Sunday, 15 August 2010

Tendentious people are tendentious (and frequently dumb). It will surprise no one who read my previous post to learn that the folks at Big Hollywood loved The Expendables exactly as much as they are ideologically required to anticipated. Still, John Nolte’s review is a teleological marvel. What he likes about the film is the simple straight-forward plot, all the B-movie mayhem you could possibly ask for, and two unapologetic hours of masculinity—which may be two hours more than we’ve seen in all of the last decade put together. These boys smoke cigars, drink beer while piloting airplanes, and return us to those glorious pre-Oprah days when stoicism was still a virtue and real men didn’t gush about their inner-emotional lives like 13 year-old girls drunk on Dr. Pepper at a slumber party. Maybe someone should tell him that the reason flat characters don’t “gush” about “their inner-emotional lives” is because they don’t have them. Maybe I should. I suppose I will. Please, Mr. Nolte, continue: Sylverster Stallone’s glorious throwback to the brawny 80s is also about something, and it’s not Bourne-ian self-discovery. It’s about something that actually matters. And in this age of nihilism when believing in anything bigger than self is considered old-fashioned, unsophisticated and naïve, that’s both refreshing and important. If you insist on italicizing the word “about,” you might want to indicate what that “something” that it’s about actually is. Sorry, I’m being rude. Mr. Nolte, you may continue: The story opens with a well-crafted action sequence involving Somalia pirates that not only establishes how deadly competent our guys are, but also that they’re not cold-blooded killers. These are men with a moral code and one of their own breaking that code will be the root cause of deadly complications and a couple over the top action sequences to come. So these are mercenaries who only ever fight the good fight? If I may, Mr. Nolte, let me recommend my friend Adam Roberts’s post on Iron Man, in which he notes that that film adheres to the dream narrative of US military involvement in the Middle East: one American is able to go to Afghanistan, kill only the bad Afghans, leave all the good Afghani men women and children alive and leap away into the sky. That “dream narrative” isn’t the product of a moral code, but simply a denial of the reality of reality. But I should let you finish: The plot gets a nudge courtesy of a self-referential Meeting of The Titans. Ever in search of a job, Barney meets with “Church” (Bruce Willis), a CIA spook in need of some housecleaning that won’t make headlines and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time rival. Cinematically this is far from a great scene— First, stop pretending to be German. Second, I think you’re starting to realize that you didn’t even like the film. You call it a “B-movie,” rate its action scenes as “over the top,” and now you’re criticizing how it films a conversation. What did you think of the dialogue? [T]hese aren’t men...
Someone should tell John Nolte that tendentious people ought not call others tendentious. Yet again, the duty falls to me. Here goes: Nolte is complaining about Steven Zeitchik’s article in the L.A. Times, in which he writes: But the Stallone picture—with its hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world (it takes place in a fictional country, for starters) and its caricature of freedom-hating enemies (”We will kill this American disease,” as the TV spot enticed us)—planted itself squarely in the old-school genre. According to Nolte, this amounts to Zeitchik “toxifying ‘The Expendables’ by ridiculing its simple worldview,” but Nolte fails to explain why a film should be praised for the simplicity of its worldview. The most he can muster is that “the nihilism found in the moral equivalency preached by the likes of George Clooney and Paul Haggis is [not] complicated,” which amounts to “if they can do it, we can do it.” The problem with that logic should be obvious: it’s not a defense of simplistic worldviews, it’s the claim that if I set your house on fire, you would be right to retaliate by doing the same to mine. That both positions may be weak is evidently a point beyond his ability to comprehend. Nolte then provides another non-answer, claiming that a simple straight-forward story that’s actually about something is much more difficult to successfully craft than a confusing and muddled story that’s believes in absolutely nothing. Paint-by-numbers might not be Rembrandt but it takes more skill than throwing monkey shit at a canvas. Note that he again argues that The Expendables is “about” something without ever defining what that thing is. This is the obverse of Groucho Marx’s “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It” argument, in that whatever The Expendables is about, Nolte’s in favor of it, whatever it might be. But whatever it is, it’s morally unambiguous, which means the following claim of Zeitchik is utter bunk: [u]ntil this weekend, old-school action movies—defined, for argument’s sake, as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones—had seen better days. Nolte responds: [T]his is what happens when you’re in possession of a laughably biased theory in search of proof—especially when the surprise successes of “300″ and “Taken,” not to mention “Salt,” the first “Transformers,” and “Gran Torino”—make a total fool of that moral ambiguity theory. Admittedly, Nolte is an expert in all things tendentious, so he should know it when he sees it. But a brief comparison of the material between both parties’ em-dashes demonstrates who’s arguing honestly and who isn’t. Zeitchik defines “old-school action movies … as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones.” Nolte responds by listing four films, but only one of them, Taken, fits Zeitchik’s definition. 300 was filmed entirely in front of a green screen; Gran Torino contains no “explosions,” much less “a slew of” them; and unless he knows something I don’t, the Transformers in Transformers...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments