30 April 2010
In honour of the promising new A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) film premiering today, I thought I'd talk a minute about horror. Booga booga booga.
More specifically, in the past decade we have seen some genuinely good innovations in the Horror Genre (The list of good horror is actually more impressive than you'd think - SAW  before it became redundant, The Mist , Trick 'r Treat , The Descent  and The Host  are my quick Top 5, not to mention the swelling of zombie films, both superfluous, innovative and bizarre). But it has bothered me that among this usual crop of pretty scary shit has also come this needless outpouring of re-makes, re-visions and re-hashings. This week's revival of Freddy Krueger is really no different.
This all started in 2003 with two big horror re-treads. The first was Producer Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Platinum Dunes was formed, apparently, for the sole purpose of updating slashers from the 70s and 80s for a new audience today, essentially going for kid's wallets who want to watch Jessica Biel killed by a maniac instead of some unknown chick from the 70s. I can't really figure out any reason for these remakes, I mean, the 2003 TCM was actually pretty decent, and it did well in theaters (hence the many more to follow), as was The Amityville Horror (2005) (which also showed some of the great range of Ryan Reynolds) but it's not new innovation. Yeah, the final scene of Leatherface waving the chainsaw around the Texas fields in horrific glee is iconic - it was iconic thirty years ago. Hi-Def icons are still the same icons. I'd rather praise something like Trick 'r Treat with that new creepy pumpkin-headed kid as generating new horror iconography as well as freaky ideas that push the limits of taste. This is what true horror is supposed to do - one of the scariest parts of the original TCM (1974) wasn't Leatherface hitting that pothead dude on the back of the head with a hammer; it was Leatherface pulling him behind that door. That creepy unknown (On that note I might give a shout-out to Paranormal Activity  here which actually has defied almost everything I've admonished about this decade).
forced for aesthetics) and struggled to find that audience who reveled in its crudliness while simultaneously stunned by its real disturbing imagery. Re-made horror from Platinum Dunes has big budgets, big casts and a proper establishment behind them. This takes us out of the horror rather than assists our disbelief. We're at a point where we've become too inoculated with CGI to bother questioning how an effect was generated. It puts you more in the scene to see a bloody claw burst through someone's chest in 1984 with the knowledge that any possible effect was done practically.
Now I know that many (not all) directors, Michael Bay in particular actually, are still a fan of practical Tom Savini-style gore. This doesn't take away from the clean film stock, professional editing techniques and score that also lifts these films into a more professional echelon which also dilutes their real-life stunning power.
Now, let's focus on our friend, Frederick. I think it would be interesting to see a film play with the Oneiric quality of film like the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise could do. The other film from 2003 that mostly caused this trend and leads more directly to Freddy is what I believe to be the very underrated Freddy vs. Jason (2003). For one, it beats the hell out of AVP (2004) and has enough of both characters mythos and iconography to be pretty satisfying, the most kills of any other Freddy or Jason film and actually gives a winner (This could be argued, although I'll say that Jason's full emergence from the water gives him the win - Freddy is just a smirking bastard head at this point - c'mon, neither of these characters can really be killed). Sure a lot of the plot is retarded and some of the actions of main characters is constantly questionable, but does this really matter in a Freddy vs. Jason film? Fuck no. That chick's got big tits!
At any rate, Freddy vs. Jason certainly increased some interest in bringing these legends back to the screen. The Elm Street remake in particular seems interesting to me because of the classic nature of the main Killer. There's really not much to the character of Leatherface or Jason or that pissed off Miner-dude from My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009). That is to say, recasting them isn't messing too hard with an actor who became iconic in the role.
Freddy up to this point, even at his worst, had always been played with a sneer and grin by Robert Englund. It's a Shatner-like dominance of a role, and Jackie Earle Haley isn't just putting on a mask and glove to take over this character. This elevates the quality of the character both twenty years ago and today. We should examine the quality of this remake very closely, because it's not as easy as simply updating all the pieces to the modern day and swapping spooky masks. There's a lot of personality at work here, a lot of subtext and nuance. Sure.
Anyway, it's important to remember that remakes actually CAN be better than the original, but this is of course the exception rather than the rule. These contemporary Horror Icons in some way deserve better than these retreads (maybe not really). It's a signifier of our regurgitive culture that imitates rather than innovates. The development of the slasher genre in the late 70s and 80s speaks to a lot of what those societies feared (The 70s fear the excesses of counterculture, the 80s the invasion of our most private places [summer camps, dreams, etc]). These films were a commentary on popular culture when they came out - to simply remake them now is a commentary only on our repetitive, impulsive culture.
Which in itself is interesting, but a sore subject for another post.
Go be scared.
28 April 2010
I felt like with recent events this post has become necessary. While a few weeks ago I similarly described the downfall of NBC's The Office, I believe the last few seasons of South Park have been indicative of its decline, or at the least, a shift in tone and subject matter.
Let me back up. I want to be clear that I adore South Park. The show currently has more seasons in its Prime than The Simpsons and has not only infiltrated Pop Culture for the past 14 years, but has been able to grow and adapt, evolve as culture shifts. It reminds me of how Weird Al Yankovic has had a career longer than some of the artists he's parodied. His style never goes out of style. They just make fun of everything that's current so as long as current shit is still stupid.
In the past couple seasons though, it seems like South Park's targets have become more and more desperate and arbitrary. It's important to note here that I'm not trying to say that the show is any more ridiculous or that its celebrity mockery is grown outdated or tired. It's just that I perceive that some of the angst has lost its focus.
Let's start with a couple episodes from Season 13, which shows a pretty clear ascension to what I'm talking about. I'd start with a critique of "The Ring" (S13;E1) along the lines of an easy target. It reminds me of purportedly hilarious Eminem songs making fun of Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian (A possible R.I.P. to Bret Michaels in a few days by the way - yeah this video will be timeless...) They're not really on the same level, it's like "What are you doing, dude? Who cares about that?" As I mentioned here, however, "The Ring" actually also addresses some serious concerns about a substantial demographic - its power to consume as well as overt corporate manipulation of this power. Thus, the episode is lifted as probably one of the best of the season. Let's move on.
