Don’t Like: The 42 Funniest and/or Scariest Search Terms Used to Find My Blog

May 26, 2010

Reader: Beware.

You are about to stare into the dark id of the internet… and it is not pretty.

Those of you who may have your own website may be aware that you can see the search terms that one entered to click on your site. The results are often shocking.

Those afraid of being found out, don’t worry. We can’t see who you are or where you are… just the terms independently. So technically we can only see “what” you are.

I’ve seen the mind of the internet. And it is sexist, racist, ill-informed, and completely nonsensical

Without further ado, the top 42:

……….

42. Sexiest budwieser

-I don’t get it and It’s still hilarious. I have no idea why someone would search for this, nor what it even means. I sorta picture a dancing budweiser bottle.

41. Patrick swayze basketball

-Did he ever play basketball in a movie? I’m not sure about this one. Maybe something I’m not aware of. I just like it.

40. what kind of roids give you acne

-All of them. Glad to know that’s your primary concern though. Good luck with that.

39. reality tv informs people about health

-No. It doesn’t.

38. sweating basketball players players

-Players is doubly important. Also their sweat.

37. how people look when have aids

-As bad as your syntax.

36. scottish terriers fucked up dogs

-Scotties are adorable you jerk.

35. fuck her

Previously discussed.

34. 4 friends hang out with drugs

-My guess is they needed a picture. Otherwise this makes no sense.

33. Does shane black like fan mail?

-I wonder if Shane Black likes fan mail? To the internet! Really, I think most people don’t understand the difference between a search engine/yahoo answers/the concept of general inquiry.

32. Mia who is she?

-Again. The internet is not something you can ask questions to. And fyi, it’s M.I.A. and she’s a really good hip-hop/tribalesque/alternative recording artist.

31. sugar cookie death

-Sweet, sweet death.

30. black basketball player guarding a white

-I get TONS of shit like this. Vaguely racist basketball talk fuels the internet.

29. I don’t like safety laws

-Darwin award forthcoming.

28. can u play football if you have hiv

-Yikes.

27. “Busy?”

-You don’t need quotes for one word searches. And what the hell are you going to find asking this? No Idea.

26. iconic boxing images with gloves

-Hope you found some.

25. nazi+herion / naked heroin users (tie)

-The plus sign kills me.

24. kobe bryant gay pictures

-This one is really popular.

23. i like to do it with my sox on

-Notice the baseball spelling of socks.

22. old fit men

-I like to think of this as hopeful

21. “veronica lake was not a good”

-Is the “a” a mistake? Did they mean “god”. Why did they have the presence of mind to put quotes if their sentence if it makes no sense? The questions are endless.

20. Crystal meth 2008 like election

-Whereas this just plain makes no sense.

19. makes no sense

-Whereas this is literal.

18. Fear of pooping when around people

-Everybody Poops.

17. i’ve just dumped someone i really like

-Why’d you do it then?

16. touching badass buffy

-Who wouldn’t?

15. feminists but…

-Haha. One of my faves. The possibilities are endless.

14. Elizabeth taylor puffies

-Bwahahahaha.

13. Snorkel, woman / Fat people snorkeling / Snorkel fuck (3 way tie)

-Snorkel is truly a great word.

12. i don’t like football am i gay?

-No.

11. i’m going to kill you in the face

-Not in the face!

10. mr. manhattan watchmen

-The “mister” kills me. Like “mister manager” from arrested development.

9. complete ass compleat ass completely asi

-I desperately want to know how this ends.

8.  jessica alba mayo

-Gross imagery abound!

7.  how do i pick a title for my memoirs

-If you have to ask this question you probably shouldn’t be writing memoirs. Or writing in general.

6.  iron giant sex

-Oh god. We’re entering weird cartoon nonsensical fetish territory. This one actually makes the LEAST sense of any cartoon to boot… Amazing movie though.

5.  maribel – fucks daughter classic

-And it gets darker. Down the rabbit hole we go…

4 – white baseball players don’t like ugly black players

-Again. More weird basketball racism. What makes this one special is that it seems to be implying all black players are ugly… yikes.

4a – Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex and then: Dumb Michelle Obama Beaten Up Fuck Sex Pics

-DEAR GOD. I mean… ugh. You wish you could pull out a person’s mind and look at it sometimes. See how someone’s entire fears/racism/attraction all get mashed up in this reactionary nonsense where they turn to the internet to satisfy some insatiable and completely fucked up desire. Better yet, there is NOTHING about this search based in any kind of reality. And then the insistence to come back and look for “pics” again is the icing on the cake.

3.  acceptable molestation

-Nope, it’s never acceptable

2.  my vomit is red

-Please call your doctor.

1 .  abiggail breslin nude feet

Just… I mean… god. I can’t… it’s just… GOD. Forget about the pedophilia/foot fetish cross over, and the mispelling…it’s just even the syntax… i mean… how… why… ugh… I don’t feel so good.

Forget this…

… Then again, it’s sort of scary knowing that these search terms can actually somehow lead to my blog.

… Yikes.

Honorable Mentions:

toilet plugged, self-improvement stuff i like and stuff, fuck hansbrough, who s who, love, normal kid, public speaking is like…, miss daisy racist, freakin nuts, “george carlin” 2008 photo, david merkin asshole, showtime synergy, funny internet, white and black basketball players fight, how to make the most of my gym, people who don’t like country, irish faggot, youkilis swearing espn, stuff the irish like, basketball players penis, Basketball intelligence black white, Medicine sucks, Girls pants pissing, Puking and peeing.


