Monday, June 24, 2013

Man Of Steel, Monsters University, World War Z, Now You See Me, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Stoker

A pre-quel to Monsters, Inc. is appropriate for at least two reasons: first, we know that these wily college students will end up, not only the best of friends, not only at the very top of the ladder of success of Monsters Inc, but also saving the business, the town and re-writing the rules to make the company even more profitable. Mike (Billy Crystal) isn't going to be a Scarer, he's going to be something greater. The real point of this, however, isn't to find out who Mike and Sully (John Goodman) were before, it's to remind us of who we were before: what the long, hard was that we ourselves have trod that wasn't filled with easy pickings and success ready to be served up on a silver platter. Secondly, Monsters University makes it clear that, to get anywhere in life, you have to be a good person, and you are not only responsible for being a good person yourself (so you can make the right and difficult decisions) but also so you can help others and not be a hindrance to them being a good person. Politically speaking, Monsters University directly butts heads with World War Z in that, whereas WWZ is going to promote "weakness," when Mike in Monsters University says, "I'm okay being okay," you know that he knows he's not okay with that, he's going to do whatever it takes (being fastest mail delivery, being the best cafeteria worker, being the best can operator, etc) to get to the very top and fulfill that long-awaited dream he knows in his heart is still waiting for him, which brings us to this image. The "pig" Mike rides is the mascot from another university Sulley has kidnapped, and the pig symbolizes different aspects of Mike and Sulley. Just as the pig has gotten away from Sulley, so Sulley's piggish ego has "gotten away" from him and threatens to ruin his college career just as the runaway pig ruins the campus. Likewise, holding the Monsters Inc hat Mike received as a little monster that symbolizes his hopes, dreams and ambitions, so the pig has Mike's dream in his mouth, i.e., a pig usually symbolizes the base appetites anyway, and the mouth also symbolizes the appetites; a hat, like hair, usually directs us towards what a character is thinking or what governs them because it's worn on the head. Mike's goal to be a scarer isn't purified the way it will be as he and Sulley work their way up through Monsters Inc towards the end of the film, rather, right now, he's young and arrogant and wants what he wants (to be a scarer) because being that meets the requirements of his ego, or, in other words, Mike (like Sulley) is so full of himself that and proud that he's not worthy of his dream yet, and that often happens to us in real life. Everything about this film impressed me thoroughly and I cant think of a better family film that's out there right now.
If Christopher Nolan is behind it, it's going to be amazing.
I just saw Man Of Steel tonight, which Nolan co-produced and co-wrote the script, and if you haven't seen it, it is a driving engine for making 2013 an epic year for film, comparable only to 1939. I saw Monsters University this weekend, and, if I had kids, I would make sure this was the type of film they would be watching all the time: this is the American work ethic at play, and I do mean to juxtapose "work" and "play" because that's that backbone of the film and the dominant reason it did so well, knocking out Brad Pitt's World War Z, which still did far better than I anticipated (especially after I saw it) and well enough that Paramount has all ready started the sequel for the film. So, about World War Z,...
Why Superman now? You can argue that it's because Warner Brothers wants to makes their own Avengers film and they need Superman to do it, and that's a legitimate angle, however, if Superman were not serving some specific cultural role, they wouldn't see resurrecting Superman as viable. The answer to this question lies throughout the entire film: people will reject you, you have to hide this part of yourself, you have to control it,.... Superman, in other words, is the concentrated, super-human part of America itself, America the Super Power, and what is said of Clark can be said of this country. Just like in The Incredibles, with everyone resenting the super hero family, so everyone in the world seems to resent America, but we must keep our own focus and discipline ourselves to doing the right thing, because the evil invasion of Zod is surely upon us. Why did they witch it to Man Of Steel? Most of the fighting takes place in Metropolis (New York) and that's the home of the skyscrappers, the City of Steel, and the destruction we see in this symbol of New York is the destruction to the world's financial capital but also destrution to the family (right before Superman kills Zod). Everything seems to have been perfectly done, from the moments when Clark has facial hair, to his "enhanced" super powers of seeing and running (which symbolize his greater wisdom). Zod makes a speech nearly identical to what we hear in Emperor (Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones) and that difference between Zod's birth and upbrining (really we should say "breeding") starkly differs from Clark's and Chris Nolan wants you to know it.
Sadly, and I do mean, genuinely, sadly, I didn't think it was a very good film: I thought it would be very pro-Agenda 21, and perhaps it was trying to lead us in that direction, but it seemed to me--watching the film--that, first, the audience's relationship to the Lane family was contrived: it was based on a formula that just didn't work for me to build that necessary bond and willing suspension of disbelief that allows for catharsis to take place (which is the point of the zombie genre). The biggest problem with the film, however, was the constant deferral of what started the zombie apocalypse: we never really find out how or why it starts. It can be argued, and I will discuss this, that we never really find out in Night Of the Living Dead what caused that zombie outbreak, however, we do see the moment in the cemetery which allows us to fill in the blanks; we aren't afforded that in WWZ. Gangster Squad was an okay film that very much believed in its anti-capitalist platform, as did Lawless which was an outstanding film; for the $200+millions spent on WWZ, however, it's like that don't believe in anything and that is disappointing because, to me, the best part was the end, but even that was a state of contradiction that really doesn't work. The film's encoding is like the wave of zombies avoiding the sick person they mill around and it's too bad, there was a lot of potential here, but speaking of potential,....
Clark Kent as a young boy wearing his red cape. Why is this a good image? Well, the dominant colors of the laundry are reds, whites and blues, just like Clark's outfit. Why? There are American flags throughout the film, as well as intentional Christ images that are most welcomed. These are the clothes of everyday people being "hung out to dry," and the clothes that are clean are important to Clark's identity. In other words, this image summarizes what we see throughout the film, that Clark has to keep his direction in life clean, he has to keep his motives clean, he has to free himself of violent, selfish and other "dirty" impulses, so that he can become the man he's destined to become.
A Yahoo article on Man Of Steel had talked about his "dark side" being revealed and fans being upset about a moment he has in the film; I am not quite sure if it's the part after the "disagreement" in the bar takes place and the trucker goes out to find that the "waiter" had rammed electric poles through his truck or when--to save a family from being burned to death by Zod--Clark Kent/Kal-El breaks Zod's neck and then freaks about it. There is a lot to both scenes we will discuss, however, I think with the death of Zod Clark Kent saw the extinguishing of Zod's "potential" and possibility, the idea that the Land of the Free and the American Dream wasn't going to apply to someone, that to protect our freedom (symbolized by the family in imminent peril) freedom was not going to be possible for what Zod symbolizes and we know this will have serious repercussions for Clark Kent/Kal-El in future versions.
And for Now You See Me,....
Both characters, rather they realize it or not, have been in some sort of "prison" throughout the film. Even knowing what was going to happen, this is one of those you could watch several times and pick up something new with each additional viewing (like background locations and images contributing to scenes that we would naturally "overlook" on a initial screening). Now You See Me is so diverse, it quickly makes numerous theoretically approaches possible, so we will try to take these on in the review. For example, each character has a designated role in the film; where have we seen that recently? The Cabin In the Woods. Merritt (Harrelson) tells Hobbs (Ruffalo) that he has "daddy issues," and that is certainly true, leading to a psychoanalytic discussion with his father's watery grave possibly holding the secrets of Hobbs own arrested sexuality. The Four Horseman are trying to become members of The Eye, a secret organization for magicians that is by invitation only, which leads us to "seeing" the C-Eye-A, the FB-Eye, and the Eye-RS, a destabilization of meaning for deconstruction. Of course, there is also the Reader Response approach. A film with Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson sparks to mind Zombieland, in which Eisenberg's and Harrelson's characters find themselves at an amusement park by a carousel, just as they do in Now You See Me, so we can ask, are we to examine the film as a "zombie" genre? Because of the way villains and "heroes" conduct themselves, we have a very rich potential for game and play theory as well. I was impressed with the film on a number of levels and can't wait to see it again, although I am sure that is not everyone's response to it. 
I read what happens in the film before going to see it, and I am certainly glad I did. For those who didn't, there was probably a sour taste left in their mouth at the end, a feeling of being "cheated" and that's legitimate, because that's how the film wants you to feel, rather like at the end of Looper with the "suicide" of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character. I very much approve of Now You See Me--thoroughly so--and the way it achieved its end, but it's definitely something we will need to discuss. Let's say that you haven't seen any of these films so far thus; what should you focus on seeing? You have to see Iron Man 3, you have to see Star Trek Into Darkness; preferably, you have seen Fast and Furious 6 and you have to see Man Of Steel. Hopefully, you will also see GI Joe Retaliation--that's a really important film on a number of levels, and I firmly believe that Snake Eyes (the black ninja) is,... take a deep breath,... the GREATEST HERO OF ALL TIME. I've thought about that a lot, and I don't say it lightly, but I think he's the character against which all other heroes will have to be compared, even the Man Of Steel. Hopefully you will also see Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters: it's probably only a "B" level film, however, there are numerous facets most intriguing and quite original in the political dialogue we have been following and it would be to your advantage to see it. Also, if for some reason, you haven't seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, you absolutely must see that.
There is another reason to see The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: it's about magic. How many films, including Now You See Me, have involved magic? Don't forget "Magic" Mike, Red Lights (Cillian Murphy, Robert DeNiro), Oz the Great and Powerful (there are others I am not remembering). There were a lot of sexual situations and discussion in the film, I don't remember any nudity but it has been awhile since I've seen it; it was definitely better than Seeking A Friend For the End Of the World. Like so many other films, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone also hearkens back to the 1980s, when the film opens (we know Clark Kent came to earth in 1980 because he's 33 years old, the same age Christ was when he died). Again, like The Internship and Monsters University, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone demonstrates that competition is good, difficult, but good, whereas films like The Hunger Games and World War Z (as well as Now You See Me, but in a specific, targeted way) make it look like competition is bad and only bad things come of it; this is a genuine cultural war being fought out between these films and this happens to be one of the films that takes this specific line of the public discourse and expands upon it.
Out this week on video is The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Granted, it wasn't that incredible, however, it does offer an incredible critique of capitalism which did amaze me, really. For example, Burt (Steve Carell) has really spent his millions he made in his ultra-lucrative magic show and has only a savings bond from his grandmother after he breaks up the act (the grandmother symbolizing the old mother land, the old promise of America and it still being "around" for him to cash in on ) while Anton (Steve Buscemi) goes to an impoverished country. Instead of handing out food to the people, Anton gives them magic kits; one little boy takes a rabbit (meant to be used in a magic show) and pulls out a knife, ready to eat it. This was a gutsy move the film made, because it distinguishes America from such impoverished countries by showing how those populations want to be fed, but don't want to take advantage of opportunity ("Give a man a fish," etc.) whereas, in America, you teach someone how to fish, you don't give it to them. That was gutsy, they didn't have to do something like that. 
I remember this (to me) as being the funniest part of the film; why is it important? For at least two reasons. First, the arrival of Jim Carrey's character on the magic scene has forced Anton and Burt to fundamentally change their game from magic to endurance tests (which you can see Burt's hysterical response that he doesn't have any endurance) but this accurately reflects what has happened to America politically speaking. Ronald Reagan said, "Republicans see every day as the 4th of July. Democrats see everyday as April 15th." Whereas the working class of America sees the business of America as getting to work and fulfilling our dreams and making America a better place, the liberal population sees the government as controlling every aspect of our lives (like the see-through glass case the two magicians are in) and reducing us to our bodily functions (they are supposed to stay in the case for like a week, with no food or water or going to the bathroom). Different characters in the film keep saying that Steve Gray (Carrey) "isn't doing magic," rather, disfiguring himself, mutilating himself or risk permanently damaging his vital organs; in other words, Gray has really taken the "mind game" out of magic (the audience willing to be fooled) and makes a spectacle of himself instead. Now the film finishes with another perfect critique of capitalism that is all too true and what we all have to be wary of, but films and other artistic avenues are supposed to do this in a capitalist society because art is one of the watchdogs that protects us all.
Another film that came out last week is Stoker. There is nudity, sex and foul language in this, and it is certainly not for everyone; however, if you are up to it, you know you are watching a well-crafted film as it takes place and this is one of those films that is going to influence other film makers. If you like symbols, Stoker is full of them; if you like Hitchcock, he seems to be lurking in the shadows of every corner. Every aspect of the film is, truthfully, masterful in its artistic rendering and will provide you with great "food for thought" if you enjoy dissecting films' meanings.
I can't believe it, but my pen ran out of ink half way through Man Of Steel and there were so many things, especially that Zod said, that I didn't get noted so I might have to go back and catch it again, but if you haven't seen it, it was fabulous. I was a little doubtful that a take on Superman could pull it off--and I didn't have faith in director Zach Snyder, to be truthful--I don't think it could have been any better. I have not yet seen The Bling Ring, The Internship, The Purge or The East (Mud and 42 are still showing in the area so I am going to get those in this week before they are removed) but I am going to get to these important posts first! Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner