This Great Evil

Month: October, 2013

Whedon revisited

I found myself watching some Dollhouse and Much Ado About Nothing recently. Though I’ve never been a fan of Joss Whedon, I always leave open the possibility that I’m wrong. After all, much like Star Wars, that many otherwise intelligent fans can’t all be wrong, can they? Plus, my housemates were watching Dollhouse. Enthusiasm can be infectious.

Sure enough, after bits from two episodes of Dollhouse and all 110 minutes of Much Ado About Nothing, my opinion has changed.

I still don’t like Joss Whedon; the exact reason why I dislike his work, however, has evolved. I used to think that I disliked his shows and movies because of the way he writes dialogue. Now I get the impression that it’s the performances he coaxes out of his actors that rub me the wrong way.

It became apparent to me while watching Much Ado About Nothing that there still was a Whedon-ness to the dialogue, even though his actors read straight Shakespearean prose. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was noticing or reacting to a certain aspect of the line deliveries, instead of the lines themselves. The smarmy tone, the neurotic cadence and the comedic timing – this wasn’t Whedon the writer, but Whedon the director’s greasy handprints. 

It was this way of speaking rather than the particular speech that turned me off of Whedon’s oeuvre; the way that almost all of his characters talk as if they’re permanently on Reddit. Going back to Dollhouse, it was Olivia Williams’ character that I most connected with, and she gave the most naturalistic, low-key performance of the ensemble.

The trouble with talking about comedy is how intensely subjective it really is. A lot of people – I say this with no disrespect – like the aggressively stylized quips coming out of Whedon’s characters. To me, the comedic elements are so offputting that I cannot connect or invest in the dramatic.

I can respect Whedon’s chops as a storyteller, and his instinct to use humor as a way of making his characters more likable is certainly valid, but nothing he’s ever made appealed to me. Watching Dollhouse and Much Ado About Nothing hasn’t changed this belief; it has just refined it. I did, however, come away from the show and the movie with more respect for Whedon as a director. What I found disagreeable was almost certainly intentional, and the persistence and consistency of Whedon’s style in even a 200-million dollar blockbuster demonstrates some real directorial control. 

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Bonus round

Middle age women sleeping with underage teenage boys

  • Adore
  • The Lifeguard
  • A Teacher

Why the fuck is this a sub-genre?

Recurring motifs in cinema, 2013

The American Dream is dead. Love live the American Dream.  

  • The Bling Ring
  • Elysium
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Pain & Gain
  • Spring Breakers

It’s hard not to see why so many movies are adopting a cynical outlook on America. The more interesting trend, this year, has been watching so many movies take a post-modern twist on the classic disillusioned believer routine. In Elysium, we’re meant to root for an impoverished, but nonetheless outright terrorist. The Bling Ring, The Great Gatsby, Pain & Gain and Spring Breakers try (to varying degrees of success) to argue that the American Dream is all materialism whilst making us complicit in their violent spin on hedonism.

All of this points back to the ever evolving notions of what it means to be a modern protagonist; traditional concepts of hero and antihero are not sufficient to describe the ensembles of these five movies.

So many god damned things

  • All is Lost
  • Gravity

I’m not even going to bother listing all the weird similarities between the two. Suffice to say, they would make a killer double feature.

New York’s gotten enough licks, let’s fuck up D.C. 

  • Olympus Has Fallen
  • White House Down

If I were a wanker, I’d say this trend reflects the growing dissatisfaction Americans have with Congress and the President. I, however, am not a wanker, so I’ll just write this off as one studio taking a peek at another’s test.

Space sure is deadly

  • Gravity
  • Elysium
  • Ender’s Game
  • Europa Report
  • Man of Steel
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • Thor 2

“I hate space.” – Ryan Stone, Gravity

Space maybe the final frontier, but 2013’s cinema would rather you clench buttocks firmly in couch (or IMAX seat).

What better way to sum up modern culture’s obsession with cynicism than with 2013’s parade of grim space flicks? Hollywood (plus Europa Report) have effectively turned space from a thing of wonder to a terrifying vacuum in which murderous aliens may exist but oxygen certainly doesn’t. Even Star Trek, one of the most optimistic pop culture establishments, took on an emo fringe with Benedict Cumberbatch’s incredible space terrorism. That’s not to suggest that space was always regarded with awe instead of fear (2001, after all, is terrifying), but so much of mainstream cinema has never been this pessimistic about what lies beyond the clouds.