Category Archives: Movies

The sad excuse that was Wonder Woman 84

Wonder Woman 84. Oh, good Lord.

I have not yet seen Shazam, Joker, or Birds of Prey (and probably never will, as I have better things to do), so I can’t say for sure that Wonder Woman 84 is the worst DC movie of the 21st century…but it’s certainly on the bottom of the pile. (Okay, that’s unfair. Whedon’s Justice League is the worst DC movie in the 21st century…probably the worst DC movie ever…thank god we won’t ever have to think about it again soon enough.) And just a fair warning, I don’t care about spoilers, especially with a movie this wretched. So if you want a quick recommendation: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS MOVIE.
So let’s go with what was good about DC movies before this, including the first Wonder Woman, and why this fails in every respect to meet that previous bar.
Be it the social and political commentary of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy or the heavier philosophical themes of Snyder’s work–Man of Steel is a discussion of the flaws of Plato, Dawn of Justice a discussion of the failings of Nietzsche, and Justice League likely a discussion of the errors of Ayn Rand–the DC movies for the last few years have been of heavier thematic material. I think even Snyder’s original story for the first Wonder Woman was clearly more in-depth (likely a deconstruction of Calvinism that got a little muddied by being given to a different director). They asked serious questions and dealt with people as they really would act in such overblown situations.
Not that there weren’t bad moments in the last few years of DC. Green Lantern was such a rushed joke that they forgot to write a second act, and Superman Returns was cut short before Signer’s proposed trilogy got going (probably for the best, we’d all feel weird if we liked a series of films made by Singer). But there has been an effort to make movies that were more than just stupid comic book films that boil down to pew-pew-pew EXPLOSION! “[shallow catchphrase that sounds good the first time but becomes more idiotic every time you hear it].” Not saying that’s how anyone is making comic book movies right now…but…well…you know. Most of the last ten years has been an understanding that these stories are archetypal and have the potential for significant depth, and that maybe you should try and give these stories that kind of depth. Has it been everyone’s cup of tea? Not really. But it’s not like the shallow films weren’t there for people who wanted that too.
But the idiots at Warner started thinking that “hey, maybe we can make more money if we dumb these things down.” And so you got Birds of Prey and Shazam and Aquaman and massive studio interference in (a process that seldom if ever results in anything good) in Suicide Squad and Justice League. Luckily it sounds like most of those buffoons got booted out of Warner because the quality version made money, but trying to beat Disney at its own game was doomed to fail.
But even still, we can appreciate these less cerebral films for what they are. They were never intended to be deep and so they don’t fail.
Wonder Woman 84, however, seems like the bastard child that started out deep, got ruined by studio interference demanding a stupid movie, and then had some final edits to try and make it deeper again. A Frankenstein’s monster of art that never quite figures out what it wants to be and thus fails to be deep fails to be entertaining, fails to be satisfying, and fails to be worth watching.
Let’s look at a few examples.
There is an inordinate amount of time spent on introducing the revived Steven Trevor (Chris Pine in what I will say is one of the better performance of his abysmal career) to to the 1980s. There are scenes having him try on various stupid 80s outfits and showing him the technology of the last 60 years. It is a direct parallel to getting Diana an appropriate attire in the first movie and her wonder at the marvels of the world outside Themeyscira—the problem that those served previous functions. Steve couldn’t have her wandering around London in her armor, and she refused to wear anything she couldn’t fight in, so still served a point for the plot—where as Steve trying on outfits was all about fashion, so no addition for the plot. Each time Diana stopped to marvel at babies or cars or ice cream, Steve kept pushing her forward as they had a job to do—Diana giving Steve a tour served no purpose and was them ignoring the significant issues in the world that needed to be dealt with. Maybe they’re both stupid and unnecessary, but at least they served the plot in the first movie. And while I haven’t timed them, it felt like Steve’s wardrobe changes simply took longer.
And while they’re a lot of little things like this: cheap jokes and silly moments that served no point other than fan service and the lowest common denominator of entertainment, it certainly isn’t the worst part of the film. And nothing is more disgusting than Diana’s costumes change near the end of the film into the ridiculous gold suit of armor that was designed to sell more toys and Halloween costumes than serve any real plot point.
The worst part is that this movie, for the first time in years, felt like a comic book in the childish ways it depicted people. Green Lantern may not have been written well, but it wasn’t because of the actors making the characters seem like cartoons. I mean, maybe those movies I haven’t seen have just as poorly depicted characters, but nothing I have seen is as bad as the characters of WW84. Diana, a 3,000+-year-old woman, isn’t just foolish in her desire to keep Steve without having to give up saving the world; she’s in full-blown denial. She doesn’t even spend time trying to find a loophole to control her powers and Steve (something that would have made a much better second act); no, she spends three-quarters of the film merely denying that this is a problem that has to be faced.
Then there is the villain. A cheap, two-bit conman from the worst parts of the 80s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous…there are apparent attempts to make him Trumpish, but he’s too articulate, actually likes his child when the plot calls for it (as opposed to us having to question if he’s raped his child), and has a mild ability to plan…so any superficial attempts to make him like the Orange Idiot fail to understand why the wannabe tyrant is evil and need to be put in prison. But the fact that somehow this vile person who is willing to grant wishes involving nuclear weapons and murder would at the end realize that he must embrace the truth that he really isn’t a good person and that he is harming the world and that suddenly he loves the kid he’s been dismissive of the whole movie is just far fetched, to say the least. They give us this terrible flashback montage of how he was beaten and berated as a child and just wanted to be successful at something, but this ignores the basic human psychology of non-sociopaths who do terrible things. They make compromises, they cut corners on ethics to get what they want, each time making a small justification, and then another justification with the next ethical lapse, then another and another and another. And for almost every human being in history, to realize that you have made a mistake and need to renounce those ethical breaches and work to become a better person almost always requires that a person either lose everything and hit absolute rock bottom and realize their position is the result of their rotten ethical decisions or to reach the pinnacle of everything they’ve ever wanted and realize that it’s not worth anything. The villain of Maxwell Lord is at neither of those points when he decides to renounce his evil. Thus there seems to be no justifiable reason for him to reach this conclusion other than the fact that other people are renouncing their wishes (after having seen the adverse effects of what they did, something Lord was in denial about). Maybe if his kid had died, his turning back to the light might have been vaguely believable, but he was at the height of his megalomania when he stops his insane plan. It just defies the reality that every other DC movie has tried to bring with its characters giving us the most childish comic book kind of resolution.
But there is also another dumb scene in the film that shows whoever was working on this script (and I’m going to believe that Jenkins was under pressure from the studio and not blame her…but if WW3 is this dumb, I’m going to come back and yell at her too) has no concept of how people behave. There is a scene where Lord goes to see the President and grants the President his wish to have more nuclear weapons because the President says that will force everyone else to back down. What? No, President from Truman to Obama would be that stupid. Anyone who has sat in any military tangent position for any period of time doesn’t wish they had more weapons, more troops, more guns, more soldiers…they wish their enemy had less. They’re forced to get more because their enemies don’t have less…but if you’re handed Aladdin’s lamp, you don’t wish for twice the number of nuke you wish the Soviets had zero. Sure, Trump would be dumb enough to make that wish. Maybe if he were drunk, Nixon would. But even though they didn’t try to make the President look, sound, or act like Reagan, it was still supposedly in 1984. And having Reagan ask for fewer nukes doesn’t fit the villain’s cheesy theme of wanting MORE…but it also indulges a cheap fantasy of both the ignorant left and right that all who are opposed to the left are warmongers (the ignorant left sees that as a bad thing, the ignorant right sees it as a good thing—but in both cases, neither understands the truth that war is sometimes a necessary evil because there are things worse than war). It would have taken ten minutes of plot time to have Lord grant the wife of Majority Leader in the House to wish her stupid husband was President early in the film and then have a stupid president who doesn’t know what he’s doing wish for more weapons…but the producers at Warner in the time between Snyder being fired and rehired were incapable of understanding basic human psychology that no sane person with ultimate power wishes for more violence. There are a bunch of smaller points of people not acting like actual people, but aside from the characters of Trevor and Barbara, no one acts as a normal person would act in the situations presented in this film.
Four other small points. Who the hell saw Cats and thought, “oh, I need to see more of that!”? The invisible jet was one of the dumbest plot points of the Wonder Woman canon; it did not need to be brought back. The fact that all the carnage and destruction caused by Lord didn’t seem to go away leave massive plot holes between this and the Man of Steel (like why would Perry White be so afraid of people finding out about Superman…they would have already experienced crazy shit far in excess of a guy who can fly). And most importantly, having a picture of Diana helping liberate a concentration camp is not an adequate explanation for what she was doing during WWII…what about all the years the Holocaust was going on? Was she just sitting on the sidelines? (I know there is a reason in the comics for why superheroes didn’t get involved, but this is an evil so egregious you can’t just not deal with this).

