October 31, 2012

Drive Angry

Warning: This entry contains much stronger language than is usually found on this blog. It can't be helped, though; the movie is full of it.

Drive Angry is half of the best B-movie in recent years. I sat aghast, unable to believe grindhouse fair like this got a theatrical release without the names Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez attached. And I know who we can thank for that: His Cageness.

Yes, Nicolas Cage, a man who is no stranger to this blog and will no doubt continue to make appearances in the future. Cage, like fellow scenery-chewers Al Pacino and Richard Burton, are capable of strong performances when reined in. But when left to their own devices, they tend to go so far over the top they end up dodging low-flying aircraft. By all accounts, the 2008 financial crisis is the worst fiscal disaster to strike the world since the Great Depression, but it did have one positive outcome, one small flicker of joy in an otherwise catastrophic event: It left Nicolas Cage so broke that he's willing to appear in crap like this.

And since Cage's name retains a vestige of prestige, his involvement meant Drive Angry was given an Empire-wide release. Yes, this played in cinemas. This is a movie in which a man kills a half-dozen assassins who burst into his room, dodging their bullets while returning uncannily accurate fire with his own pistol, all while still penetrating the woman he's having sex with. This is a movie that has a woman catching her fiance in the midst of an act of infidelity, pulling the naked interloper off of her man, pushing the harlot (still naked) out the front door and into the garden, and then beating her into unconsciousness. This is a movie with lines like:

"Oh, baby. Why don't you fuck naked?" "I never disrobe before gunplay."
"But no one reaches the end and says, 'I wish I hadn't fucked so much.'"
"Between now and then, I'm gonna fuck you up."
"If you try and kill me and dump me in the woods, I'm gonna cut your nuts off."

Most of these howlers are spoken by Piper (Amber Heard), a truly revolting piece of southern white trash that is never once believable even in the context of a violent grindhouse flick. She blackmails her loser boyfriend into proposing marriage by refusing to sleep with him, becomes enraged when she catches him getting some on the side (leading to the beating mentioned above), punches loser boyfriend in the face until he finally loses it and clocks her a good one, and then leaves with Cage, never giving so much as a thought to him ever again. That very night she picks up a guy at a club to sleep with. Sure, it could be some kind of twisted revenge sex or an expression of freedom from a man who was, well, a loser, but the way Heard plays the scene (which is presumably how director Patrick Lussier wanted it), it comes across as just another night out for her, something she does all the time.

As for Cage, he stars as John Milton(!), a man who escapes Hell in a 1963 Buick Riviera in the film's opening scene. How does he do this? Apparently by just driving out the front gate. Yes, it seems Hell has a bridge connecting it to the physical world that any old damned soul can drive across if it gets its hands on a sweet American classic muscle car.

Milton is a bad man who has done very bad things--and I don't just mean writing Paradise Lost--but after his damned soul witnessees his daughter's murder and his granddaughter's kidnapping, Milton busts out of Hell and...um, ends up somewhere in the American South, presumably wondering if he wasn't better off in Hell. He's chasing some men in a truck, and when he captures them, he brutally executes all but one, whom he tortures to discover where his granddaughter is. He learns that a cult is taking her to "Stillwater Marsh, Texas" in order to sacrifice her to Satan, but leaves before finding out where in Texas Stillwater Marsh is, or even what it is! Is it a town, a road, an actual marsh, a neighbourhood? (It turns out to be an abandoned prison.) He does this so that he will need to go into Piper's diner to discover this information and decide to commandeer her 1969 Dodge Charger. I was ecstatic at this new development, because it meant I could spend the rest of the film humming "Dixie" and talking in a redneck accent about how them Duke boys done blowed away some cops and ran over a cultist or two. I was considerably less ecstatic when Piper, who you'll recall was whomped a good one by her fiance (a man she blackmailed into proposing to her, yet!), decides to leave with Milton and so will be in almost every scene hereafter.

Loser boyfriend/fiance is thus left to the tender mercies of The Accountant (William Fichtner), a representative from Hell sent to bring Milton back to its fiery pits. The Accountant is our first indication that the makers of this film really, really love The Prophecy, as Fichtner's performance is clearly a riff on Christopher Walken's Gabriel in that film. Now if you're going to rip off a movie, you could do a lot worse than The Prophecy, and normally bad movies are improved when they copy a good film exactly and usually fail spectacularly whenever they stray outside the bounds established by their inspirations. But in this film, it's the opposite problem. If you're going to make a grindhouse version of The Prophecy, which is apparently what they set out to do, then do it. Have a powerful supernatural being come to Earth and be badass. That's all you need, and the first time The Accountant appears, they almost get it right, making the first words out of his mouth a calm and composed, "Hey, fat fuck." He kills anybody who mildly irritates him, in quite gory ways, where Christopher Walken's archangel Gabriel seemed pained whenever he was forced to use violence. But it turns out the filmmakers copy The Prophecy too much, trying to get serious when a movie like this should never been anything but over-the-top.

If only they had stayed grindhouse and hired the actual Christopher Walken. Then this would've been the most awesome movie evar.

The very Jim Jones-esque leader of the cult is Jonah King, played by Billy Burke. Yes, Mustache Dad from Twilight. *sigh* I can't get away from these people. First Harpo in The Last Airbender, then Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman, and now Mustache Dad in this. Now I just need to see Cosmopolis for the Twilight has-beens grand superfecta! Still, Mustache Dad is the only actor, apart from Heard, who truly embraces the movie's nature. He's suitably vile and disgusting while still being at least a little charismatic, reminding us once again of why his is consistently the best performance in all the Twilight films. Heard isn't great, but all she's supposed to do is look hot, freak out whenever Milton is in danger even though she has no reason to give a rat's ass about him, and say the word "fuck" at lot, all of which she handles just fine. Cage is way too laid back, never once letting loose with his patented crazy, which would've been perfect for a film like this.

A film that, for example, has Heard repeatedly taking punches and kicks to the face throughout the movie without so much as smudging her make-up. Whatever, it's a B-movie, I accept that. But the movie tries to have it both ways, and that's why I said Drive Angry is half of a great B-movie. When it has its characters driving fast cars, punching the bejeezus out of each other, and blowing things up, it's B-movie bliss. But then it wants to be serious, as when it has Heard get believably hurt (by movie logic, anyway) when loser boyfriend smacks her in the mouth early on. It tries to get real pathos out of Cage's suffering in Hell. It has a truly pointless interlude with David Morse as an old pal of Cage's. Now I'm always happy to see Morse, but Drive Angry isn't the sort of movie that should have Morse's gentle, sweetheart charisma and quiet human decency. And movies like this aren't about pathos. They're about catharsis, about bad men getting what's coming to them, dealt to them by other men who are almost as bad but have some twisted sense of morality that allows them bring the pain to people that deserve it in a way that we, the Decent People, cannot.

It's true that Cage gets a nice monologue in which he says the worst thing about Hell isn't your own suffering but that you are forced to witness to the suffering of people you care about while being powerless to do anything about it. So when Cage's daughter was murdered, he, in Hell, had to watch it happen. But this moment, while effective on its own, can't make up for the fact that a scene like this shouldn't be in a movie like this.

Once Cage gets shot in the eye (reportedly the scene that made him want to do the movie), it's all downhill from there. The movie becomes more and more a Prophecy wannabe, right down to the forces of Hell helping the hero against the bad guy because Satan doesn't like what the bad guy is up to. That this particular force of Hell is the Accountant, who earlier in the film told two cops to kill Milton on sight, just makes it even stupider. If he was helping him, why does the movie have him act like he's trying to capture/kill him and return him to Hell? The answer, of course, is the filmmakers thought this would be a neat twist. Instead, it lays bare how confused the movie is about what it wants to be. Piper has known Milton for a few hours, yet she is so dedicated to his cause she murders a cop to protect him and becomes hysterical when he is seemingly killed. The Accountant tells the two cops to shoot to kill when they confront Milton, and later The Accountant kills a bunch of cops to help Milton escape. Milton gets involved in a gun battle while never interrupting intercourse in a hilariously cheesy scene that is completely ruined by a later scene showing Milton's paramour as utterly traumatised by the experience as you undoubtedly would be. There's a reason B-movies don't show this sort of realistic fall-out from their outlandish situations.

You know, people make fun of 1980s action films like Commando for being stupid and illogical, and they're right. Commando is stupid, and it is illogical. Yet it's smarter film than Drive Angry and most 21-century action movies even try to be. In Drive Angry, Jonah King, who has known of Piper's existence for at best a few hours, decides that, rather than keeping her alive so he can "break" her, he'll just kill her. He says this as he points a revolver at her, so he puts the gun down and goes after her with his fists. Dude, you just said you're going to kill her. Why do you need to punch her in the face first? What if you, like, lose the fistfight? Boy, will you have egg on your face when she kicks you in the balls, grabs the gun you so graciously left for her, and empties the cylinder into your face!

Now, a similar thing happens in Commando. The chief villain, Bennett, has Arnold Schwarzenegger's Matrix (yes, the hero's name is Matrix) dead to rights, since he has a gun and Matrix doesn't. But Bennett puts down the gun and instead engages Matrix in a knife fight. Same thing, right? Just as dumb?

No. Because throughout the film, Bennett has been boasting that Matrix is such an elite soldier that only Bennett himself can match him. He sarcastically tells his boss that despite the army of soldiers around him, only Bennett can protect him from Matrix. "Matrix and I could kill every one of [your soldiers] in the blink of an eye," he says. Bennett believes only he is Matrix's equal, in fact his superior, and he never tires of reminding everyone around him of that fact. Bennett is also rather crazy, having no compunction about stabbing a young girl to death or betraying and murdering all of his trusted comrades; it's heavily implied he enjoys killing people. So when Matrix says that Bennett doesn't want to just shoot Matrix dead but to defeat him, to prove he's better--and to kill Matrix in a much more up close and personal way, with a knife rather than a gun--the movie has actually bothered to set this up. You can believe Bennett would want to kill Matrix with a knife, that he would want to kill him in a fair fight, just to finally prove that he's better, as he always thought he was.

There, I said it. Commando, the stupidest movie I've ever seen that I still love, is a smarter movie than Drive Angry. If it had stuck to its grindhouse homage roots, Drive Angry could've been the best bad movie I've seen since The Happening. But then it got a case of Something Important to Say, and now all I have are the broken dreams of what could've been.

October 28, 2012

Twilight: Crazy Talk

Twilight, pp. 136-139.

Bella, becoming enraged with herself for reading about vampires on the Internet, storms out of her house and plunges into the forest.

It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room, researching vampires. What was wrong with me?

Well, your old friend Jake did say the Cullens were vampires, and they certainly are an odd family, and oh yeah, you did personally witness Edward stopping a van with his bare hands. I think Meyer got her characters mixed up. Shouldn't Bella be trying in vain to get other people to believe her? She watched him do something superhuman! I don't think it's unreasonable to do a little Googling.

The next couple of pages are a description of the forest, as Bella wanders in the woods until her frankly unwarranted anger and embarrassment subside. She takes shelter under a fallen tree when it begins to rain and regrets fleeing into the forest, considering she just had a nightmare about vampire Edward that took place in a forest. There's nothing particularly wrong with these passages, except that they're clumsy, again making it seem the book was never shown to a professional editor. Credit where it's due, though: There is one well-written paragraph on these pages. Just one, but hey, that's one more than we've had since Chapter 1:

Here in the trees, it was much easier to believe the absurdities that embarrassed me indoors. Nothing had changed in this forest for thousands of years, and all the myths and legends of a hundred different lands seemed much more likely in this green haze than they had in my clear-cut bedroom.

Not bad, particularly the "green haze" bit. Sure, Meyer misuses the phrase "clear-cut", but what, you expect a writer to be able to use words properly? Geez, you people are so demanding. If you think this writing stuff is easy, where's your bestselling novel, huh?

Of course, Meyer immediately ruins my goodwill with the very next sentence: "I forced myself to focus on the two most vital questions I had to answer, but I did so unwillingly." Um, if you're forcing yourself to do something, then by definition you're doing it willingly. In fact, you could replace "forced" with "willed" in the sentence and the meaning would be exactly the same! "I willed myself to do it unwillingly." Meyer really needs to get a handle on this whole "knowing what words mean" thing.

Bella finally, finally mentions Edward's "impossible strength" as a reason to think he might be a vampire, though I immediately put head to desk when it became obvious she puts "impossible strength" on the same level as "his eyes change colour".

I again listed in my head the things I'd observed myself: the impossible speed and strength, the eye colour shifting from black to gold and back again, the inhuman beauty, the pale, frigid skin.

You know, one of these things is not like the others. If you take out "impossible speed and strength", Meyer is telling me that if I see Winona Ryder wearing coloured contact lenses, I should assume she's a vampire.

I think this goes back to my old hobby-horse of Meyer not knowing her vampire lore, nor making effective use of what little she does know. Observe how Fright Night (the real, Colin Farrell-less one) slowly reveals to its protagonist that Jerry is a vampire. There are plenty of little things that suggest vampirism to one in the know, and with the power of the Internet at her fingertips (on her dial-up modem!), Bella has instant access to all that knowledge. Oh wait, I'm sorry, part of the way Jerry reveals his true nature is by killing people, and since Edward is a Good Vampire (I throw up in my mouth a little every time I have to put those two words together), that's off the table. So yeah, his skin is cold, so he's a vampire. That sure is an airtight case. No wonder Bella doesn't want to tell anyone about her suspicion. (Hilariously, it never occurs to her to talk to Jacob about this, even though he told her that his tribe believes the Cullens are vampires!)

And more--small things that registered slowly--how they never seemed to eat, the disturbing grace with which they moved. And the way he sometimes spoke, with unfamiliar cadences and phrases that better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel than that of a twenty-first century classroom.

Wait a minute, back this crazy train up! I've already mentioned that plenty of kids I went to high school with didn't eat, at least not at school. Once again, Bella went to high school in a major city, and she never knew of any girl with an eating disorder, or a guy who used the lunch period to smoke? And since when was the grace of the perfect Cullens "disturbing"? Bella never indicated anything disturbing about it! And speaking of no indication, what's this about Edward talking like he's from the 19th-century? When did this happen? When has he ever said anything that "better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel"? I think somebody just tried to sneak in a little ret-con. Wait, no, actually, he doesn't say any "unfamiliar phrase" from the 1800s from this point on, either. I believe we have ourselves a jin-yoo-wine example of an Informed Attribute.

Don't get me wrong, Edward does use unfamiliar cadences and phrases, but they're less "turn-of-the-century" and more "written by a hack writer".

Bella also notes that Edward "seemed to know what everyone around him was thinking...except me." Well if he can't read you, how do you know he can read anyone else? What if he just made it up? It's not like you talked to anyone he read to see if he was right. And do I really need to point out that not only is telepathy not a vampiric power, but it didn't even come up on the "academic-looking" web site Bella Googled up earlier?

For all her protestations of its absurdity (the lady doth protest too much, methinks), Bella pretty quickly decides Edward is a vampire, at long last catching up to the slow 8-year-old who figured this out 6 chapters ago.

And then the most important question of all. What was I going to do if it was true?

If Edward was a vampire--I could hardly make myself think the words--then what should I do? Involving someone else was definitely out. I couldn't even believe myself; anyone I told would have me committed.

There's an "if" there, but it doesn't matter. Bella is convinced she has three options, and none of them is "Find out if Edward is really a vampire." She doesn't consider this option because she already knows he is, because Meyer knows he is, and all this hand-wringing over how unbelievable it all is has been much ado about nothing. Bella doesn't have any more information about Edward than she had before, and her Google search militated against his being a vampire (because, of course, he's a Twilight vampire, so the traditional vampire legends are of little help in identifying him as a creature of the night). But she accepts it now because Meyer says she does.

Bella, being an amoral narcissist, immediately rejects the option any sane person with any modicum of concern for their fellow human beings would choose because of how it might reflect on her. Again, referencing Fright Night, when the protagonist (who, like Bella, is a high school student) discovers Jerry is a vampire, he tells everyone: his mother, the police, his girlfriend, the actor who played his favourite vampire hunter, everybody. They all think he's crazy, but that doesn't stop him from trying to get people to listen. Because vampires are dangerous. Vampires kill people. And trying to warn people they're in danger is the right thing to do. Even if it means people think you're crazy. Even if it might get you locked up.

Now, we readers know Edward is a Good Vampire (*ulp*), but Bella doesn't have any reason to believe that. She's heard Jacob's telling of the legend that the Cullens don't eat people (and even Jacob is sceptical that the Cullens are Good) but that isn't supported or backed up by anything else, not even by Edward himself. Bella was just thinking about how he'd told her he's "the villain, dangerous..." and now she knows this is more than just adolescent posturing. Edward really is a villain. He really is dangerous, because he really is a vampire, and so are all the other Cullens.

