Friday, December 19, 2014

See You in 2015

Ladies, Gentlemen, and future historians who are reading this blog to find out the inner workings of my mind before I became super famous, I wish to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Joyful Hanukkah, a wonderful Kwanza, or, if you don’t celebrate any of that, then Happy Sir Isaac Newton’s Birthday. If you don’t celebrate any of those things, then I’m sorry the banks and restaurants are all closed on what to you, is a regular Wednesday, but I don’t make the rules.

Originally I had this wonderful plan in my head to chronicle the adventures of Bad Shakespeare in real time as I traipsed through London, as I walked through the great streets made famous by Guy Ritchie in his shoot ’em up bang bang thrillers, as I studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as I made an excursion to Scotland, and hopefully as I get to meet Emma Watson who is probably in England doing Emma Watson things. And if I got the chance to walk on an episode of Doctor Who. They’ll just let me walk on, right?

Then I realized that I’d be doing all of those things, and while it would be exciting to chronicle my adventures as they happened, I wouldn’t get to fully enjoy all those things as they happened. 

As a result, this will be the final Bad Shakespeare entry until after January 20th, when I make my triumphant return to the United States. 

I want to thank all of you to thank you for taking the time to read my musings every week. It hasn’t been as consistent what with the whole “Graduate School” and “Gilmore Girls coming to Netflix” thing, but I’ve tried to post as much as I can. But writing 20 pages on whatever it is I wrote 20 pages on this semester tends to take time away from writing about our new North Korean Overlords, which, while amusing, doesn’t get me the grades i need to be getting in order to graduate from Graduate School.

I’m in a very different place this year than the last. Last year at this time I was gearing up for student teaching, now I’m gearing up to study Theatre in a city I’ve been dying to go ever since I found out there was a London and that they had actual Kings like back in ye olde times. (Well, a Queen, who’s apparently a Highlander.) 

Anyway, I hope to take every opportunity presented to me, and yes, I will share it with you at some future date, probably when I’ busy with some paper and I don’t really know what I’m going to be writing just yet.

Enjoy the holiday, reach out to those less fortunate, call up an old friend, tell someone you love them, and I hope the New Year finds you happy, healthy, and full of friendship. I look forward to posting my adventures more in the New Year. 

Just going to take a little break

Thursday, December 18, 2014

All Aboard the Censor-Ship, The Interview Edition

I really wasn’t sure I was going to get to another Bad Shakespeare post before the New Year. I’m busy preparing for my jaunt across the pond, which it turns out is an actual ocean which leads me to believe that “across the pond” is being used ironically. I just wrapped up my first semester as an English Graduate Student, which meant no final exams but a LOT of writing. I’ve probably written more on Charles Chesnutt than I ever thought I would. (Also, I didn’t know who Charles Chesnutt was before this class. So there’s that.)

But then, yesterday, something happened that I had to write about, because it tackles three of the things that I write about: movies, bullying, and censorship. Unless you’ve been living under a rock or paying attention to the much more important news about improved relations with Cuba, you’ll know that the film The Interview, in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play a pair of stoners/TV show stars who attempt to kill Kim Jong-Un, has been pulled indefinitely from theaters following an unprecedented hack in information and threats of violence against the theaters that would dare show such a film.

Personally, if you’re going to attack a Seth Rogen Film, I’d hope that it would be The Green Hornet. But hey, that’s just me.

I like Seth Rogen and James Franco, despite the fact that they pretty much just make the one film over and over (and it works). We have been treated to them playing stoners running from the law in Pineapple Express, or stoners at the end of the world in This is The End. I personally felt that, as much as I like Danny McBride, what was missing from Your Highness was Seth Rogen working with James Franco as stoners that are trying to save the princess. I’m really looking forward to their next film, which hasn’t been written yet but should totally be Seth Rogen and James Franco playing the actors Seth Rogen and James Franco who make a movie about killing the leader of North Korea and are forced to go on the run when hackers shut down the movie, and they try to get it distributed. Oh, yes, and they’re stoners. (Gentlemen… call me…)

In any event, as the story goes, Sony pictures, the multi-billion dollar corporation that owns about half the things in my house as well as not letting Marvel use Spider-man in the Avengers movies, managed to be hacked because apparently their password was PASSWORD1 (The 1 held together all of the security for them, apparently) and everyone laughed as emails from the higher ups in the company delightfully revealed the fact that even in Hollywood people were as snarky and talked behind the backs of people just like in your office, they just got paid a lot more. 

