I don’t fantasize anymore. When I was younger, I loved the way movies elicited some fantasy or other. After Sandlot I could almost see my foot aligned with the mound’s rubber at Wrigley. After Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I could think of nothing but splitting an arrow with an arrow. And after Top Gun, well, I went on to become a military officer and pilot.
Fantasy no more.
Over the last two nights I finally watched Black Panther and also gave in to the hope that 12 Strong might get it right. These movies are both fantasy action films. They both include a healthy admixture of current events and fiction. And they both elate and inspire their fans. But, by my thinking, they, the resounding box office success of Black Panther especially, beg the question, “Can inspiration be dangerous?”
Black Panther‘s make-believe portion is what I struggle to understand. I do not identify with, neither am I inspired by, the notion that, “all along my people actually were capable and smart and possessed the technology to change the world for the better.” In fact, I find it troubling. More troubling is I think I’m alone in this because I am afraid to even type it.
Naturally, there are millions of reasons why the idea doesn’t inspire me, but I only want to highlight the one reason why it shouldn’t inspire anyone at all: unlike every other superhero movie, it is entirely based on pernicious historical revision. And given that truth depends on the events of history, we might consider the implications behind using historical revision as inspiration.
This takes us to 12 Strong. With 12 Strong we have a different type of fantasy, a different type of revision. The film begins by unnecessarily reminding the viewer of the, not just one, but many attacks that Bin Laden and friends perpetrated on the United States, the last of which being 9/11. Unlike Black Panther’s bright-color-clothed, ancestor worshiping character’s, this movie’s characters achieve depth only if in a kiddie pool. And while Thor’s men certainly declare that they are inspired by him, his greatest strength seems to be undecided. Is it that he can both speak Russian and ride a horse? Or that he got really–and I mean really, really–mad when he saw the news that fateful morning? (So mad that he kicked over his desk!)
Unlike Black Panther, 12 Strong does not actually revise history. It’s too cowardly to even attempt that. It surely is bad history, but Wakandan-like revision is nowhere in sight. For example, there is no discovery that the terrorists actually love the United States. Nor does some soldier wander into a mountain cave and discover that the United States’ actual forefathers (you know, the ones secretly sabotaging all the Taliban’s bad seed’s biggest plans) have kept alive an underground resistance within the same cave system wherein the bad tribes hid from shame all these centuries.
Nope. You won’t find any of that. Instead, 12 Strong merely works very hard to make sure that no one can say the military response to 9/11 was unjustified. (There’s even a scene where some Taliban leader shoots a burka-wearing woman who had been teaching little girls how to read–something which he believed Allah forbids. Yeah, that’s it. It was their illiteracy that we were pissed about.) By the way, the fact that any American thinks additional explanation for military response to 9/11 is necessary at all speaks louder than any graphic representation of barbaric beliefs ever could about whose side they’re on.
In the end, I guess I do fantasize. I fantasize about the day that we admit that our way of life is under attack every moment, from every angle. I fantasize about the day when we admit that it’s okay–in fact good–to have power and use it. I fantasize about the day when any one of us defends the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as champions of freedom. Do you hear me? I fantasize about these things.
Michael Mann still owns pacing–he always will. But director Paul Thomas Anderson owns something else. What is it? I have not found the word yet. But when I do, it will describe the way Phantom Thread is not about dresses. It will also convey the way this motion picture about some dressmaker makes me want to wake up early every morning. Oh, and this word will describe how without Mr. Anderson spending any precious time on patronizing summaries, technical explanations, or unambiguous declarations, I felt like I learned something–something that I might have otherwise missed. I wonder, what will you learn?
It’s not a movie. Sure, in the technical sense it is a motion picture, but just now, while at Soopers when I saw the bluray for sale, it hit me. Dunkirk is not a movie. These type of missteps are expected, of course, from the truly creative human, of which Nolan is surely one. But he stepped out of his lane and tried to fool us, rather than just release it at Art House Cinemas or Fine Art Cinemas, the place where it belongs. And that move should cause him to feel some slight twinge of shame. We’re not mindless suckers, Mr. Nolan. We just like stories and are illiterate.
Whew, glad I got that one figured out.
I don’t know what the big fuss is about. H8ers gunna hate, I guess. It’s a perfectly good movie. I’d probably say it was “great” but I don’t want to build it up too much. Just go see it.
To critics: That’s enough alone time. I didn’t mean forever. You can go play with your friends again.
Are you doing what they tell you? Or are you doing what you want?
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen. That’s the takeaway. That’s Miller’s point. That’s the lesson learned.
In a word, “Don’t do what they tell you.”
Why not? Because if you’re doing what they tell you before the world goes mad, then you will definitely do what they tell you after the world goes mad. Make no mistake, though, the world will go mad. And we won’t all get to be Max or Furiosa.
So in Mad Max: Fury Road there’s an enormous skull thing carved out of a rock face. We’re shown this shrine in the first few minutes of the film. As awesome as the rest of the movie was, and it was awesome, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the megalomaniacs in charge of the barbarian hordes convinced anyone to create that sculpture. I mean the world’s gone to shit already. Why keep up the symbols? Who would even possess the skill and dexterity to create such a large piece of pseudo-art?
But then I think of my time in the service and also in the oil fields. Men are capable of wondrous deeds. Moreover, people love when those in power direct their attention on them. Even I have fallen prey to basking in the limelight of a boss’s approval despite knowing it was unwarranted or wholly irrelevant. And in those moments I can see Mr. Bossman saying, “I want a skull thing,” and men answering, “Where?”
No more, I say.
The more I write, the more conversations I have with close friends and family about things that were previously hidden. Maybe it’s just my family and friends, but if this blog’s content and conversations have taught me any overarching lesson that I would take to the streets Malcolm X-style, it’s that there is no reason–not-a-one–to work a crummy job. If you’re in debt, get your finances in order, stay until you can quit, then quit. If you’re not in debt, quit today. Forty hours a week–wait, who we kiddin’?–fifty hours a week is too many hours each week to spend doing anything other than what you want to do.
Or you can carve the skull thing.
In the end, Mad Max: Fury Road is great fun for adults. Watch it and don’t forget to enjoy yourself.
The first Transformers movie will always have a special place in my heart. Instructor pilots of mine piloted the MH-53 that was the movie-opening Decepticon “Blackout”. Michael Bay even hand chose the pilot that marked me “unsatisfactory” once to be the hologram that “piloted” Blackout and later had a scene in the police car that interrogated Ladiesman217 (Shai LaBeouf).
I need a minute.
Okay, back to the review. Then came the second and third installments. Admittedly they were less than inspiring.
Then number four lost LaBeouf, but gained Marky Mark. Not interested enough to see the film in the theater, I started watching it four weeks ago, and finally finished it yesterday. Why did it take so long? And why did I persist, you ask? Because Optimus Prime riding a T-Rex Dynobot only happens once in a lifetime. And because that darn scene didn’t occur until the 133rd minute in the 165 minute film. But I still got goosebumps. It is awesome.
Here’s what some reviewers said about number 4 on Rotten Tomatoes:
“In the end, though, this is still a movie about giant robots fighting each other, which is to say it’s nearly impossible to take seriously on a narrative level.”
“Inflated, interminable and incoherent …”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction is simply more of the same mindless action, flat characters, and utter boredom that we’ve come to expect from these bloated mechanical sequels.”
And my personal favorite:
“Transformers have souls, this movie repeatedly tells us, but does Michael Bay?”
Know what I say? I say Michael Bay has a soul and it is the soul of a genius. Stay with me. I began watching this movie after listening to H- play for hours on end with a Beauty and the Beast doll set. The set included Belle and a few dresses, the human prince, and a Beast suit to put over the prince. (She hasn’t seen the movie yet.) These three characters became Belle, Belle’s father, and Beast (never mind he doesn’t have legs). And soon thereafter a lego character entered the mix so that it was an even two-on-two. Good guys became bad guys; characters that died came back to life; Beast was always asleep in the moments before only he could save the day. You know I love this child, but listening to her play can be mind-numbing.
Now, I can memorize a two hour movie’s story-line after one viewing, yet can’t follow, let alone repeat, H-‘s story-lines. Michael Bay, on the other hand, can. If you watch Transformers 4 as if you’re watching a four-year-old holding the actors and robots alike and performing all the voice acting, then the movie is perfect. Simply perfect. All the characters are yelling, injured, needing help, fighting, crying, whining, dying, or repeating some cheesy line they probably just heard the day before on TV. Even the scene where the boy and girl kiss after the victory seems like a child is forcing the two of them together while saying, “Mmua, Mmua” and thinking, “Eww gross”. The poor kid knows kissing is what happens when good guys win, but doesn’t understand why.
The genius of the movie and what the critics forget is that it is quite literally a movie about toys in the first place. Perhaps it is the 2007 installment that should be viewed as the fluke. But now with the fourth installment we’re finally getting to the heart of why Transformer toys and Transformers 4 are so great. And all these nay-saying critics probably don’t recognize that when they got big, they became the guy from Big who thinks that there’s something fun about a building that turns into a robot.