RIORI Volume 3, Installment 11: Alex Proyas’ “I, Robot” (2004)


I, Robot


The Players…

Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, Bruce Greenwood and Chi McBride, with Shia LeBeouf and James Cromwell.


The Story…

In mid-21st Century Chicago, robots have displaced humans in almost every way from menial labor and the tedium of modern life. Robots are made to serve humanity, provide for and protect them; it’s in their basic programming. However, when one of the newer models appears to have gone rogue and killed its creator, it’s up to technophobe Det. Del Spooner to crack the case. No robot has ever harmed, let alone killed anyone before. But as a smirking Del could tell you, there’s a first time for anything.


The Rant…

Science fiction as a genre has always been a strange beast. Ostensibly, SF concerns itself with futuristic concepts like space travel, alien cultures and technology unbound. However, it is at heart stories, parables and satire about the human condition under a very focused lens. I say this in comparison to most “straight” fiction; novels are almost always about the human condition in relation to the conflicts that people encounter through life, love and leaving using very broad strokes. Ultimately its aim is the same as straight fiction. But their messages are usually subjective, albeit we as people being the subject. We always take away something personal in the abstract from reading a novel or short story or poem or whatever.

SF is objective. Very objective. The lens I mentioned is aimed squarely at the human condition as isolated from environments very not human. You know, artifices couching the nature of humanity against backdrops of warp drive, terraforming, artificial intelligence, etc. Sure, these ideas entice fans of SF—or maybe just the plain curious—into entering adventures exploring other worlds, but the core of SF tales is examining the human factor with a very specific concept in mind: paradoxes. Sure, there are paradoxes in congenital stories, too, like doing the wrong thing for the right reason and whatnot. In SF the issues arise like what happens to humanity when all this advancement begins to whittle away at very fiber of what it truly means to be human? And what exactly is that anyway? Does it really lie within us all, or does the Universe have all the answers out there somewhere? Or is it all just the yin chasing the yang for all eternity? Is that how it’s always been?

*belch*

That was deep. Sorry about that.

No shocker. I’ve always dug science fiction. It must’ve been when I first saw Star Wars at an early age that I caught the bug. Now I know the die-hard fans are presently screaming at me and wadding up empty beer cans to remind me that the adventures of Han, Yoda and Chewie are fantasy. Look. I was six. A New Hope had spaceships and aliens and robots (droids, whatever). It was science fiction. I’m not a real Star Wars fan, and never looked very deep into its philosophical machinations or ever widening mythos. It was just that the ideas of space travel and robotics and sh*t like that really tickled my pre-teen fancy. Maybe I’ll tell you about my other fancies another time, if you’re nice.

*winks*

(Speaking of the next Star Wars  movie, I can only imagine what JJ Abrams is gonna do to the franchise after seeing his Star Trek spectacles. Permanently grind Harry Ford’s career into powder seems most probable).

So big surprise, I watched a lot of other SF movies also. You know; the biggies. Prereqs. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Alien, its sequel Aliens (to which I can quote the dialogue—“Game over, man!”—verbatim) from James Cameron as well as his Terminator films and—by my opinion, his best film—The Abyss. Of course there was the original Star Wars trilogy, in addition to Dune (quit laughing. I thought it was great, but only the unedited, three-plus hour director’s cut). And a good chunk of Spielberg’s projects, although I should’ve avoided Jurassic Park 2. I did the whole schmeer. I also somehow parlayed this youthful enthusiasm into taking on a bizarre examination of spacey sounding electronic/modernist musicians like Kraftwerk and Phillip Glass. Hey, I was a teen. In hindsight I don’t get it either. Now back off and quit smacking me with your pressings of Yoko’s Season Of Glass. I can hear that the snow is falling!

*Pardon the interruption. The Webmaster has called in the Obscurity Police to beat your friendly, neighborhood blogger back to his senses with rubber hoses and a threat to drastically decrease his allotted bitspace*

Whew. Back. Ow. Where was I? Oh, yeah: sci-fi. Who’s Phillip Glass?

Naturally, I also read quite a bit of the big names of SF: Bradbury, Asimov, Ellison, Dick, Gibson and Clarke. Clarke—Arthur C, that is—was one of my faves. Got hip to him after seeing 2001. His books really made you think, and not in some fantastical way like Bradbury or Dick did. Clarke’s books were so painfully steeped in actual science and creating not only plausible, but feasible futurescapes it demanded you to not ask yourself, “Well, what if?” but rather, “Hey, why not?” Clarke’s works were so damned prescient it made the reader, if they were paying attention, almost demand of society, “What’s taking so long? We can do this! We have Science!” (cue Thomas Dolby orchestra hit). I guess it’s not all that surprising that the guy who invented the geosynchronous orbiting satellite and predicted digital tablets—2001’s “datapad” concept beat iPads to the fore by a good forty years—would awash his books with not only science but its development, applications and possible dangers, like nuclear war and homicidal AI. Such musings invited several paradoxical devices that are now SF story staples. Science versus psychology.

Although Clarke’s take on the human factor was decisively optimistic, his tales were rather cold. Recall my rambling above (which part?) about the tight lens? Virtually all of Clarke’s stories deal with such examinations in very stark contexts. Not in a cynical fashion, but in basic terms, all this tech cannot deliver humans from the truth that we are all animals at heart. In a Golding sense, the beast is just below the surface waiting to get out. That is, unless science—reason—wins out. Clarke’s techscapes often don’t, and the caution he insinuated in his prose later made manifest with political malfeasance, abuse of science and the perils of technology dehumanizing us. But hell, such a bleak outlook sure made for a killer SF movie in 2001, crazy HAL 9000 or no. Talk about the dangers of AI. Whew.

(An aside: I once heard NASA nixing the idea of a master computer program that watchdogged the total operation of the Enterprise, the first space shuttle, after considering what HAL did in 2001. No lie. Now that’s what Clarke was talking about! Ba-zinga!)

Speaking of AI, Clarke’s buddy Isaac Asimov had a lot to say about the emergence of artificial intelligence also, but in a more theological way, continuing SF paradoxes. Unlike Clarke, Asimov was much, much more philosophical—some would claim flowery—in his endeavors than his comrade ever was. Despite his stories employing devices—some would say trappings—of space travel, alien cultures and technology unbound, Asimov’s worlds were all about humanity’s place in the universe on a metaphysical level. You know. The human condition under that damned magnifying glass where being human seems so small and insignificant and blah blah blah. Asimov took his sh*t way beyond the beyond. If you’ve ever read his Foundation trilogy, you hear what I’m screaming.

After Foundation, Asimov’s Robot chronicles are his most famous, if not defining contribution to the genre. I think its tenets are applied today to real-life robotic engineers. Asimov’s cautionary tales not doubt influenced robotic engineers to be quite judicious in designing their machines as well programming code for all their subroutines. Wouldn’t want the slaves becoming the masters and all that. I’d say in part thanks to Asimov’s foresight, such careful designing explains why the articulated welding robots in Detroit don’t ask for coffee breaks (that and not needing coffee) or the drones erasing brown people from the Mideast complain about vertigo.

Just a minute. Fox News is on the phone. BRB.

*flushes iPhone down toilet*

Don’t worry. It had a Catalyst case. And I own a plunger. I was saying?

Book one of the Robot stories, I, Robot, dealt with the human factor in a world populated by AI. Robots built to serve humanity and so on, and all the abstract ramifications that go with it. One of the automatons achieves self-awareness, and this invites all sorts of navel gazing about the nature of self, the sanctity of life, what makes being human being human and yadda yadda yadda. If it sounds like I’m downplaying Asimov’s magnum opus, I am, if only to reflect on this week’s installment and being snarky for snark’s sake. As I have said before, I have my own Standard to maintain, too.

Me being all ribald and a d*ck is also reflective as a paradox between SF—supposedly focused on exactitude of the human condition—and how its message is inflicted on popular culture via the media, in this case movies. We’re not taking about any of those sociopolitical, esoteric or humanist objectives found in classic SF stories. Nope. We be talkin’ ‘bout the usual culprit in Tinsel Town that gives us less art for more money: profits.

He we go again. More paradox stuff.

SF master Harlan Ellison wrote an infamous essay entitled “Xenogenesis” commenting on how SF fans fail to appreciate the work their idols do in trying to examine above human factor message thingy. The title refers to a phenomenon in nature when occasionally an offspring does not resemble its parent Think “The Ugly Ducking” parable. Well, that works in making most SF movies, too, especially if it’s an adaptation of a book. The offspring sometimes does not resemble the parent.

Keeping Ellison in mind, here comes a good example of how SF can get a tad perverted when it comes to making a movie. Take notes. There might be a quiz later.

James Cameron’s sophomore effort was his now-legendary The Terminator. Of note, his debut film was a B-movie munchkin called Piranha 2: The Spawning. That movie entailed the hi-jinks surrounding exploring shipwrecks, killer fish and people wantonly f*cking on the beach. Also—true story—Cameron never even finished directing the film due to food poisoning (Hell, we all gotta start somewhere). Now I’m not gonna bash Cameron. I’ve enjoyed all his films, even the drippy Titanic and the goofy True Lies. But there are circumstances surrounding the uniqueness of The Terminator’s storyline that have been circulating for years in regards to its origin. Again, the beast did not exactly reflect its parentage.

For those who don’t know The Terminator’s plot by now, here you go. For those who do know, I do not care: An assassin cyborg from 2029 travels backwards in time 45 years. Its mission is to find and kill a woman that will eventually give birth to a child who will grow up to lead the uprising against the hordes of evil, sentient machines bent on eradicating humanity. The cyborg—the titular terminator—is an example of what happens when Asimov’s robot laws are not adhered to, by the way.

To rescue the woman, the humans sent back their own emissary to save her and hopefully subdue the terminator, an elite ‘bot-killin’ soldier who has the skills to pay the bills. The rest is a lot cat-and-mouse chase scenes, ridiculous stunts, heavy firepower and a lot of stuff going kerboom. That and Arnie shooting a lot of people. I mean a lot. This is where Schwarzenegger’s dubious film career takes flight. Still a great film, by the way.

Here’s where things get all blurry. It’s when the paradox occurs, when Hollywood mucks with what makes SF unique: analyzing the human condition in an environment that makes humanity insignificant. I’m not faulting Cameron here, not exactly. His mistake was a combination of fanboy worship, directorial enthusiasm and more than a little hubris. Where an ignorant Hollywood got their thumb in the pie is where the trouble with The Terminator’s production lay.

It wasn’t shown in the theatrical release, but on home video—right as the end credits rolled—The Terminator director and crew gave a shout-out to Harlan Ellison for his inspiration. In actuality this was less of giving kudos and more like a sort of limp-wristed slow clap. The tribute was added to appease the mercurial, often litigious Ellison who felt (correctly) that he was both robbed of creative credit and therefore any possible royalties the film would generate. Ellison sued, and the case was settled out of court where the man eventually got his due. Issue more or less resolved. In the end and by his own admission, Ellison thought The Terminator was great by the way

So what does ol’ Harlan have to do with Cameron’s The Terminator? Simply put, Ellison wrote the stories—teleplays, actually—on which the movie was based. Cameron modestly boosted ‘em, and without apology.

Back in the ‘60’s there was ABC’s answer to CBS’ revered Twilight Zone TV anthology series, The Outer Limits. Limits was much darker (and freakin’ scarier) than its cousin. It focused on hard, stark, apocalyptic science fiction rather than Rod Serling’s social commentary disguised as fantasy. Ellison himself penned a pair of Limits scripts, two of the best. One was simply titled Soldier, and was about a programmed-to-kill mercenary from the distant future who accidentally gets zapped into the past only to be pursued by his enemy. Our soldier eventually bests his adversary while defending the family that rescued him. The other tale, Demon With A Glass Hand, is about an android charged with protecting the last vestiges of humanity from an invading alien army from the future hell-bent on colonizing Earth.

Sound vaguely familiar?

After seeing The Terminator, Ellison felt the same way, hence the lawsuit. Cameron eventually fessed up to caging the stories and mutating them into his movie. However—not unlike an unexpected guest at a funeral—a paradox occurred. Hollywood failed to catch wind of Cameron’s tooling during production. To this day I find that amazing to believe. You wanna know how much oversight Hollywood has to maintain avoiding creative culpability? They have phalanxes of lawyers at the ready to make sure no scenarist or director—directly or inadvertently—lifts some other artist’s property, claim it as their own, and damn well ignore any copyright laws being f*cked with. If that ever happens—perhaps in Ellison’s case—much face and many, many dollars would be lost.

Well, it happened anyway with the first Terminator. One would think that Hollywood would’ve—should’ve—been more careful, especially with Ellison active in both TV and film. I guess they smelled a hit (on the cheap, too), as well as the bucks oozing from Ah-nuld’s every pore. Besides (shrug), science fiction is junk culture anyway, and who really reads anymore except maybe SF fans? And after all, The Terminator was more or less an action movie anyway, so why split hairs?

Well, Ellison brought out the shears. The reason why Harlan probably didn’t destroy Cameron’s career outright despite the lifted material is that Cameron handled the script in a very shrewd way. Even if The Terminator was overtly an action flick, it had enough sincere hallmarks handled very cagily to appease most SF proponents. Including Ellison apparently, who later went on the record saying he knew the film’s source material was impeccable—wink wink, nudge nudge. So beers all around, and Tinsel Town narrowly dodges (yet another) bullet.

And that’s the story of Avatar, the galaxy’s greatest Dances With Wolves rip-off. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously though, you might be asking yourself: what does all that have to do with I, Robot, the books and the film? Xenogenesis. A paradox. I, Robot the film barely suggests any affiliation with Asimov’s stories. Like The Terminator, Robot is mostly an action film with a healthy dose of “whodunit?” thrown in. But did it do a keen enough job on its own merit to earn the praise and street cred The Terminator received?

Well…


Chicago detective Del Spooner (Smith) has a secret. It’s more an open secret. He hates robots. And when you’re living in the city that seats the multi-national, multi-billion dollar US Robotics Corporation, you find yourself in a boatload of hate.

US Robotics is responsible for the lion’s share of both domestic and labor robots that displaced humans from doing the crap jobs no one wants to do. The ‘bots take out the trash, they dig ditches, they’re menservants to the general public who don’t want to walk their own dogs anymore. Spooner feels that all this anthropomorphic slave labor dehumanizes people, makes them lazy. Del’s a low tech kind of guy, and likes it that way. Less fuss, more hands-on stuff.

It’s no surprise that Spooner’s got it in for robots, so much so that he’s always on the lookout for any robotic criminal behavior, which never comes. Robots are funny like that. They are programmed to never harm a human, always protect humans and always sacrifice themselves in order to serve mankind. Spooner’s CO Lt. Bergin (McBride) is always quick to remind him of that. No robot has ever, ever committed a crime. Neither purse snatching nor murder. Del is tilting at windmills. Despite this irrefutable fact, Spoon’s prejudices keep him both on edge and perpetual surveillance.

Then one day Del’s paranoia pays off. You know what they say; you only have to be right once.

There’s been a murder at US Robotics HQ. The victim is Spooner’s on again/off again connection in the robot industry, Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell), the brain trust for all robot design and programming. Looks like the good doctor took a long walk off a short pier from his lab from many stories up to the concourse below. Lanning left a holographic memento for Spooner. A vauge warning to him of some possible nefarious activities bubbling just below USR’s spotless surface.

Before Spoon can scream conspiracy, Lanning’s protégé Dr Laura Calvin (Moynahan) comes to his assistance. Del falls back on his suspicions and proposes to her that one of Lanning’s creations went on the fritz and committed patricide. Although distraught, Calvin reassures the detective about robotic programming. No robot can harm nor be permitted to harm a human being. Whatever.

Investigating Lanning’s lab, Del and Calvin are assaulted by one of the latest iterations of Lanning’s work, a very human-like robot calling itself Sonny (Tudyk). Sonny’s the prime suspect, and after being subdued it’s taken into custody for questioning. Sonny pleads for leniency and justice and bemoans any possibility that it would kill its “father.”

Needless to say, Del’s not convinced. Sonny is dodgy—a rather human trait—about what went down that fateful day. By matter of right place/wrong time, Sonny’s case isn’t looking too good. But the machine carries on about “programming” and “service” and Lanning wanting it to be all over.

“It?” What “it?”

Maybe Spooner’s phobia isn’t all that unfounded after all. Something stinks in the bowels of USR, and either by personal prejudice, corporate greed, a righteous sense of justice or simply the lure of a unique case, both Del and Calvin are going to get to the bottom of this.

But both better be careful, the walls—the city—has ears. Not to mention a very large robot population…


Just the other day, my buddies asked me which movie was on the menu for the newest installment of RIORI. When I told them I, Robot, it turned out they had a few thoughts—and Standards—of their own regarding this cinematic trifle. This may illustrate that The Standard regarding the movies I scrape down to the bare metal here might be onto something. All I have to do now is figure out what.

The responses I got were equally divided, from “I like that movie” to blargh, and up came two feet of intestine. For everyone who said that I, Robot was a good way to waste a Saturday afternoon, someone else was scratching their head. I even had one guy (who wasn’t too fond of the film) cite a few scenes that really confused him. This isn’t a spoiler; the scene had no real bearing on the flow of the plot, so this shouldn’t hurt a bit.

He asked me about what was up with Det. Spooner and his beloved black Chuck Taylors. There were a few scenes apropos of nothing Spooner injected to the matter of his choice footwear. My friend didn’t get it. What was the big deal with the shoes? I answered in kind:

“Spooner just likes Converse,” I said frankly, “and it’s also product placement.”

This satisfied him, but not the whole deal with screen time dedicated to foot fashion when there was possibly a killer robot on the loose. This is where I return to the SF paradox again. Such glitches are rife within big ticket SF, even famous and popular franchises. How does Darth Vader go from gunning for Luke in the first movie to then recruiting him in the second? How was ET able to heal Elliot with a touch but unable to heal himself? Why was it that in the original Terminator Reese explained no inorganic matter could pass through the time machine but in TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles a severed, metal skull of a destroyed Terminator bounced into the past? Ripley bails on her crewmates to rescue a friggin’ cat? And what was up with Data using contractions in the first season of Star Trek: TNG?

(Hey, trivia time. The whole Alien cat thing? It was director Scott’s nod to old timey nautical superstition, not to mention serving as sort of a retrograde dues ex machina. Back in the day, when a ye olden wooden ship was going down, it was considered very unlucky to leave the ship’s cat behind lest there’d be no rescue. Cats were kept onboard to keep stowaway rats that would chew on both rations and rigging  at bay, thereby being unsung, essential members of the crew. No pocky for kitty. You heard it here. Anyway…)

Yeah, yeah. I know. Splitting hairs. But hardcore SF movie/TV fans notice such stickiness (as much as Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead freaks do), and it often causes a mild form of cognitive dissonance. It’s enough to have the dedicated viewer chuck the remote through the screen. Such paradoxes are commonly defined as betraying interior logic.

Let’s face it; the worlds of SF make up their own rules in order to advance the story. The rules must make sense, be relevant to and obeyed within the plot at all times. Sure, we know Han Solo and Greedo aren’t real, and neither are their blasters, but when Lucas f*cked around with the editing it put Star Wars geeks into a foaming uproar. The scene either upset or codified Han Solo as a soulless merc or just a guy trying to keep on keeping on.

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example. But here, consider this scenario instead: when Ripley finally bests the xenomorph in Alien 3 by somehow using the laws of physics (which are serious business in SF) in reverse? Possible spoiler, but doesn’t hot metal usually contract rather than expand when introduced to freezing cold water? Flubs like that makes the needle skitter over the average SF fan’s Philip Glass record. I heard such a thing once, which is now why I’m sterile. But later such evil exams result in 8-Track collection of Cluster to turn into Vaseline.

(And I hear them bootstraps being pulled up by hands still clutching cans of PBR.)

Anyway, I, Robot defies interior logic a lot, especially since the thing can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s a cop caper, a meditation on existence, a sci-fi parable or a Matrix disillusion. The movie defies interior logic due to the simple fact of its schizoid nature; the plot’s convoluted and crams too much story (all nine and next to none of Asimov’s opus) into its theatrical running time. I, Robot probably could’ve gone on for over four hours. Be glad it barely broke two.

The average movie freak—the guys like me who crave these things: beer, a good seat, surround sound and a patient date who would put up with the nerdy film geek sh*t quacking openly about this and that on screen—would appreciate this. Here: One of the biggest strengths of Robot is its visuals. Yeah, I know; if this is a sci-fi flick, it had better look interesting with lots of techno splash and dash. Well not this time. I’ve always preferred my SF to not be so fantastic more than plausible. Future Chicago here looks like how it could possibly be 20 years from now. The cars, the trains, the architecture, all of it looks plausible, and not gaudy or stylized like in some anime movie (think Akira). Chicago 2035 looks like any metropolis, only with slightly more advanced tech, different fashions and an altered skyline. That and there are f*cking robots marching everywhere.

You could see yourself there, and since the city is on the whole pretty mundane populated with average people, it should come as no real surprise that our hero Spooner is (at first glance) your Average Joe cop. In fact, Smith’s character is your stereotypical cop who prefers to play by his own rules. I guess even in the future some things never change, which is a shame. Sure, Spooner has a somewhat interesting backstory, and we want to know what his issue with robots is, but something’s off the mark.

It’s Smith’s acting. He’s very stiff. Big Willie’s charm is still there, though, but subdued and mired with much sarcasm. Over the course of the film, it becomes painfully apparent that Will is rather bored with his character. The zippiness he’s shown in his other SF movies (the Men In Black series, I Am Legend and Independence Day) is all but absent here. I’m not sure if this was done on purpose or for the sake of plot, like trying to add some gravitas to his role or something. In any event, audiences know Smith as charming. His charm and humor come naturally, even in “serious” roles like Six Degrees Of Separation, Seven Pounds and The Pursuit Of Happiness. By the by, I’m not counting his performance as the titular character in Ali. We all know the great heavyweight was an even mix of personality, humor and charm. Not much of a stretch for Smith there. If you’re curious, a good example of a charmless Smith? After Robot, watch After Earth. The film was okay. Willie was not. And his rigidity don’t work here to good neither.

That’s the big problem with Robot. It’s not just Spooner is a stereotype. Everyone in the movie is a cut-and-paste, fill-in-the-blank, connect-the-dots nonentity. We have the grizzled cop with issues. We have Moynahan’s brilliant but underappreciated scientist (perhaps cuz she’s a girlie. So much for sexual equality in the future) who has all the answers. We have Smith’s Riggs to McBride’s Murtaugh as the higher up, scolding Spooner for being paranoid and lackadaisical. We have Bruce Greenwood’s slimy, overreaching executive now in charge of a billion dollar company and all the bells and whistles that go along with that. We have our Mr. Bodie, Dr. Lanning, the revered super genius scientist/Dr. Frankenstein. We have our cast of nobodies, and an audience really can’t rally around a cast that’s so flat and hollow to summon any real emotional attachment.

Save one: Sonny.

This is forced credit—perhaps with forced irony—but at the end of the day, Tudyk’s performance as the robot perpetrator seems the most human and fully formed. That is to say, at least without pretense. Sonny’s honest demeanor and childlike emotions are the only thing we can hang on to in Robot. He’s the most interesting character (the only one, actually), and let’s face it, the movie’s whole raison d’être. Robot’s world is comprised of a lot of trite dialogue, half-baked ideas and a needlessly rushed and convoluted plot, but we got this cool robot here conveying more emotion and compelling motivations than the rest of the flesh and blood cast, or at least those not rendered via CGI. But an Xmas tree with only one branch makes for a lousy place to hang all those ornaments. Ho ho ho.

There were a lot of technical red flags with Robot, too, and I ain’t just talking robo-jargon. Remember what I said about science fiction having to obey its interior logic? Well, I’m not one hundred percent sure if this applies to Robot’s byzantine meditation on life and freewill.

The following could be construed as a spoiler, but it doesn’t really give away any significant plot points or twists or whatever. Robot is technically a murder mystery disguised as a sci-fi tale, and the whole motive behind Sonny’s alleged murder is wrapped up in his programming. I’ll keep it short: robots cannot kill, but Sonny is a new model, programmed to think and emote like a human. He is accused of killing his creator and gets very emotional about it, claiming his innocence. His newer programming allows him a sense of freewill, and therefore capable of acting on his emotions. But he is still a robot, and his basic programming still applies. These points are hammered on throughout the movie. So Sonny is capable of killing, understands the nature of it, quite capable, has motive (albeit not his own, or maybe it was. The plot vacillates between these points as it is convenient to the hair-brained scheme of things) but stills asserts his basic code. Then gets perilously close to breaking it. In sum, if these laws are immutable to all robots, then how can Sonny seem to willfully defy them when it suits the situation?

Headache yet? I sure as sh*t got one.

The whole wad above is an insidious yet glaring technical issue—one of many regarding Robot’s execution—that makes the movie hop the tracks. Robot is trying very hard to be an SF movie, but any keen eye can see that this is merely a shiny, shiny murder mystery/action/thriller. Asimov’s concepts are barely touched upon; save the three robot laws, nothing else was adapted into the script, which ultimately sucked all the smart from Asimov’s stories that made his whole series so compelling in the first place. Even the end credits cite Asimov’s work being merely “suggested” as the basis for the movie. Would’ve Robot been better if the root stories were more closely adhered to? Probably not, considering all its other flaws besides a weak script.

Again with the pacing. It’s stuttering, like trying to start your car on a winter’s morning. Stop, go, crank, repeat, ignition, fart. Robot plays out like a CD with a scratch in it; just when things feel smooth sailing, there comes a hiccup in the story. Examples include the many, many, many times Sonny swoops in and out of character, or the heavy duty big science/philosophical exposition Del and Laura get into as if to explain the SF minutiae to the confused audience (perhaps who are fans of and understand how SF works). You gotta find a groove telling a story with film. If you keep mucking with the mixture, regardless of the genre, all you’re doing is cementing an audience’s suspicion: the story is weak, and the director is merely slapping mortar onto the crumbling dam.

Speaking of directing, Robot is sorely lacking in a signature facet of director Proyas. I think some of it injected into the movie would’ve made it more compelling. Robot needs a healthy dose of Alex Proyas’ weirdness. Compared to The Crow and Dark City, Robot cannot compare. This is Proyas’ first “straight” film, and it shows. It’s a failed blockbuster. Betting on Proyas’ cachet as a director of psychological fantasy, I’ll be willing to wager that the studio heads figured they found their SF Wes Anderson. I’ll also bet they hedged their bets and stripped out the overtly “weird” elements of Asimov’s story lines, tempered Proyas’ verve, dropped a whole boatload of cash into a derivative movie with cool CGI, Will Smith and that funny Aussie-Egyptian director of that comic book flick about Bruce Lee’s dead son as a dead rock star at the helm minus the sharpness of a science fiction story and hope the sloppy general public will come in droves. Will Smith!

Uh, no. Proyas’ talent with weird was wasted (or at most heavily diluted) on Robot. Watching it I could feel that any action director could’ve fit the bill. We landed in John McTiernan territory here, and our movie demanded some strangeness to lighten the mass media load with its not so subtle commentary on tech consumer bread and circuses. No, Robot needed some spice that only Proyas with hands untied could provide.

Still, for all its clumsy flaws, Robot had a handful of notable bright spots. Like I said, the visuals were interesting, albeit not necessarily compelling. But when used right, they worked. For instance, the insect/hive mind of the robots made for some cool choreography (although the Matrix-esque action camera work got a tad disorienting sometimes, but still in a good way). There’s something rightfully unsettling about swarms of malicious robots crawling across the cityscape, with humans cowering in their wake. This paired with keen use of lighting goes quite far in heightening visual tension. As if in reflection of the bland human cast, Sonny and his kind did their best to keep the audience engaged in the drawn-out, often frustratingly protean storyline by actually showing “honest” emotion. A gold star to Tudyk, who in my opinion was the real star and walked away with the movie, such as it was.

Ah, me. Yep, science fiction can be pretty heady. Seems the best SF films often are about, or at least hint at “big concepts.” The paradox of making a good SF film, or even a mediocre one like Robot is in figuring out how to keep that essential interior logic in check, maintaining a modicum of “smart” and inject just enough vitality and action to keep the heady sh*t bounding along without fear of pitfalls. Want to have that cake to eat.

2001 had it. The original Terminator had it. I, Robot? Not so much. What’s worse is that it wasn’t even a true science fiction movie. It was a police procedural, and a rather stock one at that.

By the way, the blogger wishes to acknowledge the influence of Harlan Ellison on this week’s installment. Just in case.

*again, wink*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. I, Robot was nothing more than a high concept episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. And not a very good one either. Plus, steer clear of The Crow: City Of Angels. Proyas sure did.


Stray Observations…

  • Nice touch with Stevie Wonder there, if a bit on the nose.
  • “Better be the last nothing.”
  • Technically speaking, Sonny and Co. aren’t robots; they’re androids. Androids are robots designed to look like people. Robots are designed to look like they could weld a Cadillac’s chassis together.
  • “Nice shoes.” Cute metaphor.
  • What the hell’s a “Café Ovaltine?” They give you a decoder pin with your latte?
  • “Do you ever have a normal day?”
  • “Ghost in the machine” is courtesy of Jung, not Asimov. And definitely not Dr Lanning.
  • “I’ll see my own doctor.”
  • Del’s robo-prejudice pans out as a tad weak. From the get go we’d’ve figured there’d be a bigger back story than REDACTED (that’s f*cking better than the usual pussy “spoiler alert.” Think I’m gonna use that from now on).
  • “That one’s me.”

Next Installment…

Charlize Theron is a frustrated writer of Young Adult novels, and lately her own story is an example of life imitating art. And we ain’t talkin’ no Sweet Valley High here neither.


 

RIORI Volume 3, Installment 10: Curtis Hanson’s “Wonder Boys” (2000)


Wonder Boys


The Players…

Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Katie Holmes and Robert Downey, Jr.


The Story…

Writing professor Grady Tripp is at a crucial juncture in his career, his relationships and his life. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t realize this. After relentless years trying to write the follow-up to his first, critically acclaimed novel with no success, he looks elsewhere for some inspiration as well as a leg to stand on. It’s a fruitless journey, and the prospect of only having teaching to fall back on/shackled to mediocrity to reaffirm his dwindling esteem isn’t helping his quest bear fruit. Still always teaching, always teaching.

Unbeknownst to Grady—as well as by most signposts along the road—his best student James might be able to offer some perspective (however bleak) on how to make some decent choices, both within and without a book at your back. It might take a few pills, however.


The Rant…

This time out, I promise to try and play nice. Try, mind you.

About a year ago—give or take—I covered Gus Van Zant’s Finding Forrester. It was a mentor/protégé story about a young writer trying to find his voice and a reclusive, older writer trying to coax his adolescent charge to discover “the writer within. The critics tore it to shreds and hawked up the jetsam all over the sidewalk. The plot was accused of being very derivative, and comparisons to Van Zant’s previous effort, Good Will Hunting abounded. Such gripes weren’t unwarranted. Still, it remains a pet film of mine. Chalk it up to my idol worship of Sean Connery—who was the titular lead—and newcomer Rob Brown’s earnest portrayal as Forrester’s insecure pupil and eventual friend, Jamal. There was a lot of sentimental drivel, and not all the roles were acted well (sometimes plummeting into stereotypes), but I feel thanks to Connery and Brown’s chemistry, the film ended up be better than the sum of its parts.

Despite me being all crass and bitchy, I’m a sentimental fool at heart. Buddy movies revolving around writing always both nab my attention and lift my spirits, even if the film is properly labeled derivative and shallow (or simply just plain lame. Sue me). Call it a guilty pleasure, like Double Stuf Oreos, ABBA and any movie “Savage” Steve Holland directed.

*crickets*

If you got it, you know. Check the IMDB if not. Then stream One Crazy Summer. One of Cusack’s finest 🙂

See? I’m already trying to be more cordial. Sure it’s hurting my jaw, but I think it’ll be worth it. I think. I hope.

This year we have a similar movie, but it avoids the trappings of overt sentimental claptrap, unlike Forrester. At least at the outset. I mean, c’mon, you can’t have a mentor/student story without at least a little frosting on the cupcake. The two characters gotta eventually like each other, or at least reach a mutual understanding, By extension so should the audience. But I think—know—that establishing such necessary bonds don’t need to involve a lot of hugs and being maudlin. Was Forrester that way? Yeah, at times. But I managed to overlook it, again mostly thanks to the great Sean Connery and his fantastically unconvincing hairpiece.

I think it might be possible to pull such a story off with somewhat unpleasant characters that seem to be at odds with one another for almost the entire movie. And I’m talking reciprocal apprehension and even hostility here. Hell, worked for the Lethal Weapon movies (Okay. Bad example). That kind of dynamic makes for some juicy tension, and as any writer worth their salt can tell you: stories thrive on and are driven by tension. Sometimes the tension in a movie isn’t dictated solely by this precept, mind you. Tension in a story can take up many different guises. There’s the classic man-vs.-society trope (think Terry Gilliam’s Brazil), or the man-vs.-self idiom (again, Brazil), or the man-vs.-the unknown scenario (also…you get it). Sometimes the leads may just be drifting, ships in the night kind of thing, passively poking each other’s brainpans. Y’know, eventually sort of mirroring each other’s issues. A cracked mirror maybe. Still, being poked is being poked, and sooner or later someone’s gotta scratch at that itch…


Professor Grady Tripp (Douglas) doesn’t believe in writer’s block. He instructs his writing students that all you have to do is keep on writing. And writing. It’s how he he’s kept at his latest novel. Latest, that is, since his first published book…seven years ago.

In the interim, regardless of any encouraging words to his class, Grady’s had a tough time of it. His wife left him. He’s in Dutch with the university’s chairman of the writing department—not to mention Grady having an affair with his wife Sarah (McDormand), the school’s Chancellor. Like most is pro choices, looks like the good professor never learned to not sh*t where one eats.

In addition to his tryst, Grady is having to deal with his smarmy editor Terry (Downey), whose very job hinges getting Grady’s still unfinished second book—a spiraling, out of control, 2000-plus pages, nary an ending in sight monster—to print. His prodding another nagging reminder of Grady’s career arrest. And with the annual Wordfest fast approaching, there’s his class to consider, and who’ll be the next candidate to maybe win a publishing deal. All this straddles Tripp’s ever weakening shoulders.

Oh, there’s also this matter of his star pupil, withdrawn, morbid James Leer (Maguire). What is up with this introverted, sullen kid? His kind feels all too familiar for Grady.

The kid’s got talent; some real promise. If only Grady could coax a little humanity out of the guy. But James is dodgy, distant and like one too many caricatures of solitary, troubled, genius writers of the past. Terry thinks James could easily be published, and a success story like that might lift Grady’s slumping spirits. Something like that might make the daily grind of his job gain some meaning again.

That could be all good for Grady, but with all that other crap looming large—and his increasingly unhealthy weed habit—he doubts himself as being the ideal candidate for a mentor. Besides, there’s always that damned novel at his back.

Professor Tripp says he won’t acknowledge writer’s block. It looks like Grady won’t acknowledge any responsiblities, either…


Obeying The Standard, Wonder Boys got stuck in the tender trap of critical acclaim bookended with sh*tty box office returns. It only recouped a little more than half of its initial $55 million budget, even after Michael Douglas charged half of his going rate (yeah, he has a going rate). By Hollywood standards it more or less meant, “Yay! Craft services got covered! Now there’s all this promo crap we gotta do to pay for our valet parking fees!” I guess that’s showbiz. But in the final analysis, Wonder Boys was not a flop; the film wouldn’t have shown up here at RIORI otherwise. It didn’t find itself sweeping the gold dust off its shoulders, either. Right in line, step in time. We’re hugging the median here.

Forrester didn’t fare so hot, too. It might’ve been the weak script—more like predictable script—that put people off. Or maybe it was blah supporting characters. Perhaps it was you could see the ending a light-year away. Me? I blame Anna Paquin. In any event, Boys shares a similar vibe with Forrester and not just in middling box office returns. There’s the whole writer connection, not to mention the dysfunctional nature of both character’s practicing their craft. Also the whole difference in age thing, as well as the mentor/student relationship. Plus the whole “rising star, setting sun,” passing-the-torch schtick. Both movies were even released in the same year, for Christ’s sake (Boys in February 2000, Forrester in December 2000). By the last factoid, one might wonder—maybe even aloud—if one influenced the other to some degree. Unsure, on all fronts.

In spite of both movies have similar themes, comparing Forrester to Boys is like comparing a Ford Windstar to a Ferrari P4/5. Sure, they’re both cars, and they’ll get you to where you need to go. But it’s how they get you to your destination that makes the difference (sorry for the repeat of driving metaphors. It’s tough to for me to be original when I’m minding my manners. Now back the f*ck off).

To be totally honest, I had seen Wonder Boys before. It was over a decade ago, during my wilderness years. Yeah, I know I talk about those chemically enhanced—or depending on how you look at it, retarded—days a lot here. You’re no doubt a tad sick of it. I understand; you’ve seen a pattern forming. I’m not proud of those wasted—literally—years, but I’m not going to deny them, either. It’d be like Grady Tripp telling James to lay off his dope: I should know better. More accurately, I wish I knew then what I know now. There are times where your sole purpose in life is to serve as an example—or warning—to others. Even to yourself.

And that’s one to grow on. Anyway:

Yeah, I “saw” Wonder Boys many years previous. Not sure how I recalled seeing the thing at all. It was only happenstance—maybe more like a willful memory cell finally recovering from the hangover—that I foggily remembered it. After scouring Box Office Mojo, surprise, its lame returns from the Cineplex and high praise from the movie snobs granted Boys entrance into The Standard’s club. So, yay.

Now I got to watch the movie with a mostly clear head. I think back in the day Boys’ premise caught my attention, what with the story about struggling writers in a collegiate setting. It might also have been Grady’s debilitating weed abuse, of which I could relate. Well, whatever. This week, I blew away the dust and actually watched and even appreciated the thing. That’s right: appreciated. However my enjoyment of Boys in relation to Forrester is like comparing apples to aquarium gravel. Regardless of the movies’ similar archetypes, I found Boys to be the superior film, even with my warm fuzzy for Connery.

First of all with Boys, it’s refreshing to see a quirky character study that doesn’t stagger into Wes Anderson territory. Don’t get me wrong. I think Anderson’s films are a blast, but they’re a little wanting in the subtlety department. I mean, c’mon, you can’t always have your cast of dysfunctional characters act like rejects from a Fellini-esque Adam Sandler flick (think about that. Now, sorry). You can only go so far, or do much with quirky characters until they start to distract the audience from the story proper. Admit it, even Anderson suffers from this problem. A lot can be said for carefully setting up a film’s characters to not come across as conflicted, gonzo loons in the first act, or first scene for that matter. Conflicted, sure. Remember what I said about creating tension? Right, and using a l’il bit of Vaseline on the lens focusing on our dramatis personae can sometimes go a lot longer, eventually feeling a lot more investing than a perpetual Bill Murray signature slouch. In Boys, director Hanson takes us for a car ride, off and on, down the road of elegant character study.

Make no mistake, like with Forrester’s struggling writers, Boys is first and foremost a character study. But that is where the similarities end. Where Forrester was optimistic, Boys has a dark, almost impenetrable heart. First what’s notable is Grady’s flat narration. We fast learn that he’s a writer, even though in the first paragraph he mentions his absentee wife, his affair with Sarah, him being beleaguered with his teachings and students, particularly James and Holmes’ Hannah (whom I failed to find any real justification for being in the movie…or any movie, really), and him trying to compensate for the inability to complete his second book, which has become like the proverbial albatross. In the first paragraph! Narrating! Even when the rest of the cast makes their presence known on screen, it’s all drawn faces and feelings of resignation. No color here, yet they’re already quite vivid. No French Bowie soundtrack either. Calm down. I thought Zissou was great. Go read the review.

Since we’ve now established that Boys is a character study, we’d better pray that the characters are interesting. Compelling. Fully fleshed out.

Not necessarily likeable.

It’s a common fallacy that characters in fiction must be likeable. Bzzzt. Wrongo. C’mon, is Hannibal Lecter really a likeable dude? What about Darth Vader? Or even Walter White from Breaking Bad? One’s a psycho who eats people, one’s an evil overlord who tried to kill his own kids and one’s a dying, desperate man engaging in some dubious method of establishing life insurance. And if any of those examples were spoilers, too f*cking bad and get more culture. Do those guys really sound like any one of them would be a good bar bro? What, really? Then you belong on the list.

Good characters must be interesting. Grady and James are not likeable. But they sure ain’t boring.

Take James for instance. He’s hollow, but not in a bad way. There’s something lacking in Maguire’s performance. I’m not saying the performance itself is lacking; James has this omnipresent need for something, like he’s been searching to fill up said hollowness. He’s cold, taciturn, naïve and about as cuddly as a teddy bear stuffed with cactus needles. All we know from the outset is that James is a very talented writer and so socially awkward and morose you want to alternately smack and flee him. It’s a far cry from Maguire’s role as Spidey two years later, and a heck of a lot more weighty.

Then we have James’ foil—maybe it could be viewed the other way ‘round—Grady. Douglas’ Professor Tripp is a prickly, self-absorbed, philandering mope. He has a drug problem he won’t own up to. His novel’s going nowhere except into infinity. He’s not terribly involved in his students, if not outright disdainful. He’s made a lot of sh*t choices in his misspent life, and he fails to either realize this or just won’t admit it to himself. You’d like to tell Grady to go take a flying leap, or smack him upside the head maybe. He may be a drudge, but he’s also intriguing.

Both James and Grady have a rich backstories to draw from. What the hell happened to them? This is what draws us into their worlds, and makes us curious to where’ll they take us. It’s the whole “then what happens?” ploy I spoke of in the Iron Man 2 installment. It may be a ploy, but it’s a classic device that works. In this case, two misfits find each other in disparate, yet somehow familiar predicaments and try to help each other get out of them. The way this goes down is due to a little something called “chemistry.”

Grady and James don’t have much chemistry at the start. There’s more like this wary frustration towards one to the other, and an enervating obtuseness the other way around. Plenty of metaphors revolve around both our leads’ personalities. Heck, there’s even a not so subtle play on words regarding our characters’ names. James really is leery about everything, especially his worth as a writer. With Tobey’s eternal wide-eyed gaze, he always looks like he wish he could understand what was going on around him.

Grady’s been fumbling through life for so long now he keeps getting the way of himself by increasingly bad choices (there’s also the whole thing with his dope and his “episodes”). But over time, and with a wary understanding, some warmth develops between Tripp and Leer. They bond, and of course learn that they have a lot more in common than they thought. That and they give each other advice which turns out to save them both. Classic setup.

All of this could be just another Hollywood hackneyed story device; the whole mentor/student thing I mentioned above. What makes it work is Boys is not the story’s execution—which is done quite well for being a stock buddy/redemption tale—it’s the character interplay. This is a character study, right? So let’s talk about these weirdoes in greater depth.

Let’s poke more at Tripp’s body. Douglas has a defeated countenance a mile wide. You can even hear it in his voiceover. There’s something about this narration that enhances defeat (and no, I’m not going to yak on about that device again. You’re welcome). To be simple, Boys’ narration is unobtrusive and limited. You almost forget there is any until Tripp starts grousing again. But when his narration does speak, it has two voices. One is the writer in him—from what is said, Grady is one frustrated writer— which makes him a frustrated person. Two is the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with…everything. Nothing’s worked out for Tripp, and it’s all laid out along the path of his poor judgment. You can see it on the screen, what with every facet of his life ricocheting off of one wrong choice after another. He’s miserable, but not worthy of pity since he’s the cause of his own undoing.

Douglas is truly channeling his dad here, although Kirk would never do a film like this one. The senior Douglas played roles where he was tough but vulnerable. It was that vulnerability that made audiences get behind him. Even in his epic roles like Paths Of Glory and Spartacus (oddly, both Kubrick films, himself a master of contradicting expectations), Kirk’s characters were riddled with self-doubt and reluctant, but convincing conviction. Michael’s Professor Tripp is a lot like this paradigm, but over the course of Boys he rediscovers his conviction. It’s not there at the start. It’s blurred by self-doubt, self-delusion and (you guessed it) the ganja. How much you wanna bet he gets his sh*t together by movie’s end? It ain’t so clear for like three quarters of the film mind you.

Who is worthy of our sympathies is James. Here’s a guy, regardless of his distance and just plain creepy demeanor (or maybe because of it) who needs guidance. Someone or something to draw him out of his shell. He’s in desperate need of an “attaboy.” James is a unique pairing for Tripp. James is naïve, childlike and brooding. Grady broods, too, but fails to acknowledge his own naïveté/ignorance. However since James’ persona is so awkward and removed, he tends to put others off. Small wonder why Tripp reluctantly takes James under his wing. Actually, it’s more like James forces Grady’s hand. Not to worry, James warms up as the story progresses in an organic manner, as Grady starts to thaw in a similar fashion. It’s an uneasy alliance, to be sure, but it’s a little less contrived than the bond in Forrester was.

Other highlights of character interplay are the twin prongs of Downey’s “Crabs” and McDormand’s Sarah. Downey’s smarminess is his stock in trade. Sure, it’s pervasive in all his roles, from Weird Science to Iron Man, but when we get the right script, boom, it works wonders, slicker than snot. Crabs is smarmy, to be sure, but he wears the crap like a shield. You can tell from the beginning that he’s an insecure, anxious and frankly scared individual trying to hide something. It only becomes clear towards the end what he’s really all about. And he’s just as human as the other failing characters.

The only other major player in Boys is McDormand, and she’s probably the one with least issues. McDormand is as sincere as ever, and whenever she delivers her lines, it’s the voice of reason. Shrill, accusing reason, but reason nonetheless. Sarah might be the only individual in Boys who really gives a sh*t about Grady’s downward spiral, which sentiment is delivered in such a brusque, pointed way you might mistake her for the antagonist. But as you’ve probably gathered, this film requires patience for all the petals to open, and McDormand’s satisfying as ever delivery punctuates the story where necessary to deflate Grady’s sooty ego.

But there’s always gotta be a wild card, and Holmes fits the bill. IMHO, she’s always been about making face, not acting well. I was quite glad she was excised for The Dark Knight, to be sure. Here in Boys I couldn’t figure out the purpose of her being around. Sure, she might be Grady’s latest exploit with his wife being gone and Sarah just out of arm’s reach, but that’s barely touched on. Hannah is just like she’s the latest distraction in Tripp’s life of being rudderless. Hey Katie, making a career out of portraying willowy, barely there brunettes does not an acting CV make, no matter how much gravity you try and apply to your roles. Holmes was flat and one-note, and barring a significant reveal I was thankful for the limited screen time.

Okay. Enough with character psychology. Now it’s time for the technical stuff. Please refer to my notes on the whiteboard.

Boys is mentor/student picture to be sure, but it’s also a strange, insinuating road trip (get it?) movie. At least half of the scenes in the movie involves driving. Behind the wheel, as a passenger in the back seat, the trunk even, Grady and James are almost constantly on the move. No real destination really, just…driving. Not a very subtle metaphor for our two leads’ lives, who both engage in a lot of “car talk.” This could be symbolic of Grady ever trying to avoid the inevitable (e.g. looking in the rearview where the past lies, perchance?). You don’t even know these maybes as fact until you’re there. Is it a response to all the “car talk”? Am I looking to deeply into this? Is this installment running a little long? Is that a stain on your shorts? Yes to all of it. Now change your shorts. I don’t wanna know where you’ve been, Sunshine.

All the car scenes invite some good camera work. It’s not just in the motoring scenes, which almost totally involve Grady behind the wheel with him yammering at whoever’s riding shotgun. Boys for the most part is a very intimate movie. How the lens managed to capture said intimacy with both close-ups as well as full shots baffled me. But it worked without a hitch. I know very little about cinematography, at least how it works. But it sure worked here. In fact, I didn’t realize it as so until I started churning out this week’s accusation. I guess that’s what we’d call a pseudo “icebox moment” (refer to last week’s tirade/review of Kick-Ass, doofus).

My favorite trapping of whether a film is decent or not here by RIORI’s Standard was well-sated with Boys. The pacing was brisk, not unlike the weather with the film. It was always snow with rain with snow again in Grady and James’ world. Again, not the most subtle of metaphors, but Boys is rife with such quaint aphorisms. It’s almost cute, but never cloying, and never distracting from the drama or comedy.

The thing with the weather? Boys is cold then warm then cold again. The cycle continues in Grady’s interactions with all the players. All of it is so grey. Not dark, grey like The Cure’s Faith album (I smell beer). The atmosphere hanging over the movie is hazy, like we’re not sure where it’s all going, and at times we don’t. In truth the movie starts to lose steam in the third act. Not completely, but it does start to wander. But with all the climate allusions throughout the film, it’s not all that surprising that the sun finally comes out in the end, literally.

I’m not terribly familiar with the work of writer Michael Chabon, whose book Boys was based upon. His relatively straightforward tale interwoven with despair and optimism, paired with Hanson’s hard-wearing yet still loopy direction begs the question: “How did this book get optioned as a movie?” I credit Hanson. His even-handed execution of a tale about, let’s face it, two unsavory characters and their strife and make it come off as hopeful might be the answer. No matter how bleak and obtuse the movie gets, Hanson keeps it light enough to keep you from either pressing STOP or running to the liquor cabinet where the miracle elixir of shoddy memory awaits (I didn’t go there during the film. I was drunk before I hit PLAY. I have a Standard to maintain myself). I say Hanson possesses a verve that keeps the candle lit no matter how strong the wind.

Boys is a sturdy little film, and a lot stronger than Forrester was. It’s an unconventional redemption tale at heart, but it asks for whom? Nothing is overtly straightforward in this movie, but it is linear as it needs to be to get the general message across, even if the message gets mired in perceived hopelessness. It’s understood that Forrester was designed as a crowd pleaser for the Xmas market. Regardless of my less than savory comments about it when paired against Boys, Forrester did please me. So string me up, already). Boys was released in the dead of winter with not much sun going for it, figuratively or literally, but it’s the superior film. It’s a bittersweet film; its humor is sharper than a serpent’s tooth, as is its pathos, but in the final analysis, Boys was the more interesting movie. And despite having an almost inevitable Hollywood ending (my only real gripe, to be sure), Boys did a pretty decent job getting there.

So what have we learned? Right. Catch me on a good day.

Whew. Trying to be cheery can really take it out of you. Now where’s a puppy I can rape and kick?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Yeah, Boys is downbeat, coal black at times and occaisionally difficult to watch. But it sure as sh*t ain’t boring.


Stray Observations…

  • Hey! It’s Richard Thomas! Looks like John Boy done finished his education!
  • “You cold, James?” “Oh, a little.”
  • Editing flub at chapter five, -1.51. Watch McDormand’s arms.
  • “She’s a transvestite.” “You’re stoned.” “She’s still a transvestite.”
  • Story goes that Douglas gained 25 pounds for his character by eating lots of pizza and guzzling beer. One wonders what came first: the pot or the pizza?
  • “I’ve got tenure.”
  • What is it about moving a body?
  • Tasteful song selection in this movie. I especially liked the use of John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels.” Another driving allegory? You decide.
  • “You owe him a book, too?”
  • No matter how Douglas ages, regardless of the role, all I ever see is Jack Colton.
  • Does anyone drive a “normal” car in this movie?
  • “I guess there’s probably a story behind that.”

Next Installment…

Between you and I, Robot proliferation in modern society may lend itself to human convenience, but it also may lead to dehumanizing effects on their masters. Like murder.


 

RIORI Volume 3, Installment 9: Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass” (2008-2010)


Kick-Ass


This installment—despite the venom—is dedicated to the memory of Jeff, who kept me in comics for over a decade and gave me a job when no one else would. He rivaled me in opinions, but was far more polite. He will be missed.


The Players:

Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage, with Clark Duke, Evan Peters and Lyndsy Fonseca.


The Story:

One day comic book geek Dave Lizewski gets an idea. How come no one in the real world ever tried to be a real-life superhero? If you think about it, Batman was just a normal guy with a lot of tech. Anyone could be Batman. But what about your average Joe who had no bankroll and was simply inspired by a sense of justice and impatience for what legit law enforcers do? That and just wanting to make a difference; to do the right thing. Or maybe just want to crack a bunch of assh*les into submission for being bully assh*les. At any rate, Dave wonders. So then he gets a costume, an alias and a shadow MySpace account.


The Rant (Oh, yeah. Yes, indeed)

Be warned. Beyond here there be dragons.

Wait. We’re gonna talk about movies, right?

Shut up. Sit down. Eat your gruel and pray I don’t release the rape-monkeys while you slumber. Now, hard to port. And steady on.

Truth be told, and this may come as a surprise, I’m not an easy person to get along with. My sunny disposition has proven to be rather off-putting with the general public. I’ve always adopted a rather shambolic attitude regarding social mores. Not antisocial, per se, just confused. I’m sure a great deal of y’all feels that way sometimes, too. Me? That’s pretty much SOP for me. No malice present, mind you, but I’m often quite confused as how to play well with others. Big shocker there. Suppose I’m better off left to my own devices. You should see my music collection.

Simply put: leave me be. Not “Go Away!” or “F*ck off!” Though admittedly I feel that way often, but I’m usually more polite than that. To paraphrase Garbo: let me enjoy my aloneness. With all this Wi-Fi, smartphone, Xbox, Kindle, World Wide Web doggerel—where I couldn’t be alone if I tried, even without a link, and there’s always sat tech lurking above—privacy has become more precious than currency. Don’t believe me? Two questions then: 1) How much to you pay for your mobile service?

Sh*t. That much? Ever hear of TracFone?

2) When was the last time you struck up idle chit-chat on a public mass-transit service to while away the time instead of nose deep in your iPhone, scouring Twitter feeds?

Can’t, can you? Well neither can I. Me? I usually try to pleasure myself on the E, but there apparently are laws in effect about that. Here? In America? Well, at least I still have my iPhone…until we go into a tunnel. Then, since the lights are off…Hello, teacup poodle.

WHAT! WHAT? Oh c’mon. We’ve all been there. Right? Anyway…

To put it quaintly—and as if to forgive my bile—I’m your typical Gen X survivor (you’re welcome for the Internet, by the way). We were the test group for online video games, rudimentary smartphones, iBooks and midwife for not only the 21st Century but also reintroducing the term “friend” a verb. Our gen perfected cynicism, misunderstood irony, and always had the last word on everything, especially when it wasn’t permitted. We’re also the final generation to give two sh*ts what our parents accomplished for American culture. In the final analysis, Boomers got everything handed to them on a silver platter, resulting in Fox News, willful ignorance of the AIDS crisis, using racism as good business ensuring that both Alex Jones and Lady GaGa alike have an enduring entertainment career and environmental degradation. I’m a dad now. Explaining conservation of resources to an 8-year old is tough when all her peers’ mommies drive Sherman tanks to school, replete with enough ribbon decals to cure the worlds’ physical maladies via psychic conflagration. “Why is your car so small, Dad?” “So you can drive your own small car in a decade. One that hopefully runs on dreams, starlight and whatever makes Rockefeller’s progeny bleed from the eyes and sh*t solar power. How was school?”

Such a worldview invited, then polluted the pop culture landscape for about a quarter century. That was that until the Millenials became the desired demographic. Then their zeitgeist swept our once landmark, hardnosed worldview to the next ironical graphic tee at Hot Topic. Or derelict at your local Salvo’s.

Not that I’m bitter.

I’m not, really. It’s just the natural, social progression of American society as we know it. The passing of the torch. It’s how it all works. What’s curious about it this time is that Gen X seems more actively reluctant to carry on said torch than the Boomers were post-WW2. After all, the Boomers were handed that silver tray, one that always seemed a tad too empty, despite the fact the tray was f*cking silver. That flame burned us to the core, which resulted in a lot of deviant pop culture touchstones of our own gratefully in turn pissing off our parents as they had infuriated theirs. The wheel goes ‘round and ‘round.

(“Um, is this moron going to talk about a movie soon or what? I mean, my iPhone is at 21%, and there are, like, a jillion cute cats on YouTube to scan.”)

SMACK!

Shut up. Pull up your pants. Those ain’t cats you be watching on your Galaxy’s feed, despite what mental_floss told you. But never fear, I like boobies too. You’re secret’s safe until my wife gets home (she doesn’t read this blog anyway, so tee-hee! Now about those “cats”)…

I’m awake! Damned Lego Jurassic World!

Ahem (*adjusts toupee*)…

The pop culture cachet Gen X consisted of bragging about how The Others were there to wake up to Hendrix at Woodstock. How The Graduate spoke—however incorrectly—to them. When weed was free, the Pill was at its apex and both the war in Vietnam and King’s marches sowed the seeds of white, liberal, bleeding heart guilt.

The legacy resulted in QVC, miles of cable TV broadcasting AU’s of sh*t deep (“The Real Housewives of Augusta, Maine!” How chowda really feels…er…tastes!) and letting AIDS become pandemic, but we cured boners. Oh, that and Kevin Costner’s career. And the Boomers’ never apologized for any of it. They were too busy setting up teleplays for thirtysomething, and if that last reference is lost on you, good. Trust me. I mean it).

*calming down, deep breaths, ease down, Ripley*

So where is all this vitriol coming from, and what does it have to do with another comic book adaptation to movie? In two words: cynicism and capitalism. But not mine and not really the bottom dollar. More like heartbreak on both levels, and how becoming disillusioned can happen so very fast.

No surprise here at RIORI that I’ve tackled and inordinate amount of movies based on comic books. Now I’m not sure that all the comic movies that have gone under the lens here are based on the surfeit of comic movies since 2000, or the fact that with this glut, a lot of them tend to suck based on hurried production, lousy scripts, or actors and directors unsure how to handle the source material. Not sure on any of these fronts.

The pertinent movies I’ve scanned here kinda fell 50/50 along the rent it/relent it scale. Then again, I’m just one guy, and an amateur to boot, so my opinions tend to be raw, angry, a bit uniformed, sometimes half-baked and generally abrasive like a Soft Scrub colonic. I make no apologies, and yet still here you are again.

I think why so many comic movies visited here is due to the overabundance. It’s akin to the TV-to-movie adaptations of the 90s I spoke of in the Green Hornet installment. Too many, too much. Hollywood’s been dipping into an endless well of pre-storyboarded scripts from the houses of Marvel, DC and sometimes the second tier publishers a bit of more than could ever be chewed by a plesiosaur with bulimia. This saturation of the market is nothing new. Beyond the “beat it into the ground” mentality of capitalism, there comes this sort of panic when driving, leaping on and eventually falling off some pop cultural bandwagon. The bigwigs in Hollywood know on some level that this comic movie cash cow will dry up someday, and now are urgently milking it for all its worth as we speak. A tipping point will be reached, the bubble will burst, audience’s tastes will change (most likely due to boredom created by overexposure and increasingly lame scripts), but never fear: Hollywood already has the Next Big Thing already ready already. Right now it’s just a matter of finding new and creative ways to empty our wallets. That’s how it’s always been anyway.

That being said, here we reach the inevitable.

Although I’ve never been a fan of the trickery advertising and marketing use to sell us sh*t we don’t need and manipulate our perceptions of reality—c’mon, do all those ladies on the beach really enjoy Coors Light that much?—I do understand how it works. Mostly. The general gist I get from the execution of commercials and the like is to inform, entertain, entice and hit you over the head many, many, many times to hypnotize you and get you hooked on whatever product and blah blah blah. Ads are designed to keep the cash flowing. Duh. I may not like marketing, but I’m not so far up my ass to deny that it works.

What really chafes me about advertising, marketing and the unavoidable selling of a given product isn’t the actual use of subterfuge to make money. It’s the scheming itself I hate. Very talented and intelligent people concocting very creative ways to get unwitting audiences to buy sh*t, effectively spitting on their (increasingly waning) intelligence. And it’s all a terrific waste of said talent and intelligence. F*ck, we could’ve gotten to Mars by now if the maintenance of this whole energy drink craze didn’t take precedence. Sure, folks in marketing may explain all the science and sociology into selling a Big Mac is fascinating, complex and echoing decades of psychological research in action. But it’s still just a Big Mac. Looks like the lunatics have taken over the asylum in this sense; the sellers are selling themselves on the idea that selling is vital to humanity. It’s delusional. It’s willfully ignorant. It’s a waste.

This scheming behind pushing comic movies reached a head for me several years ago. It probably reached a head with a lot of comic fans with different occasions over the past decade, not to mention anyone entrenched in a niche market that all too quickly went mainstream and got watered down for it (e.g.: body modification, “alt”-rock, Anthony Bourdain’s travelogues, cupcakes, etc). It was a moment, a revelation about how deeply the Hollywood machine operated regarding its comic movie goldmine, and about how incredibly cynical marketing people could execute their…well, their schemes. I’m not being paranoid; I just call it like I see it.

Yet another time at my comic shop, Jeff and I were chewing the fat about the then recent mini-series Kick-Ass. Not surprisingly, we found it quite enjoyable (unlike its follow-up series, which came across as both derivative and overly violent for violence’s sake, but that’s another thing entirely). We were respectful fans of the writer, Scottish scribe Mark Millar, and the artist, Marvel legacy John Romita, Jr. Millar’s claim to fame was penning Marvel’s epic Civil War mini-series, and Romita followed in his dad’s footsteps illustrating The Amazing Spider-Man. Needless to say, both guys are very talented, and natural fan favorites.

So Kick-Ass wrapped up its six-ish run, and we were weighing its merits and drawbacks. The book’s print run started in February 2008 and concluded exactly two years later in February 2010. Apparently Millar and Romita were in no hurry to rush their project, which mind you was only six issues long. After waxing philosophical about this trifle, Jeff dropped some science on me. It turned out that Kick-Ass was to be adapted into a movie. Big shocker, that. It was going to hit theaters in May, right when the summer blockbuster season got going.

Wait a minute.

Kick-Ass took its grand old time dripping onto the shelves over the course of two years. That’s including inking, editing, distribution, coffee breaks, etc. It was going to be committed to cinema in three months after its conclusion? You know the average schedule for filming a movie? About three to five months, not including post-production. So either the film version of Kick-Ass was already in the works before the book was officially completed, or a movie was being made in conjunction with the book all along. Or can we say “rush job?” Like on with mainlined crystal meth paired with a butt-chugged Red Bull chaser rush job? There are always budgetary matters to consider, after all. And don’t ask me how meth could be mainlined. Some things are best left to Walter White’s grandkids.

Well, it turned out that the second part was the case. The Millar/Romita book was created independently of the movie script, which in turn was written by director Vaughn and Jane Goldman. Simultaneously, by the way. The film version of Kick-Ass went into production in 2008, the debut year of the comic. Recalling what I said earlier about marketing schemes, and this might be a myopic view—and mine mostly are—but doesn’t it seem a tad suspect to make a comic movie and its printed counterpart across a two year run at the same time? Was Hollywood hedging its bets, capitalizing the comic movie phenom with this plan? In sum, were they planning this all along, a set up to make uber-bucks by following a successful mini by an award-winning team only to stoke the fires for fast business at the multiplex three months after the series concluded? Was Hollywood just striking while the iron was hot?

If that was the case, then where was the f*cking iron?

How terribly cynical is that? And trust me, I know cynicism. Hollywood being so assured to rake in comic movie bucks optioned off the film rights to a book that wasn’t even finished. This is either an exercise in gall, greed, both or awaiting the day to day f*ck you to the audience and extrude their collective wallets via their collective rectums.

Well, to be fair, there was a precedent set back in the day, so it’s not a recent ploy to excite an audience. On the other hand, for the following example, “excite” might be the wrong word. Let’s try “coax.”

In 1968, director Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi scribe Arthur C Clarke teamed up to direct and write 2001: A Space Odyssey, respectively. The book and the film were released to public at the same time. Although the film/book project took the same time to produce as Kick-Ass (about two years, from 1965 to ’67, with necessary editing for its ’68 springtime release date), it wasn’t done out of a dire need to rake in cash. Back then, a movie made a jillion bucks because it was a good movie. 2001 was a great movie, despite its production nightmares, and was visionary, intriguing, weird, satirical and the first sci-fi movie to be both practical in handling possible future tech and the human condition within, as well as respecting the science part of science fiction.

But it wasn’t made to make money first and art second in any overt fashion. And actually, 2001 was no blockbuster. It only got its steam up a year later in 1969 with a lot of thanks to hippies toking up in the theatre. Hey, whatever works. Now where’s my Nutella? And that flexible poodle?

Again: SMACK!

Sorry. Back to being crass and hard. Just please, lay off the jellyfish. And your stomped f*cking beer cans. This time I mean it.

I’ll get to my point. There’s really nothing wrong with Hollywood multi-multi-tasking. Books into movies as par for the course business—comic or otherwise—has been a Hollywood staple since at least Burnett and Alison’s big screen adaptation of their play Everybody Comes To Rick’s (you probably know it better as Casablanca. You don’t? Now you are first in line for castration via broken Snapple bottle. You’ll thank me later). Need I remind you: the movie biz is all about biz, making a buck. Said bucks result in more movies, hopefully good ones. What’s wrong is applying the 21st Century version of 1970s remote environmental bracelets that give emotional feedback from test audiences who’re selected to hear the latest Alice Cooper single first, therefore dictating cleaner production for a cleaner, better selling album. Or just whether to keep beating the fad cash cow into hamburger dollars.

BTW: The whole bracelet thing? True. In the 70s. What, you thought that pedometer in your Apple Watch didn’t have a beta test? Or in that case, a f*cking gamma test?

Christ, I’m tired. This InfoWars fusillade has left me drained. Probably you too. We better curl up with this week’s movie. After all my frightening gloom and doom, here’s hoping this time out—regardless of my whining for the past eleven years—this adaptation thumbed its nose against the almighty cash moo and delivered a consistent, fun story. And since it’s a comic movie, let’s steer clear of the often usual clumsy execution too many of these films get smeared.

It’s actually surprising that Kick-Ass as a movie was ever made, regardless of the production time/dollars spent/dollars recouped/scheming…


Geeky fanboyism can go too far.

High schooler Dave Lizewski (Taylor-Johnson) is your painfully average teenaged guy. He trudges through his classes with all the enthusiasm of a slug. His goofball buddies Marty (Duke), Todd (Peters) and him futz around on social media and hang out after school at the local comic/coffee shop, sipping lattes and wondering who’d win in a fight, Superman or Thor. He’s got a crush on a typically unattainable girl. He’s got an unfeasible comic book collection. And he pounds his penis into pudding to Internet porn like it’s a crime nightly. Completely average sh*t. Y’know. You get it.

Maybe it was too many lattes, but more likely was where those drinks were quaffed. Dave asks his cronies one day, “How come no one’s ever tried being a superhero?” To wit, his worthy constituents rebut: they’d their asses kicked or killed, let alone have to deal with the real law enforcement showing up and dragging their sorry butt to jail. Or worse.

A valid argument. But Dave still asks himself, “What if?” The idea of fighting crime by wit and by grit with a kick-ass costume—

That’s it! Batman was a regular guy, with just a cool outfit and cool weapons to make his mark on Gotham. If only on lark—but probably more so to combat the crushing average-ness of his teenaged so-called life—Dave dons a cool costume and a pair of makeshift truncheons and goes on nightly patrols. You know, searching for lost pets, picking up others’ litter and intervening in gang fights. Which is how Kick-Ass was born. Well, that and Dave’s escapades get caught on people’s smartphones, get uploaded to YouTube, go viral and so on and so forth.

However, not everyone is impressed my Kick-Ass’ vigilantism. Underworld boss Frank D’Amico (Strong) has had his cocaine trafficking interrupted indirectly by Dave. That gangland crap? Looks like Kick-Ass smacked the wrong guys with his clubs that time. Frank’s miffed by this, so to exact some off-the-books justice himself, he sends out his thugs in search of Kick-Ass to put a stop to his putting a stop to things. Send a message; the guy’s been f*cking with the wrong assh*le.

What Frank doesn’t know that another would-be costumed hero—make that two—are secretly gunning for him for much bigger crimes than paltry drug trafficking. Inspired in part by Kick-Ass’ adventures, disgraced cop Damon Macready (Cage) and his daughter-cum-sidekick Mindy (Moretz) don costumes and secret identities of their own to take out D’Amico, by any means possible and screw the law. Beware the might of Big Daddy and Hit Girl!

Little doubt all four of these personalities will clash on the streets sometime and it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to triumph and who’s going to get their ass—

Well, you know…


I gotta tell you after watching Kick-Ass I can say this without pause: this was the funniest comic movie I ever saw. Funnier that the original book.

I know. You probably wouldn’t expect a movie/comic titled Kick-Ass to be a laugh riot (okay, maybe a little), but that’s what it was. Now Millar and Romita’s book had its chuckles, but something about having those panels made flesh—and occasionally padded, I’ll admit it—and dialogue spoken aloud (also with some enhancements) made the whole tangled mess hilarious. There’s something about pairing witty/cheesy dialogue with gutbucket violence that makes me laugh. And you’d be a hypocrite and liar to deny this yourself.

Most comic movies toe the line between following the original script and the cinematic adaptation approaching a modicum of sincerity. This movie came across as sincere without being neither pandering nor unfaithful with concessions to sweetening the plot. To be fair there are a few too many Hollywood touches (recall what I said about scheming?). There’s quite a bit of extraneous dialogue used to verbally express what could’ve done simply with action, like the audience needs to be spoon fed (that little speech Kick-Ass gives after the first gang fight? I don’t recall it that way from the book, but I guess I’m splitting hairs). But I guess that’s a minor carp in the end-run. There’s nothing really wrong with using systematic corniness to enhance a comedy, which beneath the superheroic/violent action surface, Kick-Ass is at heart.

And goofiness abounds amidst all the busted bones, spit teeth and microwave hijinks. For instance, Nic Cage’s post-Oscar downward spiral into a mire of schlock finally comes to good use here. His stuttered, clipped speech might be considered an homage to Adam West (vis-à-vis Big Daddy’s costume). Talk about systematic corn (and speaking of costumes, you gotta admit it, Kick-Ass’ duds are ridiculous). Moretz’ kewpie doll demeanor would normally be grating as an eternally, one-note little girl assassin. Then again that whole assassin thing does help make the medicine go down easier, and she gets some killer (ha!) one-liners. I couldn’t help but giggle for the duration of the movie with clowns like these in action.

For all the pounding and bloody noses, Kick-Ass­ can credit it a lot of its action and pacing to technical flourishes that don’t come with a shattered clavicle. Some of the more compelling things in the film are subtle. They’re kinda like a variation on a Hitchcock-esque “icebox moment.”

(Oh sh*t. Here comes the cinema geek trivia. It’ll only sting for a moment. Now shut up and put down that damned iPhone already.)

Alfred Hitchcock was notorious in sticking throwaway scenes in his movies more or less as a joke for himself. Something off in the film stuck in an audience’s mind—almost subliminally—well after the movie was over and they were back home. It was only until after the person was home and metaphorically reaching into the fridge for a snack—the proverbial icebox—when they went, “Wait, what?” I had a similar experience after seeing The Blair Witch Project; the final scene when Mike was standing in the corner (no, that’s not a spoiler. You have to see the movie to get it. Just drink your beer) was my icebox moment.

That being said, Kick-Ass employs a few pseudo-icebox tricks for its duration. For all the sloppy, frenetic action, most of the acting is keenly conveyed via facial expressions. It’s kinda curious in a so-called action movie that most of the action scenes are stock while the characters’ mugs do most of the twisting and turning. Taylor-Johnson, Moretz, Strong (who’s a lot of fun to hate, BTW; that plastic jaw) and Cage’s there-and-gone mugging tell worlds beyond the story proper, as if to passively remind you you’re supposed to be on the joke. Any movie with such tasteful violence and colorful language hopes you catch up.

Another icebox trick, sort of: the framing of the scenes. They’re laid out like comic book panels, all square and mostly center-forward, with the characters faces and bodies directly front and center. Yeah, yeah; sure, sure. One could argue this thing’s done in almost all movies (and you’d be right), but most other films could employ asides and overheards. Kick-Ass doesn’t. Go on, watch it again. The action’s always overtly front and center. Hell, by contrast John McClane snuck around corners.

For all of Kick-Ass’ ass-kicking, there are a few weak moments, which indeed f*ck with my pacing muse. The second act is kinda slow, as if director Vaughn and Co. felt it necessary to slow the barrage down and let the audience breathe. I dig that Shakespearean tactic, but it plays too long. I mean, do we really need Dave’s monologue to explain everything that’s running through his ass-kicking mind? We should be already well acquainted with his motives. C’mon. Show, don’t tell.

I already delineated in the High Fidelity installment that the director must be careful to apply their own spin on the source material (book, play, comic, etc) without spinning too far off course and alienate a good chunk of the audience already familiar with the original material. When the third act hit, it really began to deviate from the book. This made me cranky. Without even knowing the comic, one can feel the switch in tension; the deviation. It almost proved my whole aforementioned scheming ploy. If it wasn’t for the overall smart, crisp editing of the thing, I might’ve threw my arms up in revolt, if only to honor my comic geek credentials. Almost.

However, Kick-Ass overall appeased my inner (not to mention outer) comic book geek. Call me biased, but this film properly sandwiched scenes from the book against Vaughn’s concepts. It was almost seamless for both the comic book fan and quite seamless for mainstream audiences. Simply put, Kick-Ass was satisfying. It wasn’t arresting, profound or possessing any redeemably qualities. But that was the point. It was about spectacle. Clever spectacle, mind you. Kick-Ass both appeases and insults the comic audience. Is it all one big joke? I’d like to think so. Now ride with it.


Afterwords…

If you saw the header for this week’s installment, you understand my go-to guy for comics passed away suddenly. It seemed oddly fitting—not to mention coincidental—that I took apart a comic movie based on a mini-series we had quite a good time dissecting, seeing how long it took for the print run to finish. I really don’t have any emotional attachment to Jeff paired with this movie—I received the bad news the day after I viewed it—so my judgment of Kick-Ass wasn’t really all that skewed.

However actually seeing it and tearing it to shreds, I can say that as far as comic movies go, yeah, Kick-Ass was pretty good. I don’t think Jeff ever got around to seeing it, which is unfortunate. Not that he missed a stellar movie, but with my hopes that if he did he might remember the debates we got into about the fool thing.

I’d like to hope for that.

Jeffery D Rabkin (1957-2015). He kicked ass.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. I’d call Kick-Ass a solid “Saturday afternoon movie.” Tired of Internet porn and keying cars? Put your lazy Saturday afternoon to good use and plunk this in the player. Or stream it. Or whatever. Christ all these tech shifts can drive a man to throw beer cans at strangers.

Haven’t you gotten tired of that yet? Damn.


Stray Observations…

  • MySpace? Yep, definitely 2008.
  • “…And a pack of Twizzlers.”
  • Moretz gots sum knife skillz. That ain’t no CGI.
  • “That is one gay looking taser.” Is there any other kind?
  • After Catherine Zeta-Jones in High Fidelity, Fonseca lays the best f-bomb ever. She also shouts “f*ck” real well, too.
  • “What a doosh.” Always funnier with a kid.
  • Most blue language I’ve ever heard in a f*ckin’ comic movie.
  • “F*ck you, Mr. Bitey!”
  • And to think a year later we’d have Strong as an honorable member of the Green Lantern Corps. Wait a minute…
  • “Kinda feeling the cape.”
  • More comic movies need hand bra scenes.
  • “A bazooka…Okay?” Strong seemed to get the best lines, as all villains often do.
  • Um, did anyone else catch the thing where an 11-year old drove a custom Mustang? I’ll wager you paid attention to her flipping a billasong, right? Yep, me too.
  • “I think I’m in love with her, dude.”
  • When did Moretz first get pretty? Hick. When did she first get awesome? Here. Weigh those claims, but she still won’t respond to your voicemail.
  • “It sucks that you’re gay.” Aaaand smirk.
  • Gnarls Barkeley? Yep, definitely 2009.
  • “Show’s over, motherf*ckers.”

Next Installment…

Somewhere between Michael Douglas’ elephantine, infeasible novel and Tobey Maguire’s deft storytelling the truth lies for these Wonder Boys.