Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dissecting Things

I've been watching some videos dissecting Monopoly, many of them returning to the oft-repeated trope that Monopoly wasn't supposed to be fun and that it was original invented as a lesson to teach that capitalism was bad.  This gets repeated from video to video as though it is original information, I presume because 6-year-olds who have finally been allowed onto the internet by their parents need to be informed.

And naturally we have a need by presenters and commenters to express how boring monopoly is, how long it is, how dreadfully one-sided it is and how it is definitely not fun to play.  Hm.  How interesting.  You-tubers who are younger than 30, who would have been 6-years-old when the internet became widespread, in a time when home video games began to crush arcades, have discovered that a board game invented in the early 20th century doesn't hold their attention.  Shocking.

I played a lot of Monopoly and I commonly use it for metaphors for examples of game play because it is an extremely common and simple-to-understand game.  I don't play Monopoly any more because it is 2017 and the world has changed.  So have I.  In 1973, without cable television, without home computers, with the sort of programming we had then, I promise that Monopoly seemed like a much, much better game.  Go figure.

At times I find I have to take long breaks from the internet, particularly self-invented content, mostly because of the staggering lack of intelligence behind the creator's motivation.  Who hasn't stumbled across yet another screed about the awfulness of super-hero films this week?  People seem awfully disturbed by the size of film budgets they don't have to raise or spend themselves, or the proliferation of this sort of content, or what was chosen as a soundtrack, or the destruction of things that don't actually exist, or the "dramatic" over-emphasis, blah blah blah.

Again, I grew up at a time when it was possible, on most nights, to watch television shows about cowboys from the end of the news in the evening to the beginning of the late-night news, without a break.  In the theatre, one had a pick of five or six westerns showing at any given time.  I can vaguely remember a time with double-features, when a "bad" western film would precede a "good" western film.  While Westerns did not win best picture awards, they were regularly nominated for best picture: High Noon, Shane, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the Alamo, How the West was Won, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

People would shit themselves if there were not one, but 30 super-hero films a year, as was common during the western era.

As far as budgets go, I just don't care.  I don't.  It's a business.  Clearly, the makers feel the budgets are worth the take, so what matter is it that some disgruntled hack in a self-made video wants to bitch that it cost 850 million to make a film?  Ain't my money.  Want to complain about costs, how about a multi-billion dollar stealth fighter that is suffocating its pilots?  There are 20 stealth bombers in America, valued about about 2 billion apiece, most of which aren't flying right now.  For the cost of half of them, we could make 80 big-budget superhero blockbusters without breaking a sweat.  All this talk about the cost of movies is just bullshit.

But then, how about we talk about plots?  Superhero films are just so boring, whine the critics.  Their character developments are just so two-dimensional and cardboard.  It's such terrible writing.

The best films this year, for me, have been superhero films.  Not because I think they are slashingly brilliant, but because of the alternative.  Here's what's opening this week, that I could see if I didn't want to stay at home and watch Spiderman: Homecoming again:

Marshall is about the first African-American Supreme Court Justicce, battling through his career-defining cases.  What a visual spectacle that's going to be, as we watch a film about a care-taker judge whose only actual claim to fame is that he wasn't white.  Yes, yes, I know, it was just great that America ended racism once and for all by nominating a black Supreme Court judge, before having to do it again by electing a black President (thank gawd they never have to do another thing to stop racism in the country), but seriously - when was the last time any of us gave a thought to Thurgood Marshall?

The Foreigner is about a humble businessman who seeks justice after his daughter is killed in an act of terrorism.  It's described as "cat-and-mouse intrigue."  Oh good, a revenge plot featuring a common man against a corrupt system.  That will be new and original.  Certainly won't be anything like as repetitive as a superhero film would be.  But that's okay, because it stars Jackie Chan - who is in no way predictable.

Happy Death Day is about a college student reliving the day of her murder until she discovers her killers' identity.  Which happens to be Friday the 13th.  Oh, right, this is October.  When we get to sit through a lot of shitty repetitious horror films, absolutely not at the end of their derivative use of camera angles, jump scares, piss-poor writing and dialogue expression, in which I'm supposed to piss my money away because I just love being "scared" so much.

78/52 is an unprecedented look at Alfred Hitchcock's shower scene from Psycho, a scene filmed in 1960 and so repeatedly over-examined and overblown in concept that I am, frankly, after 53 years of life, sick to death of fucking hearing about it.  But no worries, because this documentary is going to be so special, so different, so amazingly profound that it is absolutely worth releasing in a theatre at the same price of a superhero film, unlike the 200 previous documentaries about the same goddamn scene.  Seriously.  If I want to masturbate, my room is more comfortable.

Breathe is the "inspiring true love story" about two people I've never heard of, who were apparently living in Africa with some sort of disease, which promises a rich, full evening of angst and watching two people slowly degrade physically on screen while new director Andy Serkis, famous for dressing as computer animated characters, carefully fits in at least one sweaty love scene.  Gah.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a documentary about A.A. Milne, the creator of  the Winnie the Pooh stories.  Yeah.  I'm supposed to get all weepy, remembering being read these by my parents when I was four, but no.  I'm just not interested in the least.

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste is a documentary about the wastage of food in the food industry, lovingly turned on its head by having famous chefs turn food garbage into "incredible" dishes.  From the description, it looks like famous chefs save the world.  Imagining this sort of shit reality show programming being sold as theatre-fare convinces me we ought to burn down all the fucking theatres tomorrow.  How crappy is this?

And then there is one more:

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is ... well, I've got to give this one verbatim, because it is just so fucked up I can't straighten it out.  "The story of psychologist William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character Wonder Woman, and the controversy the comic generated."

That is just going to be bad.  It's presence is a clear indication that people are so desperate for a real movie, in the face of the absolute dreck that is being released week after week, that they'll glom onto anything that at least sounds like its going to vaguely be about a character that people might conceivably like.

Because that is the central point.  We don't make films about likeable people.  We make films about people we're supposed to respect, or empathize with, or feel sorry for, or conceivably identify with, but factually none of these people are the sort we think of as warm, friendly or fun.  A.A. Milne, Alfred Hitchcock and Thurgood Marshall might have been important or talented, but we're not edging for an opportunity to have people like this over for a barbecue.  On the other hand, Wonder Woman would be fucking cool to have over for a barbecue (though not her fucked up creator, obviously).  The same is true for Captain America, Tony Stark, Batman, Natasha Romanov and Thor.  Hell, even Thor's brother Loki would probably tell some good jokes.  Instead, we're told we're not supposed to see movies with these people because they're "bad," while the crap described above is being foisted on us as an enriching experience that would be good for us.

I am really tired of watching films about assholes or the boring creators behind so-so childhood characters.  I am really tired of films about some select group of blue collar workers who have somehow been transformed into "celebrities" by reality television.  Chefs are boring.  Writers, as people, are boring.  We're writing, for fuck's sake ~ that's why we make movies about the characters they create, not the actual people.  It is boring watching me hack and hack at a keyboard.  Seriously.  You'd kill yourself if you had to watch my life-story.

I want to watch films about people I like.  That used to be films about westerns, gangsters, detectives, space rangers and scientists.  Now it happens to be films about superheroes, because right now, those are the only people on the screen that we're still permitted to enjoy.


Tim said...

Wow, Alexis, if the history podcast doesn't work out I'd say you have a bright future in skewering films.

"If I want to masturbate, my room is more comfortable."


Fuzzy Skinner said...

Tim's absolutely right, and you're not alone in your appraisal of "serious" dramas and character studies of miserable people as being uninteresting. I find human drama, when I've had to watch it in the form of a movie or a TV show, to be a complete waste of my time - although I admit that documentaries might better hold my attention than biopics. Especially where mid- to late-20th century figures are concerned, why would I watch an impersonator when I could watch the actual person?

With regard to watching movies about people I like: that's a dangerous game for me, as my appraisal of people I like or admire is not often in line with others' opinions. (A fairly benign example: I like the title character of Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, who is a hermit-like mafia hitman with only two confirmed friends.) To be fair, though, many interpretations of Peter Parker do indeed seem like cool dudes.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I thought that Ghost Dog was a fair work, particularly for Forest Whitaker's efforts; certainly worth one watch at least. Whitaker's been an excellent actor for a long time, largely unknown, best remembered from the Crying Game.

But Ghost Dog is an excellent example of what dramas the last decade have been failing to do: offering insight. The assassin in the film operates according to a code, one that he retains even as things are moving against him, which offers the question: when do we give up our principles? The present dramas described above do little or nothing to promise an intrigue; they appear to be nothing more than taking notes and reproducing it on film.

I don't know, Fuzzy; I don't think the problem is "human drama," but particular filmmakers who have little or nothing of value to say about humans, except to point out their faults or reshape them like false-faced puppets, dancing on strings like wooden objects. I contend that there has probably been a great deal of human drama that improved your time: but that you would be hard-pressed to find a late example.