But Bella isn't concerned that the Cullens are eating people. She isn't worried that her father, as chief of police, would likely be the first to die if word of the Cullens' true nature got out and they decided to strike first. She's not troubled that the boy she likes is a walking corpse who, for all she knows, has killed thousands of people and will continue to kill thousands more.

Nope, all she's concerned about is what might happen to her. She might be committed if she tells anyone (as if "the Cullens are vampires!" would even warrant a mandatory visit from the school guidance counselor, much less institutionalisation), so telling anyone is right out, not even considered.

Now, some commentators have taken me to task for continually pointing out Bella's selfishness, saying it's unfair to single her out for behaviour that's typical of teen-age girls. That may be a fair criticism elsewhere in the novel, but not this time. After all, there's normal selfishness, there's extreme selfishness, and there's pathological narcissism, and that last one is the level Bella Swan is on. To ignore what appears to be a clear danger to the people around you--including your own father--due to fear of a wildly exaggerated negative outcome for oneself isn't just unusual, it's inhuman. Now I know why Bella, having discovered that her crush is a vampire, isn't afraid for her immortal soul.

She doesn't have one.

October 24, 2012


Movies based on video games suck. You know it, I know it, we all know it, but somehow they keep making money. Uwe Boll, our generation's Ed Wood, has made an entire career out of awful video game adaptations. A terrible, terrible career.

So why did I bother with Tekken (2010)? It's based on a video game; why not assume it sucks and give it a miss? Because, my little droogies, there is actually one good video game movie out there. Yes, exactly one: Mortal Kombat. Even more amazing, it was directed by Paul W.S. "Resident Evil" Anderson. Mortal Kombat, like Tekken, is a tournament fighter, so all the makers of Tekken had to do was copy Mortal Kombat's formula. It's simple: Get your fighters together, get them into a tournament, give them a suitable bad guy to go after, and watch them kung-fu their way to the final showdown. That's all we want to see. Hell, even Bloodsport managed to be decent by following this simple formula, despite being saddled with the charismatic void that is Jean-Claude Van Damme. So I dutifully turn on Tekken, hoping in vain the screenwriter rubs both his brain cells together and comes up with a script half as entertaining as Mortal Kombat's. After all, the Tekken game series has a suitably diverse cast of fighters to make an entertaining tournament fighter movie. I didn't really expect to see the kangaroo wearing boxing gloves, the kung-fu fighting panda, or the living training dummy, but with a half-dozen games to choose from, there was still a diverse cast to work with.

Tekken is a godawful mess, packed full of unnecessary subplots and backstory. There is at least as much gunplay in this movie as there is martial arts, the latter being a weird and unwieldy mixture of faux-MMA and Movie-Fu. Who came to a kung-fu flick to see guys shooting at each other? I sure as hell didn't. If I want to watch white people wearing goofy outfits shooting endlessly at each other in dark alleys while a sexy chick parades around in leather fetishwear, I'll watch the next Underworld movie. This is a ridiculous story of an MMA fighter who liberates Japanese-dominated America from the brutal Japanese thumb of the evil Japanese Tekken megacorporation (that is from Japan) using nothing more than his ability to punch people really, really well. The movie reminds us at every turn that it's based on a Japanese video game. Tekken's machine-gun-wielding stormtroopers wear kendo masks so we know they're Japanese. Some characters occasionally speak the language (though only once do we actually see the face of the character speaking it). There are even two actual Japanese people in the film! Everyone else is of course white because, well, Lead Characters Are White.

"You hold on there now, Carl Eusebius! John Foo is half Japanese, and Ian Anthony Dale has, like, some Japanese in there somewhere." Yeah well, I don't care. They look white, the both of them. One is the hero and the other the villain, and crappy B-movies in the 2010s can't have coloured people in either of those roles. I mean, who wants to see an Asian hero? M. Night Shyamalan sure doesn't!

The hero looks whitest of all. The filmmakers don't even throw us a bone by making one of his parents white. Nope, we're supposed to buy that this kid was born of two Japanese parents despite looking like a credible candidate for the Hitler Youth. Of course, his father is played by Ian Anthony Dale, so I guess we know which side of the family he takes after. Long gone are the days of Mortal Kombat, when a Chinese hero could face off against a dastardly Japanese villain, and a woman could fight a man in hand-to-hand combat. Now everybody's white and a female villain is included so the female lead has someone to fight.

After our hero Jin Kazama (Foo) apathetically narrates the history of this highly futuristic future world about which virtually nothing is in any way futuristic (governments fell, corporations took their places, corporations are oppressive, yadda yadda), we are introduced to him. He runs technology through the Anvil, the massive slums outside the glittering lights of the corporation's wealthy Tekken City. After delivering a really big flash drive to a guy doing a bad Denis Leary impression (surprisingly not played by the actual Denis Leary), the anti-Tekken resistance that Jin refused to join because he's only out for himself and doesn't believe in causes is wiped out by Tekken's machine-gun-wielding stormtroopers. Jin normally wouldn't care about this, either, except that they also blew up his house with a rocket while his mom was in it. Since there's nothing Jin cares about more than his mom, when he learns of this Tekken atrocity, he swears revenge on Tekken CEO Heihachi Mishima (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa). The instrument of his revenge? Tekken's Iron Fist martial arts tournament. See, each of the dozen or so megacorporations of this terrible dystopian world sponsors a fighter in Iron Fist every year, with the winner bringing mucho bragging rights to his or her sponsoring megacorp. Jin plans to wreak his terrible vengeance upon Heihachi by winning Iron Fist while totally not being sponsored by Tekken. That's show 'em! A dish best served cold, indeed!

Jin is able to enter the tournament despite not being backed by one of the megacorporations because he defeats Marshall Law, a participant in the tournament who for some reason is in the Anvil to take on all comers. With this victory, he's dubbed the People's Champion even though the people had no hand in choosing him. He also picks up a manager who never actually does any managing. I guess they were drawn together by their mutual English-ness; despite Jin's having grown up in North America, actor Foo uses his native London accent. Hilariously, this guy gets Jin to take him on by saying that all the other fighters will have entire entourages from their sponsoring megacorporation, yet when Jin reaches the tournament, none of the other fighters will have so much as a towel-boy. Look at how many trainers, coaches, doctors, bodyguards, and assorted hangers-on accompany a champion heavyweight boxer to the ring. You're telling me corporations that run entire continents couldn't spring a few bucks for a guy to wring out their fighter's sweat-rag?

At the tournament, Jin immediately hooks up with Christie, another one of the fighters, despite the fact that he was having sex with his girlfriend when his house blew up. You might think the filmmakers forgot about the girlfriend, but no, throughout the film they cut to the set of The Running Man to show her watching Jin's matches on a giant flatscreen TV on the street. Being a self-proclaimed B-movie guru, I thought maybe they added the girlfriend character to get some boobs in the movie since the actress playing Christie never once doffs her top, but girlfriend keeps her arms strategically placed throughout the lovemaking scene to keep the movie PG-13, so I really have no idea what the filmmakers were going for here. I guess Jin is just a cad who would jump into bed with any girl wearing pants with a plunging crackline.

Tekken attempts to assassinate Jin so he doesn't win the tournament right after the head of Tekken says that Jin has no chance to win the tournament. When that attempt fails, Tekken makes it a point not to kill Jin. Whew, good thing the assassins they sent were so inept! Instead, they start changing the rules so Jin will be killed in the arena, because, well, Rollerball is as good a movie to rip off as any. We're repeatedly told that Iron Fist is vital to Tekken's maintaining its oppressive rule over the poverty-stricken masses in the Anvil; Jin must not win the tournament or the masses might realise they can overthrow Tekken. If that sounds familiar, it's because we're still ripping off Rollerball (1975). The film then proceeds in jaw-dropping idiocy to rip off the shitty 2002 remake of Rollerball by having Tekken, seeing the tournament's ratings spike when one of the fighters seems to have been killed on screen, order that all fights be to the death. (Hmm...I wonder what the other megacorporations whose fighters are in this tournament think of that little rule change.)

The difference, of course, was that in Rollerball the sport wasn't there to quell the resistance of desperate, starving people being brutally oppressed at every turn but of content, materially well-off people who don't even know what oppression is. And the point of the titular sport was to demonstrate the futility of individual effort, so that people would feel too powerless to ever group up and make themselves a threat. I think the people Tekken rules over are kept in line more by the random shootings, beatings, and blowing up of houses by its army of machine-gun-wielding kendotroopers than by its requirement that MMA fighters have a corporate sponsor in order to be allowed to win a gaudy martial arts tournament.

