Saturday, September 27, 2014

Denzel Equalizes Outcomes

Guest rush review written and proofread by Tray Oldman and approved by the Author for your bemusement.

Not too many years ago, film buffs may remember that Denzel Washington was verifiable box office gold – tough, handsome, and the ladies loved him.  This was the unflappably charming Denzel of Courage Under Fire, of Training Day, of Man On Fire, of American Gangster, and of many other delightful fan favorites.

Now the guy is tired, moody, and out of shape, and unless you’re Liam Neeson, in Hollywood, you don’t want to be that guy.  The last truly successful blockbuster Denzel headed was a 2010 action thriller, based on true events, about a runaway train, the evil corporate goons who operate it, and the two disenchanted but eventually mutually respectful heroes who have to literally stop it in its tracks before it causes an explosion the size of the Chrysler Building.

An astonishingly faithful condensation of Unstoppable into a two-minute time frame.  It’s like a needle in the Chrysler building.

If Unstoppable’s name was meant to be a subliminal innuendo about the frenetic nature of its camera work, never has a movie been more accurately titled, as there isn’t a single shot in the movie where the camera isn’t making massive zooming cuts or spinning around conductor Denzel’s head.  Like seriously half of the movie must consist of the same circling cabin shot, and as a result it will exert one of two negative physical effects on viewers, inducing them either to vomit or to sleep but never to actual enjoyment.  Fortunately for this critic, I managed to fall asleep before the final half-hour exacted the final toll of my health, which is why the Author has reluctantly forbidden me from reviewing that picture for this guest post.

Denzel’s latest starring turn is also of an unstoppable sort but is realized on a national or even global scale, playing out more like a political thriller or horror film than his various other popular projects.  He plays a nameless activist in the internet era identified only as the title character of “The Equalizer,” an advocate of absolute social equity for all regardless of their income, socioeconomic background, religion, gender, political ideology, legal status, or anything else really.  In fact, if the Equalizer were to have his way, there wouldn’t be any differences among the populace in any of these factors, as everyone would be elevated to the wonderfully mediocre pedestal of sameness.

By amplifying historically successful initiatives like the War on Poverty and the minimum wage and by expanding redistributive programs such as need-based welfare or graduated tax brackets which have increased the labor force while reducing incentives for sustained dependency, the revolutionary figurehead advises that the American government could easily eradicate class conflict altogether and ensure that everybody earns the fair and living wage that human rights experts insist to be their human right.

The Equalizer also presses for the abolition of religious strife and wars, proposing reasonably enough that government just get rid of religion entirely or render the laws such that no religion has the freedom to exercise any beliefs that another may find offensive and/or contradictory to its own beliefs, e.g. the universality of marriage rights, a inextricable doctrinal position of the great western religion of Secularism. Just so does he call for an end to disparity in the privileges enjoyed by the sexes, on the one hand by making gender reassignment surgery free to criminals of any charge but on the other by fundamentally transforming the United States’ faulty notion of one’s sexuality as something rooted in one’s nature rather than personal choice.  No longer he says will the nation stand divided by partisan bickering, quite simply because America will no longer suffer from the disadvantages posed by a two-party system.

What with all the political posturing that pervades The Equalizer’s script, some may wonder whether the film even has a plot to speak of nestled in between the numerous protracted philosophical monologues. Literary scholars often contend that a plot must possess at least a trio of things, those being rising action, a climax, and a (usually satisfying, life-affirming) denouement.  In all these areas, but especially the last, The Equalizer will probably dissatisfy the vast majority of moviegoers, but where the film soars is its complex portrayal of a utilitarian and selfless reformer who pursues fairness and uniformity above all else.

The talented Chloe Grace Moretz of Kick Ass, Kick Ass 2, the Carrie remake, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Hugo plays the adopted daughter of Washington’s Equalizer, a freespirited woman of reproductive age beset by religious extremists in her workplace and the insurance companies.  The Equalizer passionately dotes upon Julia and constantly makes reference to her in his publicly streamed addresses, usually in the context of articulating his care for one social issue or another, as in:
“The fascists want to get rid of funding for charitable organizations like Planned Parenthood that offer women the resources and services they need to decapitate, poison, or crush their unborn children.  I think that’s a bad idea.  I want my daughter to control her own health care choices.”

“If my daughter makes a mistake, I don’t want her punished with a baby.”
“I’ve got a daughter and I expect her to be treated just like anybody’s sons.  I want to make sure that my daughter is getting the same chances as men.  I do not want her paid less for doing the same job as some guys are doing.  When she has children – which I wouldn’t force her into doing under any circumstances – I want to make sure they are not having to quit their jobs, or, you know, in some other fashion be hampered, because we don’t have the kinds of policies in this country that support them.”
“There have been times where Julia and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about her friends, and somehow it wouldn’t dawn on Julia that her homosexual and lesbian and transsexual friends and their parents should be treated any differently, even though they are, technically speaking, different.  It doesn’t make sense to her and, frankly, if it doesn’t make sense to a progressively minded, forward-thinking, marijuana-smoking hipster like herself, it probably doesn’t make any sense, like, period.”
“As a father to an extraordinarily marginalized and victimized and, I admit, totally doable girl, the epidemic of sexual assaults in human nature and especially on college campuses is especially concerning to me and moves me to think about ways we can, you know, non-genetically modify that nature or at least persuade said girls into admitting the assaults we all know to have happened.”

You get it: the main conflict of The Equalizer revolves around Denzel’s literally and metaphorically bloody efforts to protect Chloe from the demons of the American republic.  But the winning asset of the film isn’t its storytelling but Washington’s breathtaking, Oscar-worthy performance as an idealistic and manipulative orator who continually deceives the masses into thinking that whatever goes against their interests is actually for their own good.  The Equalizer speaks with a honeyed and arresting voice that would seem incongruous with the color of his skin, at least to those unknowingly prejudiced fans of his who instinctively expect a certain ungainliness in the rhetorical tendencies of the African-American and consequently feel obligated to exalt the black man whenever he overcomes his natural inferiority and sounds halfway articulate.

Director Antoine Fuqua shows the Equalizer to be an avid scholar of the works of Ernest Hemingway, to such a degree that he regularly cites passages from “The Old Man and the Sea” and models his public speaking in large part off of that book’s seemingly pedestrian and unrefined but deeply communicative and compact English.  Much like Hemingway’s prose, Washington’s speeches will resonate with the common man in their simplicity of language but will also enthrall wannabe intellectuals with their carefully crafted illusion of depth and substance, when in reality he very rarely has any statistics or logical coherency behind his sweeping ideological assertions.

The Equalizer is a high-octane and undeniably relevant political drama that’s certain to end not only the impotency of Denzel’s career but hopefully of congressional gridlock over quite possibly the defining civil rights issue of our time, whether we’ll allow the iron hand of aristocracy to tighten its grip over our country’s political future or whether we’ll enact meaningful legislation/executive orders/court rulings to rid the blight of inequality from our country’s face.

Every American owes it to themselves to experience this powerful allegory.  If you don’t, then you can only be a racist, a bigot, and a Republican.  It really is as simple as that.

Grade rating: As much as I would like to delegate this movie an impressive 3.75 popcorns out of 4, to do so would be unfair to the hundreds of other honorable movies which haven’t received the same score.  So I won’t.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Finding Nemo Sucks, and a Bunch of Unrelated Stinkers

“Nemo is killing me!”

There are a great many misconceptions surrounding Pixar Animation Studios, one of which is that they make animated movies primarily for thinking adults and another of which is that their personified animal/machinery movies are any more original than the personified animal/machinery movies of Dreamworks.  The biggest error by far in contemporary Pixar analysis is the continual belief that Finding Nemo is a movie about a fledgling fish that touches a butt and learns the value of family/obedience/something trite, when in reality Finding Nemo is a movie about an arrogant and sadistic Hollywood megalodon that savagely rams a heated rod up its audience’s butts and bullies them into submitting that they liked the experience.  From every technical and textual standpoint, Finding Nemo is one of the worst animated movies ever to be dumped upon the youth of this or any other country.  Even disregarding its obnoxious and persistently puerile lead, the film is riddled with colorless supporting characters who serve no purpose but to point the protagonist in the right direction and to rehash the same “jokes” over and over again – as in the laid-back surfer turtle who says “dude”, the surfer turtle’s laid-back son who also says “dude”, the seagulls that say “my”, the fish who talks to her reflection, the fish that blows up, the fish that sticks to the glass, the fish that freaks out all the time, the fish that mime everything by swimming in formation, the reformed vegetarian fish, the old, battle-scarred, wise mentor fish, the fish that forgets everything (unless the plot calls for her to remember something), and, of course, the bumbling and environmentally unconscious humans.

In the event that you do subject yourself to this torturous excuse for a cautionary tale, you’ll get to watch Nemo’s ironically humorless clown fish of a father and Ellen Degenerate’s appropriately irritating whatever-she-is swim through miles of boring blue CG backgrounds and occasionally confront such one-off obstacles as jellyfish, anglers, and whales, through which their bonds of friendship are predictably made firm.  It’s the kind of movie I could rip apart frame by frame, line by line, fin by fin, gill by gill, but I warrant that’s exactly the kind of sadomasochistic pleasure its creators intended to inflict on others and themselves.  Anyone who praises Pixar’s cockamamie finding of some woebegone fish brat as particularly daring or profound or inspirational I would implore to watch a truly thoughtful animated film, e.g. Rango, wherein the hero has to find an identity rooted in something other than personal fantasy, Shrek, wherein the hero has to find not only a princess but a reason to care about someone other than himself, Kung Fu Panda, wherein the hero has to find the beauty of his own uniqueness, How To Train Your Dragon, wherein the heroes have to find truth in an arena where thickheadedness reigns, Surf’s Up, wherein the hero has to find that friendship is the greatest trophy of all, Megamind, wherein the hero has to find the imprudence of doling out power to fools, Cars, wherein the hero has to find the shallowness of his own pragmatism, Lilo and Stich, wherein the hero has to find that mahalo means family, The Lion King, wherein the hero has to find a life of purpose and leadership (sorry) and humility while forsaking the hakuna matata, and many other greats I can’t expound at the moment.  Finding Nemo, by comparison, is but a banality of the cinematic deep, bastardizing childhoods and shamelessly abolishing the critical judgment of film.

If you liked Disney Pixar’s Toy Story, Disney Pixar’s Wall-e, or Disney Pixar’s Bug Movie, then you’ll probably like Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  If you liked James Cameron’s The Abyss, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Ken Levine and Irrational Games’ Bioshock, or Spongebob Squarepants’ Atlantis Squarepantis, then you probably won’t like Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo.

Reservoir Doggone

Reservoir Dogs has all the marks of a debuting writer/director who’s so preoccupied with carving out a distinctive visual style that he totally forgets about important things like a plot, or an emotional core, or a suspenseful sequence of events, and who thusly secures the former beyond a reasonable doubt while just as definitely fumbling the latter.  That’s because Reservoir Dogs is the work of a debuting writer/director, and not just any unseasoned writer/director, but one who would go on to spearhead such generally acclaimed icons as Pulp Fiction and the Author-approved Inglourious Basterds.  Reservoir Dogs is not an Inglourious Basterds, in part because there aren’t any good guys or bad guys in it, but mostly because there aren’t any interesting guys in it.  Whereas Inglourious was very much a character-centered and verbally witty piece in which one could easily cheer for the heroes and tremble at the villains, Reservoir Dogs is a relative cluster&!*@ of characterization, revolving around a bunch of mother*!&?ing gangsters who execute a #@!%ing heist entirely off of the #@!%ing screen and #@!%ing jib-jabber about it ad ^$@?ing nauseum because the script will never allow them to shut the &!^@ up or articulate a single *^%*ing sentence without saying the word “%!&@”.  None of the !♫%ers have a &%$#ing personality aside from a uniformity of nastiness and vulgarity, so when a Ω#@$ing mole $*!♪s with the solidarity of the group and ♪♫♪ing leads them right into a &$$ing trap, all the members go $#**ing insane and ♫Ω♫ each other up until only one dumb (&@? is left standing and the other puts a *!!*ing bullet through the head of the &@*♦ing mole, and that’s the final &*♥*ing shot of the movie.  Basically, it’s a really ♣$%#ed-up story, and by the end of it all, you’ll be wishing somebody cut off your own ♠^*^ing ear and ♫(♪)ing doused you in gasoline to kill the trauma.

Frankly, I didn’t give a .

Sharknado Blusters

As a made-for-TV monster movie/social media extravaganza waiting to happen, Sharknado could have been either an critical deconstruction of horrible moviemaking or, much more likely, a shameless revelry in that very thing.  Rest assured that Sharknado definitely falls among the latter set, and duly take this warning to heart.  I would say that its creators are sexist for giving their female stars nothing to do and nothing significant to wear, but then they don’t give their male stars anything to do either, aside from pumping a bunch of CG sharks full of shotgun lead, hiding out in the van set for half of the movie, and reading the action aloud for those in the audience too blind to follow it for themselves.  From irrelevant beginning to ludicrous conclusion, Sharknado exudes an aura of pompous and careless badness, communicating a palpable distaste for its audience’s intelligence and time, only one of which those idiot celebrities who tweeted about it have in any abundance.  Listen ye, therefore, to the sage counsel of Gandalf the Grey, who admonished Frodo, “All we have to do is decide what we do with the time that is given us.”  Any time one expends in watching Sharknado, even with strictly analytical intent, is time that one is consciously choosing to waste and to squander on dreck in the place of something with real, justifiable value.  Quite simply, it is an ungrateful and irreverent rejection of the greatest resource God affords us as His children, a rejection I’ll regret for the rest of my life until the blessed day when age wipes all memory of sharknados from my mind.

Like a Tarantula Bite to the...

The best thing to be said about the made-up Miller family of this occasionally raunchy, ever immature road trip through Mexico is that 45-year-old Jennifer Aniston puts on a surprisingly convincing show as a cheap stripper-turned-drug dealer (though she would prefer the term “smuggler”).  The worst thing to be said about it is that Jennifer Aniston has to put on such a show not once but twice just to sustain the audience’s interest in the brief lapses between the many oral and anal jokes that pervade the movie’s script, none of which are funny enough to pass muster under the standards of this or any other publication.  The paradox of Millers’ unfettered if mostly verbal vulgarity is that its blatant drive to shock nullifies its capacity for doing just that.  After all, there are only so many ways you can repackage an already unimaginative gag about genitalia without losing its initial thrust.

See what I mean?  You’ve read that same exact sex pun probably a hundred times in other media, so much so that you didn’t even raise an eyebrow at the previous sentence, and if you did it was only in the course of rolling your eyes at my rank unoriginality.  Now imagine sitting through what feels like two hours of this brainless and sophomoric excuse for humor; I leave it to you to determine whether such an excursion in debauchery and idiocy would be a worthy investment of your time.  We’re the Millers wages a concentrated campaign against wit and wisdom in storytelling, bludgeoning us with a malign and purposeful assault upon genuinely intelligent humor.  There is one funny line midway through deriving chiefly from the stupidity of the character above rather than from his sexuality; I’ll leave you with it because I’m a nice guy and always try to appreciate the good in everything, even if it doesn’t really exist. Not.

“We’re not doing what it looks like we were doing.”
“Really?  Because it looks like she’s teaching you how to kiss out of pity.”
“Oh… well, then it is what it looks like we’re doing.”

Batman and Robin Break the Ice (alternatively titled The Partypooper, Sub-Zero, What Killed the Dinosaurs?, Batman Gets the Splits, Batman... You Son Of A B____, Bane Of Humanity, or Sequel Prospects: Terminated)

The very pretense of writing a movie review for Batman and Robin is a self-defeating concept, assuming as it does that Batman and Robin is even a movie in any meaningful sense, when in fact it’s more a vignette of incredibly cheesy puns and childish comic book banter that wouldn’t appease even the least discriminating 7-year-old.  The damning sin of this bona-fide Batmobile pile-on is neither its ill-advised implementation of bat nipples and butts nor its appallingly cheap production design but its script’s total want of any reason for existing in the first place, save to revive the kind of weightless kid-friendly superhero fluff that thankfully expired long ago with the recession of the offensively inoffensive Adam West TV series.  From a more optimistic standpoint, though, you really couldn’t find a better cure for insomnia, even when viewing from a particularly uncomfortable and pillow-less couch.  Talk about the cold shoulder.

If you like this video, then you may just like Batman and Robin.  But probably not.

V For Vapid

If the idea of watching Natalie Portman prattling on in a feigned British accent or listening to a faceless Guy Fawkes poseur (we’ll call him Mr. V) lecturing about the virtues of anarchy in alliterative verbosity sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If, on the other hand – oh, I almost forgot: if the idea of watching Natalie Portman and Mr. V sitting on a couch and watching the news sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of watching government officials endlessly plotting and conniving inside their white-walled offices to extinguish Mr. V.’s noble uprising sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of doggedly jumping back and forth between the government detectives investigating Mr. V and Mr. V himself because the filmmakers can’t decide to focus on one or the other sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of one-dimensional stereotypes of Catholic ministers as power-hungry, chauvinistic theocrats sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of absorbing Natalie Portman’s boring backstory details through glowy flashbacks and voiceover sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of seemingly interminable political worldbuilding and historical setup sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If the idea of thinly veiled and distracting anti-Bush or pro-Islamic themes sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.  Likewise, if the idea of throwing in silly and logically contradictory homosexual subplots so ordered as to indict the tyranny of the Christian church (but not of the Islamists, whose anti-homosexual edicts are a bogey man invented by the capitalist tyranny) sounds appealing to you, then you’ll probably like V For Vendetta.

If none of these ideas nor the one of the evil Catholic guys shaving Natalie Portman’s head when they “process her” sound appealing to you, then you probably won’t like V For Vendetta.  If only half of your brain is committed to watching the movie and the other half is reviewing it simultaneously while juggling online social connections, blog work, and studying, then you probably didn’t care much about V For Vendetta.

* Spoiler * * Spoiler * Maybe I wasn’t paying very close attention (OK, I wasn’t), but I honestly hadn’t the slightest hunch that V was the one who cut Portman’s hair until the “you have no fear now” scene.  That was a pretty good twist.  There’s also a decent, somewhat bloodier Matrix-esque sequence where V systematically knives a bunch of guys ten-to-one in super slow-motion.  “The only thing we have in common, Mr. Creedy, is we’re both about to die.”  The rest of the movie, if you couldn’t discern, is kind of lame.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Moderation Fallacy

This is a tightly compressed sociopoetical rant I wrote for a contest with a really unusual prompt.  It lost. Enjoy and ponder it pensively.  I have a really good piece coming in short order, so this is holding you over until then.

Five, oh ye with sullen aspect downcast, what spurs thee now to slander thus thy station,
Between thy brothers one and ten,
The center of the single digits scale,
Dwarved on right by mortals nine, on left by nothingness immortal?

Five, who are the sum of two and two – so quoth He they claim is watching you –,
Deciding then one’s reason
Or damning one for treason,
Five, who settle not for rank indulgence, nor so meek a frugal life to champion,
Ye spurn both sides’ extremes in isolation,
For why should one his evil methods ration?

Oh Fie upon the right and on the left, each one of moderation so bereft!
Why resign thyself to none or nine, to one end’s vices when in middle lies
The opportunity to come partake of twice the wrongs for compromise’s sake?