Tag Archives: movies

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Youth

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was a film that chronicled my 20s perfectly. It was such tough luck that it had to go up against BOTH the Expendables and Eat Pray Love on opening weekend. Now I have to buy up everything Scott Pilgrim from the video game, to the soundtrack, to five minutes on the Scott Pilgrim Suicide Prevention hotline to properly show my appreciation. Thanks a lot, movie-going public.

The story of Scott having to defeat seven evil exes to date his crush should feel familiar for anyone who has had to deal with relationship baggage. As I watched, all these memories came flooding back to me. Playing the Rifts RPG with my friends in rathole apartments, losing at Dance Dance Revolution in Lotteria Cafe, and my hilarious attempts at finding relationships at parties and nightclubs. You have all this energy that in another time would have been used for something real, like fighting a war and raising a family. Instead, you’re stuck burning it all off on sports, video games, or some other cheap distraction. The surreal video game tropes of Scott Pilgrim mirror that fact. Most nostalgic of all was the high pitched whine of self-deception. Trust me, with no job and a useless degree, you’ll tell yourself anything to get through the day.

So here I am at 30, looking back at the last of my adolescence, and I think, what’s different? What have I learned? I met my beautiful wife (thank god) so I don’t have to bother with nightclubs anymore. I can’t stay up until 4 am like I used to anyway. That’ll come around to haunt me once kids are in the picture. I learned that you could love your job, but there was no way it was going to love you back. People might toss you aside to maintain their self-image, but don’t take it personally. If you meet someone that doesn’t do that, hang on to them dearly. Action is a greater virtue than patience.

I’ve probably got dozens of these fortune-cookie aphorisms buried away in gut feelings and subtle hunches. That’s the funny thing about experience. We say we’re free and individual beings, but we still funnel ourselves down the same old paths of life bordered in by our fears and unanswered questions. If we can face down those situations with no easy answers, keep trying to face down the limits of our experience, we just might eventually get to the truth.

Nerd Rage

On Friday, February 12th, my wife watched as 188 grade sevens experienced their first Nerd Rage. The Percy Jackson movie was compromised beyond repair. The Greek mythology was messed with for no apparent reason. Some totally sweet battles from the book were cut out entirely. The suspected evil mastermind from the book was the actual evil mastermind in the movie, stripping away layers of complexity and character from the story like turpentine on a Monet.

How long does Disney, Sony or Dreamworks think they can keep bilking kids out of their allowance money this way? When the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potters of the world pack as much of the books as they can on celluloid and make billions in the process, how is it that film producers still believe they can make more money by appealing to a larger audience? Disney, like most of the corporate world, thinks they can get by with the factory approach to film-making. Create a product that will please the most people, because more people means more money. That approach worked in the days of Ma Bell and Johnny Carson, but we now live in a time where you can’t own all the media channels, and the equipment to make a movie can be bought with your average credit card. The market is completely open for a few true believers to take Disney’s customers away forever.

Percy Jackson

Today my wife is going to take her class to see the film version of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It’s part of their novel study of the book of the same name. The kids have high hopes for this movie (and so does their teacher). When Disney takes on a film, it’s always a crap shoot whether they can keep their corporate bureaucracy out of the production. In their rush to reach a wider market, they may try to make Percy Jackson into something it’s not: An American Harry Potter.

Having read all five Percy Jackson books myself, I can tell you that while there are similarities, the two series are completely different. While Harry was studious and accommodating, Percy is impulsive and defiant. His ADHD makes him a poor student (while at the same time makes him an accomplished soldier), and he will actually go out of his way to provoke magical beings that can end his existence with a thought. It goes without saying that Percy would have never stood for the Dursley’s shenanigans if they ever had the misfortune of meeting him. Like most of the demi-gods at camp half-blood, Percy has led a hard life because of his lineage. It’s going to take more than a summer camp with dryads dancing around to make up for being hunted by monsters and used as a pawn in the sibling rivalry of the gods. At many points in his adventures, Percy has to make choices between his duty to the gods and his duty to his friends and his own happiness. In Potter’s world, the goals of protecting the world from Voldemort and protecting Ron and Hermione were always one and the same. The only hard choice Harry had to make was whether the Death Eaters got to him at Hogwarts or at the Dursleys’ house.

If you need any proof that the Percy Jackson movie deserves to do well, you don’t need to look further than my wife’s grade seven class. People excuse the worst excesses of Harry Potter and the Twilight series by saying that it at least gets kids to read. Sara’s class, with full access to both Twilight and Harry Potter, has finished all their missing homework assignments to see this movie. Students would ask for the sequels from their parents for Christmas and then trade the books amongst themselves to read. Some of them have said, without hyperbole, that The Lightning Thief was the first chapter book that a teacher didn’t have to force them to read. It’s the books that convert non-readers that mean the most to literacy rates. Even if the movie is compromised beyond repair, if you enjoyed the Potter series at first, but were left high and dry by the end of it, do yourself a favour and pick up Percy Jackson.

Avatar: The Story of North America

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Avatar is one of those movies that you just have to see. In our thousand-channel, billion-webpage universe, sometimes we need to have a collective cultural experience. The CGI is amazing. I couldn’t tell whether it was through the use of clever editing or new software tools, but the live action blended seamlessly with the animation in way I’ve never seen before. The story strikes a fine balance, incorporating enough hard science fiction ideas to inspire the visuals, but enough mythological tropes to keep the audience involved. It’s cheesy, but not too cheesy.

It is by no means a perfect movie. I would’ve liked to know why the corporation was willing to go through with genocide to get at their unobtainium (I would’ve called in macguffinite myself). This is a movie more about spectacle than nuance. But as the success of District 9 has shown us, there is room for intellectual SF movies as well as the booming blockbusters. Avatar has been an easy target for internet snark ever since the first trailers came out, but I find I part ways with the critics when they start talking about the film’s racist/mysoginist/ableist overtones.

I’m not going to go into every political grievance against this film. Even anti-smokers are getting into the game. Yes, Avatar is essentially “Dances With Wolves” in space, but that doesn’t make it white supremacist literature. People respond to this story, especially in North America because it is, in essence, their story. Most societies on the Western Hemisphere are here because of political edicts of older, more entrenched societies in Eurasia. As time went on, we adapted to our new home and eventually broke free of our autocratic masters from across the ocean. A lot of people died or were subjugated over this period of history, but it does not change the fact that it is our story. Instead of simply decrying movies like this, we should learn why they resonate with us, and in turn learn a bit more about ourselves.

No Strawmen Allowed in District 9

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I saw District 9 last Friday knowing only that it had aliens, a power suit, and no connections to movie, toy, or restaurant franchises. I saw aliens, and I saw a wicked power suit, but I also saw something profound. Consider this your spoiler warning.

For a while I subscribed to the documentary podcast by the BBC world service. I was sure that in-depth tales of far off places spoken in the Queen’s English would drown out distractions at work. However, the more episodes I listened to, the more I heard things that put me in the mood for a beat down. Chinese citizens we’re getting hit with nightsticks simply for filing a complaint. African immigrants were crossing the Sahara to Europe only to get robbed and left for dead. Iranian girls were being raped and then sentenced to death for adultery. I thought to myself, when does it get fun to do that kind of stuff to other people? Since I found I couldn’t do any work while angrily pacing the room, I stopped downloading the podcast.

When I saw the documentary-style presentation of District 9, I was reminded of the more grim episodes of the BBC podcast. The Aliens’ situation seemed no different than the plight of any transient population anywhere in the world. The film was also different from the podcast and other sci-fi fables about race in that the Aliens weren’t simply this noble race of “other”. They had problems just like any other large group of people. They were depicted as dirty, lazy, violent, and quite possibly high on catfood, their favorite narcotic. At the start of the film, they were not getting evicted because a bunch of bureaucrats woke up one day and thought “hmm, I’m not doing anything today, let’s go put some prawns in a concentration camp”. There was a genuine, but misguided sense of self-preservation involved here.

In places like BC we tend to think of racism in terms of slogans like “Save Darfur”, “Free Tibet”, and “Don’t say that n-word”. When you’re from a place like South Africa, like District 9 director and writer Neill Blomkamp, you are aware that overcoming racism is more complicated than that. It’s important to maintain that kind of perspective especially when we look at history. If we simply write off things like the Japanese internment or the Chinese Head Tax as simply the acts of some dirty racists, we lose the context that came with those events. Without it, we won’t be able to recognize such lines of thinking until we are entertaining them ourselves, and by then it may be too late to prevent something monstrous from happening.

District 9 is a triumph in that it steers clear of easy answers and logical straw men. It does everything a science fiction film is supposed to do. It takes reality, removes the political baggage, and allows us to see how we truly are, warts and all.