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.)

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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