Sunday, August 10, 2014

Guardians of the Shitpile


Against my better judgement, I spent money today to see the movie Guardians of the Galaxy.  And, well . . . my reaction should surprise no one.  The film is a paper cutout of cliche heaped upon cliche, wrapped in a cliche, acted out by cliches and served on a cliche platter at the Diner, Cliche Manufique.  The film is a masterpiece of stock set-design, stock extras standing in stock positions on filthy stock dystopian starships, prisons and huge city concrete motifs, filmed with stock camera angles showing stock pyrotechnics spaced apart by stopwatches, to make possible the stock speeches, stock twists, stock conflicts and stock hand waves for moments of stock impossibility.

I don't see any reason in saying any more.  IF you've never watched a film before, or IF you have the memory of a goldfish, or IF explosive orange combustibles and camera filters changing the color of blue water to yellow mollifies you with its shininess, then there's nothing I can say on any level that will make the least bit of sense to you.

Having wandered at bit to see what IMDb is saying, or the various critics and the responses to those critics, the defense of the film is invariably that it is a big, dumb, fun film.  Dumb.  The film is 'dumb' and this word is used specifically in defense of the film.  To state clearly and in direct English that 'dumb' is a good thing.  I want to emphasize that.  Dumb is a good thing.  I have to keep writing that down because I am somewhat mystified by the dissonance of that particular argument.

Yes.  Dumb things are good.  For, indicatively, dumb people.  The proof of dumbness is right there in the defense of it.

The plan to degrade the educational system to the level where the population becomes so stupid that it will willingly defend fervently a film put together by committee, complete with Event #112 perfectly timed to occur on the third line from the bottom of Script Page #51 on the basis of the script's cheery and happy dumbness, is working.

It is working in spades.


Maxwell Joslyn said...

The title threw me. I thought this would be another post about people (especially bloggers) defending their dumb D&D gaming by saying "it's fun!"

Instead you talked about people defending dumb movies by saying "it's fun!"

Having deliberately written the sentences out in parallel, I realize from them that this explains major phenomena in the behavior of the nerds I know.

They cling to various dumb entertainments (Pathfinder, shitty formulaic fantasy books, comics and their movies) for enjoyment. However, they believe as nerds it is impossible to like dumb (i.e. unintelligent) activities. The looming contradiction is resolved by insisting that the entertainment in question is not, in fact, dumb. After that, they invent all kinds of meaning where there is none, since obviously a not-dumb (i.e. smart) entertainment must have deeper meaning in it. Finally, to complete the circle, anyone criticizing the entertainment is subjected to a two-pronged hate.

Prong A: the critic is attacking something that binds nerds together socially. This can manifest as the standard belief that the critic "hates fun," or as a call for the critic to "leave us alone" because "taste is subjective," etc.

Prong B: The meanings they have invented are now a way to counter-attack the critic, claiming that they "don't get" the thing in question. This can tie into the tribalism above when the nerds posit that one must identify as a nerd and perform X sacrifice to "get it." (The sacrifice, of course, involves "reading the book" or "watching the original version" and so on.) Thus the critic is accused of not having done due diligence.

You may have written something or other on this before. Doubtless you've railed against "but X is fun" before, in several ways.

Jeremiah Scott said...

Couldn't agree more. Dumb movies for dumb people. But who's dumber, the people who pay and enjoy, or the people who should know better, but are conned into paying anyway? I watched it too.

On an unrelated note, I just finished How to Run. Bravo. It is a great book. It will take some time to digest, but I hope you set up a post for reviews because I'd love to give it praise (and perhaps the tiniest criticism) in long form.

Alexis Smolensk said...

New post added, Jeremiah.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, and Jeremiah,

The first sort are dumber. They will promote the movie to others and buy the CD, and fail to recognize the stupidity of the film until 8 or 9 years have passed, whereupon they'll try to palm off their copy at their yard sale.

Paying to see a bad film one hasn't seen yet is simply one of the realities of fortunetelling. I hadn't seen the movie. I am blameless for trusting my friends.

Jeremiah Scott said...

You make a good point. I will sleep better knowing my judgment is still intact. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling guilty that I should've known better every time I see a shitty movie.

Scott Driver said...

I read this a while back but only recently started commenting so hitting it late. This is a partial apologia, as you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more prepared to like this movie and even I thought it was flawed. But I liked it, a lot. You're going overboard with "this is idiot slurry."

My possibly disqualifying biases:

* I'm a long-time comics fan and accept problematic genre hits. Mass-market comics have issues that aren't necessary limitations of the form and are market-driven - you can do stupid things and ignore continuity because fanboys lap up anything and casual fans turn over with age. Basically like 1974 D&D tropes stuck. It's pro wrestling. So liking comics on an "educated" level means accepting that.

* I'm a 30+ year fan of the Guardians title.

* I'm an almost 30 year fan of the Rocket Raccoon character.

So, I had history with the genre and source material. I was not a dabbler. No idea where the quote I'm paraphrasing came from, but I didn't expect Annie Hall to have fight scenes.


Some of your problems with tock situations, characters, extras, visuals were intentional so they could be joked about, successfully or not. The source title is a piss take. I'm sure not all the cliches were meta, given that studio's tight control and need to micromanage for merchandising and franchise-building. Some stuff wasn't as clever as the writers thought it was. But a lot of the cliches were *definitely* recognized and winkingly treated as cliches - Knowhere is very obviously a Mos Eisley rip in both the comic and the movie and (I think) blatantly so.

The villain is shit. Several main characters are ciphers or meant to have emotional weight which they don't deliver. The plot has holes that left even fanboys baffled. And though the stock McGuffin element is building to a climax that comics fans anticipate, it's a problem because you're not pitching to fanboys. Huge issue.

That given (and I'm right about those things at least), the only way the movie could work for anyone was rooting for the pillar protagonists. They were the crux of the movie and the plot was (to its detriment) an afterthought. It was clearly an attempted "cool character" comedy movie with the Marvel formula tacked on.

The mass audience clearly liked the characters for whatever reason. Sadly, I identified with the fucking raccoon, presented in the movie as having been fucked with horribly for someone else's specific purpose and turned into a freak and an asshole. Go figure. The "drunken raccoon exposition" was ham-handed but worked for me (if you don't see the director's strings in even the most "subtle" movie, I'm just sorry). But I thought the effective and necessary scene was where a brash CGI raccoon walked in naked with obvious abuse body language because his mangling was visible. I thought that was just great, genuinely affected me and conveyed what needed to be conveyed very quickly.

Several other characters were well-done, and I found the attempts at humor (like demanding prosthetics for the lulz) more effective than you did.

The genre and "dumb fun" excuses don't excuse everything, but good plot is not a prerequisite to good movies or lit and it had real virtues for the non-casual audience. Selling it as completely worthless is inaccurate and liking it is not a badge of doped-up idiocy.

This comment I expect to get a lot of pushback on (especially since I'm still up at 6 am), and I get the difference in goals between movies and proactive pursuits, but man, you've said Sucker Punch is an esoteric masterpiece so horses for courses.

Scott Driver said...

Blogger's character limit wouldn't let me post this in my first comment.

I can see someone saying it was a dumb movie. I clearly don't think that's an accurate statement in the blanket sense you need to say something's truly "dumb" but I'm commenting to Alexis and hopefully I'll see what he has to say if he blows the dust off this post.

Sure, it may be a truly dumb movie. Film criticism is not my specialty, partially because it's susceptible to the kind of subjectivity that doesn't yield a winner. The "ALL FLAWS ARE EXCUSABLE BECAUSE IT'S DUMB LOL" defense is stupid, I'm not raising it, and I can't imagine anyone other than an especially vapid professional critic saying that. That's not an argument that exists in any venue you'd bother arguing in.

Now, whether it's a good movie is an argument that I very well might be on the wrong side of. I'm not coming in saying "OK I'm rock solid on this" ... I realize my argument in this case is shakier than I'm used to, and that my opinion's at least partially based on my biases and my vague belief that genre movies should be judged by their genre merits - i.e., if you think action movies are inherently stupid, it's possible you shouldn't be reviewing action movies. I know that's only one school of thought re: film criticism, I'm not getting a percentage, I'm not a promoter, and I have no personal skin in being out-argued on it. It's not the hill I'd pick to die on and as usual, I'm only chiming in because it's a subject of interest to me.

But the "for dumb people" part is a pretty insulting and ad hominem statement to throw around about anyone who enjoyed the movie. I hope things haven't spiraled down to a "you're dumb" place. Alexis's post was dismissive and I'm learning to take a lot of the hyperbolic stuff he says in a polemic sense, but piling on in the comments with "dumb people" is bush league even if everyone else is nodding.

I liked the movie a lot and I can *guarantee* you I'm not dumb. I may have a blind spot. I have plenty of those. But if we're going the "dumb people" route, I'll gladly put my real-world-meaningful-and-demonstrable bona fides up there. I feel like a lot of this "pffft, ignorant proles" crap gets thrown around because people with a different opinion usually aren't civil enough or don't ever have enough to add to a conversation get their comments up. I'm trying to very politely but clearly say that's bullshit.

(Alexis, sorry if this catches in the "infinitesimal whiff of an insult" filter. It's just irritating to see other people's insults ride through on consensus.)

Alexis Smolensk said...

The post clearly indicates that 'dumb people' refers to people who defend the movie on the basis of its being dumb. At no time does the post state that 'dumb people like this film.'

The post also refers twice to the film's obvious design by committee and stopwatch - as every moment of the film came across as ". . . and now this happens" or ". . . and now we must add filler here so this doesn't happen for another five minutes," I felt exhausted counting seconds.

I have been a professional film critic, I have spent a lot of time on a film set. I don't mind seeing a director's "strings." I do mind when the director does not take the time to clean his greasy fingerprints off the lens. Certain filmcraft is a necessity. Sheer shit-boned laziness is not.

I thought the humor was marvelous - when I saw it in other movies 40 years ago. I thought the Raccoon character was great - when I saw it in other movies when I was 10. I could say that about every part of this movie released in 2014. That is why I called it a CLICHE.

You think because you dress up the part as a raccoon you make it different from thousands of other 'disgruntled rebels' in other movies? I don't. But then I've seen a lot of movies. Perhaps that's the issue, nyet?

I've seen all of this one before. Done elsewhere, done better, done funnier, done at a time when I was younger and less jaded.

I won't bother pointing them out. Your inability to appreciate that there are about four levels of Sucker Punch below the surface everyone thought they understood indicates that would be a waste of time.

I do appreciate the critique. I just think, mostly, you should see more movies. I think everyone should.

Scott Driver said...

"The post clearly indicates that 'dumb people' refers to people who defend the movie on the basis of its being dumb. At no time does the post state that 'dumb people like this film.'"

(The "dumb movies for dumb people" was in the comments. I know that isn't the thing you said.)