Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review

-45bb826e-abdc-4fde-9e5b-4a80488578aa

Last night my kid brother and me went to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

“Hey Ben, I know you are moving back to Pennsylvania in two days.  Do you want to spend some meaningful time together?  Let’s go chew tobacco and see some fucking apes fight.”  I’m sure at this moment he thought it was the shittiest going away present ever, but hey, we had fun.

As far as popcorn movies go it was really good.  If you liked the first one you should like this one and vice versa.  It was more epic and battle oriented, but it was tied together with a solid story.  There is always a bit of ridiculousness when you see talking apes in a movie, and there were several parts where you could predict what was going to happen in the next scene, but overall it was done about as well as could be expected.  The special effects were phenomenal.  I hate when something looks like it was created with CGI and it takes you out of the moment.  Other than one or two shots in the beginning of the film, there wasn’t a moment when a visual kept me from being engrossed in the story.

Let’s not kid anyone and pretend that a movie that features apes riding horses is Shakespeare, but these movies feature a degree of intelligence that most summer blockbusters lack.  This movie, behind it’s summer entertainment factor, is a tragedy where we slowly see peace break down between groups over misunderstandings and rival factions.  In each group there are those that seek peace and those that seek power.  Much as in the real world, those that seek power rig the game so that the peace is lost.  Yeah, yeah, I know, as I said there are apes talking and riding horses.  But most of the time when a summer movie tries to be smart it only looks dumber.  This was one of the few examples where, and don’t get me wrong this movie is entertainment first, where a small degree of intelligence actually manages to be a part of the proceedings.

As a final note, I had a friend with a child ask me if this movie would be OK to take him to.  I think this movie’s PG-13 rating is earned, as it might be too intense for anyone younger then that.  Also, I’m usually not a fan of anything rated PG-13, as it usually means that they take anything adult or interesting out of a film to appeal to the widest possible audience, without a film having the magical whimsey of a kid’s movie.  However, I didn’t feel that this movie lost anything by being PG-13.  In fact, despite the fact that there was no graphic gore or nudity, I just had to double check the rating to make sure I was correct.

If they can maintain this level of quality for a third film I would be happy to attend.

 

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology Review

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is an incredibly powerful film.  It is somehow able to pack in all of the ideas of a great book or the best of a college course, while also being highly entertaining.  It combines films, philosophy, religion, psychoanalysis, history, and politics.  Although the film was directed by Sophie Fiennes, whose visual mastery should not go unnoticed, the film belongs to the narrator and star Slavoj Zizek.

Zizek uses films such as They Live, Full Metal Jacket, The Sound of Music, and others to dive into big ideas.  Clips from the films are shown interspersed with shots of Zizek appearing on recreations of the sets of the same films.  Zizek’s narration is powerful because he is able to make even the headiest of ideas understandable.  The movie is so packed with interesting ideas that I feel that I would be doing the film a disservice without watching it again, or several times, before I tried to list all of the things it covered.

One of the biggest ideas in the movie is that all power, whether that is in the form of religion or even totalitarian atheism, drives from peoples’ belief in the Big Other.  The Big Other could be God or history or any idea that exists outside of the self that allows people to follow orders without questioning them.

He also talks about having the right and wrong dreams.  We often dream of an idealized version of the reality that is presented to us, a dream which would not make us happy if achieved.  In order to make the world a better place we need to change the kind of dreams we have.  An example is our common thinking that we would just be happy if we had more money, etc.; when it is very possible that the organizing principles of our society are what bring about so much unhappiness.  He focuses on ideology because from the very beginning he talks about how trying to see outside of ideology is painful and we often resist it.

He also talks about capitalism vs. environmentalism.  He asks the question why is it easier in some ways in our existing order to imagine the end of life as we know it rather than make a few small adjustments to our economic system.

Even if you end up not agreeing with Zizek, if you are the kind of person that welcomes big ideas this film will leave you with plenty to chew on.  I feel as if I am not doing this film justice.  This is a subversive, intelligent, entertaining movie that should be watched if you are looking for something stimulating.

P.S.  Make sure that if you watch the film that you watch through to the end of the credits.  This film is available for streaming on Netflix currently.  

Godzilla Vs. The Koch Brothers

There is a minor spoiler for the movie Godzilla.  

This is the last time I mention the movie Godzilla, because quite frankly it wasn’t a good enough movie to keep writing about.  It killed off the two best actors in the first third of the movie.  Although it was visually spectacular, much better than the quick edit popcorn movies that seem to be the norm.  This was because the camera actually held shots long enough to let you take in the spectacle.  The special effects were top notch.  However, once the best actors were killed off there really weren’t any characters that one could become invested in.  Although there were some hints that the movie was trying to get across man’s relationship with nature, this really was mostly a movie of pure entertainment.  However, the plot was pretty pedestrian summer fair and the characters were pretty weak.  I’m not looking for high art in a monster movie, but there are ways to make these movies that allow for better escapism.  I just watched Gladiator again this week.  That movie has a super simple story that we’ve seen a thousand times, but I was invested in every minute of that movie despite having seen it before.  I’m not sure why the reviews for Godzilla are so great, other than the fact that compared to the Michael Bay movies that seem to be the new norm this one was like a Fellini film in comparison.  However, a couple guys behind me kept remarking how great it was, so who knows?  Again maybe the bar has been set so low that anything that isn’t 100% mindless dogshit seems the work of a genius.

Anyway, the only reason I am even thinking about Godzilla again today is I have been reading more articles about what a pack of mutants the Koch brothers are.  Godzilla tries to save mankind from ruin while the Koch brothers are slowly helping to destroy our society.  When a giant fictional ancient lizard inspires more hope than the people that are shaping a great deal of U.S. policy, one must ask oneself what the fuck is going on?  I would pay top dollar for a ticket to see Godzilla rise from the ocean and stomp Koch Industries into space dust.  If only.

Entertainment Shows Growing Environmental Concerns

Although the new Godzilla movie was mostly about monsters tearing shit up, it dealt on the periphery with the idea that nature is larger and more powerful than man, and man is arrogant if he thinks he can control it.  I noticed two trailers before the movie that also dealt with nature themes.  There was a movie coming out by Christopher Nolan called Interstellar that looked like it dealt with the world running out of food.  There was also another movie coming out, and forgive me if I can’t remember the title, that was about a super storm.  It seems that our mainstream popcorn science fiction is starting to represent what many of us already know; that with climate change, overpopulation, ocean acidification, and other environmental issues, that our relationship with nature is a major concern for society. 

Science fiction is often about now as much as it is about the future.  Earlier science fiction movies dealt with the fears of their times.  The original Godzilla dealt with our use of atomic bombs.  The movie Them!, which featured giant ants, was based on the fears of nuclear testing.  The Day the Earth Stood Still was heavily rooted in the fears of the Cold War.

Although The Day the Earth Stood Still is brilliant, many of these movies are just entertainment.  However, it is entertainment that reflects the anxieties of its day.  It may be at times a funhouse mirror, but it is a mirror nonetheless. 

I don’t know whether or not to take it as a good sign that our entertainment is starting to reflect what we are doing to this planet.  On one hand it is a sign that there is something clearly wrong, these movies don’t come out of nowhere.  On the other hand it may be a sign that the problems we are facing are reaching a level of mass consciousness.  Studios aren’t going to invest millions of dollars into movies that don’t register psychologically with the general viewing audience.  I even saw that Fox News’s Shep Smith acknowledged that man made climate change is real. (Holy Shit!)  Hopefully we can get serious about addressing these problems.  We’ll know when we do, because the movies will have moved on to something else. 

That’s Entertainment

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOSTGqtajZA

I find the above interview to be highly entertaining.  It’s an early interview with the band Public Image Ltd. on a show called Check it Out.  Things descend rather quickly as the band is faced with banal questions from typical talking head personalities.  Whether the band is committing an act of theater, or really had such hair trigger tempers, we will never know.  All I know is that it is pure comedy gold.  I only wish this kind of thing would happen more often.  I wish that people would more often go into the “reality” of television and throw monkey wrenches into the works.  As the Jam once sang, that’s entertainment. 

Sergeant Slaughter and Richard Nixon

The other night my brother and I watched a 50th anniversary documentary about World Wrestling Entertainment.  What can I say, except that I enjoy large doses of the absurd and bizarre.  Probably the strangest moment came when Sergeant Slaughter talks about meeting Richard Nixon on a plane and how Nixon admitted to being a great fan of pro-wrestling.  The thought of someone who was the President of the United States watching pro-wrestling, especially when it is Tricky Dick, is a level of absurdity that I don’t know if I can properly describe.  These are the kind of stories that make life worth living. 

Nixon had time in life to make an enemies list and to watch steroid fueled men in strange costumes fake fight.  I clearly need to up my game.  I have achieved nothing when compared to this mutant. 

George Carlin has a book called Napalm and Silly Putty.  The title is about the duality of man.  We are a species that makes chemicals that melt the skin off of people and a species that makes a toy that can copy the funny papers.  We sure are interesting. 