This movie might serve some value for a drinking game. But otherwise, I can’t see why you should ever waste your time with it.

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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 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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Best Films for Halloween #19 Tremors

“I vote for outer space. No way these are local boys.”

The story of two men who just want to leave the worst town in Arizona (no I don’t mean Phoenix) and the giant flesh eating worms that wouldn’t let them.

Tremors is probably the first movie on this list that I would actually place on a legitimate best movie list (not just a Halloween list, and I’m talking a top 500, not a top 100 movies). (On a side note, given that Beetlejuice, with its giant sand worms, came out about the same time, does anyone think that these movies were trying to make fun of that terrible adaptation of Dune that came out a few years before, you know the one with Sting that made no sense even to people who had read the book? Just thinking out loud here).

Fear isn’t much of a factor in this film, but a series clever one- liners is.

“Look these creatures are absolutely unprecedented.”
“Yeah, but where do they come from?”

We have a wonderful comic team of Val and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward, two actors who have never been fully appreciated). The relationship between these two is what makes this movie so enjoyable. (And it’s the lack of this relationship, among other things, that makes the sequels such abhorrent disappointments). Although the two gun nuts are also wonderful additional comic relief.

Yeah, this is more a comedy than a horror film.

But there are still the elements of the horror film in here. And of course this comes from the monsters in the movie. Like all good horror movies, as I have already discussed, the less you see of the monster the creepier it is. Thus here we got the slow building up before seeing one of the creatures, a full third of the way into the movie. And while we see the creature a lot, they’re at their most dangerous and most frightening when we can’t see them. The anticipation of an enemy you can’t see is far worse than being able to see and anticipate what is going to happen. Being right under the ground really helps for this invisibility factor. The fun parts of the movie are often when you can see the creature—“Broke in the wrong goddamn rec-room didn’t you bastard”—the most tense scenes are of people standing around like statues. Doing nothing, just trying not move. You have to admit that seldom is doing nothing so suspenseful an image.

(God bless the 2nd Amendment)
Honestly this movie could be watched at any point in the year and enjoyed without thinking, I really should wait until October to watch this, but it seemed to fit in that it did offer a great sequence of tense scenes and monsters that were horrifying the first time around (even if the sequels should all be hunted down and burned).

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The Best Movies for Halloween #20 Pitch Black

“All you people are so scared of me. Most days I’d take that as a compliment. But it ain’t me you gotta worry about now.”


