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This month brings out the latest edition of the Robin Hood mythology, 19 years on from Kevin Costner's idealized, romantic piece. With Ridley Scott at the helm of this precarious ship, he rounds out a decade-long stab at ancient and medieval revisionism (see also: 2000's Gladiator, and 2005's brain-dead crusader drama, Kingdom of Heaven). Although I immediately expected this movie would be disastrously disappointing and potentially laughable, I found it much more than that. Please dear guest, read on.
In comparison to the last reviled version of Robin Hood, we find this one much more entwined in the historical context surrounding the creation of the much famed and trivially despised Magna Cartaof 1215. Russell Crowe plays the title character, through which we are given previously undisclosed information on his origins and background. We find that he is not only a thief, but also an identity thief and con man, filling the role of a recently corpsed-out returning crusader, and becoming a noble protectorate of miserable Nottingham.
The scope of this film is wider than those preceding it (particularly Robin Hood: Men in Tights),and focuses its hate energy on backstabbing agents of the French crown (a longtime favorite target for English and Americans alike). Within this, negative energy is removed from the Sheriff of Nottingham, who becomes comic relief and almost likeable as a jerky, bumbling bureaucrat in favor of the classic, populist hate of the King and taxing overlords. Of no mean importance, Scott shows a classic turn-of-the-century nod to the other half of humanity still existing by presenting a Maid Marion who maintains a strength and autonomous efficacy well supplanting her 1991 damsel-in-distress version. Who would have thought it would only take 100 years of lobbying, protest and direct action to achieve it!
One question arises when thinking about Robin Hood and the mythology surrounding the character: Why is this story continually remade, and what about it appeals to the moviegoing public? Well, from my slobbering, uselessly educated, making-ends-meet perspective, Robin Hood represents what most of us would like to do by robbing the "king" and laying waste to useless governmental functionaries who stop us flag-waving "winners" from living the unadulterated American dream of being left the shit alone. But hey, I am just pointing out that in times of radical mass economic hardship, people tend to lean towards things that appeal to their sense of us-versus-them, fairness and equity; what a sad pop-culture litmus test of our wretched state of affairs.
Aside from all things stated above, this film was relatively entertaining. I could have done without the requisite freedom speeches or inclination to rally people, Braveheart-style, around a bunch of perturbed horse riders, but I must say there were multiple stabbings and what appeared to be several near decapitations. While discussing the lighter side of things, I would emphasize that this is much more bearable that the Kevin Costner version, but like I said before, movies should just stay out of the history game.
In many respects, we have reached the end of the terrible line in terms of comics-turned-films. In the last 20 years, DC and Marvel Comics have been deplorably raped of their 2D likability (requiring some semblance of an imagination), in favor of live-action brain-busters like Daredevil, Catwoman, Ghost Rider, The Hulk, X-Men,and the debacle of fin-de-siecle, Batman.In the shadow of this recent history, we have two new movies which at first would draw my ill-informed ire from a hundred clicks away, but in reality, they aren't that bad?
Now judging by my last couple years of reviews, one would assume I am equipping for full-on berating mode, but alas, hear me out: The Losers and Kick Ass are from the same twisted family tree of the oft-fucked-up comic-to-action archetype, but unlike most, they succeed in what they actually set out to do (albeit with all of the bell-and-whistle cliches "action" could muster). The Losers taps into my favorite themes of government betrayal/revenge (a la The International, Law Abiding Citizen),while following the same familiar route of one-liner nostalgia as Shoot 'Em Up. The one part that didn't seem to make the celluloid transfer is the depth of the characters' past on paper, obviously truncated in the interest of time and plot clarity. Who are we kidding? One goes to see this knowing it plays on the desire to see shit blown up and nameless bad guy workers shot on their coffee breaks while trying to support their young families. In terms of droll stupidity therein, it is completely buyable. Potential lame romance: check; shitty bad guy bent on world destruction: check. All the while it is entertaining, sarcastic and pretty funny, while remaining acceptable because I knew from the get-go I wasn't going to see Henry V.
