Who’s Johnny?

When, as an adult, you watch a beloved film from your childhood, you must resist the temptation to cringe and apologize on behalf of your younger self. Such is the case with many movies; personally, no film was as disappointing to me as an adult as Spielberg’s Hook (“Rooooooooooo-fee-ooohh!” “Run Home Jack!”), which went from dearly loved classic to exhausting pablum before the second act break.

This was not the case for Short Circuit 2.

As a child, I cried when the crooks beat viciously beat Johnny 5; as an adult, I wondered how much cocaine fueled the arc of that particular scene (SNORT–“And then he uses that radio thing, which totally looks like Brent’s dick–ha ha, fuck you Brent, shrimp dick!–to call a radio airplane and then he runs the airplane up the guy’s ass!” SNORT). A child can probably be forgiven for thinking this movie was awesome because it has a fucking talking robot in it; only the most boring and annoying kid would be like “I hate robots.” And, according to the Wikipedia page for the film, which contains useful links to some old reviews, some of the critics of the day viewed the film charitably (not the case for Mr. Canby of the New York Times, who claims that Johnny 5 is “singularly charmless”), and thus forgave what was essentially a children’s film for sucking so hard. I mean, this is a movie that relies upon the idea that an advanced robot with artificial intelligence would not be able to keep its memory if turned off, which was something even my piece of shit Apple IIe could do (if only I had the 16KB of my amazing mystery stories from that period to prove it).

Yet I think they may have missed something. Stupidity and plot-holes aside, this film is dark. Sure, it’s dressed in children’s clothing, and the robot says and does comically stupid things, but upon further inspection its rather like the time that Kramer got Mickey to stand in for the kid he was supposed to be babysitting. That is to say, it’s a cynical, gruff-voiced man with several divorces behind him and not much of a future in medical acting.

The entire film is an affirmation of consumer capitalism, which is not evil in itself and only solidifies the movie’s cred–seriously, check out Michael McKean’s Gordon Gekko impression at the end of the movie and then try to argue that they didn’t know what they were doing–but the real problem is that the movie presents as its thesis the idea that the individual must subsume their identity to the flow of capital. Johnny 5 “dies” to protect the assets of a faceless banking corporation (and, in a feudal touch, the aristocratically named Vanderveer Collection of diamonds) that would have insured the assets anyway; moreover, his death is rendered completely pointless by the simple fact that the police already knew Oscar had stolen the diamonds–there was a very low probability of Oscar successfully fencing the diamonds or leaving the country. Thus, Johnny 5’s sacrifice was largely pointless (literally pointless, as it turns out, because he didn’t actually sacrifice anything). Symbolically, however, his “death” is important for two reasons: 1) it serves to demonstrate that the proper approach toward the protection of capital is human sacrifice, and 2) it serves to resurrect Johnny as a fully-functional piece of the capitalist machinery. Why, he’s even proclaimed a human by the U.S. government at a citizenship ceremony! This proclamation (odd in its own regard and reminiscent of the federal government’s other rather problematic attempts at defining what constitutes a human being) retroactively affirms the humanity of his sacrifice and subsequently affirms the idea that such sacrifice is the proper relation one ought to take toward capital.

The film is consistent in its thematic treatment of the individual vis-a-vis capital, as the first time we see Johnny 5 he’s been reduced to a consumer product–a toy for sale to the highest bidder. The highest bidder then enters in the form of Sandy, who works for a toy company and will try to get her company to buy the toy (this also serves as an awkward way to shoehorn in a romance; personally, my adult self thinks the more progressive choice would have been to make the romance between Johnny 5 and Michael McKean’s character, Fred; also, the funnier choice). Alas, Benjamin and Fred run into production troubles when they find their warehouse has doubled as a thieves’ den, and they can’t meet their production goals until Johnny 5 arrives and rapidly constructs an idol of himself, which he quite admires. Johnny 5 is alive and appreciates the replication of his likeness for profit. The accumulation of capital is incompatible with any sense of ethics.

