Movie

Captain Marvel - Feminism Done Right

I figured I’d wait until all the hubbub around Captain Marvel died down before I threw my two cents at the matter. I’m only coming at this from a storytelling perspective, since it’s not a Post-Apocalyptic film, but I’ve done enough posts on times when feminism has been done poorly that it felt warranted. While I think Captain Marvel was a good film, the main point here is that it delivered its message in a perfectly palatable, and inoffensive, manner.

I’ve made plenty of posts about shows like Van Helsing, Wynonna Earp and Orange is the New Black, about how they’re posing as vehicles of social change when in reality they’re just riding the wave of popular opinion to make some cash. The first two are female power fantasies, where women are given super natural strength to dominate the world around them, while the later is a character drama where all women are victims and men are ineffective losers at best and tyrannical oppressors at worst. They’re feminism done wrong, because they preach to the already converted. They’re made for people who already hold the views they’re purporting to push, which in turn makes them unpalatable to anyone they’d seek to change the opinion of. Making content for a target audience is fine, we all do it, but these shows are catering to the current populist trend of social justice and victimhood. So while they’re appealing to certain peoples sensibilities, they’re not actually contributing anything to their cause beyond “Muh Representation!” and they’re resorting to shit storytelling to do it.

Solid character writing.

Solid character writing.

So basically, that whole paragraph was to show that I’m not a fanboy, I’m not a soyboy and I’m not an ally or anything of the sort. Chicks are cool, gays are cool, I don’t even care about any of that shit, I just want well crafted stories that are water tight. All this pandering to extremists tends to create characters that are two dimensional Mary Sue’s, and narratives that are contrived and cliched. It’s boggled my fucking brain from the get go, because such hamfisted storytelling doesn’t help anyone, beyond the creators who can make a quick buck off the moronic herd-minded tribalism that’s so popular these days. I put that last paragraph there to show that I’m not the sort of person who’ill just blindly swallow a cheesy moralizing feminist flick, and that I’ve written enough about such flicks that the following endorsement should carry some weight.

Captain Marvel was actually pretty good, and there wasn’t anything in the film that had me rolling me eyes or wanting to leave. There’s been a lot of negative press and controversy around the film, primarily surrounding the lead actress Brie Larson and her outspoken views on straight white men… but I don’t care about any of that external stuff. Chris Evans says some pretty on-the-nose stuff that’s in a similar vein, and while I haven’t seen any of the Captain America films, I do enjoy his work in the Avengers films. People are allowed to do and say some stupid shit and it doesn’t have to seep into the film, Tom Cruise is a bit of a dick but I watched him in Oblivion and thought “god damn, that man can act!”

He literally paused to eye-fuck the camera…

He literally paused to eye-fuck the camera…

I’ll admit that I agreed with people’s initial assessment from the trailers, Brie Larson did look bored. But as someone with Blunted Affect, I get how fucking irritating it is when you’re told to smile all the time. In the movie though she’s actually quite emotive, so maybe the trailers just focused on the scenes where it’s more serious. There’s a decent amount of humor in the story too, and I found myself laughing with my friends. (Yes, I have friends IRL.) There were several well written female characters, with strengths and flaws, but there were also multiple well written male characters who weren’t nerfed into cuckoldom just to make Captain Marvel look good. This is something that other aspiring feminist films could learn from - making your male characters weak doesn’t make the female lead look stronger, it' just makes her surrounded by a bunch of ineffectual losers and undercuts any achievements she might accomplish. What’s more impressive, a woman playing Rugby against the All Blacks and winning, or a woman competing against the Under-7’s Special Needs division and winning?

Jude Law’s character was well written, and interesting. I honestly hope to see more of him.

Jude Law’s character was well written, and interesting. I honestly hope to see more of him.

I know there’s one scene where her friend says something along the lines of “Let’s go show these boys how it’s done!” But you’ve got to ask yourself, what else was she going to say? They were the only two female pilots, they were surrounded by men “Let’s go show our coworkers how it’s done!” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Also, as a guy who works with just one other male, at a certain point you do start spending a lot of time with that person simply based on their gender. Along with this, there’s this montage where there’s a bunch of men in her life telling her that she can’t do things because she’s a girl. Her dad freaks out because was in a go-kart crash, which is understandable, and her fellow trainees in boot camp are heckling her. I never got to join the military, but it’s a pretty dude-centric institution… and the film is set in the 90’s, so again - what else where her fellow cadets going to say?

She starts wailing on an Skrull that’s posing as an old woman on the train, and the other commuters jumped onto her - that was a nice bit of storytelling there.

She starts wailing on an Skrull that’s posing as an old woman on the train, and the other commuters jumped onto her - that was a nice bit of storytelling there.

But none of it really seemed on the nose or forced, none of it rubbed me the wrong way - it was all just adversity that she’d had to overcome to reach that point in her career. And it worked too, because they had to show that she was pretty formidable before she got her powers, not just someone who went from zero to hero - like Shazam. The cat seemed a bit weird, but they managed to tie it into the humor of the film. Honestly, the only part of the film that sort of jarred me was the reveal about the Skrulls. I read the Secret Invasion comic arc when it came out a few years back, and I don’t know how this is going to mesh with that. They sort of seem at odds with one another, but maybe Marvel don’t plan to explore that story line in which case it’s not even an issue.

