“How merrily the formerly weird laugh away their tragic history to be lured into events whose significance they do not truly understand by people they hope to befriend, seduce, enchant but who actually despise them and their otherness and wish to extinguish it.”

http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/11695/the-hangover-ii/

“By the way, this was not a movie about vampires, as in personifications of an infantile and perverse sexuality-often repressed, a complicated metaphor for the desire for immortality and the existence of death, the hatred and love entwined in those things, how there is sadism in the heart of that desire and a yearning to posses and articulate it, virginity, innocence, capes, and guilt. They were, like, just monsters. Which I, for one, don’t really consider to be vampires at all. These things are important.”  

http://www.ruthlessreviews.com/11679/priest/

St. Elmo’s Fire
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander
Starring Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, etc.
110 minutes, Columbia Pictures, 1985.

***

Here’s a shit-show where everyone is loathsome, young, priveliged, and without any entertaining qualities. This is a significant movie for the way it is shoddily chopped together from lazy cinematography, rife with plot elements that are unpredictable because they are so completely out-of-place and unreasonable, supporting characters whom are introduced clumsily and then abandoned without any real reason except to advance a zany plot idea, and starring loathsome actors whose impressions feel like they left MDMA-sized holes in your brain. I think St. Elmo’s Fire refers to the rapidly spreading rash they all contract from sleeping with each other.

Today’s film equivalent, the canon of Sofia Coppola or the CV of Michael Cera, is considered brilliant (by the idiocracy) because such films frame this substance-less or meandering, melancholy-lite narrative within a well-produced project. As an early progenitor of this style, St. Elmo’s Fire seems to have no redeeming qualities, much like earlier flick, The Big Chill.

The Big Chill is worth mentioning because it was the first stupid, nostalgic, commercially-successful friendship movie I can think of that has no real resonance for anyone except people who are similarly vanilla flavored. The first “those were the days/we were young/fondness for youth” types of things. I agree, there is something ephemeral and seemingly magically touching about getting old. Kind of like how good techno or house music has an endearing melancholy to it (because it makes you think of casual sex!). But these movies really can’t capture that at all. They end up looking like a re-enactment of someone else’s lame Facebook photos.

There is a supreme irony to the nostalgia flavor in these movies, given how self-centered the characters are: to celebrate their nostalgia goes beyond distaste. St. Elmo’s Fire is a very similar movie to The Big Chill, simply made about 10 years later, and geared toward an accelerated, more saturated commercial market (I have no facts to back this up but it sounds good to me!). If you made the same movie today it would just be a Youtube video of your Facebook photo albums, with pop music that has been ravaged by the merciless audio-mastering standards of the modern audio industry.

Part of the reason common movies CULTURE suck(s) so much now is ‘coz it’s ALL nostalgia. It’s all hipster-consumerism (which looks like it could be an anagram for hippie-communism, right?! but naw…). People fondly remember shit they liked when they were younger, which amounted to things. People no longer yearn for their homeland in the same way as people in classic stories, because in ages past there wasn’t the same intense commercialism driving everyone’s memories. If you think about it, that is a business’ grand slam: to embed itself into your fond emotional memories. Hence we have a generation of boring businessmen and women stuffing the pop culture of the 60s/70s/80s/90s down our throats because they are nostalgic for it or can find emotionally needy customers who are.

By the way, this movie is supposed to take place in Georgetown (Washington, DC) but it is worth noting that there are no significant shots indicating this is in fact the city they are in. I would actually wager they filmed this in Boston or Philadelphia or some such place. And also, Rob Lowe is an intolerable little shit.

A Serious Man
Directed/Produced/Written by Joel & Ethan Coen.
Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick, etc.
109 minutes, Relativity/Studio Canal, 2009.

***

So the Coen brothers are essentially absurdist filmmakers. Their narratives, even when cleanly concluded, never have the closure or satisfaction of fairy-tales. Life is a puzzle; those who survive in their limited happiness do so within a sort of obliviousness. A Serious Man is a look at what happens when the obliviousness crumbles, and one is vulnerable to the way things really are. There is no true compassion in one’s community and no answers (or end) to the hardships that face us.

A Serious Man is basically the story of Job from the Old Testament. Suffer, suffer, then suffer some more. The story questions God a lot, which is in contrast to the original story; but maybe acknowledging God’s existence at all is the modern equivalent — especially in the face of calamity.

But what I want to know is, why the questions poised to God? Not because they won’t be answered, but because they are still not very serious questions. Questions to any God at all are still an attempt to absolve personal responsibility, not for one’s own well-being or lack thereof, but for one’s spiritual existence. If there is any God with a personality, this God is just as infallible as any individual personality would be (no shit, right?). These kinds of questions, which Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman loved to toss around, sound like the bleating of sheep. It is an attempt to kindle camaraderie amongst the un-mystically inclined intelligentsia, who secretly wish to believe they have that spark. I suppose there is some sort of term for this brand of irony, where an artist or entertainer’s very patrons make up the subjects of their satire.

What we learn from the movie, is that there are no answers to these questions, but suffering is an infinite resource. Furthermore, when asking them the hard questions, people just want you to fuck off. They won’t tell you straight-up that there are no answers, they will just find your presence repellent, a dead weight. The answer: please take your time to smell the flowers.

Anyway, this is one of the most grim movies that exists, but is still really heavy on the heartstrings. The Coen bros are the true modern heirs of the absurdist/existentialist theater. Aronofsky is a shadow of these guys, if only evidenced by the multitude of humorous, horrifying and endearing qualities almost every Coen bros. movie has by comparison. But it all remains in a very empirical setting, much like Woody Allen.

It’s very… athiestic.

Meet Joe Black
Directed by Martin Brest
Written by Ron Osborn, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade, Bo Goldman (and based on like 4 other things).
Starring Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Anthony Hopkins.
181 minutes, Universal Pictures, 1998.
***
Meet Joe Black runs a reasonably innovative box-office game-plan. It’s a sappy romance, veiled in a macabre tale about Death (the Grim Reaper type), who falls in love with a rich man’s daughter after somehow switching into the body of a young hunk he’s supposed to nab for expiration. It’s very much like Freaky Friday or the Prince and the Pauper, but with a boatload of romantic lies thrown in to balance out what would otherwise be hilarious hi-jinks (so it’s kind of like Titanic I guess?).
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In this long-ass story, Death can only be shown the beauty that life has to offer via a rich man’s assets: his wealth, property, power and voluptuous daughter. I must say, these morsels do present quite a convincing case; life is certainly hard to relinquish when all you have (been given) are riches, fine delicassies and sexual prowess. For hot rich babes (or Brad Pitt), dying or getting old will probably suck.
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Meanwhile, for the rest of us sipping on the cold gruel of an average existence, something about this song and dance has a fishy aftertaste. Perhaps life’s deepest beauty actually IS found in exotic parties and a businessman’s fortune — I don’t have a clue. But I do have to ask: what mountain of human suffering must be traversed in order to enjoy such a thing at the expense of others? And given the unbelievable, innumerable tiers of hardcore brutal suffering available out there in the cosmic garden, what are the odds that your ticket in the human lottery will yield such a lucky fortune?
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I’ll answer for you: not bloody likely. But I do like that here they’re selling the rich-kid-wildcard draw to Death as just your average, run-of-the-mill Human Experience 101. Life is a party, bro! Quite being so negative and join the orgy! I guess what’s really going on here is some cosmic scam artist is tricking Death into taking human form — and thus the same stupid samsaric trap as the rest of us. Pretty deep stuff actually.

Weekend at Bernie’s
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Written by Robert Klane
Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser
97 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1989.

***

An artistic vehicle can’t help being some kind of commentary on something. For dontcha know, All Art is Propaganda, “the fool sees not the same tree the wise man sees”, and everything is just an argument for its own existence.