Don’t Like: How Everything Is Totally Shitty Right Now

May 6, 2010

Everything is totally shitty right now. This is worth acknowledging.

You may have noticed I’ve been posting subjects of pretty much only stuff I like for the last year or so.  Part of this stems from a desire to be optimistic and not just resort to the ease of snark.  At one point I went back and skimmed all my posts and I realized just how easily I fell into inane belittling and mean-spirted-ness. Not overtly so, I’m not one of those bloggers who just unleashes pure venom against everyone and everything… just more than I’d like. It was mostly surprising because I don’t believe that to be part of my nature.

But it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot not to like right now.

For example: The gulf coast is now engrossed in one of the worst ecological disasters ever. For those thinking I’m about to crow on about environmentalism, there is in fact a larger human tragedy to this. The gulf coast fishing industry is now hampered once again. Maybe even effectively killed. The magnitude of the damage will have ramifications for years and it will cost the local gulf economy untold millions. Think this is exaggeration? The Exxon Valdez spill wasn’t a fourth the amount of oil spilled here and they are still feeling the effects 20 years later. I visited New Orleans just a week and a half ago and cannot tell you how much I love that city. And now to think that as they were just getting back on their feet after Katrina, all may be undone.

But there’s a lot more than just this. Horrible storms have flooded Tennessee’s great cities. Arizona just made racial profiling not only legal, but an active policy. Oklahoma legislature just made it okay for doctors to withhold information from patients. Britain may be in the midst of actively overthrowing their party in a special election. Cuba had their worst sugar harvest in over a century (this will be a bigger deal than you think). Oh yeah and Greece is going broke and effectively destroying the worldwide economy in the process. They’re not happy about trying to deal with it either.

I understand the impulse to politicize all these stories. Please. Don’t.(1)  Just take them at a human level.  Yes, there are always tales of something going horribly wrong somewhere in the world, but what’s striking about the climate right now is that all of these problems are of incredible magnitude. They’re the kind of stories that could dominate front page headlines for weeks and since they’re happening all at once our magnet-ball media doesn’t even know how to construct a uniform narritive. People need to be caring, but really there’s almost too much to address. So let’s just notice how extreme these situations are are… pretend they were happening directly to you. For some of you, maybe they even are.

These problems are not distant. They are immediate. They are American. They are all the kind of problems that we usually respond to with the kind of self-sustaining vigor that defines us.(2)

We just can’t seem to keep track of them all.

1 – It’s really hard not to politicize them, especially as Fox News continues to spit insidious conjecture about almost all of these subjects; including Michael Brown’s claim that the Obama administration wanted the oil spill to happen and did little to shut it down. Not only is that radically unsubstantiated, but it’s the kind of claim reserved for nutty 9/11 conspirators.  I’m not going to say that it can’t be put on television. That’s fine. I’m just saying you’re ethically bound to standards when you put this kind of information under the guise of “news.” It’s Fox’s fundamental flaw. Not that they are conservative, but that they undermine their own credibility with this kind of haphazard nonsense.  In fact, most of my favorite sources of information tend to lean conservative and I like them because they help me think about a problem in a different sort of context. Meanwhile, I have to out ignore fox news  in order to just get through the fucking day.

2 – and possibly our bullish-ness.


Like: TREME Episode 3 “Right Place, Wrong Time” … and the effects Malcolm Gladwell framework from “The Tipping Point”

April 28, 2010

On the plane to New Orleans this past week I finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.” I’ve been meaning to read it for years and so when I saw the paperback in the airport bookstore I bought it as an impulse purchase. This moment I consider to be a bit serendipitous.  It ended up providing a fascinating sociological framework with which to approach my visit to N’awlins.  For those who haven’t read it (like me, last week) the basic conceit of the book is that little, seemingly trivial details can push huge trends and epidemics in the community wildly in one direction or another.  Of course it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but this specifically applies to the idea that context and environments play a huge role in terms of our actual behaviors, far more than we previously believed. One example he explores in great detail is the dramatic turnaround of crime prevention in New York City largely being a matter of physically cleaning up trash and graffiti on the subway. The idea: an environment that accepts simple lawlessness and petty crimes will therefore accept/encourage harsher crimes. So they changed the physical environment and crime plummeted. Context rules.

But what about more specific community traits? For example, Fist-Fighting in Boston is a largely tolerated cultural; two knuckleheads would beat each other up, the cops would show up and ask who started it, and then they’d go to the can for a night and be released. No one would sue anyone else. This happened all the time. The first thing I noticed when I moved to Los Angeles is “where are all the dudes fighting each other in front of bars?” There weren’t any. And if they did, someone for sure was getting sued. Same laws. Same country. It’s just that one place is more culturally tolerant of a behavior and the other is not. But Los Angeles is a city five times the size of Boston and bars are everywhere, so how does this happen? Maybe it’s the kind of people who live here. Maybe it’s the nice weather putting everyone in a better mood. Maybe it’s because people are wearing less clothes. Maybe it’s because people are afraid that the other person is gang affiliated or something and maybe carrying a gun (the violence situation south of the 10, and east of the 5 is far different after all). Either way, I’ve seen hundreds of fist fights in four years in Boston and none in five years in Los Angeles. The difference is the environment, and therefore the context. And context rules.

