Saturday, July 28, 2007

everything is mostly bad

I've been procrastinating on writing a review of LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD long enough that it's probably pretty pointless to say more than a little about it. First off I should probably say that I had no real intention of seeing the movie in the first place, I had no real interest in it. Actually, the movie I wanted to see was SICKO, Michael Moore's new documentary (you knew that, I don't know why I felt the need to explain that, I suck), but it wasn't listed on the marquee of the theatre where it's supposed to be showing (and still isn't almost 4 weeks later, even though I'm sure the problem has been brought to the theatre's attention. I'd blame it on the right wing conspiracy if it weren't probably just a symptom of people in NYC generally always doing everything as half-assed and user-unfriendly as possible). Anyway, because it wasn't on the marquee, I assumed it wasn't showing, but I still felt like a film, of which FANTASTIC FOUR- RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER was, sadly, the least unappealing movie screening at the appropriate time. Not that it was even that bad a movie, actually. I mean, it was pretty stupid, and I don't really like their take on the Fantastic Four, but there was one cool scene where they're chasing Dr. Doom, who has stolen and is riding the Silver Surfer's cosmic surfboard, through the air in their flying, modular Fantasticars, over the Great Wall of China, that, more than anything else I've ever seen in a comics-based movie, actually felt like the cinematic representation of a comic book, so that was good for something.

Even so, as a film FANTASTIC FOUR_ RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER was slight, to say the least, and after seeing it, I still felt like seeing a film, so I did something I'd never done before and snuck into the next movie that was showing, which was DIE HARD. About the only good thing I can say about LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is that it wasn't boring. On the other hand, it made the FANTASTIC FOUR seem both highly realistic and extremely intelligent by comparison. Apparently in 20 years since the first DIE HARD the Bruce Willis character has become not only superhuman but such a supreme badass that everyone knows how cool and dangerous he is just because. In a word, yuck.

What's worse, the film has one scene of supreme racism and misogyny, enacted by the supposed hero, that also, for whatever reason, seems to bring out the worst in audiences. One the film's villains is a woman, played by an actress who calls herself Maggie Q, who is apparently part-Asian. She doesn't really look Asian, but I guess we're supposed to know she is because as soon as she steps out from behind a computer (the film's villains are programmers, or hackers, or something) she starts doing kung-fu. This is a bad enough stereotype , or set of stereotypes, in and of themselves- all Asians knowing martial arts; The Dragon Lady - Asian female villainess. It's also pretty stupid just from a narrative standpoint, there's really nothing in the film to indicate that the computer savvy characters would have any kind of fighting skills as well, but there you have it- dumb characterizations in a dumb ass movie.

That's not even my issue with the film, though. The Maggie Q character reveals her martial arts skills in a scene where she knocks the Bruce Willis character around some, about the only time in the movie Willis' ubermensch takes any licks (seriously, the guy spends half the movie dodging flying cars, missles, jets and giant explosions without getting more than a few scratches). He responds by attacking her with such unrestrained brutality one might reserve for a lifelong arch nemesis. Aside from pounding on her severely with his fists, he hits her with a truck and throws her down an elevator shaft. It isn't just about a good guy beating up a bad guy (or gal in this case), it's about him HURTING her as much as possible. What's worse, the audience went wild during this scene. It was fucking disturbing and ultimately saddening. Her character, up to that point, hadn't done anything especially insidious, she was just one of the bad guys, one of many killed by the Bruce Willis character in the film, but the only one to receive such a raccous response (or such a brutal dispatch) from the crowd in the theatre.

This was troubling enough, but a couple of scenes later, the Bruce Willis character boasts, with great pride and pleasure and relish, to the main villain, about how he's just killed his "Asian ninja bitch girlfriend", to another round of ghoulish applause from the audience (which was quite mixed, both in terms of race and gender). What can I really say about this, except that it's just straight up, flat out jive-ass motherfucking racism and misogyny, and the audience was cheering for it, an audience in New York City, no less, supposedly one of the world's cultural and intellectual centers. The whole thing just fucking sucked. It made me sad to be alive.

It gets worse, too. A couple of days later, I was visiting my friend at her job, and I was describing the scene to her, the audience's reaction, and how much it bothered me, when another customer in the store, who had been eavesdropping on us, chimed in indignantly with his approval and the shit that had gone down in the movie, going so far as to begin applauding when i recounted the 'ninja bitch' line to my dismayed compatriot. This wasn't some sloppy teenage frat boy looking to get a rise out of us either, but a well-dressed 30-something-ish African American man, and he seemed genuinely angered by my objection to the scene in question ("Yay, casual racism and sexism," my friend replied laconically).

I guess I've said all I need to say on that. It was fucked up, it made me unhappy, and it's a sad indictment on not only the state of American popular culture, but on America and Americans in general. People just can't get past the racial shit, it's this country's great shame, and it's been fucking us up for hundreds of years.

Oh well, on a more positive note, I finally did make it to see SICKO and found it very effective and moving. Michael Moore always turns me off with the self-aggrandizing self-promotion surrounding his films, but I always wind up liking the films themselves. SICKO is even better, in my opinion, than FAHRENHEIT 9/11, though not quite as good as BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, which I think is his best. People attack Moore's films on formalistic and factual grounds, but morally and ideologically, I think he's unimpeachable. Really, to oppose the kind of universal healthcare proposed by Moore you'd have to be an extremely callous and uncaring person, kind of a monster. It's too bad America's most important documentary filmmaker is also kind of smarmy and boastful. To me, it's kind of distasteful, but I guess that's why I'm a person who writes a blog called NEGATIVE PLEASURE and not UP WITH PEOPLE.

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