New Name, Same Great Taste

You know what I love the most about these so called Tea Bag Conservatives? They claim to be some kind of brand new arch conservative that is going to save the country when in reality, the Tea Bag Way essentially works out to mean "study the excesses and ludicrous missteps of the ordinary neo-cons, then out do it!" Witness Republican congressional candidate Joe Walsh react petulantly for coming under legal attack from the Eagles' Joe Walsh for doing the same thing John McCain repeatedly got in trouble for during his presidential campaign. Of course Tea Bag Joe Walsh is blaming "Hollywood liberals" for attacking his "right to parody" for playing The Eagles' song without permission in his campaign ad. Because if you play it yourself, it's not theft; it's parody. These are the people who flock to Glenn Beck and claim some arcane right to rule the United States through a selective, contradictory reading of it's history.

News round-up 012810

- Jimmy Choo wears heels to the club. But are they his design?
- Hulk Hogan claims to have fought in PRIDE. Twenty years before it existed.
- JCVD signs up for a real kickboxing match against an Olympian to hype his new movie.
- The psychic from Poltergeist died. Now you've only got those assholes from Supernatural to protect you.
- A Tesco in Cardiff has banned shopping in sleep wear. Welsh sleepwalkers are naturally incensed at the decision.

Uncle Hugh

Sometimes, Playboy is hilarious. Especially when they come off as that uncle of yours who tries to stay hip and with it, yet are perpetually a week behind everyone else. Courtney Cruz and her girls doing a Star Wars burlesque show (NSFW) was great water cooler material. When everyone's favourite San Francisco bar owner posted it ten days previous. Or accidentally discovering ur-fetish model Apnea through Tumblr (still NSFW) years after she rose to prominence at Suicide Girls and her acrimonious departure was splashed from one end of the net to the other. What's most funny about it is a feature on the Playboy site featuring precisely the kind of model they've ignored on the magazine side of things for ages. I guess the moral of the story is that you can't rely on Playboy to stay current on anything in the crazy world of naked women that doesn't involve Lindsay Lohan.

Whip It

It's pretty rare that you get a movie whose ultimate charms lurk far below the surface and are realized several hours after viewing at the soonest, or at least that's what it's been feeling like. Most big movies from this year really wore not just their log lines, but their entire heart and soul on their sleeves, and that goes just as much for Up In The Air as it does Inglorious Basterds or District 9. Against all odds, Whip It is the film that carries it off.

At first it rolls up to you as the John Hughes formula dolled up in the Fuck Off charm of the Suicide Girl roller derby fantasy, an uncomfortable but compelling shotgun wedding of classic teen movie tropes and the edgy underworld of forbidden female aggression represented by the roller derby circuit. We've seen the idea before; teenage girl eager to rebel against mother signs up for something that she is not old enough to do, finds out that she is awesome at it and gets all the respect she ever dreamed of until she gets found out by her mom which causes act three falling out and a heartwarming resolution at the climax. I'm not going to lie, all of that happens in Whip It, and you will probably be able to guess when it is coming.

But the first thing that really separates Whip It from the rest of it's genre is the strength that the roller derby angle gives the entire narrative. Bliss isn't out there moonlighting as a fashion designer or being a model or a figure skater or something, she's getting the crap beat out of her learning to assert herself as a woman in a sport that is somewhere half way between fight club and ice hockey. It's promoting a very different kind of self image that expands beyond the flat track and even learning to party like a rock star, it's about engendering a physical and social independence that extends to all facets of life. You get the obvious moment where Bliss hipchecks the school bully off a railing, but there's far more rewarding scenes to be had such as her proud father proudly displaying a sign with her team name and number on their front lawn to show up his neighbour's similar posting of his sons' football accomplishments, but Whip It shines best in it's understated romantic subplot.

It's almost compulsory that a film in this genre have a romantic subplot, but the script deftly avoids what would have otherwise sold out the film's entire dialectic. Bliss' pursuit of an indie rocker isn't the objective, inspiration, or purpose of her joining the Hurl Scouts as it would have been in the John Hughes formula, it's a well deserved fringe benefit that frequently veers towards cliche land at several points but veers out just in time at every turn. Whip It's romantic subplot demands mention because of how refreshing it is in a scene dominated by insincere patriarchal nonsense peddled by the likes of Twilight.

I'm not much of a fan of sports movies, but then most sports are not roller derby. Unsurprisingly I first ran across it in it's current feminist reclamation fueled incarnation at a tattoo convention and declared it to be brilliant. It seems to carry with it that same unique cachet that the UFC has, that it's unpolished presentation, unpredictability, and sanctioned violence lend it a unique character that speaks to the generations furthest down the alphabet more convincingly than any of it's mainstream counterparts, which Whip It preserves commendably with a complete lack of irony. Verily, the sporting elements of Whip It most resemble Slapshot complete with a pair of ultra violent side characters known as the Manson Sisters.

Far from being all stars, Bliss' team the Hurl Scouts compete convincingly for disfunctionality with the Chiefs with an eclectic cast of Generation Xers from Barrymore herself as the obnoxious stoner Smashley Simpson to Deathproof's Zoe Bell and rapper turned actress Eve with the legendary Juliette Lewis appearing as Bliss' chief rival from the nigh unbeatable Holy Rollers.

All in all Whip It is for the teen movie what Star Trek XI was for science fiction this year, the klarion call to wake up, modernize, and be awesome. It doesn't appeal to girls by exclusion and it doesn't appeal to guys by pandering. It appeals to all because it's fun, fresh, and unapologetic.

Brand Me

My customers tell me I should write reviews, that I should blog. I find this to be ironically hilarious because allegedly, I do. Except that as all three of you can see, I pretty much never do. I guess sometimes I get tired of building my "brand" up again. I did it once back at Gaia and that built to the fever pitch that got me to Binary Culture, which is the gig that I really get wistful for these days, no matter how unsustainable that little bubble was.

I guess the thing is that despite you know, my reluctance to do this as often as I should, people like the things I do with words so I should give them more of my words. You've got to market /yourself/ these days is what a lot of industry people are saying right now. If you want to get your masterpiece script slash manuscript or whatever published, you have to be able to sell yourself. I remember back in like two thousand and six I was hearing out of the Engine from various indie comic book types that the publishers were wanting you to come to them with a built in audience. Have a web presence like a DA page with a legion of followers or a successful web comic or something. Now I'm hearing that the slush pile slash spec script business is starting to look the same. You've got to establish yourself, and they mean /yourself/. Producers are optioning blogs of all things, apparently.

So now comes me posting regularly and mediating on how to build an audience from scratch for the third or fourth time. Must summon clever shouty words and fling them at twitter.

Thank You For Smoking

Practically since I've started working at the video store I've been trying to fill the sizable gaps in my movie watching. Apparently it shocks and confuses people that I have gaps at all, as if I project some kind of image of a movie expert. Maybe it's because I've been reading about film since before my balls dropped, or maybe it's just because I know how talk with an air of authority on the subject.

Which is probably what first attracted me to the protagonist of my latest in remedial viewing, Thank You For Smoking. Nick Naylor may be a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, but he's also man who knows how to weaponize the spoken word. In his own words "I get paid to talk. I don't have an MD or a law degree, I have a bachelor's in kicking ass and taking names." Obviously it isn't a terribly deep movie, but it certainly is clever and insightful in terms of it's discourse about what it means to be media savvy, which is the bulk of the plot.

Without ascribing any specific political context to the film- which I hadn't seriously considered until after I finished the film- it's a fairly straight forward critique of western media driven culture. What Nick shows us most convincingly is that it really doesn't matter what you're backing as long as you're able to back it effectively. If this seems somehow cynical, you've really got to wonder where the cynicism is coming from. Is it Nick, who gleefully works the system to his advantage, or is it the system itself and our willing participation in it which is built with the expressed purpose of being manipulated by Nick and his cohorts? Interestingly enough, in the DVD extras director Jason Reitman mentions being decried by an audience member at a Berkley screening for not attacking the corporations and tobacco companies within the film, for which she was widely booed.

Reitman was more surprised that she seemed to be the one dissenting voice in the audience of what he described as being a libertarian minded film. It's a fairly widespread problem, that young film audiences since the sixties- and Canadian audiences in general- not only demand a clearly liberal world view in their films, they will complain loudly in it's absence. I'm not conservative in any of my politics in the least, but it's counterproductive and narrow minded to expect to be mollycoddled by facile political parables. Keep watching guilt ridden latter day science fiction schmaltz like Avatar and you'll start to think that the world is changing around your torpid rear end, that because you're seeing some unrealistic strawman fueled whinge fest on the big screen it must mean that's what's going on in the halls of power.

One of the most basic attributes and powers of fiction is the potential to represent a multiplicity of concerns and perspectives, the very principle which totalitarian concerns assault first. The greatest strength of Thank You For Smoking is that it presents a world with no easy answers in which the binary forces of opposition at work look disturbingly similar when you hold them up to a magnifying glass. Perhaps Nick is only putting on airs of requesting that the American people be able to retain an admittedly dangerous amount of liberty and self determination, but then isn't the Senator putting on airs of acting in the best interest of the public for political capital while accepting the money and influence of people just like Nick catering to other, potentially just as dangerous concerns?

Say what you will, but when his son grows up he'll be making his own decisions on his own terms because he learned to think for himself from the best. Whether he buys that pack of cigarettes or not is rather moot.

The Hurt Locker

If I asked you how many bombs you've seen diffused on film and television in your life time, I'm sure you wouldn't have an answer, it's incalculable. A better question would be to ask when the last time you genuinely felt like the result was in question, that you were less than certain that the bomb would be diffused and the hero walk away unscathed. I'm pretty sure that for me it was X-Files: Fight the Future, but that's because the guy who sat in front of the bomb in the pop machine had pretty much no intention of stopping the bomb whatsoever.

That principle is probably the key to figuring out the success of The Hurt Locker, a film that despite being about the biggest action movie cliche in history, is practically guaranteed a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and jockeying for the top spot on end of the year lists with the likes of Inglorious Basterds, Avatar, and Up in the Air.

I remember quite clearly the moment I first got excited about The Hurt Locker, back when it's trailer debuted over at Apple. It wasn't that they were trying to defuse bombs, or that they were doing it in Iraq. It was that shot of the dust and debris on the roof of a car being flung into the air from the shockwave of a blast. You can't describe the way that Kathryn Bigelow and her DP Barry Ackroyd capture an explosion, it's shockwave, and how they edit them together but it creates an intensely unique viewing experience. Not only does it bring you into much more intimate contact than anything since Blackhawk Down and perhaps even before that if ever, it creates- or at least for me- a bizarre ambivalence. Every time Sgt. James and his team got called out to an incident, I wanted them back behind the wire safely at the end of it, but at the same time I would think good goddamn, I want another one of those explosions.

Watching Jeremy Renner's cavalier Sgt. James at work and you'd have to think he'd agree with you and at times without the qualifier of making it back behind the wire in one piece. Sgt. James is routinely described by reviewers and even director Kathryn Bigelow as being addicted to combat, and when he first appears flouting all the procedure and protocol of his (very dead) predecessor the label seems all too accurate, but as the film progresses it seemed clear to me that he wasn't out there to push himself as close to death as he could or to feel a spike of adrenaline, but to find a purpose, to see life staring back at him in the face of death. He certainly doesn't see it in the cereal aisle at the grocery store back home.

While The Hurt Locker is an electrifyingly tense film that goes well beyond the specter of a hidden bomb to stop the audience's breath in nearly every scene, it feels entirely sordid and wrongheaded to use the kind of superlative nonsense usually reserved for spectacle driven farces like G.I. Joe that I've seen floated around. Certainly the tension and suspense in The Hurt Locker is equal to anything Inglorious Basterds or Paranormal Activity had to offer, but it's in service to something far more profound, recalling Kurosawa in it's deft touches (as does Inglorious Basterds, but that's beside the point).

Francis Ford Coppola famously claimed "Apocalypse Now isn't about Vietnam, it is Vietnam." Kathryn Bigelow lacks the hubris necessary for such a statement, but I'm comfortable in saying that in so far as a film could capture the experience- the nature of a particular conflict- The Hurt Locker does just that, and on a far more visceral, literal level than Coppola's masterpiece.



Welcome to it.

These are my ramblings. Have a go if you think you're hard.