Jin wins his fights, of course, even when it turns out it's not only an MMA tournament but also allows swords, chains, naginatas--I don't know why somebody doesn't just show up with a pistol and kack his opponent right out of the gate. As noted, the tournament is also co-ed with three women participants, but only two of them ever fight, and of course it's with each other. This movie couldn't be more uptight and conservative white American if you put it in a three-piece suit and sent it to church every Sunday. During every fight he's in, Jin has a flashback to his mother's martial arts lessons, in which she's the same age even though he's a child. Flashback mom gives him a nugget of fighting wisdom that has exactly nothing to do with the situation he's in and doesn't help in any way. All that happens is that Jin hulks up, starts no-selling his opponents' attacks, and pummels the other guy's face until he is physically dragged away.

My hero.

This movie is so wrong-headed that Heihachi isn't even the villain. Yes, they have the villain from the game in the movie, but not as the villain. So let me get this right: You hired Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa--a Japanese actor who specialises in playing dastardly, over-the-top villains, and oh yeah, played the villain in Mortal Kombat, aka the Good Video Game Movie--and then you put him in Heihachi's ridiculous hairstyle and don't let him be villainous? Well then why is he there at all? I mean, they didn't include King in this movie, the fighter wearing the jaguar mask who is one of the game's most popular, enduring, and recognisable characters. So why have Heihachi, if he's not going to be Heihachi? Is it because he's *gulp* Japanese? Sure, that's a stupid reason, but I don't know of any other. Ian Anthony Dale as the villain Kazuya isn't awful or anything, but he has nothing approaching Tagawa's B-movie gravitas. Once again, this movie makes things complicated for no reason, with a subplot about Kazuya's coup detat against Heihachi. What does it matter, when Jin's only going to kill Kazuya anyway?

So despite Jin's entering the tournament to kill Heihachi, he never so much as lays a glove on Heihachi, in fact teaming up with him for a brief moment against Kazuya. I don't want to blow the ending of this movie for you, but Jin wins. With Heihachi killed by Kazuya and Kazuya dead at Jin's hands, Jin is somehow CEO of Tekken now. I didn't know Japanese corporations functioned like the Klingon Deep Space Fleet. Must be that Klingon style. With Jin in control of Tekken, the people are free. Or something. The film ends with Jin's girlfriend (where did Christie go?) giving us a Matrix-style ending speech, and roll credits.

All they had to do to make this a decent B-movie was plug the Tekken fighters into the Enter the Dragon template and hire somebody from Hong Kong to do the choreography. It wouldn't have been amazing or memorable, just something to entertain us for a few weeks and rake in the cash. Instead, they tekkened it up and came out with this. With all the non-Japanese who act Japanese, the use of Japanese imagery and language as window dressing on a thoroughly whitebread core, and the ridiculous outfits the women are forced to parade about in, I can't tell if this movie was made for weeabos...

...or by them.

October 21, 2012

Twilight: Get Thee to the Google!

Twilight, pp. 132-135.

Bella, after a shower that "didn't last nearly as long as [she] hoped it would" (uh...doesn't a shower last as long as you want it to last?), uses her dial-up modem to discover Edward is a vampire with the power of Google (even though Jacob already told her this). Dial-up. In 2005. This just keeps getting better and better.

Now I know some of you occasionally leave your basement and hike the 8 miles into "town" so you can use Jed's 2800 baud modem to read this blog because you live too far from civilisation to have access to the cutting-edge technology that is "cable". So maybe Forks also lacks this city-folk knickknack, and dial-up is all Bella can get on Mustache Dad's old computer. Nice theory, my hog-calling friend, but like post-structuralist theory, it's fractally wrong.(Unlike post-structuralist theory, it makes sense on its own terms and isn't a collection of jargon designed specifically to obscure the fact that it's completely meaningless.) There are two main problems with it:

Bella refers to the modem as her modem. It seems we're to believe that in 2005 a teen-aged girl in Phoenix used a dial-up modem. The second problem is that even if we discount that, Bella doesn't even complain about the service. She doesn't compare it to Phoenix. Considering how much she supposedly hates Forks, that should be happening. What kind of emo chick passes up a chance to complain about how much her life sucks due to various minor inconveniences? Bella certainly wouldn't. She doesn't complain because Meyer had a dial-up modem in high school, so Bella does--are you seeing a pattern here? I really don't get why Meyer didn't just set the books circa 1990. Sometimes I think that all these technology oddities are subtle clues to the reader that this is in fact when they are set, but every time I try to give this novel credit for subtly, it blows up in my face. It's more likely that Meyer's handle on pop culture really is on the level of the Butabi brothers.

So we get a full two pages of hot, steaming search engine action, and it's even more exciting on the page than it is in the Twilight film. Bella finds the scholarly rigourous site Vampires A to Z(!), which claims there is a species of good vampire that Meyer made up to explain why the Cullens aren't evil despite being soulless monsters. Then we get this gem:

Overall, though, there was little that coincided with Jacob's stories or my own observations. I'd made a little catalogue in my mind as I'd read and carefully compared each myth. Speed, strength, beauty, pale skin, eyes that shift colour; and then Jacob's criteria: blood drinkers, enemies of the werewolf, cold-skinned, and immortal. There were very few myths that matched even one factor.

And then another problem, one that I'd remembered from the small number of scary movies that I'd seen and was backed up by today's reading--vampires couldn't come out in the daytime, the sun would burn them to a cinder. They slept in coffins all day and came out only at night.

It's clear Meyer expects us to regard this web site as generally correct (its text being "academic-looking", and it tells us about the good vampires), yet once again, she reveals that she hasn't done her homework. I assume she actually did a Google search, found a site about vampires with a stupid name, and spent a half hour paging through it, randomly throwing into her novel alleged vampire myths from the Philippines, Romania, and Poland, but I'm sorry, that just isn't going to cut it. I'm hardly a vampire expert, but I've seen my share of vampire films, read Dracula, and know a little bit about at least European folklore vampires. Even a relative neophyte like me can immediately see problems.

First, the stuff she gets right. It's true that beauty, speed, pale skin, and "eyes that shift colour" aren't going to show up in many vampire myths, especially the eye colour thing since Meyer just made that one up for...some reason. Vampires traditionally aren't fast (or beautiful, for that matter) because they're dead. It's only in the 21st century that our old undead stand-bys have to bounce off the walls like a bunch of skater punks who drank too much Surge. (I'm looking at you, I am Legend.) Forget the undead staggering toward us with the inevitability of the grave. Now they charge at us like tweeners at a Justin Bieber concert. That's why traditional vampires were mostly believed to kill children and other vulnerable people.

European vampires also weren't pale, because they were supposed to be full of blood. But Meyer says over and over again that few vampire myths involve blood drinking. I'm going to call bullshit here, simply because blood drinking is one of the core aspects of the creatures originally called vampires. If it doesn't drink blood, I don't see how you can call it a vampire. We call it a vampire bat because it's a bat that drinks blood. It isn't destroyed by sunlight and doesn't turn you into a bat when it bites you , but nobody has a problem with calling it a vampire bat because drinking blood is what vampires do. So as much as I love the hopping Chinese "vampires", they aren't, really. They're animated corpses that draw out of you something you need to keep on living (and I guess they're not into the whole religion thing), but that's where the similarities end.

So it's fine that "enemies of the werewolf" didn't come up since European tradition isn't based on two 12 year old boys arguing over who would win in a fight between Dracula and the Wolfman. "Immortal" is also not characteristic of traditional vampires (even though Jacob didn't say the Cullens were immortal). And though I'd think a walking corpse would be "cold-skinned", I guess I'll let that one slide, too. But blood-drinking ought to be there, and strength. Most monsters are stronger than people, since anything physically stronger than you is automatically threatening. And what shouldn't be there is what Meyer remembers from the "small number of scary movies" that are "backed up" by this highly accurate web site. Traditional vampires were not destroyed by sunlight. They just didn't come out during the day because it was easier to spot and escape from them. The notion that vampires were harmed by sunlight doesn't even go back to Dracula but to the film Nosferatu (1922). The creators of that film simply made it up to differentiate their film from Dracula so they wouldn't be sued by the notoriously litigious Bram Stoker estate. So this "academic-looking" site should not "back up" the myth that vampires are destroyed by sunlight, because there is no such myth and never was. I didn't even have to look that up! Simply being a fan of the horror genre is enough to know this.

But as I said on the day I started this blog, Meyer is not a fan of horror. Meyer doesn't know or understand vampires, and she doesn't care to. She has no love or respect for the genre she's working in. She just stole the term vampire to sell more books, and nobody's called her on it.

Well, I'm calling her on it. Stephenie Meyer, you're a hack writer who was lucky enough to somehow tap into the cultural zeitgeist despite your utter lack of talent, drive, and dedication to the craft of writing. You're the literary equivalent of Uwe Boll, except everyone knows Boll sucks and we love him for it. Your novel claims to be a vampire romances, but it has neither vampires nor romance. If I had to sum up the novel Twilight in one word, it would be contempt. Contempt for your readers, contempt for women and girls, contempt for American Indians, contempt for the horror genre and everyone involved with it.

Stephenie Meyer, your novel is bad and you should feel bad.

October 17, 2012

Leave Well Enough Alone

Following on my last post, this post is going to attack creators and the people who view them as divine figures whose judgement may not be questioned.

I've read columns by a number of people claiming that once someone has created an artistic work, that work belongs completely and utterly to that person. These people are idiots and should not be allowed to breed. They say the creator is free to do whatever she wants with the work, everyone else be damned. If she wants to come back to a completed work and "fix" it--not make something new, mind, or continue the story, but actually change the original--not only can we say nothing about that, we shouldn't say anything about it. It's her creation, after all. These are the sort of people who not only defend George Lucas's legal right to change the original Star Wars films (which I don't know that anybody disputes) but claim that if I'm unhappy with the changes, I shouldn't say so, to the creator or to anyone else. I don't even have the right to take umbrage at her actively making the original hard to obtain. It belongs to her, right? We don't have any right to say anything about it.


Now, I have a number of issues with this regardless of the medium, but I find myself utterly appalled to when people say this about films. Frankly, the idea that a film belongs to any one person is ludicrous. That that person is the director doesn't make it any more absurd. You could possibly argue the case with certain directors like James Cameron or (especially) Stanley Kubrick, those who write, produce, edit, shoot, and direct their films. But even if I grant the handful of true auteurs out there (and even Kubrick didn't act in or score his films), with 95% of directors, it isn't even close. A major film is a collaborative project involving literally hundreds of people. Why does one person gets complete say over what happens to it? And who decides who this one person is?

As I noted in my review of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, apparently unfazed by his being laughably wrong, is on record that Deckard is a replicant. Harrison Ford, being of sound mind, is just as adamant that Deckard is not, and maintains that he and Scott agreed on this during filming. Now, why is Scott's word good and Ford's isn't? Who made Scott the final arbiter? Nobody, that's who. Films belong to everyone who made them and everyone who appreciates them, and nobody gets to descend from Mount Olympus and tell us what to think or say about them.

Because who's to say the original creator is in any better position to talk about what's right or wrong with their work anyway? Especially when the "original" creator is talking about something she created two decades ago? Artists--or should that be artistes?--are quick to complain when a work is taken from its "creator" and given to someone else. But isn't that exactly what we're doing when we let somebody work on something she created 30 years ago? Isn't that person a very different person from the one who created the original work? I don't know about you, but I've changed quite a bit in the last decade, and two decades from now I'm not sure I'll even recognise myself. If people change a lot in 25 years--and God knows I hope they do--then isn't it just as unfair to Young You to let Old You take over and muck up your work without any input from you, Young You having effectively ceased to exist?

The answer is yes. It's unfair, it's disgraceful, and it has to stop.

Case in point: The Gunslinger, the first part of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I won't even get into how this series took a cataclysmic nosedive so incredible that the evil part of me wishes the car had killed him before he could ruin what had been a real contender for the title of Greatest Dark Fantasy of All Time. I just want to talk about how Old King, decades after Young King completed The Gunslinger, decided to go back and, that's right, fix it. How, you may ask? Sure, he corrected a number of continuity errors with later Dark Tower books (sometimes for the better, often for the worse since the later books suck harder than the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy), but he also removed ambiguity from a key scene. Early in the novel, the titular gunslinger guns down another character in what may or may not be cold blood. This sets up a scene at the climax, in which the gunslinger has to choose between rescuing a child and allowing the villain to escape or letting the child die so he can stop the villain. What will he do? Because of that earlier shooting, the reader is in genuine suspense as to what will happen. It isn't a foregone conclusion that he'll make the "right" decision.

Old King, though, doesn't like ambiguity. Old King doesn't want his reader to, like, think about stuff. Old King doesn't want his hero to do something bad, because he's the good guy, see? Children can't understand things like a good person doing something bad. So Old King changes it. Old King makes it clear that his hero had to kill that character. It wasn't in cold blood. In fact, that character asked to be killed. The hero isn't bad, little tykes. He's the good guy. Look, he's wearing a white hat and everything!

In short, Old King fucked up Young King's story. And Young King didn't have a hand in it. I'll bet you all the souls Sandra Bullock has sacrificed on her pagan altar to keep herself looking young that Young King would never have agreed to this change. He'd wonder who the hell thought he could just come along and change my story. Your older self, Young King, that's who, a man with no more right to change your work than I have, because he's no more you than I am. Young King wrote this novel, and Young King is gone. It's no different than if I came along and changed one of King's books after his death. I'm not King, and King isn't who he was then. When he wrote that scene in The Gunslinger, he was a struggling teacher with no kids living in a shithole barely making ends meet. The man who re-wrote that scene lives in a mansion, has a family, and wipes his ass with more money than I'll ever see in my life. These two men are not the same. I don't care what names they have.

What about George Lucas and his butchering of the original Star Wars? Remember Han and Greedo in Mos Eisley? Now, I'm sure I don't need to say this, but Han shot first, and if you don't agree, then you're a cinematic troglodyte and you can get the hell off my blog. I don't need any drooling mongoloids scratching their thick monkey craniums trying to comprehend the three-syllable words that flow from my fingertips like the word of God.

When Han shot first, there was real ambiguity to his character. But no, George Lucas caught Stephen Spielburg-itis and decided that even the slightest bit of actual characterisation somehow warps the minds of the cute suburban moppets he makes films for and turns them into the most depraved gun-wielding maniacs since Cho Seung-hui. Won't somebody please think about the children? So now Han has to be shot at first (fortunately Greedo only hits Han's white hat), and in that one moment Han's growth as a character (sloughing off his cynical shell and finding something to truly care about) is completely and utterly ruined. Oh, and it also means it will surprise exactly no-one when he shows up out of nowhere to save Luke at the end. (Oops, sorry to blow the ending for you. Oh wait, George Lucas already has.)

Spielburg, Lucas, and King were once young, hungry, and talented, and they produced something truly great. Then they got old, rich, and boring and decided they're older and wiser now and so they'll go back and fix what their younger selves got wrong.

They didn't get it wrong, you old fucks. You're getting it wrong. And the fact that you carry the same name as that young, hungry talent from 25 years ago doesn't give you license to fiddle around with his work. If you're so much wiser and more skilled now, go make something new and interesting. Let the young guy have his day. And maybe, just maybe, you won't take a giant dump all over his legacy.

Or, go ahead with your "improved" version and rake in the cash. Whichever.

October 14, 2012

Twilight: Artists as Creators

Twilight, pp. 129-131.

Fittingly, Chapter 7 begins with Bella lying to avoid having to interact with her father. Instead, she goes upstairs and listens to a CD endlessly so she can't think. Yes, a CD. In 2005. Cripes, I had an mp3 player in 2005. Again, Bella is weirdly out of date on her technology, and it's even more absurd since she grew up in a major Imperial city. Meyer writes the scene awkwardly in order to carefully avoid naming the CD (*snicker*) or the band. I suppose it's better that way, since she would undoubtedly have Bella listening to Soul Asylum or the Smashing Pumpkins.

I don't know exactly what it is that Bella doesn't want to think about, but whatever it is, it's so bad that she's willing to listen to a CD (*snicker*) over and over again until she starts liking the music. That music, in turn, is so terrible that it makes her fall asleep and dream about Jacob.

"Jacob? What's wrong?" I asked. His face was frightened as he yanked with all his strength against my resistance; I didn't want to go into the dark.

"Run, Bella; you have to run!" he whispered, terrified.

"This way, Bella!" I recognised Mike's voice calling out of the gloomy heart of the trees, but I couldn't see him

"Why?" I asked, still pulling against Jacob's grasp, desperate now to find the sun.

But Jacob let go of my hand and yelped, suddenly shaking, falling to the dim forest floor. He twitched on the ground as I watched in horror.