Arguably, the entire film is a weird critique of consumer capitalism; one need only assume the writers’ intention was to demonstrate the flaws with reducing humanity to a vessel for the accumulation and distribution of capital, and the subtext converts itself into a progressive, fly-under-the-radar piece of cultural criticism in the guise of summer entertainment. Yet I do not think a straightforward reading of the film supports this idea, and I find myself wondering how a film so cynical and dark could possibly have been pushed through as a light, summer sequel.

And then I remember: cocaine is a hell of a drug.

Not Technically News, But Still: Transporter 2 is a Seriously Shitty Movie

I mean seriously shitty. Like, Jason Statham should time travel and prevent his agent from agreeing to allow him to do this film. And I’ve only seen 10 minutes so far.

However, I have come to a realization: Jason Statham is the Steven Seagal of the ’00s (aughts). He’s a white dude who knows kicking and punching skills (for no reason), he’s in terrible films that make no sense, and dumb storylines follow him around. It’s like Steven Seagal did a magic ritual and resurrected himself into Jason Statham’s body, even though he was still doing shitty DTV films, and they’d have to split time between their crappy film careers. In fact, this is probably the reason they weren’t in either of the “Expendables” movies together! They are the same person! My headline undersold this.


Critic’s Corner with Zod: “Man of Steel”



This is Zod, and she is undoubtedly one of the most incisive film critics I’ve ever met. Thus, in an effort to share her genius with all of you, I’ve decided to publish recaps of our discussions about film and television. I figured that since Man of Steel is currently on HBO, and she’s named Zod, it would be apropos to start with her thoughts on last summer’s most controversial (well, controversial in a way that’s totally unimportant) film.

Undoubtedly, Man of Steel inspired quite a bit of nerd fury last summer when it hit the theaters. Why do you suppose this film created such a negative reaction?

(Stares silently)

I absolutely agree–the ending can definitely be seen as a complete betrayal of Superman’s core ethos, but it’s a revision that arguably suits modern tastes. I mean, we’re dealing with a post-9/11 Superman that’s not a love letter to the Donner films, so perhaps it’s to be expected that moral ambiguity might reign.


I suppose that’s a valid point. In an age of morally ambiguous villains, and in a world where you don’t necessarily know who’s really bad, and who’s really good, maybe you want a hero like Superman to represent the questions we’re struggling with. Which I suppose brings us to the central villain, General Zod.


I’m not quite certain what to make of General Zod either. Really, he’s presented as a victim of circumstance, which I think ultimately makes his death at the hands of Kal-El much worse, but I also think there’s a sense in which his goals of recreating Krypton on Earth make no fucking sense whatsoever. Do you think this sort of mischaracterization speaks to the overall flaws in the plot?


I could not agree more; I also think the plot holes defeat the film’s integrity. I mean, first of all, once Zod realizes Earth is liveable, and would give him super-powers, why the hell wouldn’t he just start making new Kryptonians? Which raises an entirely new point, and one that’s worth addressing I think–and you and I have discussed this at length–Kryptonians are the fucking worst. Now, I know you have some sympathy for them, but I just can’t help but wonder how an advanced civilization such as theirs turned to shit so fast. Terraforming and space colonization leads to population control? I mean, if you’re building new worlds, why the hell would you need population control? And why would genetically engineering everyone for a job make sense? And how the hell would you even do that? Surely in the 100,000 years of their civilization someone did a study that showed a person’s environment has some influence on their psychological makeup. But now I’m ranting.

(Meows for a treat)

I know, I know–I’m being unfair. The movie is not about Krypton. But seeing as how that’s a central component to the mythos, I think it’s worth considering. Also, perhaps a bit off topic–why the fuck would anyone think it’s a good idea to create an artificial black hole on Earth to send about 4 Kryptonians to their doom? I mean, that just seems excessive. And don’t get me started as to why the Kryptonian High Council would send Zod to the Phantom Zone instead of letting him die on Krypton. I mean, what the fuck was that about?! I’m ranting again.

(Leaves the room)

I guess you’re right. Sometimes it’s not worth getting upset about these things. I mean, the film has definite positives: Superman does things Superman would do (like fly and punch aliens), and Henry Cavill looks pretty badass as Kal-El. Overall, the film is well-acted, and the score is superb. So, I guess I’ll just leave it at 50/50: it’s worth watching, but not really worth thinking about. Thanks, Zod!

There Is No Fate But What We Make For Ourselves

And on this point Sarah Connor nailed it. Because SkyNet was really her fault.

Now, I know this sounds pretty crazy, but let’s consider the facts, starting with The Terminator:

1) SkyNet exists and sends back a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor, the mother the successful human resistance fighter John Connor.

2) The resistance sends back Kyle Reese to protect her; he fathers John Connor.

So, the causal chain here might be interpreted that SkyNet is responsible for John Connor, because had SkyNet not threatened Sarah in the past, Kyle Reese would have been unnecessary; no Terminator, no Kyle; no Kyle, no John. That’s all well and good, and we might be inclined to just accept the traditional (and paradoxical) “SkyNet ensured its own existence by existing” argument.

But let’s not be so hasty. Remember the outcome of Sarah’s first confrontation with a Terminator? Kyle died to protect her, and she survived, ultimately killing the Terminator by crushing it. When she did this, and did not pick up the pieces, she guaranteed the existence of SkyNet. Had Sarah bothered to grab the detritus from the Terminator she crushed, Cyberdyne would never have received the microprocessor and skeletal hand from the T-800.

Undoubtedly, some of you might be questioning my sanity (for a variety of reasons). But I urge you to consider this: after Sarah defeated the first Terminator, we have the only possible moment in the trajectory toward August 29, 1997 (side note: hahahahaha!) where divergence was possible. Had Sarah made the correct choice here, SkyNet’s future would have been impossible. Imagine the following timelines, where a is the timeline envisioned by the films, and b is my hypothesized timeline where Sarah takes a minute to pick up some shit off the floor:

a) Sarah kills the Terminator and runs away —-> cops hand over weird shit to Cyberdyne, events of Terminator 2 —-> 8/29/1997

b) Sarah kills the Terminator and cleans up the mess —-> no evidence for Cyberdyne to use —-> boring future we live in now

Sarah Connor was responsible for the Apocalypse, and thus correct when she claimed that there is no fate but what we make for ourselves. Way to go, Sarah.

Shocking News: Private Corporations are Abusing a Well-Meaning Government Subsidy

Perhaps you recall my earlier, hard-hitting journalistic account of the film subsidy that the Alaska state government offers studios as an incentive to film in Alaska; if so, you are awesome and I salute you. If not, click on that link and read the post, dammit!

Anyway, the Alaska subsidy is apparently one of the more generous of its kind, awarding up to 33% of the production cost of the film. In other words, if you film in Alaska, they’ll give you $.33 for every dollar you spend.

Of course, things like cocaine and hookers are more expensive in Alaska, and given the film industry’s penchant for salacious pastimes, its unclear how much a company might actually save. Maybe if the legislature reauthorizes it they’ll call it the “Fairview Floozie Subsidy.”

Naturally, as with any government subsidy, the idea is to spur the private sector into beneficial action; theoretically, if a company films in Alaska, they hire Alaskans and spend lots of cash in the Alaska marketplace. Theoretically.

However, as Kyle Hopkins of the Anchorage Daily News demonstrates, this is not the case. It would seem that film companies are not giving back to the Alaskan worker what they’re taking from the Alaskan coffers:*

Some of the reality TV shows and movies receiving the most money from the state film subsidy program are also paying the least to Alaska residents, state records show.

Of the more than $1 million in wages and salaries the state will subsidize for the sixth season of “Deadliest Catch,” for example, less than $20,000 was paid to Alaska residents. Alaskans were paid 5 percent of the $6 million in salaries subsidized for the Jon Voight thriller “Beyond.”

Those numbers a little shocking, to say the least; especially since Deadliest Catch is such a hit, and moreover requires exceptionally dangerous filming conditions. And some film studios, anxious to underwrite a fat portion of their next Stanley Steamer, are applying for film permits even though their film has nothing to do with Alaska.

It’s not surprising that the film studios would want 33% of their budget refunded to them. And further, it’s not surprising that Alaska lacks the necessary workforce to support a thriving film industry. But to pay a paltry 5% back to Alaskans is a little insulting.

Clearly, one thing needs to happen when the legislature considers reauthorizing this subsidy: dedicate a portion of funds to the University for the maintenance of a film degree. The University of Alaska Anchorage already has excellent theater and journalism/media department, so the infrastructure is in place; all the legislature needs to do is throw them a bone so they can get the requisite equipment and instructors. Hell, make it a graduate degree and entice out-of-state people to come and earn an MA in Anchorage. Of course the legislature will likely not do this, because it would get in the way of all the ridiculous pandering that’s required of them.

But one can hope.

*Normally, one would complain that a subsidy wastes the taxpayer’s money. But Alaska residents do not pay a state income tax, so it just wastes the state’s money that they get from delicious oil.

Flim Alaska

Are you a growing film company aching to shoot an independent project about an Alaskan hermit that collects garden gnomes and writes mysteries? Or perhaps it’s time to dust-off that long forgotten “Godzilla vs. Ursamonstra” script you’ve been keeping in a desk drawer for an emergency. If you’ve got a film to shoot, actors to pay, craft service to skimp on, and costumes to steal from the set of some other film, Alaska wants your money. That’s right, glitterati, Alaska’s willing to subsidize your film to the tune of 33%! In fact, Alaska’s program is by far the most generous:

As other states wrestling with budget deficits roll back or rethink their own film industry subsidies, Alaska’s program continues, so far doling out $13 million to a string of reality-TV shows and, increasingly, feature movies. Producers for movies big and small say it’s a key reason they’re here.

Alaskans are notoriously fame-hungry. You all saw Sarah Palin whore it up when she reached the national stage, but for a more local example, just find a person that lived in Alaska for a month, or perhaps just had a layover at Anchorage International (I will not say fucking Ted Stevens International, and you can bite my sack if you want to argue about it). Chances are good they’ll regale you with various tales of bearded ne’er-do-wells and bear statues the likes of which you’ve never seen. So really, this is perfect for Alaskans, because it gives them what they want the most: attention. Theoretically, it also gives them jobs:

In many ways, the film incentives appear to be a success. Producers spent tens of millions of dollars shooting movies in and around Anchorage over the past 13 months, drawing stars such as Drew Barrymore and Ted Danson, Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. Many Alaskans scored jobs as actors, camera operators and crew. Stars ate at local restaurants and stayed at local hotels, and film boosters imagine a subsequent wave of tourists.

And if you want proof that the program is working, look no further than the latest schmalzy turd “Big Miracle,” which is about those dumbass whales who got stuck under some ice in the 80s. Yeah, whales, a lot of us had problems with ice in the 80s, but none of us made a national event out of it, you fameballing bastards! The film, which could have easily been made in Canada, was not, and because the studio chose Alaska, they’re able to claim that sweet subsidy, to the tune of about $9 million, or $.33 on the dollar.

Apparently, this subsidy is due to expire in 2013 (it had a five-year test period), and in order to renew it, Alaskan lawmakers will have to fund it to the tune of $200 million bones. Which, quite frankly, is not likely. But don’t worry: there are thousands of Alaskans, desperate for attention, who will continue to churn out short films for film festivals. And eventually, one of them will get noticed. And after that, well, he or she will probably pull a Jewel and GTFO! San Diego’s own Jewel my ass.

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