Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I Live Near A Cinema: THE LONE RANGER

I recently moved back to my hometown, within walking distance of a cheap movie theater. While this is a great amenity for anyone who likes movies, it also presents a conundrum for the ever-entertainment-seeking First Worlder. It turns the cinema into a really big TV set. “Maaaan, there’s nothing on… ugh god, I don’t wanna get up though… ughhhh FINE, I’ll watch MONEY TALKS.” So in this situation, sometimes you’ll walk to the cinema, realize you’ve actually seen everything that’s playing that you wanted to see, and you end up seeing…

Eyes twitching, exuding a smell of sweat and horse urine, Gore Verbinski oversees the editing room of his over-budget, over-due western adventure THE LONE RANGER. The corpses of a Comanche tribe, wrongfully accused of raiding white settlements, are floating down a dark river, the film’s protagonists Tonto (Johnny Depp) and the Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) looking on mournfully.

Behind Verbinski, a cartoon HOLLYWOOD FATCAT of indeterminate religious persuasion says “OY vatts vit de dead indians now? I thought this was a summer blockbuster wit mistuh PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN? We need a laff there!”

“Y-yeah, a laff hehe we can always use a laff hehehehe”, Verbinski acknowledges, turning to face his skulking co-editors in a dark corner of the room. “CAN’T WE?? HUH????”

A scream. “Y-yes, Mr. Verbinski! Laffs! Laffs!”

And that’s how you end up with the tonal clusterfuck of a slaughtered comanche tribe floating down a river at midnight, followed by Tonto making a wacky remark about Silver wearing a hat and being stuck up a tree.

The most tragic part here is that the Comanche chief was played by a dude who actually exuded some charisma, so it was sad to see him go. And Silver’s often a funny ass horse, so that gag was actually pretty funny. It’s the most tone-deaf thing I’ve seen since Michael Bay followed up a homecoming of caskets of American servicemen with racist robots shuckin’ and jivin’ within seconds in TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Hell, if I didn’t know any better I would totally believe this was Michael Bay’s THE LONE RANGER. The two main characters are total assholes to each other for pretty much the entirety of the movie’s runtime (unlike Bumblebee, Tonto can actually talk back); the movie is weirdly violent*; it’s way too long and looks really pretty… hell, if there was a lecherous tracking shot through Helena Bonham Carter’s character’s whorehouse the illusion would pretty much be complete. Speaking of Helena Bonham Carter, much has been made of William Fichtner’s character Butch Cavendish eating the Lone Ranger’s brother’s heart. Gruesome indeed, but ultralawls at the reveal that ivory-legged madame HBC is only disabled because of Cannibal Cavendish! He ate a leg? Aaaahahaha come on now

Two things kill this movie.

1.) It’s too fucking long. Cut that shit down to about 90-100 minutes, you’re fine. You really don’t need the San Francisco framing story, for one. Ancient Tonto telling the story to a little boy in 1933 doesn’t add a thing to the movie. Why do we need the aforementioned Comanche massacre? We’d had another Native American massacre in a flashback minutes ago, pretty much perpetrated by the same bad guys. We get it.

2.) Tonto and the Ranger don’t like each other. At all. Ever. Why? This isn’t PIRATES. It’s not thematically appropriate for your main guys to be all double crossing and distrustful. Yeah, one’s white and the other’s a Native American and it’s western times, but come on. A whole big deal is made about how John Reid is an enlightened SITTEH BOY from COLLEDGE. Why not have him be nice? I mean fuck, you can even start out with them at odds, but surely they must win each other’s respect throughout the movie? At one point, I thought the Lone Ranger, having just left Tonto to die, had come back for him because he just couldn’t. But NO! Tonto knows where the bad guys are and he needs him! Whaaat? Fuck you, buddy!

If only Verbinski hadn’t lost his fuckin’ MIND during production, I think a pretty cool movie could have come out of this. Hell, Depp is funny as Tonto. I laughed a bunch of times at the gags between him and the horse. Armie Hammer is a charming actor, almost making you forget what a fedora lord the Lone Ranger is as written**. William Fichtner is an intimidating bad guy. The action scenes are really good – Verbinski definitely ain’t a slouch there!

Shit, I’m gonna say it. I think the finale is a bit hamstrung by the inclusion of the Wilhelm Tell Overture. After decades of only hearing it in comedy chases and cartoons, the big heroic Lone ranger moment of the movie seems like just another bit of snarking at the character. LAWL look at this Donald Duck try-hard motherfucker! If they’d just have a straight up western hero theme blast during that moment, it would have been 100% effective, as the staging and build-up were top notch, just like the train chase that follows!

Oh, LONE RANGER. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, undercut by some absolutely wrong-headed choices. Where JOHN CARTER was a little too eager at letting you get to know all of Barsoom, LONE RANGER feels like it has to keep its snark levels up at 100% at all times to keep audiences interested. The problem with that is, it’s a buddy picture. Tonto can get a good joke in, and the Ranger can, but who the hell are you supposed to be rooting for? I guess Tonto cuz he has PTSD so you give him some leeway?

My screening was pretty full, incidentally. Not packed, but certainly around 3/4ths. Lot of young ladies, and a dozen or so were waiting for the next screening as we walked out. Good ole Depp in whiteface will always get ‘em! God, if he was Carter, I’d probably have more Barsoom movies lined up right now, wouldn’t I?

“M-Mr. Verbinski…” a trembling editor asks, “May I go to the bathroom?”

“AGAIN VIT DE BATHROOM DIS ONE!!”

“Mr. Verbinski please that’s offensive it’s just you and me in here”

With a scream, Gore Verbinski throws a half-finished bagel at his fleeing editor. In the darkness, Gore Verbinski cries.

*Two girls in their early teens walked up the aisle during the intermission. Ella asked me if they weren’t a little young to be in here. Based on the first half of the movie, she apparently thought this was an R-rated movie. I can’t blame her!

**When an old lady asks him to pray with her, he smugly proclaims that John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government are his Bible. A TRUE FACE OF ATHEISM

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Nine Worlds Geekfest 2013: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Love the Bifrost

 

“I put my life savings into this fan film”, says Kate.

“Steampunk needs to strive towards more racial inclusivity,” says longtime steampunk enthusiast Tinker.

“I hate it when [showrunners] dangle stuff like [sexual tension between Sherlock and Watson] in front of you. It’ll never happen. At most, you’ll get a side-character whose relationship is completely asexual, who’ll then get killed off after a season,” says Anne.

“He was so happy – thank you”, says the mother of a huge autistic fellow after his knowledge of superhero scores made his impromptu quiz team win the round.

“I… I have to call my girlfriend. I think I’m trans!” says a transperson after a session at the Geek Feminism track.

Spartacus has, like, A BUNCH of dudes fucking!” says a slightly too enthusiastic Wholly On The Level.

 

When my friend Andrew invited Ella and me to Nine Worlds, we expected to have fun with silly movies/other nerd shit, get drunk and hang out with a genuine avant garde East London musician (from the future). Andrew ran the Film Festival track, playing some genuine oddities that he dug up himself or was graciously provided with by the Duke Mitchell Film Club. One of the activities was a film quiz – the one thing Andrew actually needed help with. It was a smashing success, if only for the above quote from the autistic kid’s mom. Apart from that, about 35 people showed up where we were expecting a max of 12. The Harry Potter Houses we’d fashioned into team names had to be joined by Muggles and Death Eaters, and it was here that I had to do the hardest job required of me all weekend – turning people away because the room was simply maxed out. Yeah, I helped some vendors unload their goods on the Friday morning, but there at least I was rewarded with smiles and thanks and happiness.

Once we’d handed out all of the prizes willy nilly (sorry, guy who got PROMETHEUS; sorry, mom of the teenagers who got a bottle of vodka), Future King Andrew basically allowed Ella, Diana and I to roam the grounds freely. While the Film Festival track had a lot of lovely stuff, we wanted to branch out a bit and try and get a sample of everything in. Note: this is impossible without being Dr. Manhattan. There’s LOTS to do at 9 Worlds.

