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Friday, April 28, 2006

Is it too soon? 

Well, it's finally out, and thank god for that. No more endless weeks of all the usual media outlets asking the same tired questions because they can't be bothered to further the dialogue -- United 93 is now in theatres and, surprising absolutely no one, it's met with a slate of 4-star reviews.

First, a disclaimer. I don't care about this movie. Not because it offends me, or because I'm disgusted by it, or because I question the intentions, or because I think Paul Greengrass sucks (he doesn't), or because I'm trying to make A Statement. I don't think my apathy on the subject makes me "Cool." I'm not 15 and a goth, so I don't take indifference as a badge of authenticity or rebelliousness.

Nor do I care if the movie leaps to conclusions or fills in the blanks or mythologizes the basically unknowable.

It's none of that.

I'm just not interested.

But I do read a lot of film press, and I tend to have CNN on at all hours of the day, so the question that forms the title of this entry has been burned into my retinas... by repetition, if nothing else. Granted, it's mostly the hack journalists who even bother asking the question. Well, them and that blonde woman on CNN whose name I forget, the one who doesn't have an original thought in her pretty little head. Forever damned to ape stories she read about a week ago, that one...

But now the movie comes out and everyone's opinion swings in favor of the movie. Really, that's a no-brainer; anyone who had any right at all to bitch about "too soon" gave the film the thumbs-up to be made, so everyone else can shut the fuck up on that end. What we've got left is a film that's utterly critic-proof, and a press that wouldn't say "boo" on it for fear of looking un-American.

Two weeks ago many considered this film a slap in the face and its trailer (that audiences should have been told about, apparently, though I have never in my life been told what trailers will appear before any movie, sans "event" pictures) a grave gutpunch. Now it's a gauge of patrotism, a "must-see" for anyone who wants to claim pride for the spot of land they came out of their mother on.

So which is it going to be, America? Is United 93 "too soon" or is taking it in as vital as knowing the words to the Pledge of Allegiance, if you want to be a real American?

It's a strange kind of schizophrenia, what we have. The "too soon" crowd -- absurdity, really. The underlying assumption, the reasoning implied but never outright spoken, is that such a film should only be made after all emotional resonance is now safely at arm's length. But why would that be? Why can't film approach uncomfortable subjects?

Did anyone tell Picasso that Guernica was "too soon"?

Maybe they did. Likely, even. But I doubt the reasoning was the same. Art is art, after all -- and a movie is just a movie. Entertainment. A bauble. A means to provide us the latest Mission: Impossible iteration and never, ever challenge us or make us feel something authentic. Apparently only books and TV docs and paintings can approach the "real" subjects; movies are just there to let us escape.

Doubt me? Well, you remember the silly "is Hollywood disconnected from middle America" stories floating around just before Oscar season? The angry letters to the editor (third one down) asking why filmmakers insisted on talking about stuff that was important to them and invoked their passion? No. Really. This is the voice of the average movie-goer, or so many would have us believe:

Your comment illustrates an obvious belief on your part that the people involved with financing, writing, directing and acting in films -- most of whom live in the unnatural and aesthetic environments of Hollywood and other cloistered situations -- know better than I and the rest of the public what WE want and need in entertainment! Many of us are TIRED of the continual diet of political, environmental and societal issues forced upon us by today's moviemakers.

Wow, huh?

Still, there's some conflict here. Immediacy, the "too soonness," doesn't seem to be the sole reason why Timely films get hounded the way United 93 was. Thank You For Smoking, for instance, launches just as the Abramoff/Delay scandal kicks off a serious (but ultimately not serious enough) look at lobby reform. Or the current run on The Punisher, "Barracuda," that is so transparently about Enron (while Lay and Skilling are on trial!) it's easy to pick out which fictional character stands for which real-life bastard. Or how about the arc "The Unshredded Man" in Human Target, whose secondary character is a man who used the events of 9/11 to cover up his own death in a way to hide from... drum roll, please.. Enron-like bookcooking? This arc was published in 2003, by the way.

Who's writing that story?

I guess it's easy to dismiss the latter two: They're just comics, and who reads those? But what about Thank You? Why no furor? Why no news stories drawing the connection between that film's success and the lobbying scandal that's been riding high in the headlines for several months?

