Really sad to hear about the death of Tony Scott. I didn’t know him and have nothing personal to say, but I was a genuine admirer of his films. They were macho — manly — and that in itself made them a cut above much of what comes out of Hollywood.
Many people in the West use the word “macho” as a pejorative. This is because they are self-deceiving knuckleheads. They are kept so safe by (mostly) macho men with guns in the military and our various police forces that they can feel free to pretend they are somehow better and more civilized, doncha know, than their protectors. But the fact is if good boys aren’t taught to fight and win for what’s right, bad boys — from street gangs and Iran and Russia and China — will teach them how to fight and lose. And no, generalizing and excepting the exceptions, girls can’t cut it.
So it behooves an artist to pay tribute to tough guys now and then. Not nice guys who talk tough but the hard bastards who understand that, in certain circumstances, violence is not only an act of love, but the act of love that makes all other acts of love possible.
My fellow ghost story addicts can feed their jones at this cool site called Bxx Haunted. It’s an interactive haunted house with cameras in every room. It’s created by Daniel Knauf, who also created the HBO cult hit Carnivale. Knauf is one of the Hollywood good guys and, entertainment value aside, giving him some eyeballs and support will help him get the funding he needs for more projects like this.
If you prefer, you can also watch Haunted in narrative fashion on YouTube in several segments. Here’s the first. The rest are easy to find, searching Bxx Haunted.
The whole thing is a major ghostly blast. Worth going here.
“When a good movie happens, which it might, on a roll of the dice, once in five years, it’s like this total aberration, a freak of nature like the Grand Canyon, they’re ashamed of it. They can’t wait to remake it in another ten years and f*** it up the way it’s supposed to be.”
That joke, from Lanford Wilson’s play Burn This, sometimes seems like a literal truth, as when 2002′s excellent Spider-Man was remade in mediocre fashion in 2012. But most filmmakers I know acknowledge an unwritten Remake Rule, though perhaps it’s breached as often as observed.
If the unwritten rule could be written, it would go something like this: A film may be remade when it represents a great idea that wasn’t fully realized the first time OR when its realization has become so dated as to have lost its appeal to a modern audience. Classics, no matter what the temptation, should not be remade. If you’re so shallow you can’t project yourself back in time to enjoy Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or All About Eve as is, just stay home and watch Jersey Shore because it turns out you’re an idiot. The classic rule can occasionally be negated by dated special effects, but it usually doesn’t work out. The 1933 King Kong does look a little stagy and dinky now, but it’s still a better movie than any version that followed.
All this comes to mind because I saw Total Recall the other day — I wanted to see Bourne but Recall fit perfectly between two meetings. In my opinion, despite what some critics say, this picture was a perfect candidate for remake. The 1990 version has an excellent script but is weighed down by Arnold Schwarzenegger — whom I like but who is asked here to play an ordinary guy, which is absurd. The muscles, enormous head and funny accent make the whole picture seem sort of outsized and cheesy. What could have been a brilliant Blade Runner-style classic if it had starred Harrison Ford becomes instead a good-but-dated actioner. A perfect candidate for remake.
A reader in Amsterdam wrote to remonstrate with me because my positive review of the film Act of Valor ignored the evil Jew character and thus missed the film’s anti-Semitic message. This is a fair criticism: I meant to mention this scene but, having thought it through to my own satisfaction, neglected to include my thoughts in the blog.
This is a small spoiler. It turns out the Islamist plot against America that powers the movie is being financed, irony of ironies, by a Jewish guy. When I saw this reveal, my jaw dropped and my first thought was: “You have got to be kidding me!” Was the movie selling some sort of Elders of Zion scenario where the Jews financed everything, including the work of those dedicated to wiping them off the face of the earth?
On reflection (and after consulting with the mighty and also all-knowing John Nolte at Big Hollywood), I came to feel that this was not the intent of the film. Rather I thought it was a ham-handed attempt to avoid the appearance of Islamophobia and give the picture some sort of moral complexity. Often, as we know, it’s the person who is NOT bigoted who says the most awkward thing — “Boy, that black gymnast is swinging around like a monkey!” — because he hasn’t got the implied slur in his mind. I believe that to be the case here.
All through the 1980s, feminists called men pigs, leftists called conservatives racists, and columnists openly compared right-wing politicians to Hitler. Then Rush Limbaugh came along and started fighting back, and all of a sudden we started to hear about the lack of civility in public discourse! Civility only became an issue when the left started taking it on the chin.
Likewise, getting offended and demanding apologies has for a long time been the default mode of the left. If you said “Obama’s policies hang over America like a black cloud,” there was a collective gasp. You used the words “black” and “Obama” in the same sentence! You must be racist. Talking while conservative was like being locked in a room with one of those Woody Allen characters who hear the word “Jew!” embedded in the most innocent remarks. The idea was to silence and hobble right wingers by making them worry about everything they said.
Well, sorry, now we have the internet, where we conservatives can point out that the hatefulness and violent anger spewed by the left against anyone who disagrees with them, especially women and blacks, are megatons worse than anything coming from the right. And what do you know? Suddenly, being offended is out of style!
Here’s Bill Maher, writing not long ago in the New York Times: “Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.”
I finally got to see Act of Valor the other day. This, of course, is the Navy Seal action film that stars actual Navy Seals. It’s good! An exciting action yarn with a very intense feel to it. The acting, of course, isn’t first rate, but it’s not bad at all and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Arnold Schwarzenegger was not exactly Laurence Olivier either. Great acting is not what action films are about.
Now, of course, the film is patriotic and has a very intense warrior ethos — that’s part of the pleasure of it, and you have to get your John Wayne on to fully enjoy it. This is no problem for me because I’ve got my John Wayne stuck on with KrazyGlue but I imagine there are some people who have to be in the proper mood. Whatever. The point is, the movie does what it sets out to do, and fans of cool, all-American action movies (like me) will definitely enjoy it.
Okay, so after I watched the film I went on Rotten Tomatoes and checked out the reviews. Viewers gave the film 75% positive ratings. Professional critics gave it 25%.
What??? Three fourths of the people who watch this movie like it, but only one fourth of the critics say it’s any good? How does that make sense? I mean, what is the point of a movie critic anyway? He has a job, right? His job is to tell you whether you’ll like the film or not, no? He’s supposed to tell you whether to plunk down your money for it. Otherwise, who cares what his opinion is?
I like gay people and — let me be frank — hate fast food. But this nonsense about Chick-Fil-A underscores the reason I’ve been hesitant to indulge my natural libertarianism and plunk outright for gay marriage.
In general, I have no problem with marriage for gays, if it comes about legislatively rather than through judicial fiat. I’ve listened carefully to the arguments of several social conservatives of good will who feel that changing the age-old definition of marriage will weaken a principle pillar of liberty. I’m not convinced — not even convinced that the possibility of such a moral hazard is a compelling reason to keep people from doing whatever they bloody well want with their private lives. As for the ideas that being gay is unnatural or a sin per se — that is, a sin whether it does any earthly harm or not — I reject them outright. Homosexuality seems as much a part of nature as left-handedness and is probably much less annoying when using scissors. And if it is somehow offensive to God, that’s His business: I am specifically instructed to judge not in such matters and tend to my own manifold offenses.
My reaction to the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s excellent Dark Knight trilogy is in the Wall Street Journal today:
Murder is the opposite of art: destructive, impoverishing, nihilistic. To discuss the act of a killer as if it had some relevance to a work of culture is to usher the age-old enemy of mankind into one of his citadels. So I will pass over the massacre in an Aurora, Colo., theater in a silence respectful toward its victims.
But the film that was playing in that theater—”The Dark Knight Rises”—deserves to be loudly celebrated as a masterful and stunningly honest work of Western popular culture.
The movie is a bold apologia for free-market capitalism; a graphic depiction of the tyranny and violence inherent in every radical leftist movement from the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street; and a tribute to those who find redemption in the harsh circumstances of their lives rather than allow those circumstances to mire them in resentment.
You can read the rest here.
Cross-Posted from Klavan on the Culture
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Back in the 1980′s, when I was a starving young writer, there was a magazine called Twilight Zone, after the old Rod Serling TV Show. It had cheesy covers and a lot of shudder-making TZ fanboy stuff. But it also had a monthly selection of some of the best new and old fantasy/horror fiction available. (I first read Stephen King’s terrifying “The Raft” in TZ, though it may have been a reprint, I don’t know.) The magazine was edited by a guy named T.E.D. Klein.
