Monthly Archives: June 2011
A few people have sent this to me, so I thought I would post some brief comments here about it. Overall, it’s an interesting list. I don’t particularly agree with all of it, but I think they did a good job including a more varied listing of films than one would probably expect from such a narrow classification. I’m listing them here in reverse order, with my thoughts next to each.
10. Iron Man (2008) – This probably would have been on my list, too, and maybe a little higher. Actually a terrific mix of humor, gravitas, and allegorical content, with perhaps the best casting of a lead role in the history of super hero films. It also proves that you could produce a blockbuster film using a secondary superhero, provided that it was done right.
9. Watchmen (2009) – Hmmm…I’m reminded of what Mario Puzo once said about The Godfather as a novel versus a film – in essence, the movie may have been one of the twenty greatest films of all time, while the novel wasn’t even one of the best books of its year. The inverse is somewhat true about Watchmen – the original graphic novel is still perhaps the best ever written, but what worked on the page did not always click on screen, much of which had to do with historical context and conformity to mainstream filmmaking. It’s still a very good movie, and maybe top ten worthy, but I’m not positive of that.
8. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) – Inspired choice, though the actual animated series (still holds up as one of the best of all time) had many episodes that were actually far, far better. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was also probably just as good.
7. The Rocketeer (1991) – It’s been probably close to two decades since I’ve seen this so it’s not exactly fresh in my mind, but I remember it being more likable than good. I might want to give it a second look.
6. Blade II (2002) – Guillermo del Toro did a very good job with it, but the first film was better overall. Wouldn’t have included.
5. Superman II (1980) – A good effort that didn’t quite follow through on its potential, no doubt in large part due its script problems and the creative upheaval that came from Richard Donner’s firing during production. Might have made the cut, but not over the first film.
4. Unbreakable (2000) – Another very good idea that didn’t live up to its potential. I had actually read the script long before the film was made, so it’s twists weren’t actually surprising to me at the time. This is a case where I think Shyamalan’s script would have been better served in the hands of another director.
3. Spider-man 2 (2004) – If they had selected this for number 1, I wouldn’t have argued with it. A thoroughly human story interwoven in a superhero adventure, with perfectly realized casting.
2. The Dark Knight (2008) – Would have been my number 1 – arguably the American film of the first decade of the 21st century – a trenchant allegory of the War on Terror and Post-9/11 consciousness, disguised as a superhero film, but treated with the reverence of an epic urban crime drama.
1. The Incredibles (2004) – Another choice I wouldn’t argue with, and certainly would have been in my top five. Another of the true gems of the Pixar dynasty.
Notable (Questionable) Exclusions –
Superman (1978) – Still the progenitor of superhero movies, not without its flaws, but unmatched for its sense of grandeur and wonderment.
Batman (1989) – one of the most significant films in Hollywood history for the impact it had on blockbuster filmmaking beyond simply superhero films, and it still holds up fairly well.
X2: X-Men United (2003) – One of the better sequels you’ll ever see, with an exceptional third act. Certainly the best superhero “team” film yet made.
Batman Begins (2005) – Perhaps the best origin film, that perfectly captures the psychological underpinnings of perhaps the most famous of superheroes.
This entry contains spoilers, specifically for those who have not yet watched Game of Thrones.
This week was a somewhat interesting one for me, as I was able to screen two pieces that essentially epitomize two polar ends of a particular genre – the fantasy epic (or “high fantasy.”) On Sunday, I watched what will likely go down a benchmark installment of the series Game of Thrones, entitled “Baelor,” in which the series’ closest approximation to a main character, Eddard “Ned” Stark (played by Sean Bean, also the series’ “star”) was killed off in what was only the ninth episode. Two days later, I began what will be three straight weeks of rewatching, in theatres, each installment of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy with The Fellowship of the Ring (these will be remastered versions of the Extended Editions – which have rarely been shown in theaters, having been produced mainly for the home DVD market). This coming Tuesday, I’ll be attending the screening of the next installment, The Two Towers, and the week after that will be a viewing The Return of the King. In viewing each film, I was struck by their obvious similarities and dissimilarities, and the ways in which each succeed on their own terms and in their own way. They also put into perspective how each of the works, and their source material, broaden the view one can take of a film and literary genre that most would perceive rather narrowly – myself included.
I’m sure The Lord of the Rings (or LOTR) really needs very little introduction for those who are reading this now – based on the fantasy epic first published in the 1950s and which represented a major literary milestone in the true maturation of the “epic fantasy” – the films are among the most financially successful and best remembered movies from the last decade. Made simultaneously by Jackson and a massive cast and crew, the three films generated billions in box office and merchandising, as well as substantial critical acclaim and awards recognition (the last film Return of the King, was awarded the Best Picture Academy Award and ties the record for most Oscars won by a film in a single year). It tells concurrent stories, the main of which focuses on Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a young hobbit (or halfling) from the pastoral Shire who must make an epic journey, against all odds, into the heart of the land of Mordor to destroy the magical ring of the Dark Lord Sauron and vanquish him forever. (Why any Dark Lord in good standing undertake the seemingly self-defeating strategy of putting all of his evil power into a ring still has been never been explained to my satisfaction, but in tales within which orcs play a significant role, sometimes logic must abide). With the distant support of his friends, including the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan), the exiled king Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), and the elf-turned-teen heartthrob Legolas (Orlando Bloom) , and the immediate support of his fellow hobbit Samwise (Sean Astin), Frodo ultimately completes his mission and saves Middle Earth from the forces of evil.
Game of Thrones, which began airing earlier this year on the premium cable channel HBO, is based on another epic fantasy series, begun in the 1990s and still progressing, A Song of Ice and Fire, by New Jersey’s own George RR Martin (the television show takes its name from the series’ first novel). The series relates the political and familial intrigues of the royal houses of the very tenuously aligned Seven Kingdoms of Westeros – a massive continent-sized nation in an alternate fantasy world where seasons are known to last years – as each family tries to impose their will over the future of the kingdom. Predominantly, the series thus far has told the story of the Starks (headed by patriarch Ned), a good-hearted and honorable noble family from the Northernmost Kingdom of Winterfell, who are drawn into the machinations of the wealthy, powerful, but also highly dysfunctional Lannister family, who are in-laws of the reigning king, Robert Baratheon. Having read and recently re-read Martin’s original novel, I can attest to the fact that the Game of Thrones or GOT, thus far, has hewn very close to its source, right up to the shocking and heartbreaking execution of Ned.
Though each represent the genre of high fantasy (so defined by the fact that the action is set in an alternate fantasy world), LOTR and GOT are thematically, stylistically, tonally, and aesthetically incredibly different (despite the fact that characters played by Sean Bean die relatively early in each). LOTR is an all-ages, epic story of very well defined good characters battling obviously evil characters, set against a backdrop where magic and monsters are commonplace, and war is righteous and noble part of tradition. Characters from various races (such as hobbit, elf, dwarf, and man) fight side-by-side with or against each other, and good ultimately conquers evil with almost all the noble characters seeing their way through in the end (LOTR is also a phallocentric world centered on the exploits of men, with the only women present being those who ultimately choose to define themselves in masculine terms).
Alternatively, the very R-rated GOT exists in world that is unsparingly gritty, brutal, uncompromising, and, perhaps shockingly, highly realistic. Magic exists in the universe of the show, but its occurrences are fairly rare, and its existence, as well as the existence of mythical monsters, regarded as superstitions by the majority of the show’s characters. In GOT, concepts of good and evil really do not apply, as the very political nature of the stories dictate that the best characters are those that are able to balance their ability to be cruel and kind in the face of extremely realistic dilemmas. Nothing emphasizes this better than the fate of Ned Stark. Though noble at heart and committed to honor, Ned is ultimately destroyed by the fact that he is unwilling to place the good of all over his own personal honor, leading him to fall prey to the much more devious Lannisters and the series’ closest thing to a true villain, the scheming Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan).
