Archive for movies

Words, they have meaning

Posted in pop culture with tags on September 28, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

So I saw Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs yesterday.  I’m not bothering to review it here, since it’s not likely on the “must see” list of most of my target audience, unless, like me, you have a school-age child.  Whereas I tend to view most children’s movies as something to endure, I found Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs surprisingly enjoyable, silly yet with a clever streak that appeals to the adults in the audience, and a refreshing lack of both fart  jokes and preachiness, despite its anti-gluttony message.  Plus, it featured the voices of both Bruce Campbell and Mr. T, so how bad could it have been?

Sometimes I’ll wait until after I see a movie to read the reviews, mostly to see if my opinion of it meshes with those of critics I generally trust, such as Roger Ebert, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and the crew at The A.V. Club.  While reading the user comments for the review of Cloudy at The A.V. Club (which was just as, if not even more positive than mine), I came across this…

This really does look like it rapes my childhood. The book is a wonderfully melancholy and beautifully illustrated story about a good thing going bad. The trailer for the movie looks Fun! and Wacky! And Ugly too.

The “it rapes my childhood” line would be offensive if not for the fact that it’s kind of hilarious.  It’s also become kind of a cliche at this point: any time plans are announced to adapt a well-beloved cartoon or children’s book into a movie, or worse, remake a “classic” film, particularly if those cartoons, books or movies were popular during the 70s and 80s, someone claims that their childhood has been raped.  To paraphrase The Princess Bride, a film that as of yet, remains free of remakes and sequels, you keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.  If you must resort to using hyperbole, I think the word you’re reaching for is “pillaged,” or perhaps “plundered.”  It’s still melodramatic, as it suggests that you held the rights to Alvin and the Chipmunks in a carefully hidden coffee can until a band of roving Hollywood producers burned your house down and stole it, but it’s slightly less over the top than applying the word “raped” to it.

The grumbling over Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is nothing compared to the outright gnashing and wailing over the upcoming, long-awaited adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, probably the single most beloved children’s book of the past forty-five years.  The complaints began from the moment the project was announced–it seemed the mere fact that the book was to be adapted as a movie was an insult to people, as if that hasn’t been happening since a week or so after moving pictures were invented, and as if virtually all children’s books aren’t made into movies or TV specials at some point, simply because they lend themselves to it.  They increased in volume when it was revealed that Spike Jonze was set to direct it, because Jonze, a favorite director of detached, ironic hipsters, has a reputation for making films that are visually interesting and unique, but somewhat lacking in heart and warmth, rendering him perhaps not the most suitable choice to film a children’s movie.  The fact that the script was a collaboration between Jonze and Dave Eggers, another patron saint of hipsters who is loathed by pretty much every other pop culture sub-group only snowballed the criticisms, particularly when it was realized that a 40-odd page book that consists mostly of pictures would have to be significantly padded in order to stretch it out for a feature length film.  After all, look how well that worked out for How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, where the Grinch was made into a sad sack who was the victim of childhood bullying by mean, avaricious Whos, and the Cat in the Hat was some sort of lecherous half-man/half-feline mutant.

After rumors that Jonze’s original cut was deemed by Warner Bros. to be too dark and scary for young audiences, the final cut is due to be released in a couple weeks, and I’m having a good laugh at how many people of my generation, meaning people in their thirties and even into their forties, are doing the equivalent of folding their arms, stomping their feet and declaring they won’t go see it, they won’t, they won’t, THEY WON’T! It’s one thing to refuse to see a movie just because you don’t want to see it–hell, 75% of the movies that come out these days look like utter shit to me, so I’m not going to see them.  However, much of the refusal to see Where the Wild Things Are seems to be based in some sort of weird, misplaced “principle,” of which the energy expended on it would be much more useful when directed towards, say, feeding the hungry.  They’re taking a stand, letting Hollywood know that they’re tired of having their most cherished memories of childhood snatched away and adapted, remade or repackaged for money! Everything we read, watched or listened to as kids now “belongs” to us somehow, and someone stepping in and doing something we don’t like with it is clearly just like rape.  Why, if Maurice Sendak was still alive, he would have never stood for this!

