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Dara Naraghi's graphic novel Lifelike is now available in both digital and print editions. Click here for more info.

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I saw Looper the other day, and I liked it. Good action, nice (but unobtrusive) world-building, solid performances, and enough of the weird to keep it interesting. There’s one casting choice in there that makes so much sense I can’t believe no one thought of it before now.

It’s got some major-league plot holes, and the premise has some big flaws, and I’m pretty sure it contradicts itself big-time at the end. Maybe someone smarter than me can explain the mechanics of that ending, considering the rules they set up at the beginning.

Almost every geek movie I’ve seen this year has had the same issues — especially the good ones. The internet has spent more time trying to decipher Prometheus that it has talking about it, and Dark Knight has some serious issues, too. I think Avengers succeeds primarily because it manages not to fall down and vomit on itself.

And yet … I report enjoying Dark Knight, Prometheus and Looper. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

So here’s my question: How many flaws can a movie have before they reduce your enjoyment? How much nonsense are you willing to tolerate to see your favorite characters? Has a lifetime of reading comics made you come to expect a certain amount of slapdash storytelling?

In each of those three cases, the movie had an X-factor that carried me past the flaws. Prometheus has a sense of grandeur, a sense of probing the big issues, and some amazing production values. Ditto for Dark Knight. Looper succeeds through the strength of its lead performances, its world-building, and the ability to show me something I haven’t quite seen before.

So I’m happy, but not satisfied. I want my geek movies (particularly my sci-fi) to show me something new, and do it with a baseline level of internal consistency.

Can’t anybody here play this game? Or do I just have to watch John Carter again?



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13 Responses to “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?”

  • Dara says:

    Tony, what a timely post, as I was just thinking about this very topic. We watched Cabin in the Woods a couple of nights ago, and despite my utter lack of interest in the horror genre and its tropes, and a couple of massive plot holes, I really enjoyed the movie. I haven’t seen Looper yet, so I can’t comment on it, but I think we felt about the same about the last Batman movie.

    I think for me, I’m willing to overlook some flaws if the rest of the movie makes up for it with a) an above-average level of inventiveness and originality, b) a new or different take on telling a archetypal story, and c) it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

    The Fifth Element is a good example of what I’m talking about. It’s by no means a “great” movie, and certainly not a deep science fiction story, but what sets it apart is its bombastic Moebius-designed look and feel, its soundtrack, its tongue-in-cheek presentation style, and other small touches (I particularly liked the casting of, let’s just say “not Hollywood attractive” character actors in all the roles save for Milla Jovovich). If that same movie was made in a more “standard” Hollywood model, you’d get an utterly forgettable by-the-numbers flick like Independence day.

  • Matt Kish says:

    “The Fifth Elements” was really “The Incal,” butchered by idiots.

  • Tony Goins says:

    For me, a movie gets some extra slack if it *does* take itself seriously. Or maybe a better way to put it is I like sincerity. One of my favorite things is a genre movie that plays its premise more-or-less straight.

    If the filmmakers are really trying, I feel respected as an audience. Does that make sense?

  • Tom Williams says:

    The only thing that ruins The Fifth Element for me is the decision to cast Chris Tucker in it. That guy irritates the shit out of me. It is the only movie he’s ever been in where it would have been inappropriate to cast Chris Rock in the same role.

  • Matt Kish says:

    I’m with you on that one Thomas, although I also thought that the inclusion of Deebo (aka Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr.) as the President of the Galaxy was also spectacularly boneheaded.

  • Tony Goins says:

    Can you unpack that a little bit? I can’t think of any objections to Tiny Lister as the galactic president, much less describe it as “spectacularly boneheaded.”

  • Matt Kish says:

    I don’t know what you mean by “unpack that.”

  • Tony Goins says:

    Explain it a little bit. Like, did you think they were saying “A huge black man is president of the galaxy! Isn’t this future world screwed up?” Or did you just think he was a bad actor?

  • Matt Kish says:

    I don’t think he is a bad actor, and I felt like a black President of the Galaxy was actually a great nod to a future where we might live in a significantly more diverse universe. I just thought he was completely miscast. To me, it was as boneheaded as casting Hulk Hogan as Captain America in “The First Avenger” would have been.

  • Dara says:

    Matt, I totally agree that Hulk Hogan in the Cap movie would have been terrible casting, but I don’t think it’s a fair analogy. The Captain America movie was “serious,” as in they played it straight, not campy. Casting someone like Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. is exactly what I meant when I said I liked the fact that they consciously cast “not Hollywood attractive” actors in all the supporting roles, from the scientists to the soldiers and generals, to the priest’s acolyte, etc. I’m not saying it was some sort of clever and subversive social commentary, but it was definitely a step above what an otherwise similar B-movie sci-fi flick would have done.

  • Matt Kish says:

    Dara, while I will forever disagree with you on the specifics of the casting of “Tiny” Lister, I see what you’re saying about camp. But in that sense, “The Fifth Element” still falls well short of camp. No matter how dialed up Bruce Willis’ and Mia Jovovich’s wardrobes and performances may have been in that film, the truth is that the directors still chose to cast two well known and extremely attractive people as leads. You addressed this in indicating that the “non-Hollywood” actors were all in supporting roles, and to me that undermines the entire ambition completely. It’s half assed. Either make a camp film or make, as you put it, a “serious” film. Trying to do both generally ends up doing neither exceptionally well. And that is at the heart of why I think “The Fifth Element” was such a colossally bad movie.

  • Tony Goins says:

    I don’t see Fifth Element as either a failed camp movie or a failed “serious” film. I see it as a genre film that pushes its premise to the limit, but sincerely.

    Camp (to me) implies it’s bad on purpose. Or rather, the audience doesn’t enjoy the movie directly, but the audience is in on the joke that the movie is low-quality.

    The Fifth Element feels like the filmmakers wanted to make a movie that was, if not “good,” then at least sincerely entertaining.

  • Matt Kish says:

    You’re wrong about “camp.” It’s not “bad on purpose” nor does it directly imply “low quality.” Wikipedia, while never definitive or authoritative, indicates camp is a “sensibility that regards something as appealing or humorous because of its ridiculousness to the viewer.” Ridiculousness is not necessary equivalent to “bad on purpose.” Susan Sontag, whose book “Notes on Camp” is a much better resource, writes that camp “emphasised its key elements as: artifice, frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess.” Some of that speaks directly to much of “The Fifth Element,” particularly the humorous and ridiculous aspects as well as the artifice and shocking excess.

    Look, we can argue all day long and in the end it’s only opinion. I’ve seen “The Fifth Element” multiple times and I’ve never liked it any more with repeated viewings. I think it’s a big dud. Visually thrilling, yeah, but so was “Speed Racer” and “Avatar” and both were pretty barren of anything other than that.

    Besides, “The Fifth Element” so shamelessly rips off “The Incal” (and yes, that too could be an extensive post given Moebius’ curious involvement in both projects as well as his participation in a law suit against a film he himself worked on) and “The Incal” is much more effective as being a “genre” comic “that pushes its premise to the limit, but sincerely.”


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