Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Zombies had it right

Many will recall a scene in the greatest cinematic opus of the 20th century, “Return of the Living Dead,” when a captured female zombie, no more than a torso, head and pair of arms, explains why the zombie hordes hunger for human brains. “Because…” she gasps, “they make the pain of being dead go away.”

This would at first seem like fanciful movie science. But, as I think about it, it makes sense. Natural painkillers and chemical instigators of pleasure do exist in the brain, primarily in the form of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphin and serotonin. It seems sound to presume that by eating sections of the brain containing these neurotransmitters, the chemicals would be delivered to the nervous system of the creature doing the brain eating. Of course, the physiology of zombies is poorly understood — I believe Obama was going to appropriate funds to study this curious subject — but it does seem possible that the zombie body could absorb the neurotransmitters found in the brains of its prey and temporarily mitigate the pain of decomposition and entropy.

Are horror films essential to psychological health?

I have a few new thoughts related to Dr. John Sarno’s (and Freud’s) ideas about repressed rage and fear. Sarno argues that we live in a society that does not allow us to properly express the rage and fear we experience. So we repress those emotions into our subconscious. When they threaten to spillover into our conscious mind, our brain attempts to distract us by making us feel physical pain.

Now, how can we experience fear in an “acceptable” way? By watching horror movies. There, we are allowed to experience and perhaps release some of that stored fear. If this is true, horror films are a important tool for releasing negative emotions, and as opposed to being condemned, as they often are by nanny state finger waggers, they should be lauded as an important component of our psychological health. I would argue that children should be exposed early on to a steady diet of ultraviolent, terrifying horror films.

But do horror films release only fear? I suspect they release elements of rage as well. When you’re in a fit of volcanic rage, you’re possessed with the desire to kill everyone who annoys you — exactly what the villains in horror films do! The great movie villains — from Dracula to Freddy Krueger to Leatherface — are perfect examples of an un-repressed id. They do what they want and satisfy every desire, with no thought to the needs of society or their super ego.

Let’s explore this a little deeper. What is the main source of frustration for the average man? It’s the fact that all these super hot teenage girls are running around and refuse to have sex with him. Wouldn’t you like to, oh, I don’t know… saw them in half with a chainsaw? Lop off their heads with a machete? Impale them on a pair of mounted deer antlers (as seen in the classic “Silent Night, Deadly Night”)? Of course you would — it’s a perfectly reasonable response. And violent horror movies allow us to express this rage in an acceptable manner.

Interestingly, horror film director Stuart Gordon (Dagon, Reanimator, From Beyond) made a similar point when I interviewed him.

I actually think the argument is stronger in the other direction, which is that horror movies are a way to get violent impulses out of your system. It’s a way to express these things in a manner that doesn’t hurt anyone.

Thoughts on Hilary Swank movie “Conviction”

I caught the new Hilary Swank film, “Conviction,” this weekend. As you may know, it’s the story of a Massachusetts woman who earned a law degree so she could free her brother from prison where he was serving a sentence for a murder he did not commit. One of the interesting things about the film is that the main villain is Martha Coakley. You may recall her as the Democrat who ran in 2010 for the Senate seat opened up by Edward Kennedy’s death. She lost to Republican Scott Brown, and for a while, it looked like the loss would be the final blow against the health-care bill.

Now, if you take the movie at face value, Coakley does come across as — to use a term employed by Swank’s character — “an evil bitch.” As Attorney General, she blocks the release of the imprisoned brother even though DNA evidence has exonerated him.

Coakley is currently running again for the Attorney General position, and disputes claims made in the movie.

Coakley’s representatives sought to curtail the negative press from the movie yesterday and released a fact sheet detailing what they said are inaccuracies. According to the release, Coakley did not keep Waters in prison for months after DNA tests showed he wasn’t the one who brutally murdered Katharina Brow in her Ayer home in 1980. Waters was released from prison within two weeks of the DNA test, according to the fact sheet, which highlighted her 20 years as a prosecutor and record of protecting against wrongful convictions.

I, of course, have no way of knowing who’s telling the truth here. But I am a little curious about one thing. The movie has been in various stages of production for several years, and there must’ve been a point where director Tony Goldwyn (who, I was a bit surprised to discover, is the same Tony Goldwyn who played the heavy in “Ghost”) was aware that he could be working on a film that would either malign a contender for the Senate (had the movie come out a year earlier) or malign a sitting senator (had she won.) Obviously, that dilemma would be a bit daunting. And, I don’t know Tony Goldwyn’s politics, so I have to wonder whether he would be concerned that his film could actually harm the Democratic agenda. (I presume most people Hollywood are simpering liberal pinkos.)

I actually did a little research on the Web into this matter, and did find this interviewwith Goldwyn which touches on the subject.

[Q:] While she’s never seen, one of the arresting moments in the film for many viewers may be discovering Martha Coakley was the person who had a hand in keeping Kenny behind bars as the attorney general in Massachusetts. During production, were you paying close attention to what was going on in her ill-fated 2009 run for Senate in Massachusetts? And do you feel that takes audiences out of the movie at all?

[A:] Oh my God. It was unbelievable, incredible. I couldn’t believe that was happening. I think it’s good for the film because Martha Coakley became sort of an infamous character and had we come out a year ago, it probably would’ve been much more prominent, but I think people go, “Oh, I think I’ve heard of that name.” Look, she became a very prominent person. She was attorney general of the state of Massachusetts and yet DAs and prosecutors are in the business of keeping people in jail. Putting them in jail and keeping them there and she wasn’t about to let him out until Barry [Scheck] shamed her into it.

One thing not mentioned by the movie: the imprisoned brother, Kenny Waters, died in a fall six months after finally being freed from prison.

The Social Network

I woke up yesterday and the empty hours of yet another Saturday stretched before me like a languid whore eager to be pleasured. I decided to fill some time by seeing “The Social Network,” the new movie about the development of Facebook. It’s an engaging story, but there is an aspect to it that bothers me. In the film, two twin brothers bring a lawsuit against their fellow Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, who built Facebook. The brothers allege that since they hired Zuckerberg to work on a similar social network before he started Facebook, they, in essence, were owed money as co-creators of Facebook. In the end, we find that Facebook settled the suit by awarding the twins 65 million dollars.

To its credit, the movie makes mention of the obvious point: Zuckerberg did not invent the social network. The original social network, Friendster, had been around for years, soon followed by Myspace.com. And, when you think about it, a social network hardly needs to be “invented” — it’s merely a hodgepodge of existing Web technologies like guest books, e-mail etc.

So, if Zuckerberg did not invent the social network — and he did not — neither did the twins who sued him. If I run a hamburger chain and hire a new employee who then leaves my company and goes off and starts his own hamburger chain, I can’t sue him claiming that he stole the idea of hamburgers from me.

Well, except, by the logic of this case, maybe I could.

Lawrence Lessig offers a similar take in this New Republic review.

But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law.

I find this comment from Lessig somewhat baffling, however.

… an absurdity one could well miss in this film between all the cocaine and practically naked twentysomethings.

I found the movie disturbingly bereft of practically naked twentysomethings, and, frankly, pretty low on cocaine.

Armageddon for the movie industry

For some time now, I’ve been pondering a dystopian vision of the future where any entertainment content that can be digitized — music, movies, books — ends up being pirated and thus no longer generates revenue. The end result of this being that these industries shrink substantially. We’re already seeing this process in regards to music. I suspect we’ll soon see it for e-books. With movies and television it’s been less of an issue because it’s still a substantial hassle to download a video as either a movie file or bit torrent. However, a new article in the LA Times says that the advent of streaming pirated video is alleviating this hassle.

Megavideo and other sites like it offer a vast unauthorized selection of popular television shows and movies that can be watched with the click of a mouse, using the same streaming technology found on mainstream sites like CNN or Hulu. It demands none of the time or technical sophistication required to download a video file via BitTorrent or other file-sharing technology.

The fear is nonetheless palpable throughout the entertainment industry. Executives worry that improvements in Internet speeds and in the software that compresses movie files into easy-to-distribute packages are making matters worse.