Kick-Ass on the other hand, is essentially a coming of age, cloaked in the mythology of the medium. Kids obsessed with superheroes and comics, in a comic, and a film about that comic; the simulacra is mind-bending, but this too succeeds in a separate way. Kick Ass actually attempts to tell a storyno matter how ridiculous, puerile and over-the-top it may be (including Nicolas Cage and many dimwitted, ostensibly Italian henchmen). At the crux of the story is a typical teenage kid who becomes a vigilante star, which on paper makes me want to Jonestown everyone I know, but in the end it works precisely because it is not a Friday Night Lights or Teen Movie 47.At times it falls dangerously close to Juno cutesiness, but banks the rest of its arguable legitimacy on violence, bloodflow and the humor of fully automatic weapons.
The two layers of tribulation these translations must tread include the authenticity to its original and watchability as a standalone. A film will never contain as much detail as the book it is made from, nor will purists ever be happy with a translation of something they have come to know and love, thus hating a remake a priori. Contrary to my nature, I think the lowest common denominator carnage of The Losers and the campy-verging-on-retarded Kick Ass served their purpose as a whole, presenting fairly easy to watch entertainment as an alternative to your emotionally debilitating life. In the end, though, I always favor the pure action movies that I am sure The Expendables and Predators will deliver later this year.
Graf Orlock/Decibel Steadycam Review: Avatar
Visually stunning. A work of epic genius by the premier messianic director/producer James Cameron (henceforth referred to as J.C.) Ever since the meteoric rise of J.C. in the 80s and 90s (or 4 B.C.E. if we're keeping track), with such groundbreaking and truly amazing works (Terminator, T2, and the illustrious, Titanic), film has not been the same. Avatar is a culmination of this greatness, an amalgam of all things beautiful and computer generated…..who the shit am I kidding, if CGI is my hell, we're talking about the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth ring of something so purely evil it would have Dante and Virgil bleeding into their 14th century skull caps.
Let me give you a brief synopsis of J.C.'s (hopefully) last will and cinematic testament. A wonderful and creepy planet of Pandora has a very rare ore aptly named "unobtanium", which happens to lie directly under the home colony of the native population of evil cat Smurfs. Note that these Smurfs, hilariously called Na'vi, utilize an uncomfortable custom of connecting their ponytail in an awkward sexual coupling to animal life and parts of nature, to tap into "the network" that exists in the environment. It is only a short time until the gung-ho multi-planet corporation gets involved with technologies that can place a human in an "avatar" to infiltrate the natives, leaving the Na'vi to evacuate or get run down by bulldozers of intergalactic financial imperialism. Swoon.
Hailed by some a J.C's return to form with social, spiritual, and environmental commentary all rolled into one, I would take the opposing angle of pointing out that this story is the epitome of class one brain damage added to a $10 bottle of grocery store gin. Who would imagine that these blue things on PCP would hold so much emotional resonance and philosophical gravitas? Oh fuck, they don't. Of course I can't relate to this piece, and if J.C. is attempting to comment on "terrorism", "markets", and "cultural genocide", all pleasant catch phrases, perhaps he should consider the pervasive nature of American film, and the fact that his 3 hour celluloid suicide pills have more than likely run down, time and again, native, local/national cinema all over the globe.
Perhaps I have misconstrued something here, and J.C. has turned into a well-spoken harbinger of anarchism, pointing out the pitfalls of scorched earth capitalism and the richness of human cultural autonomy. Or conversely, perhaps he seeks to champion aboriginal monarchy and tribal communities. No matter what he planned on doing, which doesn't seem much, this complete piece of shit ranks lower than purposely hitting your head and drowning in a urinal. At least it would end semi-painlessly; where the story of Avatar just made this bitter review and what is little left of my shitty desire to live seem like Pulitzer Prize winning fool's gold.
For over two hundred years, worker civil disobedience has been an aspect of American history. Yet gradually, there has been a decline in collective resistance by workers. To make matters worse, the activity that occurs in the present day is more like a death rattle compared to the roar that was seen in the early twentieth century. The solution to this problem lies in the same hands it always has…YOU!
Whether it was through the martyrs of the Haymarket Massacre or the complete take over of the Homestead steel factory, workers in America have always been quick to demand justice in the workplace. And yet, we seem to be at a standstill. While some organizations such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) continue to use radical resistance methods to bring about change, the thought of unionizing has gone largely unnoticed in recent years. Why has the American public turned their backs on unions, especially now, during the worse economic situation since the Great Depression?
As usual, the rich used the ignorance of the worker to silence the cries of oppression that have resonated for decades. Whether it was through their claims that unionism will harm workers or by diminishing the rights to organize under right-wing political administrations, there has been a plethora of suppression to the peoples' needs. But does this stop all resistance? Not in the slightest. Workers are still speaking up, but certainly not enough. In order to change the current spectrums of existence for workers, there certainly needs to be resurgence in unionism.
I worked for the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers International Union) for two and a half years. My Grandfather also worked for the UFCW for over thirty years. Even his father spent most of his life working for a syndicate in Mexico. Simply put, unionism runs in my veins. And yet, I was disillusioned by how little the union protected our workers from the onslaught of harassment we faced by the higher ups in our business. It seems as if many of the unions have forgotten what they fought so hard for in the past, just so they can take a chunk of the capitalist pie that the businesses have on their window seal.
There is much that is to be cherished in union labor, but some things must be understood. While we should work out deals with the businesses we are fighting, we should always remember that they are the enemy. The unions of today have gone soft. They make easy deals that will silence the worker momentarily, just long enough for new forms of oppression to take place. Unions have decided to take liberal stances on volatile situations, to keep a good reputation among the middle class public. Yet their saving of face does not feed a child whose parent is working three jobs just to pay the bills. It doesn't stop an individual from being fired because of their sexual orientation, or never getting a job in the first place due to their skin tone. We must create new unions that actually care about workers' struggles and continue to support the ones that still do.
One of the biggest gaps dividing workers at the moment is the language in which we speak in regards to organizing. It's easy for union supporters to spew off Marxist terminology, but for the everyday worker, these words are useless in provoking resistance. We must make our argument one that anyone can relate to. Explain to your co-worker that they deserve a better wage, with real benefits. Tell them simply that they are the ones who control the businesses, not their bosses. Without them, the company would go nowhere. Show them that they have everything to gain and nothing left to lose.
Luckily, many people around the world are starting to hear those primal cries of revolution. It was only a few years ago when Argentines revolted against the owners of their factory, successfully creating a self-managed automobile plant. Others took notice of these actions, and other self-managed work establishments now against in Argentina. Just four months ago (December 2008), members of the UE Local 1110 of Chicago took over their factory when their factory refused to hand out severance checks for the workers they were laying off. Their lock out was successful, and soon the State of Illinois demanded that their checks were given out, or else Bank of America (the bank that was withholding the checks) would be banned from the state. As I am writing this, news is coming in that French workers have taken the CEO of the U.S. manufacturer, 3M, hostage, due to growing hostility over bailouts of corporations while workers are out of a job.
It will not take much for further resistance to lead into every business and every factory across the country and around the world. We must resist the liberalized fallacies of modern unions and learn from the examples of those who did not take no for an answer. A whole new dawn can arise from these ashes. That is, if only we decide to come out from the shadows of capitalism.
For further information on such topics, please read: IWW: The First 100 Years, written by Fred W. Thompson
Graf Orlock/Decibel Steadycam Review: Law Abiding Citizen
October 19, 2009
Gerard Butler returns to the screen after a series of low interest rom-coms that turned no heads and satisfied no yearning for blatant destruction or vengeance. Law Abiding Citizen answers the call of both of these pleas, and in an interesting way brings up a lot of questions not normally present in a theatre lit with the stunning spectacle of "explosion orange." In a standard action archetype of murdered family = enraged husband fighting the powers that be, a reflexive nerve is struck. What a strange feeling.
It seems that although this is viscerally satisfying in so many different ways, L.A.C. uses the Saw-esque lowest common denominator to appeal across a shrinking intellectual board. In Chris Hedges' 2009 Empire of Illusion, he argues that the American public has moved to a point where extremity in violence and torture, coupled with shithead "Joe Public" attitudes of self-pity rhetoric, color the lowbrow entertainment playing an increasingly larger role of escapism in our lives. If this is in fact true, then Law Abiding Citizen taps directly into these desires, positioning Gerard Butler as the "everyman" who just happens to be trained in special operations and at-distance murder, all while challenging the Justice Department and taking on the entire U.S. government. He manages, through brutal and clever ways, to kill nearly everyone involved with his botched case and unattained justice for his dead family; revenge as a primary mode of reconciliation and a cell phone bomb that wrecks a judge's dome from nothing.
Although film enemies shift as quickly as current events, the Soviets of the 1980s, and Muslim scare of the 2000s, have moved over for an outright attack on the unhelpful-during-crisis, post-Katrina government. Butler exists as a one-man foil to everything we hate right now, the economy (nameless self-funding), the "broken" justice system (he outsmarts them at every turn), and the bureaucratic monolith itself. It is as if we as moronic moviegoers actually see placement of explosives as a legitimate inroad to having our voice heard in representative democracy. How wonderful it is, to vicariously watch someone else take on the big man, the people we just can't fight, while we twiddle our thumbs, stuck in a drooling and permanent state of underdogmanship.
If Hedges and critics like Gore Vidal are correct about the waning intelligence of the American public, then I guess there will be a lot more lunatics sitting in Michigan trees dressed in fatigues, reading The Turner Diaries. Action film has always been stupidly and surprisingly prescient about politics and the idiot public's desire to feel good about themselves, even though they don't deserve it. Perhaps this film should have instead featured Butler in his Spartan garb beating the shit out of Juggalos and basement gamers, because those are the brain injury world leaders of our next shining generation.
Rating: 4 out of 5 steadycams for clever kills, inept administrative figures, and the comforting feeling that I won't be alive to witness the complete decline of literacy.
For fans of: Militias, conspiracy paranoia, not thinking.
Decibel: Top 5 Cinematic Moments More Offensive than the Genital Disfigurement in "Antichrist"
October 19, 2009
1. Terminator Salvation: Marcus Wright
In Salvation, the premium level cyborgs are so up to date they don"t even know they are cyborgs. This doesn"t make sense, and it seems the film"s protagonist John Connor, is saved through a whimsically donated robot heart transplant. The synapses in my brain burned out contemplating the intricacies of tears in the space-time-continuum and the fabricated retardation required to spider web this flimsy plot together.
2. Knowing: Nicolas Cage realizes there is a god
This shitty religious epiphany in an even shittier movie comes when Cage gleans, as the world hurtles toward inflamed destruction, that angels, god, and heaven do certainly exist. Note, this is carried through by creepy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer seraphim toying with the human psyche and miserably bad computer imagery. Cage understands, world loses.
3. Gamer: Gerard Butler is in it
I thought we came to a consensus the 300 ruled for reasons you can"t talk about in public, but everything after that positioned Gerard Butler to be the biggest romantic comedy, un-action let down. A film based on games based on a shadowy underworld criminal conspiracy, etc, is just weak. Gerard, please stick to spewing racist epithets and proto-nationalist dogma for your roid-rage Greek polis.
4. District 9: Black Africans may exist in South
Admittedly, a fairly well executed metaphor for apartheid, this film falls short in one important place: its sole depiction of Black Africans as cannibalistic, voodoo-ers who aim to ingest aliens and humans to gain their superpowers. Nice try, D9, but slim placement of the victims of apartheid as low-level functionaries and slum pimps is a bit shortsighted in light of horrendous historical precedent.
5. Final Destination 3: Every fucking scene/NASCAR
Fair enough 1 and 2 were horrible, but this was a must see for the NASCAR rally rendering almost all in attendance as dead as the foundering music industry. Decapitations, dismemberment, and immolation: sounds like an awesome death metal comp, but alas, no. It is in fact a tenth rate teen flick so droll and full of ham-fisted innuendo a five-year-old would understand, then kill herself to assert some meaning into this lackluster moronfest.
The Late James Hetfield: A Eulogy
A cap of the following weekend would suggest a few things. The first, is that it is long overdue, but the proper time to acknowledge a eulogy to the late great lion of Alcholica, James Hetfield. One would think it was only a passing whimsy when St. Anger hit the scene a few years back, forcing an economic decline, major famines abroad, and an upward spike in stabbings at San Quentin Prison (where innocent, three strike drug offenders were forced to watch this lobotomy of a music video). But not even one with mythical foresight could have ever guessed (aside from the suicide inducing Some Kind of Monster), that the once swaggering, inebriated god-hater, would become the 12 Step Christian in the target of my literal and figurative sniper rifle. Oh, how the mindless stains in the Metallica fan club live to eat the shit off the boots of simpering "hard rock" celebrities, stumbling their way down the dimly lit staircase of mediocrity. As if the trash can symphony were not enough, Metallica took a trip back into their archives, and decided to bastardize the only good riffs they ever had, 1981-1989. In a coup de grace of sorts, with one fell swoop furthering their image as middle-aged fuck-ups, and destroying what many loser dads today considering the golden age of metal. I guess none of this truly matters, when it is fair to say they must realize that pleasing their drooling fan base is like unloading a 50-caliber machine gun into a cage of tied down "special people". Farewell sweet prince.
Secondly, cinema-grind is still alive and well despite "Austrian Death Machine" slipping through the apparent complete lack of quality control at the Metal Blade Corporation. Thanks again for that gurgling mess of cesspool overflow.
Here we are again for the second installment of the comprehensive destruction of my favorite childhood stories. This follows the complete cesspool of June's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen narrowly pulling ahead as the number-one film I would like to get Clockwork Orange-d to.
Where do I begin? The story is so flimsy, I don't know what angle to slash my wrists. It seems each illogical scene follows a nonexistent storyline, all serving to prove to the viewer that the producers know there was a cartoon called G.I. Joe. Following this first premise of genius, they then seek to create scenes in which each of these boner characters' flaccid back-stories can be fleshed out, thereby erecting a series of vignettes that serve little purpose other than blasting the viewer in the face with a load of mind-erasing garbage and acknowledging that indeed, characters do exist in this movie.
I don't even know why they keep pulling this bullshit cartoons were cartoons for a reason. Not only does this film fail at every logistical problem posed when transferring from drawing to live-action; it banks on all sorts of action clichÃ©s, like the rain-soaked funeral of a brother soldier and Middle-Eastern battle as a demonstration of military prowess. Apparently, knowing is not half the battle.
The only saving grace is every '80s heterosexual male's childhood dream of the Baroness actually existing. Sienna Miller pulled out all the stops in this future Oscar-winning role. This, coupled with the fact that people finally get killed in the process of the Joes crushing the ill-fated plans of the Cobra organization, makes it somewhat worthwhile, I guess. Or not. I am unsure of everything now. At least they have ridiculous vehicles, weapons, exo-suits, etc., and I am certain during one scene a large amount of Parisians were killed. Oops.
I suppose I should stop being so harsh
about these shitty movies to which I subject myself, but I am invariably drawn in
by the same nostalgic ruse they use on the rest of my soon-to-be-dead/mentally
incapacitated generation. This film was so bad I stopped watching the stream on
my computer halfway through to water my lawn, steal food from the grocery
store, have a drawn-out conversation with my mom and call a girl who I am
certain hates me. I guess the finer things in life are just worth waiting for.
2 out of 5 Steadicams for: Wishing something
better would happen in the world, but coming to the harsh realization during the
course of reading unresolved hate mail that I, like everyone else, am a
worthless earth stain.
For fans of: comedy, unlikely plots, asocial injustice
Graf Orlock/Decibel Steadycam Review: The International
On all accounts, spy films are my cup of proverbial tea. Jet-setting around the world with a license to pick off low-level functionaries of ironclad corporate conspiracies could never get better, and all within the confines of diplomatic immunity and systemic xenophobia! The new film The International, with my homeboy Clive Owen, HAD the potential to be one of those 007-esque films that would have made me want to give up this rat race and become a servant of an inherently corrupt government somewhere, but alas, it falls short, right through the foyer of the boring and self-important Guggenheim Museum.
Clive, true to form, is a badass,
ignoring legal precedent and taking names, but the shabby and oft-confusing
storyline leads me to believe it was conceptualized during a winter getaway
while the writers basked in an igloo made of cocaine. There were definite
points for sniper head shots and glorious destruction of bullet-riddled,
bourgeois museum space (which rarely hit anyone, in top G.I. Joe fashion), but the
last 45 minutes or so was talking, talking, talking. If I wanted that, I would
have just sat in church or some other place where I could focus on blowing my
head off instead of this diluted plot climax, all saved when the
(non-threatening and congenial) villain is shot by SOME FUCKER WHO IS NOT CLIVE
OWEN! This ending apparently left Clive with his "morals" and "humanity"
intact; all things of which I have no familiarity. When all was said and done,
it would have almost been better had I tried to choke myself all night with my
own hands, but The International did offer me the whimsical and heartwarming
"moment" of seeing my roommate Neal asleep next to me in the theater, hugging
his empty King Cobra 40oz Valentine"s date while I waded through the
A.D.D.-inspiring finale of this film.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Steadicams for: putting Clive Owen in a movie where it limited his badass
potential and making me briefly question how much I loved Shoot "Em Up.
For fans of: waiting, prison sentences, disappointment, misappropriated film budgets, summary lobotomization.
Graf Orlock/Decibel Steadycam Review: Taken
Let"s start with the premise: Innocent teenage daughter looking for a senior trip in seemingly benign Europe to follow the U2 tour? Check. Questionable Eastern-European ethnic henchmen? Check. Hostel-esque fear of the still-existent Iron Curtain in the mind of the West? Triple check. Luckily, this foreign relations quagmire was easily remedied by an ex-special operations dad ready to rescue his 17-year-old daughter from the grips of the emerging Albanian human trafficking ring. This entire potential international debacle is reconciled by Liam Neeson"s liberal use of pistol-whipping, knife play and all the quick "camera away" head-shots a PG-13 rating can deliver.
Although I am more than pleased with the imaginative use of Krav Maga and stabbing weapons, one cannot help but notice the lurking undercurrent of the film; what Edward Said called "Orientalism." Like the aforementioned Hostel, Taken relies heavily on depiction of the "exotic East" (whether it be European immigrant thugs, or complicit near-Eastern sheiks), as the frightening and deprecated "other," conveniently offset by the morally pure and violently unstoppable personification of the "get shit done unilaterally" West. Only through these diametrically-opposed characterizations can the heartbroken father"s ass-kicking and corpse-piling really be appreciated"a black and white dichotomy of the fearful unknown versus the experienced and well-trained servant of the unadulterated and benevolent U.S. government.
All of my passe© and clearly irrelevant
gripes aside, this film features a lot of dead people, and the summary
execution of a whole boat full of clearly untrained first-week-on-the-job
security personnel. In the end, his daughter is unscathed (although curiously
minus one longtime friend, recently deceased), and he returns home to the
safety of Los Angeles, with only a broken arm and a lifetime of pleasant
memories. All in all, I think we can agree that Black Flag says it best:
"Revenge, 1, 2, 3, Revenge, that's all I need."
Rating: 4 out of 5 Steadicams
for: rapid and visually discernible hand-to-hand combat, cinematic victory of
the American experiment, and no fewer than two acts of vehicular manslaughter.
For fans of: dates, love, the prospect of experiencing the anguish of simulated onscreen thugs" families losing their only wayward sons through acts of unspeakable ruthlessness, and people who are not Albanian or Arab