I debated on whether or not to include this one. After all it’s always a bit of a debate with some movies where sci-fi ends and horror begins. (same problem with thrillers and fantasy). But in the end this movie is about fear and monsters.

It’s a movie which presents all kinds of monsters. First you have what would become our anti-hero, Vin Diesel’s Riddick, a sociopath who enjoys playing with people (and one assumes killing people although we don’t quite see that in this film). The second act gives you the tension of impending doom from the real monsters that are coming and villainy of an unethical bounty hunter who is willing to kill anyone to get what he wants. And finally, of course, we have the monsters themselves. The movie does a good job of keeping what they look like hidden in shadow for much of the film, which always heightens the evil and fear of anything that goes bump in the night.

But it’s not just the fear of the unknown. Or the fear of death. Or the fear of the dark. Or the fear of others. Or the fear of pain. Or the fear of the future. Or the fear of making the wrong choice. Or the fear of being alone. It’s all of them. In many ways this movie is a study in fear and how it affects people, or as Riddick put it, “I truly don’t know what’s gonna happen when the lights go out Carolyn but I do know, once the dying starts, this little psycho fuck family of ours is gonna rip itself apart.” And you do see some of the characters at their worst because they give into their fears.

But our two main characters Riddick (the anti-hero) and Caroline (the hero) don’t seem to fully give into these at any point, they’re afraid but they don’t let it control them. As just a movie it has a lot of things going for it, but most of all it has realistic characters, Riddick isn’t just evil for the sake of evil and Caroline has more than a few moments of weakness…but they both come out as admirable in their own way. The movie also shows that you don’t need to have a massive budget to make a good movie (after all, the sequel had a much larger budget and wasn’t nearly as good a film). Not that the director doesn’t have some odd editing choices (especially the rapid firing cutting he seems enamored with) but it is still an example of an overall well done (not great, but well done) horror film.

Then of course there are the creatures. We never really got a great look at them. Yeah we saw them from a lot of different angles in brief bursts of light and their heads were very visible, but a good look at them was never given. We always fear what we can’t see. And there is that eyeless (things without eyes are just more frightening) head that looks like a bunch of horns and teeth. Overall the creatures have a very demonic look to them.

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The Best Films of Halloween #21 Scream

scream1Rule Number one: you can never have sex. Sex equals death, okay? Number two: you can never drink or do drugs. the sin factor! It’s a sin. It’s an extension of number one. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back.” Because you won’t be back.

The last of this set of three homage films. This movie has all the (few) good qualities of your every day slasher, and mercilessly ridicules the flaws.

There are all the self deprecating little insults. There is nothing more hilarious than the scene where Jamie Kennedy is screaming at the movie he is watching to turn around when he himself has a murderer right behind him.

The movie makes it clear that slasher films have always been trite morality plays without falling prey to the same rules (the four survivors are our heroes, but they’re far from saints…well maybe Dewey).  That the behavior of most people in slasher films in beyond stupid, “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”… of course running out the door doesn’t seem to work too well in Scream, but you get the point.    And instead of being the terrible cardboard cutouts of most slasher film characters, there was actually some depth and characterization, not volumes mind you, but some (which mysteriously disappeared in all the sequels…although for a lot of these actors this was the acting highlight of their careers, sad as that might be).

The other advantage to this movie is that it didn’t go overboard. Yes there was a lot of blood. But where other slasher films try to gross you out with the amount of gore, this one used it only to heighten the tension.

Clearly we see the fear of death throughout this movie, motivating pretty much all of our characters.  But it’s nice to see that it is not so traumatizing that it incapacitates them.  Most of the victims do put up a valiant fight and of course our hero gets the great one liner “Not in my movie” at the very end.  Certainly not giving into the fear of death.

The problem is, of course, that while this film was witty and somewhat original in it’s willingness to critique its own genre so brutally, the sequels were all disappointments.  Each one worse than the last.  But that doesn’t change the fact that the first one still remains an entertaining Halloween view.

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Halloween Movies #23 Little Shop of Horrors

Seymour: No! I don’t know anybody who deserves to get chopped up and fed to a hungry plant!

Audrey II: Mmmmmm, sure you do!

Little Shop of HorrosWhen I started this list I said I wasn’t going to include any of the really old horror films, because, and no offense to Lugosi, Karloff, and Chaney, but those movies are too cheesy. If it wasn’t for the fame of these movies they would have been first round picks at Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes they were groundbreaking in their genre…but ground breaking and great are not necessarily the same thing. However there are a couple of films that not only do a good job of recognizing the camp of the early works in the genre and doing a good job of using that same camp for clever parody. Today and tomorrow’s pick do that quite well.

Little Shop of Horrors is based on an older and much campier movie of the same name. It’s the story of a giant flesh eating, smartass, plant from outer space hell bent on world domination. And it’s a musical. I can only image how the pitch session went and what the writer actually said to get the thing green lit.

It also makes fun of the late 50’s/early 60’s culture that gave us so so many terrible monster movies that would eventually conquer the world. Yeah I find the critique of crass consumerism a little heavy handed but just because I’m a capitalist doesn’t mean I will defend what businesses do to the death.

Why is this a horror movie? Well it’s not only the blood sucking mean green mother from outer space that constantly demands “Feed me!” It’s a horror movie because it has something far, far more horrifying. Something we have all encountered in our lives. The thing of nightmares. A demon straight from the bowels of Hell itself. A dentist who enjoys causing pain (as if there is any other kind of dentist).

And it stars Rick Moranis. Yes him, he was never a great actor but we miss him all the same. Moranis plays awkward down and out nerd Seymour who is offered a Faustian bargain to gain wealth, fame, and the woman he loves all for the low price of killing people. Admittedly he gives in a little quickly to be a true hero, but hey, as the movie says “A lot of people deserve to die.”*


All the bad stereotypes of a movie you see the three commentators from Mystery Science Theater making fun of are here…but since the movie is already making fun of them, there was no need to put it on that show.

*Not really, but I’m going with the line. I wouldn’t usually need to point out that this was sarcasm but I’ve had some problems with people not being able to sense sarcasm in writing lately.

Up next a movie that directly makes fun of all the classic horror movies.

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Best Things to watch for Halloween #24 The X-files

This was kind of a no brainer that it would make it on the list.  You have such a wide range of horrific monsters to choose from.  Flukeman, Cigarette Smoking Man, Tombs, the fat sucking guy from “2shy”, Donnie Pfaster, the black oil, the entire cast of “Bad Blood”. (Okay that last one wasn’t that scary…although Mulder singing “Shaft” was disturbing on many levels).    The list can go on for some time.  For 9 years they creeped us out, not every week, but consistently they had the hairs on the back of our neck standing up.

So let’s take a look at the most horrifying episodes in no particular order.

Eve. There is just something about sociopathic children that is frightening.  When they’re in stereo it’s even worse.

Psychopaths now come in pairs…how the complete opposite of cute.

Die Hand Die Verletzt.  Satanists.  Ritual murder.  The evil substitute is really a demon out to kill just about everyone.  What’s not to get a creep factor from?

Irresistible.  There was nothing supernatural or mystical about this episode.  Just a serial killer who takes a liking to Scully.  (Yes it’s implied he might be something more demonic and less human, but that is never really delved into…besides it’s human behavior that frightens us the most.)  This was more frightening because for so much of the episode we don’t have any X-file to blame, any supernatural cause to have as an excuse for the evil and the terror…just a man who likes to hurt people.

War of the Coprophages.   With the exception of spiders there is probably no bug creepier than cockroaches…and a whole episode of them, even if it’s humorous, just leaves you feeling uncomfortable.  Especially in that part where the cockroaches crawl across the screen.

Chinga.  Yeah we’ve seen the evil doll theme before.  But this one was written by Stephen King.  And it was bloody.

And you thought your coworkers were bad…

Folie a Deux.  Bug like monsters creating zombies no one can see.  Do I need to explain why that’s creepy?

Scary Monster.  It had the feel of that Twilight Zone episode where the kid might send you out to the cornfield…only far more horrifying tortures.

And finally Roadrunners.  Most people missed this episode because it was after Duchovny left the show…but that’s part of why it’s terrifying.  If Mulder isn’t there to save Scully, then who will? (Not to suggest that Scully didn’t save Mulder’s ass a lot).  And the idea of a giant worm that burrows into you and takes you over in “Puppet Master” fashion equally disturbing.  But what was worse was that we spent half the episode watching it burrow into Scully.  I don’t get frightened by movies or TV often, I’m usually too busy analyzing how everything works and probably working on something else at the same time…but I remember this episode had me actually worried about what would happen the first time it aired.

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Best movies for Halloween #25 Flatliners

Flatliners“Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it’s up to the physical sciences.”

Like most scientists in horror films the characters of Flatliners think that science can reveal everything, damn the consequences…
…and be it a sci fi or horror movie that always works really well.

The movie posters had the rather cheesy catch phrase “Some lines shouldn’t be crossed.” (Terrible pun). But this goes to the heart of an the issue of should science have boundaries. And as so many horror stories came out of the Romantic era it will always be tied to the Romantic’s distrust of the arrogance of science to find all answers. And they’re not entirely wrong. The history of science, while a great story of the progress and advancement of the human race, has these dark side notes of human experimentation and only considering the consequence of one’s actions only after the fact (Oppenheimer…”I am become death…”). We see it in Frankenstein. We saw it in The Island of Dr. Moreau. We saw it throughout the X-files, Fringe, Outer Limits, Fringe, and the Twilight Zone and a dozen other stories, movies and TV shows. They’re cautionary tales to remind people that science has always been and always will be a double edged sword that when misused or misunderstood can do far more damage than good. And the idea of killing yourself to scientifically see what’s on the other side of death does seem to be one of those lines science shouldn’t be so eager to go past.

In this case how would you like all of your worst sins and things your regret come back not just as memories but as tangible, physical things to torment and torture. I assume for many of us this would be a nightmare…more so for the highly flawed characters of this movie.

Now, somewhere between being a cool vampire and being the most deadly force in the history of counter-terrorism, Kieffer Sutherland played the rather arrogant and guilt-ridden character of Nelson. This character was the driving force behind these experiments of Flatliners, Nelson, is also the one most tied to death. He claims he has no fear of what is on the other side and it is just pure curiosity on his part, but he is also suffering from the buried guilt of having killed someone in his youth. In fact you find that the only other character so interested in the experiments is Julia Robert’s character, who also lost someone to death, shows that their desire to know about death isn’t curiosity, it is very much the fear of not knowing what death it.

The fear of death is often tied to the fear of being judged for your actions (it’s sad people have such a limited view of God they think he is so willing to damn you). And that is what ties each of the characters of Flatliners together. Whether what happened was their fault or not, whether it was major or minor, they felt guilty about it and in this film their guilt became a physical manifestation. Now I don’t know if the writers were intentionally going for this or it’s just an interesting parallel, but this does partially match up to the idea that when you die you review your life and you the parts that you review in most detail are the ones that you are most emotionally tied to…and there are few emotions stronger than guilt. It also seems to parallel the Buddhist idea that in the afterlife one of the things you will face is the karmic consequences of your actions and if you can’t move past these (move past the guilt) then you will be forced to live through the karmic consequences of those actions in your next life (but this may be reading too much into the screenwriter’s intent).

