingly shortsighted, short-tempered, short-attention-spanned followers. It looks like, well, partly like a video game, but mostly like a cultural mash-up that’s really less of a cultural anything and more of a pastiche of superficial trappings of cultures cut-and-pasted together by a generation too lazy to be technical and instead relying upon talent.

[Time’s up, but I’m going to continue:]

I’d like to think that the film is much like its literary counterpart, a direct homage to a very idiosyncratic art form which is, in turn, a compartmentalized aspect of a very rigid, clearly-defined (almost to a fault) culture. I want to think that, mostly because I’m a literary critic and want it to conform to some paradigmatic rubric I can quantify and understand.

But actually, I’m afraid Scott Pilgrim the film truly does represent a culture captured onscreen, a culture of disparate influences collected under the auspices of inclusiveness and progressiveness but is, in actuality, the lazy hiccuping of generations that grew up with technological babysitters instead of active, functional parents. Even without having seen the film, I worry that the credibility that comes with the approval of those who catch the myriad in-jokes will somehow elevate it from the realm of kitsch to that of art in the minds of those that dictate history, because it will invariably have missed the point, just as the people who only dig Tarantino films for the violence, just as the people who mindlessly consume the insubstantial flash of Zack Snyder films, Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown novels, Adult Swim, etc. all miss the point.

Call me old-fashioned, call me needlessly linear, call me conservative, call me neurotic or cynical, but somewhere along the line, after endless jump-cuts, hyperactive camera angles, over-edited chapters, and über-compressed drum tracks, our generations have forgotten what those stylistic trappings were intended to subvert and redefine, that the experimental has always been meant to exist on the fringe of a culture, that, just as technique for technique’s sake results in a culture standing in place as time passes it by, style for the sake of style results in a culture with no legs on which to stand.

stuff about stuff that sucks that doesn’t suck

Posted in film, nerdiness on August 2, 2010 by darryl zero

I spend so much time complaining about the insipidness of Twilight and the soap opera quality of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels/True Blood, I figured I’d give you people a list of vampire & werewolf fiction that’s a bit more interesting. Really, this only applies to Twilight. Harris’s stuff isn’t bad writing; I just don’t like it. Twilight is poorly-constructed shit that people only like because it was written by a seventh-grader still learning the English language. Or, at least, that’s what I repeat, lest I euthanize myself to be freed from the pain of knowing society is finally dumber than that kid on the porch in Deliverance. Anyway…

1) Let The Right One In – This 2008 Swedish vampire film (based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay) takes basic ideas hinted at in Twilight (unrequited young love, confused burgeoning sexuality, the logistics of any relationship between a vampire and a human) and presents them within the context of a middle school in suburban Sweden in the 1980’s. Unlike Twilight (or even True Blood, for that matter), the actions taken by the characters in the film actually have consequences, and the relationship between the two main characters is not only convincingly written and acted, but it also represents a believable, loving (if intrinsically dysfunctional) relationship. Rather than woodenly reciting lines about “feeling alive” and the benefits of chastity and refraining from devouring one another, we get actually dialogue about helping and protecting each other without any temptation to fuck or kill. Roger Ebert’s review of this film is far more articulate than I can present to you right here, but trust me when I say that the film is an excellent piece of work.

2) Full Eclipse – This 1993 HBO made-for-TV movie isn’t high art by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still a pretty original take on the werewolf myth. Mario Van Peebles stars as dedicated cop Maxwell Dire, whose partner’s near-death experience (and subsequent speedy recovery) send him down a strange path. Leading him along the way is superstar detective Adam Garou (yes, the name is a dead giveaway), whose support group of justice-minded police officers takes “justice” to a completely different level. While a bit cheesy at times, the film still has a really cool vision of lycanthropy that updates the notion of a human turning into an animal for a slightly more cynical, sophisticated audience. Bruce Payne (consummate 90’s film villain–you may remember him fighting another black guy in Passenger 57) plays Garou as the kind of bizarre, twisted, morally ambiguous Twilight Zone-esque character that isn’t entirely what he appears to be.

3) Necroscope – Brian Lumley’s series of novels pit their star, British psychic mathematical genius Harry Keogh, against both the machinations of both Soviet psychics (the original novels were published between 1986 and 1991) and a deadly race of vampires. Exceedingly dense and alarmingly complex, Lumley’s novels are part-espionage tale, part-horror fantasy, and part-science fiction lesson (particularly through Keogh’s adventures utilizing the Mobius continuum as a means of teleportation anywhere in the world); definitely not for people to whom Twilight is complicated, but for anyone with an affinity for literary language applied to speculative storytelling, the Necroscope books are definitely your bag. (I recommend the first five novels; Lumley jumps the shark once Harry leaves the series, and the subsequent eleven novels, while okay, are a bit too much to digest.)

4) Dog Soldiers – While flawed, this werewolf film from director Neil Marshall (the man responsible for the fantastic The Descent) still gives us a cast of interesting characters and a fun, 80’s-style “picked off one-by-one” plot that has enough twists to keep it interesting. That and the gentle homages to other interesting films make it worth at least a Netflix-ing.

5) Ginger Snaps – This list wouldn’t be complete without Ginger Snaps. Taking the generally-terrifying subject of female puberty and applying it to the lycanthropy myth, John Fawcett’s film is a violent, grim, hysterically (if you’ll excuse the pun) funny tale of two death-obsessed sisters and their gruesome misadventures after the elder is bitten by a werewolf. The film loses its focus when it attempts to fully explain its iteration of the werewolf myth (and especially after Ginger, well, snaps, going on a killing rampage), but ends up with a surprisingly satisfying climax. The film spawned a sequel and prequel, both of which were a bit underwhelming, but the first film is a damn fine exercise in The Howling-esque werewolf nastiness.

some thoughts on a certain film…

Posted in film on May 16, 2010 by darryl zero

Some Thoughts On Iron Man 2 :

1) I’m curious to see how much of the film got cut, and for what reasons. There are more than a few shots in the trailers that aren’t in the film (the “you complete me” gag, Tony flirting a bit more with Natalie/Natasha), and it feels like there are segments of the film that come a bit too quickly.

2) The “drunk Tony” sequence doesn’t really feel earned, and it’s the only part of the film that doesn’t work for me at all. Not only am I not entirely sure why Stark is throwing his birthday party at his private residence when all other Stark-related functions take place far away, I don’t really get enough of the “party Tony” type character to really buy his sudden descent.

3) The entire James Rhodes character is a bit disappointingly underdeveloped, especially his relationship to Tony Stark. It would have been nice to see, for instance, how Rhodes gets better acquainted with the Iron Man armor (he is a trained pilot and soldier, after all, with a different kind of intelligence and different skill set from Stark). Also–we see trace elements of their relationship in the first film–there was certainly enough screen time to put more in the second.

4) Howard Stark as co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a pretty cool turn of events, and the whole “leaving behind work for Tony to complete” plot development was pretty fun. However, it feels “tacked-on” and very, very deus ex machina.

5) This puts a capstone on my main criticism of the film: whereas the first film operated largely without a script, relying heavily upon the improvisational and inventive abilities of Robert Downey Jr. and John Favreau, the second clearly feels as if it’s tied to a narrative that has to get from Point A to Point B. I felt one of the better parts of the first film is that it sort of barrels along, channeling its chaotic director’s and anarchic star’s energy into this collection of delightful serendipity into scenes that bristle with fun creativity. While echoes of that energy are definitely present in the sequel, the need to move the story along often gets in the way, and gives us disappointing moments like Tony complaining to Nick Fury about how his dad didn’t talk to him much as a boy. I find it worth mention that I like the overarching story of the film–I just felt some of the scenes lacked the energy the first film had in abundance.