While we had visits to the Geek Feminism and LGBTQ tracks planned, we also wanted to do some lighter stuff by visiting Game of Thrones and Dr. Who as well. Here’s what’s so amazing about Nine Worlds, however: what we considered to be panels where there would be goofin’ off and nerdery, important stuff popped up as well. A “Moffat vs. Davies” Who panel addressed not only Moffat’s self-congratulatory, overly complicated scripts who often waved things away with “timey wimey wibbly wobbly”… stuff, but also his failure to incorporate LGBT characters the same way Davies did. Even more impressively, the Davies defenders weren’t terribly fond of Rose or the Tenth Doctor’s exit either (two of the biggest symptoms of my Davies antipathy). Jenny and Vastra are awesome in theory, but they feel rather token with their asexual relationship and repeated robot statements of “THIS IS MY WIFE YES”. Afterwards, I had a friendly chat with Rich, one of the more vocal Davies fans in the room, where we came to the conclusion that the ideal Who would be a Moffat/Davies co-run affair where they could reign each other’s worst tendencies in. Then I was recommended a 22-chapter-and-counting Who slash saga. Hey, we weren’t Moffat and Davies, we didn’t have to restrain each other.

At the Geek Feminism track, I learned that one of the most important battles in the fight against misogyny is an internal one. It’s wrong to consider “misogynists” an external, evil force that has to be combated until they are all gone. Misogyny is something that can manifest in everyone, at any time. The important part is to be able to recognize that and learn from it. Did you offend someone? Don’t go on the defensive; find out why you did so, and apologize.

Inversely, hilarious nerdery also popped up at the “serious” panels: Paul Cornell praised Torchwood for being so good at inclusiveness, “if only it were good at literally ANYTHING else.”
Laurie Penny, on the same panel/Rich, seated next to me: “NOOO BOOO FUCK YOUUUU”

At the LGBTQ track, I learned what “queerbaiting” means, and got to briefly wax positive about one of my favorite(/most underrated) shows of all time (see quotes above). I also learned that geek TV really isn’t as progressive as TV geeks like to think it is. Quick, name some happy sci/fantasy gay couples not struck by tragedy and containing at least one rounded character! Oh look Star Wars Episode 12 came out a few seconds ago whaddya know

Syrio Forel shook my hand and said hello again later that night of his own accord. The First Sword of Braavos! EEEEEEEEE

Back at Andrew’s Film Festival, I saw some earth-shatteringly awesome movies.

This is an amazingly progressive movie, actually.

Also, THOUSAND YEAR GINSENG KING: http://vimeo.com/32968612 watch this for a THOUSAND YEAR GINSENG KING plus complimentary nazi zombie. It’s basically a Taiwanese kung fu NEVERENDING STORY.

And perhaps my favorite thing of all: KOJAK BUDAPESTEN. You see, once upon a time, Hungaria loved KOJAK! So much so that they made their own Kojak... rip-off? Nuh uh! Telly Savalas was so amused with the idea that he let them use his likeness for $1 -- Hungarian Kojak is played by the guy who actually dubs Telly on the TV show. Please enjoy this fan made trailer, since a real trailer is nowhere to be found. The theme song is amazing. This trailer was fan-made by the Duke Mitchell Film Club.

Official canon.

When it was all over, I actually felt melancholy. I’d been talking to geeks all weekend, even those whose fandoms I looked down upon previously, and came away with greater understanding. I felt more informed on gender issues and inclusivity, and endeavored to be more mindful of every kind of person in my life, online and off. After a Saturday evening Buffy singalong*, I realized that this was how religious people must feel when they go on retreat, and then go back into the sinful, heathen world afterwards. Nine Worlds really felt like a place where people came to be excellent to each other, and to preach for excellence to spread out across the world. Well, I’m a convert. You have my sword**, Nine Worlds!

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*shut up

**shitty blog

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I Live Near A Cinema: R.I.P.D.

I recently moved back to my hometown, within walking distance of a cheap movie theater. While this is a great amenity for anyone who likes movies, it also presents a conundrum for the ever-entertainment-seeking First Worlder. It turns the cinema into a really big TV set. “Maaaan, there’s nothing on… ugh god, I don’t wanna get up though… ughhhh FINE, I’ll watch MONEY TALKS.” So in this situation, sometimes you’ll walk to the cinema, realize you’ve actually seen everything that’s playing that you wanted to see, and you end up seeing…

Sometimes I like movies that are near-universally panned. It happens! I recently rewatched HUDSON HAWK and found it as amusing as it was when I was ten. Sure, it’s the Big Kiss-Ass Bruno Muggin’ show, but a decade and change of Bruce Willis grumpily phoning in his parts made me appreciative of a time when he tried to make us smile and laugh with a roguish grin and a blue collar Joisey attitude.

