Just for laughs

REVIEW: Snakes on A Plane

Like you really need to ask?

Let’s clear something up here: There’s been essentially two levels to the bizzare hype over “Snakes on A Plane.” The first level was the honest one, born when New Line Cinema learned that their perfectly over-expository title has become a go-to laugh-line for web chatting movie geeks and elected to “just go with it.” (In a way, it was no different from the way the producers of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” were working hard to turn the “did they or didn’t they?” buzz about it’s stars into ticket sales.)

The second level is the one that’s caused all of the silliness and overkill. That would be the level wherein the mainstream entertainment press, who’s cluelessness as to the workings of “geek-based” internet buzz is matched only by their contempt-toward and hyperbolic paranoia-about it, got hold of the story. Or, rather, got hold of what they thought was the story: “Would you look at these NERDS so excited to see a dumb killer-snake movie?” The bemusement (poorly) masked a snide sneer, as if the “internet guys” falling in love with raw stupidity was a validation of everything so much of the traditional film press seems to believe about them… that the demographic they blame for foisting all those Hobbits, zombies and icky-icky-icky superhero movies on them really are just a bunch of weirdos with bad taste.

Which was, of course, missing the point. The crowd that fell hard for this story – about, for the record, a mobster who tries to kill a witness against him by releasing an army of venomous snakes onto the passenger plane the FBI is using to anonymously transport him – did so because it was assured to be a hokey, goofish B-movie. They’re crap-detector is every bit as acute (in most case much more acute) as the average professional critic or entertainment writer, the key difference being that for the archetypal film geek the watching of a wonderfully-bad movie constitutes something of a sport. To put it plainly, if the words “Mystery Science Theater 3000” carry no meaning for you, you’ll never understand what the big deal was about “SoAP.”

This kind of thing has happened plenty of times before, like whenever Uwe Boll releases a new movie, and most memorably for me being a few years back when Vincent D’Onoffrio’s insanely strange delivery of the insanely-awful line “..an ALIEN with a BOMB in it’s RIB-CAGE!!!!!!!” from the (awful) 2002 movie “Impostor” became a summer-long running joke on message board everywhere. The difference was that this time, for really the first time, the studio decided to play along and turn “look at all the people talking about this” into a marketing device. And now that (surprise!) said marketing hasn’t brought about the highest-grossing film in motion picture history, the vultures are out in force: “Y’see!? Y’see!? DOOOM is the fate of he who pays any mind to the web geeks!” Hoping against hope that this will be the one that “does it in,” and they’ll never have to sit through another major movie about a costumed vigilante or a giant gorrilla again.

Humbug and poppycock! The entertainment press, having already completely missed the point of the “Snakes” phenomenon now wants to condemn it for not being what only they ever worried it would be. Nevermind the fact that a mid-budget “how many ways can we find for a snake to kill someone” schlockfest topping the boxoffice is a pretty interesting occurance in it’s own right, the film itself remains precisely what it’s original pre-fans always hoped it would be: A knowing throwback to the high-concept larfs of days past, awash in copious gore, eye-rolling dialogue and deaths that film geek’s love being able to see coming a mile away.

I love being able to see this kind of thing on a big screen with legitimate actors and real effort instead of as a not-even-trying entry on the SciFi Channel. I love seeing the inspired-silliness of the improvised snake-fighting weapons. I love star/original-biggest-fan Samuel L. Jackson’s 100% straight-faced performance. I love that the first victims are, yes, the hypersexual drug-using young couple. I love how “doomed” the goody-good passengers already seem right off the bat. I love how determinedly the resident-asshole character begs for his own demise. I love that the “what next?” moment involves the arrival of a giant-sized Python. I love that the bad guy assures his underlings that he’s “already exhausted every other option” (what I wouldn’t give to know what was the runner-up to “put snakes on the plane.”) I love how brazenly (yet not-unsubtley) the film plays on collective fears (and collective revenge/empowerment fantasies) about post-911 air travel. And I adore the sheer preposterousness of the eventual “how to get rid of the snakes” solution. Heck, I even love that the makers knew their material enough to end with a horrible snake-themed Nu-Metal power ballad… though I most-definately despise the song itself.

Set the hype (or, rather, the hype about the hype) aside. This is everything a junky time-waster should be, as fine a guilty pleasure as going to the store and finding a candy bar you’d thought they stopped making years ago. You know right away whether or not you’re the right audience for a movie called “Snakes on A Plane,” and if there’s even a shred of a chance that you’ll enjoy it you probably will.


REVIEW: World Trade Center

Perusing the reviews of “World Trade Center” online, it becomes immediately apparent that comparing this film to “United 93” is somehow unavoidable. I’m not sure it’s really a useful comparison, but let’s get it done with.

What irks me about the comparisons is that they generally presume “United” (a great film) to be automatically superior to “WTC” because of the style it was made in: In other words, “U93’s” verite shaky-cam and faux-documentary editing are in and of themselves posessed of more artistic credibility than “WTC’s” heightened, more “traditionalyl” cinematic compositions. Forgive me, but I’ve never quite bought that approach should be regarded with equal or greater values to result when it comes to art, film or otherwise. (And am I really the only person who finds something fishy about the indie/arthouse crowd declaring that the artistically-superior style of filmmaking du-jour is just coincidentally the one that’s more within the reach of indie/arthouse filmmakers?) A good movie is a good movie is a good movie. A good glossy, grandly-mounted Big Studio movie is in fact better than a bad “gritty” arthouse movie, and vice-versa. “United 93” is a great film in the style it was mounted, and “World Trade Center” is a great film in the style it was mounted. Bottom line.

The film has also been criticized, both in relation to “U93” and in general, for focusing too narrowly on a single story with a happy ending amid an event that brought forth many more unhappy endings. It’s a fair critique, but one that ignores a certain basic reality of telling stories, tragic or otherwise, for a large audience. Dramas based on tragedies, real or fictional, usually connect most powerfully with the general public when there is a “ray of hope” for them to enter through and experience it. Paradoxically, in order to help people experience hopelessness you must first give them some semblance of hope.

The reason, for example, that “Schindler’s List” connected with audiences in a way that no Holocaust dramatization had before or since was that it’s creators had found a story of heroism amid an unheroic event. By focusing on one man who did the right thing, audiences allowed themselves to experience what happened as everyone else did the wrong thing… because they had a secure alternative to draw replenishment from. The horrors seen in Spielberg’s film would be all but unendurable without Schindler on hand as our ideal surrogate, the element of the film through which we reassure ourselves: “I wouldn’t be part of the problem in this. I wouldn’t be in that 99% of Germans who let this happen. I’d be the good guy. I’d be Schindler.” This may, or may not be, naivete and/or a primal psychological defense mechanism, but it’s an undeniable aspect of human nature.

For all it’s stylistic grit and verite immediacy, “United 93” was working the same basic angle: Amid the story of four planes full of people hijacked and turned into ghastly improvised weaponry, it places it’s audience amid the ONE plane where the passengers stood up, beat down the bad guys and prevented the plane from destroying anything else: “I wouldn’t have let them beat me. I wouldn’t have been helpless. I wouldn’t have let them win. I’d rush the cockpit. I’d make them pay. I’d be ‘Let’s roll!'” And so it is the same with Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center.”

Stone’s film resembles no other film as much as “Apollo 13,” detailing as both do the stranding of brave men amid a disaster and the efforts of their friends and fellows to rescue them. Stone zeroes in on John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno (Nicholas Cage and Micheal Pena,) two Port Authority police officers who were among the first responders on 9/11 and found themselves burried by the collapsing buildings. They struggle to keep eachother alive long enough to be rescued, while outside their families await ANY semblance of news and their fellow officers try to figure out what to do and what’s actually happening.

Meanwhile, in a paralell story, a former Marine named David Karnes sees the tragedy on TV, excuses himself from work, slips on his old fatigues, drives straight to Ground Zero and just starts looking for people… because he feels God has told him to. History records that it was Karnes who located and led to the rescue of McLoughlin and Jimeno, and the film shows the same.

And yeah, that’s really it. Stone has zeroed in on the story that, to him, provides the most “then and there for the regular folks who lived it” view of 9/11. The film travels back and remains right in the first hours of the event, back when we barely knew what had occured, back before every man woman and child had heard of Osama bin Laden.

Some have criticized, with some merit, this particular approach; saying it “santizes” the event. I’d respectfully disagree. There’s no sanitation here that I can see, it’s merely an accurate recollection. This is about people living through 9/11, not looking back from 5 years later.

Simply stated, it’s a sincere and powerful film about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, worth seeing overall as an unusually sudued work from one of our most important filmmakers and worth seeing specifically because it’s never too early to start remembering. Reccomended.


So… Why don’t I feel better about this?

Note: This will be a somewhat lengthy and only tangentially movie-related entry that I just need to get off my chest. A review of Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” is forthcoming.

It’s all over but the shouting.
You’ll find no great affection for Conneticutt senator Joseph Lieberman in these parts. Anyone who was a video game fan in the 80s and 90s (and now, really) will likely have a bone to pick with the man who essentially appointed himself the Joseph McCarthy of interactive entertainment “obscenity.” In many respects, Lieberman always represented the nightmare scenario of a public figure in the realm of censorship: A well-liked, well-connected, powerfully-tenured politician who vehemently supported censorship as a favorite cause and was also a fairly liberal “reform” Democrat; thus meaning he had little political/ideological trouble with using the principals of Big Government to carry out his wishes (the still-potent ideological imperative against using Federal power to muck with private industry being the crucial pressure-valve that usually keeps Republican censorship proponents like John McCain most in-check.)

For me, the censorship issue always becomes more of a concern whenever the Democrats are on slippery footing in an election cycle, as it’s become the party’s only “safe” entry on the “Moral Values” plane. The Dems’ admirable secularism on most cultural/values issues renders them largely incapable of reaching out to the hyperreligious nutters and “traditional morality” types that the Republicans have mined so successfully. Of the issues most resonant with “values voters,” the Democrats have no traction in regards to gay rights, abortion, etc; (and good for them, BTW,) leaving entertainment “obscenity” as the only issue they can exploit to make inroads with the so-called “traditional values” crowd. Helpfully, doing so stays right in line with the broader party policy of using the government to curtail private industry for the “common good”: For Democrat censorship advocates like Lieberman, imposing such on Hollywood or the Game Industry in order to “protect” people from “obscene” material is the same basic thing as imposing government controls on, say, “Big Tobacco” or the fast food industry to “protect” us from unhealthy products.

Now, Joe Lieberman seems to be on his way out. A previously unheard-of politician named Ned Lamont stepped up to challenge the long-time Senator in his home state, backed by a guerilla campaign almost-entirely supported by left-of-center bloggers and web activists who openly aimed to throttle Lieberman as a warning to all other Democrats: If you try to run for or hold your office with ANY position on the Iraq War that doesn’t jibe with ours (100% against, for those keeping track) you’d better watch out. Two days ago, the Connetticut primary ended with Lamont defeating Lieberman, thus becoming the de-facto owner of the larger party’s support in the upcoming November elections. Lieberman has conceded the race, though he does harbor ambition to perhaps run as an Independent.

So, there it is. The most visible political face of the pro-censorship movement unceremoniously tossed out on his behind by his own party. It’s a disgraceful, pitiable end to a distinguished career that included the historic event of being the first Jewish American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. A man whom I’ve long counted as an enemy in the censor wars has been fragged by his own troops, kicked in the teeth and left in the street alone. So why do I feel vaguely… icky, to see it end this way? Why can’t I take my usual pleasure in an ideological opponent’s downfall?

The fact is… as much as I won’t be missing his influence on the politics of free speech, Joe Lieberman really deserved better than this. I say this to take nothing away from those Democrats who worked to rid themselves of him; the citizen members of a party voting out a longtime incumbent in favor of a candidate they feel more fully respresents them is the quintessential essence of the way our government of the people, for the people, by the people is supposed to work. You want a united hard-line anti-war party? Great, work for it. At this point, it’s looking more and more like a winning angle.

That being said… yeah, I think Lieberman has caught a raw deal here. He’s a “good,” party-line fellow on almost every major issue BUT Iraq, and it’s not as though Connecticutt is going to go Red State anytime soon with or without him. In other words, Lieberman has served the function, if you’ll permit me a somewhat crude metaphor, of the random hostage the baddies always shoot in “Die Hard”-style action movies to prove how serious they are: Regardless of whether or not you think he deserved what he got or are glad to see him go, that’s the basic rub of what’s gone down. Lieberman was “capped” by DailyKos, MoveOn.org etc not because removing him was crucial, but because he makes a good example of how serious they are about running “da show” from now on. And, as someone who’s lost a job or two in order to be made an “example” of… yeah, I feel a little bit of sympathy for the guy even as I’m relieved I won’t see him staring down game designers in subcomittee anymore.

Political devotees on both sides would do well, in the wake of this event, to study two seperate cases and reexamine how they feel about what’s gone on. Republicans and conservatives should recall the unfortunate case of John McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, when the veteran Senator’s campaign for the nomination was targeted and dusted, because he did not share the hard-right views of vocal Religious Conservatives, in favor of George W. Bush who was more in lockstep with that side of the party. Now, this case is certainly MUCH worse than Lieberman’s, because the hard-right dynamited McCain’s run through vicious lies and outright dirty tricks, but the operating principal is the same: Party hardliners knocking off a paradoxically loyal maverick over a few individual issues. So before you gloat over those scruffy young blogger punks having too much influence on the Dems… remember how much influence YOUR crazies have over you. McCain, fortunately was enough of a street-fighter to stick around and live to fight another day (hopefully, imo, as a Republican nominee in 08)… Lieberman may not be.

Democrats and liberals, on the other hand, should brush up on the curious history of George McGovern, the Democrats’ nominee for president in 1972 against Richard Nixon. McGovern leapt from obscurity to the head of his party riding a wave of support by the most vocal and active members of the full-bore anti-Vietnam War movement. He ran with great show and momentum, backed up by armies of young activists brimming with revolutionary zeal, and he had the very public support of powerful and seemingly-influential members of the entertainment industry, musicians especially. The results, though not helped by a disasterous revelation involving his running mate, are the stuff of legend: The biggest loss to date at the time, with only TWO electoral college votes. This, again, is not something I’m saying is a definate, just worth considering: Running really hard in one direction can have disasterous consequences (ask party Republicans how they feel about the specter of Pat Buchanan still haunting their party.)

A footnote, also for Democrats: You’d better hope Lieberman is bluffing about an independent run, because it’d be a disaster for you. He sticks around, and the Republicans will have a BIG bright billboard on which to project a message that “moderates” (and thus moderate voters) are unwelcome to the Dems, and thats not a message you want if you’re trying to win back the gov. He sticks around, whether because he thinks he can win or just to stick his thumb in the eye of his percieved betrayers, and you could be looking at ANOTHER Republican-controlled Congress (and I don’t want to see that any more than you do.)

So, so long Mr. Lieberman, an enemy I genuinely wish could’ve been beaten in a more honorable way. Tonight, I’ll play a round of “Mortal Kombat” in you’re memory 😉


This I didn’t need.

I just came back from a lengthy recharging vacation (camping), during which time I voluntarily restricted myself from Internet access, cell phones and television.

So I come back to see this:

The gist here is that ABC News has reported that, allegedly, a YouTube cartoon spoofing Al Gore entitled “Al Gore’s Penguin Army” is in fact a professional production of a Republican-backed PR firm and NOT a 29 year-old amateur filmmaker as was initially claimed. You can see this film HERE:

This is, if true, obviously a political dirty trick taking advantage of YouTube and the anonimity of the Internet in order to further an agenda. HOWEVER, when ABC News reported the story on their website (see above) they mis-identified the name of the film as “An Inconvenient Spoof,” a DIFFERENT YouTube parody made by ME:

Due to ABC News’ error, my YouTube account (specifically the comments section of this particular spoof clip) has been assailed by comments from angry people who believe that I, as opposed to the creator of “Penguin Army,” have falsified my identity and my motives in creating this clip.

I wish to set the record straight: My name is Bob Chipman. I am a 25 year-old independent filmmaker from Massachusetts. I am not affiliated with the Republican party OR the Democrat party, or any political party’s public relations wing. I made “An Inconvenient Spoof” on my own, for fun, because and ONLY because I found the trailer for “An Inconvenient Truth” to be silly. I was not working for anyone, no one asked me to make it or gave me the idea. The peice is intended as a work of parody and is not meant to be taken as a political statement. I am a political independent who supports many of the same evironmentalist ideas as Mr. Gore, but thought his movie and it’s trailer laid it on a bit thick. That is all.

I have contacted ABC News to alert them of their error and it’s negative effects on me and my reputation, and have posted a reply on YouTube clarifying the situation. I am sorry for any confusion that may have been caused, but it was not of my doing: I am NOT a political hack pretending to be an online gagster, I am an online gagster 🙂

Thank you.

Shortly after posting this and going through several other steps, I was contacted by ABC News and informed that they have changed the story on their website to list the correct title of the parody. I offer my public thanks to ABC for taking care of this in a timely and clean manner.