I went in to the magazine offices once, looking for work. T.E.D. himself came out and sat with me in the lobby and spoke with me. He seemed a shy, intellectual type, five or ten years older than me. He was very kind and took a good deal of time with a dude who had literally walked in off the streets of Manhattan. I didn’t get a job, but I always appreciated his decency.
Klein went on to write several well-regarded horror stories of his own and a well-regarded novel called The Ceremonies, which came out around 1985. One of his spooky stories, The Events at Poroth Farm, is included in the American Library’s 2-volume anthology of Fantastic Tales edited by Peter Straub. I reread the story over the past weekend. It’s wonderful and scary as hell. (The pamphlet at the link costs over 200 bucks! but you can get the story in the H.P. Lovecraft mega-pack for .99 cents at the I-reader store.)
Klein was rumored to have another novel in the works but it never showed up. In fact, he wrote very little else after the ’80′s, as far as I can see. His Wikipedia entry says he suffered from writer’s block. He seems to still be alive. Does anyone know what he’s doing these days?
The lovely Chris Niles is a long-time and very dear friend of mine — and an extremely talented colleague as well. Recently, after 21 years of wedded something-or-other, Chris’s husband walked out on her. This, of course, was extremely bad news for Chris, but she’s making it sort of interesting for the rest of us with one of the best written blogs I’ve ever seen. The blog is called WHATSTHATYOUSAYMRSROBINSON and, largely through a series of character sketches, chronicles Chris’s completely unsavory and probably unwise attempts to deal with her heart-wrenching situation. Well, as I say, she’s a friend of mine, so unsavory and unwise come with the territory. Here’s a sample:
The Jamaican. The worst flirt in the Western Hemisphere, hands down. Well over six feet tall, good looking, and with a voice like Barry White overdosed on Valium, the Jamaican is the mayor of my local bar. He likes the corner stool, next to the door, so he can ogle the women and size up the men.
The Jamaican’s sex appeal is weapons’ grade; this point cannot be over-emphasized. But, bless him, he doesn’t sit back and let his considerable physical assets do all the work. Did I mention that he’s the worst flirt in the Western Hemisphere? Hold onto that thought and imagine being steamrollered by charm. You’re so steamrollered you cannot think straight; you can’t even remember your own name. Normally I have the resting heart rate of a coma victim. About three feet from the Jamaican it began doing a fairly solid impersonation of a jackhammer.
There didn’t seem to be any doubt that it went both ways. Perhaps it was the fact that he liked to sit so close to me our thighs touched. Or the time he put his hand to the clasp of my bra and said, grinning. “When I was 22 I could have got that off with one hand.” For a few seconds—I was a little slow on the uptake because I was trying to recall my name—I thought he might actually do it.
If the above horrifies you, you can stay here with me — I couldn’t remove a bra with both hands and a power drill. But if you love good writing, sardonic humor and post-separation insanity, I really recommend this. It’s great stuff.
[This post contains spoilers to Safe House and Three Days of the Condor.]
In Safe House, Denzel Washington plays a super-spy traitor on the run from a team of killers. In U.S. custody, he becomes the charge, enemy and mentor of as-spy-ring spy Ryan Reynolds. As crappy, mindless entertainment, the movie succeeds on all fronts: it’s entertaining, mindless and crappy. Its cast of high-level professional entertainers squeezes every drop of joy it can out of the ridiculously violent and predictable script. Denzel Washington must be able to play these sorts of characters in his sleep but, to his credit, he doesn’t; he’s classy enough to show up for the paying customers and do it right. After all, that’s part of what a movie star does — deliver his familiar personae well.
What makes the film really second rate though is the fact that it’s so incredibly derivative. “This isn’t so much a movie as a list of cliches,” as my pal Christopher Tookey wrote in Britain’s Daily Mail. It seems to lift scenes from every spy movie ever made. Stylistically, its main source is The Bourne Identity. Content-wise, it’s 1975′s dated-but-still-classy Three Days of the Condor — it’s virtually a remake, hold the class.
