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January 24, 2005

Ways to tell a movie is bad continued

Matt Elkind was kind enough to remind me that Elektra was guilty of the last item on the first list (the one about being blind), but the fact that all the blind guy does is make a good pool shot made me decide not to harp on it. And now that I think about it, Elektra spends a lot of time flashing back to her dead parents too, but that movie is so mediocre, I've given it more credit than it deserves just by talking about it as much as I have. On with the list.

6) Fart!

I'm not above laughing at bathroom humor. Behind this dry, intellectual veneer lies the mind of an eight year old. (Did I already give myself away by using Scooby-Doo as an example of a good mystery?) But for Christ's sake, a fart by itself is not a fart joke. A bodily function alone is not a joke. If it were, I would be laughing myself silly every time I went to the bathroom. There are certain modern day toilet savants, like the Farrelly brothers and the South Park guys, who can actually come up with jokes to go along with the farts, but most people will just put them in the movie, feature the hilarious function in the trailer, and then expect us to line up to pay ten bucks to see the hour and a half wrapped around that brief moment of hilarity.

7) Mercy, pretty woman

I declare a moratorium on movies about strippers and/or hookers that are written by men. The most recent addition to this long line of masturbatory filmmaking was Closer, where Natalie Portman played a sensitive, but tough, but sexy, but mysterious, but loving, but cold, but sensitive stripper. Seriously guys, you don't understand women, and you're not going to by writing some happy hooker fantasy. Don't try. It's embarrassing for all of us. Save it for the soft core porn.

8) It was Mister Carruthers!

People love surprise endings. Ever since The Sixth Sense came out, it's almost a requirement for a movie to have one, even if it doesn't make sense. And the easiest way to do that is to have a mystery thrown into the plot and have the murderer/villain/scofflaw revealed to be the very person you least suspected.

I like mysteries. I'm an avid Holmes fan, in case the domain names didn't tip you off , but I'm only going to accept so many mysteries where a character who was in one or two scenes ends up being the killer. It's not clever if the only reason I don't suspect someone is because I've forgotten about them.

I read somewhere that there's a rule for Scooby-Doo villains: Whichever character they meet first, as long as it's not Don Knotts, is the ghost. Now, I'm sure that's not true for every episode (although I know there are a handful of episodes where they only meet one guy and he's the ghost), but at least Scooby-Doo had the balls to throw the answer in your face. Movies like Enigma, I Robot, one of the 48 Hours movies, I can't remember which, and countless cops and robbers shows have a surprise bad guy revealed at the end, and it's only surprising because the villain was so forgettable. Some writers might think this is clever obfuscation, but it's not, it's a cheap cop out.

Anyone can write a character with a few lines that shows up in the beginning and then come up with an explanation at the end as to why they're evil and crazy. Take a good Agatha Christie story, even the Scream movies. They keep you guessing by throwing red herrings in to distract attention away from the real killers, all the while keeping them in the foreground of the story. Most movies and tv shows seem to pick day players at random to be the killer.

I had a couple more, but they're not that good now that I'm looking at them. I might throw them in when I'm low on ideas someday.

Posted by Will at 11:07 PM | Comments (3)

January 19, 2005

George Lucas is a racist

Yes, this post is about The Phantom Menace, and about five years to late, but in my defense, there was no diogenesclub.net five years ago.

A lot of people have made off-handed remarks that this or that character is a racist stereotype, mostly Jar Jar Binks, but to my knowledge, no one has ever looked at the movie as a whole to notice, pigeon English aside, how racist the movie actually is.

The original Star Wars had a message. It didn't hit you over the head with it, but it was there. The point of Star Wars (or at least one of them) was that the human spirit triumphs over technology. The point of The Phantom Menace was that racism is wrong. I know this because I was hit over the head with it. Obi-Wan kindly dumbs it down for us and Boss Nass to understand:

OBI-WAN: You and the Naboo form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of
you will affect the other.