This is the kind of disturbing twist in the cyber thriller that we have been living in for the past couple of weeks. For a while, it was difficult to turn on the news without seeing some new hacked email or some new revelation about what was going on inside Sony right now. And we all laughed, shared it on our Facebook timelines, retweeted it. We were all complicit in this information leak for a little while, because at the time, it seemed harmless. It wasn’t like it was the nude pictures of a young star or bank account information, it was just a few emails, and I’m sure any of us, if you go back far enough, will find some email that we wish we hadn’t sent, or one that’s in our drafts right now. 

The problem came when specific threats started going around this one movie, The Interview. The subject was a bit “controversial” yes, but it’s not he first time there’s been some kind of controversy involving a movie like this. The remake of Red Dawn got delayed by several years because of the “enemy” in that, and not the fact that technology had advanced to the point that a sneak attack in Colorado would be nearly impossible unless they had Predator type technology. There was the multiple kerfuffles about South Park, attempting to show Muhammad not once but TWICE on camera, and getting censored in episodes, ironically enough, about censorship. Matt Parker and Trey Stone did get some threats but hey, they were used to it, as they get a lot of threats about their show. 

You all know the rest that broke less than 24 hours ago: a few theater chains (re: ALL the theater chains) refused to carry the movie, then Sony said, “eh… we just won’t release it. Go see Annie instead. It’s produced by Jay-Z”. And, presumably, features a lot less political assassination. 

And, as you know, I’m against all censorship. The old adage goes something like freedom of speech isn’t to protect safe ideas or popular ideas, but dangerous ones. It's easy to censor things we "don't like." It's hard to stand up and say "let's discuss it anyway."

Should Seth Rogen and James Franco have made a movie that featured the attempted (or possible… I avoided spoilers) assassination of a world leader? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about world politics except that Canada is putting way to many of their population along their border, if you know what I mean. I know a few things, but I don’t know enough to know if this was seriously that big of a deal. Granted, I just watched a movie by Finland which featured Sarah Palin as the President who was really a lizard person, so maybe foreign leaders aren’t really all that off limits. Quentin Tarantino literally changed history by having Adolf Hitler shot to death in a movie theater. And let’s not forget that there have been TWO movies about sitting presidents in the past 20 years that did not paint either of them in a positive light. 

Yes, there were threats. Sony, as much as I’ve spend time mocking them, were in an impossible decision. Show the movie and nothing happens, great. Pull the movie, and they’re cowards. Show the movie and someone dies (terrorist related. If they die from laughter, then that’s a bigger box-office draw!) then they ignored a big threat. So I do feel for them. But I don’t feel they should have caved into this threat… it only sets a bad precedent that threats like this will make a studio cave. 

There’s no shortage of controversial topics that can come to the theater, and they get protested, all the time. They get threats and theaters get attacked. The Last Temptation of Christ was so controversial at the time that theaters were burned down, resulting in injuries. But that didn’t stop people from showing it. We can’t be so afraid that we’re not showing movies now, and all this says is that the best way to get a movie banned is to threaten the right people, at the right time. You don’t even have to show power, beyond leaking a few emails to the press.

i get that there’s no easy answer. But at the same time, it just makes me sad to see a piece of art censored - and love ’em or hate’em, stoner comedies are Seth Rogen and James Franco’s art - and make no mistake, this is censorship through the threat of terrorism. This sets up a chain that can and will affect the future of bold filmmaking. Yes, they could have easily slipped in a fake dictator and we’d already be hearing reviews about how it wasn’t as funny as This is the End. But they chose not to. They chose to put in a real world situation for comedic affect? Because they felt like it? Who cares, it’s what they did. We can’t censor art because of a threat. It’s only going to get worse until the point that there are three movies in the theater, each one more inoffensive than the last. 

As a film lover and a censorship hater, I want to see The Interview back in theaters. I want to see Seth Rogen and James Franco do what they love best: making movies that make us laugh. Or at least are supposed to make us laugh. I love you guys, but they’re not all winners. And i want us to not be so afraid that we’re willing to compromise our art, for any reason. Rest assured, if the movie gets released, I’ll be there opening day to watch it. If it gets leaked online, I’ll go ahead and stream it, if for no other reason that the movie deserves to be seen. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bad Shakespeare's Movie of the Year

Can you smell it in the air, everyone? It’s that magical time of year, when all of the lights are up, everyone puts on their finest outfit, and all of the movies and TV shows start announcing their big awards for the end of the year, somehow three weeks before the actual end of the year. That’s right, go ahead and announce best movie of the year before The Interview comes out. James Franco is the man, and may be an acting god. Just throwing that out there.

Now I’m not a professional film critic. Thank God I haven’t dulled my love of movies to the point that I’m calling out all the flaws in a movie as awesome as Let’s Be Cops. But, as you loyal readers know, I do love me some movies, and I’ve spent a good portion of this year when I’m not busy activating my awesome Grad School Powers in the movies. I love them so much I took a class in Film Theory, which taught me to embrace my love of the bad movie as the very first film we watched was Cat People, and it was just that a 1942 horror film about a woman that turned in to a panther when she was sexually aroused but since it was 1942 they couldn’t say “sexually aroused” but come on we all knew what it meant.

And, yes, there are a few more movies have to see this year, including the aforementioned The Interview, and let’s not forget that there’s a certain movie about a Hobbit learning the very important life lesson to not trust wizards who come knocking smoking a strange pipe. But that being said, I do want to talk about my favorite movie of the year, because despite the fact that I’m going to sit in awe for both The Hobbit: Three More Hours of Dwarf Fighting (They should let me name these things) and The Interview (and Annie if there’s time. There will be time.) I really am ready to announce my movie of the year.

The Movie Gods: Nicolas Cage, Tom Hanks, and Joss Whedon have blessed us with a fantastic year of movies, both the good and the bad. My highlights did include some slackers pretending to be cops and some slacker cops pretending to be slackers. I enjoyed watching the Guardians saving the Galaxy. Spiderman was back in action, and Paul Walker did Parkour. There were Boxtrolls, Dragons, and Bill Murray doing his best St. Vincent impression. Angelina Jolie went evil, Tom Cruise was actually kind of good, and don’t get me started on George Clooney and Matt Damon fighting in World War 2. Or saving stuff. We got inventor dogs and a movie about toys where everything was awesome. However, I have to say, for me, the best film of the year was…

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

I wanted to find some obscure movie, or look back at some unappreciated gem like Wish I Was Here (everyone hop off the Zach Braff hate train. It’s ok to like him) or the November Man or look at something I disliked like Tammy or Snowpiercer and try to find the good in discovering it’s actually awesome. But I have to go with the movie that everyone is talking about. 

For those of you who don’t know, Birdman is about a washed up actor named Riggan Thomson played by Michael Keaton, who once played an iconic superhero named Birdman. After three successful films, he walked away. He wants to relaunch his career by writing, directing, and starring in his own play. 

I wasn’t prepared to like the movie as much as I did. I heard about the gimmick: the movie looks like it’s all shot one one take with the camera following the actors and the cuts hidden (some in pretty obvious ways, such as time lapse footage, etc.) But I don’t know. It just stuck with me in a way that no other movie did this year.

First, there’s the acting, which is flat out incredible from everyone involved, from Michael Keaton slowly unraveling while doing voiceovers not in his voice, but in the rumbly growl of Birdman’s. Edward Norton plays an egotistical actor (ahem, insert the “not much of a stretch” joke here…) and Emma Stone plays his daughter, assistant, and only real advocate as he slowly loses his mind. 

I really liked the casting of Norton and Stone, particularly because of their involvement in other successful Superhero franchises. Norton walked away from his and Emma… well, she was sorta killed off like everyone knew she was going to after she was cast as one of the most famous homicide victims of all time. It was particularly interesting for her to have her blonde hair leftover from her Gwen Stacy role. I’m not sure if that was a directing or acting choice, but it really pointed to her previous role.

Yes, then there’s the ultra meta story about an actor leaving behind a multi-billion dollar franchise to star in a smaller comeback role that is starring a guy who walked away from a multi-billion dollar franchise and is now starring in a smaller comeback role. It also means his only role this year wasn’t in the Robocop remake. Again, another blockbuster that he could have starred in, he was overshadowed by the fact that the movie didn’t do very well, and now he’s in a smaller role. This is punctuated by the big action sequence that goes on in his head that feels jarringly out of place in an otherwise quiet movie, but is totally necessary. 

I also like the darkness of the storyline. At it’s core, it’s about a man who is trying to walk away from something that he loves, but is also unravelling. He’s desperately trying to cling onto what he loves, and not by taking the easy way out, either. In the narrative of the film, he’s turned down the role of Birdman for a fourth time, and this seems to be the first question anyone asks of him. The first time we see him, he appears to be floating in nothing but his underwear, but when the camera returns to him, he’s standing. This is the first instance that this is going to be a movie that messes with you a little bit. 

Everything stands out in this movie, even the gimmicky one shot camera movement. It adds to some of the chaos that is this movie, and even helps add to the confusion. The best sequence is that of Riggan flying over the city after apparently jumping off the building. the camera lands at an angle so we see him walk into the theatre, quickly followed by a cabbie, demanding his money for the ride he was just given. It really helps add to the slow sensation of madness that this movie hopes to invoke. 

I was going to write about this a lot later, but about a million awards shows are coming out and they’re all naming Birdman as one of the best movies of the year, so I pumped up my timeline a little. It needs to win all of these awards. And I’m quite frankly dying to see it again. This is an awesome movie, and one that once you see it, will stay with you for quite a while. I know I talk a lot about movies, some of them good, some of them bad… but this is a must see. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Let's all Freak Out about Spoilers Again

Please note, the following post contains spoilers. Spoilers for things that came out years ago and you should have seen, but also a few spoilers for a show the most recent episode of the Walking Dead. Also, I’ll be discussing the fact that spoilers were released for the last episode of Sons of Anarchy, but I won’t reveal them here as the episode hasn’t aired at the time of this writing, and I’m genuinely afraid of what Kurt Sutter might do if I do release those spoilers. He had one character stick a fork in another character, and that was one of the nicer deaths on the show. No, thank you.

Ah, Spoilers. It’s time to discuss them again, because as a culture our spoiler-phobia has reached brand new levels as two highly popular shows accidentally released spoilers for their upcoming shocking endings. We’ve discussed spoilers before here on Bad Shakespeare, particularly surrounding the last Star Trek movie Star Trek (I’m putting a colon here because it needs one no matter how arty you get) : Into Darkness. Unless the title referred to the actual act of trekking into darkness, but that makes no sense.

For those who don’t remember or just started reading this blog (Welcome) I talked about how there was a ton of secrecy surrounding the mysterious character that very British Man Benedict Cumberbatch was playing, and that it was a twist that he was playing Khan, who up until this point had been played by very Spanish Ricardo Montalb├ín, and when you create an alternate timeline, duh, the Indian Character played by a Spanish person becomes British, duh. 

There was a lot of secrecy surrounding his role, and any mention of it outside the film set was dubbed a, “spoiler” despite the fact that the twist has no real bearing on the plot, and the bigger twist is that the Admiral played by Robocop was the real bad guy. Benedict Cumberbatch playing Khan is a cool thing, but it’s not really a “spoiler” so much as a “plot point” that will “make me want to see the movie.”

That takes to today’s topic about spoilers, mostly that AMC, the channel of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and the idea that you can run six episodes then wait a year to run six more and call that a “Season” accidentally released a picture of Darryl carrying zombie fodder/Greene Daughter/only made it this long because the writers forgot about her Beth Greene, announcing that she was the big casualty for the mid-season finale, when someone had to die (dun dun dun) and they’d already killed off Bob earlier in the season. 