It’s shallow and gaudy at first glance — rife with tacky dark-comedy, but Weekend at Bernie‘s has some narrative tricks to tell. The title character of Bernie is/was the millionaire scumbag “Eighties’ guy” with tons of friends and money — shallow jerkoff in a jumpsuit at the beach. When Bernie dies, nobody around him even notices, except his underlings visiting for the weekend. Bernie is one of the main events at the beach town; people are attracted to him like flies on carrion. And right away you see his sycophants are so caught up in their own narcissism and shallow pursuits that they can’t afford to actually give a flying fuck about Bernie as a person, dead or alive. They don’t actually interact with Bernie at all. Everyone hangs out with Bernie exclusively for the luxury and status that his social-financial assets afford, and there is no interaction with Bernie, the tangible breathing (or not) human being.

Hmm, Bernie the tangible human being. It doesn’t sway people because it precisely isn’t tangible (even though people are… physical things?). Personalities and artistic endeavors sway people emotionally based on taste, but status, money, convenience, sexual allure, power — these things guarantee a modicum of attention and company: the oarsmen for the armada of the ego. The problem with status-based manipulation is that it is not actually deep enough to effectively sway people of quality, and those it does sway, it does so only temporarily, for their allegiance must always change to sample many flavors.

That’s the game of high society (and maybe all social groups) but it’s goofy here because it’s proven via such blatant means. Plainly shown, this is who Bernie is — or was, and who we construct from the variety of tongue-in-cheek engagements that take place with his corpse. He’s not really dead, or at least not any more than the people he keeps company with, because he’s just as active post-mortem as before. To be alive and aware requires emotional introspection and reflection; the people who cannot process things are the ones who cannot see a difference in Bernie — dead or alive. A person and their legacy are the projected constructs of other people. Status is an illusory social belief granted to those who define it.

There’s never anything particularly fuzzy or friendly about Weekend at Bernie’s and that’s what seems so ’80s about it. Part of the honesty of movies like Conan, Blade Runner, Willow, The Thing, Legend and a slew of other dark atmospheric ’80s fantasy films was they seemed to give an honest representation of depravity within a slew of seriously bold artistic choices and stylistic creations. Here whole thing feels like a very authentic emulation of shallowness, the bright colors, energy, and seeming innocence of the dorky protagonists. The difference is that the shallowness does not feel contrived, negative or soulless, whereas the same film today is so engendered with investment potential it becomes purposeless.
Amazon
@ Wikipedia
@ IMDb

Enemy Mine
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Edward Khmara; story by Barry Longyear
Starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.
108 minutes, 20th Century Fox, 1985.

***

Lo and behold — before there was Avatar, there was Enemy Mine! Another sci-fi movie with stupidly up-front PC messages about the holiness and wisdom of the simple life, the dumb prejudices of ethnocentrism, the malleability of belief given an individual’s social context, the horrible guilt of (predominantly white) colonialism, the importance of friendship in times of hardship, and so it goes. A worthy spectacle, but perhaps no modern treat for the masses — it doesn’t make them feel like precious little cyber-gemstones. It isn’t a lazy popcorn fest, but a substantial “B-movie”, with some ironic but endearing qualities.

Is the irony present here intentional? Probably not. It’s a distinctly mid-80s film, with references to classic sci-fi (gauche painting backgrounds and foam meteorite landscapes) and floats an over-the-top PC social message, not-so-subtly hidden, a few years before it was edgy and hip to do so. The Dracs are a stand-in for the various peoples European colonialists have exploited over the years.

The Dracs are a more interesting group than the blue freaks of Avatar. And unlike the obsessive idealized moral purity of Avatar‘s blue losers vs. the one-sided affair of black-hearted capitalism and machines (why does Cameron claim to side with the blue people if he’s very obviously an ambassador of the technology lovers?), the Dracs and the humans in Enemy Mine are subject to the typical territorial/resource squabble of all warring peoples and ethnic groups, with their shared wrongs and misperceived intentions.

The problem with Avatar‘s creatures is that they were too obvious and the played-out fantasy of the turncoat-white-guy shagging foreign babes was far too gag-inducing. I mean, if the dude couldn’t fuck the blue girl, was he still going to convert? That’s the most important question that the movie failed to address properly — except when the toy villain military honcho (pretty realistic despite fakeness) said Jake Sully converted because he got a piece of tail. Avatar replaced the visual sexual love interest with one engaged by our intentionally gradual acclimation to the blue raspberry people (we don’t know anything about the backgrounds of the people in the contracting companies, military, etc.), the sexual ties of which we still were supposed to identify with, and thus love the blue people for. It’s the crowd-shaker, the cheap-shot at the heart of the masses.

But fuck that! Enemy Mine is about a more vivid, real kind of love, absent of any blatant sexual love interest, presented more clumsily (thus more realistically), and hence talks about more profound stuff. Cultures are exchanged; world-views are seen to be inconsequential. It’s a desert-island tale that deals with universal issues  — from a cosmic perspective. And it actually has some unnecessary gory action scenes, giving it several extra points. The funny thing is that, also qualitatively similarly to Avatar, Enemy Mine has a really boring shitty script — laughably terrible. But it’s as if the script is hiding and conveying the ethos of the tale, whereas in Avatar the script is not hiding anything, it’s just a default — like hypertext mark-up. Both scripts are somewhat lazy stand-ins for the interactions on-screen, but one movie has no interactions to actually transmit, rendering the dialog to be pure podium puke, much as what you’d find miserably attempts to pass for dialog in Ayn Rand novels.

But even if it’s unintentionally badly written, Enemy Mine has homage and nostalgia going for it — as well as some outstanding alien costume design (the centerpiece of the film, really). Classic sci-fi films, B-movies of the mid-20th century were poorly written, acted and presented, and then vividly otherized alien species — the inverse of the zombie commentaries of Romero. Later Star Trek toyed with these ideas, and attempted to inculcate the audience into empathy for disgusting foreign species or beings, and then it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 which reinvigorated and enshrined in our hearts the crappy films of the of ’50s (Gen X’ers breakin’ on baby-boomers). Enemy Mine pre-dates MST3K‘s attitude slightly, and actually fits into its two interactive camps: light-heartedly admiring, acknowledging and then mocking crappy sci-fi (and outdated, oblivious Americana) and yet also maintaining a tradition of unintentional irony.

One more thing: like Avatar, Enemy Mine goes on for too long and also ends in a stupid fight sequence that is unrealistic and probably unintentionally symbolic rather than tangibly violent.  Some things in the movie are poorly thought out and some of the human characters are one-dimensional later in the tale (and the white humans seem to have a lot of guilt here too). But who cares? The movie got soul. Avatar, on the other hand, was incredibly limited in subtlety and vision despite its size, the cost and amount of 3-D visual technology on display — all as if to announce that our imaginations are exponentially for sale and that film as a medium is about to sleep with the fishes.

@ Amazon
@ IMDb

Avatar
Directed and written by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, etc.
2009, 20th Century Fox, 162 minutes.

***

The same storytelling plots and archetypes have been used and expanded upon for thousands of years. But does it matter that every story has been told or written if the current generation has never bothered to hear or read them? The narrative cliches here are common to the legacy of storytelling and Hollywood film structure, and furthermore are delivered without any subtlety whatsoever. Yet the narrative cliches are not as typically distracting or draining simply because the medium they’re being presented in is being dramatically altered visually. The awkward cliches are rendered painless by the visual narcotics, which gleam with an illusion almost strong enough to engage audience interaction and inviting questions about the evolution of media technology. Just as the play is an expansion upon the epic, the printed novel an expansion upon the play, the mainstream film an evolution of the novel, and video games are an expansion of the film medium, with this movie screening (let’s call it “movie +”) we have interactive suggestions of transhuman experience and real avatar generation (virtual reality).

James Cameron does not seem to have anything intentionally sophisticated to say. Most of Cameron’s directorial work amounts to family action-adventure, with 1-D caricature villains and cutting-edge high-budget visual effects. It worked best in Aliens, but became more obvious with each subsequent outing that he was the poor man’s Ridley Scott. Here Avatar‘s social commentaries are so overt and blatant they honestly can do no more than charm the reasonably mature viewer. Real-life 1-D people may find the movie and characters offensive (and so they are, if perceived as a literal reflection of real 3-D modern society) but the charm actually makes the message more resonant, in the same sense that the unintentional irony or camp of B-movie action creates a kind of interactive relationship with the audience. It’s an interesting effect in conjunction with the 3-D glasses and the impressive visuals.

So the layering is such that we have cutting edge special effects — effective enough to render human actors (avatars) unnecessary, replacing our human lead roles with computer computer effects, right in front of our eyes. It’s actually a subtle avatar transformation for us too, acclimating us to the concept of non-humanoid protagonists whom we emotionally will relate to (indeed, the female love interest is an alien with a tail, and save for the real human being Michelle Rodriguez there is an admirable lack of female eye-candy for a PG-13 blockbuster). On top of that, the optimum screening presentation uses 3-D goggles. As far as I can tell, this is unprecedented in a full-length mainstream blockbuster (Spy Kids 3-D and My Bloody Valentine, while cool, weren’t as successful nor optimized for the medium), part of a prop for the movie industry that is currently faltering due to modern networking technology and P2P networks, streaming HD media and high-quality home theaters.

Traditional science fiction, as I’ve said before, seems almost obsolete (both irrelevant and surpassed), but we do not pursue the space technology (or just don’t have the resources. See: global warming, oil prices, military spending, the war on drugs, etc.) that is the apple of our fictional eye. Instead, as my friend pointed out, the developed world has a common modern technology rich in data-mining and digital networking fueled by a mass-consumer market society, one thriving by selling people new stories about themselves. The emotional selling-point of mass-marketing new technology is that it gives the consumer a false, concrete sense of sophistication; an alluring impression of being able to buy class. But gadgetry is in fact, mostly junk.

Anyway, without the mindgames of the whole avatar/3-D/technology situation, you have an amalgamation of the following plots and films, most of which involve the traveling young Caucasian male undergoing an identity crisis:

Day of the Dead is worth mentioning because I haven’t seen anyone else draw the connection. It discusses the same direct “science vs. military” attitudes (liberal vs. conservative, pacifist vs. aggressor) within a cavernous human outpost surrounded by zombies, by way of anthropologists who want to study the same subjects the soldiers want to destroy. And like Avatar, it beholds a special effects spectacle above and beyond any of its contemporaries (Day of the Dead is still unique in this sense, using supremely fine make-up effects and being supremely R+ gorey). But Day of the Dead was done on a budget absolutely microscopic compared to the average Hollywood movie, let alone Avatar, the 2009 movie industry’s Chinese Democracy.

So actually a stupid movie, but kind of interesting, if not intentionally so, because it seeks to sell a complete visceral visual experience, but is still just 3-D CG (demi-god VR status). But it’s really gorgeous and (ironically?) features humans with alien avatars, which are CG creatures, thereby pointing out incidentally that CG effects are our avatars. Then the movie was so loaded with cliches but presented them so casually that you didn’t really focus on them — they just flowed naturally. And it occurred to me that narrative cliches almost don’t matter, if they take place in a new medium. The audience was tricked into being receptive to the experience before it even started and lost their critical assessment of the dialog, story, etc. which would be pig-slop on a tiny, non-3D screening.

*sigh* I know, sorry, this review was so obvious and unnecessary, but after watching the movie I felt compelled to practice my humanoid writing skills. Now I’m going to go watch some humanoid porn, just to make sure I am, uh… attracted to the right species and then smoke some weed cigarettes, to make sure I’m still a part of the beautiful conglomerate circle of consumer life.

@ IMDb