Category Archives: Movies

The Snyder Cut is coming and here is why that’s important

A perfect trilogy

I’m sorry for how rambling this is, but I haven’t been commenting on media for a few years so there is a lot of small things I need to deal with.

As might know by now HBOmax will be releasing The Snyder Cut version of Justice League in 2021 (possibly along with the Ayer Cut of Suicide Squad and maybe a lot of other DCEU content coming in the future).

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll try and give a truncated (ha! if you know the story you might want to skip down a little) version of what happened.

So, following the success of the more serious and adult version of Batman provided by Christopher Nolan in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Warner Brothers picked director Zack Snyder to direct a new Superman movie with Nolan as Executive Producer. Snyder decided to go in the same direction of the Dark Knight Trilogy and treat the story as an adult subject. Rather than putting his hero in a situation where there is an easy and satisfying resolution, the kind you usually find in comic books (especially of the Silver Age of Comics from the ’50s and ’60s) where a character is unquestionably good because they’re never put in a situation where they have to choose between only bad options. If only life were that simple. This culminated in a scene where Clark is made to choose between killing his enemy Zod or letting more people die (this is after Zod actually does the unthinkable and actually kills people in his evil scheme—up to this point most comic book villains threaten to kill millions but never seem to get the job done). Clarke does the right thing and kills Zod and then immediately has an emotional response to just an act, because that’s a big thing for Snyder’s movies, dealing with the effects of one’s actions, even the right ones that aren’t easy. But everyone freaked out that because “Superman doesn’t kill people”—which is odd because Chris Reeve’s Supes killed Zod after making him a powerless human (oh there was some unnecessary torture in there too), and the early comics has Superman killing people—but never let reality intrude on what golden past people’s nostalgia wants to believe was the case. I’m not terribly surprised, the entire world is caught between two political philosophies—one that sees a golden past where nothing was wrong, and one that sees a dystopian past where nothing was right, neither side wanting to deal in reality. But for some of us, we saw the genius of Man of Steel. Like Homer many generations before, Nolan and Snyder had taken crappy tales that had been told for generations and raised them to an adult art.

Then, Warner Brothers, seeing the money Disney was making with Marvel, pushed for more DC movies. It’s unclear if Snyder wanted more films before having the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman team-up or if he was simply rushed in production but we got Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first part of the title was clearly WB executives playing to the lowest common denominator, the second what Snyder wanted. We know there was some executive interference because we finally got a director’s cut that that was a vastly superior movie over the studio approved original showing because the director’s cut had more character development and focus on thematic points and less of a push to make this just a fight movie. I noticed that people who went in looking for Batman v Superman were inevitably displeased with the movie, but those who went in looking Dawn of Justice were happy with it. But the people who hated it were just vicious in their reviews. And they latched onto absolutely bizarre things (the weirdest was that they were taken aback that clearly mentally unstable person would have a PTSD breakdown when he was reminded of the death of his parents—just shocking, that characters should actually act like real people). Attacks were made against the fans who liked the movie, against the director, against the actors, the writer. It was weird. I don’t like Marvel movies, so I don’t see them…I don’t claim the Russos are terrible people, I just don’t go see their movies, and when I was still seeing them for trying to be put up movie reviews attacked their thematic plots not claiming they were racists or misogynists or other weird things I saw labeled against the people behind of Dawn of Justice.  

Between the two films, Snyder and writer David S. Goyer gave us two movies that had deep philosophical material—Man of Steel was a deconstruction of the problems with Plato’s Republic, Dawn of Justice a similar look at the popular view Nietzsche’s philosophy. Then WB not thrilled with profit margins of about $200-300 million per film and wanting more of the Marvel style profits (around $400-600 million per film) started using more executive control over their DC films. This is a process I have never seen to be good, personally, I have only seen one director’s cut worse than the original film* and only a couple of movies that had a superior alternate ending that was the studio’s picks rather than the director’s**. This first resulted in heavy re-editing of Suicide Squad (leading to almost all of Jared Leto’s Joker being cut from the film), but since in terms of pure profit this had a higher return than the Snyder films the higher-ups at WB/DC decided they knew better than directors.*** They took Snyder’s plan to have three more movies (one where we have a future where Darkseid corrupts Superman and Batman, Cyborg, and the Flash have to send a message to the past to prevent that future, one that is closish to Snyder Cut we’re about to get, and one where the Justice League takes on Darkseid) and just told him to skip the third movie and just go to Justice League. So Snyder did that. And then he had to step away because his daughter committed suicide, and dealing with his family was the more important thing. So Joss Whedon was brought in. I’ll be honest I was hopeful because while he had been stumbling this was the man who created Buffy, Angel, Mal Reynolds, Echo—he knew how to deal with depth (in the years since Justice League I’ve become more convinced that he knew how to assemble a great team but when working solo he may not be as good as the writers he used to work with). We thought he would touch up a few scenes and get the final product ready. What we got was an almost entirely reshot movie.  We know because of the terrible CGI that almost every Superman scene was redone, the weird Russian family was added, terrible sexist jokes were added, and that crappy ethics of Age of Ultron where heroes suddenly don’t understand that when the fate of the entire world is at stake that the needs of the many outweigh the lives of a few, but hey let’s go back to Silver Age nonsense were acting like a boy scout doesn’t have negative repercussions real life. Between Whedon and his bosses at Warner Brother, they tried to make a Marvel movie. Not only did they fail at even that, but they also lost money, a lot of it. Which is good.

The calls for the release of the Snyder Cut started almost immediately, and that’s a story in itself, I’ll just link to that because this getting too long already.

But here’s a summary of what I saw. Fundraising. Online Petitions. Facebook pages and calls to hit social media with #ReleasetheSnyderCut. A lot of sales of shirts and whatnot with the theme of #ReleasetheSnyderCut. Now I’m not privy to all the internal of every fundraiser for this movement but I know a lot of that money wasn’t just used to buy adds but a good portion of it was used to a charitable organization that works for suicide prevention. Personally all I saw was people who wanted a movie and protested politely about it. Yeah we called Whedon, and Geoff Johns, and other WB executives idiots, because they were. They had something people wanted to see that, we now know, would only cost $30 million and will probably vastly more than that.

Luckily for human civilization AT&T recently bought Warner Brothers and it is clear they have cleared out the people who cared more about their egos than profit or artistic integrity. And they have announced that we’ll be getting the Snyder Cut of Justice League in 2021.  

_____________________

So that’s the background to this. (And here’s another take on it)

Now let’s get to the important stuff. Why is this important? Well there are as far as I can tell 4 reasons.

1. The first reason is that this shows that movies with depth can make money. Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice, and Wonder Woman—which I argue are discussions of Plato, Nietzsche, and Calvin respectively—made money. Yeah sure not Star Wars or Avengers money, but a mentality that scoffs at a $200 million profit is bad business, especially when scoffing at it makes you lose money. This shows that while Disney can make formulaic movies that everyone will go see it’s mainly because they’re Disney. Trying to beat Disney at their own game is, at best, suicidal. They have the market cornered for simple films that don’t need a lot of depth (not that all their stuff if without meat on the bones, but they’ve always been a fan of skeletons that appeal to the audience)…and what they don’t have Dreamworks and Spielberg take up. The market can only bear so much simple.

Less than a week out from the Snyder Cut announcement it’s hard to say exactly how HBOmax is doing with signups, but I don’t think anyone thinks this is going to hurt their bottom line. And this means that market will continue to give a diversity of movies. Had the #ReleasetheSnydercut movement failed we would have probably had to deal with a revival of the 1990s where there were some years where the deepest thing Hollywood would put out would be a Grisham movie. Thankfully this means that works of both high and low brow material will continue to made and thus everyone can be happy.  

2. This shows that directors should be trusted. WB screwed up trying to get too involved in the Justice League and Suicide Squad, not happy with getting $200 million a movie they wanted more and they ended up getting less. And you know, while Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker made obscene amounts of money, I don’t think anyone thinks that the studio system over at Disney is exactly churning out anything to please fans, they’re just coasting on a nostalgia…and 2020 may reveal that Disney had better switch to a new model as I don’t think fans are ready for another subpar Star Wars trilogy, another plodding phase 4 of Marvel, or more Disney live actions (especially given how mismanaged the next ones up seem to be).

Maybe AT&T’s move, and the money they’re likely going to be raking in from this, will put some more faith in directors and less in the studio system.

Maybe I’m being too hopeful.

But at least this will not kill the director’s power just yet.

(If you want to further help that I would suggest we all go see Nolan’s Tenet in a couple of weeks. Find a time and place where you feel safe and go see it).

3. Playing to the lowest common denominator doesn’t pay off.  

Clearly WB executives thought that their fans didn’t want to see non-white actors—seriously any long term reader of this blog will know that I don’t go into an argument about race or gender like a lunatic. And I tend to find arguments that say putting an all-female cast is pushing feminism (from the right), or that not including any actors of color is racist (from the left) equally preposterous if someone tries to make them. Ghostbusters sucked because it was poorly written not because it was an all-female cast, one should never look for a conspiratorial argument. But they cut out Karen Bryson, Kiersy Clemons, Harry Lennix, Orion Lee, playing Cyborg’s Mother, Iris West (Flash’s girlfriend), Secretary Swanwick/Martian Manhunter, and Ryan Choi (Atom), that ranges from major roles to fan service. And while they also cut Defoe, our new Green Lantern, and the gods…the seems to have been a lot of cutting out of non-white actors. So much so I’m not comfortable saying that WB executives didn’t think that, incorrectly, their fans were a bunch of white boys who couldn’t emphasize with anyone who didn’t look like them. Might also suggest why we had to be treated to that idiot Russian family—because WB producers thought we would be able to relate to them. Hint: we didn’t (honestly if the Russians had died and Steppenwolf had lived I would have been happier, they were so hamfistedly forced in I learned to loathe them).

Some of the characters who were cute…I see a pattern

And dare we forget the at best juvenile, and at worst sexist, “thirty” and face planting in Wonder Woman’s cleavage.  Whatever the motive was the producers thought this more sophomoric humor would be best, which is probably why they hired Whedon (both the producers and Whedon forgot that Whedon’s quirky humor, which this was hardly the best example of, only works when counterposed with serious stakes like Buffy dying or having to send Angel to hell mere moments after he gets his soul back…without tragedy the humor just comes off as dumb).  

Thankfully this has shown that this kind of assumption that your audience is dumb, racist, sexist, and just useless has proven to be a big mistake monetarily and hopefully will be kept at bay for a while longer.

4. Finally, that there is still the power of the consumer to control the market. Various idiots from all sides of the political spectrum like to talk about how capitalism is not responsive to the market anymore, and this strangely usually leads arguments that power should be put in the hand of bureaucrats or executives—weird how few sides want to give economic power to the people. But what does work is a primarily civil but forceful call for what we want.  

In the last couple of days there has been this weird call that fans of the Snyder Cut are bullies and racists. I’m sure there are some assholes out there, every movement has them. But the Snyder cut fans were asking for the scenes with Cyborg’s backstory, the return of Flash’s girlfriend Iris, the return of Secretary Swanwick (who is the Martian Manhunter), and the man who would eventually become the superhero Atom. Not one of these people is white. What we wanted to be removed was that dumb Russian family—never do we want to see that bullshit again.  

It’s a bizarre argument that I can’t find any basis in fact. At best it bizarrely cherry-picks to find the few scum that every pop culture fandom has. It’s like me saying that the one former friend I found out was hiding from me that he was #MAGA scum for years, at which point I promptly cut off all ties to him, was also a die-hard Marvel fan and extrapolating out that all Marvel fans much be fascist trash—that is obviously not the case.  

What the Snydercut fans did was raise money for charity, and make their presence known on social media, and buying a lot of ad space. I don’t recall any serious calls for Joss Whedon to die (at least not tied to this, there was some #MeToo stuff in his life but that’s a whole other bag of cats), no one threatens to burn down Warner, nothing like that. It was social media and boycotts.  

But then again we live in a society where a peaceful protest of taking a knee is seen not as something to agree or disagree with the cause of the protester but like it’s an all-out assault to end their way of life.  

But knee jerk lunatics aside, this showed that civil but forceful movement can have an effect. Just so long as we all do the right thing and not get HBOmax as we promised and do not at any level support or encourage any kind of pirating or stealing of the material. We argued for this, now we have to put up on our side and pay for what we wanted. Otherwise they’ll just go back to make worthless dreck.

And then there is this last weird thing in all of this. Several major news sources are saying that WB putting this out through is caving into “toxic fandoms” and how this sets a dangerous precedent. First off this is hardly the first time that fans have demanded that artists meet what they wanted…the first time I can recall is when the public forced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to bring Sherlock back from the dead, and then there was that time fans brought Star Trek back, and in further irony of Joss Whedon’s life I could have sworn it fans clamoring that got him Serenity to follow Firefly after it was cancelled (so when fans are for Whedon that’s good before his wife outed him as hating women, when they’re against after we know the truth about him, that’s toxic. Makes not a damn bit of sense to me but Hollywood’s always been crazy). Demands of fans have been pushing pop culture for as long as pop culture. Also weird is that none of the articles I can find show evidence of the toxic nature. The Vanity Fair article on this is a good example, they list the harassment on twitter (because just putting #ReleasetheSnyderCut on everything apparently is so mean), they also list that the writer for the new Suicide Squad, James Gunn (a man I would like you to remember was rightfully persona non grata just a few years ago because he was making pedophila jokes) was getting death threats…but as far as I can tell those threats are coming in from Marvel fans. Look I’m sure there are complete assholes who are harassing people in the Snyder fandom, because there are those jackasses in every one of the fandoms. And other than the fact that Fascist Pravda (otherwise known as Russia Times) is publishing pro-SnyderCut articles (it’s weird as the anti-tyranny and pro-immigration themes of Snyder’s work doesn’t fit with RT’s usual line…but the world is going crazy so it’s just the latest thing that makes no sense to anyone) I can’t think of any real source of toxicity coming from a movement that funded itself by splitting its proceeds with charities. But apparently not liking Whedon’s misogynistic “thirsty” jokes is now toxic. Who knew. “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate “is apparently the only way to understand the opposition to this great moment.

*Pretty Woman, and I’m can’t find out if the “director’s cut” was actually Marshall’s doing or if the studio just wanted people to buy the movie and put in all the scenes the director cut and called it a “director’s cut.”

**The only one that comes to mind is Lucky Number Slevin where the original was significantly darker and offer no redemption for the main character making the entire film devoid of meaning, and this single example I know of where the studio choice was the right one. I’m sure there is more, but in the aggregate I’m sure the studio is usually wrong.

***I’m not sure how Wonder Woman escaped the studio interference. Either there was interference I am not aware of or Patty Jenkins repeatedly beat the studio execs with her awards and nominations for her previous work…either way Wonder Woman came off, to my knowledge, away with little interference.

****The saddest irony here is that Whedon should have known better. His original script for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was taken by inept producers and turned into a hollow, meaningless version of itself. And so Whedon did the same thing that was done to him. Nietzsche isn’t always correct, but his warning “When fighting monsters be careful not to become a monster yourself” seems relevant here.

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Top 15 movies of the 2010s

Okay, so we’ve gone over what the top films of 2019 were, and we’ve gone over what actually makes for great art. So given that it’s 2020–and by consensus the start of a new decade (yeah I know there is no year zero, but Christ was likely born in 6 or 7 BCE and it’s just as arbitrary to say the first decade had only nine years as to say the decade doesn’t begin until 2021…the fact is this is where the majority lies). So what are the top films of the 2010s?

As anyone who has been with this blog for the last decade will know some years I have trouble making a full Top 10, and some overflow but only with middling entertainment value, few reaching to level of great art. But it is a decade list and we should admit that there are more than just 10 films to honor. That being said, I’m going to group someone of them because my praise of them stems from a similar source.

So let’s get this list going with

#15: Les Miserables
Ideally, this movie should be higher. It appeals to a need to be both charitable in a personal sense, oppose tyranny when it comes up, but to also deal in the real world as best we can. Excellent messages of virtue all around. The problem is that upon repeated viewing it becomes clear that Hooper only realized how to film a musical about halfway through the movie, spending too much early in production with just letting the camera stay on one actor singing for far far too long to be comfortable. Also, sadly, what he did learn about the proper way to film a musical (as seen in such songs as Stars and Master of the House) was quickly forgotten as filmed the second worst film of the 2010’s—Cats. (In case you’re wondering, The Counselor is the unchallenged worst film of the 2010s and in all likelihood of all time).
14. The Age of Adeline
Snobs may have not been completely infuriated by the previous pick, but this one likely is setting them seething. I don’t care. The film may not have the pretentiousness that is so often praised by critics but is superbly acted by Blake Lively (whose range as a serious from The Town to A Simple Favor is always underrated because of her stunningly beautiful face). Compared to a lot of movies it is a quiet film about what really matters in life, and how things we may even complain about are truly blessings.
13. Destination Wedding
Never have I seen two actors carry a movie entirely. Only two actors speak for the entire film. This wouldn’t sound entirely out of place on stage, but on film it is essentially unheard of (discounting endless college films and snobby crap that no non-critic should ever waste a millisecond of their time on). But Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder manage to hold a whole film with only their dialogue and a few establishing shots. And the direction is half the joy, as many directors could not pull off having seemed natural, entertaining, or anything other than tedious. But this film is wonderfully entertaining as it honestly deals with the modern cynicism about relationships without sacrificing a faith in the timeless truth of love.
12. A Star Is Born
It took four attempts at making this movie before they made a good one. I’ll be honest, when it was first announced I was unconvinced, they had made three godawful films with this plot before why would the new one be any better. And then Lady Gaga. And then it is the directing debut of Bradley Cooper, in a film starring himself. A bad story with an annoying pop star directed by someone who was on what appeared to be a vanity project. And then the trailer interested even jaded old me…and then the movie. For once the husband was not despicable only pitiable, for once the starlet’s love for her husband was endearing and not pathetic and leaving me screaming “Leave his worthless ass.” For once they did what they meant to do, talk about how stardom is a fickle mistress who will just as soon destroy you as raise you up without making me despise all the characters involved. But now that we’ve made a good version can we never remake this movie again in my lifetime—I’ll probably be dead by the 2070’s so nothing before then.
11. The Accountant
The 2000s were a time when Ben Affleck did literally any film that would pay him money. Some were endearing in their own way (Jersey Girl and The Sum of All Fears) and others were abominations that should have never been filmed and should still be wiped from the face of the Earth so that future generation may never know of their worthlessness (Gigli, Daredevil, Surviving Christmas, Pearl Harbor, Bounce, Reindeer Games, Boiler Room…you get the idea). Thankfully the 2010s reminded us that this was the guy who wrote Good Will Hunting and made us cry in Armageddon (don’t lie we all cried before we learned a cynicism for Bay movies). And while we’ll soon deal with his directorial genius, let’s look at what is possibly his best film not directed by himself (Affleck might be the best Batman, but his performance in The Accountant is better). In The Accountant, Gavin O’Connor gave us a great mystery, a thrilling action piece, and an understanding of how autism actually presents seldom seen in Hollywood. It is thrilling and insightful at every turn and offers us not only the Accountant’s struggle to do the right thing while wanting to be a part of a society he can’t fully integrate into, but also the redemption of two separate FBI agent as they work with Affleck’s character to achieve some small measure of justice in the world.
It is touching, exciting, and intriguing all at once.
Let’s crack the Top 10 with
10. Glass.
I don’t think I include Unbreakable in the best films of the 2000s, and I don’t necessarily regret that, Unbreakable, while a beautiful film was inherently only the first part of a story. And I’m not including Split here either because it was a bridge piece that set up this final movie. But Glass is what turns these otherwise good but not great films into a perfect trilogy. So many of M. Night’s films are about finding your place in the world (The Sixth Sense, Lady in the Water, Signs) but Glass uses the modern obsession with comic book characters to relate the struggle of these larger than life characters to real human beings who are held back by fears of what they can accomplish. And while Glass may have set up a larger universe which we may never return to, as much as we might want, the theme of Mr. Glass’ initial plea about how terrible it is to not know your place in the world is resolved not just for our three central characters. And is what was needed more than any further discussion of the conspiracy that kept those with abilities down (certainly without ethics, but not entirely without logic to their purpose). And further, we see there is dignity and even greater purpose in the role of those who are not the extraordinary but in what would usually be considered the role of the sidekick, as it is those who believe without powers, who do more to harm the behemoth of the conspiracy than the superheroes and villains ever could.
9.Knives Out

Daniel Craig is a good Bond. He is great as Benoit Blanc. In possibly the best murder mystery since Agatha Christie (that sounds like hyperbole, but trust me it isn’t) Knives Out holds the promise of a new private detective that will become a part of the collective conscious right up there with Holmes, Poirot, Wolf, Marlowe, and Spade. Every line is a masterpiece of wit and mystery, and you’re not sure who killed who, who is even dead, and what is going on in-between laughing your ass off at the insanity of the characters and their well-crafted lines. With any luck, several Blanc films will grace the best films of the 2020’s list, but for now, let us revel in the genius of the first film that closed out the decade.
8. The King’s Speech/Dunkirk/Darkest Hour
I’m grouping these three together because they basically all have the same theme central theme: individuals dealing with extraordinary situations, and all three use the backdrop of Britain in the Second World War. Sadly, three great films about the virtues of the British people (notably about the nobility, the commoners, and educated gentry that straddles the two, i.e. most of Britains classes) should have the backdrop of Britain committing economic suicide and destroying the union that the WWII generation fought to create (but it’s a time when America is also opting for self-immolation, so it’s not only a flaw in Britain at present). None the less all three demonstrate that the correct attitude to problem is to face them with a personal virtue and determination to follow what you know is right even when the world and those in it seem to be against you.
7. Motherless Brooklyn
It is a film that has nearly unparalleled directing, writing, and acting. Probably if Ed Norton hadn’t burned so many bridges in Hollywood it would be recognized for the genius it has this year beyond. But as it stands it both balances a personal story of redemption with a startling accurate critique of current corruption by using real evils of the past as an example we should learn from. If all movies were this good I would never be disappointed.
6. Widows
I honestly fail to see which current social problems this film did not at least touch on. Racism, personal and structural. Political corruption and graft. Misogyny. The need to establish connections with other people to survive. And it does it all without becoming preachy or pedantic. Between this and Motherless Brooklyn Hollywood has a new standard by which to judge all movies that comment on society’s ill. If you cannot do it with the entertainment factor of both of these films don’t bother.
5. The Town/Argo/Live By Night
Ben Affleck’s personal life seems to be an endless mess. Ben Affleck the actor is good. Ben Affleck the director is a godsend. The three films are very different in tone and theme but all three show a director who knows how to tell complex stories, make characters of questionable character sympathetic and endearing, and how to give powerful messages about the nature of virtue through the lack of it, the price of redemption, and the necessity of balancing intellectual and emotional needs in both our lives and on film. I look forward to every film that Affleck directs and wish there were more of them.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
This is a difficult one to say exactly where it goes. It’s hard because it really shouldn’t be view outside the nature of the Dark Knight Trilogy, so it becomes a little difficult to fit into a decade review of films as the other two films were in the previous decade. That said, let’s try and look at this film as a stand-alone. It offers one of the most enduring messages of any of the Dark Knight movies, in that it shows the flaws of those who listen to Bane’s progressive/populist drivel and how those who spout such nonsense often don’t believe in what they say, just in playing to the ignorant masses. How different this decade would have been if people had actually listened to this message.
Further, the movie is the most character-centric of the Dark Knight films, showing Bruce dealing with his role in Gotham and the world and how his attempt to hide from life behind the cowl was not a long term solution to bigger issues.
And for this, it is still the strongest part of the trilogy and should be appreciated on its own.
3. Inception/Interstellar
Okay, so I’ve put all four of Nolan’s films for this decade on the list. Like Snyder and Affleck he is simply a director I will implicitly trust for the moment. Someday he might give a subpar film, but it was not this decade. I put these two films together not just because they both are science fiction tales, and not just because they both challenge us to think about reality in a different way, but because they show very clearly that for all the intellectual knots we can tie ourselves into it is connections to others out of love that will usually be the things that save us from the problems in our lives.
2. Winter’s Tale
This one might seem to be the odd one out to be this high on the list. Most of these films people might admit that they have exceptional acting and directing they just might think there are other, more pretentious, films that should be in the top list (usually because they believe what critics tell them). But Winter’s Tale flew under the radar. Terribly marketed, poorly understood, and just comes off as cheap fantasy to anyone who isn’t watching closely. However, this film takes a small portion of Mark Helprin’s beautiful novel and puts the dense philosophy on film. And when one takes the time to watch this movie you will realize it is not just a beautiful love story, but a stirring film about spirituality and hope, about how everything in existence happens for a reason, and how it bends inevitably toward growth and eventual perfection.
1. Man of Steel/Dawn of Justice/The Snyder Cut
Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan did for stupid and crappy comic book stories what the bards we collectively call Homer did for stupid and crappy campfire tales. They made the mundane into true art. And while Nolan’s genius was more for the last decade Snyder gave us three great films of philosophical depth that in many ways outshine the Dark Knight Trilogy.
And I get that putting a movie that hasn’t even been released yet is a bit of cheat, but the fact is that everyone with a brain knows that the actual Snyder Cut was vastly superior to the shit Justice League that the studio released and that everyone involved in ruining Justice League from Joss Whedon all the way to the WB executives should, in a just world, be subject to tortures usually reserved for the Inquisition.
But from Man of Steel, a film that tore apart the evils of Plato’s Republic, Dawn of Justice which showed the evil inherent in the beliefs of Nietzsche, and from the few clues to the real Justice League we can see that the film was supposed to be an attack on the isolationism of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Few directors would tackle one of those in a film, but Snyder kept all of his comic book movies, one after another, challenging heavy philosophical questions. He gave us superheroes who weren’t the comic book cutouts that did what was needed for the plot, but rather real human beings (even the aliens) for whom the plot followed their character development. We were treated to a Lois Lane who wasn’t just a hanger on to Superman, but a woman whom we could believe earned a Pulitzer. A Superman who wasn’t the dumb big blue Boy Scout but a virtuous man who struggles with the consequences of his choices in trying to right thing. A Batman who is understood to be mentally unstable, because stable people without superpowers don’t do this kind of shit, and who have very real PTSD issues from all the crap he’s faced. They were films for serious adults, and critics bitched that it wasn’t the mindless superhero crap Disney was putting out.
Regrettably, neither the critics nor the public want films that both entertain and cause us to think at the moment, and so these films will not get the credit they deserve. But they are still the best the decade had to offer.

On the flip side, I feel I should also discuss the worst of the decade. And that’s a toss-up.
On the one hand, there is The Counselor, in my mind the single worst film ever made. Conversations that make no sense, characters all spouting off like they’re drunken sophomore philosophy students, Cameron Diaz sexually molesting a car (and my soul in the process). It was just a terrible film at every level.
But slightly above that is what Disney did throughout most of the decade. The early Marvel films not owned by Disney weren’t great but they weren’t completely terrible. But once Disney took over they became bland, formulaic, and just a series of cheap quips and explosions. And not that Star Wars was ever great art, but the extended universe novels offered a road map for character development and depth, but not once did I see the words Mara Jade or any other suggestion that Disney wanted to offer us anything other than mindless shit. Perhaps if the entertainment industry wasn’t such a blind monkey-see-monkey-do kind of business the I could have been fine with Disney releasing some dumb crap and other studios giving me something to sink my teeth into, but it isn’t that way and Disney showed you can make money with the bland formula (but only for a while, a caveat they haven’t learned) and thus every other studio wants to repeat the same thing leaving comparatively little diversity for those of us who got tired of the formula early on. And for that, they have created the worst thing in entertainment for the decade. And the unquestionable cuteness of baby Yoda and baby Groot won’t make up for that.

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Best Movies of 2019

Source: Wikimedia commons

So it has been a weird year for movies. Long stretches of nothing, the end of two vapid franchises owned by Disney, probably the last intelligent superhero film for another ten years (unless we get the Snyder Cut). As usual, most lists of top films have a long string of pretentious crap that is all style and no substance and which no human being will ever watch…here I look at real movies. Overall the horizon doesn’t bode well for the future as most studios are going more and more for simplistic films made by committee: But still, there were some stand out films.
Up first the honorable mentions.
Jojo rabbit —I’ll be honest this one might deserve more but I didn’t see it because the marketing made it look pretty indifferent to the evils of Nazism. That and Johansson is a terrible actress that seldom makes decent films. I have been told however that it is quite damning to Nazism and will see it when I’m sure the studio will be getting a far lower portion of the ticket…they should not be rewarded for such an inept marketing campaign.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood—Quentin has one theme “violence is destructive to a sense of identity” so when for the first time I didn’t see that theme in this movie I was left a little rudderless in how to interpret it. The best I can say is he’s depicting the lie that Hollywood likes to tell itself about itself, but I’m not sure that’s what he was going for. I’m not sure about anything about that film other than the last 10 minutes were horrifyingly entertaining.
John Wick 3–Ugh. I’m not going to say that the series jumped the shark, but this was significantly below the last two. They might still pull out of this tailspin, but I’m withholding judgment.
Serenity—An under-appreciated film. Not as good as The Matrix, Dark City, or Revolver but still entertaining and hold a modicum of metaphysical depth.
Murder Mystery—A silly Netflix film and possibly only the third or fourth watchable Adam Sandler film, but still fun.
Happy Death Day 2U—You’d think this would have just been stupid, but it was rather touching.
Doctor Sleep—I would have preferred if they had ignored that godawful Kubrick film existed (but I am impressed with the production department being able to recreate the Overlook so perfectly), but it was still fun.
Last Christmas—Not the best Christmas film ever, but it was sweet and more in line with the meaning of the holidays than a lot of Christmas films.
Dumbo—Live-action remakes for Disney are hit and miss. But Dumbo built on the original film, dropped the weird psychedelic elephants and questionable crows, and built on some real human character development.
So let’s get to the top 10 (really 11 because we have a tie)
10 tie. Charlie’s Angel—I know this got bad reviews but clearly, only idiots reviewed the movie. It is far funnier than any of the previous films, with better character development and actual wit instead of dumb sight gags.
10 tie. Bombshell—Holy shit were things bad at Fox. And given that there do not seem to be any lawsuits against the movie that suggest it’s all essentially true (or at least true enough to avoid defamation)…which is horrifying. The FoxNews building probably needs to be burned to the down to get rid of that kind of evil.
9.Pokémon Detective Pikachu—PG Deadpool. Nothing more or less. The simple trick for all movies is to make sure Ryan Reynold is not encumbered by the laws of reality.
8.Aladdin—It’s better than the original. Smith’s genie is more relatable and his jokes will not age as poorly as Williams’ have. They fleshed out the character and surprisingly improved on the story. Yeah, Jasmine’s solo felt a little forced when all the other songs didn’t stop the action, but all it really did is make me wonder why we didn’t get “Home” for Beauty and the Beast. Regrettably, between a Mulan staring a communist shill for human rights abuses or A Little Mermaid directed by an inept hack, Aladdin is probably the last good live-action Disney film.
7.Jumanji: The Next Level—Somehow they managed to make the story seem fresh and not formulaic. And again we see that Jack Black is hideously underused an actor with range (who knew?)
6. The Good Liar—Okay, it’s pretty obvious by the previous picks that this has not been the best year for serious films, but this film is a winner. I can’t talk about it too much because this is one of the rare films where spoilers really do matter. But Mirren and McKellen do a fabulous superb job of playing each other.
5. Frozen II—I honestly feel this is the first Disney film that is clearly marketed someone other than children (I’m not counting Pixar films for the purposes of that statement), but with moments ridiculing the naiveté of youth, questions mortality the need for self-discovery, and the need to “Do the Next Right Thing” no matter how much you lose in life—especially when you have lost everything—was thematic material unquestionably not geared to young children. This had teens in mind, and I appreciate Disney venturing into deeper waters. (Maybe by the third film Disney executives will have the guts to admit that Elsa is gay.)
4.It: Chapter II—I’m not entirely thrilled they changed the ending, but I get why the Ritual of Chud would have been difficult to put on film. I would have preferred to see the spider and Bill save his wife (and there are rumors that a much longer directors cut is coming), but I can still say without hesitation that this is probably the best we’re ever going to get for this story being on film. All the actors, young and old, brought depth and humanity to their characters and didn’t let them become the stiff cardboard cutouts of that abysmal TV miniseries.
And then we get to the top 3 which I feel are more than just enjoyable but true art.
3. Knives Out—This is one of the best comedies and best mysteries in years. As if Agatha Christie wrote slapstick. Rian Johnson needs to stick to writing films like this and The Brothers Bloom because his talents are wasted on second rate sci-fi. Not only is Craig perfect as the Southern gentleman sleuth Benoit Blanc, but Chris Evans for the first time in a long time acted in his performance as the arrogant Ransom. Every actor was perfect in this movie, even typically second-tier actors like Don Johnson were great throughout. It is a mystery with a giant hole, like a doughnut, that has to be filled (and that bizarre statement will be hilarious after you’ve seen it). I am pleased that Johnson has already said he has a second Benoit Blanc film planned. Please let it come sooner rather than later.
2. Glass—Probably the last intelligent superhero film for the foreseeable future (unless we get the Snyder Cut), this film completed the Unbreakable Split Glass Trilogy and offered us a satisfying conclusion to both Bruce Willis’ hero and the evil of the Hoard from their respective films. Returning to M. Night’s core theme of finding one’s place in the world and its importance in being happy in life. Certainly, there were a lot of loose ends that I wouldn’t be sad if M. Night worked into a two or three-season show for Hulu or Prime…but the story of our three central characters and their respective character arcs were finished perfectly.
1.Motherless Brooklyn—Finally what is in my mind the unquestionable best film of the year. Best Actor. Best Director. Best Script. Best Picture. A story of a 40’s PI with Tourette’s Syndrome having to solve the murder of his mentor. It is both historically accurate in showing the corruption of government building in the post-war theory, and also wonderfully gives us a villain in the person of Alec Baldwin playing a corrupt New York developer turned politician who plays to nationalist, racist and populist themes…sound familiar but Baldwin’s character is actually quite intelligent, so it’s not entirely you know who (but Baldwin probably still deserves the award for best-supporting Actor). At every turn, it works to show some of the worst and best of humanity and offers hope even in terrible situations.
And I know I usually do the worst of the year. It’s Cats. We all know it. I can add nothing to the mountains of disdain already heaped on this monstrosity of a film.  It should have never been made.  I really wanted to put Star Wars or Avengers as the worst films of the year for Disney just vomiting out mindless drivel, cheap jokes, and explosions…but no, Cats is quite possibly the worst things Hollywood has ever created sans The Counselor.

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What to expect from the Dawn of Justice

Lex Luthor: We should all be careful when we elevate anyone, human or alien, to “super” status.

Ron Troupe: Because we’re all equal.

Lex Luthor: Well that’s just absurd. No – I’m saying we need to be selective and elevate the right people. The right human people.

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome.”—Nietzsche

We’re only a couple weeks away from the movie I have been waiting for: Dawn of Justice (you’ll notice I refuse to use the more sophomoric title that was clearly the brain child of an idiot studio executive *

The Trinity

This film is the extension of the brain child of producer Christopher Nolan and director Zach Snyder.  Christopher Nolan uses classic literature as the backdrop for all of his movies (Batman Begins is The Aeneid, Prestige–Faust, Dark Knight–Othello, Inception–Theseus in the Labyrinth, Dark Knight Rises–A Tale of Two Cities, Interstellar–Odyssey).  Snyder has a long habit of tacking on heavy philosophy as well (the speeches in 300 are better than any of the action, is not what you’d call shallow, and even his worst film Sucker Punch was clearly trying to be something more than pointless action—it failed miserably—but there was a clear attempt, I have no idea exactly what he was attempting but he was trying to do something more there.)

And together they went in a slightly different direction with Man of Steel; they went in a slightly different direction by not pulling from literature, but philosophy and made the whole movie a critique of Plato’s Republic (no really, Krypton is set up exactly like the Republic, castes, children raised to fit predetermined lives and are not raised by parents, they even go as far as to show you Clark reading The Republic in one scene for anyone who didn’t already get it) with Zod as the logical end result of Plato’s terrible philosophy.

Now Nolan is probably not going to be involved in the entire DC universe, but he did help Snyder chart the entire universe for the first round of films…and with charting the plots I am really hoping against hope that he outlined the themes of all the movies and they all deal with the same philosophical grounds that Man of Steel did.

I expect to see Suicide Squad tear Foucault a new one, Wonder Woman glorify 2nd Wave Feminism while destroying 3rd Wave Feminism, Justice League Part 1 to destroy Kant and Part 2 to glorify Aristotle (this is pure speculation)…but I am fairly certain that Dawn of Justice will tear the abhorrent beliefs of Friedrich Nietzsche (laughingly called philosophy)  to shreds.

What do I mean?
Well first let’s go through a crash course of Nietzsche’s insanity.  Now Nietzsche is very quotable, because he put nothing in context, and you can probably find a line to justify anything but traditional religion.  Some of it even sounds quite profound (again when taken out of context)  but when you take it as a whole it’s a poor and rambling attempt to justify sociopathic behavior.  It’s hard to deal with a man who claims at one moment to love self-reflection and then decry reason and rationality as a perversion of humanity the next. Once you’ve actively denied logic, it becomes impossible to challenge you because like a child your interlocutor just says that they don’t care about that, facts and reason aren’t relevant, they have something better, who the hell knows what that is (it’s like arguing with a Trump supporter).  Nietzsche’s ethics are just as bad, hyping the Übermensch:

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape… The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth… Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss … what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.—Thus Spoke Zarathustra

While the nature of this overman, like most things in Nietzsche, hard to nail down because Friedrich was committed to an asylum a couple decades later than he should have been, it is clear that the übermensch is not bound by the slave-morality of “good and evil,” to be something superior to the common people, making his own values, free of all traces of empathy, and above the rabble, to do with them and the world as he pleases.

With as abhorrent a vision as this, it is no shock that Nietzsche’s ideas were so easily used by the Nazis (even though he personally did not support such nationalist views while he was alive), and was the subject of condemnation in an early comic which portrayed one of the overmen as a cruel dictator worthy of all the scorn ethical people would put on what Nietzsche viewed as an ideal.  That comic was of course “The Reign of the Superman” by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  Who quickly realized that the way to truly destroy the values of Nietzsche wasn’t to show how a fascist example of the master race in all its abhorrence, but to show the superiority of ethics in a Superman who was above the maxim that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And this is why Nietzsche had to be the target of this addition to the Superman franchise, because the entire comic began as an attack on Nietzschian values.

So how will this play out in the film.

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”—Nietzsche

 

“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.”—Alfred Pennyworth

Possibly the only part of Nietzsche that will not be lambasted is the oft quoted warning about staring into the abyss as this is pretty much where Batman is clearly going to begin this film.  His hopeless view that Superman can’t be trusted because “twenty years in Gotham, Alfred—We’ve seen what promises are worth. How many good guys are left? How many stayed that way?”

This man has been fighting for so long he doesn’t believe any one beside himself and Alfred are on the side of good.  He sees the worst in everyone.  Granted after Dent, Todd, Quinn, and who knows who else is in this universe, he’s seen a lot of people fall to their worst side. He has fought monsters so long that as Alfred warns it “turns good men cruel.”

So if this movie is a refutation of Nietzsche why make one of the most hyped points of trailers the point where Nietzsche is correct?  Because it was a tip of the hat to let us know which philosophy they would be dealing with…and because as we all know for all his fighting Bruce isn’t a monster—not now, not ever.  And this movie will show that the good can survive the staring contest with the abyss.  (Which will probably be also mirrored in Clark’s doubts about his mission that we get hints of.

“In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man’s torments.”—Nietzsche

 

“This means something.  It’s all some people have.  It’s all that gives them hope.”—Lois Lane

Nietzsche was a real downer of a person.  And for all his claims to hate nihilism, his ideas were more or less nihilistic.

Now certainly the first movie Man of Steel the concept of hope was dealt with over and over.  But we’re going to return to this in this movie and see that, like Nietzsche, people like Luthor find the idea of spreading hope to be a dangerous one…probably because it ruins their ability to control. And we will almost certainly see that the idea of hope is what is going to take Batman out of the abyss and back toward the character out to give people a symbol that we saw in the last time Nolan had his hands on the character.

 

“God is Dead”—Nietzsche

 

“If Man won’t kill God, the Devil will do it.”—Lex Luthor

Nietzsche, Luthor, Zod, and Darkseid (whom we are getting hints of) all believe themselves to be above others, above any concept, laws and judges unto themselves.  They don’t need Gods to give purpose to existence, they just find their own glorification of power to be the purpose.tumblr_o41aveP62f1uorz8zo2_500

But our heroes will show, maybe not in terms of divinity, but a higher concept is still needed to offer a course and goal for humanity…otherwise it wouldn’t be called Dawn of Justice.

“Who can attain to anything great if he does not feel in himself the force and will to inflict great pain? The ability to suffer is a small matter: in that line, weak women and even slaves often attain masterliness. But not to perish from internal distress and doubt when one inflicts great suffering and hears the cry of it — that is great, that belongs to greatness.”—Nietzsche

 

“What have you done?”—Superman

If this Nietzsche quote isn’t an actual recipe for how to create Doomsday I don’t know what is.  And when that monster (I’ll admit I too hope what we saw in the trailer wasn’t the final CGI vision of the monster) is destroyed by DC trinity, it will go a long way to show this glorification of infliction of pain is flawed.

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.”—Nietzsche

With all the discussion from Luthor and corrupt Senators (at least I assume she’s corrupt as she’s with Luthor a lot) about power and it’s use, one can’t help but hear a disunion of the will to power coming into this movie somewhere.  And while I think he championing of the Aristotelian virtues is still a couple movies away, I get the feeling that this film will deal with how power is only a tool to be used for virtue or vice and is in itself not the central point of life or ethics.

“When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is usually something wrong with her sexually.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever known a woman like me.”–Wonder Woman

And I can’t help but point out that if you read Nietzsche you may find claims of his wonderwoman.gifanti-Semitism are not as simple as pop culture would have you believe…but his unspeakable misogyny more than makes up for any perceived points by not being a complete Nazi returning Friedrich and his ideas to the category of “complete waste of space and volume.”
And what, to point out the obvious, what better way to put the final nail in the coffin of Nietzsche’s ideas, than to show how wrong his hatred of women as “the weaker sex” with not only a version of Lois Lane who is finally able to figure out who Superman is, but the most bad ass super-heroine in existence.

Granted all of this is based off what we know of Nolan, Snyder, and the few hints from the trailers…but this is what you should go in looking for, as this director and producer have no intention of showing anything so mundane as a overpowered beatdown.

*But still somehow lacked the joy of any of these options.

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More Movies Hollywood Should Make

movie ticketsDespite the fact that I’ve already suggested the list of conservative movies and spiritual movies that Hollywood should make there is the simple fact that Hollywood is getting a little insane in coming up with no new ideas.

As this video shows:

Now I think the one problem with this video is the complaint that too many movies are based on books…that’s not quite accurate, it would be more fair to say that too many movies are based on poorly written teen novels that pander to the lowest of the lowest common denominator.  There are good books out there that could make excellent movies, and along with a few new ideas let’s go through some other things Hollywood should make.

The Pendergast Novels.  I’ll admit that Hollywood hasn’t completely ignored this series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child–after all they made a barely passable version of the first book in the series The Relic–the problem being that they actually wrote out the main character, FBI Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast (It’s a sin as gracious as trying to make the Bourne movies but writing out the villain, oh wait, Hollywood did exactly that*).  This is a problem because while the characters of The Relic they decided to keep do make frequent appearances, it is Pendergast, the independent wealthy, intellectually accomplished, refined Southern gentleman of old money and his penchant for cases of bizarre and unusual natures that the books center around.  And this isn’t the worst thing that Hollywood has ever done because you don’t even have to redo the The Relic to do justice to Pendergast.  Just start a new franchise starting with The Cabinet of Curiosities and that would give you at least twelve tales of the FBI Special Agent taking on immortal serial killers, zombies, genetically engineered Nazis and a whole host of other foes.  Really, there is no legitimate reason why they haven’t made these into movies other than the fact they botched it with The Relic.

Christopher Moore’s Vampire Trilogy.  If you’re not familiar with Christopher Moore’s writing I feel very sorry for you.  Lamb, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, The Stupidest Angel (A heartwarming tale of Christmas terror), Fool, all of these novels should be read as they will leave you gasping for air and crying from too much laughter…but probably none would make for better film adaptations than his trilogy of vampire novels: Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me tells the tale of Jody, a shop girl, who has recently been turned into a vampire who while learning to live with her new condition meets Tommy, a clueless wannabe writer.  They of course fall in love.  Along the way their story may also be vampire cats, mouse ninjas, Abby Normal: Mistress of the Dark, bronzed pet turtles, turkey bowling, and an elderly oriental grandmother who speaks mainly in profanity laced slang.  I know that sounds insane, but trust me the actual story is far more bizarre…while being oddly tender.   We’ve been subjected to far too many bad vampire romances over the last few years.  Let’s have Hollywood redeem itself and give us a good one.

Freddy and Frederika.  Okay, I could have put this one in the list of films conservatives should make as it is one of the most patriotic books ever written, but more than that, it is one of the best comedies ever.  Dialogue that reads as a cross between the Marx Brothers, a Howards Hawks screwball comedy, and Monty Python covers every page of this novel, and it deserves to have the rapid fire delivery that all good comedy needs.

The Historian.  I could see a point being made that there are too many vampire movies out there and I already have another one on this list already.  Fair enough.  But there is a lack of good film in that vein…and if you can manage to transfer the quality of this race through three periods of time all to track down the villainous Vlad Tepes and stop his plan for world domination.

Good Omens.  It’s not so much that Hollywood needs this suggestion…production for this movie is in constant on again/off again mode.  This movie is the funniest the apocalypse is ever going to be and it needs to be made into a movie.  Hollywood, get this movie out of development hell and get it made.

The Great Good Thing.  This book by Roderick Townley is a children’s novel about what book characters do when we’re not watching them.  And in the middle of it all is Sylvie, a princess not content with her repetitive life of the same adventure over and over again. It is a story that would lend itself well to a CGI heavy children’s film (or just animate it) with a certain Wonderland feel.

Destiny’s Knights.  Yeah I’m just going to slip my novel in here. It’s a good fantasy story, certainly better than other books which were heavily plagiarized (not going to name names).

Joss Whedon should make more Shakespeare movies. In fact since he has already done the key Shakespearian comedy (Much Ado About Nothing) he should now do the greatest of the tragedies: King Lear.   Whedon alum Anthony Steward Head with a little makeup would now be old enough to play the role and if Whedon pulled some of his other long time favorites (Gellar, Hannigan, Carpenter) as his daughters could lead to an excellent cast that under Whedon could make the tragedy into the film that shows this as the most powerful of the tragedies that the slew of BBC and PBS attempts have so far failed at.  Now if Whedon wanted to really do something fun, he would do King Lear and Christopher Moore’s Fool –which is just a comedy version of Lear–filming at the same time with the same cast showing the same story as both gut wrenching tragedy and side splitting comedy.

The Thin Man.  Now, I’m not saying that the original films weren’t good, but they are a little weak on the mystery side.  Now imagine Depp and Jolie as Nick and Nora.  (I have no problem with the occasional reboot if there are generations between the original and the remake).

Mark Beamon novels by Kyle Mills. These books follow a slightly unorthodox FBI agent as he stumbles into one international incident after another. Eventually the books started getting weak, but the first four are strong enough to give this a chance at becoming a franchise.

True Lies 2:  This was a great action film, certainly one of the top 10 action films of all time.  And it probably should have had a sequel years ago.  However you could still get a sequel.  Now, I already hear the obvious complaint, Arnold is no longer entertaining, he’s no longer funny, and he’s actually kind of an ass.  All true.  Which is why the perfect True Lies sequel doesn’t really need Arnold all that much.  Start the movie with Arnold’s character getting killed.  Let the entire frustration over his waste of a governorship out and just give him the O.J. in a Naked Gun movie treatment.  The rest of the movie is Tasker’s wife and daughter (now an agent in her own right) tracking down the killers.  This works because Jamie Lee Curtis is still fiesty and funny…and as the original movie casted the daughter with Eliza Dushku (aka Faith the Vampire Slayer, and Echo of Dollhouse) you have a built in actress who you know can handle violence and wit equally well.

*You know I have no problem with changing books and characters when taking a book from print to screen…but that change should be justified either by the fact that it is necessary to make the story work on screen or be an actual improvement.  Writing out the actually interesting central villain and turning the US intelligence from a somewhat bumbling ally to the central villain was not justified with the Bourne stories.  They took a captivating story and turned it into trash.  So I’d be more than happy to see the actual Bourne novels turned into movies (I would also add the character of Jason Bourne in the books would have ripped that wimp Damon played in half in a matter of seconds).

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Ten New Age Movies that Should be Made

Over at Elementary Politics I just completed a list of 10 films I think conservatives should make.  Now to balance out my beliefs, here are 10 films I think New Agers should make.   Why because, regrettably our ideas are not getting out there enough.  There is scientific proof that the afterlife exists (and not just for Christians but for everyone) and that reincarnation is a fact—evidence that it is our souls and our free will that dictate everything in our lives and that we are not the victims of fate or circumstance beyond our control…but so little of it gets out there.  There are the few good movies out there (What Dreams May Come, Dead Again, the early Shaymalan stuff) and there is some stuff that tries but fails at quality film making (The Celestine Prophecy comes to mind).  But there is so much out there that could be made that would help bring these ideas to public attention The MessengersT

he Messengers:  If you’re not familiar with this book you should go out and find a copy. The story of a man who through past life regression therapy finds out that he was Saul of Tarsus…better known as St. Paul.  And that he knew Jesus well before the road to Damascus.  As a film it has that thing Hollywood loves, parallel story lines (the modern story of the man finding out who he was and coming to terms with it, the ancient story of Jesus’ true teachings)—and both stories are compelling.  And while controversial (as if that never brings in box-office numbers) it tells a slightly more accurate story than most are familiar with. the_alchemist “What’s the world’s greatest lie?… It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.”

The Alchemist:  I will fully admit that previous attempts to bring Paulo Cohelo to the big screen have been less than spectacular (I actually enjoyed Veronica Decides To Die, but I realize that I’m one of the few people to actually see it and that if you hadn’t read the book it would have made little to no sense whatsoever).   But The Alchemist and its ideas that all of life has a purpose and is directed to that purpose whether you see it or not is a tale that should be brought to the screen. I’m not sure if it can be done without a healthy amount of voice over or narration to help the audience with some of the events and concepts (or at least quite a bit of exposition) but it can be done.

Waldo:  No not that one.  The short story by Robert Heinlein.  Not familiar with it?  Basically it’s The Secret if the secret were put into a futuristic sci-fi story.  Centered around a physically Waldodisabled, but mentally superior inventor named Waldo whose physical deformities mean that he has to live in the zero gravity environment or be just above a paraplegic. This handicap has caused him to be very estranged from others, living in space adds to it, and his extreme genius even further drives him apart from his fellow humans…and the jealousy, envy. And lack of empathy leads to Waldo becoming a misanthrope that puts Dr. Greg House to shame. But in amongst all of this, Waldo is presented with a problem that has to be fixed if the world economy is going to continue-the source for the world’s power seems to be failing. The answer Waldo discovers to this problem–that the science of the energy source is not the problem, but that thought creates reality, and it is the general misanthropy and cynicism/fear of the world that is causing the downturn/destruction block to infinite power. What follows is a recovery not just for the world but for Waldo himself. Quite frankly a story that puts the Law of Attraction in terms that most people understand is something that is desperately needed. Yes the name of the protagonist is going to have to be changed…we all know what you thought of when you saw the title, but aside from that this could be one of the most effective ways to bring the idea of the Law of Attraction to the general public.

Stranger in a Strange Land “Mike is our Prometheus — but that’s all. Mike keeps emphazing this. Thou art God, I am God, he is God — all that groks. Mike is a man like the rest of us. A superior man admittedly — a lesser man taught the things the Martians know, might have set himself up as a pipsqueak god. Mike is above that temptation. Prometheus… but that is all.”

Stranger in a Strange Land: Honestly how has this movie already not been made?  I realize that Hollywood has a terrible track record of actually appreciating Heinlein. But this is probably his most popular book. You would at least have thought the liberals of the 60’s would have done a poor job that showed they didn’t get anything out of it beyond the subtext of free love, but they didn’t (just as well, it would have been disappointing as that godawful Atlas Shrugged trilogy). But I still do not grok why it has never even been attempted. Am I the only one who can see Hugh Laurie playing the sharp tongued Jubal?

Portrait of Jennie: This was a great movie.  The story of true love separated by a fluke of Potrait of Jennietime and fate that the universe tries to atone for by ignoring the laws of time.  And it is actually one of those rare movies that was superior to the book.  So why does it need to be remade?  Two reasons.  The first is while it is a great movie with a New Age sensibility of time and destiny, and that love is a force that transcends all other limitations, it was a message that was not made particularly clear and only made sense to those who already understood what it was saying.  And I feel a very skilled writer could help make some of these ideas more accessible while not sacrificing any of the depth.  The second reason is that while Jennifer Jones does an Oscar worthy performance as Jennie         , the movie is actually about artist Eben Adams played by Joseph Cotton, an actor so inept, stiff and lifeless you’d think he walked out of an Ayn Rand novel*. It’s a testament to the power of the movie that it still shines when its lead actor who is in every scene is a man who makes Keanu Reeves look like Laurence Olivier.  I would love to see the power of the film with a competent actor at the helm of the narrative.

Lost HorizonLost Horizon: The story of Shangri-La, a mystical realm of peace and understanding hidden in the Himalayas.  Another great New Age tale that already has a film.  But the existing film has two problems.  One is that the early days of film had the problem that film decayed and Hollywood only discovered this part after many films had been lost. Lost Horizon is one of those films which could not be completely saved, as such there are several parts of the film that are missing. The second problem is that director Frank Capra decided that instead of just telling the story from a great book, he would insert his own political beliefs into the film.  This is bad enough, but the supreme irony is that his politics in this case is an argument for complete pacifism in a movie made one year before Hitler decided to acquire Polish real estate.  It doesn’t belong in the film in the first place, but in context it makes the rest of the film and its message look naive and foolish which it is not.

Just then Joshua (Jesus) stumbled through the gate and crashed into us. We were able to catch ourselves and him before anyone fell. The Messiah was holding the little girl’s bunny, hugging it to his cheek with the big back feet swinging free. He was gloriously drunk. “Know what?” Josh said. “I love bunnies. They toil not, neither do they bark. Henceforth and from now on, I decree that whenever something bad happens to me, there be bunnies around. So it shall be written. Go ahead Biff, write it down.”–Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, the wedding in Canna scene

LambLamb the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal:  If you have not read this book you need to.  It is one of the most hilarious stories ever told.  The story of Christ’s life from someone who was actually there, Levi bar Levi, known to his friends as Biff.  Biff is Jesus’s (in the book called Josh**) devout friend and protector as they grow up together and then leave Judea so that Josh can learn to be the Messiah.  So, while searching out wise men in modern day Afghanistan, China and India, Josh learns the balance in Taoism, the serenity in Buddhism, and the wisdom of Hinduism…while Biff learns to blow things up with alchemy, martial arts, and the wisdom of the Kama Sutra.  The book is one of those rare works that can balance humor and grace.  And besides being so funny it needs a movie, it is a movie that shows that most of the world’s religions share more in common than they have separating them. Illusions Bach

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

Illusions: while I prefer Bach’s novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull I seriously do not see any way to turn that into a movie.  Even with CGI it still won’t work. So history of a barnstorming Messiah and his handbook of advice for how to be Messiah is the second best option.

Autobiography of a Yogi:  I am not usually in favor of biopics.  They’re so incredibly hit and miss that they turn me off for the Autobiography of a Yogimost part, and the better ones are often the ones that play fast and loose with the facts and don’t let them get in the way of a good story.  That said, the life of Yogananda and his message of the unity of religions and God is one that I feel people should be more familiar with.

Life before Life: This is a book that I think offers a lot of room to work with for a film. Life after LifeObviously there would have to be a lot of composite characters, but you could do well with a tale of single research looking into one case after another of children who have memories of their past lives. If the more close minded are going to put out made up tripe like Heaven if for Real (honestly I believe in near death experiences but have no faith in that kid or his family’s story) then a movie with actual research into what happens in the afterlife is something that should be out there. Now certainly there are other stories that depict the principles we hold so near and dear, but I think these 10 would be an excellent place to start. *It’s no shock that he’s the star of the few screenplays Rand wrote in her brief Hollywood career. **It does correctly describe how the Aramaic name Yeshua become Jesus if you translate into Greek then English, but Joshua when you go straight from Aramaic to English.

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Movies for Conservatives: Interstellar

Okay so this is a more in depth look at Interstellar. If you want the spoiler light version of the review then go to my review on Elementary Politics.


Okay you’ve been warned, spoilers ahead.

Interstellar

So first off you should know you’re watching The Odyssey.  Nolan’s movies are all based on a work of literature* and this one is no different.  Cooper is Odysseus and he faces many of the same problems.  He faces a tidal wave that blows him years off course, one of the crew is tempted by the lotus eaters promise to dream his life away (which is also an Inception reference)**, a fight against a two faced monster and a giant hole in the ground (between Scylla and Charybdis), betrayal (the cattle of Helios), constantly hearing the siren call of home, a trip to the underworld, and a return home only to set off on another adventure.  And while everyone forgets this, a good portion of The Odyssey is Odysseus’ son Telamachus searching for his father, but Nolan cooper and murphdidn’t forget this part, and has the second main part of this story being Cooper’s daughter, Murphy, in her search for the same answer Cooper is looking for: how to save humanity.  There is also a little Heart of Darkness thrown in (and they’re not subtle about this as they use the phrase Heart of Darkness…granted it was technically used to describe a black hole, but it’s really just foreshadowing, which is something Nolan always revels in).  The Heart of Darkness aspect comes into play with as Heart of Darkness is all about hearing how great a man Kurtz is for the entirety of the trip into the jungle only to find that he is a raving psychotic…in Interstellar we are inundated with hearing how great, how brave, how intelligent Dr. Mann is, only to find him to be a cowardly moron who doesn’t even know how to park a vehicle properly.

But enough about the literary origins of the story…let’s get to the thematic cores of the film.

This movie, as with all of Nolan’s films has a very strong theme of conservative values that glorifies the individual and abhors the mentality of collectivism.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

The story starts out sometime in the future (an elderly John Lithgow seems to remember the present as his childhood, so this puts it somewhere in the latter portion of the 21st century). The world has been overcome with “blight” a disease that has ravished wheat and other mainstays of food production leaving only corn alive–for now (a lesser director would have used global warming as a reason the Earth was dying, but Christopher Nolan is not a liberal hack). Humanity and innovation have come to a complete standstill and as farm land goes barren it leaves only dust storms to ravish the land. The parallels to the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression are unmistakable.  And just as in previous depressions we see the progressive mentality to rewrite history to convince people that their lives are only there to serve the greater good (the invention of the 4 freedom in the Great Depression, the malaise speech telling us that collectivism is the only way to survive, the attitude of “you didn’t build that’…all lies designed to make people give up on the nobility of the human individual and their soul)…in Interstellar it is:

Cooper: You don’t believe we went to the Moon?

Ms. Kelly: I believe it was a brilliant piece of propaganda, that the Soviets bankrupted themselves pouring resources into rockets and other useless machines…

Cooper: Useless machines?

Ms. Kelly: And if we don’t want to repeat of the excess and wastefulness of the 20th Century then we need to teach our kids about this Planet, not tales of leaving it.

Cooper: You know, one of those useless machines they used to make was called a MRI, and if we have one of those left the doctors would have been able to see the cyst in my wife’s brain, before she died instead of afterwards, and then she had been the one sitting here, listening to this instead of me which’ld be a good thing because she was always the… a calmer one.

This little scene not only shows how the government is more than willing to lie to get what it wants out of people, but also that the best in humanity, our drive to push forward, to reach beyond the confines of what we know.  Or to point to an earlier Nolan film, The Prestige, where Tesla points outs:

You’re familiar with the phrase “man’s reach exceeds his grasp”? It’s a lie: man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.

People, especially liberals, are afraid of the potential of humanity, and as both history and this film show, they will exploit any downturn to destroy the human need to be an individual and strive for greatness…after all “”You never let a serious crisis go to waste” is the liberal mantra.

But in this film it gets worse. In Interstellar it’s not just lying about the past, it’s lying about the future.  It’s lying that there is hope for what they call Plan A, the idea they can get the human population off of Earth and into space.  Of course this is a lie. There is no such plan…and in tune with the mentality of not looking for the potential of human nature they decided to give up and lie to keep people from panicking.  They don’t look for another option, they try for another solution they just give up.

And this leads into the liberal ideology of what justifies this lying.  As Caine’s Prof. Brand puts it “We must think not as individuals, but as a species” which are echoed later by Damon’s Dr. KurtzMann.  In fact Dr. Mann talks about sacrificing the people for a greater good and how empathy must be put aside…and all of this villainous talk sounds exactly like the environmentalist wacko’s who want to save the Earth by ending humanity…like Matt Damon.  I wonder if Matt Damon realizes that he was effectively hired to play himself to show that his rhetoric is evil.  Probably not.  But back to theme.  We see over and over again from the teachers, to Brand, Mann and even Cooper’s son the mixture of the idea that the individual is not enough, “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us.” being coupled with the defeatist attitude that would allow for humanity’s extinction.  The movie is quite clear; collectivism will lead to destruction (just as it did in The Dark Knight Rises and The Man of Steel, just in case you think I’m somehow making this up—Nolan puts a clear hatred of collectivism in his films).

“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”

interstellar-matthew-mcconaugheyOn the other hand we have the individual shown as the vehicle that will save humanity again and again.  It is Cooper’s courage and ingenuity that is needed and repeatedly saves the mission.  It is Amelia’s faith and hope that allows her to push through and start a new Earth somewhere out there in a far away galaxy without knowing that Cooper will soon be there to help her. And of course it is Murphy who is not only smart enough to figure out the riddle given to her by her father and what humanity will become…but it is very telling that even our future selves believe in the power of an individual, in the mind of a single woman to save humanity.  Even while in the Tesseract TARS expresses doubt in the ability of one person to solve the problem, and Cooper very clearly points out that it is possible for a single person can solve the riddle…but Cooper echoing his belief in the potential, shows that an individual person as a bridge and an individual person as a scientist have the potential to save humanity.  And this is especially poignant given that Murph was set by her school to be nothing but a farmer and by Prof. Brand to be nothing but a failure…or again in Nolan’s words from another work that apply quite well to Murph, “What if a child dreamed of becoming something other than what society had intended?  What if a child aspired to something greater?” They can save everyone, as we see over and over again in Nolan’s films.JESSICA-CHASTAIN-INTERSTELLAR

But what allows all of these individuals to be, is a strong connection to family.  I have to say that Nolan is a rarity in literature of any kind, a writer whose main characters all have healthy relationships between parent and child (honestly, show me an author who has a good relations between a parent and child as those between Thomas and Bruce Wayne, Alfred Borden and his daughter, Clark Kent and all of his parents, Cobb and his children, and now Cooper and Murph.  Most works are filled with angst and tension between parent and child, but refreshingly not Nolan).  Now I point this out as a conservative theme because it does show the correct attitude to family that is so often lacking.  Social “conservatives” (or as I like to call them Progressives for Jesus as they are not conservative in the least and would love to have a big government to enforce their own Christian of Sharia) have this perverted view that life, society, existence itself begins and ends with the family.  The point of marriage, sex, society is only to have children, raise them, and repeat the cycle.  You should notice that this hopelessly dull view of existence is basically the one shared by people like Prof. Brand who only is concerned with saving humanity in the sense of it’s genetic material…but we see in Interstellar a much more conservative view of the family not as something just designed to repeat a cycle but as a vehicle to achieving human happiness.  Cooper is first and foremost concerned with his children developing as people, not just surviving but living.  And this contrasts with his son’s myopic idiocy and Brand’s lying to his own daughter Amelia and his more or less adopted daughter Murph.  The villains of the story are only concerned with keeping their family intact as if the status quo is the only thing to worry about, they have no concern for the quality of life, only the quantity—a typical liberal perspective.

“Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.”amelia

And the bond that connect family is of course love.***   Love is at the heart of this film. While the individual is paramount for this story, it is the love between individuals that ties people together. Nolan never quite crosses into the realm of the spiritual in his films, but be it the nature of the dream in Inception or price of a soul in The Prestige, the spiritual is always hanging around the edges of his movies, gently influencing the theme (like hanging out behind a bookcase).  And here it becomes even more present than in any other Nolan film.  Love is seen to be like gravity in this film a force that transcends the laws of relativity and quantum mechanics (which is actually how thought seems to relate to physics…and to equate thought to love can’t just be a complete coincidence in a movie written by Nolan, a writer director/writer so careful with little details like this).  Love is vindicated as had they made the choice from love that Amelia proposed they would have succeeded without losing anyone else. And love is the force that the future of humanity uses to save it’s own past (which suggests that unlike every sci-fi vision of an evolved humanity, we have not left love behind but rather come to a far greater understanding it…if that’s not a spiritual message, I don’t know what is).

And if that isn’t enough, there is of course the central theme of the greatness of America (the nation that puts the individual and family at the forefront).  As always in a Nolan film America is shown for all its greatness…in this film it is no different.  We see that the people we are supposed to hate are tearing down the greatest moment of American history, namely that we walked on the moon.  We see the quintessential American pastime, baseball, being something loved by Cooper and Murph but also the sport that we take to space with us.  And of course take a look at the last scene, a scene about hope and adventure, where Amelia has set up a second Earth and we are left to imagine the future that she and Cooper will create on this new world…the last scene is of Amelia’s recently set up camp with the America flag center of screen blowing in the wind.

interstellar bookshelf

A final question what is it with cornfields?  Field of Dreams, Signs, Interstellar, Children of the Corn…Nothing ever comes out of a wheat or barley field…why is it always corn?

*Batman Begins is The Aeneid, The Prestige is Faust, The Dark Knight is Othello, Inception is the story of Theseus and Ariadne in the Labyrinth, The Dark Knight Rises is A Tale of Two Cities.  Even Man of Steel which was written and produced by Nolan is at its core an attack on Plato’s Republic.

**On two viewings I have noticed references to Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, 2001, Stargate, and Star Wars.  I’m fairly sure another viewing or two will reveal Star Trek and

***Just wait until I show that the central theme of each of the last seven Nolan movies has each movie tied directly to one of the four cardinal virtues or three theological virtues.

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Greatest Films of Halloween #5 Dracula (1992)

“How did Lucy die? Was she in great pain? ”
“Yeah, she was in great pain! Then we cut off her head, and drove a stake through her heart, and burned it, and then she found peace. “

I would argue that of all the versions of Dracula out there this is the closest yet to the original book. Dracula by Bram Stoker is probably the 2nd best horror novel in history (the best being Stephen King’s It, but there are not good movie versions of It). As a side note there is only one correct way to read Dracula: with a group of two or more people, taking turns reading it aloud by candle light, preferably on Halloween night. But enough about the book and how this is the only film version where the screenwriter seems to have looked over more than the Cliff notes one page overview…

Why is the movie a great Halloween film?

Gary Oldman as Dracula is just creepy. As the pale and creepy old man. As the bat/wolfman thing. Even as the regenerated younger man he still has that horrifying magnetism. For the most part he revels in his debauchery and villainy. The slight problem is that the screenwriter and director did humanize him a little too much. This is not the creature of the night hell bent on world conquest and destruction–this is more a tragic figure who through loss and pain has come to hate the world and wants it to suffer if he has to suffer. And this is kind of the weakest point of the movie…they tried to humanize him, give him a actual relationship with Mina Haker, bring some human drama into the story and have a title character who wasn’t just a lecherous piece of scum and embodiment of all the dark sides of sexuality (keep in mind vampirism is in many ways a metaphor for rape, for venereal disease, for lovers who use and abuse women). Still Dracula is a villain in this film (especially his shadow which seems to have a twisted Peter Pan thing going on, creeping up on people when Dracula himself is stationary).

Oh and then there’s Keanu Reaves. Sometimes I will actually defend casting Keanu in certain movies (Much Ado, Matrix, Lake House); however, this is not one of those cases. Coppola was going for that bland emotionless look that the Victorian middle class so admired…but it doesn’t work in a story of good versus evil.

But this is made up for by Anthony Hopkins’ Abraham Van Helsing, He’s a little crazy and certainly enjoys his job as vampire hunter way too much. But he is the only one in this film without fear; he actually enjoys pitting himself against the forces of darkness. It’s good he found something he enjoys. Van Helsing in the novel had an offbeat sense of humor, but Hopkins takes it to a wonderful extreme.

But overall the movie is true to the book (at least by Hollywood standards). All the characters which Hollywood usually leaves out are there (especially Lucy’s three suitors), all the main plot points are included (even if they did add some unneeded character development for the Count) and just the general horror of Dracula is there (especially when he’s feeding small children to his vampire brides).

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that no Halloween is complete without this movie (that only applies to the #1 movie on this list) it does come close.

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #6 Young Frankenstein

“”For as long as I can remember people have hated me. They looked at my face and my body and they ran away in horror. In my loneliness I decided that if I could not inspire love, which is my deepest hope, I would instead cause fear. I live because this poor half-crazed genius has given me life. He alone held an image of me as something beautiful and then, when it would have been easy enough to stay out of danger, he used his own body as a guinea pig to give me a calmer brain and a somewhat more sophisticated way of expressing myself. “

It’s odd that a Mel Brooks slapstick managed to convey the theme of the original Mary Shelley novel better than any other film based on that work (Branagh tried but failed for a lot of small reasons and that big one where he radically changed the ending). But in being true to the novel, Brooks was oddly also faithful to the original Hollywood version by hauling out the original equipment (those really are the original props in the lab) and parodying almost every famous scene from the original film.

But of course there are the differences. Igor (pronounced eye-gore) is of course far more talkative when played by Marty Feldman, although he does seem to have problem reading (“Whose brain was it?” “Abby someone.” “Abby Who/” “Abby Normal.”). And Gene Wilder as Frederick Fronkensteen at times comes off as more mentally unhinged than any previous film version of the original mad scientist. Add in Mars, Garr, Leachman, Boyle, and of course Hackman…

…and you get what is arguably Mel Brook’s finest movie (Blazing Saddles while funnier in many parts has a terrible ending) not to mention one of the 10 best comedies of all time.

I could talk about how the Frankenstein story in all its versions is very much about how giving into the fear of death and trying to avoid it at all costs can only lead to destruction…but this is Young Frankenstein and that might be going just a little far. The same with the story’s warning against need for humility in the face of the hubris of science to feel it shouldn’t have any restrictions placed upon it by ethics and morals…but again such a discussion is really pushing it with this version…and I just can’t say that any other version is worthy of being in a top 30 list. These themes are there because of the source material, but they’re not the focus of Brook’s film.

If this movie is doing anything it’s critiquing Hollywood for turning a story with a thoughtful, articulate creature, with a penchant for quoting Milton and Goethe, (as shown in the quote at the top) into a lumbering, mindless, hulk. Hollywood turned one of the most intelligent villains in literature into an idiot for no reason…and this has been the bane of English teachers ever since as for some reason everyone thinks the Hollywood version is the truth. (If only Brooks had shown the same skill when critiquing Hollywood’s vision of Dracula).

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Top 10 Halloween Films #7 Ghostbusters

ghostbusters“Why worry. Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”

I could hardly choose a single line to put at the top of this–they’re almost all classics.

The great story of three men, who, after being booted out of the cushy world of academia and have to get real jobs which is a problem for some of them, “You’ve never worked in the private sector. They expect results.” So they do the only thing they can think of, they catch ghosts. Oh and destroy a lot of crap in the mean time…but they get paid well. Meanwhile a moldy Sumerian god is planning on returning and destroying the world. But, as I’m sure we all know the Ghostbusters have this covered. Honestly do I really have to summarize the plot…we’ve all seen it. We all know who to call.

Not exactly a lot of fear here, just a lot of great humor dressed up in the trappings of a horror flick. Something that has been lost in modern comedy, the understated visual gag. Egon moves to the other side of the elevator after turning on the proton pack and the comment about the unlicensed nuclear accelerator…no need to explain the punch line or even to have other characters mention it, just make the joke and move on expecting your audience to be bright enough to get it…and there are numerous examples of this. And then the dialogue is even better. I watch this movie every year and it never gets old. As I said I’m sure you’ve seen it so you know that rather than listening to me talk about the quality of the writing you should just go and watch it.

And of course on the greatest reason to love this movie, the EPA is the villain. That’s right the whole mass destruction is primarily caused because an arrogant, dickless (hey, I’m just quoting a fact listed in the movie, twice in fact), brainless, bureaucrat had to show that he had power. This movie understands that when it’s the federal government vs. small business, the federal government is on the side of the universe destroying evil. It’s a pity the bureaucrat only got covered in marshmallow and not something more painful and befitting the vicious crime of being a bureaucrat.

Of course the lasting impact of this movie can best be summed up with the following line from my favorite TV show:

“Who you gonna call? [awkward silence] God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?”–Spike

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #8 Alien

“I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. […] I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

This is a movie best watched at night with the lights off…yeah it has a lot of sci-fi elements…but in the end it’s a monster movie, with possibly the most horrifying monster the silver screen ever dreamed up.

The first thing that I find a little odd about this is that in the opening scene you hear the engines working as you look at the ship from the outside. I thought that in space no one can hear you scream…oh well, we would have to wait for Joss Whedon to understand you don’t need sound effects when in space. But then again while there is the hum of the engines or the sound of the wind there are very long and uncomfortable silences in this film. Very uncomfortable. Because this movie is about the uncomfortable nature of fear. Long, silent, drawn out, pricks up the back of your spine fear.

And the only thing more uncomfortable is the intentional repetition of violent sexual imagery. It starts with a forced impregnation that leads to a thing that bursts out of man’s gut in possibly the most horrific pregnancy on film to give birth to a creature that is a disturbing amalgamation of phallic shapes . Or as the screen writer put it “This is a movie about alien interspecies rape,”… I have a hard time thinking of a more disturbing 8 word sentence. Add to the fact the initial thing that attached itself to the guy’s face looked kind of like a spider, which is even more creepy, there’s just nothing comforting about this movie. Oh and a disembodied Ian Holm also added to the creepiness.

In fact re-watching this film made me ask myself…why am I watching all these horror films right before I go to bed…this is kind of stupid…

Actually there is one thing that’s comforting about this film: Ripley. You can’t help but love her. Granted she’s even more the hero in the sequel, but she has just about every quality that is imaginable in a hero. Smart, grace under pressure but not eternally cold and when need be the ability to throw off one liners.

It’s almost impossible to think that Weaver did not get first billing…we have come to think of her as the face of these movies. It’s her versus the big ugly thing. That’s the nature of these movies. (Which makes me a little worried at how good Prometheus will be)…but that of course lead me to have a word on the sequels. Aliens was a very different film, it was a James Cameron action spectacular and it was a great one. Aliens 3 I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. And of course Alien Resurrection which is also a piece of crap…but it does have one saving grace: screenwriter Joss Whedon added to the cast a ragtag bunch of space smugglers (which included a morally ambiguous captain with a sense of honor, a quirky pilot and a big thug who had good one liners…I wonder if Whedon ever got around to reusing the good parts of that idea?).

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Top 10 Halloween Films #9 Interview with the Vampire

Interview with the Vampire
“God kills indiscriminately. And so shall we.”

Interview with the Vampire is a classic film of vampires. And although I think this did begin some of the trends of having whiny sparkling vampires, it’s a good one. But the morose vampires that Louis and Armand are still not the spineless wimps vampires have become. They may be honing their brooding skills to a fine art (of course as a precursor to Angel they’re amateurs at brooding) but they can also engage in vicious acts of hatred and destruction. These are still vampires that can kill and will do so. Pitt’s Louis does so out of need and vengeance and can be very cold about it. Banderas’ Armand even more horrifically does it because he finds it an amusement to put on shows because he’s bored with his near eternal life.

Evil with a capital E

And of course there is Lestat. In this version (the Lestat of book The Vampire Lestat is a very different character) Lestat is something you very seldom see in literature: evil for the sake of evil. He’s not a psychotic or a psychopath who doesn’t quite grasp the difference between good and evil. He’s not a sociopath who just doesn’t care. He’s not on a vengeance kick feeling that if he has to suffer then everyone has to suffer. He’s not even really bored. No, he knows he’s evil, he knows good from evil, and it’s not that he doesn’t care; it’s that he delights in being evil. Iago, Ledger’s Joker, Dracula (in the original novel and The Historian), it’s a short list. Knowingly willing evil for the sake of evil. It’s a horrific thought and thankfully something I’m convinced exists only in fiction. But an instructive one to show us what we are not and should not be. It’s all of our worst qualities stripped of all our best qualities, our egos given free reign of madness and evil. Few things are as frightening. (Although even Cruise’s Lestat falls short sometimes of the pure villainy with which Louis imaged him, as when he mentions it’s easier to kill the guilty and his constant complaining about having not being given a choice when he became a vampire).