“It’s made streaming a lot less clunky than it was even three years ago,” said Darcy Antonellis, president of Warner Bros. Technical Operations.

Of course, a world without music, movies and stories is a world without magic. I suspect the children of tomorrow will grow up emotionally vacant and spiritually null. We will gaze into their eyes and see only a blank empty soul gazing back at us. If you want to spare yourself this agony, I suggest you kill yourself right now by eating a flaming stick of dynamite.

Does Death Wish III offer insight into the tea party movement?

AMC has been running all five of the Death Wish films this week. I caught “Death Wish III” and it prompted some interesting musings that I’m sure you’re excited to hear.

First, a little background on the series. I haven’t seen the original Death Wish in a while; my recollection is that it’s a grim and fairly realistic (for an action movie) vigilante justice flick. Paul Kearsey, the protagonist played by Charles Bronson, starts out as a purportedly liberal character, but after violence is visited upon his family by street thugs, he becomes a gun toting vigilante (not far removed from the origin of the Punisher character in Marvel Comics.) But the movie isn’t a explosive shoot-em-up of the Stallone or Schwarzenegger variety; the death count is fairly low, and Kearsey suffers substantially for his activities. The idea that violence, even legitimate violence, comes with a cost is pretty clear.

It’s also been a while since I’ve seen the second Death Wish , but my recollection was that it largely carried forth the themes in the first one, though in a slightly more cartoonish way.

The third Death Wish , as I was reminded last night, is an utterly absurd pile of cinematic feces, but delightful to watch. Gone is any attempt at subtlety, at nuance, at philosophizing about the nature of violence. In this film, Kearsey mows down seemingly hundreds of thugs with a Browning submachine gun, and dispatches dozens more with pistols and Vietcong style booby-traps. All the characters are cardboard stereotypes, and you can see the actors wincing at their dialogue. (All but Bronson, that is. And he’s actually a pretty good actor.)

Now, the entire Death Wish series, as well as the whole vigilante genre is obviously conservative (though a form of conservatism I think most people are somewhat sympathetic towards. Who’s really against napalming criminal scum off the face of the earth? Other than pinko commie liberals?) In the third Death Wish, I thought I saw a lot of the themes and concerns expressed by the tea party movement.

The first is guns. Now, I’m a Second Amendment guy, but I’ve never been much of a gun fetishist. And, at this point in American history, I think guns would be largely worthless were a totalitarian dictator to take charge and have at his disposal the U.S. Army and its nuclear arsenal. (I waffle on this point a bit; it is possible an armed insurrection — Red Dawn style — could make life fairly difficult for a militaristic government.) In Death Wish III, not only are guns being taken away from law-abiding citizens (though Charles Bronson appears to have no problem ordering a bazooka through the mail) but they are almost omnipotent in their ability to stop criminals. In classic action adventure style, every bad guy who shoots at Bronson misses, while Bronson almost always unerringly hits his target. And, he never hits an innocent civilian. So, guns are glorified, and any potential downsides are glossed over.

Death Wish III also captures the general sense of paranoia you see from some tea partiers. In the movie, the bad guys are a loose collection of Italians, Hispanics, black gangsta types and white punk rockers (including a pre-”Bill and Ted” Alex Winter!) — all led by some kind of Southern hillbilly with an inverted Mohawk. In reality, the likelihood of such disparate groups working together in a criminal enterprise hovers around zero. (I suppose if the movie were made today it would be Muslim terrorists, illegal immigrants and Black Panthers, all working in tandem.) On top of that, the overwhelming majority of the cops are corrupt idiots.

That said, I don’t think the film is really racist, in the same sense that I don’t think the tea party is really racist. You often see a liberal portrayal of tea party members a bunch of white guys sitting around raving about blacks and Hispanics (and some tea partiers had given ammunition to this image.) But I think your average tea partier doesn’t give much thought to race and basically thinks that if someone is a hard-working law-abiding citizen, they’re all right. And, in the film, Bronson is shown as an emancipator of the multiethnic citizenry of the ghetto he operates in.