So yeah, despite what people may have assumed - I went and saw Captain Marvel and I actually enjoyed it. I think most of the hate for this film has been spurred on by the lead actress’ comments, combined with people just wanting to hate it because it’s got a female lead. But just like Den of Thieves needs to be recognized for it’s accurate exploration of Toxic Masculinity, Captain Marvel needs to be accepted for doing a female lead in an action film the right way. Captain Marvel is strong and capable in her own right and she doesn’t drag men down to build herself up - that’s all I’ve ever wanted. If we can’t even acknowledge when honest and earnest attempts to bridge the gap from the other side are being made, then we’re never going to get anywhere.

I’m pretty stoked to see how they’ll include her in Avengers Endgame, since she’s on the same level as Thor and Hulk in terms of power. I get the concerns about having such a powerful late-game addition to the roster seeming like a deus ex machina moment, but she seems to be on par with characters that’re already present. I’m hoping at best she’ll be just enough to tip the scales in their favor, rather than have her win the day outright. An addition of someone like Wolverine isn’t going to do shit against Thanos, but someone like Captain Marvel most certainly will. Along with this, we’ve already got two super powered dudes, so why not mix it up and make the third a chick? I’ll admit that it can go sideways in a lot of ways, but after the masterful stroke that Marvel pulled with Black Panther (wherein it was basically Trump vs Hitler) I’m pretty hopeful of what they’ll do with Avengers Endgame.

They’ve been building up to this for over a decade, they can do almost anything with it… the only thing they’re certainly not going to do is fuck it up.

Pretty keen to see how it all ends!

Pretty keen to see how it all ends!

Toxic Masculinity in Den of Thieves

Maaaaassive spoilers for Den of Thieves.

Den of Thieves is a cops and robbers bank-heist film that has be dubbed an inferior version of Heist, the quintessential example of this genre. One of key complaints about Den of Thieves is the amount of raw machismo that’s present, as 99% of the cast look like they’ve walked right out of the WWE. Because of this, a lot of the feedback and reviews of Den of Thieves tend to get lost in all the muscles and gunfire and lose sight of the message the film is actually trying to convey. Despite the apparent muscle-bound bone-headed plot, I’d put forward that there is actually a level of subtly that most people missed or just straight up chose to ignore.

Den of Thieves focuses on three men; Nicholas "Big Nick" O'Brien , a dirty cop who plays by his own rules, and Ray Merrimen, an ex-marine turned bank robber. Both these men are the epitome of Alpha males, they walk into a room and they own it regardless of what’s going on. The third is Donnie Wilson, a shorter, less physically imposing man who works in a bar. While the first two had years in the military or law enforcement and played football, Donnie only had a year and a half in the military, and played soccer. Straight off the bat, this guy is pegged as less masculine than the other two and he’s even told directly that he’s not in the same league as either of them.

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

We meet Big Nick when he walks onto a crime scene, clearly hung over, where he pulls a doughnut from the ground before eating half of it and tossing the rest next to the body. Screw procedure, to hell with contaminating the crime scene, Big Nick is a maverick cop who doesn’t give a shit but he gets results, goddamn it! A key part of his character is his attire, you could put him in a biker bar and he would blend right in. The beard, scraggly hair, rings and leather jacket all send the clear message that this is not a man with which you want to fuck.

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

And then in walks an FBI agent, Lobbin’ Bob, who has been called to the scene of the crime because it involved the theft of an armored car that resulted in the deaths of several police officers. Lobbin’ Bob is smaller, clean shaven with a nice haircut, and he’s wearing a suit. These two know each other and clearly don’t like one another. Lobbin’ Bob is everything that Big Nick is not and the later even makes fun of the former being a vegan. State and Federal law enforcement issues aside, there is a conflict in their different approaches to masculinity.

Big Nick is a man’s man and he likes to stay out all night, drinking and doing drugs with his buddies while banging hookers. We see him slinking home one morning, Everlast’s “What It’s Like” playing in the car, and his wife catches him deleting his call log in the kitchen. He was so drunk or stoned, or both, the night before that he accidentally sent her a text instead of the girl he’d just finished drilling. Needless to say, his wife takes their two daughters and leaves…. but not without mentioning that she’s going to go find a guy that can get his dick hard for her.

Looking at his home life, we can see that he’s surrounded by women which probably contributes to why he’s so married to the job. He probably feels so out of place there that he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s around them. Cheating on his wife aside, he is genuinely distraught when he realizes she’s taking their daughters away. On top of this, despite him clearly being able to snap her like a twig, when she begins to lay into him, he just stands there and takes it without hitting back. He may be a piece of shit, but he’s clearly got some principles.

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray Merrimen, and a few of his gang of bank robbers, are ex-military. Despite turning to a life of crime, they’ve still kept some of that code of conduct and it’s translated into a sort of honor-among-thieves. While they’re quite content to gun down security personnel and police officers who stand in their way, they chose not to shoot any civilians even if they’re witnesses to the gang’s crimes. They were trained to shoot people in uniforms, not civilians, and so that’s what they do, they repeatedly let innocent bystanders go. Ray is ruthless, but just like Big Nick he’s not without principles.

Just a little chat…

Just a little chat…

While Ray doesn’t have any kids of his own, one of his gang, Levi Enson Levoux, has a wife and two daughters. His eldest daughter is about to go to her prom night, and her date arrives to pick her up. Levi takes the young man into the garage for a chat, where he’s met with half a dozen bodybuilders, Ray included, who could probably pull him apart like a chicken wing. They threaten the young man into treating Levi’s daughter right, and go into great detail about what will happen to him if anything happens to her. The cocky young man who walked through the front door to pick up his date leaves in a decidedly more terrified state.

…with this lot!

…with this lot!

The families of the men, the two who have families that we actually see, being all women is an important part of the film. Because despite these men choosing to surround themselves with other men, in the aspects of their lives where they don’t have any control they’re surrounded by women. As macho as Big Nick and Levi Levoux both are, neither of them have any sons and there will be nobody to carry on their names after they’re gone. As much as these men have tried to rid themselves of anything remotely feminine, they’ve been unable to fully escape it. It’s a hint that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to live in modern society and escape women… because they’re a key part of it too.

As all this is going on, the robbers are planning to rob the federal reserve bank, while the cops are trying to figure out who they are, what they’re up to and how to stop them. Big Nick ends up nabbing Donnie, who wakes up in a hotel room full of police officers and hookers. They make light of the fact that he pissed himself when Big Nick tasered him and then basically torture him into telling them everything they want to know about Ray’s gang. Donnie tells them that he’s their driver and agrees to be a snitch for them. This tiny, unimposing man has suddenly found himself caught between two beasts who will stop at nothing to succeed.

Big Nick gets served divorce papers from his wife, and he tracks her down and actually confronts her while she’s on a double date with some friends and a new man. This new guy is tiny and timid, more so than any other male in the movie, and you can see that his wife has gone for the complete polar opposite of Big Nick. “Metro” would be the right word to describe the two men on this double date. Needless to say, Big Nick walks into the room and despite the fact that one of them is quite well-built, it’s obvious he’s someone who goes to the gym for fitness and isn’t actually tough. Big Nick threatens everyone, forces the man who’s on a date with his wife to hug him, and then signs the divorce papers and leaves. He’s the toughest guy in the room, everyone knows it, but he still leaves defeated.

This is where some of that aforementioned subtly comes into play. In the very next scene when he’s having a meet-up with Donnie to learn about the gangs plans, he’s in a men’swear store looking at suits. He’s been wearing leather the entire film, he made fun of Lobbin’ Bob for wearing a suit at the start, but right after the scene where he dominates the two men his wife was on a double date with he’s trying on a suit of his own. He’s already figuring out that maybe his approach isn’t the only, let alone best, way to deal with life. He’s lost his wife, he couldn’t scare her into taking him back… so he’s going to explore what the other guys are doing, by trying on a suit.

But there are still criminals who are going to rob a bank, so Big Nick goes and has a pissing contest with them, just to let them know he’s onto them. He meets Ray Merriman at the shooting range and starts showing off with his pistol, but then gets shown up himself because he forgot that Ray was a marine and can shoot at center mass like the trained killer he is. Not willing to give up just yet, Big Nick goes to strip club and picks up Ray’s girlfriend and bangs her… but then that was all part of the plan, because Ray told her to go along with it and to feed him some bad information. Neither men really saw this woman as worth anything, she was just a piece of trash to be used to get to the other. Ray doesn’t even care that Big Nick screwed his girl, he just goes ahead and sleeps with her afterwards as well.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Big Nick gets to see one of his daughters one last time before the big robbery, and he ends up breaking down in his car afterwards. Along with this, there’s a scene with Big Nick standing alone on a beach at sun rise, or sun set. Either way, it’s a moment of reflection for him. He’s not only got time to think about the battle ahead, but he’s got time to think about how he ended up standing there alone instead of being at home in bed with his wife. Den of Thieves does have lulls in the action like this, ones that hint that there’s more going on beneath the surface.

The day of the robbery arrives, and it’s suitably hectic. Big Nick and his team get fooled by a distraction, thanks to the bad intelligence Big Nick was fed by Ray’s girlfriend, where the gang pretend to rob one bank but quickly sneak away undetected to commit the real robbery elsewhere. Ray and his gang succeed in robbing the federal reserve bank, a historical first, but quickly get bogged down in a traffic jam. With Big Nick and his team close behind them, the two groups of men prepare for the inevitable shoot out.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

One of Big Nick’s team is killed, most are injured, while most of Ray’s gang are killed. Levi Levoux’s dying words are of regret for his daughters. Once the dust has settled, Big Nick is left with no stolen money and a dead teammate, and it’s up to him to call the man’s wife and explain what happened. Lobbin’ Bob shows up, says he’s sorry about Big Nick’s dead teammate and then tells him that he really needs to stop smoking. He then offers him a piece of organic nicotine gum, and here’s the clincher…

He fucking takes it!

Boom.

Boom.

Big Nick has had nothing but contempt for Lobbin’ Bob the entire film, and every time they’ve met they’ve butted heads. But now, having lost his wife and kids, and having to call a fellow officers wife to explain that he’s been killed in the line of duty, he realizes that he can’t punch or intimidate his way out of every problem. And the guy who’s spent the whole movie eating doughnuts, drinking booze and taking drugs, suddenly takes a piece of organic nicotine gum. It’s not a 180 degree turn, it’s not even a 90 degree turn, but it’s a small step in the right direction. Big Nick managed to survive to the end, and although being the alpha dog has gotten him through the job, it’s left the rest of his life in tatters. Even though we never get to see if it’s successful or not, trying on the suit, breaking down at seeing his daughter, and taking the gum, all hint that he’s at least considering the prospect of changing his ways.

And the thing is, the one man to come out on top was Donnie. The small, unassuming guy that everyone else beat up and pushed around, he outsmarted them all and got away with all the money. He had his own plan going on the whole time, and despite being surrounded by guys twice his size with kill counts that’d make Rambo blush, he beat them all. And this is why I hated that this film got slammed by critics and movie-goers, because nobody fucking understood what it was trying to say.

Den of Thieves is an analysis and exploration of masculinity in the modern age, about how the old school ways don’t work anymore. You can’t be a caveman in the modern age, because we’re not running from saber-toothed tigers any longer. Reviews, articles and blog posts such as this, this, this, this, this and this all focus on the fact that toxic masculinity is present and seem to miss the fact that the movie is actually about toxic masculinity. Being a hyper masculine douche-bag either gets you killed, or leaves you with nothing - that’s the message of this story. The tiny and timid guy gets Big Nick’s wife, the soft and pudgy Donnie gets away with millions of dollars. You can be fit, you can be strong, but the Marlboro Man “tough guy” routine isn’t a surefire path to success anymore.

My problem is that Den of Thieves is a great exploration of this, but people were so quick to tear it down without even trying to figure out what it meant. If they’d actually taken a moment, they would’ve realized that it’s a film that appeals to guys, especially macho guys, but one that ends up showing them that this path isn’t always the best option in life. If they’d given it a chance, they would’ve realized that it’s actually helping bring about the changes they desire. Instead, people just saw the typical macho characters and decided that it was worth more as fuel for the outrage engine, rather than something that would appeal to those they actually want to change. Den of Thieves is a film that’s about men, for men. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it makes it the perfect vehicle to get a message across to them.

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

Shows like Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale and Wynonna Earp are all shows that are insincere attempts to evoke some sort of social change, because they’re designed to preach to those already converted. Nothing those shows say is ever going to reach the ears of those their creators purport to want to change the opinions of, because they’re not designed for them. What guy, toxic masculinity or no, is gong to watch a film or show with all female leads, where all men are perpetual oppressors and enemies? It’s ridiculous to think such an approach would work, it’s ridiculous to the point of it being literally unbelievable. It’s like trying to catch a mouse with a bullhorn and then complaining when it doesn’t work - at a certain point, you should probably just admit that you don’t really want to catch the mouse.

Toxic Masculinity, or poor mental and emotional health for men, whatever you want to call it, is an important issue. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is something of a identity crisis going on with men in the modern age - we don’t know who to be anymore. Do we be like Don Draper and fuck all the women, or do we be like Conan and crush the skulls of our enemies and then fuck all the women? Or do we play video games and jerk off to porn in our parents basements, complaining that women don’t pay us any attention? Or maybe we should wear skinny jeans, drink soy lattes and try to get her just drunk enough that we can escape the friendzone? The roles of men and women are changing, and have been for the past century, and we’re still unsure where we all want to land when things settle down. I don’t want to backhand my future missus for talking out of turn and then demand she make me a sandwich, but at the same time I don’t want her backhanding me either.

My old man used to travel the world and go on all sorts of crazy adventures for work, while mum stayed at home to raise my sister and I. He had all the money and he would dole it out to her, always asking what she wanted it for and nitpicking over every cent. Also, he was gone for so long so damn often, that it was awkward when he was home. The family wasn’t complete with dad home, there was just an extra person in the house… one you had to tiptoe around. He’s been gone for coming up on eight years now, and let me tell you that you don’t want to be the sort of person whose absence makes life easier.

I’m not saying he was the devil, far from it, and I’m sure as shit not saying that I’m a saint. I’m also not saying that I want to do the complete opposite to him and give my future missus all my money and have her dole it out to me instead. The opposite extreme is just as bad, it’s the same situation only in reverse. You don’t have to become a complete whimp, and reject everything that it means to be a man… that’s just asking for trouble. But there’s gotta be some smarter middle ground that can be found, where things work out for all involved.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.   Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.

Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

This all stems back to my own book, Days Too Dark. I wanted a character that was so down on himself and wrapped up in his own shit that he didn’t realize how much harm he was causing himself and others. You can get so twisted up by the expectations of yourself and others that you become this warped shadow of what you’re meant to be, one that is… dare I say “toxic” to the surrounding world. That’s what I wanted to explore with Days Too Dark - a story about a man, for men. It’s only part one, so things are going to progress from there and without ruining things - obviously he learns the error of his ways, all for the betterment of others, but also for himself.

Men have the ability to fuck shit up when needed, we used to hunt and chase down wild game and fight off the warriors of enemy tribes. We can either use that strength to lift up those around us and make them feel safe and secure, or we can push them down and make them feel scared and weak. The thing is, we all die eventually and nobody is intimated by a corpse. If you’ve spent your whole life making those closest to you feel intimidated and afraid, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief once you’re gone and never have a nice word to say about you… if they ever speak of you at all.

Films like Den of Thieves are needed, because they analyse the male archetype in a way that men will find appealing. But if they’re always torn to shreds because they’re not more female-focused, then the message will never get across and the desired change will never be achieved. Everyone knows you get better results when you change things from the inside, rather that from the outside. You can get a show like Orange is the New Black to screech at men about how shit they are, or you can get a film like Den of Thieves to show them that there’s a better way of doing things... in a language and manner they’ll actually understand. Both have Pablo Schreiber in them, so take your pick.


“God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes,
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues “









Zombie Apocalypse

I've watched a few Zombie Apocalypse movies recently, which is something I wouldn't have done a few years back. Typically, historically, zombie films have been the same - a shambling homogeneous horde of unoriginality. But recently, there have been a few stand outs that have... sorry for this, breathed life into the genre. 

The Girl with all the Gifts  - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts, The Cured, Cargo, & Maggie are all fresh takes on a tired genre. Although there are often action scenes in them, they are zombie movies after all, they're far more thoughtful and character driven narratives. While in older zombie films the story has often revolved around fighting against the undead hordes, in these latest films they're more rightly relegated to the background. 

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think The Walking Dead is to thank for this. Not the comic either, the TV show. While TWD isn't that great itself, at the very least it's kept zombies squarely in the public's gaze for coming up on eight years now. That is no small feat, especially considering that zombies were once considered a cult niche-interest at best. But with their increased popularity there are now creators, for film as well as for novels and games, who are able to use zombies for more in-dept narratives.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

Look at The Last of Us and the upcoming Days Gone, both a high budge story-driven games with zombies at their cores. That never would have happened over a decade ago. Before this, the best we got were action games like Dead Island or Dead Rising - asinine zombie slaughter simulators with bare bone stories... man, the zombie puns are running thick here. We're still getting sequels to those games, because they make money, but amid the turds we're finally getting some gold.

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

My point is, as much as I loved TWD comics, I have to give credit to where credit is due and compliment the TV series on what it's done for the genre. Zombies are one of those creatures that are a fantastic at delivering subtle messages, and unlike Vampires or Werewolves they age really well. With each passing decade humanity faces new threats and develops new fears, and zombies are right there to help us explore those threats and fears.

 

Just one of many - A look at 'It Comes at Night' & 'Bushwick'

I've been watching a few films recently. I've finally got a decent streaming service (lol...) and so now it finally makes sense to catch up on all the films I've been missing out on. As the title of the post suggests, I'm going to be talking about two films in particular and why I believe they're more similar than one would initially think. Beyond the breakdown of society, both It Comes at Night and Bushwick forgo the greater events to focus on close personal stories.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

It Comes at Night deals with some sort of virus that kills people pretty quickly, and the story focuses on a family that invites another family to live with them. Share the work load, safety in numbers, all that good teamwork stuff. Isolation and preparation are keys to survival here, and there's a focus on trust and what happens when it breaks. People don't believe the backstories that others are telling them, they don't believe others when say they're not sick, and eventually it all falls apart in one of the most horrific endings you could possibly imagine. There're hints of some sort of monster out in the surrounding woodlands, but we never get to see it. Along with this, one of the characters is having some seriously trippy dreams about his dead grandfather throughout the film, so you're never quite sure what is real and what isn't. 

They're actually a pretty good pair...

They're actually a pretty good pair...

Bushwick, on the other hand, is set in New York and deals with American separatists who do what separatists always do - try and separate themselves from the nation. The main story focuses on an ex-soldier/medic and a college student trying to make their way out of the city while the greater conflict rages on around them. It's actually one of those 'one continuous shot' films that, thanks to some nifty editing, follows the characters without ever cutting away. It's brutal, it's action packed and like It Comes at Night is has a downer ending.

Spoilers for both It Comes at Night and Bushwick.

Everyone dies in both of these films, every single main character. In It Comes at Night there's an eventual schism between the families and Joel Edgerton's character stabs the other father, accidentally shots the little boy and then kills the mother when she's hysterically screaming at him to do it. By this point though it's all useless, both families were already infected and the original family loses their son first and then the parents are left sitting at the dinner table just waiting to die. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Bushwick pulls something similar, where Dave Bautista's character finally opens up and gives this heart breaking speech about his troubled past... only to be shot in the face by some scared woman five seconds later. Just when you think Brittany Snow's character is going to push on alone... she gets hit in the leg and similarly capped in the head by one of the separatists.

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

Both It Comes at Night and Bushwick give us these close and intimate stories set amid grand sweeping events. Society is breaking down all around these characters, people are dying left and right... but the story we're getting is about them in particular. The world may be falling apart but that's too big to deal with, so we're seeing how that happens on a much smaller scale. A few people is enough, we can get to know them and get attached to them and then when they finally die they're not just a number. The point behind this post, is that I think that Bushwick did this better than It Comes at Night.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

It Comes at Night gives us hints about the greater world but we never really see past the character's small section of it, so we're never really certain. We hear about cities falling and people fleeing, but that's about it. It never really goes past hearsay. After that, when everyone dies at the end, that's the end of the story. We're not given any context for it within the greater story as a whole. We don't know if similar stories are happening all over, we don't know if there's talk of a cure on the horizon. The view of the world is so focused, and isolated, that when it ends our investment in the world ends. Why did we see this story? What was the point of it all?

Bushwick, on the other hand, solves all this with its final scene. As soon as Brittany Snow's character drops dead the camera pans upward and we see that all of New York city is ablaze and there's conflict all over. The story we've seen is no less important after the character's deaths but we're also shown that the film has been just one of many such stories. People are fighting and dying all over. That final shot puts it all into context. Simply because we've been following these characters in particular, that doesn't make their story any more important than any other.

In a round about way the final shot of Bushwick made the character's deaths more palatable. We got to know these characters but many such people are going through similar events across the city. In It Comes at Night, however, everyone we know has died and we're still given no clue about the outside world. Is there even an outside world? It's sometimes hard to tell with the surreal dream sequences, and the whole thing could just be a dream. By the end of It Comes at Night, you're left asking yourself if the story even matters.   

Bushwick and It Comes at Night are both solid films and I'd recommend watching both if you've got a spare evening. What I've taken from viewing both films in quick succession, however, is that if you're going to tell a personal story where everyone dies then be sure to give us some context of the greater world. It doesn't have to be a lot, just let us know what's out there. The characters we follow might not make it but humanity as a whole still can. Wondering if the characters were the last humans alive or if they were just one group of many scattered about the globe, trying to survive whatever apocalypse you cooked up, can leave people a little unsatisfied. Small isolated stories about failure to survive are great, they just need to be put into some context. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

Diesel vs Rock

They say your willpower evaporates as the day passes, used up with each little choice that you make. With that in mind, I hope you appreciate the honesty that comes with a 6am blog post. I just tried to drunkenly wipe the piss stains off the left hand wall in my bathroom... besides finally learning that I part to the left, I've little left to give.

The other night I watched three movies that stared the Rock; Rampage, San Andreas and Jumanji 2. Tonight, I've watched two films that start Vin Diesel; The Last Witch Hunter and Babylon A.D.. You might consider the fact that I watched one more movie with the Rock than Vin Diesel in the lead as a sign that I prefer the Rock over Vin, but that would be a miscalculation. I watched one more movie with the Rock in it because I've already seen everything Vin has done and typically I couldn't be fucked watching anything the Rock stars in...

I honestly don't even care...

I honestly don't even care...

A few years back, on set of one of the Fast & Furious films, the Rock made some comment about butting heads with another male lead. It didn't take a fucking rocket scientist to figure out that he was butting heads with Vin Diesel, the series previous male lead. Vin had been doing his thing for years, the Rock had been making waves in Hollywood and the two had finally met in Vin's money maker series - the Fast & the Furious.

The thing with these two actors is that they've got vastly different philosophies when it comes to their careers. While Vin Diesel is not above doing a film to make some money to fund his passion projects, the Rock is all about the money makers. Vin Diesel will go from mainstream blockbusters to arthouse films that barely make a dent, but you can tell that they're something that he's personally invested in. The Rock, on the other hand, never takes a risk and only ever stars in roles that he knows are going to make mega dollars.

You see, while Vin Diesel is an artist, the Rock is an entertainer. 

You can take the actor out of WWE, but you can never take the WWE out of the actor...

You can take the actor out of WWE, but you can never take the WWE out of the actor...

I've got a cousin who married a sports and wrestling fan, the kind of douche-bag that works a dead-end job while he buys every video game console and gambles his kid's lunch money away then complains that my cousin doesn't put out enough. He's a big fan of the Rock.

Me, on the other hand, I've been a fan of Vin Diesel for years now. He misses the mark a whole lot, but he puts his money and name on the line for what he believes in. Vin Diesel is an artist to his core, and he's not above doing a shitty studio acting gig to gather the cash required to produce the films he really wants to be in. Vin Diesel wants to be in movies that make you feel something, that tell a decent story, the Rock wants to be in films that make money.

Easy to make, guaranteed to make bulk cash. Do what you gotta do to make the art happen...

Easy to make, guaranteed to make bulk cash. Do what you gotta do to make the art happen...

While Vin Diesel has done films such as Pitch Black, Knockaroung Guys, Babylon A.D. & The Last Witch Hunter, the Rock has only ever done blockbusters. The most artistic films the Rock has done are Southland Tales in 2006 and Moana in 2016, besides that it's back to back trash that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Don't get me wrong, the Rock works his arse off, it's just that he puts all that effort into making drivel that appeals to the widest audience possible. 

A reboot with the most vanialla cast possible...

A reboot with the most vanialla cast possible...

When's the last time the Rock took a risk? When was the last time he made a small budget film that he made for himself, as opposed for a massive audience? Snitch, or maybe Faster? Even they had a cast of big name actors to lend the film some weight. The dude is a money making machine, no doubt, but he's not exactly making anything of worth...

Vin Diesel misses as often as he scores, but at least he's fucking trying. The Rock makes shit for school boys and beta losers who knock up chicks just to tie them down. Explosions and tits and corny one liners that appeal to the perpetual boner in every male in existence, he's got them all following his cookie-cutter career like he's bloody samoan-jesus. The Rock is 50 Shades of Grey for men, mass produced trash that appeals to their lizard brains but offers nothing of any substantive value. 

Concept art like this had me hooked, for years, just waiting for a film's release

Concept art like this had me hooked, for years, just waiting for a film's release

I get excited when another Vin Diesel movie is announced, I look forward to seeing what he's devoting himself to next. I can't even be bothered yawning when the ninth movie with the Rock in it this year is announced, because I know it's going to be some WWE/Michael Bay-esque tripe. 

Pay attention to what actors spend their time on, some are passionate about crafting stories while others are only passionate about gathering fame and money. Figure out who you want to give your money to, because you get a say in who succeeds. 

 

Human Cruelty

I got home from work last night and I decided to sit down and watch a movie. I have a lot of free time on my hands that I don't know how to properly fill just yet.... shut up, I'm working on it. Anyway, I randomly thought of that Kurt Russell Western I'd heard about a few years ago, and so I tracked down Bone Tomahawk.

Bloody hell, that was not a good movie to watch right before bed. 

Long story short; a sadistic tribe of Native American cannibals (nicknamed the "Troglodytes") kidnap a few settlers, a posse is formed and a shit storm ensues. I don't want to get into too much detail, because despite this whole blog post it's a great movie and you should totally go watch it, but there's this scene that has really stayed with me. 

Pretty scary motherfuckers....

Pretty scary motherfuckers....

Gore/Trigger/Puke Warning for the next paragraph. Also, spoilers?

This deputy is stripped naked and held by a pair of Troglodytes while a third scalps him... and he's held so tightly that all he can do is hang there and scream. Then his own scalp is stuffed into his mouth and it's nailed in there with a wooden stake. After that he's spun upside down and the Troglodytes proceed to hack between his legs with a bone axe, and you hear the deputy screaming and then whimpering through his scalp and then he goes mercifully silent just before his legs are pulled and his whole torso splits apart like a chicken wing... 

It was fucking horrific. 

There's another scene where the settlers come across the women of this tribe of cannibals, and they're all pregnant... but also armless, legless and with stakes in their eyes. The film goes to great lengths to both show and tell you that this tribe is a bunch of horrific fucking monsters. There's even an Native American who lives with the settlers who straight up tells the posse that if they go looking for this tribe then they're all going to die.

Tall Trees - well spoken, with a dire warning. 

Tall Trees - well spoken, with a dire warning. 

Just the sheer brutality of this tribe was enough to turn my stomach. It's not so much the gore, though I'm no fan of torture porn I've seen enough zombie movies to have become used to it by now, no it was the conscious intent and willful disregard for human life and dignity that did me in. How far do you have to stray from any kind of moral system, or even your own innate humanity, to be able to hack apart another person while they're still alive? How do you even dehumanize another human to the point where they're just meat, not even a living thing that needs to be quickly killed and then eaten but tortured to death and then eaten? How do you get to a stage where you can eat people and impregnate women with no arms, legs or eyes? What has to happen to a person for them to accept that kind of behavior? 

It made me think of this story I read back in university, I'm sorry but I can't remember if it was the Aztecs or the Incas... but this king or priest (fuck, I'm butchering this story) had been overthrown and so his former subjects tied him up into a ball. Then they rolled him down the stone steps of the temple and kicked him around until his back broke. Just... the sheer level of malice required to kick someone until their back breaks baffles and horrifies me. How do you actively make someone's life so full of pain and suffering that they'd choose death just to escape it? The fact that someone could do these sorts of things is terrible to think about, because if one of our species can do it then that means that any one of us could do it too.

But Bone Tomahawk had one last card to play, in the form of Matthew Fox's character - a smooth talking, well dressed, ladies man who is dead eye with a six shooter. He's soft spoken, intelligent and funny all the way through the film, and then half way through you find out that he's an Indian Hunter who has killed 116 Indians in his life. He is a fantastic foil for the Troglodytes; they may use bone weapons and eat other humans but this guy, who is wrapped in the finery of civilization, is a mass murderer as well.  He's never married, he doesn't have kids, he lost his mother and sisters to an Indian raid when he was ten and his whole life has just become this hate-fueled quest for vengeance against them.

Look at him, you wouldn't think it but he's just as much a broken psychopath as the Troglodytes! 

Look at him, you wouldn't think it but he's just as much a broken psychopath as the Troglodytes! 

The shit we people can do to one another keeps me up at night. I'm used to post apocalyptic stories where people are forced into terrible circumstances and are pushed beyond the limits of morality, I deal with fictional stories about this stuff on a daily basis. But then I go an open a history book and I'm absolutely appalled at some of the things people have done, some of this shit makes you ashamed of the human species.

I hate to end this with a cliche, but they say that truth is stranger than fiction. Well, it's also infinitely more horrific as well. I can pull some twisted shit out of my arse (metaphorically speaking, of course) but it will never compare to some of the horrors that have really happened. The French Revolution, The Raft of the Medusa, Colonial Australia, literally any place communism has come into power, the horrors of fiction can never match these horrors... because they actually happened. 