So what if the difference is about positive behavior? What if a city had a context of joy and indomitable spirit? Would the context of that that spirit really hold sway over the city’s constituents? Over the tourists? Can the overwhelming joy and kindness of a city be as contagious as Gladwell argues? My conclusion was yes. After all, context rules.

By the way, that city is New Orleans. I spent the last four days there and, prompted by the Gladwell read, I spent the entire time being fascinated by the context/environment. Every single person I met was relentless positive, affable, and engaging. Not just the cab drivers, bartenders, hotel managers and assorted folks whose jobs it was to be cheerful and welcoming. And not just the citizens of New Orleans, who always seemed to manage to say a friendly hello as they walked to work, or strike up a conversation as they stood in the doorways to beat the sweltering sun. But what contagiousness argues for best, is to look at your fellow visitors. What mood do the Tourists and the Party Folks take upon their visit? By all accounts, they were likewise celebratory, kind, affectionate. People who you couldn’t imagine dancing on the street would do just that. One wonders how so much (relative) good behavior happens with so much alcohol involved, but it’s a function of the environment. People are there to drink, enjoy music, and have a great time. It’s a kind of debauchery that lacks the animosity that seems to characterize much youthful partying these days (think woodstock 99, etc).  Especially after the storm, where it seems the desire to embrace and reignite the things that make New Orleans special have become priority #1. The environment is now one of healing and pride. And it’s frickin’ contagious.

After all, Context Rules.

So upon arriving home, I watched TREME episode 3, with a sense of… is there a word for “immediate nostalgia?” So as far as cinematics goes, here’s the good and the bad…

Good:

-Wendell Pierce plays the best drunk ever. This is inarguable.

-The episode struck me as funnier than the previous two.

-Khandi Alexander is poised to win some serious awards. Maybe? She’s putting on a clinic.

-I remembered that John Goodman can do subtlety. We’re always wrapped up in his usual gravitas and Walter Sobcheckian-yelling that we forget just how acute he can be too. The scene on the porch between him and Zahn is priceless, “Just piano lessons.”

-Melissa Leo, high marks all around. She’s perfectly cast.

-Zahn. Not as manic as the first episode. A bit more manic then the second. But still finding balance and had some real nice moments. Even his doucheyness is starting to be charming, which seems to be the point. He mostly works as a great foil for Kim Dickens.

Bad:

-Meanwhile, Sonny is the douchiest douche in douchetown. How are we supposed to feel about him again? Are we supposed to like this guy? Because he’s giving hipsters and even badder name. Drinking his girlfriend’s birthday present because she got a surprise big-deal-gig and just happened to be busy for a little bit? And Sonny got to go to the gig too?! What is he, fucking five? Shut up Sonny you whiny little brat. For the record, I find most complaints of hipsterism and/or emo to be inane, simplistic, and often just plain irrelevant, but dear lord Sonny. Come on man. You’re actually justifying all of those diminutions. And yet, because this is David Simon, I will wait patiently. Maybe we’re suppose to hate this douchebag in the long run. My guess though is that his seemingly pretentious stories of saving people in his boat (the ones that people can’t seem corroborate) will actually end up being true. And really he’s just working out his shit or some other backstory. I dunno.

-His girlfriend Annie is far more tolerable, except she makes a face when playing fiddle that looks like she’s passing stones.

-There’s a fine line in film/tv between something that feels real and something that feels forced. This seems obvious, but authenticity is such a rarity in entertainment that we’ve learned to embrace the ridiculous as an alternative. Meanwhile, Simon’s shows (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) have built a reputation on being authentic above all else. So in regards to the scene in episode 3 where the cops suddenly go ape-shit on Antoine for, like, no reason… well, it immediately set off my bullshit detector. Which is odd, because I’ve seen that exact same kind of horror go down in real life multiple times. But if it is something that’s painfully real, what’s the problem? The problem is the “how” of course. Since DO THE RIGHT THING(1), we’ve seen the no-reason-police-beating many, many times in our cinematic experience, and many of these immitations are often done for contrived/imitative/knee-jerk reasons. Unfortunately, we can’t help but bring all those negative connotations with it. This scene in episode 3, however, builds up beautifully; Antoine drunkenly sings with Annie and Sonny as the police car slides carefully into the backround. They finish their song. He starts to drunkenly walk forward. You slowly feel it coming. It’s perfect film-making. Then the second his horn taps the cop car, the police are instantly on top of him and within a second are beating the shit out of him, spewing the kind of dialogue we see in “evil cop” movies. Even the style of the scene changes, as it ultra-edited and with multiple angles to accentuate the violence.(2) You sense the filmmakers wanted to show how quickly things can turn and how impacting real police violence can be, but in doing so they’ve created a scene that achieves in the exact antithesis of what it was achieving when it started. In this culture of stylistic violence you need to be doubly careful. Even the shaky cam has a action-movie connotation now. You need the same kind of unblinking de-stylization that made the action of The Wire so heartbreaking.

Anywho it’s just something to look out for in future episodes, as it’s the crux of what makes a David Simon show work.

And I swear I’m going to have have another “It’s not just who but when” post up this week, it’s almost done.

(1) – It goes back further of course, but the scene of Radio Raheem remains the last major touchstone for a lot of us.

(2) – In comparison to the normal Simon standards, not, like, Michael Bay.


Like: TREME, Episode 2: “Meet Da Boys on the Battlefront”… and the luxury of semantics.

April 20, 2010

So the second episode of TREME was even better than the first.

Let’s tackle this numerically:

1. This tends to happen in David Simon shows as the first episode usually is saddled with the task of introducing a bevy of characters and plotlines. Now that we have some idea as to the nature of our characters, the show can proceed. Typically one would say “go” instead of proceed, but that implies some sort of action-y 24-like pacing, which could not be more inappropriate for TREME. David Simon shows sort of just “happen” in front of your eyes, as if we were just lucky enough to witness the events of real life.(1) Their pace could be considered languid by today’s standards, but I’d argue “deliberate” is better choice of words.

2. This is due to the exquisite care in the storytelling. Nothing is haphazard here. The slightest indulgence is often worth it; usually in the form of a stirring sample of jazz or blues.

3. I love the direction of the prisoner aftermath plot-line. It was the most compelling part of the pilot and the brief parts we got in the second episode were great as well (Slim Charles sighting!)

4. They toned down the Steve Zahn character in a major way. His abrasiveness is largely absent in this go round and we were treated to the better side of his deadpan acting sensibility. His work was my biggest complaint with a performance in the first episode and this was a complete 180, while still somehow being true to the original characterization.

5. They’ve seemingly shifted much the douchey-white-guy quotient that Zahn had in the pilot onto the new hipstery muscian guy named “Sonny.” It was a smart move, as it allowed us to get closer to Zahn’s character while still maintaining the nice racial meta-commentary concerning the white characters of TREME (being that-they-are-well-intentioned-but-ultimately-having-the-kind-of-low-stakes-that-let-you-talk-about-problems-of-the-system-at-large-instead-of-actually-dealing-with-them). Which brings me to:

Blog Post Thesis: I think TREME might partially be about what I’ll call “The Luxury of Semantics.” I’ve already referenced the fact that only characters who seem to be issuing impassioned (and somewhat cliched) rhetoric about Katrina/N.O. wheter it be: the failure of the government’s response, the injustice of the storm in general, and the amazing perseverance of the culture, all tend to be white people that were relatively unaffected or affected merely as a matter of choice. As such, these characters can afford the luxury of talking about hardship in the abstract. Now, this does not render their points any less accurate or diminish the validity of their care, just to say that it is inherently distant. Conversely all those who truly lost the most in Katrina, most of whom belong to the African-American population of the city, don’t seem to be too quick to sue the federal government or blame much of anyone. They’re too busy “doing” for a lack of a better word, usually physically rebuilding their house or business. The difference is clearly intentional. But like all things great, Simon is not dealing in black and white, even on the literal subject of black and white. Many problems with the physical reconstruction stem from the fact that theft has become commonplace. And Simon himself is a master analyzer of semantics (part of what makes him a great writer), so this pointed criticism is just as much self-directed; he even acknowledges frequently how much of an “admiring outsider” of New Orleans he is even though his affiliation with the city goes back decades. The criticism is likewise directed at someone like me, a young white male 2000 miles from the storm, exhibiting all the misplaced compassion I can muster. So yes, indulging yourself in the luxury of semantics is inherently inane(2), but it’s valuable tool in developing an idea of what exactly you want to commit yourself when it comes to the whole “doing” part of the equation. There are varying degrees of “usefulness”, but TREME is ultimately a show about responding to crisis, not in the “of the moment” heroic sense, but the long term nature of resolve.

And quite frankly, how far apart can we really be when there’s so much wonderful music to enjoy?

1- Take the amazing cinematography for THE WIRE, which was beautiful but lacked any kind of kinetic movement or omniscience. Simon once said something like [we never wanted the camera to be smarter than any of the characters in the scene]. It’s a perfect way of describing how the camera behaved in that show.

2 – Heck, I’ve printed hundreds of thousands of words in this blog on the basic matter of nonsense semantics. Mission accomplished!


Like: KICK-ASS

April 16, 2010

No big review.

1) You will enjoy KICK-ASS if you like/don’t mind the following: gleeful amoralism, a sense of irony, insane amounts of violence, punk rock sensibility (the sensibility, not punk rock itself, though there’s some of that too), children dealing insane amounts of violence, children absorbing insane amounts of violence, children swearing, Nic Cage being awesome instead of corny (fine-line), hilarious/filthy dialogue, well-choreographed fight sequences, meta-commentary, surprisingly serious overtones, surprisingly silly overtones, surprising life-affirming overtones, Adam West cadence, and silly costumes.

2) One of the best parts about the movie is the managed to subvert a lot of the negative aspects of the comic. This doesn’t happen that often. It does away with most of the sexist stuff in Millar’s shitty opus and completely does away with the weird racist stuff (and yes, Mark Millar is  racist folks. It’s not “reflexive commentary,” he’s just got straight up issues). On the whole it’s a completely more functional tone and it’s much, much funnier.