But just as interesting as the similarities between Safe House and Condor are the differences, the marks of thirty plus years. In both pictures, a low level CIA agent is isolated and on the run after his unit is brutally exterminated. In both pictures it turns out the bad guy is within the agency itself. In both pictures, the resolution includes our hero leaking the agency’s misdeeds to the world. In Condor, Robert Redford spreads the word through the New York Times, which was a newspaper in those days. In Safe House, Reynolds gives the info to CNN, from which I guess it then leaks out to a news agency and becomes public.
But here is what’s different. Although Three Days of the Condor is a stridently left wing movie, its hero is a patriot. The stateless assassin on his trail tells him to abandon America and work only for pay: “It’s almost peaceful. No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause. There’s only yourself.” But Redford replies mildly, “I was born in the United States. I miss it when I’m away too long.”
“A pity,” says the assassin.
“I don’t think so,” says Redford.
As love of country goes, it’s not much, but for sophisticates like the LA-New York set, it’s downright George M. Cohan.
Traveling in New York — and blogging on the fly — I read an interesting book review in the Wall Street Journal this morning: Newsday’s Daniel Akst reviewing Sincerity by R. Jay McGill Jr. — a book about how the idea of sincerity developed and whether honesty is good for society and, if so, how much.
The review put me in mind of the old John Wayne western Hondo — a 70-minute long adaptation of a Louis L’amour novel, sort of a rip-off of Shane but well worth while all the same. The thesis of the story is that Wayne, a friend of the Apaches, has learned their highly truthful ways and essentially has to learn to tell the “noble lie” in order to join white civilization. Wayne laments the death of the more honest Apache way: it was a good way, but its time has passed. Compare this with Fort Apache, also with the much-maligned-by-leftists Wayne, in which the Apaches, led by Cochise, come off as peaceful and reasonable people abused by dishonest U.S. government agents and by Henry Fonda’s martinet cavalry leader.
In both these excellent films, we see a nuanced portrayal of Apaches and white men both. No one has a monopoly on decency. Red and white humans are both humans, given to corruption and war.
Now read these remarks by anthropologist Keith Basso in the Wikipedia entry for “Apaches:”
Of the hundreds of peoples that lived and flourished in native North America, few have been so consistently misrepresented as the Apacheans of Arizona and New Mexico. Glorified by novelists, sensationalized by historians, and distorted beyond credulity by commercial film makers, the popular image of “the Apache” — a brutish, terrifying semi-human bent upon wanton death and destruction — is almost entirely a product of irresponsible caricature and exaggeration.
Excellent blog-o-person Christian Toto — by way of two of my favorite sites, his own home at Big Hollywood, and Newsbusters — brings to light these really kind of pitiful comments from New York Times movie reviewer Manohla Dargis. Speaking with fellow (and far superior) critic A.O. Scott, Miss Dargis says this about this summer’s patriotic mega-hit The Avengers:
The world has moved on — there’s an African-American man in the Oval Office, a woman is the secretary of state — but the movie superhero remains stuck in a pre-feminist, pre-civil rights logic that dictates that a bunch of white dudes, as in “The Avengers,” will save the world for the grateful multiracial, multicultural multitudes. What a bunch of super-nonsense.
Now most of us don’t turn to movie critics for wisdom, so it may be unkind to expect Miss Dargis to do much more than parrot the rote, conformist wisdom of the intellectual bourgeoisie of her time. This sort of thing is, after all, just the sort of post-modern Babbittry that has transformed Times culture reporting from an essential to an irrelevance. Miss Dargis has a job to do and I assume she’s in tune with her Timesean masters when she praises bad movies like Hoover because their ideology fits hers and attacks a fun summer picture like The Avengers because it doesn’t represent some correct racial and sexual mix or whatever. So what? If a critic is a lockstep leftist and there’s no one around to hear her, does she even make a sound?