Yet even the villains themselves also often have motivations that are empathetic, and even sympathetic. And again, it must be emphasized, this series earns its R-rating – sex, incest, prostitution, rape, molestation, gore, and violence are all fairly par the course in Westeros. One important character is even graphically executed by having molten metal poured on his head.
In many respects, GOT represents a similar step forward in fantasy filmmaking, just as Jackson’s LOTR had ten years ago. But whereas Jackson’s trilogy brought the fantasy genre up from its strictly B-movie sword-and-sorcery antecedents, GOT strives to elevate to the level of the adult prestige drama, using extremely well drawn characters, intense, adult situations, sex, violence, and moral ambiguity to present the fantasy genre in a way many have never see before (and, gratefully for me, does it without the self-reflexive and obnoxiously smug irony that seems to permeate so much genre material these days). The series is not unworthy of criticism, however. Being an HBO series, the sexual content is often ratched well into overdrive, to a degree that is sometimes rather uncomfortable to watch. Another scene from the series that has also garnered some degree of infamy, featured the villainous character Littlefinger describing his motivations while “auditioning” two female prostitutes for his high class whorehouse, leading to a fairly explicit and prolonged lesbian sex scene. Another of the major story threads, involving the exiled teenage princess Daenarys (Emilia Clarke), involves her being married off to a barbarian king who rapes her on her wedding night, which is filmed in extremely voyeuristic fashion, leaving little of Daenarys’ body to the imagination. Simultaneously, as Jace Lacob pointed out in an article on The Daily Beast, the horrors of rape, an aspect that the novels emphasize as a way of illustrating the unpleasantness and brutality of medieval life and sexual politics, is largely downplayed for overly-titilating softcore. However, I would largely lay most of the blame for this on HBO itself, as the overabundance of nudity and sex is a staple for the network’s original series, occassionally to their detriment (see the award-winning The Pacific for some notable examples of this). With that said, I don’t think it has compromised the series’ overall quality and drama, though it has certainly diminished its prestige and mitigated my enjoyment at times.
This past Sunday’s episode, one of the best of the series thus far, took the series’ ambitions to yet another level when it chose to follow through on the death of its star character (just as it had occurred in the novel). When I went on the internet on Monday, while checking up on how well Super 8 did at the box office (in relation to my previous blog post), I found myself drawn into reading much of the certainly vitriolic response that was formulated in response to Ned’s execution. Fans and previous readers of the book like myself of course knew it was coming, but for most everyone else the event seemed to be quite the shock. Many appeared to be up in arms, and called it an abomination to have actually killed off the main character just as the first season was about to come to a close (the season finale is this weekend). Some even claimed to have sworn off the series, and stated their intention to essentially badmouth to everyone they know. On the other end of the spectrum, many are in awe of the raw audacity of it all, and applaud the program’s willingness to break the rules of normal televisual series narrative. As someone making his way through the rest of the books in the still-incomplete series, I find both sides to be somewhat wrong.
Certainly, I think the first group is overreacting and being overly dogmatic to the rules and comfortable expectations of series television. And I love Sean Bean, too (Sharpe rules!), but I don’t see how anyone can doubt that Peter Dinklage, as dwarf and black sheep of the Lannisters, “The Imp” Tyrion, hasn’t completely stolen the show at this point.
Perhaps surprisingly, I also disagree with those admiring the, for lack of a better term, “balsiness” of this move – it would be one thing if a newly original series had decided to go off and kill the main character a few episodes in, but Martin has laid a lot of groundwork that the showrunners are now following, and I can tell you, it’ll only get better from here.
But as I sat down and waited for Fellowship to begin two days later, I couldn’t help but feel concerned that perhaps I would now look back at this film I loved when I first saw it ten years ago (when it really rekindled my love of movies after September 11 had made them all feel so insignificant) with some feeling of triviality. I wanted to leave that theater still holding the movie in my heart, and I was worried, that in a post-GOT, that it might not be possible.