"Jacob!" I screamed. But he was gone. In his place was a large red-brown wolf with black eyes.

Being pulled around by men...that's our Bella!

This dream is more of what Meyer learned in her creative writing courses at BYU. For those unfamiliar with what Meyer is doing here, it's called "foreshadowing", a technique in which the writer sketches out the rest of the plot in a couple of pages, clearly revealing everything that's going to happen right out of the gate so uninterested readers can skip to the end. Apparently, Jacob's explaining that his tribe of American Indians are werewolves isn't good enough for Meyer. She wants to make sure we idiot readers "get" that Jacob is a werewolf. I guess we can be thankful that she doesn't hit us over the head with Edward's vampirism again. Right?

And then Edward stepped out from the trees, his skin faintly glowing, his eyes black and dangerous. He held up one hand and beckoned me to come to him. The wolf growled at my feet.

I took a step forward, toward Edward. He smiled then, and his teeth were sharp, pointed.

Everything must be explained! No presumption of attention span will be made!

And why is the wolf growling at her feet? Is she standing on a steak? Maybe her feet smell like cat.

The wolf launched himself across the space between me and the vampire, fangs aiming for the jugular.

See, the vampires and werewolves don't like each other. Remember how Jake said that like 5 pages ago? You do? Because I want to make sure we're all on the same page here.

Now I've got it! This novel is Underworld fanfiction! Maybe I should start blogging fanfics.

Once again, Bella uses her direct line to the author to discover where Jacob is attacking. He leaps through the air, yet Bella knows not only that he's going for the neck but that he's going for the jugular vein. And really, "launched himself across the space between me and the vampire"? Go ahead, try to write a predicate more awkward. It cannot be done.

"No!" I screamed, wrenching upright out of my bed.

I know I keep going on about this, but this novel continues to amaze me with its bad writing, the way Meyer simultaneously fails in two different directions at once. Last week I pointed out the laziness of using your own experiences in place of research. But now, Meyer doesn't rely on her own experiences of waking up from a nightmare but instead gives us the old "sitting bolt upright in bed" cliche. Has she ever done that? No, she hasn't. No-one has. At least, no-one who wasn't being filmed by a hack director. I have at least one nightmare a week that wakes me up, and never once have I sat bolt upright. Neither have you. It's a movie trope, the lazy screenwriter's shorthand for "this character is troubled".

Meyer is such a lazy author that not only does she use a well-worn trope in place of character development, but it's a movie trope used because it's visually striking. Hello, Steffy? Movie tropes don't work in print. Again (and a small part of me dies every time I have to say this) the Twilight film is an improvement since it excises this entire sequence. And if it had been included, I don't think Bella would've sat bolt upright after awaking from her nightmare.

Twilight is not a good film, but I daresay it's a respectable effort considering the constraints under which it was made. The only way to make the film any good would've been to give it the Jaws treatment: Keep the character names and the basic premise and jettison everything else. The problem is, with the overwhelming influence of fanboys on the success of licensed films these days, that isn't an option. (And fangirls. We really need a unisex term for this!) So the filmmakers couldn't change too much, or the Twihards would revolt. Meyer is also successful enough that she was able to demand and get script approval, so the filmmakers always had her looking over their collective shoulder, shaking her head with disapproval every time they tried to make Edward more interesting or Bella less despicable.

I maintain a deep-seated loathing of people who give way, way too much credit to people who create a certain property. For these people, because Meyer is a good author (ignoring for the moment the fact that she isn't), she gets to have a say in how a film produced from her work is made, despite having no experience at all in the world of filmmaking. But it's her work, so somehow she knows what's best for it.

Now, I'm not saying that people who adapt other people's work don't have at least a creative obligation to respect that work. When I see an adaptation that's clearly just cashing in on recognition of the licensed property, I don't like it. Take the Michael Bay Transformers. Apart from the fact that it's a stinky shit-stain on the underpants of humanity, it's also a terrible adaptation of the Transformers. I'll never forget my seething rage when Starscream expresses complete loyalty to Megatron. In the original Transformers, Starscream was Megatron's constantly scheming underling. He tried to usurp Megatron at every turn and was killed by Megatron moments after declaring himself leader of the Decepticons. Now, Bay had any number of Decepticons to exhibit total loyalty to Megatron, and he chose out of the whole slate of characters the one whose entire character was not being loyal to Megatron. It was symptomatic of the larger problem that Bay clearly didn't know or care about the mythos he was working in. He wanted to give our Imperial military a vigourous handjob that had giant robots in it, and he used the Transformers name to accomplish that. This is also one of the myriad of reasons for my enduring hatred of the film Starship Troopers. Whatever you think of its merits as a film, it's contemptible because it utterly betrays the book (which isn't even that good), in fact having the completely opposite message. Jaws may have tossed out most of its source material, but it doesn't completely betray it; the film is still about a shark that terrorises a small island community. It doesn't expect you to sympathise with the shark and cheer when it eats someone.

"But Carl Eusebius, you magnificent bastard!" I hear you saying. "You just wrote a hagiography of Blade Runner, which completely betrays its source material by having a contradictory message! In the novel, the androids are bad because they're inhuman, while the film portrays them sympathetically and thinks they're equal to biological humans!" You're correct, my Firefly fanfic-writing friend! But the difference is that Blade Runner wasn't made to cash in on the novel's fame. The novel didn't have any fame. In fact, nearly everyone who's read the novel (including yours truly) did so because of the film, not the other way round. I wouldn't know who Philip K. Dick was without Blade Runner, and I'm hardly alone in that. And because Dick was a true artist and not a hack capitalising on the zeitgeist, he liked Blade Runner (well, the script, as he died before it was released), even while recognising that it had significantly changed his work. Dick was happy the film was good and didn't get all butthurt that it wasn't slavishly faithful to his work.* If you're not riding the source material's coattails, then you have more freedom to change things. On the other hand, if, like Twilight, your adaptation is being made to capitalise on the success of the source material, you have an obligation to at least not be a complete betrayal of that material.

But you shouldn't have to be a slave to it. Different media require different approaches. So a decent Twilight film would've kept some character names and the premise: A high-school girl falls in love with a vampire. That's it. From there, you could've made a female-centred version of Fright Night, and who wouldn't want that? Edward would be evil, scary, and threatening, while Bella would be naive, innocent, and vulnerable. But over the course of the film, she would get stronger and smarter, and she would lose her innocence. The end of the film would have her rescuing Mike from the vampire's clutches and killing Edward despite her earlier love for him, and, like Sarah Connor, she would come through the experience stronger but sadder, a better person but less happy for it.

But we don't get that. Instead, we get Meyer mother-henning her creation, and everyone smiling and nodding their approval. She's The Creator, after all. Nobody has the right to interfere with her creation, and so any chance Twilight had to be good is lost, like tears in rain.


* Dick also turned down $400,000 to write a novelisation of Blade Runner. (Yes, a novelisation of a film based on a novel. I love the entertainment industry!) He insisted on a reprint of the original book, not a dumbed down cash-in. This from a man who was once so poor he was reduced to eating cat food. That's some artistic integrity, right there.

October 10, 2012

The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man is misogyny the likes of which even God has never seen.

Now we all know that Kim Ki-duk hates women, and film is his medium to preach his gospel of hatred for vaginated persons. Women in the world of Kim Ki-duk are screeching harpies--conniving, deceitful creatures whose sole purpose is to pervert the purity of Man with their dirty sex and menstruating and having babies and then abandoning their babies. The only proper response is to kill them, and if Kim Ki-duk's hero fails to accomplish this, you can be sure that Nature itself will wreak divine vengeance upon them for their sins.

Now we in the Empire have our own Kim Ki-duk...or maybe Kim Ki-duk Lite. Neil LaBute isn't quite as misogynist as Kim Ki-duk--who possibly could be?--but daggone it, he's trying. He can't bring himself to outright murder the "bitches", but he does have Nicolas Cage kicking them into walls and punching them in the face while wearing a bear suit. Maybe this weakness on LaBute's part is why The Wicker Man remake hasn't been hailed as an art house masterpiece by Eurotrash hipsters wearing berets and quoting lines from Superbad "ironically", like Kim Ki-duk's "work" has. I guess misogyny is only cool when exotic Orientals do it.

The Wicker Man is a disastrous train-wreck of a film, a cinematic nosedive into the mind of a writer/director with serious relationship abandonment issues. Yet it's redeemed by outrageous overacting (especially by Nicolas Cage and his hair) and some tremendously silly sequences. Like the scene that has Cage almost...but not quite open a burlap sack that may or may not have a shark in it. The women carrying the sack then laugh uproariously, because it's apparently hilarious on Summersisle to almost...but not quite open burlap sacks that may or may not have sharks in them.

