Quick Hit: King of Kong

Did anyone else notice that King of Kong is just Pumping Iron  with video games instead of bodybuilding?  Spoiler: they even have the smug bad guy beat the plucky underdog family man at the end.

Published in: on October 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

The Thing’s the Play

I watched John Carpenter’s The Thing over this past weekend, and thought it was a great creepy horror movie.  Then I saw, by chance, a video analysis of the film’s ending on i09, and now I think it’s brilliant (despite what people tend to think about criticism ruining art, I tend to enjoy things more after I’ve looked at them from more angles).

The analysis  tries to solve some of the mysteries left lingering at the movie’s end: how the thing(s) got into the blood samples, when Blair became assimilated (or “got thinged,” as I somewhat puerilely like to say), and whether or not Childs is a thing at the end.  In watching the movie I always thought these things were deliberately hidden from the viewer since they were unknown to the viewpoint character, MacReady.  Keeping information from the audience keeps them scared of the unknown, and since it followed a particular viewpoint and therefore made narrative sense, I can’t fault Carpenter for doing it, especially in a monster movie — the kind of movie that thrives on audience uncertainty.

As it turns out, Carpenter gives us all the information we need to figure this out.  He gives us the sound effect of Windows dropping the keys, but where other movies would give a zoom in for obvious foreshadowing, Carpenter doesn’t even show us the keys.  We have to hear it in the middle of an action scene.  But its still there. Carpenter is playing fair.  He just expects a lot more work out of the audience than most directors would.

Most movies want to tell you everything; this one wants you to figure it out.  You don’t passively watch The Thing, you solve it — you play it.  And the movie is concerned with games.  The antarctic base workers are shown playing poker, and in one of the first couple scenes, MacReady plays chess against a computer.  He ruins the game rather than lose which (as the video points out) is what he does by blowing up the base.

Now, The Thing isn’t quite as interactive as computer chess.  The audience can’t affect the outcome, but many narrative video games have a predetermined outcome.  The Thing seems to think that consumers wanted entertainments with which they could engage in some way.  One could rewatch The Thing and try and solve the mysteries they didn’t get on the first go round.  This is, in gaming parlance, replay value.

As an aside, I wish I could point to the characters named Mac and Windows as a sign of a preoccupation with interactivity, but strangely the film predates those operating systems by two and three years respectively.

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

“A change in direction, but an old gambit”

I suppose now is as good a time as any to opine on the connection between a certain Neil Gaiman comic book and certain book and movie about a boy wizard.  I, of course, refer to Gaiman’s Sandman and the T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone.

In Sandman, Dream engages in a sort of wizard’s duel with the demon Choronzon.  It is one of the great moments in comics, so let’s take a look at it for a moment.

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To me, there are three really “wow” moments in there: “I shall be an anthrax,”  Dream’s relinquishing the offensive, and of course the final line.  I was reminded of two of these when nerd-stuff news-aggregator io9 posted their list of favorite wizard duels from movies.  In Disney’s Sword in the Stone movie Merlin uses Choronzon’s germ gambit.  He also more or less sticks to a defensive strategy.

And in the awesomely hammy final battle from Roger Corman’s The Raven (how do you make a movie of Poe’s most famous poem? simple, make it about dueling wizards) Vincent Price more or less only acts to render harmless Boris Karloff’s evil magic.

Actually, this all reminds me of Crowley’s theory of white magic from Moonchild, which of course takes some inspiration from Taoism.  An old gambit indeed.  Am I driving at a point here?  Well, I think its only natural to adopt ideas from one’s predecessors, its the little tweaks that are important.  “I am hope” seems to be all Gaiman, and it really is the lynchpin of the whole sequence.

If you were looking for a post about Harry Potter and Tim Hunter, there are plenty on other sites that a quick search will turn up, but Gaiman himself thinks the similarities come mostly from their mutual inspiration by T.H. White.

Also:  Look!  I figured out how to embed things!  Oooooh.

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Malcom McDowell was in Tank Girl: or the British Attitude Toward Acting

Malcom McDowell is probably best known for playing Alex in A Clockwork Orange, where he improvised the use of “Singin’ in the Rain” during a rape scene.  This became a significant musical motif in the movie which I think tends to prove that McDowell is a rather smart actor.  He also starred in a couple of apparently popular British Comedies called If… and O Lucky Man!  He starred alongside Laurence Olivier in an adaptation of a Harold Pinter play.  So far so good, no?

