So I’ve been reading some ancient Sumerian texts. I don’t really have any good reason as to why. It’s there for free on the internet, so why the Hell not? These were originally written on clay tablets thousands of years before air conditioning and now they share the same digital space as the universe’s largest collection of cat videos. It truly is amazing just how far we have managed to come. Ancient Egypt would have went bonkers for the cat videos alone. Ancient Egyptians liked cats, or at least I assume they did.
While interesting, these ancient writings had less to do with summoning antediluvian demons that will possess your girlfriend and more to do with how much it costs for a sorcerer to get rid of the locusts plaguing the fields of your farm. As it turns out, the price is one tall palm tree. Yeah, that doesn’t make much sense to me either, but this was six to five thousand years ago. For all we know palm trees were the Tickle-Me Elmo of Sumer. That was of course, before the decidedly less popular Tickle-You Elmo.
The translation I am reading is from 1917, so its probably no the most current and up to date but good enough for me. What’s interesting is there is commentary and explanation of what you are about to read. The interesting thing is the writer casually assumes that there would be more discoveries of even older civilization in Asia or Africa. He doesn’t go into a crazy Atlantis rant, he just assumes that the story of Oannes relates to an actual person on a boat from another civilization unknown to us. Once again, possibly from Asia or Africa. There are a lot of stories about a great teacher such as him from all over the world. These are not popular views these days, but its interesting how casually these thoughts were thrown around in the early twentieth century. By the way, Oannes was half-fish and half-man.
Before you write this off as a stupid, pointless and entirely random post on a shitty blog, I ask you to remember one thing. You now know how much it costs for a sorcerer to rid a farm of locusts in ancient Sumer. How fucking cool is that?
Edit: When I wrote Lily Munster, I actually meant the character of Marilyn. It’s been years since I even thought about the Munsters and got the names confused. Hell, I’m surprised I could remember most of them.
NBC sunk $10 million into Mockingbird Lane, it was a failure before it even hit air. A giant waste of money. NBC will try to get what they can from it by turning the pilot into a Halloween special. Of course the show was a failure. Anyone with half a brain could have predicted that. Rebooting the Munsters without the Munsters was beyond a stupid idea. Sure, they have the same names, but these aren’t Universal Horror caricatures of the old sitcom, they are regular, bland, nice looking people.
Mockingbird Lane represents everything wrong with our current culture. For starters, its a reboot/remake of an old property that even my generation barely remembers. Second of all, it completely misses the point of the original show. Lilly Munster was the pretty, normal looking one. The rest of her family were monsters, she was the outsider. The black sheep of the family. The one interesting dynamic in an otherwise typical 60’s sitcom is gone. God forbid anything Bryan Singer touches actually be interesting. This is the guy who decided that the X-Men should all wear the exact same black outfit, sucked away their personality and then made the most boring Superman movie in existence. Superman 4 may have been a crime against humanity, but it wasn’t a bland trek through tedium and boredom.
Why reboot the Munsters? What’s the point? What’s the gimmick here? The Adams Family I can understand. A smart writer can take the Adams Family concept and turn it into a dark, morbid comedy. It can offer us a way to laugh at our most hideous inner self. It can offer a twisted, perverse reflection of our society. The Munsters? Not so much.
So they decided to reboot a half-remembered sitcom and then stripped everything away that was memorable about it. If you are going to reboot the Munsters, then fucking do it full on. Call it The Munsters. Make it a dumb sitcom starring Universal rip off monsters in full make up. Grow a fucking pair of balls and go for it. We have a remake of 60’s sitcom that is trying to distance itself from the source. On CW, we have a Green Arrow show that wants to distance itself from everything that makes the Green Arrow an interesting comic book hero, including the word green. What exactly is the point of doing these properties if you are going to run away from the very things that make them unique and interesting in the first place?
Granted, The Munsters isn’t the most interesting of old sitcoms. It was a fairly standard show, a Father Knows Best with a monster mash flavoring. Eddie Munster was Beaver with sideburns. Also granted, the concept of a normal teenage girl living with a family of monsters could be very interesting in the right hands. Something like Fred Phelps having a gay grandson. Just imagine those Thanksgiving dinners. But once again, they took away the concept’s only interesting dynamic. All that is left is a bland, pointless reboot of an old sitcom. Mockingbird Lane is trying to capitalize on nostalgia but not giving us anything from the show that its potential audience would be nostalgic about. The whole thing is a pointless exercise and a giant waste of time and money. It was doomed to fail at conception.
True crime writer Ellison Oswalt has moved his family into a house where the previous family were hung in the backyard. This is how he plans to do research for his next book. When his wife finds out about the history of the house, she justifiably freaks out. The family didn’t die in the house he assures her, they died in the backyard.
I would be more concerned that none of the lights in the house seem to work properly. Perhaps it’s bad wiring. The Oswalts are living in the darkest house in human history. Even during the day the house is incredibly dark. So dark in fact that there children seem to be having trouble finding their way around. Their daughter can’t find the bathroom and their son can’t find his bed, so he elects to sleep in cardboard boxes and the bushes instead.
Sinister is a creepy movie with a lot of good jump scares. It has a lot of atmosphere and the 8mm found footage is used to great effect. The 8mm scenes are true show stoppers. The one with the lawnmower is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a shame that the story backing it couldn’t be a little more interesting.
Ethan Hawke stars as Ellison Oswalt, a true crime writer who hit it big with a book called Kentucky Blood. He has tried to repeat the success but has come up short with his follow up books. He hopes that moving into a house where a family was hung from a tree will give him the material he needs for one more big hit. Above all, Ellison is a complete shithead. Hawke plays him beautifully but you spend most of the movie wanting him to die horribly. He’s selfish, a terrible husband and a lousy father. These are not necessarily deal breakers when it comes to main characters in the horror genre, but the film offers no redeemable qualities for him. He’s just an incredible asshole who only thinks of himself, even at the clear expense of his family.
Once again, that’s not a problem itself but his family are barely characters. Watching the film, the audience could be forgiven for forgetting that he has a son until he and his wife find him in the bushes. The daughter is typically cute and precious, with a big sign hanging from her neck that reads ‘IN DANGER’. The wife is standard issue Model Nagging Spouse. The movie introduces characters and then forgets about them. Vincent D’Onofrio even cameos as Professor Exposition via Skype.
The problem with Ellison’s family is the writers are showing their work. Showing your work is great for math but bad for writing. The family exists merely to be in peril by the movie’s supernatural villain Mr. Boogie. There is no other reason for them to exist in the movie. Most of the screen time is devoted to Hawke wondering around the house in the dark while things go bump in the night. For the majority of the movie the family is either asleep or out running errands. Cut the family from the movie and little will be lost except for the ending, which is predictable but also the logical one. The inclusion of the family in peril is meant to give the movie more tension, but the tension is lost when you know exactly how it is going to play out. The real tension in the film is the mystery in the 8mm footage and the secrets it holds. The entire film should be driven by Ellison’s investigation but constantly gets interrupted by the family. The other problem with the film is Mr. Boogie.
Mr. Boogie is a Babylonian deity who lives in images and eats children. Mr. Boogie also seems to be a believer in the superiority of film over digital. The havoc he could wreak with an iPhone and the internet must be tempting, but he sticks with 8mm. He may be an evil Babylonian, child eating god but he has style. He exists as a marketing device, an image to build a franchise around. Like the family, his inclusion into the story is largely unnecessary. A story about a true crime writer who finds a haunted box of 8mm murder films has limitless possibilities. A story about an evil god who kills families and leaves one child alive for dinner limits the possible endings down to one or two. One: he kills the family and eats the child. Two: he doesn’t. Once the film shows its hand there is only one way it could possibly end and that is exactly what we get.
Despite all of its narrative problems, Sinister works as a spooky movie. There are a number of good jump scares in it and the film does a good job of being creepy. Jump scares are largely an technical exercise. The film’s technique is good, but its narrative failings hold it back from being a classic or even memorable horror film. The Possession was a much stronger film on all fronts as was Insidious. Those two films managed to generate their tension and scares in houses that had working lights.
With The Possession, Insidious and the Woman in Black, there seems to be a movement in horror that is moving the genre back to its roots of style and atmosphere. Sinister is a part of this movement, although it is not as successful as those three films. Still, Sinister is more than welcome. The era of torture porn is finally coming to a merciful end. While filled with narrative problems and an unlikable shithead for a main character, it does deliver on tension and jump scares. It won’t redefine the genre but its just good enough to check out.
I rate this film as Recommended.
I get it, I understand it now. This is what they call a moment of clarity. That moment when you get the right piece and see the puzzle for what it truly is, even if it’s still incomplete. This is that piece. Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, I have seen the light!
I know exactly what this is. This goes beyond atheism and the Atheism+ movement I was talking shit about. This goes to something that has damn near emotionally and intellectually crippled my generation and will continue to cripple generation after generation of young Americans. I don’t know how prevalent the problem is in other western countries, but here its pretty bad. I say this in all gravity and seriousness. These people are victims of one of the most damaging and insidious group-think cults plaguing society today. The Self-Esteem Cult.
“The people who have crippled you, you want to see them burned.”
– Black Sabbath
It’s okay, you can bring it in for a hug guys. We’re all survivors of the Self-Esteem Cult here. I guarantee that most of these people went through public school and had the same self-esteem, everyone is a winner bullshit shoved into their heads. This is going to be a major problem in twenty to thirty years, when all the kids with helicopter parents and a school system designed to make every child feel safe and special so they won’t have any negative experiences whatsoever.
All those kids are going to grow up, set off in the world. Then the world is going to give them their first good kick to the nuts and they will have no idea of how to deal with it. Then comes a dark, monstrous revelation worthy of Lovecraft. After spending their entire lives being told how special they are and how everyone is a winner, they find out that the world doesn’t give a shit about them or their ideas and beliefs. They realize that the world is perfectly fine moving on with or without them. They’re not special, they’re not delicate little snowflakes who must be nurtured and preserved, they are just people on a planet full of other people just trying to get through their lives.
The Self-Esteem Cult works like this. Some assholes do a study that shows that popular kids who do well in school have a high self-esteem. You remember something from eight grade science that said something along the lines of: “correlation is not causation.” Well this for the children! So fuck that correlation/causation shit.
The lesson that the Self-Esteem Cult took from these studies is that children with high self-esteem tend to do better in school. It did not occur to them that children who have friends and do well in school have a high self-esteem because they get good grades and have friends. So the obvious answer was to raise the self-esteem of all children. So the dogma of the cult became this: high self-esteem gets better grades. Better grades look better in statistical reports. Better statistics means more funding and money for the school.
So concepts like winners and losers are becoming taboo, as is anything that could negatively effect their self-esteem. Think of their self-esteem like a balloon. The Self-Esteem Cult fills that balloon with hot air. If life is a mountain, the idea is to climb that mountain and reach its peak. But climbing is dangerous and the children might fall and scrape their knee. We can’t have any of that shit.
Thus they inflate that balloon with hot air. The air expands the balloon and it begins to rise raising the child up artificially. It raises them up so high that they can see the mountain top and how beautiful it is. Then life comes along and pops that balloon and they plummet straight to the fucking earth where the rest of us bitterly live. And since they have never fallen before, they don’t know how to pick themselves up, mend their wounds and get right back to climbing that mountain. So they lay there screaming at the heavens for the cruelty that was inflicted upon them.
They were told they were being prepared for the real world. This was a lie. They were lambs being led to the slaughter by sadists masquerading as child development specialists. They were being prepared for a world that didn’t exist, this wasn’t supposed to be it. One can see how whiny movements like Atheism+ and the Men’s Rights Movement are formed in our current culture. These people were supposed to be special, they were told this. Their world was supposed to be one of nothing but winners, just like the guidance counselor told them in the second grade. The world is unfortunately made up of winners and losers. Sometimes you are the winner, but mostly you will be the loser. This is a truth of life. Bad things happen. They happen to good people. Every human being has the right to climb the mountain, but most will not get the privilege of standing on its peak.
Most of us try to change that by making the world a better place anyway we can. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a friendly conversation with a stranger, or saying ‘thank you’ to the check out clerk at the grocery store. Sometimes it through fighting for civil rights and joining a march. There may not be room for all of us at the top of the mountain, but there is plenty of room on the mountain itself.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
So I guess this is happening now. While it doesn’t inspire fits of nerd rage in me it does bring about a slight groan. After all a Superman and Wonder Woman romance is so…bland. What exactly does an Amazon and farm boy from Kansas have in common? It’s just so uninspired. So they reboot the DCU to come up with new and exciting stories and possibilities and this is what they come up with? This is it? Wonder Woman and Superman getting it on?
Evidently, according to Geoff Johns this will be the new status quo for now. So this is something they plan on sticking with. On one hand, it really speaks to comic book writers complete inability to write interesting material for female characters. With Superman’s character, its just a dull and predictable romance. From the point of view of Wonder Woman’s character, it does nothing. It adds nothing to Wonder Woman at all and adds very little to Superman. It’s not bad, it’s just typical comic book writing.
