Terrible Movie, Twice the Fun: Some Thoughts on Clash of the Titans

"WTF am I doing in this movie?"

Clash of the Titans is a film I recently enjoyed in 2D. You may associate this movie with the bus ads featuring Liam Neeson’s flowing mane and his mouth opened in a soundless ‘o.’ He was undoubtedly getting ready to say: “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!”

This movie was horrible, of course, but horrible in the best kind of way. It deals, of course, with the struggle between various titans, including but not limited to Perseus (Sam Worthington), who is a divine-mortal hybrid and son of Zeus (Liam Neeson). Then there’s Zeus. Then there’s Zeus’ brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes). All three of these titans are playing each other for various reasons.

The movie was short and ambled along at a brisk and muscular pace, sort of like Sam Worthington’s legs. The sets were canned affairs and the CGI was at times appalling, but I don’t think the plume of blackness enshrouding Hades got enough cred for being legitimately awesome.  This is because unlike explosions, mythic monsters, and other typical CGI creations, smoke is fucking endlessly fascinating. (Maybe this is why I can’t quit the smokes meself.) Anyway, the opening credits to Harry Potter 6 feature some magical smoke plumage. But Hades’ smoke is serious stuff: he is spewed from a black cloud that must not be unlike the wrathful exhalations of Eyjafjallajokull.

Anyhoo, Clash of the Titans, like so many other epics conjuring the Ancient Mythical Times of Earth, is hopelessly post-LOTR. But all the same, there are some nice landscape-sweeping shots, their beauty only slightly diminished by various absurdities such as such as giant scorpions trekking across craggy mountains and Zeus-blessed swords falling from the heavens. Other highlights include cameras actually zooming up Sam Worthington’s ass. This makes it all the easier to admire his manliness, I s’pose.

My main complaint was really the lack of sex scenes. Gemma Arterton, once known to my eyes as oil-slick Bond girl and then later as BBC Tess d’Ubervilles, appears as the etherially sexy Io, another divine-mortal hybrid with an ounce of wisdom for each ounce of Perseus’ surging testosterone. She and Perseus threaten to get it on once while they’re on a canoe to hell (sooo romantic), but then they don’t! Frustration.

With these things noted, I can’t believe the movie is going to actually get a sequel! Granted, the movie sets itself up for one, but we can’t always get what we want, especially when the ‘we’ in question is a shitty action movie whose technology has already been made obsolete by the likes of Avatar.

Here is a faithful rendering of the last scene in Clash of the Titans: Zeus swivels from his celestial perch and declares, “Hades has lost his powers… for now!!!” Then Perseus looks up into the sky and says, “I have seen both of my worlds–the worlds of gods and of men. Yet I choose the world of men. FOR NOW!!!”

Okay, so neither of those things really happened, but I recall the sequel set-up was just as tactless. I guess, even when you’re a crappy movie, you deserve a second chance… FOR NOW!!!

Still,  I will probably go see the sequel, if only for more shots of SW’s legs.

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Dreams Deferred: France’s Cultural Identity Delusion

James Baldwin, looking impeccably elegant

Obviously, this blog is mostly about music, sometimes about movies, and a little bit about general (arts-related) culture. But today, my fancy has been struck by an article examining French grapplings with cultural identity.

The New York Times ran a cultural piece about French language, identity, and writing in an era of globalization. For anyone who has spent two seconds thinking about French people, this article contains no surprises: the right-wing in France feel and have felt that their culture is being threatened by American cultural dominance, by the English language in general, and most notably, by the new cultures brought to French cities by Arab and African immigrants.

The French are indeed protective of their hugely built-up mythic culture and especially their language. The article should have mentioned that the French have a unique, centuries-old cultural preservation institute, l’Académie Francaise. The Académie protects the French language behind a barrier of fleur-de-lys adorned steel; they officially purge the language of anglicisms and other linguistic impurities. They suggest “courriel” instead of “email.” Or “ordinateur” in lieu of “computeur.”  Then they release an official dictionary, and the French continue on in their idyllic Frenchness, relieved that all the meddling and sneaky foreign words have been quarantined and then eliminated.

If you find my historical allusion offensive, I apologize, but honestly, the slope between nationalism and ultranationalism seems pretty fucking slippery to me. I have every confidence that France will not turn into a National Socialist regime overnight, but I am troubled that Sarkozy courts the openly fascist National Front supporters by pandering to their ultranationalism. And of course, the Académie is not all bad, and they have made some gestures to the 21st century by inviting women and excellent Francophone writers of non-French descent, such as Assia Djebar, to join its ranks. But in general, the Académie  represents France’s unwillingness to embrace cultural evolution and diversity in a globalized time. It is just a symbol for larger French problems, such as their “colorblind” legal system and bullshit immigration laws. But those topics are beyond the scope of this blog post.

The NYT article then takes a gander down the road of French letters, chronicling the struggles of foreign-born, Francophone writers. Apparently, Andrei Makine had to pretend he had translated his novel Le Testament Francais from Russian in order to get it published, because French publishers initially dismissed him based on his foreign name, assuming he could not write well enough in French. It took the admission of his foreignness (“srsly guys, this is a translation”) to get publishers to comply!

Finally, we come to my point. Given the hostility France shows towards incoming populations, their languages and their cultures, why the hell does anyone move to France to write? Makine is just one of many recent emigres who have moved to France and written in French. Kundera writes in French these days. Ionesco (Romania) and Beckett (Ireland) and Adamov (Russia) moved from elsewhere to write in French in the 40s and 50s. Americans James Baldwin and Richard Wright were in Paris in the 40s, though they wrote in English. Of course, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Eliot (boooooring) were writing in Paris too earlier than that, and tons of the Surrealists and Dadaists and whoeverists were from elsewhere and ended up in Paris… You get the point. France and Paris especially has been, for hundreds of years, this wonderful imaginary land of cafes, intellectuals, and artistic revelations, a place on which struggling or persecuted artists graft their dreams. You will note that not few of those expat artists were exiles for social reasons (Baldwin, Wright) or political reasons (many Slavs).

Upon arriving to the geographical incarnation of Arts and Culture, many-a-writer has been disillusioned, finding, as Baldwin found, that their expectations had little to do with the actual place and a lot more to do with what they were running from.

But this incongruity between fictional and real France is that spark for writerly creation. For people like both Baldwin and Kundera, Paris allowed them space enough from their former lives to contemplate political/social persecution and its relationship to a person’s cultural and existential status. Paris was a dream, then disillusionment, then ultimately, still the place that fostered creation, albeit a more conflicted creation than the writers may have originally conceived.

As many writers relationship with France followed that Hegelian model of thesis (dream), antithesis (disillusionment), and synthesis (conflicted creation), France too needs to regard its evolving identity in such a fashion. They should all be experts in this, because university students have to write their fucking papers according to the ‘dialectique.’

Yet for too many, French culture is some static thing that needs to be salvaged and restored. Immigrant populations–many of whom already speak French as a first language–are seen as threats, instead of, you know, an equally glorious, if more ethnically and culturally ambiguous future. To lament the loss of old France is to pretty much straight up extol whiteness and colonialism. To resist the forces unleashed by globalization (forces caused by, you know, colonialism!) is to continue with the same fucking historical mistakes. So figure it out France. Look at your emigre writers!

Busting a Disney Myth: Never Marry a Ne’er-Do-Well

Tiana would do better to marry this guy, at least he is interesting and has cunning schemes to get $$

Every Gender Studies 101 course contains a mandatory re-education seminar on animated Disney movies. It goes a little like this: you know all those movies you, as a red-blooded American child, were raised to love and cherish? Well, they are SEXIST RACIST AND CLASSIST. Your 18-year-old heart, a little fragile at having so recently exerted itself with flying from the nest, flutters and stutters. Was your whole childhood a lie? YES IT WAS, your professor assures you. THERE’S NO TURNING BACK! the professor then yells, just in case there was a wistful, Bambi-like glint in your eye.

Fast-forward to cynical, post-college young adulthood. You joined the anti-Disney coalition, fo sho, and think those movies are SEXIST RACIST AND CLASSIST. But you also admire the gorgeous animation in Mulan, still find Aladdin a charmer, and, one boring afternoon, you happen to rent The Princess and the Frog.

There was a lot of hullabaloo about this movie before it came out, because for the first time in all of history, this movie would portray a BLACK DISNEY PRINCESS. But in the end, I think this movie is not racist. The movie takes place in New Orleans, during the jazz age. Of course, the movie contains a smattering of Louisiana archetypes–a gaggle-toothed “Cajun” firefly named Raymond, a horn-tooting bass-voiced alligator, a totally awesome Voodoo man not unlike the nefarious Jaffar in mien and m.o., an exuberant Southern belle whose papa is a captain of industry, etc. But these parts are all lovingly or at least enthusiastically portrayed, and there were no obvious Jarjar Binks-types. (I mean that in all senses: there was no obviously racist role, and no annoying side-kick irrelevant to the plot.)

Unfortunately, like all lively musical comedies, the center of this colorful cast is the appallingly boring star-crossed lover pair of Prince Naveen and Tiana, the frog and the princess, respectively.

Tiana is a pretty and hard-working girl. Her dream is to own a restaurant; she is an instinctive, wonderful cook, we see, as she makes gumbo from the time she is a toddler. The secret to great gumbo, apparently, is adding two tablespoons of Tabasco. Every time. I was not satisfied with this facile manner of showing culinary expertise, but I guess the movie is for kids, and not foodies. One other gripe: the beignets have icing on them. I know beignets are often compared to donuts, but they ARE NOT DONUTS.

Anyway, through various shenanigans, arrivals of hunky princes, voodoo magicks, and a couple of okay songs, we discover that the narrative arch will follow Tiana and Prince Naveen in their froggy incarnations.  The two would like to return to their human forms, and are told by a blind, snake-charming Bayou woman that in order to do so, they must “dig a little deeper,” (<— video link!) and find out what they are missing from the big picture of their life. The prince, a ne’er do-well kicked out and cut-off financially by his parents, is clearly missing many things. But Tiana, besides being boring, is not lacking for anything. And yet, according to the movie, she is lacking A HUSBAND.

She needs love! She needs to make time for fun! That’s what we learn. What does achieving your life-long dream give you, anyway? Emotional satisfaction? A sense of purpose? Pride? Financial  security? No, according to the movie. It would give you a nagging sense of emptiness and meaninglessness if you didn’t have a husband to share it with.

Unsurprisingly, Tiana finds love in the prince. He learns, over the course of their adventures, that he has indeed led a life of privilege and leisure. And while Tiana is rightfully skeptical of him at first, she then teaches him how to mince a mushroom and POOF! Through a magic stronger than any voodoo curse, the underachieving male is forgiven of his ways, lent a flexibility of identity rarely afforded to women (fictional or real), and is transformed into a desirable marriage material.

Obviously, I am like wtf. Disney, of course, is a great propagator of many domestic myths: happily-ever-after, eternal love, soul mates, shit like that. But it’s taken me forever to dismantle these myths within myself, and so I am just trying to look out for girls: the next generation.

Tiana clearly marries beneath her, even if Naveen is a goddamn prince. Not that there isn’t a certain charm to being connected to men beneath you (in terms of financial standing). There’s even an enjoyable song about the topic by Robyn: “Bum Like You. ” But this phenom is for another blog post, or perhaps, more appropriately, my journal.

The point is, girls, working women, all: DON’T MARRY A GUY WHO HAS NEVER MINCED A MUSHROOM! And don’t be so sure that a momentary interest in work is going to last!

There, I feel better. Exorcism done. Disney, you really fucked us all.

Jesus and Big Boi Rise To Save The World

Who will be your savior? Me?

When my sister is exasperated or surprised, she says, “Jesus H. Christ!” What does the ‘h’ stand for? Nothing, that I know of. It’s sorta like the middle initial of our atom-bomb-dropping prez, Harry S. Truman. The ‘s’ stood for nothing; but like Christ’s ‘h,’ it just adds that extra oomph, that unquantifiable yet necessary je ne sais quoi.

Now that you’ve got the back story, let me just say, JESUS H. CHRIST, Big Boi is a geniusman. He could be the Jesus of hip hop this year; his rise means our salvation (from the likes of havoc-wreaking behemoths and apocalypse horsemen such as Drake.)

Lest we forget, Big Boi’s album Sir Luscious Left Foot is coming out this year, and it’s about goddamn time. Five–count em’–five singles have already been released from this album. These included a dro-celebration song with George Clinton (“Fo yo sorrows”). There was “Royal Flush,” featuring Raekwon and Andre 3000, which sounds like an ad hoc recording of a 1988 freestyle performed outside a Staten Island cooperative housing complex. There was even down-tempo neo-soul song with Mary J Blige about America’s socio-economic-geo-political situation (yes, really). That one was “Sumthin’s Gotta Give.”

Big Boi has released a new single, as of yesterday, entitled “Shutterbugg.” It is the most wonderful thing I’ve heard since… come to think of it, probably “Shine Blockas.” A layered arrangement of light, almost ethereal synth work and tinkling, Prince-ly guitar licks make for a delicate remedy to this era’s punchy, treble-y obsession with dance synths. The song reminds me of everything: George Clinton space funk , early Timbaland, Tupac talkboxing. But it also reminds me of nothing, of the future, of the shape of music to come in 2010.

Big boi says in the song he’s got “triple O.G. status/Atown’s very own.” As if we needed to be reminded of this!

So, cut a rug, do the shutterbug.

...or me?