"Fishsticks" (S13;E5) was very funny, but its target seemed pretty arbitrary until the whole Kanye-Taylor Swift debacle. Yeah, we need to remember that "Fishsticks" came out BEFORE everyone else (including Obama) realised Kanyeezy was a jackass. So good foresight on Matt and Trey's part. We move on to a much weaker later half of the season where almost every episode seems strangely misplaced. "Dead Celebrities" (S13;E8) should have come out during the summer to be more effective (during South Park's hiatus), and "W.T.F" (S13;E10) is a clever observation but also could be attached to any zeitgeist of the past twenty years. It's making fun of a constant part of pop culture that's always around to mock. South Park, based on its style, production and precedent needs to either feed off extremely current events (literally week of) or create its own twisted mythos (see "Imaginationland [S11;E10-12]) to supplement its canon. In any other fashion (that is, shooting for and missing zeitgeist), South Park fails.
Now we get to probably the two most eyebrow-raising episodes of the season. "Whale Whores" (S13;E11) and "The F Word" (S13;E12) feel like two subjects Matt and Trey felt like addressing that they try to get their viewers on board with humiliating, but our ire just isn't that deep. For instance, EVERYONE hates Paris Hilton (S8;E12), hates Ben Affleck (S7;E5), hates Crab People (S7;E8), but who really has a serious problem with that fat dude from Whale Wars? I mean...who cares? It's not that big of a deal within our Pop Culture to give a treatment as brutal as they did to Tom Cruise (S9;E12). I mean, I guess Harley riders are kind of irritating for the few seconds as they drive by but devoting an entire episode to a complete derision of their entire culture doesn't seem like it was worth South Park's time. The gripes seem forced and arbitrary (regardless however, "Whale Whores" will always be remembered for Cartman's rendition "Poker Face" [actually also slightly off zeitgeist, GaGa was in the middle of "Paparazzi" at that point). We can even treat "Dances with Smurfs" (S13;E13) as hitting a bit too early for people to be familiar with AVABAR (2009).
So the past two weeks' episodes were really the catalyst for this post. Season 14 up to this point had been very strong and included a collection of instant classics ("Medicinal Fried Chicken [S14;E3] is merely a succession of absolutely brilliant moments and "You Have 0 Friends" [S14;E4] has that perfect South Park ability to sum up entirely the idiotic experience of a huge part of our culture - which is also important to note that Facebook is a huge part of Zeitgeist right now for everyone who is older than 27 and younger than 17). The production and airing of the episodes "200" and "201" (S14;E5-6) were an absolute delight. The creators very deftly summed up a lot of their past ideas without a hokey clip show and the ending gag is simply awsome.
I take exception to the message, however. I don't think it's that important. The blatant hypocrisy is evident. From Mohammad's prior appearance in "Super Best Friends" (S5;E3) (which by the way, is on its fucking Wikipedia page, and you can also see here, here, here and here) to Buddha's coke and Jesus' internet porn, we are hit over the head with the purpose of the episodes. In fact for the most part the entire purpose seems to be call back every single real-life celebrity the Duo has ripped apart before and demonstrate that they've done worse to just about everyone on earth besides Mohammad. I get that. But is it really that big a deal that they can't rip on (or show) Mohammad? I don't understand their need to push that envelope. It's not even pushing a violent or sexual envelope but one of free speech.
But is it really? There have been many other shows coming to South Park's defense but I won't. This post is going against a lot of what I believe, and for one I think it's absolute bullshit that Comedy Central censored the majority of "201." The best thing that could have happened had the Network shown Mohammad is that Matt and Trey would have demonstrated the success of Free Speech in the face of another religion's sacred belief. This isn't outrageous, they've reworked a lot of sacred beliefs. The worst thing that could happen is that someone dies. Possibly Matt and Trey. Is Free Speech worth death? Many would say "Fuck yeah!" and normally I would as well, but it just doesn't seem important in this situation. There's no conscious need to show Mohammad other than to advance their point about Free Speech. Matt and Trey are utilizing the Prophet only for their own agenda, which again I can't figure out their consistent need to push the envelope. It's not always necessary to make great art.
This seems to me more of a case of out-of-control media egos than a part of true patriots fighting for free speech. This point seems more relevant when I look at Season 13 and see how more than making good points and lampooning celebrities who needed taking down, they moreover merely went after the few who irritated them personally. In fact, I believe this was foreshadowed by "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" (S14;E2) in which the most foul, disgusting book in the world is also considered its greatest (although the creators DO explicitly state the grotesquery means nothing - not unlike The Beatles attempts to avoid deep analysis [Read this book for more on that]). Still, there are more cases of Ego, writing desperation (attacking the Kardashians is like shooting already dead fish attached to the end of your gun) and self-importance within this and Season 13 for me to disavow "201"'s importance. I of course disagree with censorship, but this is cable TV. It kind of sucks, but you can't have live-action penetration, either. It's just the way it goes. It is a shame though, as it seems like they've reached their ceiling. Comedy Central has never censored something like this before, it's hard to figure out where to go from here. Make a movie, make a DVD, make something where you can show what you want. As long as someone else is running the show, you aren't going to have complete control over your work.
So quit yer bitchin'.
Tonight at 10:00 EST on Comedy Central - what's next?
27 April 2010
Last weekend I posted some of the best songs to play to get pumped for Summer. Everyone had a lot of fun. Summer '010 is fast approaching though, and its got its own cadre of songs that are about to assault the senses in order to vie for the Coveted Crown, King of Summer Jam '010. There's a few preliminary candidates that I think (and hope) have potential which I'll describe for you now:
A lot of these songs are overplayed already and so may fade quickly by the time we get into full beach and bang mode for the Sunny Months. Others are just emerging or have some hook that could guide them to Summer Stardom. Let's begin with another track from Last Summer's Champion:
Black Eyed Peas - "Imma Be"
This song is so stupid. It's just stupid enough to catch on really well just like "Boom Boom Pow" did over the first half of Summer last year. Also, what the hell is it with these artists and really long, moronic videos lately? I can't describe how dumb this is. It boggles my mind, I didn't even want to embed it and waste your time here, just take my word for it instead of watching it. For some reason the band is arguing about becoming Robots, and then in a motorcycle crash Fergie dreams they ARE Robots, I don't know, I can't figure this shit out. All I know is that this is the perfect song to use for Jerry Seinfeld's next animated movie but no one has made a good OAV for it yet. This comes close enough. Anyway, it could very well be a champion, stay tuned.
