The Mad Aardvark

Critical commentary on culture…

Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Yeah, that lightsaber…

Posted by madaardvark on November 29, 2014


I’ve mentioned this before. I can’t remember which episode it was, but in a commentary track from the Twilight Zone (original series) DVD set, Rod Serling comments about suspension of disbelief. He suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the best way to get an audience to believe in the fantastic is to make sure the people that make up the world behave in ways you would expect them to, given the situation they’re in. Otherwise, the false reality built into a fantasy work starts to break down, the audience starts to question not just the character behavior, but eventually the whole premise of the movie.

The question is not “Is it possible to make a lightsaber like that?” Clearly, it isn’t. That’s the fantasy. We have accepted belief in a few things: lightsabers work, blaster pistols, flying in space, hyperspace, mystical energies that bind the universe together…

When people in these movies do things that seem “off”, we pause for just a moment and say, “Wow, that dialogue seemed forced” or “Why would somebody DO something like that?” or “That event would only happen in a movie like this because the writer is desperately trying to advance the plot”. So when I say “That lightsaber is really stupid because NOBODY would build one like that,” the response “Deal with it, bro. It’s all make-believe” just doesn’t get to the core of my problem.


See, I WANT TO BELIEVE. For a couple of hours at a time, I want to believe in aliens, magic, galactic civilizations, and laser swords. But when I see something that nobody in their right mind would do, even in a world that allows those things to exist, my whole belief structure falls apart.

I don’t even care about special effects! The original SW trilogy DID have its problems. But the story, with some real and sincere character development, carried the film. Not the bad special effects. Not the GOOD special effects. Not the acting from masters of their craft or bad actors who never quite learn. I want to believe by seeing how people WOULD react to these things IF these things were real. And when they don’t, I lose faith. I can’t accept it. My suspension of disbelief fails, and I find myself disappointed.

So, no, a weird lightsaber crossguard makes no sense at all, and it damages my belief that the rest of it could actually exist. It’s also just a trend in our need to make everything more bad-ass-er, which just accomplishes nothing. Trying too hard to make things “epic” only makes things look ridiculous.

Related Links:

I designed a better lightsaber than J. J. Abrams while I was in line for coffee this morning

Here, Star Wars, I fixed your “Force Awakens” lightsaber crossguard for you

Let’s talk about the new Star Wars lightsaber


Posted in movies, television | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

No special effects… except, you know, for those special effects…

Posted by madaardvark on August 26, 2010

I just read an article on Yahoo! Movies about “The Last Exorcism” and the special effects they used, or lack thereof.

I think we’re getting jaded.  Or stupider.

Do people not realize that special effects do not have to involve CGI or explosions?  Here is an excerpt from the article:

This week’s horror movie release “The Last Exorcism” has been garnering much attention with a shot just as impressive as anything from a big-budget blockbuster. The trailer ends with the image of a young woman in a nightgown and boots bent over backwards at an impossible angle. It’s so memorable and unsettling that the studio used it for the movie’s poster. What makes it impressive, though, is that it does not use any special effects. No CGI, no puppets. That shot is actress Ashley Bell bending like that for real.

Now, that sounds pretty amazing.  I was impressed.  Then they say this later in the article:

She joked, “[Director Daniel Stamm] nailed my boots down, pushed me over and yelled, ‘Action!'”

Okay, right there.  When is nailing someone’s feet to the floor (special actions) to produce a specific effect NOT a special effect?  It doesn’t take away from the girl’s dedication to the role or her flexibility, but don’t lie to us about a lack of special effects.

Here’s another quote from the same article:

Producer Eli Roth (“Hostel”) says the goal of the film was to make everything happening on screen look as real as possible, and Bell made that happen: “What you see is one-hundred percent Ashley Bell — we did not use any makeup, CGI, or special effects in her scenes.”

When do actors NOT wear makeup during filming?  No CGI? Okay.  No special effects? Aside from nailing her feet to the floor or some other camera tricks that don’t qualify as ‘special’ for some reason, fine.  But no makeup?  There’s ALWAYS makeup.

And here is one more:

Patrick Fabian, who plays the exorcist, Reverend Cotton Marcus, confirmed that Bell’s performance was just as chilling to watch on the set as it is in the movie. He said, “Ashley would be turning her neck or slithering on the floor and a voice would come out and it just creeped us out. There was no acting involved in there.”

No acting? So you mean she was REALLY POSSESSED?!  Holy SHIT, I have to see this movie…

People, curb your hyperbole.  You’re not making any sense any more.

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I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

Posted by madaardvark on March 8, 2010

…for not voting Avatar as best picture.  Once upon a time, an epic film required more than stunning visuals to make it great: Ben Hur, Laurence of Arabia… For some reason, writing has taken a back seat to special effects and the director’s vision, as though how a story is told is more important than what is being said.  It doesn’t matter to me how brilliant a director is or how amazing the acting is, when the story is terrible, sends a confusing or unrealistic message, or is just plain cliched and bad, it is not good.  I have had this same argument since my earliest years in college, arguing with a pretentious community college theater professor and his retinue of hand-selected acting students about how clever or innovative directing, coupled with passionate and expert acting, in no way covers up subtle, oblivious racism, terrible dialogue, or cliched plots in a play’s writing.  (Unrelated to Avatar, that community college professor insisted that I should ignore or overlook those elements because it was a ‘memory play’ and not an objective depiction of events as they were supposed to happen.  What horse crap.)

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Boo, Dude

Posted by madaardvark on September 7, 2009


So, let’s follow this train of thought from the station to the moment it hits a minivan and derails, okay?

So, I’m watching Paranormal State right now. This is my first time. I’ve seen a few clips on The Soup – a guilty pleasure I in no way defend myself on – and decided to watch an episode. The verdict is that there is no reason to watch another, ever. Watching it, though, did send my brain on a friendly run.
It was easy to laugh to myself at the thought of half-drunk frat guys hunting for ghosts, especially with my imagination of their dialogue. (“There’s a spirit here, bro.”) Then I laughed even harder when I remembered that masterpiece of independent cinema, Alex Winter and Tom Stern’s Freaked. In a scene (or two – I can’t quite remember) that parodied Winter’s involvement in the pop culture films Lost Boys and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure both at once, his Freaked character’s catch phrase was “Boo, Dude!” I thought, at the moment, that it was funny, because the things that one generation imagines as being laughable is turned into something that someone attempts with sincerity.
That’s all neither here nor there. What I started to wonder is, “where the hell are all the weird-ass independent movies?” They don’t have to be movies, of course. But there used to be something on the fringe that was strange and wonderful, a fun-house reflection of pop culture. It was a critique, but from the perspective of those who knew that they were hopelessly mired in it. The horrified, doomed and damned victims of pop culture quicksand looking around and asking why nobody notices. They used to be outraged that nobody is reaching for a rope or vine or something useful, but at the same time knowing full well that they aren’t doing much to save anyone, either, including themselves.
And I laugh, and laugh, and laugh, because I see a punch-line in there that nobody else seems to. And the things that are weird and frightening now lack substance, are only distant mythological threats that everyone believes in, and the real jokers are either dead and gone or are laughing in silence, throats raw and voiceless, or bound and gagged with tears streaming down their grinning faces, and Nelson, on his pillar, watching his world collapse.

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The Motion Picture of Dorian Gray

Posted by madaardvark on July 30, 2009


I believe now that the war is lost.  The film Dorian Gray that is due in theaters September 9th is perhaps the most offensive thing I’ve ever been accosted with.  Note the title of the film, and watch this trailer:

Did anyone notice something missing?  In the title and in the trailer?  That’s right.  WHERE IS THE PICTURE?  Oscar Wilde’s novel was about the relationship between art, artist, critic, subject, and how the population is affected by artistic movements, particularly the decadent/aesthetic movement of his time.  What happens when you remove or downplay the art aspect of that story?  I can’t tell if the portrait of Dorian Gray is in the movie, but it’s certainly ignored in the trailer in favor of Gray’s personal decadence.

Removing the role of the picture, if not the picture itself, and replacing it with mirror images makes the story focus on the personal, post-modern, self-interpretive, self-subjective, self-interested, selfish trend in art and general media that we’ve seen building for years.  I doubt this is intended as a criticism or social commentary.  Most likely it is a Hollywood response to ‘people don’t want to hear about that art stuff.  Let’s focus on the decadence and the individual.’  In the end, this movie can say, is that there is no real art, or that it doesn’t matter.  Critic and artist are one in the same (with the merging of Basil and Lord Henry into one character, it seems), and their opinion shouldn’t matter to you because they are manipulating you into belief rather than allowing you, the individual, to make decisions on your own.

I have never heard before, in my life, that Dorian Gray’s problems were all because of ‘what Lord Henry did.’  His curse extended from a pledge that he made himself, based on the unpracticed philosophy of Lord Henry and a painting created by Basil Hallward, followed by the choices that Gray made after being linked to the painting as he was.  We’ll see how that all plays out with this new movie, and maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What I expect, though, is another confused ‘message’ being sent out by Hollywood.  They produce a sensationalist movie that gives warning about individuals (the audience) indulging in decadent behavior, all the while giving the audience a means of experiencing that behavior vicariously through the characters in the movie.  And that’s it.  From what I saw in the trailer, if there is a portrait of Gray, it was created by Lord Henry almost in secret, and he’s using it against Gray, or some stupid thing like that.  The entire point of the story is pissed on and thrown right out the window, while at the same time, the movie stands as an unintentional metaphor for the state of Fine Art in the world – all gone, replaced by selfish individualism at the cost of understanding anything outside one’s limited personal experiences.

Posted in america, Art & Literature, movies | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

A New Topic

Posted by madaardvark on July 28, 2009

Here is a partial list of searches that have lead people to this page:

anime,  time travel anime,  badger anime,  anime yearn,  swimming anime girl, anime hands

Let’s change the subject, already.  Here are some possible topics:

1. Crazy conspiracists.  All I can say about this is “woah.”  What boggles my mind the most is the time and effort put into the posts by PaCmAn himself.  Every day he has a new 1500 word essay about something.

2. New Fossil from China lake bed.  The Theory of Evolution remains constant.  This only changes our ideas of where it might have happened.  It is still entirely possible that multiple cases of animal evolution occurred in different places at the same time.  For some reason, people want to believe that evolution is something that happens ONCE to this ONE ORGANISM in order for it to reach some pinnacle of existence (i.e., humans are an inevitable result and that they are somehow ‘better’ or ‘more evolved’).

3. Harold Ramis on Indiana Jones 4, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Batman… oh, and Ghostbusters 3.  “It all looked like the same movie to me, with diferent titles.”  Just awesome.  He echoes (much more diplomatically) the things I have to say about these same issues.  Suck it, Transformers.

Posted in america, conspiracies, movies, science | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Anime still blows

Posted by madaardvark on May 23, 2009

Anime_SucksI just saw an ad on Adult Swim for their anime Saturdays and that 20 second hyper-flash clip collection they called a commercial reminded me, in just that brief amount of time, that anime is ridiculously asinine. I used to watch it back in the day because I thought the overblown emotional reactions of every character, and the total lack of consequences for them, was one of the most hilarious things I had ever seen. Why this shit-fest became something respected was beyond me. That is, until emo music got popular, then I realized that this concept is pretty attractive to repressed selfish assholes who only care about their own problems or how the problems of others directly affect them. Blame an internet society, or a lack of beauty and truth in art, or a media concerned with sensationalism over substance, or Joe Quesada for shitting on how comic books are interpreted, both contemporary and classic. I saw the last five minutes of the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon today, and in the end, Peter Parker almost missed a high school dance where he was supposed to meet Mary Jane, not his actual high-school sweetheart, Gwen Stacy, who Spider-Man accidentally killed later in their relationship. THAT’S RIGHT. Spider-Man killed her. People like to remember Green Goblin being to blame, but that’s only part of the story. It was Spidey’s own arrogance that did it, and HELLS BELLS that was an important part of Spider-Man’s history AS WELL AS comic history. Misunderstanding that, or ‘reinterpreting’ that idea misses the point entirely. We like to see heroes stomp in with no regard for anything other than winning the day, but there was a time when they actually gave a shit about innocent bystanders and BLAMED THEMSELVES when they failed. Add that complaint to the reasons why Batman Begins blew baboon balls, while we’re at it.

Posted in america, comics, movies, television | Tagged: , , | 18 Comments »

What I Love About Legend

Posted by madaardvark on November 24, 2008


A beautiful movie in all respects, Legend left an impression on me years ago when I saw it as a kid, and now that I’m past thirty, I’m more appreciative of the artistic achievments of the film.  But I’m a bitter person at heart, so I’m going to explain what modern fairy tale storys lack.

“No fate, no destiny. You caused the problem; you fix it.” That’s right, a movie about good versus evil  that doesn’t play the protagonist as a hero destined to save the day. Destiny is always kind of a gyp to me. The course of events are already set, so does it really matter what the hero chooses to do? Oh, right, the hero chooses to ‘do the right thing’ or not, but he doesn’t have to grapple with difficult desicions, because the right path will always present itself for those with faith. Blah. I want heroes that worry thing like “I hope this works,” or “Which way do I go? I’m running out of time.” I want to feel that the hero has to work at saving the day, bust his ass to pull out a victory, not just shrug his shoulders and choose between right and wrong. In Legend, we have Jack who is sent on a quest with the words “you’ll do.” He isn’t special at all, not in a cosmic sense. He has heroic qualities, but there wouldn’t be a movie at all if he hadn’t let his personal desires get in the way of what he knew was right in the first place.

Speaking of personal desires, that brings me to my second point. Why do we have such a focus on the inner workings of protagonists lately? Their desires almost always tie in with the fate/destiny problem and somehow if they ‘do the right thing’ that actually involves merely justifying their shitty actions. Give me a movie hero that acts like a hero for a change. I won’t watch The Dark Knight because the Batman in Batman Begins was a selfish ass who was only interested in justifying his own selfish actions. A hero isn’t someone who is driven by personal ‘issues’ or finds a way to cope with them while saving the day.  No, no, no. A hero overcomes his personal issues, puts them to the side, because they get in the way. A hero realizes that he is the Few (or the One, as Captain Kirk said in Star Trek II) whose needs are outweighed by the needs of the Many.  “My shit,” the hero says, “doesn’t mean anything compared to the world.” Jack, in Legend, would rather not save the world, because he’s not prepared for it, and the idea is damned frightening.  But he goes along with it because it’s his responsibility. He doesn’t do it to save Lily; she isn’t kidnapped until he’s made the decision to save the world.

Last, this is my favorite thing about Legend: Good versus Evil is not the point. It’s a metaphor for something else. Sometimes, just sometimes, good and evil don’t make a difference in the real world. It’s movie magic, pixie dust, just a fairy glamour.  Let’s pretend that Legend isn’t a story about unicorns, but about someone in the real world, translating that story into these goblin/unicorn images.  What’s really going on? It’s about the loss of innocence and struggling with how jaded someone can be when they’ve experienced something terrible. Or even wonderful! Like sex! The wole world in Legend breaks down because these two kids had a tryst out in the woods. Maybe it was a fantastic thing, maybe the sex was terrible, but it doesn’t really matter. They’ve crossed a threshold, moving from innocence to experience (go read your fucking Blake – also why Ridley Scott used the imagery in Legend that he did). And in the end, what happens? The girl is broken out of the spell put on her by Jack’s pledge of marriage.  Now, I’m not no naive to believe that marriage is an answer to all sexual problems, I’m just pointing out the major themes of this film: youth, growth, dealing with seemingly innocent actions that lead to disasterous results, inner darkness that never goes away, the ring, the passage of time, the change of seasons, love, sex, seduction. The movie isn’t about light struggling against darkness, but how the innocent must tredge through dark periods of experience to reach the light of knowledge, or enLIGHTenment. Changed and made better, wiser, but no longer stupid kids. And in the end, the fairies leave Jack for good. He isn’t a product of the pure nature/forest anymore. He’s taken up the trappings of soldiers, the products of experienced men. And Lily learns that women have to be decietful bitches sometimes, to give in to the seduction once in a while to get something better out of it (who was more seductive? Jack or Darkness? One of them scored and the other didn’t.)

While writing this, I realized that there are a few more points I’d like to cover: Literature and God.  These things never used to be mutually exclusive (read some Milton, or Chaucer, or Spenser, or Shakespeare – the Big Four). But, well, so it is with a fundamentalist mentality that doesn’t trust education. Throw out literary references because they get in the way of simplistic understanding of God (unless it’s Tolkien or C. S. Lewis, but that’s another rant entirely). Clearly, Tim Curry’s character looks like the devil, but the only direct reference to Christian mythology is calling the unicorn’s horn ‘an antenna reaching towards Heaven.’ Visually, and thematically, the film has closer ties to Blake than the Bible. Now, we could talk about the Bible’s influences on Blake, but I think Blake’s entire point is that “there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Heratio, than are dreamt of” in the Bible’s philosophy… things such as Innocence and Experience.

(A tangent – the character of Meg Mucklebones was played by Robert Picardo, the holographic Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. Meg was a much better role and acting job.)

Posted in movies | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Indy 4 is Worst … For Science

Posted by madaardvark on July 25, 2008

Yahoo made a top ten list of the worst science in movies with scientific themes and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull was number 10 (the worst because they start at number one and count up).  This is mostly based on the atomic bomb scene more than unlikely aliens, but I’m still happy.

I had a post elsewhere on the web, reprinted here, listing several reasons why I hated that movie.  Hate. Hate. Hate.


(originally written Sunday, June 22, 2008)

To anyone reading this: if you enjoyed that movie then I hate you.

Here is a nice list of things in (mostly) chronological order that pissed me off about that movie:

1. CGI groundhogs are stupid and useless. Use real groundhogs.

2. Opening does not fill me with a sense of wonder of exotic places.

3. Cruising teenagers vs. military. Dumb scene and pointless. Why were the kids out there in the first place and where did they go when the atomic bomb went off?

4. Area 51? You’ve got to be kidding me. Lame.

5. Russians make poor substitutes for Nazis.

5. Magnetism doesn’t work that way.

6. So-called homage to Raiders is actually a message that the first three movies should be forgotten. I hate.

7. Where are all the other super refridgerators that can survive atomic bombs?

8. Forced iconic imagery (of Indy and an Atomic Bomb) because the story doesn’t matter, only visual effects.

9. CIA hadn’t been invented yet. Why is an aging archeologist in the CIA anyway?

10. Fuck that kid from Transformers.

11. Exposition never felt like exposition in the other movies.

12. Crystal Skulls, mental telepathy, government conspiracies. Retarded.

13. The commies are after you so you fly to Cuba first? In 1957? Brilliant.

14. Who are the skull mask warriors? Where did they come from and where did they go?

15. Just carve open archeological finds for no reason, especially the body of a Conquistador. Nice field work, Jones. Oh, one was open already?  Woops!  I guess we carved that other one up for no reason!


17. More mind control powers, crystal skulls, and pseudo-science TRUTH bullshit.

18. They blow up the road making machine first. How the hell do they drive through the rainforest now? Wouldn’t it be easier to go on foot?

19. CGI monkeys. See my first note. And monkeys would KILL YOU. This is another dig from the pseudo-scientists against evolution. Because as pseudo-scientists know, science, anthropology, and archeology is always wrong. Thank you for making Indiana Jones’s life work illigitimate again.

20. Tarzan. This is the closest thing we get to Indiana Jones using his bullwhip for the rest of the movie. Sad.

21. Fencing is important to me. I’ll let people enjoy movie-style sword fighting but in light of the other crap I felt inclined to bitch about this too.  Sword fighting involves some footwork, moving around, and would be nigh-impossible on a moving jeep.  Oh, and I’m supposed to believe this drop-out who took a couple of fencing classes can hold his own against a trained sword fighter and seasoned killer?

22. Ancient culture still alive and well in the amazon. That I can deal with. They just didn’t seem as threatening as the warriors at the beginning of Raiders.  And flying rocks and bolos are deadlier than CGI ants.

23. How did the Conquistador thieves leave things the way they were before they got there? Why didn’t they steal gold and artifacts from the alien archeologists? How do you steal a skull from a room that needs a skull to get into it?

24. Fuck space aliens and their granted knowledge. As though early humans couldn’t figure out farming and irrigation. And also thank you for the idea that knowledge can only be gained spiritually. Idiots.

25. Super magnet telepathic skull would pretty much stay where it is when Spaniards yanked on it. Wouldn’t they be able to melt their brains like they did the commie chick with the fluctuating accent?
I also forgot to mention the most important part of suckage in this movie: 13 aliens. Anyone who has heard pseudoscience alien/religion statement can tell you that this refers to the 12 tribes of Israel plus the thirteenth “lost tibe” that would become the Native Americans. A big reoccurring theme among pseudoscientists and an insult to both archeology and religion. In the end, Jesus was an alien. Which also makes the previous THREE MOVIES totally illigitimate, as I suggested with the Arc reference at the beginning of the movie. To remind us all that THAT WAS A RADIO TO TALK TO ALIENS!

26. Ancient civilization still surviving that the aliens helped create is wiped out by the aliens leaving. So the Nazis killed all the warriors. What about women and children? And why would aliens do that if they wanted to give knowledge to humans in the first place?  None of this makes sense.  And let’s not forget the comment about “erasing the fingerprints of the gods” just to hit us with the Grahm Hancock “theory” of aliens establishing human culture. To hell with all of it.

27. Iconic imagery again of Indy and a spaceship. Fuck you, Spielberg. Fuck you, Lucas.

I’m sure I forgot or blocked some things out. Feel free to remind me.

I can’t watch Raiders now without thinking the arc is a radio to talk to crystal skull aliens that melts Nazis with too much knowledge. And no more kids will be inspired to become archeologists by these movies unless they want to find aliens. Science has again suffered a horrible wound.

Posted in movies, pseudo-science | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

First Post – Potter and Batman, I hate you.

Posted by madaardvark on July 22, 2008

This post begins yet another experiment with blogging.

I started a blog a while ago that didn’t go very far.  People I had been talking to insisted that the Harry Potter books had “more depth” than Charles Dickens, so I tried to read them side-by-side.  For every chapter of A Tale of Two Cities, I read two chapters of the first Harry Potter book.  I only managed two posts before I gave up.  I couldn’t get through the third chapter of Harry Potter.  I’m so glad that last book finally came out, because the trend has already started to die out and I’m getting a little happier about that.

Unfortunately, the masses have been acclaiming The Dark Knight, hypnotized by flashy special effects and wild visuals.  Unfortunately, the writing is terrible, the dialogue is rediculous, and the characters are poorly motivated.  What I hate most is that the film is pretty accurate to the comic books, post 1998, and fanboys won’t let me forget that when I point out the irritating problems.  I don’t care how accurate it is, I’d rather see the Joker motivated by something other than, “I’m crazy, so there.”  Nicholson’s Joker was nuts, and it was a character I could believe existed.  Ledger might put on a good performance, but I just can’t take him as seriously as Nicholson.  But what do I know?  Nothing is scarier right now than child molesters and terrorists with no motivation, so let’s throw those two together with clown makeup.

Posted in books, movies | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »