New On VOD - October 2013
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New on VOD  -  October 2013

What else? O, yeah, VOD has new releases I thoroughly enjoyed; first was “The Heat”, a buddy-cop film with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy —I have a guilty pleasure when it comes to Sandra Bullock—I just like her, what can I say? And who can help but love Melissa McCarthy, who ‘broke out’ in Bridesmaids—but I had always liked her (from her Gilmore Girls regular ‘chef’ role). To my pleasant surprise, she succeeds in “The Heat” very well—throughout her career she’s walked a thin line between Grunge and Femininity and has so far kept her balance . The two actors (and comedians) are a great pair and I hope someone realizes that and makes Heat into a franchise. If I have to watch ‘franchised’ movies, at least give me a great cast to watch.

The other film I watched was “Pacific Rim”, a tragic example of how the soaring imagination of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Star Wars”, and “Blade Runner” has been tainted by ‘Transformer-ism’, ‘Minority Report-ism’, and the spirit of Johnny Five. Hollywood has burned through the easily accessible Science Fiction memes and spent the last two decades exploiting the inspiration of toy-makers, cartoon creators, and, of course, comic books.

Comic Books have been the alchemical path to Nerd-dom for lonely teens since Superman’s Action Comics debut in the 1930s. It has done that by being a distillate of all that is iconic, analog, and stylized. They allow youngsters to dream of a world where they are safe, where evil is stopped, where magic is real and where science has skipped a century or two. It allows them to imagine unimagined symbols and terrible destruction—mystery and power—two things a tweener has in rare supply. They are Jungian-symbolism ‘department stores’, offering the complete range of fantasies and freedoms children yearn for.

Hollywood has had lots of luck with the Marvel Comics stable, because Marvel was a ‘realer’ universe—the characters have character, which Movies must have. DC Comics, while the source for some big blockbusters, is less easily pinned down. Superman is an archetype, not a person—same with Batman. In fact, the ‘origin’ stories fad was partly a hunger to know something personal about these masked chessman of ethics. When a Marvel character becomes a movie, that’s pretty much that—their comics had characters with pre-built personas and personal lives, and a director is stuck with, say, the Downey, Jr. ‘Iron Man’ for however many sequels he appears in.

DC Comics are more opaque. Superman is invulnerable, unlimited in strength or speed, has heat-ray eyes, x-ray eyes, and unlimited lung capacity in either direction. He’s God, basically—Siegel and Shuster, both Jewish, seemed to have created a kind of Christ figure in Superman, so, technically, his father, Jor-El is God, and Kal-el his only son. Batman is the other extreme—not only does he lack any ‘powers’, he won’t even fire a gun. He fights evil by night, striking fear in the hearts of cowardly criminals as a ‘bat-winged’ avenger. So Superman is a god, not of this world; and Batman is an everyman, pushed to the limit of injustice.

Every time another director takes on the job of cinema-sizing DC heroes, he or she starts with a blank slate—supporting characters are few and the heroes’ personalities are black boxes. Such movies are a Rorschach Test for the director and screenwriter—the special effects techs are much more restricted in displaying super-powers than the filmmakers are in their plotting and character development.

Although both Supe and the Bat have been blockbuster screen hits, they have also had some real bombs. But, more importantly, the movies can never capture the essence of these comic books, unless they start making the movie versions 15 minutes long—about the time it takes to read a comic book. No DC character can withstand the 120-minute dissection of a feature film—even Marvel’s characters are stretched for a full-length film.

“Pacific Rim” may have originally been a graphic novel—most such ‘space operas’ are, nowadays. (Space Opera is a science fiction term for a story identical to a generic Western that simply replaces six-shooters with ray-guns and horses with jet-packs, or space ships. The first “Star Wars”, in 1976, is a good example—you had bad guys, good guys, chases, shoot-outs and bar-rooms—and in the end, the ‘town’ is saved and the hero gets the girl).

‘Rim’ concatenates the SFX from “Transformers”, “Battleship”, and the under-ocean scenes from the latest “GI Joe”. These effects have become a ‘vanishing limit’ now—you can almost see the editors and programmers trying to cram all the visual information possible onto the screen—without making it too fast or too complex for a human eye to perceive.

Its plot manages to be even more simplified than “Avatar”’s, while the list of characters is mind-boggling (I sense a toy-merchandizing decision behind the confusion of Fighter-Bots and their twinned teams). Logical flaws abounded, but I paid little attention—Science Fiction cinema has trained me to overlook simple logic, alternate possibilities, and easier solutions.

I think my disappointment with faux-sci-fi cinema stems from my hunger for a good story—some films, aiming at young kids and cosplayers, will adopt a more ‘sports announcer’ format. The entire story is about who the team members are, what’s the lay of the ‘land’, and the stats on the visiting team (data on the alien monsters) followed by a play-by-play that becomes a concoction of fight-scene-choreography, CGI, stunts,Transformer-like transformations in slow motion, beams, blasts, auras, colors, and weird sounds. And a pounding, paramilitary score to make you sit up and watch.

"Pacific Rim" had all these ingredients and was, by that standard, a very well-made film. My only personal criticism is that my expectations of a movie are higher than the engagement I feel towards an ESPN broadcast. And my expectations of Sci-Fi are higher than for ‘normal’ fiction—Sci-Fi is an arena for exploring mental and scientific limits, entertaining uncomfortable ideas, and imagining the future. Early, ‘pulp’ sci-fi had no literary quality at all—Theodore Sturgeon (Vonnegut’s model for Kilgore Trout) is credited with becoming, in the 1950s, the first sci-fi writer to use creative writing, as well as wild ideas and fantastic tales. The ideas came first. They are what really matter to both writers and readers. Thus I get a sourpuss whenever confronted with the explosive popularizing of this once-hidden niche of we nerds.

I know it’s a bad sign when I watch a movie and spend most of the time thinking about the filmmakers and crew and technicians and merchandisers and promoters and the movie star(s), if any. "Pacific Rim" is an LSD-laced, two-hour session of Rock’em Sock’em Robots ® on steroids—and little else. I had much more fun watching Will Smith and his son in “New Earth”—or even Tom Cruise in “Oblivion”.

So, end of movie review.


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