3) KICK-ASS may seem to have a confused thematic message, but I’d argue it doesn’t at all; it just plays into a whole lot of gray areas which are more results from seemingly simple decisions… plus so much of the film’s success depends constantly messing with your expectations. It’s sort of a Coen-esque anti-movie at times, but ultimately it plays straight… which yeah, makes it seem uneven, but think of it like this: it’s a movie that uses anti-movie sequences as dramatic events. In the age of super-saavy audiences (especially with comic book movies), it’s a perfect device. I love that and it’s a pretty edgy film sensibility (almost Hanake-esque? In terms of what it’s doing, not how it’s doing).

4) If you’re on the fence, consider the following: the one thing this movie will do is prompt you to have a reaction. Good. Bad. Aghast. Enthralled. You won’t leave the theater and immediately forget it like that vast majority of consumed entertainment.

5) And if you ever see this girl on the street. Walk the other way:


Like & Don’t Like: AVATAR and Mr. Cameron

December 18, 2009

What makes a movie a good?  It’s a straightforward question with a surprisingly straightforward answer: whatever you think makes it good.

Over the last few years I’ve come to the full realization that my extensive film school background has amounted to little when it comes to deciphering what makes something “good” on the popular level. We like to think that the opinion of someone who has seen thousands of different kinds of movies somehow accounts for a more qualified opinion, but this is truly not the case. Sure, it may provide someone with the ability to articulate their opinions and provide a historical or cultural context for their statements…  but really it makes no difference, as the court of public opinion always wins in the end. Thus there is a kind of acceptance needed when making a statement that you believe to be true, but fully recognizing that it’s nothing more than like, your opinion man. So here’s an opinion:

I don’t think James Cameron makes good movies. So there.

Oh don’t get me wrong, he’s a hell of a technical filmmaker. I’m not just regurgitating the popular rhetoric you see everywhere. This is going off all that “trained opinion” nonsense mentioned above. The guy simply “gets” cinematography. He knows how to line up the camera subject with enough spacing for the eye to process the movement. And he’s THE great editor of big budget action films (1, this is a really good footnote). With those two abilities he stages some of the best action I’ve ever seen on screen. Not in WHAT necessarily happens, but instead HOW it happens. I also greatly admire his commitment to creating full, tangible worlds and staying true to his vision. He is never half assing it and you can always be assured that movie goers get their money’s worth. This is to be admired. But as I have just lauded him with superlatives, we must always consider the whole filmmaker if we are going to speak to his merits. These are just aspects of his proverbial “game” and can in no way assure a singular, fully-formed piece of goodness from anything he does.

For example, he cannot write a screenplay. This is fine. A lot of great directors can’t do it. Spielberg never could and the dude is considered the best. Tim Burton famously insists that he has no idea what makes a good script. The problem is that Cameron thinks that he can write a screenplay. And proceeds to do so stubbornly.

It really is a shame that Cameron seems to have the brain of 12 year old. Sure, he’s a really smart 12 year old who is super-duper into perfectionism and computers and stuff, but all his films operate on in extremely juvenile plane of interest. And if you’ve ever heard anything about him as a person he’s operating on a 12 year old social level too.

So let’s actually get into AVATAR in relation to this topic. Having just seen the movie earlier yesterday, the thing that sticks out most in my head is how all the characters often swear in the silliest, 5-th grader like mentality. Really. The swears are the absolutely point of each line when they are uttered. They’re the joke. For example say there’s a big reveal and a pause: “Oh SHIT” or during a fight scene our witty dialogue is “take this BITCH!” The words are capatilized cause ever actor is so emphasizing these swear words that’s it’s like they’re delighted by their guts to swear. That’s because that’s exactly what Cameron is doing. It’s a PG13 movie and he’s using these swears in such a juvenile and silly manner that the entire theater was eye rolling  and groaning. I also fully recognize that these moments are completely harmless, but it’s just so prevalent and on the nose that you can’t help but get the full window into Cameron’s mind… the guy has a 12 year old ‘s sensibility to swearing.
He also has a 12 year old sensibility when it comes to military ideology, politics, ecology, and socialization. Sure that super advanced 12 year old brain converts these things into logical setups complete with a fully realized set proper nouns for his movie, but that doesn’t change that this is the most obtuse kind of rhetoric and analysis. The entire construct of the plot is the most in-your-face allegory of American imperialism I have ever seen. The details are hilarious: a precious resource, “unobtainium.” A earth goddess who you can actually hear through trees. References to modern warfare tactics that are literally thrown in to hammer home the Imperialism comparison (but in hilarious fashion, are the complete wrong use of those words). And make no mistake about this “original” story, it’s just Dances with Wolves in space. I’m talking beat for beat the same movie with 3rd act battle thrown in. Hell, throw in some Star Wars, Dune, and vast array of other films to be grossly aped and you have AVATAR. And let us not forget the short story he absolutely and totally ripped off :

Seriously, you got to see this cover:

http://www.chud.com/articles/articles/21297/1/WHAT039S-THE-LATEST-CLASSIC-SCIFI-CAMERON-RIPPED-OFF/Page1.html

Beyond that there is the fact that every single character in the film is the most broad and ridiculous stereotype possible. And no, not in a scenery-chewing, fun and self aware meta way that guys like Cronenberg and the Coens are absolute masters of. This is Cameron. And his characters will be willfully fucking obtuse. The general is absolutely insane, invasion-happy beefcake. The head scientist is stuck-up, military-hating, granola tree hugger. The guy in charge of it all is an aspergian dickhead who only wants his profits and to get at the precious resource beneath the Na’Vi’s home (not to mention work on his putting game… ugh). The girl Na’Vi who connects with the earth is nothing more than the infamous Noble Savage stereotype. And our main character, the jarhead marine, is nothing but the uneducated white man, who must learn the ways of the lesser people and connect back with the world. Now, all these stereotypes could be just fine for the movie. Actually, you use those five stereotypes and you’ve got all your angles, themes, and conflicts covered so that might not be a problem at all. You got your base. You just have to find away to make it organic.

Cameron don’t do organic. Nope. This is balls out broad. The idea of badassery. It’s all posing and posturing. Like 12 year old suburban kids starting “gangs” or that weird thing Japanese teens do where they literally pose to look cool. This is the cinematic equivalent of whatever the hell that is. And it’s laid on thick. This is cartoon villainy and college freshman idealism. And it kills the movie. (2)

So okay, we have some broad 12 year old dumbness. So what? Lots of films do that and are embraced by millions.

True. I’ll take Cameron’s logical filmmaking and epic scope any day over the parade of nonsensical trash and litany of directors who simply seem to have no interest in making good movies… but not by all that much.

The central problem is that Cameron makes these big action movies as if they’re actually prestige pictures. As if he’s making the singular profound statements for all man kind. Really, it’s just soaking in that kind of hubris. Once again, coupled with his real life obnoxious persona you start to get the idea of just what Cameron is all about. It’s all up there on screen, readily apparent. This is the stuff of the inane.

So obviously, I didn’t like AVATAR, right?

Actually, I kind of enjoyed it.

Devin Faraci over at CHUD, who evaluated the movie in far better terms than I have, made the excellent point that your ability to enjoy AVATAR fully depends on you ability to get into the designs. It sounds like a strange comment but it’s wholly accurate. The film takes a turn after the first act and essentially becomes a world viewing sequence where the viewer is brought along on a 40-60 minute tour of Pandora.  And unlike Devin, who was not able to get into the design of the creatures, I eventually went along with it. And when this all happens, the film soars.

I should note that this is largely due to the 3-D, which works amazingly well. It gives Pandora a real sense of depth and texture. You not really emoting FOR the actors or anything, but you’re emoting with them as they emote with Pandora too (you can surmise this works best because Cameron is in love with the world he created as well, and it shows). In particular, the first flying sequence with those pterodactyl thingies I found to be the most exhilarating part of the movie. This whole chunk of the film is enough of a cinematic experience for me to recommend it to anyone.  It just works.

But eventually this too must pass and the film heads into heartbreak mode/final battle sequence. Of course that’s when the wheels fall off. Not for any good reason either. This was always what was going to happen and you knew it was coming. Hell you can predict every single moment of this movie beat for beat, but that’s okay.  The real reason the wheels fall off is you realize you just spent the last hour on the cinematic equivalent of a nature walk and there was no actual story to begin with. Thus the climactic battle is taking place and I’m sitting there not caring if anyone lives or dies. This is not my usual modus operandi either. I’m an empathetic motherfucker when it comes to my movie protagonists. I actually found it a little distressing: “I was just enjoying these two and now I don’t care?”  Really, there was just nothing there to begin with.

Just hollowed out tropes and clichés desperately hanging onto the sublime skill of action filmmaking on display. It all looks fantastic. I just didn’t care.

To wit, if there was one word I would use to sum up this “game-changing” “action epic” called AVATAR, the word would be… pretty.

It is a very pretty movie. Which might be considered highly insulting to a movie that is trying desperately to be so much more. But it doesn’t have a single idea of how to transcend its base qualities or indulge in nuance.

And no, I’m NOT saying I need my big action movies to have Merchant Ivory level subtext or anything. I’m just saying they need something that transcends the basic archetypes into something resembling good movie entertainment. Like Ironman’s delightful sense of humor and organic characters. Like The Dark Knight’s moral complexity and stunning performances. Like The Lord of the Rings sense of balance and scope. Even Star Wars works because Harrison ford just kills it as Han Solo. These were all popular, epic-feeling movies that used certain strong qualities to move past the archetype and become a good movie for the popular consensus.

And with AVATAR, the prettiness, world-building, and actioneering almost get it there. But Cameron just relishes too much in the Archetype.

Almost.

Footnotes

(1) Let us speak for a moment about what editing truly is: there’s a popular notion that good editing is when you notice really good cuts and stylizations and juxtapositions. This notion fully feeds into that awards season it’s not “Best picture” or “Best acting” or “Best editing”, but instead “Most picture” “Most acting” and “MOST editing”. That’s why the Bourne films always win. Because it’s the only tangible thing an untrained eye can gravitate toward. And that’s totally understandable. The paradox is that great editing is truly invisible. Cuts in action that blend so seamlessly it feels like a perfect flow.  This is especially significant in action films. And Cameron and his rotating cast of editors are masters of the invisible cut (the rotating cast means that’s it’s really just Cameron doing most of this stuff).

(2) I should at least point out that I thought Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana did their fricken damndest to make it all work. In fact I thought they were both rather good in their roles (extensive mo-cap and animation to boot). But there’s just no saving the inanity of it all.

ADDENDUM

A) I always argue that the reason Titanic was so beloved was because (obviously) it was the perfect storm for girls and (not so obviously) because the music of that film is so amazingly beautiful that you simply had to swoon with it. The music was what transcended that movie from being a horribly forced allegory of class struggle and tragic romance into a movie that actually had some legs to stand on. There is a reason that soundtrack went on to become more iconic and referenced than that actual film, which was sort of just a moment in time.

B)Mr. Beaks over at AICN made an interesting note that even with all the problems with the movie, the cinematic world still needs Cameron.  And they need him to be successful. The need guys like him and Spielberg to go huge, push technical boundaries, and stretch budgets. And I think I agree, but it is an uneasy bargain for me.

C) Reader Kevin linked a positively great article in the comments section below about Cameron written by David Foster Wallace. Everything he says about T2 and the approaching Titanic, can completely be said for AVATAR. http://www.theknowe.net/dfwfiles/pdfs/Wallace-FX_Porn.pdf


Like: Inglourious Basterds

August 25, 2009

Yikes. Inglorious Basterds might be my favorite movie of the year (for the record, I’m still deciding between Up, Drag Me To Hell, District 9, and Tetro in some fashion). It is also probably my favorite Tarantino movie since Pulp Fiction.

The revenge picture seems to be making some sort of cinematic comeback. It’s an odd little genre and unlike say Kill Bill, where the revenge is kind of a literal plot level thing, the revenge picture is kind of like a revenge surrogate for the audience in a larger social text. There’s some of the old blaxploitation movies that skewed that direction (eg. Sweet Sweetback’s Badaaass Song) and the rape-revenge movies (like I Spit On Your Grave). The goal of these movies is simple: catharsis. Show the revenge and the audience feels a sense of elation that often don’t get to feel in the reality of those situations. This is not an insidious practice. These movies aren’t advocating revenge in real life or anything (those who say they do, psssh… nonsense), but what does seem to matter is what exactly you’re justifying in revenge.  Racial injustice and sexual assault sure make a whole lot of sense , which is why the aforementioned movies relatively embraced by some critical communities. Meanwhile movies with bad revenge desires, like sayyy Death Wish (paraphrasing: “I’m going to go shoot up random minorities cause I’m sick of their shit!”) are much more problematic. Even something like Crash or Glory which are merely made to appease White Guilt I find kind of distressing. So either way it’s kinda murky territory but the point is there are revenge pictures and they serve a function.

So imagine if you will, a World-War 2 revenge picture.

We forget that we kinda used to make them all the time (Dirty Dozen, etc.), but the last decade or more has featured a lot of sobering, serious World War 2 movies. Don’t get me wrong, these films have varying degrees of  importance and immersion that I greatly admire, but they also made us forget that we can make audacious non-historical WW2 movies too. It’s OK. Not everything has to be Saving Private Ryan. This bears mentioning because I think I saw about 10 films that felt as if they simply had to be SPR, even with having no reason to be.

Enter Quentin Tarantino, who seems to have come at just a perfect time.

Inglourious Basterds is brash, audacious, tense, vibrant, list of great adjectives with wholly cinematic allure. 95% of it’s running time is rich with the highest quality Tarantino dialogue (not what I felt was sometimes a lame imitation in Death Proof) and those moments are punctuated by brief but intensely violent moments; the kind of moments that are well-served and often built up to brilliantly.  The film starts simply “Once upon a time in Nazi Occupied France”, which couldn’t be more perfect because although the settings are often startlingly intimate, the ultimate version of the Third Reich we get here is not all that different from the version we get in Indiana Jones movies; which is to say, the complete encapsulation of movie-time villainy. It’s like we’ve forgotten that you can portray the Nazis that way without turning into an Us vs. Them fascistic dick.  You can. It’s okay. It’s part of an accepted movie and cultural language and in our desire to be thoughtful rounded people we have somehow come into the belief that our villians have to be just as thoughtful or rounded. Nonsense. It’s knee jerk liberalism (and this from a hardcore liberal). God, they’re the NAZIS. They were the most hateful and evil group of dicks in the recent history of western civilization. It’s okay to make them the embodiment of evil. BECAUSE THEY WERE.

Now, that is not to say Quentin Tarantino would EVER make the mistake of hollowing out his characters to the point of simplistic archetypes and cutouts. Quite the contrary. For starters Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine knows EXACTLY how to march right up to the line of ridiculousness and keep it… well not grounded, but just grounded enough not to lose the audience. Sure Pitt’s chewing scenery, but he’s doing that infamous tight rope walk where it’s all balanced in perfect movie reality. Ebert talked in his review about Tarantino’s uncanny ability for doing this. He can make a line or moment utterly ridiculous and yet finds this unmistakable way to ground it and give it emotion.  Pitt gets to give a tongue thrashing assault and does so with such utter committment I usually find missing in most of his “serious” roles. As a result, it’s probably my favorite Pitt performance. He’s having a ball and so are we; taking absolute delight in every little verbal tick and inversion of his oh-so-balls-out Tennessee diction. It wholly showcase’s Tarantino’s world famous ear for dialogue as it reverberates through and through. He’s a perfect vehicle for the basterd’s grim and unflinching philosophy/behavior as most of them don’t say a word; they’re just an outright presence, scalping their way across the countryside.