I recognize, of course, that it’s ludicrous to analyze a political movement in the year 2010 by referencing a generally retarded action film made decades earlier. And, there’s nothing in Death Wish III that addresses issues like government spending and taxation (nor does the movie ever tackle religion.) Nonetheless, there’s a particular cultural view that is shared by many in the tea party movement, and I think Death Wish III does offer some insight into it.

It makes me realize that the time is right for a new vigilante justice movie. I propose, in the spirit of racial inclusiveness, that the protagonist be a middle-aged overweight black woman who travels around on a electric scooter armed with rapidfire machine guns and grenade launchers.

“The Runaways” reviewed

About six months back, “The Runaways,” the movie biopic about the all girl 70s rock ‘n roll band of the same name, was released, and I found myself with a mild interest in seeing it. This is partly because I’m a lukewarm fan of the band — their bluesy rock sludge was certainly a lot better than most of the dreck released by riot grrl bands of the early 90s. I’ve also, in recent years, done a lot of reading about the music scene in 1960s to 80s Los Angeles, and it’s from that stew that The Runaways emerged. Their manager, Kim Fowley, is quoted in pretty much every book one reads related to LA music from that era.

I finally watched the movie last night on Cable onDemand. The verdict: not bad, but not really great. Part of the problem is this is a story we’ve seen a million times — naïve rock band is plucked from obscurity and handed fame and wealth which they primarily snort up their nose or down in copious bottles of alcohol. There’s always something entertaining about such debauched tales, but they pack less and less impact with each viewing.

I also thought Lita Ford, guitar player for The Runaways, got shortchanged by the movie. Her character is only shown in passing, and only to belittle our sensitive protagonist: lead singer Cherie Currie. Now, I’ve no doubt that Ford probably was a real twat back then, but more so than Currie or rhythm guitarist Joan Jett? I doubt it. And Lita was certainly deserving of recognition for her musical talents — to this day, she’s one of the great female guitarists*. But Ford ultimately veered towards a career in heavy metal, a genre of music the pseudo-bohemian “artists” who populate much of the filmmaking industry despise. (Joan Jett is an executive producer of the film, and that might have affected the characterizations.)

* Of course, this status is partly because most female guitarists are so lame.

One interesting bit of trivia: Robert Romanus, the actor who played the wheeling and dealing “Damone” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” has a small role as a guitar teacher in the film. I haven’t seen that guy in years, but he’s got a very particular presence, easy to recognize. I looked him up on IMDB, and discovered that he had a role in “Foxes” the only movie that Cherie Currie — in her bid to transform herself from a singer to an actress — ever appeared in. This coincidence clearly indicates some kind of divine power guiding the universe.

Just for fun…

Here’s another classic sexploitation poster.

Urgent sexploitation madness!

A friend just notified me of the existence of the following: Sexploitation Poster Gallery!
Here’s a sample.

The evolution of the gunfight

Last night I caught “The Dead Pool,” the final episode in the Dirty Harry series, on cable. It was really shockingly bad, inferior to your average episode of Law and Order. But it did make me realize that we’ve really progressed in the art of filming gunfights. The bad guys’ gunfighting style in “The Dead Pool” is sequential. One guy opens fire at Harry, who’s hiding behind a car or something, and empties his Uzi. When the bad guy stops firing, Harry stands up and blows his head off. Now, you would think this would be a perfect opportunity for another bad guy to open fire on Harry, but that guy usually politely waits for Harry to crouch back down behind the car before pulling the trigger.

Now, as anyone who’s ever been in a gunfight with members of the Italian Mafia knows, this is not how real gunplay occurs. What I described above was almost every gunfight filmed in the 1970s and 80s, but you never see it anymore. These days, gunfights are insane for a totally different set of reasons — the hero is usually opening fire on the villains while he leaps through a burning helicopter before landing on his motorcycle — but in a certain sense they are more realistic. The bad guys are not complete morons who exist simply to be cannon fodder. And this means that there was a generation of gunfight choreographers who really sat down and said, “Everything we’ve done up until now is shit. How do we make gunfights real?” And you’ve got to give them credit.