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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tower of Power

A better review one won’t find:

TOKYO (Reuters) - Watching the Hollywood film "Babel" could make viewers feel ill, its Japanese distributor said in national newspaper advertisements published on Wednesday.

At least 15 people have complained of feeling sick while watching the film starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett since it was released in Japan on April 28, a spokeswoman for distributors Gaga Communications said.

No shit. After 2 hours in that movie, Kid Various was reaching for the plastic lined bag himself.

Don't worry. Just give her some pepto and she'll be all right

But a scene in which Kikuchi's character visits a night-club where strobe lights flash for about a minute has made some Japanese movie-goers queasy.

Believe us, it ain’t the strobe lights. It’s the intense self righteousness washing over you from every frame. Babel is one of these incredibly self congratulatory films where Hollywood jerks itself off on how sensitive it is until it ejaculates an Oscar, cleans itself off and flies home its lear jet.

Compare this with what we consider this year’s most important film (not to mention actually entertaining – truly the antithesis of the Babel model,) the screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300.

As Kid Various sat in the theater, engrossed in the retelling of the Spartans famous last stand at Thermopylae against impossible numbers of the Asian horde, one thought raced through his mind.

How did this movie ever get made into today’s Hollywood?

Because a lot has been said about how 300 is a new type of film, the completely new and astounding grammar for future film-making that it explores with relish. But really, 300 is a throwback. It’s a touchstone to an earlier age where Hollywood actually made stories like this all the time. Stories that were chock full of unambiguous heroes and villains, where the narrative centered around stoicism, heroism, honor and self-sacrifice in name of great ideological causes like freedom. You know, instead of pumping out piece after pablum piece displaying our full multi-cultural splendor and understanding. After all, we’re all part of the human condition man….

And yes, we are all part of the human condition. And that human condition embodies things like good and things like evil. And it is the eternal responsibility of good, to stand up to evil. Because evil doesn’t care how sensitive you are. Evil only sees that as weakness. And in this age, where we face great evil in the world, we need stories about these Spartan-like heroes more than ever.

And we need people in Hollywood to tell these stories which brings us back to the author of 300, Frank Miller.

Miller, who obviously authored such important works as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City, is one of the storytellers of the modern age who understands what is at stake. See this transcript of an NPR interview with him done before the last State of the Union message:

NPR: […] Frank, what’s the state of the union?

FM: Well, I don’t really find myself worrying about the state of the union as I do the state of the home-front. It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western World is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants … and we’re behaving like a collapsing empire. Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats because of everything that isn’t working out perfectly every time.

NPR: Um, and when you say we don’t know what we want, what’s the cause of that do you think?

FM: Well, I think part of that is how we’re educated. We’re constantly told all cultures are equal, and every belief system is as good as the next. And generally that America was to be known for its flaws rather than its virtues. When you think about what Americans accomplished, building these amazing cities, and all the good its done in the world, it’s kind of disheartening to hear so much hatred of America, not just from abroad, but internally.

And in this interview recently in the LA Times via Michelle Malkin:

MUCH has been made of Miller's politics in the wake of "300." The deliriously violent and stylized sword film is based on a Spartan battle in 480 B.C., and although Miller wrote and drew the story for Dark Horse comics a decade ago, in film form it was received by many as a grotesque parody of the ancient Persians and a fetish piece for a war on Islam. Miller scoffs at those notions. "I think it's ridiculous that we set aside certain groups and say that we can't risk offending their ancestors. Please. I'd like to say, as an American, I was deeply offended by 'The Last of the Mohicans.' "

Still, Miller gets stirred up about any criticism of the war in Iraq or the hunt for terrorists, which he views as the front in a war between the civilized Western world and bloodthirsty Islamic fundamentalists.

"What people are not dealing with is the fact that we're going up against a culture that finds it acceptable to do things that the rest of the world left behind with the barbarians in the 6th century," Miller said. "I'm a little tired of people worrying about being polite. We are fighting in the face of fascists."

Unlike most Hollywood “artists,” Miller gets it. And the good news is, that with the unexpected success of 300, and his previous collaboration with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City, Hollywood seems to be getting the message to some extent.

In animated features, the story is king--and the stories that work are ones with clear moral conflicts in which flawed characters are called upon to sacrifice for the greater good. Stars don't like playing characters with flaws, or characters from different times whose views on social matters don't conform to our own. If semi- animated pictures aimed not at kids but at adult moviegoers now really take flight because of 300's smashing success, the future will not be so bright for Hollywood's star system. But it will give adventurous moviemakers some room to breathe free.


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