This last Sunday night, all of America lost its collective mind to the ending Breaking Bad. It was an event we all knew was coming, we had been waiting five seasons for it to happen. But the awesome thing about Breaking Bad is all the new and inventive ways that they deal with the inevitable, so its always a shock. The hammer always falls when it is least expected, often in a subtle and understated fashion.
Shows like The Shield, Mad Men, The Wire and Breaking Bad have driven television drama forward. Game of Thrones and those mentioned previously have redefined what is quality television drastically, each in their own way. After Hank’s shit heard around the world, the bar has been raised to how serialized drama handles and structures its twists and turns. Breaking Bad has its foot on the peddle, shattering our expectations of good TV at a break neck speed.
Comic books are stuck in neutral. They just keep coming up with cheap gimmicks and dull twists instead of focusing on storytelling and structure. I understand the entire point is to sell comics, and the best way to do that is to keep people talking and keep a buzz going. Breaking Bad does get people talking and keeps it buzz going with moments like Gustav Fring’s demise. However, Fring’s demise was a slow build as the adversarial relationship between him and Walter White was constructed brick by brick. It was a careful setup, one that took time. That is one of things I like about Geoff Johns’ writing, he’s not afraid to start slow and build to the big set pieces.
I think the problem is that Marvel and DC are run by the editors. Well, it’s more likely that Marvel is run by the marketing department but DC is defiantly all editors. The editors were responsible for Countdown to Final Crisis, one of the worst cross over series that DC had ever done. For Christ’s sake, there is a panel showing Darkseid sitting on Mary Marvel’s couch. It completely destroys his other worldly mystique and menace. They should have just given him some fucking potato chips and soda while they were at it.
Comic books should be the hottest medium right now. Superheroes, even B-level heroes, are at the highest visibility then they ever have been with all the mega-budget superhero blockbusters Hollywood is putting out now. Digital reading devices like the Kindle and Ipad are making it easier than ever for people to buy and read comics. Geek culture has completely taken over mainstream culture and is big business. Marvel and DC should be bringing in the cash with dump trucks. But they’re not. They are doing okay but not great. They are not reaching their full potential.
Why is that? Simple. There are better entertainment choices just about everywhere else. AMC is offering us two of the most compelling shows on television today. Hollywood gives us massive, big budget spectacles and shit blowing up. Video games are giving us more and more personal experiences. Reading is more popular now than it was forty or thirty years ago. Why do comic books feel so old and tired? Breaking Bad gave us Mike Ehrmantraut and a slow descent into a suburban Hell. DC comics is giving us Superman and Wonder Woman fucking. If it comes down to a choice between some Justice League comics or a season of Breaking Bad on Blu-Ray, I’m putting my money on Breaking Bad. It’s a much more rewarding investment of my time and money.
My big problem with the idea of Wonder Woman in a relationship with Superman is that it does nothing for her character. And honestly they picked they least interesting choice they possibly could. Superman is the safe pick, the white bread, the vanilla choice. I wouldn’t go with Batman either as that is just another obvious one. If you want Wonder Woman to spread her wonder legs for a superhero, pick a B-level one who could use the bump up the card.
Isn’t this particularly sad about comics in general? That most of their female characters’ defining trait is their vagina and who is currently occupying it? In the previous DCU, Wonder Woman’s big development that redefined her character for years was when she decided to kill Max Lord. In the New 52, her biggest character defining moment thus far has been when she decided to drop to her knees for the Man of Steel. She was a lot more interesting before the reboot. Come to think of it, most of DC’s characters were. With each month, I care less and less about DC. I could already couldn’t give less of a shit about Marvel.
I really wanted this reboot to work, but it was only a half-reboot. As Mike Ehrmantraut would advise: no more half measures, from now on only full ones.
Green Arrow’s new look is fucking horrendous. Can we bring back the Robin Hood look please?
From Thunderfoot, arrogant science lover extraordinaire! I myself am a humble, science liker mediocrity. In all seriousness I like Thunderfoot, he’s smart guy. But I digress, on with the bullshit.
Evidently the Atheism Movement now has splintered. Freethoughtblogger has said fuck this Richard Dawkins shit and nailed their thesis to the metaphorical church door. They are breaking away from crusty old white bread of New Atheism to form a new movement, and I wish I was making this up, called Atheism+.
