McConaughey Hasn’t Been this Happy Since VY took it in on 4th and 5

March 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Ellen’s best joke from the Oscar’s last night was that the nominees had 1,400 films between them and six years of college.  Two thirds of those years are held by last night’s Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey, a graduate and unofficial roaming ambassador for the University of Texas at Austin.

So Jay and Greg, how long has it been since your eastern seaboard finishing schools for global technocrats graduates won a Best Actor Oscar?  That’s what I thought- SCOREBOARD! Don’t bother bringing up those Nobel Prizes because we all know those things are totally overrated.

McConaughey snapped this pick on his iPhone and whispered to himself “Eat your heart out Krugman!”

Matthew McConaughey has slowly but surely become a more accomplished Dean Martin of the early 21st Century. Whether he’s getting into minor incidents with the Austin police for playing a bongo or winning an Oscar, dude is having fun whether you are or not.  Keep it up MM and

BOOOOOOOOM!!!!


Pass the Popcorn: Do You Want to Be Awesome, or Loved?

February 18, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

It’s a Pass the Popcorn so big, I couldn’t fit it onto JPGB. Head over to Hang Together for 3,300 words on The Lego Movie and Frozen, which offer the two great moral worldviews of our time.

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie, go see it. It’s hilarious. The entertainment value is well worth your money. I expect that some of the pop culture gags in this movie will be referenced by nerds around their digital water coolers for some time to come. And the gags are almost all visual, so it’s going to be a lot funnier on the big screen than it will be in your living room.

Don’t go expecting deep wisdom, just go expecting a great time, and you’ll have one.

Now, to business. Do NOT read the rest of this article until after you’ve seen both The Lego Movie and Frozen (subject of my most recent Pass the Popcorn article over at JPGB). Major spoilers lie ahead…

The Lego Movie and Frozen are both examining what may well be the most important question facing our culture. They are not about the culture war as such, but they are about the core question of the meaning and purpose of human life that lies behind the culture war…

Your thoughts and feedback welcomed!


Pass the Popcorn: Frozen

February 13, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

While there’s still time, go see Frozen while it’s still in theaters. The Pixar conquest of Disney has been an uneven battle up to now, but this move is an unqualified victory and it may turn the tide of the war. It’s a profound movie on many levels.

The most obvious lesson of Frozen – the one that’s made explicit in the movie - is that love is not about how you feel. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own. This by itself would make Frozen a profound inversion of the old Disney culture by the Pixar invaders. But Frozen not only makes this point, it traces some wide-ranging consequences. Such as: people invest too much importance in romantic love relative to other kinds of love. The responsible grown-ups who tell you not to burn down everything else in your life for the sake of “true love” (quote unquote) are not your enemies, they’re your friends. They’re the people who really love you.

When Enchanted subverted these same fairy-tale conventions – e.g. getting engaged to someone you just met – it was just going for laughs. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of laughs in Frozen. It’s the funniest movie I’ve seen in years. But there are no laughs on this particular subject. Frozen is not subverting the Disney view of marriage for fun. Frozen is playing to win.

That alone would be enough to make Frozen an early contender for the most culturally regenerative movie of the year. But there’s more going on.

Under the surface, Frozen is dealing with two other subjects that are, if anything, even tougher for our culture. One is the corruption of human nature. It used to be that pretty much everyone agreed there was a systematic moral dysfunction in human nature. This is a teaching held by Christians in an especially strong form, of course, but it is by no means a peculiar Christian doctrine. Aristotle believed it, as did Kant. There is a whole song in Frozen about how nobody is what he ought to be: “Everybody’s a Bit of a Fixer-Upper.” While there are villains in Frozen who are willing to kill, the main threat to the heroine’s life comes from the selfish actions of a sympathetic character – someone who loves her. We are explicitly told at one point that the explanation is simple: everyone is like that.

This is, of course, related to the main message. It’s because other people are so disappointing that we prioritize our own feelings rather than other people’s needs. And it is because we are ourselves so disappointing that our lives fall apart when we prioritize our own feelings.

The other theme in Frozen, one buried even deeper, is the tension between social rules and individual freedom. Without giving too much away, I can say that Frozen is the movie Brave was trying to be, but couldn’t be. Brave was trying to deal with the fact that society needs rules, and individuals who are not well served by the rules need to learn to subordinate their own desires to the good of their neighbors as embodied in the rules; at the same time, social authorities need to recognize that the rules must accommodate the needs of individuals – including the needs of those unusual individuals who are not well served by the same rules that serve everyone else.

There was internal conflict over Brave at Disney, and it shows. Frozen pulls off the same angle brilliantly – better, perhaps, than Brave could have. Because in Frozen we are shown what happens to individuals who try to flee from society in order to escape its rules. They fall apart. Their lives become arbitrary and meaningless – and they learn to hate. “The cold never bothered me anyway” sings Queen Elsa as she builds an ice castle for herself at the top of a remote mountain, but she doesn’t realize how the cold is seeping into her heart.

We all need freedom, but we also need each other.


Pass the Popcorn: Much Ado About Nothing

July 29, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So in April I wondered whether 2013 would offer up anything to challenge a random collection of old movie favorites I had recently seen on the big screen. It wasn’t looking good, but the Prescott Film Festival just scored, even if it was kind of cheating with a 2012 film.

The Prescott Film festival had what they advertised as the only Arizona screening of Josh Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing this weekend (Phoenix is not just a physical desert) so I eagerly bought a ticket.  Actress Emma Bates, who played Ursula, was on hand for Q and A after the film.  Here’s the trailer:

.

So the back story on the film is that Whedon has had actors over to his house on Sundays for years to read Shakespeare. He had a short break between shooting and post-production for The Avengers and instead of going on a trip to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary, Whedon’s wife talked him in to shooting Much Ado About Nothing.  Whedon summoned his friends, including veterans from Buffy, Angel, Firefly and the Avengers, assigned parts, and shot the entire film at his own house in 12 days.  Bates related that Whedon’s wife is an architect and that she had in fact designed their house with shooting Much Ado About Nothing in mind. When you see the flick, you won’t doubt it.

I generally have a bias against American film actors trying to pull off Shakespeare. I watched the old Julius Caesar recently, and while Heston made a pretty good Marc Anthony, enduring Jason Robards playing Brutus with a midwestern deadpan accent was, well, brutal. I don’t think there was a single Brit in the bunch for this Much Ado but it didn’t matter because these guys were rolling with it and having fun. Sean Maher in particular was very good:

But maybe it was because the last American actor I saw play his role was:

Whether you love Whedon or Shakespeare, this movie is well worth the watch.


Pass the Popcorn: Why the World Needs Bond

May 8, 2013

Skyfall

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

After blogging pretty extensively about James Bond back when Quantum of Solace came out, I was disappointed not to get the chance to see Skyfall in the theaters. When I finally saw it on video, I was devastated not to have seen it in theaters.

I needed a lot of words to say everything I had to say about QOS and James Bond in general back in 2008, and those are still some of my favorite posts. I can say what needs to be said about Skyfall in a lot fewer words. And spoiler free to boot, so if you haven’t seen it, I’ve given you no excuse not to.

skyfall-bardem

This is the first ever deeply profound James Bond movie. I am not being in any way ironic. Several previous entries in the franchise have been deadly serious: From Russia with Love is the cold-hearted bastard of a movie that Casino Royale pretends to be but really isn’t; The Living Daylights has an intricate and deeply satisfying espionage plot (I proclaimed it one of the all-time greatest summer movies). But Skyfall has the soul of a Sophocles. Sam Mendes’s notorious American Beauty has many shortcomings, but in light of Skyfall I think I wasn’t wrong to like it in spite of its faults. Mendes has reached the level of maturity he lacked in 1999.

Skyfall is about why the 21st century needs James Bond. Here’s how I would summarize it:

  1. All your fancy modern technology and advanced civilization will not save you if you are not the right kind of person.
  2. If you have forgotten how to be the right kind of person, look to your elders and return to the place where you came from.
  3. Do not hesitate to use all your fancy modern technology to blow the place you came from to smithereens if that is what being the right kind of person requires.

The two great errors of our age are, on the one hand, to think that it doesn’t matter what kind of people we are (“dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” – T.S. Eliot); and, on the other hand, to be so afraid we’ll stop being the right kind of people that we cling to the old and traditional even when it has stopped cultivating us in the right ways. To look both backward and forward – to carry the past into the future, not by preserving it, but by allowing it to form us into the right kind of people and then forming the future accordingly – that is the only hope.

skyfall-m

I feel a need to locate this movie alongside The Dark Knight and the Avengers. I wrote before that while The Dark Knight is a movie for all times and places, the Avengers is “the movie for our time.” Skyfall is somewhere in between. On one level it speaks to a universal reality, a problem all civilizations must face: the struggle between the past and the future, between integrity and responsibility. On another level it speaks directly to our own time, because the advance of modern technology has heightened this struggle in unique ways. You could have told a story like this in ancient times – come to think of it, Sophocles did! But you could not have told just this story until today.

Special Bonus: Yesterday a coworker asked for my advice on which Bond film to watch first. I sat down and typed out a complete list of all 23 Bond movies. Hate to see it lost to posterity, so here it is for your amusement:

START HERE

Casino Royale: Bond for the 21st century. The second best Bond ever made.

Goldfinger: The best ever, by all reckoning. It’s somewhat dated now (the pace of the story is slower, “lasers” are exotic and mysterious, etc.) but if you can look past that, this movie defined the franchise.

SAMPLER PLATTER – THE BEST OF EACH BOND

From Russia with Love: The second best of Sean Connery, after Goldfinger (which he would make next). A Cold War spy movie, more suspense and mystery than explosions and gadgets.

The Man with the Golden Gun: Roger Moore’s second film and his best work. The silliness of the 70s spoiled many of Moore’s movies, but not this one. Bond goes one on one with the world’s greatest assassin.

The Living Daylights: Tim Dalton’s first movie and his best work. They moved away from explosions, girls and gadgets to focus on a complex, highly satisfying espionage plot. Lots of people didn’t like it, but I think it’s fantastic.

GoldenEye: Pierce Brosnan’s first film and his best work. It’s the late 90s and summer blockbusters are starting to get campy, but if you take it in the right spirit, it’s a great time.

Skyfall: Daniel Craig’s second best, it’s actually a very profound movie about why the 21st century needs James Bond. But don’t watch it until you already love the Bond franchise.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A SNOB

Dr. No: This movie has not aged well at all – the pace and storytelling are a mess by our standards. Plus, shameless racism! But a lot of the key Bond elements are present and enjoyable in their embryonic forms.

You Only Live Twice: The formula is getting old, and they have to go further and further over the top to make an impression. Plus, shameless racism! But this movie introduced many of the most iconic Bond moments (e.g. villain’s lair in a volcano)

For Your Eyes Only: Serviceable espionage plot, pulls back from going over the top so it isn’t ruined by silliness.

A View to a Kill: Christopher Walken as a Bond villain. Nothing else to recommend it, but what else do you need?

Tomorrow Never Dies: Much, much better than it has any right to be. Clever dialogue and outstanding performances by very talented stars compensate for a dumb plot.

Quantum of Solace: Too clever by half. What would have been a great follow-up to Casino Royale is spoiled by an attempt to squeeze in other agendas and a really, really weak actor playing the villain.

FOR OBSCESSIVE COMPLETISTS ONLY

Diamonds are Forever: Same problems as You Only Live Twice, but without the iconic moments.

Live and Let Die: Introducing a new James Bond (Moore) for the silly 70s! Plus, the franchise’s absolute height of shameless racism!

The Spy Who Loved Me: Same story as Diamonds are Forever.

Octopussy: Yeesh, the silliness. But if you can roll with it, it’s not too bad as a Cold War thriller.

The World Is Not Enough: Same stupidity as Tomorrow Never Dies, but lousy dialogue and worse performances.

DO NOT WATCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES (not even to save your loved ones’ lives)

Thunderball: At this point the studio has realized that people will go see Bond no matter how crappy the movie is, and made the movie accordingly.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Dumb, lousy actor playing Bond, dumb, lousy Bond, dumb, dumb, dumb. Plus Telly Savalas pretends to be a villain!

Moonraker: Hey, Star Wars made millions, so now we have to send James Bond into space!

License to Kill: Holy smokes, they made a Bond movie worse than Thunderball!

Die Another Day: Holy smokes, they made a Bond movie worse than License to Kill!


Pass the Popcorn: Justice League for Dummies

February 10, 2013

20130210-150410.jpg

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Hollywood is so dumb, they’re actually having trouble making a Justice League movie. Over on Hang Together, I am not impressed:

Look, you have here a team consisting of:

1) A virtuous hero raised by decent ordinary folk on a farm in Midwest corn country;

2) A self-made billionaire genius whose parents were slaughtered in front of him in a big east coast city;

3) A beautiful, fascinating noblewoman from an advanced but bizarre civilization who doesn’t believe in our ways but is stuck here and is trying her best to make our home hers; and

4) A couple other less important characters (choose any two from dozens of DC universe possibilities).

In other words, you have:

1) The moral backbone of America;

2) The cosmopolitan entrepreneurial genius of America;

3) The exotic immigrant from aristocratic Europe; and

4) Comic relief.

If you can’t make that movie, get out of the storytelling business.

Read the rest here, including my suggested opening scenes for the film.


Pass the Popcorn: The Movie for Our Time

June 21, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Thrice armed is he that hath his quarrel just;

And he but naked, though locked in steel,

Whose conscience is with injustice corrupted.

                                            Shakespeare’s Henry VI

You lack conviction.

                                                            Agent Coulson

Finally! I finally saw the Avengers tonight.

Greatest superhero movie ever made – yes or no? It’s a tie. Or it’s apples and oranges. This is a movie that can stand next to The Dark Knight without shame, yet the two are doing completely different things. Nolan’s Dark Knight is a movie for all times and places, becausee it’s about the struggle between good and evil in every human heart and in every human city. Whedon’s Avengers is a movie very much for our time and place specifically.

Obviously, spoilers lie in wait for you ahead!

The theme of “war” is invoked repeatedly in this movie. Where Nolan’s movie was about the struggle within hearts and within communities, this movie is about a struggle between communities – in other words, a war. Not America versus the aliens, but one America versus the other.

Yes, the culture war. But perhaps not in the way you might think.

It’s obvious that the three characters who matter in this movie are Steve Rogers, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. Before we look at them, let’s look at why they’re the ones that mattter.

Politics wears two faces. Politics is power, and politics is justice. The great first question of political philosophy throughout the ages, the question that determines how you answer all the other questions, has been which of these is primary. Throughout history, a small minority of cynics – Thrascymacus, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Hume, Marx, Nietzsche – has said that power is primary.  Over against the cynics, the large majority of political philosophers and the nearly unanimous voice of humanity at large has insisted that justice is primary.

The other characters in this movie are about power. Thor is a warrior, obviously a man of power. Nick Fury and the Black Widow are mainly good at manipulating people, which is another form of power. And Hawkeye isn’t even a character, he’s a plot device. Smart move – nobody was ever going to care about him as a character, so Whedon didn’t even try to make him into one. They might just as well have changed his name to Agent MacGuffin.

You might have expected Thor to be about more than power because he’s a god. This is a trick of the historical lighting. From our privileged perspective as children of the mature religions, we expect that all supernatural beliefs involve a moral element. But the pagan gods were never really divine. They were just projections of ourselves, with all our flaws and our humanity, into the cosmic forces of the unseen universe. That’s exactly why they vanished from history as religion matured. You can read all about this in Plato, or in Chesterton. All pagan gods are “puny gods.”

There’s no indictment in saying these characters represent politics as power. They’re not amoral – even Black Widow has an ethic. Yet none of them is really bringing a robust vision of justice to the team. That’s why they’re not the ones who ultimately determine the fate of the world.

Steve Rogers has a vision of justice. He might seem to be about power rather than justice because he’s fighting for America. Yet his interest in America clearly has nothing to do with the structures of American power. That’s why he has no difficulty turning against Nick Fury and the Council. What he’s loyal to isn’t any particular manifestation of America, but the ideas of justice to which America is committed and which America represents. Steve Rogers has an integrity that transitions seamlessly from obeying the Council to resisting it, because the Council is not the America to which he is loyal. Because of this, his commitment to justice can’t be subverted by anyone or anything in the tangible world claiming the mantle of “America.” His commitment to justice is transcendent and therefore independent and immovable.

This fact is not unrelated to the fact that he believes in the one true God.

Tony Stark is every bit as American as Steve Rogers, and everyone knows it. From the beginning, America’s Tony Starks have had as much claim to have made this country what it is as its Steve Rogerses.  And Tony Stark is committed to a vision of justice. The Tony Starks of the world wouldn’t have nearly the influence they do if they weren’t driven by a very powerful vision of justice. Although he might never put it in these words himself, Stark believes in Romantic individualism, capital R. He worships neither gods nor God but the divine spark within, the sacred self. This can produce silly behavior, but on the whole it is not to be scoffed at. Remember that in the end Stark is willing to die to save other people. He could easily have flown away instead of pulling the missle into the portal. Romantic individualism is a creed that people have been dying for (and killing for) for centuries.

Only two things can enable a man to sacrifice his own life in cold blood: religion, or strict training in moral virtue. Tony Stark has not undergone strict training in moral virtue.

The conflict between Rogers and Stark, which manifests itself as a conflict over justice, is at bottom a religious conflict. Justice and religion flow in and out of one another in perplexing ways. People of different religions can reach moral agreement – if it weren’t so, we’d all have torn each other to pieces long ago. Yet even when our senses of justice align, the religious difference never quite goes away, never quite stops threatening to break out into a war.

Standing between these two figures is Bruce Banner. However handy Stark might be with computers, Banner is the real man of science, the Enlightenment figure. The real essence of Enlightenment ethics is rational self-restraint – to exercise rigorous control over the soul’s dark impulses because the intellect discerns it is advantageous to do so. Rogers has few discernable dark impulses because he’s surrendered himself to transcendent powers. Stark gives his dark impulses relatively free reign, wherever he can get away with it. Banner will not surrender himself to the God without (who can purge the darkness) nor to the god within (who will cultivate it). He disciplines himself, surrendering to nothing. He is always angry.

He worships neither the justice of God nor the justice of the self. He worships justice itself, for its own sake, just like the ancient Stoics, or Kant and Adam Smith.

It is not a coincidence that Banner is objectively the most powerful of the three central characters. Rational self-control is a fantastic engine of power.

Yet he ultimately does not stand on equal footing with Rogers and Stark, because his religion is narrower. Justice alone isn’t sufficient for human life. Rogers and Stark are the two great poles, the two truly ultimate visions of justice, and Banner is the man of greater power but lesser vision whose allegiance would tip the scale one way or the other, if he gave it.