So rather than reassemble what’s left of the poor girl after Toto got through with her only to rip her to pieces again, I’d like to point out that there’s plenty of this sort of thinking on the glorious right as well. One ideology is as small as another in this regard, and there are plenty of good folks I know who can’t enjoy a book or film unless it praises God or country or Mom’s apple pie (which is, admittedly, extra special good). It’s actually a rare critic who, like Big Hollywood’s John Nolte, will praise a work of art even if he finds its ideology foolish. But then Nolte has a big brain. It’s his wife’s, but still…
And look, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying art and entertainment that comfortably reaffirms us in our world view. If it’s good stuff, it’s good stuff. Art is meant to be a delight before it’s anything else. But there’s plenty of good and delightful work that goes against everything we feel to be right and true, and I think by immersing ourselves in its vision unafraid we actually benefit, sharing someone else’s view of life for a period and expanding our own. This obviously isn’t going to happen to the goose-stepping Miss Dargis, but for the rest of us — I don’t think we have to feel that our essential values are so fragile that a touch of disagreement will shatter them. Rather the opposite. If they really are essential and true, they will withstand the assault of even a great artist’s moral errors and become all the stronger for them.
The great Jewish playwright William Shakespeare knew everything (and okay, not all scholars agree he was Jewish but, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that could explain it!). When Martin Luther touched off the Reformation by hammering his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (next to the “Tear off Number for Guitar Lessons” and “Volkswagen for Sale” notices), he set loose the process that would fragment the authority of moral and spiritual truth. From then on, it was inevitable that men who once took Jesus at his word when he said, “I am the Truth,” would now raise the banner of Pontius Pilate with its proud declaration, “What is Truth?” You may say, hey, that’s not a declaration. Shut up.
Anyway, Reb Shakespeare dramatized the all-too-likely outcome with a little play he liked to call “Hamlet.” Because that was its name. Hamlet, returning from university in, you guessed it, Wittenberg, can’t tell the truth from a hole in the ground. As such, he is perfectly placed to prefigure virtually every stupid French theory that will ultimately grow out of the 16th century’s crisis of authority. Most importantly, he demonstrates the inevitable rise of relativism with his famous pronouncement, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
When Hamlet says this he is pretending to be mad — because Shakespeare understood that relativism is not just madness, it’s make-believe madness because no one who professes it really believes it. And yet many an academic in the centuries to come would say virtually the same words while pretending to be sane.
Enter Roger Kimball. Our brilliant PJMedia colleague and New Criterion poohbah has been exposing the stupidity of relativist thought and defending the verities of western culture at least since his excruciatingly wonderful Tenured Radicals, a book that made such mincemeat of our professoriate it actually made me feel bad for them.
Now, Roger has returned with The Fortunes of Permanence, Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, an exquisite collection of linked essays that pits the wisdom of the ages against the relativist idiocy of the age. The writing’s great, the thought is terrific, the subjects are fascinating and Roger is the best company in the world — even when he’s only there on paper when it’s a lot harder to get him to pick up the tab. Best of all, when you’re reading Kimball, you know you’re getting the thoughts of a man who knows just about everything.
Cross-Posted from Klavan on the Culture.
A group of tough guys led by Liam Neeson plane-crash in the frozen wastes of Alaska and have to try to make their way back to civilization while being harried by a pack of vicious wolves. Let me be honest, there’s virtually no way they could make this movie so I wouldn’t enjoy it. They would have had to do something utterly childish, despicable and self-destructive like, I don’t know, include a shot of George W. Bush’s severed head on a pike, to alienate me from a story that — as a lefty friend said to me, rolling his eyes — “sounds right up your alley!”
But hurrah, they didn’t ruin it. The film is everything it oughta be and more. It’s tough, exciting and full of the sort of macho wisdom about struggle, strength, leadership, life and death that Hollywood seems to have all but forgotten. There’re no women who unrealistically prove themselves to be as tough as the men. There are no speeches about how wolves are really nice and only harm you if you drill for oil. There are no sub-plots about tolerance. In fact, there’s no tolerance at all — these are men, after all! There’s just gritty, exciting, bloody action punctuated by more or less realistic reflections on what matters in life.
Neeson is his usual great self, but kudos especially to director Joe Carnahan who has been going after the testosterone-fueled set with fun but not-quite efforts like Pride and Glory and Smokin’ Aces. This time he hits the target. Makes me look forward to his upcoming adaptation of Mark Bowden’s excellent book Killing Pablo.
I saw Prometheus the other day and agreed with most of the viewers’ comments I’ve seen: amazing to look at, too diffusely plotted to really smoke, but includes one scene of sci-fi horror bound for the sci-fi horror Hall of Fame beyond a doubt.
But what anyone paying any attention to the dialogue will notice is that the entire film is essentially a meditation on the presence of God and the efficacy and humanity of faith (specifically in Jesus Christ) as opposed to the destructive dead end of scientism, materialism and their underlying nihilism.
These are rich themes for science fiction or any fiction. They bring drama to art because, whether you believe in God or not, French guy Blaise Pascal was right about people having a God-shaped hole inside them (though, okay, he didn’t put it that way exactly). And Leo Tolstoy, in his extremely cool book What is Art?, points out that when the elite lose their faith in God, the arts have nothing left to talk about but ennui and sex — which sounds pretty much like the crap we’ve been watching on screen for a lot of the last forty years.
So the yearning for Christ deepens the motivations and vivifies the scientific curiosity of Prometheus‘s heroine scientist Elizabeth Shaw, played wonderfully by Noomi Rapace. (She’s the Swedish lady from the original Dragon Tattoo movies and makes herself an American star here, I think.) And her ongoing religious clash with Michael Fassbender’s witty and sinister robot, cold at heart and envious of humanity, provides the soul beneath all the big metallic special effects and gives some purpose to the squishy monsters bursting in and out of various people’s various orifices.
If a terrific cast made for a terrific movie, Contraband would be terrific. In The Departed, The Fighter and We Own The Night, Mark Wahlberg has shown himself to be an expert and appealing tough guy actor. And as for Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi — I would watch those guys shoot the phone book. They are so great at playing edgy, sleazy, crazy guys, they fill every scene they’re in with a sense of danger. (If you like out-of-the-way crime dramas and you’ve never seen Foster in Alpha Dog, stop reading this and go watch it.) Even British will-o-the-wisp Kate Beckinsale does a thoroughly creditable job here as a working class American wife. The performances are fun to watch long after the picture runs out of steam.
Which it does about half an hour in. The movie is a remake of a 2008 Icelandic production, and it feels like a foreign film — not in a good way. It tells the story of an expert smuggler trying to go straight for the sake of his wife and kids. But when his brother-in-law gets in dutch with a lunatic gangster, the smuggler has to pull one last job to bail him out.
So far so good, but after that, and for much of the heart of the movie, our hero is pulled passively into various dangers — something that just doesn’t happen in American films and with good reason. Plus, as sympathetic as Wahlberg plays him, the guy is really kind of a stinker. I mean, it was interesting to see him light up with excitement as he re-enters a life of crime after dutiful years on the up-and-up. But when he participates in heists that get law officers killed and makes his pile in thoroughly despicable transactions — I’m sorry, call me a prig, but I’m not rooting for him anymore.
So – the cast will pull you through this but you can do better. Watch Alpha Dog instead.
Cross-Posted from Klavan on the Culture
With the economy tanking, our Constitution in tatters, Europe on the brink of collapse and the Middle East being taken over by Islamists, it’s time to take a serious look at Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Because I finished playing it last weekend. And all that other stuff is, you know, kind of depressing.
The truly amazing moments in this game — even more amazing than anything in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves — come in the playable action sequences that are so close to the experience of being inside a movie that they’re almost like being inside a movie. Escaping from bad guys across a rooftop, running from a collapsing palace, fighting your way through a ship on a storm-tossed sea, battling your way into a cargo plane even as it plunges toward the earth: these sequences look so good and play so seamlessly that they make just sitting and watching actors do the job seem kind of tame by comparison. I loved that stuff and I also loved the new emphasis on Lara Croft style climbing and puzzle solving.
And the reason I loved those things is that, for me, the major drawback to this series has been an over-reliance on massive gunfights. I played this game in easy mode in the hopes it would cut down on the number of bad guys I would have to shoot to get to the next level. Not that I have anything against shooting bad guys, but a few times in this game, as in the one before, I groaned aloud at having to get through yet another gauntlet before I could move on. That may just be me, but I find these massive melees repetitive and boring. They’re a leaden stand-in for truly creative levels.
But there is plenty of cleverness, technical and artistic brilliance and plot to go around here. Good script by talented director Amy Hennig. Excellent acting by Nolan North, Richard McGonagle and Emily Rose — who’s so much prettier than her animated character, it seems a shame to get only her voice. All in all, a very good time, and a reminder that, for all the unoriginal dross in the video game world, the technology and creativity are advancing toward a genuinely new and interactive form of entertainment that’s going to get better and better for a long time to come.
Unless Barack Obama gets re-elected. Then everything will continue to get worse.
The Avengers is a film of shattering emotional impact that will make you rethink the way you view the world and keep you pondering and discussing its insights for days. Oh, all right, I’m joking. But after the first kind of boring ten minutes or so, it was plenty of fun. Best part: the bickering among superheroes with egos as big as their musk-els, culminating in a hilariously random bit of physical business between the Hulk and Thor.
But just because the picture is dopey fun doesn’t mean it’s dopey altogether. In fact, it’s one of the most purposely pro-American, pro-liberty and pro-market films to have come down the pike in years. The villain Loki has come to Earth to enslave humanity, and goes about telling people that slavery is natural and that they will live more happily on their knees. In a clear reversal of the famous paraphrase of Galatians (A book of the Bible. A special Book. Where Jesus lives.), he tells them they will be “freed from freedom.”
When Loki launches an attack on Stuttgart, Germany, the comparison to Hitler is made obvious. “The last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing,” says Captain America, the reawakened throwback to American ideals of the forties. When a female officer tells Captain A that Thor and Loki are gods, he responds, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”
But Captain America needs some help from Iron Man, the delightfully cynical and ironic representative of free market capitalism. Iron Man is selfish and egotistical but also brilliant and ultimately good-hearted. The tension between him (the free market) and the Captain (American ideals) and the resolution of that tension in self-sacrifice and heroism are the emotional heart of the picture and constitute whatever message it has.
Add to that the fact that the representatives of government are idiots and their decisions have to be countermanded at every turn and, yeah, it’s good liberty-loving stuff. And of course, it ends with the earth being destroyed, all the super heroes being wiped out, and no possibility of a sequel ever. Right, right: joking.
Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture
You like movies about gladiators…?
Actually, I do. Is that so wrong??? In fact, Starz’s over-the-top gladiator series, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, was capable of reducing me to an emotional 12-year-old every week. I would stare at each new gore-and-nudity-laden episode in a sort of mindless rapture, thinking, “Look… breasts… sword fights… also breasts…”
Hoping for a similar experience of ecstatic regression, I tried out the recent remake of Conan the Barbarian a few days ago. And let me add that I’m a big fan of Robert Howard’s original Conan short stories, which really are excellent entertainment. And let me also add that there was no shortage of beautiful naked women and good sword fights here as well. But the movie’s a dud. Conan the Disappointment. Not terrible or anything, just sort of flat and ho-hum.
What’s the difference between Spartacus and Conan? It’s the story, brother! In Spartacus—the first season more than the second, but the second too—the writers had a knack for stating genuinely interesting moral dilemmas in terms of sword fights and sex. That’s what hits that 12-year-old spot—because when you’re a 12-year-old… Okay, when I was a 12-year-old, I sort of thought all moral dilemmas should be solved through sword fights and sex. I mean, how cool would that be?
So—in the spirit of the final fight between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in the original Spartacus film—the TV Spartacus would, for instance, show friends forced to fight one another, posing issues of loyalty, duty, survival, etc. It would put people in situations where they had to be unfaithful to their loved ones in order to save their loved ones’ lives. And so on. Silly at some level, I understand, but massively entertaining and involving and… dare I say it? Tons of fun! Which is what I was watching for.
The Conan movie, on the other hand, regurgitates one tired plot point after another. A childhood grudge, a magical sacrifice, a princess who must be tamed and yet who earns the hero’s respect… Really, who cares? Sounds like some producer or executive read Joseph Campbell or some book called “The Eight Essential Plots,” and thought he’d figured the whole thing out. Big mistake.
I wanted to love the Conan film cause I dig this sort of stuff. But if you want to do the sex-and-swordplay thing, you gotta make it matter. You gotta tell a good story.
(Cross-posted at Klavan on the Culture.)