Posts Tagged ‘film’

When the Good Guys look like the Bad Guys…

In case you don’t hang around on pop culture websites, here’s the link to what you may have missed last week: the latest nugget of Hunger Games movie-franchise teaser images features the ostensible ‘rebel warriors’ who will appear in the series’ third film, Mockingjay, Part The First.
And here are the posters, all together:

HGMJ1rebs

(On a superficial note, Cressida‘s extreme undercut shaved-head look won’t hold up well in twenty years or so. Plus, good luck getting us to believe the story is set hundreds of years in the future when a character has an oh-so-trendy twenty-teens ‘do like that.)

Ugh. I think my first thought upon seeing these was something along the lines of, “Huh. Good Guys are looking pretty tacticool: black plastic submachineguns, black ninja suits…Are our protagonists planning to take the fight to the Capitol, or raid a Branch Davidian compound?”

In general, I find that the entire publicity/marketing propaganda campaign for these sequels leaves me feeling somewhat nauseous. While the ‘Capitol’ campaign is focused on ideas of ‘unity’ and decadence, the opposition seems more concerned with manufactured ‘resistance’ and being bleak. However, make no mistake, there is nothing organic about either campaign: each is meticulously planned, arranged, ‘shopped, and doled out to the masses of salivating fans.

However, in light of last month’s (justified and, frankly, long overdue) protests/riots and resulting police overkill/crackdown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent broaching of a national conversation about the militarization of police, I have to say that I find this latest batch of publicity posters pretty repulsive. Hell, even if they were released long before things went down in Ferguson, I still would have found them repulsive.

On the Wired link above, I counted (as of 4 September) 35 comments; most seemed to focus on fawning over the sole female in the lineup (I gathered that she also appears on the toxic ‘Game of Thrones’ series), complaining about the first and second films’ similarities, or technical issues. Of those 35, only a single commenter seemed able to separate his enjoyment of the franchise from the troubling visual message on display. This individual (who uses an image of a Black man as their avatar) remarked simply, “Wait, this is the Ferguson Police squad.”
Indeed. Congratulations, ‘tmsruge’, you win.

In fact, if you covered up the faces of these characters and the name of the film being promoted, I would have to assume that they were either elite, spooky, SEAL-type shadowy assassin-tools-of-the-State, or shady Blackwater-type ‘contractor’ mercenaries for private hire. But, surprise!, these are supposedly the Good Guys! Well, I’ll believe it when I see it, because as soon as you put your ‘rebels’ in matching uniforms*, they start looking entirely like oppressive, top-of-the-Pyramid Powers That Be.

And yes, tha Police fall neatly into that category.

*(History seems to show us that in a conflict, the less-civilized force will almost always be the one without uniforms (underdogs may have a similar look, but usually won’t be standardized). Star Wars is a good example of a rare exception: even though the Rebels have a standardized military, they’re still the less-Civilized of the two parties (being democratic, gylanic, and diverse, etc. versus the xenophobic, patriarchal, literal Space Nazis of the Galactic Empire.)

Why is this? Is it some kind of Stockholm Syndrome in the water? Have we become so accustomed to being oppressed by these kinds of paramilitary forces that we’re supposed to identify with—and even root for—them now?
Either the costume designers clearly do not understand what is meant by ‘ragtag resistance’, or perhaps this is a reflection of the fact that the rebels are entirely backed by District 13, whose leadership is just as corrupt as the Capitol?

Anyway, as I close, I’ll bring this back to the Real World, with a handy little tool—compliments of the Freedom of Information Act!—that reports what kind of groovy ex-military gear your local peacekeepers can bring to bear on your community. Stay informed!

Thoughts on Aronofsky’s ‘NOAH’

Well, I finally got around to seeing NOAH (given the limited staying power and increased turnover rate of mainstream releases these days, my movie-going pattern is pretty much either Opening Day With Bells On, or Dollar Theater Several Months Later.)
Before I get into my discussion of the film’s troubling big-picture issues, I feel I should give at least a couple of quick thoughts about it as a film, cultural implications aside.

It’s not that bad.
*I thought the pacing was off (I didn’t check my clock, but I think about the first hour of the film is pre-Flood, and the second hour is all post-Flood, on the boat), and since most of the Drama is crammed into that second hour, it feels a little unbalanced. Personally, I would’ve liked to have spent a little more time watching the Ark being built, instead of the ten-year (?) fast-forward, while it gets 90% completed off-screen.

*The setting is really ambiguous, but I understand that it was intentional—we’re not meant to be sure if we’re seeing Earth in the far, far, far distant past, or pseudohistorical, deconstructed Biblical times, or a distant ‘post-apocalyptic’ future (a la the Sloosha’s Crossing… section of Cloud Atlas), or even a totally different planet (in which case, the use of biblical names works in a kind of folk-archetype way)—witness the radically-different continents and the celestial objects visible in the skies, even during daytime. In the end, of course, a case could be made for each of these possibilities, which makes for a more interesting, multilayered film in general, but in the interest of avoiding ambiguity I still would’ve liked the film to have picked one and stuck with it.

*Everybody (the literalist Christians, especially) seems to have been surprised and up in arms about the director’s inclusion of ‘Watchers’….they should get over it.
It’s funny, because these ‘rock monsters’ were totally edited out of the film’s promotional material, just to surprise the audience out of nowhere! I actually really liked these characters (they’re like kickass helpful stone Ents!)—plus, using Nick Nolte to voice a pile of gravel incarnate was doubly brilliant—and it’s nice to see references to apocryphal ‘giants’ and Nephilim and such interpretable-as-extraterrestrials spookiness getting used. The character design and animation on these guys was great; I could watch them all day.

Anyway, on to the big picture fun.

When I first saw the teaser for NOAH months ago, my first reaction was probably some grumble about the whole production design (costumes especially)—reflecting Hollywood’s zeitgeist-y obsession with “gritty” (for the current ringleader and worst offender, see HBO’s Game of Thrones…but on second thought, no, don’t see it, because that show is toxic).
You know how it goes—even though a property is ostensibly set in a ‘historic’ or at least ‘realistic’ setting, outfits are designed with visual storytelling and not practicality in mind. Call it ‘Hollywood primitive’: garments are always incredibly threadbare and made of what-looks-like loosely-woven burlap with exposed, crudely-sewn seams in uncomfortable places (with grime rubbed into every crevice), as if to suggest that people occupying more ‘primitive’ levels of technology are incapable of both craftsmanship and regular laundering:

If this film wasn’t associated with Darren Aronofsky, I’d just chalk it up as another ‘gritty’, Russell Crowe-led anachronism-stew historical epic with copious amounts of shakycam—of which he has been in quite a few (but not Master and Commander—that’s a quality piece!).
However, because Aronofsky was directing, I know there was probably going to be a fair amount of realism sacrificed for the sake of Art. From what I’ve read, the Christian audience the film has been halfway courting—you can’t make a major film based on a major episode of the Old Testament without attracting Christian attention, after all—seems to have been expecting NOAH to have been a literalist reading of the story thrown up on the screen. I understand they were disappointed. Apparently, it would seem they expected a film about a fairy tale to have been realistic!

But the costumes and the ‘realism’ of NOAH aren’t what I came to grumble about. My main grumble is about the film’s underlying philosophy, which is nothing if not unquestioning of the status quo. This is especially troubling considering the myriad possibilities of alternative viewpoints that an innovative director like Aronofsky could have brought to a film like this. But unfortunately, what we got was the same old Younger Culture message that we see encoded and enacted all around us every day: the one about how Humanity is fundamentally (and irreparably) flawed as a result of some half-understood original ‘sin’ first manifested in the killing of a figure called Abel by a figure called Cain.

Especially indicative of this is the segment I’ve embedded below, in which the character Noah summarizes the pre-Flood chapters of Genesis, and in which Aronofsky fairly successfully (and visually beautifully) shoehorns the history of evolution into the biblical six-day creation of the world, via the deployment of copious amounts of poetic license:

This ‘evolution’ sequence seems to reinforce our culture’s misguided anthropocentric viewpoint, suggesting that every stage of creation—from the first dividing cells on up to fish, frogs, lizards, mammals and monkeys—has been leading towards the emergence of Man. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—the human species is not the end-point of evolution.

Despite depicting his ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ as radiant creatures straight out of Cocoon, Aronofsky’s version of ‘The Fall’ still remains the same old mess of incomprehensibility as our culture’s accepted interpretation, heard or seen everywhere, even when reduced to a simple repeating three-note wordless visual motif (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack).

The montage which follows—various historically-costumed warrior silhouettes killing and being killed—only serves to underline the status quo message of the film. Crowe’s narration (reflecting our deluded, dominant cultural narrative) suggests that our major flaw (encoded as ‘Human Nature’) is such that we’re simply unable to keep from killing each other. This, frankly, is bullshit, as anyone who has ever dug even slightly more than surface-deep into human history would see that even the most sustainable societies still have warfare and the occasional murder.

Luckily, the truth, which this film doesn’t seem to recognize, is that the problem doesn’t lie with Humanity as a whole.

In NOAH’s opening exposition cards, we are told that following The Fall (snake hiss, apple lub-dub, rock thwack), the followers of Cain created an “industrial civilization” which spread over the earth. If you take Quinn’s anthropological view of The Fall story—in which Cain (the metaphorical first practitioner of our culture’s model of aggressive agriculture) kills pastoralist Abel in order to possess and farm his land—and look out the window, you can see that story being enacted before your very eyes.
Throughout the film, Noah repeatedly (ad nauseum, in fact) asserts that for the good of all, the whole murderous human race (‘mankind’) needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. This is, of course, untrue: saving the world requires stopping only one single culture—Ours—the one whose rise to dominance was metaphorically depicted in the biblical story of ‘The Fall’.

This was the part where Aronofsky really dropped the ball, in my opinion.
Given the film’s explicit connection of a life-destroying industrial civilization with the ‘line of Cain’, it would have been very easy, in all those scenes where Noah insists that wicked, murderous Man must not be allowed to survive, to replace ‘Man’ with ‘Cainites’, as a handy sort of shorthand for ‘Totalitarian Agriculturalist-model Civilized Takers’.
(Some reviewers seem to have picked up on a ‘green’ message in NOAH, but I must have missed it; I don’t recall a point at which Noah ever suggested the Flood was retribution for the damage the Cainite civilization had wreaked on the planet. If he did, it was done, again, by pinning the blame on ‘Man’ and not a single culture.)

While it may be hard for us, here in the conquered 21st century, to conceive that civilization is not the whole of humanity, for the protagonists in NOAH, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t be able to. After all, as Noah himself is descended from Cain and Abel’s other brother Seth, he should be well aware that the Sethite line which he embodies (vegetarian and friendly to non-human animals as they seem to be) represents a far more healthy approach to life than that of the industrialized Cainites.

In short, while Aronofsky’s Noah continues to assert that Man must be destroyed because he simply can’t stop killing himself, it would have been exceedingly more accurate (and productive) to say that the line of Cain must be stopped before it is allowed to destroy all life in its relentless, myopic pursuit of Growth and Power.

Doomsday Preppers: Richard Huggins

Season 3 continues with a not-terrible episode “No Stranger to Strangers”. We’re back in Texas, but this time it’s not as belligerently chest-thump-y.
On the side of a highway outside the DFW metropolis lives Richard Huggins.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentThe show has him claim to be preparing for a “Nuclear attack by a terrorist state”. For a historical-pictorial discussion of that phrase, please see my post on Mike Adams’ segment from last season.

Richard shows off his three years’ worth of food stored up, much of it home-canned, which is always good to see: it shows he and his wife realize there’s more to being prepared than simply buying foodbuckets.

From what I can gather, Richard’s machinist’s shop is focused on special effects fabrication, which throws almost everything we see of him into question. When he claims that he has “300 weapons ranging from a crossbow to a Thompson”, I have to wonder how many of those are actual functional weapons, and not ‘dummy guns’ (blank-firing or otherwise) or props that he might rent out to film companies.

Honestly, with that in mind, from what we see of Richard, I wouldn’t even call him a prepper. He really just looks like a movie-weapon-replicator/prop-supply-house-owner with a classy character moustache, who just happens to own a 1919 Browning (and probably a few other real weapons too—this is Texas, after all).

That BMG takes center stage in Richard’s ‘preps’, as—after he turns a car into Swiss cheese—he settles in with his buddy Seth to put together a ‘pillbox’ and ‘grenade launcher’. As a last line of defense against city-fleeing refugees, they install ‘claymore’ mines—although like I’ve said, given what we know about Richard, I’m pretty sure that C4 he’s packing into those empty claymore shells is Play-doh or something. There’s some drama when the ‘teargas’ from his grenades starts wafting back towards their position, and then when the ‘mines’ don’t immediately go off when they throw the switch. Meh, smoke and mirrors.

Probably the best part of this segment is Richard’s buddy Seth’s comment at the end, when he says of Richard, “He’s old-school…but it works!”. People have said the same about me before, and it’s a sentiment I wish the tacti-happy survivalists (and the larger community of consumers in general) would adopt. I’ve written about it before, but when the dominant paradigm is an Ancient Sunlight-fueled culture of disposability, embracing the so-called ‘old-school’ should only be natural for those with a desire to survive the ongoing decline of that fragile system.

On ‘The Hunger Games’

HungerGames

So, I caught an opening day matinee (these days I pretty much only see current movies on opening day, or not at all—in theaters, at least) of the hottest Hollywood property, and for an adaptation, I was pretty pleased with how it came out.
I said I wasn’t going to see it until I read the book first, and I’ll admit, I cut it pretty close—resorting to piracy and acquiring a copy four days before the release. There’s really no excuse for this procrastination, as I’ve been hearing positive things about it for almost two years now (first brought to my attention by Linda Holmes in what must’ve been the first episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour).
(For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed something weird that happens when my first reading of a work is a pirated electronic version. The page count might be the same, I might recognize some character names I’ve heard about, but if there are a few typos, I’m always paranoid that I’ve been duped and I’m really reading a bootleg pdf of someone’s fan-fiction based on a trailer. It’d be a cruel joke to be talking to someone and saying, ‘Yeah, remember when so-and-so did such-and-such?’, only to be stared at as if you had two heads and hear, ‘Erm, that never happened’. It’d be like finding out that the folks you call Mom and Dad aren’t really your parents. Or something like that.)
But luckily, it seems that the copy I found was the real deal, and I zipped through in two sittings over about nine hours. This seems to have been the case with everyone else who’s read it. What can I say?—it sucks you in, just like a good book should.
And so: first, some general spoiler-y things I found worthy of comment, and then I’ll discuss it a bit in eco-, survival-y terms too.

I.
*Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised how faithful the film was to the source material; for the most part, departures were more omissions than outright changes, and the few additions actually helped to clear things up.

*I breathed a sigh of relief at the minimalistic opening title. Plenty of should-have-been-epic films have been ruined by traditional, complete credits over the opening scenes (*cough*chroniclesofnarnia*cough*).

*I tired of Gary Ross’s shaky camerawork within about the first five minutes. Thankfully I think it smoothed out somewhat as the film progressed.

*The inclusion of the Truman Show-like control deck was good—I always like scenes that show spatial relationships between characters in a landscape, and they helped clarify things like the firestorm and the mutts later on.

*By the end of the film—despite her beauty and complete competence with the role—I was kind of tired of looking at Jennifer Lawrence. I know she’s in like, every single frame but I felt like she only had two or three expressions. Also, nice to see both of the leads are from Kentucky. Represent.

*Stanley Tucci continues to be an absolute chameleon.

*The requisite time compression (the Games stretch over maybe three weeks in the book, versus maybe one week in the film) meant that there wasn’t as much time for the relationship between the two leads to evolve and mature, which meant it simply didn’t have the nuance of the book. But then again, it’s a movie; what did I expect?

*I found the aesthetics of the weapons used in the Games to be fairly unattractive.

Specifics:
*Aside from the aforementioned Gamemaker scenes, the only invented scenes I noticed were a few underwhelming bits with Donald Sutherland’s president, and a few powerful minutes of a rioting District 11 following Rue’s death.

*Ross decides to close the film with some brooding shots of Sutherland looking resentful or vengeful or something unpleasant. I haven’t read the second and third books, so maybe this is foreshadowing for later, but I think first acts of film trilogies work best as standalones. Let’s focus on wrapping up our protagonists’ plot threads properly, and save the changes in political environment for the start of film number two.

*Rue’s death got me pretty emotional. As the smallest and most childlike of the Tributes, her death hit me surprisingly hard, especially given its fidelity to the book.

*Even though it snagged a PG-13 rating, the film managed to retain the brutality of the book, using a ‘less is more’ approach to the violence, especially in regards to the ‘bloodbath of hacking’ that opens the Games.

*The mutts were handled pretty well, as being able to see their creation/insertion into the arena was clearer than how the book dealt with them. In the book, the last-minute nonsense about them having the eyes of the fallen Tributes (or were they supposed to be the Tributes themselves, reanimated in dog-form? I’m still not sure what was meant) was generally weird and unnecessary.

*Picky: I had a hard time with the branch the trackerjacker nest hung from—I didn’t really believe Katniss could’ve sawed through something so thick in the time shown. From the book’s description I was picturing a branch maybe a few fingers thick, not the five-or-so inches in the film.

*Nitpicky: I didn’t like that the Arena’s ceiling was blank at night, instead of showing stars and such. If it’s supposed to approximate the real world, while still giving the Gamemakers complete control of the environment—which we are shown they have—why no stars? It just seemed kind of lazy.

In all, it was really quite well-done, and as far as adaptations of books go, this might rate just below Jurassic Park for me. And if the hype is anything to go off, this year’s ‘PG13 violent scifi movie about strong women opening at the end of March’ will do much better than last year’s Sucker Punch.

II.
So, this trilogy’s protagonist is named Katniss. In the book, the author explains that this comes from a particular aquatic plant with arrowhead-shaped leaves, and then goes on to describe with familiarity the process of gathering the edible tubers (uproot them with your toes, and collect them as they float to the surface). Well, I’d never heard of any plants named Katniss before, but I sure know a description of the genus Sagittaria when I read it. I guess it’s an inside joke to those who know their wild edibles, that the main character—whose standout trait is her mad archery skills—is named after the Arrowhead plant. I have to wonder if Collins would’ve named her protagonist Wapatoo if it had been a male.

Anyway, I had hoped that the film would showcase any kind of survival skills. Silly me, I guess I forgot that Hollywood movies can’t be educational AND entertaining, because I was sadly disappointed:
No mention or depiction of wild edibles (only fictional, toxic ‘nightlock’ berries).
No medicinal plants.
No knots.
No firestarting.
And not even any water purification (at least the book mentioned using iodine tablets).
And I’m dubious about the whole ‘cake-decorating skills translate to camouflage skills’ angle.
So, bleh.
However, I still have to hope that this movie will at least get people (and women in particular) interested in archery and other outdoorsy activities. I know it certainly inspired me to finally finish the osage selfbow I started a couple of years ago.

Anyway, the society depicted in the book/film is especially depressing to me; it’s like my worst nightmare come true; it’s why I get nervous when people start talking about rebuilding. This is a world that has been rebuilt post-collapse, and yet is still functionally the same as ours; it’s still a Taker model of life: the 1% are still the ones holding power, the food is still under lock and key, and the 99-percenters are still—for lack of a better term—slaves to a system; in Panem it’s just more transparent.
(In my notes I had something about ‘stop watching’. This could either be a call for people to turn off the ‘reality’ tv programming that inspired the book (which would be a good start), or more likely, some kind of metaphor for enacting societal change by turning your back on what drives the society.)
To borrow from Buckminster Fuller, until we as a society can imagine a new way (which might actually look like an old—think tribalway) of organizing and governing ourselves “that makes the existing model obsolete”, our post-collapse world will likely look an awful lot like Panem.

Blue is the new Green.

I found this on the website of a Texs news station, trying to pick this year’s Academy Award winners: “Best Picture – “The Hurt Locker” – It should be very close between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” but I think the social relevance of “The Hurt Locker” should sway more voters.

Erm, wait a second.  Did this guy get lost in the theater and wind up seeing “Tooth Fairy” or something?  Did he see the same AVATAR that I did?  Because the one I saw was like, one of the most important films ever (after Star Wars and The Matrix—both of which simply repackaged the same deep-rooted “hero’s journey” archetype that people have been telling since before Gilgamesh, except that Lucas based his on swashbuckling serials and Vietnam-era politics, and the Wachowskis drew upon postmodern anti-civilization philosophy and cyberpunk).
It’s funny, because The Hurt Locker and AVATAR are both ‘socially relevant’, except Bigelow’s film is specifically about the Iraq War, while Cameron’s is big-picture and about the Iraq War only to the extent that that conflict is simply the most current and visible example of Our Culture’s insatiable need to expand and devour natural resources.

Yes, AVATAR is Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The New World, Zulu, Fern Gully, 1492, or any other story where advanced imperialists have a run-in with the indigs.  And this is exactly the point; this is what Cameron wanted.    It seems that his plan with AVATAR was to repackage the same old story that we’ve seen countless times before, dress it up in his “gimmicky” 3D technology to get people into the theaters (because “You couldn’t get them to come… and watch a film about the conquest of New Spain…”), and show them how Our Culture has been exploiting the planet for transient, monetary gain—and otherwise generally fucking things up—for untold generations.

But apparently, it didn’t seem too terribly effective, because all people could see was a “groundbreaking film with dazzling 3d effects and breathtaking landscapes.”  Ugh.

In the 11 Dec 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, James Cameron explicitly states:

“What I was doing with Avatar…was more in response to the history of the human race (that) has been written in blood by technically or militarily superior people taking from those who are less capable.
I think it’s important for people to see the patterns in history…I think science fiction is a way of making history exciting by putting it in the future and taking you to a new planet and showing you exactly the same shit that’s been happening for the last 2,000 years…”

“Science fiction is excellent for that because if you make a comment about the Iraq war and American imperialism in the Middle East, you’re going to get a lot of people pissed off at you in this country, but if you do it in a science-fiction context, where you do it at a metaphorical level, people get swept in by the story and they get to the end of the movie before they realize they’ve been rooting for the Iraqis.”

After the film was over, I left the theater in high spirits: it wasn’t just me—finally, somebody who seemed to abhor “civilization” as much as I.  On the interweb, I hoped to see if there were others who thought the same.  But if you go to the IMDB’s AVATAR message board, you won’t find people debating the merits of industrial sabotage, or the ethics of armed vs. nonviolent resistance; no, you’ll find arguments over whether or not AVATAR is an animated film, or how much the final budget was, or yet another 15-page thread repeating the same petty comments we’ve been hearing since before the film came out: “It’s just Dances With Wolves in space!”  No shit, Sherlock.  Grow up, get over it.  Look past the 3D, look past the surface story—see AVATAR for what it is: a metaphor, a message—and wake up.

ecodefense, Na’vi-style.