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Category Archives: Stray Thoughts

The Only Reason to Visit AICN is Schadenfreude

Long ago in a place far far away (1999) Ain’t It Cool News was taken seriously, along with its head whatever, Harry Knowles. AICN is still around but it’s a site whose peculiar pleasure is that it’s run by horrible idiots whose readers hate them.

AICN is like the concert you go to only to boo the aging rocker. AICN isn’t a movie site, it’s a comments section filled with in jokes about how much the site sucks. And the responses to Harry’s Jack Reacher review sum up what AICN is. It’s a booing section that keeps the thing it’s booing in business.

The review isn’t that bad and maybe it’s not even a plant (would anyone even bother paying for a plant review on AICN now?) but it’s accepted wisdom that Harry Knowles is illiterate and that his reviews are plants.

AICN has been around for so long that it has an anti-fanbase. AICN readers wait around for Harry to say another stupid thing and turn that into a meme in the comments section. 10 years later people still remember Harry’s great review of a fake Batman script and reference it. It’s things like that which show that Harry Knowles has become a cult figure in anti-film reviews. The qualities that made Knowles seem like a standard of fanboy sincerity have long since made him into a joke.

But it’s hard not to feel a certain fondness for GORDON HAS A BEER AND CHEETS ON HIS WIFE. A review that has spawned its own memesphere and that after all these years remains unedited. The comments to it take us back to a more naive time when people only had slight objections to a review that misspelled Heroin and Cheats.


Is Scientology Done?

Katie Holmes divorcing Tom Cruise has to be the happiest news for newspapers around the world since Michael Jackson was juggling babies. It will give them months of content to work with in the doldrums of the summer season. Every aspect of the divorce proceedings means more headlines.

Scientology is the elephant in the room. It’s a huge target for the media and for internet activism. But Scientology doesn’t really matter. It hasn’t mattered in a while.

Sure Scientology is pretty awful if you’re a member or if a family member is a member. But there really aren’t all that many of them, especially outside California. Their numbers are declining and their senior people keep defecting. The latest defectors include L. Ron Hubbard’s granddaughter and the father of their current leader.

Of L. Ron Hubbard’s seven children, only one, Diana, 59, the first of his children by his third wife, Mary Sue, is still a loyal member of the church.

This isn’t what a successful movement looks like.

Scientology probably peaked in the 70’s. It kept going through the self-help and corporate training seminars of the 80’s, but it was already fading. It just took a while for those on the inside and outside to realize it. Movements change with the times, but how do you do that when you’re a cult that reprocesses the ideas of a failed Science Fiction writer born in 1911?

Scientology is a therapy guru cult from the 50’s whose two biggest draws, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are also on the wrong side of 50. It probably stopped expanding a while back and just exists to give some of its leaders a good life and a full time job. Its secretiveness and terror tactics made it a natural foe for internet activists. But if Scientology is such a powerful network, why wasn’t it able to protect Travolta from his massage meltdown going public or keep Cruise’s child bride on the reservation? If you can’t intimidate a few masseuses and the star of Dawson’s Creek (fun fact, James Van Der Beek is also in a cult) then you must be losing your touch.

Scientology won’t go away this decade but by the end of it they’ll be older and more shrunken than ever. They stopped mattering a while back. Kicking them around is easy, but no matter what they’re on the way out.


The Things That Should Go Away

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo performed poorly. Big surprise. Bestsellers don’t often translate into big box office. Once people paid 20 something or 7 something dollars for the book, they’re much less likely to go see the movie. The DaVinci Code was an exception, but it was practically a cult in its time.

I never read the books. I don’t care about them. The synopsis reads like the writer was writing up a glamorized version of himself in a more exciting version of his real job along with a bisexual girl. Throw in David Fincher, the most overrated director of all time and you have a perfect score.

Fincher is the other thing that should go away. Despite being a music video director, he was also a good director, even if his visuals relied too much on gimmicks. Seven and Fight Club were sold entries. And then came a string of random movies shot in that same filtered tone and looking like music videos. But they were forgivable too. What’s wrong is that everyone keeps treating anything he releases as a major event, no matter how mediocre it is.

Panic Room. Zodiac. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button deserved some attention, but The Social Network was the most grossly overhyped piece of crap that had no reason for existing in years. Then we come to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a bunch of overhyped books leading to an overhyped movie by an overhyped director that not many people actually wanted to see.

Who could have seen that coming?

Steve Jobs’ Second Chance

Not many visionaries get a second chance the way Jobs did, and if he hadn’t managed to get back to the top at a desperate Apple, his obituary would probably read famous Apple co-founder and mention his Pixar connection. But Jobs got his second chance and he leaves Apple as a company at the top of its game.

Even the underwhelming iPhone 4S launch only helps shore up the image of Apple adrift without Jobs. As Google’s Android does to Apple what Microsoft did to it back in the day, creating a universal open platform that can be used by numerous hardware manufacturers, Apple’s likely decline will be attributed to Jobs’ death, rather than to the business model of the company.

There’s no question that Jobs helped revolutionize the portable market, but he also left Apple at a time when the company is fast approaching its limit. There’s only so many other things that can be grafted on to the iPhone or the iTouch and the Classic is out to sea and the Nano is now officially a kids toy. There’s not many other places left to go and once that evens out, Android will begin gaining even faster. But Jobs leaves as a visionary and a genius on a high note. It’s not a bad exit.

Gene Roddenberry Would Be So Proud

So let’s say your country has high unemployment, poverty and a king/dictator who is facing major popular protests. What do you do?

A. Give away free stuff to everyone

B. Send in the tanks

C. Build a 1.5 billion dollar Star Trek theme park

Guess which one a Middle Eastern dictator/king who appeared on an episode of Star Trek Voyager picked? That’s right, Jordan is getting a 1.5 billion dollar Star Trek theme park. Because when food prices are high, you don’t give out bread, you give out Star Trek themed circuses.

We used to think Libya’s head nut was the looniest dictator in the region, but the Jordanian royals are trying to give him a run for his money.

“In the overall picture of things it’s not a huge investment,” she said. “If you want to do a Disney or a Universal, that amount would be just for the licence fees.

“The whole resort for profitability requires 480,000 people a year. Typical theme parks require millions of people to pass through in a year to start breaking even.

Yeah. Except 480,000 people is like 10 percent of the population of the country. And most of the tourists are coming for archeology or Saudis who want to kick back in a country with looser morals. How many of them are into Star Trek?

Star Trek is almost dead. It only lives on as a video game license and a series of action movies that use some of the characters from the original series. Does being used as a prop in a dictator’s circus to avoid reforms mean the end?

Ruth Rendell

Sometimes you pick the books you read, sometimes the books pick you when you’re in a place with limited available reading material. I’m obviously not the demographic for Rendell’s books, but still picking up a copy and seeing all the praise for it, from reputable publications calling her the greatest living available writer ever, I expected something… better.

Rendell isn’t a bad writer, but there was nothing in Not In the Flesh, that half the contributors to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine or Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine couldn’t plop out annually. And looking at the list of Rendell’s novels, that seems to be what she does. The Wexford novels are obviously phoned in. Not in the Flesh is a novella fleshed out a little with a female genital mutilation story that has nothing to do with anything else, except that it’s an issue the author cares about.

The Kate Atkinson novel I read afterward was not only about a dozen times better, it read like the author had put some work into it. Rendell doesn’t. The outcome of the case is obvious. The clues pop out at you from the background material. An aside describing a ring means that the ring will become significant. When Rendell goes on about a ring on another character’s finger given to her by her murdered boyfriend, the connection between the two murders becomes obvious. Similarly when she goes off on a rant about a writer’s religious novels and points out that one stands out, it becomes obvious that the novel was stolen and that explains the first murder. Anyone with half a brain knows the ending 100 pages before the plodding Wexford finally gets there. All this is lazy writing. Rendell could probably do better. She doesn’t bother. And these things apparently sell well enough that she doesn’t need to.

All fair enough. What I was less prepared for was the weirdly dogmatic political correctness and the sheer hatefulness of some of it. It’s not that I disagree with her, so much as the first 100 pages felt like being shouted at shrilly by someone on a train. Every few pages there’s some petty mini-lecture. I’ve read Henning Mankell. His politics are there, but he doesn’t relentlessly beat you over the head with them. Hannah Goldsmith becomes unbearable a few pages in, and it’s unrealistic that a junior officer would even be bullying a superior officer over such petty things. But after the first 100 or so pages, Rendell levels off and focuses her politics on a sideline about genital mutilation that has nothing to do with anything. The homophobic character sketch of Greg, is an odd choice for a woman who relentlessly lectures on bigotry.

It’s the hatefulness that’s unpleasant. Whether it’s through the eyes of Wexford, a middle aged male inspector or one of his subordinates, the descriptions are oddly hateful and when it comes to women, catty. They’re not plausibly those of Wexford. And they clash with the tone. The bias also makes the mystery much less of a mystery. You can tell the villains by how hatefully Rendell describes them or how much of a tear she goes on over them. Her rant about Son of Nun makes the final culprit obvious. It’s sloppy, but again Rendell clearly doesn’t care.

Is Newsweek Completely Losing It?

Okay I get that buying a news magazine in 2010 was maybe not a great investment. Newsweek was always the weekly version of USA Today a glossy and content free list of things to read about while waiting at the dentist. Okay. So why resurrect it as a crazy boring version of itself?

First we get a cover story of Mitt Romney performing a dance from the Book of Mormon. Bigoted? Yeah. Imagine of Joe Lieberman was on there as a character from Fiddler on the Roof or Obama acting out a part in Porgy and Bess. Then follow it up with a photoshopped cover of Kate Middleton and Princess Diana.

There’s something about the stench of desperation from a major brand name magazine that’s unappealing. It’s like a presidential candidate who suddenly decides to show off his juggling skills. And now Newsweek is starting to look like a better photoshopped Weekly World News.

The Meaning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

ferrris bueller

There have been some ridiculous essays about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. All dealing with its perceived importance.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not a great movie. It’s an enjoyable one. Among many others. You can analyze The Breakfast Club, but there’s no point to analyzing Ferris Bueller. It’s a movie about the ultimate idealized teenager, with the vocabulary of a 30 year old, the skills of a con artist and the luck of the Irish who thanks to Matthew Broderick’s performance remains sympathetic. Not accessible, but entertaining.

Ferris Bueller is the Peter Pan of a generation. Played by an actor who looked like he never really grew up. It’s the wish fulfillment of every movie about staying young forever packed into one marathon session. It’s about having to grow up, but offers the fantasy of being able to do it on your own terms. That’s what Ferris Bueller offers his friends. It’s why he has the popularity he does.

Most movies go up and down. Ferris Bueller never goes down. The antagonists never have a chance. The movie is all joie de vivre on terms that an aging man with a creative imagination who loved Chicago and was obsessed with the teenage years thought up. And it works.

There are only a few actors who could have done it. Broderick or Fox. And the movie endures better than even The Breakfast Club, because it promises freedom from teenage angst, while at the same time recognizing it for what it is. Hughes’ movies treated the transitions of being a teenager as a complex fantasy environment. But if Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink were the deep involved dramas about coping, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about freedom from angst. Bueller is a teenage superman, not bound by the limitations of being a teenager, while enjoying all of its privileges. And if that’s not perfect escapism for teenagers and adults in a country that worships freedom and youth, I don’t know what is.

And the Dumbest Movie Essay of the Week Goes to Alan Siegel of The Atlantic

Come on. Ferris Bueller is probably the movie least worth analyzing. The movie that defies analysis because it isn’t about anything but what it is. Wish fulfillment. It’s an experience with no realistic context whatsoever. That doesn’t stop Alan Siegel from writing a ridiculous critique of Ferris Bueller, for not having any black friends. Or something.

Ferris’s way of life leaves me feeling empty. There’s just not much substance to it. Ferris hides behind his shtick, and he lies.

It’s like he’s a teenager or something.

This is the myth of Ferris Bueller. It’s portrayed as a universal story, when it’s really not.

The universal story is already a myth. Ferris Bueller is not universal, it’s escapist. And escapism to a consequence free good time is as universal as it gets for teenagers.

“What kind of movie hero consciously presents himself as infantile and duplicitous?” Paris Review writer Caleb Crain asks in his recent essay

Most comedy heroes do. At least 50/50. Go look at Jim Carrey’s career again.

Hell, the movie made columnist George F. Will’s bow tie spin like a pinwheel. He called it, “the moviest movie, the one most true to the spirit of movies, the spirit of effortless escapism.” What, exactly, Ferris is escaping from, I’m not sure.

Adulthood. Growing up. I haven’t seen the damn thing years and even I can answer that. Ferris never grows up, while his friends worry about graduation and having to be adults.

A lot of teenagers probably had trouble seeing themselves in Ferris. I don’t think he had any non-white friends. I don’t think he even knew any non-white kids.

Ferris Bueller, secret KKK member. Revealed only by Alan Siegel at The Atlantic. Does it get any dumber than a white guy writing an outraged condemnation about a fictional movie character from the 80’s not having enough minority friends. Maybe we can CG somebody in.

And was Ferris Bueller concerned about the environment? What’s his position on abortion? What about gay rights? Is he a third wave or second wave feminist? Send all replies to Alan Siegel.

Admittedly, I used to think Ferris was a righteous dude. But I couldn’t relate to him. After all, he wasn’t bound by the laws of reality.

Escapism. Is the word’s meaning that confusing? Did Alan have trouble relating to Han Solo too?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not a great movie. It’s an enjoyable one. Among many others. You can analyze The Breakfast Club, but there’s no point to analyzing Ferris Bueller. It’s a movie about the ultimate idealized teenager, with the vocabulary of a 30 year old, the skills of a con artist and the luck of the Irish who thanks to Matthew Broderick’s performance remains sympathetic. Not accessible, but entertaining.

Ferris Bueller is the Peter Pan of a generation. Played by an actor who looked like he never really grew up. It’s the wish fulfillment of every movie about staying young forever packed into one marathon session. It’s about having to grow up, but offers the fantasy of being able to do it on your own terms. That’s what Ferris Bueller offers his friends. It’s why he has the popularity he does.

Does Zack Snyder Have Basic Narrative Problems?

Let’s take a look at the one thing that Sucker Punch and Watchmen have in common. Okay the four or five things. Like 300 and Owls, they’re all CG cartoon. But Sucker Punch and Watchmen (I didn’t see Owls) have major narrative problems to the point where they really don’t feel like complete movies.

With Sucker Punch, Snyder aimed way too high and blew it. Some narrative problems are understandable when you’re hoping around this much. Though even TV shows have pulled it off better. But Watchmen was just as much of a mess in its own way. It did a poor job of juggling the characters and the events. There was no sense of forward motion. Just sets and scenes scattered all over the place. 300 covered that up with a simple story that was made up of slow motion fight scenes. And it had a good template to work with.

Now what happens with Superman? It’s less obvious but Bryan Singer has his own narrative problems. It was more obvious in Superman Returns. So are we headed for another round of the same? Superman Returns overthought the material. After Sucker Punch, there’s a risk of a Snyder Superman doing the same thing.

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