Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Gamer

“The time has come” the Lemon said, “to talk of many things. Of men and games and high concept. Of Logan L and pings. And why Gerard Butler’s smoking hot. And what the future brings.”

Gamer is pretty high concept for an action movie. Not exactly Virtuosity high concept but we can’t all be virtual serial killer films can we?

Gamer tells the story of ex-soldier death row inmate John Tillman, alias Kable, who is forced to act as a living avatar in a Halo type death match. Controlled by a teenage gamer, Kable has to last 30 fights to earn his freedom. But rivals, society, and a very creepy Michael C. Hall stand in his way.

Let me first off say that Gamer has a dream cast. Butler plays the gruff Tillman and his controller is none other than Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman. Kyra Sedgwick takes a surprising turn as a talk show host who sides with the anti-cyberpunk revolutionaries (led by Ludacris) against Michael C. Hall’s creepy mind control technology.

Gamer‘s strongest element is its premise, a cyberpunk nightmare where Second Life and Halo avatars are flesh and blood people with special software in their brains that allows them to be controlled by their player. Tillman participates hoping to escape his death sentence, but his wife Angie rents out her body to a disgustingly voyeuristic gamer to earn enough money to get her daughter back. (One of the most upsetting parts of the film is the way that Angie’s player uses her with a lurid fascination and terrifying lack of empathy.)

Michael C. Hall has somehow found a character that’s scarier than Dexter Morgan in this system’s terrifying architect. As the creator of said mind control technology, Hall outfits all his guards with the software as well. With his Texas drawl and vocabulary borrowed from the most obnoxious multiplayer mockers, he is having much too much fun using people as playthings. (Did I neglect to mention that he can control everyone who has the software no matter where they are?) This all culminates in a creepy dance/fight sequence that has to be seen to be believed.

The social critique is powerful, and it’s a sobering prediction of where gamer culture could take us when the technology inevitably becomes more sophisticated. The privileged manboy voices of gaming can be heard in both Hall and Lerman’s dialogue, standing in sharp contrast with working class Butler and his family, pointing out the sad truth that gaming (and movies) are for the leisure class. With its class conscious approach, Gamer was part of the vanguard of vaguely Marxist sci-fi films like the more recent In Time. 

The sad thing is that the film never quite sizzles as wonderfully as the premise and the dance sequence suggests. The pacing’s always a bit off and it feels like an 80 meter dash with a trip at the end of the course. It also doesn’t help that no character’s through-line is very well maintained. They final boss is defeated and well, that’s the end.

How to Fake Having Seen It: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” right dude? Say no more. Creeeeeepy.

Line That Sums the Film Up: 

Kable: What are you, twelve?
Simon: I’m seventeen, thank you.
Kable: This is unbelievable! Why am I not dead yet?
Simon: Because I am a bad-ass motherf*cker.

Verdict: See it if you’re a fan of the cast. Otherwise Skip It and read some cyberpunk fiction. (I heartily recommend Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels.)

Bonus Round: In the future Cable is spelled with a K. Also there is pistachio butter. PISTACHIO BUTTER. (Yes I know it exists now but PISTACHIO BUTTER.)

The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Wanted

A Note About Spoilers and Outsider’s Guides: I have tried to avoid them at all costs but honestly, this movie is three years old. If you think finding out what weapons they use is going to ruin it for you, you’ve missed the point. If you’re jumping on now, feel free to check out the first Outsider’s Guide to understand the mission here.

So he wanted to see Wanted and you were all “You just want to see Angelina Jolie roll around on top of a car.” Boy were you wrong.

Wanted was advertised by focusing on the gifted and gorgeous Ms. Jolie, who can still can out action star pretty much everyone, but the film’s real focus is the journey of James McAvoy’s Wesley, an office drone even more impotent that Edward Norton’s Narrator from Fight Club. Dressed in ill-fitting shirts and chugging anti-anxiety medication, Wesley feels pretty worthless until a mysterious woman comes up to him in a grocery store and the next thing he knows, everyone is shooting. After being told that he’s important by Morgan Freeman (DON’T YOU WISH MORGAN FREEMAN THOUGHT YOU WERE IMPORTANT?), he is asked to join the secret Fraternity of Assassins. There are lots of plot twists and turns, many of which are genuinely surprising, so I will not discuss them here. Suffice it to say, this is not a rewarmed Fight Club remake, or a Harry Potter-style very special boy finds out he’s very special story. Sure it’s got lots of those obligatory training sequences and Jolie writhing in slow motion, but when Wesley flips a car in order to kill a mobster who’s listening to “Time to Say Goodbye,” flying over the man in slow motion, saying “I’m sorry” as he fires, or when rat bombs (as in bombs attached to rats) are a major plot device, how can you not crack a smile?

It’s McAvoy who really shines here, playing a neurotic American to the nines, avoiding the usual Brit monotone that comes with the change in dialect in favor of a willowy, wavering tremor that is both endearing and appropriately grating. (We have to want Wesley to change in order to buy into the bildungsroman, Wesley’s journey to find out who he is, to come into himself.) There’s eye candy for everyone here, and twists and turns for all. This is one movie that won’t break your relationship.