There is some phoning in happening in R.I.P.D. as well, but R.I.P.D. only wishes it had HUDSON HAWK’s charm and ability to make lazy shit work!

Ryan Reynolds is a cop who is feeling bad about “confiscating” some gold from some crackheads. Like weird, golden tablet fragments with Sumerian or some shit on them type of gold. Not the gaudy rapper chains kind. His buddy Kevin Bacon knows a guy who’ll cut ‘em a good deal on the stuff, but Ryan’s having a change of heart. He gives his shards back to Bacon, and says he won’t rat on him. Not good enough for Hollow Man, though! During a drug raid, Bacon shoots Reynolds dead and his soul ascends to Judgment.

BUT WAIT! He wakes up in a small interogation room, where Mary-Louise Parker informs him that, rather than go to Hell (for stealing some gold?) he can work off his soul debt or whatever with the Rest In Piece Department. These death cops round up souls that somehow escaped Judgment and run around Earth after their time. These wayward souls are called “deados” and live near-normal lives, besides the fact that their “rotten souls” fuck shit up around them. Shit breaks, plants wilt, etc. Reynolds is partnered up with Old West Marshall Jeff Bridges, who basically plays his character as Rooster Cogburn if he were a wacky neighbor on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Bridges is phoning his performance in, Reynolds is looking for his charger. When he dies and subsequently makes his way through the time-frozen warehouse shootout he died at, he apparently can’t emote further than a vaguely confused look that actually does seem to indicate he doesn’t know where his charger is. The afterlife is real bro! Make a different face!

A possibly fun conceit the movie posits, is that R.I.P.D. agents have randomized avatar bodies, so the living don’t suddenly see a deceased loved one chasing a CGI troll down the street. Bridges’ Avatar is model Marissa Miller, Reynolds’ is fucking JAMES HONG. In the unfortunately brief interludes in which Reynolds is replaced with Hong, the guy displays a charm and warmth wholly absent from this movie otherwise. Director Robert Schwentke apparently had no idea what to do with the idea of the avatars. You’d think that this incongruous duo (supermodel + elderly Chinese man) would be somewhat played for laughs, right? This happens once, as a deado throws Bridges into traffic and he gets squashed against a bus windshield. The bus driver sees a busty, statuesque blonde scrape herself off his vehicle and get back in the fray. To be honest, there are three other moments where the avatar is given some face-time, but I do not count these as jokes because playing “Let’s Get It On” while the camera slowly pans around/dollies over Miller’s body while passers-by make drooly faces does not a joke make. Otherwise, cuts to the avatars happen at random, seconds-long intervals just to remind the audience that OH YEAH PEOPLE DON’T SEE ‘EM LIKE WE SEE ‘EM

If you thought it weird that they’d get Kevin Bacon as the guy who kills the hero in the first act, do not worry! He is actually a deado and the main villain! Huh? But how come shit never broke/wilted around him? Oh there are some talismans that are said to contain a deado’s soul rot! OF COURSE! His grandmother’s St. Christopher medal that he always wears! This is all information relayed to the audience in the same span of time it took you to read the last few sentences, all immediately after Bacon’s intentions are revealed.

Comparisons to MEN IN BLACK were trotted out almost immediately with the first trailer, but this movie isn’t even MIB2. The deados are shown few and far between, and their designs are nonsensical and boring. Apparently, escaping Judgment turns you into a weird CGI ogre man/woman, but you can suppress it, but stuff breaks and wilts around, but you reveal your true, CGI self when sprinkled with cumin. There’s a weird BLADE RUNNER Voight/Kampff test scene where I simply could not understand what the hell was going on, although I was moderately amused at the perp being Prison Break’s Robert Knepper aka T-Bag. Note that this scene takes place before we know the deados are allergic to cumin, and you can literally just hold it under their noses and they’ll “pop”, as the movie calls it. I guess we just needed more unfunny, embarrassing banter to fill this 96 minute movie! I will concede that that is a good running time.

Good on you, R.I.P.D. You have a good running time.