Why Celebrity Worship Needs to Die by Austin Shinn

It’s been a long month if you’re a student of film. The list of names accused of sexual assault is long and growing longer. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis CK. George Takei. Andy Dick. Dustin Hoffman. Richard Dreyfuss. The dam has broken on the silence keeping these men from facing the consequences of their actions. 

These men join a list of names of men known to have committed ill. Sean Penn. Johnny Depp. Mel Gibson. Woody Allen. Roman Polanski. Chris Brown. Victor Salva. These are figures with devoted fans who continue to find work.

What I keep seeing as a new name joins the list seemingly every hour is a sense of disappointment. In the case of Louis CK, he hadn’t really stepped wrong with critics until his now shelved film. Many fans seem upset at the thought they might not get to see another season of Louie or another special. Not upset over the despicable deeds he admitted to. 

Then there’s a sense of unease over this thought: who’s next. Someone wil be next. Someone always is. Whose work that we adore do we have to view as tainted now? Already a lot of the great films of the 90s are getting very hard to watch. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this situation and the longer that I think on it, the less comfortable I am with how we discuss famous people. Increasingly I’m seeing a serious issue with the unsettling familiarity we have with celebrities. We discuss them as if they were our friends. We respond to their personas as if they were truly them. We follow every last scrap of gossip about them. 

This is utter nonsense. Intellectually I think we all must know celebrity is a lie. Celebrities’ lives are preposterously stage managed. Look at how often actors hook up while making a movie only to conspicuously break up after it flops. I’m sorry but I can’t be the only one who doesn’t believe that’s real. Celebrities carefully plan who they are.

Take Johnny Depp. He was such a beloved figure because he seemed like a nice guy doing a lot for charity. He was of course in reality an abuser who blew through his money revoltingly. We liked the persona because it was what was sold to us and it hurt to be betrayed. 

Then there was Lance Armstrong. As a bike rider in the 2000s I adored him. He seemed like a nice guy with a ludicrous gift. He was in reality a sociopathic sex fiend who was cheating to win and in fact had almost no actual talent. It hurt but it hurt because I bought the act. 

These are big examples but here is the real truth: we don’t know these people. In truth we don’t know the people in our lives even. How often have we been floored by a reveal about a friend or loved one? If we don’t know them then how can we know people we will never know? We have to cease this bizarre secular religion. 

It makes sense admittedly. We’re looking for people to respect. I get that. Once we worshipped royalty. Now we worship celebrities. It’s built into human nature.

We also conflate actors with roles we like. Why else does Chris Evans’ liberal activism stand out to us? Because we connect it to Captain America. We want to believe the characters we love are in some way real. It’s why couples who starred in films we love seem special to us. 

But all of this winds up bearing the fruit of late. We’re let down by the people we thought we knew. (I won’t begin to get into how many of these stories have floated for years.) So what can we do to avoid these feelings of disappointment? I think it’s simple: we never allow ourselves to fall into the hype in the first place. 

I’m saying burn it all down. E! Entertainment Tonight. TMZ. It all must go. It’s not healthy and it’s clouding our judgment about how to handle these scandals. We have to stop believing we know these people. 

Because if you remove the emotions, it’s clear: these people don’t work in the industry again. In any other profession, they would be persona non grata. It doesn’t matter how great a teacher is if he harasses his peers. I’ve seen guys who are wonderful at their jobs where I work get fired for serious misconduct. It happens. 

Then, when we view these people as employees but not as gods, we might be able to be objective. The weird cults around them–I’ve been stalked by fans of Depp–would vanish. We could view them based on their work and when this news happens, process it with the right anger. 

As for the work, we could get serious. A movie is made by a few hundred to a thousand people. Movies are group work. An actor in a movie isn’t going to be the be all end all. At the same time the weird nostalgia that keeps Depp and Gibson onscreen could fade and we could concede neither man should be objectively at their current level based on their output much less their behavior. 

We just need to get over it all. Directors are managers not wizards. Writers are craftsmen. Actors are professionals. None are gods. 

Review: Within by Sebastian Villegas

We weren’t the only ones watching a christian film. Fellow film buff Sebastian Villegas also caught one! And…well, sorry.


Within

I never told anyone this recently out of sheer embarrassment but I had a bet with a friend of mine on Twitter about. Basically it was over Secret Empire, Marvel’s next blockbuster event. I told him that Red Skull would still likely have Professor Xavier’s telepathy (long story) but a recent issue of Uncanny Avengers and an upcoming one proved otherwise so far. And because of that confirmation, the penalty was I have to watch a Christian movie. Not one to avoid a deal with a friend, I reluctantly agreed and managed to find it for free. It was not worth it.

And yet that story is a lot more worth discussing than talking about this. Full disclosure, I’m not saying anyone who is a Christian is automatically an asshole. I know a few but I have issues with the religion itself and its followers but I’d rather not get into them right now. This film however is everything that’s wrong with Christian movies and their so-called values.

Basically, the film is about Denise Kinkade (played by Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame because of course), an all around Christian girl who’s enjoying life without a care in the world except her parents played by Kevin Sorbo and Hilary Shepard (yes, Divatox herself and she should really know better than to be in a Christian movie) are concerned she’s not taking her Christian studies seriously. Well, mostly the father. The mother in particular just seems to be more of the nodding type, basically a Stepford Wife except for real.

But Denise goes through a series of events which ultimately result in her truly accepting God and the like. All while denouncing evils in the world such as diversity or feminism. Yes really.

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie. This was just awful in every way possible. Its politics and attempt to glorify Christianity as like the one true religion-fuck everything else. It is essentially this film saying, “you’re wrong to think differently, here’s why.” And that’s Denise’s arc. It is her entire arc throughout the film. Her parents give her this lecture that she has to follow specific lessons instructed to her or bad stuff happens. There’s learning a lesson and then there’s outright literal godfearing.

And the film goes out of its way to demonstrate this in the most mean spirited way. Her friends abandon her when her private stuff gets leaked (and the film makes it seem like it’s her fault entirely despite being hacked), slut shamed, berated by her Atheist teacher and principal and even her own aunt. Seeing her go through all this is just ridiculously depressing and mean spirited to the point it is just absolute lunacy.

And here is where it gets way more ridiculous. At one point, the vice principal (played by Karen Abercrombie) despite not her character from War Room, she played it as if she was playing the same character. Saying stuff like, “Devil got your butt kicked!” while doing a little jig. Basically, she’s a last minute character who serves as like the magical negro stereotype who gives sage advice and the like. And she goes through with this change to become a full on Christian.

And then there’s the Science teacher and principal played respectively by Kenneth Choi and Priscilla Shirer. They basically play these chucklehead antagonists who shout and scream every line they say that it’s kind of hilarious and they’re the best part of the movie. I’m serious, they are. But it also raises the problem in their dialogue in that every line they said shouldn’t seem that condescending especially the principal and yet it is. Same case with her aunt Angela played by Serinda Swan (who seemed to have gotten this role before starring in Inhumans). She is also the best part of the film due to her over the top performance.

And it gets way not funny when a character named Anita Wu (played by Katie Leung, who really looks too old to be playing a high schooler) is basically an over the top caricature of a feminist. Basically how a lot of MRAs view the feminist movement. This part of the movie just feels like AlphaOmegaSin got behind the Christian movie movement and wanted to insert his own politics because Anita Wu isn’t the most subtle to name to think of. And the best part? She’s accompanied by a gong on the sole basis of her being loud. It’s like somebody watched Step By Step and wanted to bring Dana back and continue the show making fun of the feminist movement as “those wacky feminists!”

Oh and she’s also the daughter of the Science teacher. Because of course she is.

Brian Baugh (who previously directed I’m Not Ashamed) directed this along with God’s Not Dead’s co-writer Cary Solomon wrote the script and just wow. I’m impressed with shoddy everything looked. It either looked like a three camera setup sitcom or literally made in someone’s garage. Made no better with the direction of its lead actress who just tries way too hard and poor Hilary Shepard got it the worst as she barely said anything except this constant worried look on her face whenever she stares at the window with her fingers near her mouth. And Kevin Sorbo, well admittedly as an actor, he can be fine but his performance reeked of smugness made no better with the dialogue he was given and the fact that he produced it. No really, he did. Same with Sadie Robertson, she is smug through and through that despite what I said about it being depressing, at the same time however, I kind of rooted for it.

And her smugness increased tenfold when she denounced Anita Wu or going so far as to say “racism is over and feminism is no longer needed-stop complaining!” At least that’s my summation of her speech at the end which took place in a lunchroom…with a picture of Trump on the wall. Blow me. Not helped by her denouncing Islam.

Don’t see this. Just don’t. It is not worth your time, it is not worth it for shits and giggles. It is not worth for a bet even.

Fuck you, Austin.

 

When Did Horror Get Good?

As of the moment I’m typing this, Get Out sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with over 120 reviews listed on the site. There’s no denying that’s a hell of a rare score to see for a horror film. In fact it’s almost unheard of for any film, genre aside. Obviously there is something special here and it’s hardly alone.  Films like The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Conjuring, and Split are giving the genre a moment of strong reception when it’s traditionally been laughed at.

So I ask this question: When did horror become good? When did the most disreputable genre suddenly get really strong? This has to be a recent thing, but when did it happen?

Well, let’s first look at this current wave. You’ve got several key themes running throughout. The films tend to come from writer/directors as all but The Conjuring have. The directors have extremely strong senses of style. You won’t mistake a Shyamalan for a Wan. Jason Blum has served as a grand patron for many of the films with his Blumhouse production company financing many efforts. But more than anything else, the films seem to have a strong focus on using horror for serious social issues. Racism, abuse, trauma. There are real ideas in this wave of horror. Surely these movies must stand in contrast to the films from say 2000-2013, right?

Well, no. There were auteurs in this wave. Danny Boyle, Zack Snyder (he counts), Shyamalan, James Gunn, Guillermo Del Toro, Gore Verbinski. There were issues underlying the horror of these films too. Sure they tended to be a bit trend chasing but there was real skill. Even a misguided film like Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 had something to say while a middle of the road horror like The Exorcism of Emily Rose pulsated with skill and thought. The indie scene was exploding too. We’ve got to go to the 90s.

The 90s prove to be a rather interesting time for the genre, not one loaded with junk. The key theme of 90s horror seemed to be meta more than anything else. Wes Craven’s genius New Nightmare examined iconography with the same reality bending of Charlie Kaufman but it was his Scream (scripted by Kevin Williamson) that broke meta into the mainstream. Movies like Scream and Bride of Chucky had fun with mocking the genre, deconstructing it in a way that laid the groundwork for the reconstruction to come. But they weren’t the only voice going as straight horror like The Blair Witch Project, In The Mouth of Madness, and Event Horizon showed how great a good scare could be. And then there was the “psychological thriller,” the euphemism given for explaining why Seven and best picture winner The Silence of the Labs weren’t horror. The 90s weren’t a great time for horror but there was gold.

So maybe it was in the 1980s things got strong? That seems impossible with the age of the slasher. Bah. The slasher movies often had a number of interesting themes running through them. The puritanism of the slashers unconsciously reflected the nation’s discomfort with its shift towards the right in the wake of the 60s and 70s. Filmmakers like George A. Romero, Wes Craven and especially John Carpenter had real points to make about the state of culture. I’d be remiss if I didn’t extend real love to Larry Cohen who didn’t even really trojan horse his satire in his films. Horror was extremely satirical in the 1980s and it deserves credit for that. You also had a few major studio greats like The Fly which showed there was a place for big money in horror.

We must then travel back to the 70s. The genesis of the slasher film was here with Halloween. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was steeped in the same energies that ran through the raw, honest films of the decade. Alien transported the genre to space, serving as a landmark for creature design and gore. Stephen King’s words first saw print and the screen in the decade with Carrie, the film of which helped get Brian De Palma into the mainstream. David Cronenberg made his mark in this age. Romero made arguably the greatest horror satire ever with Dawn of the Dead, a movie so good even the remake is solid. Jaws mainstreamed the killer animal movie. But the truly greatest film of the genre this decade has to be The Exorcist, widely considered the greatest horror film ever.

Back up then to the 60s. This was the age of Rosemary’s Baby, The Haunting, and Psycho. Horror was mainstream and highly respectable. The best directors in any genre were on it. Romero started here, adding to that list. Sure the exploitation films were out there, but a number of them tended to be quite ambitious like Carnival of Souls and Blood Feast. People were trying even then.

I look back now at the 50s. Still a number of great titles such as The Thing From Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Gojira. The last two were extremely political films which hold up today. In fact, there was an intensely satirical vibe to many horror films in this age. The atomic bomb was a serious concern and horror was where this was addressed. Oh and on tv a frustrated “serious” writer threw up his hand and created The Twilight Zone so he could discuss racism without getting censored.

I could keep going. So why don’t I? Early great horror included films by men like James Whale and Tod Browning. In fact, early film neatly dovetails with the age of the gothic melodrama. Horror has been there from its inception and it’s been notable.

Ok, so I look back past film itself. In literature I find such writers as Lovecraft, Poe, Stoker, and Shelley who used horror as a way of expressing ideas. Some ideas are still admirable while the racism of Stoker and Lovecraft wears thin. But these are writers whose works matter still.

Thus I’m left with only one conclusion: Horror has always been good.

The thing is, if you’re a fan of the genre, you know everything I’ve just laid out by heart. In my experience as a film scholar, horror fans tend to be the most astute. They’ve been onto the genre and written about it extensively. Horror fans knew it was good. They were waiting for everybody else to get it.

So why has there been a shift? I won’t try to paint a rosy picture of the years before and say the genre hasn’t had a spike in quality. Obviously the films have been impressively ambitious the the last 5 years. But there’s more. There’s been a distinct change in how the films are perceived. After years of quality, critics are starting to wake up and pay attention. Furthermore, longtime genre buffs like Scott Weinberg are becoming among the major critical voices. The generation of critics we have now grew up on Carpenter & Romero. They already knew.

We also have a dearth of original ideas in film. Horror might be a trend chasing genre, but that very restlessness to find success leads to ambition. Horror filmmakers are always looking to expand and grow the genre. Compare that to the biopic which is fundamentally no different than in the 1940s. Horror is a place for scrappy artists ready to find that next big thing.

So this is where we are. I’m glad horror is shaking off its disrepute. It deserves its moment. Where the genre is heading excites me to no end and I can’t wait to be surprised by it. But I know that it only reached this moment by decades of greatness.

 

A farewell to The Film Room Lobby

This is the last post that will ever go up on this site. Effective immediately, all new content will indeed be found at thefilmroom.org. This is our new official site. All reviews. All Comics For Rents. All Yearbooks. All will be there. Don’t look for any real change in content though. The same kinds of pieces are coming. Just under one umbrella at last!

Thanks for reading. The Lobby is closed. 

Yearbook 2005: A Thing That Happened 

Note: This entry is breaking with the standard month gap so that I can have it out before the 2006 entry, which will be VERY different in format.

2004 was a year that started strong and ended, if not weakly, then not as strong as it was. Rather inevitably, 2005 followed the exact opposite pattern. It began rough but blossomed into a stellar year for films. Like any year, it had its highs and its lows. It was a bustling time as usual for me, only a half step off on the frequency of viewings. So rest assured I have a multitude of thoughts to come!

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Comics For Rent Kids Corner: Spider-Man: The Alien Costume

Time to look at Marvel TV. Was the animated take on Venom better than live action?

Spider-Man: The Alien Costume(1995, 69 minutes)

Plot: An alien symbiote infects Spider-Man with increased strength along with a new black costume, but when he frees himself from it, it fuses with an enemy of his to become Venom.

Source Material: I’m very familiar with this story from the comics, even having the first TPB of the alien costume story on my shelf. This takes a few liberties including shifting the symbiote from joining with Spidey in Secret Wars to arriving on a space shuttle. It’s also set during the continuity of the show which is a bit different. But the basics are here. He gets the symbiote. It infects him, makes him darker. He gets rid of it. Eddie Brock gets it. Venom is born. It’s a basic cliff notes version.

Animation: This was produced at the exact same time the DCAU was running. I need to note this because this animation feels like it’s from a different decade from those. It’s pretty ugly to be blunt. Aside from Spider-Man and Venom, the characters look awful. Humans are almost impossible to look at. Scenery is very basic. Colors are hideous. Just so bad.

Script: It’s not awful. It’s the story with minor changes. It flows rather cleanly. Sure characters shout intentions but it’s decent. Not much more to say.

Voice Acting: It’s decent. I liked Christopher Daniel Barnes as Spider-Man. He hit the right notes. Hank Azaria is solidly cast as Venom. Supporting cast is ok.

Final Verdict: Very hard skip. Yeah this is really one of the hardest reviews I’ve written because there is literally nothing to discuss. It’s hard to look at. It’s only OK on the other levels. If you remember the show, leave it there in your memory. And yeah, Spider-Man 3 is much better.

The Problem With Marvel Comics and How They Can Fix It

It’s time to discuss a hard but true fact. It is an extremely hard time to be a fan of Marvel Comics. Right now Civil War 2 is limping to a close, The Clone Conspiracy is starting up*, the leadup to Inhumans vs X-Men is on, and Marvel is launching books as fast as they can only to cancel them almost as quickly. It is a bad time for the company.

Of course things aren’t exactly great on the PR front. The company isn’t looking great for how editor in chief Axel Alonso made ill advised comments about SJWs and several at the company made very questionable comments about Chelsea Cain’s Mockingbird ending as well as the harassment she faced. They’re not winning fans is my point.

But I’m not the man to get too deep into that beyond be respectful, so I’m going to put my advisor hat on and give the company some advice as a reader. No, I’m not a professional writer. I don’t have any authority. I’m just a fan. But I’m a long time fan so let me try.

First off, the event books have to stop. They’re an industry wide problem at this point but Marvel seems addicted far more than DC, which in the entire New 52 did a grand total of one linewide event along with a few smaller family events. Marvel’s events are especially annoying because no matter how much they peddle prelude TPBs, with the exception of Secret Wars and AvX, there’s not been much if any setup for their events in the last decade.

I really do blame this addiction on Civil War, which started from a thin setup and became an iconic event. The problem is you can’t recapture that. Civil War was a fluke. Trying to go back with Secret Invasion (it really wasn’t setup THAT well), Fear Itself, and whatever the hell Axis was can’t do it. Arguably the very worst offender was Original Sin which stormed in promising major changes, disrupted a few books, and changed nothing beyond putting Nick Fury Jr. in place. They try but they fail.

Part of this is that Marvel is at once addicted to shaking up the status quo and bound to it. They won’t ever do a complete canon reboot. But they’ll tell stories that have a shock factor. They’ll make Doctor Doom Iron Man, Captain America dead then alive then old then young but evil, and they’ll do everything to Hulk including killing him. But in time it’ll all revert. I get that comics are elastic and thus stretch back but isn’t this all old now?

Then there’s the relaunches. Marvel Now was a big deal on par with New 52 in terms of linewide revitalization. New teams were put in place on the major books and a few new books were launched. Everything did feel fresh. Then there was another renumbering for several books after Axis. Then there was a renumbering after Secret Wars. In fact some books had two #1 issues in 2015. See how tiring it gets?

The thing is, the endless relaunches only serve to show how desperate Marvel is to grab money. They want everything to feel exciting and new. But when you’re not allowed to feel connected to a story because it’ll get renumbered, usually with a ridiculous new status quo, you stop wanting to try new things.

Which brings me to the other big issue. Marvel is releasing an onslaught of new books onto the market every month with limited hype, usually after an event. Then they find themselves cancelling them 6-10 issues later. It’s getting very numbing to constantly see new book after new book. It becomes very hard to know what merits my time and money.

Part of the problem with the flood is that frankly a number of these books shouldn’t exist. Who is crying out for a Slapstick book? Why is every character who’s met Deadpool getting a book? A lot of these books would’ve been miniseries once upon a time but Marvel has a stated policy of avoiding minis because customers treat them as inessential. The thing is, the flood of new books are inessential, especially when we know they’ll be killed within an arc or after the next reboot.

So with the problem laid out, these are my suggestions for fixing things.

