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Cowboys and Aliens

Director Jon “The Gut Man” Favreau has long been famous for movies depicting the gritty pain and stomach-wrenching reality of the lives of the middle class. From sleeping on the streets and using massive amounts of illicit substances to get in touch with his subjects to his recent success with the Japanese splatterpunk hit Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Favreau has had his finger not only on the pulse of, but jammed into the high-pressure aortic stream of the common working man. Cowboys and Aliens is his latest masterpiece. It is not clear at what point these players on the silver screen cease to be characters and begin to feel like real people, so real they seem to awaken within each of us something primal, but from the first moment, we see ourselves in each of them, see their faces reflected in those of our family, our closest friends, and our most trusted servants. A film of this caliber and depth, addressing the issues it does in precisely the right way (with dynamite) comes not a moment too soon in these troubled times. What is this rough and rowdy, hyper-real tale of strife in the Old West but a reflection of what America is today, and what it can be again? So we begin. . .

Daniel Craig awakens, barefoot and confused, out in the desert somewhere near Absolution, Arizona, though locals might recognize it as Lamesa, TX with a fresh coating of dust to complete the effect of being hurled back in time to 1873. Leaving only three corpses in his wake, our hero arrives at Absolution for a quick scrub-down. Having his wounds treated by the local faith-based medical organization, he wanders out to rediscover his identity, for even that was taken from him. Why? It later becomes clear the titular Aliens, the mysterious and powerful Evil Other in this film hungers for gold and is willing to steal every last ounce of shiny cash along with memories from good hard-working people. The Aliens also have superior weaponry, flying machines, and advanced medical technology they use to murder humans. But I digress. As it turns out, Lamesa- I mean Absolution - is propped up by the good graces of the local job creator Woodrow Dollarhyde, played by Academy sweetheart and former President Harrison Ford. (Few make the transition from acting to politics and back as smoothly as he has.) While Dollarhyde may be a job creator, he is in fact not rich, not “made of money,” but only lightly coated in it. He works harder than any of the lazy townspeople, and this is apparent in his treatment of his employees, they are like wayward sons to him. And his wayward son is more of a burden than any lazy bloodsucking cattle-rustler. Still, Dollarhyde loves his son, and goes to great lengths to save him from the local constabulary, misguided though the sheriff might be, Dollarhyde only threatens to use violence against the Sheriff. Thankfully, the Aliens get in the way, snatch up a new batch of humans to experiment on, wreck half of Lamesa, and disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Needless to say, all bets are off now that the Dark Other has descended from on high to disturb the calm and tranquility of life in the Old West. Dollarhyde, Craig (now known as Jake), a hippie bartender, an orphan child, a clothed savage, and (strangest of all) a woman with a gun (Olivia Wilde) must ride out to face the Alien threat in order to retrieve their gold and also their family members. Along the way, as true Americans will, they learn that they are not so different as they once thought. They all share love for their own people, love for gold, and believe in their hearts that, at the end of the day, once greed and politics are set aside, and in the face of a horrifyingly powerful threat to their golden standard of living, a threat to their families, their lives, and to the very existence of the human race, they can learn to work together with the poor, with people of different ethnic backgrounds, and even with women. Don’t worry, though, they did have to shoot the Irish guy.

And so we have a film, a towering masterpiece that at once shows real people banding together for a common goal, while also doing so in a way that is truly and unmistakably American. These are indeed the Traditional American Values people across this country (at least Republicans running for president) have been clamoring for. Cowboys and Aliens is destined to become the new anthem for what it means to be a real American, a real and true American. Of course, because it is so thoroughly American, we can safely say it will never win any awards from the Communist liberal bisexuals that control Hollywood and the federal government. Do not be fooled by their machinations! Cowboys and Aliens is the truest, most courageous, most uncompromisingly American film in recent memory. See it today! Take your family and your servants.

True fact: women are aliens, too. Five Stars.
Paranormal Inspections Limited

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Even when the paint was fresh, the mortar barely dry, seedling maples and surveyors’ stakes in the yard, people heard things, saw things. Families arrived with hopeful smiles and left with weathered frowns, defaulting on loans, begging for legal advice, “I don’t know about haunted, but unless you find a buyer, I’m not sure I can get you out of this,” he said peeking over a stack of papers.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Mr. Cohen pleaded, “We cant go back there.”

“Well, how do you folks feel a-boot Canada?”

With the Cohens missing, the bank took over. The file got passed around, finally becoming a hazing ritual for new account managers. “Get a realtor to sell this, and you’re golden, kid.”

“What’s this note about unexplained phenomena?”

Just as the manager was about to laugh his way down the hall the new guy said, “Hey, no problem. I’ll just call the P. I. L.”

“Paranormal Inspections Limited. We’re ready to debunk the bunk!” Was how Jerry would answer the phone. If Dale and Shannon weren’t around he added, “Unless you, uh, want ghosts, cuz we can do that too.”

The van was loaded before they got the address, “Standard Rationality Verification here, gang.” Dale gave his pep talk. “Whatever we see, and I mean What Ever, we find a rational explanation. No such thing as ghosts, people.”

They found cold spots near windows. “Faulty weatherstripping!” Dale called. E. M. F. spikes lit up their detectors everywhere they went. “Come on, Shannon,” Dale said, “the wiring was accidentally laid out in a pattern that amplifies radio signals.” Digital photos showed spots and lines invisible to the human eye, but Dale was ready for that too, saying they probably used imported Chinese gypsum board, and embedded silica crystals were reflecting infrared light just inside the camera’s range. Later Jerry panicked during his E.V.P. testing when he spoke into the recorder, “Is there a presence here with us?” Only to hear the house reply, “NoooOOOoooo.”

Dale wasn’t convinced, “The architects clearly failed to consult an acoustical engineer, so the interior spaces happen to resonate when subjected to common wind velocities.”

“What?” Jerry said.

“Like blowin across the mouth of a jug.”

“Okay, fine, but things are getting crazy. The two of us are sleeping in the van tonight.”

“Cowards,” he called them.

Jerry and Shannon didn’t notice the flashing lights or slamming doors or Dale falling down the stairs into the basement while going for a midnight snack. There was that faulty door latch, and his socks slipped on the linoleum. That’s how Dale told it after they finally stopped screaming. To explain why they could see through him he said, “You’re both hallucinating. Low blood sugar, maybe?” After they found his body in the basement all he had to say was, “Oh.” Speechless for the first time since they met, but could anyone blame him?

Before they left Dale had a chat with the Civil War vets he found bumping around the attic. “I told them people needed to live here now, and I think that convinced them to move on. You know, I kept telling them I only slipped, but they still wanted to apologize for shoving me down the stairs.”

“Yeah,” Shannon said, “Speaking of moving on...” But Dale wouldn’t hear of it. He stayed on as team leader and even gave that same pep talk before every job. Try as they might to stick to the routine, nothing was ever the same again after that.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Not much is known about the early days of G.I. Joe, except that in the early 1960's, Scottish philosopher Hans Brough devoted his career to investigating the character of free will, emotion, and consciousness. After being hired by American military contractor Yoyodyne Industries, to help them do just that, though Brough’s own goals were likely academic, the G.I. Joe toy and cartoon franchise was born. Although Brough’s own research was incidental to Yoyodyne’s military marketing campaign, parading colorful indestructible characters of an elite military organization in front of millions of American children under the guise of an educational program turned out to be incredibly informative for both of them. Yoyodyne later claimed responsibility for the huge increase in military recruiting in the past decade and for the paradoxical result of what was basically a brainwashing technique also leading to the firm belief that simply having information about a situation leads directly to the capacity for informed choice.

Yoyodyne, in an apparent victory lap for the success of their covert nationwide advertising program, hired surrealist director Stephen Sommers to bring the little plastic figurines of our childhood to life on the big screen. It is unknown how much involvement Brough himself had on the film, but one can still feel his ideas coming through, the important questions of his life’s work presented by the characters over and over. In nearly every scene the characters are thrust into horrifying situations to test them, and later, they are asked, “Could you have done differently?” It is the character of General Hawk, played by world-famous character actor Dennis Quaid, star of the international mega-hit Innerspace, who repeats this question. With incredible subtlety, Quaid acts as the voice of Brough himself in the film, setting up the big questions that leave the audience wondering for days- or even weeks after the end of the film. One can not help but notice the characters Quaid spends the most time with are attractive young women, possibly just one side effect of his incredible fame and talent.

The other side of the question is also fully explored by the evil organization, not yet known by the name “Cobra,” but even then using snakes as a representation of a lack of free will. It is widely accepted that reptiles are driven by pure instinct, the need for food, self-preservation, lust, and so on, leading to the nickname of the amygdala- the “reptile brain.” These are the people who have no choice, no emotion, no free will to guide them when instinct fails or, as in any civilized society, must be suppressed for the benefit of society. Thus, through the genius of one of Scotlands greatest philosophers, what Sommers is really showing us is the great conflict within each of us, the conflict between instinct and reason, between id and ego, between the higher and lower functions of the mind. Like Zartan, the master of disguise, this film masquerades as a celebration of a successful ad campaign while just beneath the surface fills our heads with thoughts that force us to question the nature of the human mind. Are the agents of Cobra driven to commit their crimes by atavistic desires that most people can easily ignore, are they in fact nothing more than empty-headed automatons running programs fed to them by animalistic forces? But we must ask the same about the Joes. Do they choose their actions or are they also only responding to stimuli? Quaid, the master thespian, provides a simplified answer in his moving speech to the Joes, though we all live our lives according to the basic rules of reality and society, we all still have a choice, we can all choose to act as conscience or rationality or faith or whatever we call it directs us. When presented with two seemingly correct options, we do have the capacity and responsibility to choose between them.

The course of the film, the secret war between Id and Ego, shows us that accepting choice and free will categorically leads to having more options, a complex array of options are open to those who accept the burden of choice, but those who reject choice and operate on instinct alone will eventually have only one possible course of action, probably a terribly unpleasant one, like being locked in a small room with Christopher Eccleston for a very long time.

Anyway, what could be a more obvious expression of free will than being captured by the French police?

Five Stars.


Rarely does Hollywood allow such a confluence of talent into a single film at once as in the breakthrough comic book hit of the century, Thor. On hiatus from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Kenneth Branagh directs this surreal and majestic vision of the old Scandinavian saga of the dunderheaded but kindhearted Thor and his shockingly sinister half-brother, that famous trickster of ancient lore, second only to the lovable pooka known as Bugs. Branagh’s previous directorial work, Henry V, Much Ado about Nothing, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost, and As You Like It have, despite being hailed by some sources as the best possible versions of each, been only practice runs for this masterpiece. Even though the driving force behind Thor until now has been the godfather of modern myth and master of disguise, Stan Lee, it is Branagh’s direction along with the talent of the star-studded cast that finally recharges the flat four-colour classic. So, a brief listing of the players and their achievements is perhaps in order:

Anthony Hopkins, winner of 2 academy awards, star of Titus, the Remains of the Day, and Silence of the Lambs appears as Odin the Allfather. He is one of three brothers who built the mortal world from the corpse of the slain giant Ymir. Unfortunately, scenes with Hopkins’ pet ravens Huginn and Munnin were edited out before release.

Natalie Portman, famous gangsta rapper, academy award winner and three-time golden raspberry award nominee brings to life Jane Foster, the crackpot astrophysicist whose search for the truth continues unabated through the ridicule of her peers, the government’s seizure of her property and the powerful distraction of her gaze being continually drawn to a large, athletic vagrant with excellent diction who can out-drink a real-life Viking.

Chris Hemsworth, large, blonde, and athletic, with a strange accent, from a distant land, plays the title character who is all of those things. He is also prone to loud and sometimes destructive outbursts in dangerous and/or festive situations.

Stellan Skarsgard, the famous Swedish actor/exorcist who recently made two films about mortal man’s encounter with the demonic and the importance of faith as a defense against it plays a creepy scientist who hangs around a pair of much-younger women in a secluded part of New Mexico. He brings to the film the voice of rational skepticism as a foil to Portman’s hot-blooded math geek.

Idris Elba plays Heimdall, the Asgardian whose stable wormhole technology makes the events of the story possible in the first place. Also, wherever he is, he can see what you're doing right now.

Rene Russo is the goddess of Fridays!

And many others!

This particular thtory, probably taken from one of the new translations of the Lokasenna, is a thrilling tale of sibling rivalry. After Thor is tricked into bringing one of his destructive outbursts against an army of frost giants, Odin banishes him to earth so he might learn humility. During his journey as a mortal, young Thor discovers a strange world where his usual violence is not appreciated, but in time, with the guidance and encouragement of a horny astrophysicist, he learns self-reliance, meets an attractive woman, learns to cook breakfast, reconnects with some old friends, reveals his half-brother’s insidious scheming, and finally, learns that violence can cause problems in addition to solving them, thus earning the respect of his father. It’s a timeless classic. Mostly because people don’t know when the story was first told, probably with shadow puppets by firelight, and today’s audiences are just as enraptured by the beauty and passion these expert performers bring to their stage.

If you thpent all day beating up frotht giants with a hammer, you’d be Thor, too. 5 stars.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

In a time when so many films rely only on empty imagery to fascinate and beguile an audience it is so refreshing to see one like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (originally titled Scott Pilgrim Interrogates the Symbolic Structure of the Real through Interaction with the Other). This journey through the warped minds of bass players is a non-stop psychedelic delight the likes of which have not been seen since the multiple Oscar winner Innerspace. Like Tuck Pendleton's own journey within, the protagonist's rampant hallucinations may leave us questioning his sanity, but the personal connection we feel with him is never in doubt.

The story is one as old as imagination itself. A young Canadian with severe synesthesia caused by a near-overdose of LSD must somehow hold on to the simplicity of the crypto-Buddhist lifestyle he lives as a symbolic socialist protest against the American corporate music industry which simultaneously offers the path to the artistic acknowledgment he sorely craves while threatening to destroy the creative well he draws his ideas from by overwhelming him with unwanted wealth. How can anyone fail to empathize with that? Oh yes, there are also women. Lest we forget, being a penniless Canadian bass player who shares a tiny apartment (and bed) with a suave yet lecherous homosexual younger brother of a minor American movie star leads to an almost unbelievable amount of attention from beautiful women. Or is it the other way around? There may be some confusion yet about this point. We can easily see that despite the self-imposed celibacy of being a bass player and sleeping in a gay man’s bed, Scott (perhaps not so secretly) yearns for the attention of young women. Symbolically, Scott’s ideas about love come through most strongly in his music, even in the very name of the group he leads, oh sorry, he’s a bass player. Anyway the band’s name is Sex Bob-Omb, and as we all know the Bob-Omb is a sentient, walking explosive whose cartoonish face belies a deep spiritual inner life and commitment to the defense of the Koopa kingdom. Its destiny is set: self-sacrifice for a cause greater than itself. It is easy to see how Scott alternately craves and fears love, seeing it both as his destiny, his becoming complete, and as the end of his existence. Though Scott may appear to be an idiot to those around him, his mind is ever in motion, hurtling him toward a destiny that may prove to be as metaphorically explosive as the Bob-Omb who steps too close to the pornstachio’d plumber.

Speaking of symbolism, once Scott becomes afflicted with desire, – what Lacan calls petit objet a and what the director has named “Ramona Flowers” – his inner conflicts materialize to keep Scott from getting what (sorry, who) he wants. In order, Scott must overcome the guilt of his upper-middle class origins, his feelings of masculine inadequacy, his deep-seated shame over his ridiculous lifestyle choices, his feelings of sexual inadequacy, sexual confusion, mathematical ineptitude, and his covetousness of fame and fortune. Near the end, in a rare moment of lucidity when the entire world seems to have lost its symbolic structure and the protagonist gets a glimpse of his own death, he finally does gain the wisdom to see that all the conflict that kept him from attaining his desires was within him, a product of his own damaged mind. But, as in psychoanalysis, the realization and identification of the root problem is the first step toward recovery. Scott must still live with his continual hallucinations, but at least now he and what’sername – Ramona! – finally have a chance to get to know each other, and totally not in a misogynistic or objectifying way. Hopefully in the sequel, as when Scott was forced to confront his Jungian shadow-self, he will attempt to find a non-violent resolution to the inevitable Summer blockbuster that must ensue when he finally meets Ramona’s father. John McClane.

This movie does for LSD what Trainspotting did for Scotland. Five Stars.

Jennifer's Body

This early after-school special has always been famous for being the first (and thus far only) collaboration between the Vatican’s film production company and a pair of outspoken feminists who wrote and directed the film. Like the classic Hungarian morality play A Birodalom Visszavág, the post-production involved much disagreement and gnashing of teeth between the Jesuits in charge of the final cut and the director Karyn Kusama, who in her genius shot only enough of the original Papally -approved script to create a coherent story while infusing those scenes with her own uniquely feminist viewpoint. The Vatican, having fallen on hard times since the critical panning of their last attempt at high art on the international stage, was forced to release the director’s cut, not only for coherence of the plot but because the nuns who wrote the contract with Kusama included (perhaps by habit) Revelation 22:19, (paraphrased) And if any man shall take away from the scenes of this film, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in the credits. And so, through this unlikely convergence of holy and Hollywood, one of the world’s greatest after-school specials, a true masterpiece of film, premiered with much rejoicing by viewers, and in a not unintended consequence, the strengthening of the spirits of young women everywhere who had hungered so for just this kind of story.

Surprisingly, the original wishes of the production team were included. All the dangers of which the pontiff, his holiness Pius X (I’m guessing here), wanted to warn the youth of the world are part of the story: the dangers of rock music as a tool of and a gateway to Satan, the possibility of portals to Hell in uncivilized parts of heathen-inhabited Minnesota, the punishments that await young women who partake of extramarital relations, the punishments that await young women who remain chaste, the punishments that await young women who are raised by single parents, the punishments that await young women who wear revealing clothing, the punishments that await young women who eat food which has been dropped on the floor, the punishments that await young women who speak out of turn, the punishments that await young women who are “too familiar” with any of their peers, especially other familiar young women, and the diverse and myriad punishments that await young men who fraternize with any of the aforementioned types of young women. All that’s in this film, but the director – with the sly, winking assistance of the cast, most notably Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox (who somehow made it into the cast by sheer acting talent alone) – takes all this catechism and, while still including a certain level of warning, turns all this into a tale of female sexual empowerment. It’s also peppered with a wide swath of turn-of-the-century slang, making a few of the scenes nearly incomprehensible to modern viewers, but if you ask me, it only forces us to listen to the characters more closely and helps to draw us into the story.

Plotwise, the film plays out like much of the softcore girl-on-girl pornography the Vatican probably had in mind in the prayer and pre-production stages, but unlike pornography, the characters appearing in Jennifer’s Body must suffer the real-life emotional, physiological and spiritual consequences of their actions (and non-actions, to add a particularly existential twist). The main player, Needy Lesnick, must cope with her own emerging bisexuality and the confusion inherent therein as she pursues a normal or “missionary” relationship with her Justin Bieber lookalike boyfriend, while at the same time, openly desiring the attentions of her best friend, the titular Jennifer. Unfortunately for Needy, Jennifer willfully ignores her flirting until just after a hellish experience with an entire rock group that leaves her with a general apathy toward all righteous activity and an embarrassing STD (Sexually Transmitted Demon-possession). Needy is understandably uncomfortable with the idea that Jennifer would see her as a potential lover only after becoming “damaged goods,” and thus begins the feud that ruins their chances for happiness. However, it is as a result of this feud that Needy forcefully steps outside the boundaries of male dominated society where women are only tools or toys, to become self-actualized, to take control of her own sexuality, instead of allowing society or demonic forces to control her through it. In a final heartbreaking love scene, Needy and Jennifer come to understand how much more alike than different they are, even though their recent enmity has forever severed the link they shared as friends. Though Needy must now walk her own path alone and outcast, she is for the first time, fully aware and in control of her own destiny.

Also notable is the appearance of one of the later clones of industrial science tycoon Cave Johnson, living under the assumed identity of a high school chemistry teacher. This clone must have been a wily one indeed to escape the testing facility with the need for only minimal cybernetic reconstruction.

It’s like Heathers meets The Exorcist Five stars.

She-Wolves of the Wasteland

Years ago Robert Hayes, Tony award winning director of the Broadway hit “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns” retreated to the outskirts of Las Vegas with only his beloved collection of Joanna Russ novels and his collection of Motley Crue tapes for, what he later described as, “much-needed me time.” Of course in retrospect none of his loyal fans were surprised when he emerged from the desert with a dazzling and cerebral tale of a visionary yet tragic post-apocalyptic world, She-Wolves of the Wasteland. Like his earlier masterpiece which started as a simple side project for the so-far-ahead-of-their-time-it-wasn’t-even-funny Cramps, this film at first received little notice, but now that the Broadway production of “Bikini Girls” is well into its twentieth season (and currently outselling Cats) his cinema is just beginning to be appreciated for its true artistry.

Most of the post-apocalypse genre looks similar to the uninitiated viewer, “Just another bunch of leather and loincloth-clad miscreants remaking the old western classics.” We all know the formula. Horses are replaced by motorcycles, ten-gallon hats by gasmasks, et cetera, et cetera. However, once we pull back the curtain, we will see these worlds are not remotely as similar as we think. Specifically, She-Wolves adds to the mix what is simultaneously an endorsement for and warning against second-wave feminism. In this moderately-distant future, the World War 3 that dismantles society includes a viral weapon which eliminates nearly all men, leaving only a handful of bikini-clad heavy-metal backup dancers to inherit a world ruined by war, but still stocked with an endless supply of machine guns. The genius inherent in the story is that not one but three popular theories of a world without men coexist in a precarious balance. We have both the Sapphic paradise from Russ’ early work, and the evil empress who maintains control of her section of the desert by keeping the last few males imprisoned in her sperm banks, forcing any who wish to bear children to do so on her terms. This is obviously an interpretation of the male sex-slavery themes evident in Russ’ later work.

Caught in the chaotic middle is the young and innocent (and pregnant) escapee of the empress’ breeding program, Keela, who must navigate a seedy desert wasteland of big hair, bikinis, butch female pimps and slightly less butch prostitutes, all of whom want to use her for their own purposes. In much of the wasteland, the removal of maleness has only led to women taking over and continuing the misogynistic traditions of the past. Keela is saved and protected by a kind-hearted warrior named Phoenix who takes her to the safety of the other theoretical consequence of the extinction of men. Juxtaposed neatly on the other side of the desert is the peaceful unnamed band who have entirely abandoned male institutions including degrading sexual hierarchy, violence, the use of weapons, and much of their clothing. Keela and Phoenix narrowly escape capture as the empress’ bikini-clad machine-gunners attack, but seeing the senseless slaughter of these combat-green but perfectly suntanned half-naked chicks, one of the empress’ warriors, Cobalt, played by former Miss India, Persis Khambatta, turns against the empress and foments a revolution in favor of peaceful coexistence (with other women) and reproductive freedom.

Perhaps because the director couldn’t let go completely of his own patriarchal biases or because he truly doubted the conclusions of Russ’ work, neither the sperm bank empire nor the Sapphic paradise succeed in the future, both undone by and giving way to the traditional family structure: a machine-gun toting butch dyke and a femme bisexual working together to raise a son with the sometimes help of their submissive, balding, pornstachio’d male sex slave who spends much of his time working on cars.

That third thing? That’s human-television hybrid cannibals.

This stuff’ll kill ya, it’s loaded with fun. Five Stars.

TRON: Legacy

Disney unshackles itself from it’s usual juvenile drivel to bring us this vibrant and new story, brimming with verve and originality. The journey into the neon-lit world of the grid would be worth it purely for the visual and aural experience, for light and sound and fury of it all, but there’s so much more: On the surface, this travelogue/documentary takes us on a tour of psychedelic late-1960's religious movements in America. Jeff Bridges reprises his role as America's favorite ultra-lazy Dude, (honestly, he advises the audience many times to simply do nothing, be still, wait, listen) but with a more spiritual side than the original, second, and third Big Lebowski movies. There’s quite a lot more Zen Buddhism and gnostic Christianity here than in most of Bridges’ previous work, possibly hinting at changes in his personal life as he has become older and gained a deeper understanding of the world. So yes, Disney certainly stepped out of its comfort zone to teach us about religion, and thankfully so, but that’s only the surface of this movie, only one dimension of many to consider. Much like the flat, monochrome images on the shadowy walls of Plato’s Cave, the film invites us, tempts us to investigate more deeply, to look beyond what we are shown, to step into the light and experience the moving tale that rests below the religious symbolism. So what is this film really about?

It might shock you, and it probably shocked Disney’s producers when they realized this wasn’t just another cookie-cutter, sanitized fairy tale with subliminal sexual imagery to keep the adults feeling as entertained as their children- No! Indeed, Tron: Legacy is a true original, the first of its kind. Disney has taken a huge risk here, dealing with subject matter many people will find alien and unfamiliar, territory explored rarely if at all through the whole history of American film. The true story of Tron: Legacy, is that of a young man lacking motivation and responsibility. In order to become more than a child, he must first try to understand and learn from his father, a father who has been absent in his young life. In time, with the guidance and encouragement of his father, he must learn self-reliance, meet an attractive woman, make a few new friends, and finally, begin to understand that the two different sides of his father that he experienced growing up – one kind, the other cruel – are merely two sides of the same man. As the son reconciles the conflicting sides of his father he comes to understand also his responsibility in the world as a rich, talented, white American. It’s almost sad that so few directors and production companies are willing to tackle these, well, let’s call them “Father and Son” stories for lack of a previously existing genre term, though because of the fantastic artistic and financial success of Tron: Legacy , a few courageous filmmakers – if they can manage to get financial backing for such unusual subject matter – may try to in the future. Perhaps Dennis Quaid, star of the multiple Oscar-winning Innerspace could be convinced to explore this subject with his incredible acting talent. And to fool the production company into helping make a story about a father and a son learning about each other, perhaps a sci-fi adventure story, something set on a spacecraft, maybe with monsters. . .

Oh yes, also notable in this Disney movie are between three and five black extras, two women who aren't the protagonist's mother, and a homosexual David Bowie impersonator who betrays the hero and is horribly punished for it. Well, we can’t expect Disney to break all the rules of Disney storytelling, now can we, Disney?

Best Daft Punk music video ever (except for “Around the World”). Five Stars.


Ever since the release of the re-vamped 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, table-top gaming has been increasingly in the public eye, not as a threat to the sanity of our children, but as an acceptable pastime for imaginative people of all ages. Hollywood has eagerly jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a startling number of high-budget films based on the old pen and paper gaming system. Running fast on the heels of the Sundance star Dorkness Rising comes the more farcical Insidious (jarring chord). To add to the immersion of the gaming experience, director James Wan has chosen to remove all references to the players or the game, leaving only the characters and their imaginary experiences.

But why would we find a game played by nerds entertaining? In this case, it seems that the Dungeon Master and the players are playing two different games. The players showed up expecting a story, socially involved, characters with individual goals driven by their own personal desires, but the DM planned a simple modern-day dungeon crawl, where the characters are expected to work together as a group, locate and dispatch the monsters, steal their treasure, acquire higher-level skills and weapons before facing the boss-monster, who is in this case is a personal creation of the DM, a minor inhabitant of the Negative Energy Plane clearly inspired by a recent viewing of The Phantom Menace. Also appearing are several Spectres (Monster Manual p. 232) Ghosts, (MM 116) and a lesser Shadow (MM 221). Of course, the players neither expected nor wanted another cookie-cutter hack-and-slash adventure, and instead of locating the +1 weapons likely hidden about the house, they simply leave, hoping the DM will change the tone of the game if they take the story off the rails.

The second act of the story is a parade of NPC’s, or “non-player characters” whose purpose is to remind the players what sort of game this is. The monsters return, and the NPC’s provide the necessary in-game information and helpful magic items the characters stubbornly denied themselves during the first attempt (including a Camera of True-Seeing, invaluable when dealing with invisible monsters). Remember, sometimes it is appropriate to allow player knowledge to influence character action, specifically when dealing with an old-school DM. This would have prevented the younger wizard character from trying to tackle the boss monster single-handed, claiming child-like curiosity. “Well, my character doesn’t think it’s dangerous,” I can almost hear Ty Simpkins saying over his character sheet. Such an unfortunately tinny name, as well.

After being beaten over the head by NPC’s convincing them there will be combat, the players finally go on the offensive to confront the monsters physically, or at the very least, psionically to save their characters, earn XP, and return to face greater dangers in future gaming sessions. Unfortunately, the higher-level arcane caster (and in this case that means “higher than zero” thanks to the boss’ level-drain attack) still feels there must be some personal connection between himself and the monsters the DM randomly pulled out of the Bag of Holding this time, and his need for character based role-playing makes him decide to use a critical turn to talk instead of attack, tilting the balance of the final combat scene to the favor of the monsters and leading, inexorably, to another total-party-wipeout. No mercy from this Dungeon Master. And neither should there be after a veritable second chance and with help from a band of NPC’s! Learn to play your classes, guys! It doesn’t matter if the rest of the group aren’t religious, keep the cleric around for Turn Undead and healing spells! Work as a team! Don’t go after the boss-monsters alone! How hard is it to understand that this is not a game for talking about your feelings, this is a game for kicking in the door, ganking the monsters, and taking their loot!

Also, I hope they didn’t have to pay too much to use the soundtrack from Psycho. Five Stars.


The Social Network

David Fincher directs this supposedly true-to-life story of a teenager whose rise to fame and fortune lead inevitably to painful legal action from jealous colleagues from his past. The film is told almost completely in flashback mode, supporting and reinforcing the idea that these stories they tell are all true. Repeated references to the character being under oath to tell the truth draw us in, force us to empathize not only with the characters, but the real people they represent. We are completely drawn into their lives, into the hardships of rich Harvard students only looking to make their name in the world, with only their ideas and world-class talents to guide them, how can we not feel the desperation of those who make only a million dollars? A million dollars simply isn’t cool anymore, the jet-setting founder of Napster tells us. How hard it must be to be only an Olympic athlete from an extremely wealthy family who somehow managed to accomplish all he did while living with split-personality disorder (played expertly by baking soda heir and soap-opera actor Armand Hammer). Even though zombie-plague survivor Jesse Eisenberg received top billing, one should at least credit Hammer for mastering the ancient art of bi-location to film the scenes of the mentally dichotomous rower.

But I digress. This film isn’t actually about the hardships of the rich, though they play a large part in the telling. This movie is about the search for truth, the quest for certainty. This goes back further than 2003, of course, back to the early enlightenment, the dawn of science, to the early European philosophers who asked themselves: how can we know what is real, what is true?

We can ask the participants, make them take oaths, cross-check their stories, compile them, line by line, remove any obvious inconsistencies, and once we run through all these events, what we must have will be only the truth. So the process goes. However, what we are left with here is a story of a group of fantastically successful people, billionaires (and this is how we know they are cool), the best of the best, Harvard students, geniuses, Olympic athletes, some who have overcome mental disorders that would cripple lesser beings, all of whom, in the relentless search for truth are found to be empty, hollow, emotionally absent man-children, unable to return friendship, incapable of meaningful interaction with women, and motivated almost exclusively by sexual greed. The sense of shock is palpable. The curtain has been drawn back from Harvard revealing it to be a place of depravity and greed, driven by drunken misogyny. One can understand how, if this is all true, famous gangtsa rapper and Harvard graduate Natalie Portman came into her deep-seated rage toward all patriarchal establishments.

Then comes the twist, one of the legal assistants who’s been taking notes quietly while the Harvard men dragged each other through the filth for the past two hours, confides to Eisenberg, that he is most likely not an asshole. Again, jaw-dropping shock from the audience. Because testimony of the type we’ve been watching is, in her own admission, 85% exaggeration, 15% perjury. That actress there is Rishida Jones, also a Harvard grad, delivering the most important line of the film. What we’ve been watching, what we’ve been so enthralled by could very well be a lie. The wool was pulled so low over our eyes we believed the wool itself to be the truth! So, once again we are faced with the dilemma great minds like Hume and Kant made their careers upon: How can we possibly know what is true? But then, if Harvard isn’t such a den of sin, why is famous gangsta rapper Natalie Portman so angry?

I’m posting this on facebook. Five Stars.