Is Zack Snyder Worse Than Michael Bay?

Yes.

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But I’ll try to explain why.

Michael Bay is the Donald Trump of filmmakers; his movies are big and loud and dumb on scales previously unimaginable. The Transformers franchise contains overt racism, misogyny and even a little bit of incestuous longing sprinkled on top…and yet they are among the highest grossing films of all time, a franchise whose insane popularity raises uncomfortable questions about what ‘the people’ want.

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And yet Bay has some sense of self. If he’s not introspective, then he’s at least clear about what he wants: to make money. Other fools label him an auteur, but Bay himself gets extremely defensive when his movies are attacked for being stupid or mean or poorly edited; all of that, to him, seems to irrelevant. His movies are popular and Bay himself has said at times “I make movies for teenage boys.” To him, there is nothing higher, or lower, at play.

But Zack Snyder is different. If Bay is Trump, Snyder is Ben Carson: wholly aloof and unaware, seemingly sleeptalking through interviews and public appearances, Snyder yearns to be thought of as an ‘intellectual.’ The meta-text of all his superhero schlock is that his films are important and he’s thought and felt very deeply about all the comic books he’s been reading. Superhero stories aren’t fluffy or fun, they have significant significance. Like a thirteen-year-old smoking pot for the first time, Snyder blows his own mind with the new thoughts he generates–What if Superman was REAL? What if we had to burn down the farm to save the village?–and expects these epiphanies to astonish other people as well.watchmen-zack-snyder-director

That’s why he’s now made his version of Watchmen, considered by some (NOT ME-I did not like the “Graphic novel” or the film) to be the greatest, most introspective superhero story ever told, not once, not twice, but thrice. His adaptation of that comic, and the two Superman films he’s made, all revolve around similar themes and concepts, most notably what responsibility superheroes have to the plebes (Superman goes back and forth on this! He’s conflicted! There are no easy answers! It’s deep!) and how much crowd-pleasing wanton destruction (and death) is justifiable.

Christopher Nolan also makes movies about heroes and takes himself too seriously, but he’s pretty smart. Snyder thinks he can one-up everyone with his crazy shit sandwiches. He tried to Dark Knight Superman, placing the Man of Steel in a gritty post-9/11 environment, seemingly without once questioning whether an outer space alien who speaks English, looks like a slice of British Beefcake and lives in a giant crystal place is the right character to place in this context (compare this to the pulpy Superman II with Terrence Stamp’s glamor-fab General Zod shown at right). general-zodHis one “original” film, Sucker Punch, is an exercise in convoluted world-building and pointless “layers” of story-telling so empty and ridiculous it is almost unfair to compare it to Inception, yet that’s what Snyder is aping with his dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams approach to what amounts to a creepy fetish fantasy. Sorry, I meant an “empowering”, “feminist“, “deconstruction”, of…something.

Snyder is the worst kind of stupid. He’s an idiot who fancies himself an artistic genius. Michael Bay doesn’t ruin properties. He takes ideas that were already dumb and keeps them that way. No ‘better’ director would have taken on Transformers. Or Benghazi. Or a film that celebrates roid culture. That’s bayhem and nothing else. But Zack Snyder has taken artistic control, at least in the medium of film, of some of our modern culture’s most beloved icons: the men and women who comprise the Justice League. And there are plenty of people who believe he completely mangled the integrity of Watchmen (even though he used the graphic novel for storyboards? But I digress…). Hell, for someone who is supposedly a master of visual composition, a lot of his work–Superman, Watchmen, 300, that movie about owls–is basically paint-by-numbers transcriptions of comic book art.

But let’s give Snyder the benefit of the doubt on his skills with the canvas of the camera, a man who can construct beautiful shots and even scenes. That’s why he gets all these projects he doesn’t deserve; he’s has VISION. The trailer for Watchmen even said so: it was brought to you by “visionary director of 300.” In this way, he is exactly like Ben Carson, a self-promoting huckster whose narrow skills are oddly combined with a worldview which ought to undermine them. It is possible that Ben Carson is just as skilled with the knife as Snyder is with his cutting tools in the editing room.

But I wanted to compare Snyder to Michael Bay! The Snyderian worldview is just as ugly as as Bay’s, but he doesn’t know it. It also has a somewhat sharper focus. Snyder seems hell-bent on presenting his version of Objectivism. He even promises us his own remake of The Fountainhead at some point, maybe after Warner Brothers take shim off the Justice League project.sucker-punch-snyder2

Bay just follows his nose to the ID of the worst impulses of modern culture. The stupid white man wants boobs, so he gives them boobs. They want explosions, so he gives them that. Robots. Vulgarity. Racism. Military fetishism. It’s all there, smashed together on the screen.

Snyder’s films are also sexist. But he thinks he’s promoting feminism. His films are also violent and vulgar. But that’s not just because the thinks violence is fun. He also thinks its more serious. Dark. Edgy. And it helps him prove his point. Which is that special people are special. People like King Leonidas (as cartoonized by idiots). Like Superman (blech). Like the Watchmen. Like Zack Snyder!!!

It seems as if all his films are trying to prove that heroism is not defined by doing things to help others, or to make difficult choices, or having principles. No, heroism is just about being awesome. And not letting others get in the way of that. In 300, Gerard Butler rebuffs a cripple from joining the all-star team, because cripples are ugly. In Watchmen, the heroes are either aloof, psychotic, fascist, plotting to blow up Manhattan, or worst of all, impotent, and this is all in the name of “deconstructing” what it means to be a superhero. And his version of Batman, Superman and even Wonder Woman are simply godlike creatures who answer to nobody and whose attempts to save people from themselves never work so why bother?

In other words, Bay has a funhouse mirror that shines our stupid back at us. It’ll go away when we do. But Snyder, knowingly or unknowingly, keeps some really unpleasant and wrong theologies in circulation. Yes, there are absurd think pieces about Bay’s bombast, weakly pushed by his alma mater (Wesleyan) and the Criterion Collection. But nobody seriously gets into an argument about Bay’s contribution to culture. Nobody argues that Transformers is a movie that empowers young girls.

But Sucker Punch? Wonder Woman? Do we not know the difference between strong female characters and weak female characters who are physically strong (or not even)? Do we not know the different between superheroes and super-powered sociopaths? Maybe we do, maybe we don’t. But here’s hoping sooner or later Snyder’s toxic brand of pseudo-intellectualism makes its way to the C-list Circle of Hell. e

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Boring Conversation Anyway: The Stupid Internet Controversies Around “The Force Awakens”

This is the first of several posts I wanted to write about “Star Wars.” This one will hopefully come out relatively positive about the new movie, but maybe not. I won’t give a full review here, because I don’t think anybody cares, including myself, but I will say that I saw the movie twice on Friday and enjoyed it immensely.

The following MIGHT contain spoilers; I haven’t really outlined what I’m typing but I’m not going to go out of my way to avoid talking about plot points in the film.

read at your own risk…

Okay, anyway I’ve read lots of interesting commentary on the new film, the more interesting bits are those that have been critical of the movie, or meta-critical of the hype and marketing buildup surrounding the film. I consider myself a big “Star Wars” fan but especially after reading posts on reddit and other sites for well over a year I’m definitely leery of other fanboys (and some, although not many, fangirls) who definitely deserve the derogatory term. Not that I myself have matured much beyond the early teens but at some point in your sad adulthood you are faced with the choice to either accept your imposter syndrome or double down on their immature fantasies, adding sex and violence and obsessive world-building and strict adherence to canon on top of their favorite franchise.

This is why “Game of Thrones”, and to some extent the “Force Awakens” are best enjoyed as guilty pleasures (although Star Wars is much more fun and less pretentious). And the most devoted fan bases of each approach a kind of religious fanaticism (and righteous anger) in their attempt to protect and defend such properties. When you combine extreme escapism with further prejudices against the Real World, you get:

Black Stormtroopers and Black Hermione

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For some reason it was a “controversy” that Finn was a black man. I guess because some really dumb racists were complaining on the internet last year. They should have been ignored. Raising their discourse to the level of “controversy” only emboldens internet trolls and basement-dwelling racists. It empowers them by throwing their sad rants into the marketplace of ideas and by extension making the rather innocuous casting decision look like progress, which it is only if seen through the lens of a grossly racist science-fiction/fantasy fanbase, a group which although majority white are not racist.

Or are they?

Here comes the next stupid internet “debate”, the casting of a black woman as Hermione in a Harry Potter play. The easy reductivist argument, and really the only way to look at this, is that the director casted who he thought was the best actress to play a role in a theatrical production based in a fictional Universe. If anything, we should be celebrating the strong and flexible narrative of the “Potterverse” one which is popular enough to allow for color-blind interpretation of characters.

This is exactly what a commentator said to me on BBC radio yesterday. But then some dufus called in, from the United States of course, to argue that “canonically” Hermione was white, as depicted in the American cover and chapter illustrations and some random comments Rowling made off-hand at some point, some time. Another called (again from the US) argued that since Emma Watson is the most famous (only) actress to depict Hermione, Hermione is white.

Some questions these people should ask themselves:

  1. Why does “Harry Potter and the Curse Child” need to take place in the same canonical Universe as the (mediocre) films, or even the books?
  2. What would these same people say if Lee Jordan was portrayed by a white man? Or Kingsley Shacklebolt? Or Nick Fury? Or Lando Calrissian? Or Blade? Or Kazaam?
  3. Why is nobody equally upset that a non-ginger was cast to play Ron Weasley? Poor Ron can barely stir up the ghost of an internet argument.
  4. Does anyone (or group of fans) “own” the rights or ability to control the “true” canon of Harry Potter? If JK Rowling doesn’t care about the fixed racial identities of her characters, why should the fans? (you won’t like my answer)
  5. Time travel back to before the casting news. Somebody asks you to name Hermione’s most important traits. How many do you name before her race? Five? Ten? Do you even mention she’s white?

So that’s that.

Is Rey a Mary Sue? 

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Now back to “Star Wars” and the dumbest “controversy” of them all: the debate over whether or not Daisy Ridley/Rey is a “Mary Sue” and why we should care?

My first reaction to both of these is: As written yes but Daisy Ridley is so charming she outacts and overcomes the bad screenwriting. and Not really.

But let’s dig deeper.

I saw this discussion in the comments section of an article on Badass Digest, one of the few sites who hasn’t tried to unconditionally heap praise on the new films (they and Salon.com have offered the best commentary I’ve seen, although I haven’t look that hard and it’s still early). Users on that site were upset that Rey was a “Mary Sue” character, or someone who was overpowered and seems to easily defeat all her enemies and all obstacles she faces.

This would indeed make for a weak character, were it true; but the sloppy storyline which sees her over-qualified to fly the Milennium Falcon and fight wannabe Siths without any kinds of training says more about the script than the character as portrayed by Daisy Ridley, who shows enough charm and nuance for us to identify with. Although plenty tough, Rey’s need and anxiety over her parents’ potential return is both a strength (of compassion) and a weakness, in theory keeping her from leaving Jakku or embracing her destiny (the film could have done a lot more with this but just sort of gives up because there’s no time or place for organic-“Organaic”?-development). She also is clearly overmatched (at first) by Kylo Ren, and you could say she was able to defeat him at the end only because he had a lot going on-he’d just killed his father, had a protracted battle with a “traitor” and then a huge cliff opened up and separated them. Also, we don’t know their actual relationship so we don’t know what Kylo Ren wants from her, much like Darth Vader’s dilemma with Luke. Does he want to kill her? Does he want to “teach” her (kinky!)? We don’t really know!

Also, Rey apparently doesn’t shower or wear different clothing, which is kind of gross I guess. But she’s still lovely.

Anyway, you have to project an awful lot onto her character from the actress and our own expectations, filling in the gaps that JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan left behind in the script. That’s Abrams’ “strength” as a director- he casts great people like Ridley and Oscar Isaac who bring a lot of personality into the film beyond what the script or story itself calls for.

But because not everyone sees it as such, the “Mary Debate” gets a lot dumber. Most responses to the “Mary Sue” complaint have not been that she isn’t a “Mary Sue” but that this isn’t a problem, because men get their “Mary Stus” like James Bond so AT LAST women get a stupid, overpowered stand-in to identify with. Which is ridiculous. Not because they’re wrong-James Bond is a blank slate of a character, or has been in the past.

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Also, perhaps Rey was written as a female version of a male superhero, with all of the requisite flaws, because her character was written by two men, neither of whom has necessarily demonstrated an ability to write above a very very masculine frame of reference.

Why do we need or want such characters? It’s like saying “at last, women have a stupid, poorly conceived character with which we can live out our own absurd power fantasies!” As said above, I’m not even sure if Rey qualifies as such. But this argument is horrible. If James Bond or Han Solo or whomever provide detrimental models for young men to identify with, then why is it “good” to try to do the same with young girls? You might say this is apples and oranges, that women need blanket presentations of sexual power, political power, superheroic power, etc…but you would be wrong.

Okay that’s it.

 

“His Dark Materials” Television Show? Bleh

http://variety.com/2015/tv/global/bbc-orders-philip-pullmans-his-dark-materials-1201632207

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The BBC is producing a television version of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, which could be good, but its also disappointing in that it means at best the cinematic treatment this series deserves is postponed indefinitely.

I want to talk now about how much I hated the movie that came out in 2007. The filmmakers didn’t trust the audience or the material and New Line Cinemas must have really thought they could just half-ass their way to another Lord of the Rings moneymaker. They even brought in Sir Ian McKellen for a very unnecessary redubbing of the “ice bear” in the picture above.

Among the worst atrocities committed against this story:

  • The book’s ending was filmed but then screen-tested out of the final cut because (spoiler alert?) it it was too big of a downer. After lopping off the final twenty minutes of the story, the film was then recut out of sequence to end with a cliche climactic battle and a false upbeat ending. Nevertheless, because it was so slapdash, the random “mission accomplished” speech force fed into the heroine’s mouth at the end of the film creates a bigger, more frustrating cliffhanger than the original ending would have.
  • The “anti-Christian” message of the film was also excised and screen-tested out of the film. Even though the story was written as a fantasy-counterpoint to the dogma in “Paradise Lost”, the “Church” was reduced to a bogus, generic evil organization, still called the “Magisterium” but dumbing down the metaphor of the original story from “organized religious leaders often resemble fascists” to “fascists often resemble fascists.” A brave, bold statement…for turd faces.
  • They changed the setting and scenery from the vague Victorian/steampunk vibe in the books to some generic fantasy-land garbage that was inspired by…nothing. The director was afraid to do something closer to the books because it had already been done by…”Van Helsing.”
  • The movie itself was very awkwardly paced, and began with a stupid voiceoover explaining “the world” to the audience, The characters were introduced too rapidly and the story rushed to get from one set piece to the next without laying the connecting foundation to make any of it something the audience might care about. Overall, the book’s tone pitted the fiery and intrepid Lyra against some seriously dark and sinister forces, on all sides. Yet in the movie, her dark and brooding father (played by Daniel Craig) was re-envisioned as an Arctic Indiana Jones.

There is no reason to think the television show won’t be great. Although there is no cast or crew yet the BBC’s track record with fantasy/adventure material is pretty good. On the other hand, the expansive and dramatic nature of the story will be undermined by the television medium. And I worry about the awkward breakdown of a miniseries format; there are three clear stories to be told in “His Dark Materials”; the story is lengthy but tightly plotted, and I worry that a television series would disturb the flow of the narrative for excessive and confusing “world building”, which leads me to my last worry,

which is that future fantasy television dramas will take their cue from “Game of Thrones.” They should not. Even though I don’t think there’s any threat of crazy sex or violence in “His Dark Materials”, there may be the temptation for drawn out scenes and sub plots with side characters that don’t push anything forward. I’m tired of the whole “world building” concept, and I’m extremely unimpressed by any writer or storytellers ability to map out a fantasy land. Everyone and anyone can build their own “world”, and the more intricate and convoluted it becomes, the more it begs the question why more attention isn’t being paid to the actual world in which we live in. But a further critique of the idea of world building deserve its own post, someday sometime.

For now, I’ll just say that the magic and majesty of Pullman’s Universe is best served as seen through the eyes of its central protagonist, Lyra, trusting the audience to successfully immerse themselves into the world through the story, as opposed to sharing with us a copycat universe brick by tedious brick.

To Mock a Mockingbird Sequel

Atticus Finch- a crazy racist?

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http://www.avclub.com/review/go-set-watchman-mixed-bag-nostalgia-and-end-childh-222469

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If you had read “To Kill a Mockingbird” Closely enough the first time for the subtext, it was obvious what direction Harper Lee was going in with the Mockingbird Saga. Where else could it go. So when her literary executors went above and beyond her wishes once she reached semi-senility, I consider this a brave choice, a far more daring turn than, for instance, JK Rowling’s half-assed assertion that Dumbledore was gay within the story confines of Harry Potter but not the text. 

In fact while looking for some more untapped literary classics inside my refrigerator I discovered six more manuscripts detailing the complete and unfathomably epic character arc of Atticus Finch, a saga whose genius plotting ranks somewhere between Jon Snow and John Connor (so perhaps equivalent to John Stamos). Right now we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what to expect from the next “Mockingbird” Installments

(oh yeah, spoiler alert and shit)

Phase III- Atticus Finch Travels Through Time

Atticus Finch, hell bent on returning to the Antebellum South where racial reform is, discovers that by hiding in a dark patch of cotton in the old McGeary Plantation, or perhaps the root cellar, he can travel to any point in the past that he wishes. Unfortunately, by altering the space time continuum, everything has changed. Jem and Scout are no longer born and the Civil War dragged on until 1878. Abraham Lincoln is never killed and the Klu Klux Klan never develops outside of Pulaski, and that place is pretty lame.

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To his great consternation and shame, Atticus Finch tries to return to the ‘present’ only to discover himself now working as a stenographer for his one-time nanny helper, Calpurnia, who is a formidable legal attorney and real estate mogul  in the now progressive and desegregated Montgomery metro area. Faced with these troubled and changing times, his friends either no longer in existence or changed beyond recognition, Atticus is forced to embrace culture change and begins a kinky love affair with Boo Radley, who in this timeline is kind of a pervert but in a fun way.

Phase IV- Atticus Finch Becomes a Woman

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The year is 1979. Due to the crazy rules and mysterious revelations of space-time, Atticus discovers he is again due to litigate an important trial which will touch on the prejudice of the citizenry, only this time he is defending not a black man but a transgender person convicted of community organizing or perhaps flag burning, something everyone knows is dubious but only Atticus is willing to call shenanigans on the whole thing. Not content to merely represent justice or take the case through the appeals process, Atticus decides to more fully embrace his responsibility as a beacon of tolerance and becomes a woman himself. This also allows him to sign a book deal and make a music video and create a marketable brand, setting the stage for an epic dance-off in the county jail following the conviction, but don’t worry it’s a happy ending the sentence is commuted.

Also, having bore no children in this timeline, Scout is now a doll Atticus keeps in the attic and talks to when things get lonely.

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Also, Atticus is now Patricia.

Phase V- Patricia Finch Becomes a Cyborg 

Flash forward to 1993, when Patricia Finch is now an elderly and dying matriarch but wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. Boo Radley, who is a jealous and untrusting lover, angrily donates her decomposing body to a local biotech research lab where she is retrofitted with bionic parts and some digital additions with the intended purpose of serving the nefarious aims of the government or the Jews, but we all know that the human heart will throw a wrench into even the best laid plans to control technology and FinchBot 3000 has their own intentions, which includes protecting all the mockingbirds (this, FinchBot discovers, was their ultimate programmable purpose) even if it means eliminating all of the human race. After scorching rural Alabama and laying siege to…Mobile? whatever…a temporary truce is reached where a sizeable sample population of mockingbirds is given a comfortable haven in the San Diego zoo.

FinchBot, suspicious of humans and ambivalent about its own destructive nature, becomes the reclusive Mockingbird Manbot of Alcatraz.

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Phase VI- FinchBot 3000 But Also Must Confront Their Greatest Nemesis Yet…

Having now been gifted with eternal life and ultimate wisdom and eyes that shoot lasers, FinchBot consorts with the government to use advanced cloning and stem cell technology and produces Jem and Scout in vitro to raise in the future, so as to relive the joys of his/her/their past life before time travel and civil rights. Unfortunately, 6-year-old Gem rejects the cold parentage of her robot caretaker and leads a vendetta against artificial intelligence and, much to FinchBot’s dismay, has the power to call and control mockingbirds, using them to kill indiscriminately in a sick and unfortunate twist on the original premise.

“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” Gem declares, “but a greater sin not to use mockingbirds to kill.”

Miss Maudie concurs, saying “mockingbird don’t do one thing but make but make music for us to enjoy…and also rip our hearts out for us with their terrible, terrible claws.”

As in “Watchmen”, Scout has a sudden heart attack on page 63 and is never mentioned again.

Phase VII- FinchBot 3000 Discovers It Was All A Dream

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Atticus wakes up. The year is 1933. It was all dream. It is the day of the trial. Confused and distraught, Atticus Finch assesses his own internal moral compass and decides that while he probably does support institutional racism more than he’s comfortable with and probably harbors irrational prejudices pressed into him by society since birth, he supports swift integration of African Americans into southern society and doesn’t anticipate his transformation into a crazy racist dixiecrat after all. He goes outside to play catch with Gem and Scout. However, under his bed lies a broken computer chip for FinchBot 3000 as well as a spinning top which does not lose momentum even on the final sentence of the last page…