Spoiler Alert's Mission Statement

The first rule of review writing is not to give away too much, so the ending isn't ruined for the hapless reader. But where's the fun in that?

This blog's aim is to summarize and review movies from beginning to end, plot twists and all. If you've already seen the film in question, or if you just don't care if the ending is ruined, maybe you'll dredge some entertainment out of a review. Maybe you'll find something you agree with, or maybe you'll have a new understanding of the film. Maybe not. 

Either way, if you don't want movies... well, spoiled for you before you see them, then read no further. Otherwise, please, read on, and enjoy.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Trailers of the Week 4

Hi. I decided to take a short interlude before continuing my essay/rant about Garth Ennis. Here are some videos for your viewing pleasure.

It was either this or the new "Fast and the Furious" trailer.

And here's another video of the week. Though it's not a trailer, I think a few of you will appreciate it.

How is it I was able to guess what he was going to say verbatim before he said it?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Joss Whedon Vs. Garth Ennis, Part 2

Okay, here's the second part of my essay on Ennis and Whedon. We'll get to more of my points about Ennis in the third and final part, to be written soon (hopefully) and posted (possibly).

Whedon, who has spent his time writing comics, is not the first person to shed light upon the faults of a genre which is dominated by the fisticuffs and adventures of spandex-clad adventurers. But he may be the most cerebral, especially when compared with notorious hero-hater Garth Ennis.

For those not familiar with Ennis, he is a renowned writer of comics, notably "Hellblazer," "Preacher" and "The Punisher." He is famous for depicting intensely graphic scenes in his stories, and does not shy away from extreme violence, sex and profanity. Rather, they are staples of his work. And while he has claimed he does not in fact "hate" super heroes, he admits to resenting their domination of the genre he makes his living in.

This resentment comes across in comics like "The Punisher," the tales of an armed vigilante in the Marvel Universe. His encounters with heroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine often involve the complete humiliation of these characters. Indeed, in 1995 Ennis wrote a one-shot story aptly titled "The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe," in which one guy with a gun kills every hero and villain in the world.

In case that doesn't paint a good enough picture of Ennis for you, one of his current projects, entitled "The Boys," is about a group of shady characters in an alternate universe who take it upon themselves to keep the super hero population under control, often through violent (or otherwise disgusting) means. Their logic is this: the super heroes are corrupt and careless in the destruction they wreak, so they need to be put in their place.

"The Boys" is super hero parody as much as "Dr. Horrible, but it fails on a number of levels where Whedon's musical does not.

Parody is obvious throughout "Dr. Horrible." Captain Hammer makes references to a "Hammer Cycle" and "Hamm-Jet," obvious allusions to Batman's many self-titled gadgets and vehicles. Dr. Horrible tries to give himself a new catchphrase (to little effect). And Whedon also does a fantastic job of making up hero/villain names, which come only in passing but are great fun to imagine: Bait and Switch, apparently a female duo; Conflict Diamond, which really only hit me on the second or third viewing; Johnny Snow, the analog for every lame ice-themed character.

But it is the reversal of the roles of the two main characters that creates the real fun - the titular mad scientist is decidedly the protagonist, yet he is the supposed evil-doer. And while his nemesis Captain Hammer is supposed to be an archetypical hero, he is obviously little more than a bully and allegedly a corporate tool. Whedon makes the Doc interesting by emphasizing his motivation: social change. But what he does with the Cap is even deeper: he makes us hate the hero. Why? Because he solves everything with his fists and a cocksure arrogance, leaving the brainy opponent in his dust.

In other words, we hate Captain Hammer for all the same reasons Lex Luthor hates Superman.

In an issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's brilliant comic "All-Star Superman," Luthor boasts to Clark Kent about the muscles he has developed while lifting weights in prison. He claims his strength is an extension of his own resolve, whereas Superman's are a matter of sheer chance: "Anyone can be strong if they come from Krypton." This sentiment is reflected so strongly in "Dr. Horrible" that I have to wonder if Whedon had that specific line in mind when he was writing his musical. At one point Captain Hammer asks Billy, the Doc's alter-ego, if he has seen him at the gym, before smirking to himself, "Wait, I don't go to the gym. I'm just naturally like this."

My roommate Devin said it best upon viewing: "What a douchebag."

One of Hammer's last lines, "I'm in pain! This must be what pain feels like!" is another jab at invincible heroes like the Man of Steel. I would give more credit to Whedon if the idea of a hero feeling pain for the first time hadn't been done many times before, most notably (for me) and emotionally in "Superman II," when a de-powered Clark is hit in the face and looks down at his fingers, stammering, "That's my blood."

