Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Derogatory names, Nikki Finke and "Dredd 3D"...

            I suppose you could say I have been desensitized to the word “faggot.” I grew up with it, hearing my parents utter it, sans explanation or apology. They never used the term as a derogatory description of a homosexual man, but as a universal synonym for “a man of an unpleasantly-strange or otherwise unfavorably-singular personality.” I don’t believe I first associated “faggot” with a sexual description until some point in late elementary school. I couldn’t understand why folks considered it offensive, and when questioned, I explained my usage of the term was in-line with the original definition of “queer” and not intended to defame any social group. Most people were uninterested in hearing my claim and demanded I cease my “uneducated” utterances.

            As far as I know, the dictionary does not provide my definition of “faggot,” but it does provide the common derogatory definition. “Faggot” may, indeed, be indefensible, but I was surprised to be greeted with hostility once again when I used the term “queer” in the traditional context, meaning “strange,” “curious,” “singular,” etc. I’ve attempted to explain the term’s inoffensive nature, yet people are uninterested in hearing my defense. The term has become besmirched, these people argue, and should therefore be expelled from the layman’s dictionary. One must tread with caution amidst the illiterate, and never describe a frugal man as “niggardly.”

            When mingling with the unread, I refrain from using terms of suspicious origin; I do not use “queer” in the traditional sense. I do not use “niggardly” in any kind of sense. I do not use “bastard” to describe illegitimate children, and even the term “illegitimate” is often best avoided. I am, however, free to use all synonyms when writing for the world; in the field of linguistics, the failure to comprehend is the reader’s error. Should anyone attempt to complain of racial bigotry, claiming I am prejudiced because I wrote the word “niggardly,” that critic will be crucified as borderline-illiterate, and I’ll be free to resume using any word I wish.

            Of course, there are exceptions. There are certain terms from which I must limply shy away; not because I’m trying to avoid offending people, but because I must sidestep certain connotations that have become widespread. For example, “comic book fan-boy” is not, in itself, a derogatory term, but it has been hijacked by certain writers -- including exploitation gossiper Nikki Finke -- and restructured as a word intended to defame those who read comics. In the broadest context, “comic book fan-boy” describes one whose affectations for the art of comic book transcend some nebulous social regulation. In the cinematic context, the term is more complex.

            Within the past decade, Hollywood has invested in various comic book properties with which the general public was previously unfamiliar. Several of these films were less than lucrative, and writers such as Finke have subsequently impugned comic book fans for disrupting Hollywood’s business model. Of course, this argument is totally illogical; I somehow doubt the “comic book fan-boys” stormed the offices of studio brass and, under penalty of boycott, demanded adaptations of Constantine and Wanted.

            This is what has actually taken place, so far as I can tell: Producers have forsaken the practice of original creation and are pillaging every medium for pre-written stories. It is the storytelling equivalent of purchasing frozen dinners. Obscure comic books appeal to producers, not because the producers erroneously believe millions of people read these comic books, but because the right-to-adaptation will likely sell for cheap. There is no overlying conspiracy to appease the aforementioned fan-boys, and contrary claims fail to consider the myriad remakes and adaptations of other products. Where is the ire against adaptations of children’s literature? Has everyone forgotten the tragic performance of The Golden Compass?

            Speaking of financial disasters, I can’t stomach the claim that comic books have, by some undetermined method, bankrupted Hollywood. Critics who propound this rather tickling assertion betray their ignorance by the close of their first sentence. I cannot name very many adaptations of unfamiliar comic books that procured substantial lucre, but I can’t name very many that resulted in disasters, either. Watchmen was a major misfire, as was The Spirit, but how many others were egregious failures? Consider Kick-Ass, which was crucified by Finke’s gang of buffoons as an emblem of damnation against the comic book fan-boys because it failed to meet its studio’s expectations. Unfortunately, these amateur box office analysts failed to understand that Lionsgate’s aggressive advertising campaign was almost exclusively rooted in the internet, and promotion was therefore achieved for very cheap. Furthermore, the film was, apparently, profitable enough to beget a sequel, due for release next year.

            Interestingly, no reader of Nikki Finke has crucified Dredd as the latest example of the comic book fan-boys’ hijacking of Hollywood, although that film has hitherto been an embarrassing failure. Dredd received acceptable reviews, some of which were on the side of high optimism, but opened in sixth place at the domestic box office and, within two weeks, has grossed just $10 million on a budget of $50 million. We are not dealing with an historic blunder, but we are looking at a film that has failed, and yet, the bevies that have previously been so vociferous are, at the moment, reticent in regard to this film.

            Dredd represents Hollywood’s second effort at bringing the titular anti-hero to the big screen. Sylvester Stallone previously portrayed the character seventeen years ago, but comic-book readers were generally unimpressed with the cinematic effort. Dredd, on the other hand, has received high applause from the electronic community, with much praise reserved for the film’s thematic improvement over the 1995 original. Unfortunately, I’m not precisely sure why this film deserves any partitioned favoritism, as it is still a fairly monotonous mosaic of violence and one-liners. The film is very true to the spirit of 80’s action fare, in which gravelly-toned bodybuilders dismantle completely evil villains, but I don’t precisely understand why Dredd deserves our attention.

            I recall taking similar criticism when I attempted to defend The Cabin in the Woods as a philosophical dissection of the horror movie template, but bear in mind, that film was actually attempting to say something about the genre. Dredd is not so ambitious. It is merely an exercise in the philosophy of 80s action, which is perfectly acceptable, and if my readers enjoy this type of film, I take no issue with their pleasure. I do, however, question why people continue to believe there is a market for this kind of film. The 80s action film represents a bygone era, and the simplistic characterization and rigid visual style do not compute with modern audiences. I’m not arguing modern viewers have any intellectual superiority to their 80s counterparts, but I would argue that the trends of homogenization have changed, even if the mechanics have not.

            Dredd represents an attempt to resurrect the 80s cinematic model, but the film only serves as a reminder of why that model disappeared, in the first place. One of my colleagues argued that Dredd succeeds because it demonstrates the full potential of an 80s action film when bolstered by modern cinematic technology, but I don’t really see how gussying up the film with expensive special effects somehow overwrites the film’s thematic simplicity. Again, there is nothing wrong with this process in itself, but I would question whether it is wise to take an 80s action concept and pour additional money into the project. Personally, I’d consider that poor economics.

            I believe audiences understand that, at least on a subconscious level, which is why a film like Dredd will collapse at the box office while an equally-foolish film like the latest Resident Evil will succeed: People are pleased to revel in their own muck, but when asked to revel in someone else’s muck, they abhor and turn away and straighten their shoulders in disgust. It is perfectly acceptable to mock a faggot when only your closest friend is listening, but when you hear someone say that word in mixed company, you must scold the speaker as insensitive. Defend your principles in public, but forsake them in private; such is the method of the one who lives through his subconscious.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The lesser of two evils, or: The man that isn't there

Each election is promoted as the most important of all times, and this upcoming contest has been especially exploited. As unemployment rises in the abject United States and economic forecasts remain perpetually gloomy, the desultory people search for some well-spoken prophet, and once again, the pursuit of truth has led to fallen idols. Barack Obama waits to combat his opponent, girding up for battle against the man from the Bay State. Republican and Democrats are ready to do battle, and this climactic eight-week epoch will culminate in triumph for one of the interchangeable and sophist psychopaths.

            Politicians wield the weapons of verbal warfare, loading up on casuistry to solicit worthless ballots. Although I never bother watching television, I have suffered a plethora of online advertisements countering the vote of this uninterested writer. No law demands I select a candidate, but there is a law demanding the people contribute millions to bolster whichever sociopath becomes the new commander. A billion-dollar marketing campaign is prepared for potential clients, who will sign a four-year running contract, regardless of objection.

            Libertarians have been fractured in the midst of Ron Paul’s demise. Some of them are turning to the alternative Republican, forsaking every message conveyed by Doctor Paul. Others have decided to endorse Gary Johnson, although I remain uncertain about the governor’s credentials. Many have endeavored to write in Ron Paul’s name, though I confess I have no interest in voting for a man who has actively announced he will not be campaigning. Those who have decided to vote for Johnson or Paul should do so without shame, but I do not believe I’ll be joining them at the polls. Instead, I will be touring the booths as a bystander, watching for any conflict that I may later document.

            Hypothetical questions abound in this election, perhaps the most popular being the inquiry of last resort: Assuming you had to choose between Romney and Obama, who would you vote for, and what would be your reason? At the moment, I am planning a novel of this period, and the conclusion I envision details Obama’s victory. On the other hand, I would be interested to see if the current polarization continues through the years; if Romney were elected, would liberals bemoan a lethargic economy while conservatives demand time to correct Obama’s many errors? Surely this hypocrisy could not go any further when the nation is already inches from the edge?

            In my opinion, there is no such thing as a lesser of two evils in the context of this contest. We are told not to vote for a third-party candidate because these candidates never prosper, and the act is thus defeatist. But what does that say of the major candidates? The man who distinguishes between the identical is a man who runs in circles. He cannot escape the cycle because there is no beginning – in this case, the reason to differentiate – and there can never be an ending – in this case, the effect engendered by one’s vote.

            Why is it futile to vote for Gary Johnson? Mr. Johnson is unlikely to triumph in the polls, and as a result, he cannot emerge victorious when the final votes are read. But what of this observation? If Obama wins, there is no change; if Romney wins, there is no change; if Johnson wins, there is no change. A math teacher may ask his student to solve the following equation:


            x + y = 0


            But would this same math teacher then ask his student to solve the following equation:


            y + x = 0


            I suppose such frivolities are frequently conducted in the wasteland of subsidized public education, but what does such instruction achieve, in reality? The student can only reinforce a previously-established skill, but the student understands the two equations are alike. One cannot argue the former equation is somehow superior, just as one cannot claim the same for the latter. But what can one say about this ultimate equation:


            0 = x + y


             If you’ve had any experience in rudimentary metaphors, you probably believe the first equation is an emblem of one’s vote for Obama, while the second represents a vote for Mitt Romney and the third illustrates a vote for Gary Johnson. But how do you know? On what basis, can we distinguish between the three solutions? Minor structural differences notwithstanding, there is no reason to partition, no cause to differentiate. In every instance, the end result is zero. Therefore, quite literally, nothing is achieved.

            I must say, I am sickened by the political superstitions that permeate our minds. On Tuesday, the Granite State voted in the primaries to select a new governor, and the public soon decides between Maggie Hassan, a Republican; and Ovide Lamontagne, a Democrat. Hassan promises to reinforce the infamous tobacco tax, while Lamontagne is interested in repealing gay marriage. Neither has said much about erasing the state’s debt, but the people will vote based on their political prejudice. Until now, did anybody care that I deliberately swapped the candidates’ party affiliations? No, because so few people care about either nominee; and almost no one outside New Hampshire has even heard of these two.

             The national election is similarly meaningless, a kind of Rorschach test in which we must find some nebulous shape amidst a senseless mess. Nobody in Colorado worries whether Hassan will assume the ship of state, nor does anyone in Iowa care about Ovide. I have little reason to dread Romney’s success because he will do nothing but receive the same instructions Obama reads. The country will continue to sink toward the chasms and half the population will sleep sounder at night, knowing their celebrity has ascended to the throne.

            Libertarians are free to behave as they will this fall. If they turn to a nominee out of desperation, I begrudge them nothing. This election is not the most important of our lives, nor is it the least. It is merely another changing of the calendar, an opportunity for the press to have something to write about. While the result of the election hinders one and all, the election itself is actually beneficial. It has provided me with fresh much through which I may muddle, and will therefore increase readership of my blog. I do not even begrudge Romney and Obama; they are merely unprincipled men, men searching for an opportunity to exploit the marketplace. Neither man believes in anything he says; he merely wants that paycheck of $400,000 a year for no fewer than four years. I suppose Obama will probably be re-elected, and once he has, we can suspend our anxieties for some time and focus on matters of more tangible importance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When do I choose to spread the message of liberty?

            When confronting irrationality in the unprincipled and thoughtless, one must first anticipate deliberate ignorance. Because so many people are unprincipled and thoughtless in this culture of compulsion, one cannot foray into the battleground of debate without prior understanding of the ignorant man’s aggression. Our society encourages outspoken assertiveness, but only when this dialogue adheres to a basic template. The children of public schools struggle to understand that, although they are encouraged to voice their own opinions, these opinions must align with a certain train of thought. Republicans and Democrats present valid ideologies because these ideologies are encompassed by a united institution: The school of statist thinking and allegiance to a power.

