Category Archives: Joss Whedon

Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So begins the list of the #30 best things to watch for Halloween (I by no means claim this is a definitive list and the ordering is rather arbitrary).

We start this month of horror films off with a TV show. But not just any TV show, the single greatest TV show in the history of human civilization (at least up to this point…Whedon could easily come out with something new that would surpass it in a few years). That show is of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer. High tragedy, high comedy, deep understanding of the human condition, skill in writing, acting and directing, and of course a hopeful view of humanity that forgiveness is possible and that people can grow and improve themselves. There is simply no show in the history of television that has dealt such profound philosophical themes without being heavy handed and with characters who were human and never just two dimensional cutouts who were allowed to followed a predictable pattern.

The reason such a great work of art gets put last in this list is that it’s really not a horror story. Yes there are vampires and werewolves and monsters of all stripes. But even though it has all the tropes of horror, it is not focused on death as any good horror story is, rather Buffy is focused on life, specifically the growing up part of life. And in this respect it works as a good counterbalance to everything that’s going to come after, but that does not mean it does not have its horrifying moments.

So let’s do a quick rundown of some of the more terrifying episodes.

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

“Hush”: Possibly the most horrifying episode of Buffy. Corpse like emaciated men dressed in 1920’s style suits come to town, steal everyone’s voice and rip out their hearts. It’s frightening for several reasons. The first is the villains, The Gentlemen. The scariest monsters are always the ones that look human but are just a slight bit off, the fact that they were so concerned with manners and courtesy in their actions toward one another just adds to the horror because it is so out of place when you’re about to cut out a live and awake person’s heart. The other reason that it’s such a terrifying episode is that it takes away from the characters something they take for granted: their voice. The idea of not having something we have been so dependent on that we take it for granted, like our ability to communicate brings up the simple question in our minds: “what would I do in that situation?” It’s not a pleasant question. We use our voice for so many things and the idea that we should have to live without it–not a pleasant thought. And of course there is the fear of death. Few episodes have shown people so helpless as this episode when being killed, they’re restrained almost immediately so they can’t run away; they have no voice so they can’t scream for help and then they feel everything as their heart is cut out. One of the things that frighten people so much about death is that they think it is something out of their control, that it will come in the night without warning or rhyme or reason and there is nothing they can do about it, and they are utterly powerless in the face of the unknown. It’s powerlessness against it that frightens them (it’s why waiting for the diagnosis of cancer is worse than the diagnosis itself, when you know what it is, you have a name, an MRI, an idea you can fight against or give into, it’s your choice—but when you’re waiting you still have no choice about anything). It is this powerlessness that the scenes of death in this episode capture so well, and remind most of us of our own fears of death.
Helpless: People run a lot in Buffy. But either they’re one episode’s extras whom we’re not really all that invested in, or they’re main characters and we know Buffy will save them. But when it’s Buffy who is doing the running because she has had all her powers taken away, that adds a lot more terror. The safety net of “Buffy will save the day” is gone, and being Joss Whedon, we never had any reassurance that he isn’t willing to kill main characters, so there’s not that usual safety net either.

“Restless”: There is something terrifying about the unknown and the bizarre to most people. If they can’t understand and make sense of it, it frightens them. So putting our four main characters in a rather symbolic and random dreamscape with an unknown assailant killing them, is quite terrifying. Oh and there’s cheese (if you’ve seen the episode you’ll get that).

“Fear Itself”: Finally my favorite Halloween episode in Buffy. The Scooby Gang faces off against a demon who makes them live out their worst fears and then face the fear demon itself. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This episode shows how foolish that is. Why? Because the fear demon is three inches tall, which is possibly the most insightful and genius representation of fear I have ever seen in of all of literature. Fear is something small, something insignificant, and something if you use reason isn’t worth worrying about…yet we let it control us because we refuse to look at it. If we did confront it head on we would probably find that most of our fears are so small and so insignificant that they can just easily be squashed and ignored.

Xander: Who’s the little fear demon? Come on, who’s the little fear demon? Giles: Don’t taunt the fear demon.Xander: Why? Can he hurt me?Giles: No, it’s just… tacky

Honorable Mentions:

None these are exactly great films (not that the top 30 are all Oscar Winners) but they get trotted out every Halloween and I would say they do meet my criteria of an unhealthy obsession with death.

Constantine: An epic battle between good and evil with a poorly executed story of redemption.  Fun but ultimately pointless.

Stigmata: It’s not exactly a horror film, (and I’ll probably deal with it later in my blogs about movies for New Agers) but with all the blood and suffering it has many of the tropes of a horror film.

Bless the Child: Certainly not as dense and preachy as the novel it’s based on, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still just a little preachy.  And then there is just the rather low quality direction.

The Shinning (TV movie 1997): You know the Nicholson/Kubric version of the film is actually well done, the problem is that it seems to completely ignore that there is actually a great book that it’s supposed to be based on. The TV movie, while not without its flaws was more true to theme and characters of the book and thus I prefer it to the older version.

