So, it's been an alright, kinda weird week. My birthday was Thursday. To celebrate, my friend and I went on a TV game show I technically can't name until it airs and lost a bunch of money we almost won. Then I had a big steak. I actually feel pretty bad about eating red meat, what with the food crisis and stuff, not so much the meat, but the expense of the grain that the cows are fed is part of them problem, as I've read. Actually, it seems that America probably produces enough excess food to alleviate some of the crisis, but, well, shit, fuck it. The whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, or something. We're all gonna die...
Meanwhile, I continue to devote most of my time and energy to meaningless pop culture. Well, I think pop culture is actually pretty meaningful, but in the broader sense of things, I'm not saving any lives here. So, again, fuck it. Last week some friends and I went to go see "Iron Man" on opening night. It totally sucked. Like, totally, totally sucked. I find myself giving in a little when I talk to other people who've seen it, since everyone seems to like it ("Yeah, I guess Robert Downey Jr. was pretty good, I guess..."), but seriously, "Iron Man" is an asshole movie, made by assholes for assholes. Because, I guess, in the eyes of the world at large, comic book culture, the haven of freaks and geeks, needed to be fratted up a little.
The first thing that sucks about "Iron Man" is that it's totally boring. Painfully boring. You get scene after scene of him building the suit, then building another suit, then probably building another suit, I don't totally remember. Then testing the suit. In between this are the frat boy scenes- Iron Man in Vegas, Iron Man picking up chicks, Iron Man getting a lapdance on his private jet...and, once the film gets more "serious," scene after scene after scene of people saying,"Weapons....the future of the planet!" To be fair, the action sequences are decent, in that you can actually see what's going on, unlike the Spider-Man movies (which, narratively, are alot better than this), where everything happens too fast and too close-up to really be coherent. But, y'know, 15 minutes of decent mecha scenes don't make up for two hours of stupid boringness. About halfway through I just started poking myself in the forehead, over and over again, because I enjoyed that more than watching the movie. My filmgoing companions seemed to enjoy it more than the action on screen too, so we all kind of came out on top with that one.
I also had some pretty serious ideological objections to "Iron Man." First and foremost, this is basically a movie about a billionaire war profiteer who, in one scene, burns (a lot of) Arabs alive with a flamethrower. Yup, that's the hero of this pic. After being kidnapped by a group of Middle Eastern terrorists, Iron Man renounces his career as a weapons manufacturer...by building a weaponized suit of armor and flying back to the Middle East to kill more Arabs. Yup, the hero. The fact that Iron Man's weapons are being used by said terrorists is only used to spur on his guilt, but the real ramifications of this are never explored. Jeff Bridges (the best actor in this piece of shit) shows up to play another villain in a suit of armor (in the comic I think the character is actually the Iron Monger), but that doesn't amount to much and really just makes the whole affair feel even more generic, since basically the plot of every movie like this has a character face another character with basically the same abilities as he, only a bit more, and then beat him. Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, they're all the same, film-wise, anyway. Seriously, I like movies and I like comic books, but these two things so very rarely seem to work together. Is it really that difficult?
"Iron Man" also has a pretty reprehensible view of women. Iron Man, of course, is your stereotypical womanizing playboy. In one scene, he picks up and sleeps with an attractive journalist, then dumps her the next morning. Later in the film, she shows up again to ask him a challenging question about his weapons manufacturing, and of course he just puts her down for being one of his sexual conquests (much to the delight of many of the men in the audience). Meanwhile, his dutiful, excessively dutiful, assistant, who doesn't have sex with him but we are lead to believe probably would, is shown to be an exemplary female because she basically does whatever her man-master tells her to and doesn't bitch about it too much. So, yeah, really, it's basically just the old, old, old madonna-whore thing and that shit's fucking boring as hell. Boring, transparent, psychology-101 shit.
And, you know what, Robert Downey Jr isn't even really that good in this. Yeah, he's a charismatic performer and good at being funny in a cool, natural way, but he also basically plays the same character is every single movie he's ever been in. They really didn't even need to both shooting new footage for when he's out of the suit, they could have just spliced in footage from any other movie he's ever been in- "Zodiac," "Less Than Zero," "The Pick-Up Artist,"Johnny B. Goode"...Gwyneth Paltrow is kind of a bad actress, and Terence Howard and especially Jeff Bridges don't really have anything to do. I did like Leslie Bibb as the journalist Iron Man picks up, but maybe that was also because I kind of felt bad for her character and for her as an actress for being treated so shabbily by Iron Man and the filmmakers. Speaking of the filmmakers, I'm not really going to get into trashing Jon Favreau, except to say that he sucks. "Swingers" sucked. "Made" sucked big time. "Elf?" More like Smellf! Y'know, because it smells. Bad. So, yeah, fuck "Iron Man."