Summersisle is the name of a feminazi colony that sucks men in and consumes their life essences  New Age commune off the coast of Washington state. California highway patrolman (cue CHiPs theme!) Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) goes to the island to investigate the disappearance of his old flame's daughter despite his having no jurisdiction in Washington. Our man Eddie is a cop on the edge because in the opening sequence he pulls over a mother and daughter in a stationwagon to return to them the little girl's doll, only to have a semi come out of nowhere and smash the stationwagon into splinters. Eddie feels responsible and has flashbacks to the little girl's fiery death throughout the film in a failed attempt to connect his grief to his ex's missing daughter, which only get more hilarious every time you see them. "Whoa, Carl Eusebius!" I hear you saying as you thoughtfully stroke your neckbeard. "Little girls getting run over by semis isn't funny. And also your blog sucks and you're not funny." Well you see, my otaku friend, it is funny in The Wicker Man, because this movie fails just that badly. No matter how hard it tries to scare you, it's so incompetently filmed and acted and so absurdly staged that you can't help but laugh.

If you watch this movie, I guarantee you'll laugh at sixth iteration of a little girl getting run over by a semi, even on a ship in the middle of the ocean. The Wicker Man is that kind of movie, folks.

The girl's mother, with the embarrassing moniker Willow, is played by Australian actress and animated coat rack Kate Beahan. This gal is skinnier and more wooden than a Calista Flockheart voodoo doll. With her enormous eyes and lips and hallow face, she looks like some kind of bizarre human-bush baby hybrid. I blame LaBute for this, because he's the one who filmed her looking like that. Try looking through a few pictures of (alleged) actress Beahan on the IMdb. Flip through a few of them until you get to a still from The Wicker Man. See the difference? When she's at a film premiere, Beahan doesn't look like a drowned corpse with eyes made of glass. This is LaBute's idea of a feminine beauty: giant childlike eyes constantly on the verge of tears or emotional breakdown, lips approaching Angelina Jolie levels of trout pout, and a body so thin Brittany Murphy asked her for dieting tips.

Willow sends a letter to Eddie, asking him to come to Summersisle to find her missing daughter. Why isn't she asking, I don't know, a police officer in Washington to investigate? Because she was engaged to Eddie before she abruptly left without a word to return to Summersisle some years ago. And if that doesn't make sense to you, that's because it's stupid and pointless and is only in the movie so LaBute can film a scene of Eddie demanding to know why she left while she evades the question because women are devious and spiteful and they're only messin' with your head, man.

Eddie has to bribe the pilot of a private plane who makes regular runs to Summersisle to take him along, since, despite Eddie's claim that it's close enough to the mainland he could swim to it, this plane is the only way to get there. Eddie doesn't even check in with the authorities in Washington to let them know he's going off alone to investigate a possible kidnapping in their jurisdiction (no doubt because they'd ship him right back to California after taking his statement and the letter if he did), so that way there's no-one to help him when he finds out the colony of New Age lesbians is evil. (Oops. Sorry to blow that plot twist for you.) And yes, of course his mobile doesn't work way out here in the sticks, because, well, they didn't have mobiles in the original 1973 Wicker Man.

Eddie arrives on the island, has the encounter with the burlap bag mentioned earlier, and essentially goes about town being told by everybody that the little girl, Rowan, doesn't exist. Now, everybody in the original film denied Rowan's existence, too, but in that film, this includes her mother. That's because the original wasn't a piece of bitter chauvenistic tripe, so the letter sent to the cop was anonymous and not from Willow, he and Willow didn't know each other, and Willow was just as adamant about Rowan's non-existence as everyone else. In the remake this denial is just silly, since Eddie has Willow right there. There's some lip service paid to Willow perhaps being delusional and never having a daughter at all, but the women on Summersisle are all so obviously evil--well, apart from their being women; I mean that they're openly hostile and uncooperative with our hero, which is movie-speak for "they're hiding something"--that we never doubt they're lying about the girl's existence.

Eddie eventually figures out that Rowan is to be sacrificed to the pagan Goddess (of course it's a female divinity!) that these tree-hugging hippie chicks worship, and so he takes off the kid gloves and karate kicks Leelee Sobieski into a wall of framed photographs, punches out LaBute's offensive bull dyke caricature, puts on a bear suit, and lays out another woman witch with a Nic Cage haymaker in his attempt to rescue Rowan. I don't want to spoil the M. Night Shyamalan-like twist of the ending, but let's just say it ends with some of that patented Nic Cage crazy, including a scene of him robbing a woman of her 1920s bicycle at gunpoint ("Step away from the bike!") and the immortal line "BITCHES! YOU BITCHES!"

There isn't a moment of tension or horror in this piece of crap. It's so ludicrous you can't do anything but laugh. Now, some people might object that, given the scorn I've heaped on this movie for its misogyny, that it's wrong to enjoy it on a bad movie level. Isn't it so hateful that it ought to be avoided? Should I really be encouraging people to see it?

Yes, I should.* Because you will laugh at its absurdity. And that's what should be done with misogynists. They should mocked, ridiculed, and laughed at for the ridiculous charicatures of humanity they are. If something is made taboo, it's got an edge of cool. What, I'm not allowed to do that? I'm not allowed to say that? I'm not allowed to watch that? Screw that, man! I'm a rebel. I want to know what you're trying to keep from me. It only makes people more curious about it. Read up on the Video Nasties if you're interested in how this works. (Long story short: People in the UK successfully sought out and watched films they'd never heard of and didn't otherwise care about just because they were banned.)

But misogyny isn't something that should be hidden from view, squirreled away and locked up hoping nobody finds it. It should be dragged into the light, tossed into the centre, and held up for ridicule until it's too embarrassed to continue existing.

And that's why I love The Wicker Man. By being so naked, it exposes the absurdity at misogyny's rotten core.

Oh, and it's got this scene. It's worth seeing for that alone!


* Since there's almost as much stammering and unfinished sentences in this movie as in your average Twilight film, for those of you who can't bear to sit through the entire movie, YouTube has a video that compiles five minutes of the movie's best (worst?) scenes, including all the ones I've mentioned here. Warning: Make sure you aren't in a library or otherwise not supposed to make loud noise!

October 7, 2012

Twilight: Paging Mary Sue

Twilight, pp. 127-128.

Now that Bella has had the plot explained to her (the plot being "Edward is a Good Vampire"), it's time to get back to her favourite activity that doesn't involve Edward: humiliating Mike!

"There you are, Bella," Mike called in relief, waving his arm over his head.

"Is that your boyfriend?" Jacob asked, alerted by the jealous edge in Mike's voice. I was surprised it was so obvious.

"No, definitely not," I whispered. I was tremendously grateful to Jacob, and eager to make him as happy as possible. I winked at him, carefully turning away from Mike to do so. He smiled, elated by my inept flirting.

You know, with all the big bad going on in this book, I find myself continually surprised by how much the little things get to me. Relief? What, he thought he'd lost her? She and Jacob walked along the beach for all of 20 minutes! Mike could still see them from where he was. It's not like they disappeared into the woods. And if he really did lose her, he can just call or text her. Oh wait, he can't because Bella apparently doesn't have a mobile. In 2005. It's inexcusable. Again, maybe I could buy this if Bella grew up in Forks, but are we to believe Bella almost finished high school in Phoenix without a mobile?

Of course, the reason Bella doesn't have a mobile is that Stephenie Meyer didn't have a mobile when she was in high school. This goes back to a writer's need to think about what a character would do, not what she would do. Novice writers are often told "Write what you know." Like a lot of simple, commonsense advice, it's misleading. What it ought to mean is "Don't write about stuff you haven't taken the trouble to learn about beforehand." That way you won't be embarrassed by having people or events in your story that are utterly unbelievable. However, it's often used to mean "Write about experiences that you yourself have had", the idea being that this will make your writing sound authentic to the reader.