Maybe those stories exist, and I just haven't seen them. But I guess that's the point, isn't it? I couldn't fucking blink without catching another take on the "too soonness" of United 93. How come no one gives a flying fuck about any other movie (or comic) that draws sharp, pertinent, unflattering portraits of American life?

Fuck if I know. Been thinking on it for a couple weeks now and I can't offer much more than guesswork.

But that's the Jekyll part of our schizophrenia, that cold and limp mental and emotional conservatism that doesn't like anything that rocks the boat.

The Hyde is the patriotism. The Timely Movie is now here, and everyone on earth is praising it as bold, visionary, a celebration of modern heroics, et cetera, all the usual talking points that make everyone feel good. All those fears calmed. Good god, we wouldn't want to be made uncomfortable by such a movie, would we?

No. Just tell us everyone's a hero at heart and we can safely report back to the rest of our fellow countrymen that is their patriotic duty to see a movie that two weeks ago had everyone squirming in their seats.

I think I'll just go see Akeelah and the Bee instead. I hear it's quite good.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MLM: A Nightmare on Elm Street 

Depending on who you ask, slasher films are either the best or worst thing to happen to horror films. Even while more “traditional” horror films fall by the wayside, a steady stream of low-budget slashers featuring WB Stars in Peril comes out yearly. The output is so steady that most folks, when pressed, can’t think of any other kind of horror movie they’ve seen.

It’s too bad, really. A subdivision of the genre kicked off by one of the greatest films of all time – Psycho – is now an ad-libbers game. At (remote location), some (age adjective) (demographic) are dying off one by one as a (synonym for scary), (synonym for relentless) (gender pronoun) hunts them with (matching gender pronoun possessive) (gimmick weapon). And that’s it. Snag $15 million from Lions Gate for the budget, hire some teenage girls from the TV, and off you go.

(More...)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

MLM: Kalifornia. 

We want to understand evil. Conceptualizing it, fetishizing it, marking its comings and goings like a dutiful birdwatcher. Serial killer fiction is distinguishable mostly for the quirks and fetishes of its antagonists, and the procedures for analyzing and hunting them down are ritualized.

Why? The easy answer is that if we can get a shape and a pattern out of it, we can evade, diminish, or otherwise control it. Patterns are comforting. If this or that person was sexually abused as a child, there’s a high chance the abused will turn around and, in their adulthood, become the abuser. Kids exposed to countless acts of violence in video games or movies are feared to be desensitized to the point of sociopathy.

(More...)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

MLM: Ravenous. 

Anyone who knows me knows I love the movie Ravenous, possibly to an unhealthy level. I’ve found that, even moreso than the more obvious cult classics of the 80’s and 90’s, even mentioning the movie’s title is like a secret handshake for a club whose members are both disparate and unexpected. Mention the movie in passing to a closeted fan: They erupt. It’s a clever little film that had a clever little release in a month that, at the time, traditionally meant a studio didn’t know what the fuck to do with their property: February. An apt month of release, given the film’s relentless, oppressive winter atmosphere.

But for all the movie’s sly direction, for its quirky score, for its way-off-beat subject matter, for its deliciously malicious dialogue, it would be worthy of notice. Oh, but the villain…

(More...)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

MLM: V for Vendetta. 

For all its little mistakes, the generally enjoyable film adaptation of V for Vendetta gets one thing wrong: it makes V a hero.

Here’s the thing about V: He is not human. He is not a person. He doesn’t have a real name, or a real face, or a past. He is a wraith, a person whose sense of identity is obliterated, one who willingly turns himself into a symbol around which people can (feasibly) rally. That V opposes a totalitarian government allows a simple reading of the text. Most people, fed simple stories with simple moral grounds all their lives, believe that if someone opposes an evil force, that someone must necessarily be good.

These people are wrong.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Whoring season. 

Been a mite bit busy. But that's okay: I'm getting my ass out of college, and that takes some work.

Also taken on a few writing projects... not the least of which is THIS ONE.

Dark, But Shining, that fantabulous horror site, has taken a sip of my New Year's kool aid and put me on the staff. I'll be taking over the Mommy's Little Monsters feature, which updates every Wednesday. You now know how to readjust your social calendar.

Begone!

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