First off let me get this out of the way, I am not a Christian nor a religious person at all. I was baptized Luthern but maybe went to church all of three times in my life, none of those by my own choice. However, I am a huge fan of ancient history and mythology and always found religion interesting. In particular the development of religion, the origins of civilization and the progress that mankind has made since the time when we discovered how to use fire as a tool.
I’ve read the Bible and have just started to read it again. You see I was planning on writing a series of posts on the Bible and how often it can be misinterpreted by not only Christians, but those in the New Atheist Movement as well. I was going to call it Bible Stories for Atheists, but now I think I’ll call it Bible Stories for Atheists+.
The obvious thing about FtB is that it is filled with a lot of angry people, filled with self loathing. They are people who gnash their teeth at privileged white males like Hitchens* and Dawkins, while they are themselves are the white, privileged people that often make up the hardcore, far left. They often know what’s best for everyone else, tend to be totalitarian and are the intellectual saviors of mankind. They are always right and everyone else is always wrong, which they then point to as evidence to their intellectual superiority.
We, the folks who live in the real world, have a name for these sorts of people. Douchebags. While they scream about how everyone is a racist and needs to be more accepting of a multicultural and tolerant society, the rest of us actually live in a multicultural society and have learned to tolerate it. Of course there are those who haven’t. People like Fred Phelps who gets on the news whenever he stands somewhere holding a sign reading that God Hates Fags(trademark pending). There is a reason why Fred Phelps gets on the news when he does this kind of shit. He is the intolerant minority.
The funny thing about atheists and their culture war is that they already won. Religion is quickly becoming more irrelevant to the human experience as we progress as a society. A lot of what is in the Bible and the tenets of the old religions are out of date or unnecessary in this day and age. We no longer need concepts like Hell to prevent us from treating each other like shit. We realized that treating others badly is a detriment on society and are working in secular movements to fix the issues to plague our fellow humans. More and more people are defining themselves as atheists.
The best opposition to people like Fred Phelps isn’t the Atheist Movement but the Gay Rights Movement. The Atheist Movement should offer their full support to the Gay Rights Movement. Any person or group of moral conscience should. But the problem with Atheism+ is that they want to take all these social justice issues under the banner of Atheism. The problem with that is that the focus is on the word “God” when it should be on the word “Fags.”
Fred Phelps and his ilk are the reasons I read the Bible in the first place. I wanted to find out for myself what exactly was and wasn’t in the Bible and where these interpretations come from. What I found was a real surprise. The Bible was far more fucking awesome than I ever thought it could be. Genesis maybe the greatest fantasy story ever written. George R. R. Martin doesn’t have shit on the guy who wrote Genesis. Samson rips a lion in half and then kills two thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone. Now that’s a Mel Gibson movie I would pay good money to see.
The thing one has to remember about the Bible is that it was written and assembled in a very different period in human history than today. They were dealing with different problems and politics. When you understand something that you oppose, you are able to dissect it and are better equipped to argue against it. Understanding the other side’s point of view only makes your arguments stronger.
Atheism+ doesn’t want to understand, they want to hate. They don’t want to engage, they want to dominate. They don’t want a debate, they want an inquisition.
FtB is every bit as guilty of the same shit that most critical thinkers dislike about religious dogma. To paraphrase Richard Blaine, I don’t mind a hypocrite, I object to a cut rate one.
I’m a skeptic. I don’t believe in ghosts, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy ghost stories. I don’t believe in monsters, but that doesn’t stop me from finding meaning in the old Greek myths. I don’t believe in the literal telling of Adam and Eve, but that doesn’t exclude merit from the story all together. We live on a complex world that is floating in a complex universe. We’ve only begun the possibility of human achievement. To date, we have found no other species like us. We are alone, the lost children of the universe. The story of Adam and Eve conveys this realization beautifully, as well as the emotional despair that our ancestors must have felt at its realization.
We measured the stars and found our place in the universe. Isolated, alone and adrift. We imagined what was beyond and strove to better ourselves, only to be periodically crushed by nature or ignorance. We recovered, stood back up and built and learned. Some atheists say that faith is the enemy of critical thought. That if you have faith in something, you are not capable of thinking critically. I do not hold to that point of view. I look at where we have started and where we are now, and how far we have come as species. I have faith in the human potential.
