Friday, January 25, 2013

The Atrocious Files: Howard The Duck

The Atrocious Files are a celebration of the some of the best worst movies ever made.

Howard the Duck, for better or worse, is the only movie to ever make me think: Holy fuck, did I just see duck tits?!?!

That moment occurs before the opening title as Howard is being propelled through the walls of his apartment building as he clings to his TV chair, which eventually shoots him up into outer space, before he lands on Earth for no discernible reason that I was able to catch.

Fuck me!

There he spends an hour of an ungodly two hour running time just, ya know, being a duck that talks. Is he a hero? Is he a bad guy? Does he have special powers? Am I supposed to like him, because I don't?

What the hell is this movie supposed to be about?

He meets a girl (Lea Thompson) who takes him to a scientist (Tim Robbins) blah blah blah until the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off starts talking real funny and glowing purple in a cafe before blowing the holy fuck out of the place with crazy video-game fireball thingers he shoots out of his hands.

Look, I couldn't make this shit up even if I wanted to.

Why does any of this happen? Your guess is as good as mine. But that doesn't prevent Howard from saving the day with a big ass laser gun.

Fuck me!

Why did anyone in their right mind put a script about absolutely nothing with a duck for a main character into production with a budget of thirty-five million dollars? In 1986!!!!

Who did executive producer George Lucas and co. really think this was going to appeal to? Although good for longevity, you can't recoup 35 mill off of stoned teenagers alone.

I hope one of Steve Jobs' final phone calls was to George Lucas, thanking him for this train wreck.

Oh, by the way, did I mention this movie has lasers?

On the bright side, nine midgets found work because of this movie.

That's worth something, no?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

127 Hours of Danny Boyle

At the very very least, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours answers the pressing question of what it would look like if Aron Ralston's non-fiction book of the same name was passed around at a London rave and a film emerged at the end of the night.

Such is always the cinema of Danny Boyle: hard, driving, thudding, pounding, and pulsing with electric life. Always brilliant, most usually successful; no matter the subject we've come to expect no less from this man.

The approach here is more or less the same as Boyle takes to all his films: string a story together into a feature length music video to accompany the soundtrack. Needless to say, sometimes the stories are better than others. This one's not bad.

It certainly is the perfect aesthetic for a story like 127 Hours, which is mostly about the utter fucking hopelessness of being trapped in the middle of nowhere with limited supplies and what the human will needs to overcome to survive anyway. I think I probably speak for many in saying that, at the very least, if I'm ever found completely fucked and dying at the bottom of a pit somewhere, I'd like to think the experience will be accompanied by a pretty boss assortment of tunes.

The key holding all this together though is that, in Ralston, Boyle has found a perfect hero to be at the centre of his mad science experiments: someone who's story lends itself better to situation than character. The film jumps off the screen like a wild child who cannot be settled (maybe a bit like Ralston himself?) but the horror of the situation keeps the level of human interest high. Our hearts go out to this dude. This situation sucks. We genuinely hope he will find a way to survive.

At the other side is both an uplifting testament to the power of human endurance and the brilliant visual aesthetic that was born from it. It's as if, by the time 127 Hours wraps, Boyle and Ralston have become part of one anothers' stories. A complete melding of artist and subject with no visible cross seams. It's at once haunting and electrifying as it constantly sores towards what we hope to god will at least be somewhat of a happy ending.

James Franco brilliantly makes our hearts go out for Ralston as he slowly but visibly deteriorates and comes to grips with the probable outcome of the situation while Boyle highlights and underlines these 127 hours of emotions with pure cinematic form.

Not many people, I imagine, outside of Ralston could have survived this ordeal with as few resources as he had and not many people outside of Boyle could have thought up as many brilliant ways to bring such minimalism to life in a cinematic form that feels so huge, vibrant and alive with invention.

Both men, in their own special ways, against all odds, have now survived this story. God bless them for it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Life of Pi

Note - Although I don't feel this piece gives anything substantial away, it does discuss the film as a whole. Those who simply care about not having details of it's story revealed, be aware of potential spoilers.

Life of Pi seems to be the story of a man on a spiritual journey through life towards discovering what the concept of god actually means to him. I say the “concept of god” because the film never defines him as anything more and really, what more than a concept can god ever be to the moral man anyway?

I think calling Life of Pi a spiritual journey is about right. It’s certainly not a religious one in so much as that to use the word religion implies that the film preaches a single way of thinking on the way to expressing a single point or meaning or method of interpretation.

It doesn’t. Like its hero, it keeps its mind fully open to all possibilities. Exploring many different religions on the way towards some sort of spiritual enlightenment is how the young Indian boy Pi spends most of his childhood. Of course he does. He is scolded by his father, being told that to believe in everything is essentially to believe in nothing. In many ways, the boy’s father is right. But you try telling that to a boy who's circle can't be squared.

It’s testament then to the true power and mystique behind spirituality that Pi doesn’t find enlightenment through one religion or one idea of god, although he gets to know many, but through getting trapped at sea on a raft with a hungry Bengali tiger named Richard Parker.

For Pi, like everyone who was born with the power of a mind that can think for itself, it is only trapped at sea, under these circumstances, that he is able to look at life and actually see god. That’s the story he tells to a Montreal writer who has come looking to fill his creative well up with inspiration after being told of a story that will make him believe in god.

So how does Pi find enlightenment from surviving the tiger and the shipwreck that takes his entire family and leaves him stranded at sea? The same way anyone finds enlightenment through any religion: by reflecting back on the stories that have shaped it and finding meaning beyond their existence as literal objects. Richard Parker, upon looking back, isn’t just a tiger; he’s the main symbol at the centre of a journey towards something spiritual. Is the story true? At the end of the day does it really matter one way or the other? You can change the size of the circle, but the numbers always come out the same.

Richard Parker is that mythical being that is both the one thing threatening to end the life of Pi, while also the one thing in life that keeps him struggling to survive. He’s the yin and the yang. And so god sacrificed his only son so that we could be forgiven of our sins. Such cruelty wrapped in such selflessness. Opposites that are opposed and yet one all at the same time. That's every idea we have of god isn't it? Form does not exist without function, good without evil, light without dark, big without small, right without wrong. And so everything in life goes…

Pi is initially disappointed when he finally arrives safely at land only to find Richard Parker, his true connection to god, disappear into the wilderness without even so much as a look back to acknowledge the spiritual awakening that has been exchanged between them.  Maybe Richard Parker wasn’t god after all. At the end of the film he’s no more than just another tiger. And yet isn’t god supposed to be in everything? If that’s true it must also be true that he’s in nothing as well? Yin and yang. And so God sacrificed his only son…

The circle has no beginning or ending. It cannot be squared. It simply goes on like this forever.

And so, by the end of the film, so beautifully brought to life in stunning 3D by Ang Lee and his creative team from the bestselling novel of the same name, Pi has told two stories that are both the same. One is a story of beauty and one of cruelty, but both of enlightenment and awakening. One of them is true. This inspires the film’s most important question: “Which one do you prefer?” The choice is ours. We’re given the power to make it every day.

It’s a question we could all stop to ask ourselves every once in a while. Maybe Richard Parker was God? Maybe god can be found in everything after all? Maybe Life of Pi is its own spiritual experience; a film that, like the number pi itself, reaches transcendence?  And then the final credits roll reminding us that, no, Life of Pi is only a movie, based on a book, created by fellow men and women, no different from anyone else, created as a way to make a living.

They are both, for whatever it's worth, true. Which way of looking at it do you prefer?