Here’s why this is the movie for our time: the history of modernity is the history of great religions – Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Fascism, Romantic individualism, etc. – struggling for control of the great engines of power unleashed by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. America was the product of a great alliance between two of these religions, Christianity and Romantic individualism, against the others. It was not merely a temporary pact to share power but a real forging of deep alliances, resting on a robust sense of shared morality between the two. In spite of the differences, there really are deep undercurrents of similarity. Christianity really does celebrate the preciousness and dignity of the individual; we call it the imago Dei, the image of God in every human being. Romantic individualism really does seek to encompass both moral seriousness and an authentic sense of spiritual renewal (to see justice and mercy meet and kiss, as the psalm puts it). Yet in our time the alliance is strained. The differences between religions must always run just a little bit deeper than the similarities; otherwise they wouldn’t be different religions, they’d be different branches of the same religion. And now those differences are rising back up to the surface. The conditions that forged the original alliance have passed. Can it be reforged?

An existential threat submerges the differences and renews the alliance for a while. In the movie, it was an alien invasion. In our time, it has been 9/11. That doesn’t last, however. In the end of the movie, the heroes disperse to go their separate ways.

The closing note of the movie is Nick Fury expressing certainty that if an existential threat ever arises again, the heroes will reunite. Why does he think so? “Because we’ll need them to.” That is the optimistic scenario. I believe (for theological reasons) that there are rational grounds that logically justify a limited amount of optimism about how things go in the world. I am optimistic about renewing the old alliance that defines America. Yet there are limits, and in our time we are testing them.


Pass the Popcorn: Truth and Consequences

May 21, 2012

I recently saw the Israeli film, Footnote, which was nominated for best foreign film in last year’s Oscars.  It reminded me of a movie from the 90s that I thoroughly enjoyed, called Big Night.  In both films we encounter a character who is committed to the truth of his craft.

In Footnote we meet the elder Prof. Eliezer Shkolnik, a philoligist whose painstaking, scholarly analysis of words in the Talmud led him to discover that the current version of the Talmud differs from the one that was in common use centuries ago.  Before he can publish his findings, he is scooped by a competing scholar who stumbles upon an ancient copy of the Talmud in an archive, thus proving the same point without the careful scholarship.  Eclipsed by this chance discovery, Prof. Eliezer Shkolnik, toils away in obscurity, bitter that his dedication to his craft remains unrecognized while flashy, lucky, and shallow scholars earn the laurels he believes he should be receiving.

One of those flashy, lucky, shallow scholars is Prof. Eliezer Shkolnik’s son, Prof. Uriel Shkolnik, who writes popular books about the Talmud and is a celebrity on TV and the lecture circuit (only in Israel could a Talmudic scholar be a celebrity, but think of him as an Israeli version of Malcolm Gladwell).  The simmering animosity and resentment between the elder and younger Prof. Shkolnik boils into a crisis when the father accidentally receives a prestigious award that was meant to be given to the son.  The father falsely believes that he has finally been recognized for his commitment to the truth of his craft and the son, who lacks his father’s zealous pursuit of the truth, would rather engineer a falsehood to save his father’s honor than take the prize himself.

Besides the painfully (and hilariously) accurate depiction of the pettiness and self-importance of much of academia, the movie raises difficult questions about how important the pursuit of truth really is.  Is it more important than family, harmony, or love?

The movie Big Night raised very similar questions.  Two brothers, Primo and Secondo, own an Italian restaurant that is completely committed to the truth of their craft.  The only problem is that they have no customers.  People don’t seem to appreciate the truth.  Watch this perfect scene in which a rare customer wants a side of pasta with her risotto to see the tension between giving the customer what she wants and remaining committed to the truth of their craft:

Meanwhile a competing Italian restaurant owner, Pascal, violates every truth of Italian cuisine but his restaurant is packed with customers.  He’s flashy and crude, but the customers seem to love it.  Pascal offers to help Primo and Secondo by bringing a celebrity to their restaurant for a Big Night, which he promises will put their place on the map.  The brothers pour every cent they have and all of their craft into the Big Night, but when the celebrity doesn’t show they are ruined.  Their hopes are raised and they throw the best party with the best Italian food, hoping to remain true to their craftwhile also succeeding, but then they are left with nothing — or nothing except the truth of their craft and the love of each other.  This is the morning after their Big Night.  (It’s long and without dialogue, but watch the whole thing since it’s incredibly powerful and touching, at least it was after seeing the whole movie):

After watching Big Night I was persuaded that remaining true to one’s craft was of primary importance.  Remaining true may cost us dearly, but it is all that we have.  After watching Footnote I’m not so sure about this anymore.  Truth at the expense of all else can be incredibly destructive.  In Big Night they kept both truth and love.  In Footnote truth comes at the expense of love.  Maybe it is love that is of greater importance.  Or maybe the singular pursuit of any virtue is dangerous.  We need truth and love, but neither completely.


Pass the Popcorn: It’s All Greek to Me

April 27, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The earliest reviews of Joss Whedon’s Avengers are not debating whether or not it’s a good movie. They’re debating whether or not it’s the best superhero movie ever made.

This debate is the opposite of Aliens Versus Predator. Whoever wins, we win!

The real debate, in my mind, is whether or not Joss Whedon is the greatest storyteller of our time. There are other contenders to the throne, of course. We’ve written about a few folks who could vie for that title here on Jay P. Greene’s Blog from time to time.

Why pick only one winner? Here’s a much more interesting way to look at things:

Who Is Our Homer?

Candidate: Chris Nolan

Job Qualifications: High-stakes conflicts between titanic characters who evoke or represent transcendent forces; the essential passivity of man under the power of cosmic forces greater than himself. (Wars between champions loom large.)

Who Is Our Aeschylus?

Candidate: Joss Whedon

Job Qualifications: Illuminates the nobility of the human struggle against the essentially tragic nature of the human situation; the hunger for justice that we can never ignore without sacrificing part of our humanity, but can also never satisfy without sacrificing part of our humanity. (Vengeance and justice loom large.)

Who Is Our Sophocles?

Candidate: J.J. Abrams

Job Qualifications: The dynamic interdependence between our choices and our character; we can only act based on who we already are, but can only be who we are through how we act. (Daddy issues loom large.)

Who Is Our Euripides?

Candidate: (I hate to say it since I’m a Watchmen hater, but…) Alan Moore

Job Qualifications: Ecstatic confrontation with chaos and meaninglessness; deconstruction of cherished myths. (Mass atrocities loom large.)

Discuss among yourselves! :)


Pass the Popcorn: Machete

September 10, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the Rodriguez-Tarrantino Grindhouse double feature included some fake movie trailers before and between the two movies.  One of them was for a fake movie called Machete which looked like a Hispanic version of a 1970s Blaxploitation flick.

I know all of this because I was one of the 88 people who went to see Grindhouse in the theater. Okay, so I was the only person to see it twice. There- I admitted it- are you happy now?

Anyway, the Machete trailer was so over the top that Robert Rodriquez decided to make it into a full-fledged movie.  Of course, I was morally obligated to go see it.

My reaction: meh.

Oh, there are some very funny scenes, especially for someone living in Arizona. The theater laughed out loud when Robert DeNiro’s Senator McLaughlin character was introduced. The film was set in Texas, but there was some obvious spoofing of Arizona pols included (e.g. John McLaughlin for John McCain).

The standard Blaxploitation/James Bond formula of a protagonist who only takes brief breaks from being a killing machine to serve as a babe magnet is in full swing, sprinkled with an occasional explosion and/or observation about the illegal immigration issue. This is not Shakespeare, it is not even Black Dynamite.

It is however entertaining if you are willing to check your brain at the ticket booth. Even then, it runs out of steam.


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