La Roux - "Bulletproof"
This video also greatly angers me. She seems to want to take all the awful parts of the 80s that were left out of Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), CGI it up and smother it in a good coat of queer. She also looks nasty, but not in an ironic Lady GaGa way. The song's alright and its nostalgia-factor should be a plus with hipsters and college girls alike. By the way, among recent songs named "Bulletproof," Raheem DeVaughn takes the title.
Spose - "I'm Awesome"
Yeah, this song should fill egos enough to catch on. It also mentions Facebook a lot, is catchy as hell and has this whole Asher Roth feel that was immensely popular this time last year. It's just too full of youth zeitgeist to be ignored for that much longer. It's also got enough irritating postmodern irony to appeal to a wide generation of poser mobile-phone iPad users. Do I generalize enough? Hopefully enough to catch what will catch on, this kid is small right now which is a plus, people think they're into indie shit when they recommend him, no video yet that I can tell but enjoy (or don't) the song here.
Rihanna - "Rude Boy"
Suddenly this song is everywhere for some reason. It might not reach the ubiquitous status of "Umbrella" from 2007, but it's done pretty well so far. Not as great a song as Hard was earlier this year, but her fashion is still equally retarded. The only thing that will stop this track from being a serious contender is that it's broke just a bit too early, its popularity won't last through the hottest months.
B.o.B. ft. Bruno Mars - "Nothin' On You"
This video is actually pretty cool. Like "Rude Boy," this song is everywhere already, although it's actually a good song so I don't mind it as much. So far. I mean, c'mon, it references Nintendo 64, you gotta love this track. It's a very smooth, haunting song in some parts (I'm picturing the "oooh oooh ooohs" in the background), and reminds me of either a Drake or Jeremih song from last year but with a lot more class. I'd like to see this do even better, but chances are it won't.
Lady GaGa - "Alejandro"
This song is more out of place than Christina Aguilera singing in Spanish. But it's GaGa, it's about guaranteed to be a hit. Of all the songs here, this would be my pick for King of Summer Jam 2010. It's got that Mexican Flair that begets sweaty heated balls, a smooth beat, GaGa's silky vocals and immense popularity and virtual control of our American Pop Music Zeitgeist. She's coming off her two biggest hits, "Telephone" and "Bad Romance," and this song is superior in every way to both of those. It was sent out to Radios about a week ago, so its timing is perfect. Everything is stacked in its favour, we'll see if people catch it right or are suddenly sick of hearing nonstop GaGa on their stations.
Gorillaz - "Stylo"
That is not "Stylo," but it's got as good a chance as already-released "Stylo" to become a great Summer Track. Plastic Beach is one of the greatest albums any band has released this decade (or last decade), and the direction in which Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett are taking this fake band is pretty interesting. Personally, Gorillaz are one of my favourite bands and one of the few bands for which I own every album (I'd say Beach edges Demon Days...barely). So I'm pushing hard for "Stylo" to rock it out but if not an even more Summer-y Song, "Superfast Jellyfish" drops as a single May 9, but you can of course listen to it above. They're actually saving the best song on the album, "On Melancholy Hill" for a release later in 2010. Have a listen and change your life. Anyway, I've heard some radioplay of "Stylo" already so that has a good chance of catching on, but likely not to an extant as some of the others on this list. It should be reminiscent of a "Know Your Enemy" from Green Day last year or a "Violet Hill" from Coldplay in 2008. The best rock track of the lot for summer...but it won't see airplay over the GaGa.
So that's what I've got. Next week with the start of the Official Summer Movie Season (that is with the first release of a bloated blockbuster tentpole pic, Iron Man 2), we'll start tallying and figuring out which song will rise to the top as King Summer Jam of 2010. Stay tuned, dear readers, stay tuned.
24 April 2010
Summer is fast approaching, and with only two weeks now until the launch of the Summer Movie Season with the premiere of Iron Man 2, and a lot of fun College breaks coming up, it's time to get into that spicy sunny mood. There are a few songs I feel are appropriate to get into a good Summer mood, which I would like to share with you today. Some of these are just staples of their respective summers which cause those memories to come flooding back, others just tend to have some intangible summer-y feel. Sit back, crack a brew and enjoy:
The Beatles - "Here Comes the Sun"
The night after a tip drill (keep reading if you don't get that yet), there's nothing like a summer sunrise and hungover morning like some George Harrison. Perfect for this time of year, this song reminds us of the warmth to come after the dark, shitty winter months (also foreshadowing the band's break up). It's a restrained, relaxed song best for those lazy summer days in between the Pop Chaos. Enjoy this 41 - year old song with Scotch blended the same year. Or maybe more recently, I don't care.
Sublime - "Badfish"
There's a lot of good summer Sublime songs but I think "Badfish" is the most tropical. In fact, almost all of Sublime's most popular songs were released in the Summer Season, and this one from '92 is no different. It's a classic chill-on-the-beach track with a mellow drawn out rhythm. Sublime is such a party band, any of their music should be an instant drinking throwback. Put this track on at the beach or chillin' on the porch grillin' some lunch with some cold Coronas. Classy.
The Allman Brothers Band - "Jessica"
This is the only video on YouTube to feature the entire Album version...pretty sweet stuff. Anywho, this is such an instant Lazy Summer Afternoon chill song. Its upbeat tempo and slow build lets it linger and permeate its joy-causing for just long enough to be lost in that Summer Sunny Haze. Wonderful. It was released the same summer as "Tequila Sunrise" (More on that one later), what a time to be alive. Best enjoyed with a nice tall cool Budweiser. Long live Southern Rock.
Black Eyed Peas - "I Gotta Feeling"
My ire for this song knows no bounds. Still, it's a good summer song. This is your late afternoon / early evening, get-pumped-for-a-night-of-summer-mayhem song and that is nothing to take lightly. This song was all over Summer of '09 and as stupid as this is I am actually grateful that this knocked out the much stupider "Boom Boom Pow" from King of Summer Jam 2009. It does have a good summer beat and if you're down in the winter dumparoos, this song should remind you of how fun last summer was and the hope for more ridiculous this time around. Best served with a steady steam of Captain Morgan pregame cocktails.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - The Impression That I Get
I'm not exactly sure what it is about this song that screams Summer to me. I think it's some of the upbeat Ska or maybe the Summer of '97 Nostalgia or something else entirely. Either way, this is a great Late to Mid-Evening song to be catered to with Landshark poured over a chilled glass with limes a plenty.