Well, lately, McDowell has been a villain on Heroes, a scientist in Halloween, and done a ton of voice acting for Metalocalypse, Fallout 3, Justice League Unlimited and so on.  And yes, he was in Tank Girl.  All things considered, he doesn’t seem unhappy.  He keeps taking the roles, anyway.

I think the fact of the matter is that the British don’t tend to put acting on as much of a pedestal as some bizarre, mystical talent as we do in the U.S.  They tend to consider it — fancy this — a job.  Michael Caine, on his role in Jaws: The Revenge said “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!”  I think this attitude of 9-5 acting might actually be best summed up in Ian McKellan’s explanation of acting on Extras.

Or perhaps I’m just looking to this with a grass is greener mentality.  To be perfectly honest, I’m just glad that we trash culture aficionados get to have McDowell all to ourselves.  Thank you Tinto Brass.

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Thor Vs. Two Cunts in a Kitchen

Let’s continue on a theme from the last post.  Thor might be the most progressive Marvel movie yet in terms of gender politics.  Yes, I think a movie about a viking warrior god who smashes things with a hammer might be more feminist than the rest of the Marvel lot.

Let’s start with a fairly well established litmus test, the Bechdel Test.  Alison Bechdel, writer and artists of a comic called Dykes to Watch Out For, wrote a comic strip in which an unnamed character states she won’t see a movie unless 1) It has two female characters 2) who talk to each other 3) about something other than a man.  In Thor, Jane Foster and Darcy talk about Jane’s research on wormholes (and a missing ipod).  Now, it may be debatable how well this actually passes the rule — does it count, for example, if their discussion is largely technobabble and therefore meaningless in a literal sense?

I think the rule is not to be interpreted as a strict algorithm for choosing movies (even though it is stated as one).  Consider the tv commercial type known as “Two Cunts in a Kitchen.”    An ad of this sort will, by definition, contain two women, who talk to each other, about a product (which is not a man).  Of course the characters are, in the eyes of the ad execs, literally consumer whores.  One can of course also imagine a film about one woman, say, which managed to be a fine feminist film.

So what’s the point of a rule that doesn’t work?  Well, it gives us something to think about, and I think its point number three which is important.  Female characters should have their own driving wants and desires.  Even though the whole wormhole discussion in Thor might be nonsense from a literal perspective it has character meaning.  Jane’s driving want is to complete her research and this is abundantly clear.  Through the middle section of the movie Jane tries to retrieve her research while Thor tries to retrieve his hammer.  When it comes right down to it, they’re essentially the same.  Now, think of Lois Lane in Superman: the Movie, she may be a hard-nosed tough as nails reporter but everything she does has to do with Superman, she doesn’t really have any driving force of her own.

There is one unfortunate matter about Thor, in that by  the end of the movie Jane is explicitly searching for a way to get back in contact with Thor.  He’s more or less hijacked her through-action.  This happens because every Hollywood movie must have a romance subplot.  Now, even though the romance subplot ruins Jane’s character and is one of the cheesiest ever on film, it has its charms.  It’s main charm being, actually, its cheesiness.  Thor and Jane more or less fall in love at first sight and from then on its all rainbow( bridge)s and unicorns.  They spend all night just talking under the stars.  There’s something very adolescent about it.  But, somehow, it’s a lot more mature than the program of stalking and psychological reconditioning that most romantic comedies seem to advocate.  The grand romantic gesture of Thor  is that Thor steals back Jane’s notebook.  If you look to movies for romantic advice (and please don’t), you could do worse than “if you like someone (like, like them like them), you should do something that you know is important to them.”

The final thing which must be adressed is Chris Hemsworth’s hawt bod.  There is only one character in Thor that the camera points a voyeuristic eye toward and that’s Thor himself.  Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are only eye candy to the extent that you were attracted to them coming in to the film (which admittedly for a large segment of the audience was very, very much).

There’s no doubt in my mind that all the people involved in making the film considered it a “boys’ night” kind of a movie.  Again, the main character’s schtick is to smash things with a hammer.  And the overarching plot is about two brothers’ rivalry for a father’s attention.  So its a credit to Kenneth Brannagh that it didn’t come out totally meatheaded, but if this is the most feminist superhero movie we can get, then there’s a lot of work to do.

Next time: The American Gods tv show and why The Hobbit is a better book than The Lord of the Rings.

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment