Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cinema Freaks Live: Ghostbusters (2016)

Well, the new Ghostbusters movie is out, after all the months and months of online wars and sexism and misogyny and a whole bunch of other undeserved crap thrown at the fact that a beloved 80s classic was being remade with four women. And after all the drama, all the threats of the world ending because of this film's existence, how did this movie hold up?

It's pretty solid.

Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

Co-written with Nathan.

If you want more than that, check out the video my friend Nathan and I did about it. It's the first time we've tried this, and it probably isn't going to look that good after we do more later. But check it out anyway. There are also SPOILERS in it!

(You can also check out our original attempt here, which didn't work because I fucked up on how my camera worked, and it cut off before we were done filming. But it's still a good watch in some ways.)

It was just a fun movie. Nothing great, and the plot was a bit thin and the villain a bit too lame and not every joke hit. But more jokes hit than not. And I liked the new Ghostbusters. A lot. All of them do a good job and they add charisma to it. Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have a good amount of chemistry, Leslie Jones is a huge presence on screen and Kate McKinnon is a shitload of fun to watch. I wanted to know more about these characters, and like The Force Awakens, the fact that they're totally new and original characters lends the movie a freshness and spontaneity it wouldn't have if it were a straight up remake. So they were enough to save any minor failings the rest of the movie had, and I dug it. Was a fun time.

I think the energy it had really carried above and beyond what it would have been otherwise – if this movie had felt too sluggish or boorish, it would've just felt like a slog to get through. But the energy and verve this movie had was infectious as hell. It really worked. Even the more pedestrian moments just had this crackling, lively feel and it coasted along nicely and I wasn't bored. Pacing and energy are important. This movie succeeded at them.

I wouldn't even really have much to say about this film aside from 'I liked it' if not for all the 'controversial' nonsense surrounding it. I can't even believe all the shit this movie got, and most of it for the all-women angle. It's the dumbest thing ever. This movie is not pushing some feminist angle, and just having women as the main characters doesn't make it some sort of weird political statement – fuck that line of thought. Is having any type of person in a movie aside from a white guy a political statement then? It's not. This is not political at all. It's just a fun film. I also love all the people moaning about Chris Hemsworth's character being a dumb eye-candy type of character that the women swoon over at some parts of the movie. There are so many movies where women fulfill that role the other 95% of the time and ignore movies that actually have developed characters. I hardly think one movie to the contrary is going to destroy the fabric of cinema.

A special fuck-you to human dumpster fire Milo Yiannapolous and his equally shitty website Breitbart. If you don't know them, it's a “journalism” website in the way that the dumpster behind the McDonalds in your town is fine dining. Yiannapolous constantly insults every demographic he can and then whines and whines about “political correctness” and “censorship” when people ban him from places. It's trolling, and not any sort of funny trolling. I bring this up at all because they recently had a campaign against Leslie Jones of the movie, hurling all sorts of deplorable racist insults against them. Just awful, awful stuff.

Luckily, she's better than them. And this movie is better than anything these assholes can shit out.

And that's why I'm making a point of defending this movie. Not just because it's good, but because it's worth speaking out against nonsense hate-mongering and misogyny. And seriously, guys. It's a movie. It's not fucking Selma or The Help or something, it's Ghostbusters – this much vitriol and controversy over politics in it is insane. Just get over it. It's a good, fun movie. Just go have fun with it.

Image copyright of its original owners, we own none of them.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Purge: Election Year (2016) + BONUS! (SPOILERS)

Well, it's the time of year to be patriotic again, so of course there's another Purge movie to shit all over that and ruin it for everybody. This is Election Year!

And yes, there's SPOILERS for the movie in this review and the podcast. Beware! Or just read the spoilers and don't go see the fucking movie. I dunno. Do what you want. I'm still typing in bold and it makes this part of the review look important.

Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell

Co-written with Michelle.

Here's a podcast Michelle and I did about it:

The both of us really, really fucking hated The Purge: Anarchy back in 2014. It was just so awful, from the over the top political message to the implication that all Americans really are just awful, shitty people. I feel secure in reinforcing that it's one of the worst movies I've ever seen. You know, so far as anyone claiming something is the worst ever on the internet can be taken seriously. Which isn't much – hyperbole is like 99-cent candy bars here. It's cheap currency and you can buy it at shitty, seedy gas stations from teenagers high on pot.

So, Election Year. I'll start off by showing this scene of the Lincoln Memorial covered in blood, gore and burning trash. I wonder who's going to clean that up? This is the most odious crime committed on Purge Night. I have no sympathy for litterbugs!

Throughout the movie they constantly say it's their American right to Purge and blather on about freedom, but then this happens and no one cares. Bull fucking shit. Americans are so zealously patriotic and symbol-obsessed that they'd murder someone who did this on a day that wasn't The Purge night.

We see the New Founding Fathers, apparently the totalitarian leaders of America in the future, plotting against this senator lady, Charlie Roan, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who is running for president. She has the audacity to want to end the Purge because her family died in it 20 years ago. What an irrational bitch, am I right?

Stop your emotional liberal appeals in the face of our liberties! Wait, this is getting a bit too real.

These guys cackle like Halloween Jack O'Lanterns and speak in all the overemphasized cadence and exaggerated verbosity of a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Oh, wait, there are no Saturday morning cartoons anymore. Which means there is no God.

Anyway, the scenes of Senator Roan debating the other dude who wants to keep the Purge – who is some sort of ultraconservative preacher character who acts like a lost Bugs Bunny villain – are just the bottom of the barrel. The rest of the movie, then, is below the bottom of the barrel. It's underneath the fucking barrel.

The fact that it's such a controversy to stop making murder legal once a year, to the point where one candidate is laughing at another for suggesting it, is batshit crazy. I'm sure you could spin this into a decent satire of some sort, but the movie lacks the self awareness and the good writing to make it seem realistic.

There are also multiple scenes of this corner store in a middle class/poor area of town. There's the owner, Joe Dixon, and a host of side characters like this Hispanic immigrant guy who works with him and a woman who is a regular customer and who drives a van on Purge night to help people. I just think all of these scenes are such a load of horse shit. They're all so fake-folksy, like a corporation trying to relate to the 'common people' by pretending to be idyllic and cute and all of that. It's like Coca Cola putting a rap song into a commercial - you're not fooling anyone.

Oh, but there is a scene of two crazy, psychotic middle school girls who try to steal one candy bar from the store. This becomes a central plot point for the first half of the movie. No, I'm not even kidding.

The big change to Purge night this year is that anyone can be targeted, even government officials, who previously you couldn't target. That should've been a whiff of bullshit so strong that even the dumbest “patriotic” rednecks would have cried foul and ended the whole thing years ago. But remember, in the universe of the Purge, Americans are all universally self-centered idiots who take Fox News as the gospel and swallow their bullshit like donuts at Free Donut Day. Definitely isn't the writers themselves projecting their own idiocy! Nope! It's all Americans that are like this!

So, yeah, we get reintroduced to the guy from the last movie, Barnes, played by Frank Grillo. He has as much character as the lamp I bought last week. He has no charisma on screen and adds so little to this movie or the last one that you could replace him in every scene with a Photoshopped picture of a duck playing the saxophone, and the movie would at least have something kind of endearing in it. This time, he's the Secret Service or something for Charlie Roan. How did he go from revolutionary lone wolf to a Secret Service member? This is making all those times real Secret Service got caught fucking Colombian hookers and letting crazy people onto the White House lawn look like premiere hiring, real career guys.

We see more of his expert prowess when they set up this whole security detail at Charlie Roan's house, protecting her from the Purge night. It doesn't last more than 20 minutes before it's revealed that almost every security guy they hired is corrupt and actually working for the New Founding Fathers to kill Charlie! Wow, maybe you should've spent more than twenty minutes vetting these security guys and not been multi-tasking on your phone playing Online Billiards or whatever the fuck.

So then they go and hide out conveniently in the folksy corner store from before – wow, you mean there was a reason they showed those two separate storylines earlier on? What expert level, Shakespearean storytelling! This leads to some truly masterful dialogue between Barnes and Joe Dixon, in which Dixon constantly assumes Barnes is being racist to him. Only the dialogue here isn't good enough to actually convey any tension, and so their constant bickering actually just makes the movie itself look subtly racist. Just because one of them's a black dude and the other isn't doesn't mean every conversation they have has to sound like Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson in Die Hard 3 – you fucking hacks. It isn't the early 1990s anymore, for one thing, and for another, your movie isn't as smart as Die Hard 3. Certainly not enough to pull this off.

Not to mention pretty much all the black characters come from some rough past in 'the streets.' And the one Hispanic guy is from a horrible war-torn part of Mexico that he compares the Purge to. You know, just because you graduated beyond writing black characters like Song of the South or something, doesn't mean you're not racist anyway.

Oh, and the foreigner characters who have vaguely non-denominational European accents (they're just "foreigners") are only in the movie because they've come from overseas to participate in Purge night. They're portrayed as bloodthirsty, remorseless serial killers. EVERYONE FROM ANOTHER CULTURE IS EVIL! HIDE IN YOUR HOMES! VOTE TRUMP!

"This'll sure look cool at the Halloween Horror Nights attraction!"

But fortunately you don't have long to think about that, as the psychotic high school girls arrive in a car covered with Christmas lights, dressed like dominatrixes and acting like literal wild animals would if they had a basic command of English. And yes, the main one is still after the one candy bar – that's her whole motivation. She's going to kill people just to get a fucking candy bar.

This is one of those scenes like from the last movie where I just can't suspend my disbelief. What did these girls do the other 364 days a year that weren't Purge night? How did they function normally in society? The movie implies that there doesn't need to be an answer, because humans are just shittier in the future for unspecified, vague reasons including the words 'moral decline.' Fuck that and fuck you, movie.

The girls do get run over though! So there is that, for some mildly okay gore. If that's all you need, then The Purge: Election Year has your dismal standards covered!

A lot of other shit happens after that. I don't care to get into all of it. It's mostly badly shot, poorly paced, boring action movie crap and it's not even exciting to look at, with everything being so dark and grimy all the time.

Walking around at night with shitty haunted house traps set up in the city and predictably coming out unscathed = drama and suspense, I guess.

The climax involves a plot by this rebel group to blow up a church where this group of rich 1%ers is having this sermon praising the Purge for letting them get their 'demons' out, or some bullshit. The rival Senator is leading the whole thing. Only then they kidnap Charlie Roan and tie her up and intend to murder her for their big sermon thing.

That means one candidate for president is kidnapping and attempting to murder the other. It's like if Donald Trump went to Hillary Clinton's house, held her at gunpoint and killed her, and then expected everyone else to just act like nothing happened the next day and continue the election without her later. It's utter lunacy. The fact that someone wrote this and another person greenlighted it as if to say “yes, this is a smart plotline” makes me convinced we're doomed and Trump is going to win.

Fortunately, through a series of contrivances, the villains move much too slowly to actually kill her, so the good guys can save her. So glad they spend a ton of time monologuing, and then when they go to slit her throat, they do it as poorly as possible. Then they have a big shoot out fight, punctuated with Joe Dixon inserting incredibly lame and unfunny “jokes” throughout every time there's a pause. They're seriously not funny at all. I've heard things said at funerals that were funnier.

He dies at the end anyway, taking a bullet for Charlie Roan in another slow, poorly drawn-out scene that she should've died from but the script wouldn't allow it. Because really, what good is a black character in a horror movie if he doesn't die tragically? Otherwise you might actually have to do crazy things like make them "likable" or give them "personalities."

Then it turns out Charlie Roan actually wins the fucking election that year. It would have been hilarious if she lost. Wouldn't that have been a dark twist? Too bad, sometimes the progressive light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel candidate just can't win? Would've been salt in the wounds for Bernie supporters watching this anyway.

But yeah, she wins and ends the Purge, I guess. I don't understand how. If people wanted the Purge night to change this badly, why did it go on for so long? 20 fucking years of that before people finally decided to change it? Really? The only implication I can see is that there was no candidate advocating for the end of the Purge that whole time. The whole fucking 20 years of legal murder, and not one candidate until this Charlie Roan lady even breached the subject. Wow. That's a lot of bullshit to swallow!

This movie is awful just like the last one. The whole political message just makes no sense – it's a skewering of the American right wing through the lens of this far left view, but the way all the poor and homeless and minorities are depicted – as degenerates or very broadly drawn, unflattering stereotypes – swings it right back to more of a right wing view, like the caricatures of Fox News-style fearmongering. It's a confusing, poorly thought out message.

Mostly, the movie implies that Americans are just a bunch of stupid, assholeish simpletons who would allow their country to get this far gone. The proof I have of this is that at no point during these Purge movies do you see people trying to really help those under attack. Only the worst of society is ever shown. The whole point is that medical services and ambulances and police don't have to do their jobs. So you're telling me that out of all those doctors and cops and well-meaning citizens who actually have souls, none of them are willing to go help out anyway? All of them are really that selfish and shitty? It's really just every man for himself? That's perhaps the biggest load of bullshit in the movie, and that's not a small feat.

People are better than this movie or the other piece of trash that precluded it think. People would help out where they could, form tons of organized coalitions to save people on Purge night, and they really would not let this stuff go on for like 20 years before saying hey, we need to stop this.

I know this is just a bullshit fictional universe, but come on – you need to have a plausible, believable fantasy. This movie doesn't. And it would be more interesting with more characters fighting back against the Purge, helping people and generally not rolling over and playing dead and letting us only see the worst people in the world on screen. But I guess the movie really needed to push that 'Americans are shitty people' message!

Even aside from that, it's a boring, shitty action movie with no good characters or scenes. There's no suspense and every part of the plot is poorly written cliché. There's nothing to like about this. It's all hack work trash, and I don't have any qualms with saying so. Fuck The Purge: Election Year.


As a bonus, Michelle and I were talking the other night about this movie some more, and really, the whole idea of the Purge in general gets more insane the more you think about it - i.e. even thinking a tiny, little bit at all crumbles the entire concept. Let's go over some of the implications of this world:

  • Can prisoners rise up and kill the guards and break out of jail on Purge night? That seems like something that should be addressed. There's certainly enough prisoners to do so, like at least 400 against, what, 80 guards at most? Seems like that would be a mess to clean up the next day.

  • What about crimes that have nothing to do with murder? Remember, all crime is legal. What if a stockbroker steals a bunch of money from his trading company and throws the world economy off balance?

  • I guess rape is legal now on Purge night, so any number of horrible things could happen. If the point of Purge night is reducing crime – well, I'm pretty sure the victims of rape wouldn't be thanking you, jackasses.

  • I wonder what it's like for people to have to live with ramifications of the Purge after it happens. Like if a boss kills a competitor – is that looked upon as a legitimate transaction later? Like 'oh, I guess it's okay cause of Purge night'? “Gee, it really sucks that Mike killed our boss last night. He was about to give me that raise and help me feed my starving children.”

  • What about when one of your co-workers brutally murders another co-worker? How does the rest of the office look that first co-worker in the eye the rest of the year? Someone's not getting invited to the office party. I'm picturing it like that scene from Office Space where they all pass over Milton and don't let him have any cake. That seems like what would happen.

  • Are American territories included in the Purge? Do people on the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico get to participate? What if some rogue state official wanted to bomb another country and had the keys to the nuclear weapons? Would the whole world have to just shrug their shoulders and forget about it because oh, those goofy Americans and their all-crime-is-legal holiday?!

Holy fuck. They really didn't think any of this through. This is what happens when you don't do enough world-building for your fictional world. The Purge just gets worse and worse the more you actually look at the logic behind it. This has to be among the worst bullshit in modern cinema!

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them and are making no money off this.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Orange Is The New Black's Season Four & the Viewer's Prism - SPOILERS

The new Orange is the New Black season is probably the show's most audacious and challenging yet. I say that because there were parts of this that were awful and gut-wrenching to watch. This is challenging, forward thinking TV, and yeah, there are going to be some SPOILERS in this thing, so if you don't want that, go back on Netflix and finish the show.

I guess I'll just address the elephant in the room immediately, with Poussey Washington's death in Episode 12, “The Animals.” It's a horrible thing to watch, her being suffocated on the floor, and notably by Bayley, who was the most harmless looking, innocent seeming guy prior to this – that's really, really something, I think.

The thing for me was that I didn't know how to feel – Poussey's death was a tragedy, and Bayley was responsible yet is not some kind of evil psychotic monster like some of the other guards. That's important. Several characters on the show in the last episode – Caputo and Coates most notably – talk about how prison changes you, how Bayley is ruined after that. And obviously, that's the complete wrong reaction to have – like in the case of the Stanford rapist, talking about his life when another person has died (or in the Stanford case, been raped) because of him is unspeakably shitty. But Bayley isn't portrayed as some kind of evil monster either. His actions are awful and what happened is awful, because he's a moron who wasn't good at his job. He feels bad and he should fucking feel bad. But he isn't written as some kind of cartoon villain monster like he would be in other shows. It would be cheaper if he was written that way. He had to be a fully fleshed out character.

It's just a shitty situation. And the show does well at testing your moral compass and then smashing it up and throwing it into a blender.

The flashbacks in the episode are about Bayley basically going through life as this moron slacker kid. Getting thrown in jail for drinking on top of a water tower, getting fired from a job for giving free ice cream to girls. It's all inconsequential goofy petty bullshit that happens and none of it means a thing, because he's an upper-middle-class white kid and the world's his oyster. Even when asked why he's working at the prison, his answer is to shrug and say he's here “until the next thing.” Nothing has any meaning and he's just this aimless loser who gets by because he was born in a pretty privileged area and had a decent life up to now. He doesn't look like the kind of guy who'd kill someone, so when he does without meaning to, its his future and well being that are worried about – not that of Poussey or her friends, family, or the general injustice of it all. Infuriating shit. It's supposed to be – you're supposed to be mad at this.

The finale is even more gut wrenching – we see Caputo and the MCC PR people floundering desperately, Poussey's body left for hours on the kitchen floor while they try to spin it their way. Caputo, who has talked a big game all season about really helping these inmates and being there for them, can't do anything – he's paralyzed and his actions come off as cowardly. He's a fairweather friend of sorts, with good, charitable intentions during the good times, but then unable to do a thing during the bad solely from his own incompetence. And then again, how can we blame him? Any major insurrection against MCC would lose him his job and then nothing would ever change at all. He's doing what he can. But as in real life, doing what one can isn't always enough and it won't always matter a damn.

The show excels at creating these situations that are so morally complex that there is no right answer and people will view them through different lens. It's easy and valid to say that Caputo's a piece of shit and Bayley is trash and the flashbacks about him are unnecessary, because a person died, a black person, who are so often victimized by police in real life. It's also easy to say that they're all doing their best and things are fucked either way and nothing is simple. That's valid, too.

The show is a sort of reflective mirror-prism for how you look at any number of situations in life. Not everyone is supposed to find this season pleasant or easy to watch. I think that is what makes it great art, and what puts this show up there with Breaking Bad and The Wire for groundbreaking TV that portrays the human experience. I've read a handful of editorials from black viewers who absolutely hated this season:




They are perfectly justified in doing so. Why wouldn't they? It more directly affects their community. It talks about a problem they deal with every day and which is so much more real to them. Expecting them to react to Poussey's fictional death in the same way as someone like me is farcicial. It's never going to happen. I don't know shit compared to them.

So, like I said – the mirror-prism thing. Your view of this sequence of events in OITNB is solely dependent on your view of the real life things going on. Some people won't like this stuff because it's uncomfortable or it comes off as exploitative, and that's fine, they are perfectly justified. I would never try and patronize them by acting like I know better. I don't. I have no idea what they go through and wouldn't dream of trying to push my worldview on theirs. I'm just a guy myself, seeing this show and I like it because I'm into real life news, and seeing art that portrays things in this manner interests me. But other people have different experiences and they may find this to be offputting. I don't think the show really wanted to please everyone anyway. What it wanted was to show this stuff – to open the window a bit. Let us gaze out.

But as sad as this all is, what you should be taking away is that young black people die at the hands of the law way too often in real life. This is a fiction, but what's happening mirrors things that the black community has faced for real. This is nothing compared to real life. Black lives do matter, and the show's portrayal of these current events is maybe not even necessary when there's so much real evidence of this kind of thing happening. That's the one flaw here. It's ugly, sad and horrific, and there are no punches pulled. Maybe it doesn't need to exist or be shown. I don't know - but it is here. And so I'm writing this.

The show pulls this trick, of testing your morals, over and over again. Sam Healy is an odious man, a racist and a misogynist who uses his position in power at the prison to work out his mommy issues. But he has other dimensions to him and we see the show's portrayals of him as sympathetic in his attempts to find real human connection, to feel good at his job, to help out. He doesn't often succeed, because of his own limitations as a person. Not everyone gets a happy ending. That's realistic. The point of portraying him this way is that even terrible people have dimensions and complexities. Lots of movies and shows don't have anywhere near this kind of insight. Should art only humanize and explore those that are widely considered good and respectful people? It's all fiction at the end of the day. We should use it to challenge ourselves a bit.

Likewise with the perhaps even worse Coates, who raped Pennsatucky last year. He was widely reviled last season. But this year, we see that he feels confused and starts to regret what he did after he learns what Pennsatucky thinks of him – you know, that she isn't just avoiding him to play coy. The fact that a show with such a feminist message and written by so many women is doing this is pretty key here. For one, it's the same thing as Healy, this humanization of a rapist, showing that he's still a person at the end of the day with his own complexities. You don't have to like him. In fact you're probably not supposed to. But his characterization, his humanization shows a different point – rapists are not the shadowy monster in the bushes, and they aren't somehow less human than us, and it isn't okay to feel vindicated or different if you've done something to someone without their consent just because you aren't that old stereotype. Rapists are guys who appear pretty normal from far away. That's what Coates shows.

The fact that the show gets these reactions is what makes it great to me though. I don't think art needs to be likable or palatable to everyone. Better if it's not, even. I want art to surprise and challenge me and make me consider things in ways I hadn't. OITNB does that big time here. That should be the whole purpose of art. People not liking something is fine. With a show like this, it'll be a given. You shouldn't want art to be easily palatable and accessible to everyone, because what's going on then? You're not taking a real stance, you aren't saying anything controversial or exciting or electrifying, and it's harder to come out with something really great if you're just taking the middle of the road and not trying to push any buttons. Does all art have to be likable first and foremost, over any other quality? I don't think it does.

Images copyright of their original owners. I don't own any of them.