Nelly - Hot in Herre
Flash back to the Summer of '02 and in place of Black Eyed Peas garbage we had this. One of the sexiest videos of all time and one of the most overplayed songs of all time, Nelly's "Hot in Herre" is a must listen for anyone gearing up for summer. I mean, what other season is too hot to keep your clothes on? Fall? Winter? Please. Those are cold seasons. This video is awesome. Black people partying, hot chicks that are too hot to keep their clothes on going crazy everywhere. Almost as good as "Tip Drill." Also as easy it is to find an uncensored "Trip Drill" could not find an uncensored "Hot in Herre," so enjoy in its purest Radio-Only form. Enjoy this at night in the club with some Olde English. Err...make that some Dos Equis.
The Eagles - "Tequila Sunrise"
Here's a flashback far gone to the Summer of '73. A more literal ode to the Hangover than "Here Comes the Sun," "Tequila Sunrise" to me serves the same purpose. Almost ore perfect for droopy campfire nights than eponymous mornings, any song mentioning a favourite Mexican drink belongs on this list. Alternate this song with Jimmy Buffet while drinking alternating shots of Jose and Margaritas full of El Toro. See also, Cypress Hill version. Enjoy your summer.
22 April 2010
A few days ago for some reason a direct-to-DVD movie of one of my favourite shows from five years ago became available for purchase. I speak of the affront to God and Everything Holy, Drawn Together.
Yep. I know nothing about the film other than it features some of the characters fighting a Jewish Robot named I.S.R.A.E.L., who is voiced by Seth MacFarlane. Regardless, the show was one of the most unique in the past decade and not just because of its (sometimes unnecessary) boundary pushing.
Above anything else I always considered the show more of a juxtaposition of Reality Television and Cartoon Tropes (as well as a scathing critique of both) more than a platform to talk about homosexuality and abortion. As there has been some debate around the internets over the validness of genre deconstruction (actually impossible because its recognition begets the establishment of said genre), but for all intents and purposes, Drawn Together blew apart the canons of its source material.
Its hand-drawn animation allowed for a wide array of different styles and representations of many cartoon icons, from the Bruce Timm-esque Captain Hero to the soft-edged Disney knock-off Princess Clara. At the same time each character represented a stereotype from Reality Television. The most obvious being Toot Braunstein the Fat Bitch and Foxxy Love the Sassy Black Chick. Mostly the characters were spins or different twisted takes on their normal tropes. For instance, Captain Hero while outwardly embodying the Superman-Archetype, was continually selfish, destructive and either unable or unwilling to save people. Likewise, Wooldoor Sockbat, while happy and wacky in the first season as the Spongebob-Archetype has some genuinely dark moments in "The One Wherein There Is a Big Twist, Part II" (S2;E1) and "Clum Babies" (S2;E5). "Clum Babies" also represents the much darker, sociopathic nature of a gang of Veggie Tales monsters. Right.
The show represented a lot of stuff coming together. A simultaneous indictment of reality television, cartoon shows as well as much more parts of pop culture, from all kinds of films to actors, controversial issues and a constant stream of intense pain and violence. It managed to steer a wary path through fields of insanity, continually demonstrating both realistic results of violence (people, animals killed from gunfire, grilling, etc) while simultaneously maintaining its strong cartoon reality and mythos, one that most characters actively acknowledged. The show was meta in every possible form, always with a conscious wrongness that made it above and beyond the most offensive claptrap on television. Probably that's ever been on television. There was always this glee that went along with the mayhem.
Anyway, this was one of my favourite shows from the middle of the decade. Best episodes include "Mexican't Buy Me Love" (S3;E6), "A Very Special Drawn Together Afterschool Special" (S2;E13) and "The Other Cousin" (S1;E5). I'm also still looking for a Captain Hero halloween costume, but no luck so far.
19 April 2010
Welcome to Part Dos of Norwegian Morning Wood's coverage of Kick-Ass this weekend. Yesterday I went over some basic stuff concerning the excellent structure of this film, but it's already clear to me this thing signifies much more about our culture than that. There's three big issues floating around here, I'll tackle the least important first:
The Power of New Media:
I've hardly seen another movie like this that really implements the strength of New Media and the rapid dissemination of ideas and memes that the Internet provides. Sure, Funny People (2009) had its share of Facebook jokes, but Kick-Ass far surpasses that. New Media, in fact is vital to the plot in the way that Cell Phones are vital to The Departed (2006). Quite simply, the movie would be impossible even five years ago, or perhaps it's better to say that the rapid rise in fame would be much more of a stretch.
Basically, Kick-Ass earns his fame through YouTube and MySpace. And really with a bit of luck and a hook that's all anyone needs to get fame these days. His video is uploaded via cell phone cameras and his sadistic "unmasking" is streamed live to mass interest. This all provides a sense of intense realism. Peter Parker's rise to prominence in Spider-Man (2002) seems antique and serendipitous by comparison. Kick-Ass continually tends to render the superhero genre silly and outdated, which I'll get to later. Kick-Ass as a hero relies on New Media to fund his career, communicate with other heroes discretely (a good nod to the unreliability of the people you're talking to on MySpace - they could be anyone, baby) and facilitate his popularity and accessibility to the "commoners" (normies). The ease to which this film institutes these factors speaks volumes about our technology-obsessed zeitgeist.
Trends: Fun Gore!
This film along with last fall's Zombieland (2009) are beginning to exhibit a little early-Decade trend here that I'll hopefully be citing in two or three years. I call it Fun Gore. It's the joyful R-Rated Action Comedy full of gory bloody punishments tolled out to all baddies (I might add Hot Fuzz  here too, we're on to something baby! We could add the whole Cornetto Trilogy as precursors). They're some of the best films of the decade and full of blood and a steady line between comedy and drama. More than that, though, both Kick-Ass and Zombieland have this winking attitude towards the audience that never really becomes too obnoxious. They know they're pretty good but don't flaunt their appeal. Both films tend to turn stale genres on their heads, deconstructing them while fulfilling expectations of blood and action. This spin and deconstruction of the Superhero Genre on Kick-Ass' part serves as probably the most important facet of this film. Let's get into it:
Superhero Movies: Killed Off or Revitalized?
There have been a flurry of articles around the InterWebs discussing this subject. While Graeme McMillan at io9 believes this film signifies a culture's tiring of a tired genre, Cole Abaius of Film School Rejects directly counters this sentiment. Go on, read those and come back.
Welcome back. Like I said before, this movie already makes the rapid fame of Spider-Man seem silly. Something like Iron Man's rise isn't as outrageous, but of course, Stark's resources are much more expansive. On the other hand, time may yet make fools of us all. Batman's rise in Batman Begins (2005) may well serve as timeless, that Kick-Ass seems so in our moment may lock the film as just that - always only a 2010 film.
New Media obsession aside, the film assuredly demonstrates a turning point in our treatment of the most successful film genre in the past decade. Keeping with io9, here's a nice little mention of the many ways in which Kick-Ass highlights and makes light of other superhero myths. This film tends to do what Watchmen (2009) tried to do - realistically establish a world with real-life superheros, thus revolutionizing the genre. Watchmen's failure where Kick-Ass succeeded is due to a few different factors. The primary reason is that in all actuality, Watchmen is a pretty bad movie. It's unrelatable from a character-based standpoint, stuck in a now irrelevant time period (with a soundtrack more forced than Hot Tub Time Machine ) and full of elements that are cartoony enough (Think Nixon's wacky portrayal, purposeful or not) to remind the viewer that despite all attempts this is still a Superhero film instead of an anti-Superhero film. Meanwhile Kick-Ass is such a slice of life film, so believable to happen in our world (probably derived from its modest rather than epic scale) that it sits better with audiences to elucidate the silliness of the Superhero formula.
The genre has expanded and become so big, its formula so ingrained in our mindsets, that it was simple for Kick-Ass to blow it up and easily recognizable by audiences that it was deconstructed. It's relative failure at the Box Office however, speaks to the apparent reality that we're not ready for such deconstruction. There are some great ideas at work here though, such as the spin on the Spider-Man catchphrase, "With no power comes no responsibility," as well as Cage basically becoming a Batman with guns. It's funny, the film is more of a mercenary picture, in place of superpowers, the heroes more often utilize firearms over gadgetry (more Comedian than Nite Owl). Cage even relies on the real myth of Batman to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. It's all pretty interesting.
Whether or not any of this stuff sticks over the next couple years of course is the big question. My guess is that it will all come down to the performance of Iron Man 2 (2010) this summer (which undoubtedly will be astonishing). If the superhero genre is indeed dead (or at least mutated), the ebb and flow of interest for Green Lantern (2011) and all the Avengers films (2011 - 2034) should be up for grabs.
Oh well. Go kick some ass.
17 April 2010
There's no better word to describe this movie. It truly is KICK ASS!! There's quite a few signifiers that come along with this film so we've got a lot to get through today. This film means a lot for the zeitgeist, New Sincerity / Post-modernism battle as well as the future of Superhero movies. SPOILERS everywhere, so be warned. I actually think these impressions will be split in twain this weekend, tune in tomorrow for some of my grander thoughts on this movie, today we'll tackle the basic pregame, cast and plot:
Controversial Trailers and Hype:
Weeks before this film even came out there was a good amount of hype and controversy, mostly centering around the actions and mouth of Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). Yeah, any parent seeing this has some right to be upset. Little girl likes killing cunts, what can we do? Anyway, it's emblematic of this movie's complete unwillingness to compromise its language or violence. It's nice to see little girls brutalize the baddies, and Moretz is actually one of the shining lights in the film from an acting standpoint. She exudes the kind of confidence while harbouring a deep fear that makes her role work.
Prior to the release, Kick-Ass was getting a good amount of momentum in the most important media-munching demographics, the 18-34 year old male fanboys. The kind of college kids who eat up this kind of stuff. While this and the controversial language and gore increased its attention, it just doesn't have the kind of mainstream appeal (at all) to do really well in theaters (It seems like I'm right so far, although it could still very well win the weekend and will undoubtedly make its budget back). Basically for those interested, there were some very high expectations of gruesome deaths, unrelenting punishment and little girl swears. There was this idea that this movie could be great. Kick-Ass fucking delivers.
Starring Nic Cage as Adam West...
Let's talk about some of these actors here. First of all, CAGE. Wow. He's pretty insane. It's nice to see him in a supporting role, especially doing so well in a supporting role. I know he gets a lot of shit thrown his way, but there's hardly any better actor that can so balance the sort of calmness, fury and terror he's putting out simultaneously at any given moment. He also gets (SPOILS!) one of the best death scenes I've seen in recent memory, both artistically and emotionally. He basically plays Batman with a gun, which I'll get to later.
The casting all-around is pretty awesome. We get more boob out of Lyndsy Fonseca than Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) but the trade off is a much less funny Clark Duke (wait, who cares, that trade off rules). Mark Strong is getting pretty damn good at playing villains, somehow seeing him chew up the evil scenery hasn't gotten old yet (See also, Surecock Holmes , RocknRolla , Robin Hood , Green Lantern ...holy shit this guy plays bad well!). He's slightly comic, slightly evil, very authoritative, full of gravitas. His son, McLovin is perfect playing a character that I could really only describe as McLovin if he were a Superhero. Actually it's nice to see McLovin stem out a bit from the awkward nerd role and at least have a bit of menace, then slight contrition. His treachery was wisely left out of the trailers and commercials as it adds some needed depth to the characters. Finally, Aaron Johnson in the main role is a good kind of every-kid, with the right amount of naivety, guts, duty and fear to make a good would-be superhero.
Nonstop Barrage of Awesome Shit:
That basically sums up this film. Above anything it's really an origin story, although Kick-Ass claims that real-life superheros aren't formed by spider-bites or parents' deaths or anything, he's not truly a hero until the end of the film. It's when reality starts hitting him, through the lies of Red Mist, then the very real guilt over the death of Big Daddy that turns Kick-Ass into a real hero. Along the way, there's a lot of great moments.