Thankfully, it was. Granted, certain parts of Fellowship don’t completely hold up. Peter Jackson, to his credit, sought to wring every drop of drama and impact out of Tolkien’s narrative, but as a result, there were more than a few moments that felt extremely overwrought (like Samwise’s needless near-drowning at the film’s end). And frankly, the multiple teases of Frodo’s demise get pretty tiresome.
But the magic was still there – the effects held up brilliantly, the characterizations hold up perfectly, and, like I have many times before, I found myself wilfully getting lost in this world of elves, orcs, and magic rings of ridiculous power (I mean, really, if I have God-like power, why on Middle Earth would I put it all in a RING?!? Why don’t I…I don’t know… JUST KEEP IT? I’m digressing…).
So fortunately, I find that looking forward to both the end of this season of GOT (not to mention future seasons, as it’s already been renewed) and two more weeks of LOTR (and two installments of The Hobbit) to not be mutually exclusive concepts. More than that, though, watching two such radically different exemplars of the fantasy genre in this fashion makes me realize that we all may be looking at something that only has room to grow and mature in the meta sense, just as the western, the space epic, and the superhero movie have done before. As LOTR showed then and GOT shows now, worlds of magic need not be looked down on as escapist subject matter for young children, nerds, or stereotypical maladjusted adults. They can also be art.
(I’ll be posting my thoughts of the next two installments of LOTR when I see them, and Game of Thrones, as warranted.)
So I was asked last night if I wanted to go see the new movie Super 8 today…and my answer, surprising as it may seem to someone who knows me and knows what I like…was “nah.” It’s not that I don’t want to see it – I actually do, and I’m sure when I do see it I’ll at least like it, and for all I know I might even love it. But with all of the movies that have come out the past few weeks and due to come out during the next few, I’m just not excited enough to go out and see it right away. Now there are a few minor reasons that contribute to my comparative lethargy: J.J. Abrams has never blown my mind as much as he has others, and though I love movies I have no desire to live in a theater like I have been lately. But the fairly glowing reviews would normally be enough to offset that hesitancy…there had to be more.
Really, the reason for me is actually kind of simple: I really just don’t get this movie’s marketing. And let’s be honest, marketing is as important as anything when it comes to why we see a movie. A bad trailer can kill excitement for a movie that’s actually really good, and a good trailer can make us excited to see absolute junk. So my relative lack of excitement about Super 8 made me think about what can personally drive someone to want to see a movie, and the nexus that exists between expectation and desire in film marketing.
The marketing (which, to specify, I see as including actual movie marketing and overall publicity – I haven’t watched anything viral or sought out spoilers) for Super 8 seems to want to work on two levels, as intrigue and as nostalgia. I’m going to start with the intrigue. What is Super 8 about? I honestly have no idea. I have suspicions, but very little in actual knowledge…and I assume that’s precisely how the marketers want me to feel. Now, I get that, and part of me understands why that happens and part of me approves of it. Movies can often be too predictable…on the one hand, it’s why we find them to be be entertaining, because in the end, that’s part of the comfort of going to movies. For a moment, they make us feel okay; they give us a false sense that no matter how out of control things get, most everything will turn out all right in the end (provided another sequel isn’t coming along in the next 12-18 months). But on the other, it obviously can make things overly repetitive and over time, fairly bland and boring. So, certainly, part of me is happy when a movie wants to deny people’s expectations too much, and leave us with a large question mark lingering over us that prevents us from describing a movie in 25 words or less.