Naturally, people went up in arms because it spoiled the ending. It didn’t say how or why Beth died, just that she did. Internet comments ranged from empty threats to never watch the show again to death threats to racial slurs thrown at the previous commenters. Because that’s what we do now. Whoever decided that all internet commenting should be anonymous doesn’t really have a special place in Hell per se, but I think when they get to Heaven they get the room on the end where the remote doesn’t have any batteries and their alarm doesn’t wake them up in time to go to any of the cool concerts we get to go to. 

But I have to ask… does that spoiler really ruin anything, as people claim it does? 

The Walking Dead has a track record of killing off people randomly, even if it doesn’t follow the comic. And it doesn’t matter if they’re the kindly old man who dispenses advice, or an innocent girl with a rainbow T-Shirt on. People die. Beth had been taken by a mysterious group that I guess was running low on weak blondes they can boss around, and her death was kinda shocking, I guess, but I tuned in to see what happened. 

We live in a day and age when it’s kind of easy to get spoilers. Some stuff is closely guarded, but pictures from the set or “insider information” gets out pretty easily. There’s a story of Kevin Smith, back when he was filming Jersey Girl starring pre-Batmaned Ben Affleck, back when he was dating Jennifer Lopez (I think we tend to forget this. We need to remember to make sure nothing like it happens again.) and they wanted to hide the fact that J-Lo dies halfway through the opening of the movie, so they had her on set, “filming” scenes… it was still ruined by someone who didn’t want people to think she was going to be in the movie still. 

The “shock ending” of the film shouldn’t be the end-all/be-all of the movie itself. In fact, if you rely solely on the shock ending and you don’t’ care much about the characters or anything like that, then you have a pretty crappy movie or TV Show. Beth dying is an idea. Why she dies, or what leads to that death, or why Daryl is carrying her when they aren’t in the same scene together… that’s important.

This also happened last week when a book came out early that revealed the “shocking” ending of Sons of Anarchy. Yes. I read it. Mostly because I love the show and I enjoy talking about it, so I wanted to know what was going to happen. I’m terrible like that. I won’t reveal the shocking contents, but it pretty much sums up something I thought was going to happen already. Does it ruin the experience? Nope. Does it change everything for me? Nope. Am I still a little afraid of Kurt Sutter? Yeah. Just a little. I didn’t reveal your ending! I’m interested to see what you do with it.

The fact is, we deal with spoilers in our entertainment every day. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yeah, I know there are million parodies out there right now, and by now everyone knows the shocking ending to that… (they’re the same person!) but back when it was written, no one knew. Over they years it has entered our popular culture until yes, we now know it to be the ending. But does that change the story that much? Not really, because the story is about man’s focus on the true nature of good and evil, and not just a dude drinking a potion and then suddenly it turns out that he’s the bad guy the whole time.

So everyone… relax. Calm down with the spoiler phobia. And also, stop trying to attach spoilers where they don’t belong. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Yes, Virginia... There is A Star Wars Coming Next Year

Unless you’re Amish,or a graduate student desperately attempting to finish up those last two papers that are due next week and are at least 50% of your grade, you’ve probably heard that a little trailer for a little film was released last week. If you’re Amish and reading this, then I just have to ask… why? Get back to your field. You’re not supposed to be reading the internet, and it’s probably best if you don’t.

Anyway, it’s big news that 88 seconds of confusing footage that is the trailer for the new Star Wars movie was finally released last week. After literally years of speculating, we got to see our first footage of what will make up the next chapter of the Star Wars Universe, featuring new droids, implications that the Empire made some changes to their stormtooper policies over the course of 30 years, and a lightsaber that looks like it can take off an arm. 

Sorry, Luke… too soon?

Now, with anything that’s released nowadays, we’ve already seen it all. A scene by scene breakdown that attempts to contextualize (grad school word… yay!) a bunch of images that don’t have any context yet. We’ve gotten complaints. So, so many complaints. A Black Stormtrooper? (it worked in Blazing Saddles…) Despite the fact that it’s set 30 years later, and we don’t know why he’s wearing a stormtrooper outfit, are very vocal few have decided this will be their big issue about the movie, at least until more footage is released and they can find something else to complain about.

Of course, once again, we don’t have context, and he could be a stormtrooper… after all 30 years is a long time to keep stocking up on clones… or he could have just put on the suit… like Luke and Han… but no, you keep complaining about it, faceless masses that have nothing better to do.

We’ve also seen the great light saber debate, skillfully shut down by Stephen Colbert (a Star Wars fan for two weeks longer than anyone else) but once again is something we know nothing about. I, personally, am very pro-lightsaber claymore, but I have this cool theory that it’s actually a lightsaber made by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, so those are actually exhaust ports that keep it from overheating, and they’re eventually going to make a better one and… I just can’t wait.

And, as with everything nowadays, it’s been parodied. So. Many. Parodies. The George Lucas Special Edition. The low budget version. The Lego version. Seriously, people, stop. First of all, you’re all no Weird Al. Secondly, put the effort into creating something new. 

That’s just a side note. There’s actually something I really wanted to discuss regarding the trailer.

It’s no secret that many of us were burned by the Prequel trilogy. I didn’t hate it as much as most (I didn’t like Phantom Menace, but I really enjoyed the others.) But some people were let down. I have to agree, I can understand why. The Original Star Wars Trilogy was made with a lot less technology, or computer effects, so you had to fill in a lot of the gaps with your imagination. That’s what it was for me, anyway. Seeing everything laid out on the screen did take away a little bit of the magic for me. Even when George Lucas remastered them and added a bunch of silly creatures in the background… it was a bit much for me. 

So, I was prepared in some ways to be jaded about the new trilogy.

But then… those last five seconds. The Millennium Falcon, zooming through the air, fighting off a bunch of tie fighters. And I was suddenly four again. And there’s nothing cooler than the Millennium Falcon. Nothing.

To me, the Falcon is the grandaddy of it all. Without Han Solo and Chewbaca flying in at the last minute to save Luke, there would be no Firefly or Captain Mal, and Guardians of the Galaxy would still be on the comic pages somewhere with people laughing at a talking raccoon. 

Ok, so we still laugh a little bit at the raccoon. And the giant tree. 

Back when I was four, I loved Star Wars. Yes. I’m old. I’m comfortable with it. I can remember seeing the first one and being just… floored. I didn’t understand how they could get talking robots and the Force up on the screen. I know I’d just seen Empire Strikes Back, and while I didn’t understand all of it, I knew that in my heart of hearts it was probably the best movie that anyone would ever create. 

It was a cold Christmas Eve, and I was sitting in the living room probably tired, probably watching some Christmas special, when there was a knock on the door. It was a little late for us to be getting visitors, but I don't really remember thinking that. It was Christmas eve. Tomorrow was going to erupt into the best gift giving day ever, and I wasn’t close to going to sleep.

But then he was there. Santa. Well, the guy that my parents asked to dress up as Santa, but it was Santa. The man in the flesh, stopping by my house to personally give me and my brother a present early. And this is to let you know the impact of his next action: I don’t remember when he gave to my brother. But what did he give to me? The giant Millennium Falcon toy. 

This wasn’t just any toy. the top flipped up so you could put your Han Solo Action figure inside. The floors came up, too, so when the Stormtroopers tried to find Han and Leia and Chewbaca, they could hide. I didn’t really know what a smuggler was at this point, so, really, I didn’t understand why the floors came up, they just did. 

It was probably the best present I’d ever gotten. I know I spent hours on imaginary space runs, saving Luke, or just flying around the galaxy, making the Kessle run in under 12 Parsecs. Also, I know that’s not a real measurement, but I don’t care. 

So, when the trailer suddenly ended with  that shot… that one, particular shot… man. Christmas cannot get here soon enough. And by that, I mean Christmas next year. 

People, you can be jaded by the Prequels. You can question random things like a black stormtrooper, or a rolly droid rolling around in his rollingness. You can ask why a lightsaber suddenly has a hilt. You can make your parody trailers and your parody moments. But nothing… and I mean nothing… will take away that feeling I had when I saw the Falcon again, zooming through the landscape.