The romance between Kick-Ass and Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) is really well done. Unlike other films in which the nerd somehow gets the incredibly hot girl with minimal effort (AHEM - wtf), it's clear that the only way Katie would let Kick-Ass close is if she thought he was gay. Which is exactly what happens. When he finally hits it it's awesome, his nervous boob-touching is hilarious. Kick-Ass' attempts to defend her honour against some dope dealers is also turned on its head, you have to laud his bravery, but he soon gets in over his head. In all, the romance is much more fluid than some other films of this genre. Basically, more fluid than any other film of this genre.
There's also a great ascension to a very fulfilling climax. There's about three huge fights in a row towards the end, all of which feel like the "final big battle." The movie just keeps going, which unlike some films, is a good thing. Each new fight tops the last one and the film makes sure not to end until all the pain and lose ends are tied up.Every injustice is accounted for and every villain pays. It's not tried or cliché. In fact it spins a lot of action tropes on its head, which is delightful. Kick-Ass loses his first fight, gets a Pyrrhic in his second, gets bailed out by Hit-Girl in his third, he basically really sucks until some help from Big Daddy's expense account. The infiltration of New Media is also very interesting, it's one of the first films to treat the expultation of cell phones and MySpace as vital to the mythic growth of a superhero. More on that tomorrow.
11 April 2010
Today, on the one-year anniversary of the weekend after Observe and Report (2009) premiered (you've seen more desperate post connections), I want to talk about one of my favourite trends in recent comedy. What I call the Good Unfunny Comedy. These are movies so dark they can only be held as comedies through the genre on the label. They are comedies that either have a large dramatic streak or otherwise treat themselves as genuine pieces of cinema and television other than superfluous clowning moments of pop culture. In general these films are very good, but broader audiences pass them up due to their intense niche status.
There have always been some dramatic comedy films or rather comedies that both took their content seriously and pulled off their tone without being pretentious. I'm going after a very particular style of film here that is somewhat hard to pin down. These kinds of comedies do not rely on laugh-out-loud, chuck-a-luck humour to be good movies, instead relying on excellent structure, thinking points and reverberation for their excellence. The first film in recent memory I might place here is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). I'll point to the Coen films Raising Arizona (1987) and Barton Fink (1991) as some later examples. As comedy, their content still went above and beyond even what many dramas could offer in terms of introspection and meaning.
There's a few gradients here. Of all the films I have arbitrarily designated as members of this sub-genre, I'd say Semi-Pro (2008) tries the hardest for the most laughs. There's a lot of genuine problems in the film, but there's also this weird dichotomy between serious characters and dramatic characters. I'm thinking mostly of Monix (Woody Harrelson) and Lynn (Maura Tierney)'s dramatic, passionate affair that is a pretty touching moment until Lynn's husband, Kyle (Rob Corddry) walks in and starts jacking off. The couple's reactions are reasonably startled, but Corddry seems to still be stuck in the lunatic world. The different realities of the different characters are interesting, this film tends to straddle the boundary.
I'll acknowledge two Seth Rogen films here, the aforementioned Observe and Report as well as Funny People (2009). Re-watching Observe and Report again recently has affirmed it for me as one of the best of 2009, if not the decade really (hell, if only for being one of the most divisive among viewers). It's an absolutely brutal film; a Taxi Driver (1976) camouflaged as a Seth Rogen vehicle. Funny People at is core is what its title denotes. It's not a funny film in itself but is more like a dramatic film about naturally comedic characters. In the end these films defy genre and simply exist on their own instead of to be categorized and filed. The Beatles got this message. This well-rounded nature I believe leads to better cinematic experiences.
Adventureland (2009) is an incredible movie that I suppose could be considered more funny than serious, but despite its Superbad (2007)-like advertising, is a teen drama at heart. I especially praise Ryan Reynolds in this film, who plays the most serious character (without a trace of irony) in a role that could have easily been identical to Waiting... (2005).
The two latest Coen offerings also tread this line. Burn After Reading (2008) tends to be more madcap hilarious (despite the abundance of death) while A Serious Man (2009) although near incomprehensible, is a Job-like Comedy that provokes laughter at absurdity rather than pity. Neither are ever haw haw-worthy, but rather draw only a wry smile.
In Bruges (2008) is kind of a goofy action-comedy that always keeps its action very real and dark instead of something like Bad Boys II (2003) which has a similar controlling idea (strange shit happens to two dudes with guns. Alright that may have been a stretch. The point is that In Bruges could have been similar to Bad Boys II if not for variations in tone, scope and sense of plot. These are the key differences in the films I'm describing.)
The last film I'll describe that affirms to this trend is the underseen World's Greatest Dad (2009), starring Robin Williams. The manner in which this film dances between the darkness and hilarity is astonishing. It's the darkest comedy I've ever seen, continuously leaving nothing really under the rock. Again, it's not that funny. It's not a funny film, but it's a good film. It sacrifices humour for something greater. That's the key for all films mentioned today. Comedies don't have to be funny to be good films. Or even good comedy films. Humour is secondary to excellence. Always.
Real quick let's talk Hancock (2008). In its original state, Tonight He Comes, as it was originally drafted named, was much much darker.The first half idea of an alcoholic-hobo-Superman is basically intact (which on its own should have revolutionized our conceptions of what a real-world superhero would be), but instead of the jarring, terrible twist, Big Willie Style should have raped Charlize Theron. Yep. The dark flaws and temptations of an untouchable superhero spun with the awkward laughs of sloppy, drunken crimebusting. Hancock could have been one of the coolest movies of Summer 2008 (Honour instead went to Pineapple Express) and the biggest supporter for my case here, but alas, producers obviously buckled under such a gratuitous plot. Read that above article for some gritty details.
There are a few shows on TV who also walk the line. Rescue Me with Denis Leary on F/X is a very good example of an excellent comedy show with a pervading darkness that verges on pure drama. It contrasts with his earlier show, The Job, which was much more of a comedy, unable to cross into real depth primarily due to its status on Network Television, Denis Leary's pigeon-hole as a comedian and half-hour format.
In addition, on Adult Swim we have both The Venture Bros (which I seem to mention with every post, but for good reason - it's one of the Greatest Shows on Television right now, with features that address anything you can think of) as well as Moral Orel, which had a great ascent from weird quirky claymation parody to arcing, multi-layered character drama with little to no jokes per episode besides its metanarrative.
These movies and shows defy expectation. They laugh at what we find most dark in the world - a trait much sicker than the most sinister dramas. As Mel Brooks famously said, "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die." The comedies that laugh at horror are more horrifying than horror, and when done right, are the most rewarding experiences in cinema.
08 April 2010
I was watching The Office on NBC last week for some reason in lieu of their usual excellent programming block on Thursday nights. Something important dawned on me - this show is horrible. It's not horrible in its writing or humour really, but really the lives of its characters are terribly depressing.
Now before we get into this here I'm going to point you over to a very well-written article that basically covers this identical subject with much more depth and focus. Apparently, this was written months ago and people have realised this for a few years. The writer even chose a pretty similar title. Okay, an identical title. I don't care, going through with my take full throttle baby, let's do this:
Much of the rut The Office is currently spinning its gears in seems to come from the central couple, Jim and Pam. I praise the show for making some bold strokes with its characters at times, but it always seems that folks get back where they started (more for the stability and dynamic of the show rather than allowing organic character growth is my conspiracy theory). We saw this first with the departure ("Goodbye Toby" S4;E19) and then return ("Frame Toby" S5;E9) of Toby to basically no plot growth and then a similar, much more depressing arc for Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer).
Most of the latter part of Season 3 and 4 developed Pam's dreams of becoming an artist, particularly "Business School" (S3;E17) and "Job Fair" (S4;E17). Her lack of confidence but high dreams stand out especially in "Business School" when most of her co-workers fail to show up to her art show and all of them heavily criticise her piece save Michael Scott who is genuinely kind to her. As her dreams develop though, she ultimately fails and returns to her dead-end receptionist job in "Business Trip" (S5;E8). She sells out because of her love for Jim, but more powerful than that is her love of this shitty, insane office and small-town politics over the pressures of living a dream in New York City. Her progress in the Michael Scott Paper Company and subsequent sales position have been a dramatic shift in character, but her office dynamic remains similar, if not actually lessened from her original role as Jim's snickering partner.
Some of the boldest changes in the show have come from restructuring the management of the company, namely Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) and Michael Scott. As Meghan Keane points out in her above article, throughout the first few seasons of the show we are meant to side with Jim as the only sane, rational individual in an office full of nutjobs and others following an easy dead-end career path. We're always led to the fact that Jim is one of the best salesmen in the company and has a lot of leadership calibre (see "Beach Games" [S3;E23] and "The Job" [S3;E25]). When he finally gets his chance at real leadership, however, he is at first neutered as Co-Manager ("The Promotion" [S6;E3]), then continually proves that he basically sucks as both a boss and a human ("Koi Pond" [S6;E8] and "Murder" [S6;E10]). The creators need to understand that Jim is the only one in the office that audience is still cheering for, making him guff and stumble is painful. We have Dwight and Andy for these things. Jim was supposed to be our cool cat. As the boomarang plots of the show continue, however, Jim stepped down from his manager position in "Manager and Salesman" (S6;E16) and is no thoroughly regulated to a dead-end career like everyone else in the office. You still get the feeling that Jim is better than this.
The final other major character that has been recycled and regulated for the favour of the stale progression of the show is Michael Scott (Steve Carell). It was thrilling to see Michael strike out on his own in Season 5 ("Two Weeks" [S5;E21]), but he too ultimately ends up through coincidence and good timing back where he started in "Casual Friday" (S5;E26). This emblematic of a lot of "what-the-fuck-was-the-point-of-that" moments in the past two seasons. In general too, the slow revelation of Michael's defunct hopes and dreams (see "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" [S2;E18] and "Scott's Tots" [S6;E12] among just about anything else) is also growing to be monumentally depressing rather than hilarious.
Now I want to take a moment here and discuss another show that has mades some really bold strokes with its characters in the past season and did not rescind its decisions. I'm talking about The Venture Bros. They managed to shift the flow of the show by taking out, growing and shifting all of its main characters, but always to a positive effect. It also had the confidence to carry out its character shifts and says with courage, "This was the story we wanted to tell at this point and now we're moving on." The Office doesn't have that. It's like they still want salesman Jim vs. Dwight jokes and are afraid of the potential for Upper Management Michael jokes. Venture was brave enough to use probably their most popular character for their fan base, Brock Sampson in only two of last year's eight episodes, and you never really noticed it or missed him because their other ideas were so fresh and organic. But enough of that.
Besides the legitimate life stalls and spinning wheels of the three most major characters, The Office has shown with some of its B-Characters. Andy Bernard, "helmed" (oh ho ho) by the growing talent Ed Helms still has a lot of potential both with his budding relationship with Erin (Ellie Kemper) and for providing a lot of the show's humour through a less-evil but equally stupid version of Dwight. Another character who has had some growth is Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson) who was recently promoted, although has already shown signs of lamenting his blue collar warehouse job. I don't believe it's a coincidence that Ed Helms and Craig Robinson are the only non-Steve Carell characters with good film careers right now. They're the funniest fucks in the show. On mentioning Dwight (Rainn Wilson), his increase in evilhood over mischief and as well as his shifting role as specifically Jim's nemesis instead of just a diehard employee speaks to the show's mired and murky decline.
So while I will contend that the character interactions and writing the past two seasons have remained crisp and original (favourites include "New Boss" [S5;E20], "Cafe Disco" [S5;E27] and "The Meeting" [S6;E2]), the plot arcs, especially when taken in the context of a real office (a criticism I wouldn't give to this program if not for their extreme attempts at realism through its use of diagetic music, documentary premise and contemporary connection to real events and people) have grown increasingly depressing. Maybe that's why Ricky Gervais ended his version so soon. You can watch for yourself tonight at 9:00 pm, or just about every fucking day on TBS the Superstation.
06 April 2010
I didn't see this movie. I probably won't see this movie. But dammit, I feel like talking about a few things, most notably my confidence in writing a thorough Impressions post without a viewing of the actual film, only an absorption of Clash of the Tittans' (2010) effect on our current culture and zeitgeist. Let's list a few bullet important questions to start this off, here we go:
1) Is Sam Worthington an action star?
Gerard Butler or Christian Bale career that skipped all the warm-up and going straight for leading man without ever really earning it. Where was this dude's Reign of Fire (2002)?! I'm not sure who declared him an action hero, but he hasn't proven it yet. He's got the crew cut defiance down pretty well, but being the only interesting part of Terminator: Suckvation (2009) and about three minutes of total live action screen time in AVABAR (2009) isn't enough to sell me that the next decade is going to focus on this guy. The fact that producers and not really audiences have anointed him this huge star without proving it is also irritating (see also: Colin Farrell).
2) 3-D and Unrelenting Grittiness: Capitalizing on Profitable Zeitgeist or Providing Lasting Memories?
Before you think you should obviously assume the former. Clash of the Tittans was shot with 2-D cameras. It was always intended to premiere on 2-D screens. Then, some shit happened in late 2009 / early 2010, namely, AVABAR came out in 3-D and made more dinero than Scrooge McDuck spends on a London prostitute. There's been some other massive successes in 3-D recently, so its a no-brainer that a big action film like Clash of the Tittans would jump on the bandwagon. It's important to note a few things - first that AVABAR's total tickets sold are more akin (apparently the debate is still out?) to the numbers for Return of the King (2003) or Spider-Man 2 (2004) but 3-D and IMAX pushed it over the edge. What surely aided Clash of the Tittan's record-breaking Easter was also the recent large inflation of 3-D prices (about $3 over one week if you didn't hear). The whole point of this rant is a double-standard against AVABAR and Clash of the Tittans. AVABAR was made with 3-D in mind and utilized the technology to advance the story and enhance the immersive experience of watching the grossly emotional film. Clash of the Tittans had 3-D tacked on last minute to boost its cash haul. And blimey did it work.
I'll also mention some of the grittiness here. Clash is a grim film. It's all dirty and brutal and unrelenting. It's obviously much in the spirit of The Dark Knight (2008) and some other very intense action films. Die Hard (1988) was a pretty brutal movie but its sometime lighthearted and always cocksure and sarcastic tone and protagonist bent action films in a new direction with much success. Action movies of the current decade spare no light emotion, seeming to feed of our own economic depression and troubled times (wait - like the 80's weren't?). The grittiness was amped up after TDK's success in order to leap on the grim tale money train. All this shit is temporary, the gritty 3-D will forever be a mark of the start of this decade, but while films like AVABAR and TDK pioneered the styles to acclaim, Clash ends up merely a facsimile, not an innovator. Holla.
3) Are Krakens just he Biggest Badass Bitch or what?
The sweet thing about Clash looks like the effects. It's got some big bad effects that center around the Big Bitch, the Ultimate MoFo of all time - The Kraken. You see a lot more of this sucker than you do in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006), but clearly this thing is the ultimate Beastie. Summoned to destroy cities or towns or boats or whatever, it's like the Devil's Atom Bomb. Go and destroy. It seems to be both more effective and bigger, although inherently less mysterious and alluring than the Pirates 2 Squiddie which is exactly as good and bad as it sounds.
They've both got a ton of teeth, though, which is pretty neat. I feel like Davy Jones' great Kraken-release poem (highlighted for your convenience) is cooler than Zeus just spouting "RELEASE THAT BITCH!" but the simplicity may be more effective in the end. At any rate, these two clearly need a Monster-Mash type dance contest to settle this once and for all.
4) Any Last Thoughts?
Yeah- what's up with this shit and God of War III (2010) coming out at the same time? We've got this weird idea all of a sudden that Greek Mythology is cool, but it's not really Greek Mythology at all, it's just the same Video Game shit applied to a slightly different genre. It's like how Star Wars (1977) is a Western and no one really notices. All this shit are still just shitty Video Game adaptations with different skins.
Anyway, I still haven't seen Clash of the Tittans, but I assume it blows. G'nite everybody!
04 April 2010
Finally a no-brainer. Welcome back, eager readers, to our year-long look at the greatest Holiday Specials on Television, and there's no show that can better celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, Someone's Lord than South Park. No Easter Celebration is complete without the brilliant "Fantastic Easter Special" (S11;E5). This one is no joke, watch now on Easter Morning before you start your day:
You can also watch the episode in its entirety here. You'll quickly find out that every part of this episodes makes it perfect for an Easter Special. It generally lampoons the nonsensical pagan customs of the holiday and in perfect South Park fashion seeks to rationalize our cultural insanity through the outrageous. The Da Vinci Code (2006) parody is spot-on and never seems forced while the Catholic Ninjas fighting Easter Bunnies is exemplary of South Park's typical dual wield of serious violence in ridiculous context.
The perfect South Park episode is actually pretty predictable. It starts with some innocent custom or cultural trend, then very rapidly spirals out of control leading to global conspiracies, mass killings and a small group of children attempting logic in a world ruled by insane adults. "Fantastic Easter Special" holds this formula to a T, but remains interesting through its general silliness, the cuteness of rabbits, as well as the common question we do all ask ourselves - "Why the fuck DO we colour eggs on Easter?!" Its satirical edge seeking on the surface to explain the customs of Easter while lampooning religious conspiracies in the subtext brings the episode up a notch. It's got annoyed mall guys in Bunny Costumes, Peeps and Jesus. You can't ask for too much more in a classic Easter Special.
In some seriousness it looks a bit at the hypocrisy of Christianity, but pointing out Christian fallacies are easier than targeting the Jonas Brothers. Finally, there is one scene that really sends this episode into the stratosphere - I speak of course, of Jesus Christ. Thanks to Nick Donovan, Jesus comes back from his death in Iraq to the coolest scene in Season 11. Watch here:
It's purposely hokey, but I still love every minute of it. He's so cool in those shades! Yeah Jesus! South Park consistently does do a great job, more in recent episodes, of making Jesus the action hero he needs to be. More pieces of media need to feature Jesus with M-60s fighting Aliens. Anywho, the episode is pretty brilliant, has some cute bunny moments, believe in miracles moments and a pretty silly message that actually has a bit of meaning disguised in blood and rabbit poop.