Except there’s just one thing: Maurice Sendak is still alive, and unlike Alan Moore, who disavows every film adaptation of his work only after the check has cleared, Where the Wild Things Are was made not only with his full approval, but with his input.  After decades of turning down other offers to purchase the rights to his book, Sendak hand-picked Spike Jonze for the honor.  So if you think Where the Wild Things Are looks “ugly,” or if it seems to be “marketed towards pretentious yuppies for their hipster kids,” or if just its mere existence offends you, don’t blame Warner Bros. or Spike Jonze.  Blame its author, the only person who really has a say in what’s done with his or her work in regards to who it’s sold to, or his or her family, if they’re not around anymore.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat were both dreadful movies, but let’s not forget that the rights to the stories were sold American by the widow Geisel.  It’s rather ludicrous to complain about something being taken away from us that never really belonged to us in the first place.

I probably wouldn’t find this minor controversy quite so irritating and amusing if not for the fact that I’m on the side of wanting to see it.  I think as far as children’s movies go it looks pretty good.  It doesn’t appear that they’re trying too hard to be twee and “indie,” Arcade Fire songs in the trailer notwithstanding.  It’s not CGI’ed to within an inch of its life.  Best of all, it doesn’t look as though it’s been updated to reflect supposed trends and what “the kids are into” today, such as, God forbid, having the wild things break into a hip hop dance sequence.  As far as product placement, idiot adults being bested by smart-ass kids, teen pop stars on the soundtrack and all the other trappings that make the majority of children’s movies all but unwatchable, that remains to be seen, but it seems to have a leg up on most of the competition so far.  If I’m wrong, believe me, I will say so here.  If you don’t want to see it, then don’t, but let’s cut the “it’s raping my childhood” shit.  No, it really isn’t.  It’s not raping your childhood, or kicking your dog to death, or stealing your grandmother’s heart pills.  It’s just someone making money, which is pretty much why every decision in the entertainment industry is made.  Do authors of our beloved childhood books, or their families, really, genuinely care about what you or I think when they sell the rights to their creations? Probably not.  It shouldn’t change how you feel about the stories themselves, or what impact they had on your childhood.  If it does, then maybe they didn’t mean all that much to you in the first place.


Another dark day for American cinema

Posted in pop culture with tags , on January 26, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

paulblartJesus Christ, America, what is with you? I thought it was a joke, a weird fluke that rendered Paul Blart, Mall Cop the number one movie last weekend, but I read the news today and I see that it’s number one for a second week, and on track to earn over $100 million at the box office.  It’s already the first “blockbuster” of 2009.  Yes, “blockbuster,” the same word applied to movies like Iron Man and The Dark Knight.  That means that hundreds of thousands of people, not all of them with emotional disorders or organic brain dysfunctions, saw the trailer for this film, saw something in it that compelled them to think “Sweet Jesus, I must see that,” paid upwards of $10 to $11 for a ticket, possibly more if they took the kids and grandma, and enabled it to become currently the most popular movie in the United States.  In second place is Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, an originally meant to be straight to DVD sequel in a horror series that manages to be both utterly incomprehensible and completely stupid.  America has spoken, and it’s saying “Hollywood, we don’t give a shit about beaten down wrestlers or Indian game show contestants, what we love most are movies where fat men run into plate glass windows and bounce off of them in a hilarious manner, and versions of West Side Story where the Jets are werewolves and the Sharks are vampires.  Rather than simply flushing handfuls of money down the toilet, which would be much faster, we’d prefer to do it in a more symbolic fashion.  We cannot wait until the inevitable sequel Paul Blart, Homeland Security comes out.  If you could find a way to incorporate a scene where Paul and a bunch of other fat guys have to dress up like the Village People, or even better where a sassy old lady or an orangutan gives someone the finger, that would be awesome.  Thank you, Hollywood, for continuing to give into our collective bad taste and mediocre expectations.”

I may come off as a bit harsh, judgmental and elitist here, but goddamn, this is truly baffling.  The existence of Paul Blart, Mall Cop has been unreasonably irritating to me ever since I first starting seeing trailers for it around Christmas.  I’ve mentioned my distaste for it on both Twitter and Facebook.  It bothered me not just because its trailers ran incessantly, but because it seems to be a movie that revels in its dumbed down, lowest common denominator entertainment value.  This is not surprising, considering it was made by Adam Sandler’s production company, which, if Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Grandma’s Boy and The House Bunny are any indicators, makes movies for people with brains the size of walnuts.  I could see absolutely nothing of value in it, and let me clarify that I enjoyed Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.  It just seemed to be lame slapstick comedy based upon the tired old chestnut of “a hopeless loser somehow beats the odds to save the day,” where virtually all the jokes are based upon the title character’s considerable girth and social ineptitude, with a “star” who’s a B-list comedian best known for a mediocre sitcom (as opposed to his co-star on the sitcom, Patton Oswalt, who’s an A-list comedian best known for voicing the lead in the Academy Award winning Ratatouille).  I know that by tradition January is the month when Hollywood dumps its garbage into theaters, clearing the way for the spring and summer releases, in the hopes that at best it’ll recoup its production costs.  The pickings are always slim, and sometimes you end up going with what you hope will be the less stupid of two stupids.  However, I was sure, dead certain that, despite its heavy marketing, Paul Blart would disappear just as quickly as it had been released.  Given how fast movies like Disaster Movie and The Hottie and the Nottie dropped from the scene in 2008, I had hoped that audiences had moved past films made by people who think a fart joke is too high-brow.  When Paul Blart was the number one movie last week, I was disappointed.  When it was the number one movie this week, I was disheartened.

I’m occasionally chided when I rant about stuff like this, for criticizing people who only want a little escapist entertainment.  I understand the need for escapism.  The reason why musicals and light-hearted screwball comedies were released in force during the 1930s was for people to have a refuge from the real-life miseries of the Depression and the rumbles of war in Europe.  Things aren’t looking so swell for us right now, either, so yeah, the need for something that will get your mind off your problems is quite reasonable.  However, if you need to escape, and Paul Blart, Mall Cop is the only thing available at the theater, for Pete’s sake, read a book.  Listen to music, take a walk, volunteer at an animal shelter, learn to paint, sort your loose change, darn a pair of socks, masturbate, bake some cupcakes or even just fucking take a nap for a couple hours, whatever, but stop giving these people your money.  I’ve already said this in my post about Bride Wars a couple weeks ago but it bears repeating: if you keep going to see stupid, shitty movies made for imbeciles, Hollywood will continue making stupid, shitty movies made for imbeciles.  They don’t know if you’re really that stupid or not.  All they know is that you’d buy a ticket to see someone making shadow puppets, and that’s good enough for them.  The evidence that most mainstream filmmakers don’t think very highly of audiences is apparent in a recent New Yorker article that reveals how movies are marketed: depressingly, it’s based largely according to stereotypes, i.e. young men prefer movies with explosions, gay jokes and tits, young women prefer movies with clothes, cute boys and a peppy soundtrack, older women prefer romance films and older men prefer films about war or tough guys like Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone.  Nobody seems to prefer movies that require you to think, which is why movies like The Wrestler and Frost/Nixon spend weeks in limited release as “art films” before making a small blip in wider distribution.  Neither film is likely to see more than a tenth of Paul Blart‘s profits, regardless of how many Oscars they take home.

In a way it’s comforting to know that people still have the money available to spend on this crap.  Maybe the economy isn’t crashing and burning quite as furiously as the media would have us believe.  On the other hand, it’s disconcerting to see how many people are quite happy to pay to be talked down to at the movies, whether because they honestly believe there’s nothing else better out there, or because they just don’t want to bother stretching themselves by seeing something “foreign” or “political” or “gay.”  You’re better than Paul Blart, America.  Stop this madness before someone comes up with a sequel to License to Wed (perhaps License to Breed, oh the horror) and is given a blank check by 20th Century Fox.

New year, new look, new rant

Posted in pop culture with tags on January 5, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Welcome back, friends and readers, and happy 2009.  You’ll notice that the blog looks a bit different, I took the initiative to give it a makeover for the new year.  I’ve changed my “about me” info, including a link if you’d like to follow me on Twitter (great for those of you who would prefer me in small, 140 character increments).  You may also notice that there’s now a blog roll added to the main page.  If you’d like to recommend a blog, or even better, your own blog to be added to the roll, let me know.

Now that I got the administrative duties out of the way, on to the lifeblood of this blog: bitching and ranting about largely meaningless things.  January is usually the dead zone for movies, the beginning of that long, mind-numbing period between Oscar baiting in the fall and the summer blockbusters.  Acting as a sort of clearance rack for Hollywood, January to April is when all the really shitty movies that kept getting pushed back or aside to make way for better movies are finally released to make $200 or so before quietly disappearing.  2009 looks to be starting on a particularly malodorous note, with the upcoming Paul Blart, Mall Cop, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Hotel for Dogs, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Pink Panther 2, Confessions of a Shopaholic, a remake of Friday the 13th and Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li all being inflicted upon us within the next two months.  One of the first in the bunch, its trailer running incessantly for the past couple of weeks, is Bride Wars, starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway as best friends turned bitter rivals when, through a thoroughly implausible plot contrivance, their weddings are scheduled at the same venue on the same day.

Remember when Kate Hudson had a promising career, back around 2000 or so? Now it seems she’ll accept any pile of fecal matter disguised as a script that comes her way, if appearing in The Skeleton Key, You, Me and Dupree, Fool’s Gold and My Best Friend’s Girl are any indication.  You’d think that starring in a film where her leading man is Dane Cook would have given Kate Hudson a jarring hint that her career was quickly going off the rails, but alas, no, her next film after that is Bride Wars, a film so shamelessly formulaic it might as well been written like a game of Mad Libs.  It should have taken just one person to write the script for Bride Wars, possibly while drunk and blindfolded, and yet it took three somehow, which is never a good sign.  It suggests that the script had to go in for rewrites more than once, and given how bad the final result looks I can only guess that the original just consisted of a bunch of chimpanzees dressed in wedding gowns and hitting each other over the head with beach shovels.

Hang on to your hats, though, ladies, because we can expect a glut of films in the same vein as Bride Wars over the next year, because Hollywood figured out at some point during 2008 that women go to the movies, sometimes even of our own volition.  Some of the most successful films of the year, including Sex and the City, Twilight and Mamma Mia! had predominantly female audiences, so it’s now become a matter of financial importance to start making more movies marketed directly to women.  The one thing no one mentions about movies like Twilight and Mamma Mia! is that they’re fucking terrible.  They’re inane, condescending films made by people who believe that their target audience requires nothing more than some pretty colors to be flashed across a screen to be entertained.  Somewhere along the line it became apparent that women for whatever reason tend to choose movies that involve people dancing and kissing over serious films, even moreso if there’s a way you can work a montage of someone trying on clothes and funny hats set to the tune of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ into it.  The general consensus is all too dishearteningly clear: women seem to like really stupid movies, and as long as women keep putting millions of dollars towards stupid movies, they’re going to keep making stupid movies for women.

For once I’m not going to apologize for my opinion, or invalidate it by admitting that I too enjoy dumb movies every now and then.  I get tired of hearing about anyone really, regardless of gender, throwing away perfectly good money on shit they know is going to be bad, especially movies.  I don’t know about you, but where I live it can cost upwards of $12 a pop to see a movie in a theater, and that’s a lot of money to spend on crap.  It’s one of the reasons I’m far more selective about the movies I’ll see in a theater these days, because I sure don’t want to think about what a waste of money it would be otherwise.  Filmmakers, musicians, authors, they don’t care why you gave them money, or that you only find them entertaining in an ironic sense, just that whatever they did made a lot of money, so they’re going to keep doing more of the exact same thing, for a very long time.  This is why nearly half of cable and network television programming is now dedicated to reality shows.  This is why Laurell K. Hamilton and Stephenie Meyer are millionaires.  This is why there are still lame, PG-13 horror movies released every few months, because the horror movie revival in the late 90s and early 00s was such a surprise success.  So they’ll keeping making them, even though the new releases are barely pulling in a dime at this point, until they do so poorly at the box office that the studios will end up being in debt to the theater owners.  No one will admit that any of this stuff is good, and yet we continue to give them money.

The immediate future of entertainment for women looks especially bleak.  Back in the 40s and 50s Hollywood used to make “women’s pictures,” character-driven classics like A Star is Born, Mildred Pierce and Portrait of Jennie.  Eventually “women’s pictures” devolved into the dreaded “chick flick,” fluffy, empty-headed fantasies in which the main character’s most pressing issue is landing The Perfect Man, and all problems can be resolved by shopping and trading wisecracks with her best friend, who is usually either a sassy black woman or an even sassier gay man.  In chick flicks characters tend to exhibit the kind of controlling, manipulative, obsessive behavior that often result in friends and lovers fleeing in the other direction in real life, rather than at best gently chided and often, in the end, rewarded.  Before you point out that people don’t believe these movies to bear any sort of resemblance to real life, I have Science on my side: a study in Scotland proved that fans of romantic comedies develop unrealistic expectations when it comes to love, especially in the areas of trust and communication.  In short, filmmakers aren’t doing anyone any favors by cranking out the umpteenth rehash of Bridget Jones’ Diary, and we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by watching them.

Bride Wars is, of course, a movie about weddings, and wedding movies are becoming their own sub-genre of chick flicks.  They’re particularly odious because they play into two stereotypes about women: one, that we’re scheming and petty when it comes to relationships, and two, we’re obsessed with getting married.  Bride Wars, clearly written by people who hate women (sad considering two of them are women) piles the stereotypes on even further, portraying brides-to-be becoming hateful, demanding shrews when it comes time to plan their weddings and women in general as untrustworthy, backstabbing bitches who will steamroll anyone, including their best friends, to get what they want.  While of course there really are women who would just as soon step on your head as give you a hug when it comes to men, jobs, or the attention of other friends, in my own life I’m happy to say those people have been few and far between, and I’d like to think that’s the case for most other women as well.  So why do we keep letting ourselves be portrayed in such a manner? Why is the kind of behavior exhibited in these movies considered amusing and charming? I’m sorry, when I saw My Best Friend’s Wedding I didn’t find the idea of Julia Roberts befriending Cameron Diaz while actively plotting to steal her fiance “charming.”  That’s something horrible people do, and I’m glad she didn’t get her man in the end.  I don’t see anything hilarious about the main characters in Bride Wars spending the majority of the film trying to sabotage each other’s weddings in an endless array of dirty tricks and juvenile insults, including one making barbed remarks about the other one’s weight when both look like they weigh about 110 pounds soaking wet.  Maybe if it was a black comedy where no one gets married at the end, or both Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway end up dead after a brutal cake knife fight, maybe it would be watchable.  But it’s being marketed as a light, “fun” comedy, and going by publicity stills it appears that at least one of them still gets their big day at the altar at the end.  Why do filmmakers continue to reward appalling people who do appalling things? Why do we continue to reward the filmmakers for making this shit?

We’re looking for someone a little more gay

Posted in current events, pop culture with tags , on December 10, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Just in time for A Day Without Gays, Richard at Gawker puts out a call for more gay actors to be cast as leading characters in mainstream gay-themed films, not just because they could probably use the work, but so the media can stop badgering straight actors with wink-wink-nudge-nudge questions about “what it was like” to play a gay character.  No one is being fooled here, they don’t want to know what it was like to explore the mindset of someone with a different sexuality, they want to know without actually saying it out loud what it was like to kiss and simulate sex with another actor of the same gender.  Let’s face it, particularly with gay men, society is focused more on what they do rather than who they are.  It’s not being gay that’s so shocking and offensive, it’s gay sex, but only between men.  Lesbian sex is always hot, no matter how you feel about homosexuality in and of itself.

James Franco, who plays Harvey Milk’s long-time lover Scott Smith in the very excellent Milk, rather than being asked in interviews about his feelings on the gay rights struggle and the real life story behind the film, has been inundated with inane questions about his intimate scenes with co-star Sean Penn.  The ridiculously handsome, charming Franco, who probably gets more panties thrown at him than a Victoria’s Secret cashier, seems to be handling the questions with grace and humor, but one wonders how much patience is required for what is essentially a trap: if he speaks too enthusiastically about it, clearly he’s gay himself, yet if he emphasizes how weird and awkward it was, despite the fact that, it would seem to me at least, simulating sex with someone you’re not attracted to, regardless of their gender, would always be weird and awkward, means he’s homophobic.  As it is, blowing off the questions with “I’m an actor, I acted my way through it,” or any other logical answer one might provide to such a boneheaded question, also isn’t correct, as it means that clearly he’s hiding something.  This is why Jake Gyllenhaal has been plagued with rumors about his sexuality ever since starring in Brokeback Mountain, which might as well be considered the Gone With the Wind of gay cinema.  Gyllenhaal took a neither/or approach to a similar line of questions about playing love scenes with co-star Heath Ledger, not admitting to finding them arousing yet not claiming he had to swallow a gallon of Listerine and grope a cocktail waitress afterwards either, and also stated in an interview with Details that, while he was not attracted to men, he wouldn’t be particularly upset if he suddenly found himself to be, either.  Sounds perfectly reasonable, and yet gossip columnists and the paparazzi have ever since been on a mission to out Gyllenhaal as one of those particularly shameful Secret Gays, like Rock Hudson.  You’ll note that Ledger did not receive the same treatment, as he met girlfriend and future mother of his child Michelle Williams on the set of Brokeback, not to mention that he had already developed a reputation as a bit of a ladies’ man beforehand, as opposed to Gyllenhaal, who dated Kirsten Dunst for a long time but kept a lower profile.  By media standards, his continued reluctance to discuss his personal life (he’s reportedly now dating confirmed female Reese Witherspoon), not to mention that he’s often photographed jogging in public without a shirt on, means that he’s just a few steps away from appearing at San Francisco Pride Day wearing only leather chaps and a pair of nipple rings.

It’s interesting that we assume a straight male actor having to play a love scene with another man grimaces his way with mild to palpable repulsion through it, hoping the whole time that he plays it convincingly enough to win an Oscar nomination, but not so much that he’ll be one of The Advocate‘s gay icons of the year.  Meanwhile, when a love scene is filmed with a sexy woman, we assume he jumps into it with lusty abandon, even if they just met that morning.  Which requires more “acting”? It’s amusing to note that some of the most famous Hollywood sex scenes featured actors that didn’t even like each other, let alone were sexually attracted.  The sex scenes in Basic Instinct were so heavily choreographed, without an ounce of real passion between Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas that Stone famously referred to herself and Douglas as “the horizontal Fred and Ginger of the ’90s,” while Kim Basinger claimed that kissing co-star Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks was “like kissing an ashtray.”  The love scenes in Milk are not nearly as explicit as those in Basic Instinct or 9 1/2 Weeks, but there’s a sweet, convincing tenderness to them that the other two movies lack, which should be credited to the fine acting skills of both Sean Penn and James Franco.  Yet it’s minimized by the suggestion that either Franco wasn’t really acting, or he found the whole experience revolting and just refuses to admit it.  No middle ground exists.

It’s not likely that Hollywood suffers from a dearth of gay actors, it would be a huge improvement if they could be cast as something other than asexual gay boyfriends in chick flicks and TV shows like Will & Grace, who spend more time acting gay than actually being gay.  If a gay actor is talented enough, he should be as capable of playing a straight character as Heath Ledger was playing a conflicted gay cowboy.  Granted, Neil Patrick Harris plays a straight character on TV’s How I Met Your Mother, but I can’t help thinking it’s with a bit of a wink at the audience, as if to say “Isn’t it funny, one of the most famous gay actors in Hollywood playing a womanizer? Oh, the naughty irony!” T.R. Knight, forcibly outed by disgraced former co-star Isaiah Washington, plays a straight character on Grey’s Anatomy, but to absolutely no one’s surprise since being outed his character has been given progressively less to do with each new season; in fact Knight is reportedly trying to get out of his contract in frustration.  It’s also interesting to note that Grey’s Anatomy ran into a spot of controversy recently when it abruptly made a female character bisexual, had her get into a sexual relationship with a lesbian doctor that lasted approximately two episodes, then just as abruptly dropped the storyline and the doctor without explanation.  Clearly it was nothing more than a cheesy attempt at adding some titillation to a program that is progressively sinking in the ratings.  It’s disheartening that in 2008, especially in light of the Prop 8 struggle, female bisexuality and lesbianism is still played in movies and TV as mostly just wank fodder for male audience members, while gay male characters are considered challenging acting stretches for straight actors, just as long as they’re not too convincing about it.

Requiescat in pace, Forrest Ackerman

Posted in pop culture with tags on December 5, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

famousmonstersIt’s a sad day for horror movies fans as we mourn the death of Forrest Ackerman, who passed away yesterday at the age of 92.  Ackerman, known as “Uncle Forry,” was the founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland, the first fan magazine for science fiction and horror, once considered along with comic books to be responsible for a generation of junkies and degenerates.  Ackerman owned one of the largest collections of sci-fi/horror memorabilia in the world, including Bela Lugosi’s cape from Dracula, turning his home into an open museum for anyone who wanted a tour.

Famous Monsters of Filmland was in very limited circulation by the time Yr. Pal was an eager little creepshow nerdling, so unfortunately I never got a chance to read it.  However, if not for Famous Monsters the still-published Fangoria and Rue Morgue wouldn’t exist, Stephen King and the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 wouldn’t have had much of the inspiration that got their careers off the ground, and certainly new generations of splatter flick and werewolf movie fans wouldn’t have anywhere to get their fixes.  Horror/sci-fi remains to this day the refuge of the hopelessly geeky and the disenfranchised; if not for the internet we’d still have to be sneakily stealing peeks at the magazines in the aisles of our local Rite Aid, as shifty and embarrassed as if we were trying to hide porn under our coats, only instead of centerfolds of naked women they contain full-page spreads of decapitated zombies.  The internet now makes it perfectly okay to have discussions over what the best death in the Friday the 13th series was (in my opinion it’s a tie between the party favor jammed in the eye in Part VII and the guy who gets his head punched off in Jason Takes Manhattan), but for a very long time those kinds of conversations were reserved for secret after school meetings with your zit-faced, awkward friends, lest you risk getting a wet willie or an Indian rope burn from one of the cooler kids.  Forrest Ackerman was the first to create a magazine exclusively for the ceaselessly loyal, profoundly dorky fellow fans of the movies and stories he enjoyed so much.  As one of those people, I say thank you, Forry, and God bless you.

Yule love it!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

Cue the “OMGWTFHOLYSHITREALLY??!!1!” gnashing and wailing as I remind you that it’s now less than a week before Thanksgiving.  I had originally planned to get preachy on your asses by encouraging you to remember those who are without homes, food or companionship for the holiday by taking part in canned food drives or meal service, but I’m not in the mood for finger waving.  Instead, I’ll just post a fun link to Wired‘s 10 Unconventional Winter Holiday Movies list.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas themed movies, as they tend to be uneasy combinations of slapstick humor and mawkish sentimentality.  Movies like Deck the Halls and Christmas With the Kranks involve a bunch of insufferable schmucks who are forcibly taught the meaning of holiday spirit by people who are somehow even more insufferable than they are, and it’s supposed to leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about it afterwards.  The last Christmas movie I saw in a theater was 2007’s Fred Claus, with normally respected actors Paul Giamatti and Kevin Spacey stumbling around in the type of film that normally stars Tim Allen or Tom Arnold (Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, seems to enjoy the genre, as evidenced by the upcoming Four Christmases, which doesn’t look any better).  In my defense, I didn’t pay for my own ticket, but again, same formula: after a series of plot contrivances it’s up to a miserable bastard to “save Christmas,” only this time he has to save Christmas for the entire world! Ho ho ho, indeed!

True, “miserable bastard redeemed by the holiday spirit” is the crux of the most classic Christmas story of all, but Dickens managed to write it with a minimum of crotch-punching elves, and it still works pretty well today.  The limited number of Christmas movies I do enjoy tend to be on the traditional side.  They may not count as movies, but I’ll never get tired of the Grinch or Charlie Brown’s sad, droopy little tree.  It’s a Wonderful Life may feel like it’s four hours long, but two key scenes–when little George Banks cries after getting his bad ear boxed and the last ten minutes–never fail to make me feel like there’s something in my eye.  The 1951 version of A Christmas Carol captures the story’s themes of hope and redemption perfectly.  And yeah, it’s all but ubiquitous now, but I love, really love A Christmas Story, loved it long before TNT started running it in 24-hour marathons, can quote entire scenes of dialogue from it (the Old Man’s incomprehensible swearing is always fun to mimic) and usually try to watch it at least once per year.  It’s pretty much the perfect holiday movie, touching without being sappy and funny without resorting to toilet humor.  As far as less conventional fare, my second favorite “modern” Christmas movie is Scrooged, arguably the best updated theme on A Christmas Carol, followed by the absurdist National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is really only funny to those of us who actually have relatives that would empty out the septic tanks of their RVs in front of our homes.

That being said, Wired actually did pretty well with their list, even the lovably goofy Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  I always forget that Die Hard counts as a holiday movie; as with Gremlins it’s a movie that takes place at Christmas without actually being about Christmas.  Still, if nothing else it deserves mention for featuring Run-DMC’s ‘Christmas in Hollis,’ one of my top ten favorite holiday songs, on the soundtrack.  I’m also glad they remembered to include the hilarious The Hebrew Hammer, one of only two movies about Hanukkah, the other being Adam Sandler’s animated abomination Eight Crazy Nights.  I’d argue that The Nightmare Before Christmas toes the line between being a Halloween themed movie and a Christmas themed movie, but since I can watch it pretty much any time of the year it doesn’t really matter.  Commenters make a few other good suggestions, such as Edward Scissorhands, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon, not to mention a couple that wouldn’t have even occurred to me, like Better Off Dead and 1941.  I was also glad to see quite a few mentions of The Ref, a holiday movie that’s black as a lump of coal.  Kevin Spacey, long before Fred Claus, and Judy Davis are an estranged couple held hostage by Denis Leary, yet are less concerned with that than with getting through yet another interminable Christmas dinner with Spacey’s horrible family.  The Ref works because its humor hits uncomfortably close to the bone for a lot of the viewers, Yr. Pal included.  Its characterizations are sharp without resorting to stereotypes: everybody knows at least one member of their family who resembles someone in this film, whether it’s Spacey’s passive-aggressive sister-in-law or his arrogant, self-martyring mother who gives gifts less out of love than as yet another way to keep her family in her thrall.  By the end of the film no one has been redeemed, no one has been taught the true meaning of Christmas, the best thing that happens is that Spacey and Davis discover that one step towards saving their marriage is Spacey cutting his apron strings.  Perhaps next Christmas will be a better one for them.

Defending a movie that shouldn’t need to be defended

Posted in pop culture with tags on July 7, 2008 by Gena Radcliffe

The comments posted to this CNN essay speculating on what young children will take away from watching Wall-E reminds me that there just aren’t enough rifles and clock towers in the world. The essay itself is fine, however it’s not far into the comments before detractors of the film show up to take an almost palpable glee in mentioning how much they and their children hated it. One commenter seemed proud of the fact that his charming 7 year-old daughter supposedly claimed she’d “rather take a dump” than watch Wall-E again.

As I mentioned in my review of Coldplay’s new album a couple weeks ago, there are people who take a certain sadistic pleasure in pissing all over something that a lot of other people like. Wall-E is pulling down a 96% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, described alternately as a “masterpiece” and the best film of 2008. New York magazine is planning a campaign to get it nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Full disclosure before I go on: I saw it this past weekend and fucking loved it. So I’m not just irritated at those who think they’re being edgy and sticking it to The Man (that Man being W. Disney in this case) by bashing the hell out of it, I’m genuinely baffled. It’s not often that I read someone’s thoughts on a film and find that they differ so much from my own that I actually question whether we saw the same movie. Most of time I just chalk it up to differences of opinion and taste (even if your taste happens to be bad). Take Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for instance: I greatly enjoyed it, but I can reasonably understand why other people did not. On the opposite side, I’d rather have barbecue skewers run through my eyes than watch Enchanted again, but apparently a bunch of other people liked it a whole lot, and that’s fine. Nevertheless, in reading the criticisms that Wall-E was “boring,” “preachy” and “depressing,” supposedly to the point where children were demanding to leave the theater in droves, I find myself wondering if perhaps the movie I saw was really some sort of construct in my own head. I surely know I wasn’t “paid off by Disney” as a few commenters inanely suggested.

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