Reporting from AFI Fest 2013, presented by Audi
It happens every year around the anniversary of September 11. A bunch of officials who worked in the George W. Bush administration are rounded up and trotted out on national television to recount that dreadful day and to talk about the still (Still!) ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s fascinating to behold, because 12 years of history have passed under the bridge. We have a great deal of hindsight now. History has largely been contextualized. Unless, that is, you worked in the George W. Bush administration. As is often the case in partisan politics, history seems to morph into an entirely other thing for people who were likely too close to actual events. The delusions on display are often breathtaking. No matter the body count (Over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed.) or the staggering amount of money thrown away ($1 trillion and counting), they still (Still!) believe they did the right thing. At least Bush himself has the good taste to stay out of the public eye.
Okay, for starters, the new Marvel Studios logo is pretty nifty. It’s essentially the old one we’ve come to know, with the flipping comic book pages, but it’s been given a shiny, new, multi-dimensional coat of paint. It’s a very nice touch.
I hate romantic comedies. It’s not that I hate the idea of romance in general or haven’t responded to various love stories in the past. Last year, I really liked Silver Linings Playbook, which was, for the most part, a rom-com with a generous side dish of mental health issues. The story is largely driven by Bradley Cooper’s delusions about his relationship with his ex-wife. As an overall genre, however, I find romantic comedies to generally be insipid, stupid, and, even more damaging, I think they give their audience a false sense of how relationship and real life tend to work. Call me crazy, but I really believe a significant reason the American divorce rate is so high is largely due to the way romance and relationships are depicted in media. There is no “happily ever after;” reality tells us there’s “we worked really hard to sustain our relationship,” and these movies leave people disillusioned. Ben Affleck said it best when he was accepting his Oscar last year. When thanking his wife Jennifer Garner, Affleck said maintaining their marriage was work, “ . . . but it’s the best kind of work.” I was a big fan of Mark Webb’s film (500) Days of Summer largely because of the way that film savaged the way our culture gives a completely false sense of romance, that there is this mythical perfect person out there for each and every one of us.
I’m not that old, but we are living in an era of American political polarization the likes of which I’ve never seen before. As I write this, we are well into the second week of a government shutdown, and the nation is coming precariously close to defaulting on its obligations, which would hurtle the world economy into a fiscal abyss. We live in a time when we can’t just have a simple difference of opinion and then sit down and solve a common problem. We live in a time in which differing opinions are seen as pure evil, and we certainly can’t be expected to negotiate a solution with pure evil, can we? Heels are dug in, because both sides feel they must win these so-called culture wars or the country is doomed.
A friend of mine and I were recently vigorously debating the merits of 3D filmmaking. My friend is against 3D pretty much across the board. I am in favor of it, but I have many, many caveats and reservations about it. They are as follows:
1. It must be native 3D, and if it’s a post-conversion, it’s got to be a meticulous, pristine post-conversion;none of this Clash of the Titans crap for me.
2. The use of 3D must be pronounced. What’s the point of using this tech in such subtle ways that the audience isn’t cognitively aware of it? The flying fish sequence in Life of Pi? Ah-mazing! More of that, please.
3. It has to be a great visual artist who is working in the medium. I’m not at all interested in what some hack does with 3D as an artistic choice, but if a gifted filmmaker like Ang Lee or Scorsese wants to dabble in it, I’m totally on board.
*Please note that this article is an opinion-editorial.
Well, I hope you’re all satisfied. You broke the internet. Again.
Late Thursday evening, Warner Bros. announced that multiple Oscar winner Ben Affleck would be playing a re-booted Bruce Wayne in their Man of Steel sequel/Batman vs. Superman thingy. Holy crap, did the fanboy universe not take that well. There was whining and crying and gnashing of teeth. Like spoiled middle school kids determined to get pizza back in the cafeteria, geeks created online petitions demanding Affleck be fired from the movie. (I know the internet can be a wildly unreliable source of information, but it’s being reported by multiple sites that Affleck has signed on to make as many as 13 film appearances as Batman. Affleck’s not going anywhere.)
I want to begin with this: No, George Lucas did not, in fact, rape your childhood. No matter your opinion of the prequels (For the record, I think the first two are abysmal while the third one is sort of watchable.), their quality level did not affect your childhood in any real way. The prequels are bad, but that doesn’t change (or at least shouldn’t change) your enjoyment of the original trilogy. If you loved Star Wars as a kid (I loved Star Wars as a kid, too.), the awfulness of the prequels shouldn’t change your fond memories of years past. I think this does speak to a larger issue of childhood nostalgia in general. I am a pretty big hater of nostalgia. I think life moves on, and while it’s nice to preserve happy memories, it doesn’t really do anybody any good to wallow in the past. I think it’s bloody tragic if people really do look on their high school years as the best years of their lives. It’s even more tragic if it’s true. Life shouldn’t peak when we’re 17 years old. Like Dan Savage’s project says, it should get better. A friend of mine dearly loves the movie Mac and Me. Have you ever seen Mac and Me? A late '80s knock-off of E.T., it’s quite literally one of the very worst films ever made. The movie was co-produced by McDonalds, and thanks to them, it provides the most egregious product placements every committed to the medium. Apparently, McDonalds was way too cheap to provide an adequate budget to make a movie that was merely technically competent. It’s a terrible movie, amateurish in every possible way. But, my friend still clings to it and insists the movie has a non-existent quality, because she liked it when she was a small child. Like many trapped in the nostalgia compound, she’s incapable of looking at it with adult eyes.
I’ve always found it puzzling that the media (movies, books, etc.) commonly associated with geek culture is so looked down upon by the mainstream, often academics or cultural elites. In their early days, comic books in particular were derided as being simply for the sub-literate. Perusing blogs like Jeffrey Welles’ Hollywood Elsewhere reveals an intense hatred for science fiction and comic book mythology, which I think is quite odd from a literary perspective. Genre material is far from stupid. After all, science fiction and comic book mythos are frequently steeped in allegory and social criticism. While critics may sneer at genre material, there’s no denying it can work on many different levels. Since the '60s, the X-Men have represented every kind of political and social oppression, from African Americans during the Civil Rights era to modern-day LGBT Americas seeking marriage equality. George Romero has used his zombies to stand in for both American consumerism and American militarism. Science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick used their visions of the future to comment on what was happening today. Hell, Fahrenheit 451 is every bit as prophetic a piece of writing about our relationship to television as Paddy Chayefsky’s revered screenplay for Network. But, Chayefsky is viewed as a genius where the typical sci-fi novelist is usually looked on as a hack.
*Please note that this article is an opinion-editorial.
Here’s some irony: this weekend I quit my job, the job that was preventing me from attending Comic-Con. The ironic part was I quit my job on Comic-Con weekend. So, I wasn’t in Hall H on Saturday afternoon when Zack Snyder summoned Henry Lennix to the podium to read from the Holy Texts of Frank Miller. I wasn’t there to hear Hall H explode when it was announced that the Man of Steel sequel would feature a conflict between Superman and Batman. Maybe if I’d been in the room and felt that palpable energy, my reaction would be different. I get it. I’d like to see some kind of Batman/Superman team-up as much as anybody. But, right now, Snyder and company are gearing up for this thing to come out in the summer of 2015, which means they’ll have to go from script to post in less than two full years. Does anybody really think that can work out well? I don’t and here are three reasons why I think this is a pretty bad idea.
This is a nice bounce back.
Fox’s X-Men film series has always been kind of a mixed bag. The first film, which came out in 1999, was a good, but not great, introduction into this world, but, most importantly, it was a success and really kicked off the modern superhero movie trend. The second one (X2 or X-Men 2 or X-Men United or whatever the hell they called it) was a huge step forward and is still one of the great comic book films of all time. After that high water mark, things went down quickly. The third X-Men film (I’m not even going to bother looking up its title; was it The Last Stand?) was a textbook study in studio development gone horribly awry. Director Bryan Singer left to make Superman Returns (yikes!) and the roulette wheel of possible replacements finally stopped on the fanboy-hated Brett Ratner. Stealing pretty liberally from Joss Whedon’s run of Astonishing X-Men comics, the third movie was a complete mess. For me, the worst aspect of that movie is that major plot developments took place until they didn’t. For instance, Magneto loses his powers to manipulate metal until he gets them back inexplicably at the end of the film. Charles Xavier is killed by Jean Grey until he isn’t. There’s nothing quite as frustrating for an audience as raising the dramatic stakes for beloved characters only to later reveal “it-was-all-a-dream-style” that those stakes never actually happened, or at least didn’t stick. Next came Fox’s truly horrendous stand-alone Wolverine movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The most interesting historical footnote in all this was that Hugh Jackman wasn’t the first choice to play Logan. (Dougray Scott must despise Hugh Jackman.) Still, Jackman kills in the role and was easily the breakout star of the series. It seemed natural to give Logan his own movie, except that movie was terrible. It also had one of the worst titles in film history. Even Jackman has recently spoken publicly about how terrible that Wolverine movie was.