How has this movie aged? Well, I crunched the numbers.... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath
How has this movie aged? Well, I crunched the numbers. 300 saw wide release on March 9th 2007, which means it has aged by 16 years, 8 months and 11 days.
In this comic book (technically it’s a movie, but on a spiritual level it’s a comic book), Spartans fight Asiatic hordes…err, Persians in a storm of limbic system carnage. The film is visceral in every sense of the world. Every sword-stroke is photogenically perfect. Blood sprays out with the artistry of brush patterns in Photoshop. All the dialog sounds like lines workshopped at a WWE writers’ meeting. It struggles so hard to rouse the blood that you almost want it to succeed, even when it doesn’t.
300 is a macho fairytale. Nothing anyone says or does in this film is a thing anyone would say or do in any real situation, ever. But there’s actually a weird logic to this: most historical accounts of the Battle of Thermopylae have a similar tone! According to Herodotus, Xerxes brought 1,800,000 Persians to the battle (which would have been far beyond the ability of an ancient logistics train to supply), and they drank entire rivers dry as they marched. Those are comic book details, and the movie plays the “history as a comic book” angle to the hilt. It’s all a story, told by the fictional soldier Dilios on the eve of the battle of Platea. He’s obviously an unreliable narrator, a propagandist trying to raise the morale of the Greeks, and he knows not to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
“It’s fake, bro” is the movie’s get-out-of-jail card, played again and again. You cannot complain that it’s unrealistic, or illogical, or offensive, because this the way Dilios is telling the story. It absolves Frank Miller and Zack Snyder of their excesses by putting those excesses in the mouth of a fictional narrator.
And they certainly are excessive. The Persians have elephants that are bigger than the ones in Return of the King. Xerxes is roughly seventeen and a half feet tall (cut him in half and you could make two basketball players) and looks like a yassified Cenobite. At the start, Leonidas is shipped to the Spartan warrior school, or agōgē (“ah-go-gay”—the movie wimps out of pronouncing it that way, of course), where he learns to fight wolves while wearing a loincloth in the snow. The wolf looks like Gmork from The Neverending Story, and has “Claws of black steel…fur as dark night” (as opposed to those incredibly bright nights you get sometimes, where you have to wear shades). This harsh training pays off, and the Spartan boys are forged into disciplined and resourceful warriors. So much so that they fight tirelessly for weeks on end, while eating precisely one apple. The Spartans have no kit or gear that I can see, apart from what they’re carrying, so I wonder what orifice they used to store the helmets they have later on. I think I’ll skip the deleted scenes on the DVD.
I’m not sure if I like or even respect what 300 is doing.
First, this metafictional approach is kind of a cheat: the movie wants to eat its cake and also have it. It asks us to commit to a spectacle of blood and guts…only to pull back and say “hey, just faking.” It seems oddly guilty about what it is, and desperate to keep itself at arms length from the material. The absurd Golden Age cheeseburger epics (which 300 aspires to be) were earnest and believed in what they were doing. By contrast, 300 is written with a certain defensiveness, as if trying to defend itself against criticisms. It’s like a sales pitch that starts off “Now, I know you’re thinking this is a scam…” Maybe I wasn’t. I am now, though.
Second, if the events depicted on the screen are mostly lies, what do I get out of watching it? It hollows the whole experience for me. It’s not as if the film has anything interesting to say about history or propaganda or anything. It wants us to take the blood-and-steroid crazed action seriously…only to yank the rug out from under as at the end. (Also, the movie undercuts its own framing device by depicting the “real” Battle of Platea in exactly the same gung-ho style as “fake” Thermopylae.)
Honestly, we don’t even need Dilios as a framing device. The face-melting color grading, the omnipresent bloom and lens flares, the way bronze armor screams radioactively with light…this is the world exaggerated, transfixed by a fever-heat of fantasy until colors crack and run. You should not need to be told this is a fairy tale. It’s stamped on every frame like a barcode.
In real life, Sparta was a slave state, where about 15% of the population (the spartacoi). But 300 trafficks in Sparta as symbols.
It’s fitting for Dilios and Leonidas to prate anachronistic nonsense about Sparta being the world’s last hope for “reason and justice” (the Sparta that really existed made nearly no contributions to philosophy and governance), as well as “freedom” (Sparta was a slave state). The movie does not depict Spartans, except in the loose textual sense that Hagar the Horrible depicts Spartans. Leonidas is not Leonidas. He’s He’s Davey Crockett. He’s Chris Kyle. He’s an American…or at least the American that Americans aspire to be. It’s like complaining that Batman doesn’t work the way police officers do in real life: he’s not supposed to.
So the movie has its defenses and escape clauses all lined up, ready to refute naysayers. Every criticism you can make is one Miller/Snyder (and Herodotus?) have anticipated, and already trimmed the claws off . But that’s part of the problem. An exuberant celebration of blood and thunder shouldn’t need to apologise for itself so much. Heavy Metal doesn’t. I love style. But I love self-belief even more. Trying to hide behind a weaselly postmodern mask just doesn’t work. Ironically, 300 just lacks courage.
The most salient trait of postmodernism is a clash between... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath
The most salient trait of postmodernism is a clash between form and content. Classicism and romanticism emphasize content (“what is this thing about?”), and modernism emphasizes form (“what is this thing?”), but postmodernism sets form and content as adversaries, letting them tear at each other like rabid dogs. Look at Warhol’s Shot Marilyns:
What’s interesting about this artwork? Well, Marilyn Monroe is a beautiful woman, and it’s jarring to see her depicted in harsh screen prints (the hallmark of cheap commercial advertising at the time). She’s garishly transformed. Her makeup looks like a clown’s, her hair is a neon-bright wave crashing on a radioactive shore, her skin is queasily puce, like a putrefying corpse. We are meant to notice the clash between Marilyn’s glamorous, immortal face and Warhol’s tawdry, cheap, disposable medium. This is the essence of postmodernism: a square peg and a round Warhol.
A Goofy Movie is a postmodern animated film. Maybe the postmodern animated film. It tries to tell an earnest story about a father and son on a road trip…but it’s about Goofy. This makes it incredibly funny, because Goofy’s a really inappropriate character for this sort of movie.
“It’s hard to be cool when your dad’s Goofy” went the film’s tagline. Yeah, and it’s hard to make a movie full of earnest road trip cliches when your star’s Goofy. Countless emotional moments either fall flat or ascend into a divine Dadaist empyrean because of those stupid goddamn white gloves. I could point to countless things:
Goofy has a son. Unless Max was conceived through parthenogensis, Goofy canonically fucks. How and when did he impregnate a woman? Did he say “a-hyuk-hyuk!” at any point in the procedure? Did he take the gloves off?
Goofy’s wife has apparently died (they could be divorced, but it’s unlikely Goofy would have sole custody of Max in that case), which caused a fissure into an unfathomable universe to open in my mind. Goofy shopping for coffins; Goofy picking out a suit; Goofy writing a eulogy for his dead wife, silently awed by how writingit down makes it finally seem real;Goofy pondering mortality.
Goofy gets out of his car, and locks it. As Roger Ebert noted, this is a deeply strange moment. Since when do cartoon characters take precautions like that?
When Goofy finally decides to lay down the law to his wayward son, he lectures Max in his ridiculous “gawwshh” Pinto Colvig voice.
Max gets in some minor trouble at school. The principal calls Goofy, warning that unless he steps up as a father, his son may someday be sent to the electric chair (!). Goofy freaks out at the prospect of Max strapped into Old Sparky.
Goofy realizes his relationship with his son is based on a lie, and he sits alone in his car, stewing with emotions, his eyes pools of hurt…but the hands still have white gloves.
Goofy as a curmudgeonly dad who hates rock music and loves fishing. Goofy singing a heartfelt duet with Max. You get the idea. The concept and the conception are matter and antimatter. The movie is such a swing-for-the-fences terrible idea that it works beautifully, like a clock so far wrong that it matches tomorrow‘s time.
The actual film is pretty good. It’s a sweet and touching story about fatherhood and generational differences. Many of the jokes unironically hit. The rockstar character was fun, and reminded me of Mok Swagger in Rock & Rule.
Can you imagine how shitty it would be if they remade this (correction: how shitty it will be when they remake this?) Max will glance up from Tiktok and say “OK boomer” when they’re driving. I’ll admit that it does have some dated “90s ‘tude” elements, like the Pauly Shore character, who sprays Cheez-Wiz into his hand and calls it the “leaning tower of Cheez-A.” If the whole movie had been like that, I doubt I’d remember it now. Thankfully, it’s about Goofy instead. I don’t think I’m laughing at the things the writers wanted me to laugh at, but at least I’m laughing.
(And maybe I’m touchy, but what’s with everyone getting pressed over the “is Goofy a dog or a man?” question like they’re catching the Zodiac killer? He’s a dog-man, that’s all. Don’t overthink it. He looks funny and cute, but he can also use appliances and drive a car. Best of both worlds. These are the same guys who make “cartoon logic” memes, like they’re onto something. Man, I can’t believe Spongebob can light a fire underwater, in defiance of the laws of physics. What a blunder. Someone should email the show’s writers and explain that this is impossible, so they don’t commit any other errors like that in future.)
I love how this asshole died eight films ago and... | Reviews / Movies | Coagulopath
I love how this asshole died eight films ago and here we are, looking at his “Eminem through an Instagram aging filter” face in yet another one. I love how Saw 3D was marketed as “the final chapter” and three new sequels have been made since then. Saw has devolved into a Weekend at Bernie‘s farce where the creators have ended the series multiple times—and I mean publically murdered it, dynamited the corpse, and fired the ashes into the sun—only for the studio to carry on making more Saws anyway, like nothing happened. Kind of funny. I guess it’s our fault for seeing them.
I realize I’m watching a Saw movie in 2023 and the joke is on me, but can’t they try? A movie is an unexplored frontier: 60-180 minutes of blank space, and you can fill that space with anything. There are no rules. Tape doesn’t care what you put on it. With that in mind, why are we doing this again?
X is better than most movies in the Saw series, but that’s not hard (there will never be a Better Than Most Movies in the Saw Series award at the Oscars) and it still struggles with the fact that the franchise killed its one and only idea 620 minutes ago. Without John Kramer, there’s nothing, so they need to keep bringing him back, using increasingly contrived methods. Saw X is actually Saw1.5: set between the events of Saw and Saw II. Kramer, you will recall, is dying of cancer (which I believe: Tobin Bell looks 20 years older than he did in the first film), so he undertakes an experimental new treatment procedure at a clinic in Mexico. The clinic turns out to be a fraudulent scam, preying on the desperate and gullible. Kramer decides to get revenge on them before he dies.
Setting the film in the past creates its own set of continuity problems (didn’t the Mexican Federales notice such gruesomely distinctive crimes, and draw parallels to the American Jigsaw killer?), but it doesn’t matter: the franchise long ago abandoned realism. In particular, Kramer is absurd. Once he was merely a super-genius, now he’s literally God, possessing perfect omniscience, knowing everything about everyone, and predicting the moves of others six steps ahead. While dying of cancer he designs and builds room-sized torture machines that would take a team of MIT undergrads six months and millions of dollars to construct. He’s such an unbelievable figure that it destroys what was interesting about the first movie: its sense of psychological realism.
The franchise has changed since the James Wan days. The first Saw had little gore, and was a “smart” horror/crime thriller in the mould of Se7en/Silence of the Lambs. Later entries dipped their toes into various horror fads such as splatterpunk, and found footage. Now we’re in the era of tedious “prestige horror”, so we get hokey scenes of Kramer fixing some Mexican kid’s bike, just to show he has a heart. I liked it more when he was a bad guy.
But that’s the problem with any horror franchise: the monster eventually becomes the hero. In the first Saw, your sympathies lay with the poor schmucks screwed into John Kramer’s machines. They were flawed, but redemption was possible. But now? Kramer is the star of the show, so they make his victims loathsome scum who basically deserve to die horribly. But if I no longer care if they live or die, what’s the point?
The Mexican setting is a waste—the film is as visually bland as ever—and aside from the expected “Hello Zepp” drop the music sounds like temp tracks. The plot makes little sense. Greutert directs like he’s assembling Ikea furniture. No inspiration exists. The Saw franchise is beyond dead and beyond a joke and they should either stop making them or be forced to stop. At least the title is accurate: this sawx.