The much maligned midi-chlorians were introduced to hit the point home:

QUI-GON: We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians.
ANAKIN: Symbionts?
QUI-GON: Life forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the
midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the

Get it? He used that big word 'symbiont' both times so we wouldn't miss out on the wisdom being proffered. To refresh your memory, The Phantom Menace involves a conflict between the amphibious Gungans and the humanoid Naboo. They can't get along, and while they share their planet peacefully, they are entirely segregated from one another.

It's not hard to map these two races onto our own world, the Naboo are the white majority and the Gungans are, well, whatever oppressed minority you like, blacks, hispanics, native americans, you name it. So, over the course of the movie, the two races put aside their differences and defeat the moderately evil Trade Federation. And everybody learns a lesson.

Here's the thing: The Gungans are idiots and the Naboo aren't. At no point do the Naboo ever say anything bad about the Gungans. But the Gungans will bring it up at the drop of a hat. The Gungans are paranoid and unjustified in their dislike for the Naboo, while the Naboo just want to be friends. The Naboo are a bunch of upper class white people sitting in a cocktail lounge saying, "Of course I would have black friends, but I just don't know any blacks," while the Gungans are sitting around in the separate-but-equal underwater homes, blaming everything on whitey.

The Naboo we meet in the movie are beautiful, peaceful, smart, and dignified. Here are the four Gungans with speaking parts:

Jar Jar Binks
    Aside from noting that he's arguably the most hated fictional character of all time, with Barney at a distant second, I don't think I need to say much about the big Double-J.
Boss Nass
    By far the most paranoid and bigoted Gungan in the movie. He sends every Gungan into battle (except himself) simply because the Queen of the Naboo vaguely implies that she doesn't think she's smarter than the Gungans. But not before he spits all over himself.
    Also note that he is given the title Boss, not a dignified royal title like humanoid characters get. (Lucas tries to have his cake and eat it too by making Amidala an elected(!) queen.)
Captain Tarpals
    He comes close to being a old, respectable Gungan warrior, except that he says doo-doo not once, but twice.
The one who says "Theysa comin!"
    Sadly, the Gungan who has only one line seems to be the smartest Gungan by default.

So basically, Lucas is saying in own his roundabout way, that minorities should stop being so stupid and paranoid and help us kindly white folk in our ivory tower whenever we ask. This wouldn't bother me so much, except that Lucas has gone out of his way to teach us a trite lesson of tolerance and equality, going so far as introducing something as lame as midi-chlorians, and he's in fact supporting the exact opposite view! Maybe Lucas has made some sort of genius Starship Troopers-esque meditation on the hypocrisy of the civil rights movement, but I sincerely doubt it.

Oh yeah, and that movie sucks besides.

Posted by Will at 8:40 PM | Comments (14)

January 17, 2005

Ways to tell a movie is bad

So I saw Elektra this weekend. I wasn't expecting much, and I got what I expected. I won't bore you with a review of the movie, but I will use it as a jumping off point for very easy ways you can tell that a movie is bad.

1) Characters say stuff early in the movie and then say the same thing later in the movie.

Example: Elektra and some stupid guy kiss. "Sorry," he says. "Oh yeah," she banters back. "I hated that." At the end of the movie they kiss again and they say the same stupid lines with the roles reversed.

The point of this is to make us think that these characters have come full circle in some way. Nine times out of ten though, the characters haven't come full circle so they're just recycling bad dialogue to make us think of other movies where repeating lines of dialogue actually makes sense.

2) Good vs Evil

Now, I know, there are a lot of good movies that have been made about the never ending battle between good and evil. But let's be honest. Evil people need motivations just as much as good people do. If you're evil and you don't really have a reason for being evil, you're basically Cobra Commander. And listen, I like Cobra Commander. He's enough of a nut to pull it off. But if you're just some boring dude with a sword and a bunch lame no-name henchman, your desire to "be evil" just doesn't cut it.

3) Lame music

I know they have to sell a soundtrack and everything, because the millions of dollars they make at the box office aren't enough, but bad rap-rock/techno/whatever sucky genre is popular now is really starting to make it impossible for me to enjoy movies.

I am positive that the people making these movies don't get home after a hard day and put on Linkin Park. They just don't. No one over say, twenty-five, listens to the terrible music they put into movies. They do this, like I said before, to sell a soundtrack, but also because they think that kids will like the movie more if they put in contemporary music.

But you know what kids like? They like Star Wars. You know, the movie that has the orchestral score that doesn't seem to bother kids and is palatable to adults as well? My solution, make one of those albums of music "inspired by" the movie (i.e., an expensive mix tape) and put in a score that doesn't make me feel like a grandparent.

The rest of these don't pertain to Elektra, but I wouldn't be surprised if they slipped them into the director's cut.

4) I see dead people

In real life, when you miss a dead person, you don't see them and talk to them and resolve your issues with them. Yet this happens in pretty much every movie where someone dies. It's become movie shorthand for "This person misses this person." From now on, if someone sees a dead person, the character should either commit themselves to a mental hospital, or the movie should be Ghostbusters 3.

5) Blind people are blind.

This is a minor qualm, and it's only happened in two movies that I can think of, Elektra's predecessor Daredevil, and the comically overrated House of Flying Daggers.

Blind people are very capable. They can get around and are very independent. But if you have a kung fu fight with a blind person and they do all right for themselves, you can assume one of two things: Either they got superpowers from the radioactive stuff that made them blind and they fight crime at night, or THEY ARE NOT BLIND.

There's plenty of bad things in Elektra to talk about, but I think my mind has put a defense mechanism in place so that I won't have to think about all of them. So that's all for now. More as it comes.

Posted by Will at 8:00 PM | Comments (3)

January 11, 2005

How's this for offensive

Tsunami vs 9-11

Posted by Will at 12:24 AM | Comments (4)

January 7, 2005

Judge not, etc.

A few nights ago, I had met up with some friends, and ended up taking the L home around eleven or twelve. The tracks were under construction, which meant I was in for a long wait. I didn't have a book with me, so all I had to do was pace and look at other people waiting for the train. After a while, a couple showed up. The woman was kind of dumpy looking, unremarkable other than the clutch purse she had that said Scorpio, which I assume was her sign. The man was what caught my attention, he had a glasses that were the shape and size of a state trooper's sunglasses, a big cowboy hat, jeans tucked into his boots, and a coat with tassles that were as long as his forearms.

Now, I usually try not to judge people for what they wear, mostly out of a vague fear of what people might think of my wardrobe, but I instantly pegged this guy as a larper. For those of you unfamiliar with larping, it's like Dungeons and Dragons except you put on outfits and act it out in the woods somewhere. (Disclosure: Yes, I played D&D in high school.) Thinking about it some more, I decided that the guy probably wasn't actually a larper, that'd be too easy, but I'd bet that he had friends who were, and diamonds to donuts he had some other weird thing that he did, like being a furry or something.

I overheard him telling the woman about how the L was notorious for late night construction, in an attempt, I assumed, to impress her with his knowledge of the city. Wow, you know about the L train? Garsh! Tell me all about it, what's it like in the morning? What about like late afternoon? Fascinating! When the train finally showed up, he got close to it as it slowed down and made like he was stopping it himself. Haw haw, asshole, why don't you pull a quarter out of the girl's ear too.

I was enjoying feeling superior to this guy, so I decided to get as close as possible to the couple on the train to eavesdrop some more. And what should we stand next to but that Anna Nicole Smith Trimspan ad. He proceeded to point out the main problems with the ad that I had pointed out in this post.

Oh fuck. At first I hoped that he was just an avid reader of Diogenes Club, but that probably wasn't the case. I thought I was so clever with my Anna ad critique, but here was this idiot, spouting out the same stuff.

So you're probably saying to yourself, well Will, you got what you deserved. You played D&D in high school, and you ramble on about the L train sometimes, and there you were judging him, calling the kettle black as it were, and now you're surprised when he comes up with the same observations as you.

I suppose. So I learned a lesson. When you're waiting for the train, bring a book.

Posted by Will at 5:32 PM | Comments ()