6) I’m normally pretty irritated with CGI action sequences–they can be entertaining, but I usually consider them to be needless distractions from the stories that really interest me. Also, I’m a huge fan of practical effects and sequences built around them–Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy sequences in particular. HOWEVER–the climactic combat scene with War Machine and Iron Man pummeling a bunch of battle drones is a work of absolute art. Credit Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of, among other things, Dexter’s Laboratory and, my personal favorite, the brilliant Samurai Jack) for the origins of the sequence, which basically answers the question “when are we going to see Iron Man actually opening up full-throttle?” and then adds fuckin’ War Machine to the mix. It’s some beautiful cinematic violence, and damn if it doesn’t get the testosterone flowing.

7) I’ve always been into Scarlett Johansson, but her Black Widow was pretty damn cool. I’d hoped that her character would have been more developed, but I guess that all depends on whether or not they can get her in The Avengers movie–I hope so, because it would be nice to see her do something other than look unreadable or look like a badass. Granted, regardless of what the character is required to look, it would still involve the audience looking at Scarlett Johansson, which is enough to divert enough blood from my brain for me to ignore my issues with the script.

8) Having seen the film for a second time–that Iron Man/War Machine vs. Hammer Drones action sequence is even more wonderful than it was the first time. I swear, I could watch that shit on repeat for hours.

9) This is both gripe and praise: while I was disappointed that the Justin Hammer character was not a peer of Tony Stark (I was hoping for more of a legitimate threat than simply a rich dude who’s more of a George W. Bush-type bumbler than, say, the Ivan Vanko character), I was pleased that they at least set the character up for a longer, more interesting arc. (“Armor Wars,” anyone?) I love Sam Rockwell, and hope they make the character less comic relief and more legitimate menace in the future–say, by having him arm the Mandarin.

The Failure of “Kick-Ass.” HERE BE SPOILERS

Posted in film, nerdiness on April 26, 2010 by darryl zero

“The first time I ogled myself in the bedroom mirror I realized how far off the mark the comic books had been. It didn’t take a trauma to make you wear a mask. It didn’t take your parents getting shot…or cosmic rays or a power ring… Just the perfect combination of loneliness and despair.” –Kick-Ass, issue #1, page 16.

I know, what with my notorious penchant for vocally skewering cinematic adaptations of comic books, I often tend to come across as something of a knee-jerk contrarian that hates everything that doesn’t match his exact memory of the characters and stories he loves. To the people who think that of me, who dismiss my criticism as simply angry fanboy nonsense, I can only offer the following in the way of explanation or reply:

Eat Many Dicks. Or, if you prefer the longer form:

In my epic Watchmen evisceration, I frequently mention comic book-based films that deviate from established literary canon, yet still remain awesome. While a comprehensive list of said films would take far longer to compose than I care to spend writing right now, one need look no further than my love of the first two Blade films as proof that my pissiness with comic-based films isn’t because I’m a meticulous proponent of literal adaptation–IT’S BECAUSE I AM, BY TRAINING, A FUCKING LITERARY CRITIC. Those who think I care too much, apply too high a qualitative standard, or just plain over-think these things should remember that my education leaves me not only qualified, but FUCKING NATURALLY INCLINED to critically examine language-based art. I suggest those people think of this any time they find themselves harshly judging something they’re trained to analyze.

With all that established, I now offer the following analysis of the cinematic misstep that is Kick-Ass.

I admit to beginning the film optimistically; the actors (especially Aaron Johnson as Kick-Ass and Chloë Moretz as Hit Girl) clearly throw themselves into their performances, and have so much fun that it makes it all at least a worthwhile spectacle. Even Nic Cage, the cast’s weakest link, provides enough laughs in his far-too-much screen time to distract from how annoying his acting is. Furthermore, the direction is equally solid; Matthew Vaughn coaxes the most from each performer (except Cage, clearly using his star power as an excuse to relentlesly chew scenery). Hell, even the script begins strongly, trimming some of the comic’s excesses and moving along tightly while still developing the characters.

The film begins to lose me when it clearly features the Chris D’Amico character; while I initially let it slide, thinking it wouldn’t be too much of a big deal, the screenwriters subsequently go out of their way to develop the character, presumably in an effort to make him more sympathetic. In fact, I know the efforts had that intended effect, because the ending of the film makes Chris’s fate the culmination of a plot-long (if not lifelong) journey. Problem being, not only do we never see any reason to feel sorry for Chris, but we also see every reason to hate the manipulative, whining, unrepentantly homicidal little bastard. He seems to value human life as much as his father does (which isn’t very much), and only really expresses any concern for another human being when he halfheartedly asks his father’s henchmen not to kill Kick-Ass. Big Daddy’s origin is explored more in-depth than it is in the comic, as well, and clearly for the purpose of making him more sympathetic. By the time the plot really kicks in, we’re looking at four main characters (including Hit Girl) and two prominently-featured secondary ones, with a few more (including Big Daddy’s former commanding officer, played by Xander Berkeley in what amounts to little more than a cameo) thrown in for good measure.

Really, though, all of that is small potatoes compared to where the film fails me the most. The source of that failure is two changes to the story from the original source material. In the comic, Big Daddy is an accountant who, rather than allow his daughter to live a normal, boring life, kidnaps her, concocts a story about being wronged by the mafia and moves from place-to-place, selling a crate of rare comic books on ebay to fund their exploits. They’re well-funded, but definitely a small-fry outfit. This reveal serves as part of the climax of the story in the comic. In the film, Big Daddy is who he says he is–a disgraced former cop targeted by the film’s main villain, and seemingly possesses an unlimited supply of military-grade firearms. Also in the comic, Dave doesn’t directly reveal to Katie that he’s Kick-Ass until the end of the story (he does shout it at her window earlier). She interprets this as a sign of mental illness, rejects him, and starts dating this black dude who’s a classmate of theirs. In the film, Dave tells Katie he’s Kick-Ass, she embraces it, and they begin dating.

It’s the second change that kills the film completely, particularly when Dave, via his internal monologue, mentions that being with Katie gives him something to live for. The whole purpose of the comic, and seemingly the point of the first half of the film, is that existence is almost entirely arbitrary, and that one doesn’t need to have any higher purpose to do what they do. The film goes out of its way to reinforce the arbitrary nature of Dave’s transition into Kick-Ass; giving Dave reason to be who and what he is not only completely erases the story up to that point, it cheapens what could have been (and, in the comic, originally was) a profound statement on the potential of humanity to achieve through sheer force of will. I was able to accept the changes to Big Daddy’s character–I didn’t like them, but was willing to accept the fact that American audiences might be a bit put off by the depiction of a sociopathic lunatic endangering his daughter in an ultimately meaningless crusade–but, when coupled with the changes to Dave’s character, both moves seem stupid and heavy-handed. The plot gets correspondingly stupid, involving a jet-pack outfitted with gatling guns and a bazooka, possibly marking the first time a story was changed between comic and film to something significantly less realistic, but even that bullshit can’t distract from the real disappointment: that the filmmakers didn’t have the balls to present characters whose sole motivation was their choice to be who they are. Not even the enjoyable performance of Mark Strong as mob kingpin Frank D’Amico is able to salvage the second half of the film from being a jumbled, incoherent macho wet-dream.

I wouldn’t be so irked about all of that, had they not tried so hard to capture the essence of the comic book during the first half of the film, making Dave the same kind of everydude he is in the comic. That was the Kick-Ass film I appreciated, and came damn close to loving. In the end, though, the film takes a completely nonsensical turn, and becomes the same kind of predictable story it initially lampoons. While I’ll stop short of proclaiming Kick-Ass to be the kind of unforgivable cinematic childhood-raping that Watchmen was, it still is an unfortunate dumbing-down of a fucking amazing character study–not unlike the last cinematic adaptation of a Mark Millar comic, Wanted.