But this time? I’m not really intrigued, and it makes me curious to see how well Super 8 will do in its opening weekend. I’m suspecting fairly well, and at $45 million or so, even with marketing costs, this film doesn’t likely have to set major records to be insanely profitable. But among an extremely crowded summer marketplace and in an economy where entertainment is more budgeted than ever before, I question the wisdom of denying people the comfort of expectations. I know, for me personally, lacking that frame of reference makes me less intrigued to actually see it – if I’m going to spend money on something these days (especially when I’m spending money on so many other movies at this time of year), I prefer it not to be on an enigma, and I doubt I’m alone. And even if the film manages to deliver on the intrigue that it creates, in the modern internet era, where one could probably type two words into google and find out what the film is actually about (which I won’t be doing, but the point remains), is that going to sustain a film like this? If I’m not encouraged to see it this weekend, sadly, I’ll probably already have learned by the time I get around to it, which in and of itself won’t discourage me, but might discourage others.
Then there’s the issue of nostalgia, which the publicity surrounding the film has especially endorsed, most clearly in evoking the early work of Steven Spielberg (the film’s advertised producer and a central figure, along with Abrams, in its marketing). From what I’ve seen, this is certainly what has struck the loudest chord I know with people who want to see the movie. Now again, personally, I don’t get it. Now don’t misunderstand me…I’m not a Spielberg hater that some others are these days are (though only a complete fanboy wouldn’t admit his work hasn’t fallen off in recent years), and as a movie buff who grew up in the eighties and into the nineties, Spielberg was a huge part of my childhood. The first movie I ever saw in a theater was a Spielberg movie (“saw” being relative to the fact I spent half the movie hiding from the little alien who thought was going to eat me). When I see the trailers for Super 8, I can pick out the obvious references to ET, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind fairly easily. But, in the end…so what?
Honestly, Spielberg’s work, with obvious exceptions of films like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Raiders of the Ark, just feels so archaic these days…like relics of a bygone era we really just can’t go back to, nor should we want to. They evoke a more naive period in history, at least for me. And at the risk of sounding almost snobbish (sorry…), Spielberg movies are just something we eventually outgrow and only rarely look back, and when we do, it’s rarely with the sense of wonderment we had as children during that era. Instead, we see the obvious schmaltz and ceaseless optimism, and feel the manipulation going on. And that leads back to the idea of intrigue…knowing what to expect from a Spielberg movie, or, in this case, a postmodern recreation of one, you kind of ultimately know where it’s going to go. I remember years ago, when War of the Worlds was released in 2005, the director made all sorts of comments about how his attitude changed in the wake of September 11. But as the movie ended, it was just the same ludicrously upbeat ending that has undermined much of his work. So something tells me that whatever Super 8 is about, it’s going to have that same Spielbergian happy ending.
And you know, it will probably be fine. I’m fairly certain that it will be a good movie, given all the impressions. But in the end, the promise of quality isn’t always as important as the promise of something more. Or at least something else.
So, trying something less ambitious…
I’ve just finished the next-to-final draft of my abstract for my mostly still unwritten paper “It’s Not Funny Until It Hurts: The Great Recession and Modern R-Rated Comedy,” which I’ll be submitting for acceptance to the Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association (or MAPACA, not to be confused with the Alpaca-breeding organization) Conference being held in Philadelphia this fall. I’ve had very strong showings the past two years so I’m strongly optimistic about my chances at attending again. Since my aspirations of going any farther in academic circles has been completely blunted due to the apparently very poor standing I had with my former professors, I see this really as little more than an opportunity to flex my intellectual muscles somewhat and hopefully just have some fun with other down to Earth intellectuals.
Last year’s conference weekend was really one of the lone highlights of what may have, overall, been the worst year of my life, and though it would be impossible for this year’s to top last year’s (since I’m guessing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will NOT be hosting another “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” let alone holding it in Philly), I’m going to try to go three in a row for well-received papers.
Below is the my present Abstract, which had to be limited to 150 words.
“This paper’s purpose is to analyze how the Great Recession has influenced two of the more significant and successful film comedies of recent years, The Hangover (2009) and Bridesmaids (2011). Each film demonstrates a marked trend in mainstream comedy toward darker, deglamorized humor derived from humiliation, abjection, failure, and sufferings both emotional and physical. Subverting the phrase ‘laugh until it hurts,’ the films reflect in their content the disillusionment, frustration, and cynicism currently prevalent in society at large in the wake of a stagnant economy. The Hangover, about amnesiac groomsmen taking stock after showing atrociously bad judgment, and Bridesmaids, detailing a woman ‘running out of rope’ while her more successful friend is getting married, embody a certain comedic tone generated by this particular moment in history – one based on an empathetic variation on jouissance: where the audience’s pleasure derives from their own perceived pain being reflected back at them. ”
The good news is, this means I get to read up on my Žižek. The bad news is…it also means I have to read up on my Lacan. C’est la vie…
What a colossal waste of time this is turning into. So I tried to undertake what I hoped would be a pretty insightful look at the new X-Men movie, and no two ways about it, it goes terribly, terribly wrong. I don’t know if it’s the knock on the head I took the other day or if I frankly just suck at writing now, but it came out disastrously. My organization was messed up, I was slipping far too often into academic doublespeak (really hard to untrain yourself from that, apparently), and I just kept writing and writing under the assumption that if I wrote more it would somehow come out all right. Well, it didn’t. But I figured I’d put it up anyway, so I wouldn’t feel as if my efforts were completely in vain. But, of course, WordPress makes nothing easy, so my formatting is screwed up, it’s not letting me add pictures like I want to, and the end result is just an ocean of pretty underwhelming text. But I throw it up anyway, thinking, “What the hell, it’s a maiden effort. I know what’s wrong with it, but maybe someone might find it’d good ideas (of which I do feel the are some) insightful.”
You’d think I kicked the Pope or something.
I started this blog for two very simple reasons: practice and discipline. You know, if nothing else, writing what I did, disastrous though it was, I still managed to force myself into bringing something to completion, and nowadays that’s important to me. It was also a way for me to say the things that I want to say, because there’s few places for me to say them. That’s why it’s antiscribe – it’s antithetical by nature. I’m not honestly not even looking for an audience. I’m just looking to speak, because I’ve felt voiceless for far too long.
But just getting slapped around and flamed so thoroughly within just twenty mintutes of posting, with one person even accusing me – erroneously I certainly feel – of plagiarism – the worst thing a writer can be accused of – I wasn’t looking for this, especially not right now. I can’t find a job, any job, let alone a worthwhile one that will let me make anything approaching a living so I can finally get my own place again. I’m still living with the crushing disappointment of having spent years and what essentially was my inheritance going for a Masters degree that’s not worth the frame I put it in. Thanks to how I was treated in my last relationship, I don’t even much enjoy talking to people anymore, let alone dating anyone. I have no desire to put myself out there so others could step on me just to make themselves feel all sorts of pedantic. I’ve always made it a point to never criticize someone’s writing unless they’ve asked me too. I personally feel it’s violating. I have a novel I’m working on, and it’s sometimes just difficult finding the will to write it based on how nothing in my life ever seems to be worth the journey in the end. Nevertheless, I could have and should have spent the last two days working on that, instead of the monstrosity I wrote for this blog, and I frankly hate myself now for having done this instead.
Which leaves me wondering precisely what the point of this is going forward. Clearly, I need to rethink this endeavor. And I’m not sure I’m just talking about the blog.
Welcome to my Blog…often requested, never completed…until now. Just to explain the name in case people don’t understand it: I’m not anti-writers, since I consider myself one. An antiscribe is like an antihero, someone whose desires, aims, strategies, and methods run contrarion to what is expected and even encouraged. The nomenclature stems from my long history of being unable to conform to the standards of others in my own writing, in ways both professional and personal. Therefore, I never consider myself a scribe…but an antiscribe. And this is my blog, which will likely contain reviews, rants, and various asundry of deep and not so deep thoughs on the many things that interest me, which run the gamut from high art to comic books and from international politics to personal observations about things in my daily life. So enjoy, share if you feel so compelled, and comment freely.