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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tarantino Films and violence in the media

All Tarantino films are violent, excluding stuff like My Best Friend's Birthday which doesn't really count as it was unfinished. This is not that surprising though as all movies are violent, it's just the way that modern cinema is. I mean there are exceptions but even discounting action and horror as genres there is still a shit ton of violent content out there, even in romantic comedies and the like with either verbal abuse or fights breaking out. This is also a problem in video games, but that is a whole different argument that needs to be approached in a different way. The main problem with all of this however is that one needs to look at more than just the violence in media to see why society has shaped itself the way it has.

Tarantino said it best in a recent interview. He just doesn't want to talk about violence in his films, it's not that he celebrates the violence or believes it's good, but he just believes he shouldn't have to explain away the offensive content in his art. He has been accused of adoring violence but showing it in such an aesthetically pleasing way like in the Kill Bill duology but that wasn't the point, not even of the first film which was much bloodier than the second. It was a tale of vengeance like an old-fashioned samurai movie and was about what revenge can do to people. It was also about continuing stories and how a newer generation can take an older as role models but that is a different examination.

The film that I most recently watched of Tarantino's, aside from Django Unchained, was Jackie Brown, one of his least violent films. Despite being much less violent than something like Pulp Fiction where a man's brains get blown across a car's back window and the protagonists have to pick it up it still has violence as a significant driving force of the film as the antagonist played by Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson kills one of his gang members to start the plot and ends up dying in a blaze of glory. The violence here is not shown in a positive or negative light, but it simply treated as a very matter of fact fact of life. It is just something that happens, from Indians and Cowboys as kids to the torture porn that was popular in the late 00's violence has been so ingrained in the culture that ignoring it is ignoring an enormous percentage of media.

I'm a pacifist, but still see these films as interesting examinations of the violence that pervades media, new and old. Django was an incredibly violent film, possibly the most violent western, but by establishing itself as a parody of what had come before it gets away with it and shows the terrible things that humanity has done to itself while at the same time shows how the media sometime enjoyed it. Admittedly there were some images in the film that were difficult to watch because of how brutal they were but that was the point, and Tarantino is right, he doesn't have to justify himself, he doesn't want to explore why he uses violence in his movies, about the implications of his films.

In the recent interview he simply shut down the question of violence, and declined to flesh out his opinions on violence as they are so overdone and everyone talks about it and repeats the same things over and over. He believes there is no correlation between violence in media and violence in real life and given that there were school shootings and serial killers before any modern media it seems there is a point. I'm going to conclude this by saying I never want to talk about violence in video games, even if I don't want to personally make violent video games I think that I'm with Tarantino, I don't want to talk about it, and sometimes it is just time to say no, I don't want to talk about your terrible argument with no basis, there's  no point in arguing some of these things as it is a losing argument, and one that has been argued for so long that everything has been said, and there is nothing more to say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is this a game?

eXistenZ is an odd movie. First of all look at the name. Take it all in, and be reminded that all the capitalization in the name is correct. Just looking at the name you expect something that is fucking weird, and it delivers, it delivers in spades. Remember Inception? Well it's kind of like that for games and not a bad movie. There are less pointless action sequences and it all makes some sense within the world that is clearly not our own. Also unlike most game movies that kind of ignore or most of the time insult their audience eXistenZ doesn't do any of those things because it presents a very different gaming experience, one that doesn't exist but is possible in the foreseeable future.

The main device of the film, that of a game that puts you in a complete alternate reality is not unknown. Ignoring the videogame portion of it the concept of an alternate reality is fairly common in science fiction, though less common in Canadian horrorish films. The film is not a horror in that there is no real villain and there is a decent amount of comedy but a lot of the imagery associated with the film is relatively horrific, including the game controller itself. The controller is effectively a blob of flesh with a few fleshy bulges on it that functions as buttons. They also all come with umbilical cords that plug directly into people's backs in a strangely sexual way, ie penetration and lube are both mentioned and shown.

Back vaginas is what I'm trying to say. But back to the actual controller ports and not the weird ports on humans the things are a hell of a lot more biological than it appears at first glance, actually having organs and bleeding when one is dissected later in the film. Essentially they are more living than most of the insects that buzz around, and the way the main character treats it the controller is more similar to a pet like a cat or dog than anything else. This weird relationship is further heightened by the way people talk about the game, as if it is a need more than a want. Effectively the game that has been created is a drug and the female protagonist is the cook.

There is something about her eyes that just betray the pangs of addiction as she pleads to be let back in to the fantasy world that she has spent five years working on, and just needs the chance to play. That need is what indicates that it is something more than just a game, and even more than something like World of Warcraft is nowadays with people literally dying playing. If something like this was created in modern day there would be a huge number of deaths as people ignored all their needs to play the game. A time distillation effect is mentioned but considering how dedicated some Otaku are it seems likely they would still manage to starve or die of thirst before returning to the real world which seems 'less real' than the game after playing it for only a few hours.

eXistenZ shows what happens when something like this is created, a game which can replace reality. Sure there are games like the Sims and Second Life but an AR game like the eponymous one is so clearly different for one crucial reason. There is no user interface, or controller, or anything to distract the player from the game. Even if they feel the hunger pains they will ignore them to explore a magical world with no consequences beyond resetting the game, a world where they can do anything. It might cut down on crime even because a player could murder and steal and do everything they wanted and have it feel real, but it wouldn't hurt anyone in 'real' life.

Of course if a technology as advanced as this was created the question of what is reality would be brought up frequently, and debates would rage over whether is was suitable to use with children and whether it was harming the populace who used it. There are always debates, but as shown in the movie this kind of technology might cause a further divide. Not only would people get angry about it and make an internet post, but people might actually resort to murder to destroy these kind of things before they became mass produced, before everyone began to descend into their own fantasies about good and bad and everything that is fucked up about the world.

The ending has a sort of Matrixy feel to it as there is the question of whether or not reality is just a game, is it all just layers on layers of falsities and if it is does it matter? The question is not answered and it ends on that note, one of confusion and doubt because honestly there is no proper answer. Sure, I believe that in the film the final scene is in reality, but if one can be created that feels so real than what is the advantage of one over another? That is the debate that would rage and it is certain that some people would descend into these games and never came out, no matter who it hurt including themselves. It could be the best thing in the world to live a virtual world where anything is possible and there are no consequences, ever.

Monday, January 14, 2013


The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a wonderful movie. I'm not just saying that because it has Emma Watson in it either, though she is amazing in it. I'm saying it because it is a genuinely good bildungsroman about high-school and growing up and all that complicated shit that occupies life. I went in expecting something comparative to The Dreamers, about a kid who meets up with two eccentric people older than him and learns to live life with them, but I got something different, something I hate to say better but definitely different.

The film is a traditional teen movie in that it does not have a plot, and takes place over the period of about a year, just showing normal life with theoretically 'normal' people. In all honestly it doesn't differ too much from the standard formula, though it has some deeper relationships than most of the crap out there. It is also a dark movie. It's not dark throughout, and there are many moments of comedy and just enjoying life but they often transition, rather abruptly, into moments of very serious discussion, like rape, abuse, and suicide. These are issues that pervade life but are often not talked about, but with an anthology of a year like this and many other films they can be brought up and discussed.

The film follows what seems to be a normal freshman boy, though he is significantly older than his peers because he was held back several years. He is bullied because he likes reading I guess, and often ends up alone in the lunchroom reading his books. To me it seems, not unbelievable, but a little cliche to have someone like this in this day and age; however the film is set in the early 90's, when it was more of the style. I guess it works okay, and doesn't last too long, but the establishing bits don't need to be quite so long.

Anyway we are introduced to the garish and flamboyant Patrick fairly early, who is also mocked and insulted, repeatably called Nothing by others at his school because of what a teacher said on the first day. He is the stepbrother of Sam, played by Emma Watson. Sam used to be a bit of a whore as she admits, though not in those words. She would have sex with people just because she could, and frequently abused her sexuality to get what she wanted. Unlike most films in Wallflower she is a protagonist, not necessarily giving up her life but trying to do something a little different.

The main play of the film is the dynamic between our shy, innocent, loner main character and these extroverts who like to shout out to the world who they are. At one point this is almost literal, as Sam stands atop a moving truck and shows herself to the world, awash in music and magic. Patrick slowly becomes closer to this, becoming indoctrinated to their way of life, even playing Rocky at one of the Rocky Horror Picture Show productions, as opposed to his earlier awkwardness watching the show.

This is not a new story, nor is it told in a particularly unique way but there is something that just grabs me personally about it. It reminds me more of Donnie Darko than anything else, though the delusions of the main character are much more grounded in reality, seeing flashbacks of his Aunt who was killed in a car crash and was later revealed to have molested him putting her actions and his love for her in an entirely different light. It might be these moments of light and dark that permeate all of the film that make it something more than the sum of its components, with all the shit, good and bad, that happens in life all lumped together and thrown at the audience.

Overall the film manages to stay true to its audience while showing that bad things happen, and when they do the only real thing to do is to get up and keep going. In one tragic scene at the end the protagonist, one could possibly call him eponymous, tries to commit suicide as all of his friends are going off to college and he will be left alone at high-school, counting down the days until he can go off and do something on his own. This is similar to many people's experiences with it, though magnified as films tend to do, because there is nothing more human than people, and their actions and beliefs and sheer presence is often enough to make all the difference, as shown by a wonderful scene at the end where he finally rides free in the truck like Sam, finally in the world of Do-What-You-Will, and no longer a wallflower, but infinite. That metaphor never really goes anywhere but the point stands, he transforms.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Evil Dead

The Evil Dead Franchise is one of few truly good trilogies. There are many good movies with great sequels, but the third installment always seems to be the trickiest, tripping up franchises like the Godfather, or just about any comic book movie that can be named. But the Evil Dead movies are some of the most consistently high quality films out there, only rivaled by something like Toy Story, or debatabley Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, big blockbusters with major studios behind them. The Evil Dead franchise had none of that, just Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi before either of their names meant anything.

One of the most interesting things about these films is how they shifted over time. They all have some horror elements, featuring blood and gore and terrible monsters, but it shifted away pretty decidedly from straight horror around the second film, and the third, Army of Darkness, drops it completely. The first is a B-horror, but a very good one. Blood spurts and monsters growl and there is a scene with tree rape but overall it is a good horror film with a very solid and atmospheric first fifteen minutes and a sometimes funny but often frightening latter two acts.

Evil Dead II is where the series really shines though, brilliantly combining horror and comedy, often jumping between them very quickly, within seconds of one another. The film also often goes from moments of shouting blood to immense silence, waiting for demons to come through any of the openings into the cabin, as they frequently do. The first was the quintessential cabin horror movie, lovingly mocked by the recent title The Cabin in the Woods. The second takes the concept and throws it on its head long before the meta concept had become so accepted. It shows what was a normal horror movie and laughs at it, literally in the case of one scene were the entire house begins to laugh after enormous geysers of blood had shot out from the wall.

That is the essence of the film, violence at a contrast to utter insanity and slapstick. Several of the actions in the film are taken nearly directly from the Three Stooges, though adding a good dosage of blood. Essentially the film is to normal horror what Shaun of the Dead was to zombie horror. It delights in this, with the main character, Ash, putting on just the right expressions screaming and shouting but looking defiant at precisely the right moments. The film is not a deep examination of why horror movies are popular, nor does it try to look deep into the human condition and explain why we do all that we do. It is simply a great B-Horror-Comedy thing that rides the line and manages to overcome the pitfalls of both genres.

Army of Darkness takes the ridiculous parts from the previous film and multiplies them by ten. Finally having a budget Raimi is able to direct a final fight involving knights and zombies and cars and an infinite ammo shotgun with one liners spouted after every kill. This is what the previous films were leading up to, the patent ridiculous overloading any sense of disbelief the audience had and going straight to awesome. That is the goal of any sort of action comedy, and it does it brilliantly, again highlighting the ridiculous of the concept and embracing it like any good B-movie.

Overall the series shows a sense of progression that is rarely seen in films. It's not a forced change like the sequels to The Land Before Time or the gradual degradation of a villain like the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, it is simply a forward progression based off the conventions of the genre and an attempt to subvert the expectations of the audience. There are few directors who could pull this off, as it requires an understanding of audiences and genres that simply is not had by many directors. Tarantino was able to do it with Kill Bill part 1 and 2, with all the violence in the first and talking int he second but that was a very rare case and only extended to two films, as well as not exactly changing genres, just changing focus.

Of course going from splatter horror to comedy could also be thought of as just changing focus. Most horror can become inadvertent comedy with just a little change, like to the music, or quantity or color of blood. Given how accustomed society has become to violence it only makes sense to combine the two, it is more of a natural extension than anything else, as shown by a recent upward swing in horror comedies. Overall the Evil Dead franchise has stood the test of time and will continue to be a cult movie for decades to come.