Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Re-Animator (1985)

Complaints I hear about modern horror films often are centered on the lack of practical effects and their replacement by CGI. The argument goes that so much of the blood and guts in these films are created on a computer, as opposed to using red corn syrup and sheep brains, and that it doesn't have the same effect as the old effects did because it lacks the presence and weight that you can see onscreen. Even if the red corn syrup looks super fake, it's clearly a fake something, captured on film, as opposed to pixels created after the fact. The actors can then really react to it and make it feel more integral to the scene.

I agree with this, to a point (clever animators can make CGI gore just as fun as practical gore if they use their tools right) but I think an even bigger thing missing from modern horror are the sounds. The squishes as somebody's intestines get ripped out, or the cartoony "SPLATS" of blood hitting a wall. If you watch Berberian Sound Studio you can see how integral these pieces of sound design are to the creation of a movie. Because it's not visual, however, these contributions often get overlooked by moviegoers still reeling from what they've seen onscreen.

Re-Animator, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, is a very gory movie. It has blood and guts all over the place, spraying out of a decapitated head or gushing from a zombies mouth. But more important then that, it sounds gory. Ever drip and drill, every squirt and screech, all are used to enhance the action onscreen in a way that turns the squick factor up to 11. A bloody head I can stand, but hearing the squish of the needle sinking into the neck as the plunger pushes it's serum into the body is a whole other world of disgusting, and Re-Animator knows how to uses these methods to their greatest effect. It's gross, and all the better because of it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

With the exception of the original 1954 Gojira, a grim anti-war masterpiece about the effects of nuclear war and the neverending arms race it produces, Japanese giant monster movies, known as kaiju, are best when the plot stays simple. The movie can't consist completely of monsters beating each other up, otherwise we'd get bored. There needs to be a human element there to contextualize the attacks. But the more elaborate and convoluted your human story becomes, the more silly the whole thing gets. Movies like The X from Outer Space, Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Godzilla vs. Megalon all featured out there plots involving moon men, ancient civilizations, espionage, intergalactic space travel, and other bits of silliness that only managed to get in the way of what the audience really wanted, which is monsters beating each other up.

The smartest thing Pacific Rim does is find a way to keep the people a vital part of the story without distracting us from the action. Pulling from a wide range of influences including mecha anime, kaiju, the Cthulu mythos, and Top Gun, Pacific Rim is a giddy, breathless action movie that revels in it's trash fiction roots. Self aware but not overtly so, this movie is not afraid to get dumb if it means being able to have more fun. This approach could have killed this film, but under Guillermo Del Toro's direction it gives the movie a quality that instead makes it an absolute joy to watch.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sharknado and SyFy's Instant Mix

According to urban legend, when Betty Crocker first introduced their instant cake mixes, the kind that only needed water, initial sales were disappointing. The executives were confused at this, since by all reports housewives across America wanted a quicker, less time consuming process for baking cakes. Then, one executive got the idea to take out the powdered egg already in the mix and make the customers add their own fresh eggs to the process. The reasoning behind this was that people wanted to still have the experience of making "homemade" cakes, so by forcing them to add their own egg, they would feel more accomplished and satisfied with the results. It worked, and Betty Crocker became a household name.

The "so-bad-it's-good" movie has been having something of a comeback in recent years, thanks to the Internet and the ability to access almost any movie with a few clicks of your fingertips. Troll 2, The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and others have found new life as the next evolutionary step to the midnight movies of old, watched by a bunch of friends crowding around a laptop, or shared via YouTube supercuts. The participatory nature of these movies, whether it's giggling at viewing parties or sharing through social media, are essential to their success. We don't just want to watch these misfires, we want to joke and quip about it with others, asking disbelievingly how it's possible this thing got made, or how they possibly missed this and that and the other thing.

But these types of movies are usually the exception, not the rule. It takes a special blend of elements to make a beautiful trainwreck. Yet the SyFy network wants to force this. They recognize the internet's obsession and want nothing more to indulge and cash in on this. These are not people trying to make the best with what they got. This is a cold, calculated, predatory approach to trick profitable demographics into laughing at purposefully bad art. It's appropriate, then, that the channel is so obsessed with sharks, such as their latest attempt at internet mockery, Sharknado. This piece is not a review, because of course Sharknado is terrible. Rather, this is a look at SyFy's attempts to make bad movies on purpose in the hopes of people MST3King it, and how by doing this they are potentially killing the genre.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Arrested Development (Season 4)

 The framing device behind Chuck Palahniuk's book Haunted is that a group of people have agreed to be part of a reality TV show. Each of the characters are introduced through a short story that's not really related to the "plot" of the book as a whole. As the book continues, we learn more about the circumstances that brought each character to this point as they dissolve into madness for attention. It's doesn't do a particularly good job tying everything together, in a large part because Palahniuk isn't a great writer, but it's still an interesting framing device.

The key to enjoying the brand new fourth season of Arrested Development, which in case you are living in a hole premiered on Netflix streaming this week, is realizing that it's not a TV show. It's the continuation of a TV show, perhaps the funniest TV show of all time. But it is not one itself. It's not quite like anything I've really ever seen before. The closest equivalent would be a miniseries on HBO, but that's not right either. It's more like Haunted, a collection of moments from each character's lives that build and tie together into a greater whole. Thankfully Mitchell Hurwitz is not Chuck Palahniuk, and the result is a winning series, one that tries to be as ambitious as it can and just about reaches that goal.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)


Tony Stark is not a superhero. At least not in the conventional sense. Rewatching the original Iron Man what stood out to me the most was how unheroic he is. When comparing him to, say, Spider-Man, you notice that Tony never really does anything out of altruism. The movie is about him becoming a better person, but he doesn't save anybody or fight crime. The only real heroics he does is when he saves a small village from the 10 Rings, but that's not done because he just wanted to save people. It was done out of revenge and clearing Tony's own conscience (the weapons used in the attack were built by Stark Industries). Spider-Man will sacrifice his scholarship, job, and identity to go save some folks (in Spider-Man 2 he literally does this, taking a detour from delivering pizzas to stop some robbers), but to Iron Man, saving people is an incidental plus to his own goals. The Tony Stark from Iron Man would never sacrifice himself just to help others.

The Avengers, however, is a different story. Tony is probably the primary protagonist of that film and the only hero to be changed by his experiences. He starts out the same as he was in Iron Man, but due to a dead Coulson, a missile, and a wormhole, he discovers his heroic side, the part of him willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. It's an interesting build, as most superhero movies would have established that fact before the end credits of their first outing, while it took 3 movies to do so with Iron Man. As I've mentioned before, major Hollywood franchises are becoming more like television in how they are built. You can really consider all the Marvel movies, starting with Iron Man and going up to The Avengers, as Season 1. They introduce everybody with their own movies before throwing them all together for the big season finale. With this in mind, Iron Man 3 is supposedly the beginning of Season 2.

The problem is that Iron Man 3 clearly doesn't want to be this. It wants to be a stand alone movie, not part of a greater whole. But because the Marvel universe is now established it can't be, it needs to be a component of this world. This may explain why the movie feels so disorienting, and why even though it's certainly not a bad movie by any means it's definitely disappointing.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)

Mental illness in film is tricky to represent correctly. Too often it's used as a plot device, or as a "quirky" character trait, not properly representing the struggle and pain people afflicted with these conditions go through. According to movieland, various metal illnesses ranging from depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, Aspergers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more usually result in characters looking vacant, reciting convoluted but profound statements, and maybe trying to kill themselves before finding the light at the end of the tunnel, fixing their problems forever thanks to clean living and a positive outlook. This is done out of narrative necessity, as real mental illness is far more complex then that, and isn't something to can be so easily fixed in an hour and a half.

The characters in Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK certainly aren't a particularly accurate portrayal of what I imagine most people suffering from real mental illnesses are really like. They are basically an amped up version of the same asylum archetypes we've been seeing since One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and it's clear that the movie itself isn't too concerned with realism in the first place. The movie is surreal, hyper stylized, and not afraid to bend and break the walls between reality and fantasy when appropriate. Our main character literally thinks she's a cyborg, the romantic lead steals people's emotions, and our protagonist's central relationship is with her pickled radish eating grandmother who thinks she's a mouse. This isn't too serious of an examination. And yet, despite it's silliness and it's fantastical nature, I think it gets more to the heart of a lot of mental illness much more successfully then so many serious movies like Rain Man or Silver Linings Playbook. The characters in it don't reflect real life, sure, but so many of the emotions these characters are put through seem more true to life then your typical Hollywood representation.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

War of the Gargantuas (1970)

There is a reason we still watch and love Jurassic Park today beyond the fact people like watching dinosaurs eat lawyers. It's because, past all the special effects and CGI, the story underneath it all is sound. Sure, it's total B-movie logic and isn't much past being an effective monster movie, but even when the dinos aren't on screen the human characters and their motivations are strong enough that you are just as happy to watch them go about their business as you are watching raptors tear each other apart. (...okay, maybe not quite, but still pretty close.)

Most kaiju, or Japanese giant monster movies, face this problem a lot. A lot of movies in the Godzilla franchise, like Godzilla vs. Megalon or Terror of Mechagodzilla, seem to be working backwards, thinking of cool fight scenes then making a plot around how these guys would meet up, usually by aliens or mad scientists, and having a team of spies or police or whatever have to take them down while Godzilla deals with the monster. Because the two concepts are never truly connected in a meaningful way, these movies tend to feel lopsided, and the viewer rightfully doesn't really care what's going on with the humans, but just wants to see some monsters destroy buildings.

I was expecting something like this with War of the Gargantuas, a movie with a history so convoluted it's hard to imagine it being made at all, much less with any sense of competence. The movie is technically a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, a remake of Frankenstein that happens to be set in Japan and involves 100 foot monsters, which in turn was a spin off idea of King Kong vs. Godzilla, a movie originally pitched by Kong animator Willis O'Brien as King Kong vs. Frankenstein. But, surprisingly, what I found was a really good, solid monster movie. It's not Citizen Kane, but it's decent for what it is, and strangely enthralling throughout.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dark Tower (1989)

I miss bad, cheap horror movies done with a straight face. It seems like all the horror movies that come out now, assuming they aren't a remake of an earlier movie, are trying so hard to be the next Troll 2, but on purpose. What a lot of these directors fail to understand is you can't make Troll 2 on purpose, the magic of that movie is how it was done in total seriousness. If the filmmakers behind the movie hadn't been trying their hardest to make that movie the best damn picture put on film then the movie would just feel cynical and not worth anybodies time. There's love amidst the rubber masks and poor framing, and it leaks out onto the screen, much to the audience's disbelief and joy.

I don't know the production back story behind Dark Tower, a movie about a haunted skyscraper that's as dumb as it sounds. I know it stars the always fun Michael Moriarty, no stranger to the bad movie circuit, known for his star turn in Q and the original Troll. I know it was filmed in Spain and as such has several different languages spoken throughout the movie, which is really disorienting. I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, although I don't know the circumstances under which this movie was made, I do know it has a lot of heart to it. It's like a kindergartner's macaroni art project. It's not really good, but it's charming and kind of enjoyable to watch under the influence of a lot of alcohol.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Franchises: The Bigger They Are...

Years from now, when film scholars look back at the past decade, and most likely a good chunk of the next, the defining feature of modern Hollywood filmmaking is going to be the franchise. People like franchises, especially the "internet geek" archetype, and without a doubt they have been massively successful. If you look at the top box office hits of all time the majority of those movies (not adjusted for inflation) are franchise films, often the second or third installment. Last year virtually all of the major money makers were part of a franchise (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, The Hobbit...) and if this year's releases are any indication we can probably safely say that once again these movies will come out on top.

The franchise is pretty much a can't lose situation. For those who don't know, a franchise film basically means a movie that is part of a larger whole. When you buy a ticket to see Thor or Captain America, you're not buying a ticket to just see the movie. No, you are buying it for the property, in this case the Marvel superhero roster. These aren't standalone movies, these are just one part in a web of films, comics, toys, websites, books, TV shows, clothing, iPhone apps, and whatever else the studio can slap Chris Hemsworth's face on. Even if a movie doesn't do very well, the studios can still make their money back tenfold based on all the other properties people buy. That's why Pixar's Cars can make a lot less at the box office then it's counterparts but still get a sequel because lots of people bought Mater backpacks at Wal-Mart.

The most famous franchise, of course, is Star Wars. George Lucas is in fact the main mastermind behind this filmmaking model, with both Star Wars and Indiana Jones being the prototypes to what we see today. Except now, thanks in a large part to the internet and the higher rate of media consumption, it's not just one or two trilogies that get to roll out the big bucks, but literally dozens of properties. However, as big and massive as these are, I personally don't see how the industry can possibly keep up this momentum for much longer.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

...yeah, I'm not going to bother reviewing this one. It's a stone cold classic. On the Wicker Scale it's right at the top. I mean, for Christ's sake, it's fucking Stanley Kubrick! It's one of the most influential movies ever, decades ahead of it's time. Even if you've never seen it you know everything in it. The opening with the monkeys, the monolith, HAL 9000, Also sprach Zarathustra, the starchild, it's all iconic. You don't need some punk kid with a blog to tell you that this is one of the greatest movies ever made. So yeah, this isn't a review or anything. I just wanted to talk about one scene. 

I first saw this movie when I was in high school and of course it was all lost on me. As somebody who, at the time, thought the headiest movie ever made was V for Vendetta it was probably a tall order to expect me to really get such a slow and complex movie. Jump to the present day. I'm in the middle of a Kubrick kick right now so I thought hey, how about giving this one another chance? Let me tell you friend, it blew me away. An absolute masterpiece in every way. Yet I was wondering, besides just being too young to appreciate it, why I flat out didn't like it. I saw a lot of movies before I was able to really get them, like On The Waterfront and The Shining, yet even if I didn't understand what they were trying to say thematically I still appreciated them as movies. 

2001: A Space Odyssey is different though. In a lot of ways, this movie breaks the boundaries of what we expect from a film and even from a story. In fact, if you aren't looking at this movie from a relatively scholarly point of view, it's going to be confusing to see what all the fuss is about. The story not only doesn't have a protagonist in the traditional sense, but also spans over thousands of years with little to no emotional stakes holding it together. The only characters who the audience really gets a feel for are Dave and HAL 9000, the onboard computer. Which is perhaps why his "death" is so heartbreaking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Doogal (2006)

I honestly can say I don't think I have ever seen a movie like Doogal. In a way I've seen Doogal a million times before even knowing about it's existence because it truly is the defacto representative of a decade's worth of lazy cheap CGI animated movies put into one nice little package. It's a crappy looking movie voiced by actors who clearly lost a bet with Harvey Wienstien at some point. It's not particularly funny, with most of it's humor coming from obvious pop culture references and farting. It's not emotional in any way, in fact it's perhaps one of the most cynically made kids movie out there. It doesn't even really manage to make any sense whatsoever.

And yet, in it's own special way, Doogal is really fascinating. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that could possible give less of a fuck about, well, anything. Even the most blatant and obvious cash-grabs have some sort of effort put in by somebody along the line, but this? Nothing, nothing at all. It's not a so-bad-it's-funny movie. It's barely a movie. It's closer to being Wizard People, Dear Reader then it is a movie. Because I'm not reviewing The Magic Roundabout, the European animated film that was released a year before which just so happened to feature the same visuals as today's movie. No, I'm talking about Doogal, the American dub of said film that is so disconnected from what's on screen that it may as well be Brad Neely narrating it for us.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (Seasons 3)

As we discussed the other day, the unexpected quality programming of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic can be attributed to it's strong emphasis on character. It's cute and likable cast combined with it's abilities to tell simple, light morality tales helped raise it's status from 22 min toy commercial to critical darling. I really can't overstate how much the clear, strong personalities of not only the main cast but many of the ancillary characters made the show what it is, allowing the audience a chance to look at the different sides of these ponies. It sounds silly to those who haven't watched it, and maybe silly to some who have, but even when you're characters are candy colored horses it's possible to make them rounded, exploring multiple sides of their personalities and create fun scenarios for them to play out.

And then they forgot to do that.

Watching season 3 of MLP:FiM is like watching somebody who's going through an identity crisis. At some point in time the show's staff must have gotten this letter saying "MAKE THIS MORE EPIC" because good lord it's trying too hard to do so. With a 13 episode order, this season is the shortest one the show has done yet, and trust me that's a good thing. There must have been something going on behind the scenes. I don't know if it was creative problems, (Creator Lauren Faust had left the show halfway through season 2, so I'm not sure who took over the reigns after that,) a lack of time, pressure from Hasbro, pressure from a very vocal fanbase, or all of the above. The only thing I do know is that this season is definitely the most inconsistent that the show has done to this point.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (Seasons 1 & 2)

Children's entertainment is graded on a different curve from adult media, for obvious reasons. For parents the main criteria of a "good" kids show is something along the lines of "will my kid like this"? It makes sense that when evaluating a movie or TV show aimed at a very specific demographic the first and foremost characteristic to look out for is at such a basic level. That's why for years people considered kids media to be critic proof. Who cares what some dusty old critic thinks about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Care Bears? It's for kids and, therefore, out of sight and mind for adults.

This dynamic has been changing in recent years. Now, a kids show doesn't have to be seen purely on the most superficial indicator of quality out there. These pieces of entertainment can cross the generational gap, both entertaining children and engaging adults. Movies like the Toy Story trilogy, Wreck-It Ralph, and Coraline are not only blockbusters for the younger set but also beloved by adults. TV shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Adventure Time, and Gravity Falls show that a kids show doesn't just have to shut up the tykes for half an hour, but can even go deeper then that, blurring the lines between the typical "good vs. evil" struggle present in most mass media and touching onto humanism themes.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is right in between the older and newer views on kids entertainment. It's not a deep show by any means. Pretty much everything it has to say is right there on the surface, a chipper optimistic little cartoon about getting along with your friends. Yet the first two seasons of the show did manage to be engaging to those beyond it's immediate target audience of preschool girls. It does this being cute without being cloying, mixing solid character development with fun, if simple, animation and positive themes for an often overlooked demographic in this kind of new, smarter kids programming; girls.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wizard People, Dear Reader (2004)

Ragtime Roast Beefy O'Weefy
Art knows no copyright. This isn't an advocacy for pirating or anything like that, because at the end of the day the guy who made your movie has to eat. But how much it costs to purchase a piece of media has nothing to do with the end result. The films of Kenneth Anger, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and this year's Sundance hit Escape From Tomorrow (which holy cow I want to see so badly) don't have their artistic value stripped away from them simply because they didn't pay for the rights of a song or show Mickey Mouse without asking Disney first.

This is probably a strange tangent to take before discussing what's basically a guy talking over Harry Potter with a funny voice. Calling Wizard People, Dear Reader art is a stretch in of itself. In it's own way, though, Brad Neely's alternative audio track to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a pretty good example of remix art. By presenting his own take on this major Hollywood entity, Neely transforms Chris Columbus' bland paint-by-numbers entity into a separate creature, a tale of a hard drinking, hard fighting 11 year old who, with his companions Ronnie the Bear and the Wreched Harmony, battle against his Dracula father. It's also possibly the funniest thing to ever come out of the internet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

There must be no harder job in screenwriting then writing for children. When adults write about children they tend to project themselves onto them. We don't see children as people, really. This is especially true in movies, where children are typically either depicted as mini adults or these naive semi-petlike waifs. They are these idealized versions of what we remember of our own childhoods. When looking through those rose-tinted glasses they become very fake. They don't talk like any kid really does. The two children in Jurassic Park are a good example of this, ("It's a UNIX system! I know this!") as are the various Home Alone moppets through the years.

The second hardest job in screenwriting is probably an adaptation. (Something the director of this movie knows quite a bit about.) Though great for producers, who know they have a built in audience, it must be hell for whatever writer is tasked with not only making the story fit into a film structure but at the same time not make fans of the original work come after them for any changes they might make. At the same time, they need to change stuff too in order to make the movie not be a paint-by-numbers retelling of the book. If you do that, you get Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It gets even harder when the book they ask you to adapt is a picture book, less then 30 pages sometimes. So you're expected to make a movie that's at least an hour and a half long on something that can literally be told within 10 minutes while not changing anything too egregiously lest people who read the book complain. What a nightmare.

In 2009, writer Dave Eggers and director Spike Jonze were asked to do both of these things when they were approached to create a film based off of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book Where The Wild Things Are. Somehow they managed to not only pull this off, but did it incredibly well, taking the skeleton of the story and making it a moody film that manages to be introspective while still feeling kenetic and exciting. It captures both the hyper energetic part of childhood we all vividly remember, yet it also sheds light on the other, less mentioned part of being a kid. That fear of the world around you and that all this might not be around forever.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cabin Boy (1994)

To paraphrase Oscar Levant, there's a fine line between genius and idiocy. This is especially true in comedy. If you look at a lot of brilliant comedy movies it's so easy to see how they would have failed if something had been juuuuuuuust a little different. If Bill Murray wasn't in Ghostbusters, it would have bombed. If Wet Hot American Summer wasn't played so straight, it wouldn't be nearly as good. It's a tricky line to distinguish sometimes, and it became nearly impossible to track in the 90s and early aughts. For every Wayne's World, you had a Night At The Roxbury. For every Office Space, a Me Myself and Irene.

In their attempts to find that next alt aesthetic to resonate with a mainstream audience, studios basically gave comedy writers a wide berth when it came to their projects. The results were really truly weird. As in "how the hell did anybody green light this" weird. Movies like Pootie Tang, Freddy Got Fingered, and Run Ronnie Run were all made under a variation of this model, and all probably rank up there with the strangest movies Hollywood has ever made. (Tellingly, Pootie Tang and Run Ronnie Run both suffered a lot from studio interference during their editing, showing that the studios got cold feet on this approach to comedy. All three bombed too, which is why you don't really see this stuff anymore.)

Walt Disney, under their Touchstone distribution wing, threw their own hats into the ring on this kind of comedy. The result was Cabin Boy, and it's...distinct. Originally a Tim Burton vehicle intended to be a tribute to Ray Harryhausen epics like Clash of the Titans & Jason and the Argonauts, the movie instead passed on to Adam Resnick and Chris Eliot once Burton left to direct Ed Wood. The Tim Burton connection is important because in a lot of ways the movie is similar to Mars Attacks!, another Burton movie. Both are clearly meant to be cult movies right out of the gate, and both tackle a genre long sedate by the time of their release. But while Mars Attacks! connection to sci-fi B movies is clear, Cabin Boy's is a bit more tangential.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

30 Rock

Even though The Simpsons was my first and favorite foray into the world of non-children's television, 30 Rock always feels like my first real sitcom. Oh sure, I watched reruns of Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and, uh, The Nanny in syndication, but 30 Rock was the first I actually followed while it was airing. It was just about the funniest live action TV show I'd ever seen in my life. I grew up loving cartoons (still do!) and steadfastly refusing to really watch any non-cartoon TV shows going into high school. With this in mind, of course 30 Rock was going to be the show to hook me, because it's probably the closest a show can get to being a cartoon, minus the animation.

Obviously I have a lot of nostalgia about this show, which is why tonight is kind of bittersweet. After 7 seasons and 136 episodes, 30 Rock is finally hanging it's slogan bearing trucker hat. Originally a critical and ratings failure, it's hard to believe the show was not only able to hang around for such a long time but be consistently really funny, give or take a season four. Not only that, I would go so far as to say that it's final season has been one of the strongest runs of television in the past couple of years, up there with season two of Community and season five of Mad Men.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The other day a friend of mine and I were talking about the most recent work of Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained. Unlike most people and critics, I really didn't like the movie that much. I thought it was good, and there were a lot of performances I liked, but I found it kind of boring. Since Kill Bill onward, Tarantino's movies have had one major theme running through them; the oppressed (women, Jews, African slaves) taking revenge on their oppressors (men, Nazis, southern plantation owners). There's nothing wrong with that theme, in fact it's one that can make a hell of an interesting movie. The problem is he attacks it from the same angle every time, with a bloody-as-hell, guns ablazing comeuppance at the end. The most interesting parts of his recent output for me was when he strayed away from that to try other stuff (Shoshanna's plot during Inglourious Basterds being the best example), but at the end, it goes back into the same stylized violence.

My friend pointed out, very smartly, that the same criticisms could be made about Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who's most recent movie, Moonrise Kingdom, was one of my favorite movies last year. That's somewhat true, in so far as that he has a very distinct style that he doesn't deviate too far from. The difference, however, is the material he tackles using said style. Unlike Tarantino (who, for the record, is responsible for some of my favorite movies), Anderson's movies continue to be similar stylistically but differ far more in their material then Quentin's. Tarantino is painting the same bowl of fruit in several different styles while Anderson is painting different objects the same way.

Anderson, as a filmmaker, is very much like a painter. Meticulous and detail oriented, he stages his movies in a way that goes against the typical realist style. His characters often look directly into the camera, as if they are speaking directly to the audience. He often employs a narrator, almost like a placard next to a work in a museum. He acknowledges the fourth wall, but doesn't necessarily break it. Sometimes this style doesn't work, and can make his stories seem cold and calculated. But at his best, like in The Royal Tenebaums, it can make the audience connect in an incredibly strong way. If I had to hold up a film that presents itself as the best example of Anderson's style and how it works, I think I'd choose Moonrise Kingdom.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I'm going to start this a little pretentiously, but considering the film we're talking about today, I think that's appropriate. The original reasoning behind the Wicker Scale's grading method (which, I want to reiterate, is dumb) was to avoid having to give movies a grade. I hate grading movies because I feel as if it's kind of derivative and makes the conversation switch from "You gave that a B+??? It was totally an A-!!!" to actual discussion. I still felt like I needed some simple way of differentiating movies I liked and didn't though, so I came up with the scale.

The problem with it, besides everything, is that it still puts it on a binary. Every movie has to be "good" or "bad" overall. Some movies don't really fall into one of those two categories, like Synecdoche, New York. To be fair, I'm giving my opinion on this movie after only watching it once and this is a movie that just begs to be watched multiple times so every frame can be analyzed, so I may be missing a lot of the nuances that would definitively put the movie into the "good" or "bad" camp. But while watching this I couldn't decide if what I was watching was a brilliant, postmodern, surrealist take on death and our attempts to give life meaning or if it was nothing but self indulgent bloat too far up it's own ass to see the point.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dexter's Rude Removal

If you lurk in the corners of the many fandoms revolving around cartoons, (which I really don't recommend) you are likely to find that each of them has some sort of "lost" episode attached to it. There's the ones that are outright banned, such as the infamous Pokemon seizure episode, and occasionally the episodes that weren't ever meant for airing, so the rumors say, but were instead made to distract the network from other things they wanted to sneak by and/or for the crew's own private enjoyment. These are usually just urban legends, like the supposed Spongebob episode where he dies, because realistically who would want to put the effort into making something nobody is ever going to see, especially back in the days before the internet.

One of the more infamous ones out there is an episode of the Cartoon Network show Dexter's Laboratory. Called "Dexter's Rude Removal," this episode was supposedly a super raunchy 10 minutes created by the crew with absolutely no intention of it ever getting on air. The most often cited source for this supposed episode was this forum post at Big Cartoon Forum by user TyphoidTimmy. According to him, Dexter's Lab creator Genndy Tartakovsy brought a copy of the short to Comic Con years ago, where he showed it after making sure everybody 18 and younger left. It's just THAT crude.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Pitch Perfect (2012)

About halfway through the 2012 comedy musical Pitch Perfect, the female lead Beca, played by Anna Kendrick, is talking to her love interest Jesse, played by Skylar Astin. Jesse wants to be a film composer/arranger and is trying to tell Beca why this means so much and the power music in film can have. Beca rolls her eyes, saying she doesn't really like movies because they are so predictable and she never seems to get to the end. It's a pretty clever, self aware moment in the movie, basically telling the audience to expect the happy ending forthcoming. There's not going to be any tricks, you all know it's going to end with a smile and a trophy, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, pointing this out doesn't help if the rest of the movie is willing to stand up to scrutiny. It's one thing for a film to acknowledge it's cliches, but another entirely for it to transcend them. Telling us the labored nature of the setup only works if the punchline kills. Pitch Perfect, while a fun movie that would be perfect for catching on cable Saturday afternoon, isn't able to get there, though it does find itself awfully close at times.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is when somebody receives a well deserved comeuppance. It's the basis of our legal system, the idea that when somebody does a bad thing, they deserve to be punished accordingly for it. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. As a result, it's one of the most common themes in media. We're taught it from an early age, with every Disney movie we watch where the bad guy falls to their death for their fight against the forces of good. It surrounds us every day, the idea of karmic punishment, the belief that bad things will happen to bad people. Look at Django Unchained, or Jack Reacher. The most popular movie of last year was called The Avengers. There is a show on TV right now literally called Revenge. It's a comfortable feeling, knowing that at the end of all things, those responsible for bad deeds will get punished. It feels right.

But what does it change? When a person is punished does it take back the bad things they've done? Does it make it all better, wiping the slate clean? That's what Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow and Mark Boal's follow up to 2009's The Hurt Locker, is asking. It's hard to talk about this movie or go into it without some sort of opinion already formed because it's been picked apart endlessly for months now. It it pro-torture? Is it responsible to make a movie like this after the whole thing in Libya? How much of a partisan bias does the movie have?

If you do want to see this movie, however, I would really recommend disregarding all of that beforehand. Because this is not just about Osama bin Laden's hunt. It's about an angry country. A country so blinded by anger that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get that revenge, the karmic balance it's been promised has to exist. It's about the cost of that promise, if it was worth the damage it did on our souls. The brilliance of the movie is that it asks us this without giving us an answer.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The other day we talked a little about the monotony of motion picture animation. This was especially true in the mid 1980s, when animation was a far more riskier enterprise than today. The golden age of Disney was over. The company hadn't had a real hit since 1967's The Jungle Book, their latest release, The Black Cauldron, was a box office bomb, and for the first time the company had real competition. Recently fired Disney animator Don Bluth had released The Secret of NIHM a couple years earlier to general acclaim and had just partnered with megaproducer Stephen Spielberg for his next movie, An American Tail. The company was in turmoil both inside and out.

What the company needed was a hit, a movie to restore confidence in it's animation department and bring in their next run of critical and commercial hits. Instead they got The Great Mouse Detective.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ghost Mine

We all know ghosts don't really exist. Okay, maybe you are one of the people who do honestly and truly think they do, but at the very least we can agree that if ghosts do exist, it probably won't be proven on a cable reality show. The same goes for bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and any other paranormal phenomena. These are discoveries that, if found, would cause quite the ruckus. If the existence of ghosts, and therefore an afterlife, was ever shown without a shadow of a doubt it would basically mean so much that we assume in science is probably wrong. It would literally change the world.

Ghost Mine on SyFy isn't going to do that, but it might change some half-drunken late nights while channel surfing. To start off with, it's a show called Ghost Mine, and it's about a haunted mine. Even though we live in a golden age for TV, we also live in an age where reality programming is a thing. Ghost Mine is a mashup between two distinct reality subgenres; shows following hard working blue collar workers doing their thing (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers) and shows about ghost hunting (Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted). It doesn't do a great job meshing these two halves together either, making it feel like you're occasionally watching two different shows with two far different thesis, which is assuming Ghost Mine has a thesis to begin with, which is probably giving it far too much credit.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Secret of Kells (2009)

In Disney's 1959 adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, a large emphasis was put on the art direction of the movie. The movie differed from the typical Disney house style, instead taking great inspiration from medieval art and tapestries. It was far more stylized, with a much sharper look when compared to, say, Cinderella. The movie is considered to be a classic of animation today, but at the time of the film's release it was a commercial failure. Disney wouldn't go back to making fairy tales for the big screen until The Little Mermaid.

Ever since then, American theatrical animation has looked kinda samey. Almost across the board animated features have roughly the same art style as everything that came before it. They don't look bad or anything, but it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate movies from studio to studio. There's a reason you grandma thinks every computer animated movie comes from Pixar; it's because nobody wants to deviate too far from the norm. Studios know that audiences expect their movies to look a certain way and straying from that path risks alienating them.

The Secret of Kells, a 2009 Irish-French-Belgian co-production, has much more in common with Sleeping Beauty then it does with most modern animated features. It's also kind of it's antithesis. Where Sleeping Beauty focuses on the more ornate aspects of medieval times (castles, princes and princesses, gigantic feasts), The Secret of Kells is much more interested in the natural, with a rather bitter view on the towers and walls Sleeping Beauty fetishized.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

I never went to a sleepaway camp as a kid. When I was little I went to our town's camp for a couple weeks every summer, and in middle school I would go to a theater camp I eventually would be a counselor for in high school, but those were all day camps. The only experience with an overnight camp that I have is second-hand stories from my cousins and my sister. But you don't need to go to camp to appreciate Wet Hot American Summer, though a familiarity with summer camp movies probably helps.

Along with Pootie Tang, which was released in the same year and is way better than it's reputation, Wet Hot American Summer is probably one of the weirdest comedies to get to theaters in the 2000's. A parody of movies like Meatballs and Indian Summer, Wet Hot follows the teen counselors, played by a cast clearly far older then the characters, as they navigate through their last day at Camp Firewood. The movie had a fizzling 30 theater run, where it made little money and was released to overwhelmingly negative reviews, but became a cult classic based on it's considerable pedigree. Much of the cast and writers come from the amazing MTV sketch comedy show The State, as well as appearances by lots of future comedy stars, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Marino, H. Jon Benjamin, and Christopher Meloni, who's not really a comedy star unless you think Law and Order: SVU is a wacky farce.

Director David Wain, who would later co-create Children's Hospital on adult swim, is in full alt-comedy mode here. Wet Hot American Summer was part of a wave in absurdest comedy films, movies with a heavy parody elements very willing to break from reality in service to the jokes. Austin Powers, Anchorman, and the Scary Movie series are all examples of this type of film, and it would be the prevalent form of Hollywood comedy until Judd Apatow and The 40 Year Old Virgin changed that. These movies tend to follow the Mel Brooks and Zuckers Bros. mode of comedy, where you throw everything at the wall and hope what sticks is stronger then what doesn't. They don't have an internal logic to them, everything is done with a wink and a smile. When done wrong, it's one of the worst type of movie out there, and if you don't believe me go watch Epic Movie. But when done just right the results are sublime, and Wet Hot is a great example of this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Golden Globes 2013: An Exercise In Pointlessness

Really, all award shows are pointless. Grammys, Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, all of that are all pointless. Winning any of those isn't a guarantee of quality. For fuck's sake, Crash won an Oscar, and the Grammys have nominated Nickleback six times. But even with that caveat, the Golden Globe awards are a special kind of meaningless.

Quickly, without looking on Google, tell me what movie won the Best Drama Golden Globe 10 years ago. How about five years ago? How about last year? Chances are your mind is blanking out. That's because absolutely nobody cares about the Golden Globes. With the Oscars you can at least say that people will remember them, or that a nominated movie will get more attention from John Q. Public. I'm betting a lot of people are going to be seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild now that the Oscars have given it a nod (and that's a great thing, because it's a movie well worth seeing). But nobody is going to be rushing out to watch Salmon Fishing In The Yemen because it got a Golden Globe nomination.

So why do we humor this show? Why is it broadcast nationally and then picked apart and dissected by the media for a day or two before it goes back to being forgotten? I don't know the exact reason, but I'm guessing it's because it's been around for long enough people consider it a tradition and because the awards it gives out only focus on the big stuff. No technical awards here. It's the product of our obsession with celebrities, where we are content just watching them get awards from the least essential arbiters of quality ever. Oh well, at least Tina Fey and Amy Pohler are fun to watch. Can they just host every award show ever?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Twilight Zone Sundays: "Living Doll"

We live in what's possibly the most progressive and experimental time for television ever. Thanks to the rise of cable and premium networks like HBO, TV is able to experiment with the form. However, back in 1959, there was a show already making television like no other. The Twilight Zone is possibly one of the best TV shows of all time, and it's anthology style makes it unique (Besides Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, Tales from the Crypt...okay maybe not that unique) in that every episode is it's own self contained story. Over 50 years after it's premiere, the show holds up incredibly well. So because this is my blog and I do what I want to I'm declaring Sunday to be the day I watch old Twilight Zone episodes on Netflix and do mini reviews. It'll be like my blog's Sabbath.

Why are dolls so scary to us? The creepy doll is a cliche at this point, with Child's Play, Poltergeist, Trilogy of Terror, Goosebumps, and many more all employing them at one point or another. The Simpsons even parodied it with it's amazing Treehouse of Horror segment "Clown Without Pity," which was directly inspired by The Twilight Zone episode we'll be talking about today, "Living Doll". Yet what is it about the idea of killer toys that's so frightening? Is it the fact they're so close to our children? That they usually are right smack dab in the uncanny valley? In "Living Doll," writer Jerry Stohl, who's ghostwriting here for Charles Beaumont, suggests an alternative explanation. We are afraid of dolls not because of what they are, but what they represent.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Okay, here's your word of warning: it's almost impossible to discuss Rosemary's Baby and Roman Polanski without talking about rape. Now last year we all learned this topic is a big trigger for people so if you maybe don't want to read a big fat essay about rape from somebody who's thankfully never had an experience with that and think I'm in way over my head then here's your chance to turn back. 

Roman Polanski has got to be one of the most controversial figures in film history. A Polish man born in France, he's without a doubt an accomplished and skilled director. Chinatown is a stone cold classic and I'd argue his Macbeth that he made for Playboy is one of the best filmed Shakespeare adaptations out there. Of course, his infamy in the pop culture landscape is due to different, darker reasons. In 1969 his eight month pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was killed by Charles Manson's cult in one of the most high profile murder cases of all time. Nearly 10 years later, in 1977, Polanski allegedly drugged and definitely raped a 13 year old girl during a photo shoot. After pleading guilty, he fled to Europe where he's been living in exile ever since. He's still directing, and he's still pretty great at it, even winning an Oscar for The Pianist in 2002.

As a result of this, Polanski's been a figure whose work is incredibly hard to discuss without it eventually dovetailing into arguments on that case. Some allege that the girl was consenting and it was merely statutory. Others say that enough time has passed for him to be "forgiven" and allowed to come back to the United States. Myself, I don't claim to be an expert on the case or anything, besides what I've read here and there, but the fact remains that he definitely unlawfully and forcibly pushed himself onto this girl and then ran away before he could be convicted. Is bringing him back to the US and locking him up the solution? I don't know, I don't know if it's possible for there to be a solution to something like this. 

Despite his moral misgivings, and they are sizable, you really cannot deny that the man isn't a master filmmaker. His directing style is meticulous and detail oriented, so not a single frame of his films is ever wasted. The films he makes often have a psychological bent to them, and you can see that he clearly understands his characters intimately. Rosemary's Baby, his Hollywood debut and arguably his best film, is no exception to this. It's a masterpiece, beautifully acted and shot in a way that, although it has no jump scares, has an unsettling horror to it that lingers with you for hours, if not days, after watching. Part of the reason it does this because it taps into a very human fear, a fear that Polanski himself would exploit a decade later: the loss of control.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Freaks and Geeks

A lot of plot threats in the last episode of the 1999 cult TV show Freaks and Geeks don’t feel quite resolved, like Nick's feelings for Lindsay still hanging in the air and the future of Daniel and Kim's relationship. Hell, the last we see of Ken is him being thrown out of a disco. All fine for a season finale, but a little lacking for the cap to the whole damn show. The very last scene, on the other hand, is the perfect end to the series that I can imagine. Lindsay Weir is just about to leave for an exclusive academic summit she has been nominated for by her school. It’s an incredible boost to her transcript for college and a once in a lifetime opportunity, but she’s been ambivalent about attending. Her teachers and her parents have been telling her how great and important this summit is for her over the course of the episode. As she gets on the bus she looks back at her family.

“Hey Mom?” she says.

“Yes sweetie?” her mother replies, beaming.

Lindsay pauses for a moment before putting on a little smile. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Okay honey,” her mom says through tears.

Of course Lindsay never goes to the academic summit. She never even planned to. As “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead plays, she gets on the bus only to get out a couple stops away, where she meets up with her friend Kim and a minibus full of Deadheads. We’re not worried about her, we know she’s going to be fine. She’s a smart kid, and she’s about to have one of the best summers of her life, following the Dead on tour. She’s made her choice, finally thrown off the shackles and pressures she’s been feeling grow heavier and heavier on her. Her exchange with her mother so wonderfully captures a moment everybody has gone through with their parents. Lindsay knows she’s going to break her mom’s heart by doing this, and she wants to apologize, try to explain to them why the summit is wrong for her and why she has to do this, that she’s not the perfect little girl whose in the mathletes. She’s changed, or perhaps she’s been this way the whole time but hasn’t been able to throw off that label till now.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Looper (2012)

Time travel stories are difficult to pull off well. Explain too little and you get nothing but plot holes, explain too much and it turns into technobabble. Also hard to pull off: genre films intended squarely for adults. You can quote as many "Pow! Zing! Comics Aren't For Kids Anymore!" articles you want but the fact is the majority of sci-fi, fantasy, superhero and horror movies are aimed squarely at teenagers. Which isn't to say those movies are bad or anything, but they are usually fairly shallow.

In fact, Hollywood doesn't make any movies for adults period. Besides Argo, I can't think of many studio backed movies with major release dates that were tailored for an adult and weren't comedies. Ever since Star Wars, the blockbusters are for the teens while the dramas are saved for awards season. That's fine, there's good and bad examples of both, but it can get monotonous after a while.

So it's nice to see when a movie mixes up that dynamic just a little. Looper is one of those movies. I have no idea how it ever got past pre-production, not because it's bad or so crazy to be plausible or whatnot, but because it is just not the type of movie a major Hollywood studio makes. It forces you to pay attention, is surprisingly dark, and is filmed and staged like no other sci-fi film to come out of the studio system. It's also probably one of the best films to come out last year

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Free Money (1998)

There are two types of "so good it's bad" movies. There's the ones that clearly has a film crew behind it trying to make the best movie they can but just lack the talent/self examination to do so (Troll 2, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room). Then there are the movies that are trying to be bad, knowing their audience is going to be stoned college kids watching their movies on Netflix that the filmmakers create while giggling to themselves (Snakes on a Plane, all the Leprechaun movies, anything Tommy Wiseau has done after The Room). The difference between the two is usually that the former are discovered years after they came out as some weird anomaly while the latter force how wacky they are down our throats.

With these choices in front of us, I have no idea which camp Free Money falls into. It's labeled a black comedy, it's clearly trying to be funny. Yet it's also trying to be the type of arty action thriller people in the 90s thought was really cool. It desperately wants to be Pulp Fiction or Fargo. Instead it's a poorly structured, fairly dull movie.

Except for one thing. The thing that turns Free Money into an unbridled gigglefest, that makes the stupid into the sublime, that uses a taser on Charlie Sheen to punish him for farting in Church, which clearly needs to be on some sort of AFI list. That force of nature is none other then Marlon Brando.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Doc Martin

More like Doc Fartin'



This fucking show. This stupid fucking show.

To anybody out there who watches Doc Martin and enjoys it, I completely understand why you do. It's not bad...well actually okay it is bad but it's not aggressively terrible or anything. It's not Two and a Half Men. But my reasons for not liking this show are twofold:
  1. It's boring, repetitive, smug, repetitive, has an aggressively unlikable mean character who we are supposed to be sympathetic with, and did I mention it's repetitive?

Bernie (2011)

When you see a movie that has Jack Black in it (with the exception of King Kong I suppose) you know just what you're going to get. Some singing, some overconfident bragging, him doing that thing with his eyes, happy ending, we all go home.
This thing

This isn't a criticism either. I like the guy, for the most part. But he's typecast. The last thing I would really expect from a Jack Black movie is, well, Jack Black NOT being Jack Black. Out of all the potential candidates for the "comedian to SUPER SERIOUS ACTOR" transition I would not have bet my horse on Mr. Black. So it was a pleasant surprise to see his performance in Bernie be such a delight!

The Wire, Seasons 1 & 2

Speaking of depressing HBO shows...

In the last decade or so television has evolved in a way where it's now able to tell stories in a way that simply wasn't possible beforehand. Yeah we have our Honey Boo Boos and our Real Housewives churning out trash TV, but we also have shows that are reaching levels of ambition that match some of the best films out there, both from a thematic and a production standpoint. Off the top of my head, you have;
  • Breaking Bad
  • Mad Men
  • Game of Thrones
  • Deadwood
  • The Sopranos
  • Community
  • Louie
I could go on but then we'd be here all day. You get the point though, TV has grown up almost across the board. But as great as all those shows are, and believe me they are great, none even come CLOSE to being as ambitious as The Wire.

Mission Statement: What is The Wicker Scale

Last year sucked hard for me.

This is a weird way to start of a blog that's going to be mostly movie and TV reviews, but I think it's an important thing to know before we start this. Besides, like most things created after New Years this will probably disappear in a month or two. But yeah, last year was horrible for me. To name a few things, I dropped out of school. Well, that's being generous. I flunked out of school because I was so depressed and confused I didn't leave my dorm room all day and instead marathoned through The Sopranos, and even though it's an amazing show, it's main thesis is essentially "people won't change no matter how much they want to because it's easier not to." Not exactly the best thing for a depressed kid to watch.

Oh, and I also, you know, changed my gender identity and have been going to therapy about it and came out to my parents but not many other people in my life know about it. So that happened.

Anyway, the point is that last year sucked. I had to leave school and move back in with my parents just in time for all my friends from home to move out, get a job at a crummy convenience store that doesn't give me enough hours to justify me working there, and watched a whole lot of Fraiser.

Actually, I watched a whole lot of things, really. In the past year I probably haven't sat on my butt and done nothing but watch movies and TV shows this much since, well, 2011. The thing is, despite all this, nothing came out of it. I watched stuff, maybe posted a tweet about it, and that's it.

Well this year I'm going to change that. I'm super cereal about this. So I made this little blog to do so. And a REAL blog, not a Tumblr I use to pretend I write stuff but really just use to repost a picture from Ghost Trick or something. On this blog, I state that I will review EVERYTHING that I watch out of a screen. It doesn't even need to be super analytical or anything, just something that says "Hey, I watched this, and here's an opinion nobody cares about but at least I'm keeping it REAL."

You may be wondering "why are you calling this The Wicker Scale?" Well, as long time viewers of my old deleted blogs (i.e. nobody) know, The Wicker Scale is something I use to differentiate the good from the bad instead of something boring like 4 stars or 10/10 or something like that. Basically it's asking whether the movie in question is closer to the original 1973 version of The Wicker Man (interesting, original, entertaining) or closer to the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man (boring, derivative, awful to watch).

Is that a confusing and flimsy basis for evaluating a piece of art? Yes! So onward and upward I say!