But beyond this critique of super-powers lies a condemnation of the idea of super hero battles entirely. You might find it strange that in a medium which is increasingly aimed towards an older audience, the characters still resolve their problems through fist fights. They settle their differences through violence, and Captain Hammer embodies that idea. Though he is supposed to be a "hero," setting an example for people, we are reminded again and again of his extremely violent tendencies. Before he is even introduced, Dr. Horrible tells us the Cap dislocated the Doc's shoulder, "again," the week before. We are told he throws cars at people, and we see the joy he seems to get out of beating on a nerd like Dr. Horrible.

Beyond that, even, we see his incapability to settle situations without punching something. When he first appears, he exclaims the line "The day needs my saving expertise!" Expertise? This is hilarious - all he can think to do is punch and break a gadget he doesn't understand, and his tampering nearly kills an innocent bystander. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing, considering he later in fact does kill that same bystander by messing with a gadget he again doesn't understand.

We'll get to Garth Ennis in the final part of this essay. Now that we've seen how parody can be done well, I have some critiques of Ennis' style and execution, and hopefully some comparison.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Joss Whedon Vs. Garth Ennis, Part 1

So the summer is over, and with it the seasonal storm of super hero flicks which blew into theaters. Judging by the debris left in their wake, it's fair to say the most damage was done by "The Dark Knight," and deservingly so.

But in the minds of me and a few of my friends, one super hero project from this summer will last even longer. I'm speaking, of course, of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

This 45-minute Internet-exclusive video, a musical in three parts starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day, was the brainchild of Joss Whedon. I know Whedon from his previous projects: the TV series "Firefly," the film "Serenity," and his run on "Astonishing X-Men." He also did a show about vampires or something.

For those of you who have not seen "Dr. Horrible," here is the link. Stop reading and go watch it now. Don't forget to see all three acts.


Are you back? Okay.

On the surface level, "Dr. Horrible" is obviously a parody: a love story about a low-rent, lovable loser super villain. Like if Peter Parker wanted to take over the world.

But the sour ending, which puts off everyone I've seen it with, sheds a ray of light on the possibility that there is something more to it. Instead of a cutesy love story, it becomes a villain's origin story when viewed as a whole - Doc beats the small-time hero and moves up in the world, abandoning all ties to his humanity and living with the pain of what he has wrought. Though he gets all he ever wanted, he "won't feel a thing."

The parody is more biting and wider in scope when viewed this way, and certain other plot points begin to appear as zingers Whedon and his brother Jed have injected into the piece.

And in the end, it becomes something else entirely - more than a parody, a rebuke of the super hero genre that exists today.

I'll be posting more soon. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Trailers of the Week 3

My pick this time around is the web-leaked preview of Oliver Stone's upcoming biopic "W." What is there to say? It's probably going to be really fun. I laughed out loud when I saw Karl Rove and Tony Blair.

And even though I know it's not technically a trailer, I also want to post this little doozy, which has changed my life. Enjoy:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bleep It: The Problem With the R-Rated Comedy

In 2005, moviegoers like me were surprised to see a film, simplistically titled "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," surpass all expectations for what comedies had been up to that point. A new genre was born (or at least re-born), launched from the womb of Judd Apatow, who has become the patron saint of the R-Rated Comedies which are now moving into theaters like noisy, raunchy, but nonetheless endearing roommates nationwide.
The same summer as "Virgin," another film defied expectations - "Wedding Crashers," which could have been an easy PG-13 vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, instead included plenty of breasts and cursing. And though it has no connection to Apatow, it is just as important to me in the founding of the current movement of vulgarity-filled comedic cinema.
For too long, it has been common knowledge that a PG-13 rating can act as a drain on creativity - in an attempt to appeal to a much larger audience, films lose their edge and a lot of what makes them special. But somehow Apatow and his peers have burst into popular culture with what some might describe as an assload of hits, most of them unabashed in their own crudeness.
"Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Walk Hard," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," and currently "Step Brothers" and "Pineapple Express"; that's a lot of films in just two years, all emblazoned with an R-rating and Apatow's brand.
But it's hard not to notice a trend in these films which has started making me uneasy. It had been in the back of my mind since the gratuitous male nudity in "Walk Hard" and (from what I've heard) "Sarah Marshall," but it didn't strike me until viewing "Step Brothers" this weekend. The problem is this: the presence of an R rating for no reason... other than to have an R rating.
In "Virgin" and "Knocked Up" it made sense not to censor anything (even the latter's notorious "crowing" shot) - these were films which, despite their humorous plots, attempted to be no-holds-barred examinations of relationships, which are not PG-13.
The same holds true for "Superbad," I believe, because once again the film attempts to be unabashed in its presentation of realistic teenage interaction and a very real topic (underage drinking).
This logic does not apply as cleanly to "Walk Hard," however - the film apes biopics like "Ray" and "Walk the Line," but both of these films were PG-13. Why does the parody need to surpass that rating? For comedy effect, I suppose, but I would argue whether there was much true comedic value to mined from "Walk Hard."
I won't criticize "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" because I didn't see it. From what I've heard it is a truly average film, gaining notoriety only because of several penis shots and three syllables: Ap-a-tow.
This brings us up to "Pineapple Express" and "Step Brothers," the latest in the line of vulgar Apatow-fueled comedies. I'm using this term loosely because some inordinate violence in "Pineapple Express" pushes it a lot closer to an action film and "Step Brothers" just wasn't that funny.
Both films have their moments, but walking away from them I could distinctly feel that the public's honeymoon with Apatow-type films is reaching an end. Both films feel familiar, like re-hashing of plots we could have made up at home.
First, "Pineapple Express." Another buddy movie in the vein of "Superbad," it is surely enjoyable. I'll watch just about anything with Seth Rogen in it, and James Franco delivers a stoner role I have to admit I would never have expected him to pull off. "Express" has shocked audiences with its extreme depictions of violence, which dominate the third act of the film. The R-rating which I have been discussing sees proper and forgivable use here - it is a decidedly adult film.
Not so for "Step Brothers," which is altogether childish. Maybe that's why the R has never felt so forced as it does here. Characters, even those who are supposed to be mature, throw around "fuck" like it's going out of style. I knew a guy in high school who, whenever he cursed, sounded to me like he was trying to impress someone. That's the sense I got from "Step Brothers," which could delete every bit of vulgarity without losing many of its scant laughs. The cute idea which served as its impetus got lost amid all the bizarre and unnecessary obscenity - like a children's book trying to mate with an issue of Penthouse.
"Step Brothers" is, in a way, a combination of every bad aspect of both Ferrell and Apatow films.
There is no trace of the sympathetic protagonist that cemented "40-Year-Old-Virgin" and "Knocked Up" together. Instead, we get more thrashing and yelling from Will Ferrell, who I'm finally beginning to understand is just not that funny.
Cameos abound, but that does nothing to help the film achieve greatness (or even okayness) - they only act as reminders of other, superior films.
And as more and more films are these days, it just drags on and on. I don't need ninety-five more minutes of Will Ferrell acting like a mentally handicapped man-child. I've seen "Elf" (and, you know, just about every other film he's ever done). Ferrell is alright in small doses, but "Step Brothers" was like a keg stand of stupidity.
So please, Judd Apatow and Co., stick to what got you to where you are - smart, witty comedies targeted at adults.
Or, in words you might understand: Fucking stop making stupid goddamn motherfucking dumbass movies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So I've Been Thinking...

...And I finally figured out what this blog is supposed to be. I started it for the simple reason of explaining the movie "Hancock" without the restraints imposed by the major plot twist midway through. From there, I realized that restriction is placed on nearly every review you're likely to read - because reviewers aren't supposed to give away the ending, at the very least, if they can help it.

I did away with whatever conventions I felt restricted my unabridged analysis of a current film. But here I was presented with another problem - namely, that there was almost no room for ANALYSIS because I spent so much time with SYNOPSIS.

This is pointless, irritating and counter-productive for a number of reasons. Firstly, devoting much time to narrative is tedious for me, especially for lengthy or complicated films like "The Dark Knight." Secondly, I've been told this is the part of the review readers are least likely to, well, READ, because if they've already seen the movie, it's just not that interesting. In short, synopsizing is equally uninteresting to both me and you, the loyal reader. I may stick in a few gems of insight during the plot run-down, but the appraisal at the end is where it's at. So why not make that the whole review?

I need to start thinking about these reviews differently again - I've been aiming for a mark I couldn't quite see, but I think I'm getting closer. What I'll be going for in the future won't be so much review writing as essay writing or free-form discussion - I will be free to take aspects of the films I choose and examine them. This will free me in a few new ways, and it will hopefully make the reviews (if that's what you still want to call them) more enjoyable and helpful to you. And, if my current brain children see birth, you're going to see a lot more essays with more than one movie involved.

So thanks for reading. I'll leave you with this:

Click Me

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Trailers of the Week, Part Deux

Because I know you all depend on this blog for your up-to-the-minute movie news, when I saw the new "Harry Potter" trailer was going online I figured I'd post it. I'm not personally very excited about this next movie, but for some reason I know people who are. So, here.

I'm also including a trailer for the next James Bond film, "Quantum of Solace," because I actually AM excited about it. Imagine that.

And one more thing. I know it's not really a trailer, but...


...I promise I'll write reviews again someday soon.