A link to a book description of Nixon meeting Slaughter:  

http://www.books.google.com/books?id=Szus3bg58RIC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=sargent+slaughter+richard+nixon&source=bl&ots=XAvcLXjXXU&sig=fpMT00zIdPBT7-cDlt32hGpp3So&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Hy4EU9LqDeblyQHghoCwBA&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=sargent%20slaughter%20richard%20nixon&f=false

Dollhouse, Firefly, Mad Men, Deadwood

I like the Joss Whedon show Dollhouse.  I’ve been watching the first season again and have never seen the second, but I plan on it. It’s a really entertaining show if you can get past the first couple episodes.  It’s not until the larger arc of the story is introduced that the show becomes interesting. 

I tried to show my brother an episode.  My brother, like me, is a big fan of Whedon’s show Firefly.  I picked one of the better episodes that I thought would stand alone as I felt the first episode did not do the show justice.  He couldn’t get into it.  Afterwards I was trying to think why, as it seems like something he would like, given to the fact that he has liked Firefly and other things by Whedon. 

I started thinking how important to Whedon’s writing, and really TV in general, is the fact that you need to become invested in the characters to really get enjoyment out of something.  In the episode I showed him the characters get high on an experimental drug and starting acting out of character.  What is funny if you know the characters probably isn’t if you don’t know them.  You don’t have any kind of template to base your reactions to. 

I think one of the reasons that TV has been so well done in recent years is that shows have gotten better at creating well rounded characters that have long story arcs.  Mad Men, maybe my favorite show that is airing right now, is great at this.  By the time you get to later seasons even a glance between two characters can be infused with deep meaning.  A show like Mad Men has depth to it that really only great literature can beat. 

My favorite show of all time is the show Deadwood.  I think it is as close to Shakespeare as we will get in our lifetime, with an amazing amount of swearing thrown in.  Aside from being a well written entertaining show it shows how societies organize themselves and also highlights the bloodier aspects of capitalism in our history.  However, I know plenty of people that have tuned in somewhere in the middle and had trouble telling what is going on.  The language and the politics of the show are too dense.  I completely understand this as I think you have to go on a journey with the characters in the show from the beginning.  There are lots of subtle things that are being done that make sense if you see it slowly build.  If you are thrown in the middle of it is like reading chapters out of order in a book. 

I guess if there is a show that your friends like that you want to like, but don’t get, start at the beginning.  There is still a chance that you might not like it of course, but it is worth a shot.  There is a lot of great writing in TV right now, just try to find a way to watch it without the commercials.  Whatever entertainment or ideas you get from a show will be sucked out by those things.  

Lost in Lost

Yeah, I’m watching the show Lost again.  I started watching it because my girlfriend hadn’t seen it and I told her I would watch it with her, even though we live in two different states.  As work and school ramped up she took a break from it, while I have continued to sail on.  Why do I watch a show based around a mystery when I already know the answer to that mystery?

I could say that I’m picking up clues that I didn’t the first time.  Or I could say that like Deadwood, the writing is so good that it’s like watching pure poetry in motion. Lost is a well done show that is highly entertaining.  I also believe that there are moments in the show that rise above the level of mere entertainment.

However, if truth be told, this is one of those shows that I believe people watch again because it’s like comfort food.  For all its mysteries and twists and turns, it is a show with well rounded characters that act the way that you expect them to act.  That doesn’t mean that a character appears as they initially turn out.  Often on this show a character is represented one way only to turn out completely different as the episodes progress.  You learn what motivates them and you become more sympathetic to them.  But once the character comes into full light you can pretty much predict how they are going to behave.  Even if one of them does something unexpected it is the situation moving them and not the other way around.  You find yourself enjoying time spent with characters that you know so well.

For all of the strangeness going on in this show, and there is a good deal if you go along for the ride, this show does what traditional TV does best.  It allows you to invite characters into your home that you enjoy the company of, much like that really well written summer book that you read.  Ok, time to go back to the Island, where the troubles being had aren’t my own.

The Importance of Good Entertainment Writing

I read The Atlantic a good deal, because overall it’s writing seems to be above average.  Even if I don’t agree with a certain writer, I usually hear a reasoned argument.  However, today I was scanning the headlines and there was a headline so stupid it made my head explode.  The headline was:  Lou Reed Made Generation X.  First of all Generation X is nothing but a marketing term used to describe people of a certain age, that as all people of a certain age can run the gamut in terms of political beliefs, religious beliefs, and all manner of other things.  So basically other than actually describing people of a certain age, it means nothing.  Unless of course you are using it to describe the punk band that Billy Idol was in.  Lou Reed no more made this generation than he made those of baby boomer age, or young kids now.  Certain members of each generation loved him and certain ones did not.  It is a lazy generalization on several fronts.

Now you may think that I’m nitpicking.  But I believe that pop culture writing should be taken seriously by serious publications.  Often people know more about what is happening in pop culture than they do about what is going on in some far away third world country for example.  You can view this as sad, but it’s true.  I remember onetime reading a New York Times article that about Morrissey that was so factually incorrect and lazy that it blew my mind.  I thought if they can’t even get the facts on him right, which are pretty easy to find, how factually correct are their serious news articles?

Now one does not necessarily affect the other.  A newspaper or magazine could hire a crack commando unit of investigative reporters, and then because of budgetary constraints, hire a bunch of ignorant amateurs to write their pop culture pieces.  However, with the newspaper and magazine industry in such trouble, can they really afford anything that makes people question their credibility?

Let’s give these publications the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s say that given the current economic constraints that they are facing, that they are indeed saving money on hiring good entertainment writers, so that they can fulfill their mission of providing people with news on what is most important in the world.  In 2012 it was estimated that the American people spent $490 million dollars on entertainment.  It is expected to grow by 5% to $597 billion dollars by 2016.  This is despite the current economic problems that the country is facing.

It is well documented that during the great depression that people turned to entertainment for escapism from their economic woes.  It is true now that many people are turning to spending money on entertainment even as they struggle to pay their bills because it helps them cope with the world.

Another important thing to note is that entertainment plays a role in this country in how we interpret the world.  Often when we see something in the news it might make us reference a movie.  Movies have moved the dialogue on political issues.  I can remember, growing up in a somewhat conservative town, that the movie Philadelphia was one of the first times my friends and I talked about gay people in a real and meaningful way.  Even when entertainment might not directly move the needle, it can often give strength to existing political ideals.  I was against the Iraq War before Neil Young’s Living with War, but it definitely gave solace to me in hearing someone lay out what I had already been feeling with such clarity.  It strengthened my resolve to speak my mind when I was out in public.

Whether you believe it is for good or ill, we spend an amazing amount of money and time on entertainment.  What we listen to, watch, and read, is not only important to us as individuals, but does have an impact on our culture at large.  Hopefully these publications will keep that in mind as they think about who they are hiring.

Facts about the economics of entertainment were gotten from:  http://atkinsbookshelf.wordpress.com/tag/how-much-do-americans-spend-on-entertainment/

Deadwood and The Tea Party

If you want to learn about America, but aren’t a big history reader, watch the show DeadwoodDeadwood is a western that is set in the lawless town of the same name.  The show is about how society goes from chaos to order, and the economic, political, and cultural forces that create that order.  It is also a highly entertaining TV show that features a tremendous amount of sex, violence, and swearing.  It’s brilliant however.  I always say that the language on that show is Shakespeare with cursing.

My brother Ben and I have watched the series countless times.  I recently walked in on him watching it again and caught one of my favorite scenes.  A government official is in town and he has angered the masses by invalidating some of their mining claims.  The ignorant masses on that show are called hoopleheads.  The hoopleheads decide that they are going to seek vigilante justice upon the government official.  The official is in a cage in a local saloon for his own protection and the hoopleheads, lead by a racist drunk named Steve, are threatening him.  The official says, “You can’t fuck me, I’m the future.”  To which Steve replies, “Fuck you and fuck the future!”

It made me think of the Tea Party.  I’ve always thought that the base of the Tea Party has a right to be angry.  They have just misdirected their anger.  In the show the government official is making his decisions to invalidate claims because he is backed by the super wealthy George Hearst.  Hearst wants the claims for himself.  He is using the weak government official, who would never make such a power play by himself, for his own purposes.  The hoopleheads are directing their anger at the government official, who is pathetic and dislikable, but they should be banding together to take on Hearst.  Hearst turns out to be far more dangerous and detrimental to the town than any government official could be.

As careers disappear and livelihoods go up in smoke, the base of the Tea Party has every right to be angry.  However, their anger at the government is misdirected.  The government, even at its worst, is only as bad as it is because it has been corrupted by large corporations.  They are aiding, probably without knowing it, the further degrading of the government and the rise of corporate power.  It is in corporations’ interests to have the government become as weak as possible.  That way the government won’t pass those pesky regulations.  A strong government, with strong regulatory power, even as imperfect as it might be at times, is the only chance we have of using the force of law to stop these corporations from ruining lives.  They are the ones that are moving jobs overseas, poisoning the environment, ramping up the military industrial complex, and degrading our school systems.  Anger is a powerful thing.  How do we redirect it?