Whatever the actual purpose the writer and director were attempting to bring out about the nature of the afterlife, they do have a fairly clear point that the way out is not death but forgiveness.

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Best Halloween Cinema #30: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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

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

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

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

The Gentlemen from “Hush”

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mentions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Halloween, Movies, and Death

HalloweenIt’s October and that means Halloween. And Halloween means I pull out all of my favorite horror movies, which means I am suddenly surrounded by vampire movies (well I am surrounded by vampires all year long, but Buffy is hardly pure horror). But this brings up why is society so overly inundated by the undead lately. Vampires and Zombies are everywhere. Walking Dead, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, another Dracula, American Horror Story, World War Z, yet another Paranormal Activity, Resident Evil Part 8000: (subtitled: Jovovich really hopes someone will think she can act and give her a real job), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…do I really need to continue? Be it TV, books, movies we are literally surrounded by the undead. And it seems like there are a lot more of the nosferatu now than there ever has been. I remember growing up with the Lost Boys, Fright Night, that Dracula with Gary Oldman, Interview with the Vampire, and of course who can ignore Buffy (and of course there were a lot of other films and books that were ignored) but you can’t deny there does seem to be a lot more vampires and zombies now than ever before…and they’re certainly making obscene amounts of money. Now it could be that Hollywood just has found a formula that makes money and are running it into the ground like they do with anything…but it still just seems like it’s more than just that. So the question becomes why are people so enthralled with the undead?

I think I may know what it is. Society’s obsession with death. Now I know I’ve brought this up before, but I feel it needs reiterating. More and more people seem to have a bizarre, infantile obsession with death and as Stephen King once pointed out horror is the genre that deals with the fear of death. They fear it more and more. And I don’t mean in a rational, life is certainly better than death, sort of way. I mean in a way where death becomes an obsession. You see it everywhere else. You see people grieving over the departed far longer than can possibly be healthy. You see them clamoring for healthcare as if it’s a right like they were dying of a terrible disease this minute. It’s irrational. And it’s being manifested in this obsession with the undead, those who have eluded death, no matter what the cost. It’s not a conscious desire to cheat death in such a fashion, but it the subconscious association with the idea of not dying….

So rather than go into my usual rant against the preposterous fear of death (do you know there is Buddhist meditation that asks you to daily imagine a new way you could die in as much depth as possible so you will be able to handle the transition without a shock?). Instead I’m going to take my love of film and go over my 30 favorite Halloween pieces of cinema (I say cinema because some of these will be TV shows) and discuss how they aren’t the usual vicious obsession with death that most horror does.

Why 30 because I did want to save one day in which I deal with why some of the movies that won’t be making the list.

Zombie movies: Philosophically possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen (even worse when you consider that there has never been a zombie movie with even a half decent plot.) Zombies are more or less a metaphor for what people are like at our most basic level, an expression of pure violence and eating. (When actually if you want to see what people act like when their souls aren’t in control and just letting the body work on autopilot I would suggest you look at pop culture and OccupyWallStreet and certain political parties known for groupthink, yeah that one.). This is part of a large belief that we are all base animals at our core and I do not subscribe to that. On a side note, the only time I have ever seen the character of a zombie used well was in the TV shows Firefly and Dollhouse and the movie (Serenity) where the zombies (called Reavers and Butchers) were not the traditional zombies but described accurately as a perversion of humanity, not the thing we are all trying to keep at bay.

Old horror movies: They’re just too campy for me to respect. Yes, Lugosi and Karloff have their rightful place in history, but I just can’t take them seriously. (Especially since I know the books they’re based on and those movies butcher their source material).

Movies where vampires sparkle: Vampires have always been and are supposed to be metaphors for sexuality. There is just nothing sexy about a vampire who has been playing with glitter.

Slasher films: At their best they’re cheap morality plays which were best summarized by Seth Green in Scream. There is not much more to them than that. At their worst they’re just an obsession with gore and the worst in humanity. (There will be some notable exceptions to the list in the 30 movie countdown).

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God’s Not Dead: Deeply flawed, but decent

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So I didn’t think I was originally going to go to this one before it hit the dollar theater but on some word of mouth recommendations (and the fact it is getting as much buzz as it is) this little pagan thought he would see if this was more than the typically bad Christian film.* It wasn’t, I would go as far as to say this is the best I’ve seen from this genre. It certainly was the best performance I’ve seen from Kevin Sorbo. But that is not to say that it is not without its flaws.

 

The central plot revolves around a Christian student (Shane Harper) Josh Wheaton** who is forced to either say in class that there is no God or risk his grade for the class. And as there is no tradition of taqiyya in Christianity he feels he cannot lie about his faith. This, in what I have to say is the worst teaching method I have ever seen, leads the rather pompous professor (Kevin Sorbo) to try and humiliate him by making him defend the idea that God exists before the class. What follows is his defense of God and how it affects him and those in his class…and a lot of people not in his class, and some people only connected by the most tangential lines…honestly I think they tried to squeeze way to many subplots into this movie.

 

Now his argument in favor of God takes three main points:

  • The traditional argument by cause…although Aquinas made the philosophical much better, and I’ve seen many others make the scientific argument much more clearly.
  • The argument from design looking at life, specifically he looks at the rather shaky grounding for modern evolution being set on punctuated equilibrium…rather than the stronger attacks on the fact that life could not just spontaneous come into existence, nor could sentience. But I was quite happy that the writers took the much more intelligent tack that even if evolution is true it still demands a God to work the way it has rather than the ignorant creationist or simplistic intelligent design arguments.
  • And finally rebutting the problem of evil and taking the Augustinian side that evil exists because of free will.

Regrettably the film didn’t actually use any of the names or terms I used above which would make it difficult for most people seeing this film to actually go and read the more fleshed out versions. So if the film wanted to convince people it may have whet their appetite for these ideas but it didn’t give them anything to work with from there. But overall the case presented by the student is one that is accurate if a bit over simplified.

 

Further I liked the point that behind every atheist is a very angry theist who is angry at God for some reason, which is more or less what I’ve witnessed in life…and what has at least been partially substantiated by research (it’s been shown they all fear him…and with following Yoda’s line of logic…) Although given the rather callous and shallow letter the professor’s character’s mother wrote to him before dying, I can kind of understand why he might have issues with God.

 

My biggest problem is this jump in logic the movie seems to make over and over again. If I show the arguments against God are wrong and show evidence that there is a God then it follows that a Protestant Christian interpretation of God exists.  Over and over again this movie implicitly makes this assumption.   Now to a New Ager like me this is where I have problems. If you destroy the opposition’s case and show that a God exists…that shows that a God exists. You still have a long way to go to prove that your particular interpretation of God exists. And this is the biggest problem I have both with atheists and Christians in this fight; they both seem to assume it’s either their side or the other side. It’s this one or the other. Atheists seem to feel that all Christians believe the exact same thing and can be lumped together and most Christians (or at least a very large portion of the more vocal ones) seem to feel that their interpretation of Christianity is obviously only the right one. As a non-Christian I look at this battle between these two groups with probably the same confusion that America looked at the side war between Finland and the USSR in the early 40’s: Guys you do know there is much bigger battle going on that doesn’t just involve your own petty differences? Right? Honestly as someone with many Thomist sympathies, I don’t think even Catholics would be particularly thrilled with the defense of Christianity in this film (but I could be wrong).

 

But I think this shows a larger problem that is not just specific to Christianity (nor do I think all Christians suffer from it). This film, which ostensibly should have been there to try and offer arguments for atheists and agnostics to give up their beliefs and accept God, does a poor job of it because it implies that if you believe in God you must be a Protestant. You would do a much better job by just proving that a God exists. Once that door has been opened philosophically then if you truly believe in your interpretation you should trust free will and faith (which was a central part of the argument in the movie) to bring people to the truth. By saying that if you have to accept everything or nothing you’re committing just as egregious a logical sin as atheists, and tactically making a very poor move. And I say this is a larger problem because you’re seeing the same problem in a larger political sense, where populists are currently demanding that all who are in the Republican party must be ideologically pure or we can not have them at all…and it is this attitude that drives voters away and keeps the party from winning time and time again…and if Christians* like the producers want to make a case for God they might do best to just try and prove the existence of a God by itself before they make the case for their interpretation of a God as making someone accept both at the same time might in many cases be a bridge too far.
One of the most jarring things of the whole film is that near the end one of the atheist characters in the film is confronted with death and makes a death bed conversion. Luckily there is a minister there to help guide this character back to the faith in their last minutes…and it’s not too subtle that God had a major hand in making sure the minister was there at that place in that time to help save that soul. Even as a pagan I didn’t have a problem with this because I do believe this is how God works…what I had a problem with was that between the writing and directing the scene comes off in a very cold and callous way. Immediately he begins preparing this character for death even though the correct thing for someone to do would have been CPR to save the character’s life. It comes off a little heartless. The fact the very next scene has the cast of Duck Dynasty insulting this character after they’ve already died is possibly one of the worst directing calls I have ever seen (honestly if you just flipped the order of the scenes it wouldn’t have been as bad) but apparently the director felt like insulting the dead.

 

 

On a final note I did appreciate the film showing that China is a repressive tyranny and the religion of peace is anything but.

 

If you’re a Protestant you’ll probably be able to overlook some of the glaring philosophical problems and downplay the bad writing and actually enjoy the film (again I’m not entirely sure how much the Protestant interpretation will grate for non Protestant Christians)…if you’re not a Christian that philosophical jump between God’s existence and Jesus died for you might be a bit much to overlook and ruin the enjoyment.

 

I give the whole thing a C-.

 

*That is not an insult to Christianity…that is an insult to the absolutely pathetic writing and production values faith based movies have had for the past couple of decades. Let’s be honest, Lifetime laughs at the production values of faith based films.

**I still am not sure if the fact that his name bears a great deal of resemblance to a very famous atheist is intentional or not.

***Again certainly not the entirety, but an awfully large number with access to mass media.

 

 

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Captain America: The Fringe Libertarian Solider

captain america

That is the depressed look of someone who actually read the script.

 

So I waited a couple of days to see if my distaste for Captain America: The Winter Soldier would pass…it didn’t. In fact the more and more I think about it the angrier I get.

 

So the good news first. It’s better than the first Captain America. But that’s not a high bar to meet as the first one was so bad that watching just about anything else would have been better.

 

But even objectively if you’re looking for mindless entertainment it’s fun. Like Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 this movie did a good job of giving you an entertaining wild ride in a post Avengers world. The problem is that this movie seems to have addressed my complaint that while The Avengers seemed to start delivering into deeper territory, the Iron Man and Thor sequels went back to mindless entertainment (even more so than their predecessors). The problem is that while this film attempted to actually be deeper and actually have a message, it was the wrong message.

 

Okay past this point there are spoilers…if you’re just looking for fun and never look at any deeper level, go see the movie, but after this sentence I reveal all the secrets.

 

First off, for a movie called The Winter Soldier, the Winter Soldier is in remarkably few scenes. Further he’s little more than the hired muscle. It would be like renaming Goldfinger, James Bond: Odd Job…or advertising a whole movie on a villain who really isn’t even there (oh wait, they already did that with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3…I’m beginning to worry that at this rate Ultron may never actually be appearing in Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron). Who names a movie after the hired muscle who barely appears? And while there is supposedly the beginning of a major personal issue for Captain America…this whole mess depends on me caring about the relationship between Steve and Buckey in the first film…which I didn’t. And that one lame scene that was put in to tell me that Steve and Buckey were close didn’t do much either.

 

And this is now the third different character I’ve seen Scarlet Johnasson play in a Marvel film. I know they’re all supposed to be the same character but the personality between Iron Man 2, Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are so wildly different I’m having a hard time really buying it. It’s like they think it doesn’t matter that we haven’t put any real character development into her, she’s pretty, so comic book nerds won’t care…oh, wait, they might be onto something there. Also am I the only one just not impressed by Scarlet Johansson…she’s not a bad actress…but she’s no where near as good as all the roles she gets.

 

 

But most of all this is Captain America where Captain America is played not by a patriot…or even the Human Torch…but by Edward Snowden. No really. So apparently S.H.I.E.L.D. has been taken over by Hydra (you remember the uberNazi’s from the first movie). Now I might be willing to forgive a lot about what this plot point implies about our actual intelligence and military services namely because this is a plot point they took from the comics…but they don’t let it just rest there. No. No. They go for completely making a political statement by saying that the only way to take down Hydra is to, like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, steal all the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra files and put them on the internet. Ignoring how this actually hasn’t done much of anything to actually hurt any government agency, this makes a pretty bold statement that fascist supporting traitors deserving of a quick trial and quicker execution like Snowden are the real heroes. No. No. I will not put up with this bullshit. There was no need for the plot to go the Wikileaks/Snowden route so the only excuse for this plot point is they wanted to make Snowden a hero  Further the implication of this film that organizations like the NSA or any branch of the US military/intelligence community are deserving of comparisons to people too extreme for Nazi’s is just insulting. To the writers and directors of this film, a heartfelt !@#$ you. Yes, let’s attack the one branch of the federal government that doesn’t seem to be cooperating with Obama’s numerous attempts to harass his political allies. Now if you wanted to have a movie where the IRS led by a Lois Learner type character was infiltrated by the Nazi’s, I’d have no problem with that since the morals and sadistic tendencies of your average of IRS agent are already on par. Yes, in real life there needs to be more oversight and more controls…but you can’t point to a single piece of information where the information these groups have been collecting has actually been used against the innocent (beyond idiots using the data for personal reasons)…that’s quite a compliment to the self-control given the power these groups have with this information. But no, let’s compare the most controlled people in the government to Nazi’s. Thanks Marvel.

Yeah some idiots like to portray this only as an issue dealing with our rights to privacy, but while those concerns do need to be addressed, only a fool would suggest completely destroying the very needed intelligence gathering system we do need would end up well in the long run.

And then the directors said they wanted to say the whole movie was a commentary on drones. Oh shut up. Three flying death machines with bullet ranges well beyond the limits of the dumbest science-fiction is not comparable to drones. The problem with drones is not that they exist or that they kill the innocent…the problem with drones is that they’re being used by a inept arrogant son of bitch who uses what was designed as a precision instrument and waves it around like a Neanderthal with a club. Drones could be used efficiently with almost no collateral damage against targets that could not be reached any other way…but they’re not being used that way because of the jackass who is ordering the attacks. And the libertarians who loathe drones so much should remember that drones are tools. Drones don’t kill people, the politicians who use them do. And any libertarian should clearly remember that if they continue their hatred of drones they will have to hate all tools that could kill people if they wish to maintain any claim to intellectual consistency. But asking any liberal or libertarian to understand the difference between the tool and the person using the tool seems to be too much these days.

captain black widow

Black Widow: How can we make this movie worse? Captain America: We have Albert Brooks back…

 

Also I’m really happy that Captain America’s response to finding out the greatest threat to liberty is back, is to decide ‘I’m going to destroy the only agency that might have a chance at stopping them.’ Good call, Cap.

Some other observations. In Iron Man 2 Tony was quite clear that he privatized world peace and the world was much more stable now with Iron Man on the case (and certainly far more safe when in Iron Man 3 the biggest worry was what translated to minor bombing…no really think about it, it is what possibly made Mandarin even on par with even the current actions of the Taliban).   Yet somehow with all this, Hydra claims to have consistently made the world less stable and more chaotic. Which is it?

Or maybe when Hydra makes it clear they were responsible for the death of Howard Stark…and you only have two superheroes to take out three flying supercarriers…no one thought to give Tony a call…maybe for some closure…I mean just pragmatics here…this is not the kind of situation you want to leave to chance…of course when you have control of the first two ships you could have just blown the third out of the sky…but that would have meant we didn’t need to waste the last 20 minutes in a pointless battle between Captain America and the seldom seen Winter Soldier.

 

And a really minor point…there seemed to be a lot of knocking Nazis unconscious. But a lot of hesitation about shooting them. Umm….these are Nazis.   I feel more for all the dead Chitari than I do for Nazi…why did everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. (beside Maria Hill) seem to have such issues with giving them a one way ticket to Hell….I just didn’t get that point.

 

But more than anything it’s the suggestion that the men and women in our intelligence agencies are Nazi while traitors like Snowden are heroes. This is a revolting idea and ensures that I will never watch this film or anything from these writers or directors again.

 

If you like mindless entertainment, you’ll enjoy the film (in this sense I’ll give the film a B-).   If you look for something deeper and have a sense of morals you’ll be disgusted (in this sense I’ll give it an F.)

 

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Movies that understand Economics #25: The Fifth Element

Fifth ElementOkay, taking The Fifth Element seriously might be a stretch but there is a great moment where the movie gives a perfect recounting of Keynesian economics. The idea that disasters and catastrophes lead to economic growth and prosperity because cleaning up the mess is good for the economy. It is at the heart of all Keynesian principles—the market can’t exist on it’s own it needs outside stimulus.

Now you may be wondering why I would view this as understanding economics as Keynes and all his disciples are, at best, out of their minds and at worst functionally retarded (seriously given the absolute stupidity of every word out of Krugman’s mouth it’s a miracle the man is able keep from drooling all over himself)…but I point to this as an understanding of economics because this filth is put in the mouth of the movie’s villain, Zorg (played by Gary Oldman, although as with most Oldman parts you wouldn’t recognize him if you were told) and it is meant to be the words of a villain.

Zorg: Where are the stones?
Priest Vito Cornelius: I don’t know. And even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell someone like you.
Zorg: Why? What’s wrong with me?
Priest Vito Cornelius: I try to serve life. And you seem to want to destroy it.
Zorg: Oh, Father. You’re so wrong. Let me explain.
[Puts and empty water glass on his desk]
Zorg: Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Now take this empty glass. Here it is: peaceful, serene, boring. But if it is destroyed
[Pushes the glass off the table. It shatter on the floor, and several small machines come out to clean it up]
Zorg: Look at all these little things! So busy now! Notice how each one is useful. A lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people, who will be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain of life. You see, father, by causing a little destruction, I am in fact encouraging life. In reality, you and I are in the same business. Cheers. [chokes on a cherry]

What Zorg is talking about is called the broken window fallacy. That destruction brings about prosperity. Now for people with a functioning cerebral cortex it only takes a few seconds to realize that the money spent to rebuild could have been spent somewhere else…but hey, as I’ve pointed out Keynesians are special kind of crazy/stupid/evil. And yes evil is appropriate, because as shown in the film, this argument is just a cover for a wish to destroy (or you’re really stupid if you actually believe that).

And the movie shows that at some level the writers understood economics because within 30 seconds they tear down Zorg’s entire philosophy when it is not destruction (in the case of a cherry Zorg is choking on) that brings about results but rather human action to prevent destruction.

Father Vito Cornelius: Where’s the robot to pat you on the back? Or the engineer? Or the children, maybe? There, you see now, how all your so-called power counts for absolutely nothing now, how your entire empire can come crashing down because of one… little… cherry.

It’s nice to see Keynesian idea so perfectly destroyed as they deserve to be.

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Movies that understand economics #22: The Company Men

Copmany Men“[Next year] I’m worried about our stock price tomorrow.”

The Company Men is probably one of those films you missed. It has terrible publicity and was rolled out in a January (probably the worst month for movies). It’s the story of several mid to high level executives at a ship building construction firm (Ben, Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones) as they are each downsized by the failing company and how they react to the problems of living in a recession. As you can probably guess this movie is a bit of a downer for most of the film. But in amongst the almost melodramatic moments, it does illustrate some of the economic facts and principles of the current world.
The first, as Milton Friedman was wont to point out, is that business is often the worst enemy to the defense of the free market. What do I mean by that? Well the fact is that the free market is run by three things: self interest, long term planning and competition. Self interest drives us to want the most out of what we can get, and since we want things in a free market we have to offer other people things. Competition causes us to offer the best product at the best price for both ourselves and our customer. And long term thinking causes us to create companies, products, and systems that will keep the money pouring in for years; that will grant us prosperity through prosperous times and security through the down turns. And it is this last one that the business and business in general often fail at. In general business will often foolishly push for things like tariffs or legislation that helps them and puts up barriers against their competitors…never stopping to ask what will happen in the long run after we have helped to give government the power to regulate business (despite the fact that I would say almost everyone has heard the warning “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”) In this film the company at the center of the film keeps making stupid short term mistakes, constantly undercutting its ability to make anything by repeatedly downsizing all in the interest of short term gains in stock price (ignoring the fact in the long run you can only downsize until you hit rock bottom and then your stock price doesn’t go much of anywhere). Not to say that all downsizes are merely the result of short term thinking, they’re not always, but this company had no long term plans, or even desires, to keep going long term, only the short term concern for stock price.

Now the fact that people are short sighted may be disappointing, but it’s hardly surprising. That’s why the free market is great; it chews up the people without only short term thinking and rewards those with long term thinking. But the problem is that when looking at any particular business you don’t see the beauty of the free market that creates new jobs and new opportunities. (Remember this recession is more due to piles and piles of government intervention more than anything else.) Otherwise there are always ups and downs in life, only government intervention makes them worse and more obvious.

Another simple fact of economics is that people who look to the stock market as a perfect marker of the economy are really dumb. The stock market is based more on emotion and hype than any reality. Throughout the movie we see a company move its stock price up as it further and further destroys its long term prospects. I’d like to say this is just something relegated to movies and pre-Great Depression stock markets…but right now when business is about to collapse under the weight of Obamacare and all the other BS this idiot is shoveling the stock market has never been higher. And liberals keep telling me the economy is doing great… after all the DOW is above 16,000…yeah, let’s see how long that lasts. Insurance companies right now are an example of short term thinking – they are going along with Obamacare as government has promised money but this can not continue forever and so this is very short term thinking and the long term result will be exactly what government wants and insurance will be destroyed and annihilated. Wonder what that will do to the stock market?

And of course, as with all things economic it shows that the ones who survive and thrive are the ones who adapt…in this case the employees who start a new, smaller company that fills the space left by the fact that, low and behold, just firing people without any long term plan did not prevent a buyout and liquidation. Adapt or die. Adapt or die. It is the central rule of economics that can never be ignored.

“We work as hard in here every day as we did when we were trying to get a job, we’ll be alright. What’s the worst thing they can do, fire us?”

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