Friday, March 30, 2018

A Parable of Male Entitlement, As Told Through The DC Extended Universe

With the release of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR in a little less than a month, loads of people are undertaking a deep dive through the Marvel Cinematic Universe to prime themselves for the self-styled "biggest crossover event of all time."

Being the contrarian that I am, I rented JUSTICE LEAGUE a few weeks ago off Google Play - perhaps the saddest crossover event of all time.

Whereas INFINITY WAR will be the culmination of a decade of solo-movie germination and smaller crossovers, JUSTICE LEAGUE was the culmination of... uh... one solo movie, one cross-over movie (one character of which hadn't had a solo movie, and another appeared in a mostly silent cameo largely relegated to the finale), and a prequel origin movie set a century before both former films retrofitted into continuity.

And hell, I'm leaving out another DCEU (why is it extended? Extended from what? The bafflement starts at the damn title of the thing!) building block: SUICIDE SQUAD.

SQUAD and LEAGUE don't just have in common that they're team movies, they're also two of the most visibly studio-tampered blockbusters of the last half-decade at least. An awkward mix of David Ayer's regular toxic macho crime movie squeezed into a comic book movie straightjacket (no Harley-pun intended) and a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY style "weirdo outcasts form a makeshift family to Your Dad's Favorite Radio Hits" SQUAD felt as fractured as the mental state of its clownish leading lady.

LEAGUE, meanwhile, consists of two other very particular voices: Ayn Rand lovin' Superman depresser Zack Snyder's dark and serious take on DC's most iconic team, mashed together with former Marvel head honcho Joss Whedon and his snarktastic nerd-pandering ways.

I... rather enjoyed both, with the caveat that I realize they are literally the death of cinema as an art form incarnate (Ben Affleck's smile when Superman shows up to the final fight is one of the greatest cinematic Batman moments, I swear to Highfather). But I am not actually here to discuss these films, friends! Nay, I am here to talk about how these two trainwrecks ended up being a fantastic showcase of male entitlement in my personal life.

A few months ago, a (male) social media acquaintance claimed that SQUAD was actually a great movie, and that people/critics/whoever just didn't... THINK about things. About the TRUE MEANING of a seemingly silly film... For you see, during a lull in the action just before the climax, the team is sitting around in a bar regrouping, and wondering why they're bothering to save a world which treats them as monsters. Harley Quinn urges them to "own that shit," that a normal life was never in the cards for any of them, and they should just live it to the fullest to whichever extent they can. Harley's statement resonated highly with this acquaintance who had suffered with depression on and off, and cemented SQUAD as a Maligned Misunderstood Good Film in his eyes.

And, you know, that's perfectly valid. I enjoyed it because it made me laugh, it was over-the-top and kind of pathetic in its try-hardness; he enjoyed it because he felt it spoke to him as someone with depression. Hell, if anything, his reasons for enjoying it are far purer than mine!

Fast forward to my wife and I watching JUSTICE LEAGUE.

In one of the film's many, many subplots Lois Lane and Superman are reunited after the latter returns from the grave (lol that whole sequence oh my god). As the iconic lovers embrace, Lois Lane tearfully admits that she "hasn't been brave," and how she's embarrassed at having let things go, and fearful he'd be disappointed in her. And indeed, in her introductory scene earlier in the film we were shown that, since Superman's "death," she hadn't been undertaking the hard-hitting journalism so closely associated to Lois Lane.

As Lois and Clark snuggled in that cornfield, I suddenly noticed my wife was sobbing. Somewhat flabbergasted considering we had been giggling and talking throughout this entertaining disaster, I asked her if she was alright. Turns out, Lois' breakdown over her "inability to be brave" in the absence of Superman struck a nerve. Thanks to the clarity of the "Lois is slummin' it" subplot (even if it was just one scene), and Adams' performance (as with Robbie in SQUAD, far above the level required for the film they were appearing in), the movie briefly managed to connect emotionally as it showed a woman professional at the top of her game breaking down over her self-perceived weakness; the death of her partner caused her to show a crack in the façade many an activist on social issues feel they must project - that the cause is what keeps that inner flame burning. That, while they intellectually know it is valid to give up once personal tragedy hits, they secretly hope they could continue the struggle, even as they would forgive anyone else for quitting.

In other words, corporate synergy disaster JUSTICE LEAGUE connected - however briefly, through however unintentional a confluence of disparate elements - with a human being on a very personal level, just like earlier corporate synergy disaster SUICIDE SQUAD did with another.

Once the Lois and Clark scene was over, however, my wife and I went back to giggling at the silliness. The only manner in which she expressed herself about the film afterwards was to indicate how amazing Affleck's Superman-lovin'-Bat-Smile was and how terrible the CGI on Cyborg.

SQUAD guy had his moment of connection and made an expansive statement on social media that SUICIDE SQUAD Is Good, Actually -- and people don't realize that because they "don't think about what they consume." He's kind of a big shot in the Low Countries tabletop RPG and LARP world, so you'd think he has a grasp of the concept of theme as one of the basic elements of story, and that anyone who works with stories on a professional or even dilettantesque level knows this as well. But no, apparently none of the people who disparaged SQUAD were aware of its secret bounty of thematic richness.

A woman saw a soulless golem of a movie that features a scene that honestly works for her - she reacts sincerely, processes it with a loved one and moves on.

A man saw a soulless golem of a movie that features a scene that honestly works for him - he goes on the internet to proclaim Everyone Is Wrong And Dumb for not liking this movie The Correct Way.

Now honestly, while I do believe there is a glimmer of hope here - in that there's emotional truth in the most artistically barren of places - I can't help but be wryly amused about that there dichotomy.

... cuz if that ain't a perfect encapsulation of geekdom, you can boom tube me straight to Belle Reve.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Derp Blog Into Darkness #33: Legends of the Fall

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a wide variation in movies to explore, ranging from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

Now here's that rare type of movie that I had definitely heard of, knew many of the main players involved, knew what kind of movie it was... but had absolutely no idea what it was actually about.

Being an Edward Zwick movie, I was expecting LEGENDS OF THE FALL to have some kind of liberal moral to the story, most likely with a comforting-to-90s-audiences White Savior theme.

But... what would the actual plot be about?

The title wasn't any help. What legends about the fall was the movie going to address? Were the characters themselves the legends, and would their legendary actions mostly be autumnal?

Who knows, and how lovely a feeling indeed!

The movie starts out with an old Cree named One-Stab (Gordon Tootoosis) reminiscing on the travails and woes of the Ludlow family as they settled on the Montana plains long decades before, together with hired hand Decker (Paul Desmond) and his Cree wife Pet (Tantoo Cardinal).

All this table setting is relayed in a montage narrated by old man One-Stab, giving some of the more dramatic events a dryly funny "oh and btw this happened" feel. Mama Isabel (Christina Pickles) leaves them because the outdoors life fuckin' sucks! Goodbye! She just totters off in a car as the dad (Anthony Hopkins) and his three sons look on. Welp... guess we're gonna have to cook our own meals now, lads...

This gives middle boy Tristan (Keegan MacIntosh, later Brad Pitt) a serious chip on his shoulder, to the point where he literally goes to POKE A SLEEPING BEAR

He manages to escape to the great misfortune of pretty much every other character in the film, and even succeeds in taking a bear claw trophy, possibly blessing him with delicious lunches for the rest of his life.

As the boys grow up, young femme Samuel (actual ET boy Henry Thomas) meets Susannah Fincannon (Julia Ormond) on a visit to his mom in the city. This immediately turns Tristan and Alfred (90s man Aidan Quinn) into cyclopses, as their boners at seeing a white woman not their mom poke their eyes out right away. But even in their one-eyed state they have fun times, playing cricket and teaching Decker and Pet's little girl Isabel Two (Sekwan Auger) about France-land classics.

It was at this point I thought I was getting a handle on the movie, as Susannah certainly wouldn't be able to keep it dry around wild woodsman adonis Tristan whose adult form is literally introduced driving horses, blonde hair borne aloft on the winds of the plains. Oh no, romantic drama!

Not entirely! Turns out poetry bumbler Samuel is also a true idealist, and wishes to go fight in World War One, and he and Alfred give Daddy Colonel William a good chewing out for not wishing to be involved in this conflict. Even Tristan ends up enlisting to fight the Kaiser, but mostly to protect his brothers who didn't get the bear-wrestling XP earlier, but mostly mostly to not be alone with horny Susannah whom he totally had some steamy hand-touching with.

Samuel does not have a good WWI, unfortunately! He gets stuck in some barbed wire and two Germans calmly deploy a gatling gun and get on their bellies so they could really take their time with this one, extremely trapped American six feet away from them on an even plain that they could have just shot with a sidearm and moved on.

Samuel's carefully executed death extremely upsets Tristan, and Brad briefly turns into an Aldo Raines avant-la-lettre who goes on a natsee-scalp-huntin' spree that mostly happens off-screen. This would have been disappointing but for the fact that we are one World War too early and they're not actually natsees so the visceral thrill of seeing them scalped just wouldn't have been there.

Alfred returns home and attempts to propose to Susannah in one of those "well I'm yer husband's single brother so why not" dealie-o's, but she declines him, which he just knows is all about that dreamy damned Tristan. He vows to make his name as a City Boy(tm) and leaves the movie.

When Tristan returns, it's fuccin time, and they fucc in different locations. But Tristan has dark thoughts that even buxom Susannah and a bear paw talisman cannot drive away. His brother so carefully shot... he wasn't there... TIME TOO RUNNOFT

Tristan engages in a montage of globetrotting adventures, while Susannah gets better and better at ranch life with Daddy Hopkins to the point I was almost expecting THEY were gonna get married. She waits for years, until she gets the very specific letter that she should marry someone else from Tristan at his lowest, unironically smoking opium.

Susannah who does need dick at some point (and Hopkins has a stroke) decided to marry respectableman Alfred after all.

But oh no! Tristan returns!

Don't worry, Tristan - we got some totally non-awkward consolation waifu for ya! That's right, Isabel Two is now a lusty young lady ("The L Word"'s Karina Lombard, very much taking me by surprise here) who is totes down to make good on her little girl promises of marrying Tristan. They don't just FUCC they also WEDD and PROCREATT, resulting in two little kids, the elder named Samuel after our favorite well-executed WWI casualty.

Tristan needs monies though, and since it is Prohibition now, he starts to do some bootlegging, to the annoyance of upright politicsman Alfred. But oh ho ho! Some of Alfred's moneymen are boozechaps themselves! The O'Bannion brothers (Robert Wisden and John Novak, playing basically Daredevil villains in the third act of this here romantic epic) aren't happy with Tristan musclin' in on their territory and start intimidating him... resulting in a roadside ambush that ends with Isabel Two dying of the world's first insta-kill shoulder shot.

Tristan and Decker organize some good vengeance for their shared womanproperty, and Politicswife Susannah decides to eat a gun because her Cucksband Alfred would never do such good vengeance for her.

As Tristan and Alfred mourn their wives, Alfred expresses his secret admiration for wildman sex god Tristan. "All my life I followed these rules... and yet I have nothing to show for it..."

Oh okay, was this the central relationship of the movie? The framing and dialogue sure would seem to suggest it here! But Alfred has basically been mostly absent for a good hour of the running time, and Tristan was really not thinking about him? Before this scene -- hell, before Susannah's out-of-nowhere suicide -- I would have surmised that Tristan/Susannah was the dramatic focus of the movie, with maybe Tristan/Poppa as the secondary one. Yer really catching me off-guard here, Zwicky!

When I voiced this disbelief to my partner, she rather hilariously went "Oh no, this is a MAN's movie!!!" which I found extremely hilarious. These deep dives are always at their most amusing when Ella revisits a thing from The Old Days and deems it Fucking Shit without expecting it to be. This was one of the best examples I'd come across so far!

As for me, I didn't hate watching it -- it hit a perfect balance of being a movie I had no knowledge of and also being extremely episodic so I was constantly on my toes as to what was going to happen next -- but I also wouldn't actually recommend it. They make opulent epics all the time, and this one isn't a particularly innovative or supremely competent one. I don't know if I'd ever seen Julia Ormond in anything before, but she was perfectly charming and engaging here.

Post-stroke gimmick acting Hopkins was Topkins -- really not that far from TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT type of shit once he got to that part of the movie.

Brad Pitt was the weirdest thing: I'd seen quite a few Brad Pitt movies before, but SE7EN the only one where he played a (relatively) normal guy. Ironically, I never saw any of his star making sex symbol performances, which made Tristan a weird character I was constantly expecting to bonk himself on the head by walking into a beam or launch into idiotic diatribes... but no, we had to take this tormented beautiful man 100% seriously at all times!

I dunno mang... can you?