Fringe: Again it’s not really about the fear of death, but there are some truly horrifying moments.  Like in the first episode where everyone’s skin is melting off, that’s frightening at levels I can’t begin to describe.  And that 3rd season episode where they guy is playing with a corpse and through levers and pulleys make it dance ballet, that’s disturbing at a level I seldom see.

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Filed under Art, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Death, Faith, Fear, Free Will, God, Halloween, Joss Whedon, Movies, New Age Movies, Popular Culture

Most Patriotic Movies #29: Movies that are stand-ins for American Patriotism

There are a lot of movies set in the ancient past or distant that are meant to be metaphors for our current problems.  Frank Herbet’s Dune was a warning about the over reliance of oil dependence on a single source ruled over by a culture that by most standards of civilization is backward and barbaric (one wonders what the book would have looked like if his knowledge of said culture had included their propensity for genocide).  There is a certain logic to this, when you provide enough distance between the audience and the subject you allow them to put aside immediate prejudices about party or history and allow us to see the thematic truth of something and then reapply it to our own present situation.
There are a lot of movies and shows, but I have chosen three to highlight this point.

300

An action movie that was ruined by too much action.

But from free Greek to free Greek, the word was spread that bold Leonidas and his 300, so far from home, laid down their lives, not just for Sparta, but for all Greece and the promise this country holds […] This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny, and usher in a future brighter than anything we could imagine.”

 

Ironically this would have been a truly great movie if there hadn’t been as many action scenes.  It was odd that the movie that was supposed to be 110% mindless action, actually had strong character development, excellent writing, and powerful themes…so much so that it was the over-the-top action that ruined the film.

 

How do I know this is a metaphor for America?  Because the tyrannical, dictatorial Spartans, make fascists look warm and fuzzy by comparison, Spartans would never speak about an “age of freedom” that was coming.  They were pretty much opposed to freedom in all ways, at all times, with all people.  The actual economics of Sparta would have a been a dream for Marx, and the rest of society made Nazi Germany look libertine.  But this movies isn’t really about the real Sparta…it’s about America.

 


 

Now how is this patriotic toward America?  Well, to state the obvious, this was a bit of a love letter to the troops fighting in the war against terror.  It states that our service men are willing to die not so much for country (the Spartans are certainly fighting for more than just Sparta, and that point is made quite explicit) but to stand against tyranny (represented by Persia instead of the modern world where Iran is one of the major centers of tyranny…hey, wait a second…), to draw a line against an evil which seeks to conquer the world and say you will not cross this line as long as I live.  And while there is always the disenchanted minority of whiners in any group, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of our armed services, do not do it for glory or a pay check, but because they wish to defend the liberties of not only friends and families, but of people they don’t even know.

And how many countries breed an attitude like that?

 

Now we have to hope this pro-American theme is carried by director Zach Snyder into his next movie, The Man of Steel.

 

Firefly

Mal: Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?

Zoe: Big damn heroes, sir.

Mal: Ain’t we just?

 

The West.  A constant metaphor for the freedom and greatness of America.  Also a genre populated by some of the corniest, most poorly done films and TV shows of all time.

But never underestimate Joss Whedon for breathing life back into a genre.  Confederate soldiers in a post-Civil War west surviving as bandits, soldiers of fortune, and whatever jobs come their way a little tired….no problem, just put the whole thing in the 23rd century and add a lot of wit.

The crew of the firefly class ship Serenity time and again exemplifies the classic ideal of what makes the cowboy the American ideal of a hero.

Honor and ethics above all else

Sheriff Bourne: You were truthful back in town. These are tough times. A man can get a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours… well… then he has a choice.

Mal: I don’t believe he does.

Even the law

A government is a body of people; usually, notably ungoverned

Fair play

“You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed”

 

Capitalism…

“Let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job…I get paid.”

…over the destructive forces of government regulation

Jayne: You save his gorram life, he still takes the cargo. Hwoon dahn.

Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free
You can’t take the sky from me

Mal: He had to. Couldn’t let us profit. Wouldn’t be civilized.

 

 

Notably this show does something that is also very America…it points out that when your government (which should not always be confused with your country) is corrupt and in it’s constant arrogance to think that it and it alone can make people better must be opposed.  Which in many ways is one of America’s greatest strengths and most heroic qualities (but I will admit that many whiners have stolen the idea of opposition to tyranny and applied the appellation of this form of heroism to a lot of whiners).

If you have the time, go through the virtues listed by Alexis De Toquville when he discusses what makes America a great democracy.  You’ll find that almost a T the virtues listed in Democracy in America are the ones that are exemplified in Mal Reynolds and his crew.

Although I will admit I’m getting a little worried about this trope I’m seeing more and more that shows the Confederates to be men who fought for principle and state’s rights and liberty.  That may have been the way they viewed themselves, but let us not forget the real Confederacy was not some libertarian dream land, it was an oppressive slave state with very heavy socialist economics.  And I while I will admit this trope can be useful in certain contexts, I would be more than happy to see it die for a few years before people actually start viewing the entirety of the Confederacy as a heroic bastion of idealism.

And finally…

Gladiator

 

“I will not believe that they fought and died for nothing. They fought for you…and for Rome.  I’ve seen much of the rest of the world, it is brutal and cruel and dark.  Rome is the light.”

It’s a favorite thing of historians to compare Rome to America.  Always with the implication as with Rome, America will fall not with a bang but with a whimper.  And while there are volumes of lessons to be learned from what worked and didn’t work in the Republic, the comparisons can often get a bit to hackneyed to be taken too seriously, in art where the lax rules of allegory allow for some wiggle room, the story of Rome, of a mighty nation that was destroyed more from within than from without, is always an interesting comparison.

In Gladiator we see this from the perspective of a nation at the point of collapse, ready to fall into chaos but still potentially able to rise out of it own corruption and regain the past of being a republic of laws and not a nation that follows one man blindly if he just offers them bread and circuses.  “There was once a dream that was Rome” they several times and if you’re looking for the message it would be hard to not find this a bit of a call against the oppressions of our own government which in 2000 and still now is becoming more about Caesar, er, I mean the president, and less and less about law.  (Which brings up an interesting point to make about how we view the past.  Remember in 2000 when were coming off 10 years of liberals screaming about how wrong it was for  a GOP Congress to lower government entitlement spending and balance the budget and how the GOP as tying the hands of Clinton who would have spent more if he could have…and now Clinton is taking all the credit for being the great president who had surpluses in his presidency.  People really need to have a better memory of the past.)

“Is Rome worth one good man’s life.  We believed it once.  Make us believe it again.”

Now unlike Rome we are not going to saved by one man…maybe one president and a Congress that will back him, but really that’s up to the people.  But the fact of the matter is that idea of what America is, is waning.  And to a degree it is up to up to us to make ourselves believe in America again.  May I suggest by booting the tyrant out.

Now again, I’ll admit these are at best allegorical comparison, that are meant to be taken loosely.  Don’t read too much into them.  There is a reason that these 3 only got one blog and came in below a few films that only made it onto the list because of a single scene…as you will see tomorrow…

 

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Movies for Conservatives: The Avengers

Agent Phil Coulson: Oh, you are. Absolutely. Uh…we’ve made some modifications to the uniform. I had a little design input.
Steve Rogers (Captain America): The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little…old fashioned?
Agent Phil Coulson: Everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned.

Okay I waited two weeks before writing a review—if the film is ruined for you because of the spoilers in this, that’s your fault….No really I’m not holding back…if you haven’t seen it, leave this post now and go watch it. This is not a movie recommendation; this is an analysis of what makes this movie great.

Okay. You’ve been warned. Don’t come crying to me when Phil Coulson’s death doesn’t come as a shock.

First, I listed this blog under the “Movies for Conservatives” category but that is not conservative in the strictly Republicans vs. Democrats, Romney vs. Obama sense. This is partly because writer/director Joss Whedon is a good writer. And good writers don’t usually tie themselves to transitory, temporary issues—they deal with the timeless stuff, the issues and ideals that resonate not just for a modern audience but that will hold true generations from now. This is also partly because it’s really hard to tie Joss Whedon down politically. I’ve seen some references that he campaigned for Kerry and Obama, but at the same time he said that he viewed season 5 of Angel as a metaphor for the Bush White House at war, which doesn’t exactly come off as an insult to conservatives. While he certainly is not puritanical in his view of sexuality, he also is not foolish enough to conceive of sex as something that comes without serious long-term consequences as many liberals seem to. If anything, if I had to peg him to a political philosophy, and I admit there may be some extreme bias here, he’s more a traditional libertarian, some distrust of government organization, but not foolish enough to think that we can live without them, and a great belief in the individual. Also, for all of his cynicism, there is certainly a love of America that seems to pop up in all his works.

Now, I have seen some try to portray this as a liberal film. Right-wing hacks over at Breitbart.com (since Breitbart’s death it’s stopped being a valid source of information and morphed into the right’s MSNBC) wanted to point out that Whedon cutting a liberal spiel from Captain America complaining about the lack of welfare shows what a liberal hack Whedon is…because a guy like Captain America, who would have spent his formative years growing up under the FDR’s New Deal, would clearly not talk about how he doesn’t see that in society…it must be Whedon being a liberal hack and not, oh I don’t know, being true to the actual character.  Meanwhile liberals have been pointing out that the character often used mentioned the idea of clean, renewable energy in a positive sense, thus the film must be liberal. Uh-huh. As if conservatives don’t want clean, renewable energy. I think they forget that it’s conservatives that want nuclear power…we just don’t want to shell out billions for Solyndra style “green” companies that won’t actually give us clean, renewable energy…and, stop me if I’m wrong, but don’t they also make it clear that the only name in cheap, clean, renewable energy in the world of The Avengers is the narcissistic billionaire who plans to make a killing off said clean energy? Oh, yeah, really liberal.

Now there are the small things in the film that make it conservative. The anti-government sentiment as seen by the fact that the S.H.I.E.L.D. council is stupid. The fact that the idiotic Senator complaining about the actions of the Avengers is shown with a “D” after his name (because only a liberal would be dumb enough to complain about having their ass saved—“ These so called heroes have to be held responsible for the destruction done to the city. This was their fight.”). The fact that at no time in this film are the armed services insulted or degraded.

Nothing more American than this guy…

And there are some of the not so little things. Like Captain America’s uniform. Liberals might like to say they’re patriotic, but flag waving is and wearing your patriotism on your sleeve is definitely a conservative trait.

“What?” you say. “How is that conservative?” It’s the stars and stripes. You can’t get much more patriotic and more conservative than that. But you say, “That’s Captain America’s uniform, what else could they put him in?” Well, they could have muted the colors, toned down the theme or just made it solid black like every other S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. After they watered down all the patriotism from the first Captain America film and had no backlash there it wasn’t like they should have been afraid to change anything. “Whedon couldn’t just kill one of the character’s costumes!” you say. Oh yeah? Have you seen the early posters for the movie?

I hesitate to imagine what this movie would have been like with Hawkeye in that silly purple suit…you’ll notice that Thor’s winged helmet is also nowhere to be seen in this film.

Look in the bottom left hand corner. That’s Jeremy Renner in the purple jumpsuit that Hawkeye is in in every comic book. Whedon put the kibosh on that preposterous outfit (in a film that is not short on preposterous outfits), if he really, really wanted to, I’m sure we would have seen the Captain in a more toned down outfit. And more importantly, of all the characters, only Captain America has a discussion of the nature of his suit.

Steven Rogers: The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little…old fashioned?
Agent Phil Coulson: Everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned.

Not only does Whedon admit that these ideas are old fashioned (one might say too conservative for the cynical modern populace) but he allows Coulson, arguably one of the moral bedrocks of the film, revel in that old fashioned patriotism (vintage trading cards and all). And we do need that kind of old fashioned patriotism, and it’s a good thing that it is pointed out that we need this kind of old fashioned patriotism.

And speaking of old fashioned there is this little line:

“There was an idea, Stark knows this, called The Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea, in heroes. Well, it’s an old fashioned notion.”

And this is a very conservative idea. Modern liberalism doesn’t believe in heroes, by their nature heroes are individuals, they’re leaders not followers, they disregard the state, not follow it, they show the greatness that a person is capable of—not the limitations that require constant government assistance that liberals believe is all that makes up people. A hero is the very embodiment of everything that liberalism opposes, a hero doesn’t need government help, a hero doesn’t take mindless orders, a hero does what is right according to their mind and their morals not merely the will of the herd. And in this respect, Whedon has always been very conservative (sometimes his heroes are more flawed than others, but that just helps to show how any individual can reach the highest levels of virtue through nothing but choice and action).

Granted this isn’t conservative in any explicit way…but that’s okay, because the subtle conservative belief in the virtue of humanity lasts far longer than momentary political statement.

Further as I’ve stated before there is a disturbing subtle relationship between the words of Loki and Obama…I don’t think this was intentional on Whedon’s part, it’s just all petty tyrants tend to sound the same.

Now of course aside from the philosophical points, it’s just a cool movie.
There is Whedon’s usual level of razor sharp wit, his deep understanding of character and their motivations, and, what is probably the least complemented part of Whedon’s skill, the man is a genius who knows how to use a camera; unlike so many directors who just let the camera sit there, Whedon knows how to use the camera to help tell the story and move the action and drama. And of course there is that last beautiful scene which says more with no words than any amount of dialogue could.

I have seen it twice in the theaters already and probably will see it again. And I certainly will buy it the day it comes out on DVD. I only hope Disney and Marvel are smart enough to let Whedon have complete control of the sequel.

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Did Obama or Loki say that?

So I went to a midnight showing of The Avengers last night (I will get a glowing review out, but I need to see it at least once more before I do so).   Great movie!  Witty, fun, moving…Joss Whedon at his best.  Not that this stopped the snobs at the New York Times from not too subtely suggesting that Loki’s evil is preposterous and ridiculous overblown character (despite the very valid comparison Whedon makes between Loki and every tyranny in history.  “There are always men like you.” Although even I will admit it’s hard nailing down Whedon’s politics from his shows–you have the liberal conception of the evil corporation in Angel and Dollhouse but a hyper libertarianism in Firefly with that individualism only slightly toned down in Buffy). It also seem to suggest that the only real sheeple out there are the people who could enjoy a movie like The Avengers (I’m sure it’s the not to0 thin layer of patriotism throughout the movie that most offened the hacks over at the Times). But I realized that the New York Times movie review find this character overblown…because to admit that such rhetoric was the rhetoric of tyrants and petty dictators throughout history would mean that they might have to actually look to see if there were any modern politicians who might be saying similar things. Loki says he comes to free people from that burdonsom chore of freedom, which sadly there are people who would actually applaud that being forced on society.

So, to show you that Loki’s quotes aren’t that overblown (although much better written as Whedon was behind them) let’s compare Loki to a modern day politician…oh, let’s say…Obama.

Guess who said each line.

On Goals:

 I come with glad tidings, of a world made free [from] Freedom.

 “The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

On being an individual:

Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity.

“Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.”

On your friends:

I have an army!

“I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.”

On respect for individualism:

You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.

“History is scattered with the stories of those who held fast to rigid ideologies and refused to listen to those who disagreed. But those are not the Americans we remember.”

On understanding the nature of liberty:

Freedom is life’s great lie. Once you accept that, in your heart…You will know peace.

And so we must realize that the freedoms FDR once spoke of – especially freedom from want and freedom from fear – do not just come from deposing a tyrant and handing out ballots; they are only realized once the personal and material security of a people is ensured as well.

On understanding you’re being superior to those around you and that the sheeple need to be ruled:

There are no men like me.

“I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper — that’s a value.”

On humility:

I am burdened with glorious purpose.

“When I struggle, I just think of Jesus’ agony in the garden.”

On underestimating their opponents:

“If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail — they must have been founding members of the Flat-Earth Society. They would not have believed that the world was round.”

How desperate are you? You call on these lost creatures to defend you.

On understanding your value as person:

“[He] has brought us out of the dark and into the light”

“ENOUGH! You are, all of you, beneath me. I am a god you dull creature, and I will not be bullied”

The good news to all of this is we’re not stuck with Barry forever.  What does Obama have to fear?  Let’s do a headcount.  You have the impassioned crusader, Darrell Issa.  You the economic and budget genius, Paul Ryan.  You have the rising star, Marco Rubio.  You have the next President of the United States, Mitt Romney.  And you have the entire thinking portion of the American public.  And Obama has managed to piss off all of them.

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Movies for everyone: Cabin in the Woods.

Ok, I’m drawing a line in the f!@#ing sand. Do NOT read the Latin!


As it was probably made clear in my review of Halloween movies, I have great contempt for most horror films.  Cheap, predictable, cliché and recently little more than torture porn.  Especially the “let’s go somewhere remote where a monster of some kind is going to kill us all” variant.  And Joss Whedon apparently hates this cliché as well.

It really shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.  This is the Joss Whedon who got so tired of seeing the ditzy blonde cheerleader with the silly name die at the hands of a monster, he gave her a stake, some brains, and the name Buffy, and let her tear through the monsters.  But he seems to be a bit more vicious in his critique of what the horror genre has devolved into over the last decade, completely disregarding his proof that horror can be intelligent and witty and more than just gore and blood.

It appears he, along with longtime Buffy writer Drew Goddard, wrote Cabin in the Woods to drive the stake home that horror movies are getting just stupid.

Short version, every trope and cliché is made fun of.  Almost every version of the story is lambasted.  College students go on a trip to the cabin in the woods, get stopped by the creepy gas station attendant who basically screams at them to turn back, go into the cellar of the cabin which just conveniently opens on its own, call up a group of redneck pain-worshiping zombies (which is very different from just normal zombies) and get picked off one by one in true archetypal fashion—the blonde over sexed whore goes first, then the fool, the athlete, the scholar, and of course finally the virgin (“we work with what we have”).

But this isn’t your standard horror torture porn film.  No this movie is actively making fun of the kind of idiot who read the Latin from the diary of the religious lunatic bent on worshiping pain which is kept in the creepy cellar…because that seems like such a great idea.  It insults a group of kids who don’t turn right around when the outside of the cabin looks exactly like the cabin from Evil Dead and on the inside has the mounted head of a wolf, a picture of the slaughter of a ram, and the mounted horns of a hart (and if you know Joss Whedon’s work, you know the wolf, the ram and the hart are a very, very bad sign) not to mention the creepy one way mirror and the cellar of horrors…again why didn’t we turn around?  Cabin in the Woods also makes it clear that this grouping of one of each archetype never actually occurs unless you seriously drug half your cast to act in a way contrary to their normal behavior.

“Cleanse them. Cleanse the world of their ignorance and sin. Bathe them in the crimson of …Am I on speakerphone?”

It also makes fun of every other kind of horror film out there.  The recent spate of Scandinavian horror films that go beyond all good taste are labeled as a total failure from almost the first moment.  The Japanese horror film, where no one has ever survived any incarnation of, is lambasted by finally letting everyone survive the Japanese horror film (how hard is it to kill nine-year-olds?).

Until you’ve seen the movie you don’t realize how hilarious this picture is…Kevin? The Sugar Plum Fairy?

It makes fun of the filmmakers.  The film makers who bet that we’ll go see yet another crappy zombie film are lambasted as boring and unoriginal and the filmmakers of crappy scifi movies which pull out obscure monsters no one cares about are even more humiliated by their choice of stupid monsters.  Not to mention it tears into the tediously formulaic way that these movies progress through as if it’s some kind of ritual that must not be deviated from, even in dealing with the order in which victims must be killed (honestly, when was the last time you ever saw the virgin die first?) or how no matter who is involved, be they bright or stupid, everyone always does the dumb thing and splits up.

And most of all it makes fun of the audience for their perverse need to watch the stupid movies that the horror genre has become.  From the obsessive need to see naked women (which is hit both with seeing all the technicians crowded into the control room to get a glimpse, and again with Hadley’s enthusiastic “score.”)…to the fact that the audience of this genre is constantly being mocked for believing such preposterous situations…and in the final dig for comparing the audience to absolute evil for it’s insatiable need to see such suffering offered up to us as if it was a sacrifice that we demand.  The film closes with a not too subtle call for the audience of this genre to rise up and demand that this cycle of crappy movie end once and for all as they don’t provide anything.

As with any Joss Whedon work every scene is full of wit and humor (even the violent ones) and a whole mess of allusions to other works (at some point I’m going to have to go through the last act and look for every reference they make, because Goddard and Whedon seemed hell bent on referencing every horror film ever made).  The problem is that the first time I went to see this movie the audience I was with clearly understood this was a comedy and was laughing at all the digs at the genre…the second time I saw it the audience clearly came for a horror movie and didn’t get the fact that their genre was being humiliated (it was odd, I was one of the maybe 5 people laughing at every scene).  So the expectations you go in with drastically affect your appreciation of the film.

The main question I get about this movie, from those who are not fans of the horror genre is: is it violent and gory? Yes and no.  It has blood and tension and some gore.  But compared to a lot of films in the genre it’s quite tame.  Personally I would put it on par with one of the Scream movies in terms of gore, maybe a little worse.  (Except for the fifth act where they’re throwing around blood by the tub full…but really that’s more farce than horror.)  If you’re really squeamish, even the humor might not be enough to overpower what gore there is…but I still suggest you should give it a try.

“Good work, zombie arm.”

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The Greatest Comedy Film of all time! (and one last honorable mention)

Hitmen, FBI Agents, Cops, Criminals, teenagers, a maid, a housewife, a corrupt executive, an ad executive, and a bum who lives in a tree...what could possibly go wrong

#1 Big Trouble

“Make her stop! Dear God in Heaven make her stop, she wants my soul!”

Based on one of the greatest comedy books ever written, by the ever hilarious Dave Barry, Big Trouble is probably the greatest comedy of all time.

What you haven’t heard of it? The story of dysfunctional families, annoyed hitmen, and two really stupid criminals who manage to get a nuclear weapon past the ever inept group of people known as airport security? Can’t imagine why not? Oh, wait I know exactly why you’ve never heard of this film…because the original theatrical release date was supposed to be September 15th 2001…yeah read that thing about a nuke on a plane and then date…and I think we all see why this movie was buried with a very brief theatrical release in 2002.

Which is a shame because this movie is hilarious beyond the telling of it.

Trust me, if you haven’t seen this movie, this is one of the few movies that I will say you have to see before you die (you should also read the book).

I'm fairly certain you could still get this nuke past the MENSA members the TSA employs.

Henry: Hold on a second. We have a Die Hard situation developing in the kitchen.
Leonard: What?
Henry: There’s a guy there in the kitchen.
Leonard: A guy? What’s he doing?
Henry: Well my guess is he’s either gonna whack em’ with a rolling pin or he’s gonna bake em’ a cake. I don’t know. Could go either way with this crew.
Henry: Holy shit. Betty Crocker’s got a squirt gun!
Leonard: Let me look!
Henry: Forget about it. This is better than pay-per-view.
Henry: There goes the warranty, and here comes the Iron Chef.

 

 

And one last honorable mention…I didn’t want to put this one in with the other honorable mentions because this isn’t just some mere also-ran. …and it also doesn’t exactly fit anywhere else because it is not just a single work…but it is some of the best comedy in all of film and TV…

And the last honorable mention is…
The Collective Works of Joss Whedon.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse, Doctor Horrible, Toy Story, Cabin in the Woods…and likely Much Ado and Avengers.
Everything Whedon does is unspeakably funny. From Buffy’s quip, to Wesley’s faults, to River’s insanity, to Topher’s observations. There is not an episode and hardly a scene without its humor. I couldn’t pick any single episode for two reasons. The first is that even the bad ones have their wonderful moments. The second is that like Shakespeare or any truly great writer, Whedon never creates humor without tragedy or tragedy without humor. There are funnier episodes to be sure, but those are also episodes of deep and moving, and sometime very depressing, pathos…and so while I feel the need to mention his skill in writing great comedy none of it is purely in the comedy genre…






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The Best (and worst) Movies of 2011

It is the year-end review of movies.  It was a crappy year for movies.  A really crappy year!  No.  I can’t even get a top 10 list.  You get 5.  And those five aren’t great.

Why you ask?

I’m looking over the other picks for top movies by other critics and can’t believe it.  For instance 50/50 made it on a lot of lists, yeah, it had some good acting, but it read more like a poorly conceived documentary than film…art is supposed to have a point, a theme, a message, a meaning, or hell even catharsis…this movie had none of that…just an accurate documenting of what happens to a person when they’re dealing with cancer.  Or there is Hugo, which admittedly I haven’t seen, but given that Scorsese is the most overrated director in history who has NEVER made a single even decent, let alone a quality film, I have no desire to watch it.  I would however love to know what the f!@# people see in his terrible body of work?   Midnight in Paris, a cast like New Year’s Eve but with a worse director…again, what the hell is entertaining in ANY Woody Allen film?  War Horse…wow, Seabiscuit meets Saving Private Ryan…or is it Secretariat meets Private Ryan…maybe it was supposed to be Black Beauty meets…you get my point.  (Spielberg has done some good work…but he has also done some of the worst films ever made…1941, Lost World, or Munich anyone?).  Oh, The Help…the idea that help in a household knows more about what is going on than anyone–I got the feeling that the writers and the critics found this a very original concept…which tells me none of them did well in English class or have ever run across a 19th century British novel of manners (it might actually be good, but the banality and unoriginality of theme projected by the advertising when trying to be presented as something new, offends the English teacher in me).  Harry Potter and Muppets (yes, I’ve seen this on lists of critics Top 10’s)…you know if you add Twilight and Justin Bieber’s flick you might actually have the 4 horsemen of an artistic apocalypse.  Drive, or as the most accurate review of it I saw, Grand Theft Auto, is pointless.  A Separation… I haven’t seen it yet but I have read a full plot summary…I don’t need a movie to tell me how shitty life in Iran is, and as I’ve stated before art should show me the best in humanity (and the reviews I’ve seen haven’t exactly convinced me that this is there).

And some movies I was hoping for to be great, weren’t.  Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, which shouldn’t even really be considered because it wasn’t actually released to the public until 2012 was well acted, but the director was overly taken with himself (I think he always wanted to direct a silent film), the actors were wasted (except Oldman and Cumberbatch), but while the movie was a great thriller, it was thematically pointless (at best it was a statement about how people who live only their jobs don’t have healthy personal lives, somewhat undermined by Smiley being quite content at the end). J. Edgar was a well-done character examination of a flawed man…but it left me bored if anything.  And Girl with the Dragon Tattoo left me preferring the book, not to mention I found having to watch the rape scene (where a good director could have shown a lot less and still given you an idea of what happened) needlessly graphic.   Also the problem with Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that both are the first books in their respective trilogies and neither is a complete work so it’s unfair to judge them for good or ill until the whole thing is put to film. (I’d actually recommend seeing these three, but J. Edgar was too flawed and Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor left me wanting more and I refuse to judge them until, at least, I know if their other parts will actually be made).

Admittedly The Descendants might make it on this list…but I just don’t feel like paying the money for a ticket of a movie that cannot possibly be improved by the big screen.

Okay that’s why a lot of stuff didn’t make it…let’s take a look at what did make my list of great films.

Remember I have 4 basic criteria for great art.

1. It must be enjoyable (I have some kind of positive emotional reaction)…so that throws most of critic’s picks out.

2. It must understand human nature…that throws out just about anything made or written by a liberal.

3. It must use the tools of the medium well…that throws out Spielberg and Scorsese

4. It must have a meaningful and correct theme.

5. Thor–Is this a stretch on all 4 counts?  Hell yeah.  But this is more to say what a crappy year this has been (hell #4 and #3 were a stretch, but I should at least give 5 films.)  So let me tell you why.  Clearly the plot was better than any of the other superhero movies this year (it actually had three acts…and a prologue and epilogue to boot).  And clearly it was fun and moving (don’t tell me your heart didn’t drop when he couldn’t Excalibur the hammer out of the stone, and that your heart didn’t jump when it finally came flying to him).  The characters actually act far more human than most of the non-superhero movies this year.  The theme of sibling rivalry, the need for the approval of a parent, the difficulty of growing up and living in a parent’s shadow (all very Shakespearian…especially challenging King Lear and Henry V, with a touch of Much Ado in the humorous scenes) show that director Kenneth Branagh has not strayed far from his usual cup of tea with this film.  Now a friend of mine complained that while the plot and characters were good in this film, there were simply no great lines of dialogue…which is incorrect…there are no great speeches, there are lots of great witty and pithy lines.  “Yes, but I supported you.”  “I am the monster parents tell their children about at night?””Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up? “”Live, and tell those stories yourself!”   Every line from Darcy.  It’s not The Dark Knight but it could not have been better and it (very) loosely meets all of my 4 points. Should Thor have cracked the top 10, let alone the top 5…no, but that’s how crappy a year it’s been.

4.  The Ides of March.  This a dark film about how power and politics can corrupt just about anyone who is in it.  I justify this as a positive theme because it shows all of us what we shouldn’t be…Democrats…no just kidding (kind of, okay maybe not)…it shows that often the people who claim integrity have none and that those who want power will take it no matter the cost.  It shows us everything we’re not supposed to be, and even though the characters fall short in every way, the writer, director, and message of the film understand that all their actions are deplorable and need to be condemned and shunned.


3. The Company Men.  (Technically it came out in 2010…but that was only a release for Oscars, it wasn’t until 2011 that real people could see it).  The Company Men?  Yes I’m sure odds are you didn’t see this.  Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper all in excellent parts.  It’s a little liberal for my tastes, but, it does not deal in cheap hackneyed stereotypes so I will forgive that (except maybe in Costner’s blue-collar character…but it is very opposed to the usual type Costner plays so I could still appreciate it) .  The story of how various upper and middle management employees of a company deal with being laid off in the current recession.  While it’s critical of business, it makes a justifiable critique that most company boards right now care more about stock prices than they do about making things, about getting a big pay off than the long-term profits, about short-term gain more than long-term thinking…which I will heartedly embrace.

2.  The Debt

I’ve already talked about this movie, so I will simply reiterate that this movie is a masterpiece.

1.  Moneyball

And I’ve covered this genius film already as well…but it without a doubt the best film of the year.

And then we have the honorable mentions

Atlas Shrugged.  (You may object that I include this third of a trilogy when not putting in Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor…but I have seen confirmation that I will get all 3 parts of Atlas where I have not seen proof with the other two).  Thematically the movie as the book is perfect.  As a representation of the main characters from the book it does an excellent job.  Like the others there are some stylistic flaws.  But still you need to see this movie.

Green Lantern.  I know it has a missing second act.  I don’t care.  I found it enjoyable.

Same with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Sherlock Holmes, and Mission Impossible.  They were just fun.  (Crazy, Stupid Love, DreamHouse and Real Steel might also make it, but I just felt like waiting for the rental with these).

No Strings Attached and Just Go With It.  Cute, stupid romantic comedies, nothing more.

As I said J. Edgar was well done, but dull.  And I can’t justifiably comment on Dragon Tattoo or Tinker, Tailor until I know they’re stand alone films or part of a trilogy (they’re well done, but somehow lacking if they’re stand alones).

Which of course brings us up to what was the worst film of the yearTwilight…the vapid lack of a point makes it a tempting target, but no.  Justin Bieber?  No, although I yearn for the day I never hear that name again.  Fast-Five?  Drive Angry?  Captain America(which was probably the 2nd worst film of the year)?  Hangover II?  Fright Night for having the audacity of redoing one of my favorite horror films?  No I would have to say, without a moment’s hesitation, the worst film of the year, the film which the world might be a better place if every copy were rounded up and incinerated would have to Anonymous.  Haven’t heard of it?  You’re lucky.  Long and short of it is that the movie is about how the man we know as William Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.  This is based on a long held academic theory that the Will we know was just a simple middle class boy with a basic education and couldn’t possibly have done it…no the author needed to be a noble.  The rank snobbery and petty elitism of this is astounding.  And for over 100 years academics have been trying to rewrite history to present the idea that there couldn’t be a self-made man (liberals and academics really hate that concept because it ruins their elite status…and being one of the most famous men of non-noble background Shakespeare has to be destroyed in their mind).  And nothing is worse than Anonymous which give you a string of historical inaccuracies and inventions and claims them as truth.  Some may compare this to a Renaissance birther or truther movement (although even those movements have better ground to stand on…not that I buy into those two in any way shape or form, I just want to point out if you run into an anti-Stradfordian, run because they are morons) but that is to compliment the theory because it is always so far fetched and so without evidence that it defies even the momentary act of common sense it takes to dismiss the argument of a birther or truther.  As history goes Anonymous ranks more with the idea that we didn’t land on the moon or that the Holocaust never happened (though obviously it doesn’t reach the evil of that denial, they just both require you to deny all known facts.).  This film should never have been made.  Oh, and from a writing, directing and acting standpoint it’s also a piece of shit….or as one critic described it “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

***

Movies I’m looking forward to in 2012; Haywire, Underworld Awakenings (I’m allowed to have my pure brain candy guilty pleasures…no I don’t for a second think it will even be making the honorable mentions list, and you know what low standards I have for that), Safe House, The Vow, This Means War, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, Knights of Badassdom, Veronica Decides to Die, Skyfall, Les Miserables (Notice the lack of quality movies there…I’m guessing it will be a top 5 list next year too).

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