And I believe I have mentioned this before but it bears repeating—stories about those who are immortal help clarify the fear of death. The normal person doesn’t fear death as much because they know it is an inevitable fact…the fictional construct of the immortal vampire is far more afraid of death, partly because they trade in it, they’re already half in the grave, and they are afraid of what is not a fact for them. If the fear of death is the fear of the unknown for the average mortal…how much more an unknown is it to someone who doesn’t have to die. You see this mostly clearly when Louis returns to New Orleans and sees Lestat huddled in the corner of a house, afraid to move, afraid to find how the world has evolved; afraid to be himself for fear that he may not be able to survive.

Something else came to mind while watching this movie; you could never get it made today. This movie was made before being PC came into its full stride culturally so I think it got away with things you probably couldn’t now as today people read slights to special interest groups where there are none (while strangely letting real threats to society go without a word). The fact that there are some pretty clear homoerotic overtones between Lestat and Louis, and Louis and Armand coupled with the fact that Lestat is evil and Armand is just short of evil you would probably have numerous groups complaining about how the movie is showing gays in a poor light. This of course would be missing the point that the story was showing all the vampires to just be hedonistically decadent and willing to get hedonistic pleasures anyway they could get it, it has nothing to with orientation, it has to do with a lack of ethics (in just the same way a guy who sleeps around with hundreds of women without any meaning is unethical). And these would ironically be the same people who have next to nothing to say about the fact that actors who come out as gay will often find fewer jobs after coming out. Have to love double standards. Gives you moment’s pause at how many other films haven’t been made because of a fear of being called PC.

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Top Ten Films of Halloween #10 Fright Night

“Apparently your generation doesn’t want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see are slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins. “

So observes Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter, in the great horror classic Fright Night.  If only he had known that worse movies were coming after that…

But back to Fright Night

It takes a lot to make a teenage boy ignore his girlfriend who is in his bed and willing to go all the way…but seeing your neighbors move a coffin of all things into the basement might be one of the few things strange enough to do that (although probably for most teenage boys that wouldn’t be enough)…but this is the story of Charley, who was unfortunate enough to have a vampire move next door.  And worse yet, his friends don’t believe him, the police don’t believe him and all he can rely on is the help of a washed up B-horror movie actor.  Sucks to be Charley.  Oh, and the vampire has a thing for his girlfriend.

One of the things that makes this movie so good is the vampire himself—Chris  Sarandon (who also played another one of my generation’s most hated villains) as the vampire Jerry Dandrige.  Nonchalant, bordering on arrogance, in almost every scene he is in, it just gives you chills at how comfortable he is at being a mass murderer.  He’s evil and he doesn’t really care what you think about that.  And the director does an excellent job of constantly focusing you on the fangs and blood sucking habit even when not showing them by having him constantly eating or drinking something in every scene.  And thankfully someone remembered that vampires are supposed to be a symbol of sexuality.  Not that Sarandon is the best looking actor in the history of the universe, but almost every scene shows him being the desire of the women in the room.  (And when being turned into a vampire, the girlfriend Amy, seems to also magically go under a transformation from mousy plain Jane to near professional model looks…no explanation is really given for this transformation, especially since it seems to involve a makeup and lighting choices which should have nothing to do with becoming a vampire).  And they continue the darker side of the metaphor further with several overtones of rape (as there is quite a bit of mind control and loss of willpower).

From this…

…To this. Bite of a vampire offers one hell of a makeover.

And we finally get to a vampire movie that plays by the rules.  Sunlight.  Stake through the heart.  Needing to be invited into the house.  Holy Water.  Crosses.  Can turn into fog, bats and wolves.  It’s nice to see somebody play by all the rules.

And obviously the fear felt by Peter Vincent and Charley is a central point to this film.  Vincent comes also with the fear that his whole life is nothing but a long sad joke (which may at some level be a comment on Roddy McDowall’s long career as a chimp).  This near paralyzing fear permeates the second half of the film, and leads to our admiration of our two heroes as they are able to overcome their fears and defeat the vampire.

This is a classic horror film.  Not exactly the greatest film of all time, but certainly one that couldn’t be improved.  In fact it would be sacrilege to ever even think of redoing this movie, and if anyone even thought about it I would advocate for a total boycott of…wait…what…they did what?…Colin Farrell, are you f’ing kidding me?  And that twerp who played Chekov in that other crappy remake?  This means war….

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Halloween’s Greatest Films #11 The Lost Boys

“You never grow old. You never die. But you must feed.”

A true horror classic is an appellation that can be applied to just about every movie in the the Top 9 of this list, so I it could be argued I don’t need to say it with this one, but I will. The Lost Boys is a classic film of Halloween.

Again is this was from a day when vampires would rip your throat out as soon as look at you. And they have fun doing it. No qualms, no remorse, no brooding…just vicious destruction. This is the movie that originally introduced us to Kiefer Sutherland being a badass (although I think we’ll all agree Bauer was far more deadly).

We know the story. Biker teenage vampires lure an unsuspecting teenager into their lair and begin to turn him in an opening gambit to turn his entire family. Meanwhile his younger brother teams up with two socially dysfunctional wannabe vampire hunters who don’t know that you never invite a vampire into your house (which is one of those rules that everyone is supposed to know).

The movie plays, somewhat poorly I’ll admit, with a comparison between vampirism and teenage rebellion (the problem is that one is a phase and the other is by definition eternal), but the destructive, self-centered at the costs of others, you don’t know what I’m going through angles do hold. And it does hold the teenage desire and delusion to be young forever and never responsible for your actions.

It had been a few years since I had last seen this movie, so I had forgotten how bloody (very bloody) killing vampires was in this films, but it works.

As with a lot of the other movies I’ve discussed on this list we see the immortals heightened fear of death, and the overcoming of fear by our heroes…but this also offers us the fear of character Michael as he changes into the vampire and desperately tries to hold onto his humanity. It is this fear that the movie focuses on the most, and arguably tries to tie to that vampire/teenage rebellion theme.

The movie is unsteady at times but makes up for it with the fact that it keeps you guessing as to where the real power of the villains lies. Red herrings, subtle clues, and distractions all leading up to the final reveal by the vampire works for a nice surprise. Of course that leads into its own problems. If this movie has a single great flaw, it’s the random deus ex machina save at the end. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about, if not no need to spoil the ending. It was just a little too convenient.

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The Best Films of Halloween Tied for #12 Evil Dead II & Army of Darkness

“Groovy”

Screw that most of the plot hardly makes any sense. These movies are just fun movies.

(And fair warning, this is probably the goriest movie on this list). Haven’t seen the Evil Dead I? No worries, it doesn’t have much to do with this film. And it’s far more bloody and filled with gore and truly uncomfortable scenes. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had read Bruce Campbell’s autobiography before ever seeing it I wouldn’t have cared for it at all, but knowing how little they had to work with I could appreciate how much they accomplished even if it wasn’t my preferred genre. But then you have Evil Dead II, a little more money and a lot more humor. The story follows Ash, a sometimes idiot and sometimes incredibly perceptive Bruce Campbell, as he first loses his girlfriend to a hideous evil force when they go out to an abandoned cabin in the woods. (Honestly has anyone ever had a good experience at an abandoned cabin in the woods?) This movie has its low points (the dialogue and questionable acting from five-sixths of the cast, not that Campbell’s is the best of his career either…I’ll take Sam Axe or Bristco County Jr. any day) and high points (Bruce Campbell as a one man slapstick team in a battle against his own possessed hand). But before the whole movie can turn into Ash facing the evil alone and going insane in the process, four more victims, I mean characters, show up…but don’t worry, they don’t last long. They do last long enough to cast the evil into a time warp…but Ash gets taken along for the ride (which we’ll deal with tomorrow). And of course this movie answers a very important question. What should you do after you’ve had to cut your demon possessed hand off with a chain saw but still have to face off against a soul sucking witch (I know it’s a question I wrestled with before seeing this film)? Answer: Channel your inner MacGyver, attach the chainsaw to your stump of arm, cut yourself a new sawed off shot gun and utter a one liner. And this is why Bruce Campbell’s Ash is just cool. And ridiculous. And of course the film also shows things not to ever do. For instance, if you just recorded the following passage into a tape recorder?

“Morturom Demonto, the “Book of the Dead”. My wife and I brought the book to this cabin where I could study it undisturbed. It was here that I began the translations. The book speaks of a spiritual presence. A thing of evil that roams the forests and the dark bowels of man’s domain. It is through the recitation of the book’s passages that this dark spirit is given license to possess the living. Included here are the phonetic pronunciations of those passages”

I’m going to go with: DON’T ACTUALLY READ THE PASSAGE ALOUD! (especially when in an abandoned cabin in the woods)! Obviously the film deals with the fear of death, although again those who seem to give into that fear don’t last too long. As with all movies in this kind of sub-genre it pretty much shows that giving into your own fear, no matter how understandable, is pretty much going to lead to your utter and complete demise (which is probably the only thing that is realistic about horror films). Ash on the other hand seems to more or less, actually get less fearful and more heroic as the film goes on. In fact he also seems to put on a lot of muscle tone over the course of the movie, which is odd for a story that takes place in just one night…

And then you have Army of Darkness

“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.”

There is no reason I should love this cult classic as much as I do…but I can’t help it… Without this movie Evil Dead II is kind of a mild waste of your time, and without Evil Dead II this movie isn’t put in context. Not that they really have anything to do with each other. The Evil Dead was true horror—gore, fear, screams, no plot or theme. Evil Dead II was some horror and some humor. Army of Darkness is, well, just humor with a slight veneer of fantasy/horror. But you knew that from the tag line on the poster “Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.” But this movie maintains the basic requirements of a horror film through copious amounts of the undead and the demonically possessed who repeatedly threaten to swallow the souls of the living around them. And in the middle of it all is Bruce Campbell’s Ash. A man who only has his chain saw, his shot gun, his Oldsmobile and his brains (okay that one isn’t much) to save him from being trapped in the Dark Ages. Once again he is tormented by the Necronomicon, The Book of the Dead, Now if he had just remembered the third word of the three magical words (the first two being Klatu and barada…and most film buffs already know the third word) he might not have also raised the Army of Darkness from the dead…but while he possesses enough brains to make a new mechanical hand and re-engineer a car overnight, Ash seems strangely stupid when it comes to remembering little things, like not raising an army of the damned. Luckily, for your enjoyment, he is armed with a wide arsenal of sarcastic remarks… …and that video doesn’t even have half of the humorous moments from the film. As morality tales go this isn’t one of the horror stronger ones. In fact I’d be hard pressed to find anything resembling a theme. I can barely even talk about Ash as an archetypal hero when you get questions asked of Ash such as “Are all men from the future loud mouth braggarts?” And his insightful reply is “Nope. Just me, baby. Just me.” Although he does seem to pull through with a healthy dose of bravery whenever the situation calls for it. In some ways he’s what we would hope even the most average common man would be under pressure…although saying that was a thematic idea of the makers of this film might be stretching it. Although I might say that this is one of the last few good slapstick movies ever made (it was made in 1992) before the whole subgenre degraded into the worthless crude stupidity of ‘Scary Movie,” Will Ferrell and dozens of other films not worth watching. But in the end, after vanquishing the army of darkness (I really don’t care about spoilers in this case because there really wasn’t much of a plot) Ash did return to the present, with seemingly not having to explain about what happened to his girlfriend…and still tormented by the undead…

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