As counterpoints, there are the two central females of the film: Melanie Laurant’s Shoshana and Diane Kruger’s Bridget von Hammersmark. I kind of think it’s better to keep their involvement in the plot a secret, not because it’s twisty or anything, but because it’s just no necessary. Suffice to say they are two completely realized characters with vibrant personality, layers, and depth. This bears mentioning because Tarantino is unfairly thought of as a kind of guy’s guys director and instead, looking over his filmography, he’s litered his films with about a dozen+ fascinating female figures.  They get to espouse rich dialogue. They get to perform their butts off. They get to be heroes. He never asks them to get naked. They are more or less treated on an acting level with complete respect. They’re simple characters in other films (ie “the girl”) and here they are something so much more. Let’s stop and think about not only how rare this is, but how incredibly refreshing it is.

This leaves “the bad guy” as a matter of discussion. It has been said many times already but Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa of the S.S., is without a doubt one of the best performances of the year. Probably the best. Landa is such a all encomapassing figure: an authority, a mannered gentlemen, a seething detective, a fucked-up sociopath, a delighted nave, a touch fay, all-together menacing, and yet completely and totally coherent. How can you even do that? It’s a mystery for sure, but it is such a great combination of writing, direction, and performance to be sure. I can’t speak highly enough of it. But it’s one of those performances that EVERYONE gets, like Ledger’s Joker or Day Lewis’s Daniel Plainview; no one misses what’s going on from the visceral forefront to the many subtlties at play. It’s a remarkable achievement.

So as for what this whole freaking movie is actually about (and it is about something given my opening bit about Revenge films). Let’s get into what actually happens in this sucker.

WARNING HUGE FUCKING SPOILERS AHEAD BUT ITS WHAT I WANT TO TALK ABOUT SO TURN AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN”T SEEN IT. REALLY… AND IF YOU REALLY DON’T CARE THEN FINE I SUPPOSE… OKAY… Getting back to the Revenge film bit… Basterds is wholly cathartic because you get to see the war you want to happen and not the war that did. We get to see Nazis utterly shot, scalped, beaten to death, scarred, and blown up. And it’s not like some parade of violent delights either. I mentioned the matter of buildup and punctuated violence which gives all of this said violence some hefty weight. The idea is catharsis in every possible form. And if you’re doing Jewish revenge, if you’re going to go ALL THE WAY with that logic. Then your ending is simple (again spoiler, here’s the ending), why not have your jewish ww2 revenge picture end with  Hitler, Goebbles, and all the high ranking nazi officials getting gunned down and burned alive in movie theater? Why not have your more humane Nazis get forever branded with the nazi symbol on the forehead so they “can never take off the uniform.” What the heck is more cathartic than that?

Nothing. It’s the ending we never got. Sure WW2 was born out of revenge for WW1 (more debatable than is commonly accepted by the way), but that’s not a concern. In reality, Hitler was the true to form and cowardly shot himself in a bunker (we’re pretty sure about this). So, in the interest of catharsis, why not shoot him over and over again in the head?

Some critics seem to have a problem with this. Particularly David Denby of the New Yorker (not even going to bother to link to his knee-jerk nonsense). But to label this kind of revenge film as stupid or insensitive is just as stupid or insensitive. That’s because doing so means you’re mistaking Tarantino for an amateurish idiot who indulges in violence or revenge for revenge’s sake. Sure he’s a brash persona, but he’s no dummy. That kind of indulgent simplicity is what many of his imitators do, but not he. Tarantino is a master of both wholly exploiting a genre for all it’s worth and then subverting or transcending it in the most interesting ways. DFW once wrote a great piece on how his lynchian tendencies are played for “coolness” rather than discomfort and therefore lose effect, but I think his work from Pulp Fiction on works beautifully in terms of transcending that surface coolness. He simply cuts above garrishness. It’s not because he has lengthy dialogue scenes or simple tricks like that, which people often mistake for being smart, it’s because of a much more nebulous tone of intellect and emotional gravity. It’s beyond simple irony or dissaffect. It’s genuine care and love for these, the depraved archetypes and conventions at play.

It’s a wholesale acceptance of the human condition, IE understanding that the desire for revenge (in cinematic form) is cathartic even for the most liberal, a-fascist personalities in the world, which once again I am. I’m practically a freakin pacifist, but I can wholly understand and engross myself in the Tarantino ww2 reality. Yet for some reason it seem to urk other critics, colleagues, and friends who find this kind of treatment of a “serious subject” to be offensive. The same people who find Dirty Harry to be some kind of fascistic guide to life.  I don’t understand that. It’s like they’ve never seen a movie before. Movies don’t have to espouse your sense of politics or life philosophy (hell, we kind of perfer if they don’t). And I don’t say that in a “it’s just a movie don’t take it seriously” kind of way. I say that in the sense that there’s this cinematic social contract that what you’re seeing is a representation of a kind of dream or inner will.  The best directors know what’s happening, acknowledge it, and go past it. But so many people get trapped in Tarantino’s acknoledgement of base tropes, they can’t get past it. Come on! You’re not falling victim to a movie, it’s falling victim to you, ultimately. It’s a such a freaking shame too because they’re missing out on the best kinds of movies. The kind where you get to subvert your own freaking pretentions of what is proper and ride your own id. And unlike most trash, Tarantino guides your id with such utter care and poignancy. God… You’re missing out on those movies.

And missing out on the genius of Inglourious Basterds, probably the best movie of the year.