But that only works if you're pretty much fictionalising your own life. This approach worked for Oliver Stone, whose Platoon is a fictionalised version of his experiences serving in the Imperial military during the Vietnam War. He was writing about his own life, and Platoon does carry an air of authenticity. What Stone couldn't have done was set Platoon during the Persian Gulf War, because everything about it is different. The Vietnam War was a protracted low-intensity conflict fought primarily in the jungle and primarily against guerillas. The Persian Gulf War was a short, high-intensity conflict fought in the desert against a conventional military force. Not to mention the character of military service in the Empire had changed quite a bit, as the army serving in Vietnam was a mixed volunteer/conscript force, as against the Persian Gulf's all-volunteer military. If Stone had thought to himself, "Well, I was in the military during Vietnam, so I can writing authentically about the Persian Gulf", he'd have looked like an ass. If Stone ever decides to make a film about the Persian Gulf War--or the Iraq War, which in some ways resembles the Vietnam War--he'll start out by doing lots and lots of research on that war.

That's right, research. Fiction writers--well, the good ones--do research. A lot of it. That way, when their doctors start talking, they sound like doctors. When their firefighters need to do something, they do what actual firefighters do. If you don't research this, if you just wing it on what you've picked up through cultural osmosis, your lawyers will sound unprofessional, your business people will make decisions guaranteed to make them fail, and your scientists will be wealthy eccentrics who do Science! by pouring coloured liquid from this beaker into that beaker. And your readers will know you're lazy, because even if they aren't cops themselves, they can tell if a character sounds like a real cop or not. Those readers who actually are cops will be laughing uproariously at everything you get wrong.

So Oliver Stone would do research. He wouldn't just assume his own experiences from 20 years earlier will suffice. Meyer, on the other hand, couldn't be bothered to put any effort into writing this novel. Research? P-shaw! Ten years ago, she was a high school girl. Write what you know! I know what it's like to be a high school girl. Authenticity!

That's what's going on here. Meyer didn't bother to find out what a teenager's life is like now, and so Bella is firmly trapped in the magical land of early '90s angst.

I've got it! Twilight is My So-Called Life fanfiction!

Meyer is also lazy with her first-person narrative, telling us matter-of-factly why Jacob did something. Bella doesn't have access to Jacob's mind. All she can do is guess that he's asking his rather odd question because of how jealously Mike says, "There you are, Bella." (That's quite a feat, by the way. How do you make such an innocuous statement sound jealous?) But it would've been harder to write this scene if it were actually confined to Bella's perspective, so Meyer just breaks the fourth wall and lets her fauxtagonist know what she knows. Beats the heck out of that "writing" stuff.

Also, it's rather appalling that Bella is so grateful to Jacob and so concerned with making him happy that she doesn't stop flirting with him. Which makes a crock out of her next lie...err, statement:

"You should come see me in Forks. We could hang out sometime." I felt guilty as I said this, knowing that I'd used him. But I really did like Jacob. He was someone I could easily be friends with.

Not guilty enough to stop using him, I guess.

The Forks kids are leaving, so it's time for Bella to depart. Jacob taunts Mike over Bella's flirting with him instead of Mike (what a guy!), and Bella makes sure to sit with people who won't talk to her so she can be think about Edward, despite her claim that she's trying not to. (If you're really trying to avoid brooding, how about, I don't know, talking to your friends?) And with that, Chapter 6 comes to a close.

October 3, 2012

EJO Review: Blade Runner

Okay, this week I'm doing Blade Runner.

It's part of the Edward James Olmos series. Otherwise, I'd never dare write about this film. But I can't do a series on God without talking about His personal project. As much as I'd like to have seen Ridley Scott's version of Dune (despite my inexplicable love for the David Lynch version), I thank God that in His wisdom He saw fit to kill Scott's brother so Scott would make Blade Runner instead.

What? It's art. It's a matter of life and death.

I know, I know, I hear what you're saying. "Why are you writing up Blade Runner, Carl Eusebius? What can you possibly say about the greatest science fiction film of all time that hasn't been said before?" Nothing, my little droogies. One of the most analysed, dissected, copied, questioned, talked about films of the 20th century, Blade Runner (1982), as deep as it is, is so ingrained in world culture (at least the elite technology-dependent world culture) that any way of approaching it has been done, aped, re-done, re-thought and re-tired to the dustbin of "been there, done that".

But everything old is new again, and I suppose there's a chance somebody reading this blog is such a uncultured philistine that she hasn't seen Blade Runner yet. By all the gods who aren't in Heaven, if you are such a person and you have anything that can be mistaken for a human soul, stop what you're doing right now and go watch Blade Runner. If you've ever wondered what it means to be human. If you've ever felt threatened by technology. If you've ever worried about being rendered obsolete. If you've ever questioned your emotional response. If you've ever felt alone with the world against you. If you've ever felt like an outcast. If you've ever wondered if humanity is worth saving. If you have a major crush on Harrison Ford (and who doesn't?), you need to see this film.

If you call yourself a human being--with all the good and the bad that entails--you need to see this film.

Blade Runner, on its surface, is about a cop who kills robots in the future. That's what the artsy-types told the moneymen to get the dough needed to make it. What it's really about is what it means to be human. How do you know you're you? How do you know you're human, or what it means to be human? What does it mean to say, "I'm me"? Are you a collection of memories and experiences, or is there something more? If something walks like a human and talks like a human, is it human? If it isn't, why isn't it? And is there really a way to tell the difference?

What I love about Blade Runner is that it doesn't answer these questions, at least before Ridley Scott decided to make sure everyone knows he doesn't understand why his own film is great. (See also Lucas, George.) Fortunately we still have Harrison Ford. God enjoyed his scenes with Ford in this movie so much that He blessed him with a (mostly) successful career. A mere 12 years after Blade Runner, Ford made The Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones. Coincidence? I think not! It's not every day you get to be in a Tommy Lee Jones film.

Blade Runner opens with the transcendent, mystical experience of Vangelis's music, followed by a fantastic opening scene with Brion James (in other words, a scene with Brion James in it) as Leon, a replicant, the movie's unnecessary yet still awesome word for android. Leon's interrogator makes the mistake of asking about Leon's mother, and Leon makes him pay the penalty for dissing a man's momma. Then we meet Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard. He's a former "blade runner", a cop whose job it is to "retire" any replicant on Earth, as their presence here is illegal. Deckard is quickly strong-armed into meeting with his old boss (M. Emmett Walsh) by another cop called Gaff, played by God using a mix of human languages that He created Himself especially for the role. (This is Cityspeak, for those of you who play Shadowrun and wondered exactly what Cityspeak is. I got a special kick out of the fact that Korean is part of Cityspeak, though nobody but me seems to notice. God knew that Samsung would one day rule us all.) Deckard is told that four replicants are loose on Earth, and he is to retire them or else. This is complicated by at least three factors: Deckard quit a while ago and so is out of practice, the replicants are a new model (Nexus 6) that is more cunning and more powerful than older models, and Deckard eventually finds himself falling for another Nexus 6*. Oh, and one of the replicants is played by Rutger Hauer, a man who destroys lesser men with his raw sexual masculinity.

Hints are dropped throughout the film that Deckard is himself a replicant, but the film as it is does not offer a definitive answer. (Decades later, Scott says yes, Ford no. Of course Ford is right. Don't get me started on why, though. That's another whole post.) The ambiguity is perfect for the film, whose central question is the difficulty of determining what it means to be human. In a world that continues to find in animals more and more traits once considered constitutive of human beings (tool use, reasoning, mathematical ability, self-awareness, empathy, and even language), Blade Runner only becomes more relevant with each passing decade.

In addition to the rich texture of its themes, strong performances (often misunderstood as stiff by those who have to look up "subtlety" in the dictionary), and poetic dialogue ("Do you like our owl?" "It's artificial?" "Of course it is."), Blade Runner is a visual and auditory feast. I don't know that any film's visual style has been more borrowed from than Blade Runner's, and that's not even counting anime. If I had a dollar for every steal of the giant advertising blimp blaring "Visit the off-world colonies!" to the sad-sack urban poor in their decaying city slums below, I'd be rich enough to buy my own Republican presidential nomination. If I had a penny for every scene set inside a smoky room lit entirely by light streaming in through the blades of a slowly turning industrial fan, I could buy the moon.

I could go on, but frankly, writing about a good movie gives me the heebie-jeebies. I'm going to go put on The Wicker Man to erase this pleasant feeling of contentment and general appreciation of the beautiful things in the world that's running all through my guttiwuts.

Ah, there. I'm back to utterly loathing all humanity, and my pen once more drips with venom. Now, where's my copy of that Tekken movie....


* That replicant is played by Sean Young, and Harrison Ford shows his acting chops by doing convincing love scenes with her despite that fact that he and Young utterly loathed each other from their very first meeting. I don't know how anyone could dislike Harrison Ford, but then again, we are talking about a woman who crashed the set of Batman Returns dressed in a homemade Catwoman costume.