I also watched "No Country For Old Men" this week, which on the one hand is infinitely better than "Iron Man" (well finitely, but ALOT better), but still had me asking,"Is this really the best that Hollywood has to offer?", then answering," Yeah, I guess it is." I talk to myself sometimes. It's not that there's anything really wrong with "No Country for Old Men," it's just that there isn't anything especially original or interesting about it. It's not enlightening, challenging or even especially entertaining. The big problem is that everything about it seems totally familiar. If you watch movies, you've seen this one a hundred times or more. It's "The Searchers," or "Point Blank," "The Wild Bunch," "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," "Two-Lane Blacktop," all the way through most of Jim Jarmusch's films (especially "Dead Man" and "Ghost Dog," but also "Down by Law" and "Broken Flowers") and even the Coen bros. own ouvre ("Blood Simple," "Barton Fink," "Fargo" etc. etc.). It's too studied, too practiced, too constructed. There's no life to it, no soul. The characters, however well acted, are all stock, culled from decades of similar films. In essence, almost everything about this film is a stereotype. It's less a real film than the simulacra of a film.
Much worse is how impressed with itself the whole affair seems to be. The deadpan Southern tough guys with their homespun folk wisdom, the mordant humor, deliberate pacing and sudden bursts of graphic violence...somehow all of this is supposed to read as clever. This self-importance, self-satisfaction, is an increasing problem amongst popular filmmakers. The Coen bros (who used to be so good, but haven't really hit the mark since the near-perfect "Big Lebowski" over a decade ago), PT Anderson, Wes Anderson (and David O. Russell, and Alexander Payne, and a bunch of other assholes) and every other clever motherfucker who favor symmetrically designed camera placement and can instruct his actors not to look at one another while reciting ironic dialogue gets quickly hyped and overhyped and succumbs quickly to their own hype and then it's all just a bunch of hype. Anyway, new movies suck. Old movies are better.
Both of these films made me appreciate all the more how much I enjoyed "The Ruins." Perhaps I sound like a philistine, but at the very least I really enjoyed that one, it didn't offend me and I didn't know exactly what was going to happen next (a problem shared by "Iron Man" and "No Country for Old Men"). "The Ruins" has something I can't quite put my finger on, something that, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I'm going to call "cinema." Or rather, "Cinema." Which is to say it was cinematic. It was involving and effective. The characters were identifiable and compelling. I laughed while I watched, and cringed, and, y'know, felt things. "The Ruins" has a spark to it. It's not Robert Bresson but it's definitely 90 minutes (a good 30 shorter than either "Iron Man" or "No Country For Old Men") well-spent. Y'know, it's sort of cliche, but I guess I'm saying that good trash is preferable to bad art. Or something.
I wanted to include "The Savages," which I also watched this week, in this discussion but don't really feel like going into at length. It suffers from alot of the same problems as "No Country For Old Men," though admittedly provides a more recognizable scenario and set of characters, and perhaps thus a more cathartic or at least moving experience, but, whatever, it's just like all these fucking movies are exactly the same. Same shots, same music, same actors...I just feel like I keep seeing the same movie over and over again. And when I see previews these days, half the time the movies don't even seem like they could be real. I mean, this thing coming out with Ben "Everything I Do Totally Sucks" Still, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr in blackface? Could that actually be a real movie that people spent a bunch of time and money and effort and though making? That people are going to sit down and watch? I guess this goes back to the whole idea of simulacra, and the culture basically consuming itself, becoming a copy of a parody of a copy of a parody or some shit or another.
And, going back to "Iron Man," the fucked up thing is that, being a member of this particular niche consumer cult, I'll most likely go see the awful looking new "Batman" movie (hated the last one), and "The Hulk" (which, as far as I can tell, is a remake of the "Hulk" movie that came out a few years ago, which I actually liked). And I'll hate them too. And then I'll write about it. And then (hopefully) you'll read about it. And every day, we'll all be that much closer to being dead.
In the meantime, here's another comic book ad from the late 1980s or early 1990s that I kinda liked...