Post Apocalyptic Character Analysis

I don't usually focus on a single character like this, but The Rad-Lands did a piece on Lord Humungus from Mad Max 2 (found here) and it got me thinking about what post apocalyptic character has stood out for me. Funnily enough, it's not a protagonist and it's not even a primary antagonist, it's actually a side character. 

Redridge, from The Book of Eli, is the right hand man of a small town tyrant known as Carnegie. He starts out looking like your usual end-of-the-world thug, he's bigger than most others and not overly intelligent so he probably just fell into the role. By the fact that he's the right hand man of the movie's villain, you know straight away that he's not a good guy by any stretch. We see this in the fact that he's perfectly fine with the way things are being run in this violent town, he's happy to kill people and even executes fellow underlings when they fail. It seems like he's content with being Carnegie's second.

Here is his, literally standing at the bosses right side.

Here is his, literally standing at the bosses right side.

When the protagonist, Eli, comes to town though, things start to change. While Redridge is a man of violence, Eli is both a holy man and death incarnate. Even someone as simple as Redridge picks up on the fact that there's something special about Eli, it seems like every bullet fired actually wants to miss him. After a brief shoot out in the main street, Redridge has Eli dead to rights but chooses to let him go. It isn't revealed if this is because he's already figured out that he'd probably miss, even with a clear shot, or if he's simply chosen to let Eli live. The point is, he doesn't shoot.

A man of violence lowers his weapon, the first signs of a change.

A man of violence lowers his weapon, the first signs of a change.

The movie makes it pretty clear that there's more to this guy than simply being a brutish thug who hurts people for a living. He's actually got a crush on the Carnegie's daughter, Solara, and seeing as he's spent most of his life being violent he doesn't really know how to interact with her or express his attraction to her. He playfully steps in her way while she's out on errands, then quickly steps back when he realizes that he's misjudged how she'd react to this. He was young when the world ended, so he probably never even finished school, and despite his size he's still operating as someone with a primary school education at best.

He's like a big, dumb dog.

He's like a big, dumb dog.

Despite being uneducated, and not knowing how to express himself properly, he still cares for Solara and wants to be with her. When he sees an opportunity to secure her, he makes a deal with Carnegie. He's too immature to realize that Solara could never love a man like him, but he's just so infatuated with her that he doesn't even see this. He just wants her, and he comes up with a plan to get her and keep her safe. He plans to capture Eli for Carnegie, if Carnegie will let him have Solara.

Redridge and Carnegie chase Eli and Solara across the radioactive wasteland of the former United States, and eventually capture the pair as they share some tea with a couple of delightful cannibals. Redridge has given Carnegie what he wants and as promised, he is given Solara in return. He finally gets what he's wanted for the longest time, but even he's picking up on the fact that none of it feels right. 

Solara looks pissed, but Redridge doesn't exactly look happy about the situation either...

Solara looks pissed, but Redridge doesn't exactly look happy about the situation either...

Solara has spent the entire movie growing as a character, she's gone from a terrified prostitute to an absolute badass, so by this point she's more than ready to show Redridge exactly what she thinks of this whole situation. She strangles the driver of the vehicle they're all in, and it ends up flipping before rolling down the highway. 

Just as Solara is about to make her escape, we see that Redridge is still alive despite being impaled by a machete. Now... he could try to kill her out of revenge, seeing as she pretty much just killed him, but instead he pulls the machete out of his chest and exits the car. He had Solara, but instead of holding onto her he chose to let her go.

Yeah, that's gotta hurt.

Yeah, that's gotta hurt.

In a scene that made the The Book of Eli a favorite of mine, a dying Redridge kneels down on the ground and takes his goggles off. He looks up at the sky, and smiles, before his head slumps down. It's a scene that's enough to give both Solara and Carnegie pause, it's like they're bearing witness to something divine. This man of violence chose not to rely on violence at the very end. By changing his ways before it was too late he seems to not only have had some kind of revelation, but also found peace.

That's the face of a man who's found redemption.

That's the face of a man who's found redemption.

Redridge is left kneeling on the side of the road, like a man who's died in prayer. 

The symbolism is as sutble as a sledgehammer...

The symbolism is as sutble as a sledgehammer...

The whole story arc really spoke to me, not only because I myself am a rather large gentleman who has often had trouble interacting with tiny women, but because of the extra depth that was added to a character that could've been easily ignored. In a movie that is all about faith, this background character was given a pivotal role in supporting the film's overall theme.  

Redridge taking his goggles off at the end was a great piece of symbolism, showing that he was no longer blinded by earthly distractions. He has his goggles off at other times during the film, but this is always when he's indoors where he's shrouded in darkness. While the goggles are still on his vision is occluded by the darkness of Carnegie's influence, but he manages to strip them away at the very end and see the light. The symbolism works really well when the twist about Eli is revealed.

Redridge - the evil henchman who found redemption in death.

Redridge - the evil henchman who found redemption in death.

I get that Redridge wanting to own Solara isn't a healthy relationship at all, even if he genuinely wanted to look after her, but I think that even he'd figured that out in the end. He was a bad guy, yes, but he was a bad guy that found redemption. It's a story that has stuck with me since I first saw The Book of Eli at the cinema, and even after all these years I still want to know what Redridge learned in his final moments. What, or who, did he see? What made him so serene in the face of death?