First off: end the event cycle! Try one, even two years without an event. We know they don’t matter and we don’t care anymore. I’m not even going to read whatever Classified Prelude leads into. That’s how bad things are that this exists. We don’t care so quit doing them.

Instead make the books themselves the events. Get great teams on all of your A-list books and make each one feel like an event. That’s what DC is doing, albeit with an event coming in the Winter. But seriously, for one year make a monthly issue of Avengers or Iron Man count.

While you’re at it, quit with the gimmick stories. We all know the dead will rise and the mantles will return to their original holders. In that year, try telling the best stories you can with the status quos we know. Give us stories on par with Armor Wars or Avengers Under Siege.  Give us books we can hand to nonreaders and they can understand.

And seriously, think before you launch books. Yes that’s given us Hellcat and Squirrel Girl but it’s given us dross too. In this hypothetical year, only launch characters you truly think you can sell and commit to 10 issues a piece. Then hype them. Make them seem appealing.

Oh and if DC can do 2.99 SO CAN YOU! Disney owns you. Have them write it off as R&D costs.

I doubt anything I’m suggesting will happen anytime soon sadly. But I really do wish it would. I’ve been a reader for 16 years and I really hate that I can’t be more of a fan right now. As it stands, I’m out the door.

*Actually really looking forward to this one. I love Jackal stories.

Yearbook 2004: Cinema at Extremes

2004 is one of the strangest years in cinema history. It’s not that it was exactly a good or bad year, though there’s multitudes of evidence for both. It’s that there were so many films that could’ve only existed in this one blip in history. There was something in the air, likely due to the incredibly intense political climate, that produced a fascinating moment in pop culture.

This was the year of my second semester of my freshman year and my first semester of my sophomore year. I had acres of free time. As a result I probably went this year more than any other period in my life. So I’ve got so much to say.

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Comics For Rent: Hellboy: Sword of Storms

One thing I haven’t done yet is cover CBMs based on non-Marvel/DC properties. There’s a good reason. I think there’s 2, maybe 3 out there. There really aren’t a lot of these because there’s really not the instant recognition that say Batman or Iron Man have. And even those pale next to the major films despite being in the same league. Inevitably the first film I’m covering does have a film franchise attached to it, so without further ado.

Hellboy: Sword of Storms (2006, 77 minutes)

Plot:  Hellboy becomes trapped in a dimension filled with demons from Japanese mythology but discovers that the only way for him to return to Earth will be to unleash a pair of demons who could destroy it.

Source Material: This is set in its own continuity but mostly draws from the Mike Mignola comics. The characters look a bit more like their comic counterparts. Their relationships are closer to the comics with no Hellboy/Liz love story. BPRD member Kate Corrigan shows up. The only thing it really uses from the film–and in 2006 only one existed–is the cast.

Animation: This is back before flash dominated the DTV films so it looks good. Character designs are great. The film frequently shifts styles. The demons look cool. Talking is fine. The action tends to be good. That said there are multiple moments where the budget was limited. There are several still shots used straight out of bad cartoons. Also wow is this dark. It’s detail obscuring dark.

Script: I really wish this was better. Mike Mignola cowrote the story which helps it feel like the source but frankly there is way too much padding in this. The story is so simple yet feels dragged out. Hellboy’s plot is fun, especially if you’re into Japanese mythology , but wow is it way too repetitive. Liz and Abe’s plot feels like the filmmakers had no idea what to do with them but knew they had to include them. This starts strong, nice idea, nice scenes, but just not to par.

Voice Acting: The cast of the film returned to voice their characters with Doug Jones debuting as the voice of Abe Sapien after doing just the motion due to studio interference. So yeah, this is why you’re watching. It’s worth it. Ron Perlman gives everything he gave to the live action films. Jones does a superb job as Abe. Selma Blair is a bit rocky on the voice front as Liz but her character’s not given the best treatment in the film. Supporting voices do their job well.

Final Verdict: 2/5. I really hate not being able to give this a better rating. There’s good here and if you want a bonus dose of Perlman in this role, add an extra point. But honestly this is really just a lot of padded action. It’s definitely not a satisfying watch sadly. Stick with the Guillermo Del Toro movies.