How To Fake Having Seen It: “Gorgeous fights, but so f*cking nihilist. And genuinely complex. How’re we supposed to feel about fate at the end?”

Line That Sums The Film Up: “Six weeks ago I was ordinary and pathetic. Just like you.”

Verdict: See It

Bonus Round: Ever want to hear Morgan Freeman drop the f bomb? Your wish is director Timur Bekmambetov’s command.

The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Die Hard

Hey Lemoners, time to introduce you to a new feature I’m going to call “The Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies.” This is to fill a genuine need that I didn’t realize was actually an issue for a long time. We all knew that comedy and action films are a pretty conventionally male arena. Most action stars are men, and when women take the lead they are often fetishized for their “Super Girl” status. (Think Buffy, Ripley, etc.) The truth is, it’s hard to get into action movies when you’re not a member of their target demographic, but if you don’t watch them, you’re missing out on a whole chunk of pop culture. Not knowing that chunk of culture makes you an outsider, like a person who doesn’t know sports feels left out in an environment where success is indicated by being told you’re a “slam dunk” or that you landed that “Hail Mary Pass.” But guess what? Unlike sports, which can be an acquired taste, there are so many different action movies, and I promise there’s one out there for you. So let go, and get ready to find out why everyone keeps saying “Yippee-ki-yay mother–” That’s right. It’s Die Hard. Continue reading

Lemoning the Popcorn Films for Summer 2010 (Part Two)

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote the first half of a summer movie preview. Now I am going to complete it. (Because sometimes, only sometimes, I am a woman of my word.)

In case you don’t remember the system, it goes a little something like this:

I rate a film’s likely problematic nature based on a 1 through 6 scale, with 1 being the least offensive in terms of the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc and 6 being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I will also rate the films based on (my own) fangirl excitement, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Snark and trailers abound, so let’s play.

The Last Airbender (July 1)

This is the big screen adaptation of the popular American anime Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, known for its depth of imagination, humor, and surprising artistic competence despite it being American anime. Also, it has protagonists that are people of color and female characters who do useful things rather than screaming and falling in love. The adaptation made the (Native American and Asian) protagonists white. This is just the beginning of the terribleness, as this review from io9 demonstrates:

This is the part where I would insert a quick plot synopsis of the film, but it’s really unnecessary – Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero’s-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell’s calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe.

Shyamalan’s true achievement in this film is that he takes a thrilling cult TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and he systematically leaches all the personality and soul out of it — in order to create something generic enough to serve as a universal spoof of every epic, ever. All the story beats from the show’s first season are still present, but Shyamalan manages to make them appear totally arbitrary. Stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and what does it mean? We never know, because it’s time for more stuff to happen. You start out laughing at how random and mindless everything in this movie is, but about an hour into it, you realize that the movie is actually laughing at you, for watching it in the first place. And it’s laughing louder than you are, because it’s got Dolby surround-sound and you’re choking on your suspension of disbelief. Continue reading

Feminist Director Crisis of Faith: Elia Kazan

So I’m at home in Scranton for a little more than two weeks before returning to the city to direct Alcestis. Before I left I picked up a book at the Strand (another very famous New York landmark) called Kazan on Directing. Published just this year, it’s a collection of Elia Kazan‘s notes and journals. Kazan is one of the first American auteurs, in terms of both film and stage. He was a founding member of The Actors Studio and was an instrumental force in our nation’s two attempts at forming a national theater. (It wasn’t his fault they failed, America’s just pretty bad at funding the arts in general, and it didn’t help that a lot of America’s best theatre artists had Communist ties, sending certain American congressmen into hissy fits.)

Kazan also directed one of my favorite films of all time, East of Eden, the first film James Dean starred in. Dean is amazing in it, and the storytelling is just breathtaking. (Steinbeck and Kazan add up to a very twisted kind of Biblical Americana.)

Expressionism + Method Acting + Steinbeck = Awesome

After seeing East of Eden, I saw A Streetcar Named Desire, the film adaptation of Kazan’s acclaimed stage production (written by a troubled Southern gentleman named Tennessee Williams). I’ve talked about the ineffable charisma of this film before, but I will reiterate that it’s one of the most interesting studies in gender relations and cultural studies on celluloid. It both mourns and indicts genteel and blue collar Southern culture, setting up the two representations of these cultures (Blanche and Stanley, respectively) on a path to destruction.

Cultures collide. In the most disturbing and sexy way possible.

At least that’s what I saw in the film. I saw two equal forces fighting for the love of one woman: Stella. A woman who started out like Blanche, delicate, unprepared for the real world, and fell in with Stanley, a man she happily compares to an animal, because he gives her permission to be an animal sometimes too, to like sex, to be a sexual being. The battle for Stella is the fight between primitivism and ingrained chauvinism. Blanche found a way to empower herself through the chauvinism of the culture she grew up by cultivating a personality that needed to be taken care of, that made men feel secure in her dependence on them. Stanley and Stella have a troubled relationship but it is much more equal than any relationship Blanche wants to have.

Okay, that said, now this is what Kazan himself said about the piece:

Blanche is an outdated creature, approaching extinction, like the dinosaur. She is about to be pushed off the edge of the world. On the other hand, she is a heightened version, an artistic intensification, of all women. That is what makes the play universal. Blanche’s special relation to all women is that she is at that critical point where the one thing above all else that she is dependent on–her physical attractiveness, what men find appealing about her–is beginning to fade. Blanche is like all women, dependent on a man, looking for someone to hang on to: only more so! [Bold stands in for Kazan’s italics.]

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Lemoning the Popcorn Films for Summer 2010: Part One

Summertime! And the air conditioning is preferable… Popcorn’s popping and movie attendance will be high. But Lillian, you say, I’m a discerning filmgoer. I’m queer and feminism conscious. What popcorn films can I see?

Well, my friend, I have devised a scale very similar to Mr. Kinsey’s except with misogynism and feminism instead of hetero or queer.

Let's call 1 "Whalerider" and 6 "I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell" (It's pretty homosocial when you think about it.)

Remember, a higher number in this case is more problematic. This is in no way a judgment on homosexuality, I just like implying that Tucker Max is not in any way the hetero bro he so insists he is. These are all guesses at the issues presented in the film and judgements based on the marketing.

Sometimes I’ll give fangirl ratings. That’s working on the usual 1 to 10 system with 10 being the best. (All films are listed in order of release date.) Continue reading

Clash of the Titans, Or, A Defense of Hades and the Exposition Delivery System

I don’t want to get into the habit of posting movie reviews on LL because that’s not what the site is for, but seeing as I’m directing a Greek play this summer, have already written about Avatar, and have an obsession with Ancient Greek hair, I feel the need to speak up about the remake of Clash of the Titans. (As is to be expected, minor spoilers to follow for both versions of Clash of the Titans.)

The original Clash of the Titans was part of my geek upbringing. I first saw it at a friend’s house and I borrowed and re-borrowed it from the library shortly after. It’s one of the pictures that made me love action adventure movies, that made me proud of my sometimes cheesy tastes. Yes it was an action-adventure movie utilizing the special effects techniques of Ray Harryhausen, but it also sports performances by Maggie Smith (before she was both Dame and our favorite Hogwarts professor) Sir Laurence Olivier (as a magnetic and mercurial Zeus) and an often shirtless (pre-L.A. Law) Harry Hamlin.

Is it just me or does his hair actually kind of pass for Greek compared with Sam Worthington's buzz cut?

Also, one of the main characters is a poet/playwright, so it gets double points with me. It’s also got some pretty phenomenal filmmaking in terms of building tension and excitement.

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A Little Note on “Women’s History,” Search Terms, and Kathryn Bigelow

Okay, first of all guys, sorry about disappearing off the face of the Earth. The Vineyard’s been crazy and I’ve started scene study class with the brilliant and eclectic Erica Schmidt so things have been busy in a fun way.

I have a bit of a meta-post today in response to a lot of the searches people have been using to find my blog, particularly this post. A lot of queries about 1) Kathryn Bigelow’s height, 2) her relationship status and 3) what she looked like when she was with James Cameron. So without further ado… Continue reading

Single People’s Weeks: This is Not a Love Story: Zooey Deschanel and the Refusal of Romance

As I’ve recently been documenting, I’ve felt a little assaulted by images of romance, particularly heteronormative romance and chick flicks. It might just be because it’s getting closer to Valentine’s Day, but I’m starting to feel a little down as a single white female in Manhattan.

You're lettin' me down ladies. You're lettin' me down.

When even Carrie from Sex and the City is married, I’m failing in the romance department. But I’m not going to get depressed, and I’m not going to settle, and I’m not going to join eHarmony and become one of those gawdawful commercials.

Because, despite what the multiplex wants to tell you, the point of your life does not have to be to find a partner, have two point five kids, and spend the rest of your life making them make up for the fact that you gave up the rest of your life for them. How do I know this? I watch Zooey Deschanel films. Continue reading

Single People’s Weeks: After the Apocalypse No One Will Give a Duck About Your Girlfriend Back Home

My friend James and I used to spend our time making zombie apocalypse contingency plans. James would always say apologetically, “I’d have to shoot you in the head if you were slowing us down.”

Why do I bring this up so close to Valentine’s Day? Well, because romantic relationships are what screw you over in a crisis situation, at least according to the movies. It seems like every zombie movie has the moment where the husband has to shoot the wife who’s turning. (Resulting in the infamous, “He’s not the man you married” line.) In every war movie, talking about your girl back home is a recipe for death by mortar shell. In I Am Legend, its Will Smith’s unhealthy attachment to Fred the mannequin the is the beginning of the end.

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