            Those who learn to sidestep the philosophy of imprisonment are seldom offered counseling; instead, they are expelled, left to fend for themselves within an unwelcoming environment of prejudiced opposition. Woe befalls the child who escapes from his chains and foolishly attempts to enlighten the unwashed. By no means do I discourage my dear brothers and sisters from forsaking their integrities; I am merely suggesting the children be informed of the great conflicts they will encounter in attempting to educate those who have already been thoroughly indoctrinated. Would I suggest the child desist his efforts? Of course not; I would merely inform that child of the challenges he faces and the best methods by which he may cope with failure.

            There is a time and a place to conduct erudition, but I do believe it wise to spread the messages of anarchy in a working environment. For those of us who wish to engender peaceful change, I would not advise you to hold sermon in the employees’ lounge. Your coworkers should be illuminated in the philosophies of liberation, but they are probably disinterested in any substantive discussion in a fifteen-minute break before they return to work. You should understand your coworkers probably arise from a background of moral and political – not to mention scholastic – rigidity, and they will probably not be open to any challenges while at work. They can be approached in some kind of peaceful environment, preferably at home or in a similar location. Work is not the place to conduct an anarchist debate.

            Freshman of the field should also be forewarned of the vehement opposition they will most likely encounter. Idealists will be wounded on their first day of debate, for the confederacy must work to extinguish dissenting thought. I was once a patron of a family coffee shop, and although I would oft participate in political debate, there was very little room for unorthodox positions. Although the customers were receptive to both of the mainstream schools (liberalism and conservatism), all concurred on the subjects of militaristic veneration, the necessity of the state and the inherent importance of the democratic process. Perhaps my words would have resonated had I been conversing with younger individuals, but the reaction of the elderly was discriminating, at best, and ugly, at worst. Those who have been burrowing in the muck of politics for decades will flinch and scowl when they are first dragged toward the light, and this rigid cognition must be anticipated by the young.

            Statists present a challenge, but the politically-prejudiced are another challenge altogether. It is sometimes frustrating to the point of intolerability to bear witness to a man’s political arrogance, to listen to someone preach on the virtues of one political party while conveniently sidestepping that party’s same offenses. Although we can ignore such dialogue in private, there are numerous occasions in which we cannot flee, in which we are compelled to be the audience to another’s irrational ramblings. We should practice magnanimity and ignore such lecturing, but the philosopher will be tempted to confront the ignorant, to engage in debate, despite the consequences. Regrettably, we must learn to select our battles wisely, to understand when we’ve encountered an impenetrable wall. My employer treats his entire staff to one-sided narratives in which Democrats are depicted as virtuous and benevolent, and all who disagree must be censured and ostracized, usually with strong language. I am often tempted to assault this man with my own vulgarities, to disrupt his fantasies and inform him of his falsehoods, but this would achieve little beyond momentary reprimanding, and as such, I have learned to permit him his performance, to grant him his tirade while his employees shake their heads.

            Have I encouraged the concealment and withholding of the truth? Have I advised the young philosopher to abandon his principles in the interest of courtesy? Have I sought to suffocate my cause by laying down a platform of non-interventionism? Do I wish to see the foolish promote their propaganda? No. I am simply suggesting the libertarian choose his battles wisely. I do not wish to see people grow timid through their silence and isolated through reticence; I merely advise my brothers and sisters to understand the difficulties they will presently encounter and to appreciate the consequences of tangling with the thoughtless.

            So, when is it acceptable to engage in debate? I believe it is acceptable to engage in verbal warfare when there are no conceivable long-term consequences. The coffee-shop is a perfectly acceptable environment for voicing one’s anarchist ideologies and thoughts because the patrons can do nothing to disrupt one’s livelihood. Any public environment is probably fair game, but the workplace does not meet this aforementioned criteria. The workplace is not public; you have been selected to enter this private trade, and if the manager can threaten you with the loss of your job, it is best to remain silent and collect one’s weekly paycheck. You can later use your paycheck to work against that man, to pursue your own enrichment and work against the menace of intellectual enslavement. For the nonce, permit your boss to speak in platitudes and study what he says; it will help you understand the wider cognitive dissonance.

            Perhaps I am endorsing a principle of convenience, in which one disregards integrity in favor of transient compliance. I disagree, because everyone must compromise in some form or degree. If your employer is compelling you to do something malicious, such as donate to a candidate or partake in an unjust cause, then one must be resistant and refuse to enable violence. If, however, it is merely a matter of listening to a man voice his ignorant opinion, then I believe it best to sidestep the conflict. This is different from a situation in which one is being abused or mistreated; if I were to see a child being hit in my workplace, I would speak against that action, my own consequence be damned. But my boss is not violent; he is merely irritating. Does the same apply to the reporter who writes for slanderous publications? In this instance, the reporter should consider his own moralities and probably apply for a more honorable position.

            We all yearn to educate our fellow man and promote truth, but we must first understand how to best-convey the message. Profanities and hyperbole do little for our cause, and an inappropriate display will only connote fanaticism and probably radicalism, too. I once saw a woman standing outside a family ski resort, holding a large poster of a mutilated fetus. While that woman has every right to express her opposition to the practice of abortion, she would have done well to understand that she was standing outside a ski resort, one marketed toward and supported by families, for the most part. She should have chosen her place of protest more wisely, lest she appear a deluded and unprincipled lunatic.

            Those of us who wish to promote the cause of liberty in an intelligent manner should choose our settings carefully, as well. Nobody is forcing you to read this brief writing; it is here for your perusal at your chosen leisure. To force the issue to be unfair, and to be unfair is to be the very same authority we spend our lives combating.

Summer's coda, third movement: "Premium Rush"

I am not the biggest fan of the fall and winter months. Although I adore autumn’s colorful appearance, I despise the pervasive threat of colds and congestion, and the threat is magnified in this gelid Granite State. While sickness can be precluded and quickly-rectified, it is trickier to sidestep the treacherous, snowy mess expelled by Mother Nature until sometime mid-spring. Perhaps I’m just misplaced in New Hampshire’s capricious climate, but until I have discovered a southern sanctuary, I shall be forced to do combat with the twenty-eight weeks of chill. This year, the meteorological challenges are compounded with an arduous scholastic schedule comprising two twelve-hour days. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for creative linguistics until sometime in mid-January, when the load is less restrictive.