Humanity needs meaning, it needs a purpose. The purpose that religion champions is the inner one. The purpose that atheism should champion is the outer one, space and beyond. So I say to Atheism+, instead of trying to destroy religion, build something instead. You want something to fight for? Fight for the space program. It is my irrational hope that I will see space colonization in my lifetime. That would reward my faith in humanity.
If there is a God, let us go to the stars and bring Him a nice cake. The Big Guy deserves it for creating such an awesome universe.
No matter how many polygons get crammed onto a screen, or how expressive and realistic faces become, games simply can’t match films in terms of cinematic expressiveness. The fundamental repertoire simply isn’t available. Developers should instead concentrate on what games can uniquely bring to the table, and build emotional experiences through the player’s interaction with the system.
Every game designer in the world needs to read this paragraph and have it permanently nailed to their heads. Video games are not films. Period. They will never be movies.
Video games and film both have their weaknesses and their strengths in regards to their medium. Video games can do things that movies cannot. It has the advantage of the player experiencing a story instead of being told one. Yet game developers are constantly taking away player control more and more in their games in order to make them more “cinematic.” Or at least what game developers think what “cinematic” is.
Check out Shamus Young’s Let’s Play of Modern Warfare 3 for a great discussion on this.
Not only is there a misunderstanding of video games and their potential as a cultural medium on the part of developers, but it also shows that developers have absolutely no understanding of what cinema is or what makes something “cinematic.” Micheal Bay explosions are not cinematic. It’s noise and nonsense on the screen. Let’s take a look at one of the most brilliant scenes in cinema, the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West.
Shot selection, framing, use of foreground and background to convey depth or the lack there of. What this sequence does is allow us to view the world in which the story takes place, the details of the environment and of the characters who inhabit it, all without dialogue to convey what is happening. The viewer is watching what is happening. Already, you can see the problem with taking these concepts and gluing them onto video games. It just doesn’t fit.
Compare it to when you first get off the train in Red Dead Redemption. Once the opening cut scene is over and you are free to move your character about. The environment itself is filled with details, such as the man with news papers, the drunk stumbling out of the saloon. These are not carefully selected shots to convey an idea or emotion. They are details to make the world the player is being asked to inhabit feel more alive. There is a good chance that the player will ignore all that attention to detail and just start shooting people. That’s the player’s choice.
Video games should create worlds for the player to inhabit and discover, not drag him through a series of set pieces over which he/she has no control over whatsoever. Games can build amazing worlds filled with thousands of stories instead of just one. Why limit yourself with trying to play dress up as a movie director?
Here’s a great article by Sam Strange about the remake of Total Recall. In particular, he drives a stake through the heart of the matter with this point:
The problem isn’t the remake angle, but the “today’s mainstream action films lack character” angle which would apply if it were a remake or not.
This is the absolute truth. I wasn’t against the idea of remaking Total Recall simply because I’m against remakes. I was against it because our current culture has no understanding of why the original Total Recall was such a classic. The studio behind it just wanted a recognizable name to milk some quick cash out of the kids. It really falls to the writers and filmmakers to take the cash grab and make it entertaining or a worthwhile trip to the movies.
Our current culture doesn’t get satire or camp. Everything has to be dark, gritty and super serious. God forbid an action movie be fun and the audience has a good time watching it. But this serious business only grip on our culture might be coming to a merciful end. The Avengers was just a big, loud action movie. It embraced its own ridiculousness instead of running from it like the Amazing Spider-Man did. It was also the biggest box office hit of the year so far and for good reason. People are getting sick of the grim-dark bullshit and just want to have a good time. People have enough problems in their lives right now, they want entertainment to help them escape and cope with their anxieties, not compound them with new ones.
I haven’t seen the remake of Total Recall yet, but every review I read of it pretty much confirmed how I thought it was going to play out when I first heard of the project. It would be a competently made production with good performances, but ultimately a characterless and humorless film. How did I reach that conclusion? Because so many movies these days have no character, joy or humor in them. At least Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has a lot of character, if it is a little light on the joy and humor. But this is Batman of course.
Everything is so standardized and bland. Even the independent film scene is filled with its own cliches and overused formulas. There maybe no more of a bland genre then the dreaded mumblecore. Those soulless films made by soulless, hipster douchebags for soulless, hipster douchebags.
Mass entertainment is at a crisis point as far as cultural relevance goes. There is no one in the movie industry of the likes of Paul Verhoeven or Joel Silver who are willing to push the boundaries anymore. Everything is safe and prepackaged. Anything unique or imaginative is sucked out of the product for fear that the idiot generation will reject it while screaming to the heavens, “this is not Twilight!”
Not all remakes are bad, Martin Scorsese remade Cape Fear. While not as good as the original, you can see Scorsese’s attraction to the project, the idea of taking the themes further than you could during the early sixties. He took some of the more disturbing subtexts of the earlier film and brought them out to the forefront of the narrative. The remake of Cape Fear may not have been entirely successful but Scorsese found a purpose in the film. A purpose that lacks in most remakes these days other than to make money.
The problem with a majority of remakes is they tend to miss the point of the original. The point of Total Recall was the absurdity of casting Arnold Schwarzenegger as an every man and sending him to Mars. A more traditional lead and more serious and traditional tone would have made the original Total Recall dull. The original Total Recall embraced the ridiculous premise of Arnold on Mars by kicking up the violence, sex and camp up to eleven.
Paul Verhoeven was a filmmaker with balls. Giant balls. He had no qualms by laughing at how idiotic big budget 80’s action films were, while making awesome 80’s big budget action movies. The difference between then and now is that Paul Verhoeven and the audience were in on the joke, compared to Micheal Bay who IS the joke.
Then you have movies that were products of their time. Robocop was such a product. It could have easily been another straight to video, b-movie like so many cyborg movies from the eighties. But what made Robocop stand out was the blatant satire of 80’s culture and politics. It’s brutal depiction of the immoral corporate culture, and its glee in bringing violence to its boardrooms. What the unrated version of Robocop sometime. When the ED-209 kills one of the board members during a malfunction, it just doesn’t shoot him, it rips his body apart in a fountain of gore. The camera shows every piece of blood and flesh exploding as his entire torso and legs are turned to bloody ribbons by ED-209’s automatic gunfire. You can practically hear Paul Verhoeven laughing his ass off from his director’s chair while yelling, “take that you corporate fuck! LOL!”
That’s the joy in Robocop and Total Recall. You can feel Paul Verhoeven’s joy in making these films. You could feel Peter Jackson’s joy in the Lord of the Rings. That was one of the main things missing from George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels, you just didn’t feel the joy of filmmaking behind it like you did in the original trilogy. Even the artsy films have this joy. 8 1/2 is dripping with Fellini’s love of cinema as is The Seventh Seal is filled with Bergman’s. Each shot is lovingly crafted to convey an idea or mood in both of those films. Seventh Seal is certainly a serious film, but the love and joy of cinema molds it and informs it. It’s this kind of nurturing and loving detail that is impossible to fake and what so many filmmakers today are missing.
The most evident of this is the comparison of the two Conan the Barbarian films. The original was not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it still had a strength that was undeniable. Watch the scene with Arnold in the Atlantean tomb where he finds the sword. The music swells with mystery, the camera focuses and holds on the details the tomb. The skeletons, the treasures, the coffins, the writing. Conan is in awe of this place, it invites the viewer in and ignites their imaginations. It brings questions to their minds, who were these people? Who was this king? How did they die? Where are their cities and ruins? How old is the tomb? There is nothing spoken in the scene other than a simple “Crom” of amazement from Conan. The ideas are conveyed through visuals and music. There are no such moments in the new Conan, that movie is too busy getting to the next action sequence. We are never invited into the world, to the live there and experience it for two hours.
If people are skeptical of the new Robocop, that skepticism is well earned. We have a generation of filmmakers who can mimic some of the tricks of the great pioneers in film like Spielberg and Scorsese, but no understanding of why. They watch the desert chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark and think, if I put something like that in my movie it will be more exciting and everyone will love it. They never bother considering the context of the scene, how it works in the overall effect of the film. By refusing to understand why the desert chase is such an exciting action scene, they miss the point of those scenes entirely. Raiders of the Lost Ark is an expertly paced film with smart writing and lovable characters. They tend to forget the parts about pacing, smart dialogue and lovable characters.
These create bland and thrill-less action sequences that make you wish you were playing a video game instead. You have investment in the characters or the story. Micheal Bay can throw all the explosions and special effects he wants at you. But he will never match what Hitchcock did with just an airplane and Cary Grant. Hell, Hitchcock didn’t even need the airplane, all he needed was Cary Grant. The most exciting and heart stopping climax to a movie I have ever seen is Notorious, and all that happens is three people walk down a flight of stairs. Why they are walking down the stairs and towards what destiny, well, that’s the rub.