If you’ve been paying attention you’ve noticed that lately I’ve been complaining about the shitiness of much of modern film. Both the new Superman film and World War Z were, in my opinion, storytelling flops full of hard to follow action sequences and CGI hoohaw. (Modern CGI has removed the art of spectacle from film – if it’s as easy to show a giant robot flying into the sun and blowing up the universe as it is to show a happy elf, then what’s the point? If anything is visually possible, why be amazed?*)
* I commented on this in my old piece on Steve Ditko: “To me, Ditko’s work has lasted in the same manner of 60′s special effects great Ray Harryhausen – there are newer, better special effects, but in Harryhausen’s work, you can see the elbow grease, the creativity.”
The L.A. Times has an interesting report today noting that many of the big-budget summer films are flailing while smaller B-movies are succeeding. Why?
Several factors may be behind the turnabout, according to Hollywood analysts, including studios doing a better job of serving niche audiences and consumers experiencing blockbuster fatigue.
“Everything looked watered down and the studios were left trying to distinguish their movies,” said Ted Mundorff, chief executive of Landmark Theatres.
I’ve felt that fatigue. You find yourself thinking, “Do I want to see the movie where the hoard of zombies attacks New York or do I want to see the movie where the robot-alien attacks Los Angeles? Eh, think I’ll stay home.”
But I could get past the pointless spectacle if so many big budget movies of today didn’t also suffer from uninspired plots. The sense I get from many recent films is that they are written by committee and any plot twist that might offend some loser is voted down. In the Times article, Jason Blum, producer of successful B-Movie “The Purge,” is quoted.
Blum noted that similar sense of financial freedom helped him make satisfying choices within the movie. “I can kill my lead halfway through if the story calls for it. You could never do that with a $100- or $200-million movie.”
That’s the rub write there. With “Man of Steel” or “World War Z,” I know, in the general sense, what’s going to happen. That’s not the case with a lot of low budget horror I’ve been watching lately. You don’t see the twists coming. (Ironically, that unpredictability was part of what made the “World War Z” book stand out. But all that was washed from the movie version.)
There’s no denying music just sounds better when accompanied by imagery. As such, I’ve been trying to augment some of my instrumental tunes with visual imagery. I’ve just started going through some of the existing free sources for video and created this short piece using some old music of mine.
Keen eyed readers may recall that I reviewed Max Brook’s faux-oral history “World War Z” some years ago. It was a great book that successfully translated the horrors of zombies from film to the printed page. As a result of my affection for the book I was eagerly awaiting a chance to view the film version starring Brad Pitt. In fact, I saw it last night. What did I think?
BO-RING! A complete fucking failure. For one thing, the movie has none of the cool plot twists of any of the stories in the book. Plus no gore, no boobies and frankly, no meaningful scares.
My main complaint is that the movie is one of those films where you find yourself saying, “What? This is the end? Whatthefuck!” It had an entirely undramatic finish that felt tacked on. My understanding is that the movie was substantially recut in the editing room so it probably was tacked on.
The only upside in the film: some decent vaguely John Carpenter-ish scare music performed by the band Muse.
I have to admit, I’ve been disappointed with movies in general lately. (The last one I really enjoyed was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”) They seem totally predictable and lacking any real drama. There are no characters in “WWZ” that I was rooting for. Pitt came across as a stalwart douche with little interior conflict and the other characters are just forgettable cardboard cutouts. I had the same complaint, frankly, about the new Superman flick. Hollywood has mastered big budget spectacle, but lost its ability to portray real emotional drama and conflict (which it possessed in spades during the 70s as seen in the work of Scorsese, Coppola etc.) What’s going on? I suspect it is the death of the auteur. Modern movies are designed by committee and the result of everyone getting their say in the story is that the grand whole is weaker.
Not too long ago I was in a bar (surprise!) and saw a segment from an extremely bizarre looking film on a video screen. It was an ultra-gory, ultra-weird Japanese movie. Days later I managed to track it down as “Tokyo Gore Police.” I still haven’t seen it but it looks awesome: chainsaw battles, severed limbs raining blood, ghastly torture!
As it turns out, there’s been an onslaught of super violent horror films from Japan in the past decade or so. Mutant Girls Squad, Meatball Machine and similar titles have pushed horror and gore to new levels, basically confirming my long held suspicion that the Japanese are insane!
This topic – Japan’s fetish for bizarre hyper-violence – would seem interesting but largely meaningless. But I’m reminded today by this blog post that there are political implications to consider as the U.S. Government is casting a watchful eye on Hollywood and Western video game makers.
[I]f exposure to violent media was a significant determinant of real-world violence, then since media culture is now global, every country would have about the same level of violence, and of course they don’t. Japan would be the most violent society on earth.
Have you seen the crazy stuff the Japanese watch and play? (Two words: tentacle porn. Don’t ask.) But in fact, Japan is at or near the bottom among industrialized countries in every category of violent crime, from murder to rape to robbery. There are many reasons, some of them cultural, some of them practical (like the fact that it’s basically illegal for a private citizen to own a gun there), but the point is that even if all that violent media is having an effect on Japanese psyches, the effect is so small that it doesn’t make much of a difference on a societal level.
Just for guts and giggles, here’s the trailer for Meatball Machine.
A couple of nights ago, my brother and I were watching an old Western movie, “The Return of Frank James.” There was a young man playing a role in the movie who seemed really familiar, but we couldn’t figure out who he was. Finally we realized it was former child star Jackie Cooper.
This got me thinking of the general predicament of watching movies and finding yourself puzzling over who a certain actor is. It seems that with the advent of facial recognition software, this kind of puzzlement should be a thing of the past. Let’s say someone creates a database which contains facial information for all famous people. When you’re watching a movie, the broadcast can essentially whittle down the list of potential facial recognition targets to only the actors in the movie. At which point, you should be able to just point to the character on the screen with some kind of laser pointer, and that would provide the name of the actor and perhaps even bring up pertinent facts about his or her career.
Actually, the idea that your television should be able to recognize a human face on the screen brings to mind all sorts of possibilities. For instance, it would be great to watch a scene in a movie and attach a Groucho Marx glasses mustache contraption to the actor. Or paint in devil horns. We’re almost in the year 2013, why are we not doing this?
The most obvious use of this technology is the following: we should be able to interact with the screen in such a way that we can drag giant cartoon penises around and poke them at the faces of the actors on screen. So you’ve got some dramatic actress moping about the loss of her children in “Sophie’s Choice” or doomed Holocaust victims condemning Germans in “Schindler’s List” and meanwhile cartoon penises are bumping off their chin.
You might be saying, “Wil, this is silly. What is the point of such technology?” To which I argue that manipulating cartoon penises on screen is clearly the wave of the future. You can either get on board, or be left behind.
I finished off Christmas in a rather unusual way; I watched a strange cocaine drama entitled “London” which starred Chris Evans (perhaps best known for taking on the role of Capt. America in the recent Marvel Comics films) Jessica Biel, and Jason Statham. I expected the film to suck and be something like a third rate “Less Than Zero” clone, but I thought it was quite good. (I will note that reviews for the film were almost unanimously negative.) Chris Evans, whom I’ve always presumed to be little more than a pretty face, is not a bad actor, and Jason Statham, best known for ultraviolet action films, really shines in a dramatic role.
It’s one of these movies in which the main characters are introduced as largely vapid, privileged, narcissistic douches, and you think there’s no way to sympathize for them or really react to them in any other way than praying for their deaths. But as the movie goes on the characters become ever more sympathetic and believable.
Anyway, you can see the whole thing for free at Crackle.
I think we can all agree that there is no greater holiday tradition than putting up the mistletoe, pouring some eggnog, grabbing the grandparents and the little ones and sitting down to watch the classic horror film “Silent Night, Deadly Night” in which a homicidal Santa Claus travels through a neighborhood and kills people (including the classic scene where he impales a libidinous teenage girl on a pair of mounted deer antlers.)
I, however, have seen the film a number of times. So last night I decided to watch the film’s recent remake, called, simply, “Silent Night.”
How was it? Not bad. As others have noted, I found it to be more of an homage than direct remake. The basic premise of the first film — a crazed Santa killing people in a small town — remains, but not much else. Fans of the original film and its sequel will see several of the original death scenes replicated, including a great moment where someone is electrocuted so severely that their eyeballs fly out of their head. Ho ho ho! But “Silent Night” also has a great original death scene: death by wood chipper! (Yes, bringing to mind a scene from “Fargo”, but in this case the victim is still alive.)
The film boasts a strong cast including Malcolm McDowell and model-turned-actress Jaime King. But perhaps the best performance is by comedic actor Donal Logue (I first saw him years ago in a terrific and underrated dramedy called “The Tao of Steve.”) who plays a embittered and enraged Santa who is the antithesis of Christmas spirit (and possibly the killer.) The movie strongest moment features Logue’s character spitting out a free-form rant about how Christmas makes everyone miserable.
All that said and done, there was something a little unsatisfying about the plot. It never quite fell into place for me. Fortunately, the horrifyingly brutal death scenes and at least one pair of exposed breasts kept things interesting.
Often in discussion about meditation you see mention of the goal of eliminating self. The idea is that you should not be aware of your own existence, your inner dialogue, but simply be aware of your experiences. I’ve long thought this reminds me of the most un-meditative of experiences: watching an engaging movie. You, the viewer, cease to exist and you cede yourself to the characters onscreen.
Rafael Malach and colleagues have studied what happens when people watch an absorbing Clint Eastwood movie in a brain scanner. In those circumstances, the frontal “self” network actually shuts down while the more purely visual parts of the brain are activated. This mirrors our experience. When we watch an absorbing movie we lose the sense of our selves, but we are vividly and profoundly conscious of the movie itself.