            For the nonce, I’ve decided to complete the myriad homework assignments in advance while simultaneously ignoring the cognitive timidity of my dim-witted classmates. While I should not expect much of public education, I am continuously astounded by the proliferative stupidity of my fellow scholars. Lakes Region Community College is not a cultivation center of literacy and thought, but a swamp of intellectual lethargy, characterized by cursory rumination and repetitious propaganda. Unfortunately, my patience has already been tested, and I fear further agitations over the next thirteen weeks.

            Last Thursday, I completed my first twelve-hour course and decided to commence the evening by watching one more film, a valedictory performance to the cinematic summer. Although I had intended to attend a screening of Lawless, presumably the most worthwhile among an uninspiring bunch, my colleagues were insistent on watching Premium Rush, an action movie starring the up-and-coming Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The two of them were well-aware the film would be disastrous, but both were inebriated by several grams of marijuana, and so decided it’d be safest to watch something simplistic. I may have sealed the deal when I reported Rush received stronger reviews than Lawless, a fact I would have never considered possible.

            For those outside the know, Premium Rush opened August 24th and grossed just $6 million in three days of release. I’m not sure why anyone would bother buying tickets for a movie such as this, one hindered by an antiquated title that may have been inoffensive during the Reagan Revolution, but can only be considered comical by today’s jaded crowds. I bought a ticket, of course, but that is because I have no other activities in which I can spend my excess cash, and so I am not as discriminating in my cinematic ventures. I refuse to believe the millions who have attended screenings of this film have arisen from the same orientation, so how a movie such as this manages to survive in our anemic economy shall remain a mystery.

            The film features Gordon-Levitt as a bicycle messenger riding through New York City. One day, he discovers the package he’s delivering has some mysterious value to a homicidal pursuer portrayed by Michael Shannon. Gordon-Levitt never bothers to check what’s inside the backpack but instead sprints through the Big Apple on a bicycle without brakes to deliver the package by the designated deadline. There are other characters at work, including a determined policeman, on bicycle; plus a conflicted Asian woman and Gordon-Levitt’s vaguely-Hispanic love interest.

            Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what the film was really all about. Shannon plays a detective whose gambling addiction and bloodthirsty vagaries put him in a position where he needs Gordon-Levitt’s package, believed to be valued around $50,000. Shannon is a very talented performer; he has won my affections since 2007, when he appeared in the perpetually-unappreciated Bug. He has starred in several other unfairly-neglected films, in particular, Take Shelter and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. He provides the film’s only memorable accessory, but his talent to portray a man on the edge is squandered by his character’s rigid stereotypes. Perhaps he’d be better off restricted to the thematic value of the art-house.

            Then there’s Gordon-Levitt. I was first introduced to this actor in 2007’s The Lookout, yet another film very few have seen. While that film had its problems, I took a liking to Gordon-Levitt’s conflicted demeanor; like Shannon, he has a talent for playing a man who struggles to remain calm in the midst of impending doom. I like him in that role, which is why I have decided to give Looper a chance later this month. I enjoyed him in 50/50 and Inception, as well, but in this film, he’s reduced to the modern action hero. The days of Stallone are over, and the modern emasculated male prefers an effeminate man to save the day and win the assertive girl.

            Shannon is not exactly the most physically-intimidating actor, either, but he has a greater talent. Gordon-Levitt is a serviceable actor, but I doubt whether he will find his niche. I believe he will enjoy a few more years of major studio work before he becomes another Casey Affleck, compelled to return to smaller films, where he’s at home. I will have to wait and see how he fares in Lincoln before making a final prediction, but for the nonce, I’m uncertain about his long-term success.

            Returning to the film itself, Premium Rush is a slipshod disaster, sailing well beyond an acceptable running time before culminating in a ludicrous twist involving Korean immigrants escaping some unfavorable situation. The twist presumably casts all the beautiful people in a favorable light, but by this point, I had forsaken all attention and was merely waiting for the film to conclude. Critics have written much of the film’s impressive action sequences, and on this count, I’m at a loss. While I was impressed with the filmmakers’ ability to convey entire segments of New York City, convincing the viewer that entire sections of the metropolis must have been shut down to allow for this boilerplate action film to be shot, the story on which it rests is pathetic.

            Throughout the film, I was reminded of the autumn’s upcoming features, including such promising projects as End of Days, Here Comes the Boom, Taken 2 and Chasing Mavericks. It’s unfair to forecast an entirely different season based on the inanity of one post-summer action spectacle, but the very fact that this film was produced is an ominous indication of what’s awaiting down the pipe. Once again, I shall be forced to inspect Red River for any promising attractions, leaving the Regal cinemas to collect the credit cards of the most clueless customers.

            At the film’s conclusion, the three of us stood and applauded. I believe this was a fitting conclusion to an abhorrent, ugly summer of prosaic motion pictures: Feigning the kind of enthusiastic reaction the isolated studio executives must have anticipated. Could anyone really imagine someone liking this film? Did the majority of critics really give this film a pass? Did Roger Ebert finally commit professional suicide by awarding this film a nearly-perfect score? Do moviegoers have any principles remaining? Is there any hope for mainstream cinema?

            I would like to thank Hollywood for four consecutive months of banality and grotesquerie. Although I will not have enough money to view every release this autumn and winter, I do hope to splurge at the cinemas next summer, when I will do my best to animadvert every drop of slime the studios expel on unsuspecting moviegoers. Allow us to commence the year’s third trimester.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Summer's coda, second movement: "The Imposter"

Although I often promise to forsake the multiplex, I cannot help returning to that cinematic brothel, the delivery room for Hollywood’s most disfigured handiworks. The multiplex has become, through economic evolution, the caterer to society’s grotesque inclinations, providing transient consolation to the benighted and undemanding. We do not watch a film to understand ourselves, but to receive encouragement to persist in our rapid downhill slide. The people have adhered to the great Roman tradition by taking shelter within the darkness of deliberate ignorance, and the multiplex is one of many bivouacs.

            Do people really purchase tickets for a film like Ted without total prescience of the movie’s ugliness? One cannot anticipate a worthwhile film, can he? The multiplex has become saturated with such intellectual sludge, the discerning viewer sometimes sidesteps a piquant motion picture. Magic Mike was marketed as a simple-minded romance, which is why I had no interest in watching, what became, an intriguing social commentary on the empty promises of fame. The Cabin in the Woods is another fine example of artistic rumination masquerading as escapism for the perpetually-stoned. My point is this: Because artistry and probity rarely triumph in the public square, the multiplex cannot be an emblem for rectitude, even when a film of quality happens to succeed.

            I wouldn’t be so pretentious as to argue the multiplex cannot house a good film, not would I be so deceitful as to suggest the art-house cannot showcase failure. I visited the art-house about ten times this summer, compared to about thirty-two adventures at the Regal. Not every art-house film was good (I suffered through Bully and The Kid with the Bike, and I’m still undecided on The Deep Blue Sea) and not every studio release was poor, but in the past year, I’ve decided to, as a rule of thumb, lower my expectations when I visit the multiplex. I continue to attend screenings of big-budget fluff, although I’m usually only doing it to maintain this blog. Why would I have bothered paying to see The Watch if I didn’t think I could find an essay within the film?

            Unfortunately, too many moviegoers are compelled to pay for trash because they have no opportunity to watch limited-release fare. Although the major chains eventually pick up Oscar contenders, most cinephiles are economically or geographically incapable of watching little-known gems on the monolithic screen. I was one of those unfortunates until 2007, when the Red River Theater opened in Concord. For those outside the know, the Red River Theater is a three-screen movie house dedicated to the exposure of smaller motion pictures. Thanks to the benevolent men and women of this theater, I was blessed to watch Black Swan weeks before it reached the rest of the Granite State, and I even had the joy of watching Shame on the big screen.

            Red River assumes impressive gambles every year by investing in films unlikely to attract a decent crowd. The Kid with a Bike was never destined to explode at the box office, but the proprietor of Red River invested in it, anyway. I find that commendable. I also find it commendable that the small-time director of Who Cares About Kelsey had the chance to present his film to hundreds of local viewers. I despised both of those films, and that is precisely the point: The theater deals exclusively in specialty presentations, even if the film is not particularly good.

            If the Red River releases so many unpopular films, how does the establishment continue to survive? Fortunately, there is an audience for most of these movies, and for those that are deemed too risky an investment, there is a reasonable alternative: The third screen is not a legitimate auditorium, but more of a traditional “screening room” in which the film is projected, via a computer, onto a sizable pull-down screen. Any student who has attended a PowerPoint presentation has an understanding of this process, although the visual quality is preponderated at Red River, thanks to the cinema’s Blu-Ray projector. It isn’t the same as watching the film on a gigantic screen, of course, but why bemoan this opportunity when the only alternative is to wait several months for the film to appear on DVD? I was grateful to experience We Need to Talk About Kevin and Melancholia in this format, and I do hope the cinema picks up Compliance this month.

            On Labor Day night, as the summer finally commenced and Hollywood prepared for an uneventful autumn, I was watching The Imposter in Red River’s Screening Room. The Imposter is a documentary directed by an unknown individual named Bart Layton concerning the little-known story of Nicholas Barclay. In the summer of 1994, thirteen year-old Barclay disappeared from his home in San Antonio, Texas, leaving behind a grieving and bewildered mom and sister. Three years later, the family received word that their son had been discovered somewhere in Spain.

            Unfortunately for the Barclays, the man across the pond is not little Nicholas but a twenty-three year-old Frenchman named Frédéric Bourdin. Although Bourdin, a man of Algerian descent, has little in common with the missing Caucasian boy, he nevertheless manages to convince the Barclays, the Spanish police and even the FBI that he is the boy the Barclays have pursued.

            For much of the film’s exposition, I was nettled by Layton’s decision to produce the film not as a straightforward documentary, but also as a partial reenactment piece, calling to mind the boilerplate “real-crime” presentations aired late at night on various cable networks. There is nothing wrong with reenactment, but when compounded with the traditional documentary footage, including interviews with the Barclays and law enforcement agents, I couldn’t stop comparing the film to a television special. For those outside the know, the film was produced, in part, by HBO, and for awhile, I thought Red River had swindled us into paying for a direct-to-video feature.

            Please understand I did not dismiss Layton’s achievement. Although the director only utilizes one shot when interviewing each of the various subjects, the cinematography was extremely efficacious, casting each scene in a dreary, darkened shade. Layton knows when to keep the camera distanced and when to take a close-up, refusing to dive within the sensationalized clichés. Perhaps the reenactment pieces, while professionally-shot, felt somewhat abbreviated when juxtaposed against the other footages? I often thought the film may have worked better as a purely scripted piece, but I was simply permitting myself to prematurely judge.

            The Imposter tells a fascinating story, one that seems almost impossible to believe to those of us traumatized in this post-9/11 world. How could Bourdin manage to convince the FBI that someone kidnapped him, brainwashed him into speaking with an un-American accent, and, finally, changed the color of his eyes? Of course, one cannot begin to voice these considerations without first questioning why the family never expressed reservations, either. I wonder whether viewers will be more exasperated by the FBI’s ignorance or the family’s acceptance . . . perhaps there is a greater social commentary here, one questioning our security in the midst of such blindness.

            A private investigator by the name of Charlie Parker emerges as the one person in possession of a brain. Parker questions whether this person is really Nicholas, and when he notices certain physical alterations that the FBI apparently failed to recognize, he takes the appropriate people to task and demands an investigation. When a doctor confirms Parker’s allegations, the clueless representative of the FBI is informed, by the assistant Attorney General, to allow Bourdin to remain with the Barclays until further notice. The Imposter must be one of the most maddening stories ever told, and, whether intentional or not, makes a brilliant argument for the destruction of the state: If this incompetence is the apex of federal acumen, surely we’re better off working on our own?

            Bourdin reaches the conclusion that the Barclays never questioned his story or appearance because Nicholas was murdered by his own flesh and blood. I have no idea if Bourdin’s interpretation has any degree of truth, and we should proceed with caution when consideration the word of a man who has impersonated hundreds of people in the course of his life. Even if Bourdin’s theory turned out to be valid, it does not explain how the FBI managed to remain so deep within the dark.

Perhaps Bourdin’s story is made all the more convincing because Bourdin’s interviews comprise the film’s most fascinating segment. Bourdin’s demented cheer and jocund sense of humor are so curiously opposed to the film’s ominous tone, and they are especially contrasting when everyone else – save Parker – appears heartbroken and devastated by this turn in their lives. Bourdin appears almost proud of his achievement, and why wouldn’t he, when he proved himself smarter than the FBI? It’s a shame Bourdin never thought to direct his pathological creativity toward something more constructive, although I suppose his performance art demands recognition in its own right.

The Imposter ends abruptly, as do the best in crime-caper lore, and I was left in such intrigue, I couldn’t consider watching the other half of my double feature. I can’t even recall what I intended to watch next. Once again, we have a film that could prove very, very popular within the public sphere, but such a film will not be granted this great chance for reasons I cannot fathom at this moment. The film has grossed just $500,000 in North American theaters, well enough for #183 among theatrical documentaries. Pseudo-intellectual folderol like Obama’s America will receive wide release, but a fascinating venture like The Imposter goes unnoticed. I’m sure the film will find its audience on TV, but the public will never know they missed the opportunity to watch a great documentary on the silver screen.

Fortunately, the public wasn’t watching anything else that night. Summer 2012 concluded quietly, with yet another supernatural horror film – in this case, The Possession – headlining the curtain call for this most uneventful era. If Hollywood has nothing else to offer at this time, I can only imagine the treasures awaiting us in the fall.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Summer's coda, first movement: "Celeste and Jesse Forever"

            Innumerable spoilers herein.


The spendthrift tourists’ exodus is occurring as I type. Labor Day weekend is, traditionally, the period in which the drunken and complacent financial terrorists pack up their belongings and return to their native states, fleeing the Lakes Region until sometime in May. This massive abandonment can be witnessed throughout the country, which is why the cinemas cannot expect patronage at this time. As a result, the last weekend of August has become synonymous, in Hollywood, with unsavory motion pictures, the kind of slipshod productions that are guaranteed to fail. The major studios release only the poorest films on Labor Day weekend, and they continue to deposit trash throughout the proceeding month.

            While I understand why so few people go to the movies on Labor Day, I’m not sure why September has become a dumping-ground. The major studios believe that, because children and adolescents are distracted by their schoolwork, there is no reason to invest their property at this time. Teenagers traditionally comprise the biggest crowds, but what of all the adult-oriented pictures? Surely September could be time to release older-skewing films, like Hope Springs or The BestExotic Marigold Hotel? Unfortunately, the industry of Hollywood cannot shift without at least two years of advance notification, and we are therefore compelled to sift through unappealing titles until the Oscar contenders arrive in mid-November.

            Fortunately, there is a business called Red River Theaters, and that cinema, located in the heart of downtown Concord, provides the Granite State with films we would have ordinarily never witnessed. Rather than endure the future products of Wal-Mart’s five-dollar bin, New Hampshirites can enjoy the films traditionally reserved for the metropolitans. I, for one, am humbly grateful for this service, as I otherwise would have muddled through an uneventful summer and would have anticipated more banality in autumn.

            What, exactly, did the major studios present to us this summer? The season commenced with the traditional assemblage of militaristic propaganda, including The Avengers, The Dictator, Battleship and Men in Black. There was only one worthwhile entry – Marigold Hotel – before we endured an epoch of artistic disappointments, such as Prometheus, Savages, and even Pixar’s Brave in-between the horrors of Rock of Ages and That’s My Boy. Nobody bothered watching the partially-appreciable Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but plenty of folks invested in creative bankruptcy by supporting a concatenation of unrequested adaptations, including The Amazing Spider-Man and Snow White and the Huntsman. At least we have the dignity to reject Ben Stiller’s Watch, although the verdict is still unwritten on the long-awaited Dark Knight Rises. August was, predictably, a completely fallow month, with The Campaign and The Expendables wrapping up the summer.

            In my opinion, the major studios begat only two triumphs: I believe Magic Mike was a piquant rumination on our abstracted generation, and The Bourne Legacy did not deserve its widespread censuring. Of course, even these films were preponderated at the art-house, still the safest haven for choosy moviegoers. Bernie and Moonrise Kingdom are serious contenders for the title of the year’s best film, while To Rome to Love was far better than the critics seem to think. Safety Not Guaranteed was an enjoyable minor film and Beasts of the Southern Wild was certainly worth seeing. Even when considering a film like The Intouchables, which I do not believe lived up to the hype, one can see the film has an artistic integrity that is lacking in almost any major motion picture. Contrast The Intouchables with another comedy, like Ted, and you appreciate the art house’s great supremacy.

            With the summer’s motion pictures lingering in my mind, I decided to revisit Red River Theaters shortly before work on August 31st. The theater had intercepted Celeste and Jesse Forever, a little-seen romantic comedy that had received mixed reviews since debuting in some major city twenty-eight days before. I usually have very little patience for romantic comedies; I don’t believe I’ve seen one since What to Expect when You’re Expecting, and I don’t often watch them unless there is the promise of Shakespearean tragedy. This film, however, was written by both a man and a woman, so I decided there may be hope for a degree of intelligence.

            Celeste is portrayed by one Rashida Jones, who I have hitherto only known as the legal understudy in The Social Network. Jesse is portrayed by one Andy Samberg, who I have hitherto only known as the co-star of Adam Sandler’s abhorrent That’s My Boy. The two are high school sweethearts who married for six years before agreeing to separate, although this could not be known from the opening sequences: Celeste and Jesse are still amicable and affectionate towards each other, presumably having benefited from the lack of the other’s pressure. Forever documents the couple’s various attempts at reconciliation and permanent separation, with the possibility of togetherness becoming increasingly unlikely.

            Several critics have complained that, while the screenwriters – one of whom is Jones, who also co-produced – have apparently endeavored to avert clichés, the film is still replete with formulaic developments. I wouldn’t claim Forever is the most original or innovative film released this year, but I would say the writers triumphed in the fight against clichés. One must not forget that, in this era of prolific storytelling product, it is almost impossible to sidestep clichés. After thousands of years, there is very little room for absolute uniqueness, and the successful modern writer does not reject clichés, but confront them, deconstruct them and erect something of meaning.

            The romantic comedy represents particularly treacherous ground, for the genre has, perhaps, been exploited more than any other template. Most romantic comedies understand the basics of a conventional relationship, but very few of them are capable of conveying raw emotion. Perhaps that speaks less to the screenwriter’s incompetence than it does to the ugly triviality of our lives, but excuses notwithstanding, romantic comedies often flounder in their attempts to be authentic. The writer understands what can happen to a couple and presents that onscreen, but the audience rejects the writer’s understanding of a couple’s emotional responses.

             Forever boasts several of the predictable plot-turns, including one character’s unexpected pregnancy and another character’s decision to soothe herself by smoking pot, and the critics are correct to accentuate these clichés. The critics are wrong, however, to sidestep the film’s relatable emotion. Jesse is frustrated by his insecurities and Celeste is frustrated to have no intellectual reciprocation. This is not a story in which two people are bound by sexual stimulation, as is always the case in major studio fare, but a story in which two people are reluctant to move on. I understand I have lambasted this same psychological hindrance in previous reviews, but the difference between Forever and a film like Project X is that the characters in this film are well-intended people. These are not the squalid titillation-seekers awash in booze and entertainments, but a respectable man and woman struggling to mature. Perhaps these two are simply very feeble-minded, but to dismiss them as philosophical villains seems at least partially extreme.

             Forever earned my respect by refusing to satisfy the audience’s desire for a purely pleasant ending. Because the characters are endearing and their relationship fun to watch, we wish there was a chance for the lovers to reunite. Unfortunately for the sentimental viewer, there is no path by which the two can reconcile, and the audience to forced to accept this bitter lesson. On the other hand, the screenplay is not a lugubrious melodrama, as there is much fun to be had amidst the lovers’ heartbreak. Furthermore, the nebulous conclusion, in which Celeste is, quite literally, left looking for an answer, is more ambitious than anything I’ve seen in recent mainstream romance. I was also pleased the writers did not depict Jesse as an infantile slob; he is callow, to be sure, and probably not the best man to become a father, but he is not the archetypical emasculated baby so often depicted in movies such as this.

            Perhaps I watched this film with an ideal temperament, and perhaps I wouldn’t be so positive if I were to watch it a second time. I recall my second viewing of Magic Mike in July and noticing more flaws than were apparent at first glance. For that reason, I don’t believe I will see this film again. I’m going to retain my amicable impression and take pleasure in a film that, while perhaps not the greatest romantic movie ever made, was certainly superior to most of the summer’s folderol. When I see a film like this, one that is truthful without becoming too off-beat, I struggle to understand why nobody thought there’d be a place in the multiplex for quality such as this.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Into the dumpster . . . "2016: Obama's America"

            At last, the presidential race approaches culmination. The nauseating slog toward the first Tuesday in November, the day on which Americans will carefully select between two sociopaths, awaits us in the future of ten weeks’ time. Republicans and Democrats will exhaust their ammunitions in preparation for the climactic showdown among masks, and fifty-one percent of the American electorate will, at last, sleep easy, pleased to have averted the financial holocaust. Those of us who understand the inanity of this process are left twiddling our thumbs. We watch the campaign, not with invested interest, but with a morbid and, perhaps, moribund curiosity. We know there are very svelte differences between the Hawaiian socialist and the Mormon authoritarian, and the only reason we will vote is to procure schadenfreude – I’d love to watch the complacent college kids weep when their president is, at last, evicted, but I’d love to watch the Bible-thumpers suffer even more.

            Newspaper columnists are girding for the zenith of literary warfare. Writers will bemoan transparent bias, and will accuse all institutions of harboring an agenda. Conservatives oft complain of Hollywood’s left-wing slant, lamenting the abundance of liberal entertainers and the subsequent dearth of Republican performers. Perhaps there are more Republicans among the studio brass, but the audience cares little for who signs the actors’ paychecks. We didn’t watch Magic Mike to think of Alan Horn, but we did go to Magic Mike to watch Cody Horn. In consequence, Republicans are left to sit in the back row, powerless to resist the preponderance of left-wing thinking in the cinematic setting.

            Eight years ago, Michael Moore produced Fahrenheit 9/11, and liberals had their day at the American box office. Political documentaries often thrive in bigger cities, but they founder in wide release, hindered by the topic’s overexposure in the press. We suffer enough prosaic discussion on CNN and Fox, so why purchase a ticket in the interest of enduring more intellectual dishonesty on a slightly bigger screen? Fahrenheit 9/11 became the great exception, but the genre has since struggled to produce unmitigated hits, and little-seen movies – The Fog of War and Inside Job included – remain among the genre’s greatest financial earners.

            Six weeks ago, Rocky Mountain Pictures begat another documentary, titled 2016: Obama’s America. Rocky Mountain is the banner above a number of failed ventures, including this spring’s notorious Atlas Shrugged: Part I and Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The studio’s penchant for conservative entertainment – primarily Christian films, but sometimes political – finally became known when Obama’s America received attention as a miniature blockbuster. Unfortunately, these reports were authored by people who were either totally benighted on the subject of box office or were desperate to give Obama some derogatory headlines.

            Obama’s America opened in one theater and collected $32,000 in three days of release. That’s an impressive sum, I suppose, considering the lack of established talent and the poorly-constructed theatrical preview. Through July’s second half, Rocky Mountain brought the film into as many as ten theaters, but the film’s per-theater average was eventually reduced to as little as $3,500. Sure, the film had found its audience, but did it really deserve particular attention? Of course it didn’t. But two weeks ago, the studio expanded toward sixty-one theaters, and the film’s per-theater average actually increased. The average even jumped when the studio booked another one hundred houses, setting the stage for a nationwide expansion on August 24th.

            Nearly 1,100 theaters would be playing Obama’s America, including my beloved Regal Concord 10. I decided I’d attend Friday’s first matinee before heading to work, and while I doubted the film would post any substantial numbers, I nevertheless decided to arrive a little early. My decision was well-made, for the 1:15 showing was almost entirely occupied. The Regal’s largest auditorium, seating as many as two hundred and sixty, was replete with a bevy of Caucasian geriatrics. Every atavistic visage betrayed an irascible opposition to everything Barack Obama, Junior, and not a single face was devoid of heavy wrinkling. Actually, one woman did believe it wise to bring her three children, one of whom was young enough to sport Thomas the Tank Engine. Although the mother claimed her children voluntarily attended, the young boy grew restless quite early on and began kicking the seat of the old couple before him. That decrepit crow’s cries to “Stop kickin’ it” became the highlight of an otherwise uneventful screening.

            When interpreting the film’s title, I anticipated some kind of speculative movie, a derivative of Life After People in which we observe an apocalyptic post-Obama America. I wanted some kind of calculated projection, depicting the landscape as it might stand, decimated after Obama has realized his malicious endeavors. Unfortunately, the director was not so ambitious. Rather than dedicate his film to addressing our downward slide and forecasting our future prospects, Dinesh D'Souza has little interest in the hitherto and even less interest in the thitherto. What he has instead created is fine, I suppose, within his own premise, but the title is misleading. The film should have simply been titled Obama’s America, with “2016” omitted.

            D’Souza commences his film with a brief elucidation of his upbringing in impoverished India and his educational cultivation at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth. As a student in the 1980s, D’Souza had affections for the late Ronald Reagan, and as soon as D’Souza disclosed this information, I immediately lost all patience for the man. Obama is a bloodthirsty and casuistic scoundrel, and his faults could not be covered in a ninety-minute film, but for D’Souza to pretend Reagan should be venerated – whether as a man of moralistic virtue or rational finance, even – has denuded his film of any credibility. I’d already known D’Souza to be dishonest, but his applause for Reagan proved the last gasp of his campaign.

            So, I had to settle for a threadbare examination of Obama’s wrongdoings, written by a man who champions Ronald Reagan. I could live with that, but D’Souza has landed a much bigger fish to fry. Rather than address Obama’s tangible faults, D’Souza spends the greater portion of his film discussing the life and times of Obama’s father. D’Souza has no objection to taking cheap shots at Barry Senior; he describes the man’s alcoholic and pullulating nature, as if this is reason to dislike Barry Junior. D’Souza conducts an interview with a psychologist who explains that, because Barry Junior was abandoned by his father, he has developed a compulsion to prove to his father – and, subsequently, the world – that he is worth more than his father believed.

            I’m not sure how, exactly, D’Souza expects us to respond to such a claim. Does he seriously pretend to know the details of Obama’s subconscious when he has never even met the man, let alone subjected him to rigorous psychological analysis? This is not a scholarly analysis of Obama’s failings, or even the traditional sensationalized account; this is a new conspiracy theory, not far above that of the missing birth certificate. While we’re on the subject, I would like to point out that, although D’Souza does not mention the birth certificate theory, he does trouble to accentuate the documentation proving Obama’s Hawaiian birth. His subsequent deduction is so far-reaching and presumptive, I have to wonder why he discredits the birther theory.

             D’Souza proceeds to depict Barry Senior as an anti-colonialist, and although the director never explicitly defines “colonialism,” he appears to praise America’s presence as a cultural, economic and militaristic force. D’Souza discusses – most memorably in an uncomfortable interview with Obama’s Kenyan half-brother – the prosperity of nations that have embraced capitalism. He mentions several Asian nations – including Singapore, Malaysia and, obviously, China – as nations that have turned toward the “American tradition” and have subsequently flourished, while Kenya and other nations of northern Africa have struggled to overcome their socioeconomic plights.

            While I would obviously agree with D’Souza’s assertion that capitalistic freedom precedes a people’s success, I take great issue with his belief that this liberation is best-achieved by American intervention, especially when he appears to champion a militaristic force. Perhaps I’m misrepresenting D’Souza’s point of view, for he briefly takes issue with Obama’s involvement in the recent Egyptian crisis . . . then again, D’Souza did not attack the Egyptian revolution as a political concept, but because the corollary – a pro-Muslim leader assumed power in the aftermath – was unfavorable toward American interests.

            Curiously, D’Souza’s apparent bolstering of the colonialist practice contradicts his own objection to Obama’s collectivist thinking. D’Souza attacks Obama as a man who places the needs of other nations over the needs of his own, and while he does not consider the likeliest culminations, such as universal currencies or further international enmeshment, he does endorse the twin philosophies of “exceptional America” and “America the precedent.” Why else would he recommend America become involved in other countries’ troubles in order to lead those nations toward economic salvation?

            D’Souza repeatedly references Obama’s decision to reduce the scale of our military, betraying his own incognizance on basic foreign policy. Obama has increased the size and power of our egregious war machine, he has failed to shut down Guantanamo Bay and he signed the National Defense Authorization Act. Even if D’Souza’s accusation were based in reality, why would he consider such reduction a bad thing? Why have so many independent voters fled Obama’s campaign in favor of Ron Paul’s? D’Souza is no more than the stereotypical Republican, the kind of dullard who believes our military can do no wrong, so long as the president bears an “R” after his name. Unfortunately, D’Souza complicates the issue by varnishing his point. Because he has been trained in the art of public speaking, his animalistic view is considered intellectual.

            The film’s final segment discusses Obama’s reckless economic policies, and though D’Souza does incriminate George W. Bush as well, this bi-partisan analysis is too brief to register and is inserted too late in the game. Although D’Souza never mentions any of Obama’s potential Republican opponents, he ends his film with the question of what kind of era we will commence in the November election. Do I really need to say he’s telling the audience to vote for anyone but Obama? Unfortunately, D’Souza fails to realize Obama’s opponents offer little in the way of economic changes from the current President or any president of recent memory.

            D’Souza’s thesis is a mess, but that is not the point. The audience applauded as the closing credits rolled, for they received what they requested: Psychological encouragement. People in our society of cognitive lethargy need something to believe in, and politicians are another hallucinatory figure to provide people with the belief that what they are doing is right. There are no substantial differences between Romney and Obama, but people will engage in combat to convince the opposing side of the truth, whatever that may be. As I exited the theater, I couldn’t help considering that poor boy wearing the Tank Engine t-shirt. His foolish mother thinks she is educating her child by making him watch this nonsense. If D’Souza’s idea of intellectual discussion is the standard to which